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Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy games’

Making Monsters: Cinco de Mayo Edition

May 5, 2020 2 comments

I’m still pushing ahead with my monster-related #secretproject, despite several delays. In honor of the day, here’s a creature from Aztec folklore.

For first-time readers, this post is part of a series in which I am trying to develop a system-agnostic format for describing monsters, relying on your suggestions and feedback to get it just right before I launch this particular #secretproject formally. The Comments section is at the bottom of the page, so let me know what you think.

 

 

The Ahuizotl

 

The Ahuizotl is a medium-sized predator, about the size of a dog and combining the physical appearance of a dog and a monkey. It has black fur and four limbs ending in dextrous hands and a long, flexible tail ending in a fifth hand.

It lives in rivers and watery caves, hiding beneath the water and using its prehensile tail to grab victims and drag them to their deaths. Sometimes it will mimic the crying of a lost child to lure victims close enough to be grappled.

It eats the corpses of its victims, especially relishing the digits, the teeth, and the eyes. If prey is plentiful it will leave the rest of its victims uneaten. An Ahuiztol lair is usually an underwater cave, strewn with bones and uneaten corpses.

The name ahuizotl translates from the Aztec Nahuatl language as “spiny aquatic thing.” Although reports of the creature do not normally mention spines, optional rules for spines have been added under “Special Abilities” below.

 

 

RANGE

ArtStation - Ahuizotl, Jean Vervelle

Image by Jean Vervelle, borrowed from his ArtStation page (https://www.artstation.com/doctorchevlong).

Real World: Mexico

Fantasy World: Tropical rivers. Lone or pack (2d4).

 

TYPE: Animal

 

SIZE: Medium (4ft/1.25m long)

 

MOVEMENT

Run: 50 feet (15m) per round

Swim: 30 feet (10m) per round

 

ATTRIBUTES

Strength: Animal, medium (e.g. wolf)

Dexterity/Agility: Animal, medium, dextrous (e.g. monkey)

Constitution: Animal, medium (e.g. wolf)

Intelligence: Animal, intelligent (e.g. wolf)

Willpower: Animal, intelligent (e.g. wolf)

Hit Points/Health: Animal, medium (e.g. wolf)

Armor/Defense: Fur + Agility (e.g. wolf)

 

ATTACKS

Bite: Animal, small to medium (e.g. medium dog, wolf)

Grapple: High skill (65%)

Stealth: Moderate skill (35%), underwater only

 

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Aquatic: The Ahuizotl is fully aquatic and capable of breathing underwater.

Spines (Optional): Sharp spines, up to 1 foot/30 cm long, erupt from the creature’s vertebrae. They confer a slight armor advantage against attacks from that direction. Any character trying to grapple the creature must make an appropriate skill or attribute test (wrestling, dexterity/agility, or similar) each round: failure means the character suffers damage as from a successful dagger or short sword attack.

 


 

Links
If you would like to know more, here are a few links. Any search engine will find many more.

A 5th edition SRD version

Wikipedia

YouTube

 


 

More Like This

Chupacabra

Water Leaper

The Jersey Devil

 

 

 

 

A Load of the Blings

April 23, 2020 5 comments

This time, there’s no theme – it’s just a few bits and pieces that have caught my eye.

This delicate memento mori ring would look good on the hand of a gothic lady, or even a female necromancer. In the latter case, it might be enchanted – giving a bonus to dice rolls when casting necromantic spells, perhaps, or protecting the wearer from necromancy or the undead.

This ring and bracelet combination is a lot less subtle, and could have some serious necromantic properties. It might give the wearer’s touch the same effects as a touch-range necromantic spell, for example. Or the wearer might gain the touch ability of some undead monster, like the Chill Grasp of a WFRP4 Cairn Wraith or the paralysis of a D&D ghoul.

Not magical, but still quite useful, is this ring with a concealed pin. No well-dressed assassin should be without one: just a dab of blade venom, and you’re good to go. A targeted strike to the bare neck of an unsuspecting mark might even merit a small bonus to hit if your GM is in a good mood. Damage will be poison only.

This one made me think of Ranald, the god of thieves and gamblers in the Warhammer Old World setting. Appropriately, its effects depend on the dice that are handily built in: a 12 might win you a full-blown miracle, while a 2. . . well, it was nice knowing you.

