Annotated 5E Monster Stats
In my recent delve into the world of OSR roleplaying, I find myself super intrigued by its streamlined statistics for monsters. Having grown up on Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 Edition and finding my biggest niche with 5th Edition, I'm used to tomes of flowing text telling me exactly how a particular monster is laid out. For example, let's look at how the Skeleton is statted out in both Pathfinder 2E and D&D 5E:
Neutral Evil, Medium, Mindless, Skeleton, Undead
Senses Perception +2; darkvision
Skills Acrobatics +6, Athletics +3
Str +2, Dex +4, Con +0, Int -5, Wis +0, Cha +0
Items scimitar, shortbow (20 arrows)
AC 16; Fort +2, Ref +8, Will +2
HP 4, negative Healing; Immunities death effects, disease, mental, paralyzed, poison, unconscious;
Resistances cold 5, electricity 5, fire 5, piercing 5, slashing 5
Speed 25 feet
Melee [one-action] scimitar +6 (forceful, sweep), Damage 1d6+2 slashing
Melee [one-action] claw +6 (agile, finesse), Damage 1d4+2 slashing
Ranged [one-action] shortbow +6 (deadly 1d10, range increment 60 feet, reload 0), Damage 1d6 piercing
Medium undead, lawful evil
Armor class 13 (armor scraps)
Hit points 13 (2d8+4)
Speed 30 ft.
Str 10(+0), Dex 14(+2), Con 15(+2), Int 6(-2), Wis 8(-1), Cha 5(-3)
Damage vulnerabilities bludgeoning
Damage immunities poison
Condition immunities exhaustion, poisoned
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 9
Languages understands all languages it knew in life but can't speak
Challenge 1/4 (50 xp)
Shortsword. Melee weapon attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6+2) piercing damage.
Shortbow. Ranged weapon attack: +4 to hit, range 80/320 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6+2) piercing.
The text isn't massive by any means, but to someone like me, they still appear like a mouthful. The stats have numerous examples of restating and explaining concepts that I don't find necessary. Granted, these two systems are the most accessible to new players, so laying out the instructions in an upfront manner isn't a bad design choice. The system caters to bring in new players by keeping the manuals as uncomplicated as possible, which is a formatting design I support.
But people like me want something quicker.
We want something smaller!
We want something sleek!
Because in these OSR adventures I've been reading, holy poopbutt do the monster stats get concentrated down to the most minute details for easy skimming. In Skerple's Tomb of the Serpent King, an OSR adventure specifically designed for new DM's, here is a stat line for the first skeleton monster the players come across:
Attack 1d6 (claw)
Undead take less damage from slashing weapons.
And that's it. Wait, that's it? Yep! In that little except, I know everything I need to know up front about the skeleton. It has 2 Hit Dice worth of life (so just roll 2d6 or 2d8 to see what it has), a morale of 12 (so it doesn't flee), and an attack that does 1d6 damage (attack bonus is probably equal to its Hit Dice, so I can assume it's +2 to hit). There are no listed base abilities, no listed languages, no... damn near everything. This is because GM's/DM's/Referees/Storytellers like me who become more familiar with our preferred systems can plug these missing stats on the fly.
Off the bat, I can just give the skeleton Strength 12, Dexterity 13, Constitution 12, Intelligence 5, Wisdom 10, and Charisma 10 because... eh, seems right. With that Dexterity score, I'll boost its unlisted AC up by 1 (so it's at 11), and with its Strength, I'll add 1 extra damage to its attacks. It's honestly up to the boss behind the screen what all is necessary, and since most of the abilities correspond to attacks/skills/saves, they might not be needed altogether.
So what if I shorthand the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition skeleton down to an OSR format? How would that look? Hell, let's see...
D&D Skeleton (Annotated)
AC 13; HP 13 (2d8); SP 30 ft.; DV bludg; DI pois; CI exhaust pois; SN darkv 60 ft., pP 9; AT shortsword +4 (1d6+2), shortbow +4 (1d6+2)
And... works for me! Basic ability scores are just incorporated into stats anyways. I know how the party can hit it, I know how it can hit the party, and I know how long it takes for the party to beat it down. In fact, I can go with the whole it's-a-skeleton-use-your-common-sense and shorten it even further:
D&D Skeleton (Annotatedly Annotated)
AC 13; HP 13 (2d8); SP 30 ft.; SN darkv 60 ft., AT shortsword +4 (1d6+2), shortbow +4 (1d6+2)
It's an undead monster, so of course it can't be poisoned or exhausted or all that other stuff, right? And hell, sure it can see in the dark. Chances are it has no eyes anyways, and it won't be blind. It's a magical corpse-person. Also, most GM's are familiar enough with skeletons at this point to know the gist of them. They ony need a brief reminder of their stats without having to break out a Monster Manual, which is what this annotation does.
So why go through all of this anyways?
In one of my recent publications, Petey's Pork Pie Emporium, I wanted to include a cheat sheet reference sheet with every single monster's stats listed out for the DM to be able to see at a glance. Due to formatting choices though, I had to nix it in favor of NPC reference sheets and some random generation charts. Here's what it looked like once completed:
Obviously, the decision to break out the Monster Manual may be obvious for certain monsters like the Balor or the Ghost due to the sheer abundance of extra abilities they have, but with proper shorthand and corner-cutting, I was able to fit all monster stats onto a 5.5 x 8.5 digest-size page for this publication. My custom monsters (the ones in italics) had more fleshed out entries in the appendix that were akin to the Monster Manual layouts.
But for my upcoming self-published adventures, I'm considering dumping the fleshed out appendix altogether and just keeping things simple, letting the DM fill in any unlisted details. Take two of the NPC's I have, for example:
There you have it. Everything you need to know about them, stat wise. They have armor, some hit points, a few designated saving throws and skills, some weapons, and the spellcaster has a save DC as well as a to-hit modifier. Nifty, eh?
Will newer DM's find some confusion in this listing? Perhaps. Actually, I'm sure they will, but in my adventure writing, I receive numerous questions already from players and DM's running my adventures asking "Is it okay if I incorporate XYZ into this?" Or "Can I change XYZ to that?" And the answer is yes! It's always yes! Want to scrap the dungeon boss and replace it with your own, maybe the missing father of a PC who is up to nefarious deeds? Hell yeah! If I wanted a scripted series of unchangeable events, I'd write books.
I mean, I have written books...
But adventures are interactive, plug-in-and-pluck-out scenarios. Perhaps the greatest DM tip you can ever take from this ramble about annotated D&D monster stats is that you can take anything you buy or download and run it however you see fit. I'm not going to Samuel Beckett anybody (damn is that a stretch of a reference). Want to give my questgiver a penis sticking out of his head? Sure! ... and email me a link to the actual play recording because I really want to see how that goes.
To support more of my rambles and trash, you can purchase my adventures over at the shop. Look, it's over there. Click on it. I heard Petey's Pork Pie Emporium is entertaining, and damn did Bryce Lynch really like Everyone Plows the Graveyard Farm.