This monstrosity itself is too large to fight in any traditional sense. Like you can’t just pick up your spells and your swords and go down to the bottom of the sea and start stabbing this thing.
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Lucas: Hello and welcome to Making a Monster, the weekly podcast where game designers show us their favorite monster and we discover how it works, why it works, and what it means. I’m Lucas Zellers. My guest is an artist and adventure designer with a style utterly unique in tabletop roleplaying games.
Can you tell me how you would like to be introduced?
Niels – RPG Toons: With appropriate levels of pomp? No, I don’t, I don’t know. Um, RPG, toons, I guess, Neils RPGtoons. I don’t really have any other names.
I studied game art and game design for video games at uni. And then during that time I also got back into role-playing games. And this was also when I was studying game art and I was sort of practicing that standard fantasy painting style. And then. At some point, someone compared the night elf that I was playing to Dede from “Dexter’s Laboratory.”
Lucas: Oh, no!
Niels – RPG Toons: So I was like, that’s really, it’s funny. I, I want to draw that. So I took a, I sort of took that style and, and drew my character as Dede from Dexter’s Lab. And I was like, wow, this is really fun, let’s see what else I can do with this. And then I started drawing more and more fantasy cartoons, and kind of completely abandoned the painting really because the cartoons just seemed so much more expressive and interesting. So how it started was doing character commissions. People started to ask me if I could draw their character in my style. And I called so many requests for that. I thought. I should start up a identity for it, so RPG toons was born. And then if there’s, if I could say two things that I want to accomplish it’s to sort of capture the spirit of modern morning cartoons, like say She-Ra or Avatar and translate that spirit into D&D campaigns.
Cause I think that D&D can be a lot more festive and emotional than Wizards of the Coast wants you to believe with their presentation.
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Lucas: Sometimes what makes a creature unsettling, frightening, or monstrous is just that it’s too big – giants, dire wolves, and King Kong come to mind. I covered a monster in my first season called the Warforged Colossus that’s the size of a 10-story building, but Niels’ choice for the podcast has upped the ante for future guests by bringing a monster the size of an entire coastline.
Niels – RPG Toons: It’s a monster called the Monstrosity which is a gigantic tentacle. Most of it lives under the sea. I mean, nothing new or special about that. But I find it interesting because this Monstrosity itself is too large to fight in any traditional sense. Like, you can’t just pick up your spells and your swords and go down to the bottom of the sea and start stabbing this thing.
You have to come up with more interesting means of dealing with it. And the whole point of the campaign that we’re building around it, called the Stars of the Sea, is about the players discovering that this monster’s there, why it’s there, and eventually how to stop it. So the threat comes not from the Monstrosity itself but from what it does to the environment. It’s been releasing little twinkling spores into the sea that infest creatures with these sort of starry mutations who then end up doing the bidding of this Monstrosity which wants to do one thing and one thing alone and that is to consume all magic. It wants to eat magic, get bigger and bigger until it has eaten everything. So it creates all of these little monsters to try and accomplish this.
Lucas: It’s a many-tentacled monster who lives under the sea. And, while that is certainly a familiar trope I’d love to hear how you how you encountered that archetype and, what you feel like you’ve added to it or taken away.
Niels – RPG Toons: Now that’s an interesting question because I, I really like taking very familiar tropes and then trying to get the most out of them what I can and in the first campaign that we did that is not this one, is about like the trope is “town on a giant turtle,” right?
We’ve seen that a hundred times before. I was like, I want to do that, but really get into everything. You know, where did this turtle come from? Why is the town on there? The campaign starts with the turtle sleeping underground. What happens when that wakes up? What happens to the town?
What happens to the people? How can you as an adventurer make a difference in this? What is essentially a disaster presented as a fun, fun adventure. And I think the same counts for this Monstrosity. I wanted to take. The idea of a sort of an unknowable “C’thulian” horror and try to put our own spin on that.
And I think that’s a very exciting way of working. I think that it works particularly well for role-playing games because you can really work with what people already know and because of that, take a lot of shortcuts in people’s brains. Cause when you say big tentacle monster, only the ocean, everything one already knows what that means.
So you don’t need to spend that much time explaining that. And you can instead explain the minutia and the mechanics of it because everyone already knows what the big ideas. So you don’t have to explain that again which I think is very convenient for these types of things. Cause I think it helps dungeon masters who need to take this story and run with it run it better.
