Quite likely, many of you already have seen the “10-Monster Setting” challenge that has been making the rounds in the OSR blogosphere. This is nice timing for me, as I was thinking about writing a post on some aspects of setting design anyway; this offers a nice opportunity to take the setting challenge, then talk about how one might develop it further, hopefully in a subsequent post.
For now, at any rate, here is my own quirky 10-monster contribution. I haven't made myself use a single monster book, instead drawing from all over or even making up my own content. I quite like the emphasis in this challenge on slimming down, on choosing only specific signature foes (or allies) to flavor a setting - if anything, I tend to like really slimming down on my non-human ingredients, so the list below concentrates my 10 into a few discrete factions. Instead of grouping the critters in the order listed in the challenge itself, I’ve grouped them as they make sense for this setting.
The hypothetical setting is a rainswept, steep-peaked island archipelago locked in a war that was already ancient when the first human ships arrived.
Faction One: the Fish-Fiends.
Kuo-Toa fishmen [aquatic] crawled up out of the sea uncounted centuries ago, and have contested control of the Archipelago’s rocky coastlines ever since. To spearhead their assaults onto dry land, seven fishman sorcerers long ago committed themselves to a gruesome transformation, becoming [undead] fishman mummy-liches. Even now, they and their undead fish-minions rule entire coastlines from their strongholds.
Faction Two: The High Country Humanoids.
When the Fish-Fiends seized the coastlands, the older islanders retreated to the high country below the peaks. The Grandmother of the Woods - Baba Yaga - wanders foggy highlands in her eerie hut [mythological/legendary critter] and is rarely seen. More commonly seen are her weird servants; the goblins [humanoids] that she called from the islands’ rocks themselves ride on the backs of ogre howdahs [giantkin], showering missiles on foes. Leading their attacks are the surreal, nightmarish jabberwocks [dragon or lizard], dragon-like creatures said to have sprung from Baba Yaga’s stewpot to do her bidding.
Faction Three: Humans have reached the Rainy Isles en masse twice, first during the Kolobat settlement, then more recently with the arrival of the Western League’s militant refugee fleet. When the League first arrived and began to explore ruined Kolobat settlements, they found several dozen sentient flying carpets [aerial creatures, constructs] of unknown manufacture living in ruined Kolobat towers. Although the carpets have eccentric and whimsical personalities, they have so far cooperated with the League newcomers and are assisting them in their efforts to make the Isles safe for human habitation again. These carpets have become an important military asset for several League lords.
There are other threats, too, below ground. Lurking in caves and sewers close enough to prey on human settlements are pain- and fear-loving roach hags* [underground creepy-crawly], giant cockroaches with beautiful feminine faces that frame jagged rings of fangs. Men say the roach hag’s bite causes a terrible infection, not of the flesh but of the psyche. Below such beasts which prey upon man are the unlit haunts of Darkling elves [Fey race] who fled from the sun’s light an eon ago. Finally, where the deepest cave-shafts connect to forgotten veins of fire, salamanders [extraplanars] tend their unearthly flame-gardens in the ruins of ancient cities built by no-one-knows-who.
The Rainy Isles are dangerous, but they’re home.
*On the “Roach Hags” - there’s nothing new about a hideous insectile monster with a human face, but these lovelies just popped into my head a few days ago, and I cobbled together some ideas for creating this awful monster and its ecology. Ewww.