Ronin Round Table: The Care and Feeding of Monster Design

MedusaHeya folks, Jack here. I wanted to take a break from working on AGE and Dragon AGE content to talk to you a bit about making your own content for the Adventure Game Engine. Specifically, let’s talk about making monsters.

Since the recent launch of Fantasy AGE and Titansgrave: Ashes of Valkana, I get asked a lot of questions, from “When will they be in stores,” to “What the hell is Interlligence?!” People have a lot of questions about these books.

However, by far one of the most common questions I get asked is “so, any advice on making our own monsters?” Which makes sense. While both Titansgrave and Fantasy AGE contain some cool beasties, there’s plenty of room for more monsters, demons, and beasties. So for today’s Ronin Round Table, I’d like to talk a bit about some things to consider when building your own monsters.

Generally, it’s easy to make your own monsters in Fantasy AGE. Come up with a concept or borrow one from your favorite stories, myths, legends, books, etc… Assign statistics that match up to the rough idea of what your monster can do and then tailor it so that you’re not making it too tough or too easy on your PCs when they face such threats. Speaking of…

You might find that despite having a solid idea and being sure everything will work out, you accidentally made a monster that’s far too strong or weak for the PCs. There are several ways to do this, but some common mistakes to avoid are:

Making monsters who hit all the time or not at all. A really high Accuracy or Fighting is going to mean even very agile and defensive PCs will get nailed a lot. Remember the average dice roll with 3d6 is 11 and starting PCs usually have between 10 and 15 defense. Also, these numbers are slow to increase, so even more experienced PCs won’t become so much harder to hit without serious Ability increases, special items, and other advancements. So you don’t need to give most monsters Fighting or Accuracy of 5 or higher to hit often, and those with scores of 7 or above will hit very often, especially with appropriate focuses. Even a Fighting or Accuracy 1 monster with a focus for their main attack will hit a Defense 14 PC about half the time. Conversely, making monsters with very low Fighting and Accuracy can also be a problem, though it’s admittedly harder to do.

However, if you’re giving a monster -2 Accuracy or some similarly low Ability, consider if that will make them miss often enough they seem more like a joke than a threat.

Making monsters who do ridiculous damage or almost nothing. Sometimes you want a big scary creature who does tons of damage. A giant, dragon, and other big scary monsters should be scary and hit very hard. On the other hand, a swarm of rats might do only a bit of damage and serve to weaken PCs without seriously endangering their lives. Also, remember that damage is a combination of both the dice rolled and the Ability added in and how often you hit affects the damage monsters will do over time.

So a high Accuracy “minor” monster with a 1d6+3 damage attack and 4 Strength will being doing at least 8 damage every hit (1 on the die, plus 3 and then 4 more for Strength). That might be just want you want. Or you might find you accidentally made a minor creature than can kill a player’s unarmored low-defense mage far too quickly for what you had in mind. Likewise, a big scary beast with 3d6 damage and Strength 9 is likely really nasty (doing around 20 damage a hit). Just make sure that’s the effect you want for your monsters.

Ignoring or Overdoing Armor. Armor is both damage mitigating and a pacing mechanism. It often won’t stop a PC or monster from ever taking damage, but it increases the time it takes to damage and defeat a target in combat. So if you give a monster no or very low armor, you’re opening it up to every hit, no matter how small. This might be fine, but it means that anyone who can survive the creature’s attacks and damage can take it down reliably. This might not be what you want for certain monsters. On the other hand, very high armor can get frustrating. It might be tempting to give a heavily armored creature 10 armor rating (or even higher) but realize that without the right stunts or very high damage you’re setting up combats to be many rounds of “I hit and…nothing.”

Not Balancing Health with Other Factors. High defense or armor can make a monster a challenging foe. If combined with really high health, it can make them annoying. On the other hand, too little Health creates “paper tigers.” Again, if intended? That’s cool, but realize that many players expect to only encounter easily dispatched or incredibly tough monsters rarely and at specific times appropriate to the campaign. If your Lizardman lieutenant in a moderately difficult encounter has 150 health and Armor Rating 8 and Defense 17? Your PCs will get bored, frustrated, or discouraged long before they defeat this “mid boss” encounter.

