Monday, February 22, 2016

Pathfinder: Breaking Down Big Dumb Statblocks

In the Pathfinder game I DM'd this weekend, we encountered a mighty behemoth: Not an actual behemoth, but rather a massive, incomplete, two-page stat block for a single monster. I ran the fight well enough, I suppose, and my players had a couple laughs once the fight was over and I showed them the stats for the monster they'd just defeated.

Despite the fact that I've been playing some flavor of 3rd edition for over a decade, I realized I need a better system for engaging with the system. Because the statblock from this weekend is from a copyrighted module, I'll just grab this OGC statblock that's somewhat comparable, and we can break it down together.

Taken from Pathfinder OGC, here's the Collegiate Arcanist.

Collegiate ArcanistCR 10
XP 9,600
Human Wizard 5/Collegiate Arcanist 6
NG Medium humanoid (human)
Init +1; Senses Perception +2


AC 14, touch 12, flat-footed 13 (+1 deflection, +1 Dex, +2 natural)
hp 68 (11d6+27)
Fort +8, Ref +7, Will +14
Defensive Abilities blessed warding


Speed 30 ft.
Melee club +4 (1d6–1)
Special Attacks hand of the apprentice (8/day)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 6th)
Wizard Spells Prepared (CL 11th; concentration +16)
6thsummon monster VI
5thbreak enchantmentdismissal (DC 20), dominate person (DC 20)
4thice stormreincarnateshout (DC 19), solid fog
3rdcure moderate woundsdaylightdispel magic, magic circle against evil†, remove disease (DC 18)
2ndacid arrowflame bladeresist energyscorching ray,warp wood
1stmage armormagic missile (2), ray of enfeeblement (DC 16), shillelagh (2)
0th (at will)detect magiclightmage handread magic
† If cast as a good spell, this spell is cast at +1 caster level and lasts an additional 6 rounds.


Str 8, Dex 12, Con 14, Int 20, Wis 14, Cha 10
Base Atk +5; CMB +4; CMD 16
Feats Combat CastingCraft Wondrous ItemEmpower Spell,Greater Spell PenetrationIron WillScholarScribe ScrollSpell Mastery (baleful polymorphdispel magicresist energysummon monster VI), Spell Penetration
Skills Diplomacy +14, Fly +15, Heal +16, Knowledge (arcana) +23,Knowledge (history) +19, Knowledge (nature) +23, Knowledge(religion) +19, Spellcraft +19
Languages Abyssal, Celestial, Common, Draconic, Infernal, Polyglot, +1 additional
SQ arcane bond (amulet), aura, halcyon magic*, immediate spell mastery* (1/day), intoned recollection*, lasting goodness, spontaneous spell mastery* (1/day), superior spell mastery*, virtuous spells
Combat Gear scroll of lesser restorationscroll of teleportwand of cure moderate wounds (39 charges), wand of shield (25 charges),holy water (2); Other Gear clubamulet of natural armor +2, cloak of resistance +3, headband of vast intelligence +2, ring of protection +1, spell component pouch, spellbooks (2; contain all 0-level spells and all prepared spells as well as the following: 6th—globe of invulnerability; 5th—baleful polymorphteleport; 4th—black tentaclescharm monsterstone shape; 3rd—fireballgaseous form,hold person; 2nd—cat's graceinvisibilityspider climb; 1st—endure elementsfeather fallidentifyprotection from evilshield), 168 gp


Halcyon Magic (Su)

The Collegiate arcanist can cast a limited number of druid spells. They are all listed under his prepared spells.

Immediate Spell Mastery (Sp)

Once per day, the collegiate arcanist can cast any spell he has mastered with the Spell Mastery feat, even if he hasn't prepared it that day. He can't modify it with metamagic feats or other abilities.

Intoned Recollection (Ex)

A number of times per day equal to his Intelligence modifier, the collegiate arcanist can prepare a spell in an open arcane spell slot with 1 minute of preparation. It can't be a slot that was previously filled and expended that day; it must have purposefully been left empty when the arcanist prepared his spells. The arcanist must be able to read his spellbook or have mastered the spell with the Spell Mastery feat to prepare it in this way.

Spontaneous Spell Mastery (Ex)

Once per day, the collegiate arcanist can "lose" any prepared spell slot to cast a spell of the same level or lower which she has mastered with the Spell Mastery Feat.

Superior Spell Mastery (Ex)

By spending 24 hours studying over a maximum of 3 days, the collegiate arcanist can change the spells he has mastered with the Spell Mastery feat. He can choose a number of spells up to his Intelligence modifier, which have a maximum combined spell level equal to or less than his caster level, to replace the same number of spells he previously selected for his Spell Mastery feat.

