Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Everything Has Teeth

Daniel Dean
Nov 12, 2014
Is there actually anything that anyone would like me to write about?

Scrap Princess
Nov 12, 2014

Daniel Dean
Anything in particular?
Nov 12, 2014

Scrap Princess
Displacer beasts , mimics or elementals?
Nov 12, 2014
1. Monsters

They are the most beloved and traditional, most Core To The Brand, of all the stupid monsters. Independent of other cues they border on Player Punisher, with emphasis on any new players going and fucking themselves. Oh you DIDN'T just ASSUME this box would eat you? What an asshole. It's also a monster who represents the idea that players need to study the playbook before sitting down, having intimate familiarity with the monster manuals and bestiaries, and that the DM should then stick to that playbook so not to buck player expectations. A principle I loathe, and maybe that's an article to itself. Remind me. Anyway mimics ALSO represent one of those things that slowed down so many junior high games across the lands. Better take twelve minutes to open any door or step into any room in case it eats us. Fucker the goblin who stole the royal pants are four rooms down, let's wrap this up before DS9 comes on.

Mimics can really be anything but it's that image of the chest wanting to eat you which endures because nothing else but a dragon in old school D&D so neatly sums up the experience in a single image: you're trying to get wealth, but you'll be killed and eaten a lot in doing so. Monsters have endured for dumber reasons than being a good image, so it's hard to begrudge their existence entirely. But what do I do with them? Especially when D&D over the years tripped over itself to get into the mimic's way. Mimics could be anything, but suddenly they were nothing, because we had other creatures who were rocks who ate you, other creatures who were tables who ate you, other creatures who were pants who ate you, other creatures who were stalagmites and stalactites and ceilings and walls and floors who ate you. Now they were just the chests, just a set of numbers that really only had one idea, "Make something they don't expect to eat them eat them," but almost immediately all surprise was vacated from that concept.

Fire is scary and once upon a time someone wanted to invent double-fire. Not just big fire, which could kill you, or spreading fire. They didn't put legs on fire to make it chase you because fire already does that. They put arms on fire so fire could reach out and grab you as it chased you. They gave it a Scooby Doo villain quality which suggested WANT and boom: elementals, driven by the desires of their conjurer, but surely if they can HAVE desires they can have their OWN desires? This is how we end up with fire universe. Fire chairs, fire tables, fire ham. And if there's fire universe then surely they're friends with air universe, hate water universe, constantly pick on earth universe, etc. I find all of this a little too rock paper scissors and that's one thing when it comes to other elements but oh my Crom do I hate this for fire. It suggests A place where fire comes from, originally, and the point of fearing fire is it can come from anywhere. It suggests, accidentally, the reverse: a place fire can go, or is supposed to go, or may be sent to. That is terrible. Fire must be FOUGHT, it must be QUENCHED, it must be allowed to run wild and BURN ITSELF OUT through its must be STARVED, SUFFOCATED, fire must be stopped. Fire cannot be dismissed. Dismissed?! Waited out?! Fire should not be easier to get rid of than Randy Quaid from a Vacation movie. And if we don't tolerate that shit for fire it's unpatriotic to start tolerating that for mud and diamonds and hurricanes and crap.

I think you can make cool drawings of these and I think you can have a memorable fight with these but I don't think mimics and elementals will be what is memorable ABOUT it. Even the Temple of Elemental Evil was memorable for the scale things were playing on, not say Ogremoch. Yeah I maybe spelled that wrong but I'm not stopping to look it up, guess what Ogremoch called and said it's okay. I ran an entire chest dungeon once, nothing but chests and locked monsters, and couldn't even get excited about putting the mimic in there.

