Posted by : David Guyll September 10, 2016

Over on my vrock post, Svafa asked if I'd ever considered making a sort of monster manual for Dungeon World, because he enjoys the monsters I cook up and/or the modifications I make to existing monsters. Up to that point I hadn't, but I am now.

Before I talk about some changes I'll be making to the "core" statblock, I want to request that if you have any gripes about monsters as presented in Dungeon World (and I suppose gripes in general), let me know! I've had people bring up a lack of art and story seeds/adventure hooks, and have been referred to Numenera and 13th Age for examples of what they want.

You can leave a comment here, email me, or hit me up on whatever social media thing you prefer.

Now, with that out of the way: changes. The two big deviations from the book (so far) are instinct and moves.

Instinct is for the most part garbage. I mean, check out the lich: it's "instinct" is to "un-live", whatever the fuck that means. It might as well say "do lich things". The dwarf's instinct is "to defend", which is a bit more defined than the lich but also nonsense: is that all every dwarf cares about? What about, for starters, looking for gold/gems, gaining honor, keeping the clan safe, gaining glory for his clan, crafting something that everyone will remember him by, and/or reclaiming an ancestral stronghold that was taken by a dragon?

Also, how does the dwarf's instinct cause problems for others?

I suppose I could just change the instinct to something actually relevant at a given point in time, which I'm sure would anger certain members of the Dungeon World community, but why bother? It's easier to just ignore instinct and let GMs do whatever with the monster. So, unless someone can make a case for it, it's going away.

Moves aren't as useless, but can still limit what you'd think monsters can do. Checking the ogre, its moves are destroy something, fly into a rage, and take something by force. When I think about an ogre fighting, I picture it just barreling through a mob of people, swatting a bunch of people aside, maybe picking someone up and throwing them, kicking someone out of its way, or even just smashing someone underfoot (or underclub).

Problem is none of the stuff I mentioned are moves.

I suppose I could just go with the "fiction", and let an ogre do all of those things I said because it makes sense, but then as with instinct why bother having a list of moves in the first place? So, rather than specify 1-4 moves that you might use, ignore, modify, and/or swap out, I'm just going to write a moves section that gives you an idea as to what a monster might do, and you the GM can use the examples, build on them, or just do whatever.

I'm also considering scrapping special qualities, because I feel like there's too much overlap with tags. Like, instead of saying "made of fire", I can just give it the blazing tag, and instead of saying "incoporeal", I can just give it the incorporeal tag. Things like "made of stone" or "inch-thick metal hide" can be highlighted in the description or moves section, and stuff like "shell" don't need to be there at all.

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

  1. I like the option of Instinct for things it makes sense on. For example, I see it working great for something like an owlbear, rabbit, or unicorn. But when you get to more complicated creatures that might have long-term goals, morals, obligations, and such, it tends to break down. Either way, it's pretty easy to create an Instinct, so excluding them isn't a big deal in my opinion (and gives the GM more incentive to be creative and think of how the creature fits into the world and campaign).

    And yeah, I don't get why special qualities aren't just tags.

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    1. @Svafa: For me, even animals can be tough to figure out. Like, is a giant worm concerned more about eating, burrowing, or something broad and vague like "to survive"? The ankheg's is to undermine, but the purple worm is to devour, so no help from the book.

      I will say that I can't recall ever using instinct. If the party goes into a swamp, they might run into lizardmen, who might want to kill them, demand that they leave, trade, or ignore them. Depends on which tribe and what the characters were doing.

      Their instinct, to destroy civilization, is really only kind of applicable to tribes that venture forth from the swamp to attack nearby settlements.

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  2. For my games, I almost always create monsters on the fly—sometimes in advance—using the rules. I guess I don't care so much if a monster list assigns an _instinct_ for each entry, but answering the question "What does it want that causes problems for others?" when I bring a monster into play is always useful to me.

