I often find that when I am making an adventure or story arc that takes players to a new land or somewhere with a different climate that I begin looking for new creatures to populate that land. From the animals that they may see, to the monsters they may encounter each place is going to be unique. This can make things tough if you are planning multiple adventures, campaigns, or games. There a thousands of creatures out there in dozens of books. Looking through them all can be daunting and, even when you find a source with a theme matching what you want, you may not be able to find what you’re looking for. Perhaps you know what you want but there are no stats for that creature in the system you are using. While you can make such creatures on your own, this takes time and balance can be difficult to predict. The answer is re-skinning.
There are tons of ways to do this, and a few articles worth of things to consider and do. Today I want to get into the basics. Re-skinning, for those who aren’t clear on it or want to know what I mean by it, is taking a fully made monster and making of it something different. The stats are, mostly, kept the same. Powers and abilities are maintained. The goal is to drag and drop a ready-made creature into the position you need and ignoring what those stats originally represented.
The most basic way to do this is exactly that, drag and drop. Change absolutely nothing. This can be incredibly useful. As an example I used this in a 4E campaign where I had a desert of rusting steam punk wrecks from a civilization long past. In it lives jawas, scavenging from the wrecks and stealing the arcane robots that were still out there. Instead of making jawas from the ground up, I used the stats for goblins, simple as that. Another way re-skinning like this can help is to expand the usage of a race through higher levels.
Perhaps goblins or kobolds are the most prominent evil race. Instead of trying to transition to stronger enemies, you can keep the race your players know and hate. Take stats for orcs or hobgoblins and just call them goblins. Technicalities like size or racial traits do not have to stop you from doing this. Either dive in to such tweaks or ignore them completely. This can create more powerful individuals as you fight deeper into the enemy territory or it can create the sense that even the weakest of creatures can be dangerous to powerful characters.
Another way that you can re-skin in the most basic way is by using type, subtype, or elements. The best example would be in creatures that utilize elemental attack and resistances. A good example would be in hell hounds or nightmares. These are often flavored with fire. Why not flavor them with ice, lightning, acid, or poison? To do so is a simple thing. Edit the description a bit and then, essentially, replace instances of “fire” in the stat block with the element you would like such as “cold”.
This brings me to the final, very easy, way of re-skinning a creature to meet your needs. Instead of tweaking the stat block or using another creatures, you keep the exact stat1 block. Monster stats, especially sentient creatures, tend to be themed with a social context. It might be shamans, cults, or necromancers or similar things. But, perhaps you want kobold who worships, not a dragon, but a beholder. All you need to do is take the stats of the magical kobold and describe him with vestments and armaments that hint at worshiping a many eyed horror. No changes have to be made. Of course that isn’t to say that you can’t make changes, you just do not need to.
I know, these are simple things but they can be very helpful, at least in saving time. Many of you may already be utilizing these methods of re-skinning and others. This article definitely deserves more and I hope to create a couple more on the same subject. I am also hoping to make a few examples in the future, as I have some ideas. So look forward to that, and if you have done anything similar please comment and share!