The Uses of Monsters

The Capture of Cerberus (image from Wikimedia)

In the Vaults of Pahvelorn game, no XP is awarded for defeating monsters. From a game design point of view, this is probably the only house rule with a potential for major unintended consequences, so I am approaching it enthusiastically but with caution. The main intention is to break the primary association between killing monsters and advancing in the game.

Sometimes you do just want to kill creatures and take their stuff, but that is not the only profitable way to interact with strangers. Here are some other possibilities.

  • Minions. Many intelligent foes would be just as happy working for you as against you, if you make it worth their while. Payment is a good start, but subdual and enslavement can also work sometimes, and fighting against a someone’s enemies is always a decent way to get on their good side. The magical option is traditionally charm person or charm monster.
  • Mounts. Some rideable creatures are intelligent and can be bargained with. See the entry on retainers above. If not, feeding creatures is a good opening gambit (though you need to discover what they eat first, if you don’t want to offend them). Unintelligent creatures will require some training time, and paying an animal trainer (or beast master, if you can find one) can help speed up that process. The magical method is charm monster.
  • Taxidermy. Preserved monsters are a sign of wealth, power, and erudition. It is considered especially chic to replace eyes with precious gem stones. Specimens of The Beautiful People are particularly prized by collectors.
  • Resources. While you won’t generally encounter NPCs that send you on quests for 10 hell hound ears (or whatever), many creatures do provide components of value. For example, fire beetles contain an unstable compound useful in creating high quality oil and other combustibles. Poison, if safely extracted and stabilized, is also always valuable in the black market (if you don’t want to use it yourself). Sometimes, a poison sample is required to formulate an effective antitoxin. If in doubt, haul a carcass back to a sage and get it examined.
  • Gladiators. Pitting slaves or monsters against each other is good sport in some lands, though it is not permitted (publicly) in Zorfath.
  • Menageries. Travelling circuses and menageries will often pay good coin for captured or subdued beasts. Sometimes, they just transport them to distant customers (zoos, arenas, sorcerers) while other times they are trained as circus creatures. Enslaving and selling creatures will not endear you to their relatives, however.
  • Dissection. Useful for a bonus on spell research, and perhaps for things like the creation of chimeras. I have an earlier post about this too.
Anything that is potentially dangerous can also be used creatively. This includes hazards, traps, and monsters.

Any other ideas for how to make use of monsters?

8 thoughts on “The Uses of Monsters

  1. Random Wizard

    I tend to run a game with lots of humans encounters; bandits, merchants, soldiers, toll collectors. I like to setup experience awards the way Star Frontiers handled it by rewarding good strategies and getting things accomplished.

  2. Jay Dugger

    Monsters as Patrons (Arioch to Elric)

    Monsters as Teachers (nagas or demons as sages or instructors or historians or sages)

    Monsters as Tools (elementals or golems as construction workers or power plants or machine tools, genies too, slimes as garbage disposals)

  3. Gibbering Mouther

    I really enjoy the various ideas for monster use – but I am curious as to why this would be encouraged by a no XP for defeat rule. Personally I am inclined to grant additional XP to characters who find a neat way around monsters, or defeat them without head on lethal conflict (especially lately with the PC’s fighting human and demi-human cultists and criminals), but it strikes me that a ‘monster’ as pure obstacle encourages only avoidance and exploration – not that that’s a bad thing.

    1. Brendan

      The intent was not really to suggest that no XP would encourage these behaviors. Rather, this list is an answer to the hypothetical question: if I don’t get any XP from defeating monsters, why might I want to do anything other than avoid them?

      I’m very curious to see if players do avoid monsters more, and in what conditions they think fighting is a good option absent the reward of experience. And I do hope to focus more on exploration than slaying.

  4. RedHobbit

    This is a highly intriguing idea, I know my the way my players approached the game changed radically when XP was awarded for ‘defeating’ opponents instead of ‘killing’ them.

    I would definitely be up for trying this out, and if my players ask what’s the point of killing monsters then you’ve given an excellent list of reasons why.


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