“Son, you got a panty on your head,” the old hayseed tells Nicolas Cage’s convenience-store robbin’ character H.I. in “Raising Arizona.” And sure e’nuff, somewhere beneath all that nylon is the Nicolas Cage we know and love — even though it’s pretty hard to recognize him just by looking.

Experienced D&D/3.5 players know their monsters backwards and forwards, just from hearing the description or showing them a picture. Tell them you’re facing a lizardfolk band, and well, they know how to deal with that, right down to the best tactics.

Designing new monsters from scratch is hard work — too hard for me — and monster sourcebooks, well, they’re too expensive.

So how do we — figuratively speaking, that is — put a panty on the head of a lizardfolk?

Here’s a few tricks:

Change the color.

Color changing is the oldest trick in the DM’s toolkit, exploited best by the late Bob Bledsaw and his crew at the Judges Guild back in D&D’s heyday when there were far fewer monsters to choose from. That’s how all those different hued humanoids ended up populating the Wilderlands. Change the skin color, and insta-presto, you’ve got a new monster.

So let’s make our lizardfolk yellow, or yellow with brown spots, and call it a desert variety.

Change a few statistical categories.

A favorite tactic of DMG author Monte Cook. For example, the Shard Hound of Ptolus is just a winter wolf with bony armor and an overbite (see http://www.ptolus.com/arch_dmonly1.html).

In our example, let’s make the desert lizardfolk rangy with a tougher hide, but more feral than his swamp-stomping cousins by eschewing crafted weapons and shields.

  • Rangy, so increase his speed by 10 feet. It now moves 40 feet instead of 30. (This also makes up for the fact that all those swim-based characteristics are worthless in a desert landscape).
  • Hide is thicker, to keep out the desert sun. Increase its natural armor +2, making it 17.
  • Talons are longer than claws, so they do 1d6+1 instead of 1d4+1 damage, and it flings slingstones for 1d4+1 damage instead of making javelins for hunting.

Adjust the ecology.

Logically, this new monster has to fit in. The green-backed lizardfolk of the Monster Manual are aquatic creatures, mainly. Making the yellow-backed ones fit for the desert takes some adjustment, but not much.

Exchange its special quality Hold Breath for something we’ll call Desert Camoflauge, giving it a +8 bonus to Hide in desert terrain when standing still.

Skills: Change Swim +2 to Climb +2.

Bonus Languages: Exchange Aquan for Terran.

Congratulations, you’ve just put a panty on the head of the lizardfolk.

Altering monsters (or races, even) in this fashion is another bonus for the DM’s toolbox. It’s also a fun way to stretch your own imagination and improve your mastery of the 3.5 rules. Above all, by offering something different to fight, you keep your players on their toes. That way, they won’t become jaded or be able to anticipate that you’ll run straight out of the Monster Manual.

If you’ve used this method, something like it, or an approach that’s completely different, I’d love to know what worked for you.