The Gassy Gnoll: Animals in RPGs (RPG Blog Carnival), Part 3 – Who hunts the hunters?

In part 1 of this series I initially was unsure how I’d approach this month’s “Animals in RPGs” blog carnival (hosted by Tower of the Archmage). But after a bit of brainstorming I ended up with four separate ideas for posts. So here’s the third part on hunting in RPGs.

Whether you’re playing a classic fantasy campaign, urban fantasy, or fighting aliens on far off worlds, hunting is going to be involved. It may or may not be the PCs who are doing the hunting however.


Image by FlyinPhotography via Flickr

In a low-tech, low-magic campaign, hunting can be more than just a way of life – it can mean the difference between surviving and perishing. That said, meat and skins are one thing, but what happens when the hunters become the hunted? You may not be the only one eyeballing that beautiful deer across the clearing from you. Even in Jim Butcher‘s The Dresden Files, there always seem to be creatures and beasts hunting to survive. Even a werewolf or vampire’s gotta eat you know.

But let’s stick to animals for the moment. If you remember FOX’s old When Animals Attack series, you already know that potentially any encounter in the wild can become dangerous. Consider each of those wilderness random encounter tables a chance for a new episode of the series.

When you think about animals that might attack you in the wild, you probably come up with a fairly simple list of big names – bears, wolves, and big cats. But they’re not alone – ‘gators and crocs, snakes, sharks, and bugs are just as likely to get your attention depending on where you live. As a GM, you have to consider the reasons behind each attack. What’s motivating these creatures who would usually avoid human settlements (as too noisy and dangerous) to attack people? I’d encourage you to dive behind the scenes and engineer some background to some attacks while leaving other random events to offer inspiration on the fly.

For example, perhaps it’s not just mankind encroaching on a hunting animal’s territory. Maybe something worse than us is moving into their space and driving them out. An increase in animal attacks might mean that a monster has made a new lair nearby, that a group of bandits has displaced a critter from its home as their new hideout, or that perhaps an invading army is on the move. Perhaps it’s worse than that and an ancient evil has resurfaced to plague anything in the area… Use animal attacks thoughtfully to hint at larger things going afoul and you may lead yourself to other adventures for your party.

Here’s a list of a few animals who have been known to attack humans:

Illustration of the final chase of Moby-Dick.

Image via Wikipedia

  • Grizzly/Brown/Black/Polar Bears
  • Cougars/Mountain Lions, Lions, Tigers, Leapoards
  • Wolves, Coyotes, Dingo, other wild dogs
  • Wild hogs/boars
  • Moose, Buffalo
  • Sharks
  • Alligators/Crocodiles
  • Hippopotamus, Elephants
  • Coral Snakes, Rattlesnakes, Cobras, etc.
  • Bees, wasps, scorpions, ants, mosquitos, etc.
  • Gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutan, etc.

As a last thing to think about… Don’t forget about obsession. Anybody remember Ahab & Moby Dick? Imagine if a character (PC or NPC) focused on a single animal or monster and wanted to kill them all. What would such single-mindedness do to a local ecology? Would other animals in the area suffer as the balance shifted?

The same sorts of things apply to alien ecologies or when trapped animals escape into areas they aren’t familiar with. What would happen if animals or creatures in a fantasy or alien zoo were suddenly released into a populated area or even an unpopulated one with its own ecological balance? Consider the damage a single animal might do vs. an entire group of animals of various types.

So though animals are often ignored by GMs (except for the occasional random table roll) I think there’s a lot more to consider for adventure and campaign design.

Next week… Heroes & Monsters!

And if you missed any of the previous articles in this series, check out:

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