Thursday, August 25, 2016

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Monster General Notes, part 2

My previous post was post number 1066 on this blog. I feel like I should have written something about the Norman Conquest of England rather than giving a review of a mediocre Star Trek movie. Too late now. And I've got nothing at the moment to connect the Norman Conquest with D&D, so...on with the Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover series!

This post continues from here, covering the introduction to the new DM of how to read monster entries and how to run them in play.

This very short section lets us know that it's usually easier to run monsters than running a PC in combat, and that higher hit die monsters can hit more easily. There's also a truncated (up to 3+ to 4 HD) monster hit table presented here. Despite this being quite explicit (as I've mentioned many times before), this was THE big mistake I made as a starting DM. Since the back cover of the Players' Manual had typed in numbers to hit each armor class, we somehow got the impression that those numbers never changed, and we used them for EVERYTHING (either by not grasping the rules thoroughly or by some sense of "fairness" - to be honest, it was over 30 years ago, so I can't remember which, but probably the former). This made fighting dragons a little easier, as it was still hard for a dragon to hit a character with plate and shield, although it also took PCs longer to finish battles because as we got into the Expert Set levels, they also didn't improve.

We likely would have had a lot more PC deaths in the early days if we'd gotten this one right.

Saving Throws
Just like the PCs, monsters get saving throws, and they're the same types as the PCs have. In fact, monsters just have a note in their stat block about which PC saves and at what level, they should use. Not much to say about that.

Special Attacks
This section describes some common special attacks monsters have. It also gives us a note that most allow for a saving throw, but Energy Drain does not.

Blindness: If you're actually blind, blinded by magic, or just fighting in the dark without infravision, the simple rule is "the victim of blindness may not move or attack" (p. 23). Simple. Effective. But then right immediately after that, is the optional rule: if someone can guide and direct you, you can attack with a -4 penalty to hit, and all opponents get a +4 bonus to hit you, and movement can be made at 1/3 speed, 2/3 if guided.

Most DMs I know (and I'm sure the official rules from 2E forward, possibly as an official or optional rule in OE, BX, and 1E as well) have tended to use the optional system, although the details may vary. It's fairly unrealistic, but very cinematic. It played great with Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian in the Sarlac Pit. And as WotC assures us, everyone always being able to take part in combat is the most fun part of the game. I disagree, sometimes being taken out of combat can be more exciting, as that raises the tension and the stakes of the combat. But yet, here we are with an optional rule that was so popular it has become the standard rule.

Frank also notes that invisible creatures cannot be attacked, but a Magic-User with Detect Invisible may be able to direct others where to attack, so that they can attack with the penalties given above. Oh, and there's the bit about using Silence 15' radius to effectively blind giant shrews and bats.

Charm: We get a little information on the charm effect here that is different from that provided by the spell, or in the previous section on charm effects in the Procedures section. It states that a charmed PC is "confused and unable to make decisions" (p. 23), which includes casting of spells or use of magic items which require concentration. The spell doesn't mention anything about confusion or prevention of spell casting/magic item use. It is similar in that if the charming monster can speak your language, it can give you simple orders and if you don't speak a common language you will still try to protect the charmer.

Energy Drain
The very first words of this section are, "This is a very dangerous attack form, with no Saving Throw allowed" (p. 24). It then goes on to describe the basic effects of the attack (lose a level, including hit points, spells, and so forth) immediately. The PC's XP is now at the midpoint between the new level and the old. 1st level characters are killed. That's pretty simple, right? Yet somehow, back when I was a frequent reader of Dragonsfoot Forums, this was such a common topic! Right up there with demi-human level limits and alignment.

Oh, and for a cure? There is none save for "normal adventuring and earning the Experience Points over again" (p. 24). So stop whining and go find some treasure hoards to loot, ya big baby! [Oh, but if you get up to Companion Set levels, there's a spell for that.]

Of course, there are still some gray areas. When losing a level, we used to roll the hit die to see how many hit points were lost. And then when the character regained the level, they got to roll again. If you got lucky and had rolled high for the level's hp to begin with, then rolled low for the amount lost to level drain, then got lucky again when the PC leveled up again, it was possible to end up with more hit points than normally mathematically allowed for the level. I asked Frank one time (yep, over on Dragonsfoot) what he did. He actually records each players' rolls for all levels so that when they get energy drained, he knows exactly how many hit points they lose (and how many they get back once they've regained the level).