    When I write monster moves, I always write stuff like what you listed for your ogre, but mainly the not-so-obvious moves I want to remember. For magical moves especially, I like more specifics than what is common in the rulebook. At first I thought I was doing it wrong, but it works a lot better for me than having something vague like "weave a spell of the wind and sea".

    I have used the idea of monster "death moves"—from Grim World, I think—and that has created some pretty cool fiction for the weird monsters I've used it for.

    Since I prefer to create monsters for the specific situation, I might not be the target market for a monster list, but I'm always keen to steal fresh ideas—especially if you have an appendix or preamble that lays out your rubric for making monsters, step-by-step.

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    1. @John: What the monster wants that also happens to cause problems for others varies, but if I'm throwing a monster at the party then it's probably obvious. It could also change: maybe the bandits want to rob the party, but once most of them die they want to live to rob another day (which could mean taking prisoners/hostages).

      I'm with you on the moves, though I note the interesting stuff just so I don't forget later, but ultimately let the monster do whatever I think it should be able to do (which also seems more efficient then planning out a dozen or so moves and forcing myself to stick to the list).

      My thought process will definitely be in the book (like in the magic item books), and I'll hopefully add more stuff to the mix for you to steal. Also art: my very ambitious goal is to illustrate everything.

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  3. I think that things done better could have more meaning. Better written instincts could help GMs to role play the monster/enemy. Also, Moves are cool because they are nice guidelines about what to do with a 6- result. Now, the point is: sure, you David, and me, and other veteran players and GMs around the world, we all know very well what is a Lich, what are its instincts/plans, and what should be cool moves for impacting the fiction. Other hundreds of young players, timid Harry Potter pre-teen readers etc. MAYBE ignore it.
    Don't forget to look the core book (and all the various supplements, playbooks etc.) with naif eyes.
    Also, beware to publish things too different from the original source. While I understand your points, and almost fully support it, I think the final product can be judged as "alien", unsettling, 'cause it deviates from the comforting standard.
    So, my best advice is: use the standard format, of course bring in new tags if you want, but keep the rest intact. Simply, write better instincts and better moves!
    Also, sure, insert adventure seeds etc. They are always pretty welcomed.

    Finally, about tags/special abilities. Sure, 90% of a DW monster's stuff could be written in a simple, descriptive text. A single big paragraph, that everyone could read, and use to extrapolate the facets he needs in the game. However, if we stay with the standard notation, I feel that tags should be what they are, mechanical bits, or "standard" indications like "intelligent", "devious" etc. Specials should be "something that probably just this monster (or few other) has, so the author put it here to highlight it better". Clumsy flying, impenetrable scales, fiery body etc.

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    1. @Ishmadrad: "I think that things done better could have more meaning. Better written instincts could help GMs to role play the monster/enemy. Also, Moves are cool because they are nice guidelines about what to do with a 6- result."

      My understanding of monster moves is that you can do them whenever, including as part of a 7-9 thing. Just whenever the GM thinks it should happen.

      "Now, the point is: sure, you David, and me, and other veteran players and GMs around the world, we all know very well what is a Lich, what are its instincts/plans, and what should be cool moves for impacting the fiction. Other hundreds of young players, timid Harry Potter pre-teen readers etc. MAYBE ignore it."

      I'm confused by this: are you saying that younger players MIGHT ignore these things, but CAN still be useful?

      "Don't forget to look the core book (and all the various supplements, playbooks etc.) with naif eyes."

      I don't know what naif means, but I THINK you mean fresh/new eyes, from the perspective of a player getting into the game. If so, I'd STILL argue that actually describing what the monster does is more useful overall.

      "Also, beware to publish things too different from the original source. While I understand your points, and almost fully support it, I think the final product can be judged as "alien", unsettling, 'cause it deviates from the comforting standard.
      So, my best advice is: use the standard format, of course bring in new tags if you want, but keep the rest intact. Simply, write better instincts and better moves!
      Also, sure, insert adventure seeds etc. They are always pretty welcomed."

      Even if removing instinct, I'd STILL explain what the monster generally does. This way players, experienced and new, can read the stat block and have a variety of things to do with the monster (and if they wanna ignore it anyway they totally can).

