The Yin and Yang of Stock Monsters in D&D

. 01.06.2016 . 0 Comments

As GMs we all know that tweaking the stock monsters to suit you game needs is something that just comes with the territory.  Things straight out of the book more often than not just don’t fit perfectly into the scenarios that you have planned for, and so we all go about modifying stats or powers to suit our individual needs.  But wouldn’t it be better if we just created all the entities our players interact with ourselves?  Or should we just give up the ghost and just accept that cookie-cutter monsters are what we wanted when we bought that bestiary book in the first place?  I know that I often will start out with monster choices out of the book, and then feel a pang of guilt for not being more creative.  So for those of you who on the fence about what kinds of baddies to populate your game world with, I present the case for both.

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I think that people at first blush think that a resource such as the D&D Monster Manual or similar bestiary book’s real benefit to the DM is that it saves time, allowing creators to pick and choose monsters straight from its pages without having to painstakingly come up with special rules and stats for each thing that the players come across in a dungeon.  While I don’t disagree that it does save time, I think the real benefit to repositories such as these is the fact that it gives a common currency to those in the TTRPG community.  Table top games by their very nature are very compartmentalized constructions, each with its separate set of protagonists, villains, and setting all reacting to a set of choices and events usually as unique as a fingerprint.  But outside of the game us players and GMs want carry on our love for the game, and unless you are talking to the small assortment of people that you play with, you could really only discuss table top games in generalities having little landmarks to relate to besides the base structure of the game.  Stock monsters on the other hand afford those reference-able landmarks.  If you were talking to a D&D player you could ask about those big lumbering regenerating jackasses that hate fire, and instantly they would know you were talking about trolls.  If you were a World of Darkness player you could would know they were talking about Brujah.  And if they were a Shadowrun player they would know it was…something else probably, I don’t play Shadowrun.  The point is it allows us all to be fans of the content of a game, without the game having any set content.

On the other hand however using stock monsters that we all know and love takes the intellectual stimulation of discovery away.  If players know what they are going up against they are going in armed with a whole array of knowledge that they didn’t need to do the legwork for to find out.  What kinds of wards will be most effective?  Is it smart enough to lay that kind of trap?  Is it really dead?  Giving the players the opportunity to speculate and test can really add a lot to a game, and incorporate the always interesting element- fear of the unknown.  Without it you run the risk of making your game stale and/or boring, and an uninteresting game just isn’t worth playing.  Having wholly new entities running around in your game can even give well worn situations a new lease on life, making even standard conflicts and situations seem more interesting than they really might be.

Is there a happy medium?  Absolutely!  I’m not trying to persuade you entirely to one camp or the other because not every encounter or session needs to be treated the same way, you need to find a good balance.  It may be that in some cases you will want to jump those hurdles of discovery and get straight to a more pressing situation.  Or you may find out that your group really favors discovery and you will want to work in interesting foes that don’t conform to the stereotypes set down in the common codex.  I think that if you keep these things in mind you’ll be one step closer to a fantastic game.

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What do you think?  Are there greater benefits or detriments to using stock monsters that I didn’t think of?  Have a personal anecdote you want to share?  Feel free to leave a comment below, or tweet me @Tanz444 so we all can learn something new.


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Category: Player Perspective

About the Author ()

Tanz is an enthusiastic GM, Blogger, and avid table top gamer with over 15 years of experience. His first brush with tabletop gaming was with Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Ed. Over the years he has transitioned from player to GM, and has run many types of game systems favoring games that bend toward horror and with a supernatural twist in contemporary settings. His DM style is one that leans heavily towards adventure path style play, preferring to give players options rather than unrestricted 'sandbox' style play or narration on rails. He regularly engages with the tabletop gaming community on twitter @Tanz444, his articles can be seen on various digital venues, and loves to GM at conventions whenever possible.

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