Saturday, 24 January 2009

They did the mash - it was a monster mash

On the subject of bestiaries, I've often wanted to create what I call the stat-less monster manual. As the name suggests, this bestiary would have absolutely no rules or stats of any kind. All it would contain would be hastily scrawled eyewitness accounts, pseudo-scientific studies by obscure sages, entries in chronicles of dubious veracity, hand sketches, and rumours and legends whispered by ignorant peasants. From this scrapbook, prospective DMs would assemble piecemeal what they believe the monsters to be like, add a healthy dose of their own imagination, and then create the stats based on their own idea of what they should be.

For example, the entry for a monster called a 'gerrhu' might consist of an entry in a local history book written in obscure and badly spelled script, some rough pictures drawn in charcoal by eyewitnesses of a gerrhu raid, some accounts by adventurers, and a scribed recording of a meeting between an gerrhu chieftain and a minor human noble. The DM would sort through all the rumour and conjecture - much of it contradictory - and make up their mind what a 'gerrhu' was like. Then they'd write down whatever stats and use it in their game.

It would require a lot of work and creativity, but would work very well with a reasonably rules-light game. The beauty of it is that it would be system neutral, so you could use it just as well in D&D, Rolemaster or GURPS Fantasy. And say goodbye to the old problem of players knowing monsters' weaknesses and secrets because they've read the Monster Manual; no two DMs would ever come up with the same version of a monster.

It's one of those things that would be easier to create and release now than ever before. Perhaps I'll give it a whirl one of these days - put it up there on the list with the other two hundred things I've talked about on this blog but never got round to doing.


  1. Something like the WFRP2 monster book (eyewitness reports, sketches and other fluff up front, crunch in an appendix at the back) or the cryptozoology book "Fabulous Creatures and other Magical Beings" by Joel Levy and Martin Knowlden?
    ( )

    The latter especially is excellent for new players, as it's supposed to be a collection of field reports, notes and pictures by investigators from the Cryptozoological Society of London.

  2. This would work well if you had a chapter on examples of how to fill the crunch. Maybe an example using JRaggi's Monster Generator and an OD&D, 1E, 3E example? These things are always good, but sometimes people get that deer-in-the-headlights look at a blank sheet and need a nudge or two.

    I would buy this. Heck, I'd want to use my burgeoning drawing skills to help illustrate it, since my drawings could represent the "I'm being attacked and I'll sketch this thing that is aaaaaahhhhhhggggggg....."

  3. I like the idea. I personally very much enjoyed the old "ecology" series that ran in Dragon magazine back in the heyday of 1E/2E. D&D has drifted away from this model ever since and now the Monster Manual has become a simple storage-house for stat blocks. Which makes monsters a lot less monstrous.

  4. Chris: Thanks for the recommendations. I'll have to take a look at that Fabulous Creatures book.

    Chgowiz: Okay, if I ever decide to do it, I guarantee to let you do the hastily-scrawled-moments-before-death art.

    Brian: Exactly. Being a monster is more than just different ways of killing people. Stats take all the depth out of them.

  5. Chgowiz: Perhaps he was dictating...

  6. I love your idea and wish to subscribe to your newsletter!