Designer's Notes: Munchkin Monster Manual 2.5

A Guide to the Creation of a Theoretically Funny Collection of Monsters

by John W. Mangrum

Munchkin Master: All right, dude, you're up. What are you gonna do?

Player: I explain the joke!

Munchkin Master: Okay, roll to hit.

Player: (rolls) Natural 20!

* * *

Howdy! Having been given the choice between writing up some designer notes or having my legs broken, I thought that you, the tireless fans of the Munchkin RPG (not to mention prospective game designers seeking to learn from a true master), might benefit from a look behind the scenes at how the latest Munchkin masterpiece was created.

First, I was assigned the project of writing the book. How did I land the job? The same way all freelance authors get work in the RPG industry -- through the trade of unspeakable favors. Ha! I kid. Actually, I got this project because I seem to have done okay with this book's predecessor, the Munchkin Monster Manual. That project I did land through the trade of unspeakable favors. After that book hit shelves, the fine Texans at Steve Jackson Games probably suspected that my bottomless well of spite was good for at least a few more buckets of snark.

Which leads to what may be a major revelation for some folks: For all the jokes made at munchkins' expense, I actually don't "despise" munchkin-style roleplaying, as some readers have claimed. (Well, it was just one reader, actually, but let me keep my illusions of having a mass audience.) Personally, I'm too much of a control freak as a GM to be good at running that kind of no-holds-barred campaign myself, but I'm very much of the "whatever everyone at the game table agrees is fun is A-OK" mindset. I simply view many of the running gags (such as the "sexy female NPCs always turn out to be monsters" joke I've dragged across two books now) to be, well, let's just call them acknowledgements about certain aspects of games and gamer culture I've experienced over 20 years in this hobby. I get my best material just from listening to gamer conversations, and none of the jokes are meant with malice.

(Oh, except the ones about the gamers who actually took offense at the very thought of a Munchkin RPG. Those guys need some good ribbing.)

So anyway; now that I'd landed the job, it was time to dig in.

Phase One: Brainstorming

In the beginning, it's just me and a list of monster names. I'm always juggling three basic goals when working on these books. On the one hand, the book needs to be funny. 'Nuff said. On the other hand, I try to be as faithful to concepts in the Munchkin card game as I can. And on the third hand (I'm currently in Phase Three on Star Munchkin; it comes with the territory), I'm actually a hard-nosed rules stickler, so I also want to provide a solid book of playable monsters folks can actually use in their games. (I said playable, not balanced.)

As my first step, I chart out what monsters to include. Some monsters are required lest my masters crack their whips, but I can pick and choose among the rest. I assign Challenge Ratings (based on the monsters' levels in the card game), creature types (based on the ol' hairy eyeball), creature sizes (based on height and mass) and alignments (based on ancient dualistic philosophical concepts), and list all the monsters by each.

My goal is to make sure that I provide a sampling of monsters in every category. Sadly, I actually didn't make my self-imposed quota this time. Yes, it's true. I, the author of a completely satirical book of silly monsters, spend my free time fretting because I wasn't able to fit in a Diminutive monster, a construct, or the "monster that starts with a U."

The creative process starts with a lot of what I like to call mental percolating -- just letting ideas bubble up in a stream of consciousness as I go about my day. If at all possible, I wander around with the actual Munchkin cards in my shirt pocket, taking inspiration from John Kovalic's illustrations. (I mean, yes, I do take the cards out and look at them -- I don't mean to imply some sort of art-nipple osmosis process here.) I also carry a small notebook around with me everywhere I go, filling it with the jumbled chicken-scratches of a diseased mind. I might fill pages on such deep issues as, "Should I do a Halliburton joke or a Foghorn Leghorn joke? Could I combine Halliburton and Foghorn Leghorn?"

In case you're ever wondering what the guy sitting across from you on the cross-town bus is thinking about, it may well be this:

Notes from a crazy bus-riding man

I have stacks of notebooks filled with stuff like this. Kevin Spacey in Se7en has nuthin' on me.

Phase Two: Gut-Wrenching Terror

Once I actually sit down to write, I like to wade through a few hours a day of sheer panic, convinced that none of my jokes are funny, that the whole book will be a failure, and that no one will ever speak to me again. If I have time, I also like to either shed or pack on about five pounds in the first week, depending on whether I'm forgetting to eat dinner until 4 AM or soothing my nerves with ice cream.

Hmm. "Like to" might be a little strong. "Inevitably" seems to be more apropos, all things considered. What can I say? I have issues.

