Saturday, May 31, 2008

I have combined the DNA of the worlds most evil animals...

Humans have been in the Monster Manual in every version of Dungeons & Dragons.  The problem is that the entry was pretty useless.  It was basically a reprint of the information you already had from the Player's Handbook.  But it really didn't add any value.  I cannot recall a single case of a DM saying, "So, you are going to attack the city guards unprovoked?  Let me look them up in the Monster Manual!"

Rather, when the characters unexpectedly found themselves in conflict with other humans the DM tended to use one of a few, limited options:

  • Grab one of the NPC's by level and class in the DMG.  This rarely worked very well, but at least you had some basic stat blocks to throw at the characters.
  • Pick some stat block from an issue of Dungeon, an old module, or a sample character from another source like a complete book.  This tended to work a little better, but was clunky.
  • Wing it!

The funny thing is that most of the time you were better off winging it!  If you did plan an encounter that included a bunch of human opponents you had to go through the trouble of, basically, rolling up a bunch of characters and leveling them as you saw fit.  If you were a conscientious DM, you would remember that there were "non-heroic" NPC classes in the DMG that were supposed to represent 95% of the human population, but really, how many DM's used them?  Heck, how many official WOTC modules did?

One of the best non-WOTC d20 supplements I ever bought addressed this very issue.  It was published by Ambient Publications and was called "Everyone Else".  It was filled with quick, ready to use stat blocks for Bartenders, Dockworkers, and the like.  Made things easy for those unexpected brawls.  Still, there had to be a better way than to have a whole supplement devoted to Art Dealers and Courtesans, right?

This is why I greet the fact that the D&D 4th Ed Monster Manual has embraced the concept that most humans are treated as monsters (i.e., without fully fleshed out character write ups) with unabashed pleasure.  I had the pleasure of using some of the new "monster" humans when I was running H1.  The group had to fight several "Human Rabble".  Because they were just intended to harass the group rather than be a credible threat they were written as Minions (a class of monster) who got some bonuses when adjacent to other "Human Rabble".

While they really didn't get too much of a chance to show off their powers at the session, I could see how great they would work as a standard "angry mob" of villagers.  Individually weak, but powerful as a group, they would get the concept of "mob" across more effectively than 20 3rd Ed D&D "commoners" ever would... and were a whole lot less complex to put together.

Similarly, "monster" berserkers, wizards, and the like should make fine opponents when you have to throw some disposable bodies at the party.  Sure they may lack some of the depth of fully written up NPC's, but you can still do that when you need to.  And to be honest, half the time DM's (like me) would be doing something like this anyway when we needed a quick NPC opponent for the party.

Plus, it is great to finally have the greatest monster get the write-up in the Monster Manual it deserves!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The high cost of living (and rituals) in 4th Edition D&D

Ever since they were first announced, I have been curious about rituals in Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. There are a couple of reasons why rituals interested me. One reason is that I have always been a big fan of the feel of ritual magic in other role-playing games. Perhaps most importantly though is that rituals were setup to fix some of the most pernicious problems in D&D, namely ridiculously powerful or long duration magic, the creation of magic items, and the raising of the dead.

So it shouldn't be surprising that when they first announced that the May 28th "Excerpt" would be devoted to rituals that I was excited.

Having read the excerpt I have mixed feelings. I do feel that rituals will help balance the use of powerful magic in the game. That being said, in many ways rituals seem more derivative than innovative.

Basically, many of the old long term or powerful utility spells have been moved off the spell list and on to the ritual list. Becoming a ritual means a few things for these spells:

  • They have much longer casting times. The main byproduct of this is that they can no longer be cast in combat. While this might cut off some uses of these powers, like the ability to teleport the party out of a tense situation, for the vast majority of spells it will not be a substantive change. Characters are rarely scrying, curing disease, or raising the dead in the middle of combat anyway.
  • They all must be cast out of a ritual book or off of a ritual scroll. Functionally, this does limit the caster, sort of like a cross between a Wizard's Spell Book and the 3rd Edition Spell Component Pouch.
  • They all will have a material component cost. Once again, this will have the effect of limiting how often you can cast these powerful spells. This isn't that big of a change because many of these spells already had material components. Still, the concept of standardizing out these components is probably a good thing.
  • There is a skill roll involved in many rituals. This is actually pretty new, if somewhat similar to the way that epic spells were handled. Still, it will give casters a reason to have high levels in certain skills, namely Arcana, Religion, or Nature and add an element of suspense.

