Category Archives: Game Design
Spurred on by a discussion where someone suggested monster tactics as a product line, I took a quick pass at looking at some tactics for iconic monsters, to see if I think they can be useful and generic enough to make a good product. I’m not convinced wither way yet, but sharing my first draft seemed a great way to test the waters. Thus, here I present my ideas for ogre tactics. As the first giants PCs are likely to run into, ogres make a good stand-in for all Large humanoids, though obviously things like spell-like abilities and rock-throwing may give true giants better options. (Or you could use this with ogres that have orc ferocity, and call them orrocs!)
First, many GMs intentionally give ogres terrible tactics because they have an Intelligence of 6. But remember that this is three times as smart as a wolf. Would the smartest wolf you can conceive of make the bad tactical choice you are considering? No? Then neither should an ogre. Further their typical Wisdom of 10 and the fact they have Perception as a skill suggests ogres can recognize and analyze a situation even if they may do a terrible job describing it with good grammar. Certainly an ogre can recognize a spellcaster, see the issue with allowing foes to heal, know when to press the attack o have one unconscious foe and one healthy foe as preferable to two injured foes who can both fight back, and so on.
Indeed, recognizing spellcasters will often drive ogre tactics. With reach (which you can augment with various options below) an ogre has a decent chance of being able to strike a spellcaster in melee, and an ogre should know that they let their guard down when they cast spells, so desire to keep spellcasters close enough that they must cast defensively to avoid provoking attacks of opportunity from the ogre.
If facing foes without reach, an ogre with no adjacent enemies can safely attempt combat maneuvers against foes 10 feet away without provoking attacks of opportunity, and their Large size and high Strength makes them reasonable likely to succeed. Tripping foes can help with battlefield control (especially as the foe is likely to provoke an attack of opportunity when it stands), and disarming an enemy at least reduces the chance of suffering a full-attack action.
Some tactics are more like customizations, in that they move the ogre away from the base stat block of the bestiary, while staying a legal monster build.
Even if using slow progression, an ogre should average 550 gp of treasure, There is no need for this to all be gold and gems it hoards away in a pocket to be looted off its body. An ogre can have some of its treasure as gear it might use. As simple a choice as allowing it to carry a Large longspear (10 gp) gives the ogre an impressive 20 foot melee range, and it can drop the weapon and draw its greatclub if needed. With that much reach melee foes might well feel the need to risk a charge, and that means the ogre can brace to receive charge. (If this seems likely, consider a boar spear, which costs the same and gives a bonus to AC in that situation).
Similarly a Large heavy crossbow (100 gp) may only fire once every two rounds, but it gives the ogre a much heavier, longer-range initial punch. Since an ogres hide armor proves it is proficient with medium armor, upgrading to a Large breastplate (400 g, though it can save by not also buying Large hide armor for 30 gp) gives it +2 AC. A cure light wounds potion, thunderstone, tanglefoot bag, or other alchemical weapons can also increase it’s flexibility in battle, and are useful to 3rd level PCs as treasure.
If using multiple ogres, one throwing javelins and one with a boar spear can be an effective ranged-combat options until PCs manage to close in. If you have three or more ogres, you might consider giving one a kumade (which is a simple weapon with the grapple special weapon property) or a sickle (a simple weapon with the trip special weapon property) to keep foes worried about combat maneuvers.
If considering adjusting the ogre’s feats, Toughness can generally be swapped out for better choices. Improved Iron Will makes the ogre less likely to be defeated with a single bad Will save, or Power Attack gives it an excellent trade off of damage for a little reduced accuracy. If your campaign allows retraining, consider having two or more ogres with the Crowd Control teamwork feat to make it harder for foes to get inside their reach. If an ogre is going to be alone, the Desperate Battler feat may be useful.
And Now, A Tactical Mention of my Patreon
I have a patreon, I helps me justify the time spent writing all this free content. Sometimes it even has bots of exclusive bonus content. Go check it out!
This is an idea I have played with a lot, but never felt I had a good home for it or a final version of the rule.
New Optional Rule: Dolorous Wounds
Dolorous wounds are an option rule that both explains why the dead and undead are sometimes depicted with injuries sustained in life (if magic can make a skeleton get up and walk, why can’t it fix chipped ribs and cracked skulls?), and to give GMs another option to deal with questions of PC mortality and resurrection other than raise dead and similar spells.
The dolorous wounds rule assumes that some wounds are so deep, so horrific and life-threatening, that they damage the life force (or “soul) of their targets. Dolorous wounds never fully heal of their own accord, and because the wounded creature’s life force is also wounded, healing magic cannot restore them to full health. As long as the wounded creature’s soul has a piercing near its heart, for example, the creature’s heart will never be at full strength.
When using dolorous wounds, when a character would normally be killed, the player may instead choose for the character to suffer a “dolorous wound.” The dolorous wound produces some physical ailment, agreed upon by player and the GM (normally a -1 penalty to one category of skill checks, most often Str, Dex, Con, or Cha-based skills, though a penalty to range modifier for losing an eye or a reduction of movement rate for a limp are also appropriate). In general, the penalty should be to skills of an ability score that is one the character’s 3 highest, and that have related skills the character has put at least a few skill points in – a 7 Charisma fighter who never uses any Cha-based skills shouldn’t think he’s immortal because he’s willing to take penalties to social efforts and UMD.
A dolorous wound is so severe the damage is duplicated on the character’s soul, making it impossible to heal with normal magic. A special ritual may be able to fix a dolorous wound, but it has at least the cost and difficulty of a true resurrection spell. You cannot use the dolorous wound rule to escape death as a result of a coup de grace.
