Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Monsters The Old Fashioned Way In Old School Adventures - More OSR Commentary

If the dungeon sets the tone of the adventure campaign then the monsters are the flavor or should I say their the symptom of the level of corruption of the setting. Monsters are more then mere walking targets or experience waiting to happen. Monsters are the inner workings of the dungeon experience from the ground up. Their very nature suggests the wheels within wheels of the rest of the OSR or old school adventure experience.

"Silently, Ajax crept along the corridor every sound seemed to echo around him ten times louder then he was expecting. The blood roared through his veins, the sweat poured from his neck, & the scent of death was everywhere around him. The dungeon had been breeding since he & his party were last here. He was here to find out what it was birthing. That's when he saw the first of the putrid sacs with those thrice damned to the Abyss pig faced orc bastards. The sucked at the artificial tit of the sacs & only waited to give birth now. But where there was orcs there were goblins & hundreds of the warrior things just waiting around here. He had to get back to high king David now but that wasn't going to be easy. He felt a vivid rut of fear run up his back but his training kicked in now. Gripping his dagger he turned the corner without a sound. The balls of his feet pivoting automatically as his other hand lay on his short sword hilt. That's when he heard the first of the unnatural pig like squeals. "

Let's be clear straight out of the gate that the monsters in original Dungeons & Dragons right through the Basic & Expert edition are trying to kill your PC straight out of the gate. Their programmed to do exactly that. Its the very reason for their existence & their core point in an adventure. They're the vector cells that are the embodiment of the chaos of a dungeon or ruin adventure settings.

Dungeons & Dragons was/is not a game for the faint of heart & it plugs into the primal fears of the unknown in a very light way. The same way that a good piece of pulp fiction or mythology does. It stirs the imagination & pulls the player into the immersive experience in a far more subtle way then even the best video games can. The social aspect of the game balances the player's exceptions with actual play. The monsters are a key aspect of the evils & dark forces within the game. Their there to grab the players because they are the 'alien other'.

"Then the whole mass of the dark fluid began to rise, and far more quickly than the suvana-juice runs from my pen, it poured over the rim of the basin like a torrent of black quicksilver, taking as it reached the floor an undulant ophidian form which immediately developed more than a dozen short legs. What unimaginable horror of protoplastic life, what loathly spawn of the primordial slime had come forth to confront us, we did not pause to consider or conjecture. The monstrosity was too awful to permit of even a brief contemplation; also, its intentions were too plainly hostile, and it gave evidence of anthropophagic inclinations; for it slithered toward us with an unbelievable speed and celerity of motion, opening as it came a toothless mouth of amazing capacity. As it gaped upon us, revealing a tongue that uncoiled like a long serpent, its jaws widened with the same extreme elasticity that accompanied all its other movements."

As I've said in the last blog entry monsters are the nervous system, immune system, & hand of the gods. There is often far more to chaotic movements of them in the dungeon then first appears & they will move the influence of evil across the campaign setting. They are & represent chaos in all of its many horrid facets. Make no mistake
Gary Gygax and David Arneson knew exactly what they were doing with the monsters of Dungeons & Dragons. For these things are the fulcrum around which everything gets pulled. Monsters jobs in dungeons are not only the guard the whole concept but to expand the dungeon's influence of evil & corruption as well. Think about the Caves of Chaos from Gygax's Keep On The Borderland.

Nothing says Gygax like a Hobbit with a cut down polearm.
Erm Halfling.

The caves of chaos are the well spring of evil within the adventure. The whole affair of the Keep can & should be linked up to Mentzer & Gygax's Temple of Elemental Evil. I've run Keep on The Borderlands numerous times but it works especially well when running an Inquisition style investigation  game. Yes I'm going to mention Rpg Pundit's Dark Albion & Dark Albion's Cults of Chaos here as well as Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
Time & again I've run Keep & studied the adventure for its holistic approach to dungeon design & monster placement. 
The theme of the cult of chaos & evil runs straight through Keep on The Borderland. Yet it hints at the far more mythological & occult roots of the Cult of Elemental Evil within the adventure. The monsters within the adventure scream for side quests & adventures to clean out the chaos infecting the countryside.

As soon as this blog entry is posted I'm going to get the usual nostalgia commentary about Keep On The Borderland. Forget the
nostalgia & pay attention to the monster & adventure guidelines that Gygax laid down. Video game developers & companies have been for years & minting it ripping off the formula. That formula works across the board for monster placement. The dungeon & adventure based in The Keep on The Borderlands is gold because it allows the players a domain platform of operation. It shows the intelligence of the evil of the chaos within the adventure. Because its designing the corruption of the entire adventure environment around it. Sure the humanoid placement is completely unnatural because everything about a dungeon is unnatural! Monsters are the agents of chaos & unnatural evil. They are by their very nature horror unbound & they don't adhere to the rules of nature or man.
Six Ways That Monsters Can Be Used In Unusual Ways In The Dungeon : 
  1. Corrupt the humans around your adventure turning them into the dungeon population. Yes, I've seen this a thousand times but it still shocks players time & again. 
  2. Monster generators are perfect ways of bringing home that Tolkein or Lovecraft vibe while providing a perfect opportunity to add another layer of weird with another opportunity for guardian monster placement. 
  3. Ruining nature is a good way of pissing off a player of a cleric or druid within a game. Monsters made from the ordinary animals are perfect opportunities of messing with these PC types & killing them off if the players are not paying attention. 
  4. Monsters as traps is one of the oldest old school tricks & it still works especially with cults. For some reason players don't expect cults to have monsters who are treasures or traps or all of the above. 
  5. There are several monsters that make excellent NPC mid range agents of chaos in B/X D&D style games such as medusa. These monsters don't get talked about as the perfect agents for a cult or other black wizard.  Monsters like these are the perfect ambush monster. 
  6. Monsters as the heads of their own cannibal cults is another excellent vehicle for side quests & can show the true nature of the roots of evil in a campaign. Simple and yet highly effective as a group adventure NPC foil.

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