Lazy DMing Use This Monster instead of…Zombies!!

Zombies, Zombies, Zombies: they are everywhere. They are on the TV and in the movies. They are the undead horde that just refuses to die, again. These shambling monstrosities come in all dead shapes and sizes these days. For a long time, the best way to get away from the shambling waves of the undead was to outpace them. Until the fast Zombie, or Zombie runners, came sprinting their way into movies and game tables everywhere.

As Game Masters, some of the most enjoyable monsters we can throw at our players are the uncaring, unfeeling, ever hungry undead. Second only to maybe Vampires, Zombies are iconic. Everyone knows what a slack-jawed, shambling, brain craving Zombie wants when they encounter one. The problem far too often is that they are overused and cliché. Granted, zombies are cool. I love them myself!  Yet, this does not stop me from making sure they are not my first choice in making an encounter, but my best choice!

So, what other undead can we use that will strike fear into the hearts of adventures and fill a similar role that the legendary Zombie does? I say flip your Monster Manuals from the back of the book to the front and set your players against…

GHOULS !

ghoul_by_thedjib

On the surface, there are many similarities that make it a good choice for an alternative to the Zombie. Both of these monsters can be found in large numbers; Zombies travel in hordes and Ghouls in packs.  Both are Undead and have a similar appearance at a first glance. They both crave flesh; zombies are just a bit more specific on their favorite tasty parts to eat.

Stat wise, they have a couple things in common as well. Both have roughly the same Strength and Hit points. Ghouls have a slightly higher AC, which is matched by the Undead Fortitude ability of the Zombie. From this point, the differences of the Ghoul begin to become much more creepy and deadly.

Ghouls move considerably faster with a speed of 30 feet compared to the Zombies 20. Allowing them to catch a party by surprise that believes they are facing a Zombie when in fact it is a Ghoul. The touch of a Ghoul can induce paralysis in a target. They strike for considerably more damage with their claws. And their bite can be nothing short of deadly to a lower level player.

In addition to Zombies being largely overused, one Ghoul is worth two Zombies by challenge rating. Action economy is not changed, because Ghouls have two attacks vs the Zombie’s one. Another encounter factor to consider is the total encounter HP. Ghouls may be more deadly, but a Ghoul encounter will likely get you and your players in and out of combat much quicker.

Zombie
STR 13 (+1) DEX 6 (-2) CON 16 (+3) INT 3 (-4) WIS 6 (-2) CHA 5 (-3)
Challenge 1/4 (50 XP)  Armor Class 8  Hit Points 22 (3d8 + 9)  Speed 20 ft.
Saving Throws
WIS +0
Damage Immunities
Poison
Condition Immunities
Poisoned
Senses
Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 8
Languages
Understands the languages of its creator but can’t speak
Undead Fortitude. If damage reduces the zombie to 0 hit points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5 + the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a success, the zombie drops to 1 hit point instead.
Actions
Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6 + 1) bludgeoning damage.
Ghoul
STR 13 (+1) DEX 15 (+2) CON 10 (+0) INT 7 (-2) WIS 10 (+0) CHA 6 (-2)
Challenge 1 (200 XP) Armor Class 12  Hit Points 22 (5d8)  Speed 30 ft.
Damage Immunities
Poison
Condition Immunities
Charmed, Exhaustion, Poisoned
Senses
Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 10
Languages
Common
Actions
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +2 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 9 (2d6 + 2) piercing damage.
Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (2d4 + 2) slashing damage. If the target is a creature other than an elf or undead, it must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or be paralyzed for 1 minute. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.

ghast_by_wjh3

Unlike Zombies, who shamble and stagger their way into combat fearless of damage, Ghouls throw themselves into combat with reckless abandon. They are an agile foe and with just one strike from a claw attack, the battle can go from bad to worse as paralysis sets in. All this while Ghouls are speaking to you about how delicious you will be to feast on.

So why should you use them?

They have a cool origin history….

