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Scaling Statblocks

Part of our goal with the Day 20 design is to create adventures that scale with the party. This design methodology is like a system-within-a-system; you're still playing D&D 5e, but the adventures you are picking from are more mix-and-matchable. Right now you might want to play an undersea adventure or a heist, but everything you find is for the wrong level range. With Day 20, we want every adventure to play as well for a party of brand new level 1's as it does for a level 18 demi-god death squad.

Typically the way we do this is by changing the creatures involved. For example, did you know that you could fight Drow at pretty much every level of play? You've got your CR 1/2 underling soldiers, sure, but there are also Drow Priestesses of Lolth (CR 8) and Matron Mothers (CR 20) to challenge higher level players.

But not all creatures are so versatile, so sometimes we have to go find other creatures that fit the right theme or mechanics for an adventure and adapt the details to suit them. Our Fortress adventure, for example, starts as a goblin / hobgoblin encampment for low levels, then becomes a Fire Giant siege factory at higher levels. Just change the monsters and scale the map from 5-foot squares to 10-foot. Boom! Same theme and style of adventure, but for a completely different party.

Here's another wrinkle: what happens when we have a monster that we really want to use, either out of an existing sourcebook or one of our own design? Something that feels too perfect, or whose mechanics are designed to be intrinsic to the encounter? Well, then it's time for this month's spotlight design...

Scaling Statblocks!

Last month we talked about designing layouts that help our content be easy to read, prep, and reference. That's where this one becomes challenging. There are a few ways to handle creating statblocks for creatures that can scale...

1. Separate stablocks for each Tier of play.

2. A single, primary statblock with bulletted lists of changes below it.

3. A primary statblock and smaller,"change set" statblocks.

1. Separate statblocks for each tier of play.

Separate statblocks for each tier, 2 pages.

The first is clearly the simplest, and is probably the easiest to prepare. "Which Tier do I need? I'll look at that statblock." Of course, having four different statblocks on the same or nearby pages might become a headache when referencing them mid-combat, and it certainly doesn't make the book pretty or fun to read. It also occupies more pages, which means higher printing costs.

2. A single statblock with lists of changes below it.

Single statblock with lists of changes, 1 page

The second option is the closest to a "standard" that exists for this type of mechanic in D&D 5e. Many hardcover adventures reference a base statblock and then have a list of changes to make. It's fairly easy to read since you can casually grok how big of a change is happening at each tier. Preparing this isn't too bad since you can get a copy of the original statblock and make the necessary changes any number of ways, like notes on a printed copy or editing using homebrew software. But if you don't do that prep work, suddenly you have a referencing nightmare as your eyes dart between a statblock and bulletted phrases.

3. A primary statblock and smaller, "change set" statblocks.

Primary statblock, and three changset statblocks, 1 page.

The third option is something suggested by the wonderful Andreas Walters of Metal Weave Games: take that initial statblock and create several smaller statblocks that encapsulate the essential changes for other tiers. This avoids duplicating a bunch of information like #1, but doesn't bog down your ability to reference the stats come game time like #2. The biggest hurdle to this solution is that, like all new formats, it will require some learning and teaching. The above image uses the default statblock look-and-feel for the changesets. A proper version would have different colors and styling to clearly denote it as a "This statblock modified an existing one" thingy.

We think this is a pretty slick idea, but what do you think? Do one of these three really standout as the preferred way to do this, or do you have something even better that we didn't consider? Let us know in the comments or my messaging us on Twitter!

(Statblock samples were made using The Homebrewery, and excellent resource for any 5e content creator!)

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