Try to remember for a moment a more innocent time in your life. Back then, the thought of vampires and werewolves lurking in the dark might have sent a chill down your spine. These days, though, when people discuss shows such as The Walking Dead or Being Human, it’s not with the same sense of fear that they once had in the past. The classic horror monsters have become mundane. Zombies, werewolves, ghosts, and vampires lost that mystery of the unknown that made them scary and instead they have become tropes.
It happens at gaming tables, too. Eventually, many gamers are lucky enough to settle in with a long-term gaming group. Many of our favorite roleplaying games are rooted in strategy games, and those playing them begin to form strategic patterns as they play. These patterns often mean that careful planning by the GM is somewhat wasted, because not only do the players see your favorite moves coming, but they know each other as well and have transitioned into being a good team when confronted by the familiar and common threats they’ve faced in the past. This is fun for awhile, but if all they face are familiar threats, then you’re dealing with a form of stagnation that no longer challenges your players to think as much. As a result, your game will either change or everyone will get bored and find other things to do.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The fantasy genre is at its best when you mix familiar with new. We’ve discussed civilizing and mutating our old hat monsters, and today we’re going to reverse the formula to keep your players guessing by adding classic templates to some monsters that might be less familiar.
You can find the templates I’ll be discussing here. Join me after the jump as we discuss making vampires, lycanthropes, and zombies scary again in “Old Hat Monsters: Mashed.”
One of the terrifying elements about vampires was how human they were. The classic Dracula was like a dark mirror of humanity—the horror came from how similar our desires and fears were to those of a bloodthirsty monster. Thanks to familiarity and, to some extent, elements in our current media culture, sending your player characters after a mere vampire no longer works in terms of mystery and horror, so I propose we apply the vampire template to a more subtle monster and combine their strengths into a more horrifying creature.
I’ve been dying to throw a lamia vampire at my player characters for awhile now. Thematically the lamia was the Greek equivalent of the vampire—at least in its predatory habits. When you apply the vampire template to a lamia, you create a horrifying combination for any party. The lamia has a great land-based speed, natural attacks, the ability and intelligence to wield a variety of weapons, and an arsenal of spell-like abilities centered on charm and illusion. On top of that, they are size Large. Adding the statistical advantages, immunities, and additional abilities such as shapeshifting and swarm summoning give you a deadly and difficult-to-corner skirmisher that can separate targets from the party and take down PCs.
And what about those werewolves mentioned above? Well, the classic lycanthrope is a werewolf. In an industrial society, it’s sometimes difficult to understand that there was a time when animals were a very real threat. We’ve tamed and changed our environment to a point were confrontations with other apex predators is, at best, a trivial concern. For our purposes, I’ll work with something other than canines—there are simply already too many canine-themed threats in Pathfinder.
So, where do I intend to look for a variant lycanthrope? One of the most interesting monster write-ups for me was the thawn from Kingmaker #31. He’s in the SRD and can make a decent CR2 ambush-style fight. Making him a werebear thawn is another way to add awesome to a monster that, if given the proper environment, can be a surprising threat. Few expect a giant to lays traps and ambushes, and the sickening effect they have is a great debuffer that would translate to any form the thawn takes.
Now for zombies! There’s a synergy to zombie ants that appeals to me. In a way, the ant swarm is like a zombie herd, consuming without individual thought—a force of nature, in fact. Take something like the lion ant give it the zombie template. For giggles, when the party has brought the lion ant zombie down to 50 percent of its hit points or less, have a pair of ant swarms pour out of its wounds. If this doesn’t add an element of horror and surprise back into your game, I do not know what will.
Here’s where I ask what you all think about a few things. Do you want to see the crunch? For every three comments in the comment section, I’ll stat out one of these for you here in the comment section. Be sure to include what you’d like to see statted out first! Do you have a combination in mind I didn’t mention? Request it, and I’ll either post it here or link you to a page where it’s posted.