Clocks are large, cumbersome devices in most medieval fantasy settings, but a sundial like this one tells the time more or less accurately – provided you understand the seasonal shifts in the sun’s path.

Here’s one that every Dwarf engineer will want. The telescope function is useful by itself, of course, but add a compass and you’ve got a primitive theodolite for making maps.

That’s all for this time. Stay in, stay well, and stay safe!

It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Bling

If you like this kind of post, you’ll also want to see these:

Armillary Rings: Handy for astronomers, astrologers, and navigators.

Compartment Rings: Hide your true allegiance, or carry a secret message.

Poison Rings: An old classic.

Gun Rings: Add more punch to your punch.

Eye Rings: Protection, divination, gaze weapons, and more.

Let us Bling: A Ring for Clerics that unfolds into a portable shrine.

Bling V: I’ve Got My Eye On You

April 16, 2020 7 comments

The eye has been a symbol of protection since ancient Egyptian times, and quite possibly longer. To this day, fishermen in many parts of the Mediterranean paint eyes on the bows of their boats, and all over the world, stylized eyes made of glass are worn as pendants or hung from rear-view mirrors.

Trad

A few antique and traditional designs.

And then, of course, there’s the Eye of Sauron. The Egyptian goddess Sekhmet was called the Eye of Ra when she nearly destroyed the world at his behest. And when you think about it, doesn’t the Death Star look a lot like an eye, shooting a deadly glance at the unfortunate planet Alderaan like an angry god?

Evil

You’ve heard the expression “looking daggers”? That’s nothing.

In the course of looking at other interesting bits of bling, I came across a lot of rings set with eyes. The eye is a potent motif with a number of possible interpretations and functions, and I started thinking about what such these rings might do, if they were found by characters in a fantasy roleplaying campaign. Feel free to take, use, and adapt any ideas that appeal to you – and if you have any ideas of your own, please share them in the comments section.

Protection

Most game rules include rings or amulets of protection, and some of them might incorporate an eye motif.

Vision

The wearer gains some form of enhanced vision. This might be night vision or dark vision, or immunity to visual illusions, or a bonus to spotting secret doors, traps, and other hidden things, or a bonus to general perception skills, or even an all-of-the-above option like D&D’s true seeing. 

Alternatively, the ring might simply function as a third eye, allowing the wearer to peek around a corner or over a wall without risking their whole head.

Gaze Weapon

From the petrifying gaze of Medusa and the basilisk to the death glance of the catoblepas to the D&D beholder’s terrifying array of attacks, gaze weapons are well known in fantasy games, and a ring with an eye might be capable of using one of them – especially if the eye is from the creature in question, and not simply made of glass.

Beast

If those were real monster eyes, what might they do?

Divination

The eye might be capable of seeing through time, showing the scene as it was in the past – or possibly the future. The wearer would be well advised to close their own eyes while using this ability: otherwise they may see past and present overlaid upon one another in a very disorienting way.

Alternatively, the ring might see through space rather than time, allowing the wearer to see a distant place to which the ring is bonded. This might be a specific place, or it might be the location of another ring with which this one is paired. Or the ring might function like a crystal ball, showing visions in the wearer’s mind rather than in its own depths.

Detection

The eye sees into hearts and souls, showing it wearer the subject’s alignment or intentions in the form of a colored aura. Most fantasy games include spells and items that detect good and evil, and any necessary rules can be adapted from them.

Or perhaps the eye sees magical auras, allowing the wearer to detect magical items and residues of magical energy. Magical energies of different types might show up as different colored auras.

Unspeakable Evil

Instead of helping its wearer, the ring might be working for a distant evil, like an evil deity or a demon prince. This being might give rings to cult leaders and other favored servants, watching over them through the magical eye. If things look particularly grim for the cultists, and their role in the Big Evil Plan is critical, perhaps the deity or demon can possess the ring’s wearer – or manifest through their body in a suitably spectacular and disturbing way – and join the fight in person.

Eyelid

With some powers, it’s good to be able to shut them off.

Pictures borrowed from around the Internet. All images copyright their original owners.

It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Bling

If you like this kind of post, you’ll also want to see these:

Armillary Rings: Handy for astronomers, astrologers, and navigators.

Compartment Rings: Hide your true allegiance, or carry a secret message.

Poison Rings: An old classic.

