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.