A Fantasy Game Providing Equal Time for the Monsters.
Metagaming Concepts , 1976.
Designed by Ken St. Andre
Even thirty years after its publication, Monsters! Monsters! is unique: a simple mirror reversal of the fantasy RPG conventions of its day. Where most games of the day had bands of heroic warriors descending into dungeons to raid monsters' lairs and extract the treasure, Monsters! Monsters! had players create a party of monsters who invaded human settlements to extract the treasure.
Monsters! Monsters! was based on the Tunnels & Trolls game engine. The T&T game was so simple that the only modification that needed to be made to flip the situation was to give monsters player character stats. For all of that, MM introduced a number of clarifications and improvements over the 1st edition of T&T.
MM's setting was as generic as any other fantasy RPG of the day. For convenience, MM included a sample human village of Woodsedge Inn, which featured an inn and a few farmhouses, with complete statistics on all of the inhabitants. Most of the treasure was left entirely to the referee's imagination, although there were three simple tables to compute what a wandering human might have in his pockets.
The first step was to choose the type of monster desired. Here was MM's first big improvement over T&T 1st edition: a list of monsters! Fifty two different monsters were listed and described. These ranged from the familiar (dragons, orcs, trolls, etc.) to the bizarre (snollygosters, slime-mutants, tsathoguas, etc.). St. Andre recommended randomly selecting monsters (by drawing from a deck of cards) to provide for player challenges: a party composed entirely of big bruisers would get boring.
Once the monster type was known, the player generated character stats in exactly the same way as in T&T: roll 3d6 and assign the scores, in order to Strength, IQ, Luck, Constitution, Dexterity, and Charisma. These scores were then modified by the monster species. Some scores were multiplied by a listed factor, others were set at maxima. For example, a mummy would multiply its Strength by 2 and Constitution by 3, set its IQ and Dexterity to a maximum score of 3, and Luck to a maximum of 10. Charisma was hardly needed for monsters: most were set to a coded value of ! (causes terror), + (causes awe or liking), o (causes some fear), or ? (causes contempt, disgust, or disbelief). These scores would be used in the reaction table to see how wandering humans might react to the monster.
Monsters could have equipment, too. Instead of buying it (as was done in T&T), referees were instructed to let monster characters have anything they wanted within reason. Human-sized monsters might have armor and weapons, while larger powerhouse monsters would use improvised weapons or none at all.
Monsters could gain experience in the same way as human characters in T&T. Experience points were earned for defeating foes, carrying off treasure, casting spells, and succeeding on saving throws. Unlike the humans in T&T, monsters also obtained experience points by sating their hunger, capturing valuable (or attractive) captives, and committing acts of "unusual daring, wanton cruelty, or general rottenness." Experience points were traded in at the same rate as for T&T player characters, and when a monster went up a level, they increased their character stats by the value of the new level.
Game Mechanics and Combat
The game mechanics were more structured than in 1st edition T&T. There were definite turns (move, check for wandering enemies, have combat, recover from combat), and combat itself was more structured. Magic spells were targeted first, then missiles, then melee attacks. All attacks were resolved together. This was done by creating a die pool for each side. The type of weapon one used determined the basic number of dice a figure contributed to the pool. Larger monsters using larger weapons would get the basic combat value of the weapon (human sized) multiplied by the monster's strength multiple.
The dice on both sides were rolled, and then combat adds were used to modify the roll. High character stats (above twelve) provided adds, while low stats (below nine) subtracted. There could be other modifiers as well. Once the final totals were computed, the low value was subtracted from the high score. The result was then distributed as evenly as possible to all of the figures on the losing side. Damage was taken from the figures' Constitution score. When Constitution reached zero, the figure was dead.
If characters were wearing armor or carrying a shield, these protections absorbed some of the damage. Unlike 1st edition T&T, armor was not used up and continued to absorb this damage every round. Shields in T&T always did this, but in MM, a cheap shield might get battered up and destroyed.
A new feature not found in 1st edition T&T was that missiles and spells were aimed at specific targets, and these targets took damage, even if they were on the winning side of the battle. Magic and missiles thus became more deadly. Complicating the "missiles and magic are added to the general combat roll" rule were the special missile attack rules. DMs consulted a simple table which cross-indexed the attacker's Dexterity against the range to the target, and the player rolled a single die to determine if the missile hit or missed. Defenders might get a saving roll (see below) to see if they dodged the missile. Missiles were wildly inaccurate: an attacker firing a missile from more than ten feet away needed a dexterity of at least 16 to have at least a fifty-fifty chance to hit.
The other game mechanic was the Saving Roll, where characters subtracted their Luck score from a target value, and tried to equal or exceed the modified target score by rolling 2d6. (If the player rolled doubles, the dice could be rolled again and added to the previous score.) Saving Rolls were classified by levels, from one to four. Most saving rolls were 1st level, where the player subtracted her luck score from twenty, but more perilous situations called for higher level saving rolls: a 4th level roll had the player subtract her luck score from 35. To ensure a challenge for even very lucky characters, there were minimum scores for the saving roll: one could not require a score of less than 5 for a 1st level save, up to 11 for 4th level saves. (Players had to roll this on 2d6, remember.)
Magic was the same as in T&T, and the first four levels' worth of spells were reprinted. T&T and MM used a spell-point system: spell casting characters automatically knew all of the first level spells, and if they were higher level, they could buy higher level spells individually. Spells had a IQ and Dexterity requirement to cast, and cost the caster Strength points to use. Spells were the common varieties found in fantasy RPGs: detecting magic, dishing out damage, putting foes to sleep, and so on, but the T&T spell list used humorous names such as "Oh-there-it-is" (detect invisible objects), "Healing Feeling" (cure diseases), "Poor Baby" (cure injuries), and the infamous "Take That, You Fiend!" (dished out damage). MM added a few species-specific spells for particular monsters. For example, vampires had the spell "Oh boy, obey" which enslaved any one being with a lower sum of Strength, IQ and Dexterity than the vampire's.
Like its sibling games designed by Ken St. Andre (see our reviews of Tunnels & Trolls and Starfaring), Monsters! Monsters! didn't take itself seriously. The title itself came from the battle cry of St. Andre's players as they fled from unexpectedly strong opposition, and the occasional footnotes in the rules are usually funny as well. The rules were slightly clearer and better thought out than Tunnels & Trolls's 1st edition, although it is likely that T&T had already incorporated most of these improvements in later editions. Certainly some of them are found in the first U.K. edition of T&T.
The two games should have made excellent companion volumes for each other. As noted in our T&T review, the original rules did not have any list of monsters, and MM filled that void very nicely. MM could have used access to T&T's higher spell lists, although it is unlikely that the monsters would meet such high-powered magic-users. But with T&T providing rules for playing monsters, then MM became largely superfluous. Perhaps that is why Monsters! Monsters! died and T&T thrived.
Another reason might be the structure of a campaign. We suspect most players would prefer to confront an ever escalating band of increasingly grotesque monsters rather than a series of increasingly powerful humans. There's just not as much variety. Besides, humans can spend their loot; what would monsters do with it beyond stocking their lairs? While the game would represent an interesting variation, we don't think it would offer campaigns with the longevity that more mainstream games provided.
Personal note from the curator
I can remember seeing advertisements for this game back in the 1970s, and I've kicked myself for years over not having bought a copy. I am pleased to be able to find a .pdf copy at last.