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Posted on February 16, 2018, 11:44:26 PM by Belchion
Vampires & Music

Vampires & Music
By Belchion

Vampire the Masquerade is a part of the World of Darkness, a setting for a series of Pen-&-Paper Roleplaying Games published by White Wolf where the player takes on the role of traditional horror monsters like werewolves, changelings or (most prominently) vampires. The setting more or less merged horror stories with esoterics and technophoby, strongly drawing from the cyberpunk asthetics with powerful corporations and dark cities.

In the Pen-&-Paper Roleplaying Game “Vampire: the Masquerade”, one takes on the role of vampires. Most vampires belong to highly hierarchical sects called Camarilla and Sabbat. The Camarilla represents an ossifed ruling caste that subsists on favours, backroom deals, and intrigues, whereas the Sabbat represents violent political movements that attempt to overthrow the system and impose their own absolute rule.

Furthermore, all vampires belong to a clan. While players have to agree on a sect the whole group belongs to, members of different clans can and do work together. Those clans are bound by a shared clan curse and clan boon, which creates strong archetypes. By interpreting this archetype one can find ideas how to interpret vampires from this clan.

My friend Teylen recently had the idea to combine vampires and music, showing which songs fit her idea about the Clan Malkavian. I highly recommend checking her ideas, which are completely different from mine.

I decided to follow suit, albeit in a more methodical way as I lack the broad music knowledge that allowed her a more spontaneous approach. First, I defined the archetype Clan Malkav represents in my opinion, and then tried to find songs or music that fitted this theme.


Archetype

First of all, what archetype do the Malkavians represent? They are insane and they are fools, but theirs is the insanity that breaks through illusions and grants new insight. Accordingly, they are also known as seers and soothsayers. Still, they are monsters, and the Joker from Batman is as much a Malkavian as Cassandra of Troy.


The Music

Toccata e Fuga in D minor

The first piece that comes to my mind is always the Toccata e Fuga in D minor from Johann Sebastian Bach. In several beats, it sounds somewhat dissonant, and yet powerful. Furthermore, it was featured prominently in regard to several delusional film villains and, of course, some vampires.



Trout Mask Replica

Second, Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. This song is famous among musicians, because the composer was completely uninhibited by any norms and traditions. He combined instruments and song without any regard to each other. And even though the album is also described as the most horrible album ever written, it still inspires musicians to this day and helps them to innovate. Just the same, a Malkavian’s erratic behaviour still somehow furthers the plans of the clan as whole.



Jeanny

Falco sings in Jeanny about delusions and the escape into a dream world, from which there is no escape but death. Just like there is no escape from their clan’s curse except for true death. The song is ambivalent about who is tortured by whom, just as one cannot be sure who truly controls clan Malkav.



Chain Of Fools

Aretha Franklin sings in Chain Of Fools about being bound to someone who treats her cruelly, just as Malkavians are bound to their insanity and the voices from the Malkavian Madness Network.



Cassandra

As I already mentioned Cassandra as one of the prototypical Malkavians, the song of the same name by Theatre of Tragedy fits well into this theme, given its rather macabre nature and rather depressive, yet energetic tune.




Conclusion

As ephemeral as this article might seem, it still helped me to gain a clearer picture for Clan Malkav and its role in the World of Darkness. And even if it does not have this effect on you, dear reader, I hope it will at least acquaints you with music you would otherwise not have listened to!

...
Posted on February 09, 2018, 11:40:34 PM by Jubal
Realms of Myth: Somalia

Realms of Myth: Somalia
By Jubal

This is the first of what will hopefully be a number of articles on the folklore of different world regions that I’m thinking of doing. In particular, I’d like to explore bits of folklore that haven’t made their mark on the modern fantasy and gaming scenes, and showcase some of the reasons why you might want to read and discover more about them. The worlds we know as “fantasy”, which have their roots in a mixture mainly of Northern European, Greco-Roman, and western Christian myths and legends, are just based on a small portion of the world's mythical output, and I hope looking at some more in these articles will help spark off ideas for some readers.

