Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Goblin +1

One idea I've mulled over is a shorthand system for notating stronger/weaker variations of monsters. Similar to magic items, it would simply follow monster's name with a plus or minus: Goblin +1, Goblin +2, Goblin -1, etc.

The modifier would be applied to the monster stats. In OD&D, humanoid leaders generally have an entire hit die or more than the standard version. So I would apply a modifier to the hit dice rather than just hit points, as well as bonuses to AC and damage.

For example, an Orc +1 would get an extra HD, which includes the corresponding increase in to-hit and saves, as well as +1 to damage and AC.

Orc (HD 1, AC 7, AT: 1 x 1d6)
Orc +1 (HD 2, AC 6, AT: 1 x 1d6+1)
Orc +2 (HD 3, AC 5, AT: 1 x 1d6+2)

For humanoids with less than 1 HD, I would convert the hit dice to nearest die and then add the modifier (for bonuses), or drop the hit dice to the next die (for penalties). For example, a goblin has HD 1-1, which is equivalent to a d6 hit dice. Thus:

Goblin (HD 1-1, AC 6, AT: 1 x 1d6)
Goblin +1 (HD 2d6, AC 5, AT: 1 x 1d6+1)
Goblin -1 (HD 1/2 (1d4), AC 7: AT: 1 x 1d6-1)

As it turns out a system of this nature, but with a different shorthand, was outlined in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia nearly twenty-five years ago. See this post on the The Disoriented Ranger blog for an excerpt of the rules from that volume. It's a little different in that the modifier is applied to hit points per hit dice, similar to a CON bonus. I think this works better for higher HD monsters. With low HD monsters, a one or two point change in hit points won't make a noticeable difference in the staying power of the monster in combat.

One could take this idea further and apply a bell curve roll (e.g. 3d6) to a group of monsters to determine which members are the leaders. Using the B/X stat modifiers, for example:

3: Monster -3
4-5: Monster -2
6-8: Monster -1
9-12: Monster 
13-15: Monster +1
16-17: Monster +2
18: Monster +3

On further thought, rather than rolling for a group, it'd be simpler to just give guidelines:
For every ~20 monsters, one will be +3, two will be +2, and three will be +1. 


  1. It's a good alternative to the system in the RC, I'd say. Especially weaker monsters will get quite powerful, but rare with the bell curve spread. What would you give for xp on those? And would the Goblin +1 hit like a 2HD monster, too, or more like a 1HD+1 (given the lower HD)?

    1. It's not perfect with those lower HD monsters. The OD&D/Holmes tables are a bit vague about where a 2 HD monster attacks, but I personally have it the same as 1+1, and 2+1 attacks as 3 HD. So here I would have the goblin attack as 1+1 to 2 HD, which is a +1 bonus. For XP, probably just use to 2 HD.

    2. See this post on ODD74 for discussion of clarification of the original attack matrices:
      Vol 1 errata

  2. It's a neat idea, and a fairly easy short hand. I'd probably reduce the spread as (unless I'm forgetting one), humanoids with larger leader-types all top out at +2 HD. Maybe do a 2D6 bell curve (like the reaction tables).

    1. Thanks. The 2d6 reaction spread would work fine, though in OD&D/Holmes there are some humanoid leaders with big boosts. A Hobgoblin king and his bodyguard fight as Ogres (HD 4+1), which is 3 HD over the standard Hob (1+1). Gnoll Kings/bodyguard fight as Trolls (HD 6 + 3), which is a power up of 4+2 HD! The Holmes rulebook also gives Kobold leaders 2 HD instead of 1/2 (this was added by Gygax, not Holmes).

    2. Huh. Yeah, my copy of Holmes has knoll leaders as 3 HD critters, but OD&D lists 'em as trolls.

      And B/X gives hobgoblin kings FIVE hit dice (stronger than ogres). Pretty beefy!