Of all the classic movie monsters adapted into the world of D&D, Frankenstein’s Monster probably gets the worst treatment. Flesh Golems, as interesting as they are, make poor substitutes for Mary Shelley’s creation. Don’t get me wrong, there is some genius there. Flesh Golems are repowered by lightning, go on rampages, and shrug off attacks. Clearly someone was trying to capture the feel of the Universal Studios monster. In practice, however, it comes off a little bland. Let’s change that!
First you’ll have to determine which version of the monster you really want to use. We’ll separate them into two broad camps:
“Karloff” style monsters are hulking brutes with stiff arms that rampage through villages and cause wanton destruction. They barely speak, never plan, and seldom use strategy. They are dangerous because they are simply too strong to put down easily, but they make a poor “big bad” for a long campaign. These are much closer to Flesh Golems than our next example, yet still require a little tuning up.
“Shelly” style monsters are hideous and supernatural, but also brilliant and tortured. They are well read, well spoken, and use their incredible cunning in combat. They might be prone to fits of rage, but they are reasonably contained; their anger turns into a slow-boil plan for vengeance which is wrought over long periods of time, often without warning. They are dangerous opponents in direct combat, but also suitable as an overarching villain. This version will take a lot more rules finessing.
To capture the feel of this rampaging monster, you really have to turn a Flesh Golem up to 11. The golem is really a one-trick monster, and that trick is damage immunity. Against a young party without magic weapons, they can be table killers, but against a party with a few +1 weapons, they can be an easy walkover. Fifth edition’s easy access to cantrip spells, especially fire based cantrips, makes this even easier. Balancing their level of threat for a high level party will take some tweaks.
One way to change up the threat is to remove the damage immunity but add a heap of extra hit points. Change the encounter from a “We can’t hurt this thing!” to a “Why won’t it go down!?!” experience. Add a little more AC depending on how easily your party hits and then just force the party to spend all their resources putting this thing to rest.
I also suggest removing the “berserk” feature (which is mostly a roleplay thing) and replacing it with the “Wounded Fury” feature from the Quaggoth (also in the monsters manual) and set the trigger level to about 20% hit points of whatever you gave the Golem. Then the rest is down to tactics. Play the monster as a mindless brute. The monster attacks whatever just attacked it. If another character wounds the monster have it change focus. Use other combat maneuvers (grapple, bull rush, etc.). This should never be a deadly encounter, just an exhausting one. When the creature goes down, you want to imagine the party short of breath and looking behind them at a long trail of destruction.
I’ll forgo roleplay tips for this one. Moan. Stomp a lot. “Fire Bad!”. You get the idea.
For transforming our Flesh Golems into Shelley style monsters, we can take some inspiration from the closest equivalent ever printed in D&D: “Adam,” a clear reference of the Monster from the 2nd Edition Ravenloft Box Set. Adam, also called Mordenheim’s Monster, is from the Ravenloft domain of Lamordia, which is basically a loose tribute to Mary Shelley’s book. Adam was reclusive, tortured, and brilliant. He tormented his creator and anyone who stood in his way. Here’s a taste of how he was described in the Ravenloft books:
“The Monster resembles neither a Flesh Golem nor a lumbering dolt with neck bolts. He is extremely nimble, swift and clever… [he has a] willingness to retreat if danger is present… Time is meaningless to Adam, he can always return to fight another day.”
That’s really the key tactic and design dynamic of your more intelligent Frankenstein’s Monster. Despite its raw power, it’s actually a psychological villain. Have your creature show up exactly when the PC’s least expect it. It can wait until the circumstances are exactly right; time is on the monster’s side. Have the monster circle around behind the PCs and attack their allies and power bases. When they form useful relationships, have the monster show up to kill their newfound comrades.
Obviously this monster has a much higher intelligence than the one listed in the Monsters Manual. Adam, as a reference, had a 16. I would actually set the monsters INT score at 18 or higher. You might also increase the dexterity score–at least to 12–but in any event, you should up the armor class to reflect an active combatant, rather than the hulking brute of the Karloff style. This version of the monster probably benefits from the weapon immunity but I’d remove the “Berserk” trait (again, this is roleplaying) and drop the “Aversion of Fire” as that’s really a direct reference to the Universal movies and not the books. Finally, I would give the monster 10 or more superiority dice and access to a selection of maneuvers from the Battle Master fighter subclass. Play smart. Don’t forget, the monster will always retreat if things start going badly. It has the time.
Instead of specific roleplay tips (beyond “play smart”), I would suggest watching a few episodes of the creature as portrayed on Penny Dreadful. This guy really nails it. He may not be the manipulative supervillain I’m suggesting here, but he’s great for the actually character portrayal.
Tell us what you think about using Frankenstein’s Monster in your games. What tips do you have? What other monsters should we give a little enhancement too? Create your comments in the section below.
Image Credits: Dungeons & Dragons | Wizards of the Coast
Penny Dreadful images care of Showtime
Frankenstein’s Monster Gif by Universal Pictures