As a player, one of the most memorable experiences is encountering a brand new monster and having absolutely no idea how to beat it or what abilities it may have. The first time I encountered a Nothic in Lost Mines of Phandelver is something I'll never forget. But you can only throw goblins at your players so many times before it becomes routine for the party or, even worse - boring. So here are my top three tips to make great monsters and add that spice back to the game table.
Literally Reskinning - Three vaguely humanoid monsters peer at in the dark from behind the dungeon's rubble. Pale blue skin, black eyes, and metallic teeth glint in the torch light. You can hear the electric crackle of coming from their long, bulbous fingers. You have no idea what I just described and neither will your players but I'm planning to use the stat block of goblins for these monsters. Sometimes the illusion of a new monster is all it takes to make the party question everything. Want to take the next step? Tinker with one or two of the monster's abilities. Maybe our pal blue friends' ranged weapon attack - some sort of electric bolt - does lighting damage instead of the goblin's short bow's piercing damage. Maybe they have the spider climb ability and can limb up walls. These new abilities will further throw off the party. If these strange creatures can climb up walls and shoot electricity from their fingers, who knows what else they can do!
Pokemon Approach - How I miss the good ole days of rock-paper-scissors style combat from the Pokemon Game Boy games of yesteryear. Bulbasaur beats Squirtle who beats Charmander who beats Bulbasaur who beats... This is the technique that we used in Adventurer's Agency for creating the Ley Affected Monsters, a table for altering monsters that have been affected over long periods of time to magical Ley Lines. Perhaps your hill giant has purple, frost-covered skin and does some bonus cold damage but is vulnerable to fire damage. Or maybe your minotaur skeleton has metallic bones that are resistant fire and bludgeoning damage but is vulnerable to lightning damage. Adding these give-and-take resistances and vulnerabilities can breath interesting new life into familiar foes.
Import from Abroad - This is a strategy I often employ when making monsters. The inspiration for the Gnoll with the cursed magic item from the free adventure above? The jackals from Halo: Combat Evolved that have shields and plasma pistols. And the Paleotera from Monster at the End of this Nightmare? That was inspired by the monster from Dean Koontz's Phantoms that devoured the residents from a small Colorado town. The trick with this one is to take monsters and villains from non-fantasy sources and then drop them into your world, that way the players are less likely to recognize them out of context. Or, if you're going to lift baddies from fantasy works, make sure you're using sources your players aren't familiar with.
One final tip? Whether you are tweaking an existing monster or making a new one, make sure to double check its new challenge rating that way you don't accidentally get a TPK. This handy tool here lets you enter your new monster's stats and abilities to see how potent it is. https://5e.tools/crcalculator.html#0,13,1,3,false,Medium,1,10,false,0,false,0,
What's your favorite trick for making new monsters for your world? Let me know in the comments below!
~ Shane Collins