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D&D General Identity of Monsters Post-Alignment (+)

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
So, firstly, lets not retread old ground. The game is changing, lets talk about how to use classic intelligent monsters in a game where they have no assumed alignment, and no racial monocultures. Please do not try to rehash the argument happening in another thread.

If you've been doing so for years, share your stories! If you have ideas or questions about specific monsters and what can set them apart from eachother without having monocultures or assumed moral natures, ask!
 

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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
So, to start things off, I have never had assumed morality or monocultures for any living race of creatures, and even stuff like Outsiders are a bit more nuanced than the core books present them as.

One of my favorites is bugbears.

In my Eberron, there is a culture of bugbears that hasn't been part of the larger goblinoid culture since a bit before the fall of the old empire, as they had split off and formed a druidic cult in the swamplands now known as the Shadow Marches. They live arboreal lives, building "nests" in the great trees and only descending from the trees to hunt and trade. They tend to hunt as ambush predators, waiting in total stillness for prey to pass under them, and then soundlessly drop on them, breaking their spine, or if needed striking critical areas at the moment of impact with a weapon. They can field skilled archers as well, using greatbows (homebrew) to devastating effect due to their strength and long armspan. They have a close relationship with the animal spirits of the area, but especially with the gha'thla'vo, or giant flying ferret.

Thier physicality informs every culture I make that includes them, as do traits like catlike sleepiness, their origin as ambush predators, and what a player brings to playing one, but no culture is a monolith.
 

My sea-halflings come to mind:

A group of halfling pirates find out their favorite haven is going to be destroyed by the Imperial Navy, so they pack up all their favorite stuff form said haven and load it on to recently stolen giant ships to go find a new place to rest. But as they sail the giant-sized warships, they quickly learn that having a mobile haven is actually way better, and start building a society where everyone is at sea, all the time.

This includes switching to jewelry as a way of storing wealth (much more compact than coins), lots of public education (to keep kids out of the way), a strong sense of respecting privacy, and a very deeply ingrained discipline (form living on ships).

They eventually switch form piracy to shipping, since the halfling ships are the only one who don't get attacked by the very experience sea halfling pirates.

I also had savanna halflings who built their homes on elephants and used ostriches for outriders, and dog-sled-based tundra/taiga halflings.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
years ago, I wrote a couple of adventures where the PCs play the monsters. Sick and tired of humans and demi-humans always raiding their lands and killing them, they put aside many of the "traditional" behavior of monstrous humanoids as described in various monster manuals. They formed truces, worked with diplomacy, and worked for the betterment of their communities using a pragmatic approach. While they still often resorted to violence to achieve their goals (like every other human species), they didn't act inherently evil and backstabbyish with each other. Mostly out of necessity, but they pretty much became like every other intelligent humanoid species.
 

Blue Orange

Explorer
There was actually an official (setting-agnostic) module for 2nd ed called Reverse Dungeon where you play the monsters and there's a group of invading adventurers you have to repel.

3rd ed had rules for statting out all the monsters as PCs in one of the sourcebooks, complete with level adjustments--they were very big on monsters and PCs using the same rules.

As to the larger question, one of the things to think about is that you effectively have tens to hundreds of intelligent species on this world, and they are going to be fighting over territory and resources. Even if bugbears aren't 'evil', they might well enter conflict with humans for that reason.

Of course, there's no need to assume groups will ally with their closest relatives. If anything you might see alliances between very different groups that aren't in the same ecological niche--fire giants aren't likely to fight humans over the inside of a volcano, but they might fight salamanders over it. You might see humans cutting deals with frost giants to drive off some pesky white dragons in exchange for the cold version of the fireball spell or something similar.

You also have to answer why the higher-level monsters haven't conquered the world--why isn't the world overrun with dragons? My best guess is some variation of larger monsters having to eat a lot, such that the world can only support so many dragons, but in a fantasy world you are free to invent more supernatural causes.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Good stuff!

The halflings and "forest" gnomes of my Islands world* have a culture of coastal nomadic pearl divers and fisherfolk, with their cousins who settled down in towns being notable as very friendly and hospitable anarcho-socialists, who have been known to murder every last member of a raiding party and bury them in their fields.

In another part of the world, there is a culture of small folk who train goats as mounts, live in mountainous foothills studded with copses of woods, and ride into battle with lances and shortbows and illusions and raven scouts who've been bred to be able to communicate even with big folk. Some deeply secret religious infraction caused them to sweep into the neighboring Empire of Capet a hundred years ago, wrecking every force that tried to stop them like an avenging tide, murder the sorcerer-regent who was corrupting the child Emperor and turning the empire toward blood magic and ruin, and leave as quickly as they came. The next year they came back as they had before, for trade, as if nothing had happened.

Lastly, there is a culture in that same world that exists across much of the world, that trains from an extreme young age in sword and bow, riding of various mounts, athletics, stealth, and the crafts of fortifications and how to subvert them, and follow a set of deities who patronise those who fight against tyranny and oppression. They are related to the anarcho-socialists mentioned before, and have more halflings than any other ancestry, but there are members of most races amongst them. They have a secret language of handsigns based on ogham staves, and are the source of a lot of legends about small beings who will murder you if you ask for their help but don't pay their price, and the like, even though they aren't as brutal as their legends suggest.
 

dave2008

Legend
To me the obvious elephant in the room is orcs. I grew up with the Hobbit and to a lesser degree LotR. Tolkien's goblins/orcs were not universally evil, but often did evil things because they were compelled to by a greater evil. I guess WoW and others have more ambiguous orcs now, but I've always given them a fluid alignment.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I fit under the "have been doing this for years". A couple of examples from one campaign I'm running.
  • Drow are a created race that, while a bit lazy and hedonistic, are not cruel or separated from the other races at all.
  • On the continent the player are on, the Forest Gnomes still have their wonderful sense of community and wonder. They just are (more) xenophobic, practice blood sacrifice (painlessly even when to the death, for breaking laws and rules), and are considering waging war against the PC's country before they can establish a firm foothold on this continent after the PC have threatened how powerful their armies are.
  • Giants back on the mainland are much like you'd expect, as written into one player's backstory. The Frost Giants on this continent seem to be a civilization almost settled as the PC's country. The party has come across farmers, political issues, and all the rest.

In previous campaigns I've really played up shades of grey. In one I had seven tribes of steppes-dwelling orcs, each with their own beliefs and oen ending up through party actions firm allies of humanity. A whole separate set of sea-going slaver orcs. Multiple demi-planes of elves with Blue/Orange morality, plus it was one of them that drove the humans off their original plane in a war. A monster empire that ends up being super metropolitan and accepting. Socialist hobgoblins that didn't bother with money but made sure everyone was taken care of (for the good of the hobgoblin race). Chaotic meritocratic kobold, each trying to out-do each other bigger and bigger like a feeding frenzy of entrepreneurs.
 

I've been running a series of adventures that go the other way: all the PCs are halflings, and everyone else is, if not evil, at least very nasty. (I've been trying to recreate the feeling from fairy tales of "small plucky adventureres against the big bad world". So far it's worked quite well.)
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
To me the obvious elephant in the room is orcs. I grew up with the Hobbit and to a lesser degree LotR. Tolkien's goblins/orcs were not universally evil, but often did evil things because they were compelled to by a greater evil. I guess WoW and others have more ambiguous orcs now, but I've always given them a fluid alignment.
Orcs are a very interesting case in Middle Earth, for sure.

What kinds of cultural notes have you used for them? What, if anything, stands them apart when they are part of a multi-racial culture?


One thing that I use with goblinoids is that they are all much more social than most humanoids. Bugbears have trouble sleeping alone, Goblins experience something like agoraphobia without other creatures around them, and Hobgoblins are just more confident and thus competent when their peers are around them.

Kobolds are similar, and indeed will eventually enter a sort of emotional funk if they can't sense the presence of other kobolds especially, though the presence of other humanoids that they are familiar with can work, as well. But most kobolds tend to define themselves are part of a group, rather than as individuals as such. In a sense, part of Kobold psychology is that the organism is the family, whereas a human sees themself individually as the organism, if that makes sense.

Now, just like you can have anti-social humans, there are exceptions, and varying degrees to which an individual fits the mold, etc, but generally, in my games the folk mentioned stand out for these traits even within mixed cultures.
 

Just a little thing I did for centaurs:

The main unique cultural trait I give them is a whole odd set of norms around shoes. Horseshoes are nailed on, which isn't something to be done lightly. They're very good at both protecting feet and digging into turf, so they're pretty much a must-have during war - but they're hell on floors, so you want them off as soon as you come home again. Very traditional centaurs will actually sleep outside while shod. Thus "getting shod" becomes a powerful idiom for preparing for war (or any struggle) - it's not just picking up a weapon, it's a physical statement that you're not coming home until the task is done.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I wrote this in another thread, but am reposting here:

One of the setting secrets of my homebrew and revealed during a campaign was that the story of the drow was actually quite different from that known by most non-elven people (and even some elves themselves).

There were two rumors about the drow:

1. They were a myth that never actually existed or if they existed they are long gone and just a elvish bogeyman.
2. The typical story familiar to D&D players. They are a race of evil dark-skinned elves driven underground millennia ago and always looking for a chance to return and wreak havoc on the surface world, yadda-yadda.

In reality, while the second one was closer to the truth, it was still a lie. Many of the dark-skinned elves had been wiped out and were a rare sight, but they were not drow and definitely not inherently evil. Rather, the surface elves reinforced that story to hide the fact that "drow" was not a sub-race but a template granted to those elves (and elf-related beings) who give their lives over to their spider god, granting them the various powers associated with traditional D&D dark elves. Yes, they had been driven underground, but a drow city actually has elves of all kinds within its borders, all raised to serve the dark goddess. The elite among their kind having the "template." So it is totally possible to run into, for example, a wood elf "drow."

In other words, the high elves used racism as a buffer against "drow," hiding the role of their own people, and for the most part not caring or thinking through the effect on actual dark elves, or the role that might have played over the millennia on those elves regardless of alignment being shunned, driven away, or just killed.

In my current game, "half-orcs" are just rare people with orcish lineage, since orcs and most goblin humanoids were destroyed in a "righteous genocide" (or at least that is what the so-called "Free Folk" call it). Thus the reason you find the odd angry goblin on the frontier is not because they are evil and savage, but because they were pushed out to the margins by dominant human society (and supported by various demi-human communities).

In this way, my current fantasy setting still has the tales of inherently evil marauding humanoids - but like such tales of various people in our world, they are either totally BS or written/told from a PoV that conveniently ignores any possible extenuating circumstances. This historical and social forces created and maintain racial hierarchies without their being reified by the rules, and even the reality of being out in the world and having those experiences begin to differ from cultural assumptions undermines it if people come into the game with those assumptions or reinforces a more multi-cultural POV if that is what the players want their characters to have.
 
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Mind of tempest

Adventurer
I keep meaning to make the sort of duergar/drow equivalent to a race I was going to make them scary for the same reason martian tripods are scary they are technologically superior to you and are here to rip down your world, erase your gods and destroy what you are.

not making them a blind monoculture but the ones doing it think they are doing the right thing.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
On a related note...

I love old school dnd. But I know it has presentation issues and isn’t exactly inclusive. And I’m really getting frustrated with the osr being inundated with bigots. I suppose that’s why I am working on Chromatic Dungeons. An old school clone intentionally designed with modern perspectives, which while mainly means art work and presentation is more diverse and I’ve intentionally hired freelancers from diverse backgrounds, it also means no mundane intelligent humanoid has a default alignment.
Old school dnd should be enjoyed by everyone, not just cishet white males. Just doing what I can, even if it isn’t much (I don’t have such a level of self importance to think I’m influential lol)
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
On a related note...

I love old school dnd. But I know it has presentation issues and isn’t exactly inclusive. And I’m really getting frustrated with the osr being inundated with bigots. I suppose that’s why I am working on Chromatic Dungeons. An old school clone intentionally designed with modern perspectives, which while mainly means art work and presentation is more diverse and I’ve intentionally hired freelancers from diverse backgrounds, it also means no mundane intelligent humanoid has a default alignment.
Old school dnd should be enjoyed by everyone, not just cishet white males. Just doing what I can, even if it isn’t much (I don’t have such a level of self importance to think I’m influential lol)
Every bit helps.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
What have folks done with Gnolls?

I’m actually wondering where to put them in my Islands World setting, but I definitely think I’ll make them more like spotted Hyenas. Social, pack-oriented, generally matriarchal in their more traditional groups, with women being bigger and stronger than men, etc.

Their primary native languages would all be very tonal, as well.

I feel like having an incredible bite would impact everyday habits, but I’m blank on how ATM.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
What have folks done with Gnolls?

I’m actually wondering where to put them in my Islands World setting, but I definitely think I’ll make them more like spotted Hyenas. Social, pack-oriented, generally matriarchal in their more traditional groups, with women being bigger and stronger than men, etc.

Their primary native languages would all be very tonal, as well.

I feel like having an incredible bite would impact everyday habits, but I’m blank on how ATM.
Amir pact gnolls. Basically pmc gnolls with some Klingon in the mix. There was an issue of dragon mag in 4e with a couple pages on them and exploring eberron goes into more detail
 


What have folks done with Gnolls?

I’m actually wondering where to put them in my Islands World setting, but I definitely think I’ll make them more like spotted Hyenas. Social, pack-oriented, generally matriarchal in their more traditional groups, with women being bigger and stronger than men, etc.

Their primary native languages would all be very tonal, as well.

I feel like having an incredible bite would impact everyday habits, but I’m blank on how ATM.
While I haven't finished the rules yet, I do always try to use a worldbuilding crutch of 'generic origin for beastfolk.' I find it covers a lot of territory (especially for races that aren't very popular) and leaves a lot of wiggle room for oddball ideas.

I've done two main versions: it's the easy way to make your own race, and it's just how this one region works.

The 'easy way' version makes them popular for weaker Powers (ie not quite gods) to create by mixing an existing race with an animal. Demon lords do this a lot, devils sometimes and once in a while some other power. The demon-made ones are only absolutely loyal if they're still in the Aabyss - once they're put on the material plane the demon lord's control only lasts until the beastfolk decide to rebel, which usually starts happening in a few generations. It's never really total, but it's also never zero, as it were.

IE In the case of gnolls, they were made by Yeenoghu, because he wanted his own raiders. Some got sent to the material plane, where they raided for him. But them some had a breif moment of introspection and realized raiding Yeenoghu's enemies was harder and more dangerous than just hunting wildebeests, so they switched to that and looked for other spirits to worship. But not all made the switch.

The other version was simply: that's how one continent worked. Any animal living there could attain a sort of enlightenment that would make them more humanoid (ending up anywhere in the range of 'talking animal' to 'kemonomimi'), and about as smart as a person. They would then start to build societies, often influenced by the way the animal nature (ie the cats tend to be a de jure patriarchy and de facto matriarchy). Many powers would try to entice a species to worship them, from gods to aliens to demons, but most worship the collection of ancestor spirits generally referred to by the normal collective noun but capitalized.

IE Gnolls are just the name for enlightened hyenas. Most worship The Pack (the spirits of dead gnolls), but Yeenoghu has a few followers among them.

In both settings, non-demon-worshipping beastfolk consider demon worship by itself to be an existential threat, and will kill known demon-worshippers on sight.

As for the bite: spitballing here, but I imagine 'bite strength' would probably become a cultural/symbolic stand-in for general personal power. So you'd have leaders needing to bite through a hard thing to prove they're worthy, or biting contests, etc.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
While I haven't finished the rules yet, I do always try to use a worldbuilding crutch of 'generic origin for beastfolk.' I find it covers a lot of territory (especially for races that aren't very popular) and leaves a lot of wiggle room for oddball ideas.

I've done two main versions: it's the easy way to make your own race, and it's just how this one region works.

The 'easy way' version makes them popular for weaker Powers (ie not quite gods) to create by mixing an existing race with an animal. Demon lords do this a lot, devils sometimes and once in a while some other power. The demon-made ones are only absolutely loyal if they're still in the Aabyss - once they're put on the material plane the demon lord's control only lasts until the beastfolk decide to rebel, which usually starts happening in a few generations. It's never really total, but it's also never zero, as it were.

IE In the case of gnolls, they were made by Yeenoghu, because he wanted his own raiders. Some got sent to the material plane, where they raided for him. But them some had a breif moment of introspection and realized raiding Yeenoghu's enemies was harder and more dangerous than just hunting wildebeests, so they switched to that and looked for other spirits to worship. But not all made the switch.

The other version was simply: that's how one continent worked. Any animal living there could attain a sort of enlightenment that would make them more humanoid (ending up anywhere in the range of 'talking animal' to 'kemonomimi'), and about as smart as a person. They would then start to build societies, often influenced by the way the animal nature (ie the cats tend to be a de jure patriarchy and de facto matriarchy). Many powers would try to entice a species to worship them, from gods to aliens to demons, but most worship the collection of ancestor spirits generally referred to by the normal collective noun but capitalized.

IE Gnolls are just the name for enlightened hyenas. Most worship The Pack (the spirits of dead gnolls), but Yeenoghu has a few followers among them.

In both settings, non-demon-worshipping beastfolk consider demon worship by itself to be an existential threat, and will kill known demon-worshippers on sight.

As for the bite: spitballing here, but I imagine 'bite strength' would probably become a cultural/symbolic stand-in for general personal power. So you'd have leaders needing to bite through a hard thing to prove they're worthy, or biting contests, etc.
I like all of that. Thanks for sharing!
 

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