Excerpts Archive | 4/18/2008
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Customizing Monsters
4th Edition DMG

Only a scant few weeks remain until 4th Edition finally hits the shelves! We here at Wizards of the Coast couldn’t be more excited for June 6th to finally arrive (and then to participate with everyone at June 7th’s Worldwide D&D Game Day). For the past several months, we’ve introduced you to many of the concepts, philosophies, and details of 4th Edition, via D&D Insider’s columns and articles. So in the short time we have remaining, we wanted to share with you a little more, publishing excerpts from the three core rulebooks every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, leading up to 4th Edition’s release.

The Monster Manual provides hundreds of enemies for your adventures, but they aren’t all that’s available. You can customize existing monsters to increase their utility, making them stronger, weaker, or just different. In today’s previews, we look at information in the Dungeon Master’s Guide dealing with customizing monsters, as well as two sample templates.

We hope you enjoy, and be sure to return Monday for a look at one more class from the Player's Handbook: the warlord.

Whether you want to bump an ogre up a few levels or turn it into an elite berserker, this section gives you the tools you need to tinker with monsters. You’ll also find rules for adding a class to a monster, mining the Player’s Handbook for combat powers.

You can use several methods to adjust an existing monster: change its level, give it equipment, alter its appearance and behavior, and apply a template. Each of these approaches is discussed below.

Increasing or Decreasing Level

Boosting a monster’s level is easy. Just increase its attack rolls, defenses, and AC by 1 for every level you add. For every two levels, increase the damage it deals with its attacks by 1. The monster also gains extra hit points at each level, based on its role (see the “Monster Statistics by Role” table on page 184 of the Dungeon Master's Guide).

Decreasing a monster’s level works like increasing it, but in reverse. For each level down, reduce the creature’s attack rolls, defenses, and AC by 1 and drop its hit points based on its role. For every two levels, also reduce its damage by 1.

This process works best for adjusting a monster’s level up to five higher or lower. Beyond that, the monster changes so much that you’d do better to start with another creature of the desired role and level range.

Adding Equipment

You can add equipment to a monster to make it a little more challenging, or to put treasure into the characters’ hands. Equipment shouldn’t be random but should serve some purpose in the design of an encounter. Make sure to include any such items as part of the overall treasure you’re giving out for the adventure (see “Treasure” on page 124 of the Dungeon Master's Guide).

Armor: When you add armor to a monster, you first need to determine if the armor is good enough to improve the monster’s AC. Start with the monster’s effective armor bonus—a measure of how much of the creature’s AC comes from its armor or from its thick hide. This number is equal to its AC minus 10 minus the higher of its Dexterity or Intelligence ability modifiers. Do not include the Dexterity or Intelligence modifier if the creature wears heavy armor. Subtract the effective armor bonus from the creature’s AC, and then add the bonus from its new armor. If the creature moved from heavy to light armor, you can also add the higher of its Dexterity or Intelligence ability modifier to its AC.

If the creature’s statistics block does not mention any worn armor, use the higher of its original AC or its new AC after adding armor. Most creatures have naturally thick hides that provide an armor bonus to AC. If the armor a creature wears is not as good as its natural armor, it uses the AC bonus provided by its natural armor. Worn armor, such as a suit of chainmail, and natural armor, such as an insect’s carapace or a dragon’s thick scales, do not stack.

For example, an ogre savage normally has an Armor Class of 19 (it’s assumed to be wearing crude hide armor). Its effective armor bonus is +5 (19 – 10 – 4 [Dex]). Giving the ogre chainmail instead would improve its AC by 1 to 20, since the armor’s +6 bonus is 1 higher than this number.

Magic Items: A monster equipped with magic items can use the powers those items grant.

Enhancement Bonuses: A monster benefits from an enhancement bonus to attack rolls, defenses, or AC only if that bonus is higher than its magic threshold, as shown on the table below.

A monster’s magic threshold is an abstract representation of its equipment, power, and general effectiveness against characters of its level. If you give the monster a magic item that grants a bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls or to defenses, subtract the magic threshold from that bonus before you apply it. For example, if you give that 8th-level ogre savage a +2 magic greatclub, you add only a +1 bonus to its attack rolls and damage rolls, since its magic threshold is +1.