As-is, this is waaay too much text to be useful for a DM. None of the spell descriptions are in the statblock, and none of the Feats are described, either. So if we add all those bits, this statblock quickly becomes a database, and even more useless.

How can we simplify this character into a useful NPC?

First, let's look at oD&D would do it. Formatting preferences aside, I'm sure it'd look something like this:
Collegiate Arcanist. 11 HD (68 hp), Move 30. Spells prepared: Summon Monster VI, Dominate Person, Baleful Polymorph, Ice Storm, Shout, Dispel Magic, Resist Energy, Flame Blade, Mage Armor, Magic Missile. The Arcanist has a scroll of teleport and a wand of cure light wounds with 50 charges. He is also constantly under the effects of a Protection from Evil spell which cannot be dispelled (enchanted monsters cannot attack the Arcanist and evil creatures suffer -1 to their attack rolls).
Wow. Still super verbose for oD&D, but yeah, I could merely glance at this and actually know what the wizard does

He opens up by casting Summon Monster VI (shadow demon or triceratops is the only real question as to what you get on that list), then follows by casting Dominate Person and Baleful Polymorph until someone kills him or he escapes. This dude is a save-or-die spammer with dinosaur bodyguards. 

Now, that wonderfully brief statblock is much too small for Pathfinder. Where are the Reflex saves? What if I want to grapple the Arcanist? These are legit questions with legit game mechanics attached, so that leads to another question: What are the essential pieces of the Pathfinder combat mechanics?

In my experience/opinion, nearly every monster needs...

Ability Scores
Armor Class
Hit Dice / Points
Saving Throws
Attacks (including CMB and CMD)
Special Abilities

This guy doesn't need all that.

Movement speed isn't necessary to list unless it's exceptional. Skills that aren't Sense Motive or Perception aren't necessary to list for NPCs either, strictly speaking (In my opinion, it's always best to have your NPCs either know or not know a thing. If you as a DM really can't decide, roll 50/50.) The Arcanist's attacks aren't necessary to list either, as a CR 10 should never be hitting for d6-1 damage with a club. He will be dead or surrender long before that point. Superior Spell Mastery is also thoroughly worthless knowledge. Our NPCs either can or can't cast a spell. Don't muddy the waters.
Collegiate Arcanist. 11 HD (68 hp), AC 14. Fort +8, Ref +7, Will +14. CMB +4 CMD 16. Initiative +1.
Spells Prepared (Concentration +16): Summon Monster VI, Dominate Person, Baleful Polymorph, Ice Storm, Shout, Dispel Magic, Resist Energy, Flame Blade, Mage Armor, Magic Missile
Spell Mastery: The Arcanist may cast Summon Monster VI, Baleful Polymorph, Dispel Magic or Resist Energy twice.
Blessed Warding: The Arcanist can't be attacked by evil summoned creatures. Against attacks made my evil characters, he is AC 16 and his saving throws are made at +2. Against mind-controlling spells, this bonus increases to +4 and the Arcanist is allowed a second saving throw if the first one fails.
Treasure: The Arcanist has a scroll of teleport and a wand of cure light wounds with 50 charges. He will use these to escape and heal if the fight is going poorly. He also wears a headband of intellect +2 and an amulet of natural armor +2, carries a spellbook and 168 gp.
You can fill out the Spellbook as much or as little as you like. In my experience, most fights don't last enough to warrant filling out every first level spell slot - NPC wizards unleash their heavy hitters early and die to the spell warded paladin's critical smite evil two turns later, or they connect with disintegrate and the party rolls a new druid.

Also, it's helpful to have the stats for Summon Monster VI beasts close-at-hand. That's what this opponent is going to do, right? Summon monsters and then follow up with Baleful Polymorphs and Dominate Persons until someone kills him or he escapes via Teleport.

Here's the triceratops just for kicks.

Triceratops. 14 HD (119 hp), AC 21 (touch 7). Fort +15, Ref +8, Will +5.
CMB +20, CMD 29/33 v. trip. Initiative -1. Space/Reach 15 ft.
Melee Attack: Gore +17 (2d10 +12) or Power Attack Gore +15 (2d10 + 16)
Powerful Charge (4d10 + 16). This extra damage is dealt only on a successful charge attack.
Trample (1d8+12, Reflex DC 25 for half). As part of a charge attack, the Triceratops can move through squares occupied by enemies. Enemies can move or stay. Enemies which stay are trampled if the Triceratops makes a CMB check versus the enemy's CMD. If the Triceratops succeeds by 5 or more, the enemy is knocked prone.
Damn near everything you need in 1/5 the space. Of course, this process increases prep time in a game that's already making egregious demands for prep time, but it should balance out because now you're not spending the whole game looking up rules.

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