Monsters Under The Skin
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #650
- Four Questions to Characterize Random Encounters
- Brief Word From Johnn
- How to Motivate Wandering Monsters
- How to Make Mythical Monsters
- How was the monster created?
- If a divinity or higher power was involved in the creation, what was the nature of the power involved?
- Why was the mortal cursed?
- For what purpose was the monster created?
- Where is the precious item located?
- Which deity is the creature related to or affiliated with?
- Example: Kalkedos the Swamp Troll
- How Was The Monster Created?
- If A Divinity Or Higher Power Was Involved In The Creation What Was The Nature Of The Power Involved?
- Why Was The Mortal Cursed?
Four Questions to Characterize Random Encounters
From Mike Bourke
Many GMs don’t roleplay monsters. Instead, they jump straight into combat. This is a big missed opportunity to improve your game. Roleplaying with monsters means more plot potential because you can bring hooks and clues into play to set up future encounters. It also lets you execute combat missions better by setting the stage and making sure players know the objective.
Parley with foes rewards PCs with social skills. And a little roleplay trickery might even give your monsters a small advantage against the party to make the game a bit more challenging.
I have for you now a simple, no-prep-work solution for adding roleplay to monsters.
There are four questions I ask myself when an unprepped random encounter pops up, and they let me get right to the heart of the character of the monster and whether they are intelligent or not, so that a random encounter doesn’t have to be just combat and rolling dice.
I spend 5-10 seconds on each question, which usually means going with my first or second almost-instinctive answers. That’s good enough, especially if you take notes or remember it for next time, enabling you to build up a consistent approach to that particular creature.
Question One: What does the creature’s species want most, given the time of year and the geography or climate?
Question Two: What does this specific creature or group of creatures want most right now?
Question Three: Will this specific creature view the PCs as a threat or as an opportunity (perhaps an opportunity for lunch?)
Question Four-A: If the PCs will be seen as a threat, how does this species respond to threats?
Question Four-B: If the PCs are seen as an opportunity, how does this species go about seizing that opportunity?
It’s as simple as that. Let’s take a look at a couple of quick examples, chosen at random from my Pathfinder Bestiary:
Example Number 1: Leopard
A leopard, encountered in a jungle environment, in summer (rainy season):
- Q1: shelter, food, and a mate.
- Q2: Shelter.
- Q3: Threat: Yes, but only if cornered or attacked. Opportunity: game would be plentiful at this time of year, so the leopard won’t want to eat the PCs.
- Q4a: Seek high ground, leap, attacking with all four sets of claws and the bite, then back off and chase the prey.
Total time invested in prep: about 20 seconds.
Instead of “a leopard leaps out of the trees and claws at (roll dice) Barwen,” we have: “Ahead, on the edge of a small clearing about 3′ across, and on a small rise, a Leopard watches you with interest.” If the PCs don’t move directly toward the Leopard or make any sudden moves, it won’t commit any hostile actions, it will just watch.
If the PCs pass it by, it might choose to follow them for a while to make sure they aren’t circling back toward it, or it might ignore them. Instead of combat, we have tension and roleplay. But the leopard is ready for any hostile move, and will attack while a weapon is being drawn or a bow strung – it’s faster than the PCs.
Right away, this is more realistic, it’s more flavorful, and it’s more fun, because it’s a challenge beyond simply throwing dice at the problem.
Example Number 2: Bison
A herd of bison, encountered on the plains in spring.
- Q1: Food, protect the young, protect the territory.
- Q2: It was food, until the PCs intruded on the territory.
- Q3: The PCs are definitely a threat.
- Q4a: One or two of the younger bulls will charge. If the PCs don’t flee, the herd will divide: the young will be gathered together and surrounded by the mothers, while the bulls will stampede toward the PCs en masse. If the PCs still aren’t running when the stampede gets underway, the mothers and young will retreat, still with the mothers interposing themselves between the young and the threat. If the PCs do run away at any point, they will be chased for five or ten seconds and then left alone.
Total prep time: about 30 seconds.
Instead of, “There’s a herd of bison eating grass. As soon as they see you, they stampede in your direction,” you have the far more plausible, “There’s a herd of Bison eating grass. As soon as they see you, they begin to shuffle amongst themselves, young being pushed and prodded away from you by the adult females.
