Monday, February 17, 2014

Creature design talk, part 3: More Encounters

Welcome back to our discussion about creature design for your game, whether that be a classic pen-and-paper tabletop game, a game utilizing minis, or even a video game. We have previously discussed the motivations of creatures, and then continued with types of creature encounters. Today we continue that last subject where we left off.

More Encounters

So far we have talked about two types of encounters: Hunters and Trappers. Next up is a favorite for gamers who love nothing better than to haul a suitcase full of carefully-packed minis to their games, but works well in any valor of role-playing.


Taking a step back, I suppose I could call this encounter type a Solo, but I think that term is a little broad for these purposes. For those who may not be familiar with the term, a Solo is typically some sort of a boss battle for a party of characters, especially in miniature gaming. A Solo is a badass that can take on a whole party at once. But, a Solo can take many forms and isn't usually strictly speaking a creature or monster, but is usually more sophisticated and adaptable. (By the way, if you want a great discussion of creating Solo battles, check out this old post from The Angry DM.)

I pick Giant as the encounter type because it is a very relatable experience for gamers. It's a great gaming moment for a GM to drop an "oh no" moment on the party in the form of some giant threat that changes the dynamic of combat, whether it's an actual fantastic giant, the Death Star, a steam-spewing war machine, or Godzilla. I actually just sent the following to one of my artists when ordering an illustration of a certain giant monster for the Breachworld RPG:
The feel I'd like is menacing. Something the Game Master can say, "And then from behind the ruined skyscraper, steps THIS!" as he turns the book around to show the illustration, drawing an "oh shit!" from the players.
It sends a message that the group's normal tactics and methods might not be quite so effective, and that they are in for something different (and hopefully fun).

Giant encounters have a few key aspects. I think they're all pretty well illustrated in a classic film sequence, when the Fellowship fights the cave troll in Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring.

First of all, Giants are usually a solo threat, or maybe a threat in very small numbers, or with some support creatures involved in the scenario. Think about that fight with the troll, where the party's whole focus was on taking down this huge threat that had come crashing into the hall. There were still orcs running around and in the fight, but they fell immediately into a circumstantial threat and were only really engaged when attacking the characters directly; the members of the Fellowship were far more concerned with fighting the troll and simply fending off the orcs. When the troll was defeated, the remaining orcs fled the battlefield because really, they weren't the focus of that encounter.

Secondly, normal tactics must fly out the window. Sure, you could have a Giant encounter that was just initiative, strike, defend, strike, simultaneous strike, simultaneous strike, simultaneous strike ad nauseum until something was dead, but that's just boring, or worse, bad Game Mastering. We don't ever want to railroad our players, but sometimes we need to give them a shove in the right direction. Just a simple, "No, Zack, your arrow again cannot penetrate the T-Rex's thick hide" can go a long way toward getting your players to think outside of the box. It's not unusual for teamwork to be a major part of the strategy that overcomes a Giant encounter, using feints and distractions to draw the monster's attention while another attacks a vulnerable spot, or each player attacking with a different element at once, or other such element that may be devised by the players on the fly, or part of the monster's makeup.

Third, the environment really plays an important role. Give a Giant creature the proper setting! Easy examples come up when you look at monsters tearing through buildings in Tokyo or climbing the Empire State Building. It can also play a role in strategy, mentioned above, whether that means finding a way to trap the creature, luring it into a tighter space that limits some of its attacks, allowing it to be bathed in deadly sunlight, or getting it near enough to the spaceport hanger doors to get sucked out into the inky black of nothingness. In FotR, we see the environment come into play a number of times. Hobbits stick and run around stone columns that limit the troll's ability to reach them with its club. A few times members of the party are able to scale rock outcroppings and attack the troll from above. It makes for much more exciting combat than an open arena that simply pits the monster versus a handful of player characters, exposed.

Saving the most important for last, a Giant encounter must involve a creature that is capable of taking on the whole party with a chance at survival. This means it needs to be tough, and pack a mean punch. The fight doesn't have to be a toe-to-toe slugfest, but in some way or other the creature has to be able to take a lot of punishment through tough armor, a huge hit point value, immunity to certain attacks, rapid healing, or other mechanic. It also needs to be able to engage the whole party, whether that be because it's super fast, has 100 tentacles, uses an area-effect attack, or its limited attacks just pack such an impact that it gets the most out of every strike. It could be a thick-skinned brute like the cave troll, or perhaps a giant droid with dozens of player-seeking auto-cannons and a forcefield.

In Conclusion (for now)

I've got one more type of encounter to discuss this week, but I thought this might be enough words spilled out in a row for now. I'm trying to learn that each blog doesn't have to be a thesis. But, what can I say? It's a fun subject.

If you missed them, be sure to check out PART 1 and PART 2 of our creature creation discussion, and check back this week for more more more, or a two-story tall hedgehog will TPK you all, laughing maniacally. Seriously, it could happen.


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