by Mike Shea on 9 November 2015
The 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual includes static damage for every damaging effect in every monster stat block. Though we're used to rolling damage for monsters, there are big advantages to using this static damage score instead of rolling for damage.
In this short article, we'll make the case for using static damage values for monster attacks.
The easiest argument to make for using static monster damage is that, generally, no one will give a shit. Players love to see the variance in their own damage but they tend to not care whether or not a monster rolled low or high on their damage dice.
The only time in the game when damage variance matters is at low levels when players have few hit points and a high damage roll with a greataxe may drop their character to zero. Many DMs, myself included, don't really want that to happen anyway. Later on, as player hit points increase, the variance of the dice in a monster's attack is low enough that it doesn't really have a big effect on the game anyway.
As DMs, we typically don't care about monster damage either. We have so much other shit to do in our game that bothering to roll for monster damage isn't high on our priority list. Improvizing evocative location descriptions and roleplaying interesting NPC interactions is a much better use for our time.
Combat speed isn't a critical factor in D&D 5e like it was back in 4e but we can always trim out parts of our game that aren't as vital as other parts. Rolling for monster damage is one of those parts. It is much faster to run a group of monsters by only rolling attack rolls and just dishing out the damage. Players may notice but it's unlikely they'll care.
Those of us who are used to 13th Age are used to running monsters with static damage know exactly how well this can work.
Take a look at 5e monster stat block and you'll notice that the static damage is outside the parentheses and the roll is inside. The implication is that the static damage is the true rule but it might have been too big a switch to remove damage dice completely.
So no, you're not breaking the rules by using static monster damage.
Handling critical hits is one oddity when using static monster damage. Given the infrequency, this is a good time to use the dice expression. If a monster has a damage score of "9 (1d8+4)"" and rolls a critical hit, just roll an extra 1d8 and add it to 9. If you happen to know the averages (rounded down) of the dice, you can use that instead but only if it is actually faster than rolling. Easiest is just to roll the die.
You might still be apprensive about using static damage for monsters. It might not feel right to you after all of these years of rolling monster damage. If you really don't want to use it, you certainly don't have to. You might, however, give it a try. Maybe use it on a battle with a lot of enemies whose damage variance is largely inconsequential. See how it feels.
Who knows, you might like it.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, Sly Flourish's Fantastic Adventures, and Sly Flourish's Fantastic Locations. You can also support this site by using these links to purchase the D&D Starter Set, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, or Dungeon Master's Guide.