GM Edition: The Last Tapestry

The Last Tapestry is a tech-noir, Eberron-inspired actual play D&D podcast. DM Dan Locke and I discuss “monster monsters” and the definition of villainy.

Follow wherever you get your podcasts:
RSS | Apple Podcasts | SpotifyGoogle Podcasts | Amazon Music |
Breaker | Castbox | Castro.fmDeezer | HubliHeartRadio | ListenNotesOvercast |  Pandora  | Player FMPocketCastsPodcast AddictPodchaserPodhound | Radio Public | RPG Casts | Series Seeker | Stitcher | TuneInVurbl |

Join the Scintilla Studio Patreon

Game Master Edition on Making a Monster

Welcome back to Making a Monster Game Master Edition. Over the next few weeks of this mini-series you’ll hear some of your favorite actual-play podcasters discuss what monsters mean to them.

GM Edition will be a lot less polished and authoritative than Making a Monster is when I’m talking a single monster with a single designer. But storytellers like Beholder to No One speak as craftsman using the tools game designers have made for them, often in ways the designer couldn’t have predicted. Each of them has their own take on the roles of hero, villain, antagonist and monster, and I want to bring you along as my understanding of the topic has grown through these interviews.

Dan: Hi, I’m Dan, he/she/they, and I’m the DM of The Last Tapestry.

So the setting of The Last Tapestry is the it’s the northern hemisphere of the world of Everwynn. In terms of what makes it unique from other actual plays it’s set in the 1920s, like a 1920s adjacent era. It is kind of tech noir. There is obviously magic here, a lot of magic that is integrated in with the city and with how everything functions.

I think another thing that maybe makes us unique is we do an awful lot with time mechanics. So it’s like, I, then I don’t know how much is spoilers. But I mean, basically not, not much as, at some point we do end up in a, in a “Majora’s Mask -esque” three-day to two-day cycle where we like are trying again and again to save the city and we have to do different dungeons and find new things out every time in order to figure out, what we can do to save the city what’s happening to the city, and also if what is happening to the city, It was really all that bad. You know, it just kinda, it’s kind of a thing where there’s like a, there’s a, there’s a multitude of, of quote unquote antagonist. Well, I guess they’re all antagonists, but quote unquote villains who they they interact with and and they talk to, and, and um slowly start finding out more about, and some of them are just straight to the core bad.

And, and with me, honestly, it’s a little predictable, it’s usually the capitalists. It’s just that you’re like, how can you spot the actual bad guy in a Dan game? It’s the capital- it’s, that’s the one. But but yeah, so every other antagonist is just usually, you know, we’ve got people who are a part of the, uh, the Red Hand is what they call them.

And they work for the hold on. I always mix this up, the Darkness that Dreams. And I kind of have like, uh, I kind of have like a process to how I talk about all this, but, uh, I did take a lot of inspiration from Eberron, from the Eberron setting in particular. And sometimes people who know about Eberron will be like, oh, this is Eberron. And then I’m like, “Kind of.”

The Eberron campaign setting was created for Dungeons & Dragons by Keith Baker. It’s a pulp-fiction action-adventure setting were magic and technology are the same thing.

And I’m always ready. I’m ready for someone to just like, come out of nowhere and throw the book at me because I’ve truly, I truly changed so much of it. So much of it would not make sense to someone who is very familiar with Eberron because I, I, I took it and I basically chewed it up. I took Kass the Bloody Handed and I made him a himbo. Like I just kind of, I took these things and I was like, this is a cool idea. And then I completely destroyed it and made it something else.

Lucas: Sure. What’s like one or two things that someone familiar with Eberron would recognize but in a different place?

Dan: Right. I think the biggest thing is the Khyber and the Darkness that Dreams and the Dreaming Dark. I’ve basically collapsed those all into something we call the Dream Hell, which is basically hell. And I have made, you know, there are like the, the Nine Lords of the Dream Hell and those are the, the Lords of the Nine.