Forgetting Powers and Special Abilities or Overdoing Them. A few cool special abilities, powers, and unique stunts goes a long way. Too many and you risk bogging down encounters. But having none of them makes monsters just collections of basic attacks and statistics. Also, don’t be shy about converting or borrowing powers from existing creatures. If you want a horde of dog-sized flesh-eating beetles to assault your PCs? Adapting Swarm Tactics from the Walking Dead entry in the Fantasy AGE Bestiary will work well and save you design time.

Ignoring the Utility of Reskinning. Sometimes a monster is just an existing one with minor changes and a new look. This isn’t “cheating”; it’s expediency. A terrifying battle-beast created by an evil sorcerer might just be a Demon Soldier with Wings, Blending, or other special abilities already detailed in the Bestiary chapter of Fantasy AGE. A flesh-eating giant “deep one” style humanoid might just be an Ogre with Aquatic and perhaps Bite and Claw attacks adapted from the Manticore entry. These extra abilities will make monsters tougher and you’ll want to consider than when balancing encounters, but it makes it fairly easy to come up with terrifying new threats for PCs to face in a relatively short time.

Also in general, it’s usually better to make weaker monsters than overpowering ones. If a monster is too weak in an encounter? Simply increase it the next time a similar creature is encountered and if anyone wonders, it was a young, inexperienced, or immature monster they faced before—this is the real deal. That’s not even a lie, as the first attempt was not as refined or evolved in many cases. It’s okay if the first demon bear-thing your PCs fight turns out to be a juvenile version of a much scarier threat. In fact, this can allow monsters to grow and evolve alongside your PCs as the campaign progresses.

So those are some of the basics. We’ll be presenting new monsters in the future, but we realize many GMs want to start hacking away at their basic Bestiary entries in the meantime. Hopefully this discussion will help them do exactly that.

“When Can I Get Fantasy AGE, Titansgrave, and Dragon Age Books?”

We’ve been getting variants of this question a lot, so we thought we’d put a comprehensive answer in a single place. For Dragon Age, the answer is easy: it’s in stores now and you can also order it from our webstore.

For Fantasy AGE and Titansgrave, the answer is a bit more complicated. Basically, the demand for these books outstripped their availability. We had a LOT Of pre-orders (which are in the process of shipping) and sold a LOT at GenCon. We have sold what remains of the first print run to game distributors so retail stores can get some in. They will arrive at distributors on September 8 and start showing up in stores on September 10. This is not a huge number of books, so if you want one I suggest talking to your local store.

Meanwhile, we have a (larger!) reprint of Fantasy AGE and Titansgrave underway. If all goes smoothly with the printer, we should have both books back in stock and available for stores in early October. You can’t order them in our online store at the moment, but we will turn them back on in mid-September if you want to pre-order the reprints.

Usually our first print runs are big enough to last for at least three months, but Fantasy AGE and Titansgrave went gangbusters. It’s a good problem for us to have in the long run (people want our games, hooray!) but having them unavailable for a month is obviously not ideal. More books are coming soon though. Thanks for your patience!

Ronin Round Table: Green Ronin at Gen Con 2015

Titansgrave​ is coming to Gen Con! Make sure to login to your Gen Con account and look for SEM1582558 to reserve your spot! Presented by Green Ronin Publishing and Geek and Sundry

Titansgrave​ is coming to Gen Con! Make sure to login to your Gen Con account and look for SEM1582558 to reserve your spot! Presented by Green Ronin Publishing and Geek and Sundry.

 

This year is going to be an exceptionally strange and exciting time for us at Gen Con. Not only is Team Ronin headed out in force, but we’re sharing space with Geek & Sundry, highlighting Fantasy Age and Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana! We’re so excited to have such great games for Gen Con.

