Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)

So we have our gatehouse on the causeway with its undead guards. We have marshes patrolled by roving undead but where do all these undead come from?

I want a necromancer, but not just any necromancer.

Some where in this city there is going to be access to an underground lake and lurking in the depths of that lake is our Necromancer!

The bottom of a pool is not the usual place to find necromancers, well not BEFORE the party meet them anyway.

I rather like the way that RMU applies Archetypes to any creature to create a unique build. I want to do something similar to that here but using RM2/RMC stats.

You will also remember from the first post in this group that I want to make all of this scale-able to a wide range of character levels.

So our scary monster is going to be an off the shelf creature and then tweaked to make a suitable Super Creep.

I want to start with an Octopus(!). I then want to apply one or possibly two changes to it. The first of which is to give it a profession.

A professional octopus?

Just because Octopi don’t wear tee-shirts and buy coffee at Starbucks does not mean they are not intelligent. They are just differently intelligent. So this Octopus is a cleric and an evil cleric to boot!

A large octopus/squid has 30′ tentacles, is 6th level and has an +80OB which is a fair challenge for a low level party. If we give it the Necromancy (Base) and Calm Spirits (Closed Channeling) lists you have an interesting villain. A 6th level evil cleric given enough time a bit of overcasting or ritual can create type I and II undead and control them. So the villain at the heart of the city can create the undead that protects the city. It has had plenty of time to build its minions so that is all consistent.

So lets scale up our Super Creep.

Using the RAW for GIGANTISM (C&T pages 139 for the RMC version of the book) one increase in size for our octopus takes it from 6th level to 14th level. It also takes its #hits from 70 to 160. As an 14th level Evil Cleric we are now able to create (at a push) Type IV undead. Type IV include Ghosts and Spectres that are up to about 10th level monsters. The Octopus itself now had an OB of 100 and is doing Huge Grapple attacks.

Want something tougher?

Lets scale him up once more!

So with two levels of size increase we have an Octopus that is 16th level, 180#hits and OB of 120. Its criticals are reduced by 2 levels so ignores A&B crits.

I think this kind of end of level boss makes a wonderful Cthulhuesque  mastermind. You can be pretty sure that he party will never have met one before and to be honest I doubt if anyone would be expecting the giant octopus to be a spell caster! That should make the players have to reevaluate their tactics at some point if nothing else.

So what comes next?

I would like to introduce two things, first, something that the party need to bring back from the city, their primary quest. I like the idea of this being so big it needs a cart. I am thinking of some kind of throne that just happens to be sunk at the bottom of the pool.

I also want some interesting suggestions for some ‘set play’ encounters. Something challenging for the players to showcase the city of undead.

Any suggestions?

Rolemaster Races & Monsters: Friends or Foes?

I’m curious and interested about exploring niches of Rolemaster and fantasy RPG’s in a novel way–subverting tropes, high level adventures, monsters as PC’s, eliminating the Profession system etc. In my last blog I discussed some one-off adventures I’m working on that consists of a party of “monsters” and both Peter and I have written blogs about certain creatures being classified as a Race or Monster. All of this touches upon whether various creatures or traditional monsters would make good PC’s–a subject I’m looking forward to exploring much like I’m doing with 50th lvl characters.

But these questions ignore the broader issue–why are certain races and creatures “Monsters” or adversaries to begin with? Should PC appropriate races be determined by a race’s intrinsic morality? Does RMU’s creature creation system open the door for any creature (assuming a base level of  intelligence) to be played as a PC? Assigning levels, special abilities and skills to creatures draws them into the Character Law system–why not open the door a bit wider for PCs–not just more traditional races, but “monsters” as well?

 

Perhaps the residue of Gygaxian Naturalism reinforces our views that monsters reside outside the natural world and setting. Without a childhood, ecosystem, culture and hopes and dreams these monsters lack the foundations of “Personhood”–they are merely there to be obstacle to the players. But what if that weren’t the case? Perhaps your game world would be like the cantina setting in ANH or TFA–filled with an endless variety of races, creatures and monsters anthropomorphized for the purposes of a working game narrative. Perhaps “monsters” aren’t inherently evil, but motivated by the same self-interest and beliefs that direct us all.

 

Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue

I sometimes worry that with all the deconstructions and house ruling that we can end up not supporting Rolemaster but character assassinating it.

I also worry a bit about the fact that we all agreed to a non disclosure agreement to not discuss RMU publicly and now that is very much what we do.