Paralysis: Unlike real world paralysis, this is 50's B-movie/Saturday Morning Cartoon paralysis, where you get frozen in place and can't move a muscle. Frank notes that the PC is still awake and aware, just unable to make any movements, including speaking. If you're paralyzed, you are automatically hit, no need to roll, just take damage. Ouch! Oh, and a Cure Light Wounds spell will cure it, but not heal damage at the same time. Good to be reminded of that. It's in the spell description, but players seem to often forget about that.

Poison: Again, another dangerous attack. Save or die! (Unless you have Expert Set level characters, then there's a spell for that.)

Frank does give us an optional rule, Poison Damage. Instead of save or die, a failed save means extra damage. Frank suggests picking a number between 1 and 4 and multiplying that by the poisoner's hit dice to determine how much extra damage is taken. Having seen the 5E method of using poison (which is basically like this), I'm tempted to use it some time. Chanbara may also be getting a slight tweak to its poison rules because of this...

Monster Descriptions
This section describes the various lines of the monster stat block.

Name: Obviously, the monster's name. If there's an asterisk after the name, it can only be hit by magical or special weapons.
Armor Class: Frank notes that this takes into account not only actual armor worn (if any) but also size, speed, thick skin, etc. And the DM is free to modify it. He gives an example of a hobgoblin in plate mail instead of leathers.
Hit Dice: We've already had a section on hit dice specifically, and we're referred back to that section (see the previous post, link up at the top). Any asterisks after the number refer to special powers of the creature, which makes them worth more XP.
Move: First is the movement rate per Turn (10 minutes), then the movement rate per round (for encounters). Now, we all know the Turn movement rate is really slow. It's often justified that exploring dangerous underground places by torchlight isn't easy, especially if you're also trying to map it, so movement is slow. But most monsters move just as slowly...
Attacks: Simple, this is the number and types of attack each monster has.
Damage: Again, simple. The amount of damage each attack deals, listed in the same order as attacks. Damage "by weapon" is assumed to be 1d6, unless the DM uses the alternate Variable Weapon Damage system (most of us do), but even then I often default to 1d6 just so I don't need to describe exactly what weapons each monster is using.
No. Appearing (Number Appearing): There was already some discussion of this previously (again, in the last post in the series, link up top), but we get a bit more in depth description of what the numbers mean. The first number is the number normally encountered in a dungeon, the second, in parenthesis, is the number usually encountered in the wilderness. If there is a dungeon lair for the monsters, use the outdoor number for the lair. Outdoor lairs may have 5 times this number! We've also got a reminder to adjust the numbers based on the monster's hit dice and the dungeon level, as described previously.
Save As: Again, the class and level to reference when rolling saving throws for the monster.
Morale: There was a good discussion of Morale back in the Procedures sections (part 3). One interesting thing to note here is that Frank says the numbers given are suggested values. Feel free to have emboldened kobolds or cowardly lizard men as you like.
Treasure Type: Fairly straight forward. Reference this to get the line to roll on on the treasure charts on pages 40-41. Frank helpfully explains that "nil" means none. Which is good, because I'm pretty sure this was the first time 11-year-old me had run across that term. Frank then explains that the letter is the lair treasure, unless it's in parenthesis which means it's individual treasure carried by each monster. For monsters without a parenthesis, they carry no treasure with them.
Alignment: Once again, which alignment is the monster? Frank does mention that animals are always Neutral, and that the DM should consider alignment when running the monsters. Oh, and only intelligent monsters can speak the alignment language (but sometimes it's up to the DM to judge which monsters are intelligent and which are not...Frank doesn't mention this, though).
XP Value: How much XP each individual monster of that type is worth. "However, the DM may give more XP for monsters in "tough" encounters, such as an attack on a well-defended lair" (p. 24). I think that's important to consider. Normally, the lair would be worth more XP because that's where most of the treasure is! But just like with most other numbers here (AC, Morale), the DM is free to adjust them as he or she sees fit.
Description: And we finally get the text that tells us about the monster - what it looks like (sometimes), its habits, special abilities, etc. Oh, and we get a brief explanation of the terms carnivore, herbivore, insectivore, omnivore, and nocturnal. And again, thanks Frank for helping teach me some new words! I'm pretty sure I knew nocturnal, but the technical terms for animal diets were, IIRC, new to me.

And that's that. The next post in the series will start in on monster entries.

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