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I am currently running a Dungeon World campaign where one of the characters has awoken a basalt colossus. The colossus is about the height of a 4 story building and super evil. In our upcoming session the players will likely meet this beast and will have to fight it.

In preparation for the inevitable combat I've been trying to mock up such a monster. I started with the monsters section on the GM sheet. While normally this sheet is pretty good the monster I ended up with was not very interesting.

The Basalt Golem

Solitary, Huge, Construct
20 HP, 1d10 + 3, 3 Armor, reach

A towering statue made from basalt, the Basalt Golem was built to level cities and destroy armies. It is pure in its evil, seeking only to destroy everything in its path. It was defeated 500 years ago by the elves in the mountains, but now it has been awoken, and it is growing restless.

Instinct: to crush all it can see

Moves:

  • Shake the earth.
  • Crush something under its heel.

My first concern is that the health is really high. It has +12 from being solitary and +8 from its height but only 13 monsters in the SRD have 20+ health which kind of concerns me. The second is it being larger doesn't actually make much of a difference to how the players have to fight it.

Sure it gets more HP and more damage, but as it stands it seems like the players are going to just hit it in the shins while trying to avoid getting stomped.

How can I make a monster who's size influences the way that the PCs have to fight and kill it, other than just padding its stats?

I'd love to see the players having to climb the monster to get to a weak spot (a la shadow of the colossus), tie its feet together causing it to trip or some other creative way of bringing it down, but I don't feel like the standard monster creation is fostering that kind of narrative.

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The monster creation in Dungeon World gives you mechanical stats, yes, but it also gives you things you need to use in the fiction: the description. Make that clear from your moves and you'll find that its HP might not mean very much in the end.

For example, this thing is a huge colossus, why would trying to hack at its legs trigger Hack & Slash? You are well within your rights to tell them that their iron sword chips some of the rock off of the giant foot and that it raises its foot to crush them into the ground.

You said you had an idea to that they would have to climb it like Shadow of the Colossus, so go ahead and let them try after they Discern Realities, or maybe they'll tell you what its weak spot is after a good Spout Lore.

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Your PCs can handle that golem

The last DW campaign I ran featured enormous "mana beasts" as antagonists in some arcs. These were similarly tough and dangerous and could also manifest powerful elemental magic.

The first, a flying giant crystal eel that had a wide-area sonic attack as well as its physical potential, was a fun fight that they ended easily. It turns out that 20HP is just not that much against focused attacks from even a few PCs (two of five were often indisposed in that fight, doing things other than direct attacks — they had to protect an artifact from the eel).

The second big fight was two such beasts at once — a mated pair of 50-foot deer earth elemental mana beasts. That fight was even more epic and spanned a huge area of dead forest (our Golem PC was knocked about a mile away at one point). One PC nearly died, but they handled them with flair and some amazing stunts. Even twice 20HP is simply not too much for determined DW PCs with the fate of the world in their hands.

But you don't have to worry about balance going in

But I didn't know this going in. What I did know though is that what GM moves I use are up to me — even on a 7–9 H&S, the GM may use a move other than Deal Damage. This meant that I knew I could do other interesting things with the Eel if it turned out to be more powerful than I had intended.

It turned out that I was worried for nothing: the Eel barely scratched the PCs. Even better I now had a good working feel for how such large monsters and their attacks and defences worked in play.

For the second big fight I pulled no punches, because I'd learned how little I needed to. The result was an amazing, dynamic epic battle where I could push the PCs hard and they could push back and demonstrate just how awesome they were as heroes.

So run that golem! They can take it. And just remember: Deal Damage is often not the most interesting, most fitting, or even most hurtful GM move you can use. With big critters like these, you can be very creative, moving the action around the battlefield a lot using GM moves. Try throwing a PC (move: "separate them") — it's fun!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Sounds like your PCs had an easy time hitting your monsters. Were they able to just run in and Hack & Slash? \$\endgroup\$ – AgentAquarius Feb 28 '18 at 4:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AgentAquarius Not at all. There was lots of acrobatics, magic, and dangerous maneuvers to even engage. It was the opposite of boring toe-to-toe repeated Hack & Slash. At one point the Monk was riding a 100-foot spike of earth accidentally launched into the air with no plan to survive except a well-timed jump and a prayer; another point the Golem was enlarged to 40 feet tall by the Mage to fight a deer hand-to-hand; another point had the Princess telepathically joined with Lawful Stupid hive-mind newtlings to swarm the second deer. Just engaging made them bring every trick they had to bear. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 28 '18 at 5:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's useful context to have. Based on your description of the eel fight "ending easily", I was concerned the PCs stomped it before it could show its true power. \$\endgroup\$ – AgentAquarius Mar 1 '18 at 4:09
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I see 2 sides to your question:

How do I make hitting the monster harder?

If you haven't read it already, the Dungeon World Guide is a must-read for anyone who's getting into the system. It just so happens to have a highly relevant quote for just this scenario (emphasis theirs):

Monsters are differentiated not by mechanical differences, but by description. A giant is not just a collection of hit points; it's an enormous giant and how are you supposed to just waltz up and attack it? It's twenty feet tall with a reach the length of a small building- that's not just "Hack & Slash," it can just slap you aside like a rodent. The players need to be creative to even get near it.

The typical way to make the PCs struggle for that hit is to force them to overcome the monster's defenses first. Usually that means a Defy Danger to get past whatever weapon or hazard the monster is bringing down on them. In the case of your PCs, they might need to figure out where the golem's weak point is first (possibly triggering Spout Lore or Discern Realities) before they can even start climbing their way there.

How do I make the monster's reactions meaningful?

So your PCs spotted the golem's weak point, scaled its towering form (with a few bumps and bruises to show for it), and plunged their weapon of choice into its juicy magical core. Well, the golem's not going to just stand there and let them keep doing that. Even if your PCs rolled 10+ on that Hack & Slash, they're still waiting to see how the monster reacts (i.e. looking to the GM to see what happens next), so you get to make a move in response, and the golem wants nothing more than to knock them off.

You already gave the golem a move to shake the earth. If stomping the PCs doesn't work (or it can't reach them), it'll smash a nearby cliff or building and let the debris rain down to scrape the PCs off. Or it'll put the PCs between a rock and a hard place by body slamming itself into a solid surface. The PCs have to react to that, probably triggering another Defy Danger.

Finally, you can keep the stakes high by making even qualified success have a cost. On a 10+, they definitely managed to avoid taking harm or losing gear, but they're still out of position and need to work their way back to that weak spot. Maybe they lost their grip for just a second before grabbing on again, or had to swing to the other side of its arm to avoid getting crushed.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The DM gets a Move in response to a 10+? I'm pretty sure it's only in response to a 6-, the players all look at you to find out what happens, or a golden opportunity (the players ignored something important). \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Feb 28 '18 at 12:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JoelHarmon In DW's cousin AW, "[the rules] absolutely don't specify what move you should make, or how mean it should be, now that it's your turn to talk. That's always up to you and the dramatic rhythm you're building." In DW's cousin Ironsworn, there's an explicit "initiative" and your 10+ lets you keep pushing with proactive moves. I think there's room to apply either style to DW. "16-hp dragon" very much implies that part of being a big scary monster is that even the monster's reactions force players to react. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P Feb 28 '18 at 18:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AlexP And importing any mechanics from other games, however related, is homebrew. That's fine, but it needs to be labeled as such and backed up with experience. \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Feb 28 '18 at 23:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JoelHarmon After a PC move, hit or miss, the players are waiting for the GM to describe how the monster reacts, i.e. looking to the GM to see what happens. If the GM didn't take that step and asked "What do you do?" the player might assume things are still peachy and say "I guess I attack it again." \$\endgroup\$ – AgentAquarius Mar 1 '18 at 4:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AgentAquarius After a player rolls a 10+, everyone looks to the DM but also already knows what happens: the player succeeds at what they set out to do. After that, if the players are still looking at the DM instead of being proactive, then maybe that triggers the DM move trigger. It's definitely not the 10+ itself that does it. See my answer on a different question here \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Mar 16 '18 at 3:10
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Considering Scale

So, like, if you want something big enough for an entire people to have fought, and for the PCs to meaningfully climb on and such, four stories probably isn't enough. 40 feet sounds like a lot, but assuming it's built to human-ish proportions it's really only about big enough that your common-or-garden Fightgar might have trouble getting a toehold in one joint and a handhold in the next joint up.

A four-story stone beast is probably about at the limit of a size PCs might conventionally engage with, though if you've got melee classes who went heavily into bonus damage, you might consider applying armor to each damage die individually (minimum 0 damage).

But if you want a battle at a ridiculous scale, the canonical up from the [ground] 30 stories high might be a little bit more reasonable to peg it to. Or at least consider a certain Rhodesian colossus which was purported to be 11 stories tall, since this seems to be of a similar ancient, worldly, and wondrous caliber.

"I Hack and Slash!" "On what grounds?" "...the dungeon grounds?"

At that scale, you're dealing with something that's more terrain than creature. Ambulatory terrain sure, but even so. And what's another word for dangerous terrain to traverse with hostility looming and something to fight?

A dungeon.

If you want this to be truly huge in scale, don't think of it as a singular monster. Think about how the elves were able to seal it 500 years ago. If you're familiar with Shadow of the Colossus, you've probably already got the idea of weak points with a certain structure around them, so think about how they're spread out, if they can be hit in any order or in a certain sequence, and how the surrounding structures differ in the ways they threaten and challenge the PCs. Just like they were their own important locations in a dungeon.

You can maintain the idea of hit points and armor, sure, just split up the hit points among where you decide the weak points are. Four 5s, or two 5s and a 10, maybe. And that doesn't sound like a lot, but consider:

An entire dungeon run leading up to one shot.

And don't consider just the colossus! Maybe some people are on or about the colossus and some are providing support from outside. Maybe you need to consider the surrounding area too. You have to get it to punch a mountain because you can't climb its torso anymore and the mountain is easier to traverse. You have to trip it to get inside the head. Wizzrobe needs to unleash a giant fireball while it's in the marsh to ignite a gas pocket and blow a path up the leg.

But the entire thing leads up to everyone working together to expose one weak point to some kind of strike from somewhere. And if it's not enough to destroy it through the armor, think about retaliation.

Heck, think about how the colossus in general is going to move and fight differently as its weak points are destroyed.

When does the colossus move and/or fight?

Whenever you want. As much as you want. It's the dungeon and the monster, so do as much as you like to set up threats and pass a PC the spotlight to act.

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There's this one thing about DW damage rules that most people overlook. Playbooks have their own damage die, but they don't specify or constrain any mode of attack. How a player can attack a monster, and whether that triggers Hack&Slash, Volley or any of the other damage-dealing moves is left to the fiction.

So if it doesn't make sense in the fiction to hurt a huge pile of moving igneous rock with a 3' metal knife, then Hack&slash isn't triggered at all. Players have to work in the fiction to trigger it at all.

For example, trying to volley with arrows would definitely be futile, but a catapult could do the trick if there's one lying around. It's built to hurt stone structures, so triggering volley with one could make sense.

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