I have also been up since 4am and I am not feeling particularly mentally scintillating right now so I want to point out something that may or may not have happened, not with a bang but with a bit of an under the radar whimper.

Way back when, many moons ago, BriH suggested 50 in 50 we tossed a few emails about and someone suggested that things like new monsters, new spells and new magic items were one of the things they always liked about the original D&D modules.

So when I wrote one of my contributions to the 50 in 50 adventures I create a new monster. I then promptly forgot about the monster and moved on.

The point of making the monster was that it would be my intellectual property, not ICE’s. Therefore I was perfectly entitled to publish its stats as long as we skirted around the fact that it was a Rolemaster adventure.

Well, on Saturday, when Azukail Games, published Where Eagles Dare I believe they published the first ‘free’ monster, that is free as in speech not free as in beer. As it happens I have written and published other RM adventures with more monsters in the Fanzine between writing Eagles and now but that is not the point.

Monsters, monsters everywhere!

I have had another one of my thoughts. I have a set of conversion rules I have created for getting from D&D 5e to a sort of generic RM, based upon the starting characters I was sent. It was suggested that the monsters would be better if they had skills and I think that is probably right. It was also suggested that giving monsters professions would be good. I think that is probably would be good as well.

So, what I was thinking was  this. I am going to install a wiki plugin for the blog. I will then create a page for every monster I have created so far and continue to do so for all future monsters.

The advantage of the wiki is that if for example you think a monster should have Ambush as a skill then you can edit the monster yourself and add the skill. From that moment on everyone can then see that skill. Furthermore, for skills that work significantly differently such as expertise in RMU vs skills in RM2 for example, you can add a modification to a monster and mark it as for a particular version.

Also, if I have created one or two basic versions of a monster but you want a shaman, that I haven’t created then you can add yours as either an additional monster or add it on to the bottom of the monsters page.

If anyone wants to use these monsters in their own adventures they can then link directly to the monsters page. This way they always get the most up to date version.

Another advantage is with magic and innate spell lists. So far I have listed genuine RM spell lists but anyone can go back over the monsters and reference the BASiL list that best fits.

This new monster section will appear on the menu navigation some time this week and I will start adding in the monsters.As with most wikis you will be able to see the change history and previous versions should you have to.

Relative Adventuring

This is not my idea but one I have borrowed from the Conan game by Modiphius.

Imagine you are reading an adventure module for Rolemaster. The adventure describes an ambush by goblins at a river ford. In the details it says ‘There will be two goblins for every character’. In the next encounter, in an outer chamber of the goblin lair the numbers are ‘There will be three more goblins than characters.’

Every encounter describes the strength of the encounter relative to the strength of the adventuring party.

We all know in RM superior numbers can be the critical factor in a battle. Even a first level character can open ended and kill anything in the first round if they are lucky enough.

My party of 5th level characters got into serious trouble against a raiding party of kobolds. The same raid against D&D characters would have been a non-event.

So the idea is that the level that the adventure is pitched at is highly flexible. If you write an adventure and the main bad guy is a 70th level drake then that is not a starting adventure but more middle of the road stuff just flexes to meet the strength of the party, not by level but by threat.

This has never really been an issue before now, but as the number of monsters available grows and now eDGCLTD is sowing the seeds of self publishing, BriH is asking about short form monster stat blocks all the pieces are coming together for unofficial RM modules.

So what are your thoughts?

Monster Weekend

I have spent the weekend thinking about monsters. I have said many times before that I am a monster snob. I think Gelatinous Cubes and Black Puddings are better suited to nouveau cuisine than for battling player characters. I just cannot buy into them.

I think I put my finger on what it is that a monster needs to have for me to want to use them and it comes down to two factors.

Really?

I like my monsters to feel real, like they could actually exist. If you tell me that Orcs are an evil corruption of Elves then I can kind of get that. The reason they exist is that someone made them. They are evil because they were intentionally made that way.

I can buy into Dragons. Technically, I have seen just as many living dragons as I have dinosaurs. I have no problem in believing dinosaurs were real so why not have fantasy dragons in a fantasy world?

Puddings, cubes, cloakers and mimics just do not reach my credibility threshold when it comes to monsters.

No Fear!

My second criteria is the fear factor. I like my monsters to induce a sense of fear in my player characters. I don’t mean necessary the Resistance Roll inducing game mechanic sort of fear but the ‘Are we going to get out of this alive?’ sort of fear. In a recent game session the characters slowly retreated from ground floor to first floor to the attic as the monsters surrounded and closed in on them.