Gun Rings: Add more punch to your punch.

Miscellany: No theme, but lots of possibilities.

Let us Bling: A Ring for Clerics that unfolds into a portable shrine.

Bling IV: This Time It’s War

April 2, 2020 1 comment

It’s a funny thing about Pinterest – well, it’s probably a carefully planned, algorithm-driven, site stickiness enhancing sort of thing – but once I started looking at trick rings and other jewelry there, my feed filled up with more and more of the same. So here’s another type of cunning ring. I can see them appealing to Dwarves in particular.

Rings inspired by the American Civil War, by Patrick C. Walter. Sadly his website has gone offline. Image borrowed from The Carrotbox jewelry blog.

Gun Rings

Images from around the Internet. Copyright original owners.

Cased French pinfire pistol ring, 19th century. From imgur. Click image for link.

In a blackpowder fantasy setting like Warhammer, rings like these could be practical weapons. They can give an enemy a nasty surprise, though between their tiny caliber and short barrel length it’s not certain that they could do very much damage. Still, they are exactly the sort of unusual item that a group of PCs might find a Dwarf gunsmith tinkering with, and if you like a James Bond pastiche they might be issued to Imperial secret agents by their equivalent of Q Branch.

Just for fun, here is a quick set of weapon stats for WFRP4. Feel free to add a comment with any feedback, suggestions, or playtest experiences.

Gun Ring Stats

It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Bling

If you like this kind of post, you’ll also want to see these:

Armillary Rings: Handy for astronomers, astrologers, and navigators.

Compartment Rings: Hide your true allegiance, or carry a secret message.

Poison Rings: An old classic.

Eye Rings: Protection, divination, gaze weapons, and more.

Miscellany: No theme, but lots of possibilities.

Let us Bling: A Ring for Clerics that unfolds into a portable shrine.

Bling the Third: Poison Rings

March 12, 2020 6 comments

The poison ring. It’s one of the oldest trick rings in fiction, but who knew there were so many different designs?

Poison rings

Poison rings from various online sources. All images copyright of their respective owners.

And of course, you can put other things than poison in the secret compartment. Healing balm, perhaps (though it had better be magical for such a small amount to be effective), or even a secret message, in very fine writing on very thin paper: no bigger than the slip of paper that might be tied to the leg of a carrier pigeon. Larger cargo might be carried if it is magically shrunk down – though things could get interesting if the spell is dispelled or wears off to early!

No doubt ingenious players will be able to think of many other uses for such a tiny hidden space. Meanwhile, here are a few pictures for inspiration, and search terms like “poison ring” and “secret compartment ring” will find many more images, and quite a few vendors.

So the next time you are at a gathering, keep an eye on your drink and watch the hands of your fellow guests!

Poison rings 2

Poison rings from various online sources. All images copyright of their respective owners.

A More Serious Point

Sad to say, that last advice is as necessary in real life as it is in a roleplaying game. While you’re Googling poison rings, search for “date rape awareness,” too: I’ve added a few links below.

Date Rape Drugs: The Office on Women’s Health (U.S.)

RAINN: The largest U.S. organization campaigning against sexual violence

Sexual Assault hotlines in the U.S.

Rape Crisis England and Wales (UK)

Look after yourselves and each other, and let’s work to create a time when warnings like this – and organizations like these – will no longer be needed.

It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Bling

If you like this kind of post, you’ll also want to see these:

Armillary Rings: Handy for astronomers, astrologers, and navigators.

Compartment Rings: Hide your true allegiance, or carry a secret message.

Gun Rings: Add more punch to your punch.

Eye Rings: Protection, divination, gaze weapons, and more.

Miscellany: No theme, but lots of possibilities.

Let us Bling: A Ring for Clerics that unfolds into a portable shrine.

Making Monsters: Chupacabra

March 7, 2020 2 comments

Thanks to everyone for your responses to my earlier posts on the Jersey Devil and the Water Leaper. I’m continually developing my system-agnostic monster description format, and I’m grateful to everyone who has helped so far. Soon I hope to make the official #secretprojects announcement and you’ll see what my plans are, and how you can help further. Meanwhile, as always, I would love to know how you think the format could be improved. Let me know in the comments section.

