The DnD Monster Manual is an awesome resource to set the stakes of your game, but what if you want something more personalized? Maybe you have your own custom setting and the official DnD monsters don’t quite fit in, or your players might be experienced enough to know what all the monsters can do. By creating new ones, you’ll re-infuse a true sense of wonder to your world!
How to create your own DnD monsters!
So, how do you get started? It can feel a bit intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but I’ve broken it down into four easy steps for you!
1. Premise: what kind of monster is it?
Before you start creating cool abilities and attacks, think about what it is. And I just don’t mean to decide if it will be a giant spider or a chimera—think about what you want your players to feel when they encounter it. Want them to feel disgusted? Add some slime and sticky things on it. Want them to be scared? Make it exude darkness and power (and check out our tips for horror games!).
Think about how it can be connected to the campaign, too. Fighting 1d4 original-yet-random monsters is as pointless as fighting 1d4 wolves. So look at the plot of your campaign, its worldbuilding, and the backstories of your characters. Then pull from these elements to create it. Your players will be even more engaged if the monster is connected to their past!
2. Purpose: what is it for?
Don’t give your monsters an existential crisis; their lives should have a purpose! If they feel like random encounters, your players might find them boring, and they’ll want to get on with it to continue with the campaign. Killing or running from the monster should have direct influence over the course of the campaign. Here are some examples to inspire you!
- Foreshadowing: the monsters behave or look differently than expected. There’s a plot-relevant reason for that, and it will be revealed later on.
- Hook: the monsters have a thing that will start an adventure (a cryptic message, a mysterious relic, a prisoner). In fiction, this is called a MacGuffin.
- Preparation: if you’re planning a big boss fight, you can give some monsters basic versions of the boss’ abilities. This way, the players can get a chance to hone specific skills—and the boss battle will feel like a natural call-back.
- Discovery: the monsters have something that will be useful to the players. This could be a piece of information, a clue to resolve a mystery, or something they’re defending.
- Because it makes sense: sometimes this is enough of a reason. It makes sense for an important place to have guards, and for the evil necromancer to be surrounded by undead!
We have an entire blog post giving tips for monster creation, so check it out before moving to the next step!
3. Prototype: don’t start from scratch!
If creating stat blocks for dnd monsters feels intimidating, I’ve got good news for you! You don’t need to start from scratch—instead, start with a stat block from the Monster Manual or from a supplement like the Tome of Beasts! Follow these steps:
- Pick a monster that has similar abilities to the one you’ve created.
- Tweak the stats so they better fit your concept and remove any abilities that don’t make sense.
- Take abilities from other monsters or create your own.
Truth is, D&D 5e has a massive catalog of monster abilities, so you can always find one that at least resembles your concept. This will be a much quicker process than starting from scratch, and the result will probably be way more balanced too! Of course, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can take a look at the Dungeon Master’s Guide for details on how to calculate monster stats from scratch.
4. Playtest your DnD monsters (and be ready to re-do them!)
It doesn’t matter how well balanced and cool the monster is on paper—the real test is when you use it in-game! So when you deploy your monsters, take session notes about how the players reacted and how the combat went. Then, after the session, consider tweaking the stat block before the next encounter. Don’t worry about the players noticing inconsistencies—if the stats change, you can always say that no two individual creatures are the same. And if the new version got a new ability, maybe an evil wizard has been experimenting on animals!
But what if the monster is unique, like a boss? This can be an issue, as once the monster is killed, the players will (probably) not encounter it again. You have basically three options here, each with its own drawbacks:
- Partial playtesting: the boss has minions, so give them a lighter version of the boss’ abilities. It’s definitely not the same, but it will let you test the waters and see how the players react.
- Get a different group: prepare a one-shot that involves the boss and run it with a different group. One-shots tend to be more experimental than full campaigns and players won’t be as invested into their characters, so it’s a safer playtesting space.
- Playtest with yourself: if you don’t have multiple RPG groups and don’t want to find one online, run an encounter where you’re using your players’ character sheets to kill the monster. Remember that you have a ton of behind-the-scenes knowledge about the monster’s abilities, so defeating it will be easier for you than for your players!
But if you don’t have time for that…
If you want to go beyond official content but don’t have time to create your own monsters, there are many supplements with DnD monsters you can bring into your game! Kobold Press recently launched their third Tome of Beasts with tons of new creatures, as well as 23 adventures featuring their monsters and over 300 pawns for your battlemaps. And you can also use Tome of Beasts monsters as templates for your own (like we talked about in point 3)—your players will never see it coming!
So, what are you waiting for? Get the Tome of Beasts and create your next monster today!
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