[over the course of the month of April, I shall be posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. Our topic this month? Things necessary to take your D&D campaign from “eh, fantasy” to “kick ass.” And who doesn’t want that?]
E is for Eating People, specifically the player characters though “people” can refer to the PCs’ friends and family instead.
One of the truly horrifying things about old school monsters is their tendency towards cannibalism (defined here as “the eating of sentient beings”). Bad enough that you might get clubbed to death by an ogre or skewered by a pack of goblins…waking up in the stew pot is a whole ‘nother thing to scream about.
Really, I find little to be quite as terrifying as being hunted and used for food. I think it’s why so many horror movies involve cannibalism in some way, shape, or form. Ugh. It’s enough to make the truly empathetic become vegetarians.
But it’s a part of the old school game, one often found in your ancient TSR adventure modules…even the “beginner” modules like B2: Keep on the Borderlands. Skulls picked clean and left on display are just evidence that you will be EATEN if your character should fall or be captured by a humanoid tribe. Forget being ransomed for gold (ha! Like your 1st level characters have any extra gold after buying equipment).
You’ll be lucky if they kill you first.
CANNIBALS. Eating people! I just don’t think I can convey how terrible the concept is. I read and watch a lot of “post-apocalyptic” fiction and the idea that humans are so lazy and incompetent about food procurement that they will resort to eating each other (after the family pet, of course) scares the shit out of me. I’d use my beagles to hunt squirrel before I’d ever eat them, let alone my next door neighbor. *sigh* …but that’s just me, I guess.
Anyway, the eating of people is something that should drive home the horror of monstrous humanoids for players. It’s one thing to say, “oh, I’m Lawful, I don’t think I can kill the little orc children.” It’s a whole ‘nother thing to see the cute little orc children gnawing on A HUMAN ARM…an arm wearing the BRACELET OF YOUR SISTER!
Remember what I was saying about abomination before? Eating people is just about the worst of these (REALLY). And as I said, you’re lucky if they’ll kill you first. What if they just keep you captive and take a piece at a time, as needed? How long will your character last before trying to kill him or herself? How many fingers or limbs do you have to lose? Tasty, tender parts (eyeballs, testicles, tongue) may be cut from your body to use as aperitifs or dessert dishes while the “bulk” of your “meat” is kept alive waiting for a rainy (and otherwise meatless) day.
Drive it home for the players. If they abandon a fallen comrade while retreating for a rest break, they should find their buddy in the larder when they return. If they ambush humanoids during dinner, make sure you let them know what it is the creatures are “feasting upon.” As I said in the abomination entry, any sad sack looks like a hero when he can put an end to monsters like this.
Why do you think I included the wendigo in my B/X Companion?