Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Do the monsters "level up", too?

Do the monsters in your game "level up"?

I don't mean, do they get harder as you go deeper.

I don't mean, do they necessarily have a formal system for improving.

I'm wondering if they get better if they survive contact with the PCs.

After the PCs roll through an area, of course, some encounters change.

Some battle-scarred survivors will change their tactics. They'll build barricades to stop those shield rushes and put out water buckets to deal with fire apells. They'll spread out to stop area attacks. They'll get reinforcements if they can, patch up the wounded, and otherwise get set. They might team up with other monsters who also had problems going it alone against the invaders.

Other monsters will move on, going to a new area. Or they might be gone in the sense that something comes and eats them.

But I like the idea that some monsters learn not only in the "better tactics" or "get the hell out of Dodge" sense but in the "my sword skill went up" sense.

I have a few wiley monsters that have actually survived multiple encounters with the PCs. Some at range, some close in (there isn't always time to finish the wounded).

So for them, if they survived in some impressive or memorable fashion, I'll just promote them. A Hobgoblin Warrior might become a Tough Hobgoblin Warrior. A normal gargoyle might become Determined (yes, I love prefixes). On a smaller scale, I might add a perk to a given group (they all had Shield Wall Training, now the survivors learned Teamwork), or a skill (they take up Crossbow since you were last there).

If it was more happenstance, I'll be a little less generous. Like in the case of a distant skirmish, say, or a brief encounter that ended with both sides moving on, or "knocked out and left for dead." These guys might learn something, but not "promote" or level up.

A monster that flees a lot (and makes it) might get better at fleeing, via a point of Running or Aerobatics.

A spellcaster might learn a new spell.

A warrior might turn into a berserker after that time the PCs crippled his limbs and left him for dead. Technically, this reduces his value as a character but it's a positive change in his threat level.

So yes, in my games, monsters can and sometimes do "level up." They can promote up the scale, get better, and pick up abilities. It's not formalized (yet), but it's there. How about in your games?


  1. Most of the monsters in my game world are inbetweeners, a misture of spirit and flesh, so they have the ability to learn new skills and access new powers as they fight PCs and other monsters in the dungeon. Dragons, manticores, and other monsters are intelligent otherworldly creatures who can advance in skills and powers just like a human PC. So yes the monsters do advance in power just like PCs.

  2. Should they? Maybe. Do they in my games? Nah. Most monsters, on encountering dungeon-delving adventurers, die or run away. Running into the PCs twice simply doesn't happen, making the point moot. Likewise, PCs do a lot of wandering, so they're unlikely to go to the same place twice in a long enough time frame for there to be meaningful improvement in stats. In the unlikely event that there is a second encounter, they were faceless mooks in the first place, making it all but impossible to distinguish between "same monsters gotten tougher" and "new, tougher monsters," and I don't care to spare the mental overhead to do so. The occasional named villain might improve, but for the most part it's just not an question that comes up for me.

    1. I think it's a non-issue in a wandering PCs game. Since my game is static in location, it's a big issue.

      Of course, recurring NPCs can happen in a wandering game. The frustrated orc chief who keeps setting up shop right where the PCs are going next, that demon lord they keep accidentally summoning with a combinations of critical spell failures and Weirdness Magnet ("Again? Can't you cast right once? I'll just try and kill you again.") For example. ;)

  3. Any monster that defeats a PC of equal or higher HD in one of my Castles and Crusades games gains a name, an extra HD, and a distinguishing physical trait, if the beast survives the session. This has happened three or four times since I started doing it.

    But my favorite example is Jreengus Mans-bane, Hero of 'Bolds. He started as a nameless kobold schlub with a pointy stick until he managed to put out the eye of the party fighter in an ambush. Jreengus took a grazing arrow would to the cheek as he tried to escape, but he snatched the eyeball and now keeps it in a pouch around his neck. The kobold is now a 2HD elite warrior, and his kin all treat him like a human village would treat a dude who killed a giant.

    He leads daring livestock raids on villages now. The party has heard mention of him a few times since. The fighter recognized the description from the scar and the pouch and has sworn to one day track down the little bastard and recover his missing eye.

    1. Yeah, seriously. That's exactly what I'm talking about!

    2. That is one BA Kobold. It helps that I love monster races, but Jreengus is awesome.


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