The Lazy DM's Forge of Foes for 5e: An Interview With Mike Shea, Teos Abadía, and Scott Fitzgerald Gray (Sly Flourish)

Interested in ramping up your encounters in 5e? Sly Flourish has a new book on Kickstarter to...

Interested in ramping up your encounters in 5e? Sly Flourish has a new book on Kickstarter to help GMs with their monsters, The Lazy DM's Forge of Foes. Through EN World’s darjr, I was able to connect with authors Mike Shea along with Teos Abadía, and Scott Fitzgerald Gray agreed to share some of their advice here as they talk about the book and offer their thoughts on Project Black Flag and Advanced Fifth Edition.

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EGG EMBRY (EGG): What can you tell us about The Lazy DM's Forge of Foes?
: The tagline for the book is “Tools and guides to build, customize, and run fantastic monsters in your 5e fantasy games.” It’s a nice big book focused on monsters – how to run them, how to think about them, how to build them, and how to modify them. Scott, Teos, and I partnered together to look at the topic of monsters at both a high level and low level. There’s a lot of guidance for how to think about monsters and how to run them effectively in your game. There’s also a lot of very table-usable stuff you can pull out and run at your table the minute you pick it up. I’ve been using our “quick build” monster tools a lot recently and just love them. The sample PDF is really a great way to see what the book is about and get some tools you can use right now.

EGG: SlyFlourish is known for its GM advice. From the “Monster Discussion and Philosophy” section of the book, you’ve got some great topics: “On Morale and Running Away,” “Decolonizing Monster Design,” “Defining Challenge, and Romancing Monsters,” to name a few of the sixteen topics. What can players expect from the philosophy articles?
: Overall, the articles that focus more on broader ideas than specific mechanical advice are meant to help DMs think about how monsters feed the story that they and the other players are shaping — whether across a single session, a multi-session adventure, or a months-long campaign. The combat mechanics of a monster or NPC define the round-by-round story that combat tells. But since the earliest editions of the game, the most interesting monsters are those whose stories push far beyond combat, and Forge of Foes offers up lots of ways for DMs to dig into those stories.
TEOS ABADÍA (TEOS): Even the articles we call philosophical are filled with practical examples. We discuss challenge level, and after explaining the contributing factors we provide techniques you the DM can use to define the right challenge for your players and have a great game.

EGG: Looking at the next section, from “Monster Tips and Tricks”, what are “Lightning-Rod Monsters”?
: Lightning rod monsters are monsters designed to showcase and “eat” particular powerful abilities the characters wield and that players really enjoy. Instead of fighting against the powerful abilities characters wield, we put in monsters specifically designed to be particularly vulnerable to such abilities. One example is a big pile of low CR monsters with low hit points all piled together into a 20 foot radius. They’re just asking to be fireballed. And who wouldn’t love doing so? Other great lighting rods are big hunky and dangerous monsters with low wisdom scores just begging to be banished, polymorphed, or otherwise removed from the battle. Throwing in big powerful undead or demons just asking to be smited by the paladin is another example. Lighting rods turn antagonistic GMing on its head by having you lean in on powerful character abilities instead of fighting against them.

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EGG: With the other two sections – “Monster Toolkits” and “Building Encounters” – how do you combine those topics so DMs are building monsters with the encounters in-mind so there’s a lot of harmony in the monster, environment, and reason for the engagement?
: The tools in these sections build upon the earlier discussion and philosophy sections, so that monster design and encounter design all tie into your overall story and your understanding of the type of game you and your players will enjoy. For example, the advice on challenging high-level players starts with the concept that even an easy encounter can feel awesome to the players if the story behind it is awesome. But then we add techniques so you can dial up the challenge both in your preparation and during play. We provide ways to quickly build and modify monsters, but the process starts with thinking about the story goals you have and what will engage your players. We don’t just modify any monster so it pushes its foes around the battlefield with every blow… we do that for a giant or similar monster where the monster power helps the story of this monster resonate.

EGG: How did the three of you come together to work on this project?
: Mike, Teos, and I first got to work together when we were asked by Wizards of the Coast to create the D&D Next adventure Vault of the Dracolich. This was a multi-table organized play adventure showing off the late-stage D&D Next ruleset, and let us all work together directly in our general roles as designer, developer, and editor in a way that normally doesn’t happen on WotC projects. Since then, I’ve worked with Mike as editor on his “Lazy DM” and “Fantastic” books (including partnering with him and James Introcaso on Fantastic Lairs), and Teos and I worked together on the Acquisitions Incorporated book for Penny Arcade and WotC. The idea of all three of us doing a project again has always seemed like a cool notion, and when we started talking about that last year, it felt like a book focusing on monsters from both a mechanical and narrative perspective would offer a broad enough scope for all of us to be able to bring the widest range of ideas to the table.

EGG: In light of the OGL crisis, more gamers and publishers are considering other systems such as Kobold Press’ Project Black Flag, Cubicle7’s C7d20, and EN Publishing’s own 5e alternative, Level Up! Advanced Fifth Edition. Do you feel these new systems will be good for RPGs in general?
: Yes. I think it takes the strength of 5e and moves it out of any one single publisher’s control. It means we have a wide range of 5e compatible systems we can choose from. It means we’ll likely have several full 5e systems on many popular VTTs. It means we’ll have more material available to use in publications. A5e, for example, has a lot more material under the OGL (and soon under the Creative Commons if I hear correctly) than the standard 5.1 SRD which means even more material can be published by ever more publishers. It means 5e is its own independent platform and that’s really exciting.
TEOS: The advice in this book applies to nearly any RPG. Yes, the techniques and tools are focused on 5E, but a GM can easily translate them into ideas for other RPGs. In a recent video, I showed off several monster powers. Then I showed how I would use them with the Fate, Shadowdark, and Gumshoe RPGs.

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EGG: Since this is EN World, let’s ask an EN Publishing-related question. You’re familiar with Level Up! Advanced Fifth Edition, correct? If you were to offer some “Lazy DM” advice to a A5E DM, what would be your go-to?
: My best advice would be to use the parts you want, however you want, in any 5e game you want to run. You don’t have to switch whole cloth over to A5e. You can use just some of its monsters from the Monstrous Menagerie. You don’t have to use everything in the Adventurer’s Guide but maybe you like some of the spells better than the standard 5e spells so you use those instead. Maybe you like the idea of A5e’s Safe Havens for overland travel – maybe not even everywhere but just in dangerous territory or the idea Supply, a limited resource for food and drink and other stuff. You can pick and choose which parts of A5e you want to incorporate or you can jump fully over and use it directly. Lately I’ve been using A5e monsters as complete replacements to standard 5e monsters and have been very happy with the results.
TEOS: We love the work done by the A5E team! This book is fully compatible with A5E and will work well with the awesome monsters and other components of A5E.

EGG: Do you plan to create any books to support these new RPG options?
: I’m hoping all my 5e books from here on out support any of these 5e systems. I want, and expect, people playing Black Flag or C7D20 or A5e can use the material in Forge of Foes or any of the other books I have planned. I don’t plan to write a book focused on only one of them. I want people to use my stuff in whatever version of 5e they want to play.
TEOS: All three of us love reading and using third party products in our games. For example, all three of us were writers for the upcoming Flee Mortals book by MCDM and we know folks using that book will enjoy using Forge of Foes with it.
SCOTT: The two things I enjoy writing most for 5e are adventures and magic items, and I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of approach all the new 5e variants take to those topics. I’ve got a number of back-burner projects in both those areas that I want to get moving on this year, and I’ll be making sure that anything I create works for any flavor of 5e — or even creates some new approaches to design and mechanics that can make any version of 5e more fun to play.

