Creating Horror in Pathfinder

During my current pathfinder campaign I’ve run into a problem I’m sure most game masters run into when they want to have a single opponent be dangerous enough to confront an entire party: Action economy.

If you are new to this sort of discussion action economy is somewhat self explanatory, being how many actions your players can exchange for effects in the game vs how many actions your single monster can use to purchase effects. If you give your Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG) a huge list of spells and a cool basic attack, and a bunch of other special abilities, your players will likely only see 3-6 actions from you, the average length of time a combat takes. In the same amount of time your players will dish up 18-36 actions if you have 6 players like I do.

I’ve created a monster template that can be applied to existing pathfinder monsters that at least partially addresses this. Really it’s intended to be used in the creation of new bizarre creatures, but a monster template gives me some flexibility if I don’t have enough prep time before my next gaming session, and provides tools to you! Keep in mind this template is part of a larger modification to the pathfinder game I have in the works, and things like sanity damage will be explained at a later time. If you are looking to spice up a session of normal pathfinder you can try this out ignoring the sanity damage and see how the players respond. I haven’t included how much this template would affect the CR of a monster because it is a really enormous boost to the monsters survivability and threat, but doesn’t affect how easy it is to hit and damage or affect with spells. After the template I will discuss my intention behind these effects, and how I intend the system to work once all the pieces are made and fit together.

Horror Template

This template can be applied to existing monsters from the pathfinder universe, but takes a great deal of effort compared to other templates. This template is intended to be used on solo encounter monsters only.

  • Monster Hitpoints become the maximum amount for their hit dice.

  • Monsters gain a number of temporary hit points equal to their current hit points. These can’t be healed as normal for temporary hit points, but neither do they wear off. As temporary hit points these must be taken off first when damaged.

  • Monsters gain a horror pool of 5 plus one per hit dice.

  • Monster abilities, attacks and defenses now leave clues anywhere they are used. Clues have a perception DC to be spotted, modified the same as using the survival skill to track. Clues also have a deduction DC that lists the appropriate skill. If players succeed in deducing the meaning of a clue they are given information about the monster and the monster’s maximum horror pool is reduced by one or more.

Horror points

Horror points serve a variety of purposes. Monsters deal sanity damage equal to their horror points on basic attacks, as part of damaging spells and spell like abilities, and as an additional effect whenever they cause the shaken, frightened, panicked, or confused condition.

Monsters regain a horror point any time they kill an NPC or PC, and any time they successfully inflict the shaken, frightened, panicked or confused condition on someone, but only once per round in this case.

Monsters can spend horror points to take additional actions in combat. Swift actions cost 1 point, move actions cost 2 points and standard actions cost 3. Monsters can spend these points as a free action, but only once per turn.

Clue System

Monsters now leave clues for players to find. Usually this coincides with their abilities, attacks and defenses but can also directly reference habits, lairs and other information. Deducing clues is an important part of stopping a horrific monster as it dramatically reduces the sanity damage they incur. Generally there should be enough clues for any monster to have their horror pool reduced to zero, but for storytelling purposes making all of these available in the first encounter is going to make for a short lived monster.

Example Clue:

Three fingered claws – This monster’s claws leave three marks spaced roughly 1 inch apart, gouging wood and marking stone, shredding flesh and bone alike. Perception DC 10. Deduction (Knowledge: Mutant) DC 15. Deduction will indicate this creature is a mutation of a three toed sloth that must be in the range of six or seven feet high at the shoulder, and reduce the creature’s horror rating by one.

What does it mean?

 Maximum Hit Points and Temporary Hit Points – These were added to create progression in encountering the monster. Players enjoy seeing their actions have an effect, and this permanent damage to the monster is a way of giving them that. Also, this reinforces that the monster is dangerous, it lets them shrug off attacks that would normally kill a lesser creature.

 Horror Pool – These are the direct attempt at combating the problem of action economy. It gives monsters, and the game master, an interesting choice: Do you keep your horror pool up for maximum sanity damage and try and drive the players insane, or do you spend your horror points to act more in a round?

Clue System – This allows some counterplay and gives players a reason to run from monsters. If they haven’t reduced a monster’s horror pool they know they are likely to be driven mad or killed, and gives them a great deal more incentive to take their time with their enemies. It is designed with the intention that you will play cat and mouse with the player, and when the monster spends it’s horror it gives the game master a reason to pull their monster out of combat and save it for another day, or to play guerilla, killing off weaker opponents and driving terror into it’s victims to regain some horror.

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