Monday, November 28, 2011

Making Something Special

Welcome back! Did you have a good weekend? For those in the U.S., how was your Thanksgiving? Mine went well. Well, the Thursday itself did, aside from that it's been a mess of being at work and being exhausted from work, but hopefully things will calm down a little now that Black Friday is behind us (hah, right!) Anyhow, today I wanted to talk a bit more about my upcoming Deathwatch game. It was referenced last week (B-Team Game) and today I want to talk about some of the thoughts I'm putting behind the monster design.

Monster Design 101
The first thing I think you need to know when building a monster is that, much like with anything else, almost everything you think of has already been done somewhere else. That's ok, all ideas are cliche but how you execute them can make it even better. As such, for most of the unique monsters for this mission I am unabashedly stealing ideas from various bits of popular Sci-Fi to fit the bill. I've been mentally going over Aliens (with plans to watch it after this writing,) as well as going through other bits of similar lore. In general, since this mission will involve the Tyranid, the Aliens movies, Starship Troopers (book and movies,) and Star Craft are probably the most direct sources of inspiration.

However, you don't just grab a Lictor from Star Craft, pop it into your game, and call it good. No, you need to take the idea but the creation is all your own. So grab the seed of an idea and run with it in your new adventure.

You Won't Get It Right Right Away
The second thing to keep in mind is that you likely won't get the balance on the monster right right away. Building something new is tricky, and unless you're very familiar with the setting, mechanics, and your party, it can be very tough to bullseye the right difficulty curve. Now, depending on the monster and the encounter you then need to decide if you're going to err on the side of the monster being Overpowered or Underpowered. Keep in mind that you can mess this up (while aiming for OP, I have massively underpowered something before.)

For a big boss that you want to survive the first encounter I recommend aiming for OP. For a new minion you expect the PCs to mow through, aim for UP. For the key monsters in this session, I'll be aiming for OP. I want them to be terrifying and almost seem unfair. We'll see what happens.

Twisting Mechanics
Now we're on to the fun part. One of the things I feel you should do with any big unique NPC - especially a set piece monster - is be prepared to fiddle with the mechanics a bit. This can come in two ways. The first is you build your monster/NPC like a PC and in the process give them all the abilities and quirks a PC may also have. This can make for memorable villains as the GM - by design - doesn't pull punches with this NPC. They think, plan, and are perfectly ok with winning. The second way to do this is to twist, or make new, mechanics for the monster.

Why do you want to make new mechanics or twist ones in place? Honestly, this is to mess with the players. However, when I say mess with the players I don't mean to piss them off. I want the monster to do some things that they haven't seen before, and to do that I need to twist and create mechanics for this. If I do it right, there will be a couple of good "Oh sh!t!" moments in the game as techniques that were amazing to use in earlier fights are suddenly not the way to do things.

The last thing I'm worried about is the placement. Placing a monster properly can be just as important to their reception as anything else. After all, if you meet someone banging on a door and screaming to be let in you're not going to take them as seriously as the guy in the giant chair watching the space battle, right?

For mine, I think I have the atmosphere down. A nice big derelict ship full of tyranids and a new squad of space marines. Now, where to have the big bad make his debut?

What process do you use when making a monster? Sound off in the comments.

1 comment:

  1. To have a proper "classic Sci-Fi" feel, the monster should seem unbeatable for a good part of the encounter. Ideally there should be some common sense solution that either makes the monster vulnerable or outright defeats them (I'm melting, I'm melting, what a world).

    Players may cry foul at first if they don't understand that idea so there has to be some clue that points them in the right direction until they get the hang of it.

    The second element is that the monster shouldn't start out directly threatening the PCs but the impending threat should be there. Maybe the monster has to complete a process before it can attack the PCs or maybe it goes after the weaker NPCs first.