For this article, I’m doing – there’s a huge amount more to say about Somali myth than I have time to write here, and I hope I’ll manage to come back and write more on it at some future point, but here are some of the themes that for me make the myths of Somalia quite so fascinating:



Folk(lore) on the move


A typical Somali landscape - in places like this, it can pay to stay on the move.
For much of Somalia’s history, many of its people have been semi-nomadic – not “never having homes”, but with encampments and even villages that could be moved in response to drought, or to find more pasture for key herd animals. This is reflected in their myths, many of which have much more mobile “key locations” than in the folklore of more sedentary cultures. For example, a common opening trope that brings a bad situation into being simply involves characters finding that their parents or family have moved the encampment whilst they were away, or characters heading to some rough area where part of their family was known to be last, only to find that the way is difficult or the encampment simply not where they expect. This is an extremely simple and effective narrative device, and shows a fluid, mobile world that offers a wide range of storytelling possibilities.

Kinfolk and close kin-groups are also a very large element of Somali myth (and one that finds echoes in some older European myth but is often quite absent from its modern fantasy variants). Part of the corollary of having a society based on small, closely related encampments and clans is that a great deal of narrative tragedy is built up from internal familial jealousies and disagreements. In one myth a character known as the “missing-fingered priest” murders his wife Falaad’s brother over jealousy that he is too close to their son, for example; these sorts of close kin-politics issues are the bread and butter of storytelling, and are an intriguing look at story-driving dynamics in these sorts of smaller groupings.

Another thing it’s worth thinking about is what different societies value – herds and herd animals are often looked upon in derogatory terms in modern fiction, or are almost completely absent from them – but this idea of the “adventuring” (usually upper and/or urban urban) classes who tend to be the heroes of our modern stories looking down upon the rural world is a very modern creation. Somali myth often takes us into a world where keeping a good herd of camels or other prized animals could be the difference between life and death when times got tough, and where, for exactly this reason, having a really large herd was the sign of real, practical power, writ large in the faces of grumpy livestock. It’s an interesting counterpoint to the “jewels and silks” view of power that fantasy worlds often give us.



Female heroes and villains

Whilst male characters often play significant roles in Somali folklore, many of the strongest and most important characters are women, including the two most famous mythical figures in Somalia, Araweelo and Deghdeer.

The most significant central female character is Araweelo, a mythical warrior queen who according to legend created a matriarchal society. In some myths, she castrates all the men of the kingdom in order to try and better control them, a plan that is ultimately flawed when her daughter conceives via an old wise man and raises a son who grows to overthrow her. Whether Araweelo is seen as a mightily strong embodiment of feminine liberty and success or as a corpulent and dictatorial ruler may well vary according to the taste and intentions of a storyteller. Certainly, she is seen as an embodiment of power – a ruler with herds of a thousand camels who could drink as much milk as she ever desired, but whose downfall is in her excessively brutal use of that power, is a compelling centrepiece to a setting in itself.

The monster Deghdeer is another key female antagonist. Mutated into a ghoulish monster by turning to cannibalism and named for one extremely long ear which she uses to listen for her human prey, she is a far more specifically magical and monstrous terror. Like many good folkloric antagonists, she has a variety of specifically numbered, possibly magical, artefacts (a special cooking-pot, for example) that she uses to carry out her evil deeds, and a range of specific strengths and weaknesses. She’s extremely strong, for example, and extremely fast, but so heavy she has difficulty turning, such that clever heroes can dodge out of her path. She’s also not generally shown as very bright, as in one myth where two children each trick her into thinking they’re helping her catch the other and thus escape together – though she’s also capable of cunning, often putting up a whole circle of huts wherever she camps so as to make travellers believe there is a village there and tempt them closer.

These powerful female antagonists are treated as the leading characters in their respective cycles of stories (which have many variants – Hanghe for example records a significant number of different possible deaths for Deghedeer). Many of the protagonists are also female, though – one of the Deghedeer variants has a girl called Falaad as a primary character, and another has a group of girls including Deghedeer’s own daughters managing to finally kill the beast that she has become.



