Category Archives: Opinion piece

Monster Mark … off the mark? | quantifying monster threat levels

TR;DR – complex and simple ways to rate monster threat, taking on ideas from the blogosphere and the past.

Do we need a way to systematically assess the threat level of a monster?
The simple answer is no, but it could give some useful insight.

I read this blog post on Delta’s D&D Hotspot Blog (I think found via the Thought Eater Blog). It gave me the chance to finally read the Monster Mark (pdf) system (which I heard so much about from the Monster Man Podcast) from the early days of White Dwarf; when WD was a gaming magazine.

My geek radar naturally perks up at this kind of ridiculous quantification idea. While books like the Fiend Folio categories monsters in threat levels I to X, earlier books like the Monster Manual did not.

Delta’s D&D Hotspot Blog reviewed the Monster Mark system. As I understand it, the blog identifies areas where the Monster Mark system fails e.g. area effect weapons (e.g. breath weapons) and taking due account of lethal monsters (e.g. rot grubs), which can be lethal to a 1st and 10th level PC alike.

The Blog went on to come up with their own system (EHD level; equivalent HD), which modelled combat in a computer simulation (I believe). I really needed to circle round and re-read the whole blog posts topic again. Instead, I went off half cocked!

Going forward
y6x7ysrk-1376085090This got me thinking about making my own version of the Monster Mark system, that (hopefully) was better than the Monster Mark system, but didn’t rely on computer combat simulations. And, using a spreadsheet should be able to do all the boring maths! After messing with Google Sheets for a while I had a system that I think worked, or was at least was getting there.

The main idea I tried to capture was, to simulate combat over a level spread, and get a weighted average over the levels. This to capture the lethality of monsters like Rot Grubs to low and high level PCs. Likewise, for area effect weapons, adding a weighting factor for this too, as area effect weapons can be leathal to a part of PCs etc.

Google Sheets Engine
Here’s a Google Sheets demo of the “Monster Adversary Level Rating (MALR)”, if you fancy adding some AD&D monsters to it, I be grateful:

xls Shared Google Sheet project

Simplicity, an epiphany
14064123625_2f8bd0a01b_bI then realized (as I tweaked and re-tweaked this system) that in fact the most decisive factor in nearly all cases was the HD of the monster. As I hear people say on TV: “Go Figure“!! Aside for a few rare cases; if it’s big (i.e. has a big HD), it’s also bad. If it’s big it often has nasty tricks too. So, other than HD, what is the next most decisive factor in making a monster mean; well the monster’s tricks of course!

So, with this simple concept in mind, I came up with a really quite simple system that I think is as good (possibly better) as my more complicated model; and didn’t rely on a computer simulation of combat either, and avoided all the complex maths of the Monster Mark system.

Simple monster rating/indexing system

  • +1 for each HD of the monster (up to a maximum of 6).
  • +1 if the monster has a special defense
  • +1 if the monster is a spell caster
  • +1 if the monster has a Death, Level Drain, Psionics, or Immobilisation attack
  • +1 if the monster has an area effect attack (or any other special attack not already covered)

Add these up. With this system (sMARL?), you get a monster rating system, grading the monsters in the relative range 1 to 10 (i.e. like in the Fiend Folio)

In my Google Sheet, I compared my simple and complicated systems, and I think they are fairly comparable. Yes, wildly out on the two-faced baboon demon, but monsters up on the that power level are just super dangerous, and barely worth comparing.

Future work
At some time in the future, I would like to compare my two systems with the Monster Mark and the Delta’s blog post versions, and also compare my simple method’s numbers (1 to 10) to the numbers in the Fiend Folio (I to X), to see how they stack up.

Please feel free to add AD&D monsters to the Google Sheet, it’d help me out, and might make a useful gamer resource over time.

Main Conclusion
Avoid being geeky and save yourself some life.

– – –

InHotS the cover imageMe on DriveThruDriveThru; at the moment I’m mainly pimping my procedural High Seas ‘Hex Crawl’ – In the Heart of the Sea.

I sense mapping opportunities | Crayola Light Up Tracing Pad


Came across this. One of the first things that occurred to me was … mapping!

1. Insert gridded (hex or even isometric) paper.
2. Place blank paper over the top.
3. Start mapping.

Demo video of the device:

That’s it.

