Friday, June 7, 2013

The Range and Breadth of Monster Databases

Homer2101 left a comment on the last post that included this small observation:  "Maybe the various things the party might encounter, like monsters, could have stats like weather and season sensitivity stored in a table or database ..."

Aye, there's the rub.  No such database exists.  Monsters are not listed according to their activity season by season, nor by the temperature at which they are active, nor even by the vegetation in which they inhabit.  By and large, biologically, the information on monsters suck.  Even where it comes to ordinary biology, what you can find in the books or online isn't that helpful towards determining a mammal's range or commonality ... because biologists don't record stats on the likelihood of creatures occurring randomly.

More's the pity.

Maps like this are helpful, but they're inconsistent, there's no hard data to back up the supposed range, there's little if any information on why the savanna in North Mozambique isn't included in the jackal's range or even if this is a range that's been severely curtailed in the last hundred years.  Did Malawi systematically denude the country of this particular species of jackal?  What about other species?  Or is it possible there's no data for, say, Sudan, because the U.N. agency compiling the numbers did not get permission to camp there and count jackals?

At any rate, I don't have even this much of a map for many real animals, and I still wouldn't have it for owlbears or chimera.  One way or another, we just have to make that shit up.

It's a lot of work, yes; but it could have some real applications where it comes to party planning and world 'fluff.'  Consider the table on the right, which I use in place of giving the temperature in degrees - there are no thermometers, and no temperature scale, in a medieval world ... hard to imagine, huh?  In fact, its very difficult to explain temperature or climate to players without a number scale, that's how culturally dependent we are.

The fahrenheit scale is divided into 10 degree segments ... and as it was pointed out by some of the players online, depending on where you live in the world, the description of 'pleasant' for a temperature in the 60s is debateable.  If you're in Arizona, 61 F is legitimately cold.  It's a warm day, however, if you're in Yellowknife.  Still, I had to have some description for each level, so I selfishly based it on the continental weather in the highlands of Alberta.  So it goes.

If I'm going to build a monster database limiting what monsters appear in what climates, why base it on gross generalizations like "polar" or "subtropical"?  Why not base it on the table above, so that if the party happens to be high in the mountains of Nepal, 20,000 feet above sea level, the local monsters might have something in common with those of the northern Steppes several thousand miles north in Siberia?  More to the point, if the table above is used, and a range of temperatures is comfortable for a given species, the temperature itself might lend itself to a guess as to what kind of monsters a party might encounter.

For example, if a given monster - lets say a black pudding - is comfortable when the temperature is brisk and cool, perhaps it is largely inactive when things grow chilly, and either dormant or not at all present in environments frosty or colder.  Perhaps they are positively aggressive when the temperature rises to pleasant or warm ... perhaps they simply can't exist where the temperature is even higher than that.

What happens when every monster has a given range, not just defining their presence, but their actual character?  If a ranger takes it upon his or her self to learn and memorize the charts, at least where it comes to specific monsters, is it worth it for them to say, "We haven't got any worries about such-and-such today ... but if we see any of these, back off.  This weather makes them crazy."

It's a nice, romantic idea.

Seriously, if you're going to build a random table based on a data base of your own creation ... and if that table is produced by a program, then why not go all out?  Why not specify not just where on the chart the monster appears, but the actual violence factor of that monster?  After all, you're making it all up from scratch anyway.

Or rather, I'm making them from scratch ... since I don't believe anyone else in the world has any interest whatsoever in creating tables like this.  It's only going to take me ages, and its only sort of boring ... a lot more interesting when the time comes that I can generate monsters, but for the time being it seems a deadly grind.


I am starting to do it anyway.  Because that is my nature.  In time, I hope, I'll have something to show for it.

If I don't die of old age first.


Arduin said...

I like this. Proving your point, I'd try it myself if I just knew how to make a proper database: but learning how sounds tres difficile.

Looking forward to what comes of it, and wishing you the best in your endeavors.

Aaron Aldridge said...

Yes! I would use this.

Edward said...

I would totally use this, as well. In fact, I have started an abandoned something like this on three different occasions. I think it is a grand idea.

Quincy Jones said...

Not sure if you can use it, but this link goes to a page with free downloads for a comprehensive monster spreadsheet. You can sort it by various criterion, including D&D version.

Daniel Bergmann said...

Add to your "How to GM guidebook".

Would sell like water..

Daniel Bergmann said...

A nice feature to add to your How to Gm guidebook.

And another vary interesting reason to buy it.

Scarbrow said...

I was trying to devise a system to tackle this, but my comment got too unwieldy and it still wasn't near completion.

I think you could save some work by linking the monster system with your hex system, as this:

You've got your entire world mapped (ot at least keyed) in 20-mile hexes. You have ways to refer each of those hexes as coordinates. You also have the elevation data. Surely you can assign the climates to those hexes, if you haven't already. And changes in elevation should affect climate in similar ways to how they affect travel (colder as you go up, etc.I know you've also plotted your rivers and lakes, along with some reasonable weather predictions, so you know the humidity of a given region. And if not, vegetation is a clear indicator. So for the sake of the argument, let's assume you already have climate data for each hex.

Then you need to assign just two qualities to your monsters:
1) Roaming hunter (e.g. tiger)/territorial hunter (e.g. crocodile)/prey (e.g. deer).
2) Gregarious (wolf/deer/elephant)/solitary (tiger)
This translates into the kind of area each monster needs. Solitary roaming hunters need the most area per individual, while gregarious prey need the least. You can also take into account the mass of the animal (that you already have, per your HP/mass rules) to consider the amount of biomass of that kind of animal/monster that climate/terrain is able to support. Then again, a certain region is only able to support a certain biomass. The "wilderness factor" you already have can tell you how much of that cake is claimed by humans. The rest must be assigned to wild creatures. The same terrain can support more prey than hunters, as you know. There are already good numbers out there for such relationships (e.g. lions vs gazelles).

Now the central part of my idea: Once you have this data on monsters (a grind, but a lighter one), and on hexes (most of what, if not all, you already have), you can go on and assign the animal/monster population on a random basis. The basis for that randomness, however, eludes me, so I'm unsure of the utility of this whole comment. Yet I hope it serves as a basis for some.

I'll add another comment about aggression types.

Scarbrow said...

About aggression pattern:

I would limit myself to three cases: hunter (goes for you), prey (fights only if cornered), and territorial (attacks within a specified zone, ignores you if you're away from that). With the option of having a special place (nest/lair) or time (in rut, or offspring in the lair) when it becomes territorial no matter what. As aggression depends for most of what they think of you (animals fearing humans unless never encountered them, etc), I would limit it to another three cases: Suicidal (attacks no matter what), aggressive (attacks if hungry/sure of winning), passive (attacks only as defense/retaliation). The passive/aggressive decision could be made on the basis of the "wilderness score" of the hex (have they encountered humans? And if so, how many?), that I understand you've already calculated.

I don't think that the probability of the monster finding you should be on the monster's stat block. It lives here. It claims such-and-such amount of territory (based on hunter/prey). You're passing through that territory at a certain time of the year (are you passing though Stag Country on September??. Oh my...). You can derive a probability from the expected mobility of the monster (in square miles per day) vs time passed on that territory. That would take care of the time factor automatically.

You should also consider day/night patterns of hunting, and that could be reversed with seasons (hunt by night on summers, by day on winters, to save body heat).

I concur with you, this is going to be a grind. It's no wonder it still hasn't been done.