Giants and beasts


Hyenas - much more than cackling antagonists...
There are many mythical beings in Somali myth, with giants as some of the most prominent. In Somali folklore, giants lack the stigma and attributes of clumsiness and stupidity with which they are so often portrayed in European myths. “Giant tales” usually have the giant as a hero, either matched against a bad giant (as with Biriir Ina-Barqo) or plotted against by jealous kinfolk and neighbours (as with Gannaje). It is perhaps most right to see these tales as stories about how to use strength and show mercy; the power of the giant heroes is a lesson to others in how best to use such power.

Hyena-folk are another common part of Somali stories. The aggressive, cackling hyenas that a modern audience was probably mainly introduced to via the Lion King are given a great deal more complexity and interest by the Somalis, especially in their part-human variant as “qori-ismaris” – hyena-men (it is unclear whether they are regularly part-and-part or shape-shifters, and probably variable according to narrative usage). Hyena-folk are generally mistrustful of mankind, but can help and otherwise interact with them too. In one case, one grants a traveller a magic staff that gives him the ability to turn into a hyena himself (as long as he tells no humans), in another, causing problems by successfully winning the hand of a human woman, who then eventually rids herself of the unwanted husband by forcing him to abide by human and civilised customs that he cannot stand. This tension between hyenas as magical and wild and humans as settled is an interesting one to read about.

There are a number of other monsters – the monstrous “five-belly” who eats whole herds and flocks of animals, and one of whose victims results in the birth of the tiny trickster “thumb-size” who outwits bandits by simply being smaller and clever than they are, as two examples. Animal tales are also very common, and often include humans and animals (especially lions or snakes, but also smaller creatures) interacting. Certainly it’s worth remembering the presence of animal actors in myth: a manticore or a gryphon of course always have a certain mystique to them, but there’s a lot of power and interest vested in perceptions of real animals too, and allowing them to voice their perspective and interact with humans opens up a lot of potential stories.




I’m still very much a novice in the world of Somali myth, and I’m sure there’s vastly more to discover than I know, but hopefully the above gives you an idea of some of what there is to look at. Ahmed Artan Hanghe's "Folktales from Somalia" is the source of most of the above stories, and I believe there are one or two other English-language books available (which I'm hoping to get my hands on copies of at some point)! I'd also encourage you to look at Exilian's Somali Mythology Project, which I'm hoping to do some more work on in the coming months to turn it into a useable reference guide to at least the basics of the Somali mythological world (and please do let me know if you'd like to help with that!) Mostly, though, I hope you found this interesting, and I hope you stay tuned for future articles covering some of the world's less widely known cultures and myths!

...
Posted on February 02, 2018, 10:52:05 PM by Nanna
Storytelling and Nordic LARP

Storytelling and Nordic LARP
By Nunh

Years ago I overheard a Game Master (GM) complain about the players: 'They are ruining my story!'.

This statement have stayed with me ever since as a token of How To Be A Bad GM. You can be a good GM, but to be a great one you have to understand, and accept, that the game is not yours. The players are not there to act your story or bring your script to life. You are there for the players. Your job is to give them the best experience possible, regardless of your own aspirations.
 
Storytelling has always been a part of most of the things I do - in writing, acting, movie productions and roleplay. I have more than 10 years experience with LARP and several of them as GM and Non-Player Character (NPC). Last year I decided to challenge myself by making a pen and paper campaign based on the D&D rules but the setting from scratch.

My years as a GM in LARP has taught me a great deal about storytelling that is useful in many other aspects.

 



A warrior can stay in character, even when there's no battle to fight!
What is Nordic LARP?

