Around Halloween, I decided to do something pretty terrifying for a first-time D&D GM…I decided to home brew. The only other system I have any definitive grasp on is Numenera and so I latched on to that familiarity and brought back one of my favourite monsters from it. This process taught me the value of both systems and where my current strengths and failures may lie.
“Skulking from shadow to shadow, the slidikin dwell on the fringes of human society. They are bizarre creatures, their origins a complete mystery. While one might pass as a human from a distance, their chalk-white skin, lack of eyes or nose, and far-too-many mouths ensure that a close examination would prove them otherwise. In people’s rare, brief, furtive, and frankly disturbing interactions with slidikin, they have made passing references to “the hideous game.” This seems to be an incongruous competition among slidikin (and only slidikin) that involves dark deeds—theft, kidnapping, mutilation, and murder. (It likely involves other things as well, but no one knows what they are, focusing only on those activities that affect humanity.)“ [The Ninth World Bestiary, Monte Cook Games, 2014]
‘There ain’t no strings on me’
I adore the Slidikin in the Numenera setting, as the system itself gives the Slidikin a more sinister tone while not creating a creature that’s physically threatening. It allows the creature to present threats in the environment directly through actual play via narrative and not just through fights. In Dungeons and Dragons, however, in my limited experience, a ‘narrative’ ‘threat’ so to speak is nigh on impossible without mechanising the creature. I have been so used to flowing with the narrative with Numenera that stopping to make that dice roll, or that ability check has never factored in before and I’ve found it a huge stumbling block.
Although I have now quite a considerable collection of 5E games under my belt, in reality, that’s only 2 and a half months of games, that’s around 70+ hours of game time. It’s been enough to get me comfortable with the surface mechanics of the system but 5E feels more like trying to work Babbage’s Difference Engine with one arm tied behind your back and the threat of it exploding at any moment. Okay, that image is a little dramatic but you get my point. Numenera for some odd reason feels more like spreading butter with a hot knife. Again a stupid analogy but Numenera doesn’t feel like as much work, it doesn’t make me panic. My players are adepts at D&D at least compared to myself so I feel extra pressure to work hard to do a bloody good job. That pressure could be put on by myself. Like I said, Numenera for me is easy, D&D is harder but I want to be at that same level where it feels comfortable.
The Six Million Dollar Monster
The first of this process to lay a flag at a system’s summit is making it my own. I did it with the setting, a player’s guide to it, and even my own set of spreadsheets for notes and extra tidbits but this was more involved. I wasn’t just plucking things out of thin air and reasoning why they exist. I had a model to follow, a theme to guide this creature’s new existence. Mouths, aberrations and laughter were the main inspirations behind the Frankenstein’s Monster creation. Ten points for guessing where they come from…
Spoilers, it’s a Nothic and Gibbering Mouther. At the time I wanted to create the Slidikin a CR2 creature. I used Kobold Encounter Calculator to quickly search through and landed on those two inspirational choices. The Nothic had the right kind of physical attacks compared to the Mouther. The Mouther had the Gibbering trait. Of course just mashing the two together isn’t all that’s too it. The AC, HP, speed and stat scores went with the Nothic. The distribution of stats, skills, senses, languages, Telepathy and Innate Spellcasting of Tasha’s Hideous Laughter was thematic and added on top.
I wanted Tasha’s in specifically. It provided a source of crowd control. At that point in time, I was still adjusting to combat and I had been finding that throwing a bunch of low-levels inane and boring, while singular monsters ended up getting taken down quite easily. As a GM I felt like I wanted them to bleed or at least take some form of damage and well it worked.
The Field Test
When it came to game time I set them up in a slow reveal. Madness and laughter being discovered very early on while travelling. The group ended up discovering a campsite with bodies placed in weird and impossible places. There was also a diary documenting the decent into hysterics while travelling along the same path as the group and then I had the Slidikin cast Tasha’s from a distance in the shadows to ramp up the paranoia. Laughter pervades throughout, along with a polyphony of voices. Tension had been set up, the plot line aimed right in my sights and then combat began.
The creatures were hiding in the trees but were soon spotted. Gibbering managed to turn allies on each other and the relatively low DC did not stop it from regularly occur. PC’s ended up going in the wrong direction or attacking each other. Effectively removing them from combat for a round. The spellcasting did what was intended, however, it was easily shaken off. What did the most damage, however, was the multiattack. With multiple enemies each hitting twice alongside CC, made the encounter extremely difficult. If I remember rightly a player was up and down constantly in that fight. It’s hard to strike the right balance here. Thematically it all played out as intended, leaving a narrative ‘hook’ to allow them to be reintroduced. Mechanically, however, they were a little overpowered, perhaps due to their numbers and CC ability. The players enjoyed the fight but did find it harder than I expected. I personally struggle with combat sometimes, making things more interesting, especially on a live-stream is daunting. I suppose it comes with practice and experience.
Have you ever homebrewed a creature? If so what, why, how and where from? Do you have any tips?