Monsters and Food

A fantasy campaign traditionally (though not necessarily) includes monsters in its population.  These monsters are of three basic types:  humanoids, nonhumanoids, and fantastic beings.

Humanoids are the fodder of most worlds.  Orcs, goblins, trolls, ogres, fuzzy cat people, whatever… these are the bread and butter of the adventurer on the line, and they come in sufficiently organized numbers so as to pose a threat of invasion, giving the humans an excuse to hate them.  If you are concerned with realism in your game design, humanoid tribes will have much the same concerns as human civilizations, primarily food, terrain control, etc.  Relations with the humans will typically be exasperated at the start of the campaign, explained by factors like an inability to communicate well, vastly different ethics, and plain old competition for resources.  However, the humanoid monsters generally do not possess the potential for personal prowess that humans have, as evidenced by the fact that human adventurers tend to kill them in great numbers.  We can thus infer that the typical humanoid lacks sufficient technology to allow him to progress, and is locked into a more or less nomadic hunter-gatherer tribal existence.  They probably do not have a high degree of metallurgy and use bronze and stone for weapons, and hides, wood and bronze for armor.  Their lack of agriculture makes them wander around in search of food, bringing them into conflict with territorial humans.  Lack of agriculture also makes them less likely to have the leisure time humans have, and so they are slow to develop new technologies, including magic.  Given all of these disadvantages, they have to have some sort of compensation to avoid being wiped out offhand by the humans.  The simplest advantage is faster breeding, the single most important evolutionary trait there is.  This also increases their need to take more land for foraging, putting them into increasing conflict with humans.  Other advantages may take the form of military readiness:  with no farmers, every humanoid is a hunter, and capable of fighting.  Hunting societies tend to breed for warrior traits and establish warrior ethics as well.  However, it still all comes down to food, and food is what will cause conflict between the player society and the roving packs of brutal humanoids.

Something to note about an organized group of hunter-gatherer humanoids is that they need really large amounts of land to support themselves.  A realistic figure for human hunter-gatherers is no more than 2 per square mile, or else you run into environmental degradation problems.  Obviously, having to run a mile to encounter 2 humanoids makes for a very dull game, and requires a gigantic landmass if you have 1000 player characters all running after them simultaneously.  To some extent, you can make up for the implications of denser populations in the wilderness through explanations like raiding the fertile human territories for food, fishing, and the like, but ultimately you should have an accelerated food chain.  Superwheat may not be the only hyperefficient crop available, and you could say that the humanoids are omnivorous, taking a good deal of sustenance from high-yield vegetation which is unpalatable to humans like swamp weeds, mosses, lichens, insects, grubs, etc.  In turn, these nonhuman food sources can also support a larger number of edible herbivores, who can in turn support more carnivores and omnivores per square mile.  It may require a bit of black boxing to bring a reasonable ecology up to the point where it becomes fun for players.

Nonhumanoids comprises monsters that are more akin to animals, like giant spiders, serpents, stirges, etc.  In order to keep these believable, you obviously don’t need a high degree of societal understanding, but the ecology does have to make sense.  One forest with nothing but carnivorous wolf-things is not a viable situation.  Dangerous carnivorous creatures cannot congregate successfully in small areas (unless the carnivores themselves are very small compared to their prey).  They require a certain number of herbivores to harvest, while leaving enough herbivores to replenish the stock.  The herbivores in turn feed on plants, including plants that are not normally edible by humans.  Omnivores can exist in slightly greater numbers with the same supporting herbivore population, but their numbers will still be a tiny fraction of all the animal life in the area.  Once again, you can accelerate the food chain to allow for more food sources for nonhuman monsters, just as you do for humanoids.

