Saturday, March 12, 2011

Humanoid Poll: Gygaxian Naturalism?

After the last post (The Orcs of Gothic Greyhawk) it seemed like a good time for a new poll.  Regarding humanoids, do you use the Gygaxian Naturalism approach (as presented in the 1E Monster Manual) in your game, or do you take a whimsical approach to humanoids?

I've taken a whimsical approach - first, because I want the most important conflicts in the game to have a moral quality grounded in the "real world" that I think you can only achieve when the conflict is people vs people.

I do like the whimsy factor; Orcs are made in cauldrons by witches, and the various Goblinoids all grow on vines from pumpkins and squashes in the Fairy Otherworld, hatched by the Goblin King.

Plus, when DMing for 8 year olds - I don't want the neighbor's kids having to torch the humanoid nursery.

However, I tend to think this will be a minority approach and the idea of Gygaxian Naturalism is well ingrained; the 1E Monster Manual presents a comprehensive simulation of a fantasy setting in it's myriad details, and AD&D is still the gorilla in the room.


  1. I tend to mix the two but err mostly on the side of the fantastic. Orcs are men turned into-pig men (psuedo-Circe style) and Mites spawn from the stones of old buildings.

    Hell, one of my PC races might spring fully formed form over-large mushrooms (Gnomes).

  2. You know I love that Dark Country, Evan - lots of ideas there that can be pulled into Gothic Greyhawk.

    I was planning on having Gnolls be similar to your Orcs - the old demon crone of the great steppes, the Baba Yaga, transforms her marauders into the Hyena-men that sometimes invade across the Barrier Peaks. (Baba Yaga would be a great villain from the west of the Dark Country, too).

  3. I make my games as naturalistic as possible EXCEPT when it comes to my humanoids, which are all just fully grown males. Rather than explain it my players and I all sort of agree to gloss over the subject. In the back of my mind I guess I imagine all humanoids encountered are some kind of war band (or part of an army if they are numerous) that has ventured far from wherever the women and children are. Though I could also go for the Mandragora solution.

  4. I tend to do both: more "normal" monsters (orcs, for example) would be treated in a naturalist manner -- tribes, &c. Humanoids that strike me as more unusual, horrific, or "mythic" --Meenlocks, for example-- would get the more fantastic background such as you describe for goblins. (I like that "Garden of the Goblin King," btw.) I will confess to being anything but consistent in my approach. :)

    BTW, I found this blog via a mention in a comment at Grognardia. Loved the discussion of Illusionism and meaningful player choice. It mirrored a lot of my own sentiments.

  5. I do both but leaning more toward the Gygaxian side.

  6. I voted "fantastic" as I like that notion quite a lot, but in practice I use both (which wasn't an option). Orcs, goblins, etc. breed, but their origin is "fantastic." They were brewed or spawned a long time ago, but are now a race unto themselves that can propagate. Since the breed quickly, there is no need any longer to spawn them, but its still possible and does occur.

  7. This post has sparked a few interesting thoughts in my mind, as well as an interesting discussion with Hani (my beloved spouse), about whether or not are goblins a natural race, or nasty spirits/faeries/godlings.

    And, as a result, I've decided that the goblins (and bugbears and kobolds) of my Wounded Gaia setting would be malevolent spirits/faeries/godlings with very minor (cantrip-level) magical abilities and being vulnerable to various Protection from Spirits spells, scrolls and items.

    Snow Orcs, on the other hand, would be actual humans or humanoids inter-bred with spirits (ice spirits, most likely), the same as my Dwarves are essentially Neanderthals inter-bred with earth spirits.

  8. Nice idea. I have always gone with the more naturalistic approach, simply because I like the intelligent humanoid races to be just as complex as humans etc; but the idea of goblins being grown like apples, orcs bubbling up out of cauldrons... you apply those ideas to some many monsters. Trolls shaped from stone and brought to life by witchcraft; bullywugs are mutated frogs, and so on.

  9. I can see the value of both approaches, though I tend to favor naturalism.

    What I've come to favor in the world of the City is a naturalistic approach to something which is inherently unnatural.

    That is to say, a creatures reproduction/ habits/ habitat may make no biological (or even just plan logical) sense, but they can still be cataloged and described in a naturalistic fashion.

  10. "Dependent on type", please? My Raviien* were grown, but now breed in huge colonies.

    *Raviien a birdman of sorts.

  11. I voted for "naturalistic" though in practice I'm using a variety of approaches depending on the kritter in question.

    I've decided that my goblins breed naturally (and very quickly) but have no noncombatants. All goblins - males, females, kits - are vicious little buggers. Finding a goblin "nursery" or common room should be a terrifying experience the first time it happens, (evil laugh).

    Right now I'm trying to decide if I need to treat hobgoblins and/or bugbears differently.