That’s several at once, but those are a lot of things where people are just going to be like, hold on. Khyber is where that dragon sleeps or whatever, right? Or like, uh, the Darkness that Dreams is actually this thing from Dal Quor or whatever, like that’s not – “The Darkness that Dreams isn’t Asmodeus!” And it’s just like, -well, I’m sorry. It is. All of that is true here.

In the Eberron campaign setting, the Dreaming Dark is important to the kalashtar race, which I covered in my episode with Imogen Gingell back in season 2:

Starting an Actual Play Podcast

Lucas: Tell me how you got started playing Dungeons and Dragons and how it led to you having a podcast.

Dan: oh my I guess I started, I think in 2017 and the whole reason I started was – it’s a very typical answer – was because of the Adventure Zone. I mean, I’d always wanted to play and, uh, I didn’t realize it could be so multifaceted as that. I didn’t realize that it could be so different as the way, you know, like Griffin was telling it. I thought it had to be just like, you know, if I was, if I was a half orc, I couldn’t be a pop star bard or anything, you know? Cause that’s what my first character was I really wanted her to be, I was like, oh my first half orc to be a, a, a pop star.

And then I kept being told is just like, oh, well you still got to take the doc for intelligence and you’ve got to do all this and you have to have your proficiency in intimidation and whatever. And I was like, well, that stinks. But so.

Lucas: this sounds like, pardon me for breaking in this sounds like older edition rules, and you said you’d always wanted to play, like when did you first hear about it?

Dan: Oh, beans. I think I first heard about, I think I first heard about D&D in, in college and I first started playing with a friend who was doing, he said, what is they call it OSR? Uh, the, the, like the old rule set. Yeah. Going straight by the books, like, you know, the drow are evil, orcs are evil, all that stuff.

And that was my first introduction to D and D. And, and then as we kind of started playing it with other DMs and things got more different and more creative, you know, like we played on trains and things like that. I was like, oh, this can be so much, so much different. This can be like Adventure Zone. This can actually be fun.

So like that’s, that’s kind of where I really started getting into it. And then I was just like, okay, you know, I think I want to try my own hand at running one of these. And that’s whenever I formally started learning new systems and running games and things like that.

Lucas: When did you turn it into a podcast?

Dan: Oh boy. Okay. So we we actually had a podcast before this we, it was called slice and dice. I did not DM that one. We had one before that didn’t work out. And so we like, you know, basically we took a year off and kinda just, you know, vibed about it for a while. And then, and then I decided that I wanted to do one myself.

Like I wanted to tell a story for my friends, because I do at home all the time. Like I will spend hours and hours writing, you know, I think I ran a session this weekend that had like 13 pages of notes. So I was like,

Lucas: Oh man. You’re one of those.

Dan: I am unfortunately one of those. Yes. Um, but, yeah, I, I decided I wanted to play for an audience to let everyone see, because I really love the way my friends interact with my worlds and such and I, and I love to hear them play.

And I was just like, well, I want everyone to hear, you know, the way that these people are interacting with, uh, with a story and whatnot. So that’s what I decided to do.

Lucas: So you had a cast ready, Right from the right, from the conception of your podcast.

Dan: Right from the get-go.

Lucas: What was it about those people that made them perfect for what you wanted to do?

The Perfect Cast of Players for The Last Tapestry

Dan: Uh I’ll focus in on my two star players Atticus and Bianca. Atticus gets really into his characters, but he does so in like a quiet way in which he will like write whole documents about them and think about them and draw them and such, you know? And and so I really, really love like the way that he interacts with the world, because he will he will get attached to an NPC and through that, that NPC will become more developed and that story will become more developed and the world will become more developed because he will contribute some to it. And, uh, and Bianca does that as well. Bianca is incredibly thoughtful, very creative and has an amazing energy at the table.

She just. She goes for it. She will go for, you know, whatever her character is is going to do. And another thing she’s great at is just kind of like a cohesiveness at the table. Like she’s just very fun to share a table with because she will do everything she can to not only make, you know, make a reason why her character is there, but why her character is a part of the group.

And so often her characters end up being backbones or like, you know, the mom friend character or things like that, just because she’s so thoughtful and and really, really makes a group cohesive. So those two, those are like superstars. And I knew, I knew for sure that I wanted them on the cast, just, just from the start they’re they’re amazing.

Lucas: So walk me through how this became a thing.

Dan: Yeah, this is just a, it’s a hobby. It is a passion project. I don’t know that it’ll ever be anything more than that. I don’t know that it’ll be like a side gig or anything like that. Although I do know people who have, you know, who are working on making their, their podcast into a side gig, but, you know, mostly I just kind of wanted to, I wanted to tell a story because someday I’d love to write books.

So maybe people who are really into tapestry can be like, Hey, uh, I know, I know his name from this other thing. So that’s, you know, that’s, that’s mostly what, what I’m going for is just kind of telling a story with my friends and my friends and I all get. We have our stuff out there, I guess, in a way.

And that’s, that’s how it started. That’s how it’ll probably keep going. I don’t know. We, we talk sometimes about having a Patreon and then I’m just like, eh, I don’t know. You know, I don’t, I don’t know that. I feel like I’m, I’m quite there yet.

Lucas: Yeah, it takes a while to, uh, to get that kind of energy rolling. I don’t think Making a Monster has it yet. Uh, despite the fact that there is a Patreon, you know?

Dan: No, I don’t know. You feel, you feel so professional that you have such professional energies.

Lucas: Like I said, I’m trying a little too hard. One of the first things you’ll probably find when you look up The Last Tapestry is this slogan: “Fate is dead. They’re the replacements.” What does that mean?

Dan: Uh, yeah, that’s not too much of a spoiler. They find it out pretty quick. So the entire conceit of the story is that you find out at the end of episode two is that the god of fate, is dis has died. And the only person that’s left is her angel arch. Fariel known as Archie. And he has saved these three adorable idiots, uh, when they don’t know why yet.

And they don’t know basically anything, he is being kind of a cloak and dagger about it, but he has brought these people to the stellar plane, to his study in this other plane, to explain to them that they need to figure. Why it is that the city is story of Heights is being destroyed. And so he has different things.

He sends them out for the first thing is something called the circumstance engine, which enables him to, uh, control the flow of time so that he can more specifically send them back to certain places and times depending on what they need to do. So, yeah, that’s basically what that means is that they are essentially the arbiters of fate.

Now they call themselves the warriors of fate. But yeah, that’s, they’ve, they’ve essentially slotted in for

Elijah Silence, Aasimar Oath of Devotion Paladin

Elijah Silence, Aasimar Oath of Devotion Paladin

Lucas: I’m looking at the banner art again, and by the way, this is gorgeous. Am I reading this right? One of your characters is missing an arm?

Dan: Yes. Yes, he is.

Lucas: Was that the player’s decision or was that, is that tied to the way this game is put together the identity of what you’re trying to do in some way?

Dan: Uh, it’s interesting. It does kind of almost tie into the monster angle, uh, in the beginning he had an arm for sure. And then when we, uh, when we were, oh my God, when we were commissioning this art from Knox batty I was, uh, I was telling them, you know, how, how everyone looked. I gave them all these, uh, references.

And so then the artists did the art, the, the sketches, and got back to me. And by the time that Knox, he got back to me, he had lost his arm. So I was like, okay, I hate to tell you this, but can you please take off his arm on that side? Like, um,

Lucas: That’s Dungeons and Dragons.

Dan: It’s truly, truly it is. Because for certain monsters or for certain knockouts I have an injury table.

So this one got attacked by an Inspired, which is another thing in Eberron. He is the build of a cleric shadow domain cleric. And he attacked with inflict wounds and it was grievous enough and injury for him to be knocked out. And because of that, he had to roll on the table and he lost an arm. So that is how that went. Spoilers, I guess for episode 13, I think.

Rejecting Bioessentialism and Ethnostates in D&D

Lucas: One of the other things that you’ll get pretty quick from looking at The Last Tapestry is that, your setting rejects the idea that D and D has to be bioessentialist or built on ethnostates. There’s a real danger for those to become buzzwords. And I want to hear what they mean to you.

