The Gassy Gnoll: Animals in RPGs (RPG Blog Carnival) – Part 4, Heroes and Monsters

Here we are at the fourth and final installment of my ruminations on Animals in RPGs for this month’s RPG Blog Carnival. We’ve covered familiars, omens, and hunting, so let’s cover the last area – heroes and monsters.

This article comes down to two simple questions… Why can’t heroes be animals? Why can’t monsters be people?

Far too often we get locked into what I’ll call the “humanoid box” while gaming – or at least I do. Sure, it’s easier to play a human, elf, or any of a million human-ish player races, but why stay inside that box?

For years, animated films and kids’ literature have explored the idea of animal adventurers… Books (and films) like The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford, Watership Down by Richard Adams, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo… Not to mention animated classics like The Rescuers, Balto, The Great Mouse Detective, The Lion King, and many many more. (One of the benefits of being a parent is that I get to experience these books and films again through the eyes of my kids…)

But roleplaying games aren’t immune to the call of the wild either… Games like After The Bomb and Teenage Mutant Ninja Ninjas & Other Strangers from Palladium Books and Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game (which won the 2009 Best Role Playing Game at the Origins Award) based on the Mouse Guard series from David Petersenare the two obvious ones in this list, though I’m sure there are others I don’t know about.

Much of this style of roleplaying may be labeled “kid stuff” for good reasons, but most of us start out gaming as kids don’t we? I’m actually surprised there aren’t more RPGs in this vein of roleplaying as animal characters. I’m sure my daughters would enjoy something in the Stuart Little, Despereaux, or Rescuers-vein, and would be curious if anyone could suggest a good rules system that could be adapted in this manner. The hidden world of animals might be fun to explore even as an adult gamer!

And what about the concept of roleplaying a monster? I seem to recall having this happen in some college D&D campaigns a few times – with one friend playing a Thri-Kreen cleric (Team Si Redrum was his name) or another friend playing an Umber Hulk version of his barbarian Glorg concept (might have been Glorg mark II or III). But I’m not sure why it doesn’t happen more often.

Sure, it’s certainly easier to play a humanoid character. Hands instead of claws can make all the difference sometimes. But if you’re looking for a challenge, sometimes it’s good to stretch into unfamiliar territory. Not every monster should be a playable class, but if your GM is up for it – why not give it a shot?

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

A big thank you goes out to David Brawley at Tower of the Archmage for kicking off the “Animals in RPGs” RPG Blog Carnival this month. For a topic that originally had me stumped, it led to some interesting pondering. And hopefully it was interesting to more than just me!

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