Recently I discovered that there is a huge difference in the way we understand, interact with and create LARP throughout the world. So I looked into it and realized the way I do LARP is known as Nordic LARP (I'm from Denmark so that makes sense). The site nordiclarp.org has a good definition of Nordic LARP and especially the bit about collaboration:

Quote
Nordic-style larp is about creating an exciting and emotionally affecting story together, not measuring your strength. There is no winning, and many players intentionally let their characters fail in their objectives to create more interesting stories.
(From https://nordiclarp.org/wiki/Nordic_Larp)
 
To me the key to LARP has been storytelling, to make sure the players get the feeling of being a part of a story, preferably  like they are the main character whether they're an evil knight, a shady wizard or a greedy farmer. And yes, in my opinion every single player should feel like a main character. This is actually possible when the purpose of the game not is to win, not to be best (strongest, richest, most powerful) but to truly be your character. Not all characters wants the same. One wizard search for an ancient spell while the mercenary wants to sell all his goods because he needs the money.

Note that this is my personal conviction. I still meet players who just wants to fight with weapons and don't care about a story or a character at all.

 

Non linear storytelling

When I want to create a plotline in LARP I work with non linear storytelling. The first draft might be linear. But then I do the 'what possible choices could the players make?'-exercise. Sometimes I come up with multiples ways or plotlines the players might choose.

E.g. The players are asked to escort a wagon with a precious cargo through the area that is known to house a group of bandits. In the first linear plotline the players do the quest as predicted: They defend the wagon and get a reward for the safe journey. But what if the players are shady and decides to rob the wagon themselves? What is on the wagon? Who sent it and will they send out someone to take revenge? Or maybe the players seek out the bandits because they must have a holdout with a lot of loot. Should we place a bandit camp in the area for the players to ambush? In reality you can keep guessing and adding details but there is only so much you can spend your time on (and hopefully this is not your only plot) so you'll just have to choose a couple of options and keep them ready.

And then be prepared when the players choose to do something completely different than what you could imagine.
 
Because sometimes (let's face it - most of the time) the players will act in a totally different way than you expected. They will do stupid things, follow wrong leads and not pick up on hooks and hints. But that's your problem, not theirs. Now you have to follow the players and re-create the story around them. Go with the flow.

Maybe the players wont help the princess in distress asking for their help. Maybe they decide to kidnap her and blackmail her father. Then don't force the players into the story you originally imagined. Dismiss the bandits looking for her and send in the knights who will try to rescue her from the players.

 

Let the Players Lead

My personal opinion is that if you let the players lead instead of forcing them into your story then everything will be better. Let me elaborate.
 
Of course you might have to help the players along a plotline, giving them a gentle poke in the right direction from time to time. But there is a huge gap from that and to forcing the players down a plotline they didn't choose. There are several reasons why you should let the players lead:

 

A good adventure needs plenty of strange & exciting props...
A World of Free Choices

The players will feel like they can make an impact on the world. They are not just sheep hustled around. Letting the players have a say in the story and world gives a more dynamic universe.

When the players know their choices have consequences it forces them to consider their actions more carefully. And with a story that is not fixed, the players will not try to figure out 'the correct answer' they know you have prepared, but instead try to figure out the best way to proceed for them and their characters. And that leads to the point of Nordic LARP focusing on 'staying in character'. It is often considered a deadly sin to act on information or knowledge you have that your character wouldn't.  As stated earlier, sometimes a player will choose to fail rather than stepping out of character.

E.g. A mercenary wants to show me his goods "just around the corner". I know that his character is an NPC that is up to no good, but my character doesn't. So I go with him even though he might rob me.

 
Have more fun - Improve your skills

When you let the players lead, the story will go in directions and take turns you couldn't imagine. It's actually fun to see how the story ends. And you will have to be more creative because you have to make things up as you go and make quick decisions (because the players don't prepare you, they just do stuff and you have to react on them instantly). Not only do you have to improvise acting but you have to improvise your storytelling. It's more challenging but it's more fun too.
 
When you are used to think non linearly, to improvise and to let your ideas go (because the players didn't follow the carefully written plotline you prepared) then you have a huge advantage in every day life.

