Alrighty, so I’m back with the second part on my conversion of the Dragon Age RPG from Green Ronin over to 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Some of the things that I discuss here refer to points I made in my previous article so if you haven’t read that I suggest checking it out first. A bit of a warning: this post really gets into the nuts and bolts of 5th Edition D&D monster creation. If you’re a new DM I’d recommend following along with the monster creation rules on page 274 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Example – The Shriek
All set? Perfect.
Right, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of actually creating a monster in 5th Edition! I’m going to use the Shriek as an example as I think it’s quite an interesting study in both capturing the essence of a creature and reflecting that in the mechanics, as well as balance. The rules for creating and customising creatures are presented in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) on page 274 and they are absolutely fantastic. I was constantly referencing them as I did all of my Dragon Age conversions.
If you’re unaware, Shrieks are basically the assassin’s of the darkspawn and are essentially corrupted elves. They’re fast and stealthy but also sort of squishy (i.e. easily killed). I’ll break the design down bit by bit.
The first thing to do when creating a monster is to decide on its challenge rating (CR). From there you can reference the table in the DMG p.274 to determine its proficiency bonus. There’s a good chance that the monster’s CR will change by the end of the design but it’s important to pick a starting point so you have a skeleton to work with. I had already created a Genlock and Hurlock at CR3 so I set out intending for the Shriek to float somewhere between 3 and 5. I decided to go for the higher end of the scale and earmarked a CR of 5, giving me a proficiency bonus of +3.
So here’s the first chunk of work. You can see for the attribute/ability score modifier I pretty much lifted the scores directly. The only changes I really made were to give the Shriek +1 Intelligence, and give it a +1 Constitution for a little bit of a hit point boost.
For the Shriek’s armour class (AC) I decided to give it studded leather along with the +5 from its Dexterity bonus. The DARPG gives the Shriek “tough hide” which means its skin is the equivalent of Light Leather armour in that system. This is one of those situations where a design decision just felt better – the Shriek’s depicted in later Dragon Age games wear armour, some of it metal, and it’s not really mentioned that they have particularly thick skin. So overall it felt far more natural for the Shriek to be wearing studded leather – I mean the other darkspawn get to wear armour, why wouldn’t the Shriek? The decision was also partly because at early level CR’s for monsters, the recommended AC typically goes up in increments of 2 points and hangs there for a few levels. Plus I like prime numbers…
Hit point wise, the Shriek uses a d8 for its hit dice per the recommendation in the DMG and it has 6d8 hit dice because that seemed to work well for the Genlock and the Hurlock (as I made more and more creatures it became easier to create and balance them as I could reference new creatures against ones I’d already created). When calculating dice rolls for things like HP and damage, you average out to half the dice plus 0.5, so a d8 is considered 4.5 (this table is on p.276 of the DMG). The Shriek’s final hit points are 33 ((4.5 x 6) + 6). That extra +6 is because the Shriek has 6 hit dice and as such gains +1 HP per hit dice due to its +1 Constitution modifier (basically like a 6th level character).
For the Shriek’s speed I used the Elf race in the Player’s Handbook (PHB) as reference, seeing as a Shriek is a corrupted elf…sort of. Elves have a speed of 35ft, so I decided to give the Shriek a speed of 40ft to reflect its “unnatural” speed and give it a bit more of a fear factor. I wanted players to think “Holy crap that thing is fast!”
Damage Immunities, Condition Immunities, Senses and Languages are inline with what I use for almost all the darkspawn, along with the Sunlight Sensitivity feature. For skills I used the Focuses from the DARPG (the things in the brackets) as a jumping off point. Running became Athletics, Hearing became Perception, Tracking became Survival, and Stealth became… well Stealth is Stealth. I decided to give the Shriek double proficiency in Stealth as this is what I consider to be one of its key features. There’s no Initiative skill in 5th Edition but I did consider giving the Shriek advantage on Initiative checks. In the end I decided against it as it ended up having quite a few different abilities that captured the feel of the Shriek better, and I figured a +5 to Initiative rolls was already pretty good.
