Saturday, November 2, 2013

Inventing the Tiger

If you just want the pdf, you can download it here.  See also: the Goblin Library.


I love ecology.  It's organisms and their environment, acting on each other, everything all at once.  Did you know that things in ponds die and they sink and they rot and they release a bunch of CO2 that gets trapped in sludge on the bottom of a pond?  This CO2 is permanently subtracted from the environment.  Depending on the climate, the pond may "turn over" once or twice a year, releasing all the trapped CO2 back into the pond.  This has major effects for the pond-dwellers.

Yeah, that sounds boring, but then read about limnic eruptions.

The point is that pond turnover is an emergent system that arises from the interactions between critters and ponds.  No critters means nothing to rot.  No water means no CO2 entrapment and lake stratification. This fish-pond system is bigger than fishes and ponds.  The sum is more complicated than the parts, that sort of thing.

Anyway, dungeons don't have real ecologies.  They're too organized and too unstable, both at the same time, so don't try to throw too much logic at them.  

However, dungeon ecologies are a good way to start thinking about how the different creatures in your dungeon interact, how they move, how they eat, where they shit, and what they drink.  This helps prevent the more egregious funhouse rooms (how did a 20' dragon get in a room with 5' doors?), but it can also be a creativity pump.  Your dungeon lacks autotrophs, so put some fucking metal flowers down there!  Imagine the spawning grounds of the salmon-folk!  If there are giant fleas in your dungeon, there's no way they get all their blood from random adventurers, so whose veins are they tapping?

Remind me to blog about dungeon ecologies later.

You Suck at Being an Animal

Anyway, humans abandoned their native ecologies a long time ago.  Now we design our ecologies.  We build them, pave them, and plow them.  One thing that we've left behind are our predators.

We carry the genetic baggage of BILLIONS of years of evolution.  There is a whole lot of crap in our genome.  Flawed proteins, broken proteins, and defenses against things that have been extinct for millennia.  There are even a few retroviruses that crawled inside our genomes to die, and we've been passing them along like they're family heirlooms or some shit.  But when we buckle ourselves into our sedans and bitch about the traffic, we still suffer from our (increasingly unhelpful) instincts.

Do you think you were born to be a predator?  A mere 2 million years ago, australopithecus was 4 feet tall and probably eaten by everything dog-sized or bigger.  Not just lions and hyenas and shit.  Think eagles and dogs with weird heads.  There were also terror birds and carnivorous kangaroos on different continents, and they probably swam across the oceans and ate your ancestors too, because you were so easy to eat back then.

You don't remember these things, but they happened to you.  The part of you that cares about survival and breeding has been taking careful notes this whole time, without even being asked.  It's written across all 120 billion miles of your DNA.  Why do you think you're scared of the dark?

Tigers aren't scared of the dark.  Tigers know that there's nothing in the dark that's scarier than a tiger.  Tigers love the dark.  Darkness is their bench when they are waiting.  They wrap it around themselves before they go to sleep.  And after they clip your spine like a fingernail, darkness is the table they sit down to eat upon.

Since 1800, tigers have killed at least 373,000 people.  The Champawat tigress killed at least 400 people in Tibet and Kumoan.  In the Sundarbans, tigers kill 50-250 people every year.

Holy fuck.

Good job, evolution.  Good job making an animal that is optimized to kill slow, weak apes with bad hearing and worse smell.

But I don't live in the Sundarbans, so I don't get the enjoy that particular fear that is my birthright.  One time I came home and found a strange cat in my house, but even that was fine.  That cat was a pretty cool cat.  He let me pet him and didn't even sever my spine once.

Reinventing the Tiger

But we still have the Fear of Tigers in us and we don't know what to do with it.  Noisms wrote a thought-provoking post that got me thinking about a predator that evolved alongside us and is still miraculously relevant.  

I'm going to try to invent some tigers from an ecological standpoint.  Or more specifically, a dungeonical-ecological standpoint.

In the game of genetic success, humans pretty much won forever once we started using tools and developing symbolic intelligence.  Anything that effectively preys on modern humans will have to negate our AWESOME ADVANTAGES:

- awesome vision and fantastic pattern recognition
- communication that lets us warn each other about this fell beast
- cooperation that lets us form torch-wielding mobs
- tools like magic wands and guns and magic guns
- social memory so that we'll never forget how we killed the horrible thing

Anything that effectively preys on modern humans would do well to capitalize on our SHAMEFUL RACIAL WEAKNESSES:

- can't smell for shit
- hearings not so great either
- expect the world and its creatures to be inductively reasonable and sorta logical
- assume that informing others of this creature is a good idea
- assume that memory is a good representation of the world
- assume that eyeballs are trustworthy
- assume that recorded knowledge of things are trustworthy

Lastly, there can be "predators" that improve our chances of reproductive success.  They can do this by:

- not killing us outright
- increasing our fecundity

Alright, some modern tigers.  I wrote a whole thing but it was huge so I made it a pdf.

