The series to this point, has focused on the natural world. Preparing and setting the stage for the nations, states, peoples and cultures that will exist within the world and likely be its focus. The first step is setting the stage so that the portions that follow will make sense and be connected to the world it is built on. The first step on that winding path is the step we make today in discussing Intelligent monsters.
Unlike Anything on Earth
There are many assumptions made when constructing a fictional world, but none are more complicated to think about, and more fraught with potential pit falls than the one that is made most often. Intelligence, in the way we are going to describe of, as far as we know, is a singular and lonely venture on earth. While there are animals that are moderately intelligent, crafty, or even semisentiant, we are essentially alone in our intellectual pursuits. In most fictions, that is simply not the truth.
Even among myths and legends of our own world, there are powerful and intelligent creatures that challenge man for rulership of the world, from the towering and deific Titans to the lowly and mischievous gnomes. These creatures were always ancillary to the human story, vessels on which to ply our superior intellect or who would lay us low because of our foul tempers. In a fantasy world there are many more intelligent creatures than even the myths and legends dictate to us, and that doesn’t even include the humanoids that populate the world. Creatures ranging between the genius intellect of the aboleth to the mimic and even the immortal naga. populating them into the world takes a special consideration and a desire to make sure that they fit in.
One of the key things about intelligent monsters is that they will, unsurprisingly, act intelligent. We already have smart animals in this world, but the thought process of an intelligent monster would take that cunning and intelligence just a bit further. One of the primary things you have to take into account is the creatures lair. While most terrestrial animals would make their home among the grasses and trees or underground, the intelligent monster is smart enough to create and maintain a lair of its own, one that would be even more sophisticated than the largest of beaver damns. Make sure that the lair makes sense, too, given what they eat. While an intelligent herbivore would likely be fine in the middle of the spooky woods where animals and people fear, a carnivore would have a hard time surviving. Carnivorous and intelligent beings would exploit unintelligent food sources, often mundane animals, by living close enough to their favored food source so as to make it a quick jaunt out in the morning. If there are no readily available dens, caves or other places to live, then they will make one.
I would also say that this is similar when it comes to hunting. Where are typical terrestrial creatures would drag their kill away and leave it to rot, intelligent creatures should clean up after themselves, if at all possible. What use is it having a conveniently located abode if the animals are just going to avoid it anyway! Instead of relying on nature to hand them food, they will curate paths, walkways, and other methods of preparing their always unsuspecting prey for an ambush.
finally, most lairs will be hidden and inaccessible to any constant threats that exist nearby. Gifted with the virtue of intelligence, these creatures will have homes that stymie hunters and will live in places many people would find challenging to reach. Tall mountains for flyers, deep underground complexes for burrowers, and camouflaged dens with secret entrances and tools that enable only the proper owner to enter.
Tools and Tolls
Often overlooked, the part of intelligence that seems pretty fundamental to being intelligence as we understand it is the capacity to use and create tools. Many times, creatures with significant intelligence will be show with little or no tools and even less desire for them. I find this to be extremely strange. Beings such as a sphynx would not settle for a pile of debris and feathers to sleep on at night, but would desire, and often go out of their way to obtain, fancy bedding and other luxuries. Take into account that these smart creatures will have been encountering people their entire lives, and will see the benefit of many of their tools, especially armor. Slaves, in these instances, make perfect sense, as some of these beings lack the ability to create anything with their limited dexterity.
this also leads to the necessity of tolls, if possible, of people and other creatures passing through. Even good creatures will often need to force beings to offer over their goods for the betterment or even basic needs, of the creatures life. This, too, would give many creatures the use of certain magical items. Rings, necklaces, torques and the sort would all be fair game for a creature that has long guarded a particularly important section of the road or river and demands tribute.
Speaking of which, tribute and tolls will be among the most common interaction of these types of intelligent creatures with other, intelligent creatures. With formidable natural weapons and the possibility of spellscasting and other powerful magic, it is extremely hard for a self sufficient town or village, when approached with a reasonable tribute request, to turn them down. This may cause local resentment, but intelligent creatures can generally sense that coming and move onward before they’ve become a nuisance.
While the enforcement of tribute may be common, the formation of alliances is also common. intelligent creatures often understand that they are stronger when they join forces, and will do just that with amenable parties. This is often an agreement between like minded beings that could also result in tribute or tolls, but that will often be an alliance of mutual protection and, more importantly mutual autonomy. These creatures are unlikely to be intermingling, but they will be left alone. There will be those creatures that do intermingle, though, and those are some of the most fun creatures to have in your campaign.
All of the above leads to the placement of the creatures. In a world with all sorts of intelligent races and beings, these are going to be the hardest to place. Superfauna will often be able to hunt and eat them much like humans, pulling them from the top of the food chain. They will be set upon by peoples who don’t understand them, are tired of their tolls and tributes, or simply are afraid of their power. Finally, they will be unable to create their own settlements, and will instead have to create out of the way living spaces that still provide the best possible meals and a means in which to live. Remember, too, that many of them will eventually become lonely, so they will want either other members of their same species around, or allies creatures with which to converse with – in any form. Evil creatures may dominate and subjugate, while more peaceful and pleasant creatures will search out conversation and companionship.
I would make sure to look carefully at where and why you put any of your intelligent creatures, as they have a large impact on the game world Where they are, and how they will be interacting with people set them apart from most other monsters. Its another layer in the biomes, much like the apex predators and the megafaunas.
After you’ve placed your Intelligent creatures, look at your map and make sure there isn’t much overlap between all the creatures you have placed. There may be places with abundant food sources that can support 3 apex predators, 2 species of herbivore megafauna, and an intelligent species, those places will be rare. Give the locations a thorough scouring and make sure that what you have makes sense.
Which is what we will talk about more, next week!