The chupacabra (Spanish: “goat sucker”) is a creature with a fairly short history. According to Wikipedia, it was first reported in Puerto Rico in 1995. Since then, sightings and attacks on livestock have been reported from Maine to Chile and as far afield as Russia and India.

In the real world, the mystery has been solved. The sightings were of coyotes or dogs suffering from severe mange, which altered their normal appearance. I blogged about that some time ago: here’s a link.

In a fantasy or horror setting, though the Chupacabra could be a completely new kind of creature, just as the various reports suggest. Or one could take a middle-road approach. A Chupacabra was once a dog, a coyote, or some other kind of canid, but it was changed by exposure to toxic waste, or a virus (perhaps the dreaded zombie virus), or through exposure to particular magical energies, or some other force. The possibilities are endless, but I have tried to cover a broad range in this description.

 

The Chupacabra

 

Sometimes called goat-suckers, these predators are as big as a medium-sized dog. Their skin is grayish and slightly loose. Their backs are sharply ridged and some have spines erupting from their vertebrae.

They stalk the night, attacking livestock under cover of darkness. They retreat from bright light, and will not normally attack humans unless cornered. However, it has been known for a pack of the creatures to attack a lone child or a sick or wounded traveler.

The bite of a Chupacabra will infect any canid with a virus. Transformation will begin in 24-48 hours and last for 2-3 days. First, the unfortunate victim becomes savage and unpredictable, losing the ability to recognize its former friends and owners. Then it loses its fur and the skin of its face draws back, leaving it with a permanent snarl. Unless shut in somewhere, the new Chupacabra will abandon its former life to join its maker – or to live out the rest of its existence alone.

 

 


 

 

RANGE

chupacabra_padayachee

Image by Alvin Padayachee. Wikimedia Commons

Real World: Puerto Rico, North and South America. Normally alone.

Fantasy World: Warm temperate and high desert. Lone or pack (2d6).

 

TYPE: Animal

 

SIZE: Small (3ft/1m long)

 

MOVEMENT

Run: 50 feet (15m) per round

 

ATTRIBUTES

Strength: Animal, small (e.g. medium dog, coyote, wolf)

Dexterity/Agility: Animal, small (e.g. medium dog, coyote, wolf)

Constitution: Animal, small (e.g. medium dog, coyote, wolf)

Intelligence: Animal, small (e.g. medium dog, coyote, wolf)

Willpower: Animal, small (e.g. medium dog, coyote, wolf)

Hit Points/Health: Animal, small (e.g. medium dog, coyote, wolf)

 

ATTACKS

Bite: Animal, small to medium (e.g. medium dog, wolf)

 

WEAKNESSES

Light Sensitivity (Optional): Repelled by daylight and strong light sources.

 

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Spines (Optional): Sharp spines, up to 1 foot/30 cm long, erupt from the creature’s vertebrae. They confer a slight armor advantage against attacks from that direction. Any character trying to grapple the creature must make an appropriate skill or attribute test (wrestling, dexterity/agility, or similar) each round: failure means the character suffers damage as from a successful dagger or short sword attack.

Virus (Optional): Bite carries a virus, requiring the victim to make a constitution save or similar roll or suffer effects according to their species. Canids begin to transform into Chupacabras. Humans may transform into the humanoid form of the creature (see below). Other species suffer wound infection, fever, and/or other symptoms according to what the chosen game’s rules support.

Undead (Optional): The Chupacabra has all the normal traits and weaknesses associated with corporeal undead in the chosen rule system. If in doubt, use zombies as a model. Its bite carries a form of the zombie virus. If a saving throw vs. disease or other suitable test is failed, a canid will become a Chupacabra and a human or humanoid will become a zombie.

 

Humanoid Chupacabras

 

Chupacabras

Image by user LeCire. Wikimedia Commons.

A human (or humanoid) bitten by a Chupacabra may be transformed by the virus that the creature carries. All hair falls out, and the skin becomes warty, dry, and scaly – not reptilian as in some artists’ impressions, although it may appear reptilian at a distance in bad light. Eyes become deeply sunk in the sockets, giving an appearance of large, black eyes in poor light. Spines may erupt from the back.

The character’s mental attribute scores drop to the same level as those of a canid Chupacabra, and most mental skills are lost. He or she loses all memories and ceases to recognize friends or family. Fear and hunger are the only drives. All saves against fear suffer a severe penalty (-30 in a percentile system). The victim gains night vision at the same level as a dog or cat, but daylight or equivalent illumination causes severe discomfort and fear.

