Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Gruffalo, or How Children Stories Effect My Game

Having a three year old daughter does things to your TV habits.  You end up watching a whole lot less of what you want, and a whole lot more of what she wants.  That's ok, in general, but when it is the same thing - over and over - it threatens to be a little dangerous to one's sanity.  Unless you find a way to cope.

Enter the Gruffalo
The Gruffalo (by Julia Donaldson) has become a favourite.  First, it was the picture book, but after her lovely grandparents gave her the DVD for her birthday, my little one wants to watch it - over, and over, and over.  And being only 30 minutes in length, that can get recycled pretty quickly.

The story is simple enough - an interesting take on the "boy who cried wolf" (but, you know, with a mouse crying gruffalo!).  Of course, it is set to rhyme, so that it becomes quite easy to get stuck into your head.  And, as it happens, the mouse is quite descriptive as to just what ferocious attributes his "made up" monster has.  But the real question is - how would they work?  I've been thinking of the Gruffalo as a DnD monster (4e, as that's what I play), and below are my ideas as to how I would play it...if the situation ever arose for it to be needed.  At the moment, it's just something for me to think on whilst my daughter watches it one more time.

Mechanically Speaking
Though the story-character never really fought, this one is clearly set up to do as much - it is Dungeons and Dragons, after all!  I have tried to tie one ability / trait / power for each of the descriptive lines in the poem, and left the rest of it as generic as possible.  Seeing as (**spoiler**!!) he is ultimately defeated by a mouse, I didn't want him to be too high a level; but if it weren't for what could be some fantastic bluff rolls, he would have been a mean fight indeed.  I finally pegged him as a level 5 solo brute.  Level 5 gives him a good range, and leaves him in the 'mythical, but not too magical' category.  Solo is necessary, as who else should there be to back up the Gruffalo?  (Level 5 should mean that the solo aspect still would be a challenge). And Brute goes without asking!

Terrible Tusks

These are the first thing described, and for that, I think they would make a great basic attack.  Tusks can work well with charges, and if this thing was ever to fight, I think that charging is the point to start.  Naturally, if a creature is charging as its base attack, it needs a way to negate the usual penalties of charging: instead of actually charging (with the minimum movement, opportunity attacks, and all), I made it a shift attack.  Yes, that is a long shift, but he has nothing ranged, so this may let him reach some of those pesky ranged PCs!  Solos often do not get enough attacks a round, so he can attack three targets with this!

The problem, though, was that the created power was a little too powerful.  For an encounter power, it could work - maybe better for a recharge power.  But an at-will basic attack?  No.  I changed it to a recharge (4+), and set just claws as a melee basic attack.

Terrible Claws
The basic claw attack can grab the target (specifically useful with the next ability!); for a truly terrible attack, the Gruffalo can make two claws against the same target!  Where the tusk attack spreads damage around the party, the claw attacks really focus on one PC, and (along with the Jaws) tries to provide much hurt.  naturally, the DM should be letting the target character know that he is now the Gruffalo's favourite food!

Terrible Teeth in Terrible Jaws
A nice old bite attack, as the Gruffalo finally get to have a snack.  The recharge (5+), and requirement for the target to be grabbed means that the Gruffalo probably won't be having a large meal, and so will be remaining hungry for a while.

Knobbly Knees
I am at a loss for this one.  It could just be a little bit extra AC, but I don't think that's terribly interesting, thematically.  I don't think an extra power would be good, as the Gruffalo already has enough.  Does anyone have any ideas?

Turned-out Toes
The toes / feet claws seemed best to be linked to a solid grip on the ground.  A large, slow brute would most likely be hard to push around - so he can resist up to two squares of all forced movement.

Poisonous Wart at the end of his Nose
A poisonous wart probably won't do anything... until it is disturbed.  That, to me, sounds like a great triggered action upon getting bloodied!  Ongoing poisonous damage to any adjacent enemies is a simple effect - I  thought about more complex ideas, such as an aura, or his first melee attack each round deals poison damage, or the first melee attack against him takes poison damage, but ultimately, I went with a simple idea.  He has enough powers anyway - a common theme with my monsters, it seems!

Eyes are Orange
Darkvision!  This seemed quite easy, and simple.  It can be written down, and doesn't add complexity to the monster.. 

Tongue is Black
Again, I didn't have anything obvious to put up for this one.  After all...what does a black tongue really give you?

Purple Prickles all over his Back
This could have been another triggered action, spiking those who dare to try to flank him, but I thought a trait would be easier.  Anyone who attacks whilst flanking takes some damage - clearly, the Gruffalo turns to face the first attacker, and thus always has his back to whoever attacks next!

Adding a Little Flavour
Reducing the character of the Gruffalo to a simple stat block would not be entirely fitting.  There are still a few pieces it needs to be entirely effective.

Surprising Appearance
The idea here is that the Gruffalo always acts first.  But not to screw over the party; rather, the Gruffalo acts to be intimidating; he moves to cast his shadow over the party, and give them a chance to back down, run away, or plead for their lives.  But that is not expected to occur (with most DnD groups, anyway).

Vulnerable to Verse
To get players really into the feel of the encounter, you should encourage them to structure their speech in rhymes. (Naturally, the DM should have enough rhymes prepared for his side of the encounter, too!).  Rewards are a great motivator, and so a +2 bonus is added for players who can fit each round into rhyme Note: player, not PC.  It shouldn't just be a character sprouting a few lines of rhyme, as Gybrush Threepwood might do (not that that is bad!  It is just not the Gruffalo's way!). Players should be rewarded for having anything they say rhyme, be they talking about their characters, describing their actions, or the speech they choose.  Naturally, if the DM can get Robbie Coltrane to voice the Gruffalo, all PCs should instantly admit defeat :)

Once bloodied, it would be quite reasonable for a player to chase the Gruffalo off with enough rhymes, and some good social skill work.  The Gruffalo already has a handy penalty to his insight check, so it is definitely possible.  His will is also relatively low, for this reason.  But I will leave the ultimate decisions for the DM to work out!
So there you have it - my take on the Gruffalo! Hopefully some of you might get some enjoyment out of this familiar creature; and those of you with kids who haven't heard of him - go check the book out!  And either way, let me know just how your players or kids react to the Gruffalo!


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  2. When are you going to make a children's story campaign ala' Disney movie?

    1. Disney movies have way too much singing in it for me. Now, an anime movie (like Nausicaa or Laputa), that I could possibly do!