Rituals are also how you create magic items in 4th Edition. We still don't know much about how this works, but the list of the first ten levels of rituals provides a couple of clues. Namely the two rituals called "Enchant Magic Item" and "Brew Potion" on the list. In another case of "Reversing Innovation", this sounds an awful lot like earlier editions of the game which had an "Enchant Item" spell.

The main thing this tells me is that the main inhibitor on assembly line magic item creation is going to return to being monetary limitations rather than XP cost or some other factor. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I was hoping to see a new approach.

Finally, while it was touched on under powerful spells, rituals are how you bring back the dead. In this case we got to see the Raise Dead ritual in its entirety, so I can comment on it pretty fully.

I was surprised to find out that Raise Dead is only an 8th level ritual, which in the new edition means it can be cast by an 8th level caster. They upped the casting time to 8 hours, which seems reasonable to me. In fact, I have been a proponent of that since I first saw that modification in Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved Campaign Setting.

The penalty for coming back from the dead is pretty mild: a -1 to all attack rolls, skill checks, saving throws, and ability checks until the character reaches three milestones (usually 6 encounters). Humorously, this resembles a house rule that I (and some other DM's in my regular gaming group) experimented with.

Perhaps most interesting is that it costs more to raise higher level characters than lower level characters due to death being unwilling to "release its hold". Bringing back a heroic tier character can be done for the bargain price of 500 GP! Paragon tier characters are a bit pricier at 5,000 GP. Epic tier characters cost a whopping 50,000 GP to bring back. Basically it's a case where the more you have, the more death takes.

I guess death is a little like the IRS.  Except without tax shelters.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Official Game Recap for the May 24th session up at Lords of Tyr

This is just a quick post to let everyone know the game recap for the May 24th D&D session is up at Lords of Tyr, along with the uStream Video (as always). 

The recap summarizes last session's run through the first part of module H1: Keep on the Shadowfell.  So if you are planning on attending the special D&D Worldwide Gameday session and missed the last session, it might be a good idea to read up on it.

On the other hand, if you are not part of our gaming group and want to avoid spoilers about H1: Keep on the Shadowfell, maybe you should avoid it!

Random Review: H1 - Keep on the Shadowfell

Module H1: Keep on the Shadowfell is the first 4th Edition D&D product to hit the stands, coming out two weeks before the core rulebooks do.  As a result, it has the burden of not only being a good module, but to be an ambassador of 4th Edition to the gaming world.  This module is the first experience most people will have with 4th Edition.  If it's a bad experience, 4th Edition will be a tough sell.  Thankfully, H1 is (mostly) successful on all of these fronts.H1

Physically, the product design is interesting.  Rather than a book proper, it is more of a Trapper Keeper style design.  Inside the folder is a 16-page "Quick-Start Rules" booklet,  an 80-page "Adventure Book", and 3 double-sided poster maps.  At first I wasn't so sure about the format, but I have become a convert since learning how easy it was to keep the module, maps, and my own adventure notes together.  Now I am hoping this will be the new module format for 4th Edition!

As for the content, the "Quick-Start Rules" contains some rules explaining the basics of the new edition and five playable characters.  The rules section is pretty sparse; with only six pages, it really doesn't contain any more than you need to run the module.  Nevertheless, it was an interesting peek into the new rules.  The five pre-generated characters round out the remaining ten pages.  They include a dwarf fighter, a halfling rogue, a human wizard, a half-elf cleric and a dragonborn paladin.  All of them include level up information up to third level.  The individual powers are described in full detail on the sheets, making them pretty easy to just grab them and run with minimal instruction on the new rules.  Seeing them in action they seem to be a pretty well-rounded bunch, and everyone got a chance to shine at the game table.

The "Adventure Book" devotes the first 15 pages to a (slightly) more comprehensive set of quick-start rules intended for the Dungeon Master.  The remainder of the book is devoted to the module itself.  The adventure itself has a serviceable if slightly stereotypical plot.  However the main point of it seems to be to show off the new combat system.  The designers obviously tried hard to grab a pretty diverse group of monsters to throw at the party.  Since a large part of this module is to "show off" some of the new features of 4th Edition D&D, I think this was probably a wise choice.  My only complaint is that it did not include a little more in the way of skill challenges and the new social encounter rules for the players to deal with.  That would probably of pushed the page count over the edge though.