Lucas: Yeah, it’s part of a shared cultural experience that is it’s really interesting to me that the D & D is becoming the medium of oral storytelling where we get to access the collective consciousness and pull on those images that people have. So when you talk about the mechanics and the minutiae let’s One of the reasons that I love doing this with game designers is that they’re not just working with the storytelling and the literary aspect.
They have to turn it into something mechanical and technical that we can use. So the monstrosity specifically how is that, how did you bring that into fifth edition, D and D from a mechanical perspective?
Niels – RPG Toons: Right. So, to begin with. I knew that I didn’t want this to be a monster that you can fight because I think that’s a really boring climax to, to a campaign where you just fight the big dragon or something. I always want something more interesting to happen there, but of course you do need stuff in the world to interact with.
So the goal was to design a few monsters that tell the story of how this Monstrosity interacts with the world without people having to actually fight the big monster. Right? They’ll have to come up with something more interesting for that. And I, I don’t want to get into that here for any listeners that might be following our production.
Don’t know how to, how it ends yet. But so how this Monstrosity will then manipulate the world is by releasing a tiny little spores in the ocean and they infest other creatures and form other creatures. And those are then the creatures that we can interact with. ,
Lucas: For some of my guests, it’s very helpful to talk about, well, this is a large aberration, neutral, evil and it’s a very easy way to do it. I’m not getting the sense that that’s the heart and soul of this.
Niels – RPG Toons: yeah, no, we don’t even publish alignments or challenge ratings or anything like that with our creatures because. I guess it’s just not important to us. what those things are,
Lucas: Huh. Okay. That’s interesting. So if you don’t publish those things, what do you publish?
Niels – RPG Toons: Stories of how they, how they live in the world. So instead of saying that this Melissa, if I had to put an alignment to it, I mean, neutral, neutral, right? Just the ultimate neutral. It doesn’t have a motivation, all it wants is to consume. There is no morality to it. Eh, now it’s become a very complicated question. I see. I look, I can tell you one of the more interesting design challenges that we had to tackle in order to design these things, because there’s this concept that it wants to consume magic. So we have a lot of mechanics that revolve around that and we wanted this creature to be able to directly interact with the players on that sort of story level.
But you run into a problem there where you can’t just make all of these courageous resistant or immune to magic, because that sucks, right? If you have a wizard in your party, they’re not going to have a fun time. So with every one of these expressions of the most diversity we had to come up with a different, unique way of how it is empowered by spells But that’s still – if you fight a group of them spell casters still have opportunities to act and aren’t just seeing immune in their screen to make a video game reference.
So we have one, for example, that is just a bunch of tentacles. And whenever you hit it with a spell, it spawns another tentacle and it like, it gets increasingly strong. The more spells you throw at it, but it still takes damage and it will still go down. It just increased in strength. And then there’s another one that gets a temporary shield when you hit him with the spell.
So there becomes more of a strategy of, “Do I unload as much as I can in one round so it can only shield as much as one round’s worth, or do we go more with a de-buff strategy and we leave the damage up to the rogues and the fighters and things like that?” And I think there, there will be a few more creatures to come to that play into this whole “eating magic” stuff.
Lucas: What is the environment in which you would like to see this run, how does the environment interact with this?
Niels – RPG Toons: This all takes place in a coastal city that is called the Resplendent City of Silver Spires. And the idea is that the city is incredibly high-magic and in particular, in the field of magic items, like they produce a lot of them and they live relatively modern lives and powered by all this magic stuff which is, of course, a great target for this monstrosity.
It wants to eat all this magic. It’s delicious. So players will be fighting a lot of these little monsters in different places around the city where they can see them interact with the magic and various ways. Like for example, the first time that they’ll be encountering these creatures, if they follow the campaign as intended, which of course they don’t have to this is when a couple of holidaymakers on the beach is like one is proposing to the other.
And then they set off some illusory fireworks to celebrate their romantic moment. And then a bunch of tentacle monsters rush out from there, from the ocean to come grab him. And the idea said, then, of course, the heroes jump in to save them. And that sort of kicks off the whole story.
And there are various other moments where we expect. The players to encounter the monsters interacting with magic and various ways where they are stuck on a magic engine and you have to scrub them off or defeat them in a different way. And there are places where they are particularly attracted to bards and then you have to Yeah, figure out which bars are infested by the monstrosity in which ones aren’t.
And who can you save and who do you have to well kill, I guess, or a cure, if you can find a way to cure them.
Lucas: Do you think the Monstrosity or, the Stars of the Sea is meant to be true to life in any way, or to tell us something about the world we live in?
