Pixels & Platforms

Monday, April 1, 2019

Purposive Constraint Monster Concept

I was inspired recently by noism's (of the monsters and manuals blog) concept of Purposive Constraint in monster creation. In fact, I think it's one of the most interesting tabletop "think pieces" I've read in quite some time. I tend to go for weird / abstract / "high-concept" stuff, and that's always going to be my jam, but I think there's something to be said for simple, elegant, and purposive creations. As I'll discuss below, this monster was designed with a specific purpose, which is expressed in its appearance and its behaviors. It's probably not the first of its kind, but I think it's a cool idea that could be a fun inclusion in any dungeon.

Purposive Constraint of the Monster

The purpose of this monster is urgency. It is a force of nature. It's not an uber-god, but it is an essentially unkillable, unstoppable force that the party will have to deal with. It is one that (at least to some extent) scales to the power of the party. It can be impeded, but there are certain hard constraints on to what extent this is true, and it will require ingenuity on the part of the party to figure out how to do so. A level one party has (almost) as much of a chance of impeding it as a level 20 party. It's form is primally evocative and horrifying, but also (hopefully) suggestive of its abilities.

These kinds of monsters can be tricky in tabletop, since some see it as a "cheat" to have an unkillable, unstoppable monster, or feel that it takes away player agency. I think if the appropriate expectations are set, and the party is given a fair chance to fend for themselves, and the manner in which they figure out how to defend themselves requires ingenuity, then I think this could be a lot of fun and very much in-line with the philosophy of OSR. In terms of videogames, you could think of it like the Nemesis from Resident Evil; it is in effect more like a dungeon obstacle, or a horrific force of nature, in terms of how the party should interact with it.

The Monster

The monster appears as an oblong, vaguely animal-like torso, a round head with ambiguous and vaguely humanoid features, and eight long limbs, four on each side of its torso, each significantly longer than its body. Its skin is a sickly reddish-pinkish-orange, like extreme inflammation. It is gelatinous, but firm to the touch, like a semi-amorphous exoskeleton. Its limbs can be as flexible as tentacles or as firm as insect legs. Its default size is that of a large creature, but it can compress or expand itself to a seemingly impossible degree. It can traverse any surface, walk on water, swim, and even stretch itself like a kite and glide. It can squeeze through impossibly tight spaces. It produces a venom that can (eventually) dissolve any substance. It can harden itself against extreme heat, or preserve its insides with natural anti-freeze if frozen. It can slow its metabolism and remain in stasis if it cannot access oxygen or nutrients and can remain that way effectively indefinitely. Its skin can harden or soften to impact as needed and it has no obvious sensory or vital organs.

It will never leave its lair, and in fact cannot leave its lair, even by magical means. It will hunt anything in its lair. It likes to toy with its prey, first revealing itself and attacking the party to get a measure of them, only to run off. It will stalk the party, re-emerging to strike whenever the party get too comfortable (if they are already overwhelmed, it will strike them at each room). It will usually toy with the party until they are just short of their goal, or too deep into the dungeon to easily escape, and then it will go for the kill. If it is not actively assaulting the party, it will allow other threats to face the party. However, if it is actively engaged with the party, it will casually deal with any other threats in its path.

It's first assault is generally a surprise attack, where it attempts to knock over, grapple, and pummel the most vulnerable member of the party. If the prey is strong, it will release a sticky fluid from its pores to better grapple. If this is insufficient, it will attempt to squeeze its limbs or whole body into any orifice of its prey. If there are no exposed orifices, or no seams in the protection of the prey, it will dribble its corrosive venom onto the protection until there is an opening.


Obviously this thing still needs a name. Also, I intentionally left out stats, with the idea that it should always be just a little bit above what the party would probably be able to defeat. They should have a small but reasonable chance of being able to escape if grappled, of being able to survive more than one surprise attack, and maybe even hit it (even if the damage doesn't mean much except to maybe stun it for a moment). This can be explained as the monster testing them, or toying with them, or even giving them a false sense of security that maybe they can beat it. Also, maybe I could do more with its appearance or abilities, or give it some explicit vulnerabilities? It clearly has some inspirations like the Nemesis from RE, the xenomorph from Alien, and spiders, but I think as-is it's fairly unique and I don't want to over-explain it in a way that takes away from that. Is this purposive constraint actually interesting? Does it meet this constraint?

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