Saturday, 28 May 2011

A is for Animals (or Lions, Tigers, & Bears, Oh My!)

When devising a setting for a role-playing game, some people might think considering local animals unimportant.

I do not.

I try to remember that the mundane is as important as the mysterious.  For instance, I will mention animal scat, deer tracks, flights of birds, bird calls, etc., while on a wilderness trek.  Why?  First off, I want to ensure that the world feels "alive" -- things are where they should be.  There are mice in the ruins, birds in the fields, and a fox in the henhouse.

Secondly, this allows for some quick action within the game.  On a riverboat, a stag is sighted on shore.  A quick bet is made on whose shot can bring it down, and there will be venison for dinner.  Hearing wolves howl in the distance need not presage an instant attack -- the PCs will travel this wild area again.  Without the foreshadowing, though, an encounter with wolves can seem rather "out of the blue".  Likewise, a partially-eaten deer carcass can indicate the presence of wolves to wilderness-minded sorts, like rangers and druids.

Finally, including animals on a regular basis prevents "ringers" from being obvious.  If you never mention ravens, then that raven is obviously a familiar or spy.  If you never mention rabbits, that you do so now means there's a wolf-in-sheep's-clothing lurking nearby.  That you never mention wolves is a sure sign that the one you are encountering now is more than half likely to be a werewolf.

Some games/Game Masters take this even farther.  Why have horse, when you can have firehooved scalehorses?  Why have bears when you can have hardgrapple biteybears?

The answers are the same -- unless there is something "normal" in the world (as the world defines "normal"), immersion is damaged.  If everything you encounter is monstrous, you will respond to everything as though it were a monster.

Sorry, but No Thank You.

My game still has room for lions, and tigers, and bears.  And songbirds.  And mice.


  1. Nice to see you have a blog RCK !

    I guess I am going to the first commentator here which is cool too ...

    I have to strongly agree with your ideas on animals,

    Even in alien worlds like my own Midrea ,a world reft with gates and as such there are animals. Some are not earthly, the Mitps (tiny little vole like critters) Slinks (giant mustalids) Cura (coy dogs) Kafer (big big bugs) and such but while these things wouldn't be found on Earth, they aren't monsters and in fact are marginally domestic animals.

    For example an encounter with say a Slink might be slightly threatening, its threatening in the way a boar or bear might be not a dragonlichmedusabat or whatever .

    I couldn't agree more that animals are important in rooting players in the world. My players seemed to agree as at least one character has a pet Mitp.

  2. Thanks for dropping by!

    You are, of course, correct. It doesn't matter if the animals be banthas, banths, or bears. It does matter that the animals are THERE!


  3. This is one of the things I tend to abstract away - part of the scenery, but unless the animal is an actual encounter, they only appear as "you find some burrowing animals for the dinner and roast them with wild herbs", or "during the day, a deer seems to be shadowing you, but it remains elusive, and you eventually do not see it anymore". This part of the game, unless challenged by a player, is non-interactive: a part of the setting, but not a part of the things we focus on during the adventure.

    The other reason is memory: much like weather and horse-related things, I often forget about them.

  4. Something I should have done from the very your blog.


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