Don’t Be Afraid to Modify Your Monsters
From Scott J. Compton
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #458
Tired of the same old monsters? Want to try something new that’s familiar but uses the same game rules?
If you’re playing in any fantasy setting where magic is possible, then why not deviate from the norm? It’s quite funny that, as gamers, we often stick to the same types of monster templates.
We do this for many reasons, but often because we have some rules-lawyer players, and their expectations are that we are giving them monsters straight out of the books. You know what I mean: “But orcs can only move at so and so rate, not faster than that,” or, “I know that monster has the ability to do such and such, so I’m going to cast such and such spell.”
Expectation is a catch-22. If you deviate from a known behavior, players often get upset. But if you give them enough visual or behavioral clues about the change from the standard template, you’ll always keep them on their toes.
So here is the solution. Why not tweak your monsters? Not only will you be able to give more personality to your baddies, but the players will have to rethink their strategies in how to deal with the monster.
Below is a set of guidelines I use in my campaigns.
Removing Normal Traits
Some of the best ways to modify your monsters is to think in terms of disadvantages. Removing wings from a dragon, or taking away the regeneration from a troll might cause the monster to change its tactics, such as sticking more to the shadows and only coming into melee range when it’s safe to do so.
To keep the monster balanced, think of something else advantageous that could replace it. In the case of the dragon, don’t rule out the possibility of giving it a Ring of Flight. When the PCs are confident they are fighting a lamed dragon known to be wingless, and then halfway through the battle it takes flight, they’ll be jumping for cover.
For the troll, do something different like giving him a special weapon that he’s extremely skilled with. What about a whip that can deal an electrical discharge or a knife that always returns to his hand after throwing it? Or give him a strange abnormality: he can only regenerate when he drinks the blood of his victims.
Additions based on the removal of an ability makes that monster memorable to the players.
Use genetic changes to create new monster types. If the ancient Greeks could do it with gorgons, centaurs and minotaur’s, why not expand upon it even more?
In a magical world, bloodlines can easily cross to produce sterile offspring. Cross a dragon with a horse or a unicorn with a demon. Then find the averages between the numbers and decide which abilities to leave and which to save.
This is ripe for creating specialized monsters that are one- of-a-kind and are named uniquely because of the genetic accident. If you’re in a sci-fi setting, you also have scientists that can perform various genetic experiments to produce unexpected results.
Disease, Acid, Poison, Foodstuff or Magic
We all know about cursed items. But a curse can be a blessing for the introduction of fun traits to monsters. It gives us the needed lore and explanation as to how Monster A changed into Monster B.
Disease, acid and poison effects also make for good changes. Anything consumable can potentially cause an alteration, either temporary or permanent.
Magic is a given for creating a new abnormality, and there could many legends around how a magical spell, device or even regional area could influence or change a creature permanently.
Faking Abnormalities and Changing Tactics
Throw in an occasional trick to make the player believe on the surface something is different about this particular foe.
For example, have the monster always lean on a spear for support, making it look weaker when in fact it’s not hurt at all.
Older monsters can also be misleading, looking frail and weak, when in reality it just had been injured in a previous battle.
Monsters might also have learned new battle techniques, traps or tricks from other opponents.
Play around with idea that the monster has the mindset of another monster type, and see how it plays out.
Changing the monster’s behavior can seem weird, but it will make perfect sense so long as you provide a reason for it.
Scott has been a video game and RPG designer for the past 14 years. His profile can be found here at IMDB: Scott J. Compton
A Brief Word from Hannah
Monsters in the News
I was reading the news the other day and stumbled across this: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/2584297/Boffins-unveil-perfect-pet.html
It’s a picture of what’s supposed to be the perfect pet, but the first thing I thought when I saw it was, “So what’s the to-hit bonus on its melee basic attack?”
Someone really needs to throw that thing at their players. If that someone is you, email me and let me know how it went.
Also in the news are plants that are going to kill us all. Pitcher plants have been killing insects for quite some time, but the new ones they found in the Philippines are big enough to kill rats. When vegetation is taking out our fellow mammals, I think it’s time we get worried.
Apocalypse-heralding pitcher plants: http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8195000/8195671.stm
Real Life Adventure Spot
Google Earth plus Wikipedia is a glorious thing. Today I stumbled across Clipperton Island. There isn’t much to the island – just a lagoon with no entrance to the sea. And did I mention there’s sulphuric acid down at the deepest part of the lagoon?
