Thursday, September 1, 2011

Distinctively D&D

In running Dwimmermount, I've made use of material from all the OD&D rulebooks, including all the supplements. This is in keeping with my "D&D 0.75" approach to the game -- more complex than a pure White Box campaign but not full bore proto-AD&D either. So, if you play in my Dwimmermount campaign, you'll find magic items, character classes, and spells from sources other than the LBBs, though, in most cases, I use them as "spice" rather than as the "main course," if that makes sense. The one area where I haven't made extensive use of the supplements is monsters. In general, I've stuck primarily to the monsters found in Volume 2 of OD&D, supplemented by beasties of my own creation. The reason for this is simple: I find most of the monsters introduced in the supplements too distinctive for use in my campaign. By that, I mean that most of them feel too strongly associated with D&D.

Now, that probably sounds like crazy talk and perhaps it is. After all, I am playing D&D; why wouldn't I want monsters that are strongly associated with D&D in my campaign? Well, the game rules I'm using may be D&D but I don't think of the world I'm describing through them to be a "D&D world." To me, it's merely a fantasy world -- a fine distinction, maybe, but a real one. To put it in more concrete terms, nothing about the presence of, say, a goblin or even an orc in an adventure suggests anything about the nature of the world outside that adventure. But a beholder? An umber hulk? A sahuagin? Demogorgon and Orcus? Monsters like those carry with them certain larger assumptions, or at least expectations, that I don't want brought into my campaign.

Obviously, there are degrees here and everyone will personally draw their lines on different places in the sand. For example, I don't have any problem with carrion crawlers or displacer beasts in my Dwimmermount campaign, even though both of these creatures are rightly, in the minds of many, seen as "D&D monsters." So, I can imagine someone feeling similarly about beholders or ixitxachitl, while I reject them both as so strongly tied to a certain specific conception of D&D that I don't want to bring to bear in Dwimmermount. If I were playing a Greyhawk-based campaign, though, I wouldn't hesitate to use most of these creature, because, to me, they're part and parcel of Oerth.

At the same time, I want to go on record as disliking the approach adopted most famously by Lamentations of the Flame Princess wherein every monster is unique. To me, that'd be like playing AD&D using Appendix D of the DMG in place of the Monster Manual. Certainly it'd make it harder for players to use their much-hated metagame knowledge to their characters' advantage, but I've come to believe that, the more of D&D's fundamental building blocks one rejects, the less the game feels like something recognizable to anyone outside that campaign -- and monsters are a very important building block. Which ones we use (or don't) can have wide-ranging consequences.

46 comments:

  1. Interesting. As a player who has been absent from the D&D scene for a decade or so before my current old school game, I'm curious as to what the "larger assumptions" are that these monsters bring with them. Would you care to expand on what they might be?

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  2. I totally agree...& I come at it from the other side. I don't run on a DnD system, so when I throw in a DnD inspired creation, it really seems out of place in my World of Darkness system game. Hiking through the gruesome alien animal-forests of the Green Planet? Well, a Mandrillagon is sure spooky & strange.

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  3. Hm. I think I kind of do the same thing, but for different reasons. For me, D&D is the Basic and Expert sets, with a smattering of the Companion Set, so things like Mind Flayers and Beholders and Umber Hulks are all things I have to consciously place into my games. Gelatinous Cubes, stinky Troglodytes, Green Slime, Displacer Beasts, Blink Dogs - all of those things tend to fall right into my games right next to the unicorns and the vampires and goblins despite being pure D&D-isms. Heck thinking about it I'm probably more likely to use a Thoul than an Umber Hulk.

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  4. it's funny. Beholders are the one monster for me that fits nowhere really but is so D&D it would not be the same game without.

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  5. Having no monster species is limiting design choice in my view, particularly when considering races of humanoids even if they are of ones own invention. A goblin tribe is a different beast to a single goblin. Similarly a tribe of tentacled Blue Men is more interesting than a single Blue man.