One of my favourite monsters is the Drider. Think spider centaur. The top half is a dark elf failed priestess of an evil spider goddess and the bottom half is giant spider. the reason for their existence is a punishment for failing to meet the goddesses standards. My players characters nearly met one once. They looked up at her nest and retreated. With a Drider you have to think an plan in three dimensions. They would throw amazing shadows down cave passages as they advanced. Retreating may not be an option either if you are being hemmed in by web filled passage ways. All you can hear is up ahead is the scuttle of spider legs on stone while silently above you another drifts down on a single strand of web out of the dark.

I have written something like 27 adventures in the last two months and one of the recurring themes is that of trying to scare the characters. I don’t think a straight, in your face, battle is that scary. Players know that most of the time the odds are in their favour as they are the heroes of the story. The GM is not out to kill them. At least I am not out to kill my players characters.

Give them a foe they cannot see, or cannot count, or do not understand and all of a sudden this is a not only a battle but it is a puzzle or trap on two legs (if you know what I mean).

These monsters are easily killable if you can catch them or split them up into manageable groups and that is the challenge. En mass the heroes may die, if they cannot control the fight the heroes may die.

So this brings me back to my thinking this weekend about monsters. A Kobold is not scary because you know it is weak. When you reach a certain level a giant is not that scary once you have killed eight of them. So I have been planning monster variations. Twists on existing monsters. These are subtly different from their brethren, just enough so that when they meet the heroes it makes the players think ‘That is not right!’.

After all, I do think there should ever be a ‘comfort zone’ in a dungeon, should there?

In Just Seven Days I can Make You A Man!

Tucked away at the back of different versions of Creatures & Treasures are some interesting little add on chapters. In the first C&T that I owned it has the comversion stats for D&D and Runequest. In the RMC Creatures and Treasures it has guidelines for creating your own monsters.

I am a dab hand at D&D monster conversions as I convert from old FR modules to RM all the time but creating new monsters is not something I have ever done.

There are three immediate uses I can think of for new monsters but I only want to discuss one of them here and now.

If your characters have been around for years (such as the hypothetical 50th level characters in BriH’s adventure plans) then they have probably met and killed everything many times over. So how about something completely new?

Trying to find a monster in the book to challenge a party of high level characters is simply not possible. I have never played at 50th level but a small party of 30th level characters, I know from experience, can eat Balrogs for breakfast and have Nazgul for whipping boys. Been there and done that, if not quite literally. Four us us once fought three Dragons simultaneously on the slopes of Mount Erabor. The monsters in C&T simply do not cut it when it comes to VHL characters.

The easy option and the one I have seen most often is to resort to evil NPCs as the end of level boss. These scale well and are the only thing that can challenge a party. 12 50th level bad guys will be a real challenge for a normal party of 50th level characters. The problem is that I guess the end of level boss is always an evil magician or evil mentalist and at that level everyone has all the spell lists so where is the sense of excitement?

Toss in something new and all of a sudden the players do not know how to handle it. So my challenge to myself is to create some adventures around completely new monsters. I have one really cool idea already that is now on my to do list.

So who here has actually made their own monsters?

Favourite Monsters

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Every GM must have a favourite monster. I have played under GMs that loved Orcs and another that loved dragons. In the later’s case in any ‘benefit of the doubt’ call chances are the GM would side with the dragon. With dragons I think that is fine, they are meant to be the top of every food chain and you should take fighting one very seriously and relying on Luck is not a good plan.

A Kool Kobold

One of my favourites is the humble Kobold. I kind of like the concept of ‘monster’ and underdog both concepts are definitely present with these little chaps. Life is cheap when your No. Appearing is 3-300. (Actually it is 5-20, 3-300 is for their slightly tough Urd cousins who have 2-5 hitpoints.)

At the other end of the scale I quite like Pit Fiends. they add a certain je ne c’est quoi to a battle field as only a Lawful Evil Genius can. With one of those at the back it gives otherwise easy cannonfodder a bit of backbone and an excuse to out smart the players, they are geniuses afterall.

I don’t think I show bias towards my personal favourites afterall is it not as if you need to keep them in tip top shiney condition as I have as many of them as I want, as often as I want. It is not the same as having a favourite PC in which case every one is an endangered species and the last of its kind. If a horde of kobolds kill the party it does not enhance the game or add to the fun. Having an uber tough fighter crying for help and parrying for his life and then being rescued by the party healer; now that is fun and everyone lives to tell the tale and fight another day. If the fighter is less arogant and the healer feels a bit more involved in the game then that is cool i my opinion.