The unfortunate victim keeps to the shadows, avoiding all kinds of threats and surviving by scavenging and killing small livestock such as chickens, sheep, and goats.

There is no known cure for the condition, either in humans or in animals. Researching the condition and developing a cure will be a very difficult task, requiring a high level of medical and/or traditional healing skills. At the GM’s option, powerful healing or curse-removing magic may be effective.

 

 

 


 

Links

Wikipedia

Cryptid Wiki

Humanoid Chupacabra: a d20 System adaptation

A 5e adaptation

NPR discussion of the real-world answer to the mystery

 

Making Monsters: Leap Day Edition

February 29, 2020 3 comments

Thanks to everyone for your response to my earlier post on the Jersey Devil. Before too long, it will be getting and update and expansion as I work toward the ideal format for a system-agnostic monster description. Soon I hope to make the official #secretprojects announcement and you’ll see what my plans are, and how you can help.

Here’s another monster – and today being Leap Day, I’ve gone for the Water Leaper from Welsh folklore. I’ve changed the format a little, and as always I would love to know how it could be improved. Let me know in the comments section.

 

The Water Leaper

 

Water leapers, known as llamhigyn y dwr (pronounced roughly “thlamheegin uh duwr”) in their native Wales, look something like large toads with wings (sometimes bat-like, and sometimes like those of a flying fish) instead of front legs and a long, sinuous tail instead of back legs. Their broad mouths are full of very sharp teeth. Their bodies are 2-3 feet long, with tails twice as long again.

They will attack almost anything, and regularly destroy the nets and lines of local fishermen. They also attack swimmers and livestock drinking at the water’s edge.

Water leapers have been known to try to knock fishermen out of their boats by deliberately leaping at them. They can emit a piercing shriek which can startle an unwary fisherman or animal, making their attack easier. In the water, up to 12 of the creatures can attack a human-sized victim at the same time.

Their pack attacks show a rudimentary organization. For instance, they may spread out and attack a target from all sides at once. One creature may stand a little way off and shriek just as the others are swimming or leaping to the attack.

Water leapers can live on lake fish, but their appetites are so voracious that they quickly deplete the fish stocks in any lake they inhabit. They seem to prefer the meat of sheep, cattle, and humans. They have no natural enemies apart from enraged fishermen and deadlier water monsters such as lake worms and water horses.

 


 

Water_leaper

Painting by Brian Froud. Used without permission: no challenge to copyright intended.

 

RANGE

Real World: Wales: swamps and ponds. Lone or pack (3d4).

Fantasy World: Temperate marshes and ponds. Lone or pack (3d4).

 

TYPE: Animal

 

SIZE: Small (3ft/1m long)

 

MOVEMENT

Swim: 25 feet (7.5m) per round

Glide: 30 feet (9m) per round. Must spend at least 2 consecutive rounds swimming before being able to fly.

Crawl: 5 feet (1.5m) per round.

 

ATTRIBUTES

Strength: Animal, small (e.g. cat, fox, or small to medium dog)

Dexterity/Agility: Animal, small (e.g. cat, fox, or small to medium dog)

Constitution: Animal, small (e.g. cat, fox, or small to medium dog)

Intelligence: Animal, small (e.g. cat, fox, or small to medium dog)

Willpower: Animal, small (e.g. cat, fox, or small to medium dog)

Hit Points/Health: Animal, small (e.g. cat, fox, or small to medium dog)

 

ATACKS

Bite: Animal, small (e.g. cat, fox, or small to medium dog)

Buffet: Only usable when gliding. Ignores armour. Knockdown, based on creature’s Strength, resisted by victim’s Dexterity/Agility. No damage, but the second and subsequent hits in a round cause a cumulative penalty to the victim’s Dexterity/Agility as the victim fights to keep their balance. Used to knock victims out of boats and into the water.

Shriek: Startle, based on creature’s Willpower, resisted by victim’s Willpower. Range/Area of Effect 30 yard/meter radius centered on creature’s position. Startled characters act last in the next turn and suffer a mild (e.g. 10%) penalty to all actions. Critical success on the creature’s part, or critical failure on the victim’s part, causes a Fear result in addition.

 

WEAKNESSES

No special weaknesses.

