Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Here's why giant centipedes need a Strength stat

The older kid, home from college for the summer, says to me "I feel like making a D&D character." There's not an active game right now; she just likes making characters sometimes. I do too. So we sit down with our supplies.

First thing she reaches for? The  3.5 Monster Manual. We have a lot of D&D 3.0/3.5 stuff around the house, courtesy of my freelancing. It's a good system for people who enjoy making characters. She flips and flips and flips through the pages. Options are scrutinized. The relative playability of the carrion crawler is discussed. Eventually the shortlist falls into place: centaur, gnoll, mummy. I'm a bit surprised by the mummy. For a few minutes, we look for an easy way to make a gnoll mummy. It's not easy.

The kid settles on a gnoll. Then, and only then, does she reach for the PHB to consider classes.

It's one thing to say "I want to play a gnoll!" It's another thing to have some mechanical skeleton on which our gnoll can be draped. With the latter approach, the gnoll feels different when you play it. You get some of this, you lose some of that, and you end up not being identical to the elf or the hobgoblin or the human. Race, with some mechanical definition, sends you spinning on a particular trajectory. The character sheet looks different, and the imaginary experience feels different.

I still draw a line between biophysical abilities like Darkvision and envirocultural abilities like Stonecunning; races are applied biology, so the former works while the latter should instead be part of the character class or background or something.

But that's a tangent. Our throughline is that the kid, looking for an interesting D&D experience, wanted to start with a non-standard race. This task was easier for us because we had some fun numbers alongside the implied cultural notes. If she really wanted to make that carrion crawler into a PC, it would have been fine, and the numbers make it possible. Anything sentient is a potential PC -- and in a high magic game, possible sentience is all over the landscape. That's how the kid and I like it.

She picked a cleric, by the way. A gnoll cleric of Vecna. Her family was destroyed by mysterious beasties, so she wanders the landscape seeking knowledge of these beasties. By "seeking" she means "killing various people and then eating them to gain their knowledge." Because that kind of thing is also how the kid and I like it.

While all that was going on, I finally made that minotaur rogue I've been talking about for years. He does his best to fulfill the usual thieflike functions. Not so good at hiding, but really, who's going to call attention to a minotaur that looks like he doesn't want to be noticed? Couldn't afford thief's tools for him -- I doubled all my equipment costs on the assumption that it needed to be custom-made -- so instead he bought a portable ram that he calls "Lockpick." I might run a game just so that we can play these characters.

I like having stats for my monsters. Pretty often, they aren't monsters at all. They're the other PCs.


  1. I yearn to someday play a pack of blink dogs with collective intelligence.

  2. They'd be welcome in one of my games. I'm intrigued by the challenge of adapting a multi-body collective into a system that slaps arbitrary class/level limits on you.