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D&D rivalries – making monsters memorable

Written by Expy - Published on December 11, 2007

Cool:Uncool monster ratio
A while back, when we were all celebrating 30 years of stupid D&D monsters, Taylor – a Dungeon Mastering reader – made this comment:

I think I’d rather only see a 50 page monster manual versus the 500+ pages they have of stupid monsters.
Is it just me, or would you guys rather see something more like the d20 Modern Friends and Foes guide they have in the core book, with rules to make your own monsters rather than having a bunch of stupid ones that no one (to my knowledge) actually uses?

What makes a monster memorable?
This got me thinking about the coolest monsters out there. Of course, dragons are the ultimate monster but my second favorite monster has to be the draconian from the Dragonlance novels.

So what made this monster so great?

  1. Recurring encounter. In the novels the protagonists encounter the draconians many times. The protagonists learn from their previous fights, but they also dread and try to avoid combat because they know how nasty it could get.
  2. A bad outcome is inevitable. Some draconians turned to stone when they died, setting their foe’s weapons in stone in the process. Others produced toxic gas when they died if I remember correctly.
  3. They fight dirty. Most draconians had indented, barbed swords that caused open flesh wounds. (Was that in the books or just in the Dragonlance game I played?)
  4. Different encounter levels. You have tough draconians. And you have tougher draconians!

I think that creating a rivalry is good for your D&D campaign and you can only do that if the same foe (villain, monster) is often opposing the PCs, and the encounters with that foe are usually brutal.

What do you think?

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12 Responses to “D&D rivalries – making monsters memorable”
  1. greywulf says:

    I’m with you all the way. I’d much, **much** rather have a smaller selection of great monsters than have column space devoted to crud like the Ethereal Filcher, etc.

    Give me 50 great monsters in a single book version of D&D along with advice on how to use the creatively, and I’m a happy bunny. I’d guess that 60-70% of our group’s encounters are against the core races or goblinoids anyhow, but that’s probably down to our style of play.

  2. Peter says:

    don’t forget that D&D is first about fantasy. Even if only a couple of monsters goes to the hall of fame of monsters (like the beholder), artists have to cultivate creation to bring the game to new area

  3. Shannon says:

    I agree too. I’ve always loved the orcs and goblins myself (Tolkien fan, I admit). I never get tired of them. You can have clever or dumb, very wicked or somewhat wicked (even the odd not-that-wicked-at-all half-orc), magical or mundane, etc. Plus you can have lots of them! How many times can you see a dragon or more?

  4. Infamous Jum says:

    I would much rather have a slim selection of monsters with good guidelines for creating new ones. For this reason I love templates, as you can keen using the same handful of creatures with a little different flavor.

  5. ScottM says:

    I’m also a big fan of fewer monsters with more variation. In my next campaign, I intend to take it pretty far– slimming down the humanoid races (so instead of so many 1 or 2 HD races, fewer races with more variation within the race– like using Goblins and Hobgoblins, while dropping Orcs, Kobolds, etc.)

  6. Doug says:

    For me, the problem I have with the Monster Manual is that it doesn’t have any kind of over-arching idiom or genre. Its just a basically random assortment of critters and beings that don’t make any sense as a group. I’d much prefer a set of “Monsters” for each given setting that D&D produces, with maybe a slim volume of the most popular examples, but presented in some kind of meaningful context, rather than just sort of floating in a monster ether…

  7. njharman says:

    I agree with Doug, monster books split up by setting/environment. Desert, Underground, Aquatic, for people playing in those environments.

    Personally I’d be fine with a template per lvl/cr or whatever, a few pages of feats/tricks/abilities/whatever and then the rest of the book just filled with art to spike my imagination.

    I don’t need/want rules & stats as much as I need/want inspiration.

  8. Argokirby says:

    I think Doug is right.

    I would love to see a MM that is Greek and Roman Mythology, then a MM that is Norse and Celtic Mythology, an Oriental mythology book would be awesome, and hmm what else?

    I loved the Fiend Folio, but Fiendish Codex I and II were better.

    Libris Mortis, the Droconomicon and even Stormrack and Frostburn type books are cooler than MM IV and V.

    What I would prefer to see is “here are a few monsters that have X similarities to them and here are lots of interesting idea on how to use them, treasures for them” etc…

  9. Robert says:

    I like to add PC classes to my monsters anyway, so a slim volume would be preferred. Actually a digital edition for each environment or setting would be great. I still use stock standard monsters, just the monsters I prefer I always give PC classes to. Try throwing 8 orcs/kobolds/trolls (whatever is appropriate) at your party, where one of them is a 1st/3rd/5th/7th level PC, particularly good is the Bard in these situations – easy to run (he stays out of the fight banging his war-drums and chanting) and he boosts the stats of everyone else.

  10. Infamous Jum says:

    I have a dream, and that dream is to kick my player’s teeth in with a band of orcs, led by an orc bard who plays a tambourine. >rattle rattle shakerattle rattle shake

  11. Fox says:

    An ingenious DM can make even the lowest kobold a serious threat. Its all in what you have the enemy do. I had one character die because a level 1 mage summoned a small mass of ants. If your good at ingenuity then you should have no problem using the monsters in there as good monsters. Noit everything has to be hack and slash either. You may have some monsters in there that actually want to help the players for their own ends. Just remember those plot twists in the end when you tell them what happens in the overall world.

  12. Deez says:

    My favorite enemy is the dreaded Human. You can apply almost any class or temperament to them, and they can very easily attack you in towns or cities you would otherwise consider “safe.” I almost always throw in a human antagonist as they are the least predictable enemy around and can attack the party in less physical ways.

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