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Altering "Monsters"


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When I downloaded that enormous  monster book from this site (The Big D--- Book of Monsters), which I have not read completely through given how enormous it is, it occured to me that I would have the opportunity to do a lot of futzing around with critters. A lot of the description in that piece is informal, even in direct descriptions of creature abilities to do damnage and the like.

Another RPG book I recently read put forth the radical idea of a fantasy setting where most "monsters" are just very different kinds of people trying to live out their lives, and that "eye creatures", Medusas and the like could actually be very friendly and helpful once you get to know them. Of course, a lot of humans would think monsters need killing regardless, because some people are just like that. Anti-monster rampages could prove troublesome at best, especially in places where the monster in question is actually a valuable and respected member of the community. With an alignment system fundamentally different from that in D&D, you can actually futz around with the monsters that way.

My question is how much alteration to a monster one needs to do if basically all you're adjusting is their attitudes and the abilities related to them. Your friendly Eye Creature might have the same powers, and maybe a few extra, but adapted to very different purposes. I'm wondering about how non-combat uses of "anti-magic rays" would play out. And since that Eye Creature might potentially be a player-character, how worried do I need to be about making her balanced?

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I'm working on a very stop/start project to create a world where Orcs, at least, would be viable characters, filling the roll of human barbarians: rough, prone to settling arguments with fists and swords but not "uncultured" as they have their own gods and ways of life. Being good miners, they have iron and copper to trade for crops. Didn't RuneQuest do this sort of thing years ago with Trolls?

In the AD&D Spelljammer starter set, there was an inn on the Rock of Bral that has a Beholder working behind the bar. Its disintegrate eye power had been changed to levitate, allowing it to mix some of the best cocktails in the sphere. The locals were used to it and accepted its presence as normal. Of course, PCs, new to the Rock, were taken aback by the description "a comfortable looking Inn, with crowds of humans, dwarfs and elves, a roaring fire and a Beholder behind the bar". In fact, I was in an AD&D campaign where one of the PCs was a Thrikeen (some sort of giant insect thing). My character thought it was a demon and wouldn't trust it at all, until it used some healing magic on an important NPC. My attitudes began to change after that.

So, I think my answer is you don't have to change the creature's attitudes (beyond them not resorting to violence at the drop of a hat), you need to change the attitudes of the society around them. If the populace think a Medusa is a fine addition to the town, then that's great: it would be the PCs who have to adapt and accept the Medusa as a useful ally. If the broader society accepts Medusae as NPCs, then a party of Humans, Elves and Dwarfs should be able to accept these creatures as PCs. The PCs might hold grudges or be afraid of their new companion but good roleplaying should eventually fix any problems like this.

Colin

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On 5/2/2016 at 0:21 AM, ColinBrett said:

I'm working on a very stop/start project to create a world where Orcs, at least, would be viable characters, filling the roll of human barbarians: rough, prone to settling arguments with fists and swords but not "uncultured" as they have their own gods and ways of life. Being good miners, they have iron and copper to trade for crops. Didn't RuneQuest do this sort of thing years ago with Trolls?

Colin

Trolls in Glorantha are actually a highly-cultured and sophisticated race.  They just also happen to be (largely) violent and aggressive and bloodthirsty.  They are actually responsible for some of the great acts of heroism in resistance to Chaos and the Devil, during the Great Darkness (and note that the Darkness was otherwise VERY much to their taste -- but they joined the Great Compromise that brought the Sun-God Yelm back to life, as part of the fight).

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In BRP/RQ most "monsters" don't need much alteration.  RQ statted monsters out the same way player characters were statted out (this back when most RPGs didn't bother with tracking things like STR and CON for monsters), so the transition wouldn't be too difficult. The biggest problems would be:

1) INT. Most monsters aren't all that bright, and would need to have their INT score increased so that they would be smart enough to interact with other characters. They wouldn't need to be as intelligent as humans, but they should be off of the fixed INT scale, and smart enough to communicate in some fashion.

2) "Game balance", in the traditional sense, would be non-existent - at least for some of the more powerful monsters. A 10m tall giant with STR 35, SIZE 35 is going to end up with something like a +3d6 damage bonus. That is going to be a game changer as far as combat goes. Now some aspects of "game balance" could be achieved by role playing the social and logistical problems that might go with being a huge monster. Many people might shun such a creature, and just finding a pair of shoes could prove problematic.  Also, such a monster would tend to draw more "fire" from the enemy in combat. So the giant would probably draw the lion's share of the attention from enemy archers and magicians - as nobody with any sense wants to get within reach of the thing that is swinging around a tree.