Before I get into the fun things happening, I want to kindly let you know what our Customer Service & Sales responses will be slow, as we’ll be dependent on whatever internet we can find while traveling and while we’re all working the show. Online orders for in-stock items (or PDFs of course) will continue to go out on the usual schedule.

For those of you lucky enough to be attending Gen Con, stop on by and say hello at Booth #1509! We’ll be running demos of Walk the Plank, Love 2 Hate, Icons Superpowered Roleplaying, Dragon Age, A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, Mutants & Masterminds, Ork!, and of course, Fantasy Age and Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana. Geek & Sundry will be featuring a photo booth, along with some great merchandise and surprises!

We also have volunteers running games at Gen Con, and we have some Seminars you don’t want to miss. If you didn’t get into a game, be sure to bring Generic Tickets to see if a spot opens up! There are quite a few sessions of games run by various GMs & Gaming Groups, and we have a list of the officially submitted games run by myself or our Freebooter Volunteer GMs! For the Seminars, there are currently spaces, but you’ll definitely need to pick up free tickets to attend!

Thursday:

  • RPG1575877 Blood in the Streets – DC Adventures/Mutants & Masterminds
  • RPG1575473 An Arl’s Ransom – Dragon Age RPG (at ConTessa!)
  • RPG1573267 Hell Comes to Squishy Man Town! – Ork! 2.0 The Roleplaying Game
  • RPG1576447 Fate in Freeport; The 1000 Year Storm – Fate System
  • RPG1575933 Shadows of Tanglewood – Blue Rose/True 20
  • RPG1576439 Titansgrave: The Rust Wastes – Fantasy Age
  • RPG1576440 Titansgrave: The Rust Wastes – Fantasy Age
  • SEM1578318 News & Updates on Green Ronin Publishing’s AGE System

Friday:

  • RPG1575878 Blood in the Streets – DC Adventures/Mutants & Masterminds
  • RPG1573275 Hell Comes to Squishy Man Town! – Ork! 2.0 The Roleplaying Game
  • RPG1576446 The Truth of the Fifth Blight – Dragon Age RPG
  • RPG1576441 Titansgrave: The Rust Wastes – Fantasy Age
  • RPG1576442 Titansgrave: The Rust Wastes – Fantasy Age
  • RPG1578320 Titansgrave: The Rust Wastes – Fantasy Age
  • SEM1578319 What’s New With Green Ronin Publishing!
  • SEM1582558 Titansgrave Q&A with Wil!

Saturday:

  • RPG1575905 Operation: Zandia – DC Adventures/Mutants & Masterminds
  • RPG1573282 Hell Comes to Squishy Man – Town!Ork! 2.0
  • RPG1575934 Shadows of Tanglewood – Blue Rose/True 20
  • RPG1576443 Titansgrave: The Rust Wastes – Fantasy Age
  • RPG1576445 Titansgrave: The Rust Wastes – Fantasy Age
  • RPG1578321 Titansgrave: The Rust Wastes – Fantasy Age

Sunday:

  • RPG1575906 Operation: Zandia – DC Adventures/Mutants & Masterminds

Thank you for your support, and we hope to see you at Gen Con!

Blue Rose Kickstarter and Dragon Age Pre-Order Both Ending

Blue Rose RPG

Blue Rose on Kickstarter: Last Chance!

If you have been waiting to back Blue Rose: The RPG of Romantic Fantasy on Kickstarter, you’re almost out of time. We’ve been knocking down stretch goals left and right, and there are only about six hours left as of this post. The next stretch goal, unlocked at $82,500, is a second side on the poster map, which we really hope we get to do.

Please back Blue Rose while you can. (And thank you so much if you already did!)

In other time-sensitive news, on Tuesday at Midnight (the very end of day on Tuesday, Seattle Time) the Dragon Age RPG Core Rulebook pre-order deal will end.

Note: After a very inconveniently-timed technical issue, the pre-order deals in our store (pre-order selected books, get a deal on the PDF version) are working again. We are sorry about the problems. If you pre-ordered and didn’t get the deal please write custserv@greenronin.com to report the problem. If you have already done so, we will get you sorted out as soon as we can. Thanks for your patience!

