Thursday, March 22, 2012

Game Idea: Untold Monster Stories

by Mike Jones
Game Idea:  Untold Monster Stories
System: Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder
by Tobie Abad
March 2012

Once upon a time, there was a Princess who lived in a castle at the foot of a mountain.  The King was a wise old man who sought to find a suitable husband to claim and care for his daughter.   She was a beautiful woman, you see.  Her hair was as bright as golden thread and her eyes the sparkling gleam of emerald orbs.  And when she sang, her voice reached across the landscape and brought the birds to dance and the wolves to sing.

The man who the King chose was a well-fed man with muscles that seemed hard as steel.  His chin was square and his eyes sharp.  His skill with the bow was second only to his reach with the blade.  He was a raven haired warrior of great strength.

When the King brought his daughter to us, I was under the impression that she was to bid us farewell before she left for her wedding.  It was in their culture, you see, to send away their children to live amongst other families.  To spread their progeny among total strangers that were bound only by words and promises.  My daughters... your sisters... kept her company.  They fed her and played with her.  They kept her warm with their slender bodies.  They sang with her when she raised her voice to the sky.

The husband stole into our home in the middle of the night.  With a blade forged by foreign kings, he beheaded my daughters... your sisters... before either could call out for mercy.  He then crept into your father's chambers and impaled his wicked steel through his century old heart.  I was out hunting when the wicked man struck you see.  Hunting to feed you and make you strong.   Elk are meaty this time of the year, my son.

And now, you are ready.  Though years have passed and your sisters and father are long gone - their skulls, I have learned have been hollowed out, polished, and set on display above the proud evil young king.  In the last five years I have groomed you, fed you, trained you, to use every claw, every fang, to raise each wing, to swing strong your tail, and I pray to our gods far older than the gods of men, that you will find the courage in your heart and the fire in your breath to bring justice to our forsaken clan.
by fireflythegreat

Fly, my son.  
Fly and avenge us.

Did I read that right?  In this game, you play a monster?
Yes.  And I know what some of you are already thinking... Dungeons and Dragons/Pathfinder has already made rules on how to play monsters as player characters.  You can even have class levels for certain monsters to represent advancement.  

But no, that's not what I am suggesting here.  Instead, I am suggesting that you and your group run games that absolutely embrace the monster side of things.   Ignore class levels and experience points.  Ignore the deities and magical items that were originally provided in the main books for players who want to play the human or demi-human of their choice.  Instead, create a whole new world for them to explore, where dragons have their own religion and culture that humans have never truly understood.

What do you mean no classes?  No experience points?
Rather than focus on how the game has been approached before, explore instead the idea of playing the monsters of the world with everything viewed from their very own unique perspective.  Perhaps, as I wrote in the sample story above, dragons do have a concept of human culture and practices - but who is to say that how they interpret human actions makes the same sense from their perspective?  And likewise, maybe just like playfully friendly dogs, dragons imprison princesses and horde gold not out of spite, but out of the mistaken belief that is what humans enjoy?  

By doing away with experience points and levels as well, you can focus instead on the inner drama of survival and monstrous cultural differences.  Imagine a game session devoted to your dragon learning to use his breath weapon for the first time!   Or explore the idea of awakening one evening from your lair to learn two warring humanoid races have unfortunately chosen your territory as the location of their bloody campaign.  

"Levelling up" in this game has very little to do with killing enough creatures to gather experience points and more to do with surviving long enough to actually grow older.  And yes, your "monster manual" in this game is now the players guide with all the classes, magical items, and spells for your Dungeon Master to use at his disposal.

Why would this be fun?
Because telling stories from another perspective can always be fun.   By visiting the other side of things, you get a chance to reexamine priorities and virtues you once explored in a game as a human or demi-human, and even challenge yourself to explore the moral limits of one's actions while using in a different perspective.   
by Larry Elmore

The Dungeon Master can also have fun throwing at the players favorite characters and villains that were once explored in a game.  Someone with fond memories of the poor murdered  Cleric Aleena who was introduced way back during the Basic Set of Dungeons and Dragons might be excited to have a chance to interact with her once more on the monster side of things.  A fan of the Forgotten Realms comic books of Jeff Grubb and Rags Morales might love to meet Priam Agrivar and the rest of the crew of the Realms Master.  And who is to say monsters don't have their own epic moments and histories that mankind has never truly been aware of?

So take a taste of the "wild side" and try having a campaign fully devoted to playing the monsters.  You might be surprised at the kinds of challenges and trials a monster has to face just to get some peace and quiet in his darned subterranean home.  I mean, think about it:  Why the heck are all these two-legged mammals always trying to scavenge my home for shiny things anyway?  How many of them do I have to eat before they get the message they are not welcome?  
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