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Faster Chimera Monster Creation

Um… you knew this was coming, right?

Last week’s discussion about shorthand stats requires a look at the monster creation process. There was an earlier post about creating monsters, but that approach still takes more time than I’d like. Conveniently, since stat blocks are also longer than I’d like, this seems like a good time to fix the whole lot.

Assumptions

My thoughts, which are mine:

  1. Combat is why we care about stats. Yes, sometimes you want stats for non-combat reasons, like how good is that NPC at Spelunking, but most monsters are only there to oppose your mightiness. So let’s just admit that and forge ahead.
  2. Not all of the current stats are useful. They might be nice-to-have, but stats should be concise–let the GM make them complete.
  3. NPCs are monsters, too, so this has to work for both.
  4. An underlying goal is parity between monster level and monster capability. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s important not to lose Chimera’s flexibility in the process.

Creating Monsters

Statting out new monsters usually results from the need to incorporate some beastie you’ve seen in a book, movie, TV, or your own, depraved imagination. Here are some simple instructions, and just to be extra-helpful, we’ll build the stat block as we go, using the short stat template from last week:

Monster Name (Level; Movement Rate; Wound Limit; Defence (Parry); Attacks; Special)

Concept & Base Stats
The process starts with what the monster looks like and what it does. I decide that I want a manticore [1] for a dungeon I’m designing, his goblin minions, and, while I’m at it, I need an evil wizard as well. For monsters, base stats are a function of size (CB/21); for NPCs, use race (CB/6). In this case, the Minotaur is Large, the goblins are Small, and the wizard is a normal human:

Manticore (Level; MR 12″±1d8; WL 4 (L); Defence (Parry); Attacks; Special)

Goblin (Level; MR 8″±1d4; WL 2 (M); Defence (Parry); Attacks; Special)

Evil Wizard (Level; MR 12″±1d6; WL 2 (M); Defence (Parry); Attacks; Special)

Experience Level
Assume level indicates baseline ability–the higher the level, the more powerful the monster or NPC–and is a near-direct indicator of how bad-ass your monster or NPC is. Use the following (slightly modified from the original monster creation post):

  • Green: Level 0-1 (1d2-1)
  • Regular: Level 2-3 (1d2+1)
  • Veteran: Level 4-7 (1d4+3)
  • Elite: Level 8-11 (1d4+7)
  • Legendary: Level 12-15 (1d4+11)
  • Mythical: Level 16-19 (1d4+15)

Let’s say the Manticore is veteran-calibre, the goblins are wimpy fodder types, and the wizard is a foe worthy of bardic lore:

Manticore (Lvl 5; MR 12″±1d8; WL 4 (L); Defence (Parry); Attacks; Special)

Goblin (Lvl 1; MR 8″±1d4; WL 2 (M); Defence (Parry); Attacks; Special)

Evil Wizard (Lvl 13; MR 12″±1d6; WL 2 (M); Defence (Parry); Attacks; Special)

Attacks
Attacks are mundane offensive capabilities, meaning they’re launched with Athletics (natural defences and unarmed combat), Fight (melee weapons), or Shoot (missile weapons). You can add as many attack types as you want, though the monster can use only one each round (see CB/22 for details).

Initiative, Damage, and Range is based on size for unarmed/natural attacks, and weapon type for armed attacks (subject to GM tweakage). Don’t worry about attack ARs for now–we’ll get to those later.

