Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Day Late & A Dollar Short – 30 Day Thingamajig, 19-22

19 Fave Plant/Elemental

Plant or Elemental? Plemental? I think Shambling Mound (a la Swamp Thing) is the only thing that fits this definition. I also think whoever started this 30 Day OSR Hot Mess might have wanted to save some monster categories for next year. ; )

Oh well, let’s go with plant monster. Can’t beat Myconid (mushroom men). They’re there underground, minding their own business, tending to their mushroom fields, then someone pisses them off and BAM spore attacks, healing shrooms, etc etc. Fun stuff.

I always had problems DMing ‘normal’ plant monsters – tell players their characters are in a garden or jungle and they insist they’re always on alert, or start lobbing flaming oil or chopping at every vine. Besides having a stationary plant monster guard a treasure or small passageway (and again being burnt out), I never found much use for them.

20 Humanoid/Natural/Fey

Again with the multiple post-2e monster taxonomy. I dunno what ‘natural’ even signifies, and as a proud grognard I ain’t about to find out.

Let’s go with fairies, specifically Sprites. Aside from the good soft drink associations, whenever a sprite randomly cursed a player character back in the day I felt like D&D was actually fulfilling its promise of emulating fantasy literature and escaping its wargame roots. Alas, the cure was often a few thousand GP to the local cleric, when a quest would have so much more fun and added magic to the playing experience. Oh well, when I DM I try to put as much unexplainable magic and wonder back in my games, and quests to break enchantments beat the vending machine mentality of getting an X level poobah to cast a spell any day of the week.

21 Dragon

I disremember if this existed in D&D, but I loved the Shadow Dragon from Darksword Adventures (remember that paperback-sized game by Hickman & Weiss based on the novels? Always wanted to run/play that…). As the colors multiplied, D&D dragons kind of lost their ethereal, force-of-nature quality, and became another set of attacks and abilities. Shadow dragons were part of shadow, and shot down stars from under their wings if I remember correctly. Good, atmospheric stuff.

22 Fave Monster

Favorite monster overall as opposed to all the categories of monsters we’ve traipsed through already? Yeesh!

OK, my favorite monsters are those that the players cannot beat in a stand up fight. In video games like Resident Evil (specifically 2 & 3), zeds and lashers soon lose their menace, but those hulking horrors in trenchcoats that can’t be stopped? When you hear their BGM your pulse races. Ditto The Thing for movies – you can kill parts of it, but if even a cell escapes, the world is toast. The old Deities & Demigods even made gods mortal by giving them stats, which I found a terrible thing, and would use to represent avatars, not the deities themselves. The book also gave killable versions of Lovecraftian & Elric Mythos’ creatures, while Chaosium kept them in their primal, unbeatable and thus more fearsome form. In Stormbringer, if you see a herd of colossal metal oxen come your way, hear the dread voice of Bellbane in the mist or the tentaculared horror of the Kyrenee, you run, regardless of whether you have demon arms and armor or not. Even in Call of Cthulhu, access to the awesome destructive power of guns and explosives will most likely only hasten your demise.

These unbeatable threats not only keep the thrill and uncertainty alive, they also force players to be more creative in finding solutions and can also further the narrative. Want to stop a Tarrasque ravaging the kingdom? You could quest for a Wish and all the other junk you need to kill it, but you might need to find a sage first to find this stuff out, or you could just try to lure it through a gate to another plane, or find its natural enemy (a la the Grahluk and Elenoin from Elric), or any other number of solutions. As a DM, just keep quiet and let players run through a number of plans – they may surprise you and add some invaluable, magical adventure to the game. Look at the end of Death Frost Doom – no way the players can fight what they’ve unleashed head on, so now they’re forced to think waaaay out of the box to solve the problem they’ve caused.

(Or move to another continent and take up mushroom gardening…)

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