Magic item levels and requirements got me thinking about monster levels.

Like a zillion years ago I worked on a scale/scope system for helping to codify the threat level of individual monsters — which was also intended to help determine thresholds for player access to powerful magic like invisibility, teleportation, and so forth. It’s a pretty daunting task, all things considered.

When I created the “five pages, thirty stat blocks” document, I started to wonder about what the real point of giving monsters different levels was — the final nail in the coffin was really when I determined that awarding XP for combat was pretty much the worst thing ever. What makes monster levels matter?

And that’s the point where magic item levels/requirements comes in.

Let’s say for example, that we have a vanilla 1st-level monster — what could in many situations is effectively a minion, right? Even 1st-level PCs don’t sweat 1st-level monsters very much — at worst they’re on even footing with the other.

So I’m wondering if perhaps the answer ought to be along the lines of why we change the level requirements of magic items — adding traits and properties to “basic” monsters increases their level. This could save GMs a LOT of work.

If you want to run a very, very simple game — you need only ever use say, 6 stat blocks. One each for 1st, 6th, 11th, 16th, 21st, and 26th levels. The quantities of monsters may vary, as well as individual defense scores — but damage and hit points will remain largely consistent at each level.

Once you eliminate 4e scaling attack/defense bonuses to keep the Random Number God in check, there isn’t a whole lot of reason to use monsters of the in-between levels because monsters simply accumulate numbers over time.

All you really need are a few milestones.

Now, what might increase the level of a monster and give us that variance? That’s a good question — I don’t know yet. Aside from setting monsters apart in terms of scope, I don’t know what serves as appropriate criteria for level variance for those in-between levels 2-5, 7-10, 12-15, and so on.

I’m going to have to think about it now. For a while.

I’ll just keep it there, in the back of my mind.