Wednesday, 16 July 2014

D&D 5e Monsters: Part 1: Starter Set Monsters

D&D 5e Monsters: Part 1: Starter Set Monsters

In which Surf shares some observations on monsters in the D&D 5e Starter Set and tells us what we can expect in upcoming articles...


Starter Set Monsters

First up no, this is not another Starter Set unboxing. This is not another "I just got the Starter Set" post. I was lucky enough to gain access to the Starter Set monsters about a week early and commenced my analysis then. I have yet to open my own personal copy of the Starter Set... It's waiting for me to finish writing this post!


First Impressions

The D&D 5e Starter Set contains the adventure Lost Mine Of Phandelver, which in turn includes the ten page Appendix B: Monsters. The first two pages of Appendix B discuss monster statistics and the remaining eight pages contain 27 monsters.

Now my goal with monster analysis has always been to peel back the covers on the underlying math, allowing us to construct reliable and appropriate Monsters. As you might imagine I wasn't expecting to be able to unlock much about 5e monsters with a sample size of a mere 27 low-level creatures! I was resigned to waiting for the Monster Manual release on the 3rd of October before I could do any useful analysis.

But I was to receive a very pleasant surprise!


The Good

It's apparent that after the last playtest packet Wizards Of The Coast wiped the slate clean and started fresh with both monster math and monster construction. It's readily evident that the monsters in the Starter Set support a straightforward method of monster construction. A few hours of preliminary analysis confirmed that the creatures all follow a consistent set of rules that facilitate a straightforward, process-oriented build method. On the few occasions where a creatures falls outside these rules the exception is for obvious reasons. Reasons that apply uniformly across other similar examples. This build process has some similarities to the way PCs are built, but is somewhat simpler and and looser.

Another benefit of following a process-oriented build is that it encourages the DM to think about the monster they are constructing as something more than raw numbers. It also promotes variety in the pool of creatures that emerge over time.

My instincts tell me that there is likely more than one way that D&D 5e monsters can be built. In fact, I get the feeling that if a result-oriented method isn't directly supported one can be built without too much difficulty... Given a sufficient volume of monster samples to draw on.


The Bad

The biggest issue facing analysis is the tiny sample size. Although a lot is obvious about 5e monsters from the Starter Set there are a number of areas we simply cannot break down until we have a larger sample size. Challenge Rating (aka CR) and Damage are the two key areas that present this difficulty.

Another problem resulting from the small sample of low level monsters is, of course, scaling to higher levels. The Starter Set does include creatures from CR0 through to CR8, but there is only one CR8 creature (the Young Green Dragon) and one CR4 creature (the Flameskull). The rest of the monsters range fairly evenly from CR0 through CR3. Until we can analyse a volume of higher level monsters we won't be certain of how our results scale or of any stepping or bumps needed along the way.

Finally, there is a downside to using a process-oriented build methodology. While these approaches generally have some resiliancy built into them the final result may still be significantly weaker or stronger than anticipated. There are ways to compensate for this or check against it, but these are difficult to discover with small sample sizes.


The Ugly

An analysis hoping to prove useful in the short term will need to deal with the issues described above. And this is where it gets a bit dirty. The only real option is to plainly flag where there's a shortfall, use a placeholder that seems appropriate and revisit the area once more data is available.


Where To From Here?

Based on the above observations and assumptions I decided to make a rough long-term plan for my D&D 5e monster analysis. This plan has five distinct phases...

  1. Monster Construction. In this first phase we'll flesh out what I've explored of monster design, flagging items as described above. This phase will be driven primarily out of Basic D&D and the Starter Set. I expect it to last only a few short weeks and plan to make 2-3 blog posts a week during this period.
  2. Preparation. Once the first phase is completed I will prepare for the deeper analysis the Monster Manual release will trigger. This will mainly consist of analysis of PC data, similar to the Class Analysis I did for my D&D Next series. During this time new official D&D 5e monsters may also be release and, if appropriate, I will post updates for the Monster Construction phase. Basic D&D and the Player's Handbook will be the main sources of this work. New blog posts will be few and far between during this period.
  3. Monster Manual Data Entry. The day I get my hands on the new Monster Manual I'll be consumed with entering all of the monsters into a spreadsheet and doing the preliminary number crunching. Don't expect any blog posts during this period, but it will only last a couple of weeks.
  4. Review. The first thing we'll do with our Monster Manual data is check our Monster Construction guidelines. We'll make any necessary corrections and fill in any gaps we can. Then we'll look to extend it to higher level creatures. This will probably take a couple of weeks.
  5. Deep Analysis. Finally I'll embark on a much deeper analysis of monsters. The results of this will look similar to much of my D&D Next Monster Analysis. It's difficult to estimate how long this will take or how frequent blog posts will be. But the aim is to produce tables that support a result-oriented monster construction methodology.