Phase Three: The Long, Hard Slog

At long last, I start actually producing legible text. Rather than tackling the monsters in alphabetical order, working from front to back, I jump all around, first writing up the critters I find the most inspiring and working my way down. It's a handy technique I recommend for all freelancers writing monster books, since it helps camouflage my rapid descent from "incredibly clever" to "incredibly desperate." Ha! I kid again! Well, sort of.

The One That Got Away

In the end, books only have so many pages (honestly; you can check them yourself), so inevitably I'll start work on a few monsters that nonetheless never make it off the standby list. In the first Munchkin Monster Manual, it was the poor insurance salesmen, lawyers, and shrieking geeks who got left on the bench, so I was glad to get another chance to shuffle them out into the light of day in the Munchkin Monster Manual 2.5. Hey, what freelancer doesn't like getting paid to start work he's already halfway finished?

This time around, space concerns kept yet another handful of hopeful horrors out of the limelight. For being the sort of folks who can laugh at lowbrow jokes, I've leave you with the critter that was at the very top of the Munchkin Monster Manual 2.5 waiting list. (It was going to fill that darn "Diminutive" gap.) Stand by for a world-wide exclusive, netizens!

Crawling Hand

Diminutive Undead
Hit Dice: 8d12 (52 hp)
Initiative: +8
Speed: 20 ft. (4 squares)
Armor Class: 19 (+4 size, +4 Dex, +1 natural), touch 18, flat-footed 15
Base Attack/Grapple: +4/-6
Attacks: Slam +10 melee
Damage: Slam 1d2+3
Space/Reach: 1 ft./
Special Attacks: Wedgie of the dead
Special Qualities: Blindsense, talk to the hand, undead traits, with this ring...
Saves: Fort +2, Ref +8, Will +6
Abilities: Str 14, Dex 19, Con , Int 4, Wis 10, Cha 6
Skills: Hide +17, Jump +8, Open Lock +5
Feats: Dodge, Improved Initiative, Lightning Reflexes
Environment: Any nail parlor, poker game, and underground
Organization: Solitary or pair
Challenge Rating: 5
Treasure: No coins, standard goods, standard items (all of it rings, bracelets, etc.)
Alignment: Usually lawful evil

The ooky, kooky forces of evil create these skittering nasties to serve as their minions. Evil clerics and wizards animate crawling claws by pumping necromantic magic into the flayed and desiccated corpses of sock puppets or ventriloquist dummies until they fairly well crackle with negative energy. Crawling hands are unusually powerful for their size, but they're mainly just greedy little pests who always seem to have their hands out, asking for favors.

Crawling hands speak sign language.


Wedgie of the Dead: When battling an armored (or at least clothed) opponent, a crawling hand can attempt to grab onto the opponent's loincloth in place of dealing slam damage (this requires a successful attack roll as usual). If the hand gets a hold, then on its next turn it automatically yanks the opponent's loincloth up and over his head as a standard action. The opponent must succeed at a Fortitude save (DC 16) or be stunned for one round. The wedgied opponent also suffers an effective decrease of -2d3 points of Dexterity (to a minimum of 1). This decrease lasts until the victim pulls his loincloth back out of his nether regions, requiring a standard action that provokes attacks of opportunity. However, a victim must first remove all his armor to fix a wedgie.

Blindsense: A crawling hand senses its surroundings though touch, naturally enough, and can sense vibrations up to 60 feet away. The hand is otherwise blind and deaf, and cannot sense creatures that make no vibrations (such as incorporeal creatures) or otherwise make no impact (such as Joe Lieberman).

Talk to the Hand: If a crawling hand's master (see below) is targeted by a creature using a sonic, language-dependent effect, the master can deflect that effect to the hand instead by succeeding at a contested Charisma check with the mouthy creature. The crawling hand is then targeted by the sonic effect as if it were the original target.

Undead Traits: Immune to mind-influencing effects, poison, sleep, paralysis, stunning, and disease. Not subject to critical hits, nonlethal damage, ability damage, energy drain, finger wrinkling, or death from massive damage.

With This Ring . . .: When a crawling hand is created, the first creature to present it with a gift of a magical ring, glove, or gauntlet wins its undying devotion. Get it? Undying! Har! The hand benefits from whatever magical properties its gift conveys. If the hand's master later takes the magic trinket away again, the hand flips its ex-master a certain gesture believed to date back to the Battle of Hastings and attacks him.

* * *

Munchkin Master: Okay, you explain the joke. (rolls) The joke fails its Fort save. It dies.

Player: Woot! I level up!

Article publication date: February 27, 2004

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