 

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Stinger (Optional): Some reports of water leapers give them a barb or stinger at the end of their tail. This gives the water leaper one additional attack per round, causing damage as a dagger. In the case of a stinger, the attack also causes mild poison damage, like the venom of a small, mildly venomous snake.

 


 

Links

Cryptid Wiki

A d20 System adaptation

A 5e adaptation

 

Another Bit of Bling

February 26, 2020 7 comments

While I was looking at images for my previous post on armillary rings, I came across this image. The ring has four secret doors covering a design inside – something like an advent calendar.

Compartment Ring

Here is a link to an article on compartment rings, as they are called. It seems they were quite fashionable at one time.

There are many uses for this type of ring in a fantasy roleplaying game. As well as covering the name of a lover (a secret lover, perhaps, constituting proof of an illicit affair that could get the wearer beaten, locked up, or even killed), a compartment ring might hide the insignia of a secret organization, and act as proof of membership. This organization might be a spy ring (spy ring! … oh, please yourselves), an elite secret agency serving a monarch or powerful noble, a society of forward-thinking academics whose ideas might get them into trouble – or, of course, an evil cult or a revolutionary movement.

Single message

A player character might be given an identifying ring like this by a patron, or – arguably more fun – they might loot it from a fallen foe (like Kastor Lieberung in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay adventure Enemy in Shadowsfor instance) and find themselves plunged into a world of intrigue and deception. In the right circumstances, showing the ring’s secret may save the party’s lives; in the wrong circumstances, it might condemn them to arrest, torture, and execution.

It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Bling

If you like this kind of post, you’ll also want to see these:

Armillary Rings: Handy for astronomers, astrologers, and navigators.

Poison Rings: An old classic.

Gun Rings: Add more punch to your punch.

Eye Rings: Protection, divination, gaze weapons, and more.

Miscellany: No theme, but lots of possibilities.

Let us Bling: A Ring for Clerics that unfolds into a portable shrine.

A Bit of Bling

February 19, 2020 6 comments

Astronomical Ring

Here’s an interesting little trinket for a scholarly character: a ring that opens up into an armillary sphere. In a game I was running, a piece like this would allow a character a small bonus to skill rolls in astronomy and astrology, and perhaps a time bonus as well, since it would help the character make the necessary calculations more quickly. If the ring were magic, the bonuses might be even higher, all the way up to instant, error-free success every time.

I found this image on Pinterest, and it turns out that rings like this are available from a number of retailers at quite reasonable prices. If you like the idea of owning one, for cosplay or LARPing or just for fun, a search for “armillary sphere ring” or “astronomical ring” should find you plenty of options.

The My Modern Met web site has short article on armillary rings, which includes photos of some items from the British Museum’s collection. Here is a link.

In the Old World of WFRP, rings like this might have variants that chart the movement of the Chaos moon Morrslieb, and allow cult magi to make the sort of calculations that could get a person burned. The Enemy in Shadows Companion, now available as a PDF and coming soon in dead-tree format, includes a chapter on the dreaded Purple Hand cult which includes a new Cult Magus career.

It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Bling

If you like this kind of post, you’ll also want to see these:

Compartment Rings: Hide your true allegiance, or carry a secret message.

Poison Rings: An old classic.

Gun Rings: Add more punch to your punch.

Eye Rings: Protection, divination, gaze weapons, and more.

Miscellany: No theme, but lots of possibilities.

Let us Bling: A Ring for Clerics that unfolds into a portable shrine.

Monster-Based Adventures

February 15, 2020 2 comments

There is a whole class of adventure that revolves around a single monster. This type of adventure first came to prominence in the early 1980s with the publication of Call of Cthulhu: its investigative style mainly involved trying to find out which creature from the Mythos was responsible for a situation, learning how to deal with it, and managing the final conflict so that it was defeated or banished – and hopefully not too many investigators went too mad in the process.

With the current resurgence of interest in folk horror roleplaying games, this seems like a good time to take a look at the design and plotting of monster-centric adventures. I have been a fan of folklore and folk horror for decades, and I expect these games will provide players with a wide range of interesting and challenging creatures, not all of which will succumb to a simple shotgun blast.

 

Monster-Based Adventures vs. Monster Encounters

 

Monster-based adventures are different from monster encounters – even boss-monster encounters – in several important ways.

