Continuing with my read through of Ken St. Andre's Monsters! Monsters! RPG from last time, I found myself really enjoying the section of the book called the "Monster Glossary", contributed by Jim Peters, with "additions by Ken" though no details are provided, as is usual in older RPGs. Anyway, this section is somewhat similar to the monster quirks I discussed last time, but it covers a lot more creatures, and tends to just be brief notes on the myth, folklore and literary sources of the beasts, along with some rules-lights suggestions for playing them.
This kind of material is something I do appreciate in the Monster Manual type books from newer editions of D&D, as opposed to the bare bones notes in the BECM rulebooks. While the generic approach has the benefit of allowing the DM room to customize monsters for use in her game , when confronted by a creature from a vague source, or one that is unique to D&D entirely, sometimes the spark of imagination is a little slow in presenting itself. That's why I like these short, and sometimes silly notes on using the creatures.
To demonstrate the style and scope of the information Jim and Ken provide, and a look at their sense of humor with the material, I'll provide a couple examples straight from them, then we'll pick a few more to add my own notes to, more geared toward using the creatures in a D&D game, instead of the M!M! scenario of playing the monsters to make life hell for the poor humans of the countryside.
"For those of you who were raised in a barrel and only just released, the dragon is a large lizard, usually with batlike wings, and possessed of 2, 4 or 6 sets of claws. Some have long necks; others resemble alligators. They breathe fire and are nearly indestructible, save for one vulnerable spot. Dragons are extremely intelligent, almost always evil, have a great love for treasure and human virgins, and are immune to spells cast by anyone with an IQ lower than their own."
"If you want an army of monsters, orcs are the customary cannon-fodder. They were best described by Tolkien as the troops of Mordor. They prefer long, cruelly-curved scimitars. Sunlight hurts and blinds them, but they function well on cloudy days. They often wear armor and rarely use magic."
Nothing really groundbreaking or rules-changing here, but you get a brief imagination kickstarter to build upon when thinking about how to use specific monsters in a game. I think these kind of short descriptions can add a lot to a campaign's flavor, especially if you add in your own tweaks or adapt some unusual alternate version you've encountered somewhere. For this article though, I'll stick to the material from Classic D&D and the Monsters! Monsters! glossary entries, leaving my own ideas for some other type for the most part.
Trolls are the 8 foot tall, usually thin incarnation of evil earth spirits with voracious appetites. They prefer the taste of long pig (human or demi-human flesh) to any other food, but will sometimes consume cows or sheep if the former is unavailable. Trolls are very strong, and though they are proficient in the use of most arms, they prefer smashing weapons like clubs, hammers and maces, and also possess vicious claws and teeth to attack with if unarmed.
Trolls are notorious for being able to regenerate damage almost as fast as it is dealt to them, unless those attacks are fire or acid based. Trolls avoid sunlight at all costs, as exposure to it will turn them to stone, though if not smashed to rubble before the next tolling of midnight, they will return to flesh form and life again.
That last bit about the need to smash a troll's stone form before midnight or risk it coming back to life is from M!M! and would certainly be a nasty surprise to any PCs who lure the beast into the sunlight to defeat it and then decide to make camp near their new troll statue.
Beings with the body of a horse below the torso, head and arms of a human, centaurs are passionate, generally good natured folk, though overfond of alcohol and merriment. When sober, centaurs have an innate gift of healing, treat as a cure light wounds spell once per day, but otherwise they don't make much use of magic.
These notes don't apply to the Centaur PC class found in the Tall Tales of the Wee Folk sourcebook, but the healing power of a sober centaur could be a major benefit to a party that's been out in the woods a little too long.
Basilisks, magical lizards hatched by evil magicians in the eggs of chickens, are extremely poisonous, and even piercing or slashing attacks against them cause blood to splatter on the attacker, causing paralysis (if the poison save is failed) that the basilisk will use to its advantage in either eating the foe or using its gaze attack to petrify the creature.
An extremely lucky creature who is able to carefully look upon the creature before it sees them will cause it to enter an excited rage in which it might petrify itself!
Basilisks are dangerous opponents, so that last part may make things a little less lethal for low level parties who stumble upon one. In order for the creature to turn itself to stone, the PCs must have surprise for the encounter, and the basilisk must fail its petrification saving throw, which it gains a +2 bonus to.
Those examples should be enough to get your creative gears turning. Simply by altering descriptions, and tactics or tweaking an attack or defense form, you can add a lot of unique flavor to your campaign setting, or simply throw a curveball at jaded players who think they've seen and done it all when it comes to the game's monsters.