Here’s a challenge for the reader. How many monsters are there in Lord of the Rings?
Off the top of my head, I count:
- The ringwraiths, of course
- Orcs/goblins (the term is used interchangeably)
- Uruk Hai
- Shelob, the giant spider
- The Balrog
- The squid-thing at the door to Moria
- The flying beasts of the Ringwraiths
- The Ents
Of course, we could add in Gollum, who’s just a degenerate hobbit, elves, dwarves, etc, but in role-playing terms, they’re more properly viewed as races rather than honest-to-goodness Monsters, so I’m not counting them.
That’s ten critters total, including three Unique monsters – Shelob, the Balrog and the squid-thing.
Ten monster types across the most Epic Fantasy Tale ever told. Take a long look at your role-playing books that contain 100’s of beasties in each book, and think about how many you really need to tell a great tale. Pare the list down to just a handful of monsters, then weave a tale around those. Don’t over-egg the game, don’t add in any extra monsters just because you can, but tweak and fine tune the few you’ve selected, customize them, refine them. Look at the Uruk Hai – orcs bred from Human stock instead of elf stock, tougher, more tolerant to sunlight. Make those changes only, until you’ve just enough variety to keep the players on their toes, and no more.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of my TwentyEssentialMonsters, from CR 1/4 to CR21, each of which fills a niche, each one finely customisable, wih plenty of scope to create an infinite number of situations for players.
If I had only these monsters in the game, it would be enough.