Games Design - [Dead of Night]The Mythology of Monsters

Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Jul 23rd 2010 edited

One of the things I love about TV series such as Supernatural or Buffy is that they have their own mythology, their own way that monsters "work" within the confines of the setting. Movies do that too, but because they're so focused on a single monster or a single premise, you rarely get to see it develop. There are exceptions, of course.

A demon in Supernatural works in a certain way, dies in a certain way. Likewise a vampire in Buffy. The audience is taught this, expects this, which - later, once this is established - allows the writer to mess with those expectations and create tension and drama in the process.

I want to do the same in my Dead of Night campaigns, to create a mythology of sorts that players come to recognise. So, when they come up against a vampire, they know it's one of my vampires, and it will work in a set way. But I don't want to bog the players down with loads of background and lore that the players have to go away and learn, or else tease them with as I expose it bit by bit.

Instead I want to create player buy in, to give them the power to shape this mythology for themselves. Of course, there's a way to do this in the rules as written. "What's This?" (p35) lets them specify a fact about the setting or a monster, whilst Vulnerabilities (p76) lets a player discover a monster's weakness with an Identify check. But, for completeness, I'm going to put the two together:

Mythologically Speaking: A player can spend a Survival Point to add a new fact about a monster to the mythology of the setting. This fact is true for that type of monster from now on. In addition, the player who spent the point can exploit the fact in the game, perhaps gleaning a temporary advantage, discovering the creature's lair or hunting pattern, or finding its weakness.

I'd quite like to find a way to reward players for reincorporating mythology back into the game, or perhaps for when the GM does so, perhaps by giving the player who first introduced it some sort of "ownership", a permanent character advantage when facing down that monster, but I'm not sure how yet.

So, which monstrous mythologies are you fond of? Do you think players will help create a rich mythological tapestry, or wind up coming up with tenuous asides for mechanical advantages? And how might players (or GMs) be rewarded for reincorporating the mythology?

Posted by: Malcolm Craig On: Jul 23rd 2010

There's always the possibility, as you say, that adding to mythology could result in tenuous (and perhaps tedious) asides that devolve into silliness. That being said, the idea of the group as a whole creating the mythology of the monster in play is both great for play, and appropriate to the genre (re: Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, et al).

Maybe knowing about the mythology of a monster (and adding to it) is both an advantage ("the monster can only be killed by a stake of charred elm") and disadvantage ("I have nothing to fear with my trusty stake of charred elm!"). In Dead of Night terms, maybe this all results in a Specialisation that you can take, related to the monster at hand, that comes for free, or for cheaper than the cost of a regular Specialisation. But, it has to be linked to the mythology you have created: the charred elm example? Well, you'd need to have an Assault Specialisation. Maybe the disadvantage of that is that any use of the Specialisation at all is a Risk check?


Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Jul 24th 2010

Yes, I like the idea that the knowledge could prove to be a double-edged sword, and making any associated rolls into a Risk check would reflect that nicely.

I'm still toying with ways to make reincorporation of the mythology, rather than the constant invention of new stuff, a good thing. Possibly the GM could earn Tension when he reincorporates mythology (after all, a much-feared creature encountered before is even scarier the second time, right, as the players know what it can do) or players could get some of the benefits for the specialisation without the downside.


Posted by: Malcolm Craig On: Jul 26th 2010

That's a tough one.

On one hand, you could place an arbitrary cap on the amount of the mythology that can be created, say only five things. But that feels, from outside of play, to be extremely unsatisfactory.

On the other hand, everyone just throwing things in left, right, and centre runs the risk of making it all very messy and incoherent. So, maybe that leads back to the arbitrary limit again?

Maybe there's a balance. One mythological fact per person, per session. However, if you reincorporate (as a player), you get to embroider that mythology with an additional fact of your own. BUT it has to be linked to the original fact. AND, you cannot embroider a fact you created and you can only add a fact to a piece of mythology once. For a group of three players (discounting the GM for the moment) that would give you three initial facts, then six additional facts for a total of nine.

Player 1: The leprous bog-beast is written of in medieval manuscripts that portray it as a minion of Satan. [fact 1]
Player 2: During World War 2, a party of German paratroopers landed here. Only their bones were found and some say it was the beast. [fact 2]
Player 3: The drunks in the local pub tell stories that the beast can only be driven back by the music of a harp. [fact 3]

Player 1: Certain scientists from the government came here in World War 2, after the German bones were discovered. Some say they tried to capture the beast and use it as a weapon. [relates to fact 2]
Player 2: The monastery on the hill was abandoned in the 1500s after the monks grew fearful of a horror that inhabited the vaults and cellars [related to fact 1]
Player 3: The curator of the local museum claims that the monks left manuscripts buried somewhere nearby telling of the terrible carnage caused by the beast [related to fact 1]

And so on and so forth.

That still doesn't take into account the role of the GM, but I'm thinking off the top of my head here!


Posted by: Neil Gow On: Jul 26th 2010

This reminds me of a playtest we did for an embryonic superhero game years ago, and the 'continuity rule' that we introduced. Once per session, a point of continuity could be introduced and that was now immutable campaign fact. Superman IS vulnerable to Kryptonite. Fact.

I think one of the problems with this approach as presented is that it offers little internal logic to the mythology. As I read it, one player could spend a Survival point to introduce the fact that Kenrickian Zombies are destroyed by ... cheese. That players character would then get, say, a +2 to their use of cheese against zombies. Another player hoists up a wheel of finest cheddar but gets no bonus. Quite rightly he asks - what gives? Zombies + Cheese = Poof!, yes or no? Lets face it, one thing we know is that gamers will, at every given turn, seek to use advantages when possible!

Maybe you could make the effect of the addition to the mythology cost more, the lower the tension level is? So early doors, its far more expensive whereas to introduce something useful if the tension level is low than if it is high - last minute revelations etc.

As for the mythologies that I like, I have to point to the almost gaming standard question of 'Romero Zombie or T-Virus Zombie' with regard to their shamble-ability.


Posted by: Sebastian Hickey On: Aug 15th 2010 edited

Hi Andrew,

I know very little about Dead of Night (at the moment), but your idea got me enthusiastic to create a solution.

I suggest that the GM writes the monster on a card and puts two tokens on that card. He also writes down an awesome power. At any time, in order to bring the monster into the scene, the GM must spend a token.

E.g. Sebastian is the GM and wants to create a mind controlling vein parasite. He writes "Vein Parasite" on the card and gives it the power "Mind Control". He gets two tokens. When the GM wants to introduce the monster, he must spend a token. Later, during play, one of the players comes home from the office, only to find his apartment unlocked. His girlfriend is on the balcony, about to jump. The GM spends the token, announcing at as the work of his monster.

At any time during play, any player may, Mythologically Speaking, add a detail to the monster. It could be the name of the monster, its weakness, some history, anything. Immediately, the GM gains a new token and puts it onto the monster card. He also writes the detail added.

E.g. One player names the monster the "Serriph," the GM gains a token for it and writes "Serriph" on the card.

When a player uses one (or more) details on the card when facing the monster, the player gets a bonus of some kind. Maybe an extra dice or something. Maybe this is all too wazzo (off target) for your game.

In short the economy is this: Player buy-in = bonuses to defeat the monster = frequency of monster reappearance

So, if the players don't like your monster, are not interested in it, etc., they won't see it very often. I suppose. But if they like it, and want to invent facts about it, they will see it over and over again, thereby building a long term mythology?

Posted by: James Mullen On: Aug 15th 2010

To start at a slight tangent, in the Endangered Species campaign I've been running, we've settled on the following mechanic for 'Baggage', which is an additional PC resource intended to increase their longevity: when your Baggage is relevant to an action, you get to roll 3d10 and keep any 2 results, but if you fail, you lose that Baggage for good. Perhaps that could be the model for a 'mythology' rule too?

Also, what if the player who adds to the mythology retains ownership of the fact they create: it could act something like a Bad Habit, e.g. if they trigger a monstrous advantage based on that fact when the monster is in a scene, they gain 1 Survival point? Or, when any other player uses that fact to gain an advantage over the monster in a Risk check, the owner of that fact gains the first Survival point lost as a result of that action, by either side... or just if the monster loses, not the PC?

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