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Build a Quick Monster with the Forge of Foes

by Mike on 13 March 2023

The Lazy DM's Forge of Foes is live on Kickstarter right now! Back the awesome 128 page book of guidance, tools, tips, and tricks for building, customizing, and running awesome monsters for your 5e RPGs. Check it out and download the jam-packed 30 page preview absolutely free.

The Lazy DM's Forge of Foes lets you actually build monsters faster than you can find most monsters in your various monster books. Forge of Foes gives you the tools to stat out a monster at any CR in under a minute then fill it out with custom abilities in just a minute or two more. It's fast enough that you can improvise a monster right at the table. I know because I've done so.

Today we're going to look at an example I used in my own game — the dwarven flesh cultist built for my Empire of the Ghouls campaign.

For a video on this topic, see my Build Quick D&D Monsters with the Forge of Foes YouTube Video.

To build our dwarven flesh cultist, we're going to use the Forge of Foes sample PDF and the "quick monster builder" on page 4.

Choose a Concept and Challenge Rating

The first thing we do is start with a quick concept. Dwarven flesh cultists are nasty cultists who eat the flesh of other humanoids and follow the Creed of All Flesh. They're no pushovers, attacking with whatever nasty cannibalistic weapons they have on hand and filled with the unholy strength of the Creed of All Flesh (a mask of the ghoul-god Vardesain from the Midgard setting).

Given it's story, we're going to give our dwarven flesh cultist a challenge rating of 3. This one challenge number gives us most of what we need to build it out.

With that challenge rating in mind, we write down the base statistics we need found on the "Monster Statistics by Challenge Rating" table on page 6 of the sample. Here's what we get:

With just that we're ready to go and it took about 30 seconds. We can improvise almost everything else when we run our flesh cultist at the table.

Here are some important things to note. First, the AC / DC number represents both the AC of the monster and as the monster's primary DC when forcing any sort of saving throw against a character.

The same is true for the primary ability bonus. It serves as the monster's attack bonus, their very best saving throw (if they're proficient in such a save), and skill bonus for their best skills. We can think of this number as the very top of their potential saving throws and skill checks.

Determining Saving Throws — the Lazy Way

What about it's other abilities or saving throws? Make them up. There's no simple curve for saving throws based on CR other than their highest possible one (the proficient ability bonus above). High CR monsters often still have lousy saving throws in some areas and many monsters have no proficient saves at all.

So we make up monster saving throws based on what we think makes sense for the monster right when we need them.

Here's a really lazy trick for you. Don't bother figuring out a monster's abilities and saving throws until you need them during the game. Often they never come into play. When a monster does need to make a saving throw — say a Wisdom saving throw — roll the dice first and see what the roll is. If it's really low or really high, it doesn't matter what the bonus is. They've already either succeeded or failed. Only if the roll is somewhere in the middle do you bother to determine a creature's saving throw bonus and you do so by asking yourself what sort of save the monster would have in that ability from -2 to a maximum of their proficient ability bonus.

Let's say a wizard casts a DC 14 Hypnotic Pattern on our dwarven flesh cultist. We roll a Wisdom save and the die is a 12. That's in the middle enough that we probably want to think about whether they failed. If it were a 5 or a 17, we wouldn't bother to figure out the bonus. But it's a 12, so we need to know if a bonus would have helped it.

So we go back to the monster's story. Based on our story of the dwarven flesh cultist, do we think them particularly wise? Not really. So we give them a +0. A 12 would then still fail and the flesh cultist is indeed affected by the hypnotic pattern.

This concept of "going back to the story of the monster" is a totally different way of thinking about our monsters but a great one for improvising monsters right at the table. Get comfortable with it and it'll take you far.

Customize Armor Class

Sometimes the baseline AC of a creature at a particular CR doesn't make sense based on its story. We can raise or lower a monster's AC however it makes sense for the story of the monster. I like to keep in mind that a non-dexterous creature wearing leather armor is an AC of 11 and a knight in full plate with a shield is an AC of 20.

If our flesh cultists wore heavy armor we might increase their AC to 17. If we want to keep it from being too much of a pain to kill, we can reduce their hits points in exchange. Don't worry too much about the mathematical rigor of such a shift. In the end it really doesn't matter.

For the story of our dwarven flesh cultists, though, an AC of 13 makes sense so we'll stick to that.

Improvising Attacks

We have most of the stats we need, but what about the details of their attacks? Like much of what we've done so far, we improvise them. Let's make them creepy by giving the flesh cultists bloody curved disemboweling blades, heavy meat-tenderizer mauls, and big chopping cleavers. This is all just flavor. The attack and damage are already in our stats. A flesh cultist might hack twice with a big cleaver for +5 to hit and 12 (2d8+3) slashing damage. Improvise the damage type along with the damage.

If you want to flavor it a bit more, you can split the damage type. Maybe the flesh cleaver inflicts 7 (1d8+3) slashing damage + 4 (1d8) necrotic damage because of their connection to the Creed of All Flesh. We can take the damage dice in the damage equation included in our quick monster stats table and split it among different damage types.

It's almost always worth including some sort of ranged attack. Maybe the flesh cultists can throw barbed harpoons. We use the same damage equations we would use otherwise or we can lower it a bit if we want based on what we think about the story of the flesh cultist.

Filling Out our Flesh Cultist with Powers

We can go with what we have but for more fun, let's give them some extra powers and abilities. Forge of Foes and the free sample include a bunch of "monster type templates". One trick is that we don't have to stick to only the monster type template that fits our monster's type. We can steal powers and abilities from any of these to fit our creature's theme.

Maybe our flesh cultist can throw out a fleshy barbed tendril Hellraiser-style by using the Aberration's "Grasping Tentacles" ability. Maybe we grab the beast's "Empowered by Carnage" power or the Monstrocity's "Devour Ally" power or the undead's "Stench of Death" trait. There's a lot to choose from if we want to customize our cultist.

If none of those feel right we can jump right to our "Common Monster Powers" list. Think of these like feats for bad guys. Choose one that makes sense for the monster you're building. Our flesh cultist might benefit from any of these:

You can customize any of these powers to fit the theme of whatever monster you build.

Don't to overboard with these powers. Usually one special power is enough for a typical monster.

For our flesh cultist, we're going to use the Hellraiser-style barbed tendril and give it the ability to pull the target towards the cultist as well as restrain them. Fun!

A Final Look at our Flesh Cultist

In the end of our experiment, we have a fleshed out flesh cultist that looks like this:

That's a solid and really fun stat block to run.

What do you want to build next?

Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with timestamped links to the YouTube video:

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RPG Tips

Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as D&D tips. Here are this week's tips:

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