Thursday, 7 May 2009

"You cannot defeat me. I command tiny men!"

So Chgowiz (crazy wind-maddened barmy that he is) starts off a spontaneous blog round-up on the subject of "what keeps the uber-monsters of D&D from destroying the world?" and - being the simple creature fascinated by bright colours and loud noises that I am - I have decided to follow this latest bandwagon.

So here is my take (although it owes a lot to Keith and Frank's Tome Series) on why humans in D&D-land aren't already slaves, fodder or spawn:

* Numbers - Most of the ubermonsters of D&D are predators living at the apex of an often-rickety energy pyramid. It takes insane amounts of calories and/or magical energy to support the living airborne furnace that is a dragon. This necessarily limits the number of these creatures in an area, especially so in the energy desert that is the underworld. Multiply this by the weird dietary requirements of the mind flayers and you've one major limiting factor on why the ubers can't conquer the world: they can't get the grub.

Numbers are equally a problem when it comes to aggression. Sure, a bunch of giants may ruin the day of one village, but, as Frank and Keith put it, on a large scale there are never enough of the ubermonsters to amount to anything more than crime. Unless the Jotenking is actually getting ALL the giants together to start the Grand Giantish Trampling Crusade dedicated to squishing the small folk en masse, then most monstrous incursions equate to little more than local difficulty ("Sorry baron, you're on your own with this one...").

* Reproductive Rate - Be it slow, or unusual, or cursed (see taichara's thoughts on dragons) the reproductive strategies of many of the D&D ubermonsters are generally...less than optimal in terms of speed and numbers of offspring. In the long term humanoid races can and will outbreed things like dragons or giants, and then the long fight back begins. Ever watched ants take down a scorpion? It's slow and messy, but there's only ever one outcome.

As for the monsters with an endless spawn cycle (like the undead). Well, much like a virus, they tend to destroy what they require in the very act of their reproduction, necessitating an unsustainable pillage-burn-and-move-on strategy in reproduction and feeding. When the horizon-darkening ghoul swarm has passed through (eating everything living in their path as they go), you're left with that rarest and most precious of thing; empty fertile land. That spells one thing: settler rush! ("kekekekeke")

* Isolation - let's be blunt. Most of the ubermonsters in D&D live in some pretty inhospitable places. They either dwell in mountains, or in tunnels in the ground, or in swamps, or on other planes entirely. Living is such a manner is no way to maintain a complex and sophisticated culture. If they want the advantages which access to extended trade and information networks provide then ubercreatures will generally have to come to terms with other cultures, even if that accommodation is parasitic in nature (Rakshasa, doppelgänger). That's when alignment of interest and, ultimately, assimilation happens. It happened to the Mongols in Persia, India and China; it happened to almost everyone who encounters American culture; heck, it even happened to the mitochrