Thursday, June 13, 2013

Fianyarr: Guide To Monster Creation using the World of Darkness

(The Witcher 4)
The rest of the articles on this World of Darkness modification for a fantasy world can be found here.  If you've already read that main post and re-read it you'll find that I've added a whole bunch more article entries though they may not all have links attached yet as they'll be released weekly in each category.  This is because I've found that there's a lot needed even for a WoD mod to truly open it up and make it useful so I've added in more labels as I think of them.  I'm capping it at 20 weeks worth of topics.

Now onto the topic at hand.  Monster creation.  If you're not planning on using the mod and just want vanilla World of Darkness, never fear.  You'll find plenty of worth in the following notes for creating unknown creatures for your own campaigns set in the canonical world.  There's plenty of strange allowed in urban fantasy and personal horror, after all.

What you'll first need is an idea.  This might be a setting either simple (haunted house) or complex (tunnel connected to cellar in a tannery leads to ethereal domain where the souls of butchered animals clot into strange entities).  It could be a myth (Spring-heeled Jack), a phrase (Kissing the gunner's daughter), a particular fear (disease), body part (eyes), visual (sparkling waterfall) or even the scrap of a fantasy or dream (an elk whose eyes are full of wisdom yet is hunted through the forests).  It could even be something you've taken from a videogame or another game's monster manual that you want to convert or reconceptualise.

If you don't already have the germ of an idea it might help to just sit and brainstorm a whole bunch of things that nominally fall into one or more of those categories.  Pick one or more details that really resonate with you.  You don't have to create anything from them, per se, but simply ruminating on the good ones can get you thinking.

Once you have an idea, think about whether you want it to be a friend, guide, enemy, ally, clue or rival.  Do you want it to give out exposition on the setting or plot?  Do you simply want to add greater depth to your world to make it more immersive, realistic or mystical?  Do you want to leave your players feeling confused by something that seems somehow profound?  Do you want to challenge them with a battle or an investigation?  Do you want to threaten the characters?  What do you want it for?

While you can always simply think in terms of what it *should* be able to do, especially if you're aiming to build realism, in a fantasy world it's often better to think in terms of what the purpose of your creation will be.  A good Fianyarr fantasy should have a touch of the mythic and of actually living through a grand tale being told so that there's a mix of really being present in a world that obeys rules different from our own on a fundamental level.  Letting the needs of the story dictate reality helps with that.

So that aside, let's look at the rules.

Well the various World of Darkness sourcebooks can be mined for ideas, mechanics, and systems that can be taken, reused and tweaked for any creature you might care to make. 

The Hunter: the Vigil books have a grab bag of different Dark Powers that can be added to any monster and so can the Endowments.  If you change the visuals, you could turn a Task Force: VALKYRIE's lightning gun into a spell fired from a creature's tale or grant Castigations to a cursed oracle that lives high up in a mountain.  The Hunter Tactics could also be employed by groups of enemies to make players used to thinking in terms of fighting styles and general tactics of cover and concealment think twice.  It's not every day that the swarming critters or tainted villagers make a point of trying to break the Beastfolk's claws or defang the Dhampyr.

Vampire: the Requiem's disciplines are often quite good and simple for your easy to mid-ranged enemies.  The rules regarding damaging vampires have quite a mythic feel to them and could work for anything from demons to vampires to other kinds of hardy undead.  A white elk that is meant to be the party's guide could simply be a deer with Awe (first rank of Majesty) that draws attention and is permanently active.

Armory Reloaded has a number of system hacks that you could deploy only with certain encounters.  There are some species-specific hacks in there as well that you could use to make your vampires, werewolves, or other such beings stranger or tougher to beat.

Werewolf: the Forsaken's gifts, rites, and powers could be adapted for a variety of different shapeshifters and bestial creatures including, of course, werewolves.  Urshuul form alone could make a decent barghest or warg.  The way werewolves react to silver could be taken and adapted for use against other types of metals, salts or semi-precious stones to create a bane that can help distinguish between the types of monsters and encourage a bit of investigation - especially if the creature has regeneration as well or isn't affected by damage taken until all health boxes are filled up with aggravated damage.

