Agent Boogeyman's tips on creating new monsters

The basic rules for creating monsters in ZODIAC is in the core rulebook, but it seems a bit lacking in general tips on how best TO make new monsters. Without sufficient guidelines on how to approach monster creation it is often possible to create either a monster that is too strong for its level, or too weak to pose a sufficient challenge to the players. I have my own method of creating monsters, and have found it helpful when trying to determine whether or not a monster is going to be balanced while still being a fun or interesting challenge to the players.

Starting out:

First thing to note is, contrary to what you might initially believe, the level of the monster isn't as important as you think. The only real importance of monster level is how much experience and monetary reward the players receive after defeating it. Naturally, harder monsters SHOULD be of higher level than the players, but with this method of creation you'll find that often times this will happen on its own accord.

Monster Powers and Techs:

The very first thing to do when creating your monster is, after you have your basic concept in mind and before determining anything else, begin with its Techs and Monster Powers. If you don't wish for the monster to have any Techs or Powers, that's alright, but it may make for an uninteresting battle. Monsters basically get a free "Level" of Tech or Power right off the bat anyway so it's presumed you will at least give it one item of interest. The reason I always start by assigning powers is because through this we can determine the monster's Magic attribute as a result. This also helps gauge the Monster's Spirit attribute as I'll detail a little bit later.

For example, let's say we wanted to create a flying bird-like monster who's hard to hit and likes to force players into using Normal Attacks against it. So let's give the monsters these abilities:

  • Flight - Level 1 - Forces a -60 Accuracy Penalty to Short Range Weapons and Techs
  • Agile - Level 2 - Doubles the monster's Evade Derived Stat
  • Berserk - Level 1 - Status Effect (Berserk) [Mag Acc -35] - MP Cost: 3

That's a good start right there, but let's go a step further. Our monster is flying, so let's give it Immunity to Earth Elemental attacks and a Weakness to Wind:

  • Elemental Immunity (Earth) - Level 2
  • Elemental Weakness (Wind) - Level -1

Okay, so let's tally all those up and we get total Tech Levels of 6 [The freebie all monsters get (1) + Flight (1) + Agile (2) + Berserk (1) + Immunity (2) + Weakness (-1)]

From here we can determine the monster's Magic Attribute. Monsters get [1 + MAG/5] worth of Tech Levels so let's reverse engineer our lovely 6 Tech Levels there and we get a grand total of 25 Magic! Easy, right?

Determine Tech Resource Costs:

This step is usually the immediate follow up to assigning Monster Techs and Powers because more often than not, a Monster will have a Tech or ability that will require some kind of cost to activate. The most common of which is of course, MP. However, this can be modified by cost swapping secondaries such as Sacrifice, Charge Power and the two Force of Will Monster Powers. In these cases this changes this step quite a bit, as instead of looking at Spirit you would turn your attention to Vitality or Agility.

As an aside, it is generally not a good idea for a monster to have a sacrifice tech unless you also give it something to do when it eventually reaches 0 HP such as Final Attack. Giving a monster one of the Regeneration powers might also be good to consider when giving your monster a sacrifice tech.

Regardless of whatever cost a Tech will need, be it MP, HP or Speed, they all share one thing in common: The Monster's Level. No matter which cost a Tech uses, the monster's level is a contributing factor to the resources necessary to pay that cost, so it is important to keep in mind at this point.

Our example above uses Berserk, a 3 MP cost Status Effect Tech so let's continue from there. As an overview, our monster's stats look like this so far:

00 Strength
25 Magic
00 Vitality
00 Spirit
00 Agility

We know that Monsters get 25 + (Level * 5) Attribute points to spread around, so assuming our monster begins at level 1, we have 30 points total. 25 of those points is in Magic. That doesn't leave us very much to play with, so we'll more than likely be increasing its level as we progress.

We also know that normal monsters get (Level + Spirit)/2 MP so if we wanted our monster to be able to cast Berserk at least once we'd currently need 5 points in Spirit. Level (1) + Spirit (5) = 6. Divide that by two to get 3, the exact MP cost necessary to cast Berserk. There goes our remaining 5 points, so that's all 30 points for our Level 1 Monster accounted for. However, we still have a bunch of empty space in Strength, Vitality and Agility and that simply won't do.

