Monday, November 4, 2013

Tricks: The Exploding Monster

Bombs are bad enough.

Francois: Do you know what kind of a bomb it was?
Clouseau: The exploding kind.

- from The Pink Panther Strikes Again

It's even worse when it's the exploding kind of monster.

Deadly Death Throes

While I refer to them as "exploding monsters" not all of them explode. Some melt in puddles of acid and take your weapon with them, some turn to stone, some do some kind of death blossom when finished off. In any case, it makes dealing a death blow to the monster potentially fatal, even if non-fatal blows don't otherwise harm you.

These kind of monsters are pretty straightforward - attacking them is fine, but killing them causes them to death a horrible backlash against their killer, or at least against those that surround them. Usually this takes the form of blowing up like the monster was made of thermite and nitroglycerine instead of flesh and blood.

Fans of Hardcore Diablo II will think about beloved characters who hit the wrong Stygian Doll at the wrong time and then had to stare at the screen showing their dead character.

Why do they explode?

There are broadly two types of excuses for a monster that blows up - physiology, and magic.

Physiology is the old "it's a big ball of toxic/noxious/explosive/flammable gas" monster, or "it's made of unstable negative energy," or the old "its blood is combustible upon exposure to air."

Magic explains the rest. The demon explodes because, well, f--- you guys for killing it. The witch has a dying curse. The draconians dissolve into acid for no reason you can tell. More technologically you have "it has a self-destruct device inside of it" or "we've got explosives!" - which for all practical purposes will work exactly like magic.


Most of the variations of this I've seen, used, or thought up vary the death throes, and include:

- Exploding

- Exploding additional effects (napalm, fragmentation, cold)

- Curse - either as bad luck ("It's bad luck to kill a wizard." - Malak), a disease, or a straight-up supernatural unhappy but temporary doom.

- Pool of Acid/Slime/Puke/whatever

- Death Blossom/Retributive Strike (basically, attacks everyone in an area for a few turns before dying)

- Poison gas

You get a split between fratricidal and non-fratricidal death throes, too. Some exploding monsters set off their friend's death throes, causing a huge series of explosions. This can be handy if you get one and kill off the rest, but equally it can be disastrous if you're caught in the overlapping explosions.

Non-fratricidal monsters have a more limited damage range. On one hand, you won't get the overlapping explosions bit. On the other hand, you can't use clever tactics and positioning to dispose of a bunch of them at once. The GM can get more mileage out of fratricidal explosions than out of, say, fratricidal curses or turning into pools of dangerous acid or poison gas clouds.

Using Exploding Monsters

The decision between fratricidal and non-fratricidal, as well as the nature of the death throes/explosion, is critical.

For a GM, the difference affects how dangerous the monsters will be. If each and every Giant Gas Bladder Monster explodes and kills all that surround it, it'll be a quick encounter either way if the monsters all hang out in each other's blast radius. If they attack with more spacing, they might not be a big of a threat. PCs will benefit from tactics and ranged detonation tactics. On the other hand, monster might deliberately deploy exploding monsters to soften up the enemy - send in the Poppers and then follow them with your normal troopers. Hard on the exploding monsters, but their lifespan is short, anyway.

On the other hand, with non-fratricidal monsters (say, mummies with death curses), the GM doesn't need to worry about how they deploy beyond any normal tactics. They simply won't bother each other with their deaths. But the PCs might need to worry more - 10 mummies means 10 curses. Is it better to space that out, or have one guy deal 10 finishing blows and hope it's easier to de-curse him 10 times (if he lives . . . ) than spread out the effects? Or if it's damage, do you sacrifice one to save many, or try to spread out the damage?

In my personal experience, exploding monsters are a lot of fun - they add a lot of tension to encounters. Equally, players will moan about them but monsters that explode feel more fragile (and often are more fragile), since so much of the threat is tied up in their death throes. In GURPS, they're much less hardy (explode at -1xHP, instead of a chance of death and automatic death at -5xHP). You get that "fighting a glass cannon" deals it/can't take it feeling. It makes for a shorter but high-tension encounter.


  1. I've used exploding monsters twice that I remember in my games.

    In my early online DF game, the PCs fought a bunch of miniscule childlike demons that did not explode. Then later they fought Doomchildren, which explode, with shrapnel. The swashbuckler thought he had fought these kinds of demons before and charged right in, only to catch 3-4 shrapnel bursts from the fratricide. The more knowledgeable delvers were not happy about having to pour healing potions on him repeatedly, especially since he'd ignored their warnings. Good times.

    The other time was in Savage Tide, where some of the local wildlife is cursed and melts/melts and revives/explodes depending on a random die roll (they had the Chaos prefix from DFM1). The 9HP monkeys gave the PCs a little warning about how things were going to bad, but they didn't have much choice but to kill off the dire velociraptor (with grasping tentacles) at close range, and it had ~30 HP. No one wants to stand next to a 18d explosion! Also good times.

    Exploding monsters are cool.

    1. They might be one of those rare cases where both the GM and players tend to think they are cool. I like to use them, as a player it's fun to fight them, too. The first "booooooom" and the players all turn into Elan and Belkar vs. the Hydra.

      In fact, the Chaos prefix came from my previous fantasy game . It's almost identical to the table, if not actually identical to the table, that I'd roll on when a chaos-warped critter in this chaos-warped castle "died." My players were chagrined at first but quickly started to develop tactical plans to deal with each of the possible results they'd observed. Good times indeed. So I'm very glad you liked it.

  2. One of the more memorable bits of gaming I had in high school involved an elaborately constructed near-arctic ecosystem in a SF adventure which the GM was very happy with and we, the players, didn't care much about. The relevant bit here is a small creature which had a super-efficient way of storing nutrients for the long, cold winters of its region. Whatever chemical compound it used wasn't quite explosive, but it was highly flammable. I'm sure the GM's intention was to treat them as a hazard; firing off a bunch of weapons around a nest of what amounted to incendiary hamsters was a bad idea. However, being blissfully free of conscience, we reflexively weaponized them. We captured a bunch and treated them like Molotov cocktails on legs. "SqueeeeeeeFOOM!" became one of our slogans.

    Yes, those were the days.

  3. Exploding monsters sure make for some good fun here and there and are usually quite scary to unsuspecting players!

    Another variation of the "Exploding Monster" is the "Imploding" kind :)

    One I remember using a long time ago was a demon with a constant connection with his plane of origin. When killed, it created a vacuum that sucked in everyone close-by (as in, everyone was pulled closer to the demon) and everyone in the room (including monsters) had to pass multiple STR checks to get away or end up being teleported into the plane. I remember that there was quite a bit of nasties still up in the room but I can tell you that when it happened, nobody was thinking about fighting anymore and it was "run for your lives!" for everybody. Can't remember the duration but after some time, it collapsed on itself and exploded.

    Good fun :)

    Another "Imploding" kind is a monster full of vine-like parasites inside. When killed, it collapses onto itself and the vines inside lash out to grab whatever is around it, drag it closer and try to switch host. I still have the monster design somewhere but haven't actually used it yet.

    1. Wow, that is so stolen for my game.

    2. That sounded...a bit aggressive. Wasn't really reading your blog 23 years ago but if you used something like that too, great, it's good fun and it's not like it's copyrighted or anything :)

      As a note, I still have plenty to read through on your blog, which session was it, would love to see how it rendered in GURPS?

    3. For, not from! I meant I'm going to use that idea.

    4. Oh lol, sorry I totally misread that! Phew :)

      Keep up the good work on the blog, I'm a closet GURPS GM wannabe (too scared by the rules to actually run one!) but the more I read, the more I want to bash that closet door down and yell: "I need to do this!" :)

  4. always a standard in rq - basic chaos feature even ive seen a dozen characters get - makes resurrection tricky - i threw an explosive character into a monster one after convincing him it was a good idea - killed several monsters with blast.

  5. How would the characters feel about walking into Ye Old Magic Shope and seeing Amulets of Vengence for sale, where any cone headed cultist who wanders by could pick one up?

    1. Heh. They'd be really annoyed that the cultists were blowing up the loot when they died. ;:)


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