If the My Little Pony colour scheme doesn’t appeal, then there is even a Star Wars version:


There of course needs to be a D&D version …

– – –

InHotS the cover imageMe on DriveThruDriveThru; at the moment I’m mainly pimping my procedural High Seas ‘Hex Crawl’ – In the Heart of the Sea.

Grid Crawl … or something

Wacky idea of the week …

So I’ll admit it, this mapping idea is pretty out there.

Starting point
It started when I saw this public post by Ray Otus on MeWe (I don’t know how to link to a post in MeWe, so here’s a clipping):

Grid Crawl 1 RO.png

.. and, it got me thinking about how to present Fighting Fantasy (FF) type books (and then modules/adventures) in a cross-referenceable grid. Since FF books have 400 entries, I thought I’d use something less ambitious to test this idea out, like my 1988 Dungeon:

Original map
So here’s the normal 1988 Dungeon map:

Grid Crawl 2 1988.png

Grid Crawl map version
And now here’s the same map present in a ‘Grid Crawl’ format:

Grid Crawl 3 Grid Crawl.png

To make this, I simply put a mark between interlinked rooms/locations.

Once you get your eye in, it’s fairly easy to navigate this map.  Say you are in Location 3, you either read up and down Column 3 (or side to side along Row 3) to see which rooms/locations you can travel to, i.e. from Location 3 you can get to Locations 1, 4, 7, 9 or 21. Rinse and repeat to navigate the dungeon. Clearly, this is a completely abstracted point crawl version of the 1988 Dungeon presented in two dimensions. And to be fair, this is just a test, to see what the outcome was like.

Edit – Here’s also a ‘grid crawl’ version of the famous ‘point crawl’ in Slumbering Ursine Dunes; the only obvious advantage is that it dispenses with the need for two 13s on the original point crawl map:

Grid Crawl 4 SUD

Analytics / other things
The heat map on the right shows the nodes of connectivity. Also, the number at the bottom right gives a measure of non-linearity of the adventure (Jaquay(ing) Number ??? … for more on this please see this post, which also pointed me to this post).  For example, completely linear adventure, e.g. Room 1 leads to Room 2, leads to Room 3 etc, would have a ‘Jaquaying Number’ number of 0.

What next
It’s probably abstracted beyond the point of being useful (when starting from an already completed map). But, in theory, it means you could easily generate and run a point crawl with a very simple mechanical setup, or use a simple program to make a dungeon. I suspect, this could form the bones of some sort of program led adventure.

If nothing else, it’s just another way to do a map! Go figure …

I’m just putting this out there for people to make of it what they will. RPG’ers are creative lot, there might be some sort of nifty social encounter mechanism hiding in here somewhere, or way to use it as some sort of AI engine etc …

So, if you have any feedback (or better ideas), I’d be glad to receive them.

– – –

InHotS the cover imageMe on DriveThruDriveThru; at the moment I’m mainly pimping my procedural High Seas ‘Hex Crawl’ – In the Heart of the Sea.

Random Encounter gone Fighting Fantasy | … making Gonzo FFonzo?

Wacky idea of the week …

This might appeal to DMs that lean into the ‘gonzo’, and for those looking for a snippet of teen gaming nostalgia …

Looking for an ‘out there’ random encounter … then reach no further than your collection of Fighting Fantasy books. Flip the pages at random and select an encounter from that page (or roll a D400; D4&D100) … improvise as necessary.

If it’s a transitional-type encounter, play out the pages until you do get to an encounter; or flip until you see a picture you like.

A selection of ‘Random Encounter’ source books: 


FF DD    FF CoC    FF WofM   FF ToC



Desert / Temple













– – –

InHotS the cover imageMe on DriveThruDriveThru; at the moment I’m mainly pimping my procedural High Seas ‘Hex Crawl’ – In the Heart of the Sea.

Non-Homogenous Random Tables

In the balanceRandom tables are a great way to introduce some unpredictability into a game, but they can also be a tad predictable , same-ish, consistent, ‘one size fits all’ … mono-dimensional?

I thought it would be nice to have a random table that responded to a situation/condition, rather than any given result having the same likelihood.

For example, I like the idea that:

(a) the deeper you are in a dungeon, the more likely the random encouters will be dangerous; or

(b) the further from town you are, the more likely you’ll encounter goblins; or

(c) a landscape than favours some creatures in one area, and other creatures in a different area, but where there is a theoretical continuum between the two areas and so encounters; or

(d) Henchman ‘moral check’ indexed to the threat level … etc.

