When you write up a new monster, roll+INT.

When you write up a new monster, roll+INT.

When you write up a new monster, roll+INT. If you fail, write a move that’s just a basic attack. (Ha ha.) My point is DON’T make monster moves that are just like “rake them with claws.” That’s in the attack stats (e.g. Claw d6 damage, hand, 1 piercing). If it’s an attack, then make it fundamentally different than “do x damage.”

Moves like “rip off a limb” are an attack, but they specifically give you the option of taking away someone’s leg or right arm, which has a huge effect on the fiction. “Punch them senseless” is permission to deliver a TKO and would maybe be something a golem would have, for instance. Maneuvering moves like “knock them down” or “tangle them up with vines” are good too.

I’m writing this because I’ve seen far too many monster moves that I have no idea what to do with in the fiction. They just echo the weapon stats and are a missed opportunity for coolness.

Also, remember that some of the best moves aren’t combat moves at all. Every great arch-villain needs the “slip away with a taunt” move!

22 thoughts on “When you write up a new monster, roll+INT.”

  1. Great advice for an editing pass! As part of my future process, I’ll look over all monsters to make sure the moves offer something useful in the fiction.

  2. I both agree and also feel like I appreciate when monster moves either tell me what “roll damage” might look like or what NOT rolling damage might look like. (And I confess that I am stressed out by moves like “rip an arm off” because that feels like two moves unless I don’t also roll damage, but why wouldn’t I roll damage, augh)

  3. Ha! I hear you Jason Tocci. There are times to do both (on a 6-) Do Damage and make a monster move. But I don’t worry about damage most of the time if I use a combat move like “rip off a limb.” For one thing, that’s WAY worse! Unless the character is at 2 HP, then it gives the GM a cool option instead of forcing Last Breath at a time when it wouldn’t be very dramatic to do so.

    I get what you mean about visualizing it. But I say put it in the description or just trust the GM to be able to find a way to say what claws raking someone looks like. The space afforded to a move is too brief (only a few words) to offer up a description that is specific enough to be cool but also generic enough to be re-used and that move space is too precious to waste on stuff that’s already covered.

  4. Guilty.

    For my Swordbreaker Skeleton, I have the move “Charge into a group” when it’s attack is already Charge.

    I was iffy on my Master of Blood’s moves, but I decided that, “Hit an artery,” “Unholy strength”, and “Deflect a blow” were atmospheric and fictional more than anything else and gave the GM wiggle room to have some fun in the fiction without saying specifically what that could mean, to Jason Tocci’s point.”

    You could use “Unholy strength” to rip an arm off or you could use it to pick up a horse cart and throw it. “Hit an artery” isn’t about adding a debility, it’s about sending gouts of blood all over the place that the Master of Blood will be able to soak through its skin and revitalize (another move). “Deflect a blow” is just a reminder to the GM that a Hack and Slash miss can be turned into something terrifying and awesome.

  5. I thought specifically about those vampire moves Jim Jones and decided they were marginally more useful than a simple attack. For me, hit an artery could mean incapacitating someone (stop and put pressure on it or you have 1 move and then you have to roll Last Breath). It would also add “messy” to the vampire’s attack. Unholy Strength for me means the vamp can do a feat of strength (like lifting an iron portculis or throwing a treasure chest). Deflect a blow … you could use it to ignore damage from an attack on a 7-9. So there ya go. But I agree that Charge on Swordbreaker was probably superfluous. [EDIT, except that Logan seems to have found a use for it!]

  6. Logan Howard That’s a good point. I guess it could be used as a soft move instead of a hard, deal damage, move.

    How would you write it to be more specific to that desired effect?

  7. I’m writing this because I’ve seen far too many monster moves that I have no idea what to do with in the fiction. They just echo the weapon stats and are a missed opportunity for coolness.

    Let’s look at The Laziest Zombie in the World; d8 close teeth, with a redundant move bite. Zzzzz, right?

    Except think about how our zombie is gonna bite an armored paladin. It’d be weird for the zombie to be able to chomp through steel with its human teeth, so let’s say that the zombie is gonna need to get real close and personal and seek unprotected areas big enough to admit its jaws. Maybe it tears aside the paladin’s visor and gets its jaws in the paladin’s face and cheek* Maybe it forces the paladin’s head backwards, exposing some neck. Maybe it’s seeks out the relatively soft feet that are protected only by leather boots.