Now most game balance issues are really about the relative power level amongst players, so a campaign where everbody was a 10m tall giant could work. But doing so could give the PCs a sense of community that might eliminate the whole feel of being "monsters". For instance, you could take something like Hobbiton, and replace all the Hobbits with Giants and adjust things for the relative differences in size. In fact the giants might consider themselves to be the normal humans, and consider the 2m tall SIZ 2d6+6 humans to be some sort of midget race. 

3) Some of the more evil, predatory monsters (vampires) might need to find an alternate means of sustenance if they are going to be transformed into less evil creatures. It doesn't really matter how nice a guy the vampire or werewolf if you happen to be on their menu. 

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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For werewolves, legend and reality can be very different. If you ever get the chance to, you should see an anime film called Wolf Children. In it, a woman falls in love with a wolf who can take human shape and bears him two wolf/human hybrid children. The wolves in that world aren't monstrous at all other than having an animalistic side, yet they remain out of sight because they fear they will be viewed as the mythical, predatory werewolves of lore. (The movie is about the children deciding which path they want to take in their lives -- human or wolf.)

With a little bit more difficulty, you can adapt a less evil take to vampires. Literature is full of them (and some of it is actually good). Perhaps the drinking of human blood from a willing donor is a very sexual thing for both parties, and sustenance can be had from animal blood (or blood is only needed very rarely -- on the night of the full moon, for example -- and the vampire can eat normally otherwise). There would be a lot of relationships and marriages (depending on how rare vampires are) between mortals and vampires. But there will be horrifying legends and rumors, and vampires will have to be watchful for overzealous "crusdaders against the unholy".

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 I kind of like that idea of Monster wanting be left alone and live in  Peace. One of the reason Ebberron isone of my favorite fantasy worlds is it has Orc Farmers who are just interested in getting their crop in and raising their children in peace.

But lets look at the Medusas and how to have fun with that legend. According to some legends Medusa was a beautiful Maiden who was raped by Poseidon in a Temple of Athena. And instead of kicking Poseidon butt for being a low life thug, Athena decided to punish the victim and turned Medusa into a monster..

 So perhaps the Medusas in your world could be suffering a similar unjust curse and the players meet one who just wants the curse removed and enlist the players aid.

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It comes down to a question, I think, of whether you want there to be "sure thing" Monsters -- targets that it's morally-safe to attack/kill, even in the absence of imminent threat.  That's a traditional "staple" of RPG's, dating back to (several of) the foundational sources (e.g. minis/wargames, where "kill the other side" was the entire point of the exercise; Tolkien, whose "orcs" were inherently-evil creatures; and the overall morally-unambiguous us-vs-them of so much fantastic fiction of the day).

Baldly stated as "targets that it's morally-safe to attack/kill, even in the absence of imminent threat" makes it really clear, though, that this game is one largely without any real-life referent.  Modern apologia for RPG's note that these are games where you learn creativity, out-of-the-box problem-solving, teamwork, socializing, and a whole slew of real-life "soft skills," highly valued in today's commercial marketplace and in today's social milieu.  The old-school "monster" stands in rather-stark contrast to that!  The alienation and "othering" that's needed to auto-kill another being smacks of some rather ugly understandings of racism, radical/religious terrorism, etc.

Personally, I still include "Monsters" like this into many of my games.  In terms of RQ/Glorantha, that's mostly Chaos-beasts.  However, I don't penalize or judge my players if they choose to role-play the enmities inherent in the world of Glorantha -- the Sartar rebel who regards all Lunars as enemies, etc -- instead of RP'ing a modern/enlightened POV.

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Yeah, there is some struth in that. And it is a viewpoint that fits the setting, in most cases. People from "less enlightened" eras tended to view anyone and anything strange as evil/bad/inferoio and thus subject to attack/destruction/subjugation without any moral repercussions. In deed, do so what usually considered a good thing. Sadly we still see it today with members of certain countries/cultures/religion/whatever tend to view themselves and superior to one of more other cultures due to their technology/history/faith/etc. It become much easier to fight someone if you can vilify them.

Monsters tended to take that approach to the ultimate extreme, being creatures  specially sent to plague mankind.

