Monday, February 20, 2012

Mistaken Monster Identity

In my post introducing the Strigoi I showed the inn patrons panic in the belief that there was a vampire out to get them. While the creature was a dangerous one, knowing that it wasn’t a vampire saved the adventurers a lot of grief. Imagine going out to face a ‘vampire’ armed with holy water, cloves of garlic, holy symbols, and wooden stakes, only to end up against a nest of stirges?

Something I’ve noticed in various adventures is NPCs being way too accurate when describing the local boogie. How many villages know the difference between hobgoblins and orcs? Or a Dragon and a Wyvern? Are the ghosts in the cemetery really ghosts, or will-o-wisps? What's the difference between an an ogre and a hill giant to a peasant? Or an ogre and a troll for that matter? Is the witch up on the glen really a druid, or is she a foul necromancer or just an old lady who prefers to live alone?

Isn’t it more likely that the villagers will only know that something bad attacked, and farmer Jim-Bob was ripped apart? They’ll blame whatever the local or historical monster is, even if there isn’t any evidence.

That isn’t even factoring in that locals may have a local name for the bad guys. What if the local goblin tribe wears redcaps? What if they've never seen the beast, but call it Grendel? Or Smaug? Or just "It"? There could even be a taboo about naming or describing it. If it's an intelligent monster that's good at sneaking, keeping the locals in fear could be even better than killing them all!

My point is, don't just presume that your quest giver knows that their talking about! And to DMs, don't always be clear about the threat is!


  1. Excellent advice! I love the old "gas spore + magic mouth = fake beholder" shenanigans, but this is more realistic and can be used much more often without the game turning into a session of "How's the DM gonna trick us this time?"

  2. My NPCs are often woefully inaccurate when describing monsters. Unless those NPCs are in a position to know - sages, veteran adventurers, soldiers, monster hunters, etc.

    On the other hand, I find that even if the NPCs tell the players fairly accurately, the becomes an in-group telephone game. "We're being attacked by swarms of 8-legged bloodsuckers that fly."

    "What's attacking them?"

    "Some kind of 8-legged vampires, in swarms."

    "Cool, let's get stakes and garlic. Oh wait, vampires can kill us. We can't handle a swarm of vampires. Let's avoid them until we all have magic swords and high-level magic."

    "Good idea."

    And then they flee from stirges.

    It's happened in my games. :)