Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Art of Being a Monster

While I’ve never actually read Sun Tzu’s Art of War, I have been getting into rationalist fiction lately. Rationalist fiction is the kind of fiction where the base assumption is that the characters within them act at least as intelligent as a normal human being would. This means many of the “Orb of Stupid” type tropes are gone, replaced with much neater and more interesting plots. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is one example, although it is a fan-fiction where only a few of the characters are upgraded to this level of self-aware intelligence (although others come along throughout the series).
Combine this new-found interest in more rational characters with the Evil Overlord list I must have read a dozen times with this recent post over at Dragon’s Flagon (sadly on hiatus), and I came up with an interesting challenge for myself. I am going to go through some classic monster tropes and create two side-by-side strategy guides for them.

Each monster will get a basic outline of their first order tactics, i.e. those that should be used against your typical hunters/adventurers/mercenaries/scientists/etc. Giving a general strategy against the usual player archetypes. This should serve for all monsters with any level of intelligence, including some animals. The only creatures that should attack without regards for basic strategy against their common foes are the mindless. Every other creature has at least its first order strategies of how to fight against various opponents (including fleeing!). Here's the basic four types most monsters should have a strategy for fighting.

Fighter: A stand in for any tough or armored opponent that generally attacks head on, occupies the front line, and tries to keep a foes attention away from softer targets. Very basic creatures would react to the fighter in the same way they would react against a larger predator.

Thief: A flanker or ambush type enemy that deals lots of damage (relative to its other attacks), to the flanks or back of an opponent, but is not as well suited to survive if it draws its opponents direct attention. Basic creatures would react to this opponent in the same way they would react to small, nimble predators.

Ranger: A ranged or reach attacker that is well suited to targeted damage against their opponents at a distance. They suffer from being too close to an enemy or by being directly engaged in combat. Very basic creatures respond to rangers as they would against specialized predators, such as those that are spined, poisonous, or spit/shoot.

Caster: Any spell-casting class that can use their magic for ranged or area effects. They are generally soft and cannot perform magic effectively while directly engaged. Natural predators that would fit this label would be terrain altering or using creatures like web spiders or the electric eel.

For the greater intelligence among their kind, each monster also get a list of things they cannot or should not do without good reason, along the lines of the style of the Evil Overlord List. Feel free to apply this to nemesis’, arch-villians, and otherwise exceptionally shrewd opponents. My hope with this list is to turn these piles of hit points and abilities into something that deserves guarded appreciation and tactics beyond the immediately obvious.

Here is the tentative, A-Z list:
Jaguar Man (and other Were’s)
Kaiju (and massive monsters)
Modrons (and other Lawful aligned extraplanars)
Nymph (and other fey)
Orcs (and other monstrous humanoids)
Poltergeist (Ghosts, ghouls, and incorporeal spirits)
Quisling [Doppleganger]
Sahuagins (and other sea-folk)
Treant (and dryads, nature based creatures)
Underdark (Drow, Duergar, etc)
Wight (and other revenge or purpose driven undead)
Xill (chaotic extraplanars, Slaad, gith, etc)
Ythgas Snake-People [Yuan-Ti] (and other scaley-kind)
Zebracorn (and other Magical beasts)


  1. Looking forward to seeing what comes of this project.

    1. Thanks! Let me know if there are any monster types I missed or that you'd like to see.