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Monday, January 14, 2013

How Would You "Twist" OSR Monsters to Make Them "Unique"?

I've been going through a daily exercise of creating and posting monsters for Tunnels & Trolls and giving them a unique ability or perk, to keep them from just being sacks of damage taken and damage given. I've enjoyed it so far, because even though monsters in T&T can be played very simply, the extra tweak makes them more exciting to me. I look forward to using them as a GM in a T&T game session.

I'm pondering if the same could work with OSR / D&D Heritage monsters.

Something along the lines of:

"If the Orc's hit scores maximum damage, he pulls his target in for a bite on the face. If the target is not wearing a helm, roll against unarmored AC, inflicting 1d3 damage on a successful hit."

"If the Troll hit's with both claws, the Troll's bite automatically hits for maximum damage".

"If the Goblin hit with a natural 20, in addition to normal damage he wraps himself around the PC's leg. PC must save vs Paralyzation or trip and fall prone. If save is successful, next attack against the goblin holding on to the leg in question is at + 2, as he is fairly immobile."

Maybe I'm over thinking this stuff. It certainly wouldn't have to be done for every creature in the books, or even apply to every creature of the type it is written for.

In any case, if you were inclined to add a "twist" to your PCs run of the mill adversaries, what kinds of twists would you use


  1. This is exactly what I want from D&D monsters. I feel like it's the best application of fluff when it directly translates into a neat special effect for the players--and factoring that into its combat behavior is exactly what i aim to do.

    13th Age does something very similar with various monster attacks, if you're looking for inspiration--a lot of "if Goblin X rolls under 5, it was a warning shot; the next Goblin to attack gets +2 to his roll" or "If Dragon scores a successful bite, he may trigger his breath weapon as his next action."

    Let's see if I can whip a few up on the fly:

    If a Manticore scores maximum damage with his tail swipe, the PC becomes caught in his spikes and must make an appropriate save to resist an additional 1d8 damage, as he is slammed into the ground repeatedly.

    Kobolds are swarm attackers--for every one that misses against a single target in a given round, the next Kobold receives a cumulative +1 bonus to attack and damage.

    One more...

    When maximum damage is dealt to a Flumph in a single attack, it is knocked onto its back. The PC who dealt the damage must save vs. Wands or take 1d6 acid damage, as a sudden spray of ink catches them in the face. The next successful attack against the Flumph sets it right side up again.

  2. Is this something which actually need to be added to the monster description? Or is it something you can just add on the fly? Frex, I'm not above having an opponent bit an ear off during a grapple, but I don't ever bother writing it up as such.

  3. I wrote up a table to spice up encounters with humanoids on the fly. Most results are just extra flavour or an extra couple hp. Table can be found here: http://therustydagger.blogspot.ca/2012/10/humanoid-enemy-quirks.html

  4. I would use this method only for the more dangerous abilities used by cetain monsters, e.g. a purple worm swallowing PCs whole or a grizzly bear's hug. If 1 in 6 attacks by an orc ends in a bite to the face, the players' next trip to the orc caves is going to get pretty silly and repetitive.
    For run-of-the-mill monsters I just think up different attacks on the fly - as a rule of thumb, the monster gives up a damage roll for a tactical advantage. I also try to riff off the environment if possible, since it helps make different combats more unique, and can justify bigger advantages or effects.

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  6. I've an idea for slimes and jellies. Whenever you hit them with normal weapons , they split into two slimes or jellies of one less HD than the original creature. This continues until they are reduced to 1 HD, when they can be destroyed. For example, hitting a 6 HD ochre jelly with a normal weapon will create two 5 HD jellies, while hitting one of those will create two 4 HD jellies, and so on. Using fire or a weapon the creature has a weakness to simply reduces its HP. This is a sinister change, as PCs may be overwhelmed by multiple attacks from smaller divided jellies.

  7. For what it's worth, D&D5 did something similar in an earlier playtest version. Kobolds, for example, got better at fighting if they outnumbered the players. It's a neat and simple approach that gives a basic monster a bit more flavour in combat, without having a long list of special abilities that never get used.

  8. I've seen a similar thing used in miniature wargames. Each combatant is given a "Critical Effect" for when the attack rolls well (ie rolls a 20). I would be easy to assign one such effect for monsters, even giving monsters of the same type different ones. For example, some goblins will grab their opponents while others will stab and then crawl under the PC to attack him from behind. Doing it on a common roll means that it won't take up game time and will be easy to remember .. Roll a 20, check the monster's effect.

    Don't forget allowing giants to do a grab and throw!