There are several solutions to this, the simplest of course being to have different random tables for different situations, or even to use modifiers.

Another way to go, the idea that I quite like, is to stratify the encounters from one extreme to the other and use an advantage/disadvantage type mechanic to ‘tip’ the results depending on the current situation.

Below is an example lifted straight out of my procedural adventure ‘Carapace’. The random table is ‘stratified’ into three main layers: the lowest values (blue layer) giving giant ants, the middle values (green layer) giving wildcard monsters, and the highest values (yellow/pink layers) giving the boss monster and its elite guards.

So, in ‘Carapace’ the idea was that the area being explored (a giant ant’s nest) was divided into 4 Zones, with the ‘Big Bad’ most likely being found in Zone 4. The more mundane monsters being located in Zone 1 and 2. There was also a fair chance of getting ‘wild card’ monsters basically anywhere.

Carapace encouter table as per zone

If it is not clear from the above, you roll a number of D20s equal to the zone you are in (so 3 x D20 in Zone 3), and use a tailored advantage/disadvantage mechanic to influence the result (to swing the result towards one end of the table or the other).

So, for example in Zone 1 you’ll never get the Queen Ant (the boss encounter), in Zone 2 it’s 1 in 400 (i.e. possible, but improbable), in Zone 3 it’s 3 in 20 and in Zone 4 it’s 4 in 20 (i.e. now getting quite likely).

The reverse of this for example would be, in Zone 1 a lone worker ant is 1 in 20, but in Zone 4 it’s 1 in 160,000.

Even if I’ve messed the maths up above, I think the idea is clear enough, that is you can tip the result of a random table using a system like this. Of course, this idea could be applied to any random table outcome (not just encounters), e.g. types of terrain, NPC reaction dependent on closeness of alignment etc.

Again, there are other solutions, I just think this one appeals to me. I’m also fairly certain this has been done before in some form at least, but this post is an attempt to flag the idea up as an option for the old ‘DM tool kit’.

– – –

InHotS the cover imageMe on DriveThruDriveThru; at the moment I’m mainly pimping my procedural High Seas ‘Hex Crawl’ – In the Heart of the Sea.

Monstrous plagiarism …

I created a monster, it was sort of an anti-unicorn (my blog post is repeated in full below). I had fun with it and quite like the idea overall.

But … a week ago I downloaded Monsters of Myth, which is a free monster book download available on Lulu and published in 2016.

I started scrolling through the pdf, just skimming the images and what not, pausing to read a few  … when I saw this:

Karkkadann image

My eyes fair nearly popped out of my head. But, I figured my anti-unicorn was going to be original over this evil beast! Right? Not so much …

Here’s the text for the Karkadann:

Karkkadann text.png
(Monsters of Myth was published in 2016, with the Karkadann being created by B.J. “Stranger” Poirot, in 2006, so the idea predates mine by about a decade).

So let’s do a check list:

  1. Horn modification – CHECK (I have two horns, they have a twisted one)
  2. Monster trades off its resemblance to unicorns – CHECK
  3. Fang like teeth – CHECK (removed from my version for the sake of brevity)
  4. Preferred prey – CHECK (mine preferred halflings, but removed for brevity)
  5. Link to Paladins – CHECK
  6. Hates unicorns – CHECK 
  7. Horn does extra damage – CHECK 

I think the only thing missing is the lion-like tail. I do have some additions though, e.g. my ‘anti-unicorn’ has some guff linked to its Nightmare lineage, weird smells and monster parts.


So, this left me wondering … am I a terrible hack? And/or does a monster concept (in this case an ‘anti-unicorn’) naturally and almost inevitably lead to shared themes. Perhaps the same is true of say things like ‘new’ magic item concepts or traps.

In this case, the key USPs of a unicorn are – a horse with a horn, and that it is good (some other guff about virgins). So … does it follow that an ‘anti-unicorn’ will have a horn modification (i.e. evidence of perversion) and be basically bad (e.g. hates paladins and unicorns). Since it still looks mostly like a unicorn, it seems natural it will use this to its advantage. Maybe anything else would be another monster concept, but not an anti-unicorn?

Therefore, this thought experiment makes me wonder: If two people decided to write up an “Undead Gelatinous Cube” or perhaps a “Coin Golem”, would many/most of the key features of these monsters be the same? I should probably Google these examples … as they’ve probably been done!

