Welcome once again to the weekly Nerdarchy Newsletter. This week it’s all about something we like to refer to as Fast & Dirty Monsters. More about that below. We’ve got a couple announcements. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy, by signing up here.
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The concept of fast & dirty monsters is about coming up with new D&D monsters in the easiest and fastest way possible. Many Dungeon Masters feel like they have to do all the work themselves. Or maybe they feel like they are cheating their players if they don’t make everything from scratch. The truth of the matter is the players never have to know what is going on behind the DM screen. Instead of toiling away on tasks that may only take up 30 minutes of table time you can work on things that will see play over and over again.
Fast & Dirty Monsters in 3-Easy-Steps
Step 1. Figure out what role you want the monster fit: bruiser, controller, skirmisher, etc.
Step 2. Match the monster challenge to the level of your adventuring party.
Step 3. Flavor to desired taste. This just means describe your new monster however you need it to look.
Boom! You’ve got a brand new monster your players have never seen before. Or maybe you’ve modeled a monster from their favorite books, comics, movies, or video games.
From Ted’s Head
To show how easy it is to make fast and dirty monsters I gave my 11-year-old son the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual and asked him to select three monsters. I did not tell him why but it removed my thought process from it. He wound up choosing some big ones. He chose the gold dragon, the hydra and the kraken.
Whether he chose these at random or because he likes those particular monsters does not matter. I will say he chose monsters he thought were cool because I know he likes them. But even if he had chosen randomly I could still make just about anything work.
So let’s take each monster in turn.
This one actually has several stat blocks to work with. Since the kraken is a Challenge 23 and a Hydra is an 8, I am going to choose the adult gold dragon as my selection. Looking at the stats I see we have a Huge creature possessed of great mental stats, highly strong and durable but not overly dexterous. Given the power of this creature I would take this in one of three directions. I could make it a celestial but since a gold dragon is already a good creature I took this option off the table. I see this as either an elemental, a fiend or an aberration. I have used a lot of fiends recently so I want to make this one an elemental.
Given its stat block I know it is immune to fire so I will start off there. This could be a lava lord bound to a location to protect a dangerous object. For its languages I would remove Draconic and add Primordial. I would remove Change Shape entirely. I would remove Stealth and add proficiency in Athletics. I would remove the fly and swim speed but increase its speed to 50 feet. It could still have a tail and be able to make all the attacks the stat block allows for. So have fun with the lava lord.
This one I knew I wanted to have a bit of fun with. When my son picked this one I knew I wanted to make something far more powerful. We are going to change the stats to make this one an aberration. But it is a mix of heads and tentacles. I would remove its legs and have it move in a more serpentine method. Each tentacle can make an attack but if it hits it can do bludgeoning damage and gets to make a free grapple. Each head gets a breath weapon once per combat in place of their attack. You can have fun and give multiple effects or the same one. I was thinking of a sleep effect. The tentacles and heads function the same way so if either die it grows a new head and a new tentacle and it has as many reactions as it has combined heads and tentacles. This would make it more of a challenge so I would up its Hit Dice some as well.
This one is a monster for sure. It takes a little more thought of how you are going to use something designed to be a major antagonist to just rewrite it into something else. Looking at the abilities I am drawn to this lightning storm ability as well as it having a swim speed. So where would you not be able to swim? Why, a desert of course. What if this beast of legend is why a certain part of the world is a desert? What if this creature swims through earth, sand and soil like fish swim in the ocean? It absorbs life and nutrients from all around it. It literally sucked the land dry. But thankfully something about its creation keeps it locked into a certain radius so it did not destroy the land beyond the desert. Change swim speed to burrow like a bullette and you are all set. You could begin to make myths and legends about a sand titan that destroys caravans and murders all at newly dug wells. Beware the storm because a sand titan might not be far behind.
Those were lots of fun to make, why not give it a try yourself and see what you can make with fast and dirty monsters?
From the Nerditor’s Desk
I had to go back to the Nerdarchy YouTube channel archives and find the very first Fast and Dirty D&D Monsters video to make sure I understand the concept if I’m going to explore some ideas here. In that video, the on-camera crew started with kobolds and turned them into insectoid creatures. In other videos in the series, various creatures get mashed together or a single creature is modified off the cuff. In both cases wholly new monsters are the result.
During the decades I’ve been running D&D games, new creatures get created all the time but one that stands out most recently is Goldhorn. Slovenian mythology features prominently in my campaign setting, and one of the first local legends a fresh batch of adventurers heard about is Goldhorn. This legendary white chamois buck’s golden horns were the key to a treasure hidden in the mountains.
Hearing the story while the characters mingled with their new neighbors was intended to give the place a sense of history and culture. But I should have known the players would become interested in Goldhorn, especially since the local legend involved treasure. So of course, all they wanted to do was leave town, head deep into the mountains, find this mythological creature and take the treasure. This first day in town and they want to hunt down a legendary creature that may or may not exist?!
During our break I thought quickly and did a bit of fast and dirty monster creation myself. Goldhorn, or Zlatorog in the local language, lives in the mountains. The story involves a young hunter who wishes to win the heart of a beautiful girl, a rival for her affections, and the mysterious Green Hunter who winds up leading the young man astray to his doom.
Goldhorn started off with a giant elk, but it needed supernatural elements to elevate it to mythological status. The Creature Codex from Kobold Press had just come out, and the ghost boar had everything I wanted. Incorporeal Jaunt means it can get away and thus the myth lives on. But the ghost boar’s Spirit Conduit feature really upped the ante. I changed it a little, which then added to the Goldhorn myth itself. Here’s Goldhorn’s Spirit Conduit ability:
Spirit Conduit. When a creature dies within 30 feet of Zlatorog, its spirit possesses Zlatorog and the previous spirit is released, incapacitating Zlatorog for up to 1 minute. During this time, the spirit is affected by the speak with dead spell, speaking through the Zlatorog’s mouth.
The fast and dirty version of Goldhorn is a sort of spectral elk. When a creature dies nearby (presumably while hunting it for the treasure), their spirit inhabits Goldhorn and becomes the new creature, releasing the former spirit. So in this way it perpetuates the myth and also adds a layer of drama and a moral lesson, like all good myths.
It’s got a Charge, a horn that sheds light and has a Recharge blinding action, a Ram attack, and a reaction to turn incorporeal.
Did the Adventurers of Adventure ever track down Goldhorn? Nope. We returned from our break and they got distracted by something else. The journey to the mountains kept getting delayed, and they eventually wound up in the Feywild for an extended time. But while there, the party heard someone mention Zlatorog was visiting the court. But isn’t that Goldhorn’s name, the mythological creature from the Waking World? The Adventurers of Adventure are certainly intrigued!
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