So Many Little Monsters, Part 2 of 2

October 20, 2020

Last week, I talked about the basic rules that swarms of smaller creatures have in many systems. Today, I wanted to give you a neat reskinning trick! You can turn lots of monsters into swarms by overlaying the swarm rules on top of an existing stat block.  

Let’s start with a new D&D 5E monster, a swarm of acid wasps! These nasty, intelligent critters lurk in acid pools, deadly swamps, and caustic areas throughout the lower planes. They’re malicious and durable individually, and together they form into a flying, acid-spewing cloud.

Acid Wasp Swarm

Large swarm of tiny fiends, chaotic evil

Armor Class 18 (natural armor) 

Hit Points 127 (15d10 + 45) 

Speed 40 ft., fly 80 ft., swim 40 ft.

STR      DEX     CON     INT     WIS     CHA

10 (+0) 14 (+2) 17 (+3) 12 (+1) 11 (+0) 15 (+2)

Skills Perception +6, Stealth +5

Damage Immunities acid

Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing

Condition Immunities charmed, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, prone, restrained, stunned

Senses blindsight 30 ft., darkvision 120 ft., passive Perception 16

Languages understands Common but can’t speak 

Challenge 7 (2,900 XP)


Amphibious. The acid wasp swarm can breathe air and water.

Swarm. The swarm can occupy another creature’s space and vice versa, and the swarm can move through any opening large enough for a Tiny acid wasp (which is about the size of a pigeon). The swarm can’t regain hit points or gain temporary hit points.

Actions

Multiattack. The acid wasp makes three attacks with its stings.

Stings. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 0 ft., one target in the swarm’s space. Hit: 10 (3d6) piercing damage plus 4 (1d8) acid damage, or 7 (2d6) piercing damage plus 2 (1d4) acid damage if the swarm has half its hit points or fewer.

Acid Spew (Recharge 5–6). The swarm spews acid in a 30-foot line that is 5 feet wide. Each creature in that line must make a DC 14 Dexterity saving throw, taking 49 (11d8) acid damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. 

 

This isn’t really a new monster, as you might have guessed. It’s a young black dragon stat block with the D&D 5E swarm abilities overlaid on top of it. I dropped its Strength, averaged its bite/claw/claw damage into a single stings attack, and I replaced its many good saving throws with a swarm’s typical resistances and immunities. But that’s it. 

 

Let’s do it again!
 
Here’s a new Starfinder monster, one that plagues starships, power plants, and other electrical systems throughout the galaxy. Individually, shockworms aren’t too threatening; the size of a human thumb, they mindlessly devour electrical impulses and produce startling but harmless electrical jolts to warn prey away. They reproduce rapidly and form into shockworm swarms, which ramp up in intelligence considerably to form a hivemind. Shockworm swarms understand technology and, when working together, cunningly reroute energy pulses to devour.

Shockworm Swarm CR 3

XP 800

N Large magical beast (swarm)

Init +1; Senses darkvision 60 ft., electrolocation, low-light vision; Perception +8

Defense

HP 35; RP 3

EAC 14; KAC 15

Fort +4; Ref +4; Will +6

Defensive Abilities swarm defenses; Immunities poison, swarm immunities; Resistances electricity 5

Offense

Speed 20 ft.

Melee swarm attack (1d4+4 P)

Ranged electrical discharge +8 (1d4+3 E)

Space 10 ft.; Reach 0 ft.

Offensive Abilities distraction (DC 14), semiconductive

Statistics

Str +1; Dex +1; Con +2; Int +4; Wis +0; Cha -1

Skills Computers +13, Engineering +13, Life Science +8, Physical Science +8, Stealth +13

Languages Common; telepathy 100 ft. (can’t speak any language)

Ecology

Environment any

Organization solitary, pair, or dielectric (3–5)

Special Abilities

Electrical Discharge (Ex) A shockworm swarm can release a small bolt of electricity at a single foe as a ranged attack with a range increment of 40 feet.

Electrolocation (Ex) A shockworm swarm in contact with a crystalline or metallic surface can detect the presence of other creatures within 60 feet that are also in contact with the same surface, even through walls and other obstacles. This otherwise functions as blindsense (vision).