Dan: Yes. Thank you. So bioessentialist, I mean, to us then is it’s short for biological essentialism it’s a belief that biology forces a categorization onto someone. And so like a real-world example of this is the trans-antagonistic idea that the biological sex someone is born with determines gender or that women are predisposed to be caretakers or, you know, yada, yada, that kind of thing. And the fantasy example of this is that all orcs and drow were predisposed to be evil or orcs are predisposed to be strong and, you know, stupid and things like that, you know, boils down to believing that biology determines capability or personality.

And we don’t believe in that. So like if we have half work that is muscular and evil, it’s because she thought it’d be a sexy thing to do. And you know, no other, no other particular reason.

Lucas: Ethnostates being, I would assume kind of the cultural mirror of that?

Dan: Uh, yeah, basically. So an ethno-state is like a sovereign state where citizenship is determined by whether you belong to a racial or ethnic group. So like, how some fantasy world say all elves are from Elflandia, all orcs are from Orcmerica. We don’t do that. Um, There’s, there’s no fantasy racism in Everwynn or no cognate for real world racism for that matter.

So, yeah, of one of our players, uh, Bianca is Filipina and wanted to wanted to explore and critique the colonization of the Philippines through the lens of fantasy with the archipelago of my arena. So that is the one that is the one thing that we are exploring is colonization. But other than that, no, we do not. We’re not, uh, we’re not touching that other stuff.

Lucas: I thought when I read this, it seemed like you wanted to proactively debunk those things. Uh, and it sounds to me like, you’re just, we’re leaving those out because we don’t want to deal with them or like, we don’t want those to be a part of our story.

Dan: Definitely. I would, I would prefer the first interpretation. We’re not, we’re not touching those simply because like, we don’t feel like, you know,

Those can make compelling stories. And I’m never going to be the one to say to someone who is marginalized and who wants to combat those things. that that is something that should be left out of the story. That’s why I’m saying we’re not touching it because other people can’t and they can tell a compelling story that way.

It’s just you know, I am, I’m a white DM and I know, you know, what’s my, you know, I know what stories that, you know, it’s just, it’s not, it’s really not my place to tell. And, uh, so it’s like, I don’t, I definitely don’t feel comfortable like touching, you know, fantasy racism and things like that. People use this for an escape and and I’ve, you know, I’ve seen marginalized creators talk about how uncomfortable it is in something they enjoy to see, you know, like really really compelling cognates for real-world racism.

It’s like, I came here to escape this, you know, and that kind of

Lucas: Okay. Thank you for handling that with grace. It’s a, it’s a tough question and it can go sideways really quick.

Dan: Oh, yeah, I’m sure

Lucas: but yeah, I’m really trying to understand, where you’re coming from and what you’re doing with the show because Making a Monster is at least a third philosophical. The reason I’m still making this podcast a year later is that monsters aren’t just like, I’m scared of the dragon, you know, that’s not the core of what monsters are. They code for meaning, they’re a way of telling each other about what the world is and what it should be and what it should not be.

So my angle up to this point has been one designer at a time, let’s talk about one monster that they’ve made and how it does what it do and why. And, uh, and you know why that’s useful to players.

So I wanted to do a brief interlude, a little mini series, if you will, in the middle of the show to talk to DMS, and I could say professional DMS, but my personal belief is that artists are people who make art.

So if you have a, if you have an established long running podcast, you’re to my mind, a professional DM. Uh, and that means that you have to have a working proficiency with the tools of the trade. And one of those is monsters. So I’m trying to think. First from the people who made monsters, how they work and what they mean.

Uh, and this, uh, the angle of this mini series is like, let’s talk to people who work with these tools, uh, and see how they use them and what they mean to you guys. Let’s kind of work our way through The Last Tapestry. Who or what are the antagonists in your story so far?

Dan: Oh boy. Okay. So as I mentioned earlier there are just kind of a multitude of opposing forces in The Last Tapestry, there is the Red Hand and those who are aligned with the Dreaming Dark. And then there is the the Princeps, the Sky Ministry. And we don’t hear much of them from, uh, in the in the beginning of the series.

