Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bestiaries vs. Statblocks: the Kobolds of Arx Varago

I totally dig bestiaries; reading about the crazy monsters dreamed up by those old-time loons like Pliny the Elder or whoever is great fun.  These real, live people trying to describe creatures that they might actually have believed to exist are fascinating in the extreme.  T.H. White's translation of a medieval Bestiary, as well as Borges' Book of Imaginary Beings totally deserve an Appendix NF post some day.  Huge credit to Frank Mentzer for including Borges in the Appendix N of his Basic Rules book, by the way.   

And yet, reading any tome of collected monsters which includes stat blocks for use in gaming just bores me to tears.  Sure I own the original Monster Manual and am very glad for its existence, but in all my collecting of old school books over the last 7 or 8 years, I have never bothered to re-acquire any of its offspring.  I think I've outgrown the need for tomes filled with codified monsters.

This extends, I'm sorry to say, to include your blog.  Though I generally find it to be well written, entertaining, and informative, if your newfangled monster description includes a stat block, I cannot bring myself to read further.  Nothing, in my opinion, saps the life out of a new monster description like a comprehensive statblock.    

So when I make a dungeon nowadays--and yes, much of my time away from the blog lately has been spent creating a megadungeon--actually I'm going for gigadungeon status--statblocks are nowhere to be seen; I'm going all analog.  If the orcs in room H4-13.46k (extensive encounter nomenclature is essential when you're keying a billion rooms) have lower than average hit points then I describe them as feeble, visibly wounded, sickly, wimpy, etc.  Generally, though, I don't bother with such trifles 'cuz that would take forever and I've still got 987 million rooms to go.

In fact, generic, codified monsters like orcs are pretty rare in my giga-lair.  Well, not rare.  More like uncommon.  Or, actually, maybe only marginally less common than is typical.  But when they do appear, they're vastly altered... somewhat.

Do I look like I delight in killing and torture?!
As a for-instance, I've got kobolds, but they're not the scaly puppy-men made famous in the MM.  Rather, they are servile-seeming domestic faerie types more reminiscent of the kobolds of Germanic folklore.*  Compulsive custodians; a kobold will wander into any cluttered room and set to cleaning it up no matter who resides in the chamber--or what combat is currently taking place in it.

*In my handwritten notes, I put an umlaut over the first "o" to accentuate their origin. Pretty clever, eh?

As they make little effort to flee and are virtually incapable of engaging in combat; the little dudes are easily enslaved. In this regard, they might be influenced a tad by the house elves of Harry Potter fame.  But they are hardly innocuous, obsequious Dobby-types.

When their domestic work is performed voluntarily they are glad for the opportunity to clean, cook, and mend things and do so in good cheer.  If enslaved--and all you need to do to "enslave" a kobold is acknowledge his presence while he cleans up your place--they will develop an increasingly sinister manner toward their "master".  At first this will manifest itself in minor pranks played on the master.   As time goes on, such pranks will grow in malignancy until... well, there will be explosives involved.  Did I mention that kobolds are also demolitions experts?  The burnt-out Gnoll lair on Tier 4 of Blue-Quadrant Delta, Level 8 of Arx Varago* remains abandoned as testament to the conflagrative-fury of these placid-seeming little buggers.

*one of several working titles for my gigadungeon. 

Their lairs are well hidden as a rule and are, as one might expect, extremely tidy.  They are often dominated by meticulously arranged laboratories which they use to produce their volatile compounds.

Even though these kobolds are a pretty serious departure from the MM version--I've given them the scientific name Domus inimicus to distinguish them from the dog-faced dino-tots of MM fame, who are of the species Canisaurus pusillus--nowhere have I bothered writing down their Hit Dice or AC or any other number that might be used to quantify any aspect of their life-force or combat capacity.  Instead, they're described as small and, though stealthy, not particularly quick.  They wear no armor and carry no conventional weapons; if someone wants to hack them, they might attempt to flee, but often they will accept a martyr's demise.  But beware, for their brethren will exact revenge.  And,  when such vengeance arrives, it will be unexpected, incendiary, and excessive. 

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