Monsterology 101: Flavor

Insert Homer Simpson drooling noise here . . .

If a stat block is the meat and potatoes of monster design, then flavor text is all the fixings. Sure, the stats give you the details to run an encounter with a certain monster, something I think most would consider the key component to D&D, but flavor text brings monsters to life, puts them in context, and bombards the DM with ideas on how to use the beast.

At least good flavor text should . . .

As a DM, you will rarely write whole chunks of flavor text. However, paying attention to the intended effects of well-written monster fluff should inform any homebrew monsters you craft.

Audience

Paging through a monster manual, you should keep in mind the intended audience – DMs. To fully capture a DM’s attention monsters should have killer art, fun mechanics, and excellent flavor text. If you sample the 4e Monster Vault, you’ll notice an increased emphasis on this third pillar of monster presentation.

Flavor text serves three important functions:

  1. Explains how the creature interacts with the players during an encounter:
    1. EXAMPLE: “Thus, it [a lich] surrounds its lair with deadly traps, arcane tests and riddles, and forbidding terrain.”
  2. Gives the DM context of how the entry fits in with the world around it:
    1. EXAMPLE: “Medusas believe that their killing gaze is evidence that they are destined to rule over other humanoids.”
  3. Gives the DM mini-hooks and potential plot ideas:
    1. EXAMPLE: “Hard substances, such as valuable metals and gems, remain within their [purple worms’] bodies for weeks or months. A brave or foolhardy treasure hunter might attempt to hunt down a purple worm in hopes of claiming the treasures within its gizzard.”

All of these samples were found by just randomly opening to a section of the Monster Vault. And while there is some overlap between the three functions, they exist to serve their audience in the broadest way possible. A DM with a well-written monster knows how to run it, where/how it can be found, and some possible adventures/plots that may center around it.

At Your Table

Chances are you’re not going to write up 500 words of fluff for your homebrew monsters. So how does flavor text apply for your home game? Keeping with our list theme, there are two ways:

  1. If you are using a published monster, it doesn’t hurt to be a close reader. That is to say, go through the fluff text with the three functions in mind. If you are primed to find them, they will stand out for you and, hopefully, help you use the monsters in a fun, logical manner.
  2. If you are creating your own monster or enemy, consider how they fulfill each of the three aforementioned expectations of good flavor text. Doing so, even with a sentence or phrase for each, will turn a pile of stats into something that could have longer lasting implications.

Next column, I’d love to go through an example of creating a monster with these ideas in mind. But, I’d like your help. In the comments below, can you give me a sentence to fulfill one of the three flavor text functions? Avoid naming your monster in the sentence. Next column, I’ll take the best, tie them together, and we will create new baddie.

Until Then.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Matthew A. C. is a struggling writer, professor, family man, and gamer. Yes, he struggles at all those things. However, he's been fortunate enough to publish a few things here and there. You can find his RPG stuff at RPG Now and follow him on twitter (@thelastrogue).


Share
Tags: , , ,

About Matthew A. C.

Matthew A. C. is a struggling writer, professor, family man, and gamer. Yes, he struggles at all those things. However, he's been fortunate enough to publish a few things here and there. You can find his RPG stuff at RPG Now and follow him on twitter (@thelastrogue).
Subscribe to Comments RSS Feed in this post

One Response

  1. Pingback: Arcane SpringboardNo Gravatar

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
*