Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gargantuan Monsters as Encounter Trappings

While I don’t play videogames these days anymore (something I must correct), I still watch other people playing. I was always deeply impressed by the God of War series, specially how it used giant monsters as elaborate fighting settings. I know that some RPGs like the FATE-based Starblazer Adventures use the same approach, but I didn’t had the chance to read them yet.

Recently in my Pathfinder campaign, the player characters invaded the domains of a mythological beast known as the Devourer of Nightmares, the ancient hound of a dead god. Their mission was not to vanquish the beast, quite the contrary: the party had to stop the antipaladin (and campaign villain) Shemanphor the Anointed from slaying the creature.

The Devourer of Nightmares was based on the nightmare beast of the Monster Manual II for D&D 3.0 (more like a titanic version of the original critter). The original nightmare beast has a very interesting ability: it generates a miles-wide area of the spell nightmare (disturbing the sleep of the PCs and potentially killing animals and local humanoid populations; the spell deals 1d10 damage per night on failed Will saving throw).



So, in my home campaign, the Devourer is responsible for keeping a wasteland zone between the city defended by the PCs and the evil theocracy of the antipaladin. By slaying the divine creature, Shemanphor hoped to destroy this “nightmare barrier” so that his armies could cross over.

When the PCs finally faced their nemesis, both were already deep in the Devourer of Nightmares’ underground domains, fighting in a large natural stone bridge, over a vast abyss. I wanted the gargantuan monstruosity around during the encounter, but I didn’t want it just as a big epic-level creature dealing absurd amounts of damage. I wanted it coming from below in a chaotic pattern, shaking the cavern, roaring, launching giant rocks over heroes and villains alike etc. My goal was to increase the tension and chaos of the encounter.
With that idea on mind I created the following table. I would roll once at the start of every round (and yes sir, I love random tables).

Devourer of Nightmare interventions (1d10):
1          Earthquake: the Devourer rises, pushing the stone bridge up. Dexterity check or fall prone.
2          Rocks!: the titan lunges over the arena, its tusks striking the cavern’s roof. Reflexes saving throw or suffer damage from falling rocks and stalactites.
3          Breath of Nightmare: the Devourer’s head appears above the party and breaths a poison dark mist. During this around, all the arena is under an area of deeper darkness and all breathing targets must succeed at a Fortitude saving throw or suffer the effects of nightmare spell.
4          Rising Tusks: the Devourer bites the stone bridge. Colossal tusks, the size of  temple pillars, rises from the ground itself. Charisma check* or the target suffers damage and is thrown up.
5          Maw of Darkness: the gargantuan beast tries to bite a part of the battlefield. Reflexes saving throw or the unfortunate target is trapped in the creature’s jaw. Any victim has 1 round to leap out or she’ll be eaten.
6          Deafening Roar: Fortitude saving throw or the target is deafened for 1d4 rounds.
7          The Abyss Stare Back: the Devourer chthonic sight falls over the battlefield. Treat this as a gaze attack. Will saving throw, if successful the target is shaken; if he fails, he’s panicked (this is also a [Fear] effect).
8          The Abyss Shakes: the Devourer of Nightmares shatters one of the stone bridge pillars, making it fall some feet. All combatants must reroll their initiatives due to the resulting chaos.
9          Doom!: roll twice, ignore any ‘10’ result.
10        Heroes’ Luck: roll again, ignore any ‘10’ result, but inflict the result only on the villains.

*I use Charisma not only to determine the character’s personal magnetism but also his luck.

The PCs in my home campaign are all around 10th level and the original table was tailored to them. I tried to make a more generic version for this article.