Mind if I pedantically complain that monster manuals butcher myth/folklore/fairytale?

Roleplaying games have a long history of taking monsters from mythology and turning them into encounters. Often the monsters are rendered barely recognizable compared to their mythological origins, assuming that said origin had any interesting aspects that got shorn off. Plenty are already so vague and simplistic that the transition didn’t seem to hurt them overmuch. This is very pedantic, I know.

Sometimes this is a cosmetic thing like the D&D gorgon and wight actually corresponding to the mythological catoblepas and draug. Or an undead sorcerer being called a lich, even though that only means “corpse/death” as shown by English words like lich-gate, lich-field, lich-way, lich-owl, lich-wake, etc. This should be easy to rectify by using compound names to maintain continuity: catoblepas gorgon, gorgon medusa, draug-wight, elder lich lord, lich mage, etc. For example, Pathfinder tweaks the demilich (literally meaning “half corpse”) to a decayed and weakened lich mage, with the awakened variant being a more powerful lich mage.
You could argue that this is just linguistic drift, but I don’t really consider that the case. Firstly, this is limited to game jargon and the words still have their original meaning if you check the dictionary or study comparative mythology. Wiktionary even maintains separate definitions for fantasy fiction. Secondly, these are actual mistakes the writers of early editions made due to a lack of sufficient research material. Topsell confused the gorgon and catoblepas, but still referred to Medusa as a gorgon. Tolkien used wight as part of barrow-wight, meaning “grave men.” The pulp authors who dropped the word lich used it in its original sense as a corpse, animated or otherwise.​

Sometimes this is a simple matter of shorning an interesting background to a simplistic killer monster. The Greek Lamia wasn’t just an arbitrary femme fatale, but the ghost of a woman who died for love. The Greek Minotaur couldn’t solve mazes, which was why it was trapped in a maze. Medieval bestiaries claimed that griffins lined their nests with precious metals, laid eggs with agate shells, and their talons could detect poison, but these aspects are absent in the bland monster manual entry. In my opinion this deprives us of otherwise interesting fantasy story opportunities, like minotaurs being mystically cursed to a personal maze, dwarves using griffins to sniff out veins of ore, an alchemist character hatching a basilisk from a cock’s egg incubated by a toad or snake, or the soul of a hanged man becoming a mandrake root. I don’t know why, but modern fantasy (particularly that influenced by D&D) just feels uncreative and banal in comparison unless you’re reading children’s stories or weird fiction. Sometimes I get the impression that writers think the more fantastical stuff is too silly to include in serious fiction, but I have no idea how accurate that is.
To be fair, this is probably symptomatic of the fact that the vast majority of roleplaying involves violence. If a monster only exists for the players to kill it, then it doesn’t need any traits unrelated to violence. Players can’t really appreciate the colorful whimsy of your monsters if they are busy killing said monsters.​

Then there are instances that just have me shaking my head in confusion. For example, the “wendigo” meme (in the dictionary sense, of which image macros are a subset: “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.”) that has been circulating—you know the one, a generic horned forest demon seen in google image search—is a variation on Herne the Hunter (and similar motifs in European folklore, like Cernunos, the Wild Hunt, Baphomet, etc) that bears no resemblance to the greedy demon of Algonquin religion besides borrowing the name. Why even call it that?
Again, this could be argued as the natural mutation of myth over time. The issue here is that there are two lineages, one for the Algonquin and one for Euro-American popular culture. The wendigo myth was only really relevant to the Algonquin because of socio-economic conditions specific to them and actually became more relevant as a culture tale after colonization, to point that in modern Algonquin works wendigo are literally depicted as corrupt corporate executives who feed on the spoils of colonialism and capitalism. For Euro-American culture it is just a loan word for some manner of unspecified bogeyman that we’ve applied to European folk motifs because imperialist culture has broken our connection to our own ancient myth cycles. This is how it was used by the authors who popularized the misconceptions: Algernon Blackwood, Theodore Roosevelt, August Derleth, and Stephen King. In short, it’s an apples and oranges problem.​

A related but not synonymous trend is fantasy taxonomies. It’s mostly a problem for 3e/5e D&D and its derivatives because they have an explicit taxonomy mechanic as part of the rules, and it confuses me to no end. It is way more complicated and unwieldy than it has to be. These aren’t just taxonomies in the fluff, but actual physical rules of the game universe. It presents a square peg round hole problem when trying to translate monsters from myth, folklore or fairytale into D&D and derivatives, since the game’s taxonomy is arbitrary and hierarchical. The definitions are annoyingly vague and inconsistent too, and there are even catchall categories that promote lazy design like “monstrosity”. Supposedly it refers to unnatural mutant abominations, but includes griffins, owlbears and centaurs who are otherwise treated as natural parts of the world. For another example, real world occultism organizes fairies into elemental categories (e.g. earth for gnomes and satyrs, fire for salamanders and genies, air for sylphs and pixies, water for nymphs and mermaids) but D&D arbitrarily distinguishes elementals from fairies with no room for overlap. There’s no spirit type despite spirits being a universal concept in world mythology, so one supplement converting the “kami” monsters from Pathfinder to 5e gave them an invalid type of celestial/elemental. The Greek chimera is classified as a dragon in real mythology books, but in D&D it is a dragon-kin, monstrosity or magical beast depending on edition. Even translating from past editions of D&D can be difficult: the definition of some types like aberration and elemental is completely different between 3e and 5e (for the better in my opinion), rilmani (the angel/demon equivalent for neutrality) don’t fit into any 5e type, whereas eladrin and guardinals and hags and blink dogs all changed to fey for some reason (what even are fey anymore? 4e type was so much clearer). 3e has the absolute worst taxonomy rules in my opinion, as it functions as a class system to determine game stat blocks. (Some D&D derivatives, like FantasyCraft and 13th Age, fixed the square peg round hole problem by using simple, clearly defined, non-hierachical tags and only as many as they absolutely needed to. They don’t begrudge you for wanting to play with taxonomy either, as 13th Age Bestiary sometimes includes suggestions for changing a monster’s type to emphasize different fluff.)

I could go on for pages about my beef with the fantasy taxonomy mechanics unique to D&D. But I digress.

All of this drives the pedant in me crazy, especially since it is now trivial to research this stuff on google.

Is this trend creatively bankrupt? Am I making much ado about nothing? Are there other pendants in the audience? Care to share any stories of pendantry as it relates to game monster design?
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
D&D is a game about killing monsters, so if the monsters don't already to conform to that role, then they either need to be changed to fit or omitted from the game.

Other games are not about killing monsters, so if you really want to give the creatures a fair shake, then you'd be better off dealing with them there. If you really want an accurate take on the wendigo (for example), then you shouldn't look for it in a game that assumes every problem can be fixed with a sword.
 

Autumn Bask

Villager
I could go on for pages about my beef with the fantasy taxonomy mechanics unique to D&D. But I digress.

All of this drives the pedant in me crazy, especially since it is now trivial to research this stuff on google.

Is this trend creatively bankrupt? Am I making much ado about nothing? Are there other pendants in the audience? Care to share any stories of pendantry as it relates to game monster design?
Well, if we're going to be pedants here, no, it is not creatively bankrupt to re-imagine monsters as something different from their lore. However, taking my pedant hat off and looking at the heart of what you're saying, I definitely agree that there is a lot of missed potential in the monster designs. But this isn't a product of them taking liberties with the lore. That's perfectly valid and expected, and is part of being creative. I think it's as you say here:

this is probably symptomatic of the fact that the vast majority of roleplaying involves violence. If a monster only exists for the players to kill it, then it doesn’t need any traits unrelated to violence. Players can’t really appreciate the colorful whimsy of your monsters if they are busy killing said monsters.
The issue is a lack of nuance and interesting originality. That's why I prefer playing in homebrew settings over the Forgotten Realms. It's steeped in so many garbled, overly-complicated magical elements that only exist to somehow justify and reconcile the thousands of contradictory cliche conventions that exist in every edition of the PHB and Monster Manual.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Nope. Rant away. You'll hear no complaints from me.

Understand though that as much as I admire your attempts to rectify the blandness of most D&D monster's ecologies, taxonomies, and lore, I still do not think there is one right answer here. I admire your thoughtfulness and your intention to entertain and give the setting more depth and more color, but however a DM wants to go about doing that, I'm OK with - even if it is pointedly ignoring folk-lore or doubling down in D&D's misunderstandings.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Roleplaying games have a long history of taking monsters from mythology and turning them into encounters. Often the monsters are rendered barely recognizable compared to their mythological origins, assuming that said origin had any interesting aspects that got shorn off. Plenty are already so vague and simplistic that the transition didn’t seem to hurt them overmuch. This is very pedantic, I know.

Sometimes this is a cosmetic thing like the D&D gorgon and wight actually corresponding to the mythological catoblepas and draug. Or an undead sorcerer being called a lich, even though that only means “corpse/death” as shown by English words like lich-gate, lich-field, lich-way, lich-owl, lich-wake, etc. This should be easy to rectify by using compound names to maintain continuity: catoblepas gorgon, gorgon medusa, draug-wight, elder lich lord, lich mage, etc. For example, Pathfinder tweaks the demilich (literally meaning “half corpse”) to a decayed and weakened lich mage, with the awakened variant being a more powerful lich mage.
You could argue that this is just linguistic drift, but I don’t really consider that the case. Firstly, this is limited to game jargon and the words still have their original meaning if you check the dictionary or study comparative mythology. Wiktionary even maintains separate definitions for fantasy fiction. Secondly, these are actual mistakes the writers of early editions made due to a lack of sufficient research material. Topsell confused the gorgon and catoblepas, but still referred to Medusa as a gorgon. Tolkien used wight as part of barrow-wight, meaning “grave men.” The pulp authors who dropped the word lich used it in its original sense as a corpse, animated or otherwise.​

Sometimes this is a simple matter of shorning an interesting background to a simplistic killer monster. The Greek Lamia wasn’t just an arbitrary femme fatale, but the ghost of a woman who died for love. The Greek Minotaur couldn’t solve mazes, which was why it was trapped in a maze. Medieval bestiaries claimed that griffins lined their nests with precious metals, laid eggs with agate shells, and their talons could detect poison, but these aspects are absent in the bland monster manual entry. In my opinion this deprives us of otherwise interesting fantasy story opportunities, like minotaurs being mystically cursed to a personal maze, dwarves using griffins to sniff out veins of ore, an alchemist character hatching a basilisk from a cock’s egg incubated by a toad or snake, or the soul of a hanged man becoming a mandrake root. I don’t know why, but modern fantasy (particularly that influenced by D&D) just feels uncreative and banal in comparison unless you’re reading children’s stories or weird fiction. Sometimes I get the impression that writers think the more fantastical stuff is too silly to include in serious fiction, but I have no idea how accurate that is.
To be fair, this is probably symptomatic of the fact that the vast majority of roleplaying involves violence. If a monster only exists for the players to kill it, then it doesn’t need any traits unrelated to violence. Players can’t really appreciate the colorful whimsy of your monsters if they are busy killing said monsters.​

Then there are instances that just have me shaking my head in confusion. For example, the “wendigo” meme (in the dictionary sense, of which image macros are a subset: “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.”) that has been circulating—you know the one, a generic horned forest demon seen in google image search—is a variation on Herne the Hunter (and similar motifs in European folklore, like Cernunos, the Wild Hunt, Baphomet, etc) that bears no resemblance to the greedy demon of Algonquin religion besides borrowing the name. Why even call it that?
Again, this could be argued as the natural mutation of myth over time. The issue here is that there are two lineages, one for the Algonquin and one for Euro-American popular culture. The wendigo myth was only really relevant to the Algonquin because of socio-economic conditions specific to them and actually became more relevant as a culture tale after colonization, to point that in modern Algonquin works wendigo are literally depicted as corrupt corporate executives who feed on the spoils of colonialism and capitalism. For Euro-American culture it is just a loan word for some manner of unspecified bogeyman that we’ve applied to European folk motifs because imperialist culture has broken our connection to our own ancient myth cycles. This is how it was used by the authors who popularized the misconceptions: Algernon Blackwood, Theodore Roosevelt, August Derleth, and Stephen King. In short, it’s an apples and oranges problem.​

