Worldbuilding 101 - Part 23: The Monster Mash
A good setting allows the potential for many different stories, otherwise we’d just be writing a single scenario, a railroaded campaign, or even a novel. In a live game, we often need many different interconnected stories occurring at the same time, and when the players are able to direct the stories for their characters that often leads to a divergence of story types. Some stories may revolve around politics or trade, others might lead to travel, exploration, or confronting the potential horrors of the setting.
An easy way to set up such tales would be to introduce another culture who everyone fights against. This can be seen in many novels, game systems, and epic-landmark-comic-crossover arcs, commonly in the form of some monstrous race that exists only as NPCs and antagonists. Since we’ve already got the conflicting cultures from a few different directions, an extra NPC culture might be a needless complication at the start of play, and what would it really add to the story. I’m not ruling out the idea entirely, it might be feasible to have another cult lingering in the shadows, but how would they be different to the existing cult, would they worship gods more scary and dangerous than those currently worshipped by the pirates? Are they’re evil for the sake of being evil, how does that really help the story? Are they an ultimate force for order and good, who even consider the empire and church to be flawed and in need of punishment? What would this say about the world? Both are valid choices, and both apply a twist to the setting, but a TV series typically wouldn’t start with this sort of group in play, these are things that manifest during end-of-season cliffhangers, to change the dynamics for a new season and new storyline.
I’m actually thinking of something more visceral and easy. A conflict that characters can face without needing to face each other, or worry about existential shenanigans. I’m thinking of monsters. I don’t want to just use a kitchen sink compendium of creatures, I want monsters that reflect the themes of the setting, and link in with existing elements in play.
What sorts of monsters would exist in the setting we’ve described?
Let’s start with a basic list of setting elements (and why those elements are implied).
Undead (since we’ve got dhampyrs who are basically half undead, it makes sense that there would be full undead in the setting)
Lycanthropes (since we’ve got wyldkin who are basically half lycanthropes, it makes sense that there would be full lycanthropes in the setting)
Faeries (since we’ve got faeblood who are basically half fey, it makes sense that there would be full faeries in the setting)
Elementals (the pirates worship vastly powerful elemental deities, and they’d probably have servitors in the world, such things might be somehow related to the avatars or incarnates)
Angels (the church has a belief in angels, archangels and a powerful Celestine, they might manifest in the world, thesemight also be related n some way to the avatars or incarnates)
Awakened Beasts (the native have spirit-taking shamans and many share a bond to totems which are traditionally associated with animals)
Golems (the vaguely Judaeo-Christian vibe of the church, the discovery and exploration of electricity, and the tropes of steampunk all point toward constructed servitor beings empowered by something not fully understood)
Underground (There are mines under the main island’s volcano, and scattered ruins across the island. There are quite a few other islands and implied ruins across them.)
Urban (The majority of people live in a few urban areas, with dark alleys filled with sinister shadows.re are)
Jungle (Roughly half of the main island is covered in jungle, and many of the other islands would be just as overgrown, if not more.)
Aquatic (The high seas are dangerous, even to the pirates.)
Mystic Locations (There are definitely sites where the veil between worlds is thin. Monsters and otherworldly entities would be more likely to cross into the world of the characters in such locations.)
Protection (There is something or someone that the creature defends)
Vengeance (The creature intends to right some kind of wrong, by whatever means necessary)
Violence (The creature exists to cause carnage)
Isolation (The creature just wants to be left alone)
Infection (The creature wants to spread it lineage as far as possible)
Observation (The creature watches, and reports its findings to someone)
Dedication (The creature is a force of nature, it performs a single role in an ecosystem)
That’s plenty for us to get started, and if we were playing FUBAR or Walkabout, these would be pretty much everything needed to create every possible monster in the setting (by combining the three aspects, and adding a couple of unique features).