As I mentioned the other day, I’m working on a monster book. The project is going swimmingly so far. For awhile I focused on creating a binder filled with ideas for monsters. Anything from a doodle, to a fully developed creature I’ve used in my own games. After I finished cataloging all of the stray ideas I had already come up with (in the process of which coming up with twice as many NEW ideas, which also had to be cataloged), I started drafting. The goal with drafting is to figure out the broad thrust of what the monster will be like, and work it into a playtestable state. In the last few weeks when rolling an encounter, I’ve just used a random page from my drafts binder. Everything has turned out better than expected so far.
Now that I’ve had the opportunity to playtest some of the drafted monsters, though, I’m starting to wonder about making more formal drafts. All I have for most of the monsters is mechanics and either a doodle, or a short description of their appearance. What else ought to be included? The obvious essentials for every monster are art, statblocks, and descriptions of abilities. That last one is the most problematic, since some monsters have abilities which can be described in a paragraph, while others have more complex abilities requiring 3 or 4. My favorite LotFP monster so far (The Watcher’s Second Creature from Better than Any Man) requires no less than 7 paragraphs to fully describe. With such a wide variance in essential information, I’m not sure how to plan a standard set of supplementary information.
Here’s stuff I’d like to include.
- A bit about the monster’s origins and typical behavior. Not much, mind you, since I don’t think many people find this sort of thing quite as interesting as I do. Over-explaining a monster’s ecology has been a failing of mine in the past which I’m determined not to repeat with this project. All the same, I think it’s nice to include a little background. Maybe the monster came from hell, or was created by a priest trying to rid his town of non-believers, or was crafted by a wizard, or a mad peasant who got very lucky with some gibberish he was screaming. I enjoy coming up with that information, I think I just need to present it in a much more concise form than I have in the past.
- Brief, written descriptions. If you own a recent D&D or Pathfinder monster book, you’ve probably seen the italic text right under the monster’s name. Such as for the Ogre: “This lumbering giant’s beady eyes are devoid of wit or kindness, and its puffy face features a mouth with ill-fitting teeth.” I think this is a great addition to a monster book. Sure, a person gifted with descriptive talents could easily draw upon the art for this, but for those who are not, a line or two like this can provide a good springboard.
- Rumor tables / plot hooks which might inform the players about the monster, and lead them to hunting it down. This would be particularly useful not only because it’s a great assistance to the GM, but also because it’s easy to vary in size. If the monster’s abilities required 10 paragraphs to describe, include only 3 rumors. If the abilities took 2 paragraphs to describe, include 10 rumors.
- Size scale. This one actually shouldn’t take any additional space. My idea is to find open source silhouettes of humans (which I’m sure shouldn’t be too hard) then place them somewhere in the art, and scale them so that their size is correct, relative to whatever monster is depicted in the image.
- What to do with dead bodies. I find this idea particularly fascinating. In every game I’ve ever run, at least one player wants to make armor or weapons out of a dead monster’s body parts. Wouldn’t it be cool if monster bodies had some explicitly spelled out uses?
- Quick reference icons. Another idea from Pathfinder’s bestiaries, where every monster has a number of icons next to their name indicating the creature’s type, native terrain, and preferred climate. While the informational content in Pathfinder’s books isn’t terribly interesting to me, the method of communicating it is. What if intelligent monsters had a little brain next to their name, to let the GM know that these monsters could talk & make deals with players, while any creature without a brain would act as a beast. What other icons might be useful?
I’d be interested to hear my readers thoughts on these. What information is important to you, and what information isn’t?