December 20, 2017: Dungeon Fantasy Tips: My Little Monster
Our pointers on designing dungeons for the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game recommended that monsters be a good match to the adventure and the adventurers. That means you'll eventually want to create your own to fit your scenarios and challenge your players (especially experienced ones!). Monster Traits and Creating Monsters (Monsters, p. 9 and p. 61) are a good start, but here's further advice. (These page numbers refer to Monsters.)
Concept. Like a character or a dungeon, a monster isn't just a wall of stats. Does it appear in the wild? If so, in what environments? If not, is it summoned or created? What does it want – treasure, screaming victims, souls, or just to be left alone or with its own kind? If it defies logic, explain why, if only "It's a being of pure Chaos!" Creatures of myth, legend, folklore, and fiction can provide inspiration.
Keep it classy. Turn to Monster Classes (p. 14) and pick a class. As this decides much of what can and cannot affect the monster, it's often the most important "ability." When choosing, think about whether the creature is living, free-willed, or tangible, or has supernatural qualities like being magical, truly evil, turnable, or banishable. Exceptions are possible, like "undead but can't be turned"; so are mixed classes (e.g., "slime/undead"), though this may give incompatibilities to resolve.
By the numbers. Assign your creature ST, DX, IQ, HT, HP, Will, Per, FP, Speed, Move, SM, Dodge, Parry, and DR. The best guidelines are existing monsters of comparable concept, class, and power level. Be on the lookout for excessive HT (going much past 12 means this foe will have to be chopped down to negative HP) and DR (if none of the delvers can scratch it, even by pushing their abilities to the limit or rolling well, it's too high). Low-IQ monsters can still have respectable Will for resisting spells and Per for hunting adventurers. Speed generally tracks DX and HT, Move and Dodge usually follow from Speed, and Parry should reflect combat skills, but don't feel tied to this. Review Reading Monster Stats (p. 15) for other important details.
Trick or trait. Select traits that fit class and concept. Again, use existing monsters as guidelines; Out of Your Element (p. 16), Heavy Metal (p. 33), The Evil Dead (p. 40), and Moldy Monsters? (p. 43) offer advice on "modding" these. Take time to go through the advantages and disadvantages in Adventurers and the lists on pp. 9-14, making notes on what fits. Be aware that Altered Time Rate, Diffuse, Extra Life, Injury Reduction, Invisibility, Supernatural Durability, Unkillable, and speedy Regeneration all make an opponent much scarier than its other stats suggest. Dread, Vulnerability, Weakness, and especially Unnatural make it less challenging.
Attack! Determine attacks after attributes and traits. Melee attacks such as bites, punches, and foreclaws usually inflict thrust-1 for ST (plus any Striking ST), while heavier hind claws, kicks, tails, etc., do thrust; remarkably deadly versions might deliver thrust+1 or thrust at +1 per die! Damage type is normally crushing if the body part is blunt, cutting if it's sharp, or impaling for long fangs, horns, or talons; elemental attacks can have other damage types. For breath weapons, curses, harmful auras, venom, etc., look at existing monsters; in general, attacks that do physical damage scale in proportion to thrust, but poison and magic are wildcards. Write out the details of complex attacks such as the drown ability of the water elemental (p. 26) and the engulf attack of the jelly (pp. 38-39). For further advice, see Out of Your Element (p. 16), Treat as Weapon, Not as Body Part (p. 39), Beyond Resurrection (p. 49), Breaking Down Corrosion (p. 50), and Bad Touch! (p. 53).
Mad skillz. Monsters with IQ 1+ may have skills; those with IQ 6+ often do. Include an appropriate Innate Attack specialty for those that breathe fire, gaze, shoot rays, etc. Stealth is essential for surprise. Consider Brawling for unarmed melee attackers; high skill allows Deceptive Attack and attacks on vital areas, and skill DX+2 or above adds +1 damage per die to all unarmed attacks (bites, claws, horns, etc.). Humanoids carry weapons and have associated skills. Anything that might talk to the heroes needs suitable knowledge, whether that's Diplomacy and Merchant for negotiation or Hidden Lore and Occultism for demonic pacts.
Special deathflake. Add anything essential that doesn't follow from the stats and traits so far. Make sure spellcasting creatures have spells; these should be at a level of (IQ + spellcasting talent - 2) or higher, and fit with concept and class (e.g., fire monsters like Fire spells, while undead enjoy Necromantic ones). If the monster has abilities from PC professions, account for them. Define unique capabilities; e.g., Tunneling for earth elementals (p. 25), Ice Armor for ice wyrms (p. 38), Division for oozes (pp. 44-45), Sticky for slugbeasts (p. 50), Ghost Form for specters (pp. 50-51), Spirit Form for spirit guardians (p. 52), or Teleportation for watchers at the edge of time (pp. 59-60).
Tactics make perfect. How does the monster use all of the above in combat? Useful information appears not just in Tactics (pp. 6-7), but also in Air Superiority (p. 27), Making the Little Guys Dangerous (p. 36), Monster or Trap? (p. 37), Bad Touch! (p. 53), and Lend Me Your Eyes! (p. 59). Tactics can matter more than everything mentioned so far: A horde of weak flying monsters making surprise attacks under the direction of a tactical genius can destroy a party more surely than a behemoth that simply trades blows.
Take note! Use the "Notes" section to give details on user-defined advantages and disadvantages (such as Divine Curse), exceptions to "stock" abilities and monster classes, and unique attacks and traits; jot down tactics; list gear carried and treasure left behind (remember: any equipment usually becomes treasure!); discuss exceptional specimens like leaders and shamans; and indicate whether the monster is willing to negotiate or is truly evil. If it's information you'll need before, during, or after an encounter, write it down.
Final check. Make sure the stats you'll be glancing at when running encounters reflect bonuses from traits and skills; for instance, tweak active defense scores for Combat Reflexes, Stealth skill for Chameleon, Limited Camouflage, and Silence, and unarmed attack damage for Brawling skill. Put combat skill levels next to relevant attacks. Ensure that everything fits the concept . . . and that there are no glaring holes.
Most important, cheat at every stage by swiping ideas from Monsters – and also the creatures in Pyramid #3/106 and monsters and monster-modding advice in Pyramid #3/108.
-- Sean Punch
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