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Short Stats

Utility and extrapolation in Chimera stat blocks

I started thinking about stat blocks, and my fetish for making them as short as possible. In practical terms, a short stat block is easier to reference, which (ostensibly) makes running encounters faster. There are ancillary benefits, too: less to write, less to cross-check, easier to generate, and (to some extent) more accessible to people new to the game. Yet the Chimera stat block–in full form–has about 12 fields, which isn’t exactly short.

stat block

All this for a goblin?!

What makes a Chimera stat block long? Well, you got stuff like Morale, Surprise, Frequency, specific Abilities, etc. These are all necessary when defining the monster, but not always  required when referencing that monster in an adventure or running it during an encounter. Still, if you cut away these bits, you risk losing important monster detail.

So let’s assume that simply removing stats from the stat block isn’t a good answer. Instead, let’s consider opportunities for shorthand by way of extrapolation. In other words, are there some stats that serve more than one purpose or provide more than one piece of information? For example, in D&D, each monster has Hit Dice, which gives you “level,” hit points, attack capability, XP base, saving throw, and maybe a couple of other on-the-fly things. In terms of tightening up the stat block, you’re getting 5 fields of information out of 1 stat.

Stat Shorthand

I’m thinking you could use monster Level as shorthand for several “default” stats during an encounter: Wound Limit, Surprise and Morale modifiers, and the AR for any pertinent Ability. Compare:

Full stat block
Ant, giant [1d4] (Lvl 1; MR 4”±1d2; WL 1 (T); DF 2 (+2); AB Athletics +1, Sneak +2; AT 1 bite +1 (IM +2, Dmg 1d2+grip†); SP Bug; RS +1: SR 9; ML 15; AL n/a)

vs.

Shorthand stat block
Ant, giant [1d4] (Lvl 1; MR 4”±1d2; DF 2 (+2); AT 1 bite (IM +2, Dmg 1d2+grip†); SP Bug)

Here’s how the shorthand version works: anything not explicitly included is assumed to be (somehow) level-based. Since giant ants are 1st-level, they are WL 1 and any Ability, Morale, or Resistance rolls get AR +1; assume Surprise attempt TNs are increased by +1.

Admittedly, this is fast and loose–shorthand trades detail for brevity, and you get slightly different values than the full stat block (e.g., Morale and Surprise TNs). You also end up trading a roster of specific Abilities for a default AR that you apply to any Ability. [1]

Some of you will point out (correctly) that I’m fudging the monster by ignoring full stats. But ask yourself: is the variance significant? Is the shorthand version close enough for government work?

Final Words

Given all that, first question: does this stat block make it easier to run the monster during an encounter?

If the answer is yes, second question: does this set a precedent for how monster stat blocks should look like in Chimera? I mean, originally, I was thinking that you’d only use this approach for fodder or “minion” types (giving big bads the full stat treatment). But if the shorthand approach has value, does that value apply in all situations, for all monsters? If so, should it be the default (or, as I like to put it, The New Way of Things)? That would make it much easier to create monsters, too.

And–just to give you a bit more to chew on–consider another possible advantage (which you won’t see coming unless you’re Greg MacKenzie and therefore privy to my super-secret Chimera schemes): if you carry this a bit further, you naturally gravitate to a closer coupling between monster level and monster capability, which makes it easier to “rate” a monster’s so-called challenge level. [2] In turn, this makes it easier to create challenge-based encounter tables.

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  1. Super-Useful-Extrapolation-Times: out of the gate, assume a monster has access to all Abilities. For stuff that the monster is definitely good at, apply the level-based AR. For stuff the monster might be good at, apply AR +0. For stuff the monster most assuredly sucks at, apply AR +0 and require a Critical Success on the Action Roll. This is a major opportunity to customise. Certainly your cave trolls are better at Spelunking than your swamp trolls. Similarly, I expect Sturluson dwarfs to be better at stealth than Tolkien’s.
  2. I don’t like this term or its connotations, and have no plans to incorporate some encounter-balancing mechanic. However, there is an intuitive need for some objective indicator of how hard an encounter is.

Categories: Game Mechanics Tags: ,
  1. Greg MacKenzie
    June 23rd, 2012 at 17:09 | #1

    I think it does, as shorthand, but then I’m horribly biased now that I’ve been identified as your co-conspirator.

    [2] The term “level” is problematic. And, I really dislike Challenge Level, which is tied into the whole Hit Die system. The CL term comes out of the SRD. I think Chimera goes farther along towards making a Skeleton a viable opponent for Character’s at higher levels than D&D does for example. There’s no reason why you can’t have a Level 3 Skeleton in Chimera with various improvements, the question then becomes how much grunt does that carry as an opponent vs. a Level 1 Vet, or vs. a Level 2 Vet?

  2. June 25th, 2012 at 06:47 | #2

    @Greg MacKenzie : Yeah, it’s possible for a 1st-level monster to land a lucky blow that could vanquish a mid- or even high-level character. That character would probably resist a killer blow, but he’d still be down for the fight.

    Go down the HD/level rabbit hole deep enough, and we land at hit points and Chainmail. Level isn’t meaningless, but neither is it completely objective–even in D&D.

    The shorthand approach needs some more testing, but even by itself, I’m starting to feel it’s a bit more useful as a stat.

  3. June 28th, 2012 at 13:17 | #3

    Anything that will make creating monsters easier is a plus in my book.

  4. June 28th, 2012 at 22:02 | #4

    @October : Message received… tune in this weekend.

  5. Robert
    December 8th, 2012 at 07:50 | #5

    I’m an old school D&D player, and I very much prefer the longer stat block. If you’re uber-familiar with that monster then the shorthand could work, but why bother with two styles?

  6. December 8th, 2012 at 10:55 | #6

    @Robert : I’m sure my personal playing style is coming to the surface here, so YMMV.

    For me, the short block makes it faster and easier to create a monster – with fewer stats, the block is more of a guideline than “rules,” so it’s about providing the concept of the monster with only as much crunch as is needed for play. I think this also gives individual GMs more flexibility in customising the monster for their campaigns, but again, this may be more about my “off-the-cuff” style.

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