One of the Bulls steps forward from the herd, snorts, lowers his head to point his horns in your direction and scrapes his fore-hoof on the ground in a clear threat. You have several choices: attack one or more of the herd, move forward slowly, stand absolutely still, make a lot of noise, back off slowly, or turn and run, or something else you want to try.”
The PCs have options. This is no longer a direct-to-combat encounter. It’s a puzzle founded on the principle of the players getting under the skins of the monsters the same way you have, and working out what the right move is. Get it wrong, and it might still turn into a combat encounter, but get it right and everyone gets to live to see tomorrow.
You can mix it up.
Example Number 3: A Hunting Party of Goblins
- Q1: Preparing for a significant religious festival celebrating fertility and masculinity and offering a ritual sacrifice to the goblin gods in hopes of a good year to come.
- Q2: Hunting young bison for the feast. i.e., food.
- Q3: Normally, a group of humanoids (PCs) would be seen as a threat to a hunting party not much larger in numbers, but the prospects of capturing a human or two to be the sacrifice is an opportunity not to be wasted.
- Q4a: Two of the goblins would be somewhere near the PCs, hiding in the grass, intending to pose a threat and then run, giving the rest – on the far side of the herd – a chance to get to one of the young (who of course have the most tender meat).
- Q4b: Let the herd react to the PCs, giving the hunters the opportunity to act, then goad a stampede by firing arrows at the bull that threatens the PCs, then ambushing one of the PCs when they attempt to escape.
Total Prep Time: about 40 seconds, assuming you have already done the bison encounter. About a minute if you haven’t.
Instead of, “A half-dozen or so goblins rear up from the grass firing arrows at you,” you have, “You see a herd of bison….” and what follows is an encounter far more interesting and colorful, and far more realistic.
The goblins have a personality, a culture, an objective, a strategy for achieving that objective. They feel like they are part of the game world and not tacked-on as an afterthought. Sure, it might take a little longer to play through than the straight combat encounter, but it will be more entertaining time, and that’s the real objective, right?
Note I deliberately chose non-sentient species for the first two encounters and a sentient species for the third to show this technique works for all monsters.
So remember the four questions (all right, five if you want to get picky), and add some zest and personality to your encounters:
- Q1: Species Desire
- Q2: Encountered Group Desire
- Q3: Threat or Opportunity
- Q4A: Reaction to Threat, if applicable
- Q4B: Action to achieve Opportunity
It doesn’t take as much time or effort as you might think!
Brief Word From Johnn
650 – Another Milestone
It takes at least a year to write, edit, markup, and publish to reach 50 issues, and so RPT#650 means another great milestone, another year of having more fun at every game.
It’s also a “monster” of an issue with that topic being the theme of #650 and the contest kicking off today.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the changes in the past few months wrought to the ezine. Thanks to generous Patrons, I have not missed publishing an issue in months.
Also, small ongoing tweaks to the layout and format have hopefully made the newsletter easier to read on mobile devices and bigger screens.
And I feel the GM advice quality levelled-up thanks to the talented regular columnists who now fill your inbox each week with new GM tools, techniques, and tips: Christopher Sniezak, Jesse C Cohoon, John Large, Phil Nicholls, Tony Medeiros. Plus guest writers, and of course, you and other readers who share your tips, experience, and expertise with me and RPT subscribers worldwide.
Thanks for a wonderful 650 issues. Game mastering is a never-ending quest for improvement. For being a better roleplayer and storyteller. For crafting better NPCs, encounters, and adventures. For building better worlds and magical gaming moments. Hopefully Roleplaying Tips has helped you on that quest. Please grab a die and roll a toast for another 650 Roleplaying Tips issues!
Murder Hobos #11 – Near TPK in a Hole
Foes are getting smarter as factions and escapees come at the PCs for revenge. Last session saw one big combat with minions of the campaign’s first villain. I normally don’t like a session to be 75% taken up with a single fight, but this one came down to two wounded spellcasters standing over their fallen comrades trying to save the entire party from driders and an angry ankheg mother.
The session started with the PCs doing last-minute preparations before heading to their enemy’s base at Cragmaw Castle.
The wizard Six spied on the strangers setting up a compound just outside of town – the Blue Diamond Trading Coster. All prior attempts to glean information about these people failed. It seems like they just appeared out of nowhere, with no past, and a too good to be true agenda. So Six hunkered down throughout the night and used Detect Thoughts to read sleeping minds and steal dreams.