Niels – RPG Toons: To really fully answer that question, I have to dig a little deeper into the origins of the monster because this threat did not come from outer space or a different plane. It wasn’t summoned by some great evil thinker. It is the accidental result of years and years of accumulated magic trash that eventually gained some form of sentience.
I think that one of the possible sort of endings for this campaign is that the Monstrosity is defeated, not by a fight, but by structural reform and giving up magic items. Essentially stop feeding the beast and it will stop growing. And the idea is that this whole story really reflects the way that our world deals with issues like climate change and pollution.
Hopefully when it all comes together the players will feel like that’s what they’ve experienced. And our hope is that we will empower them with a way to actually solve it, which is unfortunately not so easy in our real world.
I mean, these are issues that my wife and I are generally concerned with and I think everyone should be And when we were talking about what campaign to tackle next we started talking about what sort of deeper stories we could tell with each of the campaign ideas that we had.
And then with this one, which started with a very simple idea again, right? “Big monster under the sea,” that was the basic premise is big “C’thulian” monster under the sea. And we were like, okay. So how do we make that meaningful, right? How do we put meaning in that? And then we sort of slowly came up with that.
And then everything started falling into place because we have this big city, there’ll be lots of factions there and they are paralyzed by bureaucracy to do anything about this because they are too comfortable and they are, they have very nice lives that they don’t want to change. And I think that a lot of people Have that problem in real life too.
I mean, including me, right? I’m not a Paragon. I’m not excluded from this whole issue. I also would like to keep all my cool gadgets and I too want to fly to my parents twice a year. You know what I mean? Fewer. So, so yeah, we, we were motivated to try and tell that story in a way and I’m not sure if there even is a moral message, we just want it to reflect what we see as the worlds truths in a DD story.
Lucas: Yeah. It’s less about getting people an answer and more about giving them a way to state the problem or a way to to, to really understand it.
Niels – RPG Toons: Yeah. And I think also very importantly a way a route to catharsis, right? A way to act where in their real lives they might not be able to because I think that a lot of people struggle with this sort of feeling of powerlessness. I know I do. And I think that. Allowing a story like this to play out through a D D campaign, you can actually conclude that feeling because in the D and D campaign, you can win and you can make change and you can change the world.
But in real life, that’s not that easy, but you know, invest a few game sessions in a campaign like this, and maybe you can so. I think there’ll be a nice feeling. I notice I’m really enjoying playing the campaign, so I’m of course, very biased because we rewrote it. All right. So, yeah.
Lucas: well, Hey I’m a firm believer that if if you don’t like the thing that you make, nobody else will.
Niels – RPG Toons: Yeah. I think that’s part of why we ended up in this particular business as well, because I’ve worked for. Companies in the past. And the beautiful thing about being able to just have an office with my wife and work on all our own stories is that no one can tell us what to make. We, we just get to do our own. Story. Uh, Thank you. Was it the coast for making open game license that enables us to do this and thank you all our patrons who so sweetly offer up their money every month for us to make all these stories to really change the left. So the better, I think it’s very nice. Okay.
Lucas: Well, that’s great, man. I’m glad that we live in a world that is capable of supporting businesses like these. And I’m really glad to be able to introduce you to people who might not have heard of you by this point
Niels – RPG Toons: me and my wife are in w have a Patrion it’s patrion.com/rpg tunes. And on this, we release. Sort of these monthly packages of content that we call quest packs and all of these quest backs build up to a campaign. And last year we finished our first campaign.
So if you sign up for patrial now there’s already a complete campaign for you to try out. Complete from start to finish. And now we are working months in monthly installments on our next campaign. And that is the stars of the sea where the most rusty will feature. Yeah, fun. I mean, we do all sorts of other fun stuff on Patrion as well. We have a discord server that’s very active where we play test our games. And there are some entrepreneurial patrons who have set up games for themselves in there as well. So there are lots of games and campaigns going on all the time.
Lucas: Thanks for listening to Making a Monster. If you like what you’ve heard and you want to support the show, please share it with the people you play games with. Your recommendation goes a long way to helping people trust me with their time and attention, and it’s a real gift to me and the creators I feature.
As a special gift to listeners of this show, Niels has made available for free some of the wild and weird tentacle monsters spawned by the monstrosity, the big bad monster to beat at the heart of the Stars of the Sea campaign! The pack includes the Spore Slug, the Star Mass and the Monstrosity Tentacle monsters, with lore, monster stats and papercraft miniatures.
Find it all at https://www.patreon.com/rpgtoons.
While you’re there, you can find out how to get more Making a Monster I couldn’t fit in the show, meet my guests in person, and help shape future episodes of the show by joining my Patreon here: