When the Monster Codex arrives in the middle of next year, Symbaroum will have more than enough beasts and monsters on offer to throw at your unwary treasure-seekers. However, that’s not to say that you won’t have room for a little bit of customisation, tweaking the creatures you have now and those to come.
You should never find yourself in a situation where the players have a plan for everything – they should never grow comfortable nor complacent, even when you have what appears to be a narrow pool of antagonists to throw at them. Make your creatures different and unique – change their appearance or literally reskin to give pause to groups who feel they can handle everything.
I have covered Monstrous Traits and Boons before – and here I offer half a dozen additional ideas.
Remember that the player-focused dice mechanic of Symbaroum means that the GM doesn’t roll anything. If the actions of a beast would not affect a character directly, assume success under all circumstances unless the story would benefit from failure — in which case, create a situation for the PCs to react to that shows the beast at some disadvantage.
Where any of the entries shows a test, that test assumes [player vs. beast or other antagonist]. Sometimes that test will include a bonus or penalty, in which case it always applies to the antagonist – e.g. [player vs. beast +1] means that the antagonist acts with advantage, whereas [player vs. beast -1] means that the antagonist acts with disadvantage.
All the Monstrous Boons outlined cost 5 XP when calculating the build of a Beast (or other creature). Normal Monstrous Traits ‘cost’ the same as Player Character Abilities 10/20/30. Therefore, a creature can have two Monstrous Books for the same ‘cost’ as a Level I Monstrous Trait.
Monstrous Boons have previously been covered in the article Monstrous Traits. Check that article for an explanation of terminology used in these minor Abilities.
These monstrous qualities are not as complicated as a full Monstrous Trait, nor do they expand or level up beyond the initial purchase unless the description specifically states.
- Attach. The beast chooses a target and sticks to it, solely focused on the demise of that individual to the exclusion of all else. The beast selects the target and makes a test [Quick <- Quick+1], with a success placing the beast directly in advance of the target in the initiative order, as if possessing a single point of advantage in Attribute scores, no matter what the scores might be.
- Beast Kin. The beast shows resourcefulness, intelligence or some other base characteristic that means it works well with those of other species. The beast can make other beasts engage in non-threatening actions without effort. If a requested action would place the directed beast in danger, test [Persuasive <- Persuasive+1] to determine if the beast reacts to the request or fears more from the threat of the situation or a PC too much to take notice.
- Dazzle. The beast presents a display of colour or lustre – bright feathers, a collar of vibrant and vibrating flesh, strongly pigmented skin, an oily sheen that catches the light, or something similar. The brief flash of unexpected brilliance can catch an opponent off-guard and leave them momentarily staggered; test [Quick <- Quick+1] or the target suffers Disfavor on all tests for 1 round.
- Enclosing Shell. The beast possesses the means to envelope itself with additional protection by focusing solely on that act. In other circumstances, the shell may appear as loosely arranged fragments, free flowing scales or thick veined feathers. By giving up an Active Action and remaining motionless, the beast acquires 2 points of additional Armor.
- Enclosing Spines. As per Enclosing Shell, but instead of armor the beast excites the surface of its flesh to extend spines, barbs, thorns, stiffened hairs, or similar that inflict grievous injury upon their opponents. By giving up an Active Action and remaining motionless, the beast inflicts 2 point of Penetrating damage on anyone who attempts to attack them, whether that attack inflicts Harm or fails.
- Pouch. Many treasure-seekers choose to overwhelm and defeat creatures in the wilds of Davokar to harvest their nest for keepsakes. Beasts attentions often gravitate to shiny objects, which they then choose to secure their in their lairs. A beast with a pouch secures items of personal value – whether baubles, youngsters or food items – in internal sacs, folds of skin or skeletal cavities. It’s a Hard Vigilance test to even realise the creature has this personal store – but, equally, the beast may access such an item without prior warning or visibility as an Active action.
- Unsettling. The beast exhibits actions or physical facets that have an eerie humanity about them, suggesting a level of sentience or association with civilisation that makes interaction unsettling. This might be a mutation, the progression of corruption, or some lingering effect of magic. The features are not totally obvious, requiring the viewer come into relatively close contact – [Vigilant] test modified +(number of paces in range/10). If successful, all aggressive actions against the beast proceed at a -1 penalty.
Anyone can freely adjust or ignore the Boons presented here or in the previous article on the basis that they make monstrous foes overly powerful. I would suggest that most beasts are not powerful enough and that adding a few notes of cheap flavor into the mix may make all the difference in setting up a memorable fight. On the other hand, you should rarely give any given creature more than two Monstrous Boons.
While the Monster Codex will undoubtedly set different Traits and present very different and engaging foes, never forget that you set the level of your own campaign and the fate of your players’ characters lies in your hands. No player will ever learn the lessons of Davokar and the world beyond unless you teach them with a raw encounter or two. It’s worth reminding the players intent on building tanks that a forest has many roots, barbs and pernicious briers that will find the weakness in even the most complete armor.
When you think of challenge, think of Moria in The Lord of the Rings. Think of the Fellowship surrounded by crawling goblins or facing down the near invulnerable might of the Balrog. Character victory should not even be an option in these circumstances – they’re statements in the narrative and obstacles to overcome and survive, not something to win. You’re not playing hoops at the fayre, but facing down impossible odds against abominations and slavering hordes.
Support the Patreon campaign for The Iron Pact to fund the time and space for more Symbaroum articles, encounters, monsters and more.