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Game & Writing #3: Here there be... Monsters?

We don't look like the Orcs from He-Man.

We have a monster issue, don't we? The slavering horde that eats babies and defiles the bums of anything with two or four legs is always fun for heroes to cut down. Sword, axe, and bow, with spells whizzing this way and that. The crack of thunder as sorcery annihilates them by the score. Dragons big and small, undead shambling this way and that. Monsters, dredged up from folk lore and taking on the role of antagonists in both horror and fantasy, are easy. They don't have names and if they have families its just so they can make more nameless mooks. Monsters a re machine that we feed to the heroes to make them more heroic.

And since they are not real people, no one loses any sleep over them. Except they are people. Sure the undead are not, but if we examine closely the relation to monsters in our games and to literature we find a great deal of bullshit. Many monsters are stand ins for real live groups of people. By now we have this as well established. But we continue to use these tropes (I am as guilty as the next person) in our games and in our writing.

Skeletor pays us in gold and in agency

Tackling a horde of enemies is exciting to read about (maybe less fun to live through) and I am not saying we need to abandon that kind of intensity, but I do think it needs to come up to modern standards. By that I mean we need to examine the role of these people and why they are willing to die by the score (or thousands) for some mad plan. We need to humanize the monsters, especially the ones that are modeled off of actual humans, and allow them both agency and grace.

How do we do that?

Just Win Baby!

As always I think we need to show, not tell. A great deal depends on how you are handling POV in your writing. If we can see through the eyes of the antagonist and their horde like or monster allies, that allows us to humanize them. Give them doubts, give them fear, give them something other than an all powerful desire to murder hobo everyone. Make them male, female, a third gender entirely or non-binary. Can orcs be gay? I think so. Maybe they are not sexual at all. As a group do they prefer one weapon? And if so, why does monster X prefer another? Variety is the spice of life.

One trope that I hate is a member of a larger group walking away and the others kill them. How about letting them just walk the fuck away? Sell the fact that these people are a different culture. Maybe endless slaughter requires consent and if someone is not interested, no one thinks ill of then. This could be a bone of contention for the big antagonist. Speaking of...

Its pronounced "smog" like choking vapors, not "smowg" like I just spanked you!

The best villains are well rounded, with all of the agency that has been mentioned for their allies. One weakness I witness in most villains though is a like of one or more intimate relationships. It could mean friendship or it could be a lover or even a rival who shares their evil demeanor. Beyond the sidekick and beyond the toxic Harley and the Joker dynamic. One dictator I can think of "loved" his dog so much he poisoned it rather than let his enemies capture. I know its twisted and more than a bit fucked up. But it was a real relationship, no matter how messy.

Note: villain or no I do not advocate violence against dogs in your story. It was just an example.

Your villains are not just there to die or to challenge your protagonist. They are there to challenge your reader and no amount of awesome stats makes up for a well rounded character.



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