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March of the Monsters
Dragon Editorial
by Bart Carroll

For her latest Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard column, Shelly Mazzanoble interviewed several members of R&D. She came away with a new appreciation for just how long the folk in R&D have been playing Dungeons & Dragons. In most cases, it's a long time. That's long as in decades.

I share that longevity, having gotten my start all the way back in 2nd grade. Even now, few things are as satisfying to me as flipping through the pages of a 1st Edition Monster Manual. Nostalgia reigns supreme. I started playing with 2nd Edition, so the illustrations still resonate with me, long after the specific rules are a distant memory.

A few years back, some of us started a 0-edition (or OD&D) campaign. We wanted to break out the three original, pamphlet-size rulebooks and re-experience the game in its original form. It was … educational. Nostalgia, it turns out, can mask a large measure of difficulty and confusion. Despite the setbacks, a few people (including Steve Winter) have kept on with the campaign.

I also participated in a recent 1st Edition AD&D campaign run by folks who share fond memories of those immortal black-and-white rulebooks. While it's always fun to get together with friends and roll the dice, revisiting those earlier editions of the game also brought back their quirks, contradictions, complications, and holes.

Of course, I now play and DM 4th Edition campaigns. In one recent session, we faced a creature going back to the game's earliest days. Let's see if you can guess what it is from its description through the editions:

These yellowish-gray monsters appear to be a mass of foul corruption.
They are altogether evil and far more intelligent than most people would judge by their appearance.
They are hideous creatures that lurk in the deep caverns of the world.
These cigar-shaped monsters can stand upright in order to resemble a pillar or stalagmite or flatten themselves at full length upon the floor so as to look like nothing more than a hump.

How long did it take you to figure out that these descriptions are of a roper through the ages?

Back in 1st Edition, here's how the mechanics of the roper played out:

The roper has six strands of strong, sticky rope-like excretion which it can shoot from 2"-5". A hit causes weakness (50% from strength in 1-3 melee rounds), and the roper then draws its prey into its toothy maw where it is quickly devoured. The chance for breaking a strand is the same for opening a door, but every round the roper will drag the victim 10' closer. They are unaffected by lightning, take half damage at most from cold, but are very susceptible to fire (-4 on saving throw).

Strength damage occurring over time? Then it drags its prey? You can break a strand, but it still drags you closer? And what does "take half damage at most from cold" mean? The roper is certainly a classic monster, but mechanically … what exactly is happening here, and when?

In 3rd Edition, the roper's strands were codified as follows:

Weakness (Ex): A roper's strands can sap an opponent's strength. Anyone grabbed by a strand must succeed on a DC 18 Fortitude save or take 2d8 points of Strength damage. The save DC is Constitution-based.

So in 1st Edition, the Strength loss was fixed (50%) but the time varied (1-3 melee rounds). 3rd Edition varied the loss (2d8 points) but made it happen immediately. And heaven help you if, after re-calculating your Strength once, the roper hit you with a second strand.

In both cases, players were forced to recalculate their Strength scores and all dice modifiers dependent on Strength -- at the table, on the fly. In real terms, the true damage caused by a 3rd Edition roper wasn't Strength loss, it was frustration around the table. The last thing any DM wants is for the action to grind to a halt while rules are interpreted and numbers recalculated. Correction: The last thing any DM wants is for the action to grind to a halt for any reason. Faced with this, it may have been easier to simply not use ropers -- which would be a shame, because they're D&D through and through.

So, how did the roper do in our recent 4th Edition session? It beat the stuffing out of us. It grabbed characters, weakened them, dragged them close, and chewed on them. It did everything a roper was always meant to do and did it without grinding down the game. I hadn't faced a roper since my earliest days of 1st Edition, and I loved it. Another player's comment was, "this roper acts more like a 1st Edition roper than 1st Edition ropers did."

My sincere belief is that 4th Edition allows monsters to be played more easily than ever before without sacrificing any of their flavor. If anything, they have more flavor than before. I've experienced this in multiple games, as "classic" monsters hit the table and played true to their concept: ropers, stirges, bulettes, even (or perhaps especially) dragons. I've never had the privilege of facing the tactical nightmare that is the beholder, but I can't help but believe that they, too, play better than ever at the table.

There couldn't be any question that these classic monsters would remain in the game and have a place in 4th Edition's Monster Manuals. It's especially satisfying, however, to see them back on the table, terrorizing heroes in dungeons and wildernesses. So what are your favorite monsters from past editions that have been improved in 4th Edition? Are there monsters that you think have suffered in their latest incarnation? What monsters would you like to see updated that haven't been as of yet? Send us your feedback at dndinsider@wizards.com.