Thursday, July 14, 2011

Monsters as Inspiration

Recently, I've been reading through the Fiend Folio because it ended up on my desk. Sometimes the D&D books just seem to float around, ending up places in a sort of Brownian motion. It's an interesting phenomenon I can't entirely explain. That aside, however, as I said, I've been browsing the Fiend Folio. In general, it's not my favorite of the monster books, although I like most of the art quite a bit. It has a gritty, dark feel to it that's not so much the folkloric feel of the Monster Manual or the somewhat clinical Monster Manual II. Nevertheless, many of the monsters are a bit silly or a bit contrived. Reading through them, though, I realized that several little adventures or encounters kept popping into my head. And I stopped and thought about this for a second.

I've said several times that my adventures tend to begin with a visual image, and that's true. Yet there might be a bit more to it. It may be that reading monster descriptions has a tendency to create those visual images as they derive from a monster description. When I visualize a monster based on its description, I often get a glimpse of the background behind it, summoned forth from my subconscious ... and since I wasn't thinking about the background when the monster picture got created, the backgrounds can sometimes be quite unusual, the same way that dreams create unusual settings out of nowhere.

It might be that the best adventures don't necessarily come purely from a visual image, but from the combination of a visual image plus some less-clear addition to the visual image that crops up somewhere in the mentally-supplied background. A picture of Angkor Wat might have the subsidiary, dreamlike impression that "something ripples that water," or "something moves in the shadow of that doorway." And then the interpretive part of the brain starts to fill that in, working its way from the vague into the specific.

The mind works in bizarre ways, sometimes. I've never been able to really pin down the mental process of coming up with ideas, and heck, maybe it happens in several different ways at different times. But perusing a monster book seems to be a really good way of letting background visual images crop up out of nowhere.


  1. a lot of those monsters first appeared with mini-dungeons built around them, so maybe that's part of the reason...bits of that descriptive flavor find their way into the text and in turn inspire new adventures.

    It's probably also the reason some of them seem contrived. The Susurrus, for example (from The Lichway in White Dwarf #9, later reskinned for Death Frost Doom), seems like a monster you could use exactly once.

  2. I feel like I start pretty much every adventure with a monster and build out from there. A monster implies a subgenre, a subgenre implies a mood, a mood implies an environment and...pretty soon you got the whole thing...

  3. I agree that it starts with a mental image. But what stimulates that mental image can come from a variety of sources. Whether it be a descriptions of a monster, a setting you read about, a movie, a song, a bunch of punny stuff. Rolling dice off of the tables you have in the adventure deskbook can stimulate this visual aspect. It is like a window into your fantasy world.

    For instance. What if your world had two moons? How would that second moon effect the world, monsters, magic, time?

    Just don't be a peeping tom into my window and we are ok. :)p