Sunday, June 1, 2014

Derps, or why you should lead with the monster's name

I learned an important lesson a while back about dealing with my players.

Lead with the monster's name.

Or at least, throw it in there, especially if it's a homemade monster.


Because these are "derps":

Derps Standing photo DERPS01_zpse313a795.jpg

Actually, they're vilstrak minis from the 1980s TSR lead minis line. Why they chose vilstrak to do, I don't know, maybe because they are easier to sculpt or something. But I took them, painted them up, dubbed them Rock Trolls, and put them in. They're not dissimilar from vilstrak, but they aren't really a conversion so much as share a common theme thanks to a re-purposed miniature.

Either way, when I introduced them, the players immediately saw their crystalline but kind of goofy grill and dubbed them "derps." I failed to lead with the name, and you can see what happened.

I still call them rock trolls, but my players still call them "derps."

Maybe if I'd said, "You see these things clomp out of the darkness - Galen realizes they must be Rock Trolls!" or something like that, "rock trolls" would have stuck.

I probably should have painted some dripping blood on their teeth, too, just to imply these things could bite your face off if you goof on them! Because the teeth do look kind of goofy (and that one on the left needs a dark grey touch-up.) I was trying for "cold and alien" but I don't think it happened.

Derps Prone photo DERPS02_zps01efac54.jpg

In any case, I'm starting to realize there is no value to concealing the name of an unknown monster. If I tell you what you've run into is a phase spider, and you've played AD&D or a certain gold box game, you'll know you're in trouble. Knowing the name is power. But if I say, "You've run into a Rock Troll" and plunk down a mini you've never seen in your life, knowing the name just gives us a common basis of discussion. And saves me, the GM, of the pain of my players naming your monsters for you. Trust me, players don't hand out cool names to bad guys.


  1. So, basically, Silver Age rules :)

  2. Since I'm only doing VTT sessions on roll20, I actually decided to go 100% with the mechanics it offers and to not always properly name creatures at first, instead giving names like "odd blue creature" or "shambling form" or "strange insectoid" and whatnot on the base tokens, then giving a short description when they meet them.

    Afterwards, I allow for knowledge checks if they want, to try to properly identify the creatures, but if they stick with a name by themselves, I just change the creature names to that on the base token (not the sheet since that's just my classification), which can end up with me lining up some "creepy blue fucker", "weird golem" or "oddly shaped dark thing" and other...fancy wording.

    And since I use some creatures sometimes that are quite unique, if they do report them to other people, I'm cool with them providing a name and it being used later on, bit like scientists discovering new species and whatnot.

    Of course, if they meet an ogre or a harpy and in the settings it's common enough knowledge, that name's gonna be obvious right there, but for "rarer" stuff, it's good fun I think and I really like requiring knowledge checks to properly identify something :)

  3. I have created a creature that has an orc top half and a boar lower, so it is a bit like an orc centaur. I gave them the name Sons of Gruumsh in our D&D3e game, but my players immediately called them Bo'rcs. Guess which name stuck?

    1. I think Derps and Bo'rcs can hang around, drink beers, and commiserate.

  4. Yeah, there are a lot of things that get purely descriptor based names in my game, due to the lack of successful knowledge checks and my general refusal/forgetfulness in leading with a name rather than just describing them (as their name can sometimes give away key details that I don't want to divulge until they pass a knowledge check).

    As such, the players often refer to the time we encountered the "shadow dudes" or "rust monsters" (not even a singular monster, or the classical ones, a whole group of different metal eating things). We even have woefully ambiguous naming like "the golden men" and "that gold guy" - which are two very different foes (the former being a group of elementals and the latter being a self proclaimed god but likely just a powerful wizard).
    We've had a named dragon who's been a frequent quest giving NPC who is still just called "the dragon". Last session we ran into a few undead slimes that promptly got called "fart jellies" (and even after the cleric finally got to see them and identify them, they were still called fart jellies half the time).

    Sufficient to say that even if I did name monsters, their real name would quickly be forgotten and an easier moniker would be used.

    1. I think a lot of that can be solved by leading with a name, though. Folks will re-name monsters if they have a better or goofier name that fits, but if they already have a name, they're likely to use it. At least in my experience.

      Had I said "Rock trolls" they might have goofed on them but not renamed them. They sometimes call "slorns" "slurms" but everyone defaults back to the real name because I used it immediately. They call the newtmen newtmen since I said "these are newtmen." So I think if you leave the name up to them, yeah, you'll get that behavior. But if you lead with a name, unless it's really inappropriate they'll stick to it more times than not.

  5. I use to make the PC's roll for each creature encountered, but it was almost a given that they would flub the roll, and decide Goblins were Doomchildren or something. So now common creatures get there name automatically ("You round the corner and see a group of 7 humanoid creature that Hazorious recognizes as orcs.")

    For new/unique creatures, I normally give the name for any roll except a critical failure, and I like to go with, the common folks call them____, but sages refer to them as ___ ___ ___ of the genius ____.

  6. Aww, yeah, vilstraks. Tunnel thugs. Used them for an Earthdawn game; they worked quite well.

  7. I kind of like the idea that a misidentified species can add ambiguity to research rolls in town to find exploitable weaknesses.

    e.g. PC: Oh wise master sage, we must find a way to vanquish a troop of Derps, will you advise us?
    Wise Master Sage: What the hell is a Derp?


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