Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ruminations on the Rust Monster

In all my years of DMing (about 27 of them at this point), I don't think I ever used a Rust Monster.

The reason was that I never wanted to.  I never saw the need to take away the armor/weapons/etc that the PCs had worked so hard to find.  I guess my group never suffered from Monty Haulism and I largely looked at the Rust Monster as a way of setting that particular malady right.  (Same goes for the FF's Disenchanter)

I also house-ruled "energy drain" a number of years ago to mean STR and CON drain.  This was permanent and usually coupled with a severe and immediate whitening of the PC's hair.

Why?  I guess that I didn't feel the need to take away the levels that my players had worked so hard to earn.

All that being said -- I stumbled upon this post today by Noism --
I like Rust Monsters; they're one of the very few D&D creatures who can actually generate genuine fear and excitement in players - the others usually being level-draining undead.
and a light went on in my head!  I've been missing a real opportunity to raise the blood pressure and adrenaline levels of my players!  I also read this over at Trollsmyth --
Older players don’t mind so much because the core of the game way back when was exploration and logistics. Losing equipment was a logistical puzzle; do you continue on without it, or risk the dangerous road back to civilization? Pushing deeper into the dungeon without that sword or plate mail might be dangerous, but those random forest encounter tables in the back of the DMG could dump the party into the lap of a green dragon. If you risked going deeper, you might get lucky and find replacement equipment. If you go back, you’ll certainly be able to buy new equipment, but that choice isn’t without serious risk, either. Making those decisions was the fun of old school D&D. The rust monster didn’t interrupt the game. The rust monster was the game.
Wow!  What a revelation!  Now I have a legitimate reason to use Rust Monsters in a way that isn't "curative".  Now I know why Gary and Dave created this idea of "energy drain" in the first place.  Fantastic!

(I'm loving the experience of re-exploring these books and materials again!  In some ways, its my first time -- an undiscovered country.)

Part of me feels very sorry for the new kids coming up these days who will experience 4e with a total lack of Rust Monsters.  These comments made by Mike Mearls really make me profoundly sad --
Unfortunately, the rust monster's mechanics could use some work. Within the context of a single encounter, they're a lot of fun. But once your weapons and armor are rendered useless, the next encounter becomes that much more difficult. If you’ve invested thousands of gp into metal items, you better hope your DM is ready to hand over a ton of extra treasure to make up for your losses. At the very least, he needs to understand that the party's power level (especially for the fighter-types) is now behind the curve.
The rust monster carries a big sign that says, "Stop adventuring or die!" 
One of development's goals is to facilitate play. We want people to get in multiple encounters each session, whether these are combat, roleplay, puzzles, or whatever. The rust monster brings any prospect of a balanced combat encounter to an end. 
First, if you are having fun then the loss of your weapons and armor is part of the experience, part of the ADVENTURE, not some kind of unwarranted hostile action on the part of the DM.  "(T)he next encounter becomes that much more difficult" is kinda the point.

Second, this kind of "entitlement" on the part of players, that you'd better "hope your DM is ready to hand over a ton of extra treasure to make up for your losses" is crap.  You want more treasure?  Go out there and find it!  That's the only thing your DM owes you is the opportunity to succeed -- not a guarantee!

Third, the statement that the DM "needs to understand" that the party's power level has taken a hit -- not the DM's responsibility at all.  If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.  Learn to run away and use your wits to survive.  The expectation that every fight is fair is a crappy way to run a game.

"Stop adventuring or die!"?  if your definition of "adventuring" is straight-up combat against a monster that can destroy all your stuff, then, yes, I guess you'd better go back to town and become a farmer.  There are other ways to defeat this beast -- find one!

"Balanced encounter"?  Who ever promised that?  Run away if you must!

In sum, all hail the humble Rust Monster (and its equally humble beginnings).  I'm looking forward to placing this little beastie somewhere strategic in my adventures!  Wights too!


Jayson said...

Well-put. I don't begrudge people wanting to play the game they want to play, but it helps to realize what that game in fact is.

ERIC! said...

One of my problems with more modern editions is the sense of being owed....that the DM is the enemy....sad really and a good picture of the younger generations attitude now a days....

Unknown said...

I have always that thought that the DM being the enemy was in fact a founding concept of "old school" gaming. ;)

Oh and FYI - Let's see if it pastes in here ok:

Rust Monster

Medium natural beast
Level 6 Skirmisher
XP 250 Initiative +10 Senses Perception +5; low-light vision
HP 66; Bloodied 33
AC 20; Fortitude 16, Reflex 21, Will 17
Speed 8

Bite (standard, at-will)

+11 vs AC; 1d10+5 damage, and if the target is wearing heavy armor, the armor is rusting until the end of the encounter. While the armor is rusting, the target takes a cumulative -1 penalty to AC, to a maximum penalty of -5.

Dissolve Metal (standard, encounter) Reliable

Targets a creature wearing or wielding a rusting magic item of 10th level or lower or any non-magic rusting item; +9 vs Reflex; the rusting item is destroyed.

Rusting Defense (when the rust monster is hit by a weapon attack; at-will)

The weapon used in the triggering attack is rusting until the end of the encounter. While the weapon is rusting, the target takes a cumulative -1 penalty to damage rolls on attacks that use the weapon, to a maximum penalty of -5.

Residuum Recovery

A rust monster consumes any item it destroys. The residuum from any magic items the monster has destroyed can be retrieved from its stomach. The residuum is worth the market value of the item (not one-fifth the value).

Alignment Unaligned Languages -
Str 8 (+2) Dex 20 (+8) Wis 15 (+5)
Con 10 (+3) Int 2 (-1) Cha 12 (+4)

Published in Monster Manual 2.

Jim said...

Virtualcio, Thanks for the post. It does seem a little watered down though? Only rusting items that are lower than 10th level? Glad it at least exists. :)