One of the challenges of fantasy role-playing is: How do you make your game—and game world—unique? Especially at lower levels? We know instinctively how to make a game that feels like Pathfinder or D&D—we’ve got almost 80 years of Tolkien and roughly 30 of Oerth/Krynn/Toril from which to draw. But what if you want your game to feel like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away? Earthsea? The Name of the Wind? Sabriel? Or something all your own?
One of the ways is to very carefully select what the initial threats are going to be. Notice how most original fantasy novels (as opposed to shared-world ones) do not dump a bestiary’s worth of monsters on you. They tend to pick all of about three or four creatures, develop those really well, and stop. Also, at least one if not all of these monsters is the author’s own invention…or at least a heavily modified version of an old standby (think Robert Jordon’s take on trolls/orcs, the trolloc)…as a way of putting the author’s stamp on the world.
There is something to emulate here. Obviously, that’s not going to work for your entire campaign—players would get bored silly fighting the same three things. But that careful picking and choosing is worth doing at the start of a campaign.
Which brings me to the sagaris. Man, these guys are fantastic. Horse-headed flying tentacles from Japanese folklore! With a…terrible…death…wh—excuse me, baleful whinny. And they’re only CR 1/2!
So what happens if you put them in your game? When your PCs first take up arms to explore their neighbor’s abandoned farmstead, and find themselves attacked in the dark, blood-spattered barn by flying, whinnying eels? When the men at the tavern warn them not to go into the woods past sundown, because that’s when the sagaris come out?
Suddenly you’ve shifted player expectations a bit. Maybe now this is not the world they know. It’s your world. When every other campaign starts with dire rats, kobolds, and goblins, yours might start with sagaris, small earth elementals, and fire beetles. It will still be Pathfinder…but it will also be something else. It’s not a big change…but it might be just right.
Let the baleful whinnies begin.
Halfling smugglers use a sagari-haunted wood as their base of operations. Already well armed and lower to the ground than sagaris usually like, the halflings also wear spiked shoulder guards and helms to keep the aberrations at bay. Their pursuers are rarely so prepared.
A harras of sagaris has taking up residence in a venerable old willow. If the aberrations are driven off, the tree’s kodama will grant the rescuers a boon.
The Sickwood, an aged, moss-hung forest, was once home to a colony of drow trying to acclimate themselves to sunlight. They gave up the endeavor, but not before accidentally allowing sagaris to bubble up from below the earth into the dark wood. The Sickwood’s sprites hate the creatures, but not everyone is so unwelcoming. The local jorogumos speak Aklo, and after trapping several of the creatures in their webs to feed to their spiders, they have turned the surviving horse-headed pests into reluctant minions. Meanwhile, the abandoned drow colony is still untouched and ripe for exploring.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 3 234
What have we learned so far this week? That you all love rust monsters and hate sabosan. It’s okay, sabosan…I love you.
Speaking of love…I love you guys and want to learn more about you. Details at the bottom of Monday’s post. So far the dudes are overrepresented (let’s get it together, XX-chromosome crew), you all seem to be over 30 or under 20 (apparently the millennials are all too busy moving to Portland to reply), and most of you play Pathfinder but have an abiding love for at least one TSR/Wizards of the Coast setting. Thanks for the notes so far; would love to hear more from the rest of you!