Monsters!

I know it’s been a while since we've posted up a Design Diary, but the Staff hasn't been idle, I promise! Be sure to check out the Guidebook pages. The ruleset for the Beta Test is largely finished; in fact, you can now build a complete, playable Brittanis character!

We've still got a lot of work ahead of us to have all options on the table for the playtest, but day by day more information gets posted to the site, filling out the rules and fleshing out the world of Brittanis for players to see. Give it a look and feel free to post up any questions, comments, or inquiries onto the Community Forums.

When I (Jason) came back to the USA for two weeks in August 2012, we had a Staff Meeting and one of the things we worked on was the over-arching plotline for the entirety of the Brittanis game. That structure and plotting will be the topic of another Design Diary all its own, but one of the of the things we got to talking about was our approach to monsters in Brittanis.

Monsters of various kinds are all over the source material for our game, so it wasn’t a matter of whether or not to have monsters (and really, what’s a fantasy RPG without monsters?). Rather, the discussion centered around how we intend on handling those monsters and making sure we, as Staff, are all on the same page. Since that Staff meeting, the conversation has continued, and I want you (the player) to know some of what we’re thinking about.

If you've read any of the other blog posts here, you know I like bullet point lists, so here comes another one. The monster design decisions I want to share with you have revolved around a couple of main concepts, and a couple of them link together, so I’m going to talk about them here.The first couple design points are extrapolations of the Arthurian source material:

  • Allegorical Monsters in Moderation: In many of the legends of Arthur and Camelot, the monster or villain in the story is used as a personification of a particular characteristic (or sin, in the more Christianized tales) which has a negative impact. For example, dragons can symbolize destruction or pride, giants can represent an obstacle that cannot be conquered by force, and faeries represent that magic is uncontrollable and unknown and dangerous. To cite a more familiar example,Tolkien used Saruman and the orcs of Isengard to symbolically represent the conflict of industrial/mechanical vs. agricultural/magical themes. The monsters represent a specific theme in the world they exist in, beyond their actual physical presence. In gaming, however, it’s often difficult to pull off the allegory because the Staff (or GM in a tabletop game) don’t know what the players are going to do or what decisions they will make. It’s not like a book where all the decisions are pre-determined. Thus, while Staff will be trying to preserve some of those allegorical elements, we’ll likely be doing it through plot and story, not necessarily the monsters themselves. In neither case will we be cramming any kind of morality or philosophy down the player’s throats—you come to escape the working world and have fun, not get a weekend-long sermon.
  • Limited Monster Types: The catalogue of Arthurian-appropriate monsters is not a long one—if we as Staff are attempting to stay true to the over-arching themes of the source material, we cannot ignore this. There are not 25 different types of dragons based on the color of their scales; dozens of different types of intelligent humanoids don’t go running around everywhere. Unfortunately for us, the majority of the monsters encountered in Arthurian legend could be qualified as “beasts”—animalistic creatures based off of natural creatures or simply giant versions of a normal animal. Not only are these particularly difficult to pull off well in a LARP, they also are high on the cost scale for a game to produce. Thus, the Staff will be using limited monster types, but player’s likely won’t be facing many Giant Lions, for example. Instead, we've come up with a few monster categories (like the Fomorians) and will be using them in many different roles as the game progresses.
  • The Most Terrible Monster is Man: The most common villain/antagonist in the Arthurian legend is other humans—by and far in the majority the myths speak of the conflict between people and the wars, battles, and choices that must be made in those conflicts. Brittanis intends to follow that closely, but expand the definition of “man’ to include all of the sentient races of Brittanis. Expect major plotlines to revolve around the wars of kings, warlords, and chieftains. Alliances and trade agreements and treaties will be of the utmost importance, and the plot will follow these things closely. Ultimately, the reason he Arthurian legends survive with such power down to the current age is that we can still relate to them on an emotional level, and Brittanis will focus on that emotion in both plot and monster selection.

So. . . that covers the Design Goals that relate back to the Arthurian source material. Now let’s talk about the game in and of itself.

