Monday, July 16, 2018

What Are Dungeon Fantasy Monster Classes?

[Now updated with Krommtastic insight...]

A recent conversation with +Douglas H. Cole over at Gaming Ballistic, LLC. about monster classes in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy has had me reexamining how I deal with these. He was surprised that dragons count as Mundane monsters and spoke to Sean Punch about it while working on his upcoming DFRPG adventure, Hall ofJudgement, and what Sean had to say was something like this: Monster class is driven by which spells can affect a given monster.

I think this can be somewhat expanded to include any special abilities (e.g., Animal Empathy, Speak with Plants, Spirit Empathy, etc.) and skills (Animal Handling, I’m looking at you). Even with that said, I found myself really trying to figure out just how certain monster classes were really different than others. Among these are Demon, Divine Servitor, Faerie, Spirit group and the Animal, Dire Animal, Giant Animal, and Hybrid group.

The first group contains a bunch of magical spirits with subtle differences. Demons, Faerie, and Spirits are free-willed; Divine Servitors are not. Ok. They can all be banished, except certain spirits. Sure. They’re all magical. Yeah. Only Faeries are dependent on mana, though. And Demons are always Truly Evil. So each class has a group of features or traits that set it apart from the others. Interesting.

The second group is stranger. Hybrids are affected by a subset of Animal College spells and need a special version of Animal Handling to affect. That is what sets them apart from Animals in general, but what about the normal/Giant/Dire split? DF 2 – Dungeons tells us that Dire Animals are mutated animals and says that Giant Animals are just oversized animals. None of the Animal College spells differentiate between the three classes, and neither does Animal Empathy or Animal Handling. In fact, the only thing that does is Higher Purpose (Slay <Class>). That seems pretty arbitrary, since it’s completely in the GM’s control to just make all animals a single class.
So I decided to overanalyze the crap out of this subject.

And It Begins...

For starters, I figured it would be useful to know what sort of traits make up each existing class, and ultimately broke effects down into the following list:
  • Fauna. Affected by Animal Empathy, Animal Handling, Disguise (Animal), Mimicry, Animal College spells except Hybrid Control, and Repel Hybrids; instead use Control (Animal) and Repel (Animal).
  • Dire. Requires Animal (above). Requires a Naturalist roll to identify. Rolls to influence dire animals are at -5. Cannot be created using Create Animal.
  • Elemental. Affected by Control Elemental and similar spells.
  • Extradimensional. Affected by Banishment.
  • Free-Willed. Not bound in the service of another entity.
  • Fungus. Affected by Fungus spells (Plant Spells, p. 17).
  • Hybrid. Requires Animal. Requires a Naturalist roll to identify. Affected by a special subclass of Animal Handling skills, Hybrid Control, and Repel Hybrids. Unaffected by Control (Animal) and Repel (Animal).
  • Incorruptible. Immune to All Mind Control.
  • Living. Subject to spells that affect the living.
  • Magical. Affected by Seek Magic, Pentagram, and similar spells.
  • Not Living. Not affected by spells that specifically target the living.
  • Flora. Affected by Plant Empathy and Plant College spells.
  • Servant. Bound in the service of another entity.
  • Spirit. Affected by Spirit Empathy and spirit control spells.
  • Truly Evil. Detects as Evil.
  • Turnable. Subject to True Faith.
Each of these covers something from the existing classes, and all of the classes can be comprised from a combination of these different traits, as you’ll see in a little bit. So with this lexicon sorted out, I set proceeded to assign them to the existing monster classes as shown here:
  • Animal. Fauna, Free-Willed, Living.
  • Dire Animal. Fauna, Dire, Free-Willed, Living.
  • Giant Animal. Fauna, Dire, Free-Willed, Living.
  • Construct. Incorruptible, Magical, Not Living, Servant.
  • Demon. Extradimensional, Free-Willed, Magical, Not Living, Truly Evil.
  • Divine Servitor. Extradimensional, Free-Willed, Magical, Not Living.
  • Elder Thing. Free-Willed, Not Living, Truly Evil.
  • Elemental. Elemental, Free-Willed, Magical, Not Living.
  • Faerie. Free-Willed, Living, Magical.
  • Hybrid. Fauna, Free-Willed, Hybrid, Living.
  • Mundane. Free-Willed, Living.
  • Plant. Flora, Free-Willed, Living.
  • Slime. Free-Willed, Fungus, Living.
  • Spirit. Free-Willed, Magical, Not Living, Spirit.
  • Resident Spirit. Free-Willed, Magical, Not Living, Spirit.
  • Extradimensional Spirit. Extradimensional, Free-Willed, Magical, Not Living, Spirit.
  • Undead. Free-Willed, Not Living, Turnable.
So this is kind of interesting. Notice that there is no mechanical difference between Dire and Giant animals or between Spirit and Resident Spirit. I asked Sean about the former, and he said that the only real difference is in description – Dire animals are mutants and Giant animals are, well, giant. The latter I find odd, however. This appeared in DF 9 –Summoners, and the difference between Spirit and Spirit (Resident) is that Spirit also includes Extradimensional Spirits. Since the set of not-Extradimensional, not-Resident spirits is an empty set, I don’t know why there are three classes here. At most, I could see either Resident and Extradimensional spirits or a Spirit class and subclass of Extradimensional ones. I suppose abilities could exist that only affect one of the two subclasses or affect all spirits; to my knowledge, they just don’t yet.

With this done, we have a lexicon of rules effects that can be combined to make various monster classes as we need them. This is more than interesting; it is useful. Now, we can use this to not only define new monster classes as we need them, but we can customize existing classes for our own settings. Let’s try the former first by looking at some classic Dungeons & Dragons monster classes.

From D&D to DF

Beasts are just Animals, so we don’t need anything new for them. Similarly, Aberrations are Elder Things; Celestials are Divine Servitors; Fiends are Demons; Oozes are Slimes; and Constructs, Plants, and Undead have the same names. Elementals add Extradimensional to Elemental, and Fey are basically Faerie, except they gain a dependency on Unspoiled Nature. Then things get stranger. Giants, Humanoids, and many Monstrosities all get lumped into Mundane, with a few Monstrosities being Dire Animals, instead, and perhaps most sadly and strangely, Dragons are also Mundane.

Knowing that, let’s see if we can redefine some of these. For starters, we need to add a new trait to our lexicon: Nature-Dependent – Has Dependency (Unspoiled Nature, Continuous). This lets us define Fey as Free-Willed, Living, Magical, Nature-Dependent. Cool, that’s one. Humanoids are basically the bread and butter of Mundane, so we can just port that directly over – Free-Willed, Living. The same exact description works for Giants. That’s two!

Monstrosities are a bit tougher. In D&D, that’s a catchall category for anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere. super-aggressive mutant animal? Monstrosity! Hybridized owl and bear? Monstrosity! Weird intelligent magical tentacle-panther? Monstrosity! This generality makes it difficult to really slap on a meaningful label that applies to everything in this type. This is, at least in part, why DF splits out Animals and Hybrids. So let’s start by defining what applies to all Monstrosities and then see if we can add in subclasses for finer detail.

So what is our basic Monstrosity? It is Free-Willed and Living for sure. More than that, and we are starting to stray into the dangerously specific, so let’s start looking at basic kinds. Of course we have the typical hybrid creatures like owlbears. These just add Animal and Hybrid to the mix. To preserve the term “Monstrosity”, let’s append it with the parenthetical subclass: Monstrosity (Hybrid). Continuing this way, we see that we also need (Magical) that adds – yep – Magical; (Magical Beast) that adds Fauna and Magical; and (Magical Hybrid), which adds Fauna, Hybrid, and Magical. These, combined with the base definition pretty much encapsulate all Monstrosities.

