Monster stats – arbitrary or rules-driven?

I’m into Chapter 8 now, and I’m working on figuring out how a monster goes together in this game. One of the big questions is: should their stats be arbitrarily chosen, or should they follow rigorous rules?

This is a post-OSR game; it uses an OSR game ruleset as a starting point, but I feel free to make design choices that deviate strongly from the OSR if there are good reasons to do so. One of the things about original D&D, and the games that derive from it, is that monster statistics were built fairly arbitrarily. The creators said: oh, I want to create a Lizard Man. I want it to be tougher than a normal man, maybe even tougher than a starting player character, so I’ll give it two hit dice. Then, oh let’s see, I want it to have a scaly hide that will protect it from many weapons, so I’ll assign it an AC of 5. And I’ll give it the following other abilities, and then I’ll say it’s worth so many XP.

3rd edition D&D, and the branch that headed towards Pathfinder, decided that stats should be more scientifically generated than that. That game divided monsters into types, and each type had a set of things they were better or worse at. Using those rules, if you wanted to create a Lizard Man, you would start by knowing it’s a Humanoid, and then you would work within the rules laid out to build a creature’s stats.

Both the arbitrary method and the rules-driven method have their advantages. Arbitrary means less work up front. I set the stats for each monster to whatever I want it to be, and then I’m done. It does mean that I risk inconsistency – “Why is Monster A so much more powerful than Monster B, yet is worth less experience?” It also means that there are no rules for creating new monsters, which is something I want to enable.

Creating rules (in my case using multiple descriptors, not a single type) would be more work up front. It would, however, eliminate 90% of the inconsistency cases (although I still could wind up with over or under-valued monsters) and would allow me to create a lovely chapter on How to Build Your Own Monster, which I think is valuable, because this is a game that will have multiple modular expansions.

I’ve already decided that I’m going to do a test batch of about 20 monsters using the rules-driven construction approach and see how it goes. However, a question for the group: do you see value in it? Would you be inclined to use a set of rules to generate your own monsters, or would you chuck any such set and just make your own stats regardless of any official methodology?

2 thoughts on “Monster stats – arbitrary or rules-driven?

  1. All other discussions aside, one thing that 4th Ed D&D did very well, IMO, was make it easy to create monsters, and especially easy to adjust existing monsters challenge levels. True, they had a computerized version that assisted this process, but even without that one might be able to follow some easy guidelines in a book. When I was running a 4th Ed campaign, I routinely adjusted official monsters up or down in challenge rating to create either new monsters, or slightly tweaked versions of existing monsters, of an appropriate level for what I needed at the time. This was incredibly useful for me as a GM.

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    1. I doubt I will ever have an app to do that, but by having a process in place where one can create a new monster with at least a little guidance is a step up from what there used to be, which was nothing.

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