I started in on my Monster Card project just to see how hard it was going to be.  I created a template in Libre Office, agonized over fonts, and searched the web for some place-holder artwork.  My thought was, let me create one card as a prototype, and then see how difficult it will be to fill in the rest from there.

I knew the text description would be an interesting challenge.  Dan had mentioned that most of this stuff was probably open gaming license, but I assume that does not extend to simply copy and pasting text right out of the Monster Manual.  That text is probably too long anyway, I can tell just from the existing cards that some heavy editing was done to make this fit on a 3×5 card.  I eventually decided as a start to just borrow the text from Labyrinth Lord, as it’s in the correct vein, is clearly open game content, and is available digitally for ease of copy and paste.  Even then I knew I’d still likely have to edit down, but it’s a start.

The next road block though is really something I was not expecting: stats.  I figured this would be an obvious straight copy from MM to card.  And for the most part it was, until I got to the entry “L/XP”.  What the heck is that?  The one bit of explanation text I get is on the back of the title card:

Monster Level / Experience Point value.  *Average value only, see DMG p.85.

OK, so I whip out my DMG and open to page 85.  Sure enough, there’s a chart there for XP value based on HD and special abilities.  The “level” bit is not there, so I dig through some existing cards and based on the fact that it’s shown as a roman numeral, I’m guessing that it has to do with what dungeon level on the wandering monster chart the monster appears on.  Where are those printed?  They’re not in the Monster Manual, maybe they are here in the DMG, but I’m not finding them.  Then I remember, didn’t they put a bunch of combined tables in the back of the Monster Manual 2?  So I get out that book.

Sure enough, there are the wandering monster charts in the back.  Great.  Oh, huh, this is interesting, that L/XP stat is here in the block for every monster in MM2, though again the intro text just vaguely refers me to the DMG (doesn’t even give me a page number this time).  Weird, why doesn’t this stat exist in MM1?  Suddenly, I realize that the use of this stat on these monster cards must be their first actual use case.  How do I know that?

Well, when making my template earlier I noticed that in the bottom right corner of each card is an indicator of where the monster came from.  For example, the Ankheg card says “MM 6” in the bottom right corner – Monster Manual page 6.  Almost all the cards in fact have the “MM” indicator, with a few interesting outliers.  The Nycadaemon stands out as being the one and only card with an “FF” indicator.  Why did they take one and only one thing from the Fiend Folio?  I have no idea.  The only other indicator is NEW, and it includes:

  1. Galeb Duhr
  2. Grippli
  3. Hybsil
  4. Korred
  5. Land Urchin
  6. Lycanthrope, Seawolf
  7. Mihstu
  8. Obliviax
  9. Thri-kreen
  10. Tunnel Worm
  11. Wemmic
  12. Zorbo

In fact, the front title card that came with each set, which BTW was about all that was visible in the original packaging (I recall they came in kind of flimsy clear plastic boxes that always eventually got crushed), says on it:

Monster Cards combine full-color illustrations with vital information on 20 AD&D™ monsters, including 3 totally new creatures, in handy 3″ x 5″ cards.

Fascinating.  The inclusion of new unprinted monsters in each set appears to have been a marketing ploy.  And not surprisingly the above list includes just about every monster in the collection that I’ve always found to be a very strange choice.  Also note, almost all of those creatures were then included in Monster Manual 2.  Here’s acaeum.com to the rescue with the full details:

These “new” creatures were then incorporated into the Monster Manual II published in 1983 — presumably because the decision to abandon the Monster Cards line had been made during the new hardcover’s compilation (thanks to Ed Jendek for this info).

As an aside, while researching for this post another interesting bit of info comes from the wikipedia entry on the Monster Cards:

A second group of four sets was tentatively scheduled for release in 1983, according to Harold Johnson, and those sets would have included several monsters from the Fiend Folio book.

OK, so, I’m really flying off on a tangent now.  How did I get here?  Oh yeah, L/XP.  So, trying to figure out how the values were reached is pretty difficult, since this stat is not included in any text for monsters that came out of MM1.  There’s this reference to DMG p. 85, but that chart is super subjective.  How do I draw the line between a special ability and an exceptional ability?  Perhaps I can examine some MM2 creatures and see if I can reverse engineer the rules?

Let’s consider our old pal the troll. Probably a poor choice, given Dan’s own research into what an outlier he is in XP calculations.  Still, we have an interesting point of comparison: the MM2 includes the Marine Troll (Scrag), which should be pretty similar.

So, given the 6+ HD of the troll, and let’s assume his regeneration ability is “exceptional”, I guess that puts him at 400 + 8/hp XP.  Hm, that’s exactly the same number as the freshwater scrag.  Surely the scrag should get a little extra for it’s ability to breathe underwater?  Though maybe that’s offset by his regeneration being limited to when he is in water?  (Side note: huh, nothing in the scrag’s listing actually says he can breathe underwater.)  And wait a minute, the freshwater scrag has 5+5 HD, how does that work?  Even if we assume the special abilities somehow compensate to bring up the base value to 400, the per-hp value, at least according to the DMG chart, should be directly tied to HD and not modified.  So how the heck does he get +8/hp instead of +6/hp?

I jumped then to examining the Bugbear (don’t ask why).  His L/XP value on the card is “III/135 + 4/hp”.  OK, 4/hp does line up with his 3+ HD line on the chart.  But how do we get to 135 base value?  Base value on the chart is 60.  Hm, the extra surprise could be an exceptional ability for +65.  That gets us to 125, still 10 short.  Um, if he had two special abilities instead of one exceptional that would be +50…  Nope, nothing I’m doing here is getting me a total of 135.  Where the heck did they pull that number from?

Sigh, this is really discouraging.  And all for a number that frankly I never even noticed existed on these cards even from when I first bought them back in the 80’s.  My urge to be true to the original format is strongly fighting against my knowledge that I would never use this particular stat in my own games.  What should I do?