The dolorous wound rule should only be used for player characters and major NPCs. (In some campaigns it’s appropriate to restrict dolorous wounds to creatures with heroic class levels). These rules allow a game to make magic that raises the dead very rare, without having players constantly have to replace a favored PC (or GMs come up with a new master villain) when someone actually dies. The penalties for a dolorous wound are severe enough to encourage players to avoid dying, but not so great at to make characters unplayable. A campaign that allows dolorous wounds makes death a much rarer occurrence among players, and thus prevents it from losing all meaning and impact. A campaign using this rule can even eliminate such spells as raise dead, presenting a world where death is permanent (or much more so than in a typical campaign), without making it impossible for players to keep their PCs after a major defeat.
Alternatively, dolorous wounds can be a background rule, something the GM makes players aware of but largely as something that explains why the king has an old war wound while surrounded by 13th level spellcasters, and why some undead come back missing heads, arms, or other body parts. Dolorous wounds as a concept—injuries that inflict damage on the target’s soul and thus defy standard healing, can be useful purely for story purposes.
Patreon Exclusive Content
Over at my Patreon, I added an undead template, the gan ceann, which turns any corporeal undead into a headless monstrosity due to a dolorous wound preventing them from being whole, even in death. It’s a minor patron exclusive idea, check it out!
Monday Bad Idea
Monday Bad Ideas are periodic, and not fully fleshed out. because, you know, they’re bad ideas.
A gelatinous ghoul is a rare from of ooze undead that generally occurs when some object an undead is connected to and which allows it to reform after destruction (sometimes the phylactery of a weak rich, or an object tied to a ghost’s reason for existence) is consumed by a gelatinous cube, but not destroyed, When the undead’s essence reforms around the object, the necromantic energies infuse the square ooze, creating a hybrid mix of gel and corpse.
Gelatinous ghouls generally look like a skull or severed head floating in a cube of transparent snot, though sometimes only a single hand or a glowing green tibia is sign of the deathly influence. Gelatinous ghouls have all the powers and immunities of both the ooze and the undead, and any ability that affects only one or the other has only a 50% chance of affecting it.
On the other hand they lack appendages, and are generally pretty ticked off (though a few ex-lich gelatinous ghouls are telekinetic, and describe the new state as “surprisingly comfy”).
If I Haven’t Scared You Off Yet:
Spring elves are between 25 and 110 years old—physically adult, but still in what staid and traditional elven society considers their “Spring Years,” too emotional and impulsive to be allowed to leave the safety and education of the home. They are essentially eternal teenagers, sure of their own intellect and ability, but largely incapable of considering the long-term consequences of their actions—a particularly troubling trait for the long-lived race. Spring elves are always, always supervised and watched over by older, most experienced elves, and kept from adventure, and as much as possible kept from any decision-making. While spring elves are physically and mentally capable of the same kind of training and education as young humans, these decades are a time when they are so wild, so free of consideration, that over the course of eight decades they only manage as much preparation for life as a typical human manages by age 16.
However, in rare circumstances, a spring elf lacks any of the careful parenting and sheltering from life the races has learned from long experience is necessary to prevent the just-post-adolescent elves from setting the world on fire. For example, the Elves of Solstice are an entire race rules by spring elves, given power and authority with no sense of responsibility. And the gods help everyone else.
Standard Racial Traits
Ability Score Racial Traits: Spring elves are nimble and amazingly likable, and still have their youthful resilience, which is the only reason they aren’t all killed for weeklong benders and experimental magic, but they lack the intellectual focus of properly raised, adult elves. They gain +2 Dexterity, +2 Charisma, and –2 Wisdom.
Size: Most spring elves are Medium creatures and thus have a 30 foot base speed and receive no bonuses or penalties due to their size. Some are still size small, and have all the normal bonuses and penalties for that size and a base move of 20 feet.
Type: Elves are Humanoids with the elf subtype.
Languages: Spring elves begin play speaking Common and Elven. Those with high Intelligence scores are drawn to “fun” languages and can choose from the following: Abyssal, Aklo, Cyclops, Dark Folk, Draconic, Gnome, Necril, Protean, and Sylvan. See the Linguistics skill page for more information about these languages.
Keen Senses: Spring elves receive a +2 racial bonus on Perception checks.
Impulsive: Spring elves gain a +2 bonus to Initiative checks, but they cannot delay an action (though they can ready), and take twice as long to take 20 on skill checks (as they are constantly distracted).
Elven Proclivities: Spring elves are immune to magic sleep effects, but take a -2 saving throw penalty against enchantment spells and effects. They gain a +2 bonus to charisma checks, and to the save DCs of their own enchantment spells and effects.
Low-Light Vision: Spring elves can see twice as far as humans in conditions of dim light.
Reckless Abandon: A spring elf can reroll a single attack roll, ability check, skill check, or caster level check (but not concentration check) per encounter, immediately after determining the result of a failed roll. However, if the spring elf does this, the GM earns an impulsive token. The GM can later spend a token to force the spring elf to move to anyplace within the spring elf’s base move that is not obviously hazardous, as the spring elf is overcome by an impulse. This can begin a fight, set off a hidden trap and so on, though the spring elf gains +4 to AC and a +4 to saves against the initial effect of anything set off by this impulsive move.
I have a Patreon. It’s how I justify taking the time to write a lot of this material on my blog. I’d love your support.