Thursday, February 13, 2014

Creature design talk, part 2: Encounters

Let's pick up our discussion on creature design, shall we? Part 1 dealt with the motivations of creatures and why they might come into conflict with your characters. We talked about malevolent creatures, those that react to the characters, and then those that are so alien that conflict is inevitable.


I think it's only natural to follow that up with what that conflict might look like. How do animals, creatures, and monsters engage the player characters when it's time to throw down? I can't possibly cover every possibility, but I think there are some high points worth emphasizing.


This is the easy answer, and probably the most common. The monster might just be evil and looking to cause some pain, or may be hungry and see a character as food. Maybe the party has wandered into its territory and it feels threatened. Whatever the motivation, the encounter turns on the creature actively hunting the player characters.

Hunters are methodical, patient, fierce, and often highly intelligent. A natural weapon, or maybe two, figures strongly into a hunter's methods. They may be solitary or run in packs. They also tend to have great advantages over their prey in at least one or two situational aspects, and have enough know-how or instinct to turn those advantages into victories more often than not. Such a predator may be incredibly fast, or stealthy, or use group tactics to corral its prey. It could even just be a brick that uses its superior durability to go toe-to-toe with whatever it's hunting.

Hunting encounters are often as much about environment as they are the actual monster. A hunter tends to have a favorite terrain where it can maximize its advantages, pursuing unseen from the trees or sprinting across wide open ground.

Hunters make for a great, exciting encounter for your characters, especially in the middle of a session when things might otherwise be in a lull. It's always a great moment when the players, trekking through the jungle or crawling through a dungeon or walking the city at night suddenly realize that they're not alone. Something is following them from the shadows, just out of sight, waiting for the moment to pounce. What comes next is the stuff of kitchen table legend! Everyone remembers a great session that included the epic flight from a pack of Dire Wolves, or trying to evade the evil entity by ducking through bars and back alleys, or realizing too late that the velociraptors have you right where they want you. It gets that adrenaline up and pumps energy into a gaming group like only a fight-or-flight encounter can.


I'm going to say, right up front, that this is my favorite type of creature, and then admit that I probably go to this well a little too often. I just can't help myself, sometimes. There's nothing I like more than springing an ambush on my players, especially if it's from a creature that is really unique or clever.

Trappers come in all sizes, and I think they work well at any scale, but generally I tend to think of them in two ways: large and landmines. Large are your swallow-you-whole, snare-you-in-a-net, horror movie monsters that are an individual threat to suddenly pounce from some well-concealed camouflage. Landmines are smaller creatures that lay in wait in bunches. Maybe not a threat individually, but can provide a challenge in groups.

Rifts Chaos Earth RPG by Palladium Books

Just for kicks, and another little preview, here is the fluff text from a trap-style creature, the Stonepile, from the Chaos Earth: First Responders manuscript for Palladium Books (available for pre-order and hopefully to be published this year):
Scattered amid the crumbling skeletons of the ruins of the Golden Age live otherworldly predators known as Stonepiles. Tunneling beneath the ground, silent and quick, they position their maws just at the surface, still covered in a thin layer of dust and soil. Completing the illusion are its dozens of nub-like teeth, dull, but hard as Mega-Damage concrete and capable of grinding even an armored human into paste. 
Its hunting style is simple and elegant. It lies in wait until it detects movement above via short, sensitive tentacles that extend from around its jaw. When its prey steps within the circumference of its mouth, it snaps shut like an iron trap and immediately begins to rub its spoils between its tough, grinding teeth. Hard bits of hide, bone and armor are either reduced to dust or worked to pockets between the rows of teeth to be regurgitated later. Flesh works its way downward to be digested. 
Stonepiles are patient hunters, able to live for weeks without a decent meal. The beast can also expand to fit its food source like a goldfish growing to fit its bowl. They breathe through their tails, which they poke through the surface far from the mouth, usually six to ten feet (2 to 3 m) away, on average. 
They can be as small as three feet (1 m) long, feeding on rodents and reptiles, or up to 30 feet (9 m) long if able to feed on large animals such as cattle, horses or those from alien worlds. The average size is closer to 15 feet (5 m) long, with a mouth three feet (1 m) across. It’s not unusual to see a group of up to a dozen Stonepiles of various sizes in one area, each feeding on a different size of prey.
There are some other types as well. More next time in PART THREE! Feel free to weigh in on these, or your favorites.

In the meantime, remember to keep an eye on this blog and "like" my Facebook page for the latest information on my new RPG, Breachworld.


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