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Hi all, my name is Aeryn Rudel, although most people know me by my EN World handle “Blackdirge.” I’ve been working as a freelance RPG designer and editor for a couple of years now, and a lot of the freelance work I’ve done involves stat block creation and editing. In fact, if you look at the last thirty or so products released by Goodman Games (especially the DCCs and the Xcrawl stuff), you’ll see me listed as a proofreader, editor, or stat block editor, or all three. Anyway, I thought I might offer a little stat block advice for those advancing to the next round.
Below, I’ve highlighted just a few things to watch out for when creating your stat blocks. This includes some of the more common errors I've seen when editing.
The errors I've seen here usually crop up after the edition of a template, as many templates change the base creature’s type, and may add additional subtypes. For example, the addition of the vampire template changes the type of the base creature to Undead and adds the Augmented subtype. Most often, it’s the subtypes that are forgotten. So, if you plan to use a template for your villain, make sure you have the right type and subtype listed.
Make sure you denote bonus feats with a superscript “B.” This includes bonus feats from templates, race, and levels in the fighter class.
I find more errors here when editing than anywhere else. These errors are almost always attributable to the same two things: synergy bonuses and racial bonuses.
Synergy bonuses must be included in the final skill modifier for a monster or NPC. Even if a monster or character has no ranks in a particular skill, the skill should still be listed if there is a synergy bonus present. The exception to this rule are skills that can't be used untrained, such as the Tumble skill. So, for instance, if your villian has 5 ranks in Jump, but no ranks in Tumble, he doesn't get the +2 synnergy bonus, and Tumble is not listed among his skills.
Racial bonuses are treated the same way as synergy bonuses. Even if your elf has no ranks in Listen, he still gets his +2 racial bonus, and Listen should be included in his skill list.
Other things that should be included in your villain’s final skill modifiers are armor check penalties, feat bonuses, and bonuses or penalties for movement rate (Climb, Jump, Swim).
The most common problem I see here is using a “0” instead of a “-“ for a monster that has no score in a certain ability score. The first denotes a helpless, debilitative state from ability damage or drain, while the second denotes the absolute lack of a score due to the nature of the monster.
Make a checklist of things that commonly modify stats (ability scores, feats, racial bonuses, magical items, etc.) and run through it once you’ve finished your stat block. This is especially important for the AC, Saves, Attack/Full Attack, and Skill entries. A checklist will help you remember everything, especially when stat blocks get complicated with the addition of templates, class levels, and magical items.
Check Your Math!
Seriously, use a calculator or, even better, use a spreadsheet. Do not try to add up the base attack modifier for a half-dragon minotaur fighter5/rogue5/wizard5 in your head. You will screw it up. =]
Good luck in the next round!