According to this article on Searching for magic
[Monsters] are an opportunity to spin your game into something your group will love to play in… [they] are a [starting] place to build your world into something fantastic and different. The darkness surrounding the light of civilization can define the world as much as points of light found in the towns and cities… There is no wrong way [of presenting monsters in your game].
That got me thinking, what types of changes can be made in order to make them more interesting to interact with, challenging as foes, and less ordinary. Here are 17 unique ways DMs can change monsters in their games.
- First, why not think about Changing the monster’s organization. Instead of having the monsters be in groups of tribes, maybe have them be in insect-like nests with a hivemind that controls everything, learning tactics to defeat their enemies by willingly sacrificing some in order so the whole group may thrive. Conversely, you could make their organization akin to a military base where they are organized into squads, companies and platoons. Whatever the change, keep in mind how those changes will trickle through the rest of the game and affect every encounter with them.
- Like organization, another change DMs might consider is to the monster’s governmental structure. Most monster’s governments are dictatorships where the strongest rule. What happens when they discover (or invent on their own) democracy? Conversely, what happens when what used to be a (reasonably) peaceable people fall into the clutches of despotism? For those who want a (more or less) comprehensive list of possible, see here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_forms_of_government
- Change the monster’s culture. Instead of being mindless beasts, maybe they like the finer things: lace, fancy furniture with inlaid with special wood, jade or ivory figurines, etc. Or maybe they’re up on the latest technology, current events, and hottest celebrities. Alternatively, they may want peaceable relations and stability for their people, as Obould Many-Arrows in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. Conversely this group may be a talkative one that just wants to talk to something… anything alive other than the monsters of their own type and at day’s end still want to kill the PCs.
- Change the monster’s appearance. The simplest change might be to the coloration of the monster. Have a normally green monster be purple, black, or blue and watch your PCs freak out. Instead of having ogres be strictly humanoid brutes, maybe they have the characteristics of a bear. Or perhaps your kobalds, instead of hailing from dragon ancestry came from a line of humanoid cats. Or maybe your gnolls have a lizard-like appearance. These cosmetic changes might not change anything else, but they can make them more interesting than what’s provided in your game’s monster splat-books by making them new and interesting.
- Change the monster’s mating habits or sexuality. This one’s a bit more controversial, as such things are typically not addressed in polite society. In Dennis L. McKiernan’s Mithgar series, dragons mate with krakens. Dragons are always male; the kraken are always female. Another example is that in Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, harpies are always female, and have a pension for taking goblins for mates. Maybe in your game, instead of the binary male and female, there could be a third (or more) gender that makes things smoother. Or perhaps an entire culture is (essentially) gay / lesbian, as the amazons were reported to be. Conversely, maybe the host creature is always an infested host turned into the new creature unwillingly, as one version of the Mind Flayer proports.
- Change the monster’s size. It’s obvious that making a normal sized monster larger makes it more dangerous to the PCs, but sometimes doing the opposite is sometimes just as problematic. What happens when the PCs run into a tribe of midget giants, but just as strong as their larger cousins? Or what happens if you take something already small, such as a leprechaun or a sprite and make it even smaller? Tallness, smallness might not be the only size change DMs can think about. Consider making a fat creature whip thin or a thin creature obese.
- Change the monster’s type. In games that have monster types, consider totally changing the type (as well as the appropriate lore to go along with it). Maybe in your games vampirism is a misnomer, but a certain type of a werebat gained the abilities of the master(s) of the night. Maybe people mistake anthropomorphic wolves that have the ability to run both on two feet and four for werewolves, and lycanthropy doesn’t exit. Perhaps the golem strictly speaking isn’t a golem at all, but a robot of some sort, having different abilities and powers than true golem would. In a game that doesn’t have monster types? Look at this list to help… or perhaps the Pokémon types. “Type” can even extend to stuff like “this monster doesn’t have wings and I’m adding them” or “This creature needs to breathe underwater, so I’m making it have gills as well as lungs.”
- Change the Monster’s stats. Instead of having a strong brute of a monster, you make it incredibly smart, wise, or charismatic and see what happens! Maybe you just created the new BBEG who manipulates things from behind the scenes because it doesn’t need to get its hands (or claws) dirty. In changing the monster’s stats, look out for what types of things it could gain (or lose!) because of such changes.
- On a similar note, DMs can change a Monster’s Immunities & vulnerabilities. Instead of being immune to ice, they might get damaged by it and ignore fire damage. Conversely, a monster might not have any particular immunities or vulnerabilities and suddenly gain them.
- Similarly, clever DMs can Change the Monster’s Class. You might end up with a weak fighter, but one who is incredibly skilled or one who is able to move around the battlefield so quickly he can’t be hit effectively. Or you might make a stronger than normal sorcerer who surprises the players with his martial prowess.
- On similar lines DMs might want to Change the Monster’s Fighting Styles. This can be a bit tricky, as some monsters seem to be a “one trick pony” but even the simplest monsters can become more of a challenge if they have the intelligence to lay traps, work in groups, flee when outnumbered or overpowered, and cooperate with other monsters with different abilities.
- Along with class, DMs might want to Change the Monsters are Equipment. This could be something as simple as X weapon isn’t available in the area, to something more interesting like the monster developed their own weapons to combat Y tactic(s) to the monster’s faith doesn’t allow them to use Z type of a weapon.
- Change the Monster’s Religion. Instead of all the monsters following their typical god, maybe certain tribes can worship a different deity that helped them out in a time of need. Conversely the monsters may be worshipping another god because their current one is dead, is no longer granting powers or doesn’t agree with a new mindset this group has.
- Change the Monster’s Magical or Psychic Abilities. This could be as simple as giving class levels in some sort of casting class to granting innate psionic abilities all the way to giving the monster the ability to cast spells on the fly X number of times daily. However it’s done, giving an already magical creature more magical ability, or giving a creature with psychic abilities more power, or changing the ones that it has will alter the way it plays.
- Change the Monster’s Language. Maybe in your game certain tribes have developed either a regional dialect or a totally new language that the PCs must figure out, such as in the Star Trek, The Next Generation (ST:TNG) has some amazing examples with Darmok episode. Conversely, the monster’s language might be highly legalistic as in ST:TNG The Ensign of Command. Finally, the language might have become digital as in ST:TNG Bynars episode.
- Change the Monster’s Diet. Instead of your monsters being your typical carnivores, perhaps a type of monster eats only mushrooms and vegie pygmies are a delicacy to them. Or perhaps its diet is one of molds, slimes, and oozes. Maybe, like the Native Americans, they can teach the adventurers what’s good to eat in an area if they’re not simply cut down because they’re in the way. In making these changes, consider how it would affect the rest of the creatures around it, and what abilities (if any) consuming them might give the monster.
- Change the Monsters by Evolution. Think of how the monsters of Pokemon or Digimon change to face new and different threats.
As you see, there are plenty of ways of changing monsters. Using one of these suggestions on a monster changes it some. Using multiple of these suggestions can change your entire game world.
As always, feel free to comment, like and re-share!