Do you ever get the feeling that your monsters, or the monsters that you face off against just aren't really that scary? As a player, I've been noticing a recent trend with the enemies I face - that is to say, I confidently stride forward and engage them with the same gusto I would an enemy warrior. I don't know whether it's a fault with my own stubborn confidence, a lack of truly intimidating DM descriptions, or my DMs trying to appease what they perceive as my quest to be an unshakeable badass, but I haven't thought of a monster as truly monstrous in quite some time.

 I recently picked up a copy of Fallout: New Vegas, and I was impressed at how aggressive and terrifying the harder enemies can be. In particular, I was wandering a stretch of the Colorado river when I came across a tucked-away little cliff entrance that beckoned towards me. My character (a heavily armored, short hispanic man wielding a rebar club) confidently charged up this hill, ready to violate the skeletal structure of whatever lay beyond - as he had done to many bandits and mutated bugs before. What he found next he was absolutely not prepared for. (continued after the jump)

Deathclaws, as they call them, are horrifying godless killing machines. They run faster than you. They can leap the length of a semi in an instant. My character, who has the maximum value possible for the game's equivalent of Constitution, could only survive a few attacks from a single Deathclaw and had no hope of escape once he encountered it. Determined as I was, it took me six tries for me to finally kill one using the full breadth of my available equipment, abilities, and consumables. (Note: For those of you who have played F:NV, I was level 7 with above-average gear and a Melee Weapons of 70, Strength 10, and Endurance 10) 

When it was all said and done, I was left with the exhilarating experience of what felt like panting over the fallen corpse of the beast, screaming to the gods of my unbreakable might. It occurred to me that this is what killing a large monster ought to be like, and lessons could be learned from the Deathclaw.

Imagine a scenario where the party starts out at low level, and begin as refugees from their destroyed town. The survivors know very little; terrible creatures came from the night, and only a handful of NPCs escaped with the PCs through the caves beneath the town. Led by a few seasoned warriors, a precedent is set with an initial battle against some sort of cave pest (goblins? zombies?) wherein the seasoned warriors do most of the work while the PCs help out. This can lead into a tense second encounter where our Deathclaw Metaphors catch up to the party, and the PCs are instructed to run. As they flee, they watch the horrible beasts curbstomp their seasoned warrior friends (thus eliminating any urge for the PCs to try and fight them) and massacre the remaining civilians. One Deathclaw gives chase, but the party barely escapes by squeezing through a small crevasse barely big enough for a human to fit through. You can even have the Deathclaw dive for the hole, reaching his arm into it while growling viciously as the PCs just barely scramble out of his reach.

This sets the stage for truly frightening monster that can be revisited constantly at variously levels of power to great effect. When the party escapes from the section of the cave they hastily retreated into they likely will have a level or two under their belts, and perhaps later get into a very dangerous confrontation with a single one of the beasts. Giving the monster feats like Awesome Blow can help imply the immense strength of a creature. (I often find that gamers have become somewhat desensitized to high damage numbers). Be sure to  make it seem as if the monster is barely taking damage at all from the players attacks, until the last hit point falls. The falling blow should be particularly brutal and triumphant, as if the character managed to just barely survive long enough to land that perfect stab to the heart after many superficial scrapes and bangs.

In the end, the DM has many tools to heighten the sense of danger that comes from engaging such dangerous beasts. Remember, I live vicariously through your comments, so please let me know of some of your most memorable encounters with seemingly insurmountable monsters!

This entry was posted on March 12, 2012 at Monday, March 12, 2012 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Nice writeup. If I were in a game where the players actually wanted to be challenged, I would try it.

BTW: You killed a Deathclaw at level 7? Damn.

March 12, 2012 at 5:18 PM

There's this perk, where if you hit with a Melee Weapon, you can knock a monster down. This perk can re-trigger even while a monster is knocked down, so I took a med-x and read a melee weapons magazine and spammed stimpacks 'til he fell down, and from there on out I just whaled on him til he died.

March 12, 2012 at 11:56 PM

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