Now Pre-Ordering: Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook

Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook (Pre-Order & PDF)

Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook (Pre-Order & PDF)

You can now Pre-Order the Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook and get the PDF version for just $5, or buy the PDF on its own. Fantasy AGE is the rules set that powers Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana, as well as the award-winning Dragon Age RPG and Blue Rose: The RPG of Romantic Fantasy (now Kickstarting).

Dragon Age RPG Core Rulebook: Pre-Order and PDF

Dragon Age RPG Core Rulebook

The Dragon Age RPG Core Rulebook is ready to go to press, which means it’s now available for pre-ordering in our Green Ronin Online Store!

This new Core Rulebook combines the rules and background of the original game under one cover for the first time, and adds a brand new adventure as well. The game system is easy to learn and play, and the book is packed with lore from the world of Thedas. It is available in both hardback and PDF formats.

Customers who pre-ordered the Ultimate Edition of this book will very soon receive a coupon for a free PDF of this book. People pre-ordering the Core Rulebook through our store will receive an offer during checkout to get the PDF for just $5.

Pre-Order the Dragon Age RPG Core Rulebook

Green Ronin in 2015

Hello gamers!

It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were waiting to find out if the Y2K bug was going to destroy civilization, but somehow it is 2015 already. This is a milestone year for Green Ronin Publishing. We are now officially 15 years old! It was in February, 2000 that I decided to take the plunge and start a new company. By July we had our first game out (Ork! The Roleplaying Game) and then a month later we launched Death in Freeport, the book that really put us on the RPG map. Certainly I had no idea at the time that Green Ronin would be still be publishing 15 years later. So a million thanks to all of the gamers who have kept us going, as well as the legion of writers, artists, editors, and other professionals we’ve worked with over the years. We could not have done it without you!

So what do we have planned for 2015? Glad you asked!

Dragon Age

Dragon Age Core Rulebook

Dragon Age Core Rulebook

We are starting our Dragon Age line off with a bang this year. We are releasing a Core Rulebook, which replaces the game’s previous boxed sets (all of which are out of print). The Dragon Age Core Rulebook consolidates all the material from Sets 1-3 into one big 400 page book. It replaces the Set 1 adventure with a new one, since we figure The Dalish Curse is the most played Dragon Age adventure out there. There is a small amount of other new material (monsters, specializations), but the bigger change is that the game no longer assumes you are fighting through the Fifth Blight. That is one option of many campaign frameworks. The setting has matured quite a bit since the release of Dragon Age: Origins, so we thought it made sense not to tie the game to one particular time or event. The Dragon Age Core Rulebook is in layout now and will be going up to BioWare soon for approvals.

After that we’ll be releasing a new version of the Game Master’s Kit, since the old one is outdated and out of print. The new one updates the screen to represent the full game rules, and includes a new adventure as well. Then we have a sourcebook tentatively titled Inquisition that incorporates material from the recently released Dragon Age: Inquisition video game. As many of you no doubt know already, that game introduces a huge amount of new content and we want to bring as much of that as we can to the tabletop game.

Lastly, we turn to Faces of Thedas. This was originally a PDF series that focused on characters from the Dragon Age setting. Jack Norris, our line developer, is revisiting Faces of Thedas, this time as a full-on book. After three video games and several novels and comics, the setting has a lot of memorable characters and we want to bring more of those to the game. GMs can uses these characters in a variety of ways, and you can even play them if you want to.

Fantasy AGE

Since we first released Dragon Age, people have been asking us if we were going to release the game system—known as the Adventure Game Engine—separately from the setting. The answer is yes! Our plan for this year is to release Fantasy AGE, a core rulebook for the system that I am working on right now. This will be strictly a rule book with no attached setting. The core of the game will be well-familiar to Dragon Age fans but there are some differences, the biggest of which is the magic system. That of Dragon Age was meant to emulate how magic works in Thedas, so I am modifying it heavily for Fantasy AGE.

