Thursday, June 4, 2020

Human Monster Stats in B/X

I was recently asked by an old buddy of mine to look at how D&D stats up humans as monsters to see what that said about the game and by implication the game world. Given my proclivities I thought it might be an interesting exercise. The first place I went was Moldvay, not only because his is my favorite version of D&D, but because I know that humanity is well represented in the Monster Section.

I decided to make a chart for easy comparison. I threw in Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings because all of them are PC classes in Basic and I included Gnomes because I like them and I thought it would be interesting.

Click to Embiggen

Hit Dice

One of the first things that jumps out to me are the Hit Dice. In Basic D&D all monster HD are d8. Therefore, most human and demi-human monsters have a higher HD than their PC counterparts. I think this is a hold-over from 0e, where all PCs had a d6 for a hit die. Interestingly, Berserkers and Elves are the only “fighting men” that retained the ‘+1’ given to the HD of that class in the original rules.


The second is the amount of Damage each type of “monster” does. Outside the Acolyte’s preference for using a mace, this suggests a universal damage die based on class where Fighters do d8, Clerics and Thieves do d6, and Magic-users do d4.

Armor Class

Also fascinating is the Armor Class. Basic D&D doesn’t assume or assign Ability Scores to monsters. Indeed, Moldvay suggests that DMs “may” want to roll ability scores for NPC parties. As a consequence, it can safely be expected that all of the human and demi-human “monsters” have ability scores that fall within the ±0 range of 9-12. Thus, the armor class of each entry tells us something about what armor a particular “monster” is using. The results are fascinating from both a cultural point of view and as a comparison to the rules for PC classes that these monsters emulate:

  • Acolytes (AC 2) wear plate mail and shield. This reveals that the average 1st level cleric is much more likely to be a Knights Templar than a village priest. In other words, it appears that the primary role of the cleric is fighting, not necessarily praying.
  • Bandits (AC 6) wear leather and shield. This suggests that Thieves actually do know how to wield a shield counter to what the rules for PCs say.
  • Berserkers (AC 7) wear only leather. Due to their battle rage, Berserkers are the most monster-like entry on this list; however, from the perspective of the Tinkerer in me, this entry also suggests another option for a fighter class — one that lives by the axiom that offense is the best defense. By forgoing the ability to wear armor heavier than leather, this new fighter-type attacks as a fighter 3 levels higher and gains one extra hp per HD. Alternatively, maybe all Fighters get that 0e +1 to their HD and receive a bonus "to hit" based on their Movement Rate: 120 (40) = +2; 90 (30) = +1; 60 (30) = 0.
  • Dwarves (AC 4) wear chain and shield. Notice their movement rate. Based on the movement rates of others on this list wearing plate mail, one would expect an AC of 2. This suggests that Dwarves have a base move of 90 (30) instead of 120 (40). Thus, chain is the heaviest armor they bother to train with because plate mail not only slows them to 30 (10), but prevents them from carrying any gold. Another option is suggested by the Gnome below. Maybe Dwarves fill the roll of Fighter/Thief and they have access to the same type of quiet chain that Gnomes do.
  • Elves (AC 5) wear chain. Firstly, this suggests that it requires two hands to cast magic, therefore Elves don’t use shields. Secondly, look at the movement — 120 (40). Either chain mail has the same effect on movement as leather, which is contradicted by the entry on Dwarves, or all Elves have access to a special type of Elven Chain that weighs as much as leather.
  • Gnomes (AC 5) wear chain. Note that gnomes have the same movement as dwarves but do not use shields like elves. This suggests that gnomes have a reason to keep both hands free like elves. Given the lower damage die (d6) suggests that gnomes fill the roll of Magic-user/Thief in the same way Elves are Fighter/Magic-users. The fact that they can wear up to chain and are not limited to leather like Bandits suggests that they, like Elves, have a special type of chain. While not light like Elven Chain, Gnomish Chain is quieter than normal chain.
  • Halflings (AC 7) wear leather. The Halfling is an outlier. The AC, HD, Move, and Damage all compare unfavorably with the other entries. Given my own bias, I would be tempted to dump the Halfling as a character type; however, given that the lack of a shield has been used to justify spell casting, the Halfling may very well play the roll of Cleric/Thief despite the fact that both of those classes are allowed to use a shield (a nod to the better saving throws?)
  • Mediums (AC 9) wear no armor. No surprise here; however, it does go to show that these “monster” versions of the class are considered to have ability scores of 9-12 (no implied AC bonus).
  • Noble (AC 2) wear plate and shield. Again no real surprise, but it does suggest that nobles are not only expected to fight but that there is a need to.
  • Normals (AC 9) wear no armor. The only real surprise here is just how incompetent at fighting normal humans are with the d4 HD, low saving throw and lowest morale of all the entries. This is especially shocking when compared to the other races. This suggests that humans are prosperous and numerous enough to have the luxury of professional armies to protect them. Given that every other entry on this list is at least as competent as a goblin or orc (and often better), there seems to be a real need for armed conflict.
  • Traders (AC 6) wear leather and shield. What I find fascinating about this entry is that they are specifically described as Fighters, despite the fact that statistically they more resemble Bandits than Veterans. Does this suggest another fighter-type that forgoes both offense and defense for a variety on non-combat abilities? Or, does this simply suggest that a Thief is a fighter who gave up on fighting in order to pursue other mundane skills? Interestingly, the Saving Throw seems to suggest the former.
  • Veterans (AC 2) plate and shield. No real surprise here also, other than the fact that plate mail is so common among those that society expects to fight.