EGG: Beyond Forge of Foes, what else are you working on?
: I’ve been working on a big city-based campaign setting called the City of Arches. I’ve been releasing it to Sly Flourish patrons for about a year now, a little bit at a time, and plan to keep doing so for a year forward. Eventually I’ll put it together into a single big project and Kickstart it. I love just being in this world, exploring its nooks and crannies and discovering new layers I never knew existed. It’s been a really fun project.
TEOS: I have two adventures in the works, one with the help of my Patreon. I have a YouTube show, Success in RPGs, where I provide advice for working in our industry. With Shawn Merwin I have the Mastering Dungeons podcast, covering D&D and hobby news and insights. And, a couple of projects I can’t share yet.
SCOTT: In addition to editing for lots of other folks (including WotC, MCDM, and Ghostfire Gaming), I’ve got a lot of 5e adventure projects that I’m looking forward to working on this year. And beyond 5e work, I’m setting up a playtest for a new system called CORE20, which takes the core mechanical engine of D&D and rebuilds it as a game of free-form character building with no classes and no levels.

The Lazy DM's Forge of Foes for 5e Full Cover.jpg

Thanks for taking the time to talk 5e monster tactics. For fans interested in where to find the creators online, here are some sites:
Want more details? Check out their thread in the EN World forums.

The Lazy DM's Forge of Foes for 5e from Sly Flourish
  • END DATE: Fri, March 31 2023 3:00 PM EDT.
  • “Tools and guides to build, customize, and run fantastic monsters in your 5e fantasy games.”
Egg Embry participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program, Noble Knight Games’ Affiliate Program, and is an Amazon Associate. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG, Noble Knight Games, and Amazon.

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Egg Embry

Egg Embry


I crit!
Really appreciate the interview! If we can answer any questions for folks, let us know here or on the Kickstarter page!
At one point you played a bit with Shadowdark monsters, adding powers to them from the Forge of Foes, and it worked great! I mean to do this very thing. Lazy DM books are good for a variety of games and this seems it will have some if that utility as well. Can you speak to that? Give more examples if huh have them? Thanks!


At one point you played a bit with Shadowdark monsters, adding powers to them from the Forge of Foes, and it worked great! I mean to do this very thing. Lazy DM books are good for a variety of games and this seems it will have some if that utility as well. Can you speak to that? Give more examples if huh have them? Thanks!
Awesome! In this video I walked through using Monster Powers, and I did an example with Fate (a very open system where monsters are super simple), with Shadowdark, and even with vampires in the Gumshoe system Night's Black Agents (a favorite of mine). I could easily do this with Feng Shui, 13th Age, or various other systems.

Some monster powers will work without any conversion at all. For example, "Forceful Blow" pushes the target the monster hits 10-25 feet away. Other powers list damage or a DC, and here you will need to do some conversion. Our advice is to look at the monster you are modifying. Use the monster's existing mechanics as the default and decide whether this power should deal more or less damage based on the power concept and what you need/want from it.

Let's pretend we have an RPG with a monster that deals 15 damage points. That's what it already does. If I use a monster power to give it a Flaming Weapon," then it makes sense to boost that damage slightly to reflect that. Monster Powers are just as much (if not more so) about the awesome description than the actual mechanic. The mechanic matters, but it's the idea that our monster just poisoned its blade, unhinged its jaw to swallow us, or shoved its ally into you and forced it to fight for it. That's, to me, the coolest thing about monster powers and what they do for our game. I've been using these powers in other RPGs over the last two years and it's been a real boon to my games. This book provides advice not just on how to do a very specific thing... it provides advice on approaches we take (with specific examples we can use now!) so that we are all learning how to run better games over time.

What is your favorite piece of advice in the book?
Wooo! It's hard to say. We're still working on it and its easy to fall in love with whatever you happen to be working on at the time.
I think I really like the mixture of "general-use stat blocks" with the monster type and general-use monster powers available in the book. At my own table it was faster to mash this stuff up into a cool monster than it would have been to find and internalize a published monster stat block. That was really fun.

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