Our goal is to release Fantasy AGE in May. Then at the end of July we will release the game’s first setting book. This is our big GenCon release and part of something super exciting … that I can’t talk about yet. This will be the focus of our GenCon presence this year and perhaps the biggest RPG story of the year. Watch for an announcement in a few months.

Mutants & Masterminds

It is a great time to be a superhero fan, that’s for sure. We’ve got movies, TV shows, and Mutants & Masterminds! We’re starting out the year with The Cosmic Handbook, which developer Jon Leitheusser recently turned over to production. If you liked Guardians of the Galaxy, you’re going to love this book! Our other big project is Freedom City, the signature setting of Mutants & Masterminds since 1st edition. Now Freedom City will come to 3rd edition at last, in a book similar in format to Emerald City.

We’ll also be continuing the Atlas of Earth-Prime. This is a PDF series we started last year that describes the world of Freedom City and Emerald City in greater detail. When we’re done, we’ll collect the PDFs up into a print book, as we did with titles like Power Profiles and Threat Report. The Atlas of Earth-Prime should resume in a few weeks.

Pathfinder

Advanced Bestiary for the Pathfinder RPG

Advanced Bestiary for the Pathfinder RPG

Our Pathfinder plans have begun to bear fruit under the auspices of developer Owen K.C. Stephens. At the end of last year we released the Advanced Bestiary to terrific reviews. If you are a Pathfinder GM, you should seriously check out the Advanced Bestiary. It’s a tremendously useful resource that makes every other monster book you own more valuable.

We’ve also sent Freeport: The City of Adventure to print. This monstrous tome is the biggest book we’ve ever published. 544 glorious, full color pages detailing a setting that goes back to Death in Freeport 15 years ago. It’s classic fantasy + pirates + Lovecraftian horror. Lots of great Pathfinder content too: new classes, feats, spells, and more. The pre-order for Freeport is still going on, so you can get the PDF for only $5 if you pre-order the book now.

The follow-up is already in the works. Return to Freeport will be a six-part adventure series perfect for kicking off a new campaign. We will release this as a PDF series over the course of the year and then collect it up into a print book when it’s finished.

A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying

We have two releases planned for A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying this year. The first is Dragon’s Hoard, a 160-page adventure. This is written and edited and has been submitted for approval. Meanwhile, developer Joe Carriker is working on a Player’s Guide for the game. This is a rules companion with expanded options for, well, just about everything. As always with this game line, I must caution patience. We can’t really predict how long approvals will take, but will do our best to get these books out as soon as we can.

Joe has also been working on a series of PDFs in support of the Chronicle System, the game engine that powers A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying. We’ve released three of these already: Woodland Creatures, Out of Strife Prosperity, and Chronicle of Sorcery. The latter introduces a magic system for the game for the first time, so is well worth a look if you missed it. Expect more bestiary PDFs this year, as well as some other surprises.

Love 2 Hate Rules (PDF)

Love 2 Hate Rules (PDF)

Love 2 Hate

Last but by no means least is our first party card game, Love 2 Hate! We ran a successful Kickstarter for the game last year and it is scheduled to release in April. The rules are now online and you can learn to play in like two minutes. This game is obviously quite different from our usual RPG fare, but it’s a hoot and we hope you check it out.

And More!

At the start of this article, I mentioned our very first release: Ork! The Roleplaying Game. Well, it hardly seemed fair for Freeport to be the only 2000 release to get some love on its fifteenth anniversary, so watch out for a new edition of Ork! The Roleplaying Game this summer. Original mastermind “Crazy” Todd Miller has revisited this beer and pretzels RPG, so you can expect even more psychotic mayhem.

That is quite a lineup, but believe or not, there’s more! Nothing we can talk about right now unfortunately, but stay tuned for some exciting announcements over the coming months. What has Steve Kenson been working on the last five months? Find out in April!

Thanks for a great 15 years. Join us in 2015 for a host of gaming goodness!

Chris Pramas
Green Ronin Publishing