So You Want to Hunt Some Monsters

So, what’s this Monster Hunter thing everyone’s been talking about?

Oh, yeah. That.

Okay, so y’all are out there partying up and taking down giant monsters so you can harvest their scales to make new weapons and armor which you can then use to kill even bigger monsters so you can use their scales to make new weapons and armor which you can then use to kill even BIGGER monsters and so on and so forth in perpetuity until the end of time.

Yeah, I know it’s WAY more fun than it sounds. I’ve been playing it, too. And I’ve been puzzling out how to integrate monster-hunter style gameplay into D&D since I got the third one on my 3DS years ago. It could even be said that this blog’s name is partially inspired by the Monster Hunter series. And I think I’ve finally got some ideas.

The Grind Makes All the Difference

I joked about it above, but one of the hallmarks of the Monster Hunter franchise is the grind. It’s hunting the same monster over and over and over again until you have all the monster parts you need to make all the weapons and armor you want to make. The fun of that is in learning the monster’s attacks and patterns, and learning new and interesting ways to hunt them. Developing your own techniques and mastering the systems is hugely rewarding.

D&D has some measure of this as well, but to a MUCH lesser degree. Players coming up with their own battle tactics and mastering the game system is definitely fun, but the imprecise nature of the game—that is, rolling dice to determine success—inherently reduces this sense of accomplishment. A random 1 can ruin a great tactic and a random 20 can make a bad one successful.

So, how do we mitigate this? We do two things: reduce the grind, and make it more interesting. We’ll talk about reducing the grind later when we get to crafting and materials. For now, though, let’s talk about making it more interesting.

Something inherent to game design is combining challenges. It’s something that always gets talked about in video game design, but not so much in tabletop gaming. Everyone’s always talking about their cool boss monster, or the epic climb up a dangerous mountain, or how they had to evacuate a burning church. And that’s all good, but we should ALSO be talking about that time the cool boss monster attacked while the PCs were trying to evacuate the burning church, and how they had to divide their attention between putting out the fire, getting the innocents out of harm’s way, and fending off the boss monster all at once.

Grinding monsters in a D&D game should be similar. You shouldn’t be able to go to the same area and fight the same legendary owlbear over and over and over again until you have enough beaks to make that cool purse you wanted. Monsters don’t respawn in D&D. You killed that owlbear. It’s gone. You’re going to have to go find another one. And this new one might live up in the cold mountains, where you’ll have to deal with three feet of snow and the serious risk of an avalanche if you make too much noise.

Grinding monsters in D&D should present new challenges, rather than the mastery of old ones.

The Monsters in Question

This is actually the easiest part of the game. In Monster Hunter, the monsters in question are bosses. They have buckets of health, a variety of attacks, and require mastery of game systems in order to defeat.

In other words: they’re legendary creatures. And that’s how you should treat monsters in a Monster Hunter campaign. Every single one is a legendary creature, able to act between every character’s turn in order to present a real threat to the party. If you’ve never designed a legendary creature before, I wrote an article about it a while ago. Take a look: The Legendary Elephant in the Room.

The monsters should also have a variety of attacks that create interesting situations for the player characters: breathing a cone of cold that freezes the ground and makes it slick, eating other creatures to regain hit points at the cost of its own mobility, armoring itself in mud to grant itself temporary hit points. It’s easy to make a challenging fight by making a creature that just deals a ton of damage. It’s much more interesting when the creature is challenging in different and creative ways.

Finally, monsters should be tiered. I’ll go into this in more detail later, but the tiers should coincide with magic item tiers to make things simple: Common, Uncommon, Rare, Very Rare, and Legendary. In general, the tiers should apply to characters of the same level as magic items of that tier, aside from common monsters, which should act as general fodder as the players increase in level.

You can (and should) even use these tiers in your campaign setting to help convey the danger and import of different monsters.

MONSTER TIERS
Monster Tier Character Level
Uncommon 1-4
Rare 5-10
Very Rare 11-16
Legendary 17-20

 

Side-Note: Breaking Monster Parts

One of the cooler parts of fighting the giant monsters in Monster Hunter is the ability break their horns, wings, tails, and other parts in order to disable certain abilities that they might possess. A manticore can’t throw spikes at you if it’s missing its tail, and a dragon can’t fly if its wings are shredded. This can drastically change a fight for both the monsters and the players, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it here.

D&D unfortunately doesn’t have an inherent system to help us along in this aspect. So, instead, I present this one:

Monsters have between 1-5 breakable parts which you can target. Each of these parts should be tied to an ability the monster possesses. And that ability should be hampered when a part is broken.

Monster parts have roughly 1/5 as many hit points as the monster itself. Larger or more hardy parts might have additional hit points or resistance to damage. Dealing damage to a monster part also deals the same amount of damage to the monster itself.

Targeting a monster part with an attack imposes disadvantage on the attack roll.

But What About the Hunting?

No one in a Monster Hunter campaign should have proficiency in the Survival skill. Because EVERYONE should have proficiency in the survival skill. The PCs’ whole job is to hunt monsters, so the skill that does the hunting is effectively made irrelevant.

Instead, when characters hunt, they must discover signs of the monster’s passing: tracks, claw marks, scales, spoor, etc. Once the characters find enough signs (determined by the monster’s tier), they discover the monster.

MONSTER SIGNS BY TIER
Monster Tier Signs Required
Common 1
Uncommon 3
Rare 5
Very Rare 6
Legendary 7

 

To find signs, the group rolls a d20—their Tracking Roll—and consults the table below.

