Breathing New Life into your Monsters

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  1. #1
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    Breathing New Life into your Monsters

    Everyone knows that Hobgoblins differ from Orcs in style. Hobgoblins are militaristic and tactical, disciplined and strong, and orcs are savage neanderthals. But there is less a distinct difference with the plethora of monster races in the MM. Not to mention monsters upon monsters with the umpteen monster books out there. On the 4e boards, the reaction to the new Troglodyte resulted in scratching heads, and a lot of "Well, I never used/saw the use of Trogs".

    Over on this thread, an attempt to re-flavor kobolds were presented. The topic then changed towards other monsters.

    To quote Carpe DM:
    Paizo's take on Goblins in Rise of the Runelords 1: Goblins as little weak green humans? No. Goblins as Labyrinth-style Monsters under the Bed, mad, bad, and funny in a black-humor kind of way? Yes.

    Paizo's take on Ghouls: Just another undead? No. Children of the Corn? Yes.

    Paizo's take on Ogres: Big orcs? No. "You got a purty mouth," Deliverance and The Hills Have Eyes? Yes.
    The monsters here aren't re-designed. Goblins are as goblins have always been - small and sneaky, but they are made a caricature, or better yet, an identity as a species. Ogres are still big brutes, but they have a more recognizable image. you meet one, and the personality pops into your mind, rather than the statblock.

    My goal for this thread is a simple thing that is harder said than done: make a DM say aloud, "Wow! I thought those monsters were boring, but now I want to put that in my game!" and make a player say "Wow! I want to fight those guys!"

    So I open the floor for breathing new life into your dad's D&D monsters. Let's not get away from what they do, what niche they fill in the D&D world, but rather, how to make them feel; 1) like the monster they are, and 2) how to differentiate them from everything else. How do they behave in (and out) of combat, how do they look beyond the obvious, etc.

    A good place to start is using movies or books as inspiration. Paizo goblins remind me a lot of the monsters from Gremlins. Carpe DM used Aliens and Saw to inspire him with kobolds. This helps add elements to make them jump out of your imagination, rather than just another monster.

    There are two routes that one can take here:

    1) Monsters are Monsters. They are evil things, and they echo certain feels that reinforce they are monsters. The Ogres as mutated hillbillies, for instance.

    2) Monsters are kinda like people; Eberron gives Orcs a story, allowing them to be druids and protectors of the world (thus freeing Elves of their hippy archetype). This lets the monster have a culture. Your Orcs could be mongolians riding horsepack, throwing spears and using nets.

    In all honesty, I would like to focus on #1 for this thread, but I realize option 2 is also very popular; I love it when monsters are given cultures and made to feel real, but then that takes a little away from killing them because they're monsters; they become like people, and that takes the edge off. Some people, for instance, treat their orcs like unredeemable evil monsters that are just good for killin'.
    Last edited by Rechan; Friday, 7th December, 2007 at 08:42 PM.


  • #2
    Spd 30 Dex 15 Int 13 Wis 14, Cha 12
    Skills: Balance +6, Climb +5, Hide +6, Jump +5, Move Silently +6, Spot +7
    The Ghoul is not a dumb zombie with a paralysisng touch it is an intelligent and agile predator with the skills and abilities to truely terrorise the PCs, give them class levels and they even become viable BBEGs. I've made my Ghouls into serial killers using inspration for all such movies (from Friday 13 to Silence of the Lambs). Called 'Stalkers' they are a the nighttime terror to the Urban streets and deadly hunters out in the dark forests. I occasionally give Ghouls 'Spider climb' and 'shadow-step' abilities which makes them even more deadly as they strike from the shadows before quickly fading away

    OR you can have them start to eat the toes of a paralysed PC victim describing the pain and horror of being eaten alive......
    Last edited by Tonguez; Friday, 7th December, 2007 at 09:25 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by IcyCool
    Man, given the average Int of an Otyugh, I can just see the boss monologue now...

    PCs: "Before we fight, why don't you tell us your master plan?"
    Otyugh: "I like poop."
    PCs: "Umm, what?"
    Otyugh: "Do you have poop?"

  • #3
    My favorite has been recasting Centaurs as the Mongol Horde. Plains-people, city-destroyers. Their central tenet is "no stone shall stand on stone."
    The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven. Visit Arva, where moral compasses go to die.