    Not being able to reinvent or give life to old familiar monsters is a failure of imagination and possibly a sign of a poor DM. Those monsters were originally chosen because they inhabit our consciousness in a much deeper way than yet another random concoction from the monster vat. Personally I find that while randomly generated monsters may vary wildly mechanically they all *feel* much the same to me.

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  6. A very good post. You have given me some food for thought on monsters. I did like what Raggi was saying in LotFP, yet when I tried to come up with something for more than a session or two for a game, I was stuck. Then again, as a DM, we know we don't have to be slavish to the source material. We can take what we want and leave the rest alone.

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  7. I've an interesting dilemma the past few years. Some of my players are instantly turned off by the D&D-ish monsters and I've gone to more of a LotFP model in that regard.

    Funny, though, it isn't Umber Hulks and Carrion Crawlers that bother her, but goblins and orcs, and I feel that my campaign takes on a very different feel because of it.

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  8. When it comes to fantastic monsters, I think unique monsters can be more fun than repeatedly encountering members of the same "species." Fighting Medusa is more epic and interesting than fighting a medusa. But if you do this, you don't just place her as a throwaway encounter: you make her a centerpiece and you make the players learn about her, track her to her lair, and (hopefully) defeat her. You can also play her to the limits of her abilities and intelligence, rather than use her as sword fodder.

    Other creatures can be encountered repeatedly, such as orcs and goblins. In fact, for humanoids, I think the problem is too many varieties. I'd prefer to have one or two goblin races, or maybe a maximum of one kind in any given locale. For example, a human-sized race of monsters that live in tangled woods, short goblins who live underground and sometimes venture out at night, and maybe also a rarer race of large, solitary bugbears who prowl the same tunnels and caves. I never really did like the Caves of Chaos type setting where goblins, orcs, kobolds, etc. all lived like warring nationalities in the same geographic area.

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  9. How many, how many different kinds of, what kinds of, and which specific monsters should be in a game depends entirely on what sort of game you want to play.

    There are no wrong choices -- just different choices.

    Even playing D&D without any monsters at all wouldn't make it any less D&D.

    D&D isn't necessarily a game about killing monsters (or taking their stuff).

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  10. For myself, I prefer creatures of my own design or classic one's from mythology and story. But every so often it's fun to drop the occasional Umberhulk or Beholder into the game when the moment feels right. The last time I actually used a Beholder was one who preferred to paralyse or stone it's opponents then outright kill them for a numer of purposes like selling them to evil wizard, a tribe of orcs slavers, or even the times it felt lonely, have someone to "sing" too! LoL!

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  11. most often, I use humans in place of humanoids. usually primitive or savage in some way, but not necessarily.

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  12. I'm on the fence on this one.

    I agree with Raggi's idea that the humanoids could all be replaced by humans. Whether it's with self-mutilating cultists or plain bandits every kind of humanoid evil can be covered off by people. Raggi's take is that this makes the monsters you do encounter that much more interesting because they are rare. I think he could be on to something there.

    Still, he could have included a bestiary that reflects his ideas of "weird fantasy" as a starting place for DMs/GMs/Refs. James' makes a good point that the D&D Monsters carry with them the weight of the typical D&D settings. These monsters will create certain expectations. Raggi creates a spooky shape-changer called a changeling for his intro adventure in his rulebook. Even a short list would have helped make his setting distinct, set certain player expectations and help firm up his game's flavour.

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  13. Interesting post, James, and very much relevant to my gaming plans.

    I'm finally gearing up to run a D&D game with old school sensibilities, and I'm really torn on what not to use. Specifically on the issue of character classes, I've even inquired at my favorite RPG forum on the merits and drawbacks of having a few archetypal classes (including handling demihuman races as classes) vs. the AD&D approach of multiple classes and sub-classes, with race as a distinct choice.

    Heck thinking about it I'm probably more likely to use a Thoul than an Umber Hulk.

    I'm a huge fan the BECMI/RC bestiaries myself, and this comment made my day! The thoul is a three-way hybrid of troll, hobgoblin and ghoul, and I spent quite a few minutes of my bored early teens trying to figure out what it would look like. And of course, everyone knows that gnolls are not hyena-men, but another hybrid, this time of gnome and troll (even though my 1992 D&D Introductory Set already portrayed them as hyena-men of sorts).