This is where it gets tricky. Now, you don't have to be as obsessive compulsive as I am, but I generally like giving my monsters the exact number of MP they need to cast their Techs a certain number of times. Since our monster is going to obviously be higher than level 1, we have to "gauge" our Spirit.

The lowest an attribute can be is 1, and since we only need 3 MP to cast Berserk once, let's add 4 more levels to our monster and in turn, reduce our Spirit to 1. Level (5) + Spirit (1) = 6. Divide it in half and hooray, it's 3 MP.

Fill the Empty Attribute Slots

Adding these 4 levels and reducing our Spirit gives us 24 Attributes Points to play with. Swell! This is where you can start seeing the basic skeleton of how our monster will run in battle. We want our Monster to have a bit of Agility obviously, seeing as we did in fact give it the Agile Monster Power, so let's take 10 of those 24 points and hand them to Agility. Now we have 14 Points left. Let's divide it in half and give 7 to both Strength and Vitality.

Now our Level 5 Monster has assigned all of its Attributes thusly:

07 Strength
25 Magic
07 Vitality
01 Spirit
10 Agility

Tweak the Monster

As we can see, our monster is definitely appropriate for low levelled parties, but probably not too much of a threat unless it hits with its Berserk Tech. This is where you could either leave it as is, or you could polish it up just a tad. I don't believe our new monster is quite as tough as it should be, so we're going to do just that. However, this requires increasing its level and GASP! Changing its MP value! Aw, heck, that's okay though, because with a bit of clever math we can discover that if somehow we get the Level + Spirit equation to equal 12, we can have it cast Berserk twice!

You don't have to do this step. You can keep the Monster only able to cast Berserk once, but where's the fun in that? After all, its primary strength definitely seems to be the Berserk Tech, so let's roll with it. We know that 7 + 5 equals 12, so let's add 2 Levels to our monster, bringing it to Level 7, and giving us 10 more Attribute points to play with. However, that alone makes the equation [Level (7) + Spirit (1) = 8], and divided by two brings the monster's MP to 4. We need two more MP, so let's take 4 of those newly acquired Attribute points and give them to Spirit, making its Spirit 5. THAT'S the equation we're looking for! Level (7) + Spirit (5) = 12, divided by 2 equals 6 MP.

Now we have 6 Attribute points left over. OH! I know, let's give 3 each to Strength and Vitality! Alright, so let's look over our final allotment:

10 Strength
25 Magic
10 Vitality
05 Spirit
10 Agility

Now THAT'S more like it. It's still a low levelled monster tailored to low levelled parties, but now it's strong enough to possibly challenge them.

Derived Stats

From here we can finish the base math of the Monster now that its base Attributes and Techs have been finalized. However, there is one final thing to decide upon before we figure out its Derived Stats. What Dice should our monster use when making attacks? We have a choice of either d6, d8 or d10. Well, considering our monster isn't exactly a juggernaut, nor is it particularly weak, let's make it an even d8 for all Strength and Magic Dice dependant attacks. That should be sufficient to keep its only attack (Normal Attack) a threat to most parties. Now we can finish up.

Using the math in the core rulebook we find that our new Monster's derived stats are as follows:

Level 7 - 245 Experience - 105 Gold

300 HP / 06 MP

20 Attack Power
50 Magic Attack Power
07 Accuracy
10 Magic Accuracy
1d8 Strength Dice
1d8 Magic Dice
54 Evade
26 Resist
10 Speed
98 Critical

That's a pretty good spread, and a monster worthy to send up against any respectable party.

Determine Status Immunities

Now that the mathwork is complete, here we step into the section that is completely neglected in the core rulebook. I have no idea why this was completely skipped, but it IS important. It wouldn't do for every monster that wasn't a boss be able to be hit with every status effect ever, so creative playing with status immunities is in order if you so desire.

The monster we've just made I have decided not to make immune to any kind of status effect, mainly because it doesn't feel appropriate to do so for this particular monster. However, other monsters will require some forethought, especially boss monsters.