At work you often have to compromise and to throw away work or ideas. For instance, I've written 7 articles for the local news paper but they only chose to publish one. And I'm okay with that! I also work with online communication and social media, and let me tell you: people never receive or react to a post the way you predicted. But I'm used to work this way and to turn the storytelling around (because yes, storytelling is also how companies communicate online).

The most precious skill, to me, is the ability to improvise. For more than a year I worked as a substitute teacher, often without notice or material. I literally had to improvise almost every day. And I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I played the character as 'an authority: a true adult' and the children (and the teachers) believed me. Sometimes when I'm nervous (e.g. at a job interview or an exam) I just play the role of someone with confidence. It actually works.

 

In Conclusion

When you start thinking about your stories in a non linear plotline, you open up the stories to the players. The players will find themselves in a more diverse world where their choices have consequences. You will be challenged more but more skilled too. You will create stories together with the players, and like in most cases when you collaborate with others on creative work, you will create something that's better than what you could do on your own. And sometimes it'll be way more stupid and boring than what you made up, but that doesn't matter. The players are not there to entertain you. You are there for them, to make sure the players are having fun. Because in the end LARP is a game, and games are all about having fun.

...
Posted on January 26, 2018, 11:23:52 PM by Jubal
The Bones of Earth 2: A Wizard Did It!

The Bones of Earth 2: A Wizard Did It!
By Jubal

This follows on from my previous article, the Bones of Earth, in which I look at the basics of constructing fantasy maps. In this second article in the series, I explore unnatural geographical features or settings and how to fit them into fantasy worlds. We’ll only be looking at a small selection of possible ideas – there are many more out there!


The Megacity

Generally cities and settlements come after geography; however, there is a big sci-fi exception to this, the megacity. Essentially, humanity has an effect on the landscape. This can be seen even in low-tech worlds where old barrows (LOTR) or mottes of castles can dot the landscape. The megacity is a step beyond – civilisation built on top of civilisation, layer after layer, so that pretty much all one would find beneath the city is more city. At this stage, and particularly given the large amount of land area a megacity might take up, it is worth marking out areas for such on the map. Remember that historically most of the world’s largest cities are coastal and/or based near navigable rivers. Of the world’s ten largest city areas today, only three are not on the coast. Of those (Cairo, Delhi, and Mexico City) two are on major rivers and the third is based around a former lake. Generally it is fair to say that a megacity large enough to show up on a map is going to be a coastal area or strip.


The Moving Land

Islands that act as ferries or even fly, or mountains that shift to block the path of the heroes on a quest; one of the key things that land does not do (at least not often) is move, so that’s precisely what it CAN do in a fantasy setting. You may not necessarily want to include these on your map (for example a flying island is hard to include on a static map) but if there are rules as to where the thing can go it’s worth thinking about them. Forests that move can also be an excellent example of this (in a sci-fi world you could even have forests or mountains that are regularly migratory, in which case the migration route should be worked out at the mapping stage).


The Wasteland

This is common in sci-fi particularly, though it appears in fantasy too. The magic-blasted or post-nuclear wasteland is an excellent setting; cartographically, it gives a large area which is difficult for armies or characters to cross, and which can be filled with arrays of mutated monsters and other such gribblies. Generally wastelands tend to be inland areas, in line with real desert and tundra areas, although it’s worth noting that a real nuclear wasteland would probably be a coastal region since nobody’s going to bother dropping billions of pounds/dollars/roubles/yen worth of explosives onto somewhere sparsely populated when the enemy war effort could be obliterated by dropping them on London/New York/Moscow/Shanghai.

Wastelands are likely to end at seas, large rivers, or mountains which can take the blast and prevent fallout from catastrophes spreading. It can look odd to have a wasteland covering a range of large mountains as we would intuitively expect that either the mountains would shield things on the other side from a large explosion. Logic, even in nuclear holocaust planning, is still worth using from time to time.



