Games Design - [Dead of Night 2] Monstrous Archetypes

Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Dec 1st 2009 edited

What with Malcolm's thread about monsters in Hot War, we must have monsters on the brain here at the Collective Endeavour. I'm working on the second edition of Dead of Night at the moment, my game of b-movie horror. Amongst the many refinements, one of the things I want to do is to streamline the way monsters are handled. Rather than have a vague system of creating a monster and a grab-bag of samples, some more handy than others, I've worked up a list of monstrous archetypes that each encompass a different type of monster.

I''ve managed to narrow the list to nine archetypes, and I'm fairly sure that you can fit most monsters into one of the archetypes. So, with that in mind, can you think of any monsters that I haven't accounted for? Any archetypes that seem redundant or superfluous?

The Unstoppable Killer – a relentless foe that can neither be reasoned with nor killed. Eg. Friday 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Jaws.

The Ghost – an entity that returned from the grave to haunt the living. Eg. Poltergeist, the Haunting.

The Hunter – a monster that might pass as normal, but feeds upon humans. Eg. Dracula, the Faculty.

The Beast Within – a creature with two faces that cannot help the monster it becomes. Eg. Dog Solders, Ginger Snaps.

The Witch – the seemingly harmless person who wields malevolent power. Eg. The Omen, the Blair Witch Project.

The Impostor – a monster that masquerades as somebody else. Eg. Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, the Exorcist.

The Horde – an implacable, endless tide of monsters. Eg. Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later.

The Formless Horror – the environment itself is the monstrous horror. Eg. the Mist.

The Thing from Beyond – an unknowable alien entity with an unfathomable motive. Eg. Alien, the Thing.

Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Dec 1st 2009

Actually I'm wondering whether the Horde and the Formless Horror overlap, after all zombies aren't so much individually faced monsters as facets of a larger, formless threat.

Posted by: Malcolm Craig On: Dec 1st 2009

Monsters on the brain indeed. And, I may pinch some of your thoughts too boot!

Regarding the list, where would the Giant Monster (Gojira, Cloverfield, etc) fit on this list? I can see it being The Thing from Beyond or perhaps the Unstoppable Killer, but perhaps it needs something a little more specific. DoN can easily do monster movies, so it might be worth thinking about. As a qualification to this, though, is that a direction you want to go in?


Posted by: Iain McAllister On: Dec 1st 2009

To me 'The horde' instantly conjures up images of zombies, probably because of my love of L4D, and that is quite different from the environmental horror you are trying to get at with the 'formless horror'

Maybe you could phrase the 'Formless horror' as 'Environmental horror' though that maybe makes it sound a little too much like a game about climate change! Perhaps Ambient or Surrounding horror?



Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Dec 1st 2009

In my mind I've always lumped the giant-sized monster in with the Unstoppable Killer - implacable with a relentless desire to kill and destroy. Whilst I've never ran DoN as a monster movie, I don't see why it can't be done! The closest I've come is Grendel, Alaska, which owed as much to the Host as it did Beowulf, and my write up of the Hostitself.

There's definitely an overlap between our thinking - one of the key aspects of monsters in DoN2 is that they all have some manner of motivation, something that drives them to action even when the players aren't necessarily doing anything.

Posted by: Scott Dorward On: Dec 1st 2009

I'm wondering about The Witch. Is the "seemingly harmless" bit of the description an essential part of the archetype? As written, it precludes characters like Sutter Cain from In the Mouth of Madness, The Wicked Witch of the West, or The Queen of Summer from The Broken Bridge scenario that I ran for you.

I'm also trying to work out where the Cenobites from Hellraiser would fit in. What made them scary was that they represented a force of corruption and temptation as much as one of death and destruction. Similarly, things like The Monkey's Paw, Wishmaster or even Videodrome make me think that there may be another archetype of something like The Corrupter, representing an entity which makes malevolent changes to characters or the world they live in. Maybe this is just another aspect of The Witch, though.

Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Dec 1st 2009

I wonder if a better way of phrasing the Witch would be "otherwise normal" or "seemingly mundane" rather than harmless - outwardly they look human. The malevolence is a key though, as are the supernatural powers. Is that how you'd define them, or am I missing a more obvious summation?

The Corrupter is an interesting one. I'm seeing a lot of overlaps with the Witch, although I like the name far more.

Posted by: Scott Dorward On: Dec 1st 2009 edited

Iain McAllister:Maybe you could phrase the 'Formless horror' as 'Environmental horror' though that maybe makes it sound a little too much like a game about climate change! Perhaps Ambient or Surrounding horror?

Andrew's description of Formless Horror immediately made me think of the vastly underrated Australian horror film, Long Weekend, which qualifies as environmental horror on all counts.

Maybe Pervasive Horror?

Posted by: Scott Dorward On: Dec 1st 2009

I'm not convinced that appearing normal is an essential part of The Witch archetype. It's certainly the most common aspect, but sometimes there is no doubt what The Witch is.

Another example: in Dario Argento's Three Mothers trilogy (Suspiria, Inferno and Mother of Tears) there is no doubt that each of the Mothers is a witch, and that she wields power; they never appear to be anything other than what they are.

Posted by: Joe Prince On: Dec 2nd 2009

I think My Life with Master does a great job of building up monsters.

Aspect: Brain/Beast
Want & Need: Motivations
Type: Feeder/Breeder/Collector/Teacher

It would be nice to see DoN2 (and Hot War?) do something similar - building up the mosters from key factors. In my opinion anyway.

Nitpicks with your list Andy - Isn't The Thing an Imposter and Freddy a Ghost?
I don't think that possessing someone is the same as impersonating them.
So what about them demons?
What about evil people (Dr Lector/El Capitan in Pan's Labyrinth)?
Sentient machines - Matrix etc?

Not sure about unfathomable motives either - a reproducing hive mind is not really unfathomable. You know like them tyranids!

Something about animalistic monsters being typecast as unstoppable killers - dosen't sit well with me. I'm pretty sure the shark got killed in Jaws!

Posted by: Scott Dorward On: Dec 2nd 2009

Another random thought: where would that other great staple of horror movies, the Mad Scientist, fit in?

Posted by: James Mullen On: Dec 2nd 2009

I think the way to go is like Joe said, using something like the MLwM system of defining monsters, as opposed to building up a taxonomy of monsters and trying to classify each instance of one.

What are the most important three questions that need to be answered about every monster? Perhaps something like: why do they kill, how do they kill and how can they be killed? Add a few options to choose from and some official game terminology and you have a system for defining monsters.

Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Dec 2nd 2009

Ooh, I like those three questions James - I'm going to steal those right away! And good idea Joe - I also like starting with the building blocks, one of which will be the archetype, which in turn will suggest suitable specialisations and the like.

Thanks for the nitpicks Joe! I'm perfectly open to the addition of more things to the list - evil people/mad scientists have cropped up in a couple of suggestions now. What manner of archetype would they be? They could fit into witch, if they're changing the world around the characters. They could be unstoppable killers, if they're hell bent on murder and mayhem. Or they could be hunters - Hannibal Lecter looks like a human, but he's preying on them too (although in Silence of the Lambs he's not the monster at all - that's Buffalo Bill, who is probably a hunter too).

Is there the need for an additional archetype there?

Posted by: Joe Prince On: Dec 4th 2009 edited

Andrew Kenrick:Hannibal Lecter looks like a human, but he's preying on them too (although in Silence of the Lambs he's not the monster at all-).

Tell that to the poor sap whose face he wears!
I know what you mean though - a monster but not the monster.

I think why the archetypes are giving me a hard time is because some are based off what they do and some are based on how they look and some are based on where they're from. Like if an evil spirit possesses people and feeds on their souls is that a Ghost-Hunter-Imposter? Hell he could be an Unstoppable Killer too. Though I much prefer the term Homicidal Maniac!