Alas, the guards dreamt of mundane things and gave no clue as to the faction’s intentions in Phandelver. However, the wizard did glean enough personal details about the NPCs – at his player’s request – to aid future impersonation attempts with his Disguise Self spell. Well played!
Ambush on the Triboar
Early morning the party heads out again on the Triboar Trail, murder and mayhem in their hearts. Their progress is halted, however, by large spider webs blocking the road. Strands as thick as the barbarian’s neck, and webs as tall as the lute-player’s tales. The PCs disperse and try to walk around the sticky obstacle, but that triggers the drider ambush. The half-spider, half-drow abominations fire their poisoned arrows and then retreat down freshly-dug holes in the forest floor.
The Murder Hobos think about just running away. But the sudden presence of VenomFang circling overhead yet again drives them into the ground. (VenomFang is a green dragon whose Dragon Cult followers the PCs murdered weeks ago. Since that event, the dragon has been menacing and strafing the PCs at every opportunity.)
The party pursues the driders, tentatively at first, then headlong from impatience. The barbarian and fighter climb into the holes and discover earthen passages leading into darkness. They proceed carefully, followed by Belenos the monk. The driders fire more arrows and retreat repeatedly, drawing the characters deeper into the tunnels.
Suddenly, the PCs round a corner and understand the Spider’s trap. The mother ankheg that escaped the party’s clutches days ago has laired here, and the drow have lead them straight to her nest, with a pair of recent hatchlings to guard her. Now the PCs are in dire straights, flanked by driders and ankhegs underground, while the remaining party members hide from VenomFang above.
Down goes the barbarian. Down goes the fighter. Belenos heals his friends frantically, but the enemies are too strong. The warriors go down again.
Luther’s Luck Day
Meanwhile, Luther the warlock creeps up to one of the holes. He peers cautiously down while staying hidden from the wyrm circling above. He can hear his comrades’ cries for help, and decides to chance the climb down. Unfortunately, the warlock’s grip slips and the caster plummets 40 feet. Though the wet earth cushions his fall, the warlock is seriously injured. Stumbling into the dark tunnel, following the screams of his dying friends, he soon confronts the drider versus ankheg versus Murder Hobo battle.
Then Belenos falls. Six joins Luther, and now it’s just the two casters versus monster mayhem.
Out of desperation, the warlock beseeches his patron, the Queen of Air and Darkness and ruler of the fey winter court. I ask Luther’s player to roll d100 to summon deity and he rolls a 02!
Blessed by the dice.
The Queen whispers in Luther’s ear his plea has been rewarded. I let the player know he can choose any 5th level spell to cast one-time right now. Luther picks his spell and unleashes it, paralyzing the remaining drider so the warlock and wizard can drag fallen party members around the corner to safety.
Unfortunately, moments later the drider overcomes the magic hold and starts to pursue his enemies. But mother ankheg, enraged at the interlopers in her nest, lashes out at everything as she crashes through the tunnels. This buys the PCs more time to heal and recover.
Finally, with sword arms and spells, the driders are brought low. One drider escapes out the hole and the party also retreats. Mother ankheg drags a dead drider back to her nest and starts feasting. The group withdraws back to the surface.
VenomFang is delighted by this. Still circling the skies, he swoops down and pursues…the fleeing drider. The PCs lose sight of the dragon and then hear a brief combat take place deeper in the forest. Then the wyrmling takes flight again and sails away.
The group finds a defensible location nearby and takes a long rest.
Our Murder Hobos resume their journey the next day. But another encounter stalls progress.
A trio of people sit in the middle of the trail, playing poker. Malchor has seen this before. He strides forward, thinking it another warning from the Spider. As he approaches though, one of the card players turns his head 180 degrees to face the fighter, neck twisting and breaking while body remains still, and says in a low, grinding voice, “Maaaaaaaalchoooooooooorrrrrrrrr.”
This brings everyone to a halt. Then a beautiful maiden appears behind the party and greets them. She dismisses the illusory card players and tells Luther the Queen of Air & Darkness has need of him. As thanks for her aid the day before, she demands Luther return to the stone circle the PCs discovered awhile ago and repair it. All Luther needs to do is ring an iron sword against each stone on the next Winter Solstice.
Luther agrees and the maiden starts to withdraw. But as she does, her appearance changes to that of a horrible green hag, and she stares at the fighter and says, “Maaaaaaaalchoooooooooorrrrrrrrr.”
