Monday, July 13, 2015

No Species?

A recent post on Hari Ragat Games makes the point that a Sword & Sorcery setting really shouldn't have species of monsters like orcs, goblins, elves, and dwarves. He suggests that monsters should be:
  • Solitary unique beings from somewhere else
  • Mutated versions of known creatures
  • Artificially augmented versions of known creatures, e.g. apes trained to use weapons
  • Creatures that should’ve been extinct, e.g. dinosaurs or early hominids
  • Creatures that shouldn’t be alive, i.e. undead
  • It could exist in the world, but is unknown and unknowable by normal means, e.g. a deep-sea monster, or a lost-world inhabitant 
Sticking to this lists seems like it may be even better advice for a Swashbuckling setting like my Honor+Intrigue campaign where magic is extremely rare to non-existent. One of the many nice things about H+I is that the magic, supernatural, clock-punk, secret societies, and other 'weird' elements are modular. They can be included in the setting or discarded. In my setting, the players and I agreed on a low to no supernatural and 'weird' setting.

Let me check the 'monsters' the PCs have encountered against this list to see how they match up.
  1. A loup garou who sold his soul to the devil to gain his vengeance. While not really mutated, it is man who has metamorphosized into a monster. Men are known and the metamorphosis is sort of like a mutation. And the creature is unique and solitary - it doesn't run with a pack or family of werewolves. So let's call that checked. a solitary being and it is a change
  2. A second loup garou who was the victim of the first creature. He was bit by the loup garou. He was not treated with the Key of St. Hubertus and he ended up turning. Still kind of unique. The fact that dead victims are dead and wounded victims must be bitten and must fail a saving roll of sorts makes this still sort of unique. We don't (yet) have a species of werewolves in the game setting.
  3. A so called, loup garou, who was actually a madman and a cannibal who thought he was a loup garou. Since he was not really supernatural, just a mad serial killer, I'll call that good. (Technically he was the first loup garou the PCs met.)
  4. A mysterious wolf with glowing eyes that might or might not have been supernatural. The players never figured out if he was or was not real or mundane. 
  5. The Black Angel, a mounted winged figure in black armor. At least one PC thought he was a demon. In fact he was a former Winged Hussar clad all in black to look scary. Sort of the Scooby Doo version of a demon.
So far, that's the extent of the "monsters" in my H+I campaign. With the exception of #1 and #2 all of these monsters have reasonable mundane explanations. Which leads me to this question:

Should rumored or thought to be supernatural, but really is normal, be a seventh category on the Hari Ragat Game list?


  1. For D&D players/GM's, Birthright was a great example of this. They took a lot out of the MM and turned them into big "archetypal" creatures (ie. THE Chimera) that had blood ties to the land. You could easily ignore the whole domain management aspect and borrow from the concept.

    Now, as to Hari Ragat's argument, there is a lot of truth to that. I think for settings that aren't rooted in fantasy, its best to use a light hand and some thought when introducing monsters to the setting. Sounds like you're doing just that with H+I.

  2. Yes. I would think Witchhunter would use a mixed approach. Some monsters should be unique, some probably are in effect a species, and witches should obviously be relatively plentiful so the hunters don't get fat and bored sitting around the tavern with nothing to do except drink another ale.

  3. Exactly! Witch Hunter really encourages the GM to make every encounter unique in some regard. Not all werewolves are vulnerable to silver. Some vampires won't even blink at a holy symbol. The statblocks provided are just examples, and each threat entry gives you a menu of powers to mix and match.