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I was having a discussion with some guy and I argued that I think D&D made distinctions between monsters and regular characters since earlier editions, and it even employed different mechanics. But I don't know much about it.

What is the monster definition? How they differ from other NPCs? Can a creature be treated as a monster or as another type of NPC (an orc, for example)? Are mechanics (combat, stealth, whatever) different depending if you treat a character as a monster or a NPC?

I know D&D mechanics change a lot from edition to edition, but any edition older than 4th edition works for me. The older, the better.

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This has actually been discussed on Meta, interestingly. –  SevenSidedDie May 24 '13 at 15:39
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Every edition of D&D has called any hostile NPC a "monster", including human opponents. There is even an explicit note in 1st edition AD&D Monster Manual that the term is used this way for both human and inhuman opponents (emphasis original):

The term "monster" is used throughout this work in two manners. Its first, and most important, meaning is to designate any creature encountered — hostile or otherwise, human, humanoid, or beast. Until the encountering party determines what they have come upon, it is a monster. The secondary usage of the term is in the usual sense: a horrible or wicked creature of some sort. Thus, a "monster" is encountered during the course of a dungeon expedition, and it is discovered to be an evil high priest, who just might turn out to be a monster in the other sense as well. Note, however, that despite this terminology, humans (and such kin as dwarves, elves, gnomes, half-elves, and halfings) always use the matrix for humans when attacking, even if such humans were encountered as "monsters" in the course of an adventure.

(Note how the term is very loose, and very broad, covering everything; but it also does not have rigid rules effects either, with human and demi-human NPCs using some of the so-called "PC rules".)

The Basic D&D list of monsters has entries for bandits, berserkers, and other humans the PCs might face. The AD&D 2nd edition Monstrous Manual includes dwarves, elves, humans of various sorts alongside more monstrous creatures as "monsters". 4th edition explicitly defines "monster" to mean:

A creature controlled by the Dungeon Master. The term is usually used to refer to creatures that are hostile to the adventurers (often including DM-controlled characters). See also adventurer, character, and creature.

So yes, monsters are different from PCs in D&D, but not different from humans and other humanoid NPCs. They have pre-made stats, but they can always be adjusted by the DM – in some editions there's no guidance for how, so the DM has full freedom to determine their own method and can just assign stats or use PC rules to modify the monster. In other editions that have explicit guidance such as 4e, the rules for improving monsters are very different from PC rules. The only edition of D&D where monsters use vaguely the same rules as PCs is 3rd edition, and even then, the rules make a distinction between PCs and NPCs/monsters where some options that human "monsters" can take are explicitly not permitted to PCs.

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In this page I understood that humans start to be monsters on the 4th edition. wizards.com/DnD/Article.aspx?x=dnd/4ex/20080530a Also, do you have older monster definitions? –  Flamma May 24 '13 at 15:59
@Flamma They're only comparing 4e to 3e, where human NPCs of higher levels than in the Monster Manual had to be created using PC rules. But even then, DMs had options for NPC humans that PCs didn't. In terms of how to make human opponents, 3e is the one that's different from the D&D trend, not 4e. I added a quote from 1e. –  SevenSidedDie May 24 '13 at 16:05
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Well, back in 1E, monsters didn't have "levels" at all, just hit dice, and they were presented completely differently than player characters were. That meant that they could often attack multiple times to any individual characters' single attack (the infamous "two claws and a bite" being a great example) but it also meant that they didn't necessarily have, for instance, pre-rolled Strengths that you could use to make versus checks or something (I don't believe versus checks were an OOTB aspect of 1E anyway, but still).

Even then, though, there was a bit of spillover. Spells were sort of a PC/NPC only thing, in part because it took a good deal of time to put together a spellbook, whereas you could just flip to a given page in the Monster Manual, find your baddie, and have him attack the party within a couple of rolls (also, in a world where your game might have one copy of the Player's Handbook, DM's Guide, and Monster Manual total, it was useful to keep the PH on the other side of the screen). However, AD&D had dragons and ogre magi who could cast spells from the very beginning.

There's a lot of this that's still retained in 4E. The fact that you have mechanics to make NPCs out of ogres and so on is a big difference compared to 1E, but, of course, that did not keep DMs from making "monster" NPCs.

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