Monsters, Rated: Pop-up Enemies with a Death Spiral for Dungeon World

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It’s no secret that I love the world’s 1st RPG (if you don’t count “Fantasy Wargaming”) Tunnels & Trolls by Ken St. Andre. There’s a lot to love about it, but one of its cool features is that the referee can create monsters on the fly with nothing but a vivid idea and a single Monster Rating.

The Monster Rating (MR) in T&T is a number that determines how easy or hard it is to fight the monster, how hard the monster hits, and how much damage it can take in combat. It’s possible to add more mechanics to monsters, like armor or special attacks, but the Monster Rating is all you need: The rest is fictional positioning—describing how the monster behaves and moves!

Another aspect of the Monster Rating in classic T&T is that once a monster takes damage, its attacks and defenses suffer, creating a death spiral. The effect of this is that you can start out with a monster so terrifying that the heroes don’t stand a chance if they take it head on—but if they are clever, creative, and lucky, they might cut it down to size. This rewards planning, teamwork, and imagination in spades, and it gives players a rush when they succeed at getting the monster bloody or wearing it out before engaging it directly.

Monsters in Dungeon World are almost entirely composed of fictional positioning too. But making a monster has a few more steps than in classic T&T.

I’ve toyed around with the idea of using a Monster Rating for monsters Dungeon World a few times, but I never landed on something that felt right. But today, I found this note in an old notebook and it clicked together. I think it might work.

Here’s the basic idea: When you create a monster, give it a Monster Rating from 1–44. MR 3 would be your average peasant, and MR 30 would be among the most shocking and colossal monsters in the game. The Monster Rating stands for the monster’s Hit Points, and you derive a monster’s damage dice from its MR as follows:

MR Damage dice
1–4 w[2d6] (roll 2d6 and take the worse result)
5–9 1d6
10–14 2d6
15–19 3d6
20–24 3d6+1
25–29 3d6+2
30–34 3d6+3
+5 +1 damage

The formula is this: Divide the MR by 5 and round down to get its damage dice. If that number is higher than 3, add +1 damage for each multiple of 5 instead of adding a damage die. If this would give you zero damage dice, roll 2d6 and take the worse result instead. So, a monster rated at 33 would roll 3d6+3 damage. Clear and simple.

The monster’s Impulse, Tags, Moves, and other qualities would be set in the normal way.

This gives you both aspects of T&T monsters: Create monsters more rapidly, on the fly, as you need them; and monsters will have a handsome death spiral your mom will be proud of.

The Monster Rater Generator

Assigning a Monster Rating is more of an art than a science. You should just pick a number from 1–44 based on the guideline above, then assign moves and qualities as usual.

But for good measure, here’s the Dungeon World monster questionnaire, adapted to give you a piping hot Monster Rating instead of Hit Points and damage dice. The original text is, of course, written by Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel and used with their permission under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. The Monster Ratings are by me.

If you end up with a Monster Rating lower than 1, use 1 instead—but you may wish to let “MR 1” represent a swarm or gang of the creatures. Or you could set the MR to 1, but reduce the damage dice to d4s.

Monster Rating

How does it usually hunt or fight?
In large groups: horde, MR 3
In small groups, about 2–5: group, MR 6
All by its lonesome: solitary, MR 12
How big is it?
Smaller than a house cat: tiny, hand, -3 MR
Halfling-esque: small, close
About human size: close
As big as a cart: large, close, reach, +4 MR
Much larger than a cart: huge, reach, +8 MR
What is it known for? (Choose all that apply)
Unrelenting strength: +2 MR, forceful
Skill in offense: +2 MR
Uncanny endurance: +4 MR
The favor of the gods: divine, +3 MR
What is its most common form of attack?
Note it along with the creature’s damage. Common answers include: a type of weapon, claws, a specific spell. Then answer these questions about it:
Its armaments are vicious and obvious: +4 MR
Its armaments are small and weak: -2 MR
Which of these describe it? (Choose all that apply)
It isn’t dangerous because of the wounds it inflicts, but for other reasons: devious, -2 MR, write a move about why it’s dangerous
It’s kept alive by something beyond simple biology: +4 MR
It doesn’t have organs or discernible anatomy: amorphous, +3 MR
It (or its species) is ancient—older than man, elves, and dwarves: +2 MR
It abhors violence: -2 MR

Armor

What is its most important defense?
Cloth or flesh: 0 armor
Leathers or thick hide: 1 armor
Mail or scales: 2 armor
Plate or bone: 3 armor
Permanent magical protection: 4 armor, magical
What is it known for? (Choose all that apply)
Skill in defense: +1 armor
It actively defends itself with a shield or similar: cautious, +1 armor
It doesn’t have organs or discernible anatomy: +1 armor

Tags, Moves, and Qualities

What is it known to do?
Write a monster move describing what it does.
What does it want that causes problems for others?
This is its instinct. Write it as an intended action.
What is it known for? (Choose all that apply)
Deft strikes: +1 piercing
Deceit and trickery: stealthy, write a move about dirty tricks
A useful adaptation like being amphibious or having wings: Add a special quality for the adaptation
Spells and magic: magical, write a move about its spells
What is its most common form of attack?
It lets the monster keep others at bay: reach
Its armaments can slice or pierce metal: messy, +1 piercing or +3 piercing if it can just tear metal apart
Armor doesn’t help with the damage it deals (due to magic, size, etc.): ignores armor
It usually attacks at range (with arrows, spells, or other projectiles): near or far or both (your call)
Which of these describe it? (Choose all that apply)
It organizes into larger groups that it can call on for support: organized, write a move about calling on others for help
It’s as smart as a human or thereabouts: intelligent
It collects trinkets that humans would consider valuable (gold, gems, secrets): hoarder
It’s from beyond this world: planar, write a move about using its otherworldly knowledge and power
It was made by someone: construct, give it a special quality or two about its construction or purpose
Its appearance is disturbing, terrible, or horrible: terrifying, write a special quality about why it’s so horrendous

With Descriptive Damage…

An earlier draft of this article offered a way to track monster wounds without logging every single Hit Point. If that appeals to you, here’s what to do:

Forget about the Monster Rating, and just mark the monster’s current damage dice. If a monster takes less than 3 damage from an attack after armor, simply narrate how it is knocked back, stunned, or whatever. When a monster takes at least 3 hits of damage (after armor), downgrade it’s damage dice by one level for every multiple of 3 damage that gets past its armor.

So a wizard who hits the giant wildebeest (MR 16, 3d6 damage) for 5 damage would knock it down to 2d6 damage. A Barbarian hitting another wildebeest for 9 damage will kill it.

Some people won’t like this because it makes lower-range damage less mechanically meaningful.

That’s it for Monster Ratings.

Use it if you dare. Let me know what you think!

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Categories Dungeon World, Tunnels & Trolls

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