Let’s look at the next chunk of work.
Alright so I’ll explain the abilities from DARPG first. The Shriek has “favoured stunts” it likes to use in combat. As I mentioned in my last post, stunts are fun (and often deadly) manoeuvres that characters can utilise in combat if the dice fall their way. The “Lightning Attack” stunt allows a character to make another attack against the same or a different target. It also typically costs 3 stunt points (SP) but the Shriek can do it for 2. This tells me that the Shriek should be able to attack often and against multiple targets. So to reflect this I gave the Shriek the Multiattack ability, allowing it to make 3 attacks in one round with it’s arm blades. The arm blades in the DARPG have the stats of a short sword so I gave them the short sword stats for D&D, which are coincidentally the same in both systems. Short swords are Dexterity based weapons anyway, so it made sense for the Shriek to use it’s Dex modifier for it’s attack bonus and damage.
The second stunt listed is “Poison”, which is a unique stunt specific to the Shriek. The Poison stunt in the DARPG allows the Shriek to coat their arm blades in poison and deal extra damage on it’s next attack unless the target passes a test (a saving throw in D&D terms). Since I knew I planned on giving my Shriek the “Assassin” ability, which already deals extra damage, I decided that the D&D Shriek’s poison ability would give characters the “poisoned” condition. You’ll notice that this is a bonus action, which will be important later.
The last of the Dragon Age abilities to look at is the Shriek’s namesake: Shriek. This ability frightens enemies and gives the Shriek an advantage when attacking. When thinking about bringing this ability over I tried to think of an enemy with a similar ability in D&D. The first thing that popped into my head was, of course, a Banshee.
There you go: Wail. But actually… huh. That doesn’t quite fit. I don’t want the Shriek’s shriek to do damage or potentially kill people so that won’t work. But what’s this? Just above Wail we have Horrifying Visage:
“Each non-undead creature within 60 feet of the banshee that can see her must succeed on a DC 13 Wisdom saving throw or be frightened for 1 minute… etc.”
Well now, that we can use! Rather than see we change that to hear, and change non-undead to non-darkspawn. Then we just bump up the DC for a recommended CR5 monster and this gives us our Terrifying Shriek:
“Each non-darkspawn creature within 60 feet of the shriek that can hear it must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or become frightened for 1 minute… etc.”
Perfect! With our Multiattack, Poison, and Terrifying Shriek abilities we now have the essence of the Shriek. We could stop there and be happy enough with our work and no-one would blame us. But we’ve already converted some Dragon Age abilities to D&D, let’s see if there are any abilities in D&D that would help enhance the Shriek.
Pages 280 and 281 of the DMG has a table of Monster Features. This table is meant to help when determining what effect different abilities have on a monster’s challenge rating but it’s also a nice little menu to pull ideas from. The table doesn’t explain what the abilities actually do unfortunately, but it lists an example monster that has that ability so it’s a simple matter of pulling out the Monster Manual and checking that monster’s stat-block.
I skim the list and the two that jump out at me are Ambusher and Nimble Escape. Ambusher gives the Shriek advantage when it surprises opponents and Nimble Escape allows the Shriek to either Hide or get the hell out of dodge without being hit (this thing is squishy remember, it doesn’t want to be in a stand up fight). These two together have a really nice synergy and really help give the Shriek that guerrilla tactics feel. But while the combo of these two is strong, you’ll notice that Nimble Escape uses the Shriek’s bonus action. What else uses it’s bonus action? Yup, Poison. So this helps with balancing the action economy. We’ve given the Shriek a lot of options here but by having these two abilities use a bonus action it means that the Shriek must choose between poisoning the target the next time it attacks or being able to stay hidden. It means the DM has to be smart about how they use this creature and it also gives the PCs a chance at a fair fight.
The last ability is Assassin. Prior to adding Assassin, the Shriek can do 24 damage per turn (3 arm blade attacks with 8 damage each), which is ok but not great. I wanted to give it a little damage boost, particularly when it attacked from hiding. “Assassin” is basically just the Rogue’s Sneak Attack feature at level 6 (the Shriek has 6 hit dice, so this felt right).