Morale also tells an interesting story. Most humans have a Morale of 7, whereas most demi-humans (Halflings being the outlier again) have an 8 that increases to 10 if their leader is still alive and kicking. Rather than speaking to a level of professionalism, as is suggested by the Veteran’s Morale of 9 versus the Noble’s Morale of 8, it suggests a level of desperation. Whereas humans have a place to retreat to, most of the demi-humans do not.

Treasure Type

The story suggested by Morale is reinforced by the Treasure Types. All of the human entries (as well as the Halflings) list individual Treasure Types. If a normal Treasure Type is listed, it only exists “if encountered in the wilderness.” In contrast, there are no Individual Treasure Types for Dwarves, Elves, and Gnomes. The implication is that when one of these demi-humans is encountered they are not very far from home and hearth.

Movement Rate

I find it interesting that the Movement Rates of all these monster entires contradict the normal encumbrance rules. Moldvay has leather armor at 90 (30), and metal armor at 60 (20). These entries support the idea that both unarmored and leather should be 120 (40), chain should be 90 (30) and plate should be 60(20).


I find it fascinating that Normal humans (most often) have a Lawful Alignment. The suggests that the Alignment System centers not on morality but where one stands with Human Civilization. The fact that most human monster entries indicate that they can be any alignment says more about the fickle nature of humanity than anything else. This concept of Alignment is confirmed by the Neutrality of Dwarves, Elves, and Gnomes. While willing to work with humans, they don’t necessarily support their Civilization. Note, that Dwarves and Gnomes seem to be split on the question, though. Once again, the outlier here is the Halfling. Like Normal humans, they are Lawful. This makes me wonder if there is more of a connection between the two than the monster entries are letting on.

Monster Descriptions

There are a couple of interesting tid-bits in the descriptions of all these entries. Almost all of them refer to leader types of up to 8th level. The exceptions are not surprising: Berserkers, Normals, and Traders. What is surprising is the levels of the various leader types. Nobles are "always 3rd level," Veterans max out at 3rd level, Bandits have leaders from other classes, and (most shockingly) Mediums have a 50% chance of being encountered with their Master — a 3rd level Magic-user! 

In contrast, Gnomes have leaders up to 4th level, Clerics up to 5th, Elves and Halflings up to 7th, and Dwarves up to 8th. 

I think this speaks to the relative youth of Human Civilization and the fact that magic is largely unknown. Both Acolyte and Medium leader types can't cast more than a 2nd level spell! And remember, 1st level Clerics in B/X can't cast at all. In other words, if a PC Magic-user wants to get ahold of a 3rd level spell, they have to go outside of Human Civilization. Gnomes (if they are Magic-user/Thieves) seem to be in the same boat. The fact that Elves can routinely fire off 4th level spells speaks to their mystery and power. This might also explain their ambivalence toward Human Civilization.

So, does this make you want to tinker, house-rule a few new classes, and play? I am certainly tempted.


JB said...

The entries were mostly 'ported directly from Holmes, which were mostly 'ported direct from OD&D, which were mostly 'ported direct from Chainmail. Anomalies you find (especially with regard to movement in AC/movement in all demihumans) can mostly be attributed to the changes in system that went uncorrected. New entries (acolyte, medium, veteran, noble, normal) appear to use the latest rules provided in B/X.

