Apr 13, 2010

They're Not Bad Monsters...

"Open your mind to the possibility that they are not bad movies, just misunderstood" - Mr. Lobo

I'm a big fan of sci-fi monster movies and TV shows with Doctor Who being my all time favorite. I really enjoy the new series and also regularly watch episodes from the 70s and 80s. Just this past week I was watching The Face of Evil and The Invisible Enemy. Those older episodes certainly don't have the polished special FX of modern TV shows, but I find them just as engaging, and kind of appreciate the tangibility of the non-digital FX.

Looking at a still photo of a monster from many old Sci-Fi movies or TV shows you might rightly think they look more than a little bit goofy. It's obviously a man in a rubber suit, or a model hanging from some fishing line. Despite this, if the story is interesting and draws you into the fictional world - those things don't matter. You suspend your disbelief and despite knowing on one level that what your watching is "fake" or "silly" you still buy into the fiction of the story and enjoy it. It's very similar to what happens when you go to watch live theatre.

So when I look through an old RPG book like the Fiend Folio and see some goofy looking monster like the Flumph it does look a bit silly, like a movie prop or a rubber suit hanging from a hook. But given the right story, the right lighting, and with everyone properly immersed in the narrative it can be something else. Not just something campy or silly, but part of a serious story.

Last week we ran one of my favorite game sessions in 25 years of playing RPGs. Despite being a game of cowboys, kung-fu and a steam punk "silliness" we're playing the game with a fairly serious tone. There's lots of banter and light-hearted moments but it's not a comedy game - we're playing it straight. The campaign began with the characters arriving in town during a hanging.

I mention this because the Flumph, the "silliest" monster in the history of D&D, played a central recurring role in our last game night. I didn't add them to the scenario as a joke - with a bit of fine tuning I think it's actually an excellent monster. The players didn't treat them as a joke either - much of the mystery of the scenario involved the peculiarities of their alien physiology, and when encountered later in the evening the players didn't stop to look back.

Some things to consider about the Flumph:

  • They have many finger like tentacles - they can build and use tools

  • They are Lawful - they are organized and collaborative

  • They are as intelligent as humans -and they could be more technologically advanced...

  • They are saucer shaped and can fly - they are flying saucer creatures...

They might seem "too weird" and out of place in a Magical Medieval type campaign, but if you have more Sci-Fi elements in your game world, and particularly if you grew up watching Doctor Who... the Flumph starts looking a lot more interesting.

They're not bad monsters... they're just misunderstood.