Jul 22, 2014

David vs. Goliath

Babbling at the Counter #51 – Pen and Paper

David vs. Goliath

I guess most roleplayers can say they’ve had this moment: Your party and you get into a fight (as parties are wont to do) and after the first round you realize the though brute in front of you can shrug your attacks like they are nothing. So… what to do now?

I’ve already covered unstoppable juggernauts before, but inspired by a recent experience and Aaron's latest Tiny d10 post, I wanted to revisit and add to the idea.

My invincible monsters had a simple but effective rule, to know: They should deal average damage. There were reasons for that (see link), but let’s break that rule and think outside the box. How can one handle a creature that’s really powerful and really dangerous?

A few weeks ago, my group and I (I wasn’t the GM) found ourselves fighting inside a prison. We didn’t had access to our weapons or armor, the mage couldn't perform magic and our rival was a giant crocodile man (so bite and tail club were natural weapons, oh, and he had natural armor).

We were done, we knew that. But given the GM, he clearly expected a fight, and we didn’t disappoint. I don’t like fights, so our most tactical player took the lead. We scoured through our character sheets, looking up any kind of skill trick or combat advantage we could use.

I must say, we feared for our characters. The GM is new to GMing, and the encounter was completely unfair. Still, we survived, and it was awesome!

The thing is, some GMs don’t like killing characters. I know I don’t. When I read the Horror of the Lake for Tiny d10, I kept thinking “Instant Death? That’s not cool”. Then I remembered Power Points could help with save rolls. I started thinking that, yeah, T10 Toughness is a problem, but it’s not impossible to beat. Now I actually want to fight against that.

Yes, this is a delicate art, and can easily be the end of inexperienced or lazy players. That’s the main reason I said no “overpowered” monsters in my previous post. So, while not restricting yourself, thread carefully. And if you have any advice on how to run monsters out of the character’s league, drop by the comments and let us know!

- The Storeman


  1. You know, when I was considering the concept of mega-monsters, I actually thought back to the "babble" you referenced in this post! It's great advice, and I followed it when creating the Horror of the Lake.

    However, as you pointed out, I did include a trick which could results in an adventurer's death (as unlikely as the event may be, when saves, PP, and the improbability of a perfect roll are taken into account), and for a very good reason.

    I like killing adventurers. As you mentioned, many GMs don't, and certainly most players don't like their adventurers being slaughtered. The key is fairness. I think that, naturally, RPGs are biased in the player's favor (especially modern ones), and often adventurers may fly through a battle with nary a scratch; I'm okay with that most times. However, I like something waiting in the wing; something unexpected, dependent entirely on a twist of fate, and a few bad rolls from the players. Something like 'devour'.

    In a fair situation, the death of a character doesn't feel like cheating, but rather like a heart-wrenching loss.

    I imagine a gallant hero whose heart is noble and deeds just, resplendent in armor and flare, battling valiantly against overwhelming odds. Suddenly, a foul move is made, and our hero misses her mark, spelling her demise with a sharp and apathetic end - she is snapped up in the jaws of the Horror.

    And so ends her, and the legacy and people she leaves behind will define her for campaigns to come.

    1. Haha, I guess I never thought about the way RPGs favor players. In the group, we are mostly concerned with the narrative, and characters die mostly by sacrifice or by pushing things too far, but are actually safe while in combat.

      Nonetheless, it's nice knowing you are risking your character's neck. I know I like it. "Fly(ing) through a battle", as you said, is fine as long as the actual fight is not the most important part. Older RPGs were more tactical and combat oriented, so I guess that's what we are missing now.

  2. Yeah, older RPGs are certainly more tactical than modern ones; though as you point out, that orientation may sometimes sacrifice narrative, an overwhelmingly important aspect of RPGs.

    I like to use systems that are focused on combat and chance; the uncertainty of the game and the fear that death could lurk around every corner (kind of like real life) adds an essential element of suspense. What if the story is never finished? Ah, but what if it is!