ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN: THE BLOOD OF UNCANNY MONSTERS
Essay Twelve: The Blood of Uncanny Monsters*
“The Blood of the monster is the doom of the unwary.”
“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
“Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.”
“History is not the story of heroes entirely. It is often the story of cruelty and injustice and shortsightedness. There are monsters, there is evil…”
“… I prefer the monsters of my fancy to what is positively trivial.”
Synopsis: The Blood of Monsters is far more than the blood of simple animals, or the nerveless sap of tree limbs. The blood of the monster is a deep, potent, ancient, terrible thing, capable of warping the world, and either wondrously enabling, or viciously crippling and killing, the Hero. Beware the blood of the monster, and do not easily discard the tremendous potential it encloses within itself.
Essay: In myth it is often the case that the blood, tissues, organs, or parts of a monster have unique, if not astounding properties of their own, quite apart from those possessed by the whole or intact, living creature itself.
Yet far too often these additional (or inherent, really) “monstrous characteristics” are overlooked (sometimes entirely) in fantasy, mythological, and magical gaming. Monsters are slain, their blood washes over the characters to no real effect, and the monstrous bodies or corpses thereafter simply discarded, as if they were the inconvenient, tiresome, or useless detritus of the true business of adventuring. No real consequences ensue from, or for, the slaying of monsters, from being in close proximity to them when they are killed, or from being washed and covered in the gore and curses and hatred and pollution and ferocity of their ultimate demise. The death of monsters becomes a mere mathematical and mechanical expression of character survival beyond beastly endurance, rather than a fascinating cosmic struggle between weird and uncanny physical, supernatural, and magical forces and the life-force of men. And the killing of monsters likewise has either no additional benefit, nor any additional consequence, other than the taking of their treasure or the removal of their objection to whatever goal(s) the hero currently or ultimately pursues. In short the monster is far less a real monster, far less a real threat, far less weird and far less dangerous, than if hunting and killing monsters implied nothing more mysterious, fantastic, and potentially lethal than a mere exercise in hit point reduction to “less than zero.” As a matter of fact killing most monsters in many role play games implies a level of danger and consequence that is exactly that, less than zero. Once slain or nearly slain a monster is then no more of a real threat than the paper-tiger number stats used to summarize his imaginary existence. But is this really a proper expression of the idea of monstrousness? In the imagination? In myth? Or even in-game?
Certainly not so in myth, where the blood of monsters and weird beings often has dramatic (and even sometimes life-long) effects upon the heroes who encounter such marvels, perhaps even upon nearby observers, other monsters, or the very landscape itself. In this respect I think myth is often far more engaging, richer in content and implication, tremendously more interesting, and far more versatile than typical fantasy (or other genres of) role play gaming. Monsters actually mean things in myth. They are not simply the enemy soldier du jour, dressed in some fantastic garb of hoary yet impotent flesh or rotting, undead sheets of nothingness. They are not merely “tactical challenges” as would be the case as if an infantry battalion in a wargame were suddenly compressed into a single fearsome body and sent forth to fight tooth and claw against armed adventurers. Instead monsters are “danger incarnate,” they are a warping of the woof of existence, their being alters and changes things around them, they bend reality, sicken or extend it, they reshape nature (physical, mental, and spiritual) into a monstrosity of devastating potential. In myth (from which spring the sources of the idea and shapes and names and forms of monsters in role play games) monsters are dangerous, deadly, uncanny, they distort the nature of the things they encounter, and they do all of this both within and well-beyond the very narrow confines of combat. It seems to me then that the monster should be returned to his more natural (or unnatural, depending upon your point of view) state(s) of being, a being that exudes, reflects and engenders corruption, weirdness, lethality, and real, unremitting and unrepentant peril. Both in life, and in death. *
In short I am advocating the idea that even the blood, tissues, and corpses of monsters might very well, and even in some cases definitely should, have effects both upon the characters encountering them, and upon the entire atmosphere and environment of the role-play milieu. That monsters become far more than mere combat automatons, far more than just tactical challenges, far more than an enemy in a rubber mask and a plastic suit of armor who can execute feats of multiple backflips or shoot acid from a naphtha gland in his mouth.
Monsters are not simply monsters because they look weird, because men find them to be distasteful, evil, ugly, frightening, gigantic, or unique adversaries. Monsters are also monsters because of their peculiarly monstrous qualities, which extend far beyond motive and appearance and down to the very marrow of their bones, as well as throughout the blood or ichor that washes unseen through their twisted veins. And that when this blood (and/or body) becomes exposed to the world at large, when it stains the flesh of the hero, and when the bones of monsters litter the landscape, other things occur of definite and noticeable effect. Things that are sometimes wondrous, things that are sometimes terrible, occasionally even more horrifying in implication or outcome than the threat of the original monster itself. (I use the term monster in this respect in a very generalized sense. Of course the same “monstrous properties” might be said to exist for supernatural beings and alien creatures, in horror/supernatural/adventure/superhero, and sci-fi gaming. And I would hardly argue against the same types of monstrous properties I am advocating for mythological and fantasy based monsters is such cases. Rather I would just expect that given the nature of the creature in question that such properties would manifest differently, but also quite obviously, in those other types of circumstances.)
TO BE CONTINUED…
Posted on July 11, 2014, in Article, Board, Card, Commentary, Computer, Electronic, Essay, Game Design, Information, MY WRITINGS AND WORK, Non-Fiction, Parallel Reality, Role Play, Uncategorized, Video, Virtual Reality, Wargame and tagged blog, blood, effects, essay, game design, games, gmaing, monster, myth, powers, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.