Big Monster Fight

Well, we may have found the solution to the balance issue we’ve begun to encounter in Gutters, Guilds, & Grimoires: bigger monsters.

Most of what we’ve fought has been fairly close to man-sized. Even the bigger things have been between bear and small elephant sized.

Last session, we fought something three stories tall.

Well, okay, some of us fought it, while many of us ran like hell.

We were completing a quest in someplace that was a pocket dimension, a moon, or some other part of the world (we never really figured it out), which meant freeing a celestial or demonic creature we called Jeff. We found Jeff in the middle of an abandoned village located between a fork in a stream surrounded by megalithic wards.

Since Jeff couldn’t talk (he could only sign yes or no), we had a hard time getting a complete picture of what was going on with him and the weird abandoned village. We found that he was trapped, the person who trapped him was nearby, we could free him, the villagers had not trapped him, he had not killed the villagers, he would help us if we freed him, and he would not hurt us if we helped him. We got a nice one point stat boost to luck for freeing him.

We set off to see if we could find the person who’d trapped him and we eventually found a wizard’s cottage. It was locked from the inside, empty, and had a hole in the roof. We dicked around way too long debating whether we should loot the cottage, wait for the person to come back, or decide that Jeff (or someone) had pulled the wizard straight through the roof of his own house.

Then we heard some crashing sounds.

Poking around the village was a thing described as being over 30 feet tall, having a three-eyed Cthulhu head and long spindly Salvador Dali Elephant legs.

Oh, right, I forgot to mention the other complication – the area was filled with obscuring mist and unless you had one of the sage torches with you, you could neither see in the mist nor were you safe from the mist folk who would tear you apart in four rounds tops. We’d left several torches lit along the path back to the mirror, but had only taken three with us. And the bridge across the stream consisted only of a series of rotting logs propped up by piles of rock, and several of the logs had already broken loose on the way over.

When the thing noticed us, we started running like hell. A few of us barely made it across. Others got swept down the stream a bit as the fell in, landing further down the shore out of the light and safety of the torches. Others eventually had to try to jump and swim for it, with most of the bridge gone, losing at least one torch in the process.

The thing used its tendrils to snatch up and try to eat people. Those who couldn’t get away ended up badly mangled and one was eaten. While they figured out that they could hurt it (a couple characters managed to cut off a few of its mouth tendrils and one guy even managed to tie its legs like an AT-AT) the thing was NOT going down easily and there was little indication that it was being more than really annoyed. After it had staggered a bit and fallen into the stream, the characters who’d stayed to fight saw more of them coming –they had just barely managed to convince ONE of the things that they were not worth trying to eat, but there was absolutely nothing they could’ve done once more of them showed up.

Eventually, everyone except for the character who was eaten had either run back or was carried through the mirror portal which we immediately sealed before they could come through. Hoping we don’t have to fight those things again any time soon.

The one really funny thing is that in the big battle against Lord Brinston’s armed guard awhile back, just about everyone in the party ended up with an open-faced helm, so everyone had really good head armor (4); were it not for those helmets doing damage reduction, everyone in the party who did not just run like hell would have had their heads popped off in no more than two hits and been eaten.

Fighting big monsters should be very different than fighting small and medium sized monsters, and it shouldn’t just be reflected in hit points. PCs typically won’t even be able to hit most locations on such creatures (I’ve always thought that if a DM has something like a dragon go toe-to-toe, blow-for-blow, with the PCs he’s running the encounter wrong). A big monster should keep its vital locations out of reach as is reasonable. Really big monsters absolutely should have subparts which could be crippled or destroyed; definitely makes things more interesting than the old Critical Existence Failure at 0HP.

2 responses to “Big Monster Fight

  1. How would you recommend that a GM stat out the “big monster”?

    Would you give it a large hp pool and as it loses hp, it loses certain special abilities, to represent the damage to particular body parts? For example, let us suppose that Monster X has 100 hp. It has 2 claw attacks, a scorpion-like tail attack, and a stomp attack. Once the party brings it down to 75 hp, it loses 1 claw attack. At 50 hp, it loses the tail. At 25 hp, the stomp has stopped. At 0 hp, it is dead.

    Or would you suggest creating stats for each body part that the party then targets with attacks. For example, let us suppose that Monster X is a bipedial humanoid with a scorpion tail. Maybe the vitals (torso + head) have 7 HD and -3 AC. Each leg might have 5 HD and -1 AC. The tail has 9 HD and -5 AC. The arms each have 6 HD and 1 AC. Naturally, each body part may have a particular attack or special ability associated with it. Once that body part is “killed”, Monster X loses whatever special power that body part granted.

    • First of all, in every system I’ve played in, 100 HP is insanely high, reserved for the earthly avatars of lesser gods (though I gather it’s only moderately high for something like 5e).

      Your second suggestion is how I would recommend doing it: assigning an HP value to individual body parts, determining what the mechanical effects of losing that part would be, and what combination of missing/destroyed parts would kill the monster.

      G3 uses a ‘part damaged/part destroyed’ dismemberment system similar to ACKS, but we typically just use it for players or major NPCs – in other cases, hits that would render something <0 would result in either still going, hurt badly, or dead. For a big monster, you could give the limbs their own HP pools. They can have their own armor/defense value and could be targeted. There are a few old-school D&D monsters, like Hydras, that work in a similar manner, where each head has to be killed as though it's its own monster and the torso may or may not be immune to damage.

      For your example monster, I'd actually make the head and torso have separate pools; the head would have less HP, but could only be hit by ranged weapons or spells (or lances, depending on how tall it was). In a system like AD&D, at 0, the head might be incapacitated in some regard (blinded and/or deafened, for instance), but the monster might keep fighting until its head was at -10.

      For calculating XP, I'd say count the monster as having hit dice equal to the greater of either the sum of the minimum number of parts to kill it or the largest + smallest HD body parts, with an asterisk for each non-regular attack, non-movement ability granted by its parts/sub-parts.

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