Animals as Monsters

Ever hear the story of The Beast of Gavaudan? This was an enormous canine, the size of a horse, with hide that was impervious to bullets. It first appeared in France in 1765 and rampaged across the country until killed in 1770. The slayer, Jean Chastel, is said to have prayed before the hunt and to have slain the beast with a silver bullet. The stomach of the beast was said to have contained human remains. Robert Louis Stevenson told this story in Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879). “For this was the land of the ever-memorable Beast,” wrote Stevenson, “the Napoleon Bonaparte of wolves. What a career was his! He lived ten months at free quarters in Gévaudan and Vivarais; he ate women and children and “shepherdesses celebrated for their beauty”; he pursued armed horsemen; he has been seen at broad noonday chasing a post-chaise and outrider along the king’s high-road, and chaise and outrider fleeing before him at the gallop. He was placarded like a political offender, and ten thousand francs were offered for his head. And yet, when he was shot and sent to Versailles, behold! a common wolf, and even small for that.”

Isn’t that always the way? A natural creature, demonized while alive and ridiculed when dead, and both for the same reason — ignorance. It is the things we don’t understand that get distorted and exaggerated. So this is a lesson to Gamemasters. Build mystery around your monsters, exaggerate the tales around them, and when they are dead and stuffed, have the populace be unimpressed and scornful of the slayers. In my campaign, demons and faeries are often summoned by magicians to do their bidding. A Slarg is one of the more dangerous of these, if only because of its strength. One of my favorite moments was when players explored a mansion (owned by vampires), that contained a stuffed Slarg. In the darkness, the players thought it was alive and took great care to sneak around it. That stuff Slarg added about a half hour to the adventure, as players took a lot more care once they had seen what they assumed was the demonic guardian of the house.

The same technique, by the way, can be applied to the NPCs understanding of the players. They are blood-soaked slayers, creatures of vast power and danger. Once they have built their reputation, they should be treated with both more respect and greater caution by the poor NPCs who have to deal with them. In my game, I use Reputation as a derived statistic, with the players acquiring positive reputation by freeing princesses and rescuing towns, and negative reputation by killing the innocent or answering every challenge with a bloodied blade. This is a linear scale, so players are either famous, nothings, or infamous. Fame helps them find beds to sleep in, to be feted by nobles and praised in song by bards. Infamy allows them to boss around the criminal class, to gain unearned shares in local criminal activity, and to have bounty-hunters chasing them and keeping them sharp. A party can have both kinds of people in it, but not easily.


About lostdelights

An old gamer flying his freak flag, I've been playing table-top role-playing games since 1978. I've been building my own system (Journeyman) since 1981.
This entry was posted in Heroic Fantasy, Journeyman, Monsters, Navah, Navah Campaign, Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink.

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