So, my L2 group has encountered a stone guard lizard that will come alive and attack them as soon as they try to…

So, my L2 group has encountered a stone guard lizard that will come alive and attack them as soon as they try to…

So, my L2 group has encountered a stone guard lizard that will come alive and attack them as soon as they try to enter the Place of Power the lizard was set to guard. Since this lizard is a magical construct, essentially pure stone magicked to life, I figure it should be impervious to magic, fire, and sharp instruments. But it will be vulnerable to blunt instruments and of course it will also be very heavy, so maybe they will climb a tree and drop boulders on it, or try to lure it into the swamp and drown it — whatever. I am trying to give them an interesting small-stakes enemy they can’t just immediately hack to death.

My problem is this: I am fairly certain that when the beastie starts to attack, the wizard will try Magic Missile (because that’s pretty much all he has), and the others will try their sharp weapons. When I tell them none of those things will actually trigger a Move in this case, I’ve noticed before that instead of thinking “aha, clearly we must find another way of dealing with the situation!” my players tend to feel frustrated and railroaded, because my GM veto on their logical-on-the-face-of-it actions takes them out of the fiction.

But if I just make the lizard vulnerable to magic missiles and normal attacks after all, I’ve also seen in the past that, because there are five players, even at level 1 they will just make mincemeat of the lizard, probably without the poor animal even getting a chance to exhibit its monster moves.

How do you make ‘simple’ monsters interesting against such a large group of players? Thanks to earlier advice from this group, I’ve gained a better understanding of how to handle big bad boss monsters, where a longer, more climactic fight scene is appropriate. But often I also just want to provide some less momentous monsters. How do I achieve that without either frustrating my players or making it too easy for them?

18 thoughts on “So, my L2 group has encountered a stone guard lizard that will come alive and attack them as soon as they try to…”

  1. When you describe it coming to life, make it really obvious how it’s constructed. It’s not just a lizard that looks like stone, it’s a bunch of huge stone blocks constructed in the shape of a lizard. Assuming they are in the DW fiction-first mindset, that should hopefully get them thinking that their swords and axes aren’t going to anything but make some sparks.

    Making it immune to magic is a little more complicated to communicate. I can see why it would be immune to telepathy, but why wouldn’t Magic Missile work?

  2. Why provide that players with the lore that “stone lizard” may only be harmed by weapons treated with “astral oil” and that all non-blunt weapons do 1/2 damage to the demon inside the lizard statute and thus the lizard. Also blunt weapons break up the physical statute which must be done to vanquish the “controlling spirit”. You can make “astral oil” either a standard item or requiring a quest as you require. Magic will merely recharge the lizard’s HP as it absorbs it.

  3. He may be working on the classical mindset of golems being immune to magic. I have had success just explaining to my group when something isn’t working that they need to find some other way. This usually results in a spout lore or discern realities to try and find the answer.

  4. Leo Breebaart, Noah Tucker’s and Mark Tygart’s suggestions are excellent but I do feel they both assume a certain mindset of the players, those committed to fiction beyond the superficial.

    I feel your question stems from a struggle you’re having with a difference between how you view the fiction and how your players view the fiction. This could be solved by having a conversation before play to get everyone on the same page and find a place where you can all play happily.

    If, instead, you want to, sometimes, drag them into your way of seeing the fiction then I would suggest following both Noah Tucker’s and Mark Tygart’s ideas at the same time. Not only with a good description of it coming to life but also of the effects their attacks has on it. Immunity doesn’t have to mean “no effect” (which I can understand a player feeling stymied by) it can also mean “no lasting effect”. Have their axes decimate the lizard’s stone form and then describe the gnashing of rocks as it rebuilds itself. Have the magic missile explode it and then add a crackling of lighting to its new body as it integrates the Wizard’s magic into itself. This might let the player’s feel that they are still competent in their attacks but that their current strategy won’t lead them to their desired goal.

  5. I can’t speak for your players, but I’ve generally found that if I tell my players what happens, honestly and without any blame, they quickly adapt and start thinking of alternative ways to deal with a situation.

    Also (and others will probably disagree with me), I would not just say “you can’t hack & slash” or “your spells won’t affect it.” If I charge up and slash the thing with my sword, I’m certainly attacking it in melee. And I’m still casting a spell if my magic missile just fizzles off of it. On a 10+, I’d then reveal that their damage, in this case, is 0.

