Try to remember for a moment a more innocent time in your life. Back then, the thought of vampires and werewolves lurking in the dark might have sent a chill down your spine. These days, though, when people discuss shows such as The Walking Dead or Being Human, it’s not with the same sense of fear that they once had in the past. The classic horror monsters have become mundane. Zombies, werewolves, ghosts, and vampires lost that mystery of the unknown that made them scary and instead they have become tropes.
It happens at gaming tables, too. Eventually, many gamers are lucky enough to settle in with a long-term gaming group. Many of our favorite roleplaying games are rooted in strategy games, and those playing them begin to form strategic patterns as they play. These patterns often mean that careful planning by the GM is somewhat wasted, because not only do the players see your favorite moves coming, but they know each other as well and have transitioned into being a good team when confronted by the familiar and common threats they’ve faced in the past. This is fun for awhile, but if all they face are familiar threats, then you’re dealing with a form of stagnation that no longer challenges your players to think as much. As a result, your game will either change or everyone will get bored and find other things to do.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The fantasy genre is at its best when you mix familiar with new. We’ve discussed civilizing and mutating our old hat monsters, and today we’re going to reverse the formula to keep your players guessing by adding classic templates to some monsters that might be less familiar.
You can find the templates I’ll be discussing here. Join me after the jump as we discuss making vampires, lycanthropes, and zombies scary again in “Old Hat Monsters: Mashed.”
After you have carefully examined each character’s background, you can then interweave the elements—naturally drawing some characters together or spawning organic conflict between others. When two or more characters have elements in common, you have a plotline that involves the entire party.
Let me give you an example from my last Eberron campaign. It was a somewhat standard find-the-items-to-save-the-world sort of game. I went into the campaign with the idea of having a githyanki incursion at some point, and only the items the PCs were searching for could stop it.
Although many a roleplayer may bemoan the lack of women in our community, I’m here to tell you they are out there, waiting to be enticed by goblins, treasure, and adventures.
On Friday, April 12th, I hosted the fifth monthly Queer Geek! Ladies’ Gaming Night in Seattle, Washington. Usually we all get together and play board games, but this month I invited Paizo out to run the attendees through some Pathfinder games. GMs from Paizo included Crystal Frasier, Liz Courts, Sarah Marie Teter, and Erik Keith, and Pathfinder Society GMs were Anna Murray and Dorothy Lindman. We had a great turnout—there were 30 players in six Pathfinder games, and many of the staff from Paizo came out to support their fellow GMs and have a few beers. Paizo provided some goblin plushies, shot glasses, and gaming material for giveaways to the players. Games played included the Beginner Box and variations thereof, and a couple of Pathfinder Society intro scenarios. Many of the players expressed interest in playing more Pathfinder and possibly doing continuous campaigns at future events.
When you get your players to develop detailed histories, they will see them as ways to explore their own characters, but you, as the GM, know what they really are: game generating fodder.
When I’m writing a screenplay, I interweave my plot with the backgrounds of my characters. Often I find ways for the plot to intrude on the character’s lives in order to create emotional conflict. It is why, in action movies, the bad guys break into the hero’s home or family’s home. It makes the plot personal.
In RPGs we have a bit more freedom, but screenwriting has taught me that a good background should provide you with everything you need to create campaign hooks, locations, and nonplayer characters (NPCs) specific to that character. It is where you find people to help or hate them, places they should fear or love, and plots they want to get involved in or can’t avoid.
Last time, we went over a quick system for mutating your monsters so that they can provide a more unknown challenge for your player characters to face. Let’s take a look at a few examples, starting with the humble goblin.
For starters, goblins are not CR 1. To get there, they need 2 player character class levels. The stats below reflect a 15-point buy, the goblin template located here, and 2 levels of rogue, which are highly favorable for our nasty little foes. Evolutions are as follows: 2 points for winged flight, 2 points for poison attack, 1 point for reach (total: 5 points). Replace the skilled racial trait with hard head, big teeth for a 1d4 primary bite attack. The reach attack is bite. Add the Fly-By Attack feat, and use Weapon Finesse for the 2nd-level rogue trick. So, how did our newly created bitewing goblin turn out? Take a peek at the statistics block.