So You Think You Can GM? (GM Tips Part VII): Reskinning Monsters

Making Old Monsters New Again

Your players have successfully navigated the treacherous network of caverns in search of [insert name of Famous BBEG #37]. Kicking down the door, they think he is caught by surprise. His laughter echoes among the cavern walls. The ground ripples beneath their feet. The expanse between the party and BBEG #37 erupts in a shower of carrion, rocks, and debris. The master’s pet has been summoned. The heroes look upon the new foe with… well… disappointment. The DM has once again tossed another Purple Worm/Pit Fiend/other monster the DM fancies just a little too much.

Complete let-down. Oh, but wait! This one has Resistance to ______. And a precast buff spell. Make that THREE spells!


Just no. Stop. No. You’re done. Go home and think about what you have done. Then come back and we can fix this.


I’ll wait. Don’t worry.


Okay, are you ready? So making new monsters isn’t your thing. Or maybe you just find it difficult. Don’t worry, The DM Doctor Has you covered! (Missed Part VI of So You Think You Can GM?)

Reskinning Monsters

That’s my quick solution. It can be as easy or as difficult as you choose to make it. Often times you can even do it on the fly. It is budget friendly and can really add some serious mileage to your current Bestiary resources.

But how does it work?


Well, first off, you need to decide if you are looking for a specific type of monster, or just want something completely fresh for a random encounter.


If you are just needing a fresh random encounter, just simply changing the description of a monster and renaming it something else can waft some fresh air into your otherwise stagnant campaign.


If you are needing a specific role filled, but don’t want to just reuse your same-old staples (or have an idea of a creature, but can’t find an exact match), we may need to prep a little in advance to smooth things over.


I think it’s time for an example.


A few months back I posted up this fresh face: Piezoelectric Golem.


Let’s say that your players are currently in a golem heavy, some puppeteer mastermind, crazy BBEG adventure. Your veteran players are bound to have fought every golem in every bestiary and magazine you can find. You tossed one relatively new construct at them (let’s assume it is the Piezoelectric Golem in this case), but now you are hesitant to send another one their way. You liked the new challenge and fresh excitement this electricity-generating, crystal golem brought, but you want to kick things up a notch. Build off that excitement. Your players should be arriving in the next five minutes or less and you don’t have this session-ending encounter ready.


Well, no worries. Let’s make a couple of adjustments to our new sciencey golem.


Now, let’s say that this is going to be a slightly harder challenge (going from CR 3 to CR 4, maybe even 5). Perhaps the rhythmic blows feature was a bit lackluster during your last encounter. Perhaps you didn’t even get a chance to use it.


Fine. Drop it. Oh, and let’s get off that electrical/sonic theme. But we want to keep the crystal theme because the anti-sonic ability through your players off last time. We don’t have time for a full stat work up, but we know the quick rules for the Simple Template: Advanced Creature. [+1 CR, +2 all rolls including damage, +2 special ability DCs, +4 to AC and Combat Maneuver Defense, and don’t forget those extra +2 hitpoints/hit die].


Okay, that’s a start without much writing, but we still don’t have anything but the shell.


Well, we have to settle on some new features and abilities. First off, we will drop the anti-sonic defense for a monster standard crystal-creature features.


Easy fix. change the Piezoelectric Golem‘s immunity to magic ability to that of the Glass Golem from Bestiary 2 people are more familiar with. Or as below.


Immune to Magic (Ex)

A shatter spell damages a glass golem as if it were a crystalline creature. 

A keen edge spell affects all of a glass golem’s slam attacks as if they were slashing weapons.

A magical attack that deals cold damage slows a glass golem (as the slow spell) for 3 rounds (no saving throw).

A magical attack that deals fire damage ends any slow effect on the golem and heals 1 point of damage for each 3 points of damage the attack would otherwise deal. If the amount of healing would cause the golem to exceed its full normal hit points, it gains any excess as temporary hit points. A glass golem gets no saving throw against fire effects.


Okay, great. But that’s not very different. I get it. You got like maybe 2 minutes left now and we have a half-finished monster.


Well, let’s bring out the uniqueness and polish this baby off. Our Piezoelectric Golem had electricity to its attacks while the Glass Golem has a bleed effect. We’d like to be a bit different while hinting that this is not the same creature. How about a poison effect? Malachite is a really pretty, but is toxic if the dust is inhaled or ingested. I think we can work with that.


