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Author Topic: Designing Bestiaries for your Setting?  (Read 263 times)
Straight Outta Johto
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« on: September 18, 2017, 04:48:49 AM »

I don't have a specific problem I'm looking to tackle right now, but it occurred to me as I began thinking about populating my setting, what principles go into selecting monsters for your world?

When I began thinking about it, you guys usually have really interesting monsters in your worlds, and I was a cryptozoology kid, so I thought I would try to spark a discussion.

The problem is I don't know what the good questions to ask are. So i'll just pose this. Where are good resources to find interesting ideas for monsters? You could probably google that, but that's only taken me so far.
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« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2017, 11:23:36 AM »

Monsters that reinforce the setting's aesthetic should be included.

Monsters that fit in the aesthetic are good candidates to consider for inclusion.

Monsters that wouldn't be too out of place in the setting may be included if they bring something good to the table. Consider modifying them to fit in better.

Monsters that clearly go against the setting's aesthetic should not be included unless modified accordingly.
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« Reply #2 on: September 18, 2017, 12:05:02 PM »

I have a lot of thoughts about this. I may, one day, write a guide to monster design, but here are some loose thoughts. This is just my approach, a sort of "Steerpike's monster-making manifesto"; it's not the only way to make monsters, so take these "dicta" with a grain of salt.

- Monsters should inspire both fear and disgust.

- Monsters must be categorically impure. They must defy the schema we use to make sense of the world. They must mix and mingle things which should be disparate. All classic monsters do this. For example, the vampire mixes life and death, often masculine and feminine, human and animal. Frankenstein's monster: it's a pastiche of different parts, it's living when it shouldn't be. Categorically impure things provoke a sense of revulsion. They're wrong in some way that makes us worry that our whole way of seeing the world is wrong.

- Monsters can be fusion figures or fission figures. Fusion figures combine more than one body. For example, the xenomorph of Alien combines crustacean, reptile, humanoid, insect, male and female, organic and inorganic, all in one body. It also defies the inside/outside distinction (chestburster, facehugger, its weird mouth thing). Fission figures are the opposite: doppelgangers, werewolves, shapeshifters. Multiple identities are distributed across time. Anything which suddenly transforms, or which seems other than it is - that's a fission figure. For example, the monster the Thing of the film of the same name adopts the personae or semblances of its victims, but can be revealed as monstrous (in fact, in its "true" form, it's also a fusion figure).

- Monsters find the root of their fear in their otherness, their difference. This difference can be uncanny or abcanny.

- In the uncanny, we're confronted with some aspect of our psyche we're uncomfortable with, something we want to repress or deny about ourselves. Pennywise of It is like this: It draws on our worst childhood fears, our phobias, our personal vulnerabilities, the things we want to forget or shun, the dark, frightened, primal parts of ourselves. Uncanny things are strange and other, but they're also creepily familiar. Haunted dolls, ghosts of all kinds - anything to do with the past, with time out of joint, with a trauma rediscovered. The crawlers of The Descent are another good example: they're not-quite-human, but they represent our repressed aggression, our appetites, our taboos, our past.

- For the uncanny, try taking human beings and removing something. For example, the Slender Man has no face, the Crawlers have no functioning eyes or language, and the Bodysnatchers have no individuality.

- You can also try adding something or moving something around, as with the Pale Man of Pan's Labyrinth.

- The abcanny is the opposite - the totally inhuman. It corresponds to no aspect of the psyche, nothing we're denying or abjuring or repressing. Cthulhu is the go-to example here, although the Colour Out of Space might be a more pure example. The house in House of Leaves would be another good example. There aren't as many good filmic examples of this because the abcanny in its purest form tends to defy comprehension and representation. The Thing comes close, and some other John Carpenter films also (Prince of Darkness, At the Mouth of Madness).

- To evoke the abcanny, you need something that retreats from view or can't be fully understood or perceived, or something which otherwise seems completely alien. Lovecraftian creatures draw on marine life, gastropods, and insects because these seem the least like us. Slime, tentacles, voids, boneless bodies, exoskeletons - these are good ingredients. For the abcanny, avoid faces, human body parts, anything anthropomorphic.

- Many good monsters have an ecological dimension - including a distinctive way of reproducing, feeding, or growing. 28 Days Later zombies eat flesh and spread their virus with bites and scratches. Vampires need blood and create more of themselves by feeding others their own blood. Xenomorphs use human bodies to incubate eggs, which hatch into facehuggers, which implant new xenomorphs. Slake Moths in Perdido Street Station feed on human minds and process those minds into psychogenic milk for their caterpillar young. Pennywise needs to feed on fear before going into a 27 year hibernation.

- Monsters can represent something else - they can function as metaphors - but they shouldn't be reducible to that meaning. Lovecraft's Shoggoths can be interpreted as a metaphor for proletarian uprising (the slaves who revolt against their masters), but they're not reducible to that class metaphor.
« Last Edit: September 18, 2017, 12:10:33 PM by Steerpike » Logged


Yrthak
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« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2017, 03:26:35 PM »

Steerpike

I may, one day, write a guide to monster design,

Please do.
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Straight Outta Johto
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« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2017, 07:00:05 PM »

Kindling

Steerpike

I may, one day, write a guide to monster design,

Please do.

I second this.

Forgive me for not responding. This is all great advice. I've been doing some more digging into other people's settings to figure out the best way to organize your monster information along with just coming up with monsters. It's very hard to catalog every monster you come across.
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