So it’s kind of easy to forget that they are there. They’re just kind of like they pop in now and then, you’re just like, oh, there is a siege on the speakeasy, there’s this, uh, there’s, you know, there are these robots that are being sent in. So, like you see bits and pieces of them through the story, but yeah, there’s just kind of, these are the two big, main antagonists

Lucas: I mean, that’s a great answer.

Dan: Oh, okay. I was like, did I say that right?

Lucas: Yeah. And I we’ll dig into this a little bit because D and D gives us a lot of really, really specific ways of talking about monsters. When you’re putting together your sessions for your players, where do you get the raw material for your monsters? Are these from published books? Are these home brews, are these things you find on the DM’s Guild? Where do you get the raw material?

Dan: It’s a combination really. Whenever I actually grab like a monster monster, like a banshee or a dire wolf or things like that, it’s mostly from source books. But when it comes to like the bigger monsters, so like the the Inspired that I threw at them who had a, uh, who had a, like a mind link, I guess, with a, called Quori in Eberron, we call them Dream Wraiths in Tapestry. So that I took inspiration from quori stat blocks and things like that in order to make a Dream Wraith stat block. So it’s really, it’s really a combination.

Like I said, I took a lot of Eberron ideas and then I just kind of only kept what I liked and completely recolored the rest of it.

Lucas: Now that you’re what, two seasons in?

Dan: Gosh, where are we? I think we are on chapter three at the moment.

Lucas: Um,

Dan: Chapter three. Yes.

Lucas: So two finished chapters later, have you noticed that there are any common threads or similar factors to the monsters that you tend to use?

Dan: A hundred percent. Yes, I use a lot of, I mentioned it before, but quori. So I center a lot around, it’s very psionic based creatures and I really love the the quori for that because, you know, I like everything that they, uh, I like, uh, I like everything that they can do. I really like dream magic. So I’m like, I’m really focused on the kalashtar and the, and the quori.

So whenever I throw something at them, it is usually with that flavoring. So like the primary antagonist from the Red Hand is a kalashtar and he also has a quori. So that’s kind of mostly where a lot of the, the flavor will come from. There is there is some, you know, automatons and things like that that I also will go to, but that’s kind of like the secondary flavor. The first flavor is just a bunch of like, I suppose there’s some infernal, but there is a lot of abyssal, kind of like psionic based, just very quori themed monsters.

Lucas: Was there any particular reason for that or was it important to the setting that you were building, that it happened that way?

Dan: It is very important to the setting because it’s important to like the lore of the land, just because, because the hell of ever when is a dream hell, because it’s, psionic in nature because I’ve had it so that the Khyber is basically like, if you mined too deep, if you go too low, sometimes the city can even extend into the Khyber.

So it’s just, there is this psionic like undercurrent to the world of Everwynn. And so it’s a big kind of a big part of the setting.

Storytelling through dreams in D&D

Lucas: I think another way to ask this question might be, does that give you access to something as a storyteller that you find really useful or interesting?

Dan: Uh, yes, but I feel like I will get a lot of hate for it. And that is dreams. Everyone considers it, such a, you know, At a cheap maneuver. It’s just like, oh, I give the character a dream. But it’s just like, you know, I, I really I’ll explain myself here. I

Lucas: please do.

Dan: yeah. I really enjoy it because when you’re telling a story with other people, what’s interesting to me is to have a really hard and fast, like a quick way to kind of reorient them to give them more lore about the world, pull them into the lore of the world. And just a really quick way to communicate that to them from me is to just kind of give them a dream. This is something they could be remembering from before. This is something that could be, you know, incredibly important that one of the psionic people as attempting to convey this could be a connection to someone that they didn’t know they had, who is a kalashtar.

And they’re slowly realizing they have a connection to this person. So it’s like, I really love, you know, the communication of dreams because in a way, dreams are like their own, you know, kind of storytelling? I don’t know if, if you, or maybe anyone else, uh, ends up with, with crazy wild dreams that you end up telling in in long spiraling stories to your friends that include your friends in them.

But we have that in my friend group. So maybe I’m just weird, but, uh, but yeah, we just sometimes end up just on these long stories about it’s like, oh, I had this dream and we were all in a magical school and things like that. So I just really liked dreaming as a storytelling element. And I know it, uh, it feels very cheap, but I just really like it as, as a, as an oral storytelling and collaborative storytelling element.

