Thursday, November 7, 2013

Tricks: Unkillable Monster

Another in my series on trick monsters - today, it's the ones you just can't kill off. At least, not easily.

Some monsters are tough beyond toughness. They just can't be stopped through the traditional methods of the dungeon delver and monster hunter - straight-up damage. Fire and the sword might slow these monsters down, but it won't keep them down.

Unkillable Monsters

These monsters just won't die easily. Lay in some linament, because your sword arm is going to be sore before you're through.

But unkillable doesn't necessarily mean invulnerable, although it can - some of the magic creations in Glen Cook's Dread Empire series were literally invulnerable, and could only be carried off so the weren't a proximate threat.

Literally Unkillable

These monsters can't be killed. Ever. Period. Nothing will drop them, or if it does, they instantly and immediately get better, like some monstrous version of Madcap. A good example of this is Cthulhu. Nuke Cthulhu, ram a ship into his head, whatever - you're just buying some time. They come back Phoenix-like to avenge themselves.

They may not even be able to be harmed. This might be sheer strength - a Rolemaster Black Reaver, for example - that makes damaging it difficult to the point of futility. Or simple immunity to damage.

Using these is tricky - they need be limited in some way, or at least foil-able, or they're simply not fun as well as not fair.

Limited Vulnerability

Some monsters can be killed, but only through a specific Achilles' heel.

The Sword-Spirit in Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 is one of these - it is both tough and only killable with a specific type of weapon. Or a specific weapon. They're cursed and thus are only vulnerable to breaking the curse.

Trolls can only be killed with fire or acid, although I know some read D&D's rules as saying if you kill them before they start regenerating they are dead, dead, dead. Where is the fun in that? Require the fire, I say.

Vampires can survive almost anything but sunlight and holy water.

And where do you even start on Demi-Liches?

The trick with these monsters is finding out what can kill them, and then using that to finish them off. It can be as simple as "magic weapons" or "fire" or as complex and fiddly as "a sword of silver, thrust into its heart under the light of a blue moon." Pretty much any monster that is unstoppable until you find its weakness is a Limited Vulnerability Unkillable Monster.

Repeat Performance

Some monsters can be killed, often with anything that would kill a normal creature, but get well afterward.

Typically the threat isn't that the monster is unkillable so much as requires multiple killings.

Some might have Extra Life and just get back up. Liches might have spare bodies to move to, gods might only have material forms you can mess with - but you're merely pushing the problem to another day.

Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 also introduces the "Psycho Killer" prefix, which pretty much makes killing the monster an exile in deja vue. The Golem-Armor Swordsman from DF is the same - you have to kill them more than once to keep them from killing you.

The Lord of the Maze in my own version of the Caves of Chaos is an Unkillable Monster. You can put him down, and the PCs have done so, but he keeps coming back. They have theorized his magic spear and armor are cursed and keep bringing him back. Whatever the truth, simply applying damage to him until he stops coming isn't the answer.

Death Transformation

One nasty version of this kind of monster isn't a monster that refuses to die or just returns, but rather turns into something else. These monsters essentially use death as a morphing trigger to come back, usually in a stronger form.

This can be return as undead, physical transformation, or ascension into some higher form. While monsters can die and come back weaker, that risks them being irrelevant - if you could kill their "tough" form, who cares about the weak form? Having them come back stronger means that there is a resource-crunch. You need to kill them, but have enough in the tank to kill them again once they're tougher.

If they transform unless killed, you have a time-crunch instead.

I had some of these in my last campaign. Inspired by a the GURPS Knack Tattoo rules, I had a group of nasty orc assassin who were inscribed with a zombie ritual - so they'd come back from the dead, immediately, as a form of super-zombie. If the zombie was slain, well, they had a Skull Spirit tattoo, as well - and a ghostly assassin would come to avenge them on their slayer 24 hours later. Killing them ultimately was the solution, but their original form was perhaps their weakest one.

Unkillable monsters can be fun, although they can equally be frustrating. Some players won't spend a lot of time trying to find their vulnerability or seeing is a second crack will finish them off. They'll simply try to find some clever non-death solution (Entombment, say, or walling them into a room). Keep that in mind when you use them - they invite an indirect solution. This in and of itself can be pretty cool!

Okay folks, what Unkillable nuances and tricks did I miss? Many, I'm sure!


  1. I once used the following:

    1. The substrate human is captured by evil cultists.
    2. Using surgery skill and massive healing magic, they temporarily remove the skeleton from the substrate and stuff in a powerful undead spirit.
    3. Using even more healing and surgery, they put the undead skeleton back inside the substrate, which is by this point kinda insane due to the fact that no anesthesia was used at any point.
    4. Undead spirit conditions/possesses/mind controls substrate to do what it wants, but detects as a living being, since the substrate *is* one. Also has significant resistance to holy powers etc. due to natural and artificial shielding.

    (stuff happens)

    N+5. Players kill the evil knight, and he bleeds out, but for some reason *he keeps fighting*.
    N+6. Creeped out players eventually kill the bones through the armor and the heavily flayed flesh.
    N+7 The skull pops off the neck and attacks.
    N+8 A smoky wraith emerges from the shards of bones and attacks.
    N+9 Utterly paranoid players sanctify the heck out the remains, the room, themselves, and collapse the entrance to the dungeon cuz they're suspicious that it's not over for some reason...

  2. One version of the "unkillable" monster I'd really like to use but didn't have a chance yet is what you can see in the movie "Fallen".

    A demon that can possess any living thing on touch (unless strong willed) and if the host is killed, can then float around and then possess anything living in range (even if strong willed). The only way to kill it is to do it, without anything living in a certain range (including yourself).

    No idea how PCs are supposed to do that but by killing themselves but for some kind of recurring nemesis for a party, always sounded really fun.

  3. Two other varieties of "unkillable" monsters that come to mind are the "monster trapped in time" and "monsters linked by fate".

    The monster trapped in time is as the name suggests a monster that relives the same day again and again - usually without noticing it itself. It could because it is part of a time loop (doing the same old thing every time the PC encounter it). Yes, the players could kill it, but during the next circle it is there again, just as strong as before while the players would have to waste time and/or resources each time to get past it. Or maybe they figure out its schedule or its likes/dislikes to figure out how to get past without a fight.
    Another version would be a ghost or spirit that is tasked for all eternity to guard a certain place, fight a certain battle (usually against other ghosts) and so on. Though there might be ways to give it its final peace somehow, when confronted normally it is either unkillable by nature or will reappear the next night/morning to do its duty once more.

    The other "unkillable monster" which I like are actually two monsters that are linked together, often by a curse or by their nature. They are unkillable unless they either
    1) kill each other
    Quite common in computer games, for example having a fire and an ice opponent as a boss which are invulnerable to your attacks and where you have to direct the attacks of one of them against the other. But it could also be like Demona and Macbeth in the Gargoyles Cartoon who had a spell put on them so the only way to die would be to kill each other, without them actually being opposing elements)

    2) Are killed at the same time
    Again, there are different possibilities why that happens and how its effects on the battle. Usually it means splitting up the party.
    It might be impossible to even injure them unless both are hit at the same time at the same location. Hitting the eye then is useless unless the other one is hit there as well. Even the weapon might be important - a cut from a sword and the piercing of an arrow to the neck only share a small volume of "shared" injury.
    Another way is simply that their "lifeforce" is linked and one will immediately reincarnate or revive when killed as long as it can tap into the lifeforce of its partner.

  4. VERY cool, with applications beyond DF. Funny note: I totally read Demi-Liches as "Demi ]Moore] Liches" I'm pretty sure this makes me a bad person.


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