This just leaves Dragons to be defined. We know they are creatures of magic, but they shouldn’t be so easily thwarted as by a Pentagram spell. They cannot be easily controlled, as by Animal or Hybrid, and they cannot be banished as per Extradimensional. They are Free-Willed and Living. The rest doesn’t really fit. Frankly, there aren’t really any special rules for dragons that don’t apply to other types. So it looks like Dragons are simply Free-Willed and Living. They are spellcasters, but that doesn’t make them Magical. This is counterintuitive, but it follows our lexicon. So asthetic features aside, Dragons do not mechanically differ from Humanoids in that Humanoids at all.

In summary, Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition monster types ported to Dungeon Fantasy are as follows:
  • Aberration. Free-Willed, Not Living, Truly Evil.
  • Beast. Fauna, Free-Willed, Living.
  • Celestial. Extradimensional, Free-Willed, Magical, Not Living.
  • Construct. Incorruptible, Magical, Not Living, Servant.
  • Dragon. Free-Willed, Living.
  • Fey. Free-Willed, Living, Magical.
  • Fiend. Extradimensional, Free-Willed, Magical, Not Living, Truly Evil.
  • Giant. Free-Willed, Living.
  • Humanoid. Free-Willed, Living.
  • Monstrosity. Free-Willed, Living.
  • Monstrosity (Hybrid). Fauna, Free-Willed, Hybrid, Living.
  • Monstrosity (Magical Beast). Fauna, Free-Willed, Living, Magical.
  • Monstrosity (Magical Hybrid). Fauna, Free-Willed, Hybrid, Living, Magical.
  • Monstrosity (Magical). Free-Willed, Living, Magical.
  • Ooze. Free-Willed, Fungus, Living.
  • Plant. Flora, Free-Willed, Living.
  • Undead. Free-Willed, Not Living, Turnable.
This is all well and good, but let’s take a look at how to work up classes from scratch based on how we see them functioning in a custom setting.

Monster Classes in Starfall

Let’s try defining monster classes for Starfall. We’ll need these eventually, and now is as good of a time as any to do this.

From the start, there are several that work just fine as they currently stand: Animal, Dire Animal, Construct, Divine Servitor, Elemental, Hybrid, Mundane, Plant, Slime, and Undead. This leaves Demon, Elder Thing, Extradimensional Spirit, Faerie, Resident Spirit, and Spirit. I’ll take these one at a time.

Giant Animal. These have the same mechanics as Dire Animals and merely represent oversized animals. What’s more is that Dire Animals include mutant animals of all kinds by intent. Being overgrown can be viewed as a mutation. So I’m going to roll Giant Animals into Dire Animals. This also reduces the number of classes to keep track of.

Elder Things These basically have no special vulnerabilities at all, and this really suits the demons of Starfall. Going this route would mean that there are no special protections against demons, but considering that they are supposed to be terrifyingly unstoppable, that’s not necessarily bad. Magic wouldn’t hold them at bay, they would be cast from the world by banishment, they wouldn’t be turned by True Faith. It also gives off a dark, slimy, H.P. Lovecraft vibe with that name, and that sounds a lot like demons. We probably don’t have to change anything here.

Demon. Demons typically describe free-willed, truly evil divine servitors. This could fit angels of particularly evil gods, but does this justify an entire class? Let’s consider some themes in Starfall. There is a clash of Purity and Corruption in the struggle against the Elder Things invading the cosmos. This is reflected in the dichotomy between the Natural and the Unnatural. Nature lacks any innate sense of morality, and the Good versus Evil dichotomy doesn’t really rear its head anywhere. For this reason, I think “Truly Evil” will represent demonic corruption instead of the traditional capital-E Evil. So where does this leave the Demon class? Well, I don’t see why it needs to exist. Demons will be stripped of Truly Evil and rolled into Divine Servitors, who lack any singular morality.

