D&D Archives07/13/2003

Making the Monster Manual More
User-Friendly Design Notes

By Skip Williams

When considering revisions for the Monster Manual, one word leapt to the forefront for us: Utility.

Three years of playing the 3rd edition D&D game ourselves, plus many hours talking with dedicated fans of the game, convinced us that players and DMs need a monster book that not only has all the information they need, but makes that information easy to find.

The first thing we did was look for ways to make the all-important main statistic block more useful. So, we added a base attack and grapple bonus for all the monsters. Base attack numbers can be useful when modifying a monster, and it's essential for creatures that have the power attack feat. Grappling occurs fairly often in the new game and calculating a monster's grapple bonus can be a pain to do on the fly, so we've done the work for you. In the same vein, we've split the attacks entry into separate lines for the attack and full attack actions; you also can use the attack line when a monster makes an attack of opportunity.

After three years of pushing miniature figures around on grids, we realized that our old face/reach numbers were a little off, especially for creatures with rectangular faces (which didn't work very well in a game system that doesn't have any rules for facing). Now, creatures have a space entry with the same depth and width. You no longer have to worry about which way a "long" creature is facing during a battle, and you'll find there is much less fussing with figures that are too big for their space entries.

You'll discover many similar changes throughout the book, all aimed at making the game easier to play and to understand. Some of these are superficial, but they reflect the way people actually play the game. For example, we've discarded the old term "type modifier" for the term "subtype" because nobody every used the former term. We originally chose "type modifier" because we thought it was more accurate than "subtype." Our reasoning seemed sound to us at the time, but we've bowed to the wisdom of the players.

Speaking of subtypes, we've expanded the list slightly. For example, there's now an extraplanar subtype. The rules speak of "extraplanar" creatures often, and now there's a subtype to go with the term. Creatures that share fairly long lists of similar abilities, such as tanar'ri, baatezu, and guardinals, have their own subtypes.

No portion of the Monster Manual remained entirely untouched. We have altered several existing monster special abilities and we've added some new ones, too. We've cleaned up the language for the ubiquitous improved grab ability, for example, bringing this ability in line with the clarifications we had already made in the D&D FAQ. In some cases, we found that special abilities worked well, but that we had been too liberal in giving them out. Perhaps the best example is the powerful blindsight ability, which is the bane of spellcasters and rogues everywhere. Blindsight is still in the same, but many creatures with exceptionally keen senses now have the similar but slightly less potent blindsense ability instead.

Not all the changes to the Monster Manual are so sweeping. We went looking for creatures that just didn't see to work right and went to working making them more playable. For example, the bebilith was a favorite with DMs in our neck of the woods for its ability to destroy armor. Everyone in our local campaigns developed a genuine dread of the bebilith. Still, we knew (in our hearts) that bebiliths were tearing apart armor -- especially expensive magical armor -- just a little too often. Bebiliths can still rend armor, but now they do so as a special rend attack that merely damages the stuff. If your fighter goes toe to toe with a bebilith, you still have to watch out for your armor, but you won't be feeling an uncomfortable breeze around your skivvies quite so soon. (This change to the bebilith wouldn't have been possible without the new Player's Handbook rules for sundering magical equipment.)

Other monsters got more extensive facelifts. For example, we found that the lycanthrope template usually proved difficult to apply, and lycanthropic player characters were a real pain for DMs and players alike because of the way we applied the extra Hit Dice from the template. We set about streamlining the template so that it works the same way no matter what base creature you use or what level character contracts lycanthropy. (Think of the new lycanthrope template as multiclassing as some kind of animal.) We also opened up the template to giants and added a sample giant lycanthrope, a hill giant/dire wereboar.

All the foregoing is just a taste of the improvements we've made to the Monster Manual. We think you'll find them useful.

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