On that pleasant note, we end the session.
It was a tough fight. Divine aid saved the day. Bad luck put the PCs in a dire situation (poor rolls like the barbarian missing often and the warlock’s fall), and good luck (rolling a 2 for divine intervention) bailed the party out.
As foes stack and factions grow wise to the party’s tactics, I wonder how many easy fights are left for the Murder Hobos?
We shall find out soon, as we play again Friday!
How to Motivate Wandering Monsters
From Chuck Nusbaum
Wandering monsters don’t just wander aimlessly with the sole desire to assault PCs that have invaded their territory. Such a mindless default reaction dulls interest in and believability of your creatures. This article will examine why monsters might be wandering about a location and provide appropriate possible reactions based on intent, aggression, and morale. I’ll assume monsters are given a two-dimensional rating in terms of reaction (friendly, neutral, hostile) and morale (frightened, wary, confident).
Motivation depends on alert status. Monsters will wander about for different reasons depending on how cautious their group or faction has become. Relaxed monsters believe they are safe and are not likely to be on their guard. High alert, on the other hand, implies the monster suspects immediate danger and acts accordingly. Monsters should be less likely to wander when on high alert and more likely to hole up in a safe place and deploy defensive measures.
Cautious indicates a vague awareness of danger or a less immediate risk thereof. Monsters and other characters cannot maintain high alert for long. If an alarm is raised but nothing new occurs for a significant period of time, GMs should reduce monsters to cautious. If an extended period of time elapses, monsters should return to the relaxed state. Especially paranoid monsters will never become relaxed, but are still usually cautious.
The descriptions below provide some insight in how to use each motivation or reaction in play, and might include a suggested modifier to certain skills or other mechanics. Adapt or expand modifiers as you see fit.
Each reaction lists a few conditions that might be logical to require for that reaction to occur. Intelligent monsters will respond differently than animals or automata, and other factors such as reaction status or morale can also affect choices made. “Stealthy” means the creature has some ability to hide or sneak and the monster has not been obviously detected.
Using the Tables
- Decide or determine alert status (high alert, cautious, or relaxed).
- Select or roll a motivation on the motivation table below (we suggest rolling for it).
- Decide or determine reaction (hostile, neutral, friendly).
- Decide or determine morale (confident, wary, frightened).
- Look up the motivation and select or roll a specific reaction (we suggest choosing it).
- If a reaction or motivation doesn’t fit, select or roll a different one.
A Note About Surrender
It’s rare for a monster to throw itself upon the party’s mercy without first putting up a fight. Thus, the option to surrender doesn’t appear often in the lists below. Surrender is acceptable for monsters on the losing side of a fray, but is rarely the first action of choice. However, if a wanderer desires to flee but finds its avenues of escape blocked, it may instead surrender without a fight or may choose to fight its way out.
Certain types of monsters will never surrender, but these remain uncommon. Monsters that choose to surrender may also desire to serve the players, if treated well.
Motivation Table (Roll 1d20)
|Alert Status: Relaxed||Alert Status: Cautious||Alert Status: High Alert||Motivation||Notes|
|5-9||3||—||Boredom||Reaction +1 (toward friendly)|
|—||7-9||5-12||Patrol||Reaction -1 (toward hostile)|
|13-16||10-11||13||Biological Imperative||Morale -2 (toward frightened)|
|17-18||12||—||Lost/Exploring||Morale -1 (toward frightened)|
The monster ranges to locate and procure nourishment, whatever that may be for this particular creature. Or it could be the monster returning with a suitable meal and the players interrupt its feeding. The monster is more likely to ignore or dismiss the PCs if it has an uncontested source of food and is left alone. Heroes should especially beware monsters that consider them food.
- Attack (hostile, confident): Monster attempts to down/disable a party member and drag him off to be consumed elsewhere.
- Flee (wary or frightened): Monster withdraws to find an easier meal.
- Ignore (friendly or neutral, confident): People are not food, move on.
- Beg/Barter (intelligent, friendly or neutral, frightened or wary): Monster asks the group to give it some food, possibly in exchange for something else.
- Demand (intelligent, neutral or hostile, wary or confident): Monster threatens (to eat) the group unless they provide some provender.
- Offer Peace (intelligent): Monster only wants food, will let players be if they reciprocate.
