Monsters - making new ones


i fucking hate writing ...
Staff member
+castle that fell from the sky
+tomb lovelorn
+black sorcorers
+operation unfahamable

Great. Now that i've rewritten its an even bigger mess, touching on too many areas/sub-points

RPG's have a significant degree of uncertainty in them. The players are continually making decisions for their characters. They don't know the outcomes. But, if there IS certainty, then things become more routine. It's like playing poker with an open hand of cards: everyone knows what everyone else has and then it's just a random draw from the deck determining who wins. Contrast this to the tension of the unknown in a normal game of poker. You never quite know what everyone else has in their hand and are weighing your own chances.

Monsters should be scary. It's implied in their very name: monster. Fifty years of roleplaying means that a significant numbers of players are now aware of most of the standard monsters in any game system. Not to mention That Guy who has read and memorized the monster manual; they exist in every game system. This familiarity with the standard creatures makes then less scary. The players know their weaknesses and strengths. They know how to recognize them. They may even know their stats and/or how powerful they are. None of this contributes to anything interesting or meaningful in the game. Then tension is removed, replaced by a random draw of a card from a deck of cards and/or roll of the dice to see if you hit.

Towards this end, why not make up new monsters? The book monsters are easy to default to, but I would suggest that this be avoided whenever possible. It’s fairly easy to re-skin a classic monster: medusa, basilisk, cockatrice, catalopulus? Four forms, all turning someone to stone. This can be done with just about any standard creature in the game system. Giant scorpion body, face of a man, turns to stone with their breathe? Sure! You now have something that creatures uncertainty in the group, which leads to the tension that makes RPG's so delicious.

A word of caution: Take care to warn the players of extraordinary danger. If the creature looks like an 1 HD orc but has 20HD and a +20 to attack and does 2d100 damage then some foreshadowing of his abilities would be in order. Rumors, tales of his feats, spying on him ripping the arms off a person or its lightning quick reflexes. That’s why there are always statues around a medusa and basilisk lair.

Over at his Metal Earth blog, Aos has a nice little article on how he keeps his monsters fresh, and his players guessing.
Gamer Pleniplotentiary Jeff Rients talked a bit about monsters in a 2012 blog post called “fine tuning your monsters.” While he talked mostly about campaigns, his last secion, 3, on repurposing monsters, gives some fine examples of quickly & easily turning old monsters in to new.
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i fucking hate writing ...
Staff member
Need more HD? Give them more HD. Need a higher AC? Give them a higher AC. Want two attacks? Give them a second attack. Don’t feel limited by what’s in the players handbook. Those rules are for the players. Your creation can do anything you want them to do. You don’t even need a pretext. Why does the guard captain have a +10 to hit? Because. No need for a backstory, just move on.


Should be playing D&D instead
it’s also uncool to completely surprise the players with a new monster
Should probably re-word this, because what you're advocating against is not "new monsters", but rather powerful monsters which don't telegraph their power, and therefore unfairly communicate the idea that the party stands a much better chance against them than they actually do.


8, 8, I forget what is for
Thanks in large part to the many urgings of Matt Finch in Swords & Wizardry (e.g. "Imagine the Hell Out of It"), I began to see the listings in the Monster Manual(s) as monster prototypes. In other words, "the average Troll". And just like the "average human" is a level 0 nobody, the individuals Trolls/Orcs/Demons/Slimes/Gnolls/Fey/etc. vary widely.

Designing a setting is not like ordering a burrito at Chipoltle where you can only choose ingredients from a half-dozen bins. I now mostly just tweak them for each locale as necessary without apology or justification (i.e. backstory), just to keep things weird and fresh. If I can't even find something remotely close to use as a starter-yeast---only then do I bother to give it a unique name, and a "new monster" is born. (All though using the definate articles: a la "The Beast", "The Demon", "The Collussus", "The Abomination", etc. is often sufficient.)

To quote Bryce, quoting Python: "We are all individuals!"
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