TRACKING ROLL RESULTS
d20 result Consequence
1 No signs, major complication
2-9 No signs, minor complication
10-17 1 sign, minor complication
18-19 1 sign
20 2 signs, discovery

 

Complications and Discoveries

If a character rolls anything less than an 18 on their Tracking Roll, they suffer complications on their hunt. These complications can be either minor or major, depending on the result. Likewise, if a group rolls a 20 on their Tracking roll, they come across a discovery that can seriously aid them in their hunt.

Minor Complications include things that might require a skill challenge or saving throw, like climbing a cliff to follow the trail or crossing a poisonous bog. They might also include minor combats against weaker foes. In general, a minor complication should cost a few resources and be a minor setback, but shouldn’t stop the PCs dead in their tracks.

Major Complications, however, could end a hunt immediately. A major complication might include a monster far beyond the PCs’ ability discovering and attacking them, or a near-impassable barrier. They shouldn’t be impossible to overcome but should require MUCH more effort from the PCs.

Discoveries are major benefits to the PCs. These could be healing springs that refresh exhausted characters, a grove of berries that grant beneficial effects in combat, a game trail that gives advantage on future Tracking rolls, or anything else the DM might come up with. The PCs might even find the monster early with this sort of result.

Harvesting Materials and Crafting Stuff

And now we get to the core of the thing. Because if I just wanted to fight cool boss monsters, I’d be playing Shadow of the Colossus, Furi, or Titan Souls. But I’m playing Monster Hunter. Because in Monster Hunter, you don’t just hunt the giant monsters. You also get to carve them up and make cool weapons and armor out of their body parts. And any Monster Hunter campaign worth its salt is going to keep this same aspect.

However, some changes need to be made in the context of a D&D game. As mentioned above: fighting the same monster over and over again until you have enough ettin toes to craft the ettin greaves will take forever and get boring. Especially if Dave is the only one who even WANTS to craft the ettin gear in      the first place, and everyone else would rather hunt other things.

Therefore, some changes need to be made to the harvesting and use of materials. Instead of having specific and complex recipes that require you to hack up the same monster multiple times, we’re simplifying things.

Whenever players go out and hunt a monster, they gather enough materials to craft ONE full set of armor, ONE shield, or ONE weapon. You can divide these up as much as you like into scales, claws, eyes and sphincters, but the point is that all of these parts are then used to craft a single weapon, shield, or set of armor.

This does three things:

First, it creates a system where someone at the table is likely getting a cool new magic item every session. Maybe multiple characters, depending on how many hunts you can get through during each session.

Second, it significantly reduces the grinding aspect of the game. Since you no longer need to collect specific materials to craft things, you’re not disappointed when you harvest the wrong items and you have to go through the whole process again.

And third, it helps maintain a believable world. It’s just generally accepted in Monster Hunter that you can only harvest three materials from a monster after a hunt. You can gain additional materials by severing tails or breaking parts, but it’s basically random whether or not you get what you want from a given monster. In D&D, that makes little to no sense. Sure, you can say that a large portion of the monster’s scales were ruined by combat, or its claws were broken or whatever. But the fact is that most of a monster is believed to remain intact after a battle, and only allowing three random loot drops strains credulity. By transforming materials into a lump sum of loot, you can establish that the PCs harvested most, if not all of the monster, and they can take all of that material to the local smith for crafting.

Crafting itself shouldn’t take long, either. In this sort of campaign, access to a master smith should be a given, and crafting a new weapon or set of armor shouldn’t take more than a day or two. The whole point of this sort of campaign is immediate reward. Making players wait a month or more for their weapon or shield to be completed after they already went through hell hunting the monster is just punishment.

Exceptions to the Rule

In the case of especially big, dangerous, and important monsters, the players should be able to have multiple items crafted. HOWEVER, these bonus items should be specific, and should be connected to specific monster parts. A bullette broodqueen’s shell can make a nice set of armor or a powerful weapon, but her dorsal ridge can ALSO be crafted into a magnificent and unique shield.

And unlike standard monster weapons and armor, these unique options should probably take a week or more to craft. They should really be a big deal, acting both as equipment and status symbols.

The Actual Equipment

Okay, so now we know how to craft the equipment, but what does it actually do? This part can be as easy or difficult as you like, depending on your personal level of dedication.

Before anything else, I’d divide equipment up into tiers, just like we did with our monsters. Obviously, a monster from a particular tier can be crafted into a single item of an equivalent tier.

Now, what do those items do? That’s on you. Personally, to save time, I’d look to the Dungeon Master’s Guide for ideas, or just rip things off wholesale and change the names. A Dagger of Venom can easily be re-skinned as an Ettercap Fang Dagger, and a Flame Tongue looks an awful lot like a Red Dragonbone Longsword. Let players pick what kind of weapon or armor they want, and then just assign an appropriate magical benefit and be on your way. Except, of course, for those unique items I mentioned above. Those should probably take a little more care.

Don’t Forget About the Story

Monster Hunter might be a series which has, across time, been mostly about the gameplay of teaming up with friends and hunting down giant creatures. But the more modern games have taken it one step further and introduced a story to the grind. Monster Hunter: World’s story is even kind of interesting, as you track down a gigantic elder dragon as it moves deeper and deeper into the New World. It has a variety of interesting characters, cinematic moments, upsets and twists and turns. All the hallmarks of a good story.

And you shouldn’t forget that yourself. As you throw together your legendary beasts and create your cool monstrous weaponry, remember that there should be a story to all of this as well. I mean, the story should probably have something to do with hunting, but it should be there. Characters should be seeking vengeance against beasts that attacked their home, making friends with the various other hunters characters they meet, and uncovering deep and ancient mysteries. We’ve been talking a lot about the mechanics of hunting giant monsters for sport…

But this is still D&D.

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