As an exercise, I’m going to use the monster development questions I posted yesterday to flesh out a classic D&D monster. Hopefully this will make the way I use the questions a little more clear.
I’m using the Axe Beak for a few reasons. First off, it’s kinda interesting, but is overall boring enough that it needs further development. Second, I’m almost completely unfamiliar with this monster. I never really read its entries in later editions of the game, and I’ve certainly never read any ecology articles or anything written about it. All I know is what’s written in the AD&D Monster Manual. Which is:
Axe beaks are prehistoric carnivorous flightless birds. They are very fast runners and aggressively hunt during daylight. An axe beak resembles an ostrich in its lower portions, with a strong neck and a heavy, sharp beak.
Can it be unique?
The monster is designed around encountering a herd of 1-6. Best not to make it entirely unique.
If it can’t be unique, can it be a small group?
Yeah, it can easily be a small group. Perhaps when you roll 1d6 to determine how many you encounter, you’re also determining how many exist in the whole world? They’re a dying breed. A darwinian loser, or perhaps something that was never very numerous in the first place? A small group created by some unusual means. Perhaps they’re unaging creatures, some 100 or so created in ages past, now reduced by the occasional violent death to a mere handful?
Can it be smart?
Each Axe Beak makes every other Axe Beak a little smarter. When there was 100+, they were geniuses. Now, with only a few left, they’re barely literate simpletons. They scratch simple symbols in the dirt with their claws to communicate with non-Axe Beaks. They’re also capable of using a roughly 500 word vocabulary of some appropriate human-learnable language.
If it is not unique, what is its culture?
Once, Axe Beaks practiced a kind of utilitarian artwork using the medium of trees. With their beaks, they’d carve still living trunks into complex patterns, leaving enough of the tree intact for it to survive and for the patterns to remain. These patterns carried messages to other groups of Axe Beaks, claimed territory, or told stories of events that had happened. here. Given the now much reduced mental abilities of Axe Beaks, they tend to simply feel the urge to hack at trees every now and again, which they do until the tree falls over.
What is its worldview?
Axe Beaks have always been brutish and aggressive. Confident in their own superiority over other creatures, who they view as ugly. They particularly look down on any creature that can fly. They’re deeply jealous, but that’s not something they would ever admit to an outsider.
Wooden structures made by humans are offensive to them, and will be destroyed with gusto.
Can it be an inverse swarm?
What does it do?
The remaining Axe Beaks believe that they simply need to breed more of their own kind in order to reclaim their greatness. To this end, they obsessively mate with any creature they can. They’ve already determined that mating with one another doesn’t work, and they’re willing to try pretty much anything.
The Axe Beaks have never seen an ostrich. I don’t know if mating with an ostrich would be successful for them or not, but they’d certainly be interested in the extreme.
Why does it do what it does?
Because it knows it’s not smart, and it wants to be smart.
How does it do what it does?
They do what comes naturally. Generally speaking they pursue animals of similar size, or other birds. Though most birds are too small.
Does it make anything?
Axe Beaks are actually pretty good at making simple bridges of wood. They don’t like to get wet at all. Due to their decreased intelligence, they can only cross small rivers with a nearby source of trees. But at their height, they built some marvelous bridges that were studied by human engineers.
Anyone tracking the Axe Beaks will probably come across a simple bridge at some point.
Might it deal peacefully with the characters?
They’re easily agitated and easily insulted, and they’re predisposed to think humans are troublesome and annoying. But they also know that there’s much easier prey than humans. They’re generally willing to parley unless they’re ravenously hungry.
Does it have minions?
Not at present.
What is the creature’s lair like?
Axe Beaks are nomads. They range far and wide in search of mates, marking trees as they go. When it rains, they find what shelter they can until it’s time to move on.
Does the creature’s presence affect its environment?
Not by itself, no.
Does it have any special treasures?
There is a pair of saddle bags which gets passed around between the Axe Beaks. Everyone takes their turn carrying it. Within its pouches are smooth stones, shiny rocks, bits of metal, seashells, and a variety of other things which the Axe Beaks have deemed valuable. There may be a number of gems and coins in the pouch.
How did the creature come to exist?
They don’t know it, but all of the Axe Beaks were once axes, wielded by woodsmen who encroached into the forest of Hellena the Kyphotic, a druid with a wicked temperament. With the first blow of each axe, the roots rose up to strangle the woodsmen. The trees grew tall and strong on their blood. The axes were eventually enveloped by the growing wood, and when the trees grew old and toppled over, the Axebeaks emerged from the rotted wood.
What are the portents of its arrival?
There are none.
What happens to the creature’s victims?
The creatures are carnivores. If a meat-creature is their victim, then they will be eaten.
Does the creature have any special weakness?
They find touching water incredibly uncomfortable. They take no damage from being wet, but they react to being wet the way you might expect them to react to being on fire.
Does anything special occur upon the killing blow being made against the monster?
Each Axe Beak that dies makes the whole dumber. When there is only one Axe Beak left, it will simply topple over. Brain dead.
When the creature dies, what happens?
It has a very boring, natural death. Followed by a boring, natural decay.
Is the dead body useful for anything?
Each creature actually has a woodsman’s axe inside of its body. The head of the axe is at the center of its beak, and their spinal column has taken the place of the shaft. If the spine is reinforced with a metal or wooden rod, then the the axe can be wielded as a +2 battle axe against druids. If used to chop down a tree, the tree will always fall in exactly the direction you want it to fall in.