Thursday, March 3, 2011

All Those Monsters

Most role-playing games that run more than one book prove a catalog of monsters. D&D in its various incarnations provides us with more than one. I would suspect most gamemasters are like myself and have never employed every monster in any of those books, much less all of them. I wonder, though, how people decide which monsters to play versus which to leave on the bench?

In my oft-revised, ever-evolving D&D to GURPS to Wizards & Warlocks setting (now answering to the named The World of Arn), I first employed whatever monsters struck my fancy from the three AD&D monster manuals and various issues of Dragon. I had the vague notion that any monster was fair game, but some spoke to me more than others--and some were just lame.

Later, when the world took a Sword & Sorcery turn, under the heady influence of Leiber and Howard, actually monsters (except humanoids) became rarer--human foes were the order of the day, and various prehistoric animals (the setting being in a mythic prehistory in good Howardian fashion) in wilderness adventures. Later, I wanted my own "signature" monsters (like Tolkien had his orcs) so I played up obscure entries from Dragon over standards. Why have the same old orcs when you can have cynamolgi (from Dragon #141 for you completists)? I mean, even the cartoon set itself apart from the norm by pushing bullywugs to prominence.

The latest iteration brought me full circle in a way, with all the glorious, crazy, D&D creatures stalking the world, albeit perhaps in a more “rationalized” fashion. And still some of the dregs got ignored. (Sorry flumph.)

The world of the City presented a challenge of adaptation. Here, I’ve been more planful about what monsters I’m gong to use. They have to be able to “work” with the more modern setting, and I really want to have in mind what the beastie's roll is in the setting--even if that’s just “monster of the week.”

So how do you decide what monsters are in your setting, be it D&D or otherwise? Grand plan? Whimsy?


Gothridge Manor said...

With 'civilized' type monsters I try to have some grand plan. Territories mapped, customs developed and general social mechanisms in place. But the monster is purely whimsy. Throw them in and let them go at it. Sorta like the disaster button on SimCity. Let's see how much damage this critter can do.

Harald said...

As far as monsters go, I am in favour of Intelligent Design. As you I've gone through phases where I would run encounters with any monster that struck my fancy, but now I want there to be a method to the madness.

If there are goblins in the forest, I want the players to be able to find the answers to the following questions: Are there normally goblins in said forest? If no, why are there now? If yes, why is this a problem now? How many are there? Is it a roving band, or a larger tribe? What is their agenda? Etc.

In the case of more exotic beasties, roving loners are fine, but in that case I want there to be an explanation for why the hill-giant is stomping through the countryside right now. The players may never find out (or even care), but still, I like to know.

I rarely actually pre-prepare a list of "sanctioned monsters", rather, before choosing the monster of the week, I try to fit it into the setting/story. That said, I tend to stick to a limited selection, favouring the humanoids, with more exotic specimens thrown in for flavour and diversity.

All time favourite monster: Illithids. These bastards are perfect behind-the-scenes villains -- creepy, intelligent, evil, dangerous, and organised. And they know how to employ henchmen to do their dirty work.

Unknown said...

My last traditional fantasy game's whole premise was that it revolved around dragons. The party would most likely tackle the chromatic dragons in order from weakest to toughest. It all kind of fell from there. Each phase of the campaign had a different theme (mostly based around a dragon's native climate). The connective tissue were elves (rules of the long lost evil empire), undead elves, and kobolds.

Man, I need to restart that game.

The Angry Lurker said...

The only monsters I use at the moment are related to my latest gaming (zombies) and are generated or classed in the few rules I've read but movies have a big influence on what you use or can sculpt or find. Examples would be Tanks, Lickers, Ragers etc.....and making rules for them through trial and error or related forums and blogs.

Desdichado said...

Pure whimsy, definately. Although I've also gone a route where monsters are relatively rare, and have some background other than, "yeah, monsters hang out in these hills and cause problems." Monsters are supposed to be... well, monstrous, and the almost home shopping network catalog effect of D&D monsters tends to dilute that significantly, so I work to make sure monsters are both rare and memorable, and for that matter, usually unique.

And yeah; I have way too many monster books, especially for a GM who purposefully eschews using many monsters. But I like having a deep catalog to draw from when I want monsters so I don't have to do too much of the work myself when I do want one..

bliss_infinte said...

After 30+ sessions of gaming my players have killed only 6 orcs but over 130 Crotch-goblins. I'm trying to find monsters that one doesn't fight all the time. I think there's gonna be a lot more undead coming up as well as pirates and troops from the southern empire.

oh, Destroy All Monsters is top of the pops!

ze bulette said...

That movie was insanely great wasn't it?

I reckon my setting is fairly run of the mill, but I like to throw in some strange things once in a while and find myself attracted to creatures with a larger story or confusing history - something that can be worked into a larger plot of some kind. The squonk being an example.

Martin R. Thomas said...

My world is vaguely Sword & Sorcery based, so I stick mainly to humanoids (mostly gnolls and "serpent-men" as the last remnants of primitive races that were killed off long ago), and I also use almost every type of undead and most lycanthropes.

Other things like Golems make an appearance once in a while, and demons/devils and weird stuff like beholders are creatures from "beyond" that are gated in by crazed cultists. They don't have an "ecology" and don't live in the world.

Dragons are a special case - they've all been secretly "locked up" in a parallel dimension for milennia in order to keep their eye on a powerful evil god who was subjugated and locked away. So, most people think that dragons are myths, but the players have encountered one or two when they accidentally got shifted to another plane (although they didn't realized they'd left "Earth").

That's about it. I keep my monster list pretty tight.

Anonymous said...

Except for the traditional "evil humanoid" block, orcs etc, which I do not use. Everything pretty much as a place in my world, in some weird corner. But Dragons are definitely the top of my threat pyramid.

migellito said...

In my old main 2e game the party did a great deal of portal travel to other worlds. To reflect the different environment I would switch to an entirely different monster book. For example, the first time they went through a portal, I only used the Fiend Folio the entire time they were there.

Trey said...

Interesting responses, so far. Thanks guys!

It's sort of the spectrum I would expect--though nobody has really given a "I use it all with no consideration" response, which may mean nobody really does that, or may mean bloggers are a more rarified breed.

And yeah, Destroy All Monsters is some quality Godzilla action.

satyre said...

Confession - I actually enjoy the winnowing out process; you can work out some goofball ecologies that fit when a party rolls in. I've tweaked climate/environment lists to create setting-specific stuff. I blame the original Monster Manual II.

My big exception is for dungeons with obvious construction. Then it's whatever fits the Rule of Cool at the time.

Like Tim, I prefer some backstory to why the monster is there though I've had a lich collecting mistletoe to the party's horror as a 'kill all monsters at your peril' lesson.

Destroy All Monsters is awesome.