    The argument against that approach, of course, is that you’re robbing the player of their success. But in my opinion, they learn something important in the process. That’s valuable by itself. I’d probably give them a “you sure?” prompt, but otherwise trigger the move.

    I might also take a more nuanced approached than “only damaged by blunt attacks.” Whacking it with a club doesn’t seem like it’d do anything, and swinging a pick at it sure does. I think I’d probably go messy or forceful attacks being able to harm it, with possible 6- and 7-9 results of their weapons shattering, flying from their hands, and even getting stuck in the stone. And maybe on a H&S with a 10+, I’d let them inflict 1 damage if they open themselves to attack.

    After an initial reveal (or two), prompt them to Spout Lore or Discern Realities. And if they persist in a futile strategy, tell them the consequences and ask. “Cleric, you just the saw the fighter’s blow glance off it uselessly; doesn’t seem like you’re staff would do any better. You sure you want to attack it?”

  6. I agree with Ari Black here. This seems to be an issue of you and your players being in a slightly different mindset. In addition to the great suggestions here, I would have a conversation with your players before the next session.

  7. For example:

    Fighter: “Big plodding stone beasty, huh? I leap into action, thrusting my ancestral spear into it!”

    GM: “I mentioned that it appears to be made of stone, right? You sure?”

    Fighter: “Well, yeah. Hack and slash?”

    GM: “Yeah, okay. Roll it.”

    Fighter: rolls 10+. “Sweet!” picks up dice and goes to roll

    GM: “Whoa, hold up. First, tell me if you are opening yourself to attack or just dealing damage?”

    Fighter: “Oh, just dealing damage.”

    GM: “And the spear is 2 piercing, right? And versatile?”

    Fighter: “Yeah, why?”

    GM: “Well, you leap in and stab the stone lizard. It’s a righteous blow, would’ve run a mortal creature clean through. But it’s like stabbing a stone wall. Your spear leaves a shining gouge in the surface but otherwise glances off harmlessly. At least you got the things’ attention, though. It snaps at you and rushes forward, trying to run you down. Hey, Wizard, you see this happen. It’s pretty clear that this thing isn’t gonna get stabbed to death. What do you do?”

    Wizard: “It’s attention is on the Fighter? I do what I always do. Magic missile!” Rolls a 10+. Picks up the damage dice.

    GM: “Wait! You cast the spell alright, and those purple bolts come flying out of you fingers. But instead of blasting the thing, it’s like… throwing pebbles into a pond. There’s like this splash, right? Like your missiles just got absorbed by whatever magic animates this bad boy.”

    Wizard: “What, so we can’t kill it with weapons? And its immune to magic missiles? WTF man?”

    GM: “Sure does look like it’s immune to your magic missiles. And I said you aren’t gonna be stabbing this thing to death, not that it’s immune to all weapons. (And, y’know, it’s not really alive anyway….)”

    Wizard: “Oh. Well, what can harm it, then?”

    GM: “Sounds like you’re unleashing your accumulated knowledge on this problem. Spout Lore?”

    Wizard: “Oh, um, okay.” Rolls a 7-9.

    GM: “Well, you know that in quarries, they use mattocks and mauls to crush rocks. Or bigger, harder rocks.” On a 10+, I would have told them that forceful & messy weapons would work, or maybe pointed out something like a big old portcullis they could take advantage of, or told them to look for the weak spots.

    GM (again): “Okay, while the Wizard is standing there thinking, with this disbelieving look on his face, the stone lizard keeps advancing on the Fighter and snapping at her, utterly unfazed by her spear thrusts. It’s almost backed her into the rest of you. What’s everyone doing?”

    (By the way, this is a trick I like to use when the party faces “solo” monsters. Get everyone to declare their actions at once, then roll all the triggered moves at once, and resolve in whatever order makes sense.)

    Dwarven Cleric: “I look down at my little hammer and back up at the thing, looking for the best place to smash it. Discern Realities?”

    GM: “Yup, but don’t roll it yet. Thief?”

    Thief: “Yeah, my daggers aren’t gonna do squat against this thing, I’ll edge away from the crowd, try to slip past this thing.”

