Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Guide to Creating Monsters.

One of the biggest complaints about T&T is the often unbalanced encounters that players will find in group and solo scenarios. Not helping matters, T&T doesn't really have an established list of monsters that are described in great detail, why the rules say something about liking to avoid complete attributes and long listings of Talents. While there is a compiled sampling of monsters from various T&T contributors called the Monstrum Codex, a title that I came up with for the original publisher, Outlaw Press, by the way, and many of my own creations were included; the encounters presented vary greatly depending on who developed them. There is also a complete lack of details that help GMs translate things into a miniature session for wargaming-style presentation, like a Size rating to help buy the right miniatures, or what scale should be used. This can be viewed as a major flaw in the game.

And all that,
except the part about the title bit and my contributions to the work, is total bunk to the T&T player/GM/designer.

T&T was designed to avoid pages and pages of overly detailed rules and statistics in doing the table-top exercise of play-pretending. While other games like D&D and GURPS require these detailed rules and long lists for role-playing, the true kernel of T&T inspiration has decided to go the other way. And even though some T&T GMs think an ogre is so big and worth so many attacking dice and others might think differently, this actually doesn't turn out to be a problem when these different GMs sit down and play in each others games, or when they run the others scenario. A common trait among delvers, as we T&T-heads call ourselves, is a sense of variable scales. In our fantasy exploits, just like in life, there isn't a uniform standard to what can pop up. Sometimes an ork can be more than an ork, and all trolls are not the same.

Now there is a legitimate complaint in that a GM can vary his monsters' MR (Monster Rating, in case you've teleported here from Mars and never read a T&T book) within a single piece that the player cannot realistically design his adventurer using the rules at hand to be prepared for the tasks ahead of it. That is on the GM, not the rules system and matrix of T&T. And to be fair it takes a bit of time before most GMs get all the moss from other game systems out of their brain, and learn how to craft monsters without too many pointers. Here's the basics, as I have implemented them.

First thing the adventure author, whether he's the GM or someone writing for others, is to decide upon a consistent format. Simple as that sounds, I've noticed newcomers to T&T-dom have a problem with this. Many start out a scenario full of energy with all sorts of information, usually hangovers from whatever edition of D&D they happen to have played recently, stuff like "alignment" or "Dungeon Level Usually Encountered" or the ever important "THAC0." And then by the end of it, they slip in a simple MR 60 and refer to TSR Monster Manual for guidelines for any sort of colorful description or nuance. Creating encounters can indeed be tiring when you don't have cookie cutter monsters listed elsewhere to refer to. Now if they'd have started simple and used a bit of description from the get-go, the later encounters wouldn't have been such a chore. Here's a simple, yet descriptive, format:

Monster, generic
MR 40 (5 dice plus 20 Combat Adds) (I go ahead a write how many dice and CA next to the MR)
Special: (List Talents or Magical Abilities here.)
Notes: (Write a sentence or two for a description to be read by or to others.)

Sure that is what a monster can look like, but I haven't addressed how to create monsters for specific Experience Levels of PCs. This is actually easier than one would think. The trick is the GM actually understanding T&T rules, this can be a rare trait even among famous T&T authors. As played on the table most T&T groups allow for a lot of mutual creation and less than strict observation to the numbers written down. But then this translates into a solo will be listed as a "beginning level" scenario and then the first monster is a MR 150 Ballywog that breathes fire requiring a 4th level SR on DX to avoid taking 10d worth of damage, and after two combat turns, the PC is dead. There's multiple approaches for the author-GM to avoid this problem.

The first is for the GM to decide from get go what level the adventure is going to be and develop abstract PCs to model his monsters to. Nice thing about the 7plus edition of T&T, this is easier than it was before in previous editions. Character levels are based on Attributes and the Type of the character being played. In short if a Warrior is first level, I can expect that his ST, DX, SP, and Lk not to be any higher than "19" points. So I can expect Combat Adds to be at most "+28" and figuring for an average weapon, let's say a gladius (which does 3d+2 damage), I have a potential damage of 28 + 20 (and maybe even more) points per combat round. So a monster that can take 48 points of damage in one round isn't unreasonable. There is a bit more to it than that though.

Now as the astute delver that you are, you know that a MR 48 ork, because I get tire of generic monsters, does 5d plus 24 damage itself. That's a potential 30 + 24 damage points, that's 54, a whole six point advantage for the critter over the player. As a GM, I am comfortable with that, but to exercise the simplicity of T&T monster creation, let's try to even things out. If I reduce the MR to 40, that translates as 5d + 20, which gives a potential strike of 50 points. Ah what the hey, let's do an MR of 38, 4d + 19, a potential of 43, some five whole points to the advantage of our maximized model of a 1st level Warrior.

The above strategy is using a Warrior, but what about if I have a Wizard? My initial reaction is to tell the questioner to go play a video game. I have seen a whole slew of "Wizard-friendly" solitaire adventures waste everyone's time with cumbersome game conventions that defeated the point of playing a solo in the first place. And when a group is involved, the magic that is added to a party makes life easier on the Warriors and Rogues around them. BUT there this approach to module design can even be applied to the Wizard Type as well, and I consider that reaffirmation of my point that belief that T&T monsters are easy to make.

Our 1st level Wizard will have no more than 19 points in her DX, IN, WZ, and CH. So while I know her Combat Adds may be abysmal, I do know her ability to cast Take That You Fiend up to three times in an encounter and the spell will do up to 19 points of damage each time. That's a total of 57 damage points delivered through the expenditure of 18 Wz points. Since Wizards are notorious for having rather low CNs, I'd go so far to only reckon for two combat rounds, which brings us back to the number 38 and a tried and maybe true indicator, as to what MR I should put the beast at.

Okay there is the simplicity of making balanced monsters in T&T. Now how do we make them special? You now, besides just a couple numbers and math equations. The obvious answer is illustrations and video game graphics, but for the traditional table-topper author-GM he has to keep it literary. That is where the creating person gets to add special Talents and additional notes. Let's go back to my favored format and work with it from there.

Ork, Philosoper
MR 40 (5 dice plus 20 Combat Adds)
Special: Has a Wizardry score of 17. Not as Simple as You'd Think (Lk+6) Gets a special saving throw when party reacts stereotypically to encountering him, meaning a successful SR here will negate one specific successful SR by the player-characters. Knows the spell Oh There It Is.
Notes: The fact that this ork is wearing a toga, while quoting Aristotle should indicate something is not quite right in this encounter.

The T&T GM can have the tough task of creating things from scratch, often having to deconstruct norms and archetypes from popular fantasy material and other FRPG systems while doing so. But the math and expression of his findings shouldn't be overwrought.


  1. Fantastic post - just when I was trying too think of a good way to balance the game. Wonderful stuff. I've written a table below showing the formula for max damage and the max damage of monsters. When catering for higher level parties just add 40 to the initial score (so for a level 2 party it would be 68 x players).

    lvl 1
    28 x no. players = max damage

    10 17
    20 28
    30 39
    40 50
    50 61
    60 72
    70 83
    80 94
    90 105
    100 116

  2. Your blog entry "Creating a great Tunnels and Trolls monster"( really eased my writing of this piece. The night before you wrote it, I had been trying to show a bright, young, and new-to-the-world delver shortcuts in designing his own scenario. I wasn't dealing with much success until I referred him to your article.

    And those numbers are a nice matrix to work with.

  3. Yes, that article was a big help. I have it and this one bookmarked for my usage. And, Tom, this article looks good.