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Monster Crafting Tips
[09/10/2006] [Matthias]

Recently, I thought it would be fitting to write a guide for creating monsters for the uninitiated who want to try their hand at it for the first time. I went over everything I could think of that I'd learned when making monsters myself, and the things I discovered that were the most helpful. This short list of advice is the result.

1. Know the Rules of Play. Learn them well enough to become reeve qualified or at least be able to make a respectable (if non-passing) grade. You shouldn't merely memorize the book; you really should be familiar enough with the rules to know how everything works together. You should be able to cultivate a good sense of game balance, and be able to identify a weak ability from a strong one.

2. Get a feel for how LARP combat works. The playability of a monster depends on how complicated it is. The more complicated the monster, the more likely you will run into problems that force a game to pause while the reeves resolve a rules question or dispute. Part of avoiding such incidents designing your monster and its abilities to be as clear and concise as possible. A monster whose handout has to be consulted every two minutes by the player is not very playable. On the other hand, monsters such as the Goblin, the Hill Giant, the Rock Golem, and the Ghost are some good examples of monsters that are easy to play.

3. Learn the basic rules of how monsters work: the different monster types, the nature of traits versus the different kinds of abilities, how questor/monster ratios work and what they are for, the monster summoning rules, and so on. Be familiar with the standard monster format.

4. Be familiar with the most common monsters in the Dor Un Avathar. Knowledge and experience will give you a sense of what is balanced and what isn't, and what is powerful and what is weak.

5. Try to keep the required garb of the monster simple. Study the garb requirements of other monsters in the DUA and get a sense for what is normal and what isn't. Elaborate garb is wonderful but try to keep the garb practical and at least theoretically inexpensive to make. If a questmaster or monster player wants to embellish on what you've prescribed, so much the better, but don't require complicated garb for a monster without a good reason or else it will get ignored for something improvised that's easier to do, and your effort will have been wasted.

6. Get a good sense of what should red-flag a monster as quest-only. Odd abilities that are only useful in a quest or only make sense in one, monster abilities designed specifically to work with the special rules of a scenario in effect, and monsters that can only be permanently defeated through some very specific methods that may not always be available, are some examples of monsters that ought to be classified as quest-only. Conversely, monsters with a low Q/M ratio, with no very unusual abilities, and can be killed by just about anyone are qualified to be non-quest monsters.

7. Try not to create monsters with too many different kinds of abilities. Unless the monster is meant to be extraordinarily powerful (like a Dragon) or some kind of spellcaster-type creature (like the Extra-Planar Entity), piling on lots of different abilities can result in a monster that's unplayable (too much stuff to keep track of), or more powerful than the creator intended. Remember that this is a LARP, not a tabletop RPG, so time is of the essence on the battlefield.

For a player to effectively play a monster as it's intended to work, the monster cannot be too complicated for the average Amtgarder to operate. However, keep in mind that there's plenty of Amtgarders who can play a spellcaster effectively even with a dozen different magics available, so try to keep the level of complexity comparable to one of the four spellcasting classes.

8. Try to reuse monster abilities if it all possible. One of the great things about the 8th edition of the DUA is its standardization and recycling of monster abilities, and its mixing them up in new and interesting combinations. With that in mind, one has to keep a balance between creating something totally new and recycling what's already been done. Amtgard does not need five different versions of a single ability when just one well-written version will do just as good. Where monster creation stops becoming a science and becomes an art is knowing when to recycle and when to innovate.

9. If you want a monster ability to work a certain way that is close to, but not identical with a preexisting game effect, avoid creating an entirely new ability and use the existing one, with some notes on how it works differently from the standard version. When used properly, these "tweaks" help the ability mesh well with the monster's personality. Some good examples of this are the Gargoyle's Camouflage ability, the Phoenix's Presence ability, and the Spectre's Steal Life ability. Each tweak has a good reason to be there (for flavor or for game balance). This design technique, however, should not be used to customize a given ability just because you don't like how it's been designed; there always needs to be a good reason why a certain ability works differently for a given monster.

10. In those cases where a completely new ability is needed, try to design the new ability to be as free from ambiguity, gray areas, and loopholes as possible. Knowledge of the rules of the game is very important in such cases, since a poorly-designed ability can be abused by a dishonorable player to unfairly dominate a battlegame or quest.

When a monster creator designs a new rule ability, he should try to think of all the ways it could be misinterpreted (accidentally or on purpose) and how it could cause trouble for the reeves and the other players. A new ability should be designed so that it explains in precise terms exactly what its effects are.

For instance, a monster ability called "Disguise Self" should not read "monster can change its appearance so that it's not recognized." Such a vague description leaves all kinds of questions: how does it change its appearance? How does that prevent another player from recognizing the monster for what it is? How do you prevent another player who's met the monster before from acting on out-of-game knowledge ("I know Sam was playing that monster, so no matter what Sam does, I know what he is") while still allowing for problem solving and deduction? Designing a workable Disguise Self should involve describing what other players can do to the disguised monster and what they can't do, and some ways in which the Disguised monster would automatically betray its true identity? A good design for the Disguise Self ability might be the following:

Disguise Self:

This ability causes the monster to appear like a harmless beast or peasant (the nature of the disguise)

Effect: Other players may not attack the monster. (Exception: players who cannot retreat from combat, such as victims of Confusion, Berserk players, and monsters with the Bloodlust vulnerability, are not affected.)

Limitations: Disguise Self is negated if the monster attacks or takes any hostile action. (betraying the disguise)

11. When you are finally satisfied that the monster is finished, show it to someone else who knows their way around the DUA and the Rules of Play. Peer review is an important method for refining monsters, finding any missed flaws, and discovering new ways to improve them. Having someone else review and playtest your new monster gives you the benefit of a new, objective perspective. A good way to do this is to have someone who's never seen the monster before, try to play it in a test game. If they can start out cold and get a grasp on the monster fairly quickly, then the monster is well-designed.

12. If you have an idea for an alt-class, turn it into a monster first. Alternate classes have a (somewhat deserved) bad reputation in Amtgard, mainly for being custom-made tools for players who want to be unstoppable killing machines on the battlefield. Instead, it is better to take an idea for an alt-class and turn it into either a monster, or an archetype to be played by a preexisting class. By configuring your alt-class idea as a monster, you can assign a Questor/Monster Ratio appropriate to however powerful the monster turns out to be. Whether it becomes a 0.5/1 'speed bump' or a 10/1 (quest-only) juggernaut, your monster will be balanced by virtue of having an accurate Ratio.

13. Make sure that your monster design, from the description to the abilities themselves, contains no misspellings or grammatical mistakes. Treat your monster design like a set of directions or a computer program. Poorly worded and vague new abilities may cause your monster player to become confused and "crash". No one will know what was running through your mind when you designed your monster in the first place, and if your monster design is hard to understand, you won't be there to explain what you meant when you wrote such-and-such, so your monster has to be able to speak for itself as plainly as possible.

14. A disclaimer: The Dor Un Avathar had a chapter on monster making, so many of these ideas will echo the words of wisdom in that essay. The original author (whoever he or she was) and I may not agree 100% on everything, so I recommend that if you want to get into monster writing and care to read this article, that you should also review the Creating New Monsters chapter (page 67 in the DUA 8) in order to get all points of view.

With that said, I happen to disagree with the stated advice in the DUA that monsters should avoid similarity to existing classes. A case in point: if you created a goblinoid-type monster called "Orc" that was identical to the Barbarian class except that it could use Truth like a bard, Flame Arrows like an archer, and an Improved Weapon like a warrior, you would still have a monster that was unique in its design and could not be accurately represented by merely playing a Barbarian or any other standard class in orc garb.

There is one caveat to this, however. Any small differences a monster and a similar core class may have must be integral to the monster's identity and add real "flavor". If the differences are purely cosmetic or inconsequential, then there's no real reason why you couldn't play a Barbarian dressed in unusual garb and makeup to represent something non-human.

The DUA 8 will no doubt offer other advice that I haven't touched on, and vice versa; the open-minded monster creator will make sure to leave no advice unheeded when learning how to make monsters.

One last piece of advice: enjoy yourself. Once you get the hang of it, making a monster never before seen in Amtgardia can be as fun as actually playing it.

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