I got your D&D Next Monster Manual right here, and so do you
One of the claims about D&D Next is that it will be possible to use material from earlier editions of the game, either right at the table or with the minimum of conversion. While it’s extremely early days for the system (and all of what I write below is likely to be outdated and superseded very quickly) I thought it would be fun to see if we could put that to the test using only what we have from the Open Playtest so far.
One of the great things about all of D&D’s history is it has a veritable wealth of monsters to choose from. My own bookcase has well over twenty different Monster Manuals, Folios, Compendiums, Tomes and Bestiaries (both official and Third Party) covering everything from the earliest days of D&D (All The World’s Monsters volumes I and II are still my favourite monster manuals, ever) to Fourth Edition. That’s a lot of monsters, and all ripe dropping straight into D&D Next.
But first we need to work out the how, with a little reverse engineering.
The mini-bestiary we have in the Open Playtest pack gives us alll of the monsters contained in the Caves of Chaos adventure, and we know (from the math in the character pregens) that Wizards of the Coast only gave us the numbers we need to playtest the game without showing us the underlying calculations. That’s cool because it means we can focus on what they want to playtest without getting sidetracked, but for this little experiment there’s a few things we need to work out – namely Hit Dice (or Levels, if you prefer) and how Hit Points for monsters are calculated.
What we do have are the XP values for the monsters, so let’s start there with a list of all the XP values given, in order.
It looks like XP values increase by 25 points per Level (or Hit Dice) to 200XP then increase by 50XP per Level after that. Adding the Hit Points for all of the creatures against the XP values, we get this:
25 1 1
75 2 4
100 5 5 5 5
125 11 11 10 11 9 15
300 66E 66E 45E
350 88L 75E 88L 44
400 60 110L
450 66 132L 132L
I’ve marked with an E the hit points of creatures which would be used as Elite or Solo monsters, and an L monsters that are Large size, for reasons which will become clear real soon.
From that, it looks like 100XP is the Level 1 (or 1 Hit Dice) baseline and the creatures with 25 and 75 XP are 1/4 and 3/4 HD monsters. As the average of 1d8 is 5 (rounding up), this very strongly suggests that all critter Hit Dice are d8s with Solo, Elite and Large creatures having their Hit Points doubled. The full progression would go like this:
|HD||Average HP||XP||Sample monster HP|
|1||5||100||5 5 5 5|
|2||10||125||11 11 10 11 9 15|
|7||35||300||66E 66E 45E|
|8||40||350||88L 75E 88L 44|
|10||50||450||66 132L 132L|
There’s a couple of oddities (which may mean I’m barking up the entirely wrong tree, of course). The Berserker only has 15hp, but is worth 200XP, pinning it as (by my calculation) a 5HD monster which should have an average of 25hp. This could be a typo (Berserkers should be 150XP, or have 25 hit points), or mean they are worth +50XP because of their Rage special ability. Or something else entirely.
The hit points given in the bestiary seem to suggest that the CON bonus isn’t added to the Hit Dice – it’s just a chunk of d8s rolled (or a number picked, if you explicitly want the monster to be stronger or more fragile than their Hit Dice average) and the game plays on. I approve this, if it’s the case. A monster’s Constitution should reflect its overall endurance and ability to shrug off the PC’s CON-based attacks, but a particular monster’s hit points (or lack of them, if low rolled) is more than that – maybe this monster was recently been injured, or is a particularly tough variant. Save the CON modifier for saving throws, and keep the game flowing as quickly as possible, that’s what I say.
Hit Dice appear to have no bearing whatsoever on attack bonus or AC. Regardless of how many XP the monster is worth, almost all attacks in the Bestiary have a to-hit value of the STR modifier (ir melee) or DEX modifier (if ranged) with a +2 proficiency bonus (+3 if the monster is wielding a Longsword, which suggests it’s weapon proficiency, even with natural weaponry such as Claws).
Likewise, AC is 10+DEX modifier plus some number depending on whether the monster has armour, fur, tough skin, etc. Simple. Again, I like.
Interestingly, this does mean (if I’m right, and it’s quite possible I’m far from that!) we have 10 Hit Dice monsters potentially fighting Level 1 PCs in the Caves of Chaos. and that’s freakin’ awesome.
Anyhow. Enough with the math detective work. Back to the Monster Manuals.
One thing that’s common to all prior editions of D&D is that all of the monsters have Hit Dice (or Levels, their 4e analogue). With that one number we can roll the hit points for D&D Next, or even use the hit points straight from the Monster Manual if they look about right. In general (and from my math above), Classic D&D and AD&D hit points would be fine to use as-is, Third Edition hit points may need re-rolling and 4e hit points definitely will.
If the monster is Elite (more capable and/or trained than its Hit Dice would suggest, a Solo (designed to be a significant threat on its own or with a few low-level minions) or Large sized, double the hit points.
From there, it’s a matter of working out the monster’s stats (or using them as-is for Third Edition. 4e stats will need downgrading) and pumping those modifiers into the creatures attacks, special abilities and Armour Class. Use the Bestiary as a baseline, especially for a monster’s Strength stat, and you won’t go far wrong. In the current playtest an Owlbear is Strength 17, the Ogre is Strength 18 and a Troll is Strength 19, so that should give you an idea of how the stats scale. Compared to 4e, it’s extremely flat, and that’s a Good Thing.
For non-weapon attacks you will likely need to downscale the number and type of dice, regardless of which edition you’re working from. The Bestiary strongly favours 1d6 for all (except Small and Tiny) natural attacks (even the mighty Troll’s claws are “only” 1d6, modified by STR). I do prefer a little more variety, so would use 1d8 (or even larger) for a monster’s unique attack. That way if I reach for the d8 on the table, the PCs know something special is about to happen.
When it comes to Spellcasting monsters, I suggest the best approach would be to pick (at most) four spells from it’s repertoire and make a one-line note about their effect. Let them use the lowest-level spell at-will, next lowest twice and any higher spells just once. If the battle continues any longer than that, improvise. You’re the DM. It’s ok.
Let’s put this all into practise by converting the Sasquatch from the D&D Rules Cyclopedia. This shy and reclusive beast is the perfect Wandering Monster; in high snow-covered mountains it has shaggy white fur and is known as a Yeti, while in lowland forests the brown (or black) coated variety is known by locals as “Bigfoot”. There’s plenty of scope to create other varieties for other terrains (“Swamp Thing” immediately comes to mind).
In the Rules Cyclopedia this is a Large 5 Hit Dice critter so let’s give it 26 hit points, doubled because of the Large size to 52hp.
I picture my Sasquatches (Sasquatchi?) as being as strong as Ogres but gentle, agile, none too smart (but there are exceptions who can be spellcasters or shamans) and oddly endearing. Let’s give them STR 18, DEX 12, CON 16, INT 7, WIS 12, CHA 11.
The Sasquatch has a handful of special abilities; if both their claws hit they can Hug for extra damage, throw Boulders and will fight to the death when defending their lairs. Taking a cue from Mike Mearl’s Hook Horror impale attack I make this an attack which does damage each round and the Grab can be escaped with a Strength check. The Boulder toss is a straight Ranged attack and I give the Sasquatch immunity to the Frightened effect when in it’s lair.
While the monsters in the Bestiary don’t (currently) have Skills, I think certain monsters merit having them to reflect something of their nature, and the Sasquatch is one of those beasts. It’s legendarily difficult to spot and track, so I give it Stealth +3. Hunting ‘quatches is only for the skilled and/or foolish.
For extra bonus points, here’s the final statblock for D&D Next formatted in a style inspired by Fourth Edition D&D, with thanks to Obsidian Crane, Alphastream and Wrecan for guidance, and to Eric for suggesting I use colourblind-friendly colours. It’s good to know we’re all thinking along the same lines!
For a Shaman increase WIS by 2, reduce STR by 2 and add Cleric spells to taste. For an Arcane spellcaster increase INT by 4, reduce STR by 4 and add Wizard spells as required. Job done.
Convert the monster’s abilities using these guidelines, and you should be able to do the math right at the table with a little practise. All those Monster Manuals you own? They’re good for D&D Next. Go to it!