Posted by : David Guyll June 06, 2009

Rust monsters have been around since 2nd Edition, at least. Maybe before? I never played an earlier edition except for Basic D&D when I was in elementary. Rust monsters are a critter that I never got around to using and thankfully encountering. I didnt want to use a rust monster since if it managed to destroy the party's gear, that I would have to incorporate some way for them to get new stuff or bulk/swap out the items that they were going to find.

In other words, it would have ultimately been pointless and just added more work for me to do.

Honestly all the rust monster seemed to do was perform as a game-stopper. "Oh noes, it ate the fighter's magic sword and armor! Now he's useless until he gets another set of magical gear since he is the most magic dependant class ever." Seriously, whats the point? All it did was make it so that one player has spend the next x encounters waving his hands around in front of the wizard as a literal meat-shield. Thats neither fun nor challenging, but simply random, making it no better than a save-or-fuck-off effect, which is part and parcel to a terrible design move.

Now that the rust monster has been officially re-released into the wild, some people are complaining about the new mechanics like they are a bad thing. Frankly, these are also probably people that dont even play 4th Edition, but want to bitch and whine about how Wizards isnt making more books for their legacy edition instead of rightfully leaving to die in the ditch it was cast into years ago.

The new rust monster fulfills its design purpose and also allows for more interesting combat challenges. If it hits you, it starts damaging metal weapons and armor, which is reflected by an attack/AC penalty. Why is this good game design? Because it doesnt utterly obliterate a character's prime method for doing anything for much longer than the planned battle.
Its still dangerous and characters packing metal will want to avoid it because it gradually makes them eaiser to hit/harder for them to hit other things. Players unfamiliar with the creature wont be randomly hosed by it from the start, but will be affected by it, yet be able to react in an intelligent, informed matter...which is excellent game design.
It can still destroy one magic item per encounter. The item in question has to be rusting for this to work, so it requires a bit of setup. This would allow a player to discover that metal doesnt work too well and keep her distance, though a lost item can be recovered at the end of the encounter by harvesting the consumed residuum from its carcass.

I like to think its a matter of not being a "dick DM" by throwing all this random nut-punching bullshit at my players. Not wanting to destroy their gear isnt the same thing as not trying to, "make nine-year olds cry," and it certainly doesnt make the game less challenging. I think its a pretty big leap to get from what amounts to grinding the game to a halt as you arbitrarily punish and cripple about half the party. So you set them back quite a bit of treasure, now you have to make it all back up or reduce the danger of your encounters in the future. Whee!

The important thing is that rust monsters are still bizarre illogical things that matter. They are still feared. Just not for me as a DM. I can comfortably throw them at my players without worrying about having to revamp future encounters and/or treasure parcels to make up for my dick-move.

Of course, I could also just buy my players dinner.

{ 6 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. Rust Monsters have been around since the earliest days of D&D. You can find them in the AD&D 1st Ed Monster Manual.

    I don't need to know why they are out there. The fact that they are weird and a threat is enough really. A mad Wizard made them. There that works! ;)

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  2. Its more about people bitching that the rust monster is "passive-aggressive" and doesnt do exactly what it did before.
    The mechanics are different, to be sure, but it STILL gives people lugging around metal crap reason to pause, think, and potentially chuck the wizard at it.
    Its just it wont cripple the party in the process.

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  3. The new rust monster works well for certain kinds of games: long-term campaigns and anything with large story arcs, just off the top of my head. The old rust monster would be disruptive, and as you say would make for a lot of work just to keep things moving well.

    The new one isn't as well suited to other kinds of games. Sandbox games come to mind as one where monsters and hazards really need sharp edges in order to maintain a sense of danger since dramatic plot tension can't provide that. The old rust monster would be better suited to that kind of game, where running away or going around in some clever fashion is not only encouraged but de rigeur to make the game work. (Obviously I'm a fan of the latter sort of game, and less so of the former.)

    Even then, using a rust monster doesn't have to be a dick move. Especially in an exploration-focused game, a rust monster should be surrounded by clues to its presence (if not mentioned right out by people in the nearest settlement). Similarily to how a medusa is going to be telegraphed by uncannily life-like statues and rubble, a rust monster is going to be telegraphed by dead adventurers with all their buckles and things missing, rust-stained yet oddly smooth gaps in the mine's wall where a vein of ore was chewed out, dungeon porcullises with mysteriously missing hardware, or whatever.

    Suddenly running into an old rust monster/gorgon/medusa two feet away around a corner in the corridor? That's a dick move.

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  4. My main gripe with previous rust monsters is that they can be terribly disruptive, even if the players realize whats up. In fact, I take issues with ANY mechanic that hinges on a single roll with devastating consequences: many gaze attacks, SoD effects, and even the rust-effect.
    All of these mechanics hinge entirely on a single roll, that for all a character's strength means absolutely nothing. No matter how tough you are, a lowly cockatrice WILL kill you 5% of the time, instantly. Same for FAR too many other abilities in the game.
    This is why I greatly prefer the way 4E handles them. Players have a chance to act and react to the situation, instead of getting a shitty roll and having to sit the rest of the session out.

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  5. Which is good for the style of play that 4e is built for, yeah.

    For a sandbox game, though, there need to be things that make the players fear for their characters so much that they will look at that tower of shining gold, turn to their companions, and say, "The villagers say there are not one, but two medusae living in there, and they've had years to fortify. You're madder than Cyric if you think I'm going in there, gold be damned."

    Without that, sandbox games just... don't work. They go limp.

    That's really why save-or-die still has fans. Not to dick over the players or even to disrupt the game, but to make parts of the world so famously dangerous (i.e., the players know that save-or-die monster is there) that the players are not going to go there without being really, really sure that they're prepared to overcome, or to die trying. Their choice. It's all about the choice.

    It's not everyone's cup of tea, but it does give the old rust monster a sensible purpose without having to be used disruptively.

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  6. I like the way you think, Antioch.

    d7, I can't read your posts without thinking we have a very different definition of a sandbox game.

    To me, what you're describing is a railroad game controlled by a dick DM who wants you to think you're in a sandbox but... in a cunning inversion of the electrified third rail... you will die horribly if you step off of the tracks. Or a smirking DM informing the players their characters should feel free to explore the entire world, after having narrated a landscape consisting of interesting sights behind deadly electric fences.

    To me, what a sandbox game requires is not a series of electric fences but a flexible DM. That's not to say you can't make some parts of the world more dangerous than others... if PCs aren't required to go through the Forest of Dank Despair, then there's no game balance requirement that the encounters there be level appropriate.

    And really, if it's all about choice then using tougher monsters instead of fuck-you monsters seems the better way to go. If the party knows that they can take a shortcut that will involve things that will be more of a struggle to survive/defeat than normal, that's more of a choice than if there are two routes and one of them has things that can kill them by looking at them teamed up with things that will eat their hard-earned magical equipment.

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