Manticore (Lvl 5; MR 12″±1d8; WL 4 (L); Defence (Parry); AT 2 claws (IM -1, Dmg 1d8), 1 bite (IM -1, Dmg 1d6), tail spikes (IM -1, Dmg 1d6, Rng8″, RoF 1d6); Special)

Goblin (Lvl 1; MR 8″±1d4; WL 2 (M); Defence (Parry); AT by weapon; Special) Armed with short sword (IM +1, Dmg 1d4), short bow (IM +0, Dmg 1d4, Rng 4″, RoF 1)

Evil Wizard (Lvl 13; MR 12″±1d6; WL 2 (M); Defence (Parry); AT by weapon; Special) Armed with dagger (IM +1, Dmg 1d4)

Defence & Parry
A monster usually has natural protections (e.g., thick hide, scales, exoskeleton, etc.), while NPCs may wear armour. Defence is based on level of protection (subject, as always, to GM tweaking):

  • None: DF +0
  • Light: DF +1
  • Medium: DF +2
  • Heavy: DF +4

Parry is easily determined if the monster is carrying a shield (CB/15). Otherwise, use one of the following:

  • Size-based IM (only if +1 or more)
  • Maximum number of attacks per round, minus 1

Manticore (Lvl 5; MR 12″±1d8; WL 4 (L); DF 4 (+1); AT 2 claws (IM -1, Dmg 1d8), 1 bite (IM -1, Dmg 1d6), tail spikes (IM -1, Dmg 1d6, Rng8″, RoF 1d6); Special)

Goblin (Lvl 1; MR 8″±1d4; WL 2 (M); DF 1 (+1); AT by weapon; Special) Armed with short sword (IM +1, Dmg 1d4), short bow (IM +0, Dmg 1d4, Rng 4″, RoF 1), leather armour and shield

Evil Wizard (Lvl 13; MR 12″±1d6; WL 2 (M); DF 2 (+2); AT by weapon; Special) Armed with dagger (IM +1, Dmg 1d4), magic ring of protection +2

Abilities
Picking individual Abilities for each monster or NPC is a chore, and frankly, not worth the effort. Let’s build off the shortcut described last week and assume that a monster or NPC has access to all Abilities. Determine Ability ARs like so:

  • Monster is good at it / NPC class Ability: AR equals level [2]
  • Monster might be good at it / NPC background suggests some proficiency: AR up to half-level
  • Monster or NPC isn’t good at it: AR +0
  • Monster or NPC positively sucks at it: AR +0 and requires Critical Success to work

Using this as a guideline, don’t bother to include AR modifiers in the stat block. Not only does this save time, but it allows you (or other GMs) to be flexible with the monster, at run-time. How good is the wizard with that dagger? Most likely Fight +0, but maybe the GM decides he’s a Fightin’ Sorcerer and gets Fight +2.

But Erin, you say, what about consistency? Well, this is why we have things like pencils–once you figure out a particular AR (e.g., the wizard also went to Caving School so gets Spelunking +6), write it down.

Special
These are particulars needed during an encounter–perks, sperks, adaptations, flaws, powers, class-based details (like WL adjustments), special gear or magic (ahem… powered) items, treasure, whatever. How many special bits can you add? As many as you need to fulfil the monster or NPC’s role. [3]

I recommend updating the stat block with just the name of the perk, sperk, adaptation, blah, blah. If the special thing affects an existing stat (like WL, DF, attacks), don’t write it down–just adjust the stat and move on.

Manticore (Lvl 5; MR 12″±1d8, Fly 18″±1d8; WL 4 (L); DF 4 (+1); AT 2 claws (IM -1, Dmg 1d8), 1 bite (IM -1, Dmg 1d6), tail spikes (IM -1, Dmg 1d6, Rng8″, RoF 1d6); SP 1d6 “loads” of tail spikes, which regrow at a rate of 1 “load” per week)

Goblin (Lvl 1; MR 8″±1d4; WL 2 (M); DF 1 (+1); AT by weapon; SP Infravision 2″, AR -2 in daylight) Armed with short sword (IM +1, Dmg 1d4), short bow (IM +0, Dmg 1d4, Rng 4″, RoF 1), leather armour and shield

Evil Wizard (Lvl 13; MR 12″±1d6; WL 5 (M); DF 2 (+2); AT by weapon; SP 1d6 powers each from Abjuration, Cosmology, and Enchantment schools, 12 mana, magic resistance) Armed with dagger (IM +1, Dmg 1d4), magic ring of protection +2, potions (healing, ESP), wand of darkness

Final Words

Consider this a first draft. I ask you to take it for a spin, whip up a couple of monsters, and see where this breaks. Does it work or does it need work?

