Excerpts Archive | 5/30/2008
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Excerpts: Humans as Monsters
4th Edition Monster Manual

What could be the most dangerous monster of all? What of humans themselves—and in this preview, introduced by R&D’s Greg Bilsland, they are more monstrous than ever in 4th Edition!

As one of the most prolific races in a fantasy setting, humans are likely antagonists for any group of player characters. Whether the PCs are getting into a drunken bar fight, wandering into a bandit ambush, or fighting their way past castle guards, at some point they are likely to face off against human adversaries. For a Dungeon Master, this once meant creating a stat block for each human, including class levels, picking out equipment, spells, feats, skills, and so on.

All that has changed.

Although 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons still provides tools for creating NPCs with fleshed out stat blocks, those types of characters represent a small percent of human antagonists. Most humans are monsters. Mechanically, they resemble any other creature, from aboleths to zombies. This treatment of humans allows the DM to spend less time preparing stats, and more time developing the story and creating dynamic battles.

Each human stat block has the same basic elements as any other monster—initiative, senses, hp, defenses, speed, ability scores, and so on. Humans also have monster-like powers designed on their role and purpose. Although these powers might resemble or imitate the powers of a PC class, they have different expectations for attack, damage, and effects. And if one of the powers doesn’t work for your purpose, you can easily swap it out for another.

In fact, with just a few alterations to the attack, damage, and flavor, virtually any power in the Monster Manual becomes a potential attack for a human. It’s as easy as switching a damage type, weapon, or power name. For instance, let’s say you want to make the human mage (see below) into cleric. By making the damage type radiant and giving the creature a leader-like power, let’s say, the incite faith power from the kobold wyrmpriest, you quickly create a cleric-like monster.

Close Burst Incite Faith (minor; encounter)
Close burst 10; kobold allies in the burst gain 5 temporary hit points and shift 1 square.

To the players, this human now has the necessary flavor to give the impression of a cleric; as a DM, you’ve saved the 10 or even 20 minutes it would take to generate a creature from scratch. Alternatively, the Dungeon Master’s Guide offers an array of class templates to quickly apply a character class to a monster, and for those that want to handcraft each human, the guidelines are still in place to create a vivid NPC. Regardless of the human you want to make, in 4th Edition you won’t see human stat blocks taking up half a page.
--Greg Bilsland

Be sure to return Monday for a look at alignment!