Here we are at the end of our first ever tournament to discover the King of the Monsters! Who will win, standing in glorious triumph before your accolades? 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 an issue of Kobold Quarterly, fully illustrated. Go now to the KQ.com forums and vote for your favorite:
- Afanc by Jarrod Camiré
- Echidna by Randy Dorman
- Grave Linnorm by Phillip Larwood
- Grievous Wailer by Trevor Gulliver
- Hive Ghoul by Mario Podeschi
- Polydoros Kin by Charles Kiley
- Spark by Adam Daigle
- Treacle by Crystal Frasier
- Wendigo by Matthew Cicci
- Zaglossus by David Posener
Thank you, everyone, for entering the contest. On behalf of the judges and everyone at KQ, 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 in 1 week—next Wednesday at 12 noon PST (01-20-10).
View from the Judge’s Chamber
To wrap up the contest, we wanted to give some parting views from the judges and a promise of more monsters to come: Scott Gable (myself), Jeff Grubb (Guest Judge and Game Designer Extraordinaire), and, of course, Wolfgang Baur (KQ Editor-in-Chief)…
What fun! It was a pleasure to be a part of this contest alongside Jeff and Wolfgang, judging an amazing array of monsters. And really, monsters were my first love, so it was truly a grand time putting the submissions under the magnifying lens. (Maybe next time, we’ll run them in an adventure to evaluate them! You, the fans, wouldn’t mind several months of wait to know the finalists were properly playtested, right? ;D )
What were we looking for? Why, only the best monsters out there, and this list of finalists have certainly left a lasting impression. Do they have some mechanics that could be further developed or text that could be massaged? Sure, but that’s normal. Were there great things about monsters that didn’t make the finals? Absolutely! But in the end, it was the final ten that proved to be the most well thought out and put together—those that offered the potential for the most wonder, the most fun, and the most PC blood, sweat, and tears. You could say, these designers swung just a little harder for the fences.
Those that won tended to make the most of the space allowed. They didn’t stop at just the numbers. Instead, they gave a well-designed microcosm, including compelling hooks and motivations. Small miscalculations are like spelling mistakes; sure, they’re annoying, but they’re managed in the editing process. Those special “somethings” that really make a design sing, though? Those are harder to fake your way through. And to be able to mesh that incredible flavor so effectively with the mechanics is the root of great design. It’s not just about the “crunch” or just about the “fluff”; it’s about how the two interact, and the finalists managed this beautifully.
Sometimes you get to carve out a new niche for your monster, trailblazing new design territory. Sometimes you get to redress older ideas. As far as I care, there are no throwaway monsters. They all have a story to tell. You just have to find it.
Just wait until the next KotM!
Each monster on this list has a good reason to be here, but I will point out a couple places where I would suggest revisions as well—nothing is perfect the first time out, and all benefit from playtesting. In general, the 4th Edition monsters really sought to utilize the mechanics at hand in different ways, and a lot of them had a great, new insight or two in them. As for the 3.5E monsters, they exist in a very crowded universe since there have been so many Monster Manuals and Fiend Folios for 3E and 3.5E over the years, so they had to go the extra distance to stand out. And for some reason, Pathfinder Roleplaying Game monsters showed a lot of possession rules, crocodilian features, and tentacles. A lot of tentacles. I don’t know if Pathfinder has a dire need of tentacles or is just tentacle-friendly, but there were more tentacles here than at a mind flayer drive-in on calamari night.
Afanc—I can definitely say this is a better afanc than the old 1E afanc, which was pretty much a big fish. It uses a lot of 4E mechanics to give it its own flare and flavor. Where I would want more information is for the cleave the wood ability—would this affect my darkleaf armor? More importantly, would it affect my boat?
Echidna—When I first saw the title I thought, “Oh, nice, a giant marsupial hedgehog.” But what we have here is the ORIGINAL echidna, the mother of monsters, and the creature uses that hook to create a nice (and creepy) monster that can “summon” other monsters.
Grave Linnorm—I like the big draconian monsters, and this one fits the bill, particularly since this one comes with its own installed base of vampires and plague zombies. On the downside, 2d8 Dex damage and 1d8 Con drain is massively deadly.
Grievous Wailer—This smacks of old school weirdness—a one-eyed, bipedal gecko that lives in the cold! Actually, it is good, solid monster, and I liked the effects of its wail
Hive Ghoul—This is a very tight little concept, nicely presented. Take a swarm monster and an undead—two great tastes that taste great together! Auras, though, are proving to be deadly in 4E, and one that occupies 5×5 squares (and expands to 7×7 when bloodied) and can be turned into an 11×11 burst can occupy a huge chunk of the battlefield.
Polydoros Kin—A nice tie-in with the son of Priam, but what I really like is the idea of using that to tie the undead to avarice and wealth. You read this monster’s description, and you get an idea of how the encounter will play out.
Spark—There were a number of creatures that possessed targets, but what set this above the rest was the option for the symbiosis to be voluntary. That voluntary possession makes it easy to design stories around this monster.
Treacle—Another old-school moment—the initial description of the “wounded kitten” evoked the old “kill kitten” from Arduin Grimoire, which appeared as a wounded kitten until you cuddled it, upon which it drove 6-in. steel claws into your flesh. What actually put it on the list was its presence as a shapeshifting ooze that could take on numerous forms.
Wendigo—Another possessor, this one for 4E, and I really liked how it presented possession within those terms. On the downside, even though it is a solo, how to use it with other monsters would have been good.
Zaglossus—Wrapping up with an abomination is always nice, and the zaglossus is all abominable goodness. There were a lot of tentacled monsters in the submissions, particularly among the Pathfinder entries, this particular monstrosity put together an ooky appearance with a very nasty effect. I would add some additional ways (spell or item use) to restore the lost parts, just in case you kill it with silver weapons.
It’s always entertaining when the monsters shamble in: some are funny, some are horrific, some make you suspect deep-seated trauma in the author—and some are just itching to be thrown against heroes, immediately.
But just like the RPG Superstar contest, themes do show up. This year, those themes seemed to be duplicating monsters (several monsters showed some variety of cloning themselves), unusual undead, and… humorous monsters. In each of those categories, the result was that the similar monsters were inevitably compared to each other. If you have two sets of duplicating beasties, naturally one way to judge them is to say, “Which of these duplicating creatures is more interesting and more playable?”
And that’s where the judges hit the first barrier. Yes, we’re judging on interesting mechanics, outstanding flavor, utility in adventures, and that mysterious x-factor that makes a monster a classic—but each of us weighed those differently.
The judge’s discussions on a few of the monsters were anything but clear-cut. The example that stands out most for me is the case of locking down between two good 4th Edition monsters. One had perhaps the best 4E ability we saw submitted, but didn’t impress us with supporting flavor, general utility, or even other mechanics at that level. The other monster was much more well-rounded, offered hooks, and was mechanically solid. That sort of decision was tough to make, but in the end, we went for the well-rounded entry.
Judging the contest entries was a delight; so many KQ readers are talented, and many of the monsters that did not make the Top 10 would have been perfectly fine in anyone’s game night. They were good, but they were either flawed in some way that made a judge blanch or simply didn’t stand out in the crowd enough. In other words, the quality of entries was high throughout; the entries I judged were anonymous, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some familiar KQ author names were among those who didn’t quite make the finals.
I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to submit an entry; you impressed the heck out of three designers who have seen a lot of material over the years, and you made our job tough.
That’s a good sign for future King of the Monsters contests, but for now, let’s just say enough from the judges, it’s time for the people to vote for their favorites!