As for how it acts as an "ambassador" to the new rules... I can only say that for my group it did great!  Everyone seemed to have a good time at the table, even some of the players who were not looking forward to 4th Edition.  After running the module, everyone in my group seems willing to give 4th Edition a chance.  Which is really all you can ask for.

Coming soon, either here or on Lords of Tyr, will be the recap of what happen when I ran H1 for my regular gaming group.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Its been awhile since I posted...

and I want to apologize.  My inattentiveness to my blogging responsibilities is due to three unrelated causes:

The game that is sucking so much time out of my life!

My unexplainable addiction to GTA IV.  I have never actually played any of the previous installments, but this one has really grabbed me.  The storyline is very interesting and the open ended gaming is fantastic.

It amazes me that you can watch (fake) TV or surf the (fake) Internet in this game.  Personally, I enjoy playing pool in the game.  Using Grand Theft Auto IV as a pool simulation game seem like a bit of a waste, but hey what can I say.

Luckily my wife is around to go on all the crazy shoot 'em  up missions, visit strip clubs, and run over hookers to get her money back after utilizing their services.


AnotherAnother scourge on my time! time-sucker has been the new Age of Conan Hyborean: Adventures MMORPG.  My wife was a long time City of Heroes player, but recently the game has lost some of its appeal to her.  So she made the jump to this new game, taking me along with her.

I can't say that I am sorry to make the switch.  The graphics are beautiful and the game play is quick.  It is obviously in the early stages as the interface can be a bit quirky, and you can run into problems like ending up in a different instance from the rest of your group pretty easily.

Of course, Conan is differentiating itself from Everquest, World of Warcraft, and the like by its Mature rating.  This basically means more spraying blood and the occasional naked breast in the game.  None of this matters to me, but by the same token none of it offends me either.  At least I no longer worry about my wife's foul mouth corrupting some twelve year-old kid when she is playing this game.

office_space Perhaps the biggest reason I haven't posted as much recently is that my work schedule has changed to second shift for a couple of weeks.  Which has really thrown my available free time into chaos while I adjust. 

(On the plus side, the ability to sleep in has really helped me catch up on my sleep, even if I am getting to bed later than ever).

Well, enough excuses!  I promise to be back on track shortly, so expect more updates soon!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Abstracting Loot

Wizards of the Coast posted a very interesting excerpt today on the new Economy & Reward system in 4th Edition D&D.  It is a change that will infuriate certain players and delight certain Dungeon Masters (and visa-versa).

Basically, D&D has given up even attempting to simulate a realistic economy.  This probably makes a lot of sense.  After all, there are a million different expenses that PC's should have that they don't have to worry about.  Unless it's a plot point for a specific adventure, they never have to buy new clothes, repair their weapons and armor, worry about most meals, pay taxes, etc.  This is for the best, after all what DM has time to keep track of all of this?

Previous editions would use the concept of "upkeep" to account for these miscellaneous expenses.  Upkeep was a monthly amount of gold that was automatically deducted from the characters to represent these expenses.  The problem is, this rule was a pain to keep track of and was almost never used.  I used it in some of my 1st & 2nd Edition games, but once it became (officially) optional in 3rd Edition, I dropped it and never looked back.

4th Edition D&D has dropped the idea of attempting to simulate an economy entirely.  They recognize that gold and magic items in D&D are a reward system for heroic adventuring, and not intended to turn the PC's into penny pinchers who haggle with merchants over the price of every chain shirt found in the dungeon.

Under the new paradigm, the DM is encouraged to divide the gold and magic items the PC's will acquire during the course of a level into "bundles".  These bundles are then divvied up among the various monsters, hazards, etc that the PC's encounter during the course of adventuring.

The bundles are considered the "notable" treasure recovered after the encounter.  In other words, if you defeat a group of orcs and gather the loot, the DM is not going to list every axe, spear, suit of leather armor, pouch, and pair of boots among the treasure.  Instead, he will only list the notable items: perhaps a masterwork sword, 20 gold pieces, and a potion.  The rest will be assumed to be generally unusable, beneath the notice of the characters, or not worth anything in resale.

This is designed to allow the DM a lot tighter control over the loot entering the campaign.  The DM doesn't have to figure in the value of every +1 rapier he gives to drow elf raiding party any more than he needs to determine the "value" of an owlbear's beak and claws.  If the +1 rapiers would just be carted off and sold anyway, they can just fade into the background.  It can be assumed that the PC's either ignore them, realize they would have too much trouble selling them, or even just assumed to be sold in the background and subsumed into the gold awarded for the encounter (i.e., the PC's didn't actually find 500 GP on the drow, that's just what they were later able to sell some of the rapiers for).

