Monsters tricks. A sure sign that the DM is a dick This is why your D&D sucks shit: because you’re sitting behind a screen, hiding your dice, giggling like a school girl about how much smarter you are than the players. “Hehe, the rogue forgot to say he was performing some obscure task for no reason, time to pull out a monster that I totally made up just for this moment and that no one in the entire world has ever thought of before, so there’s no chance that the player would know to use that particular detection technique, but I’m so clever, aren’t I?”
And before we get into the, “That’s not what he meant,” arguments, let’s consider the word “trick:”
- noun a cunning or skillful act or scheme intended to deceive or outwit someone.
- noun a peculiar or characteristic habit or mannerism.
Yes, I realize that one of those works against me, but that’s the fun I get to have: I’m making the point and if you want to understand it, you have to listen first.
The first definition is the problem and it’s likely the most common understanding of the word. I have nothing to back up that claim, of course, except my personal experience. Be that as it may, this much is obvious: a monster trick, as -C points out, was “[a] creature that had a specific vulnerability removed…” (He also provides a short list, summarized from one of the original versions of D&D.) In other words, it was a means for the DM to fuck with the players.
The game we play is purely fictional. We are not our characters; we do not see through their eyes; we do not hear or smell or feel their world; we can only barely begin to get the faintest glimmer of what it is like to live their lives. And each of us will have a different impression of that fantasy, even though it is shared session after session with our friends and family. To help us come together, to assist and coordinate and delay the inevitable no-he-didn’t-yes-he-did fights – through all of this – the DM is the lynchpin. He is our connection to this phantasmal world. His words, mannerisms and behaviors are all that we have that brings this world to life.
So what do we do when the DM lies to us?
That’s a monster trick – it’s a lie and it’s served to us in the steaming warmth of the DM’s shitty embrace. When the DM presents several fights and parlays with a green dragon, all of them sharing the same qualities and characteristics, then during the final encounter, springs something new with no warning at all… that is the example of a monster trick – a “cunning … scheme intended to … outwit” – that we should all reject with thrown books and dice.
“But what about the second definition?” Yes, pitiful voice inside my head, that is why I included it above. There is a way to change the monsters or the scenarios or the dungeons of our games, to present something new and interesting, to spice up our worlds without fucking the players in the ass. In this case, the trick is not a deception, but the recognition that the encounter’s peculiar mannerisms, which we should be familiar with, have changed. For that to work, however, we need two things: 1) a prior familiarity with the encounter (or input from the DM about things our characters should know) and 2) information from the DM that points to the difference(s).
Here’s an example: the adventurers are indeed familiar with a wing of dragons, a mated pair of greens and their recently hatched offspring. (For this example, the mates are relatively young and the offspring very recent, so that the party can track them back to the parents’ lair.) The players dispatch the young – noticing a sickly odor in the lair – locate the mother and deal with her – a standard fight, but with something odd about her scale color, a bit of purple along the edges – and move to find the father. When they finally corner him, they see a few more signs: his coloration is distinctly different (with lots of dark purple and black among his scales). His breathing is ragged, as though he’s winded from something. The immediate area smells faintly of sour plums. And when the dragon readies his breath attack during the fight, it takes him a full round as he gasps and coughs up a bit of black bile.
What, pray tell, the fuck is going on here? For our purposes, it doesn’t matter, because the players should be well alerted that something is amiss. So here’s the trick: this monster is not a deception. It is different from the standard characteristics of its kind. The players are given information and a chance to act on that information. When they press forward, heedless of the warning signs, and become infected by the disease ravaging the dragon’s body – well, they were warned.
That’s how you employ the monster trick.