Sunday, November 6, 2016

A&A Design: Monsters!

Since editing and re-editing a book will sometimes drive you mad it's always good to get a fresh burst of creativity and throughout the development of this game I've always found that by coming up with fresh new monsters hot off the presses.

So here I'm going to talk about how I handle basic monster design.  Like characters I want these to be very quick and fluid to come up with, sometimes on the fly, which means a basic starting chassis shared across the board.  To keep things on an even playing field I match them to the same mechanics as player characters.

0.  Imagery
Don't forget to describe your monster to your players.  Frequently it's the image of the monster that inspires the GM to stat one up so don't forget to share the visuals with your players.  All the cool abilities in the world don't mean a thing if the players can't visualize it in their head.

1.  Archetype
Monster archetypes match up with player archetypes.
Dire = Fighter (Smash twice the amount of things!)
Loathesome = Adventurer (Higher HP & Harder to kill)
Dreadful = Seeker (Specialist in Monster version of Intrepid Dice)

2.  Level
This determines their HP, more levels means more dice to roll, typically I'll assign a bonus Wound to a higher level monster as well.  It's also vaguely defines power level in that I won't put absurdly powerful abilities on lower level monsters.  Except for the Vorpal Rabbite, all bets are off with those bodyless head-hopping chompers are around.

Secret of Mana - A boy and his rusty sword inches away from certain death
Examples:  Vorpal Rabbite Lvl 1.  Giant Psychic Eel Lvl 4.  Ogre Magi Lvl 8. 
Prehistoric Atlas Godbeetle Lvl 18.

Note: To keep things easier on the GM we removed "Reserves" from Monsters and kept them only for Heroes.  This means that each monster don't have a fat stack of Hit Dice & Monster-Intrepid Dice to rely on (and for the GM to keep track of).  Instead they have a single Monster-Intrepid dice to use  at the right moment.

The GM already has enough on their mind balancing rules and a whole suite of creatures so all design decisions typically revolve around the keep it simple stupid principle.

3.  Armor
Decide if the creature is easy to hit but harder to damage (Heavy AC3) or more nimble and made of paper (Lightly AC7 or Unarmored ACN7) or somewhere in-between (Medium armor AC5).  Heavier armor means slower movement as well.

Examples:  Long-neck Stone Serpent  AC 3.  Lizardman Conquistador AC5.    Vine Hydra AC7

4.  Armaments
Monsters that don't wield weapons typically get multiple attacks to account for their numerous natural weapons and the fact they're not getting any To-Hit bonuses (and most have Reach 0 which means they aren't counter-attacking Vs your typical sword, ax & spear).  A one-handed weapon (claws) does a d6 and a two-handed or slow heavy weapon (i.e. Rhino horn, Croc bite) does 2d6 damage.

So a two-headed panther with life sucking tentacles on its shoulder-blades is making 4 attacks a round.  It makes fighting monsters a very different experience than fighting bandits and raiding parties of Terror Knights who are wielding the same weaponry as the PCs and makes it easier for a single (powerful) monster to face off Vs. multiple PCs. 

5.  Special Abilities
Much like how all you're weapons are differentiated by their special quality Monsters are the same level and archetype are differentiated by their special abilities.  That two-headed tentacle panther is a lot more dangerous when you upgrade him into a full displacer beast or have his tentacles drain life force and is radically different from your 4x attack/round vine hydra who specializes in strangling the life out of your foes after he lands multiple hits.

Note: It's rare for a monster to have more than two abilities.  Remember, the GM has a lot to remember, don't overload them.  You want the game (and combat) to continue cruising along without frequent or any rules look-ups.

Note:  When coming up with your own abilities there's a quick litmus test before you implement.  #1  Does it make sense for the monster?  #2  Make sure it's not unfair or absurd.

Example Monster:

Bears (Dire)  Lvl 5  HP  5d6+5 Wnd: 4 AC 7  Mv: L  BearClaw R: 1  Dmg 2d6
  • Maul - +2d6 damage in Close Quarters Combat
  • Rage - +2d6 HP when Wounded

Next post I'll start talking about layout design and how that has influenced the evolution of our design.