 

But I think, changing the morality of the monsters is easy. Changing the morality and outlook of the human culture less so. But I think all that is something that the GM and players can work out fairly easily. Some of the more troublesome bits are with game mechanics and how to handle some of the extreme attribute scores and powers, and "survival requirements". For instance, Vampires in RQ need to drain POW to survive. So just how they get that POW is going to need to be addressed as it will impact how easily that can be intergrated with other characters. Nobody is comfortable with someone who has them on their food chain. 

 

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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One idea for a one-shot game I had thinking about this topic would be a bunch of monsters in a dungeon -- with the monsters as the player-characters. The mad wizard who had assembled and stocked his fortress against an inevitable adeventurer attack that somehow never came died decades ago of boredom and natural causes (while engaged in an evil plot that has\d something to do with purple raspberries), leaving the "monsters" to fend for themselves as best they could. By now, they've built a community of sorts and found ways to keep themselves warm, fed and occupied. They are raising families, building lives, and generally behaving like anyonhe else -- only they are confined to the tower and its underbelly because people tend to get all screamy and running-away-like when they show themselves on the surface. Life isn't great, but it's not as bad as it could be, and they're trying to make it better.

And now the adventurers show up, seeking to stop the moribund evil plot of the decades-dead master of the dungeon. A plot that never really got off the ground in the first place.

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 Might point out just because a monster is not automatically evil, does not mean its not a bad guy. Take humans for example.. Humans are not considered evil in most games, but if a bunch of Viking Raiders show up to pillage and party in the players  village without an invite. the players might not welcome them with open arms.

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Monster is as Monster does. That is the theme of popular films like the Disney version of Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Shrek series. In Hunchback, the deformed Quasimodo is scorned, mocked, and called a "monster" by the surrogate father who is raising him out of guilt for a misdeed, while it is that father whose actions continue to demonstrate just how monstrous he really is. Frollo is in fact one of the most memorable "true" monsters in the genre -- a vicious racist and authoritarian whose evil is more real and plapable than that of your typical Disney megalomaniac. At the very beginning of the film we are asked "Who is the Monster and who who is the Man" and over the course of the film we get our answer. You could ask the same question about the protagonist of Frankenstein.

Monster is as Monster does. And if your players can come to realize that it will improve your experience as a GM.

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Depends somewhat on the setting. In some settings (Middle Earth for example) species such as Orcs and Trolls are inherently evil, with no way around it. 

Plus in most "pre-enlightened" eras, anyone from a different race or culture is suspect as the very least.  

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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On 5/5/2016 at 10:49 PM, Michael Hopcroft said:

One idea for a one-shot game I had thinking about this topic would be a bunch of monsters in a dungeon -- with the monsters as the player-characters. The mad wizard who had assembled and stocked his fortress against an inevitable adeventurer attack that somehow never came died decades ago of boredom and natural causes (while engaged in an evil plot that has\d something to do with purple raspberries), leaving the "monsters" to fend for themselves as best they could. By now, they've built a community of sorts and found ways to keep themselves warm, fed and occupied. They are raising families, building lives, and generally behaving like anyonhe else -- only they are confined to the tower and its underbelly because people tend to get all screamy and running-away-like when they show themselves on the surface. Life isn't great, but it's not as bad as it could be, and they're trying to make it better.

And now the adventurers show up, seeking to stop the moribund evil plot of the decades-dead master of the dungeon. A plot that never really got off the ground in the first place.

I like this a lot--I think it might be a novel and viable campaign idea too. The 'monster' or 'critter' if you prefer a more neutral term, can be whatever it needs to be to fit the requirements of the story, and the better handle the game master has on his players, the more fun that can be for everybody involved, since the monsters can always surprise the players' expectations in new and different ways if you give the description the slightest twist or an independent motivation.  Sometimes not even a change in statistics is needed.  Thus, in my Cthulhu Invictus campaign Tiberius Claudius Coluber, a straight out of the rule book serpent man wizard, also turns out to be the laziest Mythos villain ever, installed in a minor priesthood in the Temple of Claudius in Rome.  He isn't bothering to forward his own nefarious scheme, as the Romans don't seem to be bothering him at the moment, and so he is more than willing to help the player investigators put the kabosh on any other nefarious Mythos scheme that looks like it will cause him trouble.  All he has to do is sit in the temple, study, collect his pay, and occasionally take a temple sacrifice to feed "Baby" in the basement. When "Baby" digs its way out, because it is bored, fun times can be had by all.