So we will drop the ability to deal extra damage on attacks and switch to releasing a toxic dust whenever our new Malachite Golem is dealt damage from a physical attack (manufactured weapon or natural attack). Let’s keep it small since this is only a CR 4—say 5-foot radius. Also, to keep this from getting too deadly, let’s first try having this only trigger on critical hits against the golem.
But what poison to use? Well, if I recall correctly from when I used to cut gemstones as a kid, the first warning for malachite dust poisoning was dizziness. Taking a quick look through the standard poisons, I find Nightmare Vapor (Type poison (inhaled); Save Fortitude DC 20
A glass golem is immune to any spell or spell-like ability that allows spell resistance. In addition, certain spells and effects function differently against a glass golem, as noted below.
Frequency 1/round for 6 rounds Effect 1 Wis damage and confused for 1 round; Cure 2 consecutive saves). 


I think it will do the trick, but that DC is a bit high for a CR 4 creature. Check the charts for monster creation/advancement and we should be looking more along the lines of a DC 15 (normal CR 4) or DC 16 (CR 3 with advanced template). Because we know we will not have time to playtest as your players are walking in right now, we decide to error on the side of caution and take the Fortitude DC 15 save.


And… we’re done.


That wasn’t so hard now, was? No. Is it perfect? No. Is it in the right ballpark for this challenge rating? Yes. Will it get the job done? Yes. 


At least enough to run a one-time fight.


Gauge how this monster faired against the party. Was it too difficult? Too easy? Well, make a couple of tweaks and then fill out a full stat-block for it. Now, you can add it into your rotation of golems in future campaigns or maybe your puppeteer-esque, mastermind BBEG #37 really favors this new creation and keeps taunting your players with them for a few more encounters. Maybe it was worthless and you never run another malachite golem again. Fine.


But hey, at least it wasn’t another ice/wood/flesh/stone/iron golem. Right?


Before I leave you today, here’s a quick stat block of our new Malachite Golem. Give it a try for your next CR 4 random encounter this weekend. Don’t mind the rough-and-ready look. You can be sure to see a proper Malachite Golem down the road. And yes, I know that’s a picture of an Emerald Golem…


Also, note a slight difference below (with hit points and attack). Just thought I’d do a tad extra fine-tuning beyond our quick rehash.
A crusty, green-monochrome swirl, rocky creature grinds steadily forward. Toxic, green dust sloughs off its body with every heavy step it takes.

http://orig00.deviantart.net/690b/f/2015/013/0/5/emerald_golem_by_johnnymorrow-d8dr8k0.jpg


Malachite Golem CR 4
XP 1200
N Medium construct
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +0
—– Defense —–
AC 19, touch 12, flat-footed 17 (+2 Dex, +7 natural)
hp 47 (5d10+20)
Fort +3, Ref +3, Will +3
DR 5/magic; Immune construct traits, magic;
—– Offense —–
Speed 30 ft.
Melee 2 slams +8 (1d6+3)
Special Attacks  toxic dust
—– Statistics —–
Str 16, Dex 15, Con —, Int —, Wis 15, Cha 5
Base Atk +5; CMB +8; CMD 19
—– Ecology —–
Environment any urban
Organization solitary or gang (2–4)
Treasure none
—– Special Abilities —–
Immune to Magic (Ex)
A malachite golem is immune to any spell or spell-like ability that allows spell resistance. In addition, certain spells and effects function differently against a malachite golem, as noted below.
A shatter spell damages a malachite golem as if it were a crystalline creature.
A keen edge spell affects all of a malachite golem’s slam attacks as if they were slashing weapons.
A magical attack that deals cold damage slows a malachite golem (as the slow spell) for 3 rounds (no saving throw).
A magical attack that deals fire damage ends any slow effect on the golem and heals 1 point of damage for each 3 points of damage the attack would otherwise deal. If the amount of healing would cause the golem to exceed its full normal hit points, it gains any excess as temporary hit points. A malachite golem gets no saving throw against fire effects.
Toxic Dust (Ex)
If dealt a critical hit with a manufactured weapon or natural attack, a poisonous cloud fills the area with a 5-foot radius for 1d4 rounds. All creatures in the cloud must succeed on a DC 15 Fortitude save or be poisoned with malachite dust.
Malachite Dust (Type poison (inhaled); Save Fortitude DC 15
Frequency 1/round for 6 rounds Effect 1 Wis damage and confused for 1 round; Cure 2 consecutive saves). 

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