Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Writing Monsters II: Rakshasa


Art by Malcolm McClinton. He doesn't know I have this posted here. So be quiet about it.
Here's more of his stuff.

Now. I may be all alone on this, but I think Warhammer Fantasy is a fantastic RPG. Perhaps one of the smartest designs in a long time. I love the mechanics and some aspects of the game world. Even wrote on one book (briefly). Sadly, if you're not into the Warhammer game world, you probably skipped this one on the shelf.

And while I would love to tell you why Warhammer might be superior to D&D in almost every way. This article is about Monsters and more specifically, why the Rakshasa has been so poorly handled.

Let me recap by saying that monsters like the Cyclops, Dread Wraith, Ettins, (some) Fae, Ghoul, Lich, Manticore, Medusa, Mohrg, Mummy, and Rakshasa are among my favorite creatures in D&D. If I could, I would write any entire gameworld where those are the only beasts that PCs ever face... those and some variation of them.

Anyway.

Here's something hilariously stupid and utterly brilliant (at the same time) about the Monster Manual.

Templates.

Someone on the design team figured out that something like a GHOST is just a template placed on another craeture/class/monkey. This is an important step in RPG evolution. Amazingly important. So, in 2000, when the R&D team was still arguing with the M:TG marketing team about whether or not Dragons would be allowed into the Dungeons and Dragons game (I'm not lying... real conversation), someone over there came up with the brilliant concept of Monster Templates.

It was probably Pramas. I hate him so much. He and his fine game designs.

Anyway.

The genius that came up with Templates was saddled on a team full of people who apparently weren't going to be running or playing D&D, because they missed the full potential of this tool.

Instead of making Ghoul a template that you attach to a dwarf barbarian-ranger, it's a flavorless patchwork of stats and abilities that never fluctuate.

Now. I get it. The one on page of 97 of the MM (3.0) can be used with zero prep time. I get it. I do. But that doesn't mean that every monster in that book couldn't have been a Template with SAMPLE CR 1, 5, and 9 versions that you can fight right out of the book as well.

Trust me, there's a lot of white space in that book. And it's only 2/3rds the size of the PHB. I re-wrote the entire Warlord Monster Manual in a month while doing another job (and recooperating from the WLD). And I suck.

There's no reason a team of writers at the largest RPG company couldn't have done this correctly... at least for the 3.5 version... and a lot better than I could have.

Speaking of... did anyone notice that the Balor has a five-round "Battle Plan" on it and no other monster in the book does? That's because just before the book released they changed their mind about creating FIVE-ROUND Battle Plans for every monster in the book.

But apparently someone in graphics missed a monster.

I find this funny on so many levels, just because it's an example of poor follow-through and decision-making.

Which brings me back to Warhammer Fantasy. This game got it right. Everything is a template. Everything can be mixed together.

Everything.

There's no complicated math to mix and match races and classes and demons and advanced careers.

When I wrote on the Compendium for this game, I even petitioned to create SURVIVOR templates (classes you can only get by surviving a battle with an undead... Vampire Survivor, etc.).

Elf. Barbarian. Rat Catcher. Spy. Trickster. Derelict. Whore.

Now there's a character I'd want to play.

Well... everything but that Elf part.

But D&D missed their chance and the Monster Manual (versions I through Rocky VI) is half the product it could have been. Now, when I want a Medusa-Orc-Sorcerer-Ghost I need to recreate something from scratch.

Not that I ever would. But you get my point.

Instead of taking FOUR separate templates and adding them together, I have to make something from scratch all at once.

So.

What does all of this have to do with the Rakshasa in the title?

This.

The Rakshasa may be among one of the coolest monster IDEAS in D&D. It has so much history and myth to it, one mention of the creature's name sends shockwaves through magical communities (if mages actually have communities). Yet. It's just another spell-list. It's just a list of stats, some prepared abilities, and really no flavor whatsoever.

Now. Obviously someone at WOTC noticed that the 3.0 was a gimpy little nothing and the 3.5 version is on steroids in comparison. But I really think the Rakshasa could have been a much smarter Template or Race or concept turned on its ear.

Below is my crappy attempt to write a Rakshasa Template without spending too much time on it. [Now watch. Someone's going to point me to some esoteric Dragon article where this was already done.]

Rakshasa
CREATING A RAKSHASA
“Rakshasa” is a template that can be added to any humanoid creature (referred to hereafter as the base creature).
A Rakshasa uses all the base creature’s statistics and special abilities except as noted here.
Size and Type: The creature’s type changes to outsider. Size is unchanged.
Hit Dice: Increase all current and future Hit Dice to d8s.
Speed: Same as the base creature. Rakshasa can fly at their base speed. Their manueverability is good.
Armor Class: The base creature’s natural armor bonus improves by +9.
Attack: Steal from vampire template, adding claw and bite.
Full Attack: Steal from vampire template, adding claw and bite.
Damage: Steal from vampire template, adding claw and bite.
Special Abilities: Darkvision 60 feet.
At will — change shape, damage reduction 15/good and piercing, detect thought, invisibility, true seeing, spell resistance equal to 27 + base creature's Hit Dice.
Spells: All Rakshasa are innate casters and gain spells as though they were a sorcerer of the Hit Dice of the base creature. Therefore a 10th-level rakshasa fighter would also cast spells as a 10th-level sorcerer. Rakshasa do not keep familiars.
Abilities: Increase from the base creature as follows: Str +2, Dex +4, Con +6, Int +2, Wis +2, Cha +6.
Skills: Rakshasa have a +4 racial bonus on Bluff, Diplomacy, Disguise, Hide, Move Silently, Perform, Sense Motive, and Spot checks. Otherwise same as the base creature.
Feats: Rakshasa gain Alertness, Improved Initiative, and Lightning Reflexes, assuming the base creature meets the prerequisites and doesn’t already have these feats.
Rakshasa speak Common, Infernal, Sylvan, and Undercommon.

I think a Rakshasa Orc Cleric would be ideal as the sample class here.

[I also think the Feral and Spellstitched Templates from MMII are amazing and should be recognized for this same level of "out of the box" thinking. It was MMII, right?]

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