One of my all time favorite resources, which I’ve never had the chance to put into full use, is the Random Esoteric Creature Generator.
This thin book can replace almost an entire bookshelf of Beastiaries, and is system agnostic to boot. Pathfinder, D&D 5E, whatever you play, you’ll get ideas and some basic stats to go off of.
And what’s even better, they understand what makes fantasy feel fantastical.
How many times have you or your players faced against a monster or group of goblins/orcs/etc that you’ve seen thousands of times before, and just felt a little bored with it all? Does the enemy being goblins/orcs/etc actually add anything to the experience that them being a different tribe or culture of humans wouldn’t?
To quote from the Introduction:
The monsters, a critical piece to any game that strives for the fantastic, have lost all sense of wonder. The common foes have bled into every other role-playing game, into video games, into ‘literature’. A [GM] can come up with interesting settings, and players will react appropriately. A [GM] can come up with all sorts of plots, mundane and sublime, and players will react appropriately. A [GM] can devise fiendishly clever traps and players will exercise due caution. But no matter how obliquely a monster is described, you can be sure the second that description ends, players will act with almost-robotic predictability in their approach to fighting the monster.
When was the last time you or your players have ever fought something that you had no clue what the heck it was?
Remember how exciting that fight felt?
The sense of discovery?
The sense of wonder?
This book, with a series of tables, gives you the means to inject that wonder into your games once again.
Let’s try it out.
I’ll be leaving out the base stats that the tables adjust, and just going with what the tables give me to work with.
First up, basic body shape!
I rolled 2d10, and got a 9 (3+6), which gives me:
This creature walks upright on two limbs, and has two limbs it uses for basic manipulation.
Next, basic characteristics!
I rolled 2d10 again, and got 10 (1+9). So far my rolls are pretty middle-of-the-road, let’s see what that gives me.
This creature is cold-blooded and covered in scales. It will have a maw full of sharp teeth, giving it a bite attack. The creature also gains a bite attack and a 1d8 AC bonus.
Looks like we’re going with reptile people so far. Either something similar to the lizardfolk, or a good start on some reptilian conspiracy theories.
But wait! There’s a section for fleshing out the basic characteristics, too! For reptiles, I roll a 1d6, with a result of 3:
I feel like I might be giving you guys a bad example so far. I mean, there’s turtles and alligators in there! (and a freaking ton of mammals, plants, birds, and fish, too)
But oh well. On with the experiment! Next up we have size, 2d10 once again! I roll a 12 (8+4), finally getting at least a little bit further away from the middle.
Giant humanoid lizards. Okay, interesting. Kinda hoping I would have rolled the option labeled “Run! It’s Godzilla!”, but I digress.
Now we determine how the creature moves. 2d10 once more. 9 (1+8). I think my dice are cursed, and will be switching to other dice for the next roll. Regardless, my result of 9 gives me a movement option that reads:
This is the standard movement method suggested by the creature’s basic shape and features. If it looks like a creature would therefore have no real movement method, then it is immobile.
So, if you rolled up a plant, you could have a haunted tree or shrubbery. (Ni!)
Okay. Attack methods. With a new die this time. 1d10.
I swear I’m actually rolling real dice, here, readers.
The creature merely mauls its prey with clubbing blows, doing standard damage.
NOW, things are about to get INTERESTING.
Because now we start getting to the fun features. Distinctive Features, to be exact.
And now the tables start getting large. d% time!
Changing dice again, just to be sure.
04! Yes! I knew my original dice wouldn’t fail me!
The creature is continually covered in blood, which it secretes much in the same way people sweat. Every movement the creature makes, every attack it makes, and every blow it takes will spatter blood around the battlefield.
Interesting enough for ya?
Kinda reminds me of the Horned Lizard’s defense of squirting blood out of its eyes at predators to scare them away, because they’re just that metal.
We have so far put together a Large-sized, humanoid lizard that walks around, biting and bashing people as its form of attack, and on top of all that it’s constantly soaked in blood, drenching everything around it as it swings its limbs in long giant-sized arcs for each bash attack.
The players are going to walk away from this looking like they got in a fight with a lawnmower. Just imagine what tracking this creature down will seem like, with attack scenes covered in enough blood to make any CSI veteran take a step back, before the players really discover where it all comes from.
This is the good stuff, right here. And that table goes on for 4 pages total, filled with similarly awesome and weird entries.
But enough of that.
What good is all that blood if the creature doesn’t do something? (Aside from freak the players out, of course)
Next on the list is Special Abilities, with 2d% this time! 26+49=75
Immune to Acid, Half Damage
This creature takes half damage from Acid effects, or no damage if it makes its save.
Not quite what I think of when I hear “immune”, but eh.
I should also point out that I am using this Special Abilities section incorrectly. There’s a means to determine how many special abilities the creature gets, so it can have none if it’s pretty weak, or get multiple if it’s lucky or pretty tough. And there’s a few doozies, like “Duplicates Upon Being Hit”, or “Damage Does Not Heal”, amid a myriad of other options like “Shape Shifting, One Form” or just “Fairy Glow”.
Now, we didn’t roll anything giving this creature a special attack, but there are plenty of options that do that, and another table to roll on to determine how said attacks are delivered!
Let’s roll on that one just for fun.
2d10, result of 13 (4+9).
The special attack is delivered when the creature hits with one of its normal attacks.
So we have a blood-soaked giant lizard that bites and bashes in a fight.
This leaves the question: how does it fight?
Combat Strategy, d% again, with a result of 28. (Mental note, don’t use these dice in a game anytime soon.)
Inflicted the Most Damage
The creature will always attack the foe that inflicted the most damage to it earlier in the round, or in the prior round depending on how the [GM] handles combat declarations.
If ever there was a Berzerker monster, I’m pretty sure I’ve just rolled one.
Just imagine seeing this thing go wild on the battlefield. And maybe go after any wizards that think fireball is a good idea.
Last table! Motivation!
1d10 rolling a 3. (Definitely need to buy new dice)
The creature is something of a psychic vampire, feeding off of the fear of its victims. If those it attacks show no fear whatsoever ([GM]’s should gauge the player’s reaction to the creature to determine this), the creature will attempt to disengage from combat and escape – there is nothing for it here.
Well that explains all the blood.
So we have a Large-sized lizard-person, constantly soaked in blood and immune/resistant to acid, that wanders around feeding off of fear and then leaving when noone fears it enough.
One thing that this book stresses is that these creatures should be unique in your world, and probably not even given a proper name. Instead aiming for things like “The Beast of Backwater Barrows” or something.
This enhances the experience, making it more memorable and thus more entertaining.
The PCs hear a few rumors, or come across some horrific scene, perhaps a few dead but always some survivors, and begin following the bloody trail, catching clues and snippets of information before they finally track down and confront the creature like nothing they’ve ever seen in any Monster Manual. Once they steel themselves, it suddenly escapes, and they have to hunt it down again.
Once again, I highly recommend you give The Random Esoteric Creature Generator a shot. The book concludes with a few pages discussing how to use the creatures you create to best effect, making your games feel fresh and new again!
This was just one example, there’s all sorts of wild creatures to be rolled up and add some unique experience to your games instead of the usual seen-it-a-hundred-times monsters your players already have memorized.
Instead, give them something they don’t know.
And watch how they react to the unknown for a change.