What’s that? Who won? Oh, that’s right… YOU haven’t voted yet! Well, let’s fix that right now. Go to the KQ Forums and vote for your favorite entry from King of the Monsters 2!
Here we are at the end of our second tournament to discover the newest King of the Monsters. Who will win, standing in glorious triumph before your accolades as the latest Monster King of the Kobolds? Who will be left battered and bloodied, dreaming of vengeance? You, the fans, will now decide.
There are 10 finalists, each already a winner. The one that receives the most votes will be crowned the champion and will appear in the next issue of Kobold Quarterly, fully illustrated. Who will you vote for?
- Andrenjinyi (Rainbow Serpent) by David Posener
- Broodiken by Trevor Gulliver
- Eye of Tricks and Traps by Scott A. Murray
- Hooded Hunter by Dylan Hollinden
- Horahk by Jobe Bittman
- Ohsoram the Shattered King by Christian Martinez
- Palaver by Nicolas Quimby
- Thistle by B. Matthew Conklin III
- Vapor Lynx by Matthew Cicci
- Vital Necklace by Steven Hammond
Thank you, everyone, for entering the contest! On behalf of the judges and KoboldQuarterly.com, it was a real pleasure to be a part of. Please, show your support of events like this by voting for your favorite monster. Voting ends this Friday (09-03-10).
A View from the Judge’s Chamber
To wrap up the contest, our guest judges—Jason Bulmahn, Logan Bonner, and Adam Daigle—wanted to share their thoughts…
I love a good monster and this contest was full of them. Let me first say that it was an honor and a pleasure to be selected as one of this year’s judges. Let me also say that there are some twisted, evil monster designers out there. You are my kind of people. But, there could be only ten (wait, that can’t be right), well there are ten right now, but you get to narrow it down to just one. I am a little jealous.
For me, the process of narrowing it down to the best of the best started by building scale models of each one of the monsters, animating them through the foulest of sorceries, and having them fight to the death for my twisted amusement. Then, after I woke up from this fever dream, I looked at each monster in turn, just trying to get a sense of each one, looking for monsters that really stood out. After all, great statistics and powerful abilities are great, but only if the monster has a great concept to go along with it. Fortunately for me, there was a host of great monsters to choose from, each with their own interesting concept or background. From there, I dug into the rules a bit. Nobody is perfect in this regard, but this is really where I could separate out the winners. As someone who spends all day looking at rules, I am particularly sensitive to not just whether or not a rule is correct but also how much effort it would take to fix if it is not.
The mix of monsters this year made for an interesting judging challenge. Although it’s hard to compare 4E and Pathfinder/3.5E monsters side by side, it was simple to look at them from a conceptual level. Most of these monsters really could work in just about any system. I also found it quite fascinating to look at the mix of monsters as a whole. The number of plants, fey, and undead was really quite notable, which is probably going to influence my choices for my next monster book (giving people what they want is always a good idea).
In the end, I think we, the judges, have managed to come up with a great crop of evil, vicious monsters to torment your players. The only question left is which one are you going to vote for? Which one is your king? I have my favorite that I will be cheering for from the depths of my evil lair. I am sure you, the voters, won’t let me down.
Kudos to all the entrants in the King of the Monsters 2 contest. It takes guts to send your baby out into the world to be judged, and we had a great crop of contestants. Though not all the finalists were my top picks, they were certainly among my top scores. I judged them primarily on the strength of their concept and story and on how that came through in the mechanics. A monster with a great backstory that wasn’t reflected in play wouldn’t do so hot, nor would one with innovative mechanics but boring flavor. First and foremost, a monster has to be evocative. The first time a GM sees the illustration or reads the intro paragraph, that GM should be inspired to use the monster right away. It should inspire the next session, even the next adventure. I’m not going to give a comprehensive overview of how I rated each monster, but I’ll point out the details that made them evocative to me.
Andrenjinyi: David twists a mechanical known quantity—swallow whole—by adding baleful polymorph. The best monster abilities really show up at the table, and a GM always wants to see that “it did what?” look on the players’ faces. Sure, a spellcaster could wave his or her hands around, chant some mumbo-jumbo, and get the same effect, but how much cooler is it when this mythical beast’s very presence warps nature and biology? Another nice touch comes in the ecology description with the peculiar animals surrounding the andrenjinyi’s sacred pool.
Broodiken: I love a monster that suggests its presence through sensory clues the GM can drop into the game. The pregnant men angle suggests a somewhat comical scene the PCs might see as they set foot in a new, far-flung land. However, it also describes the horror they’ll eventually witness. Trevor’s intro paragraph works wonders, really putting the GM in the mindset to use these creatures.
