Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Steve's Monster Manual 3 Designs: The Banderhobb

The banderhobb is one of the half dozen creatures I designed for Monster Manual 3. It's very close to my heart, as it was based off of a similar monster from my homebrew game, commonly referred to by the players as "those horrible frog things."

The creature that inspired the banderhobb came about in 1993 in my first weeks of college. I'd decided to create my own game setting and I wanted the monsters in that setting to have their own unique feel and flavor. I'd usually take monsters that existed and re-skin them, changing around characteristics and physical appearance to make a different monster that would work well in the setting. I was a little tired of fighting goblins, orcs, and kobolds at the time, and I wanted to give the players a unique experience.

I've never been a good artist, but I made this sketch on a piece of notebook paper seventeen years ago in order to put some shape to the thing in my imagination, and the monster evolved from there. Imagine my wonderment when I went to the local game store and opened up Monster Manual 3 for the first time and saw the finished art for the banderhobb. Now imagine my speechless shock when, five minutes later, I turned the book over and saw my baby taking up the back cover. I think I owe Mike Mearls a very, very, very large debt of gratitude that I'll  never be able to pay off completely.

Howard Lyon, the artist on the banderhobb, is not only an all around nice guy, but he was downright worshipful of the art order. Check it out.

The illo depicts the BANDERHOBB, a FROGLIKE creature that stands between 10-12 feet tall. Its FROG MOUTH is enormous. It has bulbous eyes, and exaggerated, LONG-FINGERED CLAWS.
Suggestion: It hunches over the bedside of a sleeping child, taking up the room’s height almost from floor to ceiling, reaching out its long fingers, mouth wide open. A candle on a table lights it from below, and the shadow of these long, black fingers and toothy frog maw shows in stark contrast on the wall. Creepy.

Howard told me that his son enjoyed being the kid in the picture about to be eaten.

Steve's storytelling ramblings: I think it's important to convey a creature's mood and feeling, and I think every monster should feel different. It's funny--I think monsters are like Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. Like the animals in that composition, each monster has its own melody, its own unique mood and feel, and it's up to the DM to communicate that to the players. But in the true storytelling game, it's just as much up to the players to respond to the mood the DM is working to create by listening and responding in character--I'm not talking about funny voices (necessarily) but rather investing in the world and in the moment. Perhaps it's fortunate that the banderhobbs' swallow abilities are enough to get players to fear them mechanically--that helps--but ultimately I think the game works best when everyone's taking an equal part in creating the atmosphere. Hopefully the art, the mechanics, and the moody flavor text of this creature help to cast the spell of the shared dream the DM and players create at the table. If so, I've done my job DMing it into the Monster Manual.

In various places I've seen comments from people who love the banderhobb flavor and others who dislike the "in combat" text. To set things straight, the "in combat" entries illustrate how the creatures operate in battle and what that should feel like, storywise and in the narrative. But a close reading of the text also spotlights some of the creature's powers and what they're like in combat. For example, the banderhobb warder "in combat" text essentially tells you that the thing uses its no escape power on creatures that try to get away, and then it swallows them. The banderhobb filch "in combat" tells you what the creature generally tries to do (drags its cargo away), but if hindered it uses its distracting frenzy and drags away its victims. The banderhobb abductor's "in combat" entry describes the way it uses its grasping tongue to gobble and swallow its enemies.

From my perspective, a monster's stat block handily sums up what it's going to do in combat. Add terrain unique to the encounter, a mix of different monster allies and their specific abilities, plus whatever story objective is in play, and a creature's tactics can vary so widely that it seems a bit pointless for me to program a general combat script into a creature as if it were an entity in a computer game--this information is already in the stat block after all. At any rate, for anyone curious about why the "in combat" section appears this way, that's the answer. In each one, you'll find text that describes what powers it uses, how it uses them, and the kind of mood and feel you want to work on the PCs when the thing is fighting. Might not be everyone's cup of tea, but by way of explanation that's the design intent and how the flavor text works to illuminate the monster. Check out the nymph and yeti entries for more of the same.

I'm extremely happy with the way the banderhobb turned out, and I'm grateful that the powers that be took a chance on so much of my mood and flavor text throughout the entry. I truly feel the banderhobb was transmitted beautifully from my campaign into yours, whoever you may be. "Those horrible frog things," the creatures upon which they were based, have plagued my players for seventeen years and slain or snatched away a handful of memorable, benevolent NPCs (sometimes even to my dismay). I've already heard stories from folks whose characters have been swallowed by banderhobbs--hopefully their awful reputation will soon precede them wheresoever they may stalk the night.


richgreen01 said...

I really liked the banderhobb - great monster - I like creepy monster-hiding-under-the-bed creatures!

I thought they were brand new (rather than updated from a previous edition) so it's interesting to hear your story about how they came about.

Congratulations on getting on the back cover too!

Steve said...

Thank you very much!
Still can't believe they're on the back. Talk about geek dreams come true. :-)

Mike Kuciak said...

Hope that kid has a knife under the pillow.

It's a great illo, but I don't understand why the creature isn't looking at its target. It's just kinda staring off into negative space, and with the finger to its nose it looks confused.

"Should I eat this kid? Hmmm...."

JWest said...

Nahh i think it's about to sneeze and drench the hapless chid in monster mucus, but then i'm sick that way....

Awesome monster man, i saw the art on D& before i picked up MM3 and it's pretty much the reason i had to get that book.

Steve said...

Thanks a million!

Anonymous said...

One of my players created a background of how their character was told as a child to behave or else a monster would come and eat them. The background also has that the character's brother was eaten as a child. So now the Banderhobb, known to the character as Cucuy, is feared greatly in my game.

Steve said...


Richard Green said...

Got to use the banderhobbs in our last session in the Shadowfell - very effective and fun encounter. Write up here:

Steve said...

Very cool, Richard!