    GM: “Okay, cool. I don’ t think that’s going to trigger any moves, yet. Barbarian, what about you?”

    Barbarian: “Bah! I shake my head at these fools. Anything will die if you hit it hard enough. I wait for it to snap at the Fighter, and bring my broad sword down on it’s head.”

    Fighter: “Oh, yeah… and I’ll Aid! Keep stabbing at it, trying to keep its attention on me.”

    GM: “Cool! Barbarian… roll H&S. Fighter, roll to Aid. Cleric, roll Discern Realities.”

    Fighter gets a 7-9, Barbarian gets a 9, modified up to a 10, but his d6 was higher than his d8 so there will be some fallout, the Cleric gets a 7-9.

    GM: “Barbarian… do you expose yourself to attack or just deal damage?”

    Barbarian: “What do you think? I go all out!”

    GM: “Okay, cool! Here’s what happens! Fighter, you try to lure it into position and you do, sure enough, but in the process you expose yourself to danger! The thing gets too close and lunges forward, chomping onto your right ankle! Take 1d10+2 damage and it chomps down like a vice! But, my musclebound Barbarian friend, that gives you the opening you need. Roll your damage, plus 1d6.”

    Barbarian rolls 7 damage total. And this thing has 4 armor and 16 HP.

    Fighter: “Hey, how come he gets to roll damage and I didn’t?”

    GM: “Why does the Barbarian’s forceful and messy chop with a broadsword do damage when your stab with an elegant spear didn’t?”

    Fighter: “Oh, yeah. I see.”

    GM: “Okay, so, good news/bad news. Good news is, your blow opens a crack in this thing’s head, not wide but long, a good way down its back. The bad news is, with your Herculean Appetites, your blade shatters from the blow! You’re left shocked for a moment, holding just a hilt and a jagged shard of a blade. And that‘s when it lets go of the fighter’s leg and lurches up to CHOMP on your left arm. Take 1d10+2 damage as it latches on and yanks you down.”

    Barbarian: “Damn.”

    Fighter: “It let go of me? Can I…”

    GM: “Hold on! Thief, these guys totally have its attention, you can slip by no problem. We’ll come back to you in a minute. Cleric, you were studying it, looking for a weak point? Sounds like your question will be what here is useful or valuable to me?”

    Cleric: “Yup!”

    GM: “Well, that crack the Barbarian just opened up looks like a fine weakness to exploit. If you hit it there with your hammer, you might do some damage.”

    Cleric: “If I hit it there? Screw that! FIGHTER! See that crack? Smash it there! And I toss him my hammer.”

    GM: “AWESOME! Fighter, what do you do?”

    Fighter: “Trust the dwarf who’s telling me how to smash stones! I let go of the spear with my right hand and pull it back like this with my left, grab the hammer, and bring it down on that crack! Hack & Slash?”

    GM: decides not to ask for a Defy Danger on the hammer-throw cuz it’s just too much fun “Yep! And don’t forget the +1 forward from Discern Realities!”

    Fighter: rolls a 10+ “BOOYA. Roll damage?”

    GM: “Yeah! Do you open yourself to attack?”

    Fighter: “No way, man. But I am merciless, so… OH YEAH! 16, baby!”

    Even after armor, that’s 12 damage, plus the 3 that the Barbarian did. It’s technically still up, so

    GM: “Sweet. Yeah, you bring the hammer down and there’s this primal rock shattering sound. The thing’s head just falls apart, letting go of the Barbarian’s arm. A good chunk has fallen off of the thing’s back to. It’s still lurching about, though, clawing kind of blindly.

    “Hey, Wizard! You see this happen and notice a small glowing stone near the heart of this thing, revealed by the fighter’s blow. What do you do?”

    Wizard: “Oooh! Like maybe that stone is animating this thing? I shout ‘smash it! But don’t smash the glowy rock!”

    Barbarian: “Whatever. It let me go? And you said I’ve still got my hilt, right? I’m gonna leap onto this thing and pommel-smash the glowy rock. Hack & Slash?”

    and so forth

  8. As always: my most sincere thanks for all comments — the Dungeon World Tavern never lets me down when I ask these vague GM’ing questions, and you guys really are helping me provide a better experience for both me an my players. Jeremy Strandberg — if we can manage to have the actual encounter only be a fraction as awesome as you described it I’ll be a very happy man! Thanks for taking making the effort to spell it all out like that.