But what about you? Do you have favourite monsters? If so why?

Quaggoths and Boogin

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These are the two races/creatures I discussed last week as being both tied deeply into Drow culture. These two are in my opinion near perfect low level monsters to throw at beginer parties.

Why? Well if you look at their stats below they have a low OB, low-ish DB and not many hits. So they should in theory be easy to kill. When you are very low level with a poor OB yourself it is in many ways easier to kill a large creature than it is a man-sized one. If you are only doing A & B criticals then the chance of getting a killing blow is probably just 1% but Large criticals are open ended so you have a 5% chance of getting a takedown as any open-ended critical is enough to take out one of these guys.

It is not just that they are easy to kill that makes these two interesting though. They both have the tendency to go into a Frenzy. this gives them effectively more hits and a higher OB (+30). So if the characters are doing well then they can go into a Frenzy and get tougher if they party are doing badly then they are unlikely to go into a rage and they stay relatively weak. If they do go berserk then the tactical advantage goes to the characters and there is a likelihood that a Quaggoth may accidentally take out one of its allies.

When the party meet the Quaggoth they could be just in a small partol of just two or a small tribe of over 20. They may be lead by Boogin, their more inteligent half breed cousins or even orcs. Finally where you find Quaggoths and Boogins you find Huge and Giant spiders.

All in all you get a creature that is both weak and defeatable but also challenging and dangerous, you can use them in small encounters on their own or in mixed groups of varied races and species. Finally they are so closely linked to the Drow that I would suggest that a character with Faerie Lore (a fairly common skill) would recognise them as a race often enthralled by the Drow. Thus a single Quaggoth could be a plot hook into a bigger adventure.

So down to stats…

I have used the standard rules from Creatures and Treasures I to do the conversion to RM2/RMC

Quaggoths

Quaggoths are sometimes enslaved by other races, notably drow. Quaggoths usually live in underground lairs. They are about seven feet tall and covered in shaggy white hair, though brown-haired quaggoths are sometimes seen. When quaggoths live above ground they are savage, bestial hunters who live in nomadic tribes.

AT3(30), MV 150MS/AQ VF, Level 2, #Hits 20, Number encountered 2-20. Attacks Lge Claw (30OB) or Greatsword (20OB). All Quaggoth are immune to poison. They are 11′ tall and take Large criticals.

70% of Quaggoths groups are unarmed and will fight with their claws but 30% of groups will be armed with greatswords. For every 12 Quaggoths encountered there will be a leader wielding a battleaxe.

Quaggoths can speak haltingly and have a vary limited vocabulary.

They hate all surface dwelling elves.

Boogin

Boogins are brutish, hairy orc-quaggoth crossbreeds sometimes known as “spider killers,” a nod to the constant pressure from drow slavers. These half-breeds are more like quaggoths than orcs, though slightly weaker and more in control of their rages than their beast side.

AT3(30), MV 120MS/AQ F, Level 3, #Hits 55, Number encountered 1-10. Attacks Greatsword (35OB) or Spiked Club (20OB). All Boogin get +100RR vs poison. They will go into a Frenzy when attacked to get +30 OB and x2 concussion damage.

Boogin are the slightly more inteligent half orc/half quaggoth cousins of the pure quaggoth. They are often employed by drow as overseers of quaggoth patrols and are better able to follow orders.

 

Race Ag Co Em In Me Pr Qu Re SD St Chn Ess Men Poison Disease Size Fat Hits Rec Life DP
 Quaggoth -2 +1 -2 +1 -2 -2 -1 +2 immune L 25 x1 100 11
 Boogin -1 +1 -2 +1 -2 -1 -1 +2 immune L 25 x1 100 8

 Traits and Flaws

Quaggoth
Immunity to poison (costed the same as immunity to disease), Giantism I (11′ tall), Natural Armour AT 3, Natural Attack (Claw), Animal Empathy (Spiders), Frenzy.

Boogin
Immunity to poison (costed the same as immunity to disease), Giantism I (11′ tall), Animal Empathy (Spiders), Frenzy.

I have not created these races as player character races. I am just aware that there are a lack of creatures for the RMU playtest and with these, the drow I published this week and the orcs goblins and trolls from Character Law and the few creatures from the sample Creature Law (add in the special mushrooms and fungi from the herbs and poisons tables for good measure) that is almost enough to run an adventure into the Underdark.