2015-07-14 Monsters

Recently, somebody asked the following on G+: “If you use monster books, or even monsters from blog posts, what does your workflow look like?”

So here’s how I did it for The Crown of Neptune. Some doodling and brainstorming yields the following. I see a shark, a lamprey or moray man, and an aboleth. And I see a first table of random encounters on the right. Spider crabs, squids, sharks, mermaids, dinosaurs, wales. This dungeon is going to be about sharks and dinosaurs, and as you go deeper it will turn into underwater horror. Or so I think.


This is what I ended up with:


How do I arrive at the table in the middle of this sheet?

I start at the beginning and think about the environment. My adventures are almost always locations on a greater hex map. That already gives me some monsters from the surrounding area. In this case, that would be the plesiosaurus. Looking for dinosaur stats leads me to the Rules Cyclopedia and aquatic dinosaurs. The entry is disappointing.

The dungeon is underwater. So I’m thinking of monstrous animals. Sharks, obviously. Sharks have a nice stat block in the Labyrinth Lord book. I feel better already.

Not sure about wales. They seem pretty boring. Perhaps a creature to talk to, or to charm? The Labyrinth Lord book has stats for killer whales and they’re in the range I like right now: 6 HD.

And I want simple, humanoid, intelligent monsters that players can interact with. Some sort of nixie, or merfolk? Nixies and sirens can charm people and I’m thinking that this is a more brutal environment. Let’s pick merfolk instead. I remember something about tritons but they’re not in the Labyrinth Lord book. Merfolk will do.

OK, further down. Let’s start bringing that horror feeling. My campaign features neogi. Eel headed spider slavers. This reminds me of morays. Morayfolk! Or Lampreyfolk. Once they hit, they keep drawing blood without needing to attack. A classic special ability and easy to add. Think giant weasels or stirges. I’m not sure where I get that HD 2+1 from.

Spiders. Crabs. Spidercrabs. They look a lot like the giant crab monster from the Labyrinth Lord book. AC 3 instead of AC 2, 1d10 instead of 2d6. Trivial changes.

The kraken is a giant squid from the Labyrinth Lord book. My players know I love the kraken. In my mind, this kraken was huge. 50m long arms! It should have had a gazillion HD. But seven attacks is good enough, I though. Let the monster look tougher than it is. Labyrinth Lord, giant squid. Works for me! HD 6. Ideal.

Not sure where I got the giant clams from. Since they can’t move, that looks more like an obstacle to me.

And now for some unterwater undead. Kraken made me think of ink, and that made me think of dark clouds. Wraiths? And some more variations on the crab and on the lamprey themes. Simple variations in numbers. Things get tougher as you go down.

An astral spider is an intelligent planar spider from the Rules Cyclopedia, I guess. Or a variant on the aforementioned neogi and giant spiders. Giant jellyfish is a variant on the kraken theme but with paralysis instead of multiple attacks. I imagine them being soft targets which is why they don’t get eight attacks or more.

The giant anglerfish was supposed to be a building that can bite. I don’t know where I got the 36 HD from. It was basically a huge trap.

Further down! A gibbering mouther? An elf encased in an evil mech? I must have been thinking of the Goons in the Caverns of Slime:

3d6 Goons (HD 5; AC 3; Atk 1 slam +3 (1d6+3); MV 6; in combat the poor creature locked inside will be begging for forgiveness and cry for help even as it fights) are alerted to the party’s presence by imperceptible sensors embedded into the walls and ceilings of the building.

More kraken. And my version of an aboleth, since I couldn’t find one in the Labyrinth Lord book.

Basically the whole adventure is nothing but a map, random monsters, some of them with an obvious lair, and if a lair exists, then with treasure, and some traps or curious things to investigate – such as the dead diver I added because I had listened to the story of how David Shaw died.

Back to the initial question, though. How do I use monster books?

  1. leaf through the book, looking for inspiration – pictures help me describe monsters, a description of two or three sentences help me add variety to my monsters
  2. copy stats – and these stats help me add similar monsters
  3. roll for treasure – remember, I think they help me suspend disbelief
  4. suggest similar monsters nearby



I like your spider crab illustration :)

Now, was it modeled after real spider crabs, or in true D&D fashion, was it a spider/crab mash-up?

– Adrian 2015-07-16 16:52 UTC

As I’m still a biologist at heart, I was of course thinking of the Japanese spider crab, macrocheira kaempferi. Except, with D&D flavor sprinkled all over it. I barely avoided giving it psionic powers. :)

Looking at the illustration, it looks as if I started with a sahuagin head, added lamprey teeth, thought I needed more spiders, and now that I read the scribbles I see that it says “spider woman”. Well, it was enough to make me think of spider crabs when I was thinking of more monsters to add to the list.

– Alex Schroeder 2015-07-16 19:18 UTC

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