Eye of Tricks and Traps: Reading this entry, your mind conjures up a scene with a flying skull running PCs through a gauntlet of deadly devices. Scott shows us the power of focused design. You won’t be using the eye as a general leading a vast army or part of a race with a detailed society. No, the eye of tricks and traps has one purpose, and it’s best if used only once in your campaign. The monster entry tells you everything you need to know to use this monster for a single memorable encounter, and it’s better for this narrowness.
Hooded Hunter: Any monster tied closely to adventurers and the tropes of dungeon-delving risks sliding into parody or breaking suspension of disbelief. But Dylan’s hooded hunters make it work by turning the creatures into scavengers. This hook is flexible enough that the GM can either show PCs the consequences of their slaughter or adjust the monster to a different type of scavenger.
Horahk: The abilities of this monster communicate its insect nature with skittering and egg-depositing powers. Jobe also included the best little detail: the translucent digestive sac full of half-digested eyes. It’s potent, specific traits like these that make monsters’ appearances memorable.
Ohsoram the Shattered King: This is one of the most epic monsters in the contest, with a story spanning back to the early days of the world and a tale of revenge against the gods. This strong motive puts him directly in opposition to divine characters in the party. The mechanics and story mesh perfectly with the mirror nature of Ohsoram forming a solid core or skeleton for the creature. Christian made a solo that ebbs and flows, changing the number of creatures it equals.
Palaver: Plenty of monsters smash adventurers or burn them to cinders, but not the palaver. Nicholas tapped into a different set of archetypes—the liar, the flatterer, the corrupt courtier-type—that can irritate players even more than creatures trying to do them bodily harm. The palaver can tell the PCs what to do, and nothing will frustrate them more than not being able to stop it!
Thistle: This vicious little fey warrior defends its home, a theme repeated many times here. The creature’s motivation comes through, and the reasoning behind each of its special arrows is pretty clear. Matthew’s creation can ride out on a wolverine, draw its little bow, and yell, “Damn kids! Get off my lawn!”
Vapor Lynx: Atmosphere is everything with the previous Matthew’s creature. Players are bound to get a little paranoid while their characters trudge through a foggy swamp, and an arrogant, lurking creature taps into their fear. The fact that it’s a Large lynx can lead to a nice metagame bait-and-switch, if the PCs think they’re up against a displacer beast.
Vital Necklace: What’s a better trick than a cursed item? A cursed item that turns into a fight! Or a familiar! Steven combined several themes really well. It feels like a spider, like jewelry, and like a construct. And the different gemstones add variety, so there are enough types that each member of the party could wear a different one…
I’ve always adored monsters. Even as a kid, they only scared me once, then the fascination would set in. My love of insects and other strange earthly creatures is surely connected. At the core, looking deeply into monsters includes looking deeply into ourselves. It’s a way of dragging a magnifying glass over the cogs and gears of our mind and seeing what switches get flipped when we’re scared, a way to see what frightens, horrifies, repulses, and terrorizes us. Seeing how those fears work can tell you a lot about yourself and can be used to beat them.
Monsters in RPGs need to have the right mix of gorgeous flavor, solid stats, and at least one clever special ability. The ones that really shine excel on all three points. Some go too far, stretching the limits of one of these factors until the critter just falls apart. Some don’t go far enough and an unappetizing blob just lingers there on the page (and in our imaginations.)
I was excited to judge the contest this year, and I thank Wolfgang and Scott for extending the invitation. I read through all the entries the first day I got them, then sat on them for the night, letting them stew in my brain. The next day I sat down and combed through them with the old magnifying glass. I flipped some switches, ran them through the paces, and saw which ones rose to the top. Ultimately, I was looking at these creatures and picking the ten that I thought could easily be in a big shiny monster book.
I’m a bit of a stickler about formatting, but I didn’t let that become too much of a factor in my evaluation, as that can always be changed in editing. There were varying degrees of language skills, and while that certainly factored in, the main thing I was looking for was the fun factor. Fun is such a subjective emotion, but it’s undeniable when you see it. A solid idea and tight theme can forgive a 10- sentence introductory flavor text paragraph. Likewise, a clever piece of mechanics or concrete stat block can make me look past weak language. But when it’s all said and done, the critter needs to be fun.
There were some fantastic entries, and everyone who entered should be proud of their work and congratulate themselves for entering. Thank you, all who entered, for giving me so many cool monsters to read, and thanks again Scott and Wolfgang for asking me to read them.
Start working on your submissions for the next King of the Monsters contest!