- Follow (stealthy): Monster trails the party hoping for scraps.
- Surrender (intelligent, wary or frightened): Monster surrenders but asks for food once subdued.
The monster wanders to relieve boredom, escape stress, or satisfy curiosity. Generally, only aggressive monsters will pick a fight. More easy-going monsters might engage in conversation just for the sake of something to do. Adjust the reaction roll toward the friendly end of the spectrum (+1, it’s not a major bump).
Boredom is not appropriate for monsters who are on high alert (i.e., expecting imminent attack). Cautious monsters might become bored but are less likely to do so. Reactions tend to last just as long as they prove interesting, so if player actions become boring, the monster will probably wander off again.
Bored creatures tend to make more noise than usual, and aren’t likely to be sneaking around. They might even be easier to surprise as they’re more intent on alleviating ennui than stressing over imminent attack.
- Provoke (hostile, confident): Monster decides to see if it can get the PCs really angry. Because it’s bored.
- Flee (frightened): Monster thinks self-preservation is more interesting than the PCs.
- Observe: Monster’s curiosity has been piqued. Don’t threaten, don’t hide, just watch.
- Converse (intelligent): Monster decides to strike up a dialogue with the group, perhaps to quell a niggling enigma of human behavior. Why do human priests wear dresses and silly hats?
- Offer Service (intelligent, friendly or neutral): Monster hopes PCs will give him something fun to do.
- Follow (stealthy): Monster hopes the PCs will do something, anything.
The monster looks for something, whether a specific object or creature, or just hunts for treasure. Monsters that surrender will likely use information in exchange for freedom.
Searching monsters on alert might be looking for an informant who can tell them where the invaders are, or they may be hunting a traitor who has information to sell to the PCs.
The term “searching” might also include monsters who have a specific task to accomplish. The monster is actively looking for something, so give it a minor boost in Perception.
- Attack (hostile, wary or confident): Monster decides the threat posed by interlopers must be dealt with immediately or that they carry too much treasure to pass up.
- Flee (frightened): Monster values its skin more than the thing it’s looking for.
- Ignore (confident): The goal is everything, interlopers can be dealt with later.
- Negotiate (intelligent): Monster is willing to give something in return for finding or getting information about the object of its search.
- Request Aid (intelligent, friendly or neutral): Monster asks players to help it find the item or creature in question.
- Offer Peace (intelligent): Monster only wants to be done looking, will let players be if they reciprocate.
The monster actively guards its territory and seeks to question or repel any interlopers it may find. Creatures on patrol are more likely to adopt an aggressive reaction (-1 modifier), but not likely to pursue players who appear to be fleeing the area.
Smaller groups tend toward more cautious approaches, while larger ones may act more decisively. Many patrols have a priority of raising an alarm if intruders exhibit resistance. They might send a runner back to warn the main group when intruders are encountered.
- Attack (neutral or hostile, wary or confident): Monster decides to swing first and ask questions later.
- Alarm: Monster decides to warn its comrades (who go to high alert) about the party. May entail a strategic retreat into a prepared position nearby.
- Interrogate (intelligent): Monster decides to demand answers.
- Offer Escort (intelligent): Monster offers to escort PCs out of its domain and safely away from any sensitive locations. Friendly monsters may choose to take you to their leader instead.
- Follow (stealthy): Monster tails the group until a suitable opportunity for an ambush or escape arises.
- Request Aid (intelligent, friendly or neutral): Monster asks players to help it with some important task.
The monster languishes under the powerful urge of physical necessity, usually the elimination of bodily waste. Goblins might be foul little rapscallions, but even they are smart enough to hide somewhere out of the way when they must squat in a tactically compromised posture for an extended period of time. Many a monster has been caught with its pants down. Literally.
As a practical matter, creatures do not travel in large groups under this motivation. One or two at a time (there may exist other biological imperatives in your world, I’m just sayin’). Give a moderate negative modifier (-2 or so) to morale determination here – the creature really doesn’t want a fight.
Undead, constructs, plants, oozes, and perhaps outsiders and elementals usually won’t have this motivation.
- Attack (hostile): Monster is enraged that you interrupted a private moment. Might not be appropriate for all monsters.
- Flee: Monster would rather find a safe place to do his business than deal with the PCs right now. Even if it isn’t particularly intimidated by the PCs.
- Ignore (confident): Monster decides group will be too disgusted to interfere if it goes ahead and drops trou. It might even be right.