Consider also that Moldvay introduces new ability bonuses. It's possible that bandits are leather-clad thieves with an average dexterity of 13, rather than being shield-users (I don't take this tack myself, but it is a possible interpretation).

Alignment is based on OD&D (and Chainmail prior). Elves were Neutral in Chainmail (with a slight disposition to Law); Dwarves/Gnomes were listed as Lawful (and in OD&D as both Lawful and Neutral); Halflings have always been Lawful only. This, I believe, is due to Gygax's interpretation of Tolkien's races in The Hobbit which, per his son Ernie, was required reading for all the children of the Gygax household (and was read at bedtime many times over the years)...unlike JRRT's later Middle Earth books.

FrDave said...

I was certainly tempted to say Bandits had a 13 Dex, but that introduces a mechanic outside of what is strictly in the monster stats. Besides, I find it more evocative and useful that Thieves can be better 2nd rank fighters. I have never been a fan of Thieves in D&D anyway, so anything I can glean from the rules that allows me to make them better in my sight is a bonus.

David B. said...

Father, what I find most fascinating and you didn't pick up are the nobles. Most people in their setting portray noble as they were in the decadent west in later years: court nobles. But OD&D doesn't portray its lords and nobles like that (I point here to Lords of strongholds are level 9 fighting-man, and therefore high lords and kings are in the 10s if not 20s of level! On the same note, you can see here that "normal" nobles are level 3 "fighting-man" (assumed because of equipment, save and potential to-hit matrix) in full plate: this means that there is a direct link between physical (i.e. game) power and station in life in the D&D "canon setting". This is something I find really interesting and I try to also bring to my game. Gone are the days of fat barons in their keep being outmatched by adventurers: they are themselves powerful warriors and were once adventurers themselves.

FrDave said...

I don't address it as directly as you do, but I did notice this. I like the implication that leaders (nobles) are expected to fight and that they need to. One dark undercurrent that I did not mention and that suggests itself is that maybe the reason nobles are "always 3rd level" is that most don't survive long enough to get to 4th...

James Mishler said...

Nobles are definitely cut from the dark ages Robber Baron warrior cloth, than the later aristocrats sitting in their castles while the sheriffs and the bailiffs do all the dirty work types.

What breaks the numbers entirely is the NPC Party and the Expert level Adventuring Party. I would like to see your take on what that means for a sociological view based on the raw power of the Expert level adventurers.

Crouchback said...

These are some interesting interpretations but I suspect JB is right - the oddities are a result of repeated imperfect translations. Most strikingly, the Medium apparently has the same hit points as a 1st level Fighter. Personally I'd match hit dice to implied class.

Not sure we should assume d4=total wimp. The Veteran 1st level fighter has a mere d8 hp so normal humans seem scaled correctly. It's just that goblins are tougher than they look from the POV of a mid level character. I sometimes think it might make sense to double starting hit dice and assume normal humans range from 1d4 (sedentary) to 1d8 (proto-fighters) in hit points.

Maybe the noble is tough because he's older and more experienced? 1st & 2nd level nobles are unlikely to have inherited yet.

Regarding gnomes and such, there's an interesting simple custom class template at Vault of Pandius that includes options for Elves where the variants always are part Magic User. Instead of alternate elves, it could be used for variant magical races like gnomes.

Janich said...

Nice to see a run-down of the human entries. I was going to do one myself following the (shameless self advertisement ad full velocity) but never got around to it, like so many others.

One of the things I don't think Basic is clear on the HD and Levels types of the humans. The Noble for example have 3HD, but the text then show that he is 3th level fighter, so not the same to-hit as a 3HD monster. And the text further explain the 2-12 appearing not being 3HD Nobles, but the head guy and then his squire and retainers. Likewise the Bandit entry really could spell out the HD type. Being NPC thieves indicate d4, really, but then there's the equipment issue you note regarding their use of shields. And of course their leaders can be of any class, so why would they be "Thieves" thieves? Well, they save as Thieves, not Fighters, so I still give them d4 as HD.

A thing I don't see you mentioning is the HP for Normal Humans. They should be assigned, not rolled. And a blacksmith is used as the example of a 4HP human. I would think that it makes sense for soldiers to be no less then a tough workman, so town guards and the like should probably not be less the 4HP which leads me to something I actually have not implemented, but the 1st level Fighter should as a veteran not really start with less then 4HP.
Regardless soldiers that are jet to level seems to fit as 4HP guys that hit AC0 on a roll of 20.

But I really should go on my own little corner of the web with all this, shouldn't I :D

Good reading loads from you lately!