Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shattered Sky - monster design notes

Though development of the Shattered Sky BX Players Guide proceeds apace, I find myself getting distracted with conceptual rabbit holes during the process. Nothing new for me, but having a blog devoted to the topic is. So - here we are with another brief aside...but one not entirely off-topic.

One of the great things, for me, about D&D is all the whackbiscuit monsters put down to "magical experimentation." Apparently, there are wizards out there with no other ambition beyond merging perfectly ordinary beasts to produce perfectly boring mutant critters. For one of the most widely recognized and "classical" examples of this mish-mash monster type, I offer:

The griffon (or gryphon) is one of those charming heraldic monstrosities that comes to us from a proud tradition of mercenary exploration and false advertising. But, what is it - really? We have an insane amalgam of lion and eagle. Okay, granted, that's pretty weird in Germany - but not so much in Narnia, or the average D&D campaign. So, why do we have to blame the existence of perfectly normal creatures on insane wizards or deities of questionable morals?

That's right, I said "perfectly normal creatures." In a world where dragons and unicorns exist without the benefit of mad science, I don't see why creatures like the griffon or the owl bear should be monstrous. And, in Shattered Sky - they're not. Any monster that is actually a mix of two or more totally mundane creatures, and possesses no magical abilities whatsoever, is an animal. The griffon doesn't do anything that a lion or a big eagle can't. An owl bear has the same overall stats as a large bear. It can't even see in the dark or turn its head all the way around like an owl - but it has an owl head. A little more thought put into this critter would've been great. You can bet your sweet broadsword the owl bears in Shattered Sky can do those things.

So, by treating creatures like the griffon, hippogriff, owl bear, pegasus, or even the stirge (just a big mosquito, really) as nothing more than weird-looking animals, we have established the tone of the world that everyone will be dealing with. This is a magical place where magic happens. A place where strange does not always equal wondrous. The criteria for an animal in Shattered Sky are basically:
  • Must be of animal intelligence.
  • Must consist entirely of animal features and parts.
  • Must not possess abilities or qualities not attributable to normal animals.
That's about it. A chimera is not a normal animal because a fire-breathing dragon is not. A centaur is not a normal animal because a human being is not. A minotaur is not a normal animal because it has human parts and greater than animal intelligence. Oh - and a unicorn isn't an animal because it has magical abilities and (judging from the Lawful alignment) higher than animal intelligence. I hope the logic is clear. No need to make monsters out of molehills.

For the sake of completion, here's a few Shattered Sky animals that break the mold a little or combine some features of multiple animals in subtle ways.
 Beetle, Razorwing: This giant beetle has a carapace over its wings with sharp edges that slice like blades. The monster will closely resemble another, more common, giant beetle type so as to disguise its blade attack for maximum surprise.
 Owl, Bandit: An otherwise ordinary bird with dark raccoon-like markings across the face and a penchant for filching small valuables. Known to work in pairs or small groups.
 Snake, Snapping: This large serpent has scales similar to the shell of a turtle and powerful jaws that deliver a crushing bite. It is very aggressive and also poisonous.
 Toad, Javelin: This giant toad has a piercing bone spike at the end of its long tongue that it uses to impale prey.


  1. Whackbiscuit - A innocuous looking piece of breakfast pastry that will grab the nearest implement and strike the character when they aren't looking.

  2. Good choice for a Duckin' & Braggin' construct creature...