Friday, 28 December 2018

Monster Design from Classics - The Lich


The Cocktail Codex makes the bold claim that there are only six cocktails, with all recipes able to be linked at least tangentially to one of these root recipes. So a Martini is defined by the relationship between spirit (gin) and aromatised wine (vermouth), so a Manhattan is simply a relative that uses whiskey instead of gin, sweet vermouth in place of dry, and bitters added for seasoning the added sweetness. 

So what’s the point of all this beyond theory and list-making? It’s really an exercise to demonstrate how new recipes can be created around classic structures, and understanding how to make changes without screwing up what makes the classic work.

Can we do the same for Monsters? It’s not a perfect fit, but let’s try one.

The Lich




The Classic
While dark wizards might seem like the true root, Liches feel much more iconic to me.

Lich
STR 7, DEX 7, CHA 18, 15hp. Ceremonial Dagger (d6), Lots of Spells.

The Orthodoxy
  • Great magical powers
  • Physically weak
  • Themes of greed and immortality
Experimenting with the Core

In this case the core of the Lich is its magical powers, which contrast its physical weakness.

We can move the focus to Psionics we get the Mind Flayer.

We can tighten down the magic powers to single extraordinary ability to give us the Medusa, Doppleganger, Dryad, and even the Rust Monster.

We can keep things closer to arcane magic and focus on a particular school to get classics like the evil Necromancer.

You can tip the balance slightly, giving them more modest magical powers in exchange for appearing in greater numbers and being a touch more hardy to get Drow and Gnomes that still rely on magic and trickery over their swords.

And of course the point of this is to help us create new monsters, so what if we focused on Summoning Magic?

The Elemental Conduit
STR 7, DEX 7, CHA 18. 12hp.
  • An elemental cultist that has given up their sapience to become a channel for elemental beings to enter our plane. 
  • They are humanoid but clearly made up of chunks of raw elements barely held together.
  • They want everything to return to raw elemental chaos, and can summon elementals at will. 
Experimenting with the Balance

The Lich's power is balanced by its weak physical form, classically a skeleton but sometimes taken to the demilich extreme of just a skull.

Another extreme take is going for the Brain in a Jar.

Giving the Lich a ghost form keeps them unable to have much physical impact, but gives them the added power of being immaterial, so you should pull back on their magical powers if you go in this direction.

The balance doesn’t have to be physical weakness, but could be other forms of physical restriction. An Aboleth is physically large but bound to water, and limited on where it can move. Some types of Demon or Devil can fit into the Lich mould but they can be banished to their home or otherwise controlled by magic. Vampires have a similar combination of physical power with serious weaknesses to balance their magical abilities.

So let’s make a new creation where the physical weakness is replaced with stupidity and a vulnerability.

Tome Golem
STR 15, DEX 5, CHA 5. D8 Smash. Lots of Spells.
  • Literally made out of spellbooks but doesn’t really understand them. Throws a random spell out in anger if provoked.
  • Drawn to absorb more spell tomes into its form.
  • Extremely flammable (any fire attacks get +d12). 
Experimenting with the Seasoning

The Seasoning is what binds the core and the balance together. A Lich that knows lots of spells but is physically weak isn’t interesting enough to throw into your game, but if they’re the last devotee of an ancient religion or the vain Prince of a ruined kingdom then you’ve got something to grip onto, a reason why they’re the way they are.

Most of the variants above change the seasoning from the classic, but let’s see if we can keep everything else the same.

Eternal Apprentice
STR 7, DEX 7, CHA 18. 16hp. Dagger (d6), Lots of Spells.
  • Doomed to eternally wander the tomb of their truly dead master, tidying up, checking everything is in order, sweeping the floor.
  • Can channel the power of their master if needed, but is woefully lacking in confidence and constantly scared of using the wrong spell.
  • Their spirit is released if the master’s corpse is destroyed.

5 comments:

  1. Hawt. Also, thanks for the heads up on an interesting book!

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  2. Hmm a very different take on how to vary monsters. I'll have to digest this one. Cool that there are rules of a sort.

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  3. This is good, it reminds me of this old series of posts of Telecanter's: here

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  4. Well, this is one of your best posts, I think. I wish you'd make a whole book like this.

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  5. Useful article, thank you for sharing the article!!!

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    ReplyDelete