Making Monsters

Hi all

I'm in the throes of writing a new game in the Theban Tribunal and I've had a brain wave that I want to share and get some feedback/ideas/inspiration on.

I want monster hunting to be a part of my saga and of course Greek mythology has loads of great beasties to bedevil my players with. But rather than give them stats and throw them at the players I want to take a new direction. I want every beast to be unique and require, if not a singular method of defeating it, then at least make combating each different enough that they stick in the memory.

It was the Nemean Lion that Hercules killed that got me thinking this way. The Nemean Lion was immune to the arrows that Hercules fired at it and he was eventually forced to choke it to death. So what if I created creatures that had some pretty powerful resistances, such that taking a cookie-cutter approach to monster hunting would only lead to failure. It would force the PCs to do some research and come up with unique ways to fight these creatures.

Maybe one creature is immune to unliving material like metal and stone, but is vulnerable to living material (or once living material) like wood and animal claws. Maybe another is only vulnerable at certain times, maybe it removes its skin to bath on the full moon and thats the only time it can be harmed. Maybe One creature never drinks because it is deathly afraid of drowning, the only thing that can harm it.

This would transform monster hunting from "gather turb, fling Pilum of Fire" into "research beastie, prepare unique method of killing it, apply unique method". Which is obviously much more work but sounds like it could be more fun.

To make it worth it, since it would almost certainly require some lab time to prepare for, I'm thinking of raising the reward for killing such beasties three ways

  1. Maybe slightly increase the vis reward
  2. Increase the social reward, have monster hunters be particularly well regarded by the locals
  3. Make the bodies of the slain creatures magically very powerful for item enchantment.

This last one really interests me. Imagine a mage wearing the skin of the Nemean Lion, enchanted with all manner of protective spells. Hydra blood maybe makes exceptionally good poisons, etc etc. This could be done with large bonuses to enchanting, although I might need to waive the cap from magic theory on this or the large bonus becomes redundant.


Seems to me it’s more interesting if you don’t do this for every beast. If on first encountering a beast they don’t know whether they will have to research it or not.


Yes, good point. My intent was not to have every beastie like this, just the ones I make an adventure out of. I would expect many of these beasties to have more mundane spawn who plague the area, or are just mundane versions of that animal. e.g. the Nemean lion might be invulnerable, but the rest of the pride are normal lions (although terrifying attacking as a training group).
The kinds of creatures that these rules apply to might be more the ones where news comes to them, the legendary ones. Ones they just encounter as part of other stories, maybe not so much.

I was thinking more “you hear vague rumors of an obviously magical lion terrorizing village X” this means you need to travel to village X once there and once you encounter the lion you might have a chance of narrowing down if it is one of these legendary beasts to the extent that you could determine which legendary invulnerable lion it is. Or if the initial stories are more detailed maybe there is a bunch of false or misleading information that might lead to misidentification of the being. Maybe that’s not the game you want to play but misidentification seems a very important possibility in a game that highlights researching the being you want to combat/hunt. The stories of mundanes encountering a seemingly invulnerable and vicious animal are likely to be exaggerated.

There's a couple of tools to draw inspiration from, including RoP:M for dedicated vis which can be encountered as parts of creatures (see for ex: Salamander of Virtue). Also consider using special shapes and material bonuses from body parts, like in Hermetic Projects. I also recommend Sub Rosa 18, which has some interesting monsters that yield interesting body parts for enchantment.

I like a certain amount of the "more Mythic" approach to creature design you're talking about, @GribbletheMunchkin. I tend to apply more of it according to how important a creature/being is in a given story. I try to loosely rate "encounters" as Nuisance, Muscle/Goon, Major Threat, or Main Villain. The higher the particular being is on that continuum, the more likely I am to give it Mythic traits like a single (very) specific weakness or the like. The Nuisance and Muscle categories are usually going to have pretty generic stats and powers, but the same species (so to speak) may vary from area to area.

Our current "hacked Ars Magica" saga is set in a world closely modeled on the novels of the Dresden Files series. Creatures that appear often over the course of that series have generic stats in our game, the basics of which all three SGs have access to. OTOH, I have a pretty unique villain coming up (my own design originally from 2006), and it will have some pretty impressive immunities based entirely on Mythic correspondence that none of the magi have encountered previously

If your players/troupe turn out to really appreciate the occasional "high effort, higher yield, but unique" creature, I'd encourage you to use the approach more. If they gripe in character about lost lab time due to investigation requirements, that's part of the fun. If they gripe as players, "not this again ::rolleyes::"*, then maybe you've used it too much.

Sure. If Vis is scarce, and you want to make it less scarce, why not? I think the pawn per magnitude is supposed to be merely a rule of thumb anyway.

The reputation system already covers this, but it is often disregarded by the troupe. It seems more like a question of making active use of existing mechanisms in the story, than of actually increasing or changing anything compared to canon. Of course, you can increase the reputation xp award if necessary.

Very good idea, but it depends a lot on the magi's interests and priorities. Serious enchanters will want the shape and material bonuses, and I never considered the canon lists to be exhaustive so this should be uncontroversial.

Other variations of this include,

  • ingredients and materials for original research. I think this is mentioned in canon without elaborating on the mechanics.
  • mundanely powerful materials. The dragon hide makes good armour even if it is not enchanted.
  • resonnant materials for book production, if you use those rules.
  • materials with inherent magical effects which can be worked into useful items without further enchantment.
  • priceless lab ingredients (if you can hunt enough of those monsters)

This can become its own plot hook if the magi start researching monsters in the search for particular materials, giving more variation in how the monsters are introduced.

  1. The monster's lair may be an additional source of vis or a useful location with aura or regio, is another possible reward.
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