On creating your own monster ecosystem in D&D

In the early days of D&D the game spawned its own fascinating ecosystem. Monsters that most roleplayers today have encountered countless times such as gelatinous cubes or mimics were brand new creations that surprised, delighted and no doubt killed those who encountered them. Even mythological beasts such as trolls or medusas would only reveal their weaknesses to those who in the 70’s had heard or read myths about them. There are vast numbers of monsters in the game that are bizarre, unique and only really make sense in the context of a game like this such as brain eating bugs that wriggle through your ear when you listen at a door or fucking land sharks that eat your mules.

Thanks to the internet coupled with the sheer length of time D&D has been around it’s easy to get information about monsters in the game now, whether from seeing them appear in a streamed, looking up the monsters online, seeing them referred to in a forum discussion or even playing a game.

So when DM’s run monsters such as mimics, gelatinous cubes or trolls these days they obviously realise that everyone and their dad knows about these creatures and their weaknesses but throw them in anyway for the sake of the nostalgia of the game whilst also creating new, unique creations for their own games to surprise the players as well.


Oh fucking wait no they make you roll an intelligence check to see if you can actually use fire on the troll and then if you fail you have to stand there slashing it with your sword until you die or the GM feels sorry for you and allows you to actually choose what your character doe but now it’s meaningless as the sorcerer already passes their intelligence check even with that -1 mod and has used their firebolt and nobody gets to have any agency.

FUCK AGHHH
Ahem.

Yes I got you. This is a blog about metagaming and why it’s absolutely fucking fine and anyone who complains about it is missing out on some serious roleplaying magic.

You see that early game ecosystem was fascinating for another reason, experienced players could guide new players through the world and warn them about dangers. If you’ve ever played the Dark Souls games where you get those messages on the ground from other players warning you of things, it was a bit like that but in real life.
This is magical to me because it’s the creation of a shared and inhabited universe of players, yes you are technically playing Throg son of Gogg the barbarian but you’re also Greg the legal secretary and you’ll be damned if your friend who just joined the game is going to be eaten like Gogg was.

 

That shared ecosystem is what’s immersive to me, players feeling actual fear when they see a slime trail because it could be a gelatinous cube, or hoping to Hestia they have enough torches to kill the troll and get out of the Caverns of Doom with light, or poking every chest with paranoia lest it consume their hands.

Complaining about metagaming and forcing players to not do things based on it spoils the entire thing, now Greg has to just roll a ‘intelligence check’ and if they fail their friends character gets eaten. They can’t excitedly warn their friend about it, they can’t introduce them to the wonderful secret world of the game. They have to let the dice tell them based on an arbitrary character statistics and the GM’s stubbornness. Literally nobody has fun. Gregs friend gets eaten in their first session. Greg is pissed off he couldn’t say anything about the very obvious mimic and even the GM should realise they just ran a pretty dull encounter.

But but but you cry , how can you make something like a mimic exciting if you don’t stop players from metagaming?

You can’t really is the answer. Maybe you play with some totally new people who are honest enough not to google and it works out. Maybe you can describe things in such a way that they seem fresh and exciting. But mostly you can’t. Pandora is out of the box. It’s not the 80’s anymore. I cry like this every-time.

The actual answer is you have to create your own monster ecosystems. Gygax, Arneson, Tim Kask and the rest of TSR and the gang invented a whole host of monsters that have gone down in the games history. Now it’s your turn.

If its in your head your players can’t google it or read it in the monster manual. Go forth, make weird things, monsters that look like gold coins but eat through your coin pouch and then your legs. Monsters made of shadow that take adventurers limbs then disappear into the darkness. Nine limbed armoured cephalopods that lurk in briny pools and attach themselves to adventurers faces when they go to drink.

The world is your oyster, make it have teeth.

2 comments

  1. I guess the main thing I’d like to see from homebrew monster designs is original low level ‘horde’ monsters. I’ve killed so many kobolds and goblins at this point that it would be really nice to see people inventing original alternatives.

    Like

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