Monstrous Physique — Making Monsters, Part 1

Howdy! Last week I stated up a monster, as I am wont to do. This week is different, however. I’ll be going through the process of creating a monster from scratch. I’ll be discussing the whole process as well as offering tips and elements to consider when creating monsters. If you have any questions about making monsters (in either Pathfinder or Starfinder) leave them as a comment here, drop me a line at KnowDirection@hotmail.com, or send them to me on our Discord server. Off we go!

First and foremost, go and check out Kasama the Invincible. (For sake of space, I won’t reproduce her stat block here.) She’s a fun CR 30 kaiju terror that encompasses the majority of what a stat block can feature. There are a few things that don’t show up in the block, but I’ll make mention of those when the time comes. She isn’t the most interesting or unique monster, but is certainly a great example to use for the exact article I want to write.

Now, before you can start, you need an idea. You might just want to make a stronger owlbear or go crazy and make something like a space lich. The sky is the limit, but you need to have a decent idea of what you want. This idea can be fully fleshed out, like knowing you want a CR 15 aberration with spell resistance and the ability to pulse fields of anti-magic energy or it can be simple, like wanting a fire turtle. Without an initial goal, we don’t know where to go, but don’t get too worried if you don’t have it all in mind just yet. I’ve noticed that in the process of creating a creature, I will get ideas to tweak or improve the initial concept. It’s fun, I promise!

The most important rule I can tell you in regards to making a monster from scratch: Don’t sweat the details. A lot of monsters that are created will rarely last longer than a single encounter at the table, let alone be considered for publication. Because of this, I want you to only concern yourself with the key details of your monster: the look, the flavor, and the important mechanics. Anything else isn’t super important. While you can bog yourself down with minutiae such a creature’s bonuses to Knowledge (nature), it really doesn’t matter. Keep all the info you need for running at the table and nothing more. Pathfinder Unchained features rules for simpler stat blocks which work well for that, but that’s something for another time. (Feel free to ask Perram about the Unchained monster rules. He’ll gladly talk about them!

I will be your best friend.

Now let’s assume you are creating a monster with the intent to publish or at the very least, match the quality of published monsters. Great! Where do you start? I would point you in the direction of the Bestiary. Not only is it the gold standard for which all other monsters are based, it also has Table 1–1! “Table 1–1: Monster Statistics by CR” will be something you look at again and again while making monsters. Here’s a handy link to it if you don’t have a Bestiary nearby. This table has the benchmark for general stats like hit points, average damage, save DCs, and so on for a given CR. You can choose a CR and shoot for the respective stats or stat up your monster and then decide what CR matches based on the numbers. Either approach is fine. Keep in mind, that the table in the Bestiary only goes up to CR 20. You’ll have to check out Mythic Adventures to find the numbers for these final 10 CRs. (It’s table 6–8 in that book!)

Speaking of stats, it’s time to pick your creature’s ability scores! For reference, here are Kasama’s final scores:

Str 51, Dex 24, Con 45, Int 12, Wis 23, Cha 18

High Strength and Constitution with a good Dexterity, Wisdom, and Charisma. Neat. How did I come about those numbers, though? Well, here is the first of a few secrets I will reveal to you today: I made them up arbitrarily. Yup. No real rhyme or reason for them, at least, not at first. I know I wanted Kasama to be big and strong, thus the Strength and Constitution. She also seemed like a wise guardian type and so her Wisdom and Charisma were up a bit higher. These scores will all fluctuate as you work to meet the needs of the creature.

As for the exact number themselves? The only hard rule to follow is that there are three odd scores and three even scores. If you check the stats for every non-template, non-race entry in the Bestiaries, they will have three odd and three even scores. That’s just how things are! If you plan to freelance, this is one of those tiny details you have to be aware of. (If you look at my other monsters on this blog, you’ll realize it’s something I wasn’t aware of until recently.)

If you have trouble with deciding a starting array for your creature, you can always look at another monster and use that as a jumping off point. You can even just directly steal another creature’s scores, which is something I do a lot. (You’ll learn that I do this all over the place. Why make something up when someone already did it for you?)

Cheating, lying, and stealing are okay when it’s expected of you.

In this case, Kasama actually began with the ability scores from the original dragon turtle.

Str 27, Dex 10, Con 19, Int 12, Wis 13, Cha 12

(Psst… look! Three odd and three even scores!) I knew early on that I wanted Kasama to be CR 30. As the standard dragon turtle is CR 9, just over a 20 CR difference, let’s toss 20 at every one of its scores (mostly because it’s a nice even number). That gives us this:

Str 47, Dex 30, Con 39, Int 32, Wis 33, Cha 32

As you can see, some of the numbers are close to the final scores while others are way off. That’s fine. This is just another preliminary array. These numbers will change multiple times, but we will stick with these for now.

After you decide your preliminary ability scores, I like to move on to hit dice. Again, it’s hard to know the exact number of hit dice your creature will need. With CR 30 as my target, I figured 30 hit dice is a good place to start. (Table 1–2 actually provides a listing of suggested hit dice, but again this only goes to CR 20. I think we can do okay this way.) With this in mind, we look at Table 1–1’s good friend, Table 1–6! “Table 1–6: Statistics Summary” tells you the Base Attack Bonus, bonus to saves, and feats for a respective number of hit dice. Kasama’s creature type is dragon, as that’s what the dragon turtle is, so she has full BAB progression and good saves all around. With these numbers in hand, let’s put together a rough starting stat block and see what she looks like.

KASAMA THE INCOMPLETE CR 30??
XP 9,830,400
N dragon
Init +10; Senses low-light vision, darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +11
DEFENSE
AC 20, touch 20, flat-footed 10 (+10 Dex)
hp 615 (30d12+420)
Fort +31, Ref +27, Will +28
Immune sleep, paralysis
OFFENSE
Speed 0 ft
Melee attack +0
Ranged attack +0
STATISTICS
Str 47, Dex 30, Con 39, Int 32, Wis 33, Cha 32
Base Atk +30; CMB +48; CMD 68
Feats 15 unassigned feats
Skills 6+Int (+11) per hit dice
Not very exciting, right? It’s cool. This is the skeleton which we will bring Kasama to life. Let me point out a few things before I let you go. This is the barest of stats we can determine based solely on ability scores, hit dice, and creature type. This gives us her initial AC (thanks to her Dex bonus), her hit points (from hit dice and Con), saves, BAB, CMB, CMD, and some extra abilities like her immunities and senses (from creature type). She does not have any attacks, speed entry, or even a size category! These are all things that we will look at a later time.
On my next entry, we will take an in depth look at the Defense and Offense entries of the stat block. Please let me know any specifics you want to hear about or any questions you have on this first entry. In the mean time check out a few PaizoCon sessions from the last years about designing monsters and learn straight from the pros! See you soon!

Luis Loza

Luis Loza is a developer at Paizo, working on the Pathfinder Campaign Setting and Player Companion lines. He's done freelance for Paizo Inc, Legendary Games, Rogue Genius Games, and more third-party publishers. His hobbies include gaming both tabletop and video, making jokes, obsessing over time travel, taking naps with Nova the cat, and walks with Heather the wife. He is eternally plagued with a hunger for tacos.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks this was really helpful!

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