Abyssal Origins. Ghouls trace their origins to the Abyss. Doresain, the first of their kind, was an elf worshiper of Orcus. Turning against his own people, he feasted on humanoid flesh to honor the Demon Prince of Undeath. As a reward for his service, Orcus transformed Doresain into the first ghoul. Doresain served Orcus faithfully in the Abyss, creating ghouls from the demon lord’s other servants until an incursion by Yeenoghu, the demonic Gnoll Lord, robbed Doresain of his abyssal domain. When Orcus would not intervene on his behalf, Doresain turned to the elf gods for salvation, and they took pity on him and helped him escape certain destruction. Since then, elves have been immune to the ghouls’ paralytic touch.

Ghasts. Orcus sometimes infuses a ghoul with a stronger dose of abyssal energy, making a ghast. Whereas ghouls are little more than savage beasts, a ghast is cunning and can inspire a pack of ghouls to follow its commands.

AND….

Ghouls are a great monster to use instead of Zombies because they create the opportunity for a more memorable encounter. With the ability to speak alone, this automatically makes for a more disturbing, deadly encounter. Fold in paralysis, and suddenly what might be a relatively easy encounter can turn deadly with one bad roll.

Ghouls also are intelligent, and should be played with intelligence. Where Zombies will shamble forward into waiting blades to be cut down or overwhelm their foes, Ghouls might opt to dart around plate clad tanks and engage much softer targets. A Ghoul’s biggest advantage lies in their paralysis strike. As intelligent beings, Ghouls will gang up on foes, improving the chances that their prey will fall victim to the effects of their claws.

ghast

Lastly, if you want to up the Ghoul game, add a Ghast to the group as a leader. Including a Ghast introduces a whole new host of concerns. Any Ghouls within 30 feet of a Ghast gain Turn Defiance, granting an advantage on Turning Saves. Ghasts also have a horrid stench that if a player within 5 feet of the Ghast fails a save, they become poisoned until the start of their next turn.

Ghasts attacks are slightly stronger than Ghouls and are even more intelligent than Ghouls, making for a very deadly foes. Now lets take a moment or two and set asside Stats and Abilitys. Let get to the reason why as a Game Master Ghouls and Ghasts stand out as a much better choice between the two.

As Game Masters we strive to make memorable moments for our players. Nothing compares to hearing your players reminisce about past encounters and adventures. Creatures like Ghouls and Ghasts give you a better creative device to drive a more memorable encounter than a zombie.

As a player, I have cut down countless Zombie hordes and I honestly can’t recall one major story moment that involved a zombie encounter where the Zombie was the key part of the encounter that made it memorable.

On the other hand, when it comes to Ghouls and Ghasts I have several. What made these encounters both different and memorable was the terrifying way they were run and the environment of the encounter. Also, each time that inevitable bad roll vs paralysis. Suddenly the party is tensely fearing fro their lives. Knowing that if things turn hopeless they will soon be Ghoul food.
Frozen healthy and helpless to aid your comrades as they one by one subcum to the paralyzing touch of the Ghouls one by one. Or making the clutch save and breaking free of the paralyzation to get back into the fight and maybe save the day. These are the moment’s players remember.

NOTE: I am encouraging the creative use of the Ghoul when you have an encounter area where it is a suitable consider using it as a replacement to a Zombie. Zombies are a great monster just avoid overusing them.

Please Feel free to comment and add any suggestions on other monsters that are overused or do not get enough attention at the table. 

Tackling RPG Cliches: The Caravan

Last week I began to tackle a very sensitive subject to some. Gaming clichés. Maybe I should have stated I was addressing this line of posts to the new or novice Game Master. it’s the little things like starting locations or introduction of a game session that potentially hang your game up or derail it all together for inexperienced GM’s. These are subtle little things that many GM’s find as a difficulty stepping stone in the journey to becoming a good GM. But I chose not make this distinction with my last blog because it’s a good reminder that we all sometimes forget and can let the quality of our game’s slip.

