Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Creature design talk, part 4: Even More Encounters

Let's talk some more creature design! We've already been through creature motivations and two rounds of discussing types of creature encounters. Today we'll go through the final phase of discussing creature encounters, then move on to some new monster-related business.

Even More Encounters

So far we have discussed Hunters, Trappers, and Giants. Each brings a different type of game play to the table, and a different type of challenge for your players. While this list isn't in any way exhaustive, it hits a lot of the high points of types of encounters you might have. One thing that these doesn't address, which I think is important to consider, are non-combat creature encounters.


Not all gaming is inflicting and resisting damage. Sometimes an encounter between your character, the lovable smuggler, and the Imperial authorities doesn't end in a shootout, but is resolved using stealth, subterfuge, bribery, or other non-combat means, so too can your creature encounters take on a more cerebral tone.

There are lots of ways that a creature may throw your players a non-combat encounter. That's not to say that the creature isn't capable of combat; that could go either way. Even if a direct confrontation is one possible outcome of a scenario, there are lots of reasons why players (and their characters) may wish to avoid one. It could be as simple as the fact that the characters are outmatched and wouldn't survive a real fight. The situation might call for stealth, because engaging a creature would raise an alarm. The creature may not be wicked or dangerous, leaving fundamentally "good" characters to endeavor to avoid a fight. It could even be something ghostly or ethereal that can't be engaged.

Here are a few ideas for non-combat creature encounters:

  • The creature spins webs that it uses to detect prey, and its lair is blocking the characters' path on their quest. The party must avoid touching the strands, or dozens of giant spiders will quickly destroy them.
  • The characters must journey into the complex subterranean tunnel-lair of a huge, burrowing creature, but don't know the way out. The party must locate the monster and find a way to compel it to lead them out, or risk being lost underground until they die of hunger and thirst.
  • An ethereal monster can hypnotize with its gaze, but guards the treasure that the players seek.
  • An advanced A.I. operating an abandoned Army base turns on the intruding player characters and tries to eliminate them by forcing them into dangerous parts of the facility or messing with environmental controls. Hope your characters took some hacking skills!
  • A terrible, hellish hound stands between the characters and their objective. It would destroy them in a fight, but can be taunted and misdirected.
  • The player characters are trapped in a room with a devastatingly strong creature. They have no means of escape or defense, but the monster might be strong enough to take out that wall...
The list could go on and on, inspired by movies and video games and a dozen other sources. Anything is game, so long as it mixes things up a bit and pins success or failure on something other than throwing the biggest punch.

Summarizing Encounters

The point of this design exercise isn't try to say that one type of encounter is better than another. I love a good knock-down fight between my party and a bunch of monsters. However, mixing it up will pay huge dividends in your game, give multiple types of characters a chance to shine, and continue to push your envelope as a GM.

Next time we're going to jump into a new aspect of creature design that I call, the next level. See you then.

Be sure to check out the past entries in the creature design series:


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