Fantastic creatures do not have to follow the rules of reality.  These are the undead, dragons, daemons, miscellaneous energy beings, and what have you.  It still behooves the world builder to figure out why these creatures are where they are, and what resources they might require.  A Tolkienesque dragon is a gigantic carnivore, and a flying one to boot, increasing its calrie requirements.  Logically, one decent-sized dragon would strip an area of all animals and people very quickly, then move on to the next area, which is a good reason to try to kill them, but it disallows the concept of the dragon hoard (which is fine if you want to go that route).  All fantastic creatures are black boxes by default, and as such the designer can apply black box logic to them.  A dragon is indeed huge and hungry, but maybe it has a 20-year sleep cycle unless prematurely awoken, and when it is awake it does eat everything it can before going back to sleep.  Vampiric undead may also have long periods of torpor, reducing energy requirements, and have "extra-dimensional" sustenance as well, but they need to hang on the fringes of civilization so they can occasionally drink blood, which contains some element they have a deficiency in.  A daemon may not be a native inhabitant of the world, appearing only when summoned or due to "dimensional rift/convergence," and they are very unhappy whenever this happens.  As long as you even make an attempt to apply logic to these patently illogical creatures, it will be appreciated by the discerning player.

6 Responses to “Monsters and Food”
  1. Hobbits. Hobbits breed quickly (much like rabbits) and are at the bottom of the humanoid food chain. The fact that humanoids eat cute little hobbits is exactly what makes them so despicable and makes it morally acceptable to organize small groups of randomn adventurers to go out and murder them. That and they are Communists. And they might be linked to Al Qaeda.

  2. I honestly can’t see a Tolkienesque dragon surviving without some form of magical hibernation/sustenance. A breeding population of the things would probably scour continent-sized areas of all major wildlife, with little time for that wildlife to regenerate in the wake of the destruction due to the dragon’s quick speed via flight. That said, it might make for an interesting fantasy world where all of your wildlife evolves around the need to survive and rapidly re-breed in the wake of dragon ravaging, and your human population has to retreat to under-ground warrens every so often.

    It also matters whether or not your fantasy predators are cold-blooded or hot-blooded. Cold-blooded creatures tend to be more sluggish except when weather permits, but they also don’t need to eat as much, so you can support more of them on a certain population of prey (i.e. equal to 10-15% of their prey population in numbers). Warm-blooded creatures, on the other hand, need to eat a lot more food to survive, so it’s unlikely that your warm-blooded wolf-things would amount to more than 2-3% of their prey population in numbers.

  3. Given that dragons are supernaturally intelligent and long-lived as compared to humans, they could set up the continent to feed them. Dragons horde is there simply to pay for all the foodstuff, carted from all corners of the world to its proverbial doorstep. This is probably done via proxies who handle the actual business side and deliver the food (plus whatever else the dragon deems fit to buy, just to cover the food purchases) to hidden storages where the dragon then consumes them. When the hoard is empty and all treasure is gone, burn down a castle and kill everything from a wide radius in a “rampage”. Then set up the new “nest” where the castle used to be. After a while humans will return and trade will naturally be busy as rebuilding takes place, starting a new cycle.

  4. @Hob:

    That’s….actually a pretty nice explanation. Kind of turns your fantasy world into a planet of Dragon-run empires, however.

    There’s also the fact that dragons are even more unfair than horse archers (Horse archers? Dragons are more like “Flying artillery”) with their ability to harass or retreat pretty easily.

    Unless they are Skyrim dragons. Then, they are obligated to fly around only a little bit before they land their stupid ass right next to the slow-moving heavily armored badass Axe-weilder who is capable of DEVOURING THEIR IMMORTAL SOUL AND PREVENTING ALDUIN FROM REVIVING THEM AGAIN if they are killed by him/her.

  5. MU, I’M BEGGING YOU, CHANGE THE BACKGROUND! I know this isn’t related to the topic, but I loved reading this and your Street Fighter stuff, but I can’t read the white text on this gray and black fluer de leis crap at all without my eyes jumping out of my sockets and going on strike!

  6. I finally posted a new thing. I can go flat black, but for now upped the opacity of the underlevel. Mostly because I’m lazy. 😛

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