Month: December 2022

  • Variant Zombie Tactics

    The Monster Manual zombie isn’t a complicated or sophisticated attacker, but it possesses one trait that makes it memorable: Undead Fortitude, which allows it to pop back up and keep fighting even after it’s reduced to 0 hp. You never know how many hits it will ultimately take to stop a zombie. Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft additionally (and accurately) notes, “The horror of the shambling dead lies not in their individual menace … but [in] their numbers, their persistence, and their disregard for their own well-being.” One zombie, in the right circumstances, can be played for laughs; many zombies are legitimately unnerving, regardless of context.

    Even so, after a while, zombie fights can become ho-hum affairs—especially past level 5, when clerics’ Destroy Undead feature can clear them out en masse. How can a Dungeon Master keep the thrill alive?

    We can find part of the answer by looking to an unrelated monster: the troll. A troll, out of the box, is nothing but a hard-to-kill brute. However, the Loathsome Limbs variant, which allows the troll’s severed limbs to keep fighting independently, turns a troll encounter into something special. In a similar vein, suppose that a town’s response to an invading zombie horde was to make absolutely sure they didn’t get up again by hacking the corpses to pieces—and even that didn’t work. That’s one way you might end up with a swarm of zombie limbs.

  • Death’s Head and Boneless Tactics

    Hello, hello! I’m back from PAX Unplugged, the new book is moving, and I’m back to the blog with monsters from Van Richten’s Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft (she did the research, racist uncle took the credit—that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it). Before I jump into individual monsters, however, I strongly encourage you, if you own this book, to read the introductory sections of chapter 5, “Monsters of Ravenloft.” The advice these sections give on creating new monsters and customizing existing ones is outstanding. I won’t recapitulate them here, because honestly, this instance is one of few about which I can say the content speaks for itself, and I can’t improve on it by paraphrasing. Just read it.

    With that out of the way, I’ll note that, as you might expect, the emphasis in Ravenloft is heavily on undead. Out of the 32 enemies included in the book, undead account for 12 of them. Monstrosities number six, and humanoids (including non-player characters) five. That’s nearly three-fourths of the creatures in Ravenloft right there. The leftovers comprise two aberrations, two fiends, two plants, a beast and its corresponding swarm, and a construct. My original plan was to follow the order of the sections of The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters, starting with humanoids, but now that I think about it, it makes more sense to dive right in with the undead.

  • How to Defend Your Lair on Sale Now

    Oh, what a goose I am: I forgot to post my publication-day announcement!

    Cover by Lio Pressland

    How to Defend Your Lair, my guide to building villain lairs using real-world principles of building security and area defense, is available now everywhere you buy books. Click here for full description and purchasing links.

    I’m also making two local author appearances this week. If you live in Chicagoland, please stop by one of these events:

    • On Thursday, Dec. 8, I’m doing a reading and signing at the Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, starting at 7 PM.
    • On Sunday, Dec. 11, I’m doing a Q&A/meet-and-greet at Chicagoland Games, 5550 N. Broadway, Chicago, from noon to 2 PM. James D’Amato, author of the Ultimate RPG Guide series of books, will moderate.

    Hope to see you!

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Praise for The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters

“I’ve always said, the Dungeon Master is the whole world except for his players, and as a result, I spend countless hours prepping for my home group. What Keith gets is that the monsters are the DM’s characters, and his work has been super helpful in adding logic, flavor, and fun in my quest to slaughter my players’ characters and laugh out the window as they cry in their cars afterward.” —Joe Manganiello

“The best movie villains are the ones you fall in love with. Keith’s book grounds villains in specificity, motivation, and tactics—so much so that players will love to hate ’em. This book will enrich your game immeasurably!” —Matthew Lillard

“This book almost instantly made me a better Dungeon Master. If you’re running games, it is a must-have enhancement. I gave copies to the two others in our group who share in the Dungeon Mastering, and both of them came back the next time grinning rather slyly. Keith is a diabolical genius, and I say that with the utmost respect!” —R.A. Salvatore

Find my short works on the Dungeon Masters’ Guild, or just toss a coin to your witcher: