D&D 5E Wandering Monsters: You Got Science in My Fantasy!


D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
You Got Science In My Fantasy!
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

James provides us with an overview of his thinking about what fantasy is and how D&D reflects that this week—with a focus on monsters. As usual, you’ll have a chance to provide us with your input. Tell us what you think!

What do you think?

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He covers a lot of ground in that article, so there are a lot of nits to pick...

But Tolkien's orcs don't have babies.

Actually, this is incorrect:

No female orcs are ever mentioned by Tolkien, but in The Silmarillion, he wrote that "the Orcs had life and multiplied after the manner of the Children of 'Illuvatar';

As for the larger question of "is it okay to kill orc babies?", surely that must be a campaign-specific decision? If I'm playing LotR, the answer would seem* to be 'yes'. If I'm playing Eberron, it's a fairly emphatic 'no'.

* Although, actually, even that is debateable - if the orcs were created by corrupting elves, what exactly is to say that they can't be un-corrupted with time and effort?

That's not fantasy, frankly, at least not in its classic sense. That's the sciences of anthropology and psychology.

Again, this is not so much fantasy as it is paleontology and evolutionary biology.

I have a real problem with being told such-and-such "isn't fantasy". That smacks of One True Wayism - it may not be your fantasy, but it might well be mine.

(And that's something I really hoped WotC had learned from the controversy over the 4e DMG, and it's advice that particular types of encounters "weren't fun" - the underlying advice was actually good, but it got swamped by the controversy due to the authoritarian tone.)

Besides, it's a bit of a stretch declaring these things "not fantasy" because they're instead "the sciences of anthropology, psychology, paleontology, and evolutionary biology." Honestly, that's "akin to calling an angel 'simian' because it resembles an ape in its general shape."

Again, I think this is something that WotC would frankly do well to stay clear of - some groups will want a pseudo-science explanation for dragons, and orcs, and so forth; some will want pure fantasy. Unless WotC must answer that question, they probably shouldn't - provide support for groups who want to take both approaches, while favouring neither.

Dragonborn have draconic origin, but their bodies look basically human in shape, including the distinctive curves of the female human form. Why? Do they nurse their young? Of course not, one argument goes—they're reptiles.

Blimey. First Orc Babies, and now Dragonboobs. He's really gunning for those controversies, isn't he?

Personally, I think dragonboobs are pretty stupid (though a bit less stupid than boobs on the female Shardminds, but never mind). I would much rather they had differentiated male and female Dragonborn by giving the former a head-crest or similar marking.

But, honestly, I don't mind that much. WotC decided to go the other way, and that's fair enough. Given that Dragonborn are highly unlikely to feature in any game I run anyway, it's just not worth getting too vexed about.

What does a cosmopolitan city in the D&D multiverse look like? Let's set aside a planar metropolis like Sigil for the moment and consider a place like Waterdeep.

The problem is that not all such cities are created equally. Greyhawk City isn't Palanthas, which isn't Waterdeep, which isn't Tyr, which isn't Sharn. I'd expect Palanthas to be much less diverse than the rest, due to the rather more insular nature of the Dragonlance races, while it's pretty well established that Sharn is much more diverse.

And that actually pretty well illustrates my big issue with this article: he's ruminating on the "right answer" for the D&D cosmology, but the truth is that even amongst WotC's own published settings there is no single "right answer" - what works for Eberron won't work for Dragonlance (and vice verse). When you expand the same out to include the thousands of homebrew settings out there, the problem only becomes greater. If WotC fix on an answer and tell us "this is how it is" then they're producing materials of limited utility.

If 5e is an attempt to reunify the fan base, they need to pitch a big tent, and not just in the rules.


Steeliest of the dragons
But at its core, our game aspires to a mythic grandeur like that of the Lord of the Rings.

This might be the first time I've heard anyone currently involved with D&D (or, ya know, the passed several years) actually admit this!

REALLY nice to hear, finally.

The rest of all of this business is really campaign specific stuff. There are no "answers." There is no "D&D should do it this way."

My homebrew world has orcs that are corrupted humans...but now they breed themselves. They are inherently "bent" toward evil in their nature and are decidedly Evil as a society. But if a player really really wants to play a soft-hearted aberrant philosophical type orc who wants to go out and make "friends" with other creatures or wants to try to move his people into cooperative/constructive trade fearing an impending demise of his race, instead of just killing and eating them all...they could, I guess...provided they could escape their tribe without being killed themselves for their obvious and deplorable weakness.

I have dragons that were created in the birth of the world by the originator being before there were [even the first generation of "elder"] gods. They have since bred and bred and bred some more. Most have been diminished in power since their creation through the eons...some have been corrupted through evil forces or their own greed into the "dull shades of their former shining glory" known in the present world as "chromatic dragons." The current offspring of dragons are not necessarily other pure/"real" dragons and so their numbers (in the Material Plane of Orea, at least) have been dwindling for several millenia.

Are my dragons D&D dragons? Are my orcs D&D orcs? By the questions posed by Mr. Wyatt's article this week, one might make the claim they are not. You can say no as much as you want. I will unabashedly proclaim they are...in the truest/purest and most creatively inclusive sense of D&D.

As for "How many races does D&D need?" The answer is 1. A Good guy...and a Bad guy for them to fight/thwart. Often these are two different "races" [i.e. species] but there's no reason a D&D fantasy campaign can't be built around the "good human kingdom" and the "evil human archduke trying to usur the crown" or the "shining sparklely naturey elves" against the "dark wicked demony elves" or the "enlightened mage hobgoblins vs. the war-obssessed stormtrooper tribe."

I, myself, prefer more of the "classic/traditional" races as options...that does not mean they are all wandering around cosmopolitan streets. PC races I tend to top out around 12-15. The world may have dozens more...some actual cultures and civilizations, some [most, in fact] small enclaves or hidden societies/undiscovered clans that are not significant populations [in the grand scheme of the world].

I, like most players [I assume], include pretty much all of the established races in the world somewhere even if they are not permitted for PCs. I have goblinoids and lizardmen and orcs and kobolds and gnoll[-like creatures] and dark elves and an avian race and a felinoid race and centaurs and satyrs and sprites and 6 races of giants and ogres and trolls and...but they're not all walking around in the large cities [since I also assume pretty much every setting, including homebrews nowadays have at least one Waterdeep-esque mega-opolis]. Some do...or can without being attacked...at least in certain places/cities. But a given campaign or even an entire setting doesn't need them all.

But D&D, or any fantasy setting, does not need more than one. For me, as Mr. Wyatt says, the 4 [human, elf, dwarf, halfling] are the minimum needed for me to really think of a game as D&D. Everything else he is posing...campaign/setting specific with no "This is D&D" answer...nor should there be.


Steeliest of the dragons
GAH! Apologies. Double post. Anyone else getting Gateway errors all over the site today?
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D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
Im my opinion most orcs are evil by nature, dragons evolved from dinosaurs and bear only few similarities with reptile. I also want monsters with magical or mythic origins that exist completly outside the world's ecology and not be common sighting even in metropolis as large as Waterdeep. I also think the more humanoid races the better depending on campaign style.


GAH! Apologies. Double post. Anyone else getting Gateway errors all over the site today?


In fact, it stopped me adding something I should have said in my first article:

Despite my many nitpicks, this is actually a really good article - it's clearly intended as the starting point for discussion, and it packs in a huge amount of food for thought.


I tend to reinvent everything from campaign to campaign, including changing up racial origins and sometimes completely reskinning particular races/monsters, so I'm not terribly bothered what happens in the official game settings. But I definitely think that presenting a mix of unique monsters, "created" monsters, and "naturally existing" monsters presents a series of good examples for newer DMs to work off of.


James is heating up the D&D branding iron here.

What is up with all the Io references in the survey questions? (See first sentence of my post for an answer).

More codification of story elements for the uniform D&D Experience (tm). :puke:

The fact that James cannot see any further into the literary roots of the game than Tolkien makes me a sad camper.

Thanks again Ryan Dancey! (Not sarcasm)

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