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Monsters: Choice, Compulsion, Existence

June 17, 2015

A lot of our games, and settings for our games, have monsters of some type.   However, what that monster is, thematically in the fiction, can be very different things, and depending on how you are coming at it, it can mean a very different type of game, or story you are creating.

Monsters of Choice

A monster of “choice” is a creature that does evil as a choice.  The important part of this is that this is something the monster, as a character, chooses to do, and could, if they wanted, choose to do otherwise.  One might be able to convince such a creature to stop or reform.

In this regard, a serial killer would be as much of a monster as a giant that chooses to eat people.

This is a key point worth understanding, as most often this is the default understanding of sentience – you can choose to do things, and if the species as a whole is constantly portrayed as wanting to do evil (without, say, some kind of context like a society that encourages harm or something), you basically have the classic D&D problem of the “Chaotic Evil” race.

Monsters of Compulsion

A monster of compulsion is unable to stop itself from doing harmful things.  This is often what you get when you have a story with sympathetic vampires or werewolves.  They are under a condition they cannot control which causes them to do terrible things.  Although plenty of fiction plays with the fact about such types being either against their condition or reveling in it, the role of heroes who are not monsters would be to try to best free such creatures of their compulsion.

Usually however, this only shows up as protagonist characters who are under a compulsion – the various White Wolf games love to play this up.

Monsters of Existence

A demon of hate, summoned from another dimension.  A robot that kills all organic life.  etc.  These are the monsters that are unable to even question or doubt their choices, if they can make choices at all.   They are evil because they are evil and you don’t have to worry about destroying them or whatever harm befalls them in stopping them.

This is the monster that is the best kind to have for guilt free action games – you want a lot of monsters to beat down? Skeletons! Robots! Etc.

Confusion in play…

So, if players don’t know they can try to redeem monsters, as they assume they are unfixably evil… then they won’t.  If players keep trying to have their characters reach out to a demon that cannot be converted to good… they will waste a lot of time.   The players will probably have a lot of intercharacter fighting if they think it goes one way or the other and can’t see why someone would (murder without a thought/reach out to a forsaken demon) etc.

There’s definitely a fun space for stories where you’re not sure which category applies, however, those stories tend to be brutal examinations of morality, and usually over the fate of a single character.  Bonus drama: if you’re still unsure AFTER the situation has been resolved as well – “Do you think we could have saved him?”  “I’d like to think so… but we’ll never know now…

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