  • #4
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    if helpful, i'll try & throw some artwork (as well as ideas) into this
    Pimpin' Narleths 24/7
    if u want some art fer your game, drop me a line...
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  • #5
    Here is my take on goblins and owlbears .

    Harpies could use a makeover (in more ways than one). Any ideas?

    I agree about Ghouls. I like the idea of adding a few Scout levels to Ghouls and giving them the Dungeon Specialist class option - skittering, bloodthirsty hunters with a climb speed.

    Neitherworld Stories, my gaming blog

  • #6
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    I try to have the monsters act in completely unconventional ways and to save the orcs from their fate, I've added "clans" to them. Clans are different from each other. For example, the White Hand clan always Coup De Graces on you if you go into negatives infront of them. The ONe eye clan will maim you if you go under (blind one eye and let you go).

    jh 305 South Kipling Street, Lakewood, CO 80226 gamer chiropractor in Lakewood, Co

  • #7
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    My favorate use of this technique was to make Gnolls a charriot culture. Inspired by the Illiad.
    The Charriots held a hero, a driver, and two skirmishers, and were pulled by Hyenas.
    the racial classes are still in the HR forum here under gnoll paragon.

    The PCs ganked the first charrioteer to challange them, then had a terriffic charriot v. charriot fight against the 2nd (and higher lvl gnoll group) the surriving driver randsomed the bodies back. The PCs went unchallanged across the rest of gnoll territory, as the tribes were impressed by the charriot. (There would have been more challangers on the way back, had the PCs returned the same way.)
    Game Quote:
    "Sir is not allowed into the dance, because you don't have an invitation, your wearing a dress, and its covered in poo."

    "You all are the worst emissaries, ever!" the silver dragon declares, shaking with rage.
    "Its a game, a game, I'm only playing. " E. Wiggen
    My PbP games , Roll Dice

  • #8
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    The Great Druid (Lvl 17)

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    Able to store nutrients in the hump on their back like a camel, Grimlocks can go long periods without eating, but it doesn't reduce the hunger. They refuse to eat anything but sentient humanoids, and humans above all else. Eating is a religious experience, a spiritual expression, and while they are starved and hungry, they delight in it.

    As soon as they make a kill, they will squat down and start stripping flesh right there, glutting. But the main objective: take their victims in alive. There are cooking sites all throughout their caves, so a cooking site with a large pot for boiling, or roasting spit are easily accessable.

    Unless it is a lone hunter, Grimlocks are never silent. Grimlocks carry a deep drum strapped to a hip. When they find humans (or other sentient humanoids) in their caverns, or when they go top-side to hunt, they beat the drums. It's both a ritualistic symbol (representing the pains of hunger) and psychological warfare - you hear the drums, you know they are coming. Fear marinates your body like spice.

    The Grimlocks lope over the ceilings and walls like gorilla. When they get close, the Grimlocks use obscuring mist or other large scale powers to confuse and blind their foes. Layering darkness on themselves isn't unheard of either. You never see them until they are on top of you. Over their grey skin, they use white face paint as death masks, marking blasphemous symbols to a God that even they do not speak of.

    The Grimlock shamans and witchdoctors all focus on spells of fear, darkness, and enchantment. They want you to run, so that they can chase, or they will paralyze you in place.

    Once they have feasted upon you, they keep the bones (makes good soup stock, javelins), and shrink the head, using them as holy symbols or sorcerous foci. Grimlocks favor any sort of blunt instruments or piercing weapons, as slashing tears the meat too easily.

    Inspiration: Papa New Guinea head hunters/cannibals, Voodoo practitioners, and Reavers from Firefly.

  • #9
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    Harpies could use a makeover (in more ways than one). Any ideas?
    When I started this thread, I said to myself that harpies are in dire need of it, yeah. But I couldn't come up with something.

    I have used ghouls as the poor man's vampire: The Unkindness, a secret society pretending to be nobility, wearing death masks, while researching dark powers. They were the descendants of the Bloodthirsty Ravens, lapdog skirmishers for the Lady of Plague. They worship the Lady, and protected her site of death, trying to bring her ghost back.

  • #10
    IMO, anyone who is interested in an original spin on some common monsters should pick up this:
    Tons of Free RPG Downloads at

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