    BTW, I'm sure there's an interesting story about the early days of the hobby behind the weird hybridized troll monsters, and their inclusion on the game.

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  14. "...a Beholder...who preferred to paralyse or stone its opponents...the times it felt lonely [to] have someone to 'sing' to!"

    For some reason, I immediately imagined a Beholder awkwardly singing "Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand..."

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  15. I think I prefer the "every monster is unique" approach. That is, after all, the way it worked in legends and mythology. Something that always bugged me about D&D was how every unique entity--Medusa, the Minotaur, etc--became a species. To me, this always felt more sci-fi than fantasy, which I understand works for some campaigns but not so much for mine.

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  16. You can also reskin monsters. Say, instead of a Beholder, it's a slorping ooze monster with multiple mouths and beautiful singing voices. Each voice causes a magical effect on whoever the voice sings to. Old and wise ones can combine the voices to make harmonies that do different magical effects. Call it a Dungeon Choir or something. Bam, new monster, but you basically just replaced the Beholder with it.

    Also please realize that some players love that sort of standard D&D thing, maybe those who haven't played it much, to whom the tired old tropes are new.

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  17. "Raggi's take is that this makes the monsters you do encounter that much more interesting because they are rare...Still, he could have included a bestiary that reflects his ideas of 'weird fantasy' as a starting place for DMs/GMs/Refs."

    It seems clear to me that Raggi (correctly) foresaw that, if he did anything like that, then any examples he gave would immediately become 'standard' monsters. So he (wisely) didn't do it.

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  18. I tend to do a mix - which I suspect is the most common approach. I use some monsters as-is from my source game (GURPS Dungeon Fantasy), I use some coverted D&D monsters, some from Rolemaster, and even more from my own imagination. I was able to write half a (short) monster book based on made-up stuff from my own campaign for that reason.

    The really D&D specific monsters - mind flayers, beholders (and thus gas spores), gelatinous cubes, umber hulks, etc. I tend to avoid or at least modify a bit. They seem so D&D as to be jarring in a way that home-brewed monsters are not. They drag me out into the world of TSR/WOTC supplements and out of my own game in a way that a monster from a game no one ever heard of but me or a homebrew does not.

    I think it's amusing that you mentally tie beholders to Greyhawk. I know they originated there, but like lots of gamers I played in the Forgotten Realms and it often seemed like it was more like "The Beholder Realms."

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  19. "...some players love that sort of standard D&D thing, maybe those who haven't played it much, to whom the tired old tropes are new."

    Good point!

    And some long-time players, like me, still love the standard D&D thing even though we've played it lots.

    The way I keep the old tropes from getting tired is by using all of them a few at a time -- so none of them end up getting used too much.

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  20. Raggi also stated, I think in his newest interview over at the Save or Die podcast, that he didn't want to step on Goodman's Games' toes since they are publishing his Esoteric Monster Generator (or whatever the full title is) by replicating the info in his game.

    He does provide the mini generation system in his summoning spell though.

    @D - "Something that always bugged me about D&D was how every unique entity--Medusa, the Minotaur, etc--became a species. To me, this always felt more sci-fi than fantasy, which I understand works for some campaigns but not so much for mine."

    That's been my issue for years as well. "Monsters" should be manifestations of a social, sacral, magico-religious, or all of the above, imbalance* if one wants a mythic feel and whether or not they have physical ontology or not, treating them like an alien species changes the tone from one mimicking human mythic tales into something similar to a space zoo where all these things exist artificially together like some large version of the cantina scene in Star Wars.

    *the word 'monster' is rooted in the latin word 'monere' meaning a 'warning' or a 'portent'. Two books which add to Raggi's Weird Fantasy approach and the historical (and pre-Modernity) nature of monsters are "On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears" by Stephen T. Asma and "Monsters: Evil Beings, Mythical Beasts, and All Manner of Imaginary Terrors" by David D. Gilmore

    Any campaign that wants monsters to be more than an entry in a bestiary could benefit from being informed by both those books.

