Monster Design the Easy Way – Reskinning Monsters

Since the beginning of D&D, monsters have been a staple of the game.  Dragons, orcs, trolls, and other beasts of myth and legend. Owlbears, black pudding, and other things from Gygax’s mind have filled the days and nights of gamers’ minds for years.  Books are filled with many fine examples to throw at your game group, but what if they are just not quite what you are looking for? Tired of the band of orcs led by an Ogre mage? Not thrilled about the blue dragon about to descend upon the brave adventurers?  Let me help you out. Now I am not an expert or all knowing game designer, but I have run a game or two and sometimes you just need to shake things up. I don’t think I have ever come up with a truly NEW monster to challenge my players. I have taken ideas from novels and movies or just “re-skinned” an old monster into something new.  I first got this idea from an old 2e adventure where the heroes went after a white dragon that turned out to be an albino red. WOW that was great fun as they had potions of frost resistance and fire spells all prepared. Needless to say I got cussed out that night, but the players really enjoyed the challenge of overcoming that foe on the fly.  It spiced up the game night. Now you don’t have to change every monster every time, but it does help when the group becomes jaded and has memorized the whole list of monsters.

Re-skinning a monster or coming up with your own really is not that hard. 13A does a great job of giving guidance for building battles (page 186 core rules) that helps that fight be challenging without becoming too easy or too hard.  Chapter Seven (Monsters) gives great advice on how to spice up monsters by borrowing “bits and pieces” from other monsters. This is a great very quick way to a wrinkle to that same old kobold.  If you want to start from scratch, use the baseline stats on page 254 to get started.

When I want to reskin a monster, I try and figure out what do I want this “new” monster to be able to do. Fly? Spit acid? Be really tough? After I know what I want it to do I peruse the monster listings and find similar powers.  I figure the guys at Pelgrane have already done the heavy lifting for me and play tested it. In the Bestiary 2 Appendix, there is a list of monsters by level, which is great when you need to scale the monster you are looking for. You might need to look at a higher level monster and tone down the damage or ability so look at lower level monsters with similar abilities and adjust accordingly.  You can also look at higher level monsters and “level up” your 1st level kobold wizard into something truly terrifying! After I have re-skinned my kobold (I love kobolds) I try it out on one of my old PC characters to see if it works like I want. Is it too weak? Too powerful? I run a few combats just to make it’s not the dice. 

Now a word of warning.  It’s Ok to come up with a power/ability to counter something the PCs can do, just don’t do it for every fight.  Otherwise the players will get frustrated. Once in a while it is good to make the group squirm a little as they need to come up with new and interesting ways to slay your beasties when the tried and true is not available.  Just don’t overdo it.

So I want to use some kobolds in a future encounter.  The kobolds in the bestiary are too weak and my group would just mop the floor with them.  Mmmm, what to do? Looking at page 237 and the kobold warrior, I notice just next to the listing, Lizardman Savage.  Oh look it has a special trigger that gives it a nasty bite. Perfect! I will level up my kobold troop to a wrecker and give them that ability.  See! it’s that easy. Give them a better attack, a few more hit points and a new ability and presto chango a new type of kobold that can add just a bit of new flavor to an old “monster” and keep my jaded players on their toes.

Also look in the 13 Age Bestiary 1, page 228. It covers reskinning, tweaking and creating new monsters.

I hope this inspires you to dig out your favorite novel or movie and “create” a new monster for your players to fight.  Or talk to. Or get eaten by. Your choice.

Written by Mark

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