Geist: the Sin Eaters' keys and thresholds could be used to determine certain hauntings or genius loci, in particular, if you look at the rules for Boneyard.  Alchemists whose abilities far surpass the player characters could create or summon elemental homunculi and fire elementals or similar creatures could certainly use the Pyre-Flame Key.  The Geists' ceremonies could potentially be used to expand upon the repertoire of spells available. 

Mage: the Awakening's rotes could be used as supernatural powers for a whole host of creatures.  Just select a few fitting rotes, perhaps throw in a physical discipline or two, and you can do just about anything.  You could also choose some of the more powerful rotes and turn them into immense rituals if you wanted to have a group of hags attempting to cast something terrible - which would provide a good ritual for the PCs to stop.

Changeling: the Lost is an important one not only so that you can make demi-races if you feel the need or fairies but also because hobgoblins make a good magical beast.  The creature creation rules inside of it are also vital for any classes that can have Fae Mounts or Hobgoblin Companions.  Changeling contracts can also be quite useful for quirky fae, magical beasts, and elementals.
Book of Spirits works well for incorporeal creatures of all stripes in regards to both the basic "How They Work" and also because numina can perform a great variety of feats.  If you are going to use ghosts, however, I would recommend utilising the same rules as spirits for ghosts are a bit underpowered in World of Darkness but really should be able to test people's mettle in a fantasy world.  We'll address ghosts in greater depth in a later article.

What else do we have?

Oh, there's Second Sight's merits, Skinchangers beasts, Slashers (a Mask could make a good revenant), Night Horrors of various stripes, and example creatures in various Changeling Books, Book of the Dead, and Hunter.  There's nothing to say that you can't simply take a creature whole cloth from one of the other books and change the aesthetics (the Huntsman hobgoblin becomes a scorpion with the upper half of the a man) or the needs.

The other thing is that you don't need to organise your monsters according to equivalent Challenge Ratings so you don't need to balance them against each other.  All you need to know is how they will work out if they're thrown up against your player characters considering the circumstances (research time, information available, banes, tactics, terrain etc.)  In fact, it's really difficult to even try to balance different enemies according to ratings as the World of Darkness is so very modular.  Due to this there's nothing keeping you from deciding on an effect, assigning a dice pool, making up a few vulnerabilities and their effects, and then going on your way.  You don't *have* to be limited to the various mechanics present in the books.

Want to give the creature a gaze attack that can make someone instantly fall in love with them?  Sure.  Persuasion is the seduction statistic (though I generally prefer Socialize) and that fits in this instance because mental force is paramount.  Okay, so the dice roll is Presence + Persuasion.  You might decide to add a Power Stat if the creature has one or you might not.  It's an all or nothing power so it's a contested roll rather than being reduced by the victim's appropriate attribute.  You could have it contested  by Resolve (as a person's dedication matters) or Composure (their self-control) + Wyrd (or alternative Power Stat).

Okay, so that's it's main power.  Does it have anything else? 

A vulnerability that weakens it or causes some other kind of issue adds a mythic feel and an alternative to brute force.  The vulnerability could be a dice penalty while it's in the bane's presence or even aggravated damage caused by contact (or damage) with the object.  Perhaps it suffers some sort of Compulsion when confronted with certain words, actions or objects?  Must it avoid a particular trigger?  Will it laugh and leave a person alone if they wear their clothes inside it?

What are its tells?  Do its eyes glow green when its angry?  Does its skin grow mottled in the shadow cast by a burning ash branch?  Does it speak in a gruff voice when it's only a baby?  Does its cries sound like a cat's meows?  Does it cast the wrong shadow?  Perhaps the signs are more subtle.  A feeding restriction where it can only eat raw meat or carrion or the bark from trees.

Then of course you might create an origin story for it, a place in the food chain, preferred hunting grounds or lairs, methods of raising its young (if it births them), and how it births its young.  You don't have to give it all of these extra details though they can help when informing its appearance, tactics, or the environment around it.  An ambush predator from the snowy mountains that keeps its young in a pouch until they're ready will look different and have a different sort of lair than an omnivorous trickster that spontaneously came into being.

So what about you wonderful readers?  What sort of advice can you give to people who want to create their own monsters?

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