Magical Mondays: Using and Abusing Creature Templates   Leave a comment

Forever Red

This episode of Magical Mondays may well be evidence that I keep trying to steer these Magical Mondays posts into a Monstrous Mondays format.  But that’s a topic for another day.  Wow, I got off topic in one sentence, let’s start over.

This episode of Magical Mondays encourages you to look at Creature Templates as a source for magic in your world.  Seriously, just look at ’em.  For those of you who don’t know what templates are, let me explain while the d20, D&D and Pathfinder players (and others) are going to look at some templates (seriously, guys, go look.)  A template is, effectively, a stable method for adjusting the statistics of a monster, creature, or structure.  You can usually tell what a template does just by its name, but sometimes some reading is done.  Templates are really easy in concept, but tough to execute… or, at least, they seem like they are.  Long story short: if every monster with a template gains an immunity to fire, and the ability to do an extra die of fire damage, that’s a template.  You might call it a “Fire Creature”, for instance, though I’m sure that’s already taken by now.  You could have a template that makes a creature smaller, do half as much damage every time they attack, and have half as many hitpoints for a “Sickened Creature” if all the creatures in an area are ill for some reason.  Basically, a template changes any kind of creature (or whatever) in the same basic way.  Now then, the people I sent to look at templates should be back, so let’s resume.

I’ve spoken before about prestige classes in these games, and how they’re great for filling in the magical lore of a world.  If you combine what I said about prestige classes with Sanderson’s Third Law, you might have a lot of world building already on your plate.  As a GM, though, you might not have the time to fully develop and play test a full prestige class, which is fine.  If you want to save some time and have a monster or enemy that’s already pretty much what you want, though… why not create a quick template?

Here’s an example template.  This is also where a little test comes in to see if you’ve been paying attention so far this episode.  I’m calling this template Mage of the Drakkenhall.  (I would’ve just called it Mage of the Dragon Maze, but I think that’s a Magic: The Gathering thing.)

Dr. Drakken

N….no, no, Drakkenhall has nothing to do with… actually, for a blue dragon he might work.  This might explain some things.  Hmmm… nah, sorry.  Let’s get on with it.

Lore: The Mages of the Drakkenhall are students of a powerful branch of magic that only accepts promising magicians who dedicate themselves to studying, emulating, and capturing the power of dragons.  Through a combination of reverence and greed, they desire the magic of dragons… not the fire breath, not the wings, just the sheer arcane might available.  When a promising student is selected, the student is given the Dracodraught, a substance that provides them with an uncanny lifespan and great power.  Their skin gains a scaly quality and an unnatural hue, and they effectively cheat death, for a time.

Mechanic Effect:

Basics: The creature’s type changes to dragon, but no saves or skill points are recalculated.  However, all current and future hit dice change to the dragon-type hit die, d12.  The mage who consumed the Dracodraught gains a +5 natural armor bonus, unless they already have a natural armor bonus of 5 or greater.  The mage gains a natural touch attack, as their body is now charged with arcane draconic fire.  This attack can be used in conjunction with a weapon as a secondary attack, and deals 1d8+5 points of arcane fire damage (not subject to fire resistance or immunity; treat it as an untyped energy damage) to living creatures, though this damage can be halved with a Will Save (DC 10 + 1/2 the mage’s HD + the mage’s Cha).  (If the mage has natural weapons, it can instead apply this energy to one natural attack per round.)  

Attacks: In addition to what’s written above, Mages of the Drakkenhall gain a few special abilities (the DC for resisting them is 10 + 1/2 the mage’s HD + the mage’s Cha, as listed above.)  The Mage of the Drakkenhall gains an aura stolen from the power of a dragon’s Frightful Presence as a supernatural ability; creatures of less than five hit-dice in a sixty-foot area are affected as by a Fear spell, as if by a sorcerer of the Mage’s level (once they save, they can’t be affected again for twenty-four hours.)  the Mage also gains an Enctrancing Touch, a supernatural touch attack (yes, it adds to the draconic fire attack mentioned above) that makes any creature it physically touches make a Fortitude save or be paralyzed as their body is literally overcome with the arcane presence dragons.  They victims fall to the ground and appear dead (though a DC 20 Spot check or DC 15 Heal check demonstrates that they are alive.)

Special Qualities: In addition to its natural armor, the scaly hide they’ve grown gives the Mages of the Drakkenhall damage reduction 15/bludgeoning and magic.  It’s natural weapons are treated as magic for the purposes of overcoming damage reduction.  The Mage is now immune to fire, electricity, polymorphing (though it can polymorph itself) and mind-affecting effects.  It gains a +2 to Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma.

One last note: the mage’s challenge rating increases by 2.


The Test

So, what do you think of my template?  Cool, yes?  Now’s not the time for that, however: now’s the time for the test.  Did this template look familiar to you?  If not, I’m guessing you didn’t take my advice earlier and really look at D&D’s standard templates.  Anyway, there’s a reason it might look familiar.  Judges, bring in our special guest!


The template above was the template for the D&D 3.5 Lich, taken more or less from the d20 SRD.  I’m sure some of you noticed that while it was happening, though the template is technically different.  As a living creature, the Drakkenhall Mage doesn’t gain many undead traits and is affected by things like poison, unlike a lich.  On the other hand, my template had an immunity to fire, not cold, and fire magic is by far more common.

I want to point out two things with this.  First of all: just as you can use one set of monster statistics for a totally different description, you can also change the description of a template.  Just look at a list of templates, such as those available to Pathfinder players, and if you can’t find one that works for you? Modify it a bit.  While I probably made my template a teensy bit tougher than an actual lich, I have a feeling that the CR increase of +2 is still appropriate.

Second, you can integrate a template’s lore into the story of your world.  Even better, you can use the lore of your world to create templates.  I currently have a boss fight in mind for my players involving a series of magicians who can turn a chosen low-level spell into a spell-like ability that they can cast multiple times with impunity.  I’ll be using some non-template shenanigans, I admit, but this will effectively allow him to cast Spectral Hand over and over, until the drop in hit points takes him to zero (at which point he will be an incorporeal ghost because of reasons.)

Also, don’t take all of this information as a mandate to create huge, intricate lore-based templates.  You could just as easily create a template to alter the environment of a particular area.  For instance, if your players will soon be going through a series of caves, you might create a template for animals called Darkbred.  Darkbred animals have blindsense, and an incredible hatred of the light.  They tend to attack from the shadows when least expected, and use the improved sundering feat to try and destroy any source of light carried by players, or any player who themselves appears to be a source of light (though that’d just be regular attacking, not sundering.)

No incredible story needed, just an odd twist for the environment of an area.  Seriously, templates can be your best friend when you’re trying to add some magic to the monsters of a region.  Give it a try, and I’ll see you next week for another Magical Monday!


Note: It’s been a crazy week, now that I’ve started Three Virellium Coins.  If you’ve not started reading that yet, head on over to read it at the WordPress Site or the Tumblr Blog and catch up!  There’s only four entries so far, so there’s still plenty of time to get in on the ground floor!


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