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 Speaking of playing Monsters, Has anyone besides me ever played Monsters!!Monsters!! ?

 For those who live in isolation its based on Tunnels and Trolls and you get to play a Monster picked at random. First time I played we got two monsters and I drew a Goblin(Great biggest wimp in game) and a Basilisk. So I put the Basilisk in a bag and had the Goblin wander around with the bag  and when ever some human guards showed up the goblin would sit down and whimper  , Its mine , its mine don't take my precious. And of course when the Guards grabbed the bag and looked inside...

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Dungeon Magazine issue 10 had a scenario called Monsterquest, where the PCs were a mixture of goblins, orcs, an ogre and even a wererat. The characters were pregenerated and used an AD&D monster statblock, rather than the S, D, I etc attributes a normal PC would have. The scenario was played for laughs but I can see it being given a more serious tone and turned into a campaign.  

EDIT: I could take a bash at converting it to BRP. Would anyone be interested?

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13 hours ago, Michael Hopcroft said:

What do you challenge a party like that with?

King Ghidorah, possibly mind controlled by aliens planning to take over the word. Maybe even with Gigan to back him up. Or, you can use a giant robot, possibly backed up by Gigan, King Ghidorah, or some new monster. Or the Japanese military and their latest ultra tech vehicle.  You can even bring out King Kong, Gamera, or Daimagin if you want to. 

 

All in all it wouldn't be too bad. Kinda like D&D but not quite as silly,  without the muckinism and treasure hunting, but with the possibility of actual role play and character development.

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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40 minutes ago, Atgxtg said:

King Ghidorah, possibly mind controlled by aliens planning to take over the word. Maybe even with Gigan to back him up. Or, you can use a giant robot, possibly backed up by Gigan, King Ghidorah, or some new monster. Or the Japanese military and their latest ultra tech vehicle.  You can even bring out King Kong, Gamera, or Daimagin if you want to. 

 

All in all it wouldn't be too bad. Kinda like D&D but not quite as silly,  without the muckinism and treasure hunting, but with the possibility of actual role play and character development.

There were a couple of American cartoon series about Godzilla (one was even of the '90s American version of the character) in which the big guy featured very little, and was mainly summoned by the human protagonists when they got into trouble with other big monsters. The series were bad on an epic scale, and I can't imagine Japanese fans liking them (though you never know). It reduced him (or her -- the '90s Godzilla was female, and I'm kind of ashamed that I know that) to a deus ex machina solving human problems, when human problems are basically irrelevant to Godzilla.

The idea of a kaiju campaign is remeniscent of the often-postulated campaign with Dragon PCs. Which has the additional advantage of dragons being intelligent enough to be relatable (after a fashion, as their concerns are probably alien to humans).

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Yeah those kiddie series were bad. The next time you talk to someone about Godzilla (or Gojira) just mention the word "Godzooky" and see the look on the other person's face. 

But kidding aside, a Kaiju campaign really isn't all that different from a high level D&D game. the major characters are really only vulnerable to other major characters or an army of mooks. It's just that with kaiju, it really is an actual army. It also has some advantages over some other monster campaign, including Dragon PCs in that the players are already somewhat familar with the genre and characters, and kinda got an idea as to what they should be doing. 

 

And, come of think of it, there are a few takes on the Dragon PC campaign, too. I could see them being like Dickson Dragon (Dragon & the George), Melniboean Dragons (Elric saga), or maybe even the residents of an alien world that get's explored/colonized/invaded by humans. And a high tech setting. with humans in some sort of mecha, gives them  a way to stand against the PC dragons. 

 

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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21 hours ago, TRose said:

 Speaking of playing Monsters, Has anyone besides me ever played Monsters!!Monsters!! ?

 For those who live in isolation its based on Tunnels and Trolls and you get to play a Monster picked at random. First time I played we got two monsters and I drew a Goblin(Great biggest wimp in game) and a Basilisk. So I put the Basilisk in a bag and had the Goblin wander around with the bag  and when ever some human guards showed up the goblin would sit down and whimper  , Its mine , its mine don't take my precious. And of course when the Guards grabbed the bag and looked inside...

LOL! Hard for someone not to fall for that. 

 

I head of Monsters!!Monsters!! but never played it. I did, however get to play Creature Feature, for Chill. In it you play a "traditional" horror movie monster. You have to pick a victim and stalk them and terrorize them in a way consistent with your type of monster, earning experience according to how well you do so. 

