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DMG2: Pimp Your Monsters with Monster Themes

Written by Janna - Published on May 19, 2009

Janna discovered D&D at the age of 16, and she's been rolling the dice for 16 years. (You do the math.) She is fond of intelligent villains, drow society, and campaigns that explore the Dark Side.

What’s better than an evil nasty monster with sharp pointy teeth? An evil nasty monster with sharp pointy teeth – that you can customize! That’s right. D&D Insider recently shared a glimpse of the awesomeness to come in the DMG2. Namely, monster themes. What are they? How do they work? I’ll tell you – right after I put the finishing touches on my tentacular new kobold Demogorgon cultist.

Monster Themes – What Are They?

Encounters are flavored by monsters. For example, when you’re fighting a group of drow, you can safely assume that, at some point, you’ll end up poisoned and miserable in a sphere of darkness, struggling to break free of your cobweb bonds while spiders gnaw at your face. The Monster Manual promotes themes by suggesting encounter groups of monsters that might cooperate to kill you. A lich is often found alongside lesser undead; Cyclops have been known to travel with formorians and thunderfury boars; and red dragons are often served by fire giants and fire archons.

So far, we have monsters organized largely by creature type. Monster themes expand this by taking creatures of any type and uniting them under a common banner. So if you have a kobold, a lamia, and an eladrin who’ve managed to shrug off the shackles of social expectations and find a common interest (in this bizarre instance, a deep devotion to Tiamat), you could apply a theme that gives them a groovy new breath weapon. Or perhaps your party has stumbled upon a portal to the Feywild. All animals and monsters near the portal might have teleportation powers, illusions, and other tricky fey abilities.

How Do You Apply a Monster Theme?

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the process:

  • Choose Your Theme. Select a theme from the DMG2, or create your own. Themes were designed for easy insertion, which means you can jot a couple of notes on the creature’s regular stat block and voila! He’s themed.
  • Choose Your Monster. Some monsters mesh better with certain themes due to their natural roles as brutes, lurkers, or controllers. But really, any monster will do.
  • Choose Story Changes. Themed monsters are greater than the sum of their powers. In fact, the powers they receive will likely change their looks, their behavior, and their outlook on life. Like, an ogre is just an ogre until he decides to sell his soul for ultimate power. Then he’s an ogre with lashing tentacles, demonic frenzy, and possibly a demigod complex. Themes can change the way a monster fits into your story. Plan accordingly.
  • Choose Powers. And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: powers!! Powers are icky and fun. Each theme contains attack powers, which are pretty self-explanatory; and utility powers which, while not quite as visceral, will still make your PC’s life a living hell. (Think auras, healing, and other effects that benefit Team Monster.)
  • Choose a Victim. It’s killin’ time!

Preview: ‘Demogorgon Cultist’ Theme

One of the mightiest of demon lords, Demogorgon is a two-headed fiend who embodies madness and absolute destruction. The Prince of Demons commands his followers to engage in wanton destruction, laying waste to all that they find.

What a nice guy! Demogorgon’s cultists are crazy evil. They can have arms, tentacles, arms and tentacles, two heads (one of which is vestigial), and all manner of freakish physical characteristics. They can dominate their enemies with a glare. They can boost the attacks of their bloodied allies. They can laugh at your pitiful attempts to charm, stun, and daze them because some of them have two brains, and can save against these conditions at the end of their turn. (Two-headed monsters get to save at the end of each of their heads’ turns.)

Where Can I Find More Monster Themes?

Easy there, fella. I’m just as anxious as you are to see the goods. But, for now, we’re just going to have to wait until the DMG2 gets here. Or until Wizards drops another preview. For now, you can read more at D&D Insider.

Monster themes are like a deadly game of dress-up that I can’t wait to play. What do you think? Do they sound like fun?

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Written by Janna

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Janna discovered D&D at the age of 16, and she's been rolling the dice for 16 years. (You do the math.) She is fond of intelligent villains, drow society, and campaigns that explore the Dark Side.

 

 Comments

7 Responses to “DMG2: Pimp Your Monsters with Monster Themes”
  1. Saragon says:

    They’re certainly useful for creating an unexpected twist in a combat encounter. But how, exactly, are these different from D&D 3.x monster templates? I can’t really be excited when WotC tries to sell a recycled idea as somehow “innovative”.

  2. Yax says:

    It is recycled. One thing that is nice is the monster template feature on our DM tools – now there’s a time saver.

    http://tools.dungeonmastering.com

    I’m done shamelessly self-promoting now. Thank you.

  3. Gus Gus says:

    Hmmmm this sounds very interesting! Another tool that i would find neat would be a weapon creator! Have any ideas?

  4. Rob G says:

    WOTC are always recycling (or stealing) and claiming innovation.

    Adventure Flow Chart (Nicked from Veiled Society or maybe even earlier.)

    Actual Plays (RPGMP3.com and Yog Sothoth have been doing them for who knows how long.)

    Why do they always make out they invented these things? It just makes them look like plagaristic thieves.

    Sorry about the negativity, but not giving the right people due credit is a pet hate (Just like the way Newton pinched the whole gravity thing from Robert Hooke and Edison stole – well – everything.)

  5. Yax says:

    pet hate is notch above pet peeve? I like that.

  6. Ameron says:

    I find that the common bond between monsters of atypical association can often be tied to the nature of their loot. So keep that in mind when assigning treasure.

    Perhaps a few “random” monsters joined forces to recover a powerful magical staff or a legendary bow. The PCs may be on the trail of these items already and learn that others are seeking it as well. Of course, they don’t realize that it’s a mishmash of monsters that they wouldn’t normally see working together. Let the slaughter fest begin.

  7. Xaos Bob says:

    @Rob G

    Generally, I agree with you about WotC regurgitating things and trying to pawn them off as new, but I thought I’d let you know that official adventure flow charts have been around for every edition of the game–I have the 1st Edition DM Adventure Log, for instance (I actually have all of them, but that’s the title I recall offhand). So, not new, but not torn from the loving arms of Veiled Society, either.

    What’s funny is looking at them now that the game has evolved for 35 years, and seeing the differences in what was emphasized, or how. Particularly when it comes to random encounter tables.

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