Adventure Design Fumbles: Monsters

Copyright Robert Wenner © 2003

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"...magic lemmings..."

Each role-playing game has its monster book. So, how could you fumble with monsters? Read on...


These fearsome monsters spend all their lives just sitting in the darkest corner of some dungeon, waiting for the adventuring party. I guess the term "adventurer-eater" is actually a misnomer. These creatures should better be called to-be-adventurer-slain. After all, that seems to be their only purpose. But I guess that would be too unwieldy.

All to-be-adventurer-slains always have a common hobby. It is going without food for years. After all, they usually dwell in abandoned dungeons, haunted ruins, and the like. Places nobody ever goes to. Except to kill them.

Ah, "undead or demons" I hear you say. Maybe. Depends on your world. In my world, someone would have to control the undead. Of course you can just lock them in. This only works if undead don't return to a "normal death" state if left uncontrolled for a long period. Likewise demons may return to their own plane after some time. The obvious solution is to have the demon bound by some contract. The demon may follow the contract by the letter and the players may have a hard time figuring out how to get around the demon without a fight.

Dungeon bees

In one adventure, Orcs kept dungeon bees. These were normal bees, but their hives were placed in a dungeon. The next exit was several doors and meters away. Obviously the bees should starve, but the clever adventure author thought of this and had the orcs feed the bees with a mix of sugar and water. A nice idea in principle but sugar is actually very hard to obtain. Bees need light and fresh air as well as flowers and the like. And finally: why does one keep bees? Usually for their honey and wax. Now, why feed the bees sugar if you could use that sugar rather than honey for sweetening?

So the moral is to place monsters in the adventure that can make a living there.

Razor wings

Another adventure module I GM'd had 30cm large insects. These were peaceful, but curious, and would approach the adventurers, flying around their heads and even attempting to sit on their shoulders. Unfortunately, their wings were supposed to be razor-sharp, cutting the faces of those they come close to.

I am not a biologist, but I have serious doubts that this would work. Most insects' wings are actually very light and fragile as they have to be to make flight possible. I believe their wings would break if they flapped them against anything.

Magic monsters

Monsters with special magical abilities may add diversion to combat. However, this should be tailored to fit the game world. The above-mentioned adventure module had magic lemmings. These cute animals would cast an illusion of themselves being a hundred times their real size. The intention of this ability is to scare away all potential predators.

The idea is ok. Many insects and other animals use colored bodies to signal "i am poisonous" even if they aren't. The fumble was that the adventure module was in a low-magic setting. An average mage wouldn't have been able to do what some small animal did many times a day.

Concluding Remarks

Keep in mind where you place the adventure. Find the right balance between monsters, the world, and (last, but not least) the player-characters.