The World Window

World to world portals are part of huge numbers of settings. When they are big enough to be used on a large scale, they are most definitely major setting drivers. River crossings and bridges within a world are often fought over a lot as major crossing points, and that’s when if you go far enough around there are other options, or you can get boats, etc etc… when there is a trade route or raiding route which is literally the only one of its kind (or one of a very small number), it makes eminent historical sense for it to be a hugely important feature. As such, if it’s a natural part of the world (rather than having been created in a city), it’s worth considering its position at the mapping stage.


Totally Simplified World Paradigm

The Edge Chronicles are the shining example of this. The simplified world paradigm is basically the idea that you can build a world setting that does not obey any rules of physics or common sense whatsoever, so long as it’s simple enough that nobody bothers asking questions about the geography. The edge is basically a sort of peninsula (jutting off what, nobody knows) which sticks out into the sky. The base of the peninsula is all forest, then there’s a mire/wasteland, then a city at the end. That’s really literally it. This absurd setting, however, fulfils its function well; it provides a crystal-clear backdrop against which a ton of interesting biology and culture can be thrown. The map is made to give a clear range of settings, but in a stylised way – this makes it easy for characters to move between parts of the setting and encounter different things without too much worry about detail or realism.

Other possible simplified worlds could be based on a certain principle – for example, having a land with four equally sized islands representing the classical elements where water is wet and forested, air has high mountains and tall trees, fire is all volcanic and earth is low-lying vegetation, rocks and mines. Again, this completely ditches any inherent interest in the geography, but it gives an excessively neat and simple backdrop for me to put characters and cultures against which can be useful. Consider different possible ideas you could use in this way – any cultural trope can work (yin and yang, the kingdoms of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, seven deadly sins, alchemical substances, you name it).



Totally Odd World Paradigm

This isn’t so much a feature as pointing out that, above all, you can do whatever the hell you like. Take The Carpet People – the entire book is a fantasy based on the idea of civilisations rising and falling and desperate battles being fought between the fronds of a carpet. There’s references to a giant plateau famous for its mining that is pretty clearly a 1 penny piece, and so on. Equally, you could write a fantasy set amongst gods playing snooker with the planets, or set inside a computer where the characters worship the players as gods and the “map” is just a set of windows explorer directories. There are potential worlds made entirely of food where the world may centre around the problem of eating as compared to living in homes, and so on.

Generally, the suspension of disbelief thing hits in here. The more unusual your paradigm is, the harder you’re going to have to work to keep the user of viewer of the setting engaged. Also, the odder the paradigm the more people are going to focus on it – if it’s not a simplified paradigm (see above), then an odd one can easily become the gimmick or idea that your whole setting centres around. Think carefully!






Recommended Reading

The Carpet People (Terry Pratchett) – This is a good example of a very unusual setting which nevertheless works well (it is important to note that part of the reason it works well is as humour though, being essentially a work of satire rather than more serious fantasy)

[Gulliver’s Voyage to Laputa (Jonathan Swift) – the original flying island (Gulliver’s Travels was first published in 1726 and has been in print ever since), including probably the first ever description of aerial bombardment as a system of warfare. Chapters 17 to around 24, available to read here:
http://www.online-literature.com/swift/gulliver/17/
The rest of the book is also well worth a read, and covers three other important early examples fantasy settings (Lilliput, full of tiny vicious people, Brobdingrag, full of friendly giants, and the land of the Houyhnhnms, a society of intelligent horses totally governed by reason).

The Edge Chronicles (Stewart/Riddell) – Not the most serious or even best written work of fantasy fiction, but a good read and more importantly an excellent example of an unusual setting that works as a basis for serious fantasy rather than parody as referenced in the “simplified world” section.

...
Posted on January 19, 2018, 11:24:49 PM by Belchion
How I reinterpreted the monster manual (and how you can do it as well)

How I reinterpreted the monster manual (and how you can do it as well)
By Belchion

Monsters are a traditional and welcome staple for fantasy RPGs. The monsters from the D&D Monster Manual have even become cliché in many regards, both for good and for ill. A couple of bloggers have started to newly interpret the existing monsters, myself among them.