    Also, when I watch a zombie movie, the zombies don’t just bite. They attach themselves to victims like horseflies and chew. If a zombie lands a good bite on a PC, that PC is is gonna have to defy danger to not have the zombie afix itself to her face. Does the paladin have a close weapon or a handy friend to deal with this? Her fancy polearm won’t work against a facechewing zombie (this comes from the zombie’s close tag, admittedly)

    See how a one-word move can roll into battle fiction? Sure, maybe the author should’ve written the zombie bite move as “afix self to victim with teeth” but this is an RPG, the GM is expected to elaborate a bit on the printed words. bite is just the starting point — the entire context of the monster and their opponent is your blast from the spiceweasel.

    * (aside: even if the fiction moves the armor aside, I’d not take away the Paladin’s armor rating in this case, the armor is making it harder for the zombie to attack and presumably harder to land a real telling bite.)

  8. That’s super cool John Aegard, but I don’t think “bite” gets most GM’s there. To me “bite” is just bad move writing. I think we can count on the GM to elaborate, but still evoke ideas better. True? I might put in “filthy bite” to suggest contagion or “skull-crushing bite” to suggest extra/localized damage on attacks after it gets on top of you.

  9. Ray Otus It doesn’t come across that way to me. There’s nothing wrong with discussing best practices for creating content. Great GMs will always run with what they are given. Content creators can still work on providing the best possible “inspirations” for them.

    I want to write up monsters that provide something characters have to look out for. Players might get that extra little thrill when they come across something they know can “push them around” when they are standing near a cliff! Moves have a great opportunity to give the players something to talk about.

  10. Ray Otus What do you think about moves that describe relationships? I like to write moves that indicate who the monster will protect or who they will particularly try to kill first. I think one of the cruelest monsters I’ve written up to date specifically goes after animal companions.

  11. That’s a neat (and cruel and fun!) idea. I would tend to use Instinct for that if its a driving thing and moves if its tactical. IOW an instinct might be “protect the King.” But a good move would be like “target the thing they love.” 🙂 Note that the latter you would probably use with do damage, redirecting the damage to the animal companion. But writing it broadly like this means you can use it in other situations too. Imagine a creature that, instead of doing damage, grabs (or tries to grab) a fighter’s signature weapon and throws it over a cliff. Fighter says, “Son-of-a-bitch!!”

  12. Jason Tocci dealing damage along with another GM move is totally fair game! It’s explicitly spelled on out page 165 (2nd paragraph):

    Note that “deal damage” is a move, but other moves may include damage as well. When an ogre flings you against a wall you take damage as surely as if he had smashed you with his fists.

  13. Interesting.

    I tend to use the instincts in a broader way. One of the retainers in Hollow Fingers would have:

    Instinct: Guard the master’s household

    Then as a move have something like:

    Angle for their weakest link

    My thinking is that they are there to guard the place but they’ll cause trouble for the party by dancing all around looking for a way to attack the thief head on or maybe the wizard.

  14. Yeah, that’s an excellent example of what I’m talking about. Look at those moves! TOTALLY useful. They fatten up the possibilities rather than intensifying something the sword can “obviously” already do.

  15. I tend to do this a little bit when I make monsters, mostly because I unabashadly take from the monster list during the game (which includes the more “basic” attack moves which sometimes show up). There’s plenty of space to add moves! I like upwards of 6-7. It’s useful to telegraph that a monster has another weapon to use other than then one listed as damage, and also allows for some creative opportunities if it’s a non-standard weapon.

    To be honest I get a little annoyed when there are only like 3 moves to choose from especially when it’s a big solo monster. The fight is likely going to go on for a bit, and I want to keep attacks in the narrative tank for as long as I can without repeating just to make it easier on myself! I’ve struggled with keeping battles interesting in the past so have lots of moves is one way to help with that.

    That tactics stuff is new to me and also looks like a huge gain for gms who may get stuck on what to do. That’s right up my alley!

  16. I need to look back through my Traveller’s Bestiary and see if there are any monsters with moves that do this. Thanks for pointing this out as well, I have seen the same thing in several places.

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