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  21. The discussion of monsters is moot for me because my players never get to a high enough level to worry about Beholders (which I would most certainly have in my Nothern Reaches game when the time comes)

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  22. Osskorrei said...Two books which add to Raggi's Weird Fantasy approach and the historical (and pre-Modernity) nature of monsters are "On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears" by Stephen T. Asma and "Monsters: Evil Beings, Mythical Beasts, and All Manner of Imaginary Terrors" by David D. Gilmore.

    Thanks! I just added them to my Amazon wish list!

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  23. I absolutely disagree that all humanoid monsters can be effectively replaced by humans. If you're just casting your humanoids in the role of bandits, maybe - that's a role that doesn't need a monster. Bandits are still men. They might be mean or vicious or crazy, but they're fundamentally the same as we are, and we know it. A goblin is not a man. It does not necessarily want what men want.

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  24. (I didn't mean to refer to bandits specifically. If I meet a ravening cultist of Qom, I may not share her devotion to the Mother of Eyes but we'll still have something to talk about in between her trying to kill me. We eat the same food, feel the same fears, live in the same world. If I meet a goblin, I have no idea what's going on behind its eyes.)

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  26. Ed Dove said...
    "For some reason, I immediately imagined a Beholder awkwardly singing "Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand..."

    It was just one of those fun little spontaneous moments that happen in the game. I don't know what the official Canon is with them( or really care) but I always imagined them as the type of "weirdo" monster Basil Wolverton or Ed Big Daddy Roth would of created and somehow left their "weirdworld" by some way or another. At least that's my take on em'.

    1d30 said...
    "Also please realize that some players love that sort of standard D&D thing, maybe those who haven't played it much, to whom the tired old tropes are new."

    If you want to keep monsters exactly the same way as they are in the DMG, be my guess. But if a GM decides that the orcs in his campaign all have big floppy bunny ears and all dragons exhale clouds of flaming honeybee's then he has that right because it's HIS world. If you don't like it, tell him. I'm sure he can point you in the direction towards the local 4E games playing close by.

    Really now, you should know better. Especially if your posting on a blog devoted to retro/old school style RPG's. Sheesh..

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  27. Hey, crowking... Why you ragging on 1d30 like that? All s/he said was that the old standard D&D monsters might work just fine for newer players because they're new to them. And that's true. And it has nothing to do with edition preferences. And it's certainly not any sort of affront to devotees of retro/old-school RPGs either. In fact, it's a reason why retro/old-school RPGs might have even more appeal to newer players than they do to us experienced ones. So lay off, dude.

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  28. Well said Ed Dove, I concur wholeheartedly.

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  29. I think a combo of monster as races and then some unique or at least very rare monsters now and again is the way to go. Just like "weird fantasy," unique monsters is not a new concept. Sometimes I have created my own weirdo beasties that are unique to the world, and sometimes I use common ones. When I want one that is just very rare, I pop open a monster book I don't use often, such as MM2 or FF.

    Having unique monsters for lots of encounters in itself can get old. Want a campaign to stay fresh? Then add a little from column A, and a little from column B.

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  30. @ James: Hmmmmm...

    You know, I've often said (and written) that AD&D feels like Gygax's house ruled campaign...so much so that I've come to treat it as such. Recently, I've begun writing/designing my own "fantasy heartbreaker" (i.e. a fantasy RPG that knocks off D&D with certain choice corrections...not necessarily for publication) and the monster chapter is one I've pretty much sorted out. AND I found most of the monsters I chose to include were "non-D&D specific" simply because I, too, wanted a more "generic" feel based on mythology and literature.

    That means most of my monsters are simply from Volume 2 of the LBBs, with a few B/X animals...a slim list, but ample for what I want. At the time, I wasn't thinking in terms of "EGG is too distinct" but that's exactly what it was!

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  31. I think James' post makes lots and lots of sense and I actually agree with it fully. There's a certain slice of monsters which are really "generic", and that list is pretty much identical to what's in OD&D Vol-2. After that point, expansion of the game required "inventing new monsters", and thus you get stuff that's D&D-only (and branded IP), and does not have the history of myth and literature to back it up. (Some of which can be immensely cool, but still -- harder to pull off in general.)

