Dragon Age Oracle and Kobold Quarterly are running a monster design contest throughout the month of March. In early April, the best monsters will be voted on and two winners will be picked: best classic fantasy monster and best Midgard monster. Prompted by that contest, I decided to take a closer look at the tools for monster design in the Dragon Age game.

The Basics

Abilities and Focuses

All monsters have the standard 8 abilities which represent it in very generic terms. Is the monster strong? fast? tough? persuasive? All of those questions should be answered by a quick glance at the monster’s ability ratings. Here are some sample ability ratings taken from the monsters included in Set 1:

Ability Rating Examples
-3 Giant Rat Communication
-2 Giant Rat Cunning, Devouring Corpse Communication
-1 Dragonling Communication, Mabari War Dog Magic
0 Giant Rat Magic, Avvarian Hunter Cunning
1 Dalish Raider Cunning, Dragonling Willpower
2 Avvarian Hunter Strength, Genlock Magic
3 Innkeeper Communication, Mabari War Dog Dexterity
4 Hurlock Strength, Devouring Corpse Constitution
5 Bronto Constitution, Dragonling Dexterity
6 Black Bear Strength

Once you have ability ratings in place, you can give a monster a few focuses. Its worth noting that many monsters have a focus in their attack. If your monsters is meant to be a guardian, you should consider a Perception (Seeing, Hearing, or Smelling) focus while if it is an infiltrator or predator, you should probably give it a Dexterity (Stealth) focus.

Combat Ratings

A monster’s combat ratings section includes speed, health, defense, and armor rating. For speed and health, the best guidance that I can give is to look at comparable monsters and then assign a similar value. Defense follows a standard formula of 10+Dexterity. Finally, for armor rating give the monster a rating based on the armor it is wearing or a natural armor of some variety. Tough hides tend to give monsters an armor rating of about 3 while a giant spider’s exoskeleton affords it an armor rating of 5, the equivalent of light mail.

Attacks

The last required bit for a monster is its attacks. Remember that the attack roll should generally be either Strength or Dexterity modified by a focus.

Favored Stunts

A monster’s favored stunts don’t have any mechanical effect, but they are an important guideline for a GM that helps to differentiate monsters.

Special Powers

Reduced Cost Stunts

The simplest special powers are reduced cost stunts. These are standard stunts with their stunt point cost reduced (generally by 1 SP). If one of the standard stunts is a good fit for a monster ability, this is a great option to take.

Weapon Groups and Talents

Weapon-using monsters should list the weapon groups with which they are proficient. In addition, many humanoid monsters have a few talents. In particular, you should take a look at the weapon style talent that matches your monster’s equipment.

Spellcasting

If you want to create a monster that is able to cast spells, you will need to provide the creature’s spellpower (10+Magic), mana points, and a list of known spells. If your monster is a mage, you should also give it an Arcane Lance attack matching the Mage class power.

Unique Stunts

Stunts that are unique to a monster seem to be the standard way to add special powers to a monster. These can cover everything from a follow-up attack, like a dragonling’s quick bite, to poison or supernatural powers, like a devouring corpse’s ability to drain life. When adding a new stunt, consider how often you want the monster to be able to use it. Doubles are rolled just a little under half the time, so a 1-2 SP stunt can be used about every other round. A 5-6 SP stunt might come up once in a combat.

Miscellany

In addition to the above options, monsters can have special powers that provide other bonuses or traits not covered by either talents or stunts. For example, if you are designing an incorporeal monster, you should borrow that power from the shade. One really interesting aspect of the incorporeal power is that it includes a stunt that players can use against the shade. If you want a special weakness for your monster, this is a great approach to use.

For some more examples, look at these special powers in Set 1:

  • Howling Madness from the possessed corpses
  • Crazed from the ghoul
  • Wall Crawler and Web from the giant spider
  • Magic Resistance from the genlock
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