This is bound to drive some people crazy.  If diagonal movement can whip gamers into a frenzy, I hesitate to think what this will do to them!

As to my opinion, well I think I like it, but I also think it will be a hard sell.  Frankly, being a treasure pack rat is pretty ingrained in D&D players.  I am pretty sure that many players will see this abstraction as an attempt by the DM to keep them from getting "what they having coming to them".

In reality though, I think it may actually increase the quality, if not the quantity, of magical treasure that DM's give out.  One reason is that if is done correctly, it will help DM's keep better track of what is out there.  Since many DM's lose track of exactly what magic items the party has, they tend to be conservative with what treasure they put out there.  This should help alleviate the anxiety that they are giving too much.

Another advantage is that it should actually help offset the inadvertent loss of treasure.  To many times, I have seen cases where players will notate a list of items like "ten +1 rapiers, 4 suits of masterwork chain, one fine cloak", only to completely forget about them next session once the action starts.  This is natural.  After all, we are playing Dungeons & Dragon's, not Merchants and Misanthropes!  We aren't turning up at gaming sessions saying "Man, I really hope I get a chance to haggle with that merchant in town tonight!"

Still, everyone wants to get that cool magic item.  They can recount when their paladin got his first Holy Avenger +5 or when their wizard crafted his first Staff of the Power.  Hopefully the new system will encourage these moments without the needless book keeping.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The 4th Edition Player's Handbook?

I thought I was impatient for the 4th Edition Player's Handbook to arrive. 

While looking for D&D 4th Edition artwork, I stumbled across a website where they have cobbled together a 4th Edition Player's Handbook from all the rumors and previews about the D&D 4th Edition.  While I have seen most of it before, seeing it all compiled does give a much more complete picture of what the game will probably be like.

Obviously everything is not going to be the same as the final product.  I also wonder about the accuracy of some of the information, especially the Leveling Up chart.  It seems to have a lot of dead levels (i.e., levels where you only advance in BAB/HP/Saves), which is something the designer's have repeatedly stated they were trying to avoid in the new edition.

Nevertheless, if you don't mind spoilers, check out the Player's Pre-4th Edition Player's Handbook.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Will Hellboy II: The Golden Army be better than the first one?

I am a big fan of Mike Mignola's Hellboy comic series.  I have always felt it did a good job mixing pulp-noir, gothic horror, and humor together into a unique reading experience.  My love for the source material is probably why I have such mixed feelings on the 2004 Hellboy movie.

On the one hand, the Hellboy movie has some real nice touches.  Casting was superb, especially for the roles of Hellboy, Liz Sherman, and Abe Sapien.  In many ways I felt as if they had stepped right out of the comic pages and on to the screen.  Guillermo Del Toro also did a good job of getting the look and feel of the comic right.  Several scenes, especially the sequences with Rasputin and his vacuum tube gloves, the photo of Hellboy with the G.I.'s, and the scenes with Hellboy and the corpse looked like they were storyboarded off of the comics.

Unfortunately, there were also things I was not a fan of.  The Liz Sherman/Hellboy relationship just bugged me.  Granted, they are close in the comics, but its much more of a brother/sister type relationship forged from their "orphan's raised by the BPRD" status.

I was also bugged by the character John Meyers.  I understand his purpose: He is a viewpoint character for the viewers and a rival love interest for Liz Sherman.  Unfortunately, he seems to have little in the way of personality beyond those two roles.

I have high hopes for Hellboy II: The Golden Army though.  First, the trailer looked very interesting.  Many of the designs seemed eerily similar to Guillermo Del Toro work on Pan's Labyrinth, but considering what an amazing movie that was I can't complain too much.  Especially because this movie touches on the realm of the fey.

Second, it seems as if the John Meyer's character is gone.  Which is good because he will not be wasting any valuable screen time.

(I suppose I should apologize to the actor Rupert Evans.  I have nothing against him, I just feel the John Meyer's character was a poor one.  I am sure he did the best he could with what he was given)

Incidentally, Dark Horse was kind enough to release a preview comic staring the titular Golden Army.  It was a classic faerie tale, and one I really look forward to seeing continued in the movie proper.

Good Luck Guillermo!  I am looking forward to the new Hellboy movie.  So don't let me down.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Reversing innovation (Part III)

Lets face it, the early editions of Dungeons & Dragons did not handle the multiclass rules well.  In 1st and 2nd Edition D&D only the demi-humans could multiclass.  Each race had a limited number of classes they could pick between.  These classes were chosen in a manner that was frankly quite arbitrary.  The character would then split his XP between the two classes.

