3rd edition D&D has made playing a character of a non-standard race a viable option. Granted,
it still requires DM approval, but by providing a system to incorporate even powerful monsters into a party while keeping
their level of power close to that of the usual humans, elves and dwarves makes it easier for DMs to consider allowing characters
of unusual races. In theory.
Judging from recurring questions on the message boards dedicated to the game, it seems the
rules are far from clear, not to mention the fact that only a minor fraction of monster races has been given an ECL rating.
Thats why I'll try and provide a clear and consistent dicussion of the process of turning your average monster into a full-fledged
Most of this description will adhere to the rules set out in the DMG and/or the FRCS, but at certain points I'll
use rule interpretations that smooth things over. Dont be alarmed by this. It will make the rules make sense, and therefore
easier to remember and apply. References are provided to distinguish official rules from rules interpretations. Also provided
are a link to several variant rules
, as well as a link to an ECL calculator
Anyone who has tried his hand at creating monster PCs will be aware that D&D distinguishes
between two categories of monster races: races with one or fewer HD (Orc, Human) and races with more than one HD (Bugbear,
Gnoll). Templates may seem a separate category at first glance, but for this discussion only the number of monster levels
matters. Some templates add or replace HD (like Montes Ghoul template), and might thus change the category a race belongs
to. Come to think of it, Dragons, with their age categories, might be considered a category of its own, but I'll save that
for the variant rules
Lets start with the basic rules that apply to both categories (in the order in which they appear in the
MM stat blocks):
· Size and type are determined by race.(MM, p. 5)
· The HD of the first level, be it class or monster
level, is always treated as maximum. This is because PCs are elite characters. (DMG, p. 24)
· Initiative is independent
of race. (MM, p. 6)
· Speed is determined by race, though class, armor and encumbrance affect it as usual. Note that Swim
and Climb speeds include a +8 racial bonus to the appropriate skill.
· The natural armor class bonus is determined by race
(the +0 natural armor bonus of many races isnt mentioned in the stat block). (MM, p. 6)
· BAB works differently for each
type and is discussed below. Races with natural weapons can choose to use these instead of weapons. Natural weapons use the
attack routine given in the MM. The number of natural attacks per round is based solely on race, independent of BAB, unless
the race has a single slam attack (then it works as if using a weapon). (MM, p. 7 & WotC MM board FAQ) Monster PCs can
use the monster attack routine as given in the MM or combine it with weapons. In the latter case all natural attacks not replaced
with a weapon become secondary attacks (the Multi-attack feat applies) and the weapon uses iterative attacks based on bab
as usual. (WotC MM board FAQ)
· Face and reach characteristics are determined by race. (MM, p. 7)
· Special attacks
are determined by race. Note that the DC of these attacks often equals 10 + half the creatures level + the creatures Cha modifier
(use total number of HD for level in this case). Also note that special attacks based on items (for example a sprites sleep
arrows or a satyrs pipes) are not automatically granted by chosing that particular race. It is strongly suggested to limit
psionic creatures at will powers (including psionic attack, but not defense modes) to three uses per day per power. (MM, p.
8; unofficial PsiHB errata)
· Special qualities are determined by race. The type of vision (normal, low-light or darkvision)
is often determined by type. (MM, p. 8 & 5)
· Racial ability adjustments are based on the scores given in the Abilities
entry in the MM stat blocks. For scores of 10 or higher, the adjustment is determined by substracting 10 from even scores
and 11 from odd ones. For scores below 10 no real adjustment is determined. Instead a set of two tables (one for Int, one
for the other ability scores) is used: tables 2-5 and 2-6 on page 23 in the DMG. All PCs use 4d6, drop lowest (or another,
equally advantageous method) to determine base ability scores. (DMG, p. 23)
· PCs of any race advance by class or by HD,
player's choice. (DMG, p. 23)Advancement by HD instead of by class
Many monsters in the MM have an
advancement range expressed in number of HD. Use MM page 13 to determine the effects of adding a monster level. Use the original
size of the creature to determine the number of EHD.
Often the size of such a monster increases after gaining a number
of monster levels, which greatly enhances its combat ability. This may seem unbalancing, but considering that monster levels
tend to be worth decidedly less than real class levels, it wont be as bad as you might think at first glance. There is something
to playing the biggest Barbazu this side of the river Styx, that is more tempting than playing a Barbazu with fighter levels
tacked on. Advancing by HD works just like multiclassing with another class would. (MM, p. 12)
and Organization entries can be used as guidelines for background creation. The CR and treasure entries are meaningless for
PCs. The alignment entry just gives the alignment a member of that race is most likely to have, and should not be treated
as a straightjacket for a PCs alignment (see MM page 12 for more details).
That leaves us with the following entries
for discussion: HD, BAB, Saves, Skills and Feats. Since these depend on the type of race (and number of HD), lets look at
both types separately.Races with one or fewer HD
When creating a PC of this category, replace the single
HD with the HD of the chosen class.
These races, like the standard races, use class to determine HD, BAB, saves, skills
and feats. The skill points at 1st level, the number of which is determined by class, are quadrupled as usual. The Skills
entry should be ignored as it has no effect, not even on which skills are class skills and which are not. (DMG, p. 24) Racial
skill bonuses, if any, are mentioned separately in the text below the stat block. (MM, p. 11)
Note that the number of feats
gained is only 1, regardless of the number of feats in the Feats entry.
The feats given in the MM, represents the choice
an average member of that race would make, and can be replaced with any other feats of the players choice (limited by the
feat's prerequisites). Monster PCs may choose feats from among those given on MM page 11, provided they meet the feat's prerequisites.
(Dragon's "How to Create a Monster: Recipes for Disaster" article, but can also be inferred from MM monster entries)
creatures may choose psionic feats, and are considered to have enough power reserve for feats that require this to work. (inferred
from PsiHB monster entries)
Weapon and armor proficiencies are determined by class (alone). (DMG, p. 22)Races
with more than one HD
When creating a PC of this category, you determine HD, BAB, saves, skills and feats using the
creatures type (Humanoid, Giant, Shapechanger, etc.). I'll address adding class levels later.
The number and type of HD
(or monster levels) is given in the HD entry. Remember that the first HD is maximized, and the others are rolled to determine
HP (Con modifiers apply as usual). The number of HD determines BAB and base saves, using the table on MM page 13. (MM, p.5-13)
the number of skill points works very differently from what you're used to. Monster PCs get skill points based on their type.
For most types (not Dragons and Outsiders) this means they get a number of initial skill points plus a number of bonus skill
points based on the number of HD they have (as set out in the tables below).Initial Skill Points
10-15: Animal, Beast.
6 + Int modifier: Giant, Humanoid.
2 x Int score: Aberration,
Elemental, Magical Beast, Monstrous Humanoid, Shapechanger.
3 x Int score: Fey, Undead.
This is taken from the table
on MM page 11 (based on type) and modified for errata.
For those with a range of skill points (like Animal), I suggest
you take the upper limit, as PCs are elite characters.
In addition to these initial skill points, monster races of many
types, get extra skill points based on the number of HD they have, the so called Extra HD (EHD). Extra HD are HD in excess
of the number normally associated with a creature of a certain size. For medium or smaller creatures this is 1, so subtract
1 from the number of HD given in the HD entry to determine the number of EHD for a medium or smaller creature (ignore negative
numbers, these count as zero EHD). The same goes for larger creatures, except that the number of HD you substract increases
with size (2 for Large, 4 for Huge, 16 for Gargantuan, 32 for Colossal). For elementals the number of base HD is somewhat
different (Medium 2, Large 4, Huge 8, Gargantuan 16, Collossal 32). (MM, p. 11 and MM errata)
Note that there is no quadrupling
of skill points for PCs of this category. (MM, p. 11)Bonus Skill Points
None: Animal, Construct, Ooze, Plant,
+1/EHD: Beast, Giant, Humanoid, Magical Beast, Shapechanger.
+2/EHD: Aberration, Elemental, Fey, Undead.
points for Dragons and Outsiders work differently. Creatures of this type get skill points per HD, much like a class (but
even these do not get x4 skill points for their first HD, nor do they retain these skill points if they have but 1 HD).Dragon
and Outsider Skill points per HD
6 + Int modifier per HD: Dragon.
8 + Int modifier per HD: Outsider.
skills mentioned in the Skills entry, unlike the one or less HD category, determine which skills are considered class skills
for the creatures monster levels. All other non-exclusive skills are considered cross-class skills. Racial skill bonuses,
if any, are mentioned separately in the text below the stat block. (MM, p. 11)
The number of feats a monster PC gets
is determined by its type and the number of EHD the race has (as set out in the tables below).Initial Feats
Animal, Beast, Construct, Ooze, Plant, Vermin.
1: Dragon, Giant, Humanoid, Outsider.