(Note: I blogged in German, but reading my blog is not necessary to understand this article. If you do not speak German and want to read my blog, you can use DeepL to translate my posts. When I tested their automatic translation on my posts, it achieved sensible results.)




An improvement on your actual Great Aunt? (Source)
What I wanted to achieve

My goal was not to to change monsters just for the sake of it. Instead, I wanted to look at monsters from different angles and turn them into something more useful for my games. If I liked a monster, I would often just add some ideas for how to employ said monster creatively, instead of changing the monster more fundamentally.

A good example of this approach is the dragon turtle. Since I liked the dragon turtle, I did not change its description at all. I just added the idea that merfolk might use them to sink ships or for armoured transport, as well as an adventure seed called ‘Great Aunt Dragon Turtle’.



How I looked for inspiration

First, I always looked the monster’s description up in an encyclopedia like Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Britannica, but I also visited some encyclopedias that specialise in folklore or RPG settings. Here I tried to discern how the monster was typically used and what alternative uses existed. For example, was the monster’s name also used for a vehicle, a piece of software, or weapon system? If so, what did this choice of name imply? Did it appear in other media, and what role did it play there? In one case I even read a PhD thesis because it offered an excellent overview of frogs in art.

Where words were too archaic or particularly common I looked them up in a dictionary, too, either to learn about their history or to find synonyms.

I took sparse notes with a reminder where I got the ideas from. Those notes would be put randomly on a piece of paper, to be connected by coloured pencil later once I started to connect the dots. I made sure not to drown in detail, but keep it short and specific.

Another very important tool was the picture search. I would enter either the monster’s name or, if I did not find anything or just too much stuff, a synonym, and I'd then look at whether there was anything out of the ordinary. As an example of a monster inspired by a particular picture, look at the goblin.




Putting the Corpse back into "Corpse Flower?" (Photo by Rod Waddington)
How I organized the entries

My posts always started with a paragraph about the monster’s typical use. In a few sentences, I would describe it and how it was employed in adventures. If I renamed my version of the monster, I would also mention the original name. This allowed readers to identify the original monster I'd used quickly.

As a second step, I usually offered some insight into the monster's uses outside the RPG and fantasy genre, be those uses older (like folklore) or in other genres. I kept this short, a paragraph or two at most.

Third, I gave ideas of how the monster might interact with the rest of a campaign world, what ecological niche it filled, and how to best spice one's adventures with it. One of the results was gardening necromancers, who combined their undead guards with blood-sucking plants as a means to keep their refuges safe.

Fourth, the monster’s stat block, as written in the Basic Fantasy RPG.

Fifth, and finally, the new description of the monster. This usually entailed one paragraph for physical description, one for fighting tactics, and a third for other ideas regarding the monster.



How long did it take?

I spent between one hour and three hours per entry, depending on how clear or diluted my vision originally was. All in all, I re-interpreted 93 monsters, which took me about five months.


How difficult was it? Can I do it?

The first few monsters were extremely hard, and took a long time to accomplish. Over time, researching the background information turned into a routine though. It also became easier to establish new connections between different versions of a monster and turn them into something useful for role-playing games. Writing new monsters is definitely a skill that can be learned and honed.

It is important to interact with other people and talk to them about your monster ideas. If you have a friend or good aquaintance with similar interests, talk with them. Micro-blogging platforms like dice.camp can also be helpful, as they force you to write your idea consciously whilst allowing you to bounce your ideas around for new thoughts and threads. Without such support, I would have definitely faltered on the second ooze monster instead of turning the grey ooze into a colour stealing flubber.

So I would say almost anyone who does not despise language and art can do it! Simply start with the first monster in your bestiary, research it a bit, write your ideas down, add the stats and a short description. The first few attempts will probably not feel right, but that is normal. Set yourself a pace, for example one monster per week, and a publishing rhythm, for example a Tweaking Tuesday. Then, go ahead, publish your first monster on a forum or a blog, and continue to practice each week with a new entry. After about twenty or so monsters, you will get the hang of it!