To make matters worse, demi-humans had to contend with (once again) pretty arbitrary level limits.  For some reason, every race had unlimited advancement as thieves, but substantial level limits (i.e., a max level you could reach) on even classes that seemed a natural fit (e.g., Dwarven Fighters, Elven Magic-Users).

Under this paradigm,  if you were playing a Halfling Fighter/Thief, you would cease advancing as a fighter at level 4, but half your XP would go towards fighter for the rest of your career.  Of course, you were probably still better off than the poor sap playing a single class Halfling fighter stuck at level 4, but it was still annoying.

So when 3rd Edition came out with its new race and multiclass rules it was a breath of fresh air.  Rather than being a special ability of the non-human races, anyone could multiclass.  Instead of splitting a character's XP between two classes, you merely chose what class you wanted to advance in each time you leveled up.  There were still some holdovers from the 2nd Edition mindset, like favored races and XP penalties.  But it was a quantum leap forward.

It was such a leap forward that it took awhile to see the flaws in the system.  It was usually detrimental to multiclass much if you were a primary spell-caster, since your caster level and spell-casting list were too heavily impacted. Multiclassing could also affect your base attack bonus and saving throws in unpredictable ways.  Sometimes you could end up with a base attack and saving throws way below what you would expect for your level.  Conversely, you could end up with a saving throw bonus way above what is normal for your level because of the +2 bonus most classes get to their primary save.

A less obvious effect was it encouraged designers to spread out the powers of a class to discourage dipping.  If you made too many of the classes abilities available at first level (e.g., the 3.0 Ranger), it encouraged players to take a single level in the class just to pick up those abilities.  Unfortunately, this often meant that powers essential to the class concept had to be delayed until later levels or scaled by class level.  An example of the latter is the Duelist's Canny Defense which gave you a bonus to AC equal to your Intelligence bonus when unarmored but limited to a maximum of your Duelist class level.

Nevertheless, the 3rd Edition multiclass rules were a vast improvement over what had come before.  So I was a little surprised when I found out that they threw them out and started from scratch for 4th Edition.

In 4th Edition, multiclassing is now governed by feats.  If you are a wizard who wants to study swordplay, you can take a feat which gives you a couple of basic fighter abilities.  If you decide you want to do more than dabble, additional feats can allow you to swap out some of your wizardly powers for the martial powers of the fighter.  Despite this side focus, you will continue to advance as a wizard.

Interestingly, this makes the class you pick at first level more important than ever, since you will never truly leave it behind.  If you are a rogue at level one, you will be a rogue at level thirty.  Granted, you may have some spell-casting you picked up along the way and some special abilities granted by your paragon path and epic destinies.  At your core though, you are a rogue.

So, what do I think of the change?  Well, I have more reservations about this change than many of the ones coming up in 4th Edition.  I do understand the need to fix the issues with the multiclass and prestige class rules.  After all, I have been exposed to the horrors of the Character Optimization forums and I have to admit that the new system seems solid at first glance. 

It's the IT guy in me that is giving me pause.  When you have a quality product, I would rather see an attempt to fix the bugs than throwing out the code and starting from scratch.

I probably shouldn't talk though.  My ultimate solution to the multiclass problem would be even more radical.  I would throw out the concept of class entirely.  Since they have already standardized base attack and saving throw progression, it would take very little to standardize hit points and merely provide a listing of powers that you could pick up as you level.  You could label these powers as belonging to Arcane, Divine, Martial, and Thievery sets.  It might be advantageous to pick powers from the same set because they would build off one another, but nothing would prevent you from making a "fighter" with a few spells, or a "rogue" who had found religion.

I have to admit that removing class would probably be just a bit too much change considering everything else that is changing in 4th Edition.  Maybe that's something we can look forward to in 5th?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Since I haven't had time to do a real post...

Just in case anyone hasn't seen it already, here is the Iron Man and Batman "Hi I'm a Marvel and I'm a DC" video.

I promise to post Reversing Innovation: Part III soon.  Honest!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Reversing innovation (Part II)

Another of the (now discarded) innovations of 3rd Edition D&D is XP as a commodity. In 1st and 2nd Edition it was possible to lose XP to creatures like the undead or items like the Book of Vile Darkness. It wasn't until 3rd edition that you gained the ability to spend it.