      "Finally, about tags/special abilities. Sure, 90% of a DW monster's stuff could be written in a simple, descriptive text. A single big paragraph, that everyone could read, and use to extrapolate the facets he needs in the game. However, if we stay with the standard notation, I feel that tags should be what they are, mechanical bits, or "standard" indications like "intelligent", "devious" etc. Specials should be "something that probably just this monster (or few other) has, so the author put it here to highlight it better". Clumsy flying, impenetrable scales, fiery body etc."

      I think tags are fine. No problem there. It's the special qualities that didn't seem different enough. I guess I can see your point with "clumsy" flying. Flying could be a tag, but I wouldn't want to have a Flying and Clumsy Flying tag. I don't wanna get super granular with them.

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    2. "My understanding of monster moves is that you can do them whenever, including as part of a 7-9 thing. Just whenever the GM thinks it should happen." Yeah, I wasn't telling about 6- / 7-9 differences. It was more "Good instincts help GMs to role play the monster/enemy." And "Moves are cool because they are nice guidelines about what to do with the monster".

      "I'm confused by this: are you saying that younger players MIGHT ignore these things, but CAN still be useful?" Well, I think it's easy. Let's suppose I don't know NOTHING about a strange monster you created, called, YAMBALLOW. If you put "Instinct: to defend his territory" I know a lot of things about it, in just a phrase. If you put "It corrupts the human villages", it's a whole different monster, and still I know a lot of it, with just a glance to that phrase. Let's say I'm in a hurry, and I'm quickly skimming the book for find a suitable monster for the actual situation (during the session). I have no time to deeply read the whole descriptions. A glance to various instincts can help.

      "I don't know what naif means, but I THINK you mean fresh/new eyes" You got it.

      "Even if removing instinct, I'd STILL explain what the monster generally does." Of course, this is good. Still, I feel that if you deeply transform the "monster format", this could let the reader staggered. I mean, here we aren't speaking of "removing instinct", but "remove instinct + change/modify the tags + remove special abilities" etc.

      but I wouldn't want to have a Flying and Clumsy Flying tag. I don't wanna get super granular with them" This is why you shouldn't move "Flying" to tags. You should keep it as a Special Ability, so you can have a monster with "Clumsy Flying", another one with "Freely Hovering in the Air", another one with "Bird of Prey Wings",etc.

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    3. "Yeah, I wasn't telling about 6- / 7-9 differences. It was more "Good instincts help GMs to role play the monster/enemy." And "Moves are cool because they are nice guidelines about what to do with the monster"."

      I think they're okay for a start, but in the long run are limiting.

      "Let's say I'm in a hurry, and I'm quickly skimming the book for find a suitable monster for the actual situation (during the session). I have no time to deeply read the whole descriptions. A glance to various instincts can help."

      Even though Dungeon World is a game that I feel can be run with little to no prep, I can't think of a single time where I decided to choose a monster at random, and included among my choices monsters that I have never read up on/used before.

      Even so, 4E's Monster Manual 3 and Monster Vault had flavor sections that started with a bold on-liner about the monster. So, for dragons it had The Colors of Evil, Driven by Greed and Ego, and Dangerous Lairs.

      Assuming you had absolutely no time to read up on dragons (most of which was fit on a single digest-sized page), you could glance at the titles and figure out that dragons are evil, they're driven by greed and ego, and have dangerous lairs.

      Yeah, you aren't getting the whole story, but it's still more than a single instinct. That's my current plan: provide a paragraph or so of flavor text. Wouldn't take long to read, and still give you more information.

      "Still, I feel that if you deeply transform the "monster format", this could let the reader staggered. I mean, here we aren't speaking of "removing instinct", but "remove instinct + change/modify the tags + remove special abilities" etc."

      I'd make the changes/differences from the core book clear, but ultimately they'd have the same purpose as they do not. Also, changes wouldn't affect moves or anything.

      Delete

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