Wednesday, August 1, 2012

"We Do a Full-Body Cavity Search on the Demon" - A look at Monsters and Items

Whoa, whoa, what? Okay, the title of this blog entry is definitely an odd one, but there's a reason for the weirdness. I promise!

Where Are they Keeping all that Gold?

There's a disturbing (at least to me) trend with what seems like a lot of gamers today. It seems that there is this idea that monsters, regardless of resources and Intelligence, do not have or use equipment. They act as though those treasure ratings on their creature entries that read stuff like "NPC gear", "Incidental", "Standard", "Double", and "Triple" are just there to let the GM know how many gold pieces the monster is supposed to magically turn into when slain, or are supposed to be magic items that the NPCs are simply carrying on them but aren't allowed to use.
"I didn't sign up for that!"

The idea seems to stem from the belief that the generic NPCs in the Bestiary/Monster Manuals are intended to be run as-is, without alterations. The argument usually extends up progressing to a notion that giving an ogre mage a +1 greatsword as part of his treasure and then allowing him to actually use the item is somehow unfair, or would wildly throw off his challenge rating if he wasn't using entirely mundane equipment. I can't bring myself to put any stock in that argument, because the Pathfinder Bestiary has this to say about treasure:

Treasure: The exact value of the creature's treasure depends on if you're running a slow, medium, or fast game, as summarized on Table: Treasure Values per Encounter. In cases where a creature has specific magical gear assigned to it, the assumption is a medium game—if you play a fast or slow game, you'll want to adjust the monster's gear as appropriate. “Standard” treasure indicates the total value of the creature's treasure is that of a CR equal to the average party level, as listed on Table: Treasure Values per Encounter. “Double” or “triple” treasure indicates the creature has double or triple this standard value. “Incidental” indicates the creature has half this standard value, and then only within the confines of its lair. “None” indicates that the creature normally has no treasure (as is typical for an unintelligent creature that has no real lair, although such creatures are often used to guard treasures of varying amounts). “NPC gear” indicates the monster has treasure as normal for an NPC of a level equal to the monster's CR.
The wealth by level of characters doesn't change in slow, medium, or fast games. An 11th level character in a slow XP progression is expected to have the same amount of wealth and power as an 11th level character in a fast XP progression. In either case, monsters who use gear have their equipment changed to be more or less as appropriate but their CRs do not change. Further backing up this claim is the idea that adding full PC-wealth to an NPC is noted as a +1 CR in the Gamemastering section of the Pathfinder core rulebook.

Verisimilitude Problems with Money Monsters
I have several problems with this sort of argument or thinking. The first problem is simply from a verisimilitude point. In many cases you have these creatures who are living, breathing, and most of all thinking individuals, who in many cases have weapon and/or armor proficiencies by virtue of their creature type (Outsiders are proficient with all simple and martial weapons, for example), who apparently simply refuse to use equipment and magic items available to them. Even when these creatures supposedly loaded with treasures. Many of those treasures which can or probably will include magic items that they themselves can wear and use.

Here's an example. The default Ogre Mage is CR 8 with "Double" standard treasure. That means that he has 6,700 gp worth of goods on him at any given time. The default entry simply gives him enough equipment to function right out of the gate. He has a mundane greatsword, a bow, and a chain shirt. That's barely over 1,000 gp worth of equipment. Leaving him roughly 5,700 gp worth of treasures to have on hand. Now as is the norm, the treasure is generally divided up in goods that seems reasonable for this terrible super intelligent ogre-demon thing to have on hand. Now beyond just being boring, carrying all that as coin would impractical. That's about 114 lbs. of gold coins. That would get irritating I think. A more reasonable spread might look like this...
Treasure: Double [chain shirt, greatsword, composite (+7) longbow, +1 amulet of natural armor (2,000 gp), +1 ring of protection (2,000 gp), +1 cloak of resistance (1,000 gp), oil of magic weapon x3 (150 gp), bag of 25 quartz gems (0.5 lbs., 250 gp), assorted jewelry such as rings, piercings, and armlets (250 gp), 500 silver pieces (10 lb., 50 gp)]
Naturally, the above treasure value is not contradicting the Bestiary at all. In fact, few creatures have a full set of equipment and treasure set out for them. Of course, that's because the bestiary entries are only the most basic of basic. The GM is expected to tweak them a bit so that they fit properly in the game. Not every orc in the world is going to be wielding a falchion. Not every gnoll is going to be using an axe and a shield. Not every marilith is going to be using 6 mundane longswords. You are expected to round out their equipment as would be sensible.