Some Readers felt I was being negative or was suggesting not to use clichéd locations for introductions of a game. To the contrary I encourage new game masters that might be hesitant to use a cliché location to do just that. Take a few moments pay attention to the details of that location. Don’t let the encounter become a “briefing room” style introduction. Adding a few notes of flavor differentiating the location from a standard cookie cutter location will make your players take notice and assist in drawing them into the story.

Moving on another clichéd starting location. We will look at the caravan. This cliché is often more used than the Tavern. The problem with the caravan is often a new GM will go to a caravan because he knows or has thought about the cliché of the tavern. When in fact what often happens, is now the GM has not only chosen a cliché location. He has potentially locked his party into that location for extended encounters. Now if you’ve still given more players 8 “briefing room” style flavor to your initial setting everything comes across as a bland. We’ve all been there, you sit down the game ready to play. New character in hand and excited.
The GM begins,

You all are on caravan guard duty…

Or

you have been hired to take the supplies to town X

And lastly

due to recent caravan attacks you’ve taken on a job as caravan guards

Again I want to emphasize that I’m not saying these are bad clichéd encounter settings to begin a game . Rather I am encouraging GM that would use this cliché for their game to take a few extra moments to make the setting stand out. Slightest bit of extra work for you take in the beginnings of that game can make all of the difference between having an excellent session, or losing your players interest for your first game. All GM and players alike don’t want a have to hear their GM say at the end of the night ” I’m sorry for the slow game but that’s what happens when you start a new game often”

But really like every GM’s when I have my first game I want to set the hook, I want my players to be excited from the beginning to the end of that first session and look forward to what is coming what is it they have just gotten themselves into.
So how do we address this  How do we solve this? Some would say just don’t start adventure from a caravan. I disagree, caravans great vehicles for story much like taverns. Why is that? Because because caravans are part of the fantasy world highways and byways. Any well-traveled road in your fantasy world is going to have at least one merchant or family of farmers traveling up and down its roads daily. Fantasy economies from city to city rely on caravans.
The idea here is not to just drop your players into caravan guard duty cold. As much as it is to use to get your players to take the job in join the caravan of their own volition. Much like with the Inn where colorful description and unique elements can make that encounter more palatable and enjoyable. The caravan has to be treated in a similar manner.

Take into account what each of the party members are playing, And what they would bring to a caravan.  Obviously if your group has a bard in it he more than likely wasn’t hired to be the guard maybe he’s the hired  entertainment for the guards in the evenings. A ranger might be the advanced scout for the group. A barbarian might fit in this role as well.
I would encourage as a GM not to have your party be standard guards on a caravan. Most merchants would understand the skills set that an adventuring group brings to the table. Why hire these warriors as common guards , or a little extra muscle? Does the merchant know something more?

So here are a few ideas that I might use when running a caravan adventure starting point or beginning location.

Each of the party members find themselves in a town with no available work. It’s time to move on to greener pastures and there’s a caravan leaving town today. Might as well get paid while on the road. If you hurry you might catch the Road boss before they leave, after all there is safety in numbers.

Or

you set out on the road to be in your travels, an hour or so has passed when you come upon a caravan heading in the direction of your travels. The head driver waves to you and motions you to come talk with him. He recognizes you from the town you just left and offers you position in the caravan if you’re heading the same direction. And interested in the coin.

One thing I like about the second description is it gives the party more of a feeling that they have options and they’re not being railroaded into joining the caravan. Given the second option the players might turn down my job offer to be a part of the caravan but I’ve had a flavorful encounter and now I can have the caravan master possibly divulge information that could be useful to the party in directing my adventure the way I was hoping to take it.
Another opportunity to use a caravan in a different creative way if the party has the ability to travel faster than a caravan might be for a caravan master to hire the party as advance scouts. Hiring them to travel ahead of the wagon train looking for danger or fording river passes, Checking bridges for safe crossing. Visiting towns ahead on the trail to inquire what towns are in need of what supplies, Giving the wagon master time to decide which fork in the road will make him the most profit. Checking passes for danger and scouting known monstrous tribes that may work close to the road sides and clearing them out so that the caravan can move forward unaccounted.
Many of these things are more exciting than waiting on the back of a caravan wagon or walking along side of it wondering when your GM is going to spring the ambush and the combat begin.
These suggestions might not only make a clichéd cavern starting point more enjoyable. But if well received could even springboard into an entire mini campaign as your adventures travel from locale to locale looking for the riches and adventure. Just turning your caravan into a mobile based town of sorts.