Lucas: I try to stay out of these interviews as much as I can, but I’m treating these as more like discussion. So I think if I can give you some confidence about that, I don’t think that’s the tool’s fault. Uh,

I think there were a couple of very famous sitcom endings were, uh, might’ve been St Elmo’s fire where the main character woke up and it was all a dream. And, uh,

Dan: And then everyone hates it now.

Lucas: Right! We have this legacy of being disappointed by some really high profile stories. So I think you may be working against some of the ways that tool has been used rather than the nature of that storytelling tool itself.

Dan: Yeah. That’s a good way of looking at it.

What does the word monster mean to you?

Lucas: I wanted to ask you earlier, you said, you know, like monster monster, I got to unpack that. What does the word monster mean to you?

Dan: Uh, well, that’s a difficult question for me because I think as it’s been pretty obvious so far, just me talking about Tapestry is we get, and I don’t want to say the word political, but we get political in the same way something like Dimension 20 does where we make it very clear where we stand, like in terms of, you know, in terms of capitalism, in terms of the police, we make that very clear.

We, I mean, we know who our monsters are personally in our personal life. So what it boils down to for me, for me, what a monster is, is someone or something doing harm with purpose. And at least in my games like that can be, that could still be an aboleth or it could be some form of monstrous creature.

But like, I don’t know, in my opinion, they still have agency. Like they had a chance to not do the thing they’re doing now and they chose to do it anyway. So like I said earlier, I don’t really subscribe to the idea that something’s inherently evil. And that includes the monsters that I throw in my game. Like narratively, I don’t find it fun and I don’t feel like my players really connect with it.

So like, I like to have monsters that are here and that are, you know, out for themselves that have like, that are built for the world and, you know, kind of have their own thoughts and are working for certain people. So it’s like, when I say monster monster, I guess I just mean something monstrous looking. I’m just like, oh, do you mean something monstrous looking at? Or you just mean, you know, like, uh, something that has a stat block, which is what, basically everything that they fight has a stat block, but not everything is inherently monstrous looking, I guess.

Lucas: Yeah. And this is the real core of what I try to do with Making a Monster is unpack what that means, because if you read the Monster Manual, it defines the word monster as anything that players can interact with. But I, I really like, I really like what you’ve given me here is a monster is something that’s doing harm with purpose. And I got to bring that back around because that conflicts with the way D and D by design usually uses the word monstrosity, which is, I think what they would call a monster monster.

Dan: Oh, definitely.

Lucas: Right. Your medusas, your centaurs, your classic monsters of folklore. And a lot of those are very nearly beasts. They’re built by species to survive in a certain way in their ecosystem. And that often brings them into conflict with other things that enter and exit that ecosystem.

So I don’t know. How does that mean if, if a monster is something that’s doing harm with purpose, uh, is a displacer beast a monster?

Dan: See, it wouldn’t be in my games. Like it’s like if, if they have come upon something that is just honestly trying to live, it’s like, would you call a bear, a monster, a bear will attack you. I mean, like if, if you’re in it’s, you know, it’s territory that the chances of a bear attacking you, I guess, are very low. I chose a bad animal, but, uh, but like, you know, take a, take a really angry bear.

Lucas: my next thought was, was shark and I went now. That’s not a, great example. I think. Because those numbers are also really low.

Dan: They’re very low.

Lucas: Yeah. Is there an example from your game of something that does harm without purpose?

Dan: Hm.

See cause it’s, like I said, I don’t, I don’t find it very interesting to throw something at them that would hurt them, but it just was protecting itself or protecting its territory or, or something like that. I don’t personally find that a fun story to tell or it’s like, and especially cause combat takes so long. Um, You know, it’s sorry, but it does.

Lucas: All right. I found it. That’s your D and D hot take of the episode. Combat takes too long.

Dan: And I know that there are like, there’s certain homebrew rules where you can just like, uh, you can take the, uh, oh gosh, uh, I forget what I forget what the, the quick and dirty combat’s called, where you just take the average and whatever, but instead of having to roll for damage, but anyway I dunno, I don’t, I don’t personally find, I don’t know if my characters would connect with that.