Monster Level Magic Threshold
1st–5th +0
6th–10th +1
11th–15th +2
16th–20th +3
21st–25th +4
26th–30th +5

Remember that a monster’s game statistics are set to be appropriate for its level. Thus, altering a monster’s attack, defense, or damage values is a lot like changing its level (see above). Avoid the temptation simply to give all your monsters better armor and weapons. Giving all your ogre savages plate armor and +3 greatswords may seem like a reasonable change, but now they have the attack, damage, and defense numbers of a higher-level monster—which makes them a tougher challenge than other 8th-level brutes.

If you want to give a monster equipment that changes its attack, defense, or damage values by more than a point or so, consider also making those alterations as part of changing its level. For example, those ogre savages in plate armor and wielding +3 greatswords have AC, attack rolls, and damage rolls three points higher than normal. That’s pretty close to what a monster three levels higher would have (+3 to all defenses, +3 to attack rolls, and +1 damage), so you might as well make those ogre savages into 11th-level monsters and give them the extra hit points to go along with their other benefits.

Cosmetic Changes

The characters are delving into the jungle-covered ruins of an ancient city now haunted by the yuan-ti. There they discover strange arboreal humanoids with long arms that swoop into battle on the backs of giant wasps. What are these mysterious beings?

This technique is useful for keeping players on their toes even when they know the Monster Manual backward and forward. Use the statistics of a given monster but completely alter its appearance when you describe it to the players. You can make minor changes to its powers as well, altering damage types or changing details of weapons (lashing tentacles become a whipping tail, for example).


A template is like a recipe for changing a monster. Each template provides instructions for modifying hit points and defenses, and adds a number of powers and abilities. Simply pick a monster and a template, follow the directions, and you’re ready to go.

This section provides more than a dozen templates for customizing monsters. Functional templates adapt a monster to a given purpose in an adventure. You can also add a functional template to a nonplayer character. See “Creating NPCs” on page 186 of the Dungeon Master's Guide for more information. Class templates allow you to add features of a specific character class to a monster.

Multiple Templates: Each of these templates is intended for use by itself, making a monster into an elite opponent. However, you can turn a standard monster into a solo creature by adding two templates. Follow the process for adding each template, one at a time, but add just one template’s hit point bonus (your choice which). Then double the creature’s total hit points. Increase the monster’s saving throw bonus to +5.

You can also advance an elite monster to a solo one by adding a template, then doubling its hit points and adjusting its saving throw as above.

This method is quick and easy, but it carries some risks. For example, the adjusted monster’s hit points might be lower than those of a typical solo monster of its level and role. Once you’ve finished the process, be sure to “reality check” the monster by comparing its statistics and abilities to others of similar power.

How to Read a Template
A template lists changes to a monster’s statistics and grants it some new powers and abilities. In general, if a template does not alter a certain statistic, that entry does not appear in the list.

Each template notes any prerequisites for adding it to a monster. Some can be added to any creature, while others work only with particular types or at certain adventuring tiers.

The modified monster retains all its normal powers and abilities except those that overlap or conflict with those bestowed by the template. Every template begins with a brief descriptive passage that explains the essential nature of the template, followed by a paragraph that tells you what types of creatures or classes the template can be applied to.

Prerequisite: This entry appears if the monster must meet certain requirements to gain the template, such as a specific type or a minimum level. The remaining information is presented in monster stat block form, for easy insertion into the monster’s existing statistics.

Role: The monster’s combat role appears in the upper right corner of the stat block header.

Type and Keyword: The left-hand entry of the second line of the stat block header states this information. If the template adds a keyword to the monster, such as undead, it is included here. The monster retains any previous keywords.

Senses: Add the given abilities to the monster’s Senses entry.

Defenses: Adjust the monster’s AC and other defenses as described in this entry.

Immune/Resist/Vulnerable: Add the stated entries and values. If the monster already has one or more of these abilities, use the more beneficial value.