Spirit, Resident Spirit, and Extradimensional Spirit. From the start, I will say that we need a Spirit class. Spirits that don’t fit into other categories do exist, but this three-way split is a little wonky and needs attention. There are certainly Extradimensional Spirits and Resident Spirits, too. But do we need a catchall for both of them? The only place this might arise is in describing a Higher Purpose related to all Spirits, not spirits including elder things, divine servitors, elementals, etc. Just the catchall class. But does that make sense? I’m not sure that it does. It’s like saying, “I’m good at killing all spirits excluding demons, divine servitors, and elementals.” It’s a hodgepodge of whatever is left over. And that makes it less than evocative. “Resident Sprits” defines a specific group of spirits. “Extradimensional Spirits” is a touch broad, still, but at least it is a workable class. So with all of that said, I think I will just drop the Spirit class and keep the two subclasses.

Faerie. It is important to realize up front that in Starfall faeries are a group of spirits that as often as not inhabit the material world or the spirit world. They are living, magical, and free-willed, but their extradimensionality isn’t guaranteed. And the more I think about it, the more I like that they might not be subject to banishment. This would make them a good place to put a lot of traditional mythical creatures and monsters.

So to summarize, we have the following:
  • Animal. Fauna, Free-Willed, Living.
  • Dire Animal. Fauna, Dire, Free-Willed, Living.
  • Construct. Incorruptible, Magical, Not Living, Servant.
  • Divine Servitor. Extradimensional, Free-Willed, Magical, Not Living.
  • Elder Thing. Free-Willed, Not Living, Truly Evil.
  • Elemental. Elemental, Free-Willed, Magical, Not Living.
  • Faerie. Free-Willed, Living, Magical.
  • Hybrid. Fauna, Free-Willed, Hybrid, Living.
  • Mundane. Free-Willed, Living.
  • Plant. Flora, Free-Willed, Living.
  • Slime. Free-Willed, Fungus, Living.
  • Extradimensional Spirit. Extradimensional, Free-Willed, Magical, Not Living, Spirit.
  • Resident Spirit. Free-Willed, Magical, Not Living, Spirit.
  • Undead. Free-Willed, Not Living, Turnable.
That gives me a good starting point for making monsters for Starfall. This remains a first pass and will likely get a deep dive later on, but for now, it’s a good start. 

In Summary

If we realize that monster classes in DF exist solely to identify rules applications, we can break these down into individual rules assumptions like “Is affected by True Faith” or “Is Immune to All Mind Control”. These individual assumptions form a lexicon from which all existing monster classes are built and with which we can create new classes. This allows us to convert monster types, define new ones, or redefine old ones.

I hope that the worked examples above provide some insight into what can be done with these descriptors for creating your own classes, and I’d love to hear your feedback on what I’ve done or, if you’re willing to share, examples of what you have done with monster classes. Please, comment below!


  1. Faerie aren't affected by Banish. And, strangely enough, not only do no published Faerie have the Affected by Pentagram (although that's now According to Hoyle), they don't have Dependency (Mana), either, and it's not like it isn't spelled out in other, non-Faerie statblocks.

    Yeah, I know, we've had this discussion …

    1. I think this is where it depends on your concept of Faeries, to some extent. In my mind (and perhaps only my mind), Faeries are extradimensional beings from the land of Faerie, and thus are subject to banishment. Giving them immunity to this means one of two things: a) Faeries are native to the normal world or (b) Faeries share the same level of protection against banishment as Elder Things. I sided with Faeries are from the land of Faerie (this may also be my D&D roots showing, since Fey there have been from another plane for ages), but that might just be me.

      I also want to note that I have an email in to Kromm to get his take on several questions and will be updating this post based on what I hear back. I'll raise this point with him in my reply to get a clear answer.

  2. The essential differences between Faerie and Demons are:

    * Faerie are not necessarily evil.
    * Faerie have no place else to go.

    I’ll skip the details, but I went through the Monster Manual (bugging Tim with a “wall of text”) and none of the fey hail from offworld. The closest were the dryads, with their “save vs. go away” and what seemed to be a life in their trees, and nixen, who lived under the ocean.

    Faerie and Constructs would be good Pyramid articles. Maybe supplements