Saturday, May 23, 2015

Avatar's & Annihilation: Monstrous Codex Design


Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Today I have a long overdue request for how I handle creatures in Avatar's & Annihilation.  Bottom line up front:  As simple and clean as possible.  I designed this system with an eye towards putting together fights fast enough that you can do it during the course of play when your players go off the map or decide to anger the peaceful Space Terrapin tribe.



Since my occupation requires a transient lifestyle having the means to set up a regular playgroup isn't always easy.  This means that a lot of times are games are spur of the moment when the guys all happen to have a free night off and our timezones aren't too out of whack.  With that said when it comes to creature design I wanted a stable modular platform that was made it easy to come up with Monster combat stats on the fly with one or two add-ons to make each monster unique from one another.  Not only that I wanted some differentiation within each creature entry such that flipping a lever here or there would cause the same skeleton to be quite different, or to give them an elemental theme to fit with their environment and the elemental setting as a whole.

We start off pretty basic, monsters follow the same rules as character.  They pick an Archetype that is virtually the same as the player counterpart; a Fighter is a Dire creature, an Adventurer is a Loathsome beast and a Seeker is a Terrifying monster; easy enough.  The creature Archetypes follow the same paradigm, Dire creatures are good at wrecking up the place, Loathsome beasts are very hard to kill eliciting curses from your players and Terrifying creatures are the best at ruining your player's good fortune.

Same as a Player Character a Monster's Hit Dice (HD) and Intrepid Dice (ID) are dictated by their Level.  For their HP I simply list the average for the amount of HD they'd be rolling.  Now if you're like me and enjoy rolling large pools of d6s then by all means determine HP for your monsters either ahead of time during dungeon design prep or on the fly simply to intimidate your players with that bucket of dice you've been hauling around.  After you've got the basics of Archetype and Level we add a quirk or two to make the monsters stand out from one another, the same way qualities differentiate weapons.  So Skeletons are loathsome and get back up and reform after you knock them apart; zombies are also loathsome and have more wounds to chip away at but are slayed immediately upon a Critical Hit; meanwhile they gain bonuses from having a zombie horde nearby. You want the quirks simple enough that the GM can remember it easily and adjudicate it on the fly without constant page turning.

Some very powerful monsters would get either a Ferocious or Uncanny quality; the first was a blanket to hit and damage bonus and the latter was for taking additional turns giving them a needed boost when dealing with powerful players strapped with magic gats or ones who brought along hordes of henchman.

This is how it started off and it's easy to cook these things up on the fly; and you still can if you don't feel like following what's presented in the Monstrous Codex. It's pretty easy, assign an Archetype, pick a level, determine HP, select weaponry (or default to claws and bites) then come up with a thematic quirk. 

Here's a quick example:
Zombie (Loathsome)  Lvl 1  AC -  HP 8  HD 1  ID 1  Wounds 4
  • Headshot: Immediately killed by a [Critical Hit]
  • Horde: Anyone engaged with a Zombie takes damage equal to the number of Zombies surrounding them.

Voila!  You're done.

Now then if you want a little more granularity I'm going to walk through the current format we have for the old reliable Skelly.  We start with the title line, this lists the monsters name; it's Archetype, Level and relevant combat and exploration stats.  Avatar's & Annihilation strode closer to OD&D by keeping ability scores almost entirely out of combat; no point obsessing over a high strength to get a damage bonus.  I talk more about chasing high ability scores and inflation all the way back here (Wall of text warning).

Moving down the bullets we have a quick section on appearance (not all monsters in the Codex will be household names), background, which shows how the creature might be different than conventional fantasy tropes, and then we move into the combat section.  This is where we start with the quirks a monster might have.  Skeletons are more or less immune to thrusting, slashing and non-rock based missile weapons.  They are fragile and fall apart but this is a bit of a feigned death as they will reform to assault you the next round.  The last quirk is something I've included for all undead grunts, the ability to become a far more effective fighting force when a necromancer is nearby controlling them like marionettes.

The final section is for variations; originally variations could be found cluttering up the combat section or just spread out through the entry making it quite messy; the way we've organized the layout now is to have each one compartmentalized so that the top half is the base creature and looking below you have various add-on your can tack on to for variety or power. The ones listed here will add variety through weapon choice and tactics as well as being fueled by the elements themselves.  It's a way to pallet swap your creatures in a meaningful way.

Skeleton (Loathsome) Lvl 1 AC - HP 8 HD 1 TD 1 Wounds 2 VAPR 5/12/5/3

  • Appearance:
    • Dem bones are surprisingly agile and adequately surly, holding wicked sharp weapons despite all the nicks and chips.
  • Background:
    • Skeletons are the grunt troops for Necromancers but they are also created spontaneously when a powerful evil not yet exercised dwells in an area
  • Defenses
    • 1/2 damage unless the weapon has Impact 1+
      • No damage from Bows and Xbows
    • Skeletons fall apart when they take a Wound.  
      • They reform next round until they run out of Wounds.
        • This can be a [Surprise] assault vs the unaware and novice
    • If possessed by a Necromancer skeletons gain [Uncanny] +1 and +1 Wound
  • Variations
    • Warrior Skeleton  AC 5 & Shield
      • [Terror]  Save VS Disease from Rusted Arms and Armor.
    • Archer Skeleton
      • [Critical] A new skeleton forms from the bone arrows automatically in CQC with the target
    • Mage Skeleton  LVL 3  HP 22  HD 3  TD 3
      • [Terror] Necrotic Lance.  Mid Range:  Target loses a HD or takes d12 unblockable damage.
    • [Fire]  Burning Man    
      • Flaming Aura: d6 Fire damage VS Melee attacks.  Ignites others in CQC.
    • [Water] Ghost Ship Crew
      • Swashbuckling: +1 Clash and Damage when you have the high ground or bypass an obstacle
    • [Wind] Spectral Chariot   LVL 5  HP 37  HD 5  TD 5
      • Trample for 2d6 Wind damage every other round.
    • [Earth] Dracoskeleton     LVL 8   HP 60  HD 8  TD 8
      • Dragon Fear.  Flensing breath weapon.  HD/TD d6  Slashing/Sand damage.