Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Random Monster Generator Shootout!!

I can never get enough monsters. I will do whatever I can to get my greasy hands on any beasts that will throw my players for a loop - if the book is reusable, so much the better! So let's talk about some random monster generators that I have found recently and see how they work.


1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide
Appendix D: Random Generation of Creatures from the Lower Planes 

by Gary Gygax

The all-time legend, defending champion, can Gary keep his throne with all these nu-old-school upstarts coming after the crown? Let's find out!

I discovered Appendix D in my copy of DMG just recently. I only found a hard copy a few months ago, I've had such a great time absorbing Gary's teachings directly. Stumbling on this section inspired the post you're now reading.

Appendix D consists of a mere two pages (not even. 3 and a half columns) of tables and guidelines for random demons, devils and the like. It starts out like a Monster Manual entry with random rolls built in line by line. Example:

"SIZE: S, M, or L (d8, 1 = S, 2-4 = M, 5-8 = L)"

After a while, this shit can get DENSE. Gary doesn't slow down to explain things. After determining stats, tables follow for appearance, body shape, skin colour, appendages, etc. Some of these tables interact weirdly - like rolling "thin" and "broad" under General Characteristics. Of course Gary also references a certain Dragon magazine article if you want more ideas. Thanks pal, I'll just run out and pick that up...

The section on special attacks and defenses is minimal and requires some work on the DM's part. The two tables are more of a jumping-off point. Actually, that's a good description of the whole appendix. It will give you a sketch of the monster, but you'll have to fill in the blanks to make it coherent. Gary gives us a sea of tables to wade through and STILL we have to decide attacks, damage, and special abilities on our own.

How many rolls? Around 30 give or take.
Would I use this in the middle of a session? No way
Variety and reusability? It's designed for a specific type of creature, so variety is limited but it's endlessly reusable. Running through this a handful of times could give you a whole new infernal order to go alongside demons/devils/daemons.

SAMPLE MONSTER - "The Bubblegum Owlbear"

Frequency: Rare
No. Appearing: 1
Armour Class: -3
Move: 9"
Hit Dice: 8
% In Lair: 10%
Treasure Type: NONE, haha fuck you!
No. of Attacks: 4
Damage/Attack: 1-8 / by weapon x 3
Special Attacks: 18/00 strength, summoning
Special Defenses: +1 or better weapon to hit, immune to cold, acid
Magic Resistance: -10%
Intelligence: Average
Alignment: CE
Size: M

I rolled: owl head w/ crest or peak, twitching moving visage, tiny human ears, small slitted black eyes, large toothed mouth, bearlike body, thin and narrow, prehensile tail, odour of vomit, pink furred body, spined back, tentacles, one human-nailed hand, one withered & bony hand, insectile feet.

Sheesh. It's a mixed-up demonic TENTACLED PINK OWLBEAR! How much more Gygaxian can you get? This is perfect for an AD&D demon. I'm using these guys in my game - in E6 this could be a unique demon prince! On the downside, imagine the difficulty of describing this mess to the players? I wish I could draw.

Its tentacle-hands and prehensile tail (which I reckon should all look the same) will all carry weapons of various types. With its exceptional strength, it could do an absurd amount of damage in one round. The special ability is summoning, so bubblegum owlbears have a 50% chance to open a Gate which calls either one of their kind (30%) or 1-4 minor demons.


The Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games and their Modern Simulacra, Tenth Anniversary Edition

by James Edward Raggi IV
from Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Buy the PDF here - $9.99, the print edition looks sold out

OKAY, we'll keep tonight's party going with a club banger... the thousand-pound gorilla... the standard by which all others are judged. You know it, you love it: the RECGFCFRPG&TMS!

My copy says 'Third Printing' on it, and no wonder. This thing fucking rules, and it's almost unfair to everyone else having this ringer in the competition.

First of all: the art is fantastic. At the back of the book is a collection of the simple black & white images from the earlier printings, and you can compare page-by-page how they were reinvented in lurid full colour throughout the book. The illustrations give the sense that the artists took a real joy in their work. I imagined a dude at a drafting table rubbing his hands together, cackling to himself as he renders another hapless adventurer's disembowelment.

The tables? Oh yeah, they're really good. Hyper-detailed, Raggi leaves very little up to the DM here, in a good way. The entries are really detailed, and when you have rolled your way through you should have everything from shape, size, special attacks to even battle tactics and motivation. Sometimes the combinations are maddeningly bizarre, which might require some work to reconcile. The motivation throughout is to give your game table something it's never seen before.

At the end, Raggi rounds it off with a few pages of advice on 'Putting It All Together.' You may not agree with every single thing he says here, but I found it informative and useful.

How many rolls? Minimum 6, could be around double that if you use every optional table.
Would I use this in the middle of a session? I think I could do it while the PCs were on a smoke break if I got lucky.
Variety and reusability? Fucking TONS of both. The tables are weighted so the really exotic things (body shape: dodecahedron) won't come up too often, but there are so many entries in the 'distinctive features' and 'special abilities' tables that you'll never run out of weird combinations.


