Monday, February 8, 2010

Fighting A monster versus fighting THE monster II: Removing the need for the monster manual

This post I'm going to deal with a GM pet peeve of mine, and how I solved it. Monster Stats and prep time. When I am GMing a game, I don't like to need to either pick a monster from a catalog, nor need to devise some arcane formulae to work out experience point costs accurately. I like unique monsters, as pointed out here . If Theseus had just slain A minotaur, and a couple dozen more were still marauding the outlying towns, it would have been no big deal.

I toyed with building a monster generation system , the idea was to use a similar mechanical solution to weapon generation. That system worked brilliantly for weapons (and now armour) to remove the 14 pages of pole-arms and generate quick fun with all the same tactical depth.

It worked, but not really. Oh sure I could generate weapon tags, but it still didn't work as I wanted, it still had too much consideration and fiddly math for no reason other than to do fiddly math.

So I had an epiphany, I'd re-purpose another successful mechanic, the exploration XP mechanic.

And it works smashingly.

Basically monsters are separated into named monsters (THE Minotaur) and nameless monsters (A minotaur). If you defeat a nameless monster, such as a random troll you found under a bridge, calculate its experience point value by adding up a handful of numbers and running it by a multiplier. All in all about 30 seconds of AFTER THE FACT math. This means you can 'wing' monsters fairly easily.

Named monsters are worth a little more. In terms of "Named", this does not have to be a proper name; a title such as ‘The serpent of widows peak’ works just fine. Hell even no title if the creature is unique. Alien featured THE monster, Aliens featured a pile of "a monster"s. This is the difference between fighting a minotaur that just happens to be roaming about and fighting THE Minotaur, love child of Crete’s queen and entombed in the labyrinth. A named monster is worth the experience points of a nameless monster or the following experience (whichever is more).

The monster is:
500xp Local legend
1000xp Regional threat
5000xp National threat
10000xp Cultural icon
50000xp Fabled monster
10000xp Mythological being

A local legend would include a giant one eyed grizzly bear rumoured to live in the local hills. A regional threat might include a hill giant that is terrorizing the outlying farms. A national threat would be a small dragon that is cutting a swathe of destruction throughout the kingdom. A cultural icon would be a creature such as the medusa. A fabled monster might include an ancient dragon said to be sleeping in the caves deep below the foundations of the royal castle. A Mythological being would be a creature such as Typhon.

Why is this good? A GM can generate a monster as he sees fit and worry about experience points as a secondary matter. In addition to drastically reducing prep time, this makes monster hunting a player-driven event and perfect for sandbox play. Some people climb mountains because they are there, others slay dragons to prove they can.

Why is this bad? If you like balance, this turfs it right out the window.


  1. I like the chart.

    Curious, though.
    --Why was this difficult to do before?

  2. I like this idea and I'm guessing it works well at a campagin level.

    Harder to implement if you are writing / publishing a game system. The Monster Manual (or equivalent) would need to have standard sets of stats when the monsters are just monsters plus one or more named monsters with background.

    Nothing hard in producing this content but each race plus the named monsters would require several pages. Either vastly increasing the size of the book or resulting in a lot less types of monsters.

    Though it could be done in a seperate book ... a monsterous rogue's gallery ... (damn! cannot think of a suitable illiterative title for it).

    An interesting idea and one I shall consider whilst I work my not yet announced ever-so-secret project.

    6d6 Fireball