I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Monster stats - minimalism x efficiency

Timothy S. Brannan has recently written an interesting post on The Other Side blog, comparing monster stat blocks in different old school systems. Take a look, it is well worth the read.

Making smaller stat blocks is an idea I've been pursuing myself in the context of "minimalist D&D". But, once again, I realized "minimalism" might be misleading, so terms such as efficiency, essentialism or elegance might be clearer - even though the very concept of minimalist, as I've mentioned in the link above, is exposing the essence of things.

“Minimalism describes movements in various forms of art and design […] where the work is set out to expose the essence, essentials or identity of a subject through eliminating all non-essential forms, features or concepts.” (source)


Look at these two stat blocks (from Timothy's post).

The second one is from Swords & Wizardry*:

Both are good, both are terse enough. The second one LOOKS simpler, so you'd think I'd favor it... but wait. Look at all this wasted space. It could be a couple of lines: 

Orc. HD 1, AC 6 [14], spear (1d6) or scimitar (1d8), ST 17, Move 12, Chaotic, CL/XP 1/15.

("Special: none" is the subject for another post, but you can imagine I really dislike this...)

The second one at least has an excuse for taking so much space: they are describing 4 monsters. The monsters are similar enough that you certainly could makes things even easier, but the amount of information contained there is awesome.

The "number encountered" line is specially noteworthy (and useful); it describes, very succinctly, the orcs' military organization. An important bit of information that you will rarely find in modern D&D!

Could we reduce it to a few lines? Probably. Something like...

Orc. HD 1, AC 6, weapon, ST 17, Move 12, Morale 8, Chaotic, XP 10.
* Lieutenant (1:10). HD 2, +1 damage, ST 16, XP 20.
* Captain (1:20). HD 3, +1 damage, ST 15, attacks 3/2, XP 30.

But the advantage is a bit less obvious here than in the first case.

There are infinite ways to do that, these are just two example. I really like how Low Fantasy Gaming deals with monsters, for example. Instead of the often repeated "Special: none", every monster has something special (requiring a natural 19).

Anyway, I'll be tackling 5e monsters soon. Just thought this observation was worth sharing.

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  1. I really like your Orc example. Stats ready to copy/paste into an adventure yet create a variety of Orcs. Very usable, and usability should be taken more seriously in my opinion.

    1. "Usability should be taken more seriously in my opinion" - you are completely right! This is what I look for in RPGs. The amount of inefficiency and redundancy is appalling.

  2. The Orc table is great. I'd like to see more monsters that can be grouped thematically (goblins/hobgoblins, ghouls/ghasts, etc.) more than crazy one-off monsters I'll probably never use. The other benefit is that if you need something more/less powerful, it's right in front of you -- no flipping through 50 pages of glossy artwork the players will never see.

    1. Yes, I love this too. You can have lots of information in relatively small space, making things flow smoothly while your are GMing.

  3. Thanks for the shout out!

    I do like the elegance of your stat block. Certainly easy to read.