09: Music Elemental – It’s a D&D Monster Now

You realize it’s starting to pull away from your hand as the gramophone is rotating now on its own. And it’s not more than a second or two later, that horrible song begins to emit from the gramophone. You notice that the air above its horn begins to ripple two white piercing points of light appear near the top of it. As they flicker to life, two malevolent eyes that now begin to look down at you gathered around this gramophone that has summoned it, and I need you to all roll initiative.

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Welcome to Making a Monster, the weekly podcast where game designers show us their favorite monster and we discover how it works, why it works, and what it means. I’m Lucas Zellers.

If you play games like Dungeons & Dragons, you’ll find there’s more than one “tier” of play. The first tier is narrative, where players roll dice to resolve character actions in a story. The second tier is metanarrative, where players build characters and fit them to the world they inhabit. There’s a hidden third tier of play, where stories and jokes from the game’s mechanics and campaigns are traded in real life.

In that bizarre liminal space, probably in the deep, threaded forests of Reddit.com, you might find the user “It’s a D&D Monster Now,” who, without warning or mercy, could take any comment out of context and apply Fifth-edition mechanics to it. It’s a true test of roleplaying games’ ability to accept any story element, no matter how bizarre. That thing you said? It’s a D&D monster now. That random picture you liked? It’s a D&D monster now. That joke from your favorite TV show? It’s a D&D monster now. Mothman? It’s a D&D monster now. Shanklin the stab possum? It’s a D&D monster now. Pineapple knight? It’s a D&D monster now.

In its own way, this show is also about the space where game design meets real life, so I reached out to this mysterious provocateur for his perspective. His name is Kyle Pointer, and he’s a really good sport.

Lucas: Welcome to the show, Kyle it is a real pleasure to meet you.

Kyle Pointer: [00:01:43] Yeah, same

Lucas: Kyle and I discussed his life as a D&D meme, and the surprising benefits of designing a thousand and one D&D monsters no one asked for.

Kyle Pointer: I don’t even remember what started it, but I remember I was on Reddit at work as normally was in about 2015. and I saw someone posted just like a single sentence comment, and I thought, Oh, that would make a funny DMD monster. And I thought, Oh, I could make that a new novelty account.

Cause novelty accounts were all the rage back then. I created it. I, I think I made one or two monsters and then I completely forgot that I owned it for about six months. I had no intention of this even becoming popular, let alone it turning into anything.  but then all of a sudden I posted something. I think it was,  like a corpse tree, like this undead tree and, then I got something to do at work. So I walked away from my computer, came back like an hour or two later and it had just blown up and I was like, Whoa, what is this? And I had made a Subreddit , so I’d have all my posts in one place, not even for anyone else, just so I could find them all. And then without even mentioning that I had a subreddit, I already had 500, 600 subscribers. I’m like, how did this happen? I, I never expected to get 50 or 60 subscribers let alone this money. now I’ve got, I think, I think it’s at 2,500 now.  Oh, I’m sorry. 20,000. I was a little bit off.

Lucas: [00:02:59] Little bit. If you had to put a name to the whole, project, what would you even call this? Is it a side hustle? Do you think, is it a part-time thing? Is it just a hobby? Is it still a gag that you’re just committed to?

Kyle Pointer: [00:03:14] it is kind of a gag. I intentionally try not to take it too seriously because I feel like some of my most popular work are definitely  the less serious “joke” monsters that I create. and honestly, they can – being funny and gimmicky does not mean that can’t also be fun to use in a game. And I think that’s an awesome balance when it’s struck properly. So I definitely still kind of consider it a gag, but overall, I guess I would consider it a side hustle.  it’s something that keeps me plugged into the D&D community, because the community online is just so amazing, and  just kind of like a fun thing for me to focus on and to pour my creative energy into. I guess that doesn’t really answer your question about what to call it.

Lucas: [00:04:10] Well, You know, I don’t want to put words in your mouth. I have ideas of my own. I  kind of think of it as D&D as street art. You’ve almost come along and done D and D graffiti, which is amazing to me.

Kyle Pointer: [00:04:24] I never thought of that, but I don’t hate it.

Lucas: [00:04:27] It’s also like, it wouldn’t exist without Reddit – this is a uniquely Reddit thing, what you’ve done.

Kyle Pointer: [00:04:34] Oh yeah, absolutely. It was born on Reddit. The concept was inspired by Reddit. So this absolutely would not exist without Reddit,

Lucas: [00:04:41] You’ve said you’ve been doing this for, what, five years now?

Kyle Pointer: [00:04:44] Yeah. I’ve renewed it for about five years. Yeah. ,

Lucas: [00:04:47] You must have done hundreds of these things.

Kyle Pointer: [00:04:49] Well, on my subreddit. which is, I’m the only one who can post. There are currently 835 posts.

Lucas: [00:04:56] Good night.

Kyle Pointer: [00:04:58] Mmm. Not all of those are monsters, but a decent number of them are multiple monsters. So I think that’s not a terrible hemorrhage.  And plus there’s. at least a hundred or 200 that I have done that I haven’t posted to Reddit. So I feel like I have to have done north of a thousand by now.

Lucas: [00:05:15] That’s wild. And you’re getting summoned now – people will tag you on Reddit when they see things. How often do you answer the call?

Kyle Pointer: [00:05:23] There was a point where I was getting mentioned at least three or four times a day, if not more. Now it’s more to the point where it’s like, maybe once every couple of days,  and in fact, every once in a while, the tag will be like, “I know it’s in the monster now doesn’t post anymore, but it would be cool if he -”
I’m like, “Yeah, I’m still here, it still happens.”

Lucas: [00:05:42] Is there a particular set of skills that you think you’ve developed over the course of a thousand and monsters?

Kyle Pointer: [00:05:48] I think technical writing,  I was just talking with someone, another Homebrew creator, about this the other day. It really comes down to writing about something, explaining it in a way that’s very mindful of the. Mechanical reality is involved. Like you need to explain something technical in a way that makes sense to someone who may or may not necessarily know exactly how it works and you need to communicate these ideas. As clearly as possible, but also without a ton of jargon and without meeting like a flow chart to get through it. That’s practically the definition of technical writing and it’s something that is incredibly important for. Any kind of game design for, I would say for RPGs in general, but especially for Fifth edition D&D because it’s, it’s so focused on clear human language and streamlining things as much as possible and being easy to understand. And without a lot of overhead, that’s one of the core design principles of Fifth edition and that makes it so important to have that when you’re writing something for it, especially something that you want to be mechanically interesting or complex, but you need to, you can only go as far as you can easily explain. there’ve been a lot of monsters and items and spells and mechanics that I’ve really, really wanted to do. But then I get done typing it and I realized that one action is a page and a half. And no, one’s going to read this long, let alone understand it. So I have to, I ultimately have to drop it, but, Pretty much anything involving time travel either you have to abstract it so far that it doesn’t, it basically just boils down to like a bonus on something. Or if it’s so mechanically complex that you need a flow chart to go from, turn to turn. And it’s just something you can’t, it’s not, it’s really hard to do.

Yeet Elementals and Playing Favorites

Lucas: [00:07:47] um, we are 19 minutes into the interview now, and it is just at this point that we’re getting to the question that usually begins the show. Of the monsters you’ve made, what’s your favorite and why?

Kyle Pointer: [00:08:03] well, favorite is an interesting question. I don’t know if I could pick a C for it. Cause like it could be like my favorite mechanically. It could be like my favorite somatically. it could be the one that has gotten me the biggest response from the community. the one that I found the coolest or was provided to me, the coolest art for it, like those are all I’d get completely different answers for all of those, but, the minimum popular one, I’m looking at it run my subreddit right now is literally one of the joke ones I was talking about earlier. It’s the “yeet elemental,” literally an air elemental that just throws people. I did it literally in five minutes as a joke, and it is literally my most popular post of all time.

But, one that I really like mechanically, and one that I’ve actually ended up using in my own campaign is one called the music elemental. It’s related to air elementals, but it is one that is, thematically it’s conjured from a ritual that involves some kind of object that makes music like a music box or something like that. And this music elemental is essentially just this huge air elemental that responds to the music that it is attuned to. And based on that music, it will have different properties. which sounds complicated, but it’s basically just, it goes off the tempo. the flavor I imagine would more depend on the actual music itself. the flavor of the elemental, how it appears, how it acts, I think would be flavored by like what kind of music it is. But strictly based on the tempo,  it’s speed actions, legendary reactions on HPE regeneration all increased with the tempo. So I’ve got the tempo broken down into five stages from gravity to lento moderato Allegro, and prestissimo basically just increasing in speed. So the faster, the music that it’s attuned to, the more dangerous it will be it will start getting crazy.

Here’s the original Reddit post where the music elemental was requested: https://www.reddit.com/r/ItsADnDMonsterNow/comments/39byf2/2500_subscribers_to_celebrate_another_request/

How to Design a D&D Encounter

When I was using it in my own campaign,  the party realized pretty quickly, like, Hey, it’s. As this thing gets faster, that thing is getting more attacks. We need to slow this down. So they, half of them would spend their turns, just pushing against the crank that was powering it, trying to slow it down. And I would, you know, ticket down one, one tempo level, just to give their actions, their investments like that. That’s a cool idea. I hadn’t thought about that when I had set up this encounter, but that’s really cool. I should reward that. So I made it so that it would actually, if they spent time slowing this thing down, it would actually slow the elemental down. So then they had to then decide and divide their labor. Like how many of us are going to be fighting? How many of us are going to be slowing this thing down? And then there’s also other things going on in the room at the same time, it ended up being really. Just a really interesting fight. there was a lot of things going on at once, but none of them were like a make it or break it so that they had to focus on everything simultaneously.  They just had to kind of be aware of everything and they had decisions to make every single time someone’s turned, came up. They had a decision to make, and I dunno, it was very cool. They got very engaged and I, I was really pleased with the result.   at first, I want them to forget that this thing is dangerous. I want it to be something that is more of a novelty,  something that is interesting and fascinating to them. And then I want them to want to know more about it right up until the moment it smacks one of them in the face. And then they they’re like, Oh, wow. Yeah, that’s right. This is an enemy we’re supposed to be fighting right now. that’s kind of what I was hoping to go for. So it’s really good at being. like a tank, I guess it’s good at forcing people to focus on it.   keeping a party busy, while something else is going on, which I think is a really important part of encounter design that I think gets forgotten a lot. Like I forget it a lot. obviously not every single encounter needs to be some kind of masterwork, multiple, things moving at once, but if every single encounter is just, here are some things fight them. And then whoever wins gets to continue is like, that’s, you’re just rolling dice and playing a board game at that point. but, with this is really good at providing you another plate for them to spin so that you can then set up other plates that they have to go between keeping them on spinning, set up a really interesting. Encounter in that, as I mentioned before, the party, we’ll have decisions to make. They will have things that they need to decide how to who’s going to do what there’s going to be multiple things to do. And, having that decision to make, I think is what makes encounters the most exciting. So this, this elemental is not really designed to be like the ultimate challenge. It’s meant to be a piece, a foundation, like a catalyst that you can then build an encounter around.

Go deeper with Making a Monster:
https://ko-fi.com/sparkotter
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Where to find Kyle online:
https://www.patreon.com/ItsADnDMonsterNow
https://www.reddit.com/r/ItsADnDMonsterNow/

Music by Jason Shaw at Audionautix
audionautix.com/

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