The Fix

NOTE: This is a re posting of one of my first hooks. It was put up as a sub page, I’m still getting the hang of this blog stuff. But I liked it too much not to keep it on my list of hooks so back again ..

Its festival season and the party is enjoying some well earned rest and relaxation. Over the course of the day one of the knights is the apparent stand out in the crowd. He is well on his way to sweeping the whole event and taking first prize.
At about mid day after breaking for lunch festivities the second half of the tourney is about to begin. One of the players overhears the squire of the stand out knight speaking to another squire angrily “Do as I say and well all be rich! Give this to your master before he starts his first pass slip it in his drink.” A Knight walks past and the rough Squire pulls the other to the side “Trust me it has worked on the rest of the field it will work again. No one will be the wiser.”

The tourney horns blow startling you as you look in the direction of the noise. When you look back the boys are gone.

The road is a dangerous place

This encounter takes place during the day as the party is traveling on the road in a wooded or hilly terrain. As the party is nearing a bend in the road a half crazed mule pulling a wagon storms into view.  The driver is slumped over in the bench reigns still in hand. The wagon tips sideways threatening to topple over as its  pulled at break neck speed sending the driver hurtling into the woods.

Almost as soon as this encounter begins it is over. The mule can be stopped if a skilled animal handler can get close enough to calm to beast or the players can just let mule run itself out. This will take a considerably longer then taking control of the animal.  When the driver is approached they learn that he is dead but from an arrow shot not the fall from his wagon.  The wound is fresh and the shot was perfect; sadly there is no saving the cart driver.
On examination of the wagon there is a wide assortment of goods and sundries on hand. Rugs, Crates filled with pottery and a any number of other items any merchant would pedal from village to village.

The whole event leaves the players with questions.
Who shot this man and where did he go ? He must be nearby the wound is fresh. If it was a bandit attack why did the bandits not attack the party? What was the attacker after ?

This encounter should leave any morally good party with many choices to make before they are able to move on. And if they take the cart and the body with them maybe an entire adventure can be spawned from just this encounter.

The Fix

Its festival season and the party is enjoying some well earned Rest and relaxation. Over the course of the day one of the knights is the apparent stand out in the crowd. He is well on his way to sweeping the whole event and taking first prize.
It’s  about mid day and your returning from breaking for lunch festivities. The second half of the tourney is about to begin. One of the players overhears two squire talking,  One is the large teen squire of the stand out knight speaking to another younger squire angrily “Do as I say and well all be rich! Give this to your master before he starts his first pass. Just slip it in his drink.” As Knight walks past and the boy roughly pulls the other Squire to the side “Trust me it has worked on the rest of the field it will work again. No one will be the wiser.”

The tourney horns trumpet and startle you drawing your eyes in direction of the noise. When you look back the boys are gone.

Welcome and what to expect

Long ago I use to keep a notepad of all my Game ideas in one place for any instance when I would need a little something extra for my games. Every little idea that came to mind I penciled down and stored away in my own personal beat up brown leather binder of DM Goodness.  Sadly I no longer have that book. I will save that story for another time.

Well recently I picked up another notepad and I prepared to collect my ideas once more. I paused and made the choice to start this blog.  What I hope you will see in the coming days and weeks will be a collection of thoughts and Ideas on games and gaming in general. As well as reviews of things that might spark my interest or I hope will spark yours.This time the notebook is not just for me It’s for everyone.

What I hope will come of this blog is simple. I deeply hope that my knowledge and experience from years of gaming will make your games more fun and enjoyable. If I am able to reach even a few people and improve their gaming experience then this blog will have been a success.  With that in the words of some of my players   “Annnd Go! “