- Beg (intelligent, frightened): Monster pleads to be left to its urgent task.
- Demand (intelligent, confident or wary): Monster’s need is such that it demands the PCs leave the area or clear the way.
- Offer Peace (intelligent): Monster offers a (temporary) truce. Other concerns demand its immediate attention. Hostile monsters may come back looking for a scuffle after they’ve answered the call.
The monster has been turned around, remains unfamiliar with the area, or is actively exploring the territory. Lost monsters often also lack confidence. Assign a slight penalty to morale checks (-1 or so) when a monster is lost or exploring.
Monsters suffering from a drunken stupor might also qualify as lost but without the morale penalty. They should instead suffer a slight penalty to notice anything unusual. Lost monsters move slowly, trying to establish their bearings (or stumbling about in an addled haze), and often without purposeful direction.
- Attack (hostile, confident): Should be a rare occurrence for lost monsters. They don’t know which direction to run or how far to go should things take a sour turn. There must be a compelling reason for this reaction, such as racial hatred or a personal vendetta.
- Flee (frightened): Again, not a terribly common reaction in this situation. The monster doesn’t know where to run. Exceptionally cowardly (or inebriated) monsters might find this reaction appropriate, however.
- Request Aid (intelligent, friendly or neutral): Monster believes players might help him find his way again and simply asks for directions.
- Surrender (intelligent, hostile or neutral): Monster makes the rare choice to give up without a fight. It hopes the group will lead it into more familiar territory where it intends to get away safely.
- Follow (stealthy): Monster tails the PCs hoping they are better oriented then it is.
- Negotiate (intelligent): Monster does not believe the group will help it willingly, so it offers something of value for their assistance.
The monster surveys the lay of the land. It might also be outside its normal range and spying on someone else. It seeks information rather than conflict and isn’t particularly interested in risking its neck. But for some monsters, attack is an accepted response to any encounter. Typically, however, monsters will prove more interested in not being spotted themselves than aggravating others.
Monsters on recon for a larger group should be assumed to be sneakier than the average member of the group. They get a slight bonus to stealth checks and surprise (say +1 or so).
- Attack (hostile, confident): Don’t pick this option unless you have a good reason, such as a group member caught without his companions.
- Flee (frightened or wary): Best get back to safety with the important knowledge that the players are present.
- Ignore (wary or confident): Either the group doesn’t pose much threat or moving now would give the monster away. It might choose to return to base after the players move on, where it will incite caution (or possibly high alarm).
- Surrender (intelligent): Monster has been noticed by the PCs. If PCs do not act hostile, the monster decides it can learn more as a prisoner rather than as a corpse.
- Follow (stealthy): Monster decides to track the characters to learn more about them. Will follow for a time then quietly return home to share or absorb what it has learned.
- Negotiate (intelligent): Monster has been spotted and tries to buy its way clear with something of value. It might also seek to acquire new information in trade.
The monster is not wandering per se, it is purposefully moving from one area to another. Perhaps it seeks new hunting grounds or pasture, or moves toward an outlying position in response to an alert. In any case, the monster proceeds efficiently (or perhaps urgently) toward its destination with little concern for anything else. Reduce the monster’s chance to notice anything unusual, especially if the goal is urgent.
- Attack (hostile, wary or confident): Monster doesn’t want players following it. Will not pursue if players flee.
- Flee (frightened): Monster runs toward its destination, or at least away from any threat.
- Ignore: Monster assumes players will leave it alone.
- Demand (intelligent, hostile or neutral, confident): Monster commands the group to stand aside and expects to be obeyed. If the group isn’t in the way, default to ignore.
- Converse (intelligent, friendly or neutral, wary or confident): Monster stops briefly to talk with the group, seeking rumor or information about the road ahead.
- Negotiate (intelligent): Monster left some task undone and offers a prize in return for the group’s aid in the matter.
How to Make Mythical Monsters
From John Large
As a companion piece to my GM Tips – Making monsters monstrous video, please find below a quick checklist for creating monsters based on a mythological model. Answering these questions will give a bit of extra background and interest to truly monstrous monsters.
How was the monster created?
- A result of divine procreation with a mortal (answer question 2).
- As a result of a curse (answer questions 2 & 3).
- Created by a great power for a specific purpose (answer questions 2 & 4).
