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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Gargantuan Menaces

The Lawful Indifferent blog has a post about treating out-of-scale monsters more as challenges than as combat opponents. The example is specifically a gargantuan monster, but really the concept applies to microscopic menaces as well, or environmental hazards. We don't normally run fights between PCs and earseekers, or calculate the armor class of a wildfire. The general rule should be "If it's not on the same scale as the PCs, it's not a fight."

As the reference to earseekers suggests, the concept has always existed in D&D. It's just that we haven't always been fully dedicated to running off-scale challenges without resorting to the combat rules. The canonical example are gods; there's been a lot of jokes made about Deities & Demigods or Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes being monster manuals with bigger monsters. If you don't want players to fight Zeus, you don't give stats for Zeus; instead, when Zeus is involved in a situation, you get the equivalent of Phantasmal Forces (image of Zeus, in some form,) plus maybe a couple things the players can interact with.

For gargantuan menaces, you can, actually, set up a combat, for your combat-crazy players, but the "opponent" isn't really the monster in its entirety, but part of a monster, or a monster's action. A couple years ago, someone on RPGnet gave an example of a colossal sea serpent encircling a ship. My version of that answer is: figure that every five rounds, the serpent wraps another coil around the ship, and when the serpent has wrapped five coils around the ship, it will squeeze, completely destroying the ship in 2d6 turns. Each coil is a "monster" that the characters can attack; when the players "kill" one or more coils, different effects can occur:
  • 1 coil: Subtract one from effective number of coils.
  • 2 coils: Serpent rears head at bow or stern of ship (count as another "monster" that attacks anyone in that part of the ship.)
  • 3 coils or head: Serpent uncoils and sinks back into the sea.
Certain actions may actually kill the monster, like throwing a magic spear at its eye. Other actions, like trying to move a coil blocking a door, may introduce risks, like being pinned by a coil. The GM should decide whether an action could cause something like this and set the odds. I've already told you my views on setting the odds to make things happen: just roll a d6 and have things change on a 5+; modify the roll where it seems appropriate. If the ship is destroyed with with characters on it, they must make saving throws to avoid being crushed with the ship; otherwise, it's swimming rolls and saves to avoid notice from the serpent, which will be swallowing sailors whole at this point.

You can, similarly, set up a situation like Nick Wright describes, where there's some gigantic-ass beast destroying things and you can only kill it with heroic actions, not ordinary combat. What I'm getting at is that I would focus on the things described above for the sea serpent:
  • What's it trying to do? (Destroy a city, destroy all cities, etc.)
  • How long does it take to do it? (One per day, one per hour, one "step" per time period, as in the coils of the serpent example.)
  • If there are multiple goals, how long between attacks? (Include a Move rate if it has to physically move to its next target, for example. If not, what's the downtime between attacks?)
  • What can stop an attack? (Forget about killing it... just describe what series of actions will stop it, like "killing coils" of the serpent.)
  • What happens after each action used to stop the attack? (See the list above for "killing coils".)
  • What are the general effects of the monster's success? (What if the city is destroyed and the PCs are in it?)
Also decide on the general details of the monster. Is it living? Then technically it can be killed. Is it supernatural? It may be possible to dispel it. Is it obeying orders? If so, it may be possible to change the orders. You do not need to define every single way to slay or drive off the monster; you just need some general guidelines about what it is so that you can decide if a PC's actions could affect the outcome, as in the magic spear through the brain or getting caught in a coil examples for the serpent. Always have at least one route to success in mind, but avoid the trap many module and monster writers fall into: don't describe exactly one or two methods of defeating the monster and then eliminate any other possibility. Leave possibilities open; just make it tough to deal with.

1 comment:

  1. Very much appreciated - as would be a "gargantuan monster manual" with more examples!