Let’s talk about Scenery Monsters!

5th Edition seems to be a hot topic right on social media and forums right now, and we’re seeing frequent reference to what a great implementation of 5e BEOWULF is, often paired with Adventures in Middle-earth, which we all worked on too! Which is really cool – thanks folks!

We’re continuing our experimentation with the 5e framework with our current series of Scenery Monsters over at www.handimonsters.com

Scenery Monsters are something adjacent to Lair Actions, but separated from a location, and expressed as a kind of lesser monster. Scenery Monsters are a stripped down kind of background creature that can spice up a location, without requiring the GM to deal with a whole stat block.

Scenery Monsters never make attack roll, have no hit points, and function a little more like traps, or obstacles, but embodied as creatures. Some can move around, some are static features, others are more abstracted.

One of the real strengths of the subscription model of Handimonsters is that we’ve been able to experiment with the core idea, and develop it week on week. Now that we’ve released a handful of Scenery Monsters we’re more able to cook down exactly how we design them to a list of questions:

• What is the saving throw the target makes, and how that can be interesting? For example, this week’s monster requires a Wisdom saving throw to avoid a condition. This means you can involve less able fighters as being key to resolving an encounter.

• What is the effect of failing the saving throw? We’ve avoided HP damage for the most part, favouring the infliction of conditions – disadvantage, poisoned or prone for example are all interesting conditions to wield during a battle, and can become a bit more interesting and varied than glancing at how many HP you have left.

• Why cant a PC run up to the Scenery Monster and do HP damage to it? Because Scenery Monsters don’t have a full stat block, and we don’t want the GM to track HP, this aspect needs to make sense, and be intuitive to the monster. We’ve used creatures that automatically flee, or become prone when approached. We’ve also used plant-like creatures that can’t be killed by attacking them with weapons. Any time a Scenery Monster would stand and fight toe to toe? It’s probably not a Scenery Monster.

• Why is “the attack” not an attack roll? Scenery Monsters do not make attack rolls. And this needs to make sense very quickly. It could be its “attack” is a barely-directed cloud of gas, or because it’s a volley of rubbish thrown very general direction by unskilled civilians. The “attack” of a Scenery Monster becomes more about the Player Characters’ resistance to it than skill in combat.

If the monster doesn’t have HP, how is it overcome, or can it indeed be overcome? Sometimes it’s ok to deploy a creature that must just be avoided, or which makes a part of a location less favourable to traverse. But sometimes that can be an unsatisfying feature of an encounter. And we all know how some players want to attack everything. It is also important to give the players some kind of agency in being able to do something to affect the Scenery Monster. Shutting it down for a number of rounds is a nice outcome of specific actions on the part of the players.

We’re coming to the end of our first run of Scenery Monsters – and you can grab the entire back catalogue of all of our monsters when you sign up at www.handimonsters.com – but we’ll be back with more!

You can also get all of last year’s handimonsters in the 2022 Annual!