When giving your monster immunities consider at its core, what the monster is and does. Is your monster a living construct type of golem made of clay? It is only logical to think that it might be immune to Curse, Death Sentence, Fatal Blow, Near-Fatal, Seal, Frog, Poison, Sleep, Stone, Venom or Zombie.

Also consider strategy. Making your monsters immune to lots of status effects makes status Tech users feel left out, and is highly discouraged. Instead, think of logical status effects that the monster would NOT be immune to. In our golem example above, Berserk, Blind, Charm, Confusion, Mini, Slow and Stop all seem like reasonable status ailments for such a monster to be weak to. Demi and Break Arts also would be especially effective against a Golem.

A rule of thumb I tend to keep in mind is that lower levelled monster should have less immunities. This doesn't mean you have to neglect them of course, it just makes them less frustrating. Only give out lots of immunities when you're specifically trying to make something hard on the players, and even then keep it limited. There's nothing worse than having an Oracle in the party who cannot perform their function of Control.

Assign Steal Items

Another often overlooked step of monster building is giving it items to Steal. This is quite possibly one of the most fun parts of monster creation as you can have a monster carry an item that the players may only see if they manage to successfully Steal it. A Steal item can be anything you desire, and you can even have more than one! In cases where there's more than one item to Steal, you can hand it out however you wish.

For example, if you have a monster with both a Potion and a Hi Potion to Steal, you as the GM can roll randomly when the Steal attempt succeeds to see which one the character grabs first, or you the GM can just give them whichever one you choose first. This is fun for when the players do not already know what the monster is carrying, and might not even know there's more than one item to Steal. When they DO know however, either through Peep or Scan or previous encounters with the monster, players might wish to declare which item they are specifically attempting to Steal and that's just fine.

Something I usually keep in mind is giving the monster an item to Steal that compliments the monster and what it is. Let's take our newly created Flying Birdthing monster for example. What kind of Steal item should it carry? Naturally, with Agile, Stealing will be quite difficult, so let's make it something interesting and worth Stealing, shall we? Since it's a bird-thing and meant for low levelled players, it'd probably be a treat to have it carry a Phoenix Down. That alone will probably make the players desire to attempt to Steal from it, even though it has an Evade of 54.

Assign Drop Items

Yet another overlooked part of monster creation is what to have it drop when it dies. Since drops are pretty much every 1 in 3 kills, these should be slightly less awesome than a Steal Item, but it doens't have to be. Again, think about the monster and what items it would logically drop.

Again, here you can have monsters with more than one drop item, however, the way I usually go about it is to roll a seperate percentage to see which item is dropped, if any.

For example, take our bird-thing monster. It likes to Berserk people a lot, so a Tranquilizer is probably a good item to drop. However, let's give it a RARE drop too. That drop should be a Phoenix Down, like its Steal item! Okay, so when you roll to see if it drops an item, after you've determined whether or not it even does, roll a percentile dice. Between 001 and 090 it should drop the Tranquilizer, but on a result of 091 to 100, it should drop the Phoenix Down.

You can play with drop items in this fashion any way you wish, with as many drop items as you wish. Maybe it drops one of ten different items when it drops one, each with a 10% chance of seeing it. Anything goes, really.

Assign a Monster Type

Last but not least, the most overlooked part of monster creation. You ever notice how there's the Dedicated Weapon property but the rulebook doesn't detail what constitutes a monster TYPE? This is somewhat superflous, and mainly up to the GM, but I personally like to make labels to tack onto my monsters at creation.

Common monster types I personally use are: Undead, Elemental, Mage, Humanoid, Giant, Dragon, Beast, Plant, Flying, Demon, Construct and Goblinoid. That's not all of them, but the majority of them. Youc an make up any Types you wish, but it helps to assign them to the monster at creation.

For instance, let's finish off our scary bird thing monster by giving it an official type. It has Flight, so it's definitely Flying. It's a bird, so it's definitely a Beast, and it casts a spell so it might be eligible for the Mage type. So, putting it all together, our monster is a Beast/Flying/Mage monster!

The End

Well, that's about it for creating monsters. You don't have to be this formulaic about your monsters, but I personally feel it helps more often than not, and I hope it's been helpful to you as well.