Welcome to my newest blog series where I discuss, rant, and explore common fantasy monsters for use (or not) in Shadow World. Like many RPGers in the early 80’s we started RM using the Middle Earth setting, moved to the Loremaster series and then on to Shadow World. The RM settings were unique in their discarding of most of the usual fantasy monsters packed into ecosystem defying environments. That really appealed to me and our gaming group. Aside from Goblins, Orcs and Dragons and the occasional Kraken, Middle Earth was “monster lite”; that same philosophy carried over to the Loremaster series that used a human-centric approach to antagonists. Opponents such as the Unlife and most villains were humanoids—relatable to the PC’s in a way far different than facing a bizarre and fantastical creature. While the original SW Master Atlas contained most of the monsters found in Creatures & Treasures, Terry’s work continued in the tradition of MERP and Loremaster and ignored most fantasy stereotypical monsters. Shadow World did have a few monster tropes: Unicorns, Dragons and Vampires but the focus instead was on unique fusion creatures that gave SW its particular flavor: Shards, Krylites, Kaeden, etc. I believe that further emphasizing these unique SW specific creatures better differentiates the SW setting from other products on the market. If Shadow World was described as “too kitchen sink” when it first came out I would argue that while many fantasy tropes were presented in the 1st Edition Master Atlas, Terry hasn’t whole-heartedly embraced those elements in subsequent modules.
Giants!!!!!! Look, G1-3 was a great module series in a “cartoony, I’m an eleven year old gamer” way but Giants as a viable game monster in Shadow World just doesn’t hold up. There are a few mentions of Giants in the SW Master Atlas and there are the Titans of Emer but Giants thankfully don’t appear in any SW “canon”. I treat mentions of “Giants” as pure speculation and rumor—the same way Giants are mentioned in fairy tales and stories in our culture. I do have very large humans: 7’, 9’ or a bit larger, but anything much larger than that I start having issues. 20’ or 30’ storm giants with a profession are just plain silly in my opinion!
Looking at it from a combat approach, Giants just don’t work. Go out and pick a fight with a 4 year old child—chances are you’ll win quite handily. A 24’ Giant wielding a 14’ war hammer wearing a massive set of platemail armor and moving and fighting in the same physical manner as a normal 6’ character is ridiculous for all sorts of reasons. A bipedal humanoid over ten feet tall, with excellent motor skills and tool making ability would be an incredibly dangerous opponent. At least a Dragon will have a different fighting style: claws, wings, breath weapon more akin to a reptile, snake or wild animal. Yes, it’s fantasy and doesn’t need to be realistic, but I feel it always take players out of the game. I’ve found a fantasy monster can be more immersive than encountering a 25’ human. RMU’s size scaling rules (Beta2) addressed the size disparity by making Giants and large creatures devastatingly dangerous—as they should, but the combat approach is only one aspect of the problem.
The cultural approach. Does a community of 20’, 2 story humanoids with size appropriate weapons, utensils, pots, clothing, and houses make any sense in your setting? Will adventurers plunder giant tombs only to find they can’t lift the 18’ magic battleaxe they find? Do your adventurers come across a 4’ sock discarded by a teenage giant or plunder a sack of 1’ wide gold coins? Every culture leaves detritus: abandoned objects and buildings that populate the adventure setting—how does a Giant culture work in any setting? Of course the answer is typically a remote Giant “settlement” high in the mountains or tucked into a hidden valley far from humans and other humanoids. And certainly SW’s Essaence Flows could wall off a remote community of Giants but for me it just doesn’t work.
Game Mechanics approach. One of the main reasons I avoid common monster types is because they are tropes and immediately changes the game play into ritualistic, rule-oriented process. Present a Giant to a D&D group and what do you get: Dwarves and Rangers to the front, others use missile weapons and Mages cast from a distance. The bonuses given to certain races and professions force the party’s strategy because they maximize the potency of certain characters. For players who memorize the Monster Manual, encounters became a combat by rote process exploiting known weaknesses. RM includes many of those monster mechanics: Silver vs. Undead, Mummies cause disease, Con drain, can only be hit by magic weapons etc. Alternatively, when your party encounters a menacing party of adventurers they have NO idea their level, power, abilities or weaknesses.
For me, Giants have no place in my fantasy game and no place in Shadow World. But that’s just my opinion and I welcome yours!