Thursday, July 30, 2015

HD 1, AC leather, Sword 1d6

So, I've been thinking about how to differentiate monsters, and I don't think it's through stats.  Here are a bunch of monsters that are pretty similar statistically, but vary in their tactics, descriptions, and goals.

They have slightly different stats because stats can be descriptive, too, but if you switch them around I seriously doubt your players will notice.

The point of this exercise is to show that Making Monsters Feel Varied comes less from the stats and special abilities, and more from more from their tactics, goals, and basic lore/knowledge (don't hide interesting things behind knowledge checks).

But having said that, special abilities are awesome, and I'm also giving them all a special ability when they have max HP.  (So when you roll 3d6 of them, there are a couple that are lieutenants or whatever.)  But even without it, they all still feel very different, conceptually.  Like, if I were a player, I wouldn't get bored fighting just these monsters for a couple of sessions because they seem varied.

bandit by Eric Belisle

HD 1  AC leather  Sword 1d6  Bow 1d6
Mov human  Int 10  Mor 5

Tactics: hide in ambush along paths, use traps and false retreats, have 1-2 guys in trees with bows, kill spellcasters first

Goals: make money, insult rich people and institutions, make a name for themselves

Bandits with 8 HP are swashbucklers.  When one of their sword attacks hits, they get a free combat maneuver check (disarm, trip, etc).  They all have huge personalities, usually boisterous.

Bandits always have a cool hideout: treehouse, behind a waterfall, abandoned tower, etc.  There is a 33% chance that these bandits are part of a larger group, and 33% chance that they are part of a much larger group.  Optional: mustaches, tights, quarterstaffs, one comically obese bandit that the other bandits make fun of, one bandit that is seriously like 10 years old.


HD 1  AC leather  Huge Sword 1d8
Mov human  Int 10  Mor 12

Special: Immune to fear and pain.

Tactics: crush, kill, destroy!

Goals: collect skulls, bathe in blood, ritualistically scar their bodies, eat the dead

Berserkers with 8 HP are immortals.  Any damage that would bring them below 1 HP has a 50% chance to leave them at 1 HP instead.

There are many different kinds of berserkers.


HD 1  AC leather  Misc Weapon 1d8
Mov human  Int 8  Mor 7

Tactics: attack the weakest looking ones, don't wait until combat is over to grab loot, be disorganized, only work together accidentally

Goals: make money, steal food, get better weapons, pretend to be brave, find a strong leader

Orcs with 8 HP are anti-shamans.  They block all divine spellcasting within 20'.

Orcs are green, tusked, and have huge testicles.  They have a weirdly degenerate military culture--sort of like a cargo cult for the army--where they emulate military procedures mindlessly and poorly.  They also beat each other up a lot, but can be intelligent and kind (but only in private, or among trusted friends).


HD 1  AC leather  Bladed Scepter 1d8
Mov human  Int 3  Mor 7

Special: Immune to electricity, can power electrical or magical devices with a touch.

Tactics: take the high ground, believe oneself to be invincible (and make poor choices because of it)

Goals: collect magic items, search the jungle for ancient machinery and reactivate it, show superiority over the feeble masses of humanity

Powermen with 8 HP possess a psychic shield.  It provides perfect blocking: even magic missiles are blocked without error.  If the powerman is attacked by multiple people exactly simultaneously (making their attack rolls simultaneously) this overwhelms the shield, which can only block one at a time, and the powerman must decide which one he prefers to block (before attack rolls are made).

Powermen are adventurers who ventured into one of the ruins of the Great Machine, in Bruhok.  They come staggering out of the dungeons some days later, crackling with electricity, with glowing eyes and commanding voices.  They believe themselves to be powerful warriors that have resurrected themselves in new bodies.  They comport themselves like demigods, are supremely confident, and are always incredibly surprised when they die as easily as any other man. Their heads continue talking for several minutes after death.


HD 1  AC leather  Greataxe 1d8
Mov human  Int 10  Mor 7

Tactics: intimidate opponents, try anything (even lies) to get them to surrender, finish off the wounded

Goals: destroy all clans except the Tusk Clan, spread chaos and confusion through the world (especially centers of religion and/or knowledge)

Tuskmen with 8 HP are mutant tuskmen.  They have one random mutation from the DM's favorite mutation table, or from the small table below.

Tuskmen all derive from a viking clan that have fallen into the overt worship of chaos.  They revere Grandfather Oshregaal, who transformed them into their present forms.  They look like vikings with walrus tusks.

Tuskmen Mutations [d6]

1 - Two-heads - Much harder to sneak up on.
2 - Grossly muscular - Hits for +3 damage.
3 - Shriveled Black Arms - Cast flesh bolt (reflavored magic missile) twice per day.
4 - Eyes On Stalks - Cast poison gaze once per day. (See below.)
5 - Invisible!
6 - Crystalline Skin - 75% chance to reflect magic.

Poison Gaze
Level 1 Wizard Spell
Caster makes a gaze attack (target must be looking at you, i.e. not fighting someone else).  If the target fails a save, it is poisoned, and takes 1d6 damage each turn for 3 turns.  Con check for half damage.

bandit by Eric Belisle

Monsters need different tactics because it's a huge part of how combats feel.  If you're fighting monsters that always do fighting retreats as soon as combat begins, it feels very different (and uses very different tactics) than fighting monsters who just rush in and fight to the death.  We spend so much time differentiating monsters with abilities and lore, why not differentiate them here, too?

Monsters need different goals.  Intelligent monsters are practically NPCs, because the players can talk to them, intimidate them, bargain with them.  Those behavioral interactions make up a big part of the game.  (Think about your own games and how many times your PCs got social with the monsters instead of straight-up attacking them.)  Including goals in your statblock makes these interactions more robust (since you have a clearly defined answer to "what does it want?") but it also makes them more interesting (since you don't have to improvise a monster's goals halfway through a game).  NPCs should always have a goal, and unless a monster is only going to be used in an arena fight, so do they.

Out of all the HP 8 lieutenant abilities, I like the berserker one the most.  Level 1 dude getting hit by a 5d6 fireball, and then staggering upright?  And then he gets hit by the barbarian for 10 points of damage?  And he's still fighting, screaming out bloody foam, eyes clouding in their sockets.


  1. Good stuff. I like the Powermen and Tuskmen especially. I have the erroneous impulse sometimes to do things with mechanics, when instead role playing is all you need. For example, I was playing with the idea of healing from a short rest, but instead all I need is to have the hirelings complain if they don't get a short rest after combat.

    1. I dunno, that sounds like a pretty substantial design decision. If the group goes through a difficult fight and decides to leave the dungeon immediately, but then bumps into a combat on the way out, it matters a lot what their HP is. So I would say that this is more than just roleplaying--there's crunch in there, too.

      There's no right answer, but I like giving my players access to easy healing.

  2. Love the tusk men and power men. I think older versions of D&D used too may humanoids and this tweak makes them human enough not to be automatically exterminated by the hu-man PCs. It will also be fresh for experienced players (nearly all my players have been playing for a long time) which is a bonus.