August 3, 2008

Treasure, Terrain, Organization, Society, and Other Metadata Madness

Don't get me wrong, I love the new 4E Monster Manual. All those juicy statblocks save me tons of time. I mean, there's 489 of them! But... There's a crappy index. And, there are fewer monsters in it than any other edition (~150 or so). And there's no Terrain or Climate data for any of the monster. Oh, and there's no information on the kinds of treasures usually associated with each monster. And there's no ecology, or lair, or... or... or... oh for fucks sake. Let's just admit it: the new 4th Edition Monster Manual has some major problems. At least when compared to the 3E version. But do the omissions above really matter? Experienced DM's (like myself) will say "No, not really." "I never used that information anyway." or something similar. And this may be true, but I think all this "metadata" is still useful. It acts as a source for the imagination, helps us shape consistent environs for our players, and serves to guide our choices when building encounter tables. Not to mention, of course, that the 3E metadata that was available was hugely useful for NEW DM's.

This post was prompted because I use Encounter Tables. I generally put together these tables for each wilderness area/zone the player may adventure through. Putting these together is a pain in 4E because there's no Terrain information for any of the MM entries. Then it clicked: there's really not much beyond the tactics for each statblock and a couple very short paragraphs of "Lore" for each monster section. Luckily I have a sizable 3E collection, and I find that keep looking back to those older books.

If you were a new DM, and I were to ask you "Can you give me a list of creatures under level 5 that would be found in a temperate plains region of the world?" or "What creatures around level 10 are found in cold, mountainous regions?" These questions would be tricky to answer using the 4E Monster Manual. I'm thinking of putting together a table that summarizes this info for DM's playing 4th Edition who are new to the game.


  1. Actually it's one of the main reasons why I (for the time bein') decided to stick with Pathfinder instead of 4e - actually it is one of the reasons why I decided in a running game to switch back to Pathfinder.
    I find the new monster manual is really the worst MM I've got at home, I liked the second edition ones pretty much, I loved the planescape ones, I really thought the FR ones were pretty good, I liked .... - and when 3e came out I think they did a pretty good job on the MM(s) - actually they even incorporated information on various settings with a few "ideas" - so you got your imagination flying within moments.

    Of course, it's a nice statblock, and helpful information - but only if you're running a 80%+ hack and slay campaign. :(

  2. I really agree with you, though I think a good bit of that information was included in many of the Lore entries, it almost feels hidden there. Part of me is glad that I didn't pay for a book that contained so much re-hashed info I could just get from older books, and I'm definitely glad to make use of older books (which I've been doing so far in 4E, referring to my 3rd Ed. monster manuals). However, another part of me really feels like the book is incomplete in many of these ways!

    I'd love to help out with creating something that adds to the 4E monster manual in these ways, let me know! At the very least, I'd use something like that in a heartbeat.

  3. @ The Lemming : Welcome back! Yeah, once again 4E seems somewhat more accessible to the Hack'nSlash game table; but overall I still think the system is a major improvement.

    @ Bartoneus: Welcome! It's always nice to see new faces, err Aliases, around here. Well, I've been developing an idea about saving the old 3E pearls, like the metadata I'm talking about in the above post, and I recently put that idea into practice. Basically, I'm developing a wiki for my campaign that will include encounter tables, encounters, templates, 4E conversions, new monsters, etc etc for myself and anyone else who is interested. Since my campaign is set in the FRCS (its a time saver), some of this information will be usefull to a small number of people.

    Now, if the site were expanded, and more people pitched in to help - then even more people could make use of it becuase there would be, well... more information there that is not in the 4E books.

    Now, i'm probably not making sense - so check it out for yourself. It's small, but its a start.


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