Things I Learned From Castlevania

I actually wrapped up Castlevania: Lords of Shadow quite awhile ago. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed it: the graphics, gameplay (aside from a few hiccups), dialogue, and soundtrack are superb. Not only is it one of the best digital games to be released in 2010, but it also gave me some ideas and concepts for puzzles and monsters that could be incorporated at the table top.

Throughout the game there are quite a few puzzles, from light puzzles, to color patterns, to scaring murders of crows in order to direct them towards animated scarecrows so that they'll fight you. Fallen knights carry scrolls that provide you with clues, while the game gives you the option of skipping the puzzle entirely--if you're willing to forfeit experience points. Something that I've always done at the table is grant skill checks in exchange for hints, but I think I'm going to adopt this mechanics as well: if players want additional hints they can take a XP penalty, or skip the entire puzzle by forgoing all of it.

This would prevent the game from grinding to a halt as the players beat their heads against a wall while trying to figure it out. Of course, you'd have to determine how much time it would take for them to resolve it, especially in the case of adventures where there's a time crunch.

Next, monsters. Every Castlevania game boasts a wide selection of monsters, and this one is no exception:
  • Goblins will sometimes throw bombs at you, which you can throw back if you're fast enough. This could be emulated with a player readying an action to catch the weapon and throw it back, though I'd require a saving throw/that the attack missed. Of course, if the attack fails--especially on a natural 1--then you could rule that the weapon missed but also didn't explode (yet), giving them a chance to chuck it back. Sometimes bombs are used to destroy the terrain in order to advance the level: they could be used to easily allow the characters to destroy doors or walls in order to create an alternative route through the dungeon.
  • Wargs, warthogs, and spiders can be ridden on after beating the fuck out of them. You can use them to attack their allies, but usually they are used to interact with the environment in some fashion. I could see a character hopping on a bloodied monster and being able to control one of their attacks by making an attack against its Fortitude or Reflex. This is similar to how Kratos could hop on a cyclops and cause it to swing its club out of control, battering large groups of monsters. It would certainly make grabbing more useful, in any case.
  • Ghouls are often found in areas with dead bodies that they can eat in order go heal themselves and gain a one-time poisonous vomit attack. I've used the eat-to-heal mechanic before, but temporarily souping up their attacks is also a cool idea.
  • Vampire warriors can be staked after having their health reduced, allowing you to kill them instantly. You don't have to go this route, but it gets rid of them faster. I think that I'd wanna go with the executioner's class feature to help facilitate this: if you start your turn with a bloodied vampire grabbed (or if its restrained or whatnot) and are packing a stake or some other stabbing implement, you can opt to just finish them off. You could also make some kind of undead-hunting multiclass tree that lets you perform stunts like this, too.
  • Swordmasters are wraith-looking monsters that are commonly found near pools of water. They can channel electricity through their swords, shocking you if you are standing in the water when they strike. A simple way of increasing the deadliness of a lightning--or cold--using monster.
  • Creeping corpses start out as zombies that just crawl on the ground. Pretty tame--until they get into a coffin, after which it grows long, vine-like legs, and becomes a lot tougher. An interesting take on a monster that are initially easy, but can get tougher in certain situations.
  • Skeleton warriors reconstruct themselves after you drop them unless you attack their bone piles. This mechanic is easy: just crib the trait from many of the zombies in Monster Vault
  • The crow witch is one of the bosses. She flies around barfing eggs at you, which you can throw back at it. While not exactly a unique attack method, its one way of literally throwing melee characters a bone. Of more interest is that this boss also spawns allies. I'd like to see bosses that spawn minions to help them out, particularly when they are bloodied: casters, angels, demons, devils, spirits, and undead monsters are all likely candidates.
  • The necromancer is honestly one of the easier bosses to beat, because he has to burn hit points in order to summon a horde of zombies that you can easily obliterate them with holy water. If you kill them, the health remains gone, but otherwise they die off and he regains the lost health. I do like the idea of a monster that can take damage in order to conjure allies, or perhaps recharge spent powers, however. Even better if the allies don't persist, and if aren't killed heal the boss back.
  • One of the Lords of Shadow (whose name I forget) busts open iron maidens throughout the fight in order to feed on the corpses within to regain health. Depending on what kind of actions are necessary to open and feed, you could compel characters to destroy them before he gets a chance to heal, or goad him into getting close. On a similar note, another boss is immune to damage until you destroy stone idols on the level. 
  • Finally, Carmilla. She's a badass vampire with two forms, human and vampire, and plays very differently in each. In her human form she kind of floats around within a protective shield, shooting lighting and throwing lesser vampires at you. In her vampiric form, she switches to a more direct approach (but still adds a few minions to the mix). Changing forms--and attack methods--is an excellent method for amping up an encounter, especially once the boss becomes bloodied.
There's also a few massive bosses in the game, but that's for another article.

Gargantuan just doesn't describe it.

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