That is, maybe once the ‘monster concept’ has been fixed, little extra elaboration is needed? Perhaps the monster writes itself …

I bet there are lots of Ice/Fire Wolf concepts out there. Probably most of them spew forth cold- or heat-based damage respectively. Probably most of them suffer extra damage from the reverse of their respective powers. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with an Ice Wolf per se.  I can imagine players enjoying such an encounter, and the smart players thinking of using fire on it etc. There’s a natural gaming dialogue that follows and is fun. Players hate nothing more than a trap/puzzle that is toooo subtle to figure out!

But, do we need another “Ice Wolf” that’s basically the same as all the others …

So, to create an “original monster” we could make it look like say an anti-unicorn, but give it the powers of a Phase Spider (this idea seems a bit bankrupt though); or better, put more work into the ‘monster concept’, but let the ideas naturally flow from there. Perhaps, like jokes, we could/should reject the most obvious ideas that occur, as they may have already been done.

For example, perhaps it would be more interesting if the tundra-based Canidae breathed fire, or burst into fire as a defence mechanism (I bet if I Googled these, they will have been done). But, perhaps that’s the kind of thinking that is needed for new monsters?

But, …. what do I know?

PS – Of course, I haven’t ruled out the option that me and B.J. “Stranger” Poirot are simply geniuses.

COPY of my original (cough) post

:: Yfelcorn :: 


YfelcornFrequency:                 Very Rare
No. Appearing:          2-5
Armor Class:              2
Move:                          24’’
Hit Dice:                      4+4
% in Lair:                    5%
Treasure Type:          X
No. of Attacks:           3
Damage/Attack:        1-6/1-6/1-12
Special Attacks:        See below
Special Defenses:     See below
Magic Resistance:    See below
Intelligence:              Average
Alignment:                Neutral Evil
Size:                            L
Psionic Ability:          Nil
Level/XP Value:        500 + 6/hp

Also known as lacharmata, hippomal, rhinocorn, and Chevalier’s Bane. Yfelcorns are the malign sterile progeny of Unicorns (MM, pp 98) with Nightmares (MM, pp 74).

Yfelcorns are sly ambush predators using their appearance to deceive prey. Yfelcorns resemble unicorns, except they have:

  • a small additional horn
  • hot hooves which will eventually scorch the ground
  • an odd garlic-mint smell that unsettles the stomach;
    Elves find this smell especially repugnant (-2 to hit and damage); but oddly, Halflings find the smell quite pleasing

Lower plane denizens prize Yfelcorns as mounts (though treacherous); impressing minions/peers, and deceiving goodly creatures alike.

Yfelcorns share the primary statistics and abilities of a unicorn (i.e. +2 to hit with horn; charging double damage; poison immunity; sense enemies within 24’’; surprise 1-5; teleport 36’’once per day; 11th level magic-user save; death spell immune).

Nightmare lineage
Horn does double damage to good creatures. Paladins are polluted by a horn wound, and need a wish/quest to restore their powers. Stallions have the Nightmare’s smoking hot cloud ability once per day (i.e. failing save gives a -2 to hit and damage); albeit garlic-mint reeking stench. Immune to fire magic. Triple damage from cold and holy based damage.

Yfelcorn horns are deadly to unicorns; which later rise as undead unicorns. Zombiecorns start as shambling heaps of horse flesh, progressing to have the abilities (and stats) of a ghast (MM, pp 43; although cannot turn humans into ghouls). Later, a Yfelcorn foal erupts from the zombiecorn destroying it. This is how they breed.

Yfelcorn parts
Horn – crumbles into chalky ash upon death, makes hard to detect poison coveted by assassins.
Hide – makes a fire-resistant covering; but retains unpleasant garlic-mint smell.
Hooves – can store heat, releasing it again slowly. Can absorb 6D6 HPs of heat damage from fireballs, but have the same % chance of being destroyed.

– – –

Me on DriveThruDriveThru; at the moment I’m mainly pimping my procedural adventure ‘Carapace‘ about a giant ant colony.

Ability Checks are you doing them wrong? | Dies, Dies, and Statistics

Is a D20 ability/skill test system better than a 3D6 test system?

and-mag-i14-thumb-150x150The full article on this (with numbers) can be found here:
& magazine #14 – Animal Companions
please see pages 29 to 35


– – –

1988 Dungeon
Me on DriveThruDriveThru
At the moment I’m mainly pimping my procedural adventure ‘Carapace‘ about a giant ant colony
and my ‘1998 Dungeon‘.