And that’s it! We’re done! Now, how tough is this bad boy?
Calculating Challenge Rating
Now back to those glorious monster creation rules in the DMG. Monsters have a Defensive Challenge Rating and an Offensive Challenge Rating, and you average these two out to get the Average Challenge Rating.
Strap in, cause this could get confusing.
Before we calculate our challenge ratings we should check what abilities and resistances our monster has because those will have an impact on how we make our calculations. The Shriek has less than three resistances so they have no effect on its challenge rating.Here are our abilities:
- Ambusher: Increase the monster’s effective attack bonus by 1.
- Assassin (Used Martial Advantage for this): Increase the effective damage of one attack per round by the amount gained from this trait (10).
- Nimble Escape: Increase the monster’s effective AC and effective attack bonus by 4 (assuming the monster hides every round).
- Poison: N/A
- Sunlight Sensitivity: N/A
- Terrifying Shriek (Use Horrifying Visage, which in turn uses Frightful Presence): Increase the monsters effective hit points by 25% if the monster is meant to face characters of 10th level or lower.
Ok, good to know. So Defensive challenge Rating first. We’ll be using the table on page 274 of the DMG for this.
Our Shriek’s hit points are 33, which puts it at CR 1/8 on the table. But, it’s Terrifying Shriek ability increases its effective HP by 25% – not it’s actual HP, just it’s HP for the purposes of calculations. So 33 HP multiplied by 1.25 gives us an effective HP of 41 (41.25 to be exact). This brings it from CR 1/8 up to CR 1/4.
Next we check the recommended AC for a CR 1/4 monster and we see it’s 13. Our Shriek’s effective AC is a whopping 21 (17, + 4 from Nimble Escape). For every 2 points over the recommended AC, we increase the CR by 1. This puts our final Defensive Challenge Rating at 3.
Now onto our Offensive Challenge Rating. First we work out our average damage per round. To do this you calculate the damage that the monster would do over 3 rounds and then divide it by 3. For our Shriek it’s always going to do the same thing: attack 3 times, then hide. Our damage per round is 34 (24 from 3 arm blade attacks, +10 from Assassin), which puts the Shriek at CR 5. Checking the average attack bonus for a CR 5 monster we see that it is +6. The Shriek’s effective attack bonus is +13 (+8, +1 from Ambusher, +4 from Nimble Escape) so, like we did for the Defensive Challenge Rating, for every 2 above the recommended bonus we increase the CR by 1. This puts the Shriek’s final Offensive Challenge Rating at 8.
We now have our Defensive Challenge Rating (3) and our Offensive Challenge Rating (8). Adding these together and dividing by 2 we get 5.5. There aren’t (as far as I can see) any recommendations on whether you should round up or down in this scenario though as a rule most, if not all, calculations in 5th Edition are rounded down. With monsters I think it comes down to judgement. In my mind this guy is dangerous but he is very squishy. If he gets caught in close combat he’s going to go down quick. For that reason I’m leaning towards rounding down, which puts us at an Average Challenge Rating of 5. Exactly what we wanted! That is miraculous.
If I had ended up with the Shriek at CR 4, I would have went back an altered it’s proficiency bonus to +2 and changed all the necessary skills and modifiers. After that was done I’d work out the CR again. As a rule you want the monsters proficiency bonus to match the CR in the DMG. Other things like health, AC, damage, etc. can be different but the proficiency bonus should (or even must!) match the CR.
So there you have it. A practical guide on making and/or converting monsters in D&D. Go forth and populate your world with all manner of disgusting creatures!
I normally like to keep articles on this site accessible and open, but this post got pretty design heavy. If this is something people are interested in I’ll do more of these articles, but I will strive to keep a balance between more holistic DM/GM tips and practical number crunchy advice.
Oh, I’ve also added a few more PDFs to our RPG Resources page – Races & Class Guide, Spells, and Demonic Possession for Dragon Age!
Until next time folks!