    Using Vol-2 as your "core" is a great choice (more so than the MM), and it's one of the exact things that excited me so much when I saw the LBBs for the first time at a very late date (i.e., about 5 years ago).

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  32. Ed Dove said...

    "it's a reason why retro/old-school RPGs might have even more appeal to newer players than they do to us experienced ones. "

    Am I am I telling you how to run your game or anyone else ? No, but Mr.1d30 and yourself obviously thinks so and that's where you crossed the line. Retro gaming and the philosophy is not about conforming to what the rule books say but to change them any way you want--or not too!

    More appeal you say? Like maybe adding feats and action points to Labyrinth Lord or even Swords& Wizardy? LOL! Your really are posting in the wrong blog DUDE.

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  33. D said: "I think I prefer the 'every monster is unique' approach. That is, after all, the way it worked in legends and mythology."

    Elves? Dwarves? Leprechauns? Titans? Centaurs? Cyclopes? Nymphs? Harpies? Sirens? Satyrs? Hippocampi? Hecatoncheires? The Seelie Court? The Sidhe? The Fir Bolg?

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  34. John: I think that the point is that the role played by humanoids can be filled by humans in every case. Certainly, alien creatures are not humans, but they fill general roles in the games we play. Goblins play the role of "bandits", generally, which role can be played by humans. They may also play the role of "gypsy merchants", which role can be played by humans, or "barbarian horde", which role can be played by humans, and so on.

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  35. This is a wonderfully fascinating approach to the question of or more appropriately the decisions regarding monsters.

    When I am running D&D (a rare occaision over the past 20 years but not an unknown one) I tend to use monsters that are strictly D&D is as either the unique freaks of nature/supernature/magic that they are as opposed to creatures from myth and folklore just because I am playing D&D.

    More clearly, I use Umber Hulks periodically in D&D because there is no where else an Umber Hulk would appear. If I were running Ars Magica, no Umber Hulks. If I were running Pendragon, no Umber Hulks.

    Now, I use folkloric creatures as often as I can, preferring them to Gygax's wacky menagerie of beasties but, to put it one way, "It wouldn't be D&D without a Rust Monster or a Beholder."

    As is often the case, I disagree with Raggi on the use of Humanoid monsters. A disciple of old school Star Trek, I have learned it is sometimes very effective to show humanity it's faults in the guise of aliens or monsters.

    As such, Orcs are extremely rare in my universe, to the point of some of my players asking me if there were Orcs on the campaign world.

    First, Orc is a name give to a particularly tall (Human height or slightly taller) goblin. In some regions these same creatures (albiet with different skin tones) are known as HobGoblins. Second, the Orc has been hunted to extinction as Humanity expanded into the less pleasant regions of wilderness. Drained swamps, irrigated desert regions and the like have robbed the Orcs of their homes.

    Currently, the largest Orc population is a small island just off the Southern coast of the North Western continent. They were moved there in a 'Native American Reservation' allegory story I did many year ago. There are no more than 150 Orcs on the island. Sages believe there are less than 300 Orcs world wide.

    Yes, I could have told that story with Humans but the effect of using Orcs, creatures D&D PCs normally view as evil without thinking about it was very helpful in giving the story weight.

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  36. Hi James,
    When you say: "Well, the game rules I'm using may be D&D but I don't think of the world I'm describing through them to be a "D&D world.", is this, essentially, a reference to branding, and so your decisions to include certain monsters but not others a rejection of the Official D&D Brand? I.e., the early 80s Brand as the albatross about the game's neck thereafter.

    Raggi's approach, which I don't completely disagree with but also haven't come to terms with, seems to be another way to "unbrand" a fantasy RPG from D&D, though I'd suggest it's in the same spirit at the end of the day.

    If so it seems that a key aim of the project of the early version proponents is de-merchandizing D&D, rather than just going back to lighter rules, simpler times, fast play, and the usual canards. De-merchandizing is a more interesting goal than lightening rules.

