Brief lives

July 15, 2013

How about that low-level monster exercise I mentioned last time? Creating the grunts in the enemy army or random monsters on the landscape is just as important as any other part of a game: they may live only long enough to die, but those few seconds still communicate something about the world.

In preparing for this exercise I’m reminded of Brief Lives from The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. In his foreword, he wrote:

“This story was written in England and Australia and Waikiki and all over North America. My thanks to all my hosts and friends for permitting me to intrude upon their lives, however briefly.”

The Sandman teaches us that a story is a metaphor for life, and life is a metaphor for a story. What say we intrude upon several different stories, however briefly? It will obliterate hope for a single point to it all, but, well, I’m writing one-dimensional creature classes: characters with few dimensions may say something about the world, but they only have so many ways to act and react. I’ll try to create a “feeling” more than a “point” for each one.

I will choose genre for each character/creature by using RANDOM.ORG to count down a list of whatever genres I feel like doing. That is:

“Fantasy, urban fantasy, cyberpunk, steampunk, Lovecraftian horror, science horror, paranormal, espionage, martial arts, alternate history, space opera, mechs, silly science fiction, superheroes, Gaiman pantheism.”

You’ll notice I didn’t say a thing about “modern day folks dealing with edgy real-world problems.” I respect people too much to try to be “edgy” about their problems. I get:

One-dimensional creature class. Martial arts.
One-dimensional creature class. Science horror.
One-dimensional creature class. Superheroes.
One-dimensional creature class. Mechs.
One-dimensional creature class. Lovecraftian horror.
One-dimensional creature class. Steampunk.

I’ll select the traits myself. As always, if you are interested in anything I post and want to use it somewhere (such as in a tabletop gaming session), just ask me. I like to know where my children are.

1-D creature class: Initiates of the Rod.
Trait: Stoic.
Description: Young men and women dedicated to the idea that they must be as firm and unbreakable as the metal staff they bear.
Dialogue: Idle – “Years in the field . . . I will prove I can endure.”
Idle – “At peace, I am solid. At war, I am solid. My way is unchanging.”
Fight – “Strike as you may, you cannot strike me down!”
Fight – “Bone will break, metal will not!”

1-D creature class: Mutants. (Brilliant name! I was inspired in part by The 7th Saga with its “Undead” creature.)
Trait: Pained.
Description: Multilimbed monstrosities, literally falling over themselves in their movements. They exact satisfaction for their injuries out of the able-bodied.
Dialogue: Idle – “Twisted bones, hurt for long.”
Idle – “Blood, flesh, ache . . .”
Fight – “Healthy form, feel as we!”
Fight – “Crush, feed, strengthen!”

1-D creature class: Minions. (Another brilliant name. For a “superheroes” game, these would not be plain thugs, but rather the minions of some named supervillain.)
Trait: Disgruntled.
Description: Clad in colorful uniforms as though straight from a children’s play. They guard the villain’s lair mostly because they’re supposed to.
Dialogue: Idle – “I don’t see why I have to be the one guarding all this nothing.”
Idle – “Back and forth . . . whoa, careful, might patrol wrong somehow.”
Fight – “Intruder alert!”
Fight – “They don’t pay me enough for this.”
Fight – “You’d better knock it off!”

1-D creature class: Lancer Automated Probes.
Trait: Rigid.
Description: Based a skinny bipedal design with little more than recording equipment and a rifle at the “torso.” The recording equipment transmits long-distance to the main force. The rifle is silenced and may be used for sniping or self-defence as needed.
Dialogue: Idle – “Log increment ready. Upload initiated.”
Idle – “Routine will be repeated as ordered.”
Fight – “Pattern interrupted. Discrepancy will not be tolerated.”
Fight – “Target will be terminated. Routine will be resumed.”

1-D creature class: Unpronouncable Spawn. (Could have been “Unspeakable.” Same deal. But should probably change to a name like “Darkness Spawn” for any serious horror game.)
Trait: Grasping. (In the sense: drawing others into their realm.)
Description: The loathsome larval offspring of that which lurks in the shadows. They slither in darkness, their mouthparts often all that is seen.
Dialogue: Idle – “The people will know shadow.”
Idle – “Beyond the seen all will be.”
Fight – “Join the shadows, leave the light.”
Fight – “Come to our master.”
Fight – “Welcome, new children.”

1-D creature class: Bot Rot.
Trait: Chaotic.
Description: Not a creature, but a disease that affects some forms of automata and renders them dangerous. The automata act and speak as normal sometimes, but then sparks fly and clouds of brown smoke billow as the Bot Rot takes hold.
Dialogue: Idle – “[Sparking] one and two, twelve and four, five and eight . . . ”
Idle – “System [sparking] piston [sparking] mission . . . ”
Fight – “Welcome, how are you [sparking] goodbye, come again.”
Fight – “Run diagnostic [sparking] run subroutine [sparking] run [sparking] run [sparking] run.”

. . . That was quite an exercise. It seems I wound up with two groups of people, two freakish monstrosities, and two robots. In part, the challenge was simply to think of what sort of “monster” would be present that would fit my (admittedly made-up) character design format. For Lovecraftian horror, who’s to say the monsters would even “use dialogue” beyond incomprehensible buzzing and gibberish? Well, a computer game might demand something to fill the slot, and I had fun writing it.


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