 

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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On 5/12/2016 at 9:55 PM, TRose said:

 Can Run Cthulhu and company against them.  Then I always wanted to play Godzilla versus  Cthulhu.

I was thinking about something along those lines awhile back. I figured beings like Mothra might explain why us humans are still around and kicking despite all the Mythos nasties with designs on Earth.

 

I even did some write-ups. But, in order to make it all work out right in game terms. I had to use a somewhat modified SIZ scale. Rather than going with the offical SIZ table from BRP/CoC (which is screwed up in several ways, anyway) I went with the SIZ progression from Superworld. It's the same in the SIZ 8-88 range that is used in over 99% of characters and creatures in the RPG, but continues the doubling progression (+8 SIZ = x2 mass) beyond SIZ 88. 

 

That way I could fit the massive Kaiju (Showa era Godzilla tips the scales at 20,000 tons, which would be SIZ 2204 in standard BRP) in BRP and get fairly playable stats (the aforementioned Showa era Godzilla would be a more playable SIZ 157 or so, with a somewhat higher STR score). The adjusted SIZ scale also helped as far as getting the Kaiju to interact with each other, damage bonuses,and with armor scores.

For example, Godzilla can body slam King Ghidorah (30.000 tons for Showa era Ghidorah, or SIZ 3306 in standard BRP or SIZ 161 in Superworld ), so Godzilla should be strong enough to lift Ghidorah. With the way the resistance table works, Godzilla would need a STR within 10 of KIng Ghidorah's SIZ to do so. STR 160 fits SIZ 157 much better than STR 3306 fits SIZ 2204, and gives  us a lot more wiggle room for statting up the other Kaiju. Mortha can lift Godzilla so she should have a STR not much lower than Godizlla's SIZ. With standard BRP that means at least 2200. But in Superworld that would be more like 150. And any "errors" are mitigated with the doubling scale.  The difference between 3300 and 2200 is massive in terms of damage bonus. But the difference between 160 and 150 is only a difference of one or two D6. Since armor values in RQ/BRP were tied to a creature's damage bonus, the lower dbs also mean we can get by with lower armor values. 

 

The lower scale also makes it easier for other characters to combat and interact with Kaiju. A SIZ 160ish Godzilla with around a 20D6 db, and 80 armor is still (barely) susceptible to tank and missile fire. 

 

Oh, and the whole problem with scale is even more important with the later era films where the monsters get bigger and heavier. If a 20,000 ton Godzilla "breaks" the game system, a 50,000 ton one, or worse the current 90,000 ton one is unusable. But with the doubling scale SIZ 167 and 174 are quite playable and can ever be mixed in the the smaller Showa era kaiju. 

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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It's been a while since I've read BRP Mecha (is it now out of print?) and how they dealt with size questions. I think they did go into a few suggestions about kaiju and kaiju-sized critters (like the potential for dragons).

Getting back to the original topic, I'm thinking that without a true alignment system in BRP/RQ/CoC It would be possible for an enterprising GM (who has tolerant players) to break a setting without neccesarily breaking any rules. For example, one of the core principles of the Lovecraftian universe of CoC is that those parts of the Universe that care about Humanity at all are implacably hostile. We are an accident of nature that nature wants to erase.But what if there exists one or two massively powerful beings who actually kind of like us? Who see something in Humanity that would sadden them if it no longer existed? Such a campaign would not be Lovecraftian. The very idea is sacreligious to the dedicated CoC fanbase, and few of them would want to play in it. Yet under the rules is it quite possible. (Of course, so is running a Mythos campaign starring the cast of Scooby-Doo Where Are You?, which was actually a Gen Con fixture for a while.)

But one of the joys of our medium is that you can explore different takes on a setting or story with relative impunity. The first CoC game I ever played (one-on-one) involved a meeting with a Ghoul, with whom my PC actually had a relatively pleasant conversation. It was a lot easier to talk to him when it became clear he wasn\t going to make me a corpse (and that he only eats dead bodies, and doesn't manufacture them). If you put ghouls into a fantasy setting, you could imagine a situation where some of the dead would be deliberately fed to the ghouls and everyone is OK with it. Such a mindset would be alien but imaginable. Perhaps there are necromancers about who animate corpses for nefairous purposes, and the people would consider it preferable for the ghouls to eat a relative's corpse and leave nothing for the necromancers to animate.

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