Aug 13, 2013

Invincible Monsters, Fear and Tension or Cheap shot?

Babbling at the Counter #03 – Pen and Paper

Invincible Monsters, Fear and Tension or Cheap shot?

GMs, listen, if there’s something roleplayers are used to, it’s maiming and killing whatever you put in their way. So it can be fun to play and twist their expectations, don’t you think? And even though there are certain kinds of enemies that can only be hurt with a specific kind of weapon or spell, that’s not the same as deciding to use a truly impossible to damage foe.

First, you should ask yourself this question: Is it worth it? Because not everyone will enjoy an unstoppable punching bag that just keeps going. If you think your players won’t react well, don’t try to push it. But if you think they will, then don’t restrict yourself and go ahead. And let me tell you that you have awesome players.

Now, there are two things that unstoppable monsters should not be: Overpowered and Inescapable.

Why not Overpowered: You want your players to be afraid of the monster, not to create a Total Party Kill. Sending a monster that’s too strong for the characters is not the idea here. Such a monster would kill the players too fast, and they’ll feel cheated. Now if your creature deals normal damage, not only they’ll have time to realize that THEY CAN’T KILL IT and that they should RUN, but you will also have a better control over how fast the encounter moves.
So don’t send a creature that doubles the characters level; instead send a normal creature that’s immune to damage. Only don’t let them know it’s normal. Describe it in a supernatural way, with an impressive armor or an ethereal quality so they know they are not dealing with a normal foe, even if its stats are completely average.

Why not Inescapable: This one is more obvious than the last one. If they won’t be able to kill, they’ll have to find another way to survive. Maybe the creature can’t enter a specific kind of place (like holy ground) or can’t be exposed to a specific element (like sunlight). Maybe it can’t leave a place (like its tomb). Or maybe it can be stopped, but only in an intricate and non-final way (instead of destroying it, the characters seal it up in some kind of place. Since it’s not really gone and they can’t carry the prison around, they won’t know if the creature ever escapes).
What we are trying to do here is put some sort of built-in weak spot. This will allow you to make it survive almost anything and make the players burn a lot of resources and get very creative to survive, but won’t create a TPK. It will also give you more control over when they can finally escape.

The general idea is to make them fear the monster, while giving them enough hope to keep fighting. And I realize that all the examples I’ve given are clearly pointing towards some kind of undead monster, but this can easily be used to create a spirit avatar, a demigod, or even an imaginary enemy that stalks your players. Have fun!

- The Storeman

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