Magical Mondays: Battling Legends   Leave a comment

This is a short entry in Magical Mondays (at least, I think it is, I only just started writing), but that’s because I think there’s not much to say on this topic: I think you need to let your players fight Legends. Now, I don’t mean “powerful” enemies, I mean “legends.” Things that people, in your universe, talk about. Basically, you need to create adversaries that have brand awareness.

Frobozz Electric

Now, when I say “Brand Awareness” and “Legends”, I mean a number of things.  The first thing I mean is that your players need to have a sense of engaging their enemies in a way that gives a sense of the story that you’re in.  Think about a lot of the games you’ve loved and the stories you’ve enjoyed.  In The Lord Of The Rings, do you have a clearer image in your head about the Fellowship fighting orcs, or the Fellowship fighting The Balrog of Morgoth?  If you’ve seen Star Trek, is it easier to remember Kirk fighting Klingons or The Gorn?  These are stories where there’s some context for what the characters are doing.

Now, this doesn’t mean that every encounter needs to have some epic, monstrously difficult enemy.  What it DOES mean is that your characters should know something about what they’re fighting.  One of the benefits to tabletop roleplaying games is that you can go beyond Final Fantasy; enemies can be differentiated by more than the colors of their pixels.

Pixel Monsters

If your players are saying “Ah, this is a Red Kobold, I’m guessing fire won’t be as effective here,” then you’re only doing part of your job.  Congrats on doing that part, though!  It’s an important part.  You’ve made the kobold visually distinctive, and the players are figuring out what it means in terms of the story’s world.  Red Kobolds might be resistant to fire, after all, that’s something that can be said about some red things.

But what do the Red Kobolds call themselves?  What do villagers who’ve only ever seen Red Kobolds call them?  What do the other Kobolds call them?  What if the Kobolds were called “Morgil’s Hounds of Brimstone”?  What if the rogue rolled a Knowledge (Local) check, or a Brains test, or a Street Smarts challenge (or whatever) and said “Oh!  The Hounds of Brimstone? Guys, this is trouble; Morgil’s this kobold alchemist, he gives everyone who joins his gang some sort of potion he made.  It makes kobolds and other lizard-people not just fire resistant, but caustic.  Their blood’ll burn us if we get any on us.”

Armed with this knowledge, the players know a little bit more about the Red Kobolds.  You might’ve wanted to surprise them with the caustic blood of the kobolds, but by sacrificing that surprise you’ve made the Kobolds much more interesting than a palette swap.  (And besides, the rogue didn’t roll high enough to know about the poisonous bite that they have.)  All of a sudden, you’ve gone from fighting A Monster to fighting The Gorn.

Star Trek Gorn

I did this recently, and am planning on doing it again.  (So, if you’re in the game I usually play on Wednesday Nights, don’t read this until we’ve had at least one more session.)  A while back, the players were on a boat, and I wanted to make them fight a crocodile.  But then the players did the unexpected, took a different route, and had gained a level by the time they got back to the boat.  The crocodile, as presented in the monster manual, wasn’t gonna cut it.

But the book gave rules for advancing the crocodiles.  I advanced it, I did, I boosted it all the way that the stats allowed.  Also, before I knew I’d need to advance the crocodile, I implemented the Palette Swap: it’s not just any crocodile, it’s a crocodile with a black hide and covered with scars.  That doesn’t change the stats, of course, but still.

I decided that the guy piloting the boat would know about this crocodile.  This is Boot Black, the scourge of this trade route.  The players fought him, and chased him off, but didn’t defeat him before the crocodile decided the meal wasn’t worth fighting (he had a single hit point left, it was time for the animal to run.)  Now, ultimately, this was just “a crocodile.”  But my players talked about Boot Black for a while after the fact, much longer than most other “dangerous” fights.  Boot Black had personality, and it wasn’t just wearing black leather and having cool scars that did it.  The boat captain gave them all the story they needed for them to realize that they’d had an impact on the world.

A lesser thing I’m planning on doing in the future in that same game involves a trip the tower of a magician named Torul the Chain Lord (I’ve mentioned him before in this blog, I think.)  Torul’s first challenge will be, of course, a chain.  It’s simple enough to take the Animated Object monster from the Monster Manual and make it a chain.  But I’m going further.  The moment that chain attacks, I’ll have a knowledge roll called for.  I’ll say that this is “a Chain of Damalusk, sometimes just called a Living Chain.  Made by dwarfish magicians hired by the humans of the ancient empire of Damalusk, the blending of dwarfen metalwork and human alchemy created chains that lived, and often served as innocuous guards.  Even when commanded to not attack intruders, they act as amazing chains.  They usually attack by trying to wrap around a target and constricting them.”  This isn’t just a living object, this is a collector’s item.

I recommend doing this kind of thing in your games.  It happened to me just last night, actually; my GM attacked us with a Belker, a monster I’d always wanted to face.  But before that, he told us that the shacks we were camping in were in a region that had a history of believing in “bad air”, the vindictive and bitter nature within everyone that makes the world a worse place when they die (which, after the game, he said was based on an actual village of people in, if memory serves, Mexico.  I’d research right now, but I’ve gotta run in twenty minutes.)  I was psyched to fight a Belker… but knowing that this “evil air elemental” had cultural ties in the village we were using as shelter from the desert was awesome.  I loved it.

And so will your players.

That’s all for this week’s Magical Mondays!  Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you next time!

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