Guidance – Design 101: He Did the Monstrous Mash!

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about the differences between humanoids and monstrous humanoids.

This is a little bit off-topic for a typical Wednesday article for me, but I felt that this was an idea worth talking about as soon as possible. Today, we’re going to be talking about the difference in classification between a “humanoid” and a “monstrous humanoid.”

Statistic Differences

Let’s start with actual gameplay differences between humanoids and monstrous humanoids. First, here is a list if monstrous humanoid traits:

  • Darkvision out 60 feet.
  • Proficient with simple weapons and all weapons mentioned in its entry.
  • Proficient with any armor it is described as wearing.
  • Monstrous Humanoids eat, sleep, and breath.
  • Unless they are 0 HD creatures, monstrous humanoids advance with d8s, have a full base attack bonus, good Reflex and Will saves, and skill points equal to 2 + the creature’s Intelligence.

Now, let’s look at humanoid statistics.

  • Proficient with all simple weapons.
  • Proficient with whatever type of armor it is wearing.
  • Humanoids eat, sleep, and breathe.
  • Unless they are 0 HD creatures, humanoids advance with d8s, have a medium base attack bonus, Good Reflex saves, and skill points equal to 2 + the creature’s Intelligence.

Looking through, we have very subtle differences between humanoids and monstrous humanoids. Generally speaking, monstrous humanoids have the better base statistics by a lot, so we can begin by classifying monstrous humanoids as creatures that have powers and abilities that are slightly beyond that of an ordinary humanoid’s abilities.

Flavor Differences

In 3.5 Edition, humanoids have the following description:

A humanoid usually has two arms, two legs, and one head, or a human-like torso, arms, and a head. Humanoids have few or no supernatural or extraordinary abilities, but most can speak and usually have well-developed societies.

Monstrous humanoids, on the other hand, have this description:

Monstrous humanoids are similar to humanoids, but with monstrous or animalistic features. They often have magical abilities as well.

As you can see, both in description and in base traits monstrous humanoids and humanoids are remarkably similar. Mechanically, the only real difference is that monstrous humanoids get a full base attack bonus while humanoids don’t. That, and effects that target humanoids don’t work on monstrous humanoids.

Is the Difference Warranted?

When moving from 3.5 to Pathfinder, the design team crunched several creature types together for ease of use. Elemental became a subtype of outsider while giant became a subtype of humanoid. This brings up the 1,000 gp question: why wasn’t monstrous humanoid consolidating too?

Well, on one hand, maybe it should have been. After all, giant and humanoid were merged together in order to give humanoids some high CR creatures that weren’t reliant on class levels. (Prior to Pathfinder, it was pretty much assumed that if you were a humanoid creature, you advanced using class levels.) Some might say that monstrous humanoid and humanoid remain distinct so you can’t target medusas and minotaurs with effects such as reduce person, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem for giants. After all, all giants, such as trolls, are considered humanoids now, and therefore can be affected by spells like enlarge person and the like. As a matter of fact, this is usually a benefit, not a downside; as a humanoid subtype, giants still need to be specifically selected by things like the bane weapon property or a ranger’s favored enemy. Giants even have special traits that are unique to their subtype, as noted here:

Giants have a number of racial Hit Dice and never substitute such Hit Dice for class levels like some humanoids. Giants have low-light vision and treat Intimidate and Perception as class skills.

With all this in mind, there seems no real reason to keep monstrous humanoids separate from other types of humanoids. You could very easily make a monstrous subtype and note that monstrous humanoids have a base attack bonus equal to their Hit Dice. Done. It almost seems too easy.

Is it too easy?

Justification for the Distinction

The folding of giant into humanoid was no accident. Let’s take a quick look at the giant traits.

  • Low-light vision.
  • Proficient with all simple and martial weapons, plus its natural weapons
  • Proficient with whatever type of armor it is wearing.
  • Humanoids eat, sleep, and breathe.
  • Giants advance with d8s, have a medium base attack bonus, Good Fortitude saves, and skill points equal to 2 + the creature’s Intelligence.

So aside from their low-light vision (which many humanoids have) and Good saving throw (Fortitude instead of Reflex), giants have the exact same statistics as humanoids. Is darkvision and a full base attack bonus enough to warrant this distinction? Maybe not, but there is another major factor that might: societal organization.

You see, all humanoids, including giants, function at a societal level. Some of these societies are very basic (such as the boggard, which is described as being primeval) while others are impossibly complex (such as the elves or drow). Regardless of the case, humanoids live in groups. Ogres, for example, live in tribes called families. Cloud giants typically live apart from one another, but they have a clear culture and social hierarchy amidst themselves.

Monstrous humanoids are typically lone creatures without organized societies. Creatures like the medusa, that lives alone, or the minotaur, that lives alone. They may look humanoid, but the fact that they don’t act humanoid makes them distinct (or monstrous) enough to warrant their own classification. This is also why despite looking “bestial,” creatures like catfolk, ratfolk, and kitsune are classified as humanoids and not monstrous humanoids. Monstrous humanoids lack a real society while these races most certainly do not. As such, the distinction between humanoids and monstrous humanoids isn’t mechanical, but is instead flavorful.

So what do you think? Is society enough of a reason to keep the distinction between humanoid and monstrous humanoid, or should monstrous have been a subtype of the human creature type? Leave your comments below and I look forward to sharing a new article with you next week! Take care!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune dread, and this article was conceived when I had to explain this difference to one of my players when he wanted to know why his monstrous humanoid bane greatsword didn’t work on the ogres he was fighting.

Alex Augunas

Alexander Augunas lives outside of Philadelphia, USA where he tries to make a living as an educator. When he's not shaping the future leaders of tomorrow, Alex is a freelance writer for esteemed Pathfinder Roleplaying Game publishers such as Paizo, Inc, Radiance House, Raging Swan Press, and more, and also acts as a co-host and blogger on the Know Direction Network, where he has earned the nickname, "The Everyman Gamer." Recently, Alex has forayed into the realm of self-publishing through his company, Everyman Gaming, LLC.

1 Comment

  1. Enrique Lopez Reply to Enrique

    It doesn’t quite work out well as there are plenty of examples of creatures with the monstrous humanoid subtype that have societies. Burrowlings, centaurs, mongrelmen, and serpentfolk all have listed groupings up to a minimum of a tribe for example. Some of their descriptions outright call the collective of tribes a society. Burrowlings even have their settlements called towns. In the particular case of the witchwyrd, the creature has an advanced enough society to be willing to trade for currency and goods as well as understanding the importance of needing an entourage of guards for protection.

Leave a Reply