Monday, October 6, 2014

Do You Re-Skin Monsters in Your Campaigns?

You know the feeling. Orcs, goblins, ghouls and the rest of the Monster Manual - they are all known by the players the moment you start to describe them. Heck, you probably can't finish the ghoul description before the cleric in the party yells out "I turn them!"

In one of the episodes of The Brainstorm Podcast that we are recording tomorrow night, +Vincent Florio , +Glen Hallstrom and myself are going to be discussing "re-skinning" monsters in a campaign - methods to keep your players guessing. Sometimes it's as simple as making the ghouls cursed instead of undead - watch the surprise on your players' faces when the swarm of ghouls ignores that guaranteed "Turned" result ;)

Here's you chance to get your ideas mentioned on the podcast. Do you re-skin monsters in your campaigns and do you have any special methods or techniques for doing so?


  1. Theoretically, yes. In practice, not really. I generally just make up a new monster instead of re-skinning an old one.

    Now I don't always use the name to describe the exact same monster as in another game or campaign, but that's not the same thing as re-skinning.

  2. I never used to, until around 2003 when I had a player who would pull out the Monster Manual and start looking stuff up during every. single. combat. Then I started reskinning stuff, and found that the other players liked it too. Unknown monsters are way scarier than familiar ones.

    Mostly, I just change the description, rather than changing any stats. When I do change things, I try to substitute something that is almost the same - e.g. change a bite attack to a spiked tail, or fire breath to acid spit.

    An example: take the stats for a troll. Describe it as an ogre-like cyborg monster that self-repairs. Make its vulnerability to lightning/electricity instead of fire, and voila! You have a monster that will scare your players, and they will talk about it for weeks afterward.

  3. I never really thought about it too much when I did it, but yes, I would reskin on occasion. Too many of our players had a near encyclopedic memory for the stats of all but the most obscure critters. So I would change the vulnerabilities of certain monsters.
    But my favorite trick would be to alter the motivations, so that alignment detection would not work as expected... Nothing like seeing the look on the paladins face when the creature that detected as evil in a different campaign doesn't show up as such this time around... After all, a neutral Machavellian motivated leader can perform evil (to us) acts without presenting as such.

    1. I picked the trick up after reading the Dragon magazine article that attempted to explain how you can have paladins on both sides of a war. From each paladins perspective, they are behaving in a Lawful Good manner, but from from the perspective of the opposition, it is their methodology that is in question, not their motivation,

  4. Wow - was just going to suggest this as a topic - even though I was more interested to hear you guys discuss how often you created new monsters from scratch as opposed to simply re-skinning.

    I personally haven't done it recently since my players are relatively new to the game, but back in the good ol' days, I remember doing it occasionally - changing the color of something and an attack type or two (red slime, green pudding, etc.) - but more often would just scour Dragon magazine for fun new things.

  5. Hmm...my concept of re-skinning is different from yours. I consider "re-skinning" to mean keeping the same stat block/abilities (functionality), but changing the description to better fit with the context/campaign. This is something I do all the time. Examples include "amazon warriors" in place of hobgoblins, pulp "beast men" in place of orcs, and Norse-style "trolls" using bugbear stats.

    Changing a creature's abilities (like having ghouls inflict a ghoul-making disease instead of paralysis) is something I do, too...but I don't call that "re-skinning."

  6. Agreed, JB. Substantively changing things is going beyond 'reskinning'.

    The troll above that is a cyborg/robot-looking thing that self-repairs (regenerates) but that self-repair is prevented by lightning attacks is close to the edge of what I would consider reskinning.

  7. Yes, 60% reskin with 40% by the book. I think players need some by the book monsters to feel attuned to the world.

  8. I don't reskin common monsters. Orcs are orcs, ghouls are ghouls, dragons are dragons. I find it much more interesting to make an entirely new monster to fit the needs of my scenario. That way I can create a background for it, drop hints on its vulnerabilities, strengths, motivations, etc. that the players can piece out before or during the encounter. In my Atarins Delve adventure for example, I started with Dysons awesome map. I knew I wanted some kind of monster race to inhabit the caves. There was a whole water theme going on in the caves so I knew they would have some affinity to water. The back story and adventure sort of evolved from there, with the race of the cathla being having been reawakened and being able to teleport through water (loosely based on a race of creatures I had previously designed for my home game).

    I don't mind changes to normal monsters as long as there is some in game explanation and possibly some foreshadowing to indicate something is different. Otherwise, I feel like making vampires that are immune to sunlight or trolls that are immune to fire tend to look like big f-yous to the players.

  9. I can and will change anything about monsters. Nothing is sacred.

  10. I'll occasionally consider the approach of adding something different to an existing critter (this wight doesn't level drain, it causes a random limb to fall off!), but lately I've been considering elements of real-life critters and extrapolating them out to monstrous qualities (but not just doing 'giant' or 'dire' versions).

  11. The main thing I do in that sense is reskinning orcs as Frazetta's "subhumans". It's not something I normally do (though JB's reskinning bugbears as trolls seems pretty good to me, now that it's been mentioned), since I generally prefer to just design a new critter.

  12. Just wrote a bit about that actually... http://towerofthearchmage.blogspot.com/2014/09/making-5e-weird.html
    But in short, all the time!


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