Building from what James says maybe you could break it down into: Origin / Appearance / MO / Desire / Vulnerabilities

Also how would you fit in a golem/robot or Frankenstein's monster? I had thought homicidal maniac but Frankenstein's monster could be reasoned with.
How about archetype: man's own creation gone awry! or simply Amok.

Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Apr 5th 2010

Just thought I'd come back to this topic, as I'm trying to finish off the monster chapter next.

Joe's right, when he says some of the archetypes are what they are, whereas others are what they do. I think the latter is what I'm aiming for as, with the exception of the Ghost, I think they fit into that box nicely.

A quick rename to Vengeful Dead and I think that'll sort that problem out. A monster returned from the grave to exact its revenge. Could be a ghost or a poltergeist, could also be some sort of murderous undead Hell's Angel on a revenge kick. Or maybe that's a different game...

I think there's definitely call for some sort of creator archetype, to cover the necromancer at the head of the zombie horde, the mad scientist who has unleashed his creations on the world or even just the cult leader with a horde of cultists. Some sort of boss monster, whose power stems from his creations rather than his own innate power. Does Creator cut it as a name? Or perhaps the Master?

Posted by: Joe Prince On: Apr 5th 2010

I like Puppet Master - pulling his minions strings!

Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Apr 5th 2010

That has a nice ring to it - thanks!

Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Apr 26th 2010 edited

I posted this on my blog, but thought it relevant to share with you here too as it was all your help that made it so. This is the fruits of this thread, one of the finished Monstrous Archetypes, the Corruptor:

_The Corrupter

The Corrupter is an insidious monster that turns us into our own worst enemy. The Corrupter preys on our arrogance, greed, hubris or any other of a hundred material desires, tempting us to our own doom. The Corrupter might seek to destroy us to feast on our souls or our flesh, it might do so out of misery and suffering or for the pleasure of inflicting pain itself. The Corrupter might very well hide in plain sight, but it is hardly defenceless – it has its corrupted victims to protect it, after all.

The Corrupter is typically supernatural in origin, using magical powers or otherworldly charms to lure its prey to a bitter end. It may be a witch, seeking to gain power over their victims in exchange for unearthly promises. It may be some manner of demon or spirit, offering great rewards in exchange for the souls of those it tempts. Its motivations could be esoteric, desiring to sup upon the soul of a pure-hearted individual cast from grace, or it could be more prosaic, desiring to drain the lifeforce of another through the corruption it has wrought. Or the monster might act out of emotion, its desire to corrupt the innocent and the beautiful fuelled by jealousy or envy.

A story involving a Corrupter is likely to start innocuously, the monster remaining hidden whilst it works its corruption from the sidelines. The initial horror often stems from some of the victims’ own descent towards corruption, as they are tempted to engage in ever more horrific activities until they become monsters themselves. The horror is often psychological in nature, although it can swiftly become far more visceral and real. To defeat a Corrupter, first its malignant influence must be identified and then undone, or else it may well turn its corrupted victims upon those who would stop it. Often a Corrupter can be defeated by its own machinations, its own powers turned against it.

The siren of Greek mythology is a corrupter, as is the witch from medieval fable. The Cenobites in the Hellraiser series are Corrupters, tempting men with promises of pleasure and pain. The titular monster in The Blair Witch Project is a Corrupter, leading the filmmakers off the beaten track and to their deaths. The antagonists in Rosemary’s Baby - the coven of witches – are all Corrupters too, tempting Rosemary’s husband, Guy, to give up his baby in exchange for fame and success. In many ways, Mrs Baylock, Damien’s nanny in The Omen, is a Corrupter, for she subverts the household and attempts to corrupt the child to her master’s ends.

Survival points 3-4

Suggested specialisations: Controller, Corruption, Consume, Curse._

Add in a dash of motivation and method, stir in some numbers and maybe a vulnerability or monstrous specialisation and away you go! One finished monster, ready to eat you... or, in this case suck your soul dry.

Posted by: Joe Prince On: Apr 27th 2010

Liking the corrupter a classic foe!

Easy to strip out the supernatural element too as the corrupter/tempter is a literary staple. Gives you a lot of scope for exploring various genres.

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