P.S. I eventually wrote a sequel to this called the Book of Mice.  It's located over here.


  1. This is a profoundly lovely set of very strange monsters - it feels a bit in the same vein of the other good stuff coming out of the OSR tight now (Middenmurk and False Machine come to mind), and more specifically it feels like Virconium, or some other bit of beautiful old style weird fantasy. I am not sure what the default world for this stuff is but I think it's a good one - hallucinatory, bizarre and casually lethal.

    1. Definitely a distinct genre of monsters forming here. Trying to articulate it.

      -There is no assumption that the PC's will defeat the monster by hitting it to death. For example, I have no idea how to kill a Cloudfinger, or Partick's Mondmilch. The question itself seems almost absurd. The monster entry is just a description of a thing that lives in such a way as to cause the party problems.

      (This focus on how it exists in the world over how it works in combat is a given if you grew up with Gary, but not assumed in, say, every videogame, 4E, the movie Predator.)

      -How the monster kills you is also often strange or unclear. "Attacking" you might be a side-effect of the way it exists. It might "Hit" you by letting you see it, or by living inside you, or in some way that you have no idea how to defend against. It may actually have little or no interest in killing you.

      (The high legality of old school D&D is crucial for this, because it allows you to threaten the party with monsters that are shit at dealing damage. 4E monsters must be constantly aggressive juggernauts to stand a chance against all those hit-points. Old-school monsters can fall over themselves, gibber, lie around listlessly, fail morale checks, become your friend with a reaction roll, and kill you with a vague swipe. )

      -All of the above is inspired by literature, poetry and art, not game design. Very little of the situations you go through when fighting something from Scrap Princess or Patrick would be resolved using the rules and stats of the game. You think about the world, and then MAYBE think about how some relevant pieces of it would translate into rules. (Or you don't - patrick and scrap rarely give stats. I assume they just think up HP and AC on the fly, if necessary.).

      -"An incursion from, or relic of, some other place. Presenting itself so vibrantly and powerfully that it leaves puckers in the skin of reality that won’t heal."

    2. If there is a distinct genre, I vote we call it Neo-Testicular.

      You echo my sentiments with more eloquence than I can muster, but I just want to add (if we're talking about Scrap n' Patrick) that the stats are pretty incidental. The monsters aren't built for balanced combat or level-appropriate encounters. They're built to AMAZE and HORRIFY and CONFUSE and DELIGHT.

      In that regard, they're built from the same dream-stuff as the world around them. The world is a world with problems in it, and monsters are just mechanical intrusions of these problems . . . that you can sometimes solve by hitting them enough.

      DnD has the amazing power to make imaginary things more REAL. So if Patrick's telling you about mondmilch, you'd be all like, "yeah, that sounds cool" but as soon as he tells you that it's in your DnD game, you start thinking about how you'd fight it, solve it, get rich from it. DnD makes your imagination relevant again.

      It's like art in the sense of "here's this cool idea that I want to take out of my head and show you", but since the medium is DnD you don't hang it on a wall. Instead you assign it some numbers and try to kill your friends with it.

  2. I remain a steadfast, loyal and delighted fan.

  3. The PDF seems to have gotten lost somewhere, I cant seem to find it

  4. The alabaster hounds of Yog remind me a lot of the Silence from Doctor Who.
    Also, their effect on elves sounds very similar to me: I am just a regular toaster but everyone who mentions me speaks of me in the first person.

  5. Very interesting to note the Magic: the Gathering and Edgar Allen Poe references in there.

  6. As a visitor from the future, I bring warning of a terror that preys on humans:

    It is too minute to see, yet its patterns are too big for us to take in.
    Our best means of cooperation make it stronger. Our safest communication struggles to make the threat comprehensible.
    It is so fine only our best tools can touch it; and yet so numerous our tools are never enough.
    And it has let us be for so long, we have forgotten how to fight it.

    Even our successes at filling the world make it stronger.

  7. I imagine humans would 'evolve' with spells of Forget Dangerous Fact and Ignore Cognitohazard.