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  37. @crowking

    If I'm understanding you correctly, you seem to think, for some reason that I don't understand, that 1d30 & I are somehow against the retro/old-school way of RPGing.

    Is that correct?

    And, if so, why do you think that?

    And, if not, what do you mean?

    I ask because I know that I'm not against the retro/old-school way of RPGing.

    And I don't know what I said that might've given you the impression that I am.

    And 1d30 certainly didn't say anything that gave me the impression that s/he's against the retro/old-school way of RPGing either.

    So I don't understand why you're wigging out.

    Neither of us said anything against anybody doing whatever they want with their games.

    And neither of us said anything even suggesting that we think either our own ways of RPGing, or conformity to any books, or anything from any newer editions would be better than any retro/old-school ways of RPGing either.

    1d30 just said that the old standard monsters could work just as well for people who they're as new to now as they were to us when we first started playing.

    That's all.

    Why did you think that was some sort of criticism of the retro/old-school way of RPGing?

    And I just explained how what 1d30 really said not only wasn't any sort of criticism of the retro/old-school way of RPGing, but actually pointed out an aspect of the retro/old-school way of gaming that newer RPGers might find even more appealing than we experienced RPGers do.

    How did you read that as saying that adding stuff from newer editions could make retro/old-school RPGs more appealing to newer RPGers?

    It not only doesn't mean that -- it's actually nearly the opposite of that.

    How carefully do you read what people write before you respond to it?

    I ask because you seem to think that 1d30 & I have said things that not only aren't what we really said, but are about the opposite of what we actually said.

    So, I hope, if you go back and read more carefully, you'll see that the things you've been responding to in what you thought 1d30 & I wrote aren't actually there at all.

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  38. Well, 1d30 made a point--signaling out Beholders who can SING no less-- that instead of added or changing the monster as it's written, you should just make up a new monster because there's people who like the standard old monsters just the way they are. Including for me or whomever, to "please realize" that as well. There's no other way to respond to that other then to make a point that I think he was wrong.

    Anyway, if that wasn't you or 1d30 attention, fine and I'll drop it. But it didn't read that way on my end .

    Note: no, Beholders don't sing like Frank Sinatra or Lady Gaga. In my campaign they know only their own language which is comprised of deep, guttural vocal tones, that to the unknowing ear, could be interpreted as singing of some sort. My personal two cents to D&D's most oddball monster.

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  39. @crowking and Ed Dove: get a blog or something already.

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  40. "You can also reskin monsters. Say, instead of a Beholder, it's a slorping ooze monster with multiple mouths and beautiful singing voices. Each voice causes a magical effect on whoever the voice sings to. Old and wise ones can combine the voices to make harmonies that do different magical effects. Call it a Dungeon Choir or something. Bam, new monster, but you basically just replaced the Beholder with it."--1d30

    That's not saying "that, instead of adding to or changing the monster as it's written, you should just make up a new monster".

    It's just explaining how it's possible to change the superficial details of a monster so much that it seems like a completely new monster even though it still works effectively the same way.

    That's all.

    So it's not a criticism of crowking (or anybody else) for how crowking (or anybody else) runs Beholders (or any other monsters).

    It's just an explanation of how people can, if they want to, run monsters so differently from the book that they seem like completely new monsters, using Beholders as an example.


    "Also please realize that some players love that sort of standard D&D thing, maybe those who haven't played it much, to whom the tired old tropes are new."--1d30

    That's not saying "that, instead of adding to or changing the monster as it's written, you should just make up a new monster because there's people who like the standard old monsters just the way they are."

    It's just pointing out that, when playing with newer players, it's not necessary to add to or change monsters to make them new because they're already new to those players.

    That's all.

    So it's not a criticism of crowking (or anybody else) for how crowking (or anybody else) runs Beholders (or any other monsters).

    It's just a reminder that people don't need to change monsters to make them new if they're playing with newer players to whom those monsters are already new.