_______________

  1. Just your run-of-the-mill lion with a human face, bat wings, and a tail that shoots spikes. No big whup.
  2. Including Resistance Roll modifier–this is always equal to level.
  3. But try to use level as a cap–if the number of special things exceeds level, consider increasing the monster or NPC’s level.

  1. July 11th, 2012 at 09:37 | #1

    I like that you’ve eliminated morale. Morale, to me, has always been arbitrary. PCs don’t have to roll for morale; nobody else should, either. Whether a creature or NPC stays in a fight to the death should be individually decided. It’s based on so many things that are hard to assign numbers to: personality, culture, instinct, whether it’s guarding young, has it had its coffee this morning, did it just break up with a girlfriend, etc.

    In short, describe what the typical response of the critter might be (in words, not numbers), and then let the GM decide if and when a specific monster or NPC decides to run away.

    The less numbers to figure out, the better.

    Thinking more on this. I’ll let you know if I come up with any ideas.

  2. July 12th, 2012 at 21:24 | #2

    @October : Eliminating morale is purely incidental to the exercise – not an implication that I want to get rid of it. I actually like it, though the Moldvay Basic implementation was the only one I thought was “right.”

    I like the random factor that morale brings to combat There was always a chance that a strong opponent could surrender, or that weak foe would fight to the death. Either way, the GM had to incorporate the result into his story, which can even help develop the setting (why are the ettins of Dongle Moor so cowardly?).

    Mechanically, there are a lot of options. B/X gave every monster a base Morale stat and a morale phase in combat. IMO, you need both. AD&D (and Chimera Basic) did it wrong by providing a crapload of conditional factors and suggesting morale roll “triggers” during a fight. For me, making it optional meant it was forgotten, and when I did remember, there were too many modifiers.

    So for all that, if you want morale (but not in the stat block), I’d suggest a Mettle roll against a size-based TN (lower TN for bigger beasties). If you’re using the level-implies-all model above, then Mettle is treated like any other Ability.

    But maybe a separate post…?

  3. July 13th, 2012 at 13:20 | #3

    “There was always a chance that a strong opponent could surrender, or that weak foe would fight to the death. Either way, the GM had to incorporate the result into his story, which can even help develop the setting (why are the ettins of Dongle Moor so cowardly?).”

    A good GM can and will do this without a morale score, and I think I’ve illustrated it in my previous comment. Personally, I have never used them. If I was ever unsure if the monsters/NPCs should give up the fight, a quick 50/50 roll would do the trick.

    That said, it’s your game and you should make it the way you want it. Rules are always only meant as guidelines, anyway, and we’re always free to change or ignore them as we see fit for our own table.

    I have to say, I tried other “simple” rules (Fudge among them) and found them a bit too lacking in structure, so there’s something to be said for having a framework in place. Chimera fits the bill quite nicely and gives me something I can work with.

  4. July 13th, 2012 at 17:38 | #4

    @October : I’d clarify by saying that a good GM can use or ignore morale to suit his purposes. It’s really a matter of playing style and should be specific to a given encounter.

    Some GMs handle morale in non-random ways (e.g., “The kobolds here fight to the death,” or “If reduced to 50% hit points, the ettin attempts to withdraw.”), which is fine–even preferred for important encounters.

    For my part, I like the random aspect of it. It’s like rolling on a random table for inspiration, which often provides far better results than my brain can devise on its own. I also like a morale phase–otherwise, I forget about it. I’m guilty of sending far too many monsters to their certain doom despite their ostensible sense of self-preservation in the face of overwhelming odds…

    Looking forward, I’ll likely bake in an optional Morale phase to combat, and some guidelines for using Mettle (perhaps starting with a 50/50 baseline; i.e., TN 12). Regardless, though, the framework will be there, and GMs can handle it however they prefer.

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