Every story should have a good villain. These villains can have dramatic flair, morally gray motivations, and should be the hero of their own storyline. The brooding form of Dracula, the imposing silhouette of Darth Vader, or the cackling theatrics of the classic Disney villain. These are all monsters, but not Epic Monsters.
Epic? Really? Isn’t that word a little….
Oh don’t you start. Stay in your lane, you write the bold titles, I write the articles.
Epic Monsters: Whatever That Means
Goblins, Dragons, and even Owlbears are all considered monsters. They’re famous for being creepy, unnatural, and even beast-like representations of our own human flaws. They have history, they have an imposing presence, and they’re really cool.
But why aren’t they considered Epic? Well, by my own definition…
Epic Monsters: Monsters of legend that are one-of-a-kind, have a mysterious lore surrounding them, and are incredibly hard to combat.
Dragons usually fit the bill on this one, but in current Dungeons and Dragons there is an entire palette of chromatic and metallic colors, and it feels more like shopping for the perfect dragon for your mood that day, rather than naming a beast and ingraining its legends into your world’s history.
Killing a dragon is very cool, but how about defeating Felgoon the Hurricane? Y’see, I can tell you all about Felgoon, or Zolo, or many other legendary dragons. That’s because you don’t know anything about them, and because their entire being isn’t defined by their breath weapon element. It’s defined by where they came from, what they did, and what they’re capable of doing to you when you kick down their door.
My favorite example for this is always The Minotaur. The story is fairly simple, a king’s wife gave birth to a half-man half-bull, and he ordered it to be imprisoned in a big-ass dungeon called the Labyrinth. In different iterations, The Minotaur has an axe or is bare-handed, and usually has big sharp horns to gore folks with. There was no race of Minotaurs on an island somewhere, just one horrible creature
, and then the guy who killed it.
Lore in our world is usually people passing on knowledge and making it more dramatic and fictional as time goes on. The Manticore is an excellent example of this. The Manticore started off as a simple Persian myth of a tiger with three rows of teeth and spikes that it could fling from its tail like arrows. All of a sudden the myth grows and it has a lion’s mane made of poisonous spikes and wings. A creature so shrouded in myth that you have no clue what to do when you fight it is truly a cause for concern for many an adventurer.
Hard to Fight
Look, nobody wants an Epic Monster to go down easy, especially not the players. A fight with a creature of such terrifying history should be hard-won, with a sense of pride at the end. The Hydra is one such creature. It looks like a dragon without
its wings, and with multiple heads. The catch is that if you cut off one of the heads, it grows two more in its place. This means that The Hydra is not only hard to fight, but over time it becomes more and more dangerous because it gains heads whenever some wannabe hero shows up and doesn’t know the trick to killing it. That’s my final key ingredient for an Epic Monster: the way to kill it should be unique or clever, instead of just stabbing it with a sword. Using a mirror to reflect its power back at it, using fire to cauterize its wounds so it won’t heal itself, and freezing its ooze form are all examples.
Plain and simple, I just feel like monsters in these games deserve to have a large amount of care and thought put into them. Why is the dragon attacking the town? Why is this creature here? What has it done in the past? What is its name? It doesn’t have to be intelligent, but if it isn’t, then tell of its physical deeds or its mysterious origins!
Talk about the monster in a way that your players will always remember it. With unique abilities, foreshadowing through song and legends, and a really kickass fight!