View Full Version : Setting up monsters

2011-09-16, 04:27 AM
I have trouble setting up Monster fights, I say "You are attacked by a green dragon" and ,no matter how much creeping though a forest they have done before, it all falls apart when green dragon is said, they know there facing an acid spitting, Flying Aligator. How do you set up encounters so that atmosphere is maintained?

2011-09-16, 05:23 AM
First of all, don't name the monster, unless these same characters have encountered it a dozen times before. Characters, not players.

It will keep them on their toes.
"A monstrous beast crashes through the trees before you like a wall of olive green scales, it's head sitting thirty feet above you on a slender neck topped by a rising crest of leathery emerald skin. It spreads two wings behind it and roars, spitting a cloud of gas that dissolves the leaves of the trees around it."

Green dragon? Probably. How's your knowledge check?

Additionally: play them smart. If your players don't respect the monsters, they aren't vicious enough. Dragons are smart. Very smart. They will rarely just drop out of the sky and start spitting acid. They can have minions, or spells, or fortified lairs.

2011-09-16, 05:24 AM
Try to change the aspect of the monster you want to use, or at least tell the player his appearance.

In your example you could describe the green dragon as a "huge shadow over them, a massive reptile-like shape made of sparkling green scales" or something similar.

2011-09-16, 05:41 AM
If the players are bad at resisting metagaming and they know exactly the stats of a green dragon. Then give the dragon a few level dips in classes. Who's to say they can't huh?
"The dragon evades your fireball completely", that ought to throw a monkey wrench in the machinery of the players minds. If they see the dragon doing something they know a normal green dragon can't, then they know they don't really know what it is they're facing.
Don't forget to make use of its treasure.

2011-09-17, 12:53 PM
If the players are bad at resisting metagaming and they know exactly the stats of a green dragon. Then give the dragon a few level dips in classes. Who's to say they can't huh?
"The dragon evades your fireball completely", that ought to throw a monkey wrench in the machinery of the players minds. If they see the dragon doing something they know a normal green dragon can't, then they know they don't really know what it is they're facing.
Don't forget to make use of its treasure.
I like this Idea, any major classes (execpt scorceror and races of the dragon) that would be good for a dragon, Barbarian maybe?

2011-09-17, 02:11 PM
Don't forget to make use of its treasure.

This is, in fact, essential for all treasure-keeping monsters. If their treasure includes consumables like scrolls and potions, use them. If the treasure includes weapons or armor, the monster should wear them. Dragons can afford armor in their size, and if they're willing to invest in it, they should get magical mithral breastplate to fly around in. And never underestimate the surprise when your white dragon shoots a line of fire from its mouth. If it works, it will throw off the party tactics for at least one round. How does it do that? Elixir of fire breath. Worth every copper if it delays that fireball.

2011-09-17, 02:26 PM
When doing a DnD game I change not only the appearance of every monster but also the name. I never tell the party what they are facing, I describe it instead.


Who says dragons have to be color coordinated? Have that green come at the party looking like a white or red and chuckle at them as they cast their resists.

Give your dragon multiple breath weapons, granted by Tiamat to one of her favorite clerics. Oooo, class levels...

Dragons are notorious shape shifters, imagine their surprise when that hawk circling over head grows by 10,000% and drops in the middle of them.

Fights at night, especially in the woods, are great for building suspense. NPCs or animals disappearing around the party in tall brush or a swamp, ala any dinosaur movie, is fun also.

2011-09-18, 05:06 AM
One trick for all greater monsters is to make them characters rather than objects. It isn't a dragon. It's Gorafzasdzatraxxes the Fearsome, destroyer of fourteen villages. Vanquisher of the giant-fortress of Magna. The green beast. That gash over his milky white eye? He got it from the axe of the king of the giants. The scar across his belly from the dragonslayer Sir Ramshood.
Dragons are certainly few enough to be easily recogniceable (and vain enough to ensure that they will be) and if you know enough about dragons to recognice what this "type" of dragon is capable of, then you can probably identify which one it is too.
Unless it is too young to have a reputation, but then it'd probably let the players know to build just that.

Trick two is to ensure that they always have a reason for what they're doing, and not just show up to provide a challange. Gor, above, for instance, might be building his hoard and engaging in dangerous fights to build up a reputation in order to impress his fellow female drakes. Proving he's more than a capable mate that will grant her good strong spawn. And he's ravaging the countryside to make sure they know where to find him (and to eat, of course).

Trick three is to ensure that everything fights as they should. Dragons are intelligent (if alien) and wouldn't deign to fight fair. It's lair is full of maze-like passages and 9 m shafts straight up or down. They're long quadpedal species with strong claws, it's not an obstacle to them. Long underwater passages that a dragon easily can hold it's breath in, but is quite too long for a human. Sure, it'll probably take forever to build... but dragons live long.

