Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Our Monsters Beget Monsters

Today I’ve been thinking about how monsters came into being in my campaign setting. My favorite monster creations always seem to grow out of Man - whether they're simply a man acting monstrously, whether they transform into a monster and back into a man, or whether they go over to the other side all the way and permanently become a monster in every respect.

This makes perfect sense since monsters are imaginary by definition, thus they come out of Man consciously or unconsciously. It’s the latter source that’s of most interest to me, since I think it can help steer my game into places I’d like to explore more. Though not a monster himself per se, take for example Claude de Sarlat, the monster eater. This is an NPC who was himself an adventurer, but through a twist of fate, now seeks to eat those monsters that would formerly have eaten him. Turning the tables like this and then stepping back even further, I can see that Claude is an expression of myself, a part of me that’s trying to find out what makes monsters tick, and what my own fears are, then explore them, digest them, and use them in the game somehow. Hopefully with the help of my players and for everyone’s entertainment. As I’ve said before, it’s not that I want to turn the game into a therapy session - just that I think we can plumb some very interesting places for game fodder.

Claude is an example of a man who turns into a kind of monster by his proximity to them - like the good detective who goes bad, becoming an addict and accomplice to murder while trying to root out organized crime from the inside. Another creation of mine, a kind of ape I wrote up, comes into existence when a man consumes a kind of fruit and transforms into the monster. It might seem funny and maybe obvious to others, but only a while after I wrote it did I see certain interpretations and its possible inspiration.

Sometimes a monster is just a generic monster. Like maybe orcs are just ugly, evil men really - generic pigmen. But maybe our game can benefit and we can learn something about ourselves at the same time if we step back and try to see why we choose to use certain monsters in our games - not when we just need a certain hit dice, but why a certain monster really speaks to us. And also why creating our own monsters and thinking about why we molded them in a particular way is such a fun and interesting endeavor. It might help us to role play a monster better, or to create more compelling or frightening ones. I suppose this is why I don’t like the idea of a random monster creator - for me, a monster needs to be greater than the sum of its parts. I like to know where a monster is coming from, and the seemingly random generator upstairs isn’t really so random - it just appears to be at first.

Approaching monsters from another direction then, what if I was to proceed from an understanding that all monsters are just debased and devolved men? Absurd! How can a purple worm once have been a man? It’s not easy to see the monster for the man sometimes, I have to admit. In this case, originally, a spineless man of enormous power and appetite? The doppleganger - a race borne of trapped liars. The basilisk - a self-loathing person with looks to kill? Well, yes, that’s the medusa too. Maybe the mythic underworld causes dungeoneers’ disease - being locations of concentrated evil, they poison those that visit them too often or that become trapped in them for too long. The effect causes even the sanest, most lawful and good people to eventually turn into monsters themselves, each a kind of monster based on their own unique character flaws, and into never before seen monsters if these flaws are unique enough. I suppose some of those so cursed then created other monsters, or bred with them. And so our monsters beget monsters…

Anyhow, thanks for letting me ramble a little here. I wanted to be working on a dungeon for tonight’s game when I started jotting down some ideas and sidetracked myself.

7 comments:

Trey said...

I think that's a good idea. The dungeon is a transformative thing--do you succumb to defeat by mankind's demons made flesh (and maybe become one yourself?)--or do you conquer and become more than what you were?

Timeshadows said...

I'd go further and say that apart from their unique abilities to accentuate the isolated traits that mark them out as monstrous, non-humans are caricatures of personification.

Humans, bleeding the blood they share in common, are almost always the more frightening antagonist as evinced by our inhumanity towards our fellows -- specieally-speaking. Cats are perhaps the closest to us in that they are known to toy with their prey, as well as perform infanticide.

ze bulette said...

And wouldn't you know, but we canceled our game tonight...

@Trey: Yes, in a nutshell!

@Timeshadows: Thank you for a wonderfully succinct comment! You had me right up to "cats". ;)

Timeshadows said...

Thanks. :)
&
Meow. ;D

richard said...

maybe the mythic underworld causes dungeoneers’ disease
that's your Minotaur, right there. The story of course gets it backwards: the maze was not created to house the Minotaur, instead the Minotaur (bull-headed, obstinate, obdurate) grew out of the maze. Which, to push the obvious point, was in the sub-basement of the palace...
...although I still like Borges' sympathetic Minotaur.

I wouldn't discount the effect of the world on the psyche: not all monsters have to come out of mirrors, some are born of horrified reaction to the cruelty of nature. That, I think, is your purple worm - a lamprey or gut worm or other bit of grue doing nature's self-cleaning work and reminding us of our mortal coils. I'd say, actually, that what's distinctive about Lovecraftian horror is that it is inhuman - not, I hasten to add, actually alien, but merely concerned with non-human bits of the world. I'm convinced he took extensive notes in natural history museums (specifically, I reckon, AMNH) and that his simultaneous detachment and squick was a reaction to the detached pose of the museum scientists.

diorama nonsense. who can resist?

ze bulette said...

That's some good stuff Richard. And now I've got some serious reading to do it seems. Cheers

Shieldhaven said...

As a brief point on the human-becoming-purple-worm, Frank Herbert thought it made sense, more or less. (Okay, so it wasn't a purple worm. Work with me here.) =)

Post a Comment