  9. I think what you’ve got here is a failure to communicate effectively. I think you’re on the right track that an attack the creature isn’t susceptible to shouldn’t trigger a move. If Hack & Slash is triggered, the PC gets to inflict damage; if damage isn’t possible, then the move isn’t actually triggered. This is not an “attack” because the PC doesn’t threaten any harm against the opponent.

    If you let the player roll a hack & slash, you need to be prepared to follow up on the move, whichever way it takes you. I notice that Jeremy Strandberg ‘s responses didn’t really hit on what to do if the players rolled a Miss. Is it fair to let a player subject themselves to a Hard move on a Miss, if you won’t let them get the actual results of their move on a Hit?

    Instead, when the player attempts to trigger Hack & Slash, you’ve got a golden opportunity to take a GM move instead. Tell them – “You’re a badass hero. You’ve killed monsters and monstrosities by the scores. And looking at this angry rock, you know that you’ll at best scratch its itches with your spear. It’s not just stone, it’s magically alive. What do you do?”

    If they want to swing anyway, tell them the consequences – “You’re within its reach. Your blade scrapes a small gouge into the rock hide, but the creature doesn’t seem to care. It turns to you with a hammer fist slanting toward your head. What do you do?”

    Perhaps they don’t want to swing for damage, but instead to trigger another non-H&S move – they want to probe with the spear to trigger Discern Realities. Or some other move. In that case, because the creature’s immunity isn’t actually preventing the effects of the move the move can trigger.

    In the case of “Cast a Spell” it’s a little more murky. The target’s immunity doesn’t prevent the caster from completing the necessary action; however, at the time of casting, they designate a spell. I would adjudicate that the designated spell is part of the Move at that point, and if “Cast a Spell – Magic Missile” has the successful outcome of inflicting 2d4 damage, and the target CANNOT receive this damage for some reason, such as immunity, i would reason that the spell cannot be successfully cast in that sense.

    So in this case, i would let the caster actually cast the spell without a roll (don’t subject them to a Miss or Partial Success, since you won’t give them any success). Instead, narrate what happens: “Your missiles fly straight and true, as always, and strike into the center mass of this creature. As they impact, instead of the normal burning, smoke, and cries of pain, you see the missiles spread out upon touching the creature, drifitng across its body as oil spilled in water, and diminishing to no noticeable effect. Your magic has been grounded out by something, perhaps the enchantments that brought this stone to life. What do you do?”

    The Player has been allowed to try something, and without taking on the risk of failure, you’ve given them a chance to see how it wouldn’t work. they may want to switch spells or targets – perhaps a magic missile at the ground beneath the thing to trap it briefly in a hole? Sure! Or perhaps Spout Lore/Discern Realities based upon what the caster saw happen as the magic was grounded out. Heck, maybe this will lead us to working out how the Wizard can emulate that effect later!

    In summary, if you aren’t willing to abide by the GM’s obligation to honor ANY possible result of a Move, rethink whether the Move is actually triggered, and if you have concerns, find a way to engage the players such that their efforts are not failures. That’s rote and mechanical. Instead, they are now looking to you to see what happens, triggering a GM Move:

    Show a downside to a class? Reveal an unwelcome truth? Tell them requirements or consequences and ask? All viable options! But avoid simply telling them “Your action doesn’t trigger a move.”

    Narrate what happens, give them something exciting for their efforts, and then give them an idea of why their action didn’t trigger a move and a chance to act again.

  10. Andrew Fish Good points! Indeed, the only thing that worried me a little bit about Jeremy Strandberg’s approach was this “10+ is rolled, but the GM reveals the damage to be 0 after all” aspect of it (but to be fair he also warned up front that people might disagree with that approach). I think I can indeed/hopefully get the best of both worlds by colourful in-fiction narration of how the player’s intended action plays out, but without letting them actually roll for it if success if not an option.

    At the very least I can have a bit of a meta-discussion before the session, and just ask my players how they would rather have me deal with such situations when they occur.

  11. Andrew Fish I don’t see why it wouldn’t trigger the Hack & Slash move. They are triggering the move by attacking an enemy in melee. The trigger isn’t “when you harm an enemy”. They still get to roll the damage, it can still have a narrative effect, even if it can’t kill the enemy, and they now know more about the world.

  12. Leo Breebaart In the end, it’s you and them at the table, so fun is the goal. Have the chat and find a place where everyone has fun.

  13. The book is pretty clear that not every attack triggers H&S (e.g. some schlub trying to engage a master duelist). This could be one of those cases.

  14. Andrew Fish, I definitely see your argument, at least on H&S, and I said that folks would disagree with me. 🙂 Also, I’ll freely admit that it’s not “canon.” The H&S move specifically says “Note that an ‘attack’ is some action that a player undertakes that has a chance of causing physical harm to someone else.” And then gives the example of swinging a mundane sword at the Apocalypse Dragon, which is pretty damn hyperbolic.

    I think the main difference here is how much warning you give the player that their attack is likely to be ineffective. Like, in the example I gave, the Fighter is being pretty aggressive about the stabby-stabby. I don’t feel compelled to do much more than “really, it’s made of stone, you sure?” There’s a real chance he could get hurt in the process, and H&S gives us a way to resolve that exchange.

    Now, you could also do something like just describing how the Fighter’s thrust screeches off the stone lizard ineffectually, no H&S roll. But that’s not risk-free, so I’d then make a soft move like “and the drake lunges toward you, snapping at your legs faster than you’d expect! What do you do?” And the player likely ends up Defying Danger.

    That gets at the same result: information gained, but at a risk. To me, it’s six of one, half-dozen of the other.

    If the Fighter just stopped and asked “man, can I even hurt this thing with my spear?” then things would go very differently. I’d tell the requirements and ask (“yeah, probably not by just stabbing it… you’ll need something big and heavy, or least with a lot of torque, or find a weak spot to exploit, and even then there’s a chance you’ll ruin or lose your weapon… what do you do?”).

    Regarding the magic missile: as described in the OP (it’s just immune)… that doesn’t prevent the spell from being cast at all. They cast the spell; they risk the costs (-1 ongoing, forgetting the spell, drawing unwanted attention, or a GM’s hard move), the spell manifests on a 7+. But in this case, surprise! The magic does nothing. Uh oh!

    If the magic missile wouldn’t work because of some sort of anti-magic field, or some sort of defensive wards, etc…. yeah, I might tell the Wizard that they sense something to that effect as they start to cast, give them a chance to change course or back off or maybe just try to power through.

    (BTW, I’d handle Volley in basically the same way. Nothing in Volley’s trigger indicates that you have to be able to inflict harm to trigger the move; it’s just take aim and fire. And you could still take a bunch of shots and lose ammo, or have to move to a risky position, or whatever. On a hit, though, you hit. Your damage might be nil, but your shot hits the mark.)

  15. Noah Tucker You’re right. I think the point was that if there’s no narrative chance of the attack landing, it’s not going to trigger. The reason for that is the basically preventing the D&D trope “If I roll a natural 20, I can succeed no matter what”.

    Because of how the move mechanics are structured, if they roll 10+, they succeed. So if they can’t narratively succeed, they shouldn’t roll.

    However, I don’t feel that is a great way of dealing with the world. Take your Schlub Jr., for example. Maybe the player is haughty, or maybe the PC is, either way, someone needs a lesson about the world.

    Schlub Jr. takes a swing at the Duelling Master and gets a 10+. That 10+ represents his best attack for his level of experience and skill, that doesn’t mean it’s good enough to strike the Master.

    10+: “A quality strike, but the Master effortlessly brings his sword up to meet it. You’re surprised by how easily the lithe figure can stop your sword in mid swing.”

    7-9: “The Master slides your sword aside with his own and trips you in the process. You land on your ass with a puff of dirt.”

    6-: “The Master steps silkily out of the path of your sword and you lose your balance as your swing goes wide. He smiles condescendingly.”

    Schlub Jr. still succeeded in attacking in melee, he just didn’t get the narrative result he was after.

    Of course, you could give any of those responses INSTEAD of letting the person roll, but why shouldn’t they roll for it?

Comments are closed.