In open spaces they'll do flyby's, not landing anywhere without clearing the area with spells or their breath first. ensuring that not a single one of those little things with sharp sticks get close to the soft underbelly. Dropping a massive treetrunk on the wizard. Causing an avalance (if in snow-covered mountains). Scaring a massive herd of cows/wildebeasts towards the PCs.
Making frequent use of illusions to hide the truth of things. Tipping over the boat they're on.

2011-09-18, 05:38 AM
Make them crazy awesome? Template stacking is always funny. Try a Were-shark Ogre, or the ever dreaded half-Draconian troll.

If you want to be more serious, make them clever. Tucker's koblods were the terror of the dungeon they called home in, and goblins are potently no different. And who said the Lich had to live on land, or couldn't scry and die himself?

Edit: have them introduced from a distance so they have to work out what it is at it charges at them. Or have a giant atop a cliff fling rocks at the players as they try to get to it.

Try looking in the homebrew thread. there was a sticked post or something linked to one that explained how re-fluffing a monster could make it more interesting. why have them attacked by halfing ninjas when they could be attacked by Midget Hashishin?

Edit: As a last resort, if you cannot do anything else, follow this guide.
[3.5]Being Ra's al Ghul-Oslecamo's guide for DMs to improve their monsters

The monster may not be memorable but the encounter certainly will.

Finally, if nothing else, making them funny. Have them at each other's throats due to a poker game until the players come.

2011-09-18, 11:15 AM
Ok, just going with the green dragon in the woods from the OP.

Tell them it's a green dragon, make it the main quest point for even being in the forest, it's got info/treasure/virgins that the party wants. It's also aware that it stands out, so if it doesn't spend all it's time outside it's lair polymorphed into a housefly, it's at least covered in mud and branches. If they run into it on the ground it may look like a Tendriculos, or an overgrown shambling mound. In the air, maybe it's completely covered in mud, it's brown, must be a Wyvern. If not, who's not to say it doesn't polymorph into a smaller dragon to mislead adventurers, or like someone else said a dragon of another color. A metallic color.

Minions: Shambling mounds, Tendriculos, forest goblins, maybe a small band of evil elves who accept the dragon as the boss because hey, why fight that thing? The list goes on with kobolds, maybe an ooze or two it's found a way to control, a few half-dragon centaurs, you get the idea.

1: wings. Fly by breath weapons. Fly by grabs, 200 foot drops. Who want's to break a grapple at 200 feet? not to mention if the party does do some damage, the dragon can just disappear for a few rounds while it flys off to a stash hidden around the forest so it doesn't have to lead people to it's lair every time it wants to get something. I'll go over the stash later.

2: Claw/claw/bite. This is what a dragon does when it's cornered, not before.

3: Magic. Who says every dragon takes the same spells? I'm not even going to try listing ideas, there's an entire spell compendium to go through. But look at a few things like orb spells, AoEs, and "save or suck" any save or die spells are generally a jerk move, unless your gamers are like mine and hate the NPC instead of the DM controlling them.

4: loot. Dragons get 3X treasure, toss in whatever plot items you want, roll some random things (sometimes that's the most useful) but also get some items that an intelligent dragon would specifically want. Healing, wands or a staff that allow other types of elemental damage, buffs (scrolls of greater invisibility anyone?)

Take some of the loot and break it up into stashes, keep the best items where the dragons going to be most of the time, but take some healing, maybe a half empty wand of fireball, and a scroll or two with some buffs, and put them in a waterproof sack, in a tunnel 20 feet underwater, put another healing item and a scroll of hold person in another weather resistant pouch, at the top of a tall tree. Got a nifty ring? stick it, a wand of 9th level magic missile, and two potions of cure moderate in a hole under a boulder no human could move.

Just remember, a dragons not going to scatter ALL of it's loot, or even consider letter some of the best stuf out if its cave, but why not have a few emergency packs outside the main treasure chamber?

2011-09-18, 01:28 PM
If this is a case of not wanting your players to know what they're up against even if they've memorized the monster manual, than homebrew your monsters so that the appearance is completely different but the abilities are the same, so the players can't recognize them (but the characters might, if they've got enough ranks in the appropriate knowledge skill.)

Granted, it's hard to find something that could possibly have the same abilities as dragons. Try making it bird-like instead of lizard like.

Gabe the Bard
2011-09-18, 08:30 PM
I try to set up monsters way before the encounter actually starts. For instance, the players might be exploring a dungeon, when they suddenly walk into a tunnel that looks like it was made by a giant worm. They feel tremors through the floors and along the walls, as if some immense creature is passing by. Then, without warning, a gigantic worm-like monster of purple complexion burrows through the wall.

In another scenario, the party enter a dreamscape and stumble upon a small village. The villagers are going hungry because the butcher is out of town. When the villagers try to enter the butcher's shop, which is a giant shed, they get turned into stone. The players learn that there is a single animal in the shop, which has somehow been providing "chicken soup" for the entire village. What could it be???...
A Titanic Five-Headed Lernean Cockatrice!