Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On the Nature of Humanoids

Intelligence in B/X play is a little less spelled out than other editions. For my games, I categorize monsters (that is, any non-PC species creature) into four categories of intelligence:


Sentient beings are the equivalent of humans: they have language and reasoning ability and the potential for writing and inter-species communication…they may be dumb or clever, but they can put together plans.

Beagle intelligence is the equivalent of my beagles: they don’t really have language, though they have means of expressing themselves and they are clever enough to open doors, climb fences, hide (themselves and their possessions), and exhibit behavior other than simple instinct. Creatures like ghouls, rock baboons, and B/X troglodytes fall into the “beagle” category.

Animal intelligence is based on biology and instinct, generally categorized by terms that begin with the letter “F”: food, fear, fire, fight, flight, and f**king, etc. Bears and owl bears fall into this category, as do insects and slimes, alien though their particular drives may be.

Non-intelligent creatures are those that have no capacity for self-generated thought; these are programmed automatons like statues and zombies and golems. They only act as they are commanded by their creator/master, and without command they do not act.

Sentient beings are the only monsters that are “tool users;” if a lesser brained monster wields a weapon, it is either entirely incidental (like a baboon wielding a tree branch “club”) or was equipped by someone other than the creature itself (for example, a skeleton wielding a sword or a lion with metal-shod claws). Conversely, any monster described as using weapons or being “highly intelligent” (like vampires) can be considered sentient.

Sentient humanoids up to “ogre-size” (i.e. HD 4+1 or less) are assumed to have an intelligence of 9-12, according to the description of the spell Charm Person (page B16 of the Moldvay rules). They’ll speak their own language and any other that the DM deems appropriate for their species (or mentioned in their description). Creatures larger than ogres (minotaur and giants, for example)…well, their intelligence will need to be determined by the DM. As Intelligence affects nothing but languages and literacy in B/X, it’s really a matter of how often you want such a being to receive a saving throw versus Charm Monster.

The orc is the baseline monster in B/X.

Orcs deserve their own post for another time, but for now we’re just looking at its fighting stats. An orc warrior (the standard antagonist PCs will encounter, not the non-combatant women and children) is the equivalent of a 1st level fighter/man-at-arms:

AC 6 (leather and shield), Hit Dice 1, average hit points 4.5,THAC0 19, damage 1-6 (as a weapon in other words), average damage 3.5 per hit. True their morale is better than baseline (and worse than baseline without a leader), and they have both infravision and daylight penalties, but for the most part they are the equivalent of a 1st level fighter with 9-12 in all categories (including strength and constitution).

[the normal human described in the Basic set is the equivalent of what Conan would sneeringly refer to as a “civilized man”]

With orcs as a baseline, one can put the other humanoids in their proper pecking order of humanoid tool users:

- Kobolds (average hit points 2.5, THAC0 19, average damage 2.5 due to general “shrimpiness”).

- Goblins (average hit points 3.625, THAC0 19, average damage 3.5…equivalent to a 1st level fighter with a CON of 6-8).

- Orcs (as stated: equivalent of the average human 1st level fighter)

- Hobgoblins (average hit points 5.5, THAC0 18, average damage 4.5. Gygax’s version of Tolkien’s Uruk-Hai, these are the equivalent of fighters with STR and CON of 13-15).

- Gnolls (average hit points 9, THAC0 18, average damage 5…equivalent to a 2nd level fighter with a STR of 13-15).

- Bugbears (average hit points 14.5, THAC0 16, average damage 5…equivalent to a “goblin hero,” a 4th level fighter with a CON of 6-8 with a STR of 13-15).

- Ogres (average hit points 19, THAC0 15, average damage 5.5…equivalent to a 4th level fighter with a STR of 16-17).

- Minotaur (average hit points 27, THAC0 14, average damage (with weapon) 5.5…equivalent to a 6th level fighter with a STR of 16-17 and a +1 attack bonus, perhaps due to ferocity).

Okay, great…so why do I bother writing all this up? Aside from the “fun of it,” this is just the set-up for my post on SHIELDS.

***EDIT: I realize that Hit Dice originally come from Chainmail (like ogres being worth four men "+1"), a game system I still haven't managed to acquire. Please forgive my reflections from a B/X-centric perspective.***


  1. I like that you have a beagle category. :) And I am waiting with anticipation for your shields post :)

  2. The definition of Beagle intelligence sounds like my cat. Actually cats are brighter they domesticated humans so we'd get the milk from the cows. ;-)

  3. @ Simon: Posted.

    @ JD: I figured someone would mention cats. I've known some mean/vengeful cats but few smart ones...some are definitely in the same category.

    @ Theo: No. Anything that has greater "intelligence" than humans is probably just privy to additional senses and knowledge. I'm talking about the ABILITY to reason and problem solve; something ALL sentient creatures can do (to greater or lesser ability). Are you a tool user...or not?