It’s no surprise that Red Ink Adventures draws heavily from Into the Odd (and it’s cousin Electric Bastionland). Chris McDowall, creator of Into the Odd, wrote about how he runs his own game, monster design, and how special attacks work. His advice: don’t make soft monsters.
Into the Odd monsters shouldn’t have abilities like this: Whirlwind Flail: All surrounding the beast must pass a DEX Save or take d12 damage. Brain Sap: Pass a WIL Save or lose d4 WIL. Transformer-Needle: Pass a DEX Save to avoid the attack, or else you start a quiver. Attempt a STR Save at the start of each turn from now on. On the first fail you start to shift into a fishlike-humanoid. On the second fail you have full on scaly skin and hideous fish mouth. On a third fail you’re a fish. On a pass, you shake off the effect for good. (Yes I’ve done this myself in the past)
Just do the thing you want it to do. Into the Odd is designed around the idea that attacks do bad things every single time. Just because you might roll a 1 with your Musket and barely scratch your enemy doesn’t mean monsters can’t do horrible things every turn.
Knock it off with multiple saves, Saves against damage (NEVER use Save against Damage), Saves against Ability Score loss can work but it makes your monsters soft and unreliable. You want something meaningful to happen every time the players get in a position when a monster can attack them.
Go straight to the Ability Score loss. Go straight to the big d12 damage and don’t be afraid to target multiple characters if it’s a lone monster. Have Save vs something terrible happening. Put nasty effects on Critical Damage, because at that stage anything goes. If it’s as bad as a Save or Die then forecast the hell out of it (see Danger in Plain Sight).
The abilities above should be like this: Whirlwind Flail: d12 damage to everything surrounding the beast. Brain Sap: Lose d6 WIL. Turn into a mindless Slave at WIL 0. Transformer Needle: Lose d6 STR and gain a fish-like trait. At STR 0 turn into a fish.Bastionland.com
In these examples, monsters attack the characters in special ways besides “whacking” with an Attack Roll. For Red Ink Adventures, there should also be no “Save versus Damage”. Enter the Special Attack Roll.
Special Attacks Rolls work just the same as an Attack Roll when it comes to dice and lethality. They usually roll anything from 1d to 1d+4 and target the defender’s Health. What changes is the source of Armor (AR) and what happens when you get a Scar from these attacks.
Armor (the number subtracted from the Special Attack Roll) changes based on which type of Special Attack is used. When defending against…
- Body Attacks (poison, extreme cold, exhaustion) use your Strength (STR) as Armor.
- Area Attacks (fireball, arrow barrage, whirling blades) use your Dexterity (DEX) as Armor.
- Mind Attacks (insanity, psionics, stress) use your Charisma (CHA) as Armor.
When you get a Scar from a Special Attack, the effect changes as would make sense. The Scar from a halberd is not the same as a Mindflayer’s mind invasion.
Using the examples from Bastionland:
- Transformer Needle (1d+2, Body Attack): a body part turns into that of a fish.
- Whirlwind Flail (1d+1, Area Attack): excessive bleeding from many lacerations.
- Brain Sap (1d+3, Mind Attack): go catatonic for d6 hours.
- Poison (2d-1, Body Attack): lose nerve sensitivity.
- Blizzard (1d, Body Attack): frostbite, lose a finger or two.
- Fireball (1d+3, Area Attack): sustain major burns.
- Volley (1d+2, Area Attack): pierced by arrows.
- Frighten (1d, Mind Attack): flee from the attacker, trauma develops.
- Command (1d+2, Mind Attack): must do what the attacker demands.
Have fun coming up with ways to kill your PCs!