“Don’t worry,” they said, their undead jaws moving, nearly unhinging, in unison. “We’re here to help you.”
(Picture courtesy of pixabay.com)
One of the most enjoyable campaigns I’ve ever ran was dubbed “The Monster Campaign.” The rules were simple:
- Everyone had to play a monstrous race from Savage Species or another book that had playable monster races (D&D 3.0 or 3.5).
- The race had to have a minimum of six racial levels.
- Ignore alignments.
- Everyone started at level 10.
- Everyone had to have at least one heroic or selfless act as part of their backstory.
The story revolved around the players being good people who happened to be races that most people considered to be evil monsters. Another monstrous being heard about their heroic acts and gathered them together to work for him. He gave them supplies and resources so they could go around the land helping people to show that monsters were people too, and humanoids should stop being so judgemental and biggoty.
While all of the characters were exceptional, here are three that really captured the spirit of the game:
He Who Consumes the Souls of All Who Trespass Against His Brethren (usually just called Soul Brother), was an illithid who traveled to the future and saw that mind flayers were not a dominant race (something they predicted would happen by that time). He decided to research and study what good meant and found that is was a large part of the major societies of the future. He wrote literature most consider propaganda, such as “The Necessity of Good”, and was cast out of mind flayer society.
Bruce Solo was an incubus who was tired of seducing ladies and wanted to settle down. He escaped from space hell (it’s a long story), stole a bunch of Satan’s money (part of the long story), and stole one of Satan’s spaceships. Now he donates all his money to charity and enjoys stealing spaceships and other things from demons he encounters.
Richard Magnum, was the ghost of an honest cop who was gunned down by a crooked cop. Upon undeath, he dedicated himself to ending corruption anyway he could. But being an incorporeal shadow, he had some serious limitations.
The point of this game style was to shake up the usual “we’re lovely/handsome, noble heroes, everyone loves us for saving them, and every seemingly horrific act we do is justified because we’re the good guys” method many people are familiar with when playing D&D and other RPGs.
Instead, they had to be cautious with most things they did, knowing many people were judging them simply because they were thought to be chaotic or lawful evil monsters. The players had to figure out how their characters would use abilities like Charm Person, which is complete mind control, and not prove themselves to be the monsters so many people thought they were. They had to balance doing things like eating brains (mind flayers have to eat brains to survive) and possessing people (a ghost ability) with the social rules and expectations of the humanoid groups they were trying to help. If they did anything too horrific, even in the name of good, a situation could shift and the people they were trying to help could turn on them, fearing the player’s monstrous powers.
This way to play isn’t for everyone, but we absolutely loved it. Taking players and yourself out of the normal hero mindset and being monsters not only changes up the mechanics of the game and what constitutes a challenge (for example, all of my players could fly or levitate at will and had dark vision), and adds some unique roleplaying opportunities and social dynamics.
If playing as monsters is not your style, here are a few other ideas to mix up your D&D, Pathfinder, or other D20 games:
- No core classes (barbarian, rogue, wizard, etc.) Everyone has to find classes in other books. This helps mix up the powers players have and can help get people to think creatively and get into more interesting prestige classes. You can also ban core rulebook prestige classes if you want people to get more creative with those.
- Max Level 6. Start at level one, but once players reach level six, they gain no more levels. When players would get a level, they get a feat instead. This allows players to advance but not become overly powerful. This keeps long games from getting absurd when players get god-like powers, and it keeps everyone grounded. If you really want to have some fun with, I recommend rolling a character with six levels in six different classes.
- Have two separate parties. This works really well if you have rotating GMs as well. The two parties can be on opposite sides of the world or in close proximity while actively affect each other in minor or major ways.
- Permanent death. You cannot use resurrection spells or wishes to bring back the dead. This is a standard rule in all of my games. I only allow necromancy as a way to bring people back from the dead. However, undeath has a host of potential problems, and very few spells can return an active mind to an undead corpse.
- Start with an interactive backstory session. It can really help get everyone one the same page and create and more cohesive group and provide a deeper role playing experience.
I’ll eventually write a Steal My Idea about some of the ways I had to combat my crazy powerful players, but not today. My players made my life difficult with their flight, mind control abilities, and powers I’ve never had to deal with from normal races or classes, but it was well worth the trouble. Their creativity fed my own and made me a better GM.