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Role Playing Corner!

A Monster by any other name.

A Monster by any other name.

by Shayne B

9 months ago


Monsters; the core of any Dungeons and Dragons game.  I mean, they’re mentioned right in the title: Dragons.  A monster that evokes fear, fame and fortune in one thought.

With a world full of wondrous and strange creatures, sometimes we go out of our way to find unusual monsters that don’t quite fit into the setting to try and make an encounter more interesting.  But instead of relying on the bizarre, why not look at our more common monsters and make small tweaks to them which will make the encounter more exciting?

Today we’ll be taking a look at adding Class and/or Levels to a Monster.

The choice is yours if you want to add a class, levels or both to a monster.  The primary benefit of adding levels to a monster is more hit points.  Adding class gives the monster more options to use in combat.  More on both of these items a bit later.

Now, I’ve been playing D&D for quite a long time.  I started in AD&D (2nd Ed) and have been loving it ever since.  Second Edition had its…challenges, but I can say the game has greatly improved over the years. 

One of my friends was a bit of a rules lawyer, and knew most of the rules like the back of his hand.  When we would start new adventures, he would often metagame the combat aspect of things.  If you don’t know, to metagame means to use knowledge that you as the players knows, as the character.  But basically he would mentally track hit points and use that knowledge to his advantage in combat.

One fight in particular, he dealt 8 points of damage to the orc leader.  Before I could say anything he was telling me his plan for the next round, assuming the orc had been slain.  That’s when I told him that the orc was, in fact, NOT dead.  He looked at me with bewilderment and said “But orcs only have 1 hit dice, 8 is the max HP they can have!” And I responded with “Well, I’m the DM and I decided that he has MORE hit points, because I wanted this encounter to be a little tougher.”

Begrudgingly, he kept fighting and in time he grew to accept that, as the DM, I can make these tweaks and changes to monsters to make them more challenging, or to change up an encounter a bit.

Today, they are actual RULES for adding levels and class to a monster, so you have that to back you up.  But back then?  It was a bit of an argument.

But when is a good time to make these changes?

The short answer is that it’s really up to you.  You know your players best and should have an idea as to what they enjoy; what makes one encounter more thrilling than the last.  So go with your gut.  Don’t be afraid to experiment.  And for the love of everything good, HAVE FUN.

Adding Classes to a Monster.

Low level players tend to encounter small groups of low encounter monsters, to the point of they are sure they can win the day simply because they know what the kobolds are capable of.  Kobolds make traps, they are cowardly, they usually use a dagger and a sling.

But what would they think if they saw the following:

“As you round the bend of this long cavernous hall, you see 4 kobolds, all dressed in worn leather armour.  Bits of fur help keep the tattered pieces together.  Each of them holds a rusty battle axe. When their gazes fall on you, without hesitation they move to attack!”

Depending on your players, they may already be worried.  This is a bit out of character for kobolds.  They tend to take up a defensive position and use their slings.  A battle axe does way more damage than a sling, or a dagger.  And leather offers more protection than no armour at all.  The players may have to rethink their strategy.

But if they scoff at the kobold's armaments, you can proceed to describe, during the fight, the kobolds activating their rage.

“The kobold stares you in the eye and begins to breathe deeply.  He grips his weapon as he clenches his jaw, his teeth grinding audibly. His muscles tense up and veins pop from his neck. A bit of foam escapes his mouth as he yells furiously and slashes his weapon your way.”

Now the players have something new to worry about; the creatures can rage which allow them to deal even more damage.  This quaint kobold encounter has just become far more dangerous for the players.

So in the above scenario, we took four basic kobolds and simply added the Barbarian class to them.  This didn’t change their hit points, their speed or any of their stats, but it gave them access to Rage and battle axes, which makes what was a simple encounter far more deadly.

Adding levels to a monster is a quick and easy way to make an encounter more challenging as well.

All this really does is make a monster harder to kill but that’s often enough.  The creatures in 5th edition tend to deal a lot more damage than their previous edition counterparts.  So having them last longer creates an environment where there's a greater potential for failure on the part of the players.  You can tweak the monster’s to hit bonus as well, but I would do that sparingly.  The amour classes in 5th edition are lower on average, so your players are already easier to hit.

When is a good time to add levels to your monsters?

When you want to make an encounter seem more dangerous.
If you want to straight up surprise your players (What do you mean the goblin got hit by the fireball and SURVIVED)
If time becomes an issue and you want the players to really feel it.  “The cavern is caving in but the creature still blocks the only exit”

Bad time to add levels to your monster?

The players are winning the current encounter too quickly and you want it to last longer.
Every single encounter.

And that’s all I have for my first post.  I hope you enjoyed it and I look forward to talking to you all about changing up weapons that monsters carry.

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