Kids RPG Journal – #10 Making Monsters

In fairy tales and folklore, when the hero of the tale comes across a monster, it is very rare that they fight and kill it. Instead they use their wits to find a creative way to banish, appease, or trick the monster.

I realize that D&D is based more on mythological heroes like Perseus and Thor, who are not only capable of going toe to toe with their monstrous foes, but almost exclusively hack and slash. Yet even in the myths, there are a large number of characters who outwit their foes. Odin and Loki rarely lift a weapon on their adventures, nor do they obliterate everything with fireballs and devastating magic. Their stories are more subtle.

When there is a monster intent on smashing Asgard, the gods rely on Thor to protect them, but the monsters in Odin’s stories are wiser and have goals other than killing and devouring.

If I want more of that feel in my game, I’m going to need more than just the character’s moves to encourage that. I need to be creative with my monsters.

Let Them Talk
One of the best ways to prevent monsters from becoming sword-bait is to give them a voice. If the players are interested in what the monster is going to say and what their motivations are, then they may be less likely to pound it into the dirt as soon as they see it. (Though some players will do this no matter the adversary.) In my world, nearly every monster will be able to speak or communicate in some way. Even the starving ones will be quite chatty about their hunger.

Make Them Hard To Kill
Another way to encourage creative solutions is to make the monster either resistant to the characters’ attacks or to make them to dangerous to get near. I will probably shy away from this method for a while until I’ve played with the boys more. I don’t want to frustrate them unintentionally.

Give Them Creative Impulses
In most RPG, goblins sole purpose is to try to stab people or fill them full of arrows. In folktales, they are interested in kidnapping people, tricking them into eating goblin fruit, or just pinching them black and blue. The second is much better suited for storytelling and finding creative ways to defend against them

I’ve come up with a categorization for monsters based on psychological impulses and the tropes in folklore. Each monster fits into one of six archetypes based on their compulsions. I’m hoping this gives me some interesting roleplaying aspects to keep things fresh. I’ll definitely explore this more in future journal entries.

Give the Players Alternatives
Each monster needs to have alternative ways to defeat/thwart them outside of combat. Last year, I put together a list of more than a hundred precautions against monsters pulled directly from folktales and stories. I have them in the following categories:

  • Consealment
  • Binding/Warding
  • Cleansing/Purifying
  • Irritants/Offenses
  • Pacification/Offerings
  • Distractions
  • Misdirection
  • Rituals
  • Bargaining
  • Core Essence
  • Destruction

Each monster I create for the game will have a minimum of two of these precautions that can be used to defeat them. The challenge will then be to find fun ways for the boys to discover what precautions can be used for each monster and see if there can be some more satisfying ways to complete quests and stop monster mayhem.

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