Monday, April 6, 2015


I started talking about this here. Zak then talked about Monsters here, which overlaps quite a bit with what I wanted to say, though I'm really talking about a method of doing this sort of thing, of using monsters to build a mythology and a sense of place and history into a game.

Solution One (already covered): change how you talk about monsters when you run a game.

Solution Two: change what "monster" means. Move it beyond or outside of D&D (or most other roleplaying games I've encountered).

As discussed already, a monster is not just a rupture in the natural order, it is also a sign of the same. It is the beast and it is its call in the night, and it is the prophecy that foretold its coming and it is the calf born with two heads when it sidles by the barn to pluck a young farmhand from asleep in the hay.

Here is what hearing about monsters does to you: you are nervous, worried, the world feels unsafe, you jump at loud noises, avoid shadows, mistrust everyone, all of which takes its toll. In Monsterparts (and the thing on which I'm working) I called these Secrets, but the name is secondary. They deplete your health. If you have x HP, now you have x-1 HP just for the thing existing. Being around the monster, being in its lair is worse, more depletion.

Because the thing about a lot of monsters is that they're not actually, themselves, mechanically all that terrible. They're terrible because you never face them in full fetter, because getting to them means wading through unsettling things, sleepless nights, etc, so that you're already half-crazy when they show up, in the dark. If this were a book or movie or something, the monster, itself, should be the denouement.

Here is a monster description:

scrambling eaters
Dextrous Monstrous Halfling HD6, 4 Endurance
-small, between a child and a really big house cat
-night vision: eyes reflect light like a dog's
-heals injuries in a few minutes in the dark or when eating
-hunts in threes, nests in 6s; nest has d2 Treasures

Here are signs of the scrambling eater (treat these like rumors and wandering encounters):

-missing children or children and animals with missing limbs, digits, eyes
-bright eyes under sewer grates, scrabbling or tapping under cobble stones
-little statues in home shrines to a wide mouthed little god, similar signs scratched newer sewer entrances, but no one says what god to which they prey
-general starvation, crop failure, horribly skinny people eye you from rags, slowly chewing or sucking on a bone or what must be a strip of leather
-lethargic governance, no one does anything to help, pretends there is no problem, men meant to watch in the night stay inside and hide, fearful
-scratching in the walls of your room, holes in the walls much too large for a rat
-people leave bowls of blood out on their stoop, in the morning, the bowls are empty

And here's something you might discover in the lair of a scrambling eater:

-crude maps of the insides of houses, with much more attention paid to where people sleep and to the spaces between walls
-its corpse is marked with a brand on its forehead, knife-shaped, though its children have no such mark
-the nest will invariably have a parody of a cozy home with rotten and raggedy beds, tea in chipped teakettles, probably a well-worn chap book with the prayers crossed out and re-written ("blessed are the meek for they shall devour the earth," etc)

Here are excerpts from something on which I'm working (note: XP requirements for a level are much lower than in trad D&D than here [possible conversion: multiply the XP by 100]):

"Roll a d6 and add your level of renown. The Referee should move up the list if the result has been rolled previously, returning to the lowest value of the list is exhausted. Resolution of the Secret rewards XP equal to its number less your level of renown but is always worth at least 2 XP. Anyone that contributed gets the reward and regains all lost Endurance. There are usually at least a few weeks, if not months between Secrets.

When reading aloud the italicized text, contextualize it for each character. One of them heard scratching under the cobble stones, another saw eyes like saucers in the sewers, another heard chewing behind the walls or under a manhole cover."

scratching under cobble stones and flashing eyes like saucers in the sewer grate, children are disappearing. If you put your ear to a manhole cover, there are whispers or chewing noises
3. IN THE TEMPLE IN THE VAST, DARK FOREST a burning white god in the temple heals the injuries of some, leaving them increasingly pale, bright and beautiful. These “new saints” are widely respected in the Village, but you've seen them beating beggars, pulling wings from a pigeon.

"2. IN THE SEWERS Faction the horde Monster scrambling eaters For Later a pit into the terrible underground, a maze of the spaces inside walls

Monster        ascended ghoul, pupal ghouls
For Later       a means into the land of the elves

attributions: Sankai Jutsu, Sam Wolfe Connelly

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