Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Post-Apocalyptic Bogeymen

A fellow on /tg/ was trying to come up with some monsters for a post-apocalyptic horror game. My first question for him was simple: Do you want the kind of monsters you blow fleshy chunks out of with guns and plenty of ammo, or the kind that stalk you through the shadows like surreal nightmares? He was after the latter, and had actually been considering having the creatures be intangible (though they'd still have a high body count). Here's what I suggested.

The monsters *are* entities that, objectively, exist- at any given moment, two people looking at one of these creatures will be observing the same thing (heck, if you've got a working camera you could take a picture of them, though any situation where you'd have a decent shot isn't going to be one with a good chance of you getting out alive). They're sentient, and certainly intelligent to some degree. But they also seem to exist almost entirely in our own minds- for the most part, they can barely affect the physical world. The one exception is us- one swipe of a claw and you'll be bleeding profusely beneath undamaged clothes. And while they'll often toy with a victim like a cat toys with its prey, they'll throw people around like rag dolls once they're agitated enough.

Getting into "things the players don't know at first" territory:
-They quickly lose the ability (or possibly the inclination) to affect someone who's dead. In fact, they quickly lose interest in doing much of anything after one victim dies. . .well, most of the time. And that's not gonna stop other victims from bleeding to death shortly after.
-Interestingly, they'll also pay little attention to someone who isn't conscious- or at least, they won't start paying attention. Their focus waxes much quicker than it wanes. One end result of this would be children waking up to see the bloody remains of a mother who never made a sound, rather than crying out and thus waking them up.
-Whether it's correlation or causation, their attacks do less damage to someone who manages not to panic. This doesn't mean not feeling fear- that only happens if you're dense and naive, and it doesn't protect you- it means feeling intense fear and resisting it enough that it doesn't affect your actions. Some elders (and there aren't many out there) advise people to stand and face a beast rather than trying to escape- not because that makes it less inclined to attack, but because that way there's a chance your injuries won't be lethal. Of course, alot of that hinges on there being someone else at the scene who's freaking out more than you.
-The creatures are fairly territorial. Each seems to have its own quirks, abilities, form and general personality (though these evolve over time)- residents typical tell stories about it and call it by a nickname. Personally, I'd use the monster in the '9' short film (and likely the monsters in the feature film version, haven't seen it) as a reference:

Also, it'd be interesting (i.e. really damn creepy) if they could imitate human behaviors-i.e. this twisted nightmare thing occasionally makes some casual nonverbal gesture you'd see a person make in conversation, or whispers something under its breath when before now it only made guttural, inhuman howls.

Perhaps it's not an imitation, and they're spirits of the dead who retain trace amounts of their old selves.

Or maybe those trace amounts come from their latest victims.


Anonymous said...

This is pretty intresting, I must say. I might have to use this sooner or later. However, one thing's a bit unclear, so mind a question?
So if the bogeymen are mostly, for all intents and purposes, incorporeal for anything but their victim's bodies, what about the "scenery?" I mean, can they pass through walls, doors and whatnot without any effort? If so, I might have to change that a bit in my own games.

Specifically, I can mostly see these things, when they come into play, as something to flee and possibly hide from. If nothing even slows them down, that becomes a really short run. What I'd find more intresting is, say, locking doors and throwing things down behind you as you flee, slowing the horrible thing down for just a moment. And even that very quick moment, that short time it takes for the monster to break through a locked door or smash through fallen crates, could be the difference between life and death. It'd be tense and require the players to think fast (possibly time limits for decisions). This could be even more intresting if the players (and characters) had to memorize the layout of the building so they wouldn't run into dead ends and such.
Maybe the intent of hindering them is what makes the obstacles actually hinder them? That wouldn't of course, mean that the bogeymen can simply be shot or whacked down. But if they're affected by the mindset of the victims already, then I don't see this as a big strecth.

I'm not in any way telling you how to do these things, of course. Just thought that it'd be an intresting change to the idea.

Dagda said...

My inclination was that they mostly behaved as physical creatures- they'll crawl along walls and ceilings, often without actually exerting any weight on the inanimate objects they're touching. Their semi-malleable forms would let them slowly squeeze through small openings, meaning there's little hope of keeping one out. This all having been said. . .well, the short answer is that you're absolutely taking the right approach. The creature's capabilities should be whatever creates the gameplay you're after.

Personally, I see the task of surviving encounters with these creatures to be a matter of 'reading' their nature and figuring out the right way to behave- which in practice usually involves alot of tense praying that you're doing the right thing. This'd tie back to how every one of these creatures has its own characteristics, personality, and so on. Say that one of these creatures hates fire and won't come near it (but can breathe damp, chilly winds that threaten to extinguish it), while others don't give a damn. Another creature can be pacified by singing to it- though it can often become possessive of the person who sings, refusing to let them leave.

Basically, the biggest priority wouldn't be to memorize the layout of a given building- it'd be to pay close attention to (and even seek out) all the foreshadowing you can find about a given region's bogey. Talking to locals for all the different rumors/stories/semi-superstitious, and doing some detective work if you come across the creature's tracks/lair/latest victim. That way, when you hear a throaty "hek-hek-hek-hek-hek" noise from up above, you'll know from the stories about Laughing Eyes that you're not supposed to look up, that you should walk away very slowly- and that if his braying "chuckle" abruptly stops, you RUN.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I see. Now that you put it like that, your idea seems a lot more intresting. Makes them a lot more involving and, frankly, more like real monsters instead of just faceless threats. I can see this as a big opportunity to encourage some hearty, involving roleplaying. What's more, it keeps them unpredictable in more ways than just the exact nature of how it kills you.
Only thing the encounters like these need is a reason to go to the bogeyman's domain. And in a post-apocalyptic game, those are quite easy to come up with.

One question though. Suppose that you have a theoretical situation where the bogeyman's "territory", say an old, decaying hospital, is destroyed. For example, the hospital simply collapses due to its age or comes down due to some other reason (possibly even some all too brave and stupid idiots trying to "kill" the thing that way). What happens then? Can the thing move out and find some other place? Will it "die" or just stay where it is? Or will it, say, seek revenge?

Actually, that could be quite an intresting scenario in a game...

Dagda said...

Actually, by "territory" I was envisioning a hunting ground spanning at least several miles. The ruins of a hospital, that'd be a creature's lair.

As for what happens if the lair is destroyed: I'd say that the players have heard rumors about all three options. Any of them could be true- and it could also vary based from creature to creature, or based on various other conditions people aren't aware of.