  • Familiarity Breeds Contempt: Of all the Design Goals, this is the one that I as Director feel the most passionate about. If you’re a tabletop gamer, or a computer gamer, think back on the fantasy games you’ve played, and the monsters that your characters have slain. I’d lay a good amount of money that the monster with the highest kill ratio is the orc. Tolkien did a GREAT job of creating some terrifying creatures for his novels, and Peter Jackson did a fantastic job of bringing them to terrifying reality on the screen. However, modern literature and games have done an even better job of utterly removing any sense of tension, fear or wonder about those same creatures. We as gamers have slaughtered them by the millions, and as a dramatic device the orc has little power beyond being a bag of hit points who might carry some treasure to scavenge. It is because of these reasons that you will not see any orcs at Brittanis— they're played out. We as Staff can come up with something different that fits our story perfectly. This doesn't just apply to orcs, though—many of the “standard” fantasy monsters that have been done to death won’t appear in Brittanis. There are no black-skinned elves in Brittanis, regardless of how you pronounce the name. Period.
  • New Troll, Old Name: Sometimes getting rid of a monster is the right answer. Other times, the “played out” version of the monster needs to be ditched and a new version of the monster created using the old name. Again using Peter Jackson’s LotR as an example, the WETA workshop version of trolls from the movies are incredible—and at no time do they become something the heroes can merely carve through like cannon fodder. Trolls are NASTY. They are dangerous in the extreme, and WETA did a great job of creating their own version of trolls. Brittanis is doing the same thing, so don’t expect trolls in our world to regenerate and be vulnerable to fire and acid (I’ll let you in on a secret—THEY’RE NOT). The creatures we’re doing this kind of “reboot” with typically are going to have their names based in old mythology: troll, ogre, draugr, vampire, goblin, etc. DO NOT ASSUME YOU KNOW THESE CREATURES. Death is pretty easy to come by in Brittanis, and making an assumption about monsters based on previous games you’ve played is a pretty good way to take a walk to the Graveyard in a hurry.
  • Limited Knowledge: In the game world of Brittanis, most of the creatures that fall into the “monster” category were pushed into the farthest wildernesses for hundreds of years by the legions of the Tiberian Empire. Practical, first-hand knowledge of the creatures, their habits, strengths, and weaknesses have become hearsay and fireside stories—or they have been lost entirely to the ravages of time. So no, YOUR CHARACTER DOES NOT KNOW ABOUT THEM. Most people who have encountered these monsters didn't learn anything about them beyond “THEY WANT TO EAT MEEEE!!!!” or were able to give them a name beyond, “AAAUUUGGHHHRRRGGGHHHH!!!” Every single character in Brittanis has the chance to learn and use Information Skills. These skills—and first-hand, bloody experience—are the best way to learn about monsters and villains of Brittanis. Pay attention when you come across them. Take notes. Talk to your fellow heroes after a battle. Communicate. Only by working together will you survive.
  • Monsters are not PCs. This design goal has two meanings. First is this: do not expect monsters to have the same rules, restrictions, and weaknesses that PCs do. For the sake of the sanity of Staff, as well as ease of play, NPCs (non-player characters) as well as monsters will not be built using the exact same rules as player characters. We don't need to know what Information Skills a Fomorian warrior has, for example. Thus, his stat card will likely be much smaller and simpler than a PCs. All monsters and NPCs, however, WILL follow the Delivery, Effects, and Traits rules because that's the chassis that the entire game is built upon. You might see interesting combinations of Effects and Traits, or maybe see them used in ways you might not expect, but they still play by the same rules in that respect. The one exception to this is the Racial skills of PC races. If a "monster" comes from a race that is playable as a PC, you can reasonably expect them to have the same in-born skills that a PC would. For example, all elves, regardless of PC or NPC status, cannot lie because they all have the "Bonds of the Sidhe" ability.

The second meaning of, "Monsters are not PCs," is quite simple-- the ONLY races available as Player Characters are listed clearly in the Races section of the rules. If you encounter a race and which is not on the playable list, that monster will not be available as a PC during the current Chapter (more on Chapters later, but for now assume a Chapter lasts for *approximately* four seasons of game, or about 4 real world years). Each Chapter is designed to have a distinct feel and purpose, and the races available for Player Characters reflect that directly. No PC will ever be able to play a Fomorian, for instance. They are the major villain race, and allowing them as Player Characters would muddy the plot more than Staff is comfortable. In a later chapter, perhaps "Half-Fomorian" might become a playable race... but that's a long time in the future.

So that’s what is currently percolating in the Design Diary right now. We’re trying to come up with the most fun, exciting, new and innovative ways of creating monsters that we can. I think it’s working perfectly,and the Fomorians are the first public example of that. Go ahead—check ‘em out and let us know what you think.

Until Next Time!!

Artwork is "Undead Ambush" by JonasJensenArt on DeviantArt