Hide The Monster’s Stats To See The Story

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0818

If you’re like me, you sometimes let monster stats limit your thinking.

I was reminded of this when I received Fourscore Phantasmagores in the mail for review. It’s a monster book created by Montreal artist Rupert Bottenberg.

It’s what I’d call a high concept book. It presents ideas, not stats. Its weird and disturbing entries will make you stop and think about how you’d put these creatures in your campaign.

At first I was put off by the book. But then I grokked it. At least, in how I’m going to use it.

Monster design is tricky. You stare at a blank piece of paper and try to think about what you can put fur and pointy ears on. This book gives you a head start.

Open a page at random.

Use the free-form description to figure out how this creature matters to your adventure. Then stat it out.

Doing stats last is a bit freeing. After playing a system for awhile you get boxed in. Your thinking gets limited by encounter balance, damage output, repeated world patterns.

But doing the gameplay experience first gets your imagination going again. It gets you pondering your plots, wondering about your world, and contemplating the characters.

Once you are ready for crunch, you get direction from the monster entry in the book for special abilities, and a photo, which is sometimes abstract.

For example, the Frenesiere. From the book: “A female berserker with many small attacks in a short period of time with tooth and nail. Periodically possessed with blood fury. Capable of uncanny contortions and alarming acrobatic feats.”

What would you do with such a creature in your story?

In my Murder Hobos campaign, for example, there’s the barbarian PC, Kriv. Perhaps the Frenesiere could be a rival or romantic interest? Or maybe I can use her to show the dark side of loosing your cool to inpsire the barbarian player to philosophically explore his own character’s rages.

I’m not sure I’d have come up with this thinking by looking at just a stat block. Fourscore Phantasmagores is a beautiful book brimming with ideas. It’s not your standard monster manual, though. Be prepared for inspiration and some fun perspiration.