Now, the problem comes in when people cry foul when the ogre magi is wearing his equipment. Naturally, this intelligent creature would don his +1 items, because he owns them and it is in his best interest to wield them. If he instead had a +1 greatsword, he wouldn't be wielding his mundane one. "But that makes him stronger!" they wail. "That's not fair!" they shout. "You should get extra XP since he was better than normal!" another voice throws in. I disagree. The treasure value is the treasure value for that creature. If you're following the rules for placing treasure in your games, then the treasure is not going to overpower the enemy, or warrant a higher challenge rating. Likewise, you open up tons of Fridge Logic problems. If the Ogre Mage was so big and bad and smart, then why was he fighting effectively naked when he had an arsenal of magical defensive items in his bag? Hmm...?

Imagine for a Moment...
Let's imagine for a moment if this stupid and absurd idea actually plays out in a game. If all creatures only use the same equipment as all other creatures of their kind, and never use their magic items. Now the Gamemastering section specifically suggests throwing assorted magic items, potions, wands, and the like into the game as treasure. Treasure typically comes from fighting and defeating monsters/NPCs with said treasure. In essence, the age old "kill badguys and take their stuff" that RPGs are known for.

Now let's imagine that you encounter a Marilith. A mighty six-armed tauric-like woman with the upper half of a human, and the lower half of a giant serpent. She leads whole demon armies as a general. She is one of the most powerful types of creatures in the whole universe. An entire city may tremble should one of these incredibly powerful and tactically brilliant demons turn her gaze upon them and find them undesirable. Now imagine that you are to fight this creature...

She charges headfirst into combat naked save for 6 mundane swords made of common iron. After being dispatched, she suddenly has 64,000 gold pieces worth of loot on her. But she was naked just a moment ago, save for her piddly mundane swords. Where the hell did 64,000 gold pieces worth of treasure come from? She wasn't wearing anything. I mean, if you want to argue that they only get what's specifically listed in the bestiary verbatim (and ignore that they are supposed to possess other treasures besides the 6 swords due to their treasure value), then they have no clothing with pockets. They have no satchel to carry their goods in. Even if you assumed that it was just in jewelry and assorted piercings, that would mean this woman is wearing about 1,280 pounds of gold on her body (roughly equivalent to wearing medium to heavy armor in terms of her carrying capacity, despite both her size and demonic strength). Which leads us to wonder...
"Just try it..."

WTF is her treasure? Suddenly, the moment of truth dawns on you, and your stomach churns for a moment. It's time for a full-body cavity search. Clearly, this crazy demoness had decided that instead of wielding her +X magic items, assorted gemstones, magical baubles, scrolls, wands, staffs, and potions, she must have ingested them, and/or her various orifices double as storage compartments. Imagine the look on the heroes' faces as they pull a magic staff out of her snake-like rectum, or that +2 flaming greatsword out of her ear.

Then one must wonder, why the hell did she have all this cool stuff shoved so far up her posterior that she could have used against the heroes of the world in their climactic encounter, instead of 6 mundane swords that are no better than the common drivel that your typical orc prances around with. What a very strange fetish that...

I'm Not the Only One Who Thinks So...
The 3.x Dungeons Masters Guides note during the treasure sections that if a creature has treasure that it can use, then it should use it. Likewise, back when I first began playing D&D, I did a lot of reading and research on how to make and run a good game. One of the things I recall reading (I think in the very same DMG, but I won't say for sure until I can find the reference) was an example of how bad design creates logical inconsistencies. If there is a +1 sword in the hobgoblin fortress, then it should not simply be found lying in a pile of loot, it should be in the possession of one of the hobgoblins. Even if the hobgoblin would not normally have such an item. Because it is there, and the hobgoblins know about it, then it should be wielded.

Is there a point...?
I don't have a point exactly. More like I'm ranting about something that I see as simply stupid, and that I've seen enough of it on internet forums to get irked by it a little bit. Maybe someone will read this, and get some ideas about how they want to handle their NPCs. Maybe they will decide to leave a comment and tell me I'm wrong. Maybe they'll find this to be a great thinking piece, and find it helpful in their games. If anything, I hope it just gets people thinking. 


  1. Great post! I'd honestly not given this any thought. Interesting... I expect tommorow will be spent in my pajamas pouring through my bestiary. :P


    1. Glad it was entertaining. Have fun with your Bestiary. ^-^