Armour Class: 17
Move: normal human + 10' (depends on the system you're playing I guess)
Hit Dice: 4
Attacks: 1d10+1 x 4
Alignment: C
Size: Huge
Morale: 10

I rolled: base HD 2; bipedal; combination of insect (beetle) and crustacean (lobster); huge size; illusionary features (oozing sores); 

So the 'combination' result can really get dangerous. An insect needs six limbs, but a biped stands on two legs so the other four must be arms. Add in a crustacean with claws on the end of every arm and you have four claw attacks. With its huge size, it's going to chop through adventurers in no time. I can imagine to employ its wall-crawling ability, all six limbs cut right into the rock of the dungeon as it scuttles up and down.

Tougher to imagine is the 'illusionary features' ability. This huge beast has oozing slime and pus all over it which is... just an illusion. How? Why? Is it some sort of defense against giant lobble-eating predators? Is it a magical effect or curse of some kind? Will the players ever find out? I have no idea, let's see what happens.


The Level 1 Creature Generator

by Michael Raston
from Gorgzu Games
Buy the PDF here - $1

I was just browsing around on RPGnow and came across this. From the same guy who wrote Towers of the Weretoads, a short adventure I saw reviewed at Ten Foot Pole.

This tiny little pdf (only nine pages!) would be a bargain at twice the price. The monster generation is simple. Roll on the Basic Shape table, the Form table, and the Special Ability table. That's it!

These elements combine to create a weird variation on a familiar creature. Basic Shape describes the creature's overall body type, like "man," "octopus" or "elephant." Form changes the substance of the creature, like gold-plated skin or a gaseous body. These entries along with the special abilities are cool and very specific. Because the basic shapes are all things we already know, you won't get a bizarre monstrosity like the RECG. It will be a variation and twist on something you already know.

Being made of simple building blocks means this booklet is easy to mess with or add to as you like. You can pick entries if you want. Need a strange mutant fish? Just roll on the other two tables and there you go. Maybe you want a monster that charms its victims, but y'don't know what it should look like? Where it sacrifices depth and complexity, it makes up for it with lightning speed and ease of use.

How many rolls? Exactly three.
Would I use this in the middle of a session? I'd use this baby in the middle of a sentence.
Variety and reusability? Both middling. I can envision myself adding new entries in the future to replace abilities or forms I've rolled more than once. There are theoretically 64,000 combinations but you don't actually want to run 40 different monsters with the same special ability, do you?

SAMPLE MONSTER - "The Silt Sneak"

I rolled: Basic Shape: Goblin. Form: Crumbling, craggy, sandy and granular mass, can decompose into pile of grains then reconstitute. Special Ability: Will attempt to steal one target in PC party and spirit them away to some burrow or lair and torture them.

A sand-goblin that loves to steal and torture adventurers? That's bloody cool. Silt sneaks lie around in sand-pile form waiting for passersby, then they reform and attack from behind to pick off a straggler for their wicked sports! Why do they transform like this, is it a curse or a spell ability? Are they goblins who can turn into sand, or sand that's been animated in the shape of goblins?

This gets my mind working on a desert cave dungeon where they can blend into the sand underfoot. Some ankhegs, giant ants and a mummy or two to round things off. I'm into it!!


In conclusion

These three generators are all great for different things. Having ultra-quick-rolling tables is handy as hell for my bad habit of last-minute prep. The denser generators are so detailed and thick with content that I find it hard to imagine exhausting them.

I would use each one of these generators. I find it hard to pick a favourite but I did call this a 'shootout'...

If I could only use one it would have to be the RECG. It sits in a middle ground between the lightning-fast generation of the L1CG and the baroque density of Appendix D. The tables are long and detailed enough that it'll be hard to exhaust them while simple enough in execution that I can roll up another monstrosity relatively quickly. The excellent production values in comparison to a lot of RPG books give it that last push over the top.


Whew! After digging through my books/PDFs looking for more monster generators, I already have more than enough to do another round like this.

Until then, go roll up some brand new


  1. Here are some in case you don't know about them.

    In Lamentations of the Flame Princess there is a level 1 Magic user spell called Summon. Page 141 of the Grindhouse rules. This spell has about a nine page creature generator in it to tell you what you have summoned.

    In Carcosa there is a creature type called Spawn of Shub-Niggurath. They are basically all unique so in the appendices there is a generator for them (followed by a robot generator a few pages after).

    The blog Elfmaids and Octopi has done thousands of random tables. Some of the generate random monsters but they are generally of a specific type so probably not exactly what you want. See for example:

    There are lots of mutation tables out there, and some sci-fi games like Gamma World have them.

    Another specific one is random class advancement, which will generate random examples of specific classes you could use for NPCs. See here https://docs.google.com/document/d/1sJo4ev56Hc91sdMBq48Vewu3gYtLBZzis2wZ3yjmF2k/edit#

    One last cute one for completeness. In the Hollow World boxed set for the basic D&D game there is a character class called Beast Men. The class itself doesn't change but there is are a bunch of random table to tell you what you look like. Despite being one race they all look really different to each other.

    I hope that helps. The first two especially.

    1. Wow right on!!! Thanks for all those! I knew about Carcosa but none of the other ones. I will definitely do a Round Two of this series and include some of this stuff.

    2. Actually I did a mutation table roundup a while back too, that might be worth adding to if I can find more tables.

  2. Looking forward to it!

    I think Raggi believes that monsters should be unique and unknown. For that reason he doesn't want to make a monster manual. When the summoning spell came out I think it was said that it is the closest that he would come to publishing a monster manual.

  3. Replies
    1. Heck pal, it was my pleasure. Thanks for sharing!