Designer's Blog # 3: Designing Monsters and NPCs

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Designer's Blog # 3: Designing Monsters and NPCs

Post by dancross »

Designer’s Blog, Entry 3.
Designing Monsters and NPCs in Eldritch Role Playing

Eldritch Role-Playing is a game about epic fantasy. Its uniquely narrative action resolution system and flexible character creation allow players to play believable heroes in a classic milieu, unfettered by undue complexity. The first two Designer’s Blog entries dealt with those game mechanics; battle and character creation respectively, two of the systems’ highlights. In this entry, we will invite you to explore an explanation of how ERP facilitates monster and NPC design. Naturally, this issue addresses the interests of the Game Master most of all. Nonetheless, players will appreciate how the rules allow easy GM preparation.

Monsters and Non-Player Characters ought to be easy to design and run in a fast-paced, epic fantasy game. Therefore, to best create fun encounters, the Eldritch system provides GMs with simple tools and guidelines. Creating statistics for opponents is a snap…

There are four categories of creature significance in ERP: Fodder, Standard, Exceptional, and “Full-Fledged.” Fodder, Standard and Exceptional creatures encourage quick battle resolution, while Full-Fledged are more fleshed out, their skills usually covering more than combat situations. This is because the first three types have few statistics for the GM to bother with. If an NPC is very important, he can be made a Full-Fledged character. Whether the NPC is a political mastermind, a demonic warlord, or a rampaging lizard, the opponents in the game can be as sketchy or detailed as the GM wishes.

“Fodder” monsters are not often the source of important or significant treasure. Examples of fodder include rapacious hordes of goblins or kobolds, ordinary rabble, inexperienced town militias, weaker sorts of undead minions like skeletons and zombies, and so on. Standard creatures are more of a threat, but still no match for a single full-fledged PC. Typical Standard creatures include town guards, ordinary soldiers, common criminals, experienced hirelings, and lesser monsters of all sorts. These foes can inflict significant damage on a hero when attacking in numbers, especially if there are eight or more. Exceptional creatures pose the greatest threat, short of Full-Fledged opponents, are of greater Potential-Harm, and have more hit points. Legendary monsters like gorgons, chimeras, lesser dragons, golems, and werewolves easily fit into this category. Also, experienced warriors, assassins, or any other sort of threat can be an exceptional foe.

As stated above, all opponents except Full-Fledged possess only the most basic of statistics. Those statistics are Type, Threat rank (TR), Extra Attack (EA), Hit points (HP), Resilience (RS), Battle Phase (BP), and any notes specific to a monster type; including Armor, Weapons, spell points, magic items and other special treasures. The GM determines regular treasure depending on the type of creature encountered and circumstance. Below is a brief look at the typical statistics of an ERP creature.

TY: (Type): The creature type is generalized, like “humanoid”.

Threat Rank: (Close combat, Missile, and Magic attacks): Almost all creatures possess at least basic Potential-Harm (expressed as a 1D4) in close combat or with ranged weapons. Not all creatures are able to threaten a hero with magic. Standard creatures will often possess two dice in a threat rank (e.g., 2D6 close combat), while exceptional creatures possess up to three dice (e.g. 3D8 attack, of varying forms).

Extra Attacks: (Extra attacks, if applicable—different from multiple attacks via a split dice pool): Some creatures are capable of attacking many times in a single round. This score reflects those extra threat ranks.

Hit Points: (All physical active and Toughness): equals MRV (maximum-rank-value) of Primary attack form (usually the one with the highest Die-Rank), plus the MRV of each attack form above D4 in the other threat-ratings (Melee, Unarmed, Ranged, and Arcane). The total is multiplied by the sum of all creature modifiers (which can include size or possessing a magical nature). For example, a creature with D6 Close combat, D4 Ranged, and D4 Arcane would have 6 hitpoints. If it had D6 Close Combat, D8 Ranged, and D4 Arcane, it’s primary attack would be ranged, and its hitpoints would be 14.

Resilience : (All magic resistance and fatigue): A creature’s resilience is half of its HP, or 100% of its HP if its primary means of threatening heroes is magic.

Battle Phase: (Movement rank for initiative): Creatures move according to their Reflexes ability (all beings possess some basic rank). Thus action in a round usually occurs in order of Reflexes Die-Rank, from highest to lowest (D12 to D10 to D8 to D6 to D4). There are faster and slower ranks in the game, reserved for unusual creatures (a hummingbird might move in a phase corresponding to a D20).

For example, to create a simple goblin opponent, the GM would throw together something like this:

Standard 2D6 goblin, wielding a sword and wearing leather armor
Threat Rank: 2D6 Melee. Just roll 2D6 to determine Potential Harm.
Hit points: 12 (2x6). Medium creature of mundane origin. No alternation to HP.
Resilience: 6 (half of HP, which is resistance to magic, poison and other means of indirect harm).
Battle Phase: Fair - D6. Initiative is resolved in order of descending die-size (D12 down to D4).
Notes: Wields a hand axe (harm +1, init +2).
Armor: leather D6 (rolled against every attack, or however often the GM feels appropriate).

In stat bloc format, it would look like this:

TY: Standard humanoid.
TR: 2D6 Close, 1D4 Missile, 0 arcane.
EA: no extra attacks.
HP: 12.
RS: 6
BP: D6-Fair
Notes: Leather Armor D6, etc.

So, the simplicity involved in preparing antagonists, coupled with easy systems for surviving challenges and contests of skill, allows the GM to focus on the narrative action. Because Full-Fledged NPCs are created from the stock of Player Character races, using the usual character creation rules, we refer to Blog Entry #2 as a hint at that process. In sum, we hope this NPC and Monster design blog entry illustrates well the strengths of the system in creating fast, fun encounters for your games.

~Dan Cross
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Post by Banesfinger »

Are there no active defenses for the goblin?
Is this typical of Fodder, Standard, & Exceptional foes?
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Post by dancross »

All active defenses are combined with general toughness to form the single HP score for creatures less than full-fledged. Resilience remains a seperate Defense, because that score mitigates different types of Potential-Harm.

Why? Because GMs shouldn't need to contend with "full-fledged" bookkeeping for every creature in most encounters. Players have many choices with their Active Defense Pools (ADPs), those scores directly related to the mix of abilities purchased at each level. Also, greater player choices with ADPs grants narrative choice. GMs won't ask a player, "how did you 'take' the damage?" because the player already chose the manner in which his character defended himself (without extra die rolls!). If a PC mostly relies on fancy footwork and evasion, while another depends on having high toughness and good armor, that reflects player choice.

Regular creatures' modes of defense in battle are determined by the monster description and the GM's fiat. Will a player know the "mechanical" difference if you say the goblin evaded or parried? Not at all. So, it's not that these simpler creatures (fodder, standard, exceptional) lack's that they are designed for easy GM arbitration.

A full-fledged NPC is different. The combined number of Active and Passive pools make them tougher than many Exceptional Creatures (without considering size, supernatural nature, etc). More importantly, a GM may want to flesh out a very important NPC this way. That way he can play him in action combat scenes exactly like a regular PC. But to do so with every creature could potentially get tedious.

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