Sounds like something that belongs in an adventure to me.
And read up on the island’s history – civilians stranded in the middle of a war, their sovereign country refusing them aid, more and more of them dying, and finally the island descends into barbarism. Any point during that would be a good time for adventurers to step in and straighten things out.
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- I have a job and a family. Is this a realistic goal?
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I (Johnn) have written a 72 page ebook with Yax from dungeonmastering.com that answers all these questions and more.
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10 Guards For Your Game
From Cheka Man
This guard is all too ready to tell tales about his fellow guards whenever they break the rules in even a small way. As a result, he is deeply unpopular with them, to the point where one or two sometimes wish they could murder him.
The rest would not be quick to hurry to his aid if there really was trouble, and wish that he were sent down to guard the oubliette. His superiors despise him, but know that his type might be useful to them. No one knows how he would fare in a large battle.
A frustrated former adventurer who joined the King’s Guard, he finds it very hard to stick to his post. He has secretly explored the entire palace from top to bottom and has investigated many places where he shouldn’t have been.
If found by other guards or nobles, his excuse is he is on patrol. So far the excuse has worked. Despite his wanderlust, he is an honest man who would never let his friends down in battle.
A spy for a hostile power, this guard tends to have his ear pressed up against the door he is supposed to be guarding. He has discovered several juicy secrets, but hasn’t been able to get them out without arousing suspicion. On more than one occasion, he has filched secret plans without anybody finding out.
The eavesdropper is a more dangerous warrior than the average guard, but hides his true abilities until he really needs them. If the King goes to war, he will try to give battle plans to the other side.
Like many of the Royal Guard, he was a former soldier in the legions and has survived several major battles. He has many tales to tell, which he does continually and incessantly, until his fellows can take no more and order him to shut up.
He has a very high opinion of himself, even though it was merely luck that made the crossbow bolts miss him and saved him from being skewered. Despite that, he is a capable fighter and is good at his job.
This guard finds being a guard deeply boring, to the point that he wishes assassins or rebellious subjects would attack the palace so he would have something exciting to do. He has dozens of books he likes to read when off-duty (and when he can get away with it on duty too).
He has fallen asleep on duty more than once and was very lucky his officers did not find out, or he would have been heavily punished. He stays in the job for the pay, but prays daily he can go out to battle.
This guard moonlights as a bodyguard/bouncer. He has seen and participated in his share of bar fights, and is one of the more capable fighters.
He also has loose ties to the criminal elements of the city and is willing to overlook certain things for a price, as long as there is no danger the royal children would be killed, kidnapped, or otherwise harmed. He has been known to filch small items, like the odd pair of silver candlesticks, to boost his salary.
This guard would be sacked or imprisoned if his superiors knew what he has been doing. He has a severe addiction to potent Silver spider venom, and most of his pay goes to obtaining it.
When off-duty he has shoplifted, mugged people and burgled houses. When on duty he manages to pretend to be a dutiful Royal Guard, but his days are numbered. Sooner or later he will either die from his habit, get arrested or otherwise mess up.
This guard is a secret revolutionary. He has a deep hatred for members of the aristocracy, and has made getting this job his life’s work, with the sole intention of assassinating members of the royal family when he gets the chance.
So far he has been unsuccessful, first because he needed to gain their trust and then because he has never had the chance – other guards have always been in the right place at the right time.
He did once use poison, but the result was not fatal for the target, who put it down to badly cooked food and sacked two of the royal cooks.
In battle, he would try and kill as high-ranking a noble as he could. And if he could get away with it, a noble on his own side.
The Acolyte of Ma-O
This guard is the best friend of the revolutionary and pretends to him that he shares his ideals. However, he just wants to cause trouble, and if possible, civil war for its own sake and for the sake of his evil god, Ma-O.
On the surface, he is willing, hardworking, and always does what his superiors tell him. Privately, he is wondering if there is some way he could kill several members of the royal family at once and get away with it. In a war he would stab the King in the back.
Despite living in a largely sexist country, this guard believes in female equality and is always courteous and interested in female company. He is also good looking.
His looks and views have won the hearts of many girls, ranging from those of noble birth to poor servants. Many noblewomen have risked being disinherited or worse by having secret affairs with him. He often sneaks away from his sentry box for secret liaisons.