Saving Throws +2: All elite monsters have a +2 bonus to saving throws.

Action Point 1: All elite monsters have 1 action point.

Hit Points: Add the stated number of hit points for the monster’s new role, and then also add its Constitution score to the new hit point total.

Powers: Add the stated powers to the monster’s stat block, calculating attack and damage numbers. The level of an attack power usually depends on the monster’s level and is expressed as “Level + n,” where “Level” is the monster’s level and n is a number you add to that value. Damage is adjusted by the modifier for a given ability score, just as with characters’ attack powers.

Here are two sample templates, the lich and the vampire lord:


Liches are evil arcane masterminds that pursue the path of undeath to achieve immortality. They are cold, scheming creatures who hunger for ever-greater power, long-forgotten knowledge, and the most terrible of arcane secrets.

Some liches know a ritual that sustains them beyond destruction by tying their essence to a phylactery. When a lich who has performed this ritual is reduced to 0 hit points, its body and possessions crumble into dust, but it is not destroyed. It reappears (along with its possessions) in 1d10 days within 1 square of its phylactery, unless the phylactery is also found and destroyed.

“Lich” is a template you can add to any intelligent creature of 11th level or higher. It best complements an arcane NPC, such as a wizard or warlock, or a monster with arcane powers, such as a beholder or oni. Other highly intelligent creatures might also become liches; for example, mind flayers, who draw on psionic power.

Prerequisite: Level 11, Intelligence 13
Elite Controller or Artillery
XP Elite
Senses Darkvision
Defenses +2 AC; +4 Fortitude, +4 Will
Immune disease, poison
Resist 5 + 1/2 level necrotic
Saving Throws +2
Action Point 1
Hit Points +8 per level + Constitution score (controller) or
+6 per level + Constitution score (artillery)
Regeneration 10. If the lich takes radiant damage, its regeneration doesn’t function on its next turn.
Spellmaster (minor; recharge 56)
The lich regains the use of an expended encounter power.
Necromantic Aura (Necrotic) aura 5
Any living creature that enters or starts its turn in the aura takes 5 necrotic damage.
Necrotic Master
The lich can convert any attack power it has to necrotic.
Change a power’s energy keyword to necrotic, or add necrotic energy to an attack power that doesn’t normally deal energy damage.

Vampire Lord

Vampire lords are powerful and dangerous undead villains. Some are former spawn freed by their creators’ deaths, others mortals chosen to receive the “gift” of vampiric immortality. They can create armies of dominated vampire spawn or pass on their powers to chosen mortals.

“Vampire lord” is a template you can apply to any humanoid creature of 11th level or higher. Vampire lords retain their living appearance, although they are paler and their canines somewhat more pronounced, and they are wholly evil.

Prerequisites: Humanoid, level 11
Vampire Lord
Elite Controller or Skirmisher
Humanoid (undead)
XP Elite
Senses Darkvision
Defenses +2 AC; +2 Fortitude, +2 Reflex, +2 Will
Immune disease, poison
Resist 5 necrotic at 1st level, 10 necrotic at 11th level, 15 necrotic at 21st level
Vulnerable radiant 10
Saving Throws +2
Action Point 1
Hit Points +8 per level + Constitution score
Regeneration 10 (regeneration does not function while the vampire lord is exposed to direct sunlight)
Melee Blood Drain (standard, encounter; recharges when an adjacent creature becomes bloodied) Healing
Requires combat advantage. Level + 2 vs. Fortitude; 2d12 + Charisma modifier damage, and the target is weakened (save ends), and the vampire lord heals hit points equal to one-quarter of its normal total.
Ranged Dominating Gaze (minor, recharge 6) Charm
Ranged 5; Level + 2 vs. Will; the target is dominated (save ends, with a –2 penalty to the saving throw). Aftereffect: The target is dazed (save ends). The vampire lord can dominate only one creature at a time.
Mist Form (standard; encounter) Polymorph
The vampire lord becomes insubstantial and gains a fly speed of 12, but cannot make attacks. The vampire lord can remain in mist form for up to 1 hour or end the effect as a minor action.
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