The first is that a monster encounter is not complete in itself, but invariably forms a part of a larger adventure. Even if it is a one-shot encounter designed to be dropped into an existing campaign or adventure, it is not an adventure in its own right.

A monster encounter normally begins with the party meeting the monster, whereas that is the third act in a monster-based adventure. Both showcase the monster’s nature and abilities, but a monster-based adventure includes a research and investigation phase, and players usually come out of the adventure having learned more about the creature and the setting that a simple encounter has to offer.

Here are my thoughts on this kind of adventure. I’m sure you have ideas of your own, and your own favorite monster-based adventures. Let me know about them in the comments section.

A monster-based adventure consists of three distinct phases, each with its own particular design considerations:

 

Phase 1: Effects

The adventure starts with a report reaching the player characters that something unusual is happening somewhere. Their informant may be a friend or acquaintance of one of the characters, or a stranger who has heard of their reputation for solving mysteries.

Reports are fragmentary and may be contradictory. The only thing that is clear is that something is wrong.

The PCs have an opportunity to do some library research on the reported incidents and the local area, and may be able to form some suspicions. Once they are as prepared as they can be, they set out for the site of the incidents to conduct the second phase of their investigation.

Design Tasks: Choose the monster. Chart its arrival in the area and its actions after arriving. Decide what evidence is left behind, and what witnesses and survivors might say. Think of several other causes that would leave similar traces, and create at least 2-3 red herrings. Pick an NPC who contacts the PCs, and create a player handout of the letter, email, text, or other communication that starts the adventure for them. List the research resources available to the PCs and the information they can recover. Make sure each piece of information has a named source and a relevant skill test to recover it.

 

Phase 2: Investigation

In this phase, the PCs examine the evidence on the ground and interview witnesses, starting with the person who first contacted them. They add to the information they gathered in Phase 1 and have the opportunity to refine their theories on the nature of the monster. They may find that the situation has grown worse since they received the first reports.

During this phase, the PCs must formulate their plan to deal with the monster. If they are too slow, the GM may decide to have the monster take the initiative, attacking before they are ready for it.

Design Tasks: Map the local area, including all relevant locations and sites of attacks. Create all necessary NPCs. Give each one a starting attitude toward the PCs and a list of information they can convey. Note that information need not be accurate, as long as it is believed by the NPC in question. If an NPC has a reason to lie to the PCs, make sure any false information fits the NPC’s character and motivation. Wherever physical evidence may be found, create a way for the PCs to find the spot (a local guide, for example, or a chance of stumbling on the spot by themselves), a list of evidence (e.g. tracks, bloodstains, etc.), and the skill checks required to spot each piece of evidence. Do the same for documentary evidence from local libraries, church records, etc. Create a backup source or informant to get the PCs on the right track if they fail to piece the clues together properly.

 

Phase 3: Confrontation

The final phase is the encounter with the monster. If the PCs have researched and reconnoitered properly, they can give themselves a tactical advantage. If they have not, the monster may have the upper hand, at least initially. Intelligent monsters may fortify their lair and/or keep watch for attackers. Aggressive monsters may take the fight to the PCs at the first opportunity. Some monsters, especially those from folklore, can only be defeated by certain means, such as silver bullets or blessed weapons. Some intelligent monsters might be open to persuasion or a bargain, which is far less risky than combat. The adventure is over when the monster is killed, driven away, or defeated by some other means.

Design Tasks: Re-read the monster description and design the time and place of the climactic encounter. Also draw up contingency plans in case the players encounter the monster under different circumstances. Sketch out the aftermath of the monster’s defeat: whether it is permanently destroyed, whether it may return, and what precautions may be taken for the future. Reckon experience points and other rewards (increased knowledge, NPC contacts, etc.) for a successful conclusion.

 

Did You Say Folk Horror?

 

Yes, I did. Over the last few months I have become aware of at least two new and forthcoming folk horror RPGs, and they both look interesting. Here are links:

Solemn Vale

Set in the UK in the 1970s. The British film industry produced a lot of good horror at that time. https://dirtyvortex.net/solemn-vale/

Solemn Vale

Vaesen

Set in Sweden in the 19th century, and based on the art of award-winning illustrator Johan Egerkrans. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1192053011/vaesen-nordic-horror-roleplaying

Vaesen cover