Coldforged: The Monster Mash!

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Each Thursday this year, I focus on a different aspect of the world I’ve created and played D&D in for over 20 years, in the hopes of honing the ideas and cementing enough in place to settle the world in my own mind. This week I want to talk about some of the monsters I have to/want to create and why I have to go about making so damn many of them!

The Problem With Monsters

As I mentioned a few weeks back, I’ve been making – and have almost finished, a number of different encounter tables for the regions of the continent. This has alerted me to a number of fairly gaping issues in the Monster Manual, as well as some issues with the SRD (Systems Reference Document) that allows people to make 5e content like I am.

The Holes

The first thing I noticed when I started building the encounter tables was that there are a few things that feel extra strange in the monster manual. I know that Volos Guide and Mordenkanens Tome of Foes helps this somewhat, but bear with me through this. First, the beasts and giant animals feel very weak, as do many of the NPCs, flooding out the 1/8, 1/4 and 1/2 CR range. Some extend up to the 1 and 2 CR range, but it caps out fairly quickly. When creating encounter tables, there are limited slots for the 1-4 level range, but there are so many monsters that fit within it that it’s impossible to represent that area of the world accurately, which is irritating, but overcomeable. It does mean, however, that at later levels there is an extremely limited palette of NPC and beasts that are effective challenges, which is something I’d have to rectify with my own creations because the stat blocks in MTF and VGM are not available when making a new setting that you want to publish under the OGL.

The second thing I noticed is that, at high levels of play, beginning around 11th level, the monsters take a pretty steep nose dive in variety. If you’re not using random encounters involving dragons, demons, and extraplanar creatures, or high level, powerful undead, you’re locked out of SRD monsters.

I should probably take a quick moment and explain OGL and SRD. OGL is the Open Gaming License. SRD is the Systems Reference Document. The SRD is a portion of their rules that wizards provide that creators can use to create adventures, new rules, and pretty much anything that they like. If you create content that you intend to sell through the DMs guild, then you can use almost all the 5th edition rules, provided it is either set in the forgotten realms or is setting neutral. It allows you much more freedom in terms of material, but your setting is fixed. The OGL, however, allows you to use any of the SRD material to create a whole setting, whole adventures and anything you want, except that you are not allowed to use anything, not within the SRD, and you cannot reference a number of specific terms, phrases, and books. So, when I talk about the restrictions, it’s specifically within the confines of creating a new setting under the OGL and maintaining the SRD.

Ok, back to high-level monsters. When I am trying to create realistic wilderness and regional encounters, I’m pretty hamstrung by the SRD it blocks me from using Beholders, Fomorians, and a few other creatures, as are the above-mentioned high-level monsters because my world has a fairly natural feel. That means that there are swaths of monster CR’s that I need to fill with creatures of my own creation. Thankfully, I’m ok with creating more monsters, so I’ve made a list that will hopefully help out bolstering the encounter tables.

Creature Type and NameCR
Beasts
Giant Tick 1
Giant Ant Worker1
Giant Mosquito1
Glacial Toad2
Giant Slug 2
Tundra Tiger3
Land Leeches 3
Half-dragon Giant Frog3
Giant Ant Soldier3
Huge Crab 5
Woolly Rhino6
Half-Dragon Crocodile6
Sea Serpent12
Terror Cat 14
Giant squid15
Monsters
Frost Worm15
Young Frost Worm11
Frost Drake8
Water Drake12
Sky Drake11
Stone Drake11
Fire Drake12
Northern Wyvern8
Southern Wyvern8
Fomorian-Clops9
Ettinclops5
Cyclops Hunter7
Cyclops Shaman8
Cyclops Scout 5
Lammasu16
Shedu15
Half-Dragon Lizardman4
Half-Dragon Bullywug3
Half-Dragon Torgle5
Northern Hydra10
Treant Varieties9+
Half-Dragon hill giant9
Undead between 5 and 135+
Black Hydra13
Giant Swamp Wurm21
Gnoll Blood Lord6
Gnoll Maw of Hunger5
Gnoll Demonologist4
Gnoll Demonlord11
Bugbear Clan Cheif4
Bugbear Ragers2
Animated Snowdrift6
NPCs
Ice Elf Hunter1/2
Ice Elf Glacier Shaman1
Ice Elf Tribal Matron2
Mountain Minotaur4
Saldi Warrior2
Saldi Mage5
Saldi Scout6
Saldi Priest9
Saldi Mauler11
Horned Empire Greenblood1/2
Horned Empire Scout1
Horned Empire Veteran2
Horned Empire Captain4
Horned Empire Wind Speaker5
Horned Empire Fire Priest5
Horned Empire War Walker6
Horned Empire Destroyer8
Horned Empire Destroyer16
High-level orcs4+
High-level goblins2+
hill giants armed for war6
Lizardman with blowgun1
Chameleon lizardman1
Dracotaur3
Blackscale Lizardman3
Lizardman Overlord8
Lizardman Greatpriest6
Tyndarian Levee1/2
Tyndarian Merchant1/2
Tyndarian Noble1
Tyndarian Knight4
Hrondring Warrior1/8
Hrondring Hunter1/2
Hrondring Animal1
Hrondring Shaman2
Hrondring Chieftan4
Pirate1/2
Cutthroat1
Marine2
Swashbuckler3
Pirate Captian6
Pirate Admiral8
Half-Dragon Archmage13
Troglodyte Warrior1
Troglodyte Champion4
Troglodyte Musk Shaman5
Troglodyte Chieftan6
Gimla1/2
High-level PC classes