A related but not synonymous trend is fantasy taxonomies. It’s mostly a problem for 3e/5e D&D and its derivatives because they have an explicit taxonomy mechanic as part of the rules, and it confuses me to no end. It is way more complicated and unwieldy than it has to be. These aren’t just taxonomies in the fluff, but actual physical rules of the game universe. It presents a square peg round hole problem when trying to translate monsters from myth, folklore or fairytale into D&D and derivatives, since the game’s taxonomy is arbitrary and hierarchical. The definitions are annoyingly vague and inconsistent too, and there are even catchall categories that promote lazy design like “monstrosity”. Supposedly it refers to unnatural mutant abominations, but includes griffins, owlbears and centaurs who are otherwise treated as natural parts of the world. For another example, real world occultism organizes fairies into elemental categories (e.g. earth for gnomes and satyrs, fire for salamanders and genies, air for sylphs and pixies, water for nymphs and mermaids) but D&D arbitrarily distinguishes elementals from fairies with no room for overlap. There’s no spirit type despite spirits being a universal concept in world mythology, so one supplement converting the “kami” monsters from Pathfinder to 5e gave them an invalid type of celestial/elemental. The Greek chimera is classified as a dragon in real mythology books, but in D&D it is a dragon-kin, monstrosity or magical beast depending on edition. Even translating from past editions of D&D can be difficult: the definition of some types like aberration and elemental is completely different between 3e and 5e (for the better in my opinion), rilmani (the angel/demon equivalent for neutrality) don’t fit into any 5e type, whereas eladrin and guardinals and hags and blink dogs all changed to fey for some reason (what even are fey anymore? 4e type was so much clearer). 3e has the absolute worst taxonomy rules in my opinion, as it functions as a class system to determine game stat blocks. (Some D&D derivatives, like FantasyCraft and 13th Age, fixed the square peg round hole problem by using simple, clearly defined, non-hierachical tags and only as many as they absolutely needed to. They don’t begrudge you for wanting to play with taxonomy either, as 13th Age Bestiary sometimes includes suggestions for changing a monster’s type to emphasize different fluff.)

I could go on for pages about my beef with the fantasy taxonomy mechanics unique to D&D. But I digress.

All of this drives the pedant in me crazy, especially since it is now trivial to research this stuff on google.

Is this trend creatively bankrupt? Am I making much ado about nothing? Are there other pendants in the audience? Care to share any stories of pendantry as it relates to game monster design?
There is room for all these things to exist. Myth that exists as a loan word for bogey man that becomes its own thing, and a deep dive into the original idea. I think where these conversations lose me is we tend to create new rules, guidelines, etc that are very well intentioned but leave behind things that also have value. I expressed most of my thoughts on the other thread you started about this, but I think myth is difficult to pin down to one thing. Myths themselves evolve. And we should feel free to use them creatively ourselves. the D&D approach is one very functional, but still creative, approach to mythology. I think it isn't the only way, and it can be an issue if everyone is just aping that approach. At the same time, it would be a shame to lose that approach in the process of looking for other ways to explore mythology in gaming. Like I said, there is room for lots of approaches here.
 

trancejeremy

Villager
I think I remember you posting this at another site.

But basically I think you're missing a few things. Firstly, a lot of stuff is not taken from mythology directly, but from popular fiction or media. The lich, for instance, is from a Gardner Fox story. The Lamia from Clark Ashton Smith, I suspect (though more the greater one, not original), the Rakshasa from Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Some is completely made up, like the hippogriff, it used to be something that represented the impossible, because griffins hated horses. But then someone added that impossible creature to his story (Orlando Furioso) and it stuck.

Secondly, that myth itself is not fixed. If you look at mythology, sometimes real people are turned into gods, then into something else. From Irish mythology you have Lugh of the Long Arm, presumably once a real tribal leader that was deified, but who was turned into the leprechaun. A lot of creatures, like nympths, were actually lesser gods, tied to an area.

Lastly, as mentioned, D&D is a game. It's inspired by Tolkien idea that mythology, including monsters, were actual real flesh and blood beings that could kill and be killed. That necessitates making them more mundane, losing the mythological aspect if not always the supernatural.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Lastly, as mentioned, D&D is a game. It's inspired by Tolkien idea that mythology, including monsters, were actual real flesh and blood beings that could kill and be killed. That necessitates making them more mundane, losing the mythological aspect if not always the supernatural.
Mine of the central pillars of the game I’m developing is the idea that making mythology flesh and blood doesn’t at all necessitate making them more mundane.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all gamers are created equal; that they are endowed by Gygax with certain unalienable rights; that among these are books, dice, and the pedantic ranting about things that do not, and should not, matter to anyone else.

*ahem*

Sure, rant away.

But in addition to the excellent points raised above (it's a game; the sources are often fictional - not the straight ur-myth; and myths and references change over time- see, e.g., the vampire and the zombie), there's one additional point I'd like to bring in.

D&D (and other TTRPGs) often serve as a gateway drug (um) to history and myths. And there's value to that! Even if it isn't always correct.