    "Beholders...know only their own language which is comprised of deep, guttural vocal tones, that to the unknowing ear, could be interpreted as singing of some sort."--crowking

    Now I'm imagining them sounding like Barry White.

    "Hey, Baby..."

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  41. @crowking and Ed Dove: get a blog or something already.

    I'm sorry for disrupting this discussion, but I couldn't just stand by and do nothing when somebody who didn't do anything wrong got attacked by somebody who thought they did.

    Hopefully we're done now.

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  42. @John: " A goblin is not a man. It does not necessarily want what men want."

    Well - maybe. I think the point here is that if you play standard D&D humanoids rhe way the published materials teach you to, they want exactly what men want. They're immediately recognizeable to us. True, they're caricatured but never unrecognizable so, and certainly no more than RL cultures have portrayed others. That's indisputably the role they've been cast in in traditional RPGs (ie as substitute humans).

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  43. Ed Dove said...

    "Now I'm imagining them sounding like Barry White.

    Think Orgish ( as in death/gloom metal) being sung through an old analog synthesizer like a moog, and you'll get the picture.

    Fin.

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  44. @Charles Ferguson: That's fair to say, yes. I won't try to argue with you about the way humanoids are generally used. I've used them that way myself, though nowadays I usually try not to. But I think that to replace humanoids with humans entirely means missing a lot of opportunities.
    Even if your humanoid monsters aren't all that different to humans in actuality, the fact that they're alien gives them a certain feel and a certain amount of uncertainty that makes them better suited for a lot of roles. For bandits and cultists, I use humans. Subterranean civilisations, cannibalistic gnolls, and mysterious wandering lizard-people, I could theoretically all replace with humans, but I'd change what they were in the process, and end up with a different feel entirely.

    Also, as you mention, non-humans can be useful shorthand for different cultures as viewed by others. Dwarves are based on mediaeval stereotypes of Jews. You couldn't have a race of humans in a campaign that were universally gold-loving, taciturn craftsmen, because we all know too well that you can't categorise an entire group of people like that - it strains suspension of disbelief, besides the nasty implications. But since dwarves are a different species, it's okay for them all to be one big stereotype.

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  45. I seem to be swimming against the grain here. A couple of thoughts:
    1. I don't play D&D or any of its clones so that I or my players can face the iconic monsters from myth alone (or even just those from LBB 2) - I like the more outre ones, at least in appropriate numbers and locations. I'm also not going Raggi here (no need for completely bizarre monsters each time), but I very much like having a large palette of monsters from which to choose when it comes to keying my adventures. Of course there are some that I never use and/or hate, but in general I have no problem picking and choosing from as large a range as possible. In this light, I'm not completely sure what James means by 'associations' attached to certain monsters. Clearly within a particular gaming group there may well be associations (a type can get tired or over-used, and hence may need to be retired), but, at least in my experience, no one associates certain monsters with AD&D versus some sort of base criterion of monstrosity (it's also true that my players are relative newbies with no way of associating monsters with particular editions or contexts).
    2. I also have never had any problem with monsters as species (rather than solitaries), at least in the context of D&D. More than one medusa? fine! (But I respect the appearance chart in the MM). In keeping with my ideas about a broad palette, I'll use 'em all, and as often as necessary. If I want a 'special' or iconic monster, I'll create my own or amp up an existing monster.
    3. My players like variety, and I like the fact that a) I can keep them guessing by employing a wide variety of the better monsters invented by smart people over the past 40 years, and b) I can and will tweak the stats and abilities of any monster, even a humble goblin, as I see fit and as makes sense in my game.
    YMMV, clearly

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  46. This depends on the game world. Does your world have a bunch of common monsters as part of the background? Orcs, goblins, werewolves, vampires, etc?

    Does it make sense in context? I have a campaign set in a haunted vale with plenty of undead that make other kinds of undead and demons that infect and infest others making more similar monsters.

    My campaign has recurring monsters, special recurring monsters (elite evil priests for instance) and special monsters, (demons, evil critters that feed off death and dying etc).

    Other campaigns I have run have all been unique monsters and antagonist races that were less unique.

    Either way is possible with D&D less so with AD&D.

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