Int modifier (min 1): Aberration,
1 + Int modifier (min 1): Fey, Magical Beast, Monstrous Humanoid, Shapechanger, Undead.
For balance reasons,
use the Int modifier of an average specimen of the race (as specified in the monster manual stat block, which is often the
same as the racial Int adjustment) not the Int modifier of the individual in question. Thus, because an average centaur (monstrous
humanoid - initial feats 1 + Int modifier) has an Int modifier of -1 (Int 8), this results in one initial feat for any centaur
(1 - 1 = 0, minimum 1), regardless of the individual centaur's Intelligence score. Because the article is designed for building
new monsters, not for monster PCs this issue is not covered, but it seems the most logical and balanced option. Otherwise
there would/should be a note in the Monster Manual that an unusually intelligent centaur (with 12-13 Int score) would gain
one additional feat, and an extremely intelligent centaur (with 14 Int) would gain two additional feats. There is no such
note in the Monster Manual for centaurs or any of the other races that would likewise be effected. So using the average creature's
Int modifier seems in order.
In addition to these initial feats, monster races of many types, get extra feats based
on the number of HD they have, the socalled Extra HD (EHD).Bonus Feats
None: Animal, Beast, Construct, Ooze,
+1/4 EHD: Aberration, Elemental, Fey, Giant, Humanoid, Magical Beast, Monstrous Humanoid, Shapechanger,
+1 per 4 HD*: Dragon, Outsider.
* Dragon and Outsider races get a bonus feat per 4 HD, regardless of size.Please
note that the above method of determining number of feats is included for completeness' sake only. You might as well just
count the feats given in the Feat entry of the monster writeup. Do keep an eye out for racial bonus feats, which cannot be
replaced by other feats.
Again the feats mentioned in the MM monster entry are examples and can be replaced with
feats of the players choice. Monster PCs may choose feats from among those given on MM page 11, provided they meet the feat's
prerequisites. (Dragon's "How to Create a Monster: Recipes for Disaster" article, but can also be inferred from MM monster
Psionic creatures may choose psionic feats, and are considered to have enough power reserve for feats that require
this to work. (inferred from PsiHB monster entries)
Giants, Humanoids, Monstrous Humanoids and Outsiders are proficient
with all simple weapons and any weapons mentioned in entries. Outsiders with an Int score of 6 or higher are proficient with
all martial weapons. Note that each creature is proficient in whatever type of armor (light, medium or heavy) that it is described
as wearing, as well as all lighter types. Creatures not listed as wearing armor are not proficient with armor. (MM p. 5-7,
MM errata)Adding class levels to races with more than one HD
Adding class levels works exactly the same
as multiclassing (considering the monster levels an additional prefered class). (DMG, p. 24) So for the 1st class level, the
HD isnt maximized, nor are the skill points quadrupled, just like they wouldnt be if a human fighter added a level of rogue.
Note that this also means that for purposes of buying skill ranks, only skills that are class skills for the added class level
can be increased one-for-one, while all other non-exclusive skills even those that are class skills for the monster levels-
cost two-for-one. The gaining of new feats and stat increases is based on character level, so the time has come to talk about
ECL.Equivalent Character Level (ECL)
There are a lot of misconceptions about this admittedly vague term.
First off, it is not at all the same as EL (encounter level). It also has no mathematical relationship with CR whatsoever.
It has very little to do with number of HD, either. That number forms the lower limit for the ECL modifier, but thats it.
Determining the ECL of a given race is a matter of guesswork. A framework for this guessing game is provided on the ECL Calculator
page (see above).
Now you know ECL is hard to determine, but fortunately some values are provided in the DMG (page 22),
the FRCS or OA.
Dragon #293 provides a list with ECLs for creatures in the MM, but I suggest you do not use these,
as these are incompatible with the DMG examples (too high overall, and there is no pattern in their changes from the old values).
The same goes for some of the FRCS errata (except the Kir-Lanan, which was obviously a mistake at +2).
So now that
you have this ECL, what do you use it for?
ECL, or better, the ECL modifier, is used to determine a PCs character level
for determining starting gold (despite what the DMG says), starting xp, xp needed to reach the next level and average party
level. You do this by adding the ECL to the number of class levels a PC has. (FRCS, p. 21) Now there are a lot of other purposes
for which you need to know a PCs character level, like gaining new feats, increasing ability increases and determining the
number of uses per day for certain feats. For all these you should use the total number of HD as character level instead.
(MM, p. 14)