Things that go bump

or baba dook dook dook or whatever

Monsters! Chills! Thrills! Creepy crawlies or odd things! Monsters are an integral and even fundamental part of any modern (or classic) RPG. I had originally thought to write this piece about villains but what is a villain at its most basic, boiled down, level? You’re damn right, it’s a monster.

Coming from a largely high fantasy background most of my favorite monsters are the classics. The undead, orcs, ogres, and the fae commonly show up in the games I run. But they are not for everyone and knowing what kind of monsters your group likes to face will be a great help in making your games more enjoyable. But more than that, effective use of monsters is what you should be thinking of.

First, consider when the last time your party was truly frightened by an encounter. Not apprehensive of what they are fighting due to know what the thing is capable of, but truly, and honestly scared. Was it because they were sucking fumes for hit points and the party healer was tapped out? Or was it because they were at a disadvantage in numbers; or just much MUCH smaller than their opponent. While it’s all well and good that they may win these encounters by the skin of their teeth, they are often hardly memorable without some major feat by the players.

So how do we solve this?

With some monsters, it’s easy. Others , not so much.

First up are DRAGONS! Few GMs play dragons to their fullest potential. Think about it, even juvenile dragons are highly intelligent in most cases, have a breath weapon and can cast a few spells. But often they are used to rush and breathe fire at the players, make a few swipes with their claws and then die. Bleh. They are a proper monster! Don’t let them roll over and die! Use their spells, if you’ve done it right the players have come to them! Make their lair smoky, they can see through it. Have them hide and leap from the shadows, take a swipe at the chewiest looking player and then disappear into the smoke again. Cast magic missile from the air to soften up the hard targets and then breathe fire for the kill. If you DO choose to have the dragon be a mindless melee machine, why stop at just the dragon? What nasty thing is holding the reigns? A lich, an evil cleric of Tiamat, or Jeremy Irons are all good choices.

Adult Dragons should be even worse. Spell resistance gets added to the mix as does a good many feats. Oh and invisibility. I’ll just put that out there. An invisible g-golly Dragon. That can use Suggestion at will. Just sayin’

But Dragons are easy. What would you think about a pack of goblins? With few exceptions almost every RPG player will kill some goblins. They are often considered a throw away faceless nuisance to be waded through at low levels. But they have a few things going for them that are missed or overlooked by GMs. First, they can see in the dark. Trivial in most cases, but awesome in the right hands. One thing that can catch a party off guard in being in the dark, find a way to knock out the party light source and the advantage goes to the goblins. Not an easy thing but on a moonless night or in a cave it can make an easy fight so much harder. Next, Goblins are small and have a high bonus to stealth. The little varmints can get into almost any position to ambush the players. The surprise round gained from attacking from hiding is amazing. Last but not least is that Goblins will even the odds, especially if they are led by someone/thing smarter. Poison their weapons, weak at first, but maybe some deadly stuff for higher level parties. Run a few at the party headlong to get slaughtered while the rest sneak around behind to make a surprise attack. Be sneaky, be mean, be a monster!

To wrap my rambling up, think about the way you run your monsters. Read their descriptions, their skills, all the nitpicky details. Consider what they do well and not so well and play to those strengths and weaknesses. This will force your party to do the same and your game will be all the better for it.

Patrick is a veteran of RPG and table top gaming. He is currently a player in the Rune Awakening campaign and runs the 7th Sea game. Outside of gaming, Patrick is an aspiring writer and paints miniatures when time allows.

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