- Monster is actually a form of lesser divinity or similar power (answer question 6).
If a divinity or higher power was involved in the creation, what was the nature of the power involved?
(These descriptions are based on the Greek gods listed on Meet The Greek Gods, but you can substitute your own.)
- Home & family
- Agriculture & farming
- Music, poetry & prophecy
- Moon & hunting
- Fire & the Forge
- Love & beauty
- Merchants, Trade & Thieves
- Wine & celebration
- Underworld & Death
- Messages & Communication
- Magic & spirits
- Luck & Fortune
If the monster is the offspring of a god, then its powers will be related to their parent, although they will normally be reflected on the physical appearance of the creature.
Example: The god of sky may sire a creature with huge wings or that is feathered like a bird.
Example: The god of sleep may give birth to a creature that only exists during the hour of dreams (night-time) or that can only be seen in the time just after waking when dreams are closest to the real world.
Why was the mortal cursed?
- Directly insulting the god.
- Taking actions that directly oppose the god.
- Wronging loyal servants of the god.
- Mis-using a talent/abilities granted by the god.
A mortal cursed by the god will tend to have powers and abilities that reflect those of the deity that cursed them, however they are often made twisted and grotesque.
Example: The god of sky may curse a person to become a monster harpy, a twisted bat-like creature with a barely human face.
Example: The god of sleep may trap a cursed person away from the waking world, allowing them only to communicate in dreams. Or perhaps they cause bad dreams and troubled sleep wherever they go (making people irritable and causing them to turn on the cursed individual).
For what purpose was the monster created?
- To punish those who oppose the gods.
- To guard something precious (also answer question 5).
Monsters created to punish someone are normally specifically tailored to deny those being punished some aspect of their life they value or require, without simply killing them.
Creatures created to guard something precious are normally encountered only in the vicinity of the thing they are guarding and have senses that cover the area, making it difficult to sneak up and purloin their treasure. However, most such creatures have a method via which safe access to their charge can be obtained in case the gods should seek to send a favoured servant to acquire the item.
Example: The god of sky creates a giant eagle to guard one of his thunderbolts. The bolt lies in a huge nest constructed by the beast on an impossibly tall mountain.
Example: The god of sleep creates a monster to punish a debauched town of celebrants. The creature pursues them through dreams that begin pleasant and turn to nightmares, causing them to wake without the benefit of rest.
Where is the precious item located?
- In a faraway land.
- In a geographical inaccessible place (the bottom of an ocean, the top of a mountain).
- Protected in a hidden demi-plane accessible only via a portal or when specific conditions are met.
- The item is located inside or is part of the creature itself.
Which deity is the creature related to or affiliated with?
- Pick one of the deities from question 2 (or add your own).
- Then choose a more specialized or specific element that might fall under their portfolio (clouds for sky, nightmares for sleep, vanity for beauty).
- A lesser divinity will have powers and abilities related to its specific portfolio. These will be reflected in its physical form to a lesser degree.
Example: Related to the war god, a lesser-divinity of violence and fury might appear as a huge man with bulging muscles, glowing red eyes, and a permanent expression of fury.
By making choices from this list and thinking about the various elements, you should be able to create a monster in the style of the ancient Greek and Roman myths.
Example: Kalkedos the Swamp Troll
As an example: I’m going to create Kalkedos (the swamp troll from the video) by using the questionnaire.
How Was The Monster Created?
As a result of a curse (answer question 2 & 3). Kalkedos killed his neighbour when the man rebuffed Kalkedos’ intent to woo his daughter, drowning the man in the swamps near his home.
If A Divinity Or Higher Power Was Involved In The Creation What Was The Nature Of The Power Involved?
Merchants, Trade & Thieves. As he died, the merchant who was a loyal follower of his god, cursed Kalkedos. The god of merchants answered, lending power to the curse. Kalkedos was transformed into a lumbering, clumsy creature with warty skin green the colour of envy. His mind twisted, he gathers the filth of the swamp to him as his riches, blind to the fact that it is refuse. He lashes out at any who dare try to steal from his treasure.
Bound to the scene of his crime, Kalkedos is unable to leave the swamp unless he receives the forgiveness of the merchant’s daughter (who fled when her father died). Should this happen, and she is able to convince him to leave the swamp, then the curse would be lifted.
Why Was The Mortal Cursed?
Wronging loyal servants of the god. Killing the merchant.