2. Alignment

BX alignment to my mind works like this: Are your interests served by the current status quo? Then you're Lawful. Even thieves, because if society collapses A) who are you going to steal from and B) who will honor the coin of the realm? Even if you want to take over the kingdom, you want a kingdom, that kingdom, more or less as it looks on the tin. Are your interests served by the removal of organized society, or with completely supplanting it with the kind of society which cannot coexist with the organized society which exists at large? You're Chaotic. You don't want the king's castle and the king's fortune. You want the king's midden and a palace of decay to Ruinous the Entroloper. Can your needs be met or will your life remain largely unchanged no matter what the prevailing organized society is? You're Neutral. You pick sides in a given conflict like a mother fucker but you're your own closed system, or you're part of an open system which doesn't intersect with an existing one.

But who cares.

Traditional ideas about D&D involve a lot of planes of whatever and to my mind one of the biggest wastes in the 5e dmg is the attention given to this and how early they want to throw you into the idea of using your space boat to go to fire world. I played Mario 3 a lot too but you're not getting to that shit for a while and psyching your players up with that is going to just make them disappointed when you throw them in a land dispute between the Rat Prince and Orklops or a dungeon full of screaming bees.

I will never use those planes.

There are three I care about. Physical plane, sandwiched between Spiritual plane and Magical plane. The world we know is the occluded front between The Potential For Existence and the Animating Factor Of Life, a medium for these things to actually occur. Earth is a scab. I keep doing this. Once they were actual sheets rolled out on each other like a science class example but for my weird cowboy D&D game the world is built around Hell, which is built around the Magical sphere, and outside the world's atmosphere is where the Spiritual plane kicks in. The earth is more like a pearl here. Seemed more westerny interpretation.

Fire does come from the Magical sphere because we're talking about the fundamental potential of existence and creation. So there's something for pissing off Neil Tyson.

3. The takeaway here:


A table.
A puddle.
A frog.
The wall.
The air.
The forest, and its individual trees, and individual animal KINDS, and individual animals.

Has a Physical, Spiritual, and Magical component. In theory.
You touch these three perspectives of the world at all times.
This is what Alignment means to me, by the way. Most of the time you aren't particularly aligned one way or another, but Clerics are more closely aligned with the Spiritual plane, Magic-Users are obvious, and Druids are aligned obviously with the Physical plane. Other esoteric types beyond that are Aligned as makes sense.
This is where Alignment languages also make sense to me. Nobody bats an eye at the notions that, say, only a Cleric's prayers are directly answered, only MUs read magical writing, only Druids speak their secret cant. Well, that's what that is.

This is spirits poking their heads out of objects as you pass by in a Miyazaki movie. This is Le Guin style controlling the world because you know the secret names of things and can address the spirits and demons within, say, a rock directly. Hell this is even Final Fantasy explaining how a buzzsaw faced clown robot can come from the after-effect of a dead person, really: the influences of the other planes of being override and corrupt the Physical form.

This isn't exactly my monstrous-magical string theory or anything. If you still want to pull off any level of surprise or fear or wonder then one-stop-solutions are death, and if we didn't already know that we have 90s superhero universe startups to remind us. But it is a default assumption I carry with me without usually expressing it as doctrine. It seems to creep in to a lot of what I do. Some people have chaffed at this in discussion until I cast it in terms of gods. To me, gods=monsters, and Crom can sit and spin next to The God In The Bowl. If we're talking about alien forms of understanding, we're really just talking about monsters regardless of their intent. A love for getting wasted and doing incest as a goose may make them more relatable but if you read the beginning of this sentence again I don't think you can say it doesn't make them more monstrous. If it helps to think of it as Heaven, Hell, and the Old Gods, well that's not right but it's close enough.

So Mimics.
So Elementals.

A box can't sprout a face and teeth and try to eat you, except it can because Magic.
A box isn't a feeling, sapient creature, except when it's possessed, which is always.
Fire can't sprout arms to grab you except it CAN and is sometimes ALIVE, and then it does.

So sometimes something wholly impossible happens and sometimes forces of nature come to life and sometimes statues develop a bucket list.

4. Summary

What you're really asking, +Scrap Princess, is what kind of games I run, and I think despite delusions and aspirations otherwise the answer is fundamentally "Muppets Survival Horror."