While not always common, the ability to spend all that XP that was "burning a hole in your pocket" was very present. Magic Item Creation was probably the most popular way to spend XP. It was followed closely by spell-casting, where several high end powers required the expenditure of XP. Psionic Powers were another common place to spend XP, especially since XP Cost replaced the use of expensive material components.

When I first started 3rd Edition D&D XP costs seemed an inspired solution to me. The new item creation rules had opened up the ability to create magic items to much lower level characters than the past. Unfortunately, unchecked this system would be ripe for abuse. After all, a 1st level party could decide to sit tight in a town for a month and potentially make thirty scrolls per spell-caster! Putting a gold piece cost limited this abuse somewhat, but an XP cost hit the player where it hurt. While the XP cost for utility items was never very high, it did cause most players with item creation feats to sit up and say "Hey, wait a minute!" when other players would suggest turning their characters into scroll and potion creating factories.

Similarly, XP costs served as a good deterrent for the use of spells like Wish or Miracle.  Those "do anything" spells were nice to have in your back pocket if you were a spell-caster.  Unfortunately, without any deterrence from using them, there would be no rational reason not to make a wish every night before bed (giving "when you wish upon a star" new meaning).  The XP cost handled this nicely.

Now, you may have noticed one of the problems with XP as a commodity.  Namely, only the spell-casting classes spend XP.  As a result, it tends to act more as a punishment for playing a spell-caster than a check for using these abilities.  After all, lets say you have several crafting feats.  You might make magic armor and weapons for all of the party members.  Craft everyone bags of holding and a couple of ability score increasing items.  The end result is you are lagging behind everyone on XP while they are more powerful due to their new magic items.  Now that hardly seems fair, does it?

I can't say I will be sad to see XP cost go.  In D&D 4th Edition nothing takes away XP.  Not undead, not dying, and especially not casting spells or prayers.  This is probably for the best.

Next up, the new multiclass rules!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Reversing innovation (Part I)

I've noticed a disturbing interesting trend recently. The more I read about 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, the more I hear about 3rd Edition innovations being reversed. Many times, the result is something more like 1st or 2nd edition. I have to admit that many of the changes look good on the surface, but with so many reversals I have to wonder: Are we taking a step forward or a step back? In this post I am going to examine the new monster rules. Future posts will examine XP as a commodity, and the new multiclass rules.

Monster rules were the first place I noticed this trend. In 1st and 2nd Edition, the monsters used very different rules than the Player Characters. Third edition changed this, so that the monsters were using almost the same rules as the players. They had six ability scores that increased every four hit dice, feats that increased every three hit dice, and skills points determined by type and hit dice. This had several advantages. First, it eliminated places where a disconnect between the monster rules and the PC rules could cause problems. Second, it allowed people who really wanted to play a specific monster to have the proper rules to do so out of the box. Want to play a pixie? If your DM allows it you certainly can, the rules are right there in the Monster Manual.

The problem is that the PC rules are not well adapted for monsters. One reason is because they are only "on stage" for a short period of time. For example, powers usable "at will" versus "3/day" are almost indistinguishable for most monsters, since their time "on stage" is only a few rounds. For PC's, who are "on stage" all the time, at will versus 3/day is a big difference.

Another problem with the monster rules using the PC rules is that the further you move away from "bipedal humanoid", the worse the rules broke down. Should my warhorse be good at climbing walls just because he has a high STR? Probably not, but that is the way the rules read.

Of course the biggest problem in using the same rules for monsters is the time it takes a dungeon master if he wants to customize his monsters. Strictly speaking, every time you advance a monster's HD, you have to check if he gets extra feats, assign skill points, recalculate BAB, etc. Granted, a lot of DM's ignored this, but if they do, what is the point in having these rules in the first place?

4th Edition is actually backtracking quite a bit on this point. While they have full stat write-ups, monster attack profiles and abilities are no longer tied as strictly to hit dice progression as they used to be. This added flexibility allows DMs to adjust them up and down on the fly a whole lot easier.

What is the downside? Well, it will be a lot harder to play one by just slapping on some PC levels. Granted, some monsters are getting PC write-ups in Monster Manual.  Nevertheless, the number of monsters with these write-ups is limited by its nature.

So what do I think? Well, as a frequent DM, I would rather have easier to use monsters. But I know many players will miss the ability to point at something in the Monster Manual and say "I want to play that". So in this case, it's a vote for the 4th Edition way, with reservations.

Next up: XP as a commodity!