Friday, November 27, 2015

Monster, Monster, Come to My Door; for I've Rigged It with Unstable Explosives and Am Loading My Shotgun as I Wait for You.

I was discussing villagers the other night with a friend of mine when she made the comment that the villagers in every book, movie, and game are just faceless masses waiting for their own destruction at the hands of the latest bad guy to pick up a rock and think that blood is a pretty color and should be used to paint a room with because no one ever considers the way that people actually act when they get scared. It's too difficult to imagine that we pick up guns and start shooting every mother fucker who happens to poke his head in our window. 

She's not wrong. 

Think about the games you run for a minute. When do the villagers pick up the torches and pitchforks? Do they do it once there's enough to get them scared? Or do they wait until things have really moved beyond the threshold of reasonable action? Do they ever do anything more than run away and die?

For a long time my villagers did nothing more than run and die (perhaps I was too busy concentrating on making sure that my bad guys lived long enough to be more than a footnote in the game's play). What turned me about on that noise was realizing that the people I lived around - men and women from a rural, mountain community - wouldn't act that way. They would have started shooting the monsters in their stupid, fucking faces for getting too close to their stills and meth labs. They would have picked up ball bats, axes, Bowie knives, pipe bombs, and every gun they could get their hands on and fucked up some monstrous creatures' days; and that might sound like a stretch to you but consider this: we have coyotes, bears, mountain lions, wild dogs, and all manner of rabid animals. When they get a bit too aggressive the people in my home town will kill every last one of them and drive down Main Street with the carcass tied across the hood of a pick-up truck while bitching that there was only one to kill. I know, animals are different from people. Except that they're not really treated all that differently in this area as I know old women who have incapacitated rapists that had intended to kill them by twisting their balls in different directions (when asked she said it was because she wanted to hear him scream); gangs of baseball bat wielding vigilantes searching for the sons-of-bitches that murdered some cats on an out of the way highway; and a group of twenty angry women armed with knives searching for the boy who raped one of their friends so they could cut his dick off and shove it up his ass (the cops caught him first for those wondering). 

This community isn't an aberration in our reactions. I can pick up a copy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and read news stories about vengeance murders, gang attacks, posses formed to ferret out fugitives, and hunters killing wild animals. If it's something that happens in communities large and small then why isn't it happening in your home games?

My initial answer to that last question was that I wanted the players to be the stars of the show. After all, the game is about their adventures not a bunch of corn gobblers from a village that only the five of us know the name of and that I'll be the only one to remember. Only that's really a bullshit answer. See your villagers aren't suddenly becoming the main attraction of the story by reacting to the events in the game; instead they're becoming a catalyst that will help propel the players forward. While absolutely true that some of the villagers are going to be running for their lives you're also going to be having armed groups of regular people turning back towards the danger to try and stop it. Bringing these cats who are fighting rather than taking flight into the game has really made village situations something more exciting and far less mundane - especially since I just assume most everyone in my villages is a redneck with a rudimentary knowledge of explosives and born with an eagerness to see something blown to hell.  


  1. You make some great points in this post! This opens the door for adventurers to be more than just murderhobos - in fact, the polar opposite. They're the seasoned pros who know what they're doing, who hasten to solve the string of murders before the hotheaded villagers lynch every passing stranger whose looks they don't like, or take out the local necromancer before the torch-and-pitchfork mob rushes into the breach with a much higher body count whether they get the job done or not.

  2. All of this reminds me of Dungeon Crawl Classic's Funnel, in which hordes of local villagers face off against the local villain in an effort to put him down...and the lucky few graduate from zero-level commoners to level 1 badasses.

  3. Normals who go up against monsters DIE. Once enough people have died, the survivors stop trying. It's even worse when the monsters are organized, and carry out reprisals against entire communities. Villagers in monster territory are survivors and the descendents of survivors. They pray each night when the sun goes down that they'll still be alive by dawn, and then they go on with living because that's what people do. They ENDURE.

    And if this seems unrealistic, ask yourself why during the Cold War there were so few uprisings against the Communists.

    1. Becasue "the Communists" were just another government to most folks. At the end of the growing season does it really matter if it's nationalists, communists or a corporation you have a bad contract with that comes to take your chickens?
      Monsters are far worse.

  4. Here's the thing about peasants not being proactive in the face of monsters: In most settings they don't have explosives or guns they instead have an elite class of warriors to rely upon to provide defense if those warriors are pulling their weight and fulfilling their obligations locally if not off fighting in a campaign for their overlord(s).

    1. I think the explosives are only missing because people want to pretend that the Middle Ages were a time where boogers were considered a viable alternative food.

  5. Different realms have different rules. The gamable portions of my worlds tend to be more Transylvania than the Shire, with either no effective government or rule by monster overlords because there's more for players to do there. YMMV.

  6. It really depends on the setting of your game. While there were the occasional "peasant uprising" back in the days of feudalism, people were generally dealt with harshly by the sword-swinging lords of the manor. Villagers were conditioned to run and cower, unlike folks here in 'Merica, where we have an anthem about being "the land of the free and the home of the brave" and a video store filled with movies about vigilante action heroes.

    And guns...guns are a great equalizer. You can trace the fall of feudalism and the rise of democracy to the proliferation in firearms in both Europe and Asia.

    If your campaign is filled with hardy, pioneering types, armed with guns (or the D&D-equivalent: magic), then sure I can see them acting like rural 'Mericans of the 19th, 20th, and 21st century. If you've got the typical "pseudo-medieval" campaign setting, though, then they're probably going to be cowing in their hovels unless mustered by their lords (whose responsibility it is to protect them).

  7. When my NPC villagers run and die, it's usually from things that can beat them in an opposed Strength check. Or from fire. And things that breathe fire. If it's something that I think the players should run from, my NPCs are usually smart enough to run.

    Like horses. My NPCs usually run from danger. They also tend to live longer than the PCs.


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  9. *** Apologies in advance ***

    All this talk of villagers, funnels, and bad guys--it's almost as if you all had read my latest project. I recently finished a fantasy novel (two, actually) that incorporates ALL of those ideas.

    The main characters ARE the villagers, who decide that they don't want to be merely simple villagers anymore. They decide to go out in the world, to find some of that wealth they hear about in stories. Needless to say, things don't necessarily go that well for all of them.

    Go take a look. ( Thanks!


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