This is a pretty significant list, to be honest, floating around 100, and a number of them are various level ranges. This list is intimidating as hell because it means that I’m going to be skidding to a halt with progress on the book because I’d not planned on having any monsters in the book. When creating the encounter tables, though, there were so many issues, like I mentioned above, that I had to put at least some in the book.

Once I started, though, it kinda got away from me. Any time I got bored with or found a hole in, the encounters I was making, I would just think up a cool monster and toss it into the list, leading to huge bloat. I want no more, honestly than some 50 monsters, so I definitely need to cut some monsters.

When starting to cut monsters, I do want to ensure that those I have left, contain the flavor I want for each of the regions. That means that I have some 37 NPC-Monsters that I am going to be creating. That doesn’t leave a lot of space in the 50 monsters, so I’ll be flexible with the numbers, in the end, but I definitely don’t want more than 100.

Beasts

Beasts are a big piece of the puzzle, and I want to make sure that we grab a couple of the monsters that really showcase the fact the Coldforged setting. this leads me to make significant cuts, pulling the beasts down to:

  • Glacial Toad
  • Tundra Tiger
  • Half-Dragon Giant Frog
  • Woolly Rhino
  • Half-Dragon Giant Crocodile
  • Terror Cat

This is definitely the first list I’ll be coming back to because the swamp monsters are important, but I don’t know that they must be in the sourcebook. 7 is a solid start.

Monsters

Here we enter an area that can use a bunch of cuts. While there are many monsters here that would be really interesting, I can collapse a few of them down, and by creating new monsters, might invalidate the need for others later. However, one of the big problems with the SRD is that it does not let you use many of the humanoid leaders. This means monsters like Hobgoblin Warlords, Gnoll Packlords, and Orc Warchiefs are simply impossible to use, and if you need to use them you have to create a version for your own setting while not also simply re-creating the ones you cannot use. That means that I’ll be cutting the list down to these:

  • Frost Worm
  • Frost Drake
  • Water Drake
  • Sky Drake
  • Fire Drake
  • Stone Drake
  • Northern and Southern Wyverns
  • Cyclops Hunter
  • Half-Dragon Lizardman
  • Half-Dragon Torgle
  • Northern Hydra
  • Half-Dragon Hill Giant
  • Black Hydra
  • Great Swamp Wurm
  • Animated Snowdrift

I know that there are some here that seem pretty ancillary, but with dragons out of the picture, for the most part, the Drakes, Wyverns, and Worms make up a pretty strong part of the higher end monster scale. Combining these 15 with the 7 above gets us to 22, which is going to put us at 55, over what I want, but the last group is NPC’s.

NPC’s

This last group contains a lot of monstrous humanoids and a few leveled NPC that are outside of what I grabbed for local flavor. I want to make sure that I have enough play with the rest of the monsters that exist, as well, to make good encounters. This is the list that I thought was pretty important.

  • Saldi Warrior
  • Saldi Priest
  • Saldi Mauler
  • Horned Empire Greenblood
  • Horned Empire Captain
  • Horned Empire Wind Speaker
  • Thraxian War Giants
  • Troglodyte Warrior
  • Troglodyte Champion
  • Troglodyte Musk Shaman
  • Gimla

Honestly, this list turned out much smaller than I expected it. I need Saldi, as these large and powerful frog-like people are important to one of my empires downfalls, The Horned Empire are a big part of many shores feeling unsafe, and Troglodytes are the first layer of underground creature one expects to encounter. Lastly, Gimla is a race that had a lot to do with a separate campaign I already ran, so it has to have this in here. These 11 with the 22 I already have pulls the monsters section to 33 monsters, and with 32 NPC’s, I think 65 monsters in the book is a solid number. Do I expect it to stay at 65? No, definitely not. There are plenty of monsters I’ve left on the cutting room floor, and even more beyond that, that I could use to put together, maybe, a monster book. I could use one of my intelligence chief characters. Craven was a character in one adventure who eventually became a spymaster. Could work out.

Well, that’s it for this week. This was much more of a workshop article, instead of a world reveal article, but I do hope it makes sense. I try and start large and cut often, as what you leave on the cutting room floor is often enough for a new endeavor, later on.

Until next time!