I remember reading (and re-reading, and re-re-reading etc.) Deities and Demigods when it first was published. And I couldn't get enough of it. Was it wrong? Yes, of course!* But it made me want to learn more.

And so I did. I got more books at the library. Like, real books. And I learned.

Heck, one of the people I gamed with got his PhD and now teaches Medieval History at a university, so there's that.

Perfection is the enemy of the good, just as the Paladin is the enemy of the fun. It helps to remember that.



*And I don't just mean in the "assigning hit points to the sacred deities of other cultures" wrong.
 
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jasper

Rotten DM
A very okay rant. To sum up. "Orcs Bill Bono called them Gob Stompers!" I may be misquoting the author. When I was school depending on the story, them thar fey persons who worked on shoes during the night shift were called elves, gnomes, fairies, and some times other things.
Question, How many of you have encounter different words which mean the same thang? Now I am off to get a Coke.
 

ccs

39th lv DM
D&D (and other TTRPGs) often serve as a gateway drug (um) to history and myths. And there's value to that! Even if it isn't always correct.

I remember reading (and re-reading, and re-re-reading etc.) Deities and Demigods when it first was published. And I couldn't get enough of it. Was it wrong? Yes, of course!* But it made me want to learn more.

And so I did. I got more books at the library. Like, real books. And I learned.
Yup, what he said.

In addition, do you know what I do when I find a monster a bit bland? I just add to it.
Sometimes I already know about the original bit of myth/inspiration source. Sometimes I go research it. And sometimes I just make something up (often on the fly)....
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Other games are not about killing monsters, so if you really want to give the creatures a fair shake, then you'd be better off dealing with them there.
Yes. And remember that, when you break it down, frequently in mythology and lore, the protagonist is a fairly mundane person, and they are faced with powers beyond their ability to control. And frequently the solution to the problem does not come from the protagonist. In effect, the protagonist in a lot of mythology isn't so heavy on the agency. They are often handed a solution by some other power, or stumble upon it by accident, rather producing it themselves. Which is fine for a story, not so great for an RPG.
 
Am I making much ado about nothing?
No you're not. I always wished D&D was more accurate when borrowing monsters from folklore and mythology (even with the caveat that it's a natural trait of folklore to have many versions of everything), so that we actually learn something. I don't think there was ever any need to modify the nature of folklore/mythology creatures to make them suit the game.
 
Nope. Rant away. You'll hear no complaints from me.

Understand though that as much as I admire your attempts to rectify the blandness of most D&D monster's ecologies, taxonomies, and lore, I still do not think there is one right answer here. I admire your thoughtfulness and your intention to entertain and give the setting more depth and more color, but however a DM wants to go about doing that, I'm OK with - even if it is pointedly ignoring folk-lore or doubling down in D&D's misunderstandings.
Ditto.
 

sd_jasper

Villager
But it's not just monsters, and it's not just RPGs. JRRT took the Alfar (elves) and Dwarves of Norse myth and made them a bit more "human" and relatable. Now we have dozens of fantasy races in RPGs, and few really resemble the fairytale versions they are based on. Vampires of most RPGs have more in common with Hollywood movies than eastern European folklore (same for Werewolves, and just about any other monster).

The point is, RPGs need to work. They need to have characters and creatures that can be defined by stats and work within the rules. They need to use ideas that a modern rational person can conceptualize. So they adjust and tweak and remold. And I'm sure that 1000's of years ago, storytellers did the same thing, adjusting older stories and legends to new forms. So even "classic" versions of monsters may very well be alterations of even older creatures and tales. Things have always been adjusted to their time and audience.
 

The Monster

Explorer
I can't say this is making too much out of nothing important. I will offer the amazingly bland (or trite) observation that different things trigger this kind of response in different people. For example, my brother the astrophysicist has a problem with Star Wars because of its egregious disregard of realistic physics (among other reasons). I refuse to get into any kind of discussion about 'alignments' (let alone fantasy religions!) that claim to have any meaning in real-world behavior or morality. I can't make myself watch movies such as "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" out of concern or respect for historical personages (that kind of thing as game background is one thing, making it the central focus is another - at least in my mind).

So the question "am I making too much of this?" has the answer you give it. A more useful question (to my thinking) is "does this really ruin my entertainment experience?" There's not really any right answer to that* - as long as you don't insist on ruining other people's experience; that is a very different issue.



*Except, of course, my favorite genres, to which nobody has any right to complain! :p
 
D&D is a game about killing monsters, so if the monsters don't already to conform to that role, then they either need to be changed to fit or omitted from the game.

Other games are not about killing monsters, so if you really want to give the creatures a fair shake, then you'd be better off dealing with them there. If you really want an accurate take on the wendigo (for example), then you shouldn't look for it in a game that assumes every problem can be fixed with a sword.
I’ve always been frustrated by the inordinate focus on violence in RPGs. Plenty of fantasy stories resolved encounters with non-violent solutions.

I’m not suggesting adding mental/social hit points or using a genuinely universal task resolution mechanic a la Risus, but I wish the rules had offered XP for any method of conflict resolution.

Well, if we're going to be pedants here, no, it is not creatively bankrupt to re-imagine monsters as something different from their lore. However, taking my pedant hat off and looking at the heart of what you're saying, I definitely agree that there is a lot of missed potential in the monster designs. But this isn't a product of them taking liberties with the lore. That's perfectly valid and expected, and is part of being creative. I think it's as you say here:



The issue is a lack of nuance and interesting originality. That's why I prefer playing in homebrew settings over the Forgotten Realms. It's steeped in so many garbled, overly-complicated magical elements that only exist to somehow justify and reconcile the thousands of contradictory cliche conventions that exist in every edition of the PHB and Monster Manual.
I wish monster manuals had organized monsters by their archetype and provides guidelines on customizing them. Right now fantasy games suffer a huge problem with monster bloat.

Nope. Rant away. You'll hear no complaints from me.

Understand though that as much as I admire your attempts to rectify the blandness of most D&D monster's ecologies, taxonomies, and lore, I still do not think there is one right answer here. I admire your thoughtfulness and your intention to entertain and give the setting more depth and more color, but however a DM wants to go about doing that, I'm OK with - even if it is pointedly ignoring folk-lore or doubling down in D&D's misunderstandings.
I wish monster manuals included references to the original myths, if any.

That’s what I loved about the recent monster book from Pendelhaven, since it compiles monster archetypes from myth and fairytales with sources and synopses of some common stories that feature them.

There is room for all these things to exist. Myth that exists as a loan word for bogey man that becomes its own thing, and a deep dive into the original idea. I think where these conversations lose me is we tend to create new rules, guidelines, etc that are very well intentioned but leave behind things that also have value. I expressed most of my thoughts on the other thread you started about this, but I think myth is difficult to pin down to one thing. Myths themselves evolve. And we should feel free to use them creatively ourselves. the D&D approach is one very functional, but still creative, approach to mythology. I think it isn't the only way, and it can be an issue if everyone is just aping that approach. At the same time, it would be a shame to lose that approach in the process of looking for other ways to explore mythology in gaming. Like I said, there is room for lots of approaches here.
I like to explore expanding on the monsters myself too. The minotaur always seemed a silly unnecessary multiplication to me until I read an ecology post on the hackslashmaster blog which gave helpful ideas like “the minotaur is a curse that traps you in a maze of your own making” among other ideas. I was so inspired I decided to write a blog series expounding on my ideas and references to other game books I read, which I still have yet to finish.

I think I remember you posting this at another site.

But basically I think you're missing a few things. Firstly, a lot of stuff is not taken from mythology directly, but from popular fiction or media. The lich, for instance, is from a Gardner Fox story. The Lamia from Clark Ashton Smith, I suspect (though more the greater one, not original), the Rakshasa from Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Some is completely made up, like the hippogriff, it used to be something that represented the impossible, because griffins hated horses. But then someone added that impossible creature to his story (Orlando Furioso) and it stuck.

Secondly, that myth itself is not fixed. If you look at mythology, sometimes real people are turned into gods, then into something else. From Irish mythology you have Lugh of the Long Arm, presumably once a real tribal leader that was deified, but who was turned into the leprechaun. A lot of creatures, like nympths, were actually lesser gods, tied to an area.

Lastly, as mentioned, D&D is a game. It's inspired by Tolkien idea that mythology, including monsters, were actual real flesh and blood beings that could kill and be killed. That necessitates making them more mundane, losing the mythological aspect if not always the supernatural.
As I said above, I wish that monster books referenced their sources, if any. I wish they organized by comparative mythology archetypes rather than individual monsters. I wish they were more creative in how the expounded on existing monsters, too.

But if killing is the game, then maybe that’s unnecessary.

Mine of the central pillars of the game I’m developing is the idea that making mythology flesh and blood doesn’t at all necessitate making them more mundane.
I think making things more mundane runs the risk of making them boring or silly. However, even in mythology you see myths become mundane. For example, there were a bazillion gods for every piece of land and sea. Tree nymphs, cloud nymphs, river gods, mountain rustic gods, hearth gods, etc. You could walk a dozen feet without stepping on a god.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all gamers are created equal; that they are endowed by Gygax with certain unalienable rights; that among these are books, dice, and the pedantic ranting about things that do not, and should not, matter to anyone else.

*ahem*

Sure, rant away.

But in addition to the excellent points raised above (it's a game; the sources are often fictional - not the straight ur-myth; and myths and references change over time- see, e.g., the vampire and the zombie), there's one additional point I'd like to bring in.

D&D (and other TTRPGs) often serve as a gateway drug (um) to history and myths. And there's value to that! Even if it isn't always correct.

I remember reading (and re-reading, and re-re-reading etc.) Deities and Demigods when it first was published. And I couldn't get enough of it. Was it wrong? Yes, of course!* But it made me want to learn more.

And so I did. I got more books at the library. Like, real books. And I learned.

Heck, one of the people I gamed with got his PhD and now teaches Medieval History at a university, so there's that.

Perfection is the enemy of the good, just as the Paladin is the enemy of the fun. It helps to remember that.



*And I don't just mean in the "assigning hit points to the sacred deities of other cultures" wrong.
At this point I don’t know what to say that I haven’t said already.

A very okay rant. To sum up. "Orcs Bill Bono called them Gob Stompers!" I may be misquoting the author. When I was school depending on the story, them thar fey persons who worked on shoes during the night shift were called elves, gnomes, fairies, and some times other things.
Question, How many of you have encounter different words which mean the same thang? Now I am off to get a Coke.
A lot of D&D monsters have names which are synonymous in real dictionaries. Particularly the words that originates from post-Christian Celtic folklore.

Oh, you have to watch that collegehumor video that contrasts Tolkuen elves and Christian elves! It is totally hilarious.

Yup, what he said.

In addition, do you know what I do when I find a monster a bit bland? I just add to it.
Sometimes I already know about the original bit of myth/inspiration source. Sometimes I go research it. And sometimes I just make something up (often on the fly)....
The original source is a great start, but sometimes it isn’t enough. I loved how the hackslashmaster blog devised a lot of really surreal ideas in its ecology series.

Yes. And remember that, when you break it down, frequently in mythology and lore, the protagonist is a fairly mundane person, and they are faced with powers beyond their ability to control. And frequently the solution to the problem does not come from the protagonist. In effect, the protagonist in a lot of mythology isn't so heavy on the agency. They are often handed a solution by some other power, or stumble upon it by accident, rather producing it themselves. Which is fine for a story, not so great for an RPG.
Try reading this book of Armenian fairytales and then tell these protagonists are “fairly mundane.” They most certainly are not!

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/46944

No you're not. I always wished D&D was more accurate when borrowing monsters from folklore and mythology (even with the caveat that it's a natural trait of folklore to have many versions of everything), so that we actually learn something. I don't think there was ever any need to modify the nature of folklore/mythology creatures to make them suit the game.
Ditto.

I think there was an OSR book with “lion” in the title where the monsters were stated to have multiple versions due to folklore or something. I’d have to check again to be sure.

Anyway, this is probably no more obvious than in the case of trolls. They vary immensely by country: http://humoncomics.com/trolls-from-four-countries

But it's not just monsters, and it's not just RPGs. JRRT took the Alfar (elves) and Dwarves of Norse myth and made them a bit more "human" and relatable. Now we have dozens of fantasy races in RPGs, and few really resemble the fairytale versions they are based on. Vampires of most RPGs have more in common with Hollywood movies than eastern European folklore (same for Werewolves, and just about any other monster).

The point is, RPGs need to work. They need to have characters and creatures that can be defined by stats and work within the rules. They need to use ideas that a modern rational person can conceptualize. So they adjust and tweak and remold. And I'm sure that 1000's of years ago, storytellers did the same thing, adjusting older stories and legends to new forms. So even "classic" versions of monsters may very well be alterations of even older creatures and tales. Things have always been adjusted to their time and audience.
I’m pretty sure there are monster books which use the premise of taking ideas directly from folklore. I think the vampire monster book “Out for Blood” used this premise. It even included obscure ones like the kalikantzari (or however it’s spelled), a Balkan goblin/imp that saws through the world tree except when take Christmas holiday to ride chickens and harass people.

Honestly, folklore is full of situations that would make great D&D encounters. It’s a tragedy they aren’t being exploited.

I can't say this is making too much out of nothing important. I will offer the amazingly bland (or trite) observation that different things trigger this kind of response in different people. For example, my brother the astrophysicist has a problem with Star Wars because of its egregious disregard of realistic physics (among other reasons). I refuse to get into any kind of discussion about 'alignments' (let alone fantasy religions!) that claim to have any meaning in real-world behavior or morality. I can't make myself watch movies such as "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" out of concern or respect for historical personages (that kind of thing as game background is one thing, making it the central focus is another - at least in my mind).

So the question "am I making too much of this?" has the answer you give it. A more useful question (to my thinking) is "does this really ruin my entertainment experience?" There's not really any right answer to that* - as long as you don't insist on ruining other people's experience; that is a very different issue.



*Except, of course, my favorite genres, to which nobody has any right to complain! :p
Very sage advice.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
I’ve always been frustrated by the inordinate focus on violence in RPGs. Plenty of fantasy stories resolved encounters with non-violent solutions.

I’m not suggesting adding mental/social hit points or using a genuinely universal task resolution mechanic a la Risus, but I wish the rules had offered XP for any method of conflict resolution.
That would introduce a new problem, where you get better at fighting by avoiding combat. It's only really an issue with D&D and similar games, which derived from wargames, such that combat is a reasonable assumption for the designers to make.

Most other games give you a way of earning XP without killing things, but most other game lack the type of class structure where XP is automatically converted into fighting ability.

You may look at D&D, and ask why the monsters are so mythologically inaccurate. I look at your question, and ask why you're trying to fit everything into the narrow framework of D&D.
 
All of this drives the pedant in me crazy, especially since it is now trivial to research this stuff on google.

Is this trend creatively bankrupt? Am I making much ado about nothing? Are there other pendants in the audience? Care to share any stories of pendantry as it relates to game monster design?
There is a great story of mythology pedantry that I swore came from a post here, but I can't seem to find it now. Either the post was lost during one of the accidental purges, or it comes from elsewhere. Anyway, it went something like this...

The scene is of a typical adventuring party, traversing a valley. They are alerted by a magic ward that an attack is imminent from enemies above them. Looking to the sky, they see a pack of winged creatures come from the behind a mountain. As they unsheathe their magic swords and pull out wands for the for battle, they squint into the horizon to identify the monsters. As the swarm approaches, it suddenly becomes clear: it's a school of flying sharks, shimmering white and gray in the sun... and heading straight for the party. With hate in their eyes, the sharks descend upon the party, when suddenly the bard cries out:

"But white sharks don't hunt in packs! They're solitary hunters!"

Suffice to say, there are many people who are just as pedantic as you are about monsters.

Personally, this is something that I enjoy in discussion (like here), but hate with a passion at the table. You are absolutely correct that people play fast and loose with monster rules, and that addressing it makes for a better game. Learning the actual truth behind myths helps DMs flesh out enemies. It can help make monsters unique. It adds realism that lessens the willing suspension of disbelief, and it can help players become more immersed in the game.

Many of the cases you bring up a great fodder for adventures. For example, I love the information you have about the Gorgon. I was always aware there were two different types (Greek, and the bull version from D+D, Castlevania, etc), but this is the first I've heard that the split can be tracked back to one specific individual. If I were a DM and heard my players discussing this, you can bet that 6 months from then they would find themselves in the middle of a war between two different breeds of Gorgon, both claiming the honor of the name. And the evil wizard Topsell would be the mastermind Palpatine-ing both sides to rule the leftovers.

OTOH, though, I simply despise that BS from a character in the middle of a game. Your battleaxe flinging dwarf thinks my description of the Minotaur isn't 100% accurate? Okay, make a lore check against DC 80, and try not to drool on your armor. Meta-knowledge has a time and a place. So enjoy your pedantry, but make sure it doesn't turn you into the Comic Book Guy of monsters and prevent you (or those around you) from enjoying the game.
 

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