Semiconductive (Ex) Shockworms swarms can alter their silicon-based composition to increase or decrease their electric conductivity. As a move action, a shockworm swarm can spend 1 Resolve Point and lose its natural resistance to electricity for 1 round to gain a bonus to the damage it deals with its electrical discharge ranged attack equal to its Constitution modifier. These effects last until the beginning of its next turn.

 

For this, I’ve lightly altered a urog, an intelligent electrical-themed monster. In addition to giving it the swarm subtype and swarm abilities, I swapped out a skill that didn’t seem relevant. The only thing I had to look up was what it’s swarm damage should be, but that’s a pretty easy calculation to pull off of a table in the Alien Archive

 

Okay, one more, this time from Pathfinder Second Edition. One of the strangest gods of the mysterious realm of the fey is Shadowfeaster, an evil deity of hunger, accidents, and twilight. Shadowfeaster’s most numerous minions are gloamlings, tiny weasel-like people wrapped in shadow. Only six inches tall even when not hunched over, gloamlings like to travel in close packs for protection—as many other creatures of the fey realm find them tasty—and to more easily play malevolent pranks on larger creatures.

Gloamling Swarm     Creature 12

Uncommon, LE, Large, Fey, Swarm

Perception +21; hungersense (imprecise) 30 feet, low-light vision

Languages Aklo, Common, Sylvan

Skills Crafting +23, Deception +25, Nature +21, Stealth +25, Thievery +25

Str -4, Dex +7, Con +4, Int +5, Wis +3, Cha +4

Hungersense Hungersense allows the gloamling swarm to sense creatures that require food to live.

AC 34; Fort +22, Ref +25, Will +19

HP 235; Immunities precision, swarm mind; Weaknesses area damage 10, cold iron 10, splash damage 10; Resistances physical 10 (except cold iron)

Treacherous Aura (aura, primal, transmutation) 15 feet. Tangled roots, jagged divots, sharp rocks and other hazards appear on surfaces in the aura, creating difficult terrain.

Trip Up [reaction] Trigger A creature critically fails a melee attack to hit the gloamling swarm or moves into a space within the swarm’s treacherous aura; Effect The triggering creature must attempt a DC 32 Reflex save.

Critical Success The target is unaffected.

Success The target is flat-footed until the start of its next turn.

Failure The target takes 2d10 bludgeoning damage and is flat-footed until the start of its next turn.

Critical Failure As failure, and the target is knocked prone.

Speed 30 feet; trickster’s step

Grabbing Claws [one-action] Each enemy in the swarm’s space takes 5d8 slashing damage (DC 32 basic Reflex save). On a failed saving throw, the gloamling swarm also knocks a held or carried weapon to the ground in the target’s space.

Change Shape [one-action] (concentrate, polymorph, primal, transmutation) The gloamling swarm changes into its natural form or that of any emaciated humanoid. It remains a swarm, however, and creatures within its humanoid form are subjected to its grabbing claws.

Trickster's Step The gloamling swarm ignores difficult terrain and doesn’t trigger traps with its movement.

 

This one was, originally, a fey creature called a gimmerling. In addition to adding on swarm rules (which meant adding some resistances and weaknesses; I just used the same value for those as for its existing cold iron weakness), I took away its items and its Sneak Attack ability. I dropped its Strength score by quite a bit, since very strong little critters didn’t make sense to me, but I kept its other ability scores the same. I had to create a swarm attack for it, and I eyeballed the damage as the amount it would otherwise do with its items and Sneak Attack that I took away. That seems to work fine. Its Disarm ability seemed tough to keep, mechanically speaking, so I just folded it in with its swarm attack—fail that save, and the disarm happens, too. I thought about eliminating the creature’s Change Shape ability, but a swarm that can change shape into a person seems pretty creepy to me. This one was the most fun of these three new monsters to make!

 

Now you’ve got some rules and some examples—you can make up swarms of swarms of your own!

 

So Many Little Monsters, Part 1 of 2

October 16, 2020
It's interesting to me how games handle swarms of things: bugs, piranhas, spiders, birds, and so on. They're a classic threat, but the rules to support them vary widely between systems. Here's what's generally the same:

* They fill an area like a bigger creature. Even though individual swarm members are really small, the swarm itself is the size of a large creature (sometimes, its squares can bend around a lot, so long as they're contiguous).

* They can fit through small spaces, and other creat...
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Transparency in Games and the Torg Decision

October 9, 2020
One of the way Torg feels different than a lot of other RPGs is in its transparency. Simply put, mechanical information (such as the difficulty of a check) isn't secret. Here's how the game's rulebook puts it:

Transparency
Mechanical information isn't meant to be secret in Torg Eternity. How many Possibilities a foe currently has, what an enemy's various defenses are, and what modifiers apply any given DN [Difficulty Number] should all be apparent or freely shared if the players ask. All four s...
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It's Rontober!

October 5, 2020
It's always a thrill when something I've been working on comes out to the public. It's even more thrilling when several things hit at once!

First of all, here's the October product announcement for Paizo. I worked on the first book listed (Lost Omens Pathfinder Society Guide), and I wrote BOTH of the adventures premiering this month: Dominion's End for Starfinder, and Assault on Hunting Lodge Seven for Pathfinder. Both are great adventures, but they're very different. One is an ultra-high-leve...
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Number 14

September 30, 2020
Well, after an exhausting push through this weekend and into this week, I've completed and turned in my Starfinder Adventure Path volume kicking off an as-yet-unannounced Adventure Path. I think it's among the best Starfinder AP volumes I've written; it had the potential for being really scattered and disjointed, but I had a few overall framing things and interconnections that I think tie it all together well. My developer will be the first judge of that, and the players will be the second.

I ...
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Where New Monsters Come From

September 24, 2020
The Pathfinder Bestiary and Pathfinder Bestiary 2 have a ton of great monsters in them. There are old standbys, like giants and golems and froghemoths and stuff, and there are Paizo creations like goblin dogs, reefclaws, and sinspawn. But there are also plenty of brand-new critters in there as well, like the ostrich-like cauthooj and the limb-ripping mukradi. Where do these monsters come from? 

The alphabet.

I'm not just being glib. If you look at the placement of these new monsters--all of whi...
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The Bland Background Makes the Heroes Shine

September 21, 2020
I was talking to another freelancer recently. She was populating a settlement in something she's writing and was asking how two unusual ancestries might interact with each other. I didn't know, but I saw a larger issue and asked how many of the NPCs were human. She said not many, because there are so many interesting ancestries available, and asked how many should be human.

My answer? Just about all of the NPCs should be human. Definitely at least 50 percent. Maybe more like 90 percent. This h...
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Will of PCs

September 15, 2020
I talked recently about removing "the" from your writing to avoid "othering" certain groups, but this is only one of several words I search for when tightening up some text. Here are three more:

Will: RPG writing is in present tense. You don't say, "the count will reveal his plan to the party," or "if the party stops fighting, the ogres will listen to what they have to say." Put these in present tense: "the count reveals his plan to the party," "if the party stops fighting, the ogres listen to...
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The Bricks You Need

September 10, 2020
I'm writing another Starfinder Adventure Path adventure. It's not announced yet, but I don't think I'm doing the company any harm by saying I'm writing for them again. I don't think anyone is betting that Starfinder is going to quit doing Adventure Paths, or that they're going to quit arranging for and assigning them behind the scenes, before a public announcement. So I can't yet say what it is, I can say I'm writing a Starfinder adventure.

I just turned in my milestone--about half my total wo...
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More CUP Updates

September 2, 2020
I wrote recently, right here, about Paizo updating its Community Use Policy (or CUP). This is the policy that lets fans use their rules and their intellectual property, so long as the end user isn't charged for them. Functionally, it's about giving guidelines and comfort to creators of fan-made websites and videos (and other content, but this seems to be their new thrust).

They've made some further changes to it, although the specifics are tucked into a forum post. I want to walk through these...
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Avoid the "The"

August 27, 2020
Here's a quick tip today: I've been learning a lot recently about the phenomenon of "othering," which is setting a specific group apart because of its differences, almost always to treat them badly or dismiss their opinions or values. This is particularly damaging when applied to real-world people, because it's been used to justify all kinds of odious abuses (to ethnic minorities, to the physically or mentally disabled, and so on). Language that "others" is subtle but pervasive.

Here's a trick...
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The Opposite of Balanced Isn't Balanced

August 25, 2020
I'm doing some freelance writing for an upcoming Pathfinder Second Edition book that is going to have lots and lots of spells in it. My assignment is to write lots and lots of spells.

Although I have plenty of neat and thematic new spell ideas, I like to look over existing spells not only to make sure I'm not reinventing the wheel, but to see whether any of them spark any further ideas. I thought I had found a particularly good design space in creating an aggressive opposite of the longstandin...
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Paizo Updates the CUP

August 12, 2020
Paizo has two overall licenses for people to use:

The Compatibility License allows you to make products that use their rules and charge money for them; you can't generally use their intellectual property (proper names, etc.). Those of us producing 3PP (Third-Party Press) materials, like Run Amok Games, use this license. 

The Community Use Policy (or CUP) outlines how you can use their rules and their intellectual property for fan-made stuff. You get to use their intellectual property and even s...
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Six Sentence NPCs

August 7, 2020
Including NPCs in a game seems easy: you just slap a name on a stat block and you're done. This is Gobgor the goblin, who fights the heroes. This is Shopkor the shopkeeper, who sells stuff to the heroes.

I'm not going to get into naming NPCs well; I'm actually not very good at it. But there are easy steps to make any NPC evocative and useful at the table. This is particularly important when you're writing adventures, because the NPCs need to be simple (because some GMs and players will blithel...
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Paizo Licenses, Very Quickly

July 28, 2020
I was explaining the differences between the two licenses Paizo offers to a friend of mine the other day, and I thought a quick summary of them would be helpful.

The Compatibility License is for professional publishers who want to make money from their products. This lets you use the Pathfinder (or Starfinder, which has its own similar license) rules and claim compatibility with the game. You don't get to use any intellectual property (or, properly, "Product Identity") in them. So you can writ...
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Sandbox Adventures in Pathfinder 2E and D&D 5E

July 21, 2020
There are not a lot of rules similarities between Pathfinder Second Edition and Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, but I've recently noticed one very significant similarity when designing adventures for each system.

They both usually handle sandbox adventures very well--with certain limits.

I've talked about sandbox adventures before; they're the kind of adventures where the heroes can go anywhere they want in a large area and follow up on whichever leads strike their fancy. It's a lot of choice...
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How the Adventure Went Down

July 14, 2020
I posted last Friday about how I was going to write a 5,000-word adventure over the weekend. How did it go? Somewhere right between "okay" and "good." Here's the rundown.

As I mentioned, I knew that the introduction would be about 500 words (it's 430) and the final ambush encounter would be about 1,000 words (it's 1,130). On Saturday, I wrote all of that, then I started writing in more detail about the ogre keep. (Remember, the middle part of my adventure was divided up into "ogre keep" and "s...
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A 5,000 Word Adventure This Weekend

July 10, 2020
Happy Friday! This weekend, I'm writing a 5,000-word adventure. It's for a really neat project, and I'm collaborating with some fun people. I thought it might be helpful to let you know my process. Rather than, "eh, it'll get done this weekend," I'm being quite rigorous about preparation and planning the execution. Here's how I'll do it.

Understand the Parameters. I already know the adventure is for 5,000 words, is for Pathfinder Second Edition, and is fundamentally about attacking a caravan o...
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Podcasting Your Games, Legally Speaking

July 8, 2020
Here's a slight deviation from my standard "so you're an RPG writer" advice, but it touches on the two pillars of my professional life: gaming and the law.

There's been a big push in actual-play podcasting in the last few years. I'm even part of one myself (it's an awesome Starfinder campaign, and you can find our episodes here). With more people meeting virtually, I've heard more people considering recording and uploading their games as actual-play podcasts. This is fun, and the tech availabl...
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Another Adventure Path Kicks Off!

June 27, 2020
I've just finished an important work project, although it's something I can't talk much about just yet. We've announced our upcoming three-part Adventure Paths: the dungeon-themed Abomination Vaults Adventure Path, which I'm developing, and the martial-arts-tournament-themed Fists of the Ruby Phoenix Adventure Path, which my friend and coworker Patrick is developing. As will surprise no one, I've been hard at work putting together the outline for the Adventure Path after that one, which we ha...
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Into the Dungeon!

June 24, 2020
I recently contributed to an awesome project that is Kickstarting now. The Book of Dungeon Encounters is a collection of system-neutral dungeon encounters you can drop into any dungeon setting. If you like creepy, cool, fun, puzzling, or challenging dungeon encounters, don't miss out on this! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/philipreed/the-book-of-dungeon-encounters-for-use-with-fantasy-rpgs/
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Stumbling Blocks for New Adventure Authors

June 22, 2020
An online-only PaizoCon had a few wrinkles, but one of the best parts was being able to set up an "Ask Me Anything" thread for anyone to drop in and ask me questions about what I do. One question I received from Andrew Mullen strikes me as a great question a lot of people probably have:

What's the biggest—or what're the co-biggest—stumbling blocks you see from new adventure authors?

And here's my (mostly unedited) response to that:

Erratic party assumptions! Too many new writers assume all p...

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How I Develop, 3 of 3: What I Do to Your Words

June 9, 2020

Professionally, I’m a game developer. I focus on developing adventures. That means outlining adventures and assigning writing to freelancers, checking freelancers’ milestones, and developing the freelancer’s text before sending it to the editors. Let’s break those three things down! Finally, the development.

This is the bulk of my job. I’m taking turnover text that you, the freelancer, give to me, and I’m giving it a thorough edit, called a development edit (to distinguish it from ...


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How I Develop, Part 2 of 3: Your Milestone

May 28, 2020

Professionally, I’m a game developer. I focus on developing adventures. That means outlining adventures and assigning writing to freelancers, checking freelancers’ milestones, and developing the freelancer’s text before sending it to the editors. Let’s break those three things down! Second, the milestone.

What A Milestone Is. A milestone is a check-in point where I’ve asked you, the freelancer, to turn in about half your word count. This is to make sure you’re on track, and to make...


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How I Develop, Part 1 of 3: Forging the Outline

May 25, 2020

Professionally, I’m a game developer. I focus on developing adventures. That means outlining adventures and assigning writing to freelancers, checking freelancers’ milestones, and developing the freelancer’s text before sending it to the editors. Let’s break those three things down! First, the outline. 

I work with a lot of internal stakeholders to come up with a project outline that I give to my freelancers. Because I work on the Pathfinder Adventure Path line, the projects I’m outl...


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What Actual Feedback Looks Like

May 22, 2020
So, I wanted to talk about how feedback a developer gives you as a freelancer is going to range from the exceptionally specific to the exceptionally general. I know when I give feedback, this is nearly always the case. And I thought an example would be helpful, but I don't feel comfortable sharing the feedback I've given to others. Instead, here's some feedback I got myself!

Back in 2013 / 2014, I wrote The Choking Tower, the third adventure in the Iron Gods Adventure Path. James Jacobs gave m...
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What Makes a Good Milestone

May 19, 2020
If you're writing for RPGs, it's pretty likely you'll get asked to turn over a "milestone" about halfway through the process. This is basically a midpoint check-in, where you show you've got about half the word count completed. But a milestone can and should be a greater opportunity for that for you, the freelancer, to interface with your developer. What makes a good milestone?

* Word Count. What is "about half" of your word count? Anywhere near 50 percent is fine, so long as it's showing good...
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That's So Platinum

May 14, 2020
I was looking over a conversation about the "metal levels" on DriveThruRPG, the most significant site for digital RPG sales. These levels (Copper, Silver, Gold, and so on) correspond with sales: higher sales get rarer metals.

I've felt lucky if some of my third party press products even get Copper rated, but I was surprised to find that I actually have three Platinum products! All three adventures I wrote for the D&D Adventurer's League campaign (Beneath the Fetid Chelimber, The Seer, and Quel...
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Another Solo Adventure!

May 13, 2020
I've released my next solo adventure, a conversion to my popular Night of the Skulltaker for solo play. You can get it right here!
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Bells and Whistles

May 12, 2020
As an adventure writer, I like to think that the story comes first, and is the most vital thing I'm providing. Sure, there are monsters, but you can go get those stats in a monster book (whether a Monster Manual, a Bestiary, or an Alien Archive). The same with traps; something in the core rulebook is something you can look up yourself. Maps are often really important to tell the story, but you can draw those out yourself, or print the ones I include in the adventure. You've got all the tokens...
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About Me


I'm Ron Lundeen, developer for Paizo, Inc., active gamer, and RPG freelancer. I've recently had products in print for Paizo, Wizards of the Coast, Raging Swan, Open Design, Headless Hydra Games, and Rite Publishing. I'm still taking freelance writing assignments, but also focusing on writing for Run Amok Games.


 

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