I think if I did put something like that in there, it would, it would honestly be for them to, to make some attempt, to either communicate with it or bond with it, or if they had some internal reason where they needed to realize, oh, uh, not everything is about me. I’m not, you know, I’m not the hero of every place I go.

I need to get out of this place because I’m in, you know, I’m in this, this owlbear has like puppies or whatever I need to get out of here. So yeah, I don’t, I wouldn’t find it very fun to set something on my players that did harm just because it was in a place, you know, like, just because that’s where it lives.

What does the word hero mean to you?

Lucas: I’m glad you brought heroes into this because I think that might be the place I have to take it next. By design Dungeons and Dragons is overwhelmingly part of the heroic fantasy genre. And there are exceptions. Usually the setting of the game is what determines whether it’s a heroic fantasy or a grim dark, or a sword and sorcery or a sandal and sorcery kind of thing.

I don’t know. But the flip side, I’ve also heard monsters defined as the opposite of a hero. And I’m speaking again in, in narrative terms, like we cast X thing as the monster, and then its opposite is the hero. If you define monster as something that does harm with purpose, can you use that to, to make a definition of hero?

Dan: Yeah, I think for a hero, I’d say someone who does good but not for personal gain. I think that’s what I would say. Like that’s, that’s what I’d give someone. I think that’s what I would say. If someone who is heroic, it’s like, you do good, but not for personal gain. Cause I don’t know that I would call someone who does good, but just because, you know, because I want to end up on a cereal box or something, I don’t think I’d call that person a hero.

Even if, you know, even if people are like, oh, they protected us from some such thing. It’s like, wow. That’s, I mean, that’s good, but I don’t know if they call them like a hero necessarily. It’s just someone I think who has good intentions. Like they are, you know, their intentions are just, they want to do good just because they want to do.

Just, you want to improve things for everyone and not just yourself, you want to effect changes. Like if you see a problem, you want to affect changes to make sure that you know, everyone including yourself, but just everyone is doing okay. Like you can think outside of yourself. I think that is that’s what a hero is.

Lucas: I love that. I’m pushing it. I, I hope we’re in a good space for you.

Dan: I think so.

Lucas: Okay.

With monsters and heroes being cast as opposites, and with both of them playing such a pivotal role in the kinds of stories that Dungeons and Dragons is good at telling, is there a way for it to flip?

Like, do we put these two things on a spectrum? Do you find it narratively interesting to to push your heroes to become monsters or to push your monsters to become heroes?

Dan: I find it very interesting to have a spectrum. Yes. Because having heroes and monsters is in a thing, it’s just kind of, I do like it. I don’t know if it seems reductive, but I feel like to say, you know, like there are new heroes or something like that, you know, I I feel like it’s a very cynical way of viewing things because there are people out there who want to do good.

And I, you know, I it’s like, and the setting of Last Tapestry can get a little, uh, you know, dark at times, obviously, like it starts with a god being dead. But but yeah, I really like, I, I like, like, I guess scrutinizing monsters and heroes.

And that’s precisely why I had so many antagonists is because I’m like, I’m basically daring the players just like do it, like get through to them, make, make some change and, and, and change them. So it’s like we have we have a detective who, at the beginning of the story, this police detective is tracking down one of the PCs and it’s just like, you work for the mob, you’re a criminal. You can’t be doing good.

Obviously you’re, you’re doing crime. And throughout the story, they slowly start changing his mind. They started, they start like, like teaching him, like just the nuances of, you know, the society he’s living in. So would I have called him a monster? No, but would I have put him maybe closer to the monster side of the monster hero spectrum and possibly, uh, I mean, like, just because, you know, he did want to affect change.

He wanted to help people. So he is still arguably a hero, but he was in, so doing, he was discounting like, you know, other people who he just didn’t understand, like, and he, he made no effort to understand them. So, so it’s that kind of thing. I do really like, having plenty of NPCs who who are just kind of all across the spectrum, just so I can like set them all loose, set out a bunch of antagonists and just see who it is that the players will just talk to and try to, to change and try to, you know, you just convince them to, you know, to actually do good. It’s like, I like combat. I do, but I basically only put in, I know I’ve come out hard against it, but but it’s still fun at times. So, uh, I usually only have one per arc, but what I really, really, like is whenever I pit them against something that they don’t just want to fight. So it’s just like, I don’t know.

It’s, it’s like, I think a lot about I make, I’m making a lot of video game references. You can cut them, but I think a lot about the, uh, Giygas fight from Earthbound.

Lucas: Okay.

Dan: phone? Yeah. Where like at the end they’re like mostly what they can do is, is pray, you know, they’re, they’re relying on kind of, you know, that to, to help them.

They’re not, uh, or, or Undertale, what a, what a way better example, why did I go from earthbound, like Undertale, where they have to do different things in order to quote unquote, fight something. So it still relies on like the mechanics of D and D. I know I definitely get some backlash about, you know, using D and D for such a social based system, but but I still think that those skillsets that they have, you know, in addition to some home brew can, can be really well utilized for I don’t know, just kind of fighting in a different way.

Like you can, you can fight a good fight without literally fighting a monster in my games. So that’s just kind of. It’s kind of what I want all of my players to take away from it that you don’t have to, you know, throw an ax at something in order to win. Like that’s rarely how you win. In fact, like, I mean, sure.

If you need to get out of a situation, if there is a banshee between you and you know, of a vampire making a pack to bring back his daughter, then yeah, sure. Maybe kill the banshee. But, uh, but, but, but what it comes down to is I want them to still be confronted with monsters, who they have a chance to see.

and and I don’t want to, like, I don’t want to play devil’s advocate here. Devil’s got enough advocates. I want to like, cause not every, not every villain can be redeemed, but, but there are some people where I want them to see them as people. Well, heck all people, I want to see them as people. I want them to see these people that I’m pitting them against as not just something that.

They can just, you know, get to get out of the way with like a divine smite or something like so yeah, I don’t know if I’ve answered the question or just completely gone off topic,

Lucas: I think you have, there was at least one moment where I was like, be absolutely silent because I will cut to this.

Dan: good.

Lucas: And I, uh, I think that might be about the bottom. When I’m doing regular episodes I know when I’ve accomplished my goal, when we start to get thing, when I start to hear words, like all the time and everybody and everything. Is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you wanna talk about before we wrap up?

Dan: I want to challenge my players to see, at a confrontation or anything, anything that they’re going up against us as a person, this involves NPCs, this involves, you know, the people that they are confronting it’s that’s anything.

And then I feel like as a, as a DM or as a GM, I’ve succeeded, if they actually take pause and are just like, now hold on. What is, you know, what’s the actual, what, what, what is a way that I can, that I can do this without, just, just putting a sword in it. So, yeah, I think that that’s basically my, my whole deal.

Lucas: Thanks for listening to Making a Monster. I’m really excited to share with you what I’ve learned from these storytellers. So I hope you’re enjoying this diversion from the format. If you like what you’ve heard and you want to support the show, please share it with someone, you know, who loves D&D. If they like this episode. I’ve got two dozen more and the best is yet to come. Your recommendation proves you’re the most savvy monster hunter in the room – look around it’s you. And it proves this show is worth the time and attention. If you want to go a little deeper, and learn more about what I’m doing, you can sign up for the show’s email list.

When you do, you’ll get free extras from. my guests, like 5E stat blocks, virtual tabletop tokens and discounts on best-selling D&D products. There’s more than a dozen of them now and more on the way, and you can get them by watching for the pop up on this screen, or by supporting Making a Monster on Patreon.

You can support the show and go even deeper with the monsters in your favorite games at studio. Patrons get stat blocks, bonus content, and other monstrous perks, and you help me continue my search for truth in the history of monsters in D&D.

Join the Scintilla Studio Patreon

Next Episode: GM Edition, First Watch

The First Watch is a cinematic actual play podcast making the most of genre-based storytelling. DM Andrew Coons and I discuss the seven types of conflict in literature and how heroes make the courageous, if stupid, choice.

Scintilla Studio