Campaign Report – Monsters

The monsters for this campaign were weird. When I started in 4E, I wanted to make as many creatures as possible on my own. I didn’t trust the official monsters to be able to do all the things I needed, and I wanted to take advantage of how free-form monster design was in the new system. But as the campaign went on, I found myself with less time to build monsters and less enthusiasm for working in a space that was at once numerically restrictive and narratively overly permissible. Instead I got into reskinning, using published monsters in ways their designers clearly did not intend.

I expected to do much the same thing for the Zelda campaign, because monsters in video games are all about taking narrow sets of actions (move in four directions, damage the player on collision, sometimes shoot a laser) and applying them in several ways. But this time I found published monsters didn’t work at all because they didn’t accurately mimic the originals. Instead of looking for monsters based on their function, I was looking for them based on their feel and how closely they matched an existing target. I could reskin basically nothing, and I had to design almost every monster in the campaign from scratch.

So now that I’m basically sitting on a fifty-page custom Monster Manual, I figure I might as well make it available to anybody who wants it. Everything in here is a Zelda creature except for the dungeon bosses, but I don’t have pictures for obvious copyright reasons. You may need to take a trip to the Zelda Wiki, which has basically been my home page for two years, to find out what the more esoteric monsters are.

In going through this, I found that I actually lost the entire stat block for one creature, the boss of the Skytree Tower. It’s not even in the backup file I made one month after the fight. Still, if I designed 152 monsters and I have notes for 151 of them, that’s a pretty good record.

If I were to do this again, I would have put more weaknesses on monsters corresponding to the item in each dungeon. I did this a few times early, but not often enough as the campaign went on. I spent most of that energy making sure each item was required for the boss battle and the dungeon puzzles. I also should have done more in the way of slashing, piercing, and bludgeoning damage, something we carried over from 3E. Zelda games have several monsters resistant or vulnerable to swords, bows, or blunt objects like shields and pots. I think I fell out of it around the time we got a character whose primary damage type was “chicken” without further clarification; once things got that wacky, inventing ways to leverage it wasn’t rewarding any more.

But the biggest reason was completely cosmetic: new powers and resistances would have taken up more lines on the page, and I really wanted to squeeze in as many monsters as possible without flipping back and forth through the document during combat. That may not come through because converting the file from OpenOffice to a Word document ruined my margins and section breaks, but in the original file it makes total sense.

The mathematically observant will notice that monster hit points are usually wrong. That’s intentional, and I’ll talk about it next time.

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