To pick up the biotech for d20 series again, we’ll take a look at “monster design” from the game master’s side with the Spirit of the Times.
Some places achieve timelessness. Others have timelessness thrust upon them.
A time and place may become a legend, an idealized archetype, a fixed reference point for later civilizations, a numinous wonder that becomes the timeless setting for a thousand myths and tales…
The Wild West, Feudal Japan, the Roaring 20’s… all host more tales than the original locales could ever have contained.
Those archetypes have become spirits. Spirits of Time and Place, Vestiges of Other Worlds…
And Spirits can be invoked.
A Spirit of the Times possesses landscapes, not creatures or characters – and so a lot of the usual statistics are quite irrelevant. Do you want an armor class for the desert? To decide how many hits with a sword it will take to kill Mount Everest? No, the sole way to dispose of a Spirit of the Times is to find it’s central focus (invariably a complex glyph or series of glyphs that expresses the nature of the spirit in question) and enact the unique ritual of closure which will end it’s reign.
This isn’t necessarily urgent; people may live under the influence of a genre for many years without being particularly bothered by it – but eventually things will want to move on. Despite E.E “Doc” Smith, extending a particular culture indefinitely across time – no matter how much the setting changes – rarely works all that well.
So a slightly crazy wizard (my, don’t those guys get blamed for a LOT of things? They should get a lawyer), wishing to protect his monopoly on something or other, has enacted a bizarre ritual thought long-lost, and summoned up the Spirit of Prohibition – calling on it to force all other, legal, suppliers out of business.
Perhaps it’s rock salt. Or perfume. Or some sort of music.
Across the kingdom it will abruptly become accepted that dealing in whatever-it-is is illegal. Enforcement organizations will spring up. So will black markets, and illegal establishments where you can go and eat salty foods, or enjoy a selections of scents, or listen to the illegal music. There will be raids and gangsters.
In fact there will be hordes of gangsters, riding by in carriages firing wildly with their rapid fire repeating heavy crossbows that – oddly enough – will not work outside the kingdom.
The locals will accept the new situation, traders will find new restrictions at the borders, and a hundred other details will change to fit. Characters who go along with the cliches that the spirit enforces will find their actions greatly eased. Characters who attempt to fight the genre will find their lives far harder than they need to be.
Who can defy the Spirit of the Times?
So lets make a stat block.
Spirit of the Times
- Dimensionless Outsider (Neutral, Extraplanar)
- Hit Dice: Nope!
- Initiative: Nope!
- Speed: Nope!
- Armor Class: Nope!
- Base Attack/Grapple: Not really!
- Attack: Dispatches hordes of generic minions, which simply show up annoyingly.
- Full Attack: Dispatch Boss Minion
- Space/Reach: Er… Yes?
- Special Attacks: Alter Genre (enforces appropriate cliches), Mass Acceptance (the population at large will see no problems), Law Enforcement (the local authorities will enforce the new social mores), and Alter Setting (the environment changes to suit the genre).
- Special Qualities: Immune to pretty much everything except the dismissal ritual, unless the GM feels that certain tactics (unique to each spirit) will weaken it.
- Saves: Too big to need any.
- Abilities: Str –, Dex –, Con –, Int 10, Wis 24, Cha —
- Skills: Hm. Spot Annoyances +17, Elementary Tactics +10, Influence Culture +20. No, these aren’t standard skills. Who cares?
- Feats: Nope!
- Environment: The Beyond, wherever it’s summoned, or in mortal hearts and minds.
- Organization: Solitary
- Challenge Rating: Depends on the minions assigned to it.
- Treasure: Large piles of appropriate props.
- Alignment: True Neutral.
- Advancement: Nope!
- Level Adjustment: Nope!
OK: now this “creature” violates virtually every rule of monster design out there. There’s only one way to defeat it and none to “harm” it. It’s built on pop-culture references. It’s stat block is woefully incomplete.
And yet… it rather looks like fun to me. If you want a chunk of the Wild West, or a Chicago-Gangster break from your usual high fantasy, or an espionage interlude – well, here you have an excuse. The fact that there’s only one solution (perhaps, for the Spirit of Prohibition, bringing in a wagonload of whatever-it-is that’s banned and proclaiming “Repeal!” while standing atop it’s mystic seal will do) isn’t too relevant; this “monster” sets up interesting situations and periodic annoyances with mobs of “gangsters”. It’s not like it goes around directly stomping on player characters.
Still, player creations are just going to have to be a lot more limited than GM creations. The “fling together anything that looks like fun” approach may have a lot of gaming tradition behind it, but it’s a lot trickier than it looks. How many really lame creatures have you run across?
(Oh no! Old memories… surfacing! Judges Guild: Field Guide To Encounters… More than a thousand of the LAMEST most unusable creatures ever imagined! In what may well be the WORST game supplement in my entire collection!
And that’s saying something. Honestly, I didn’t really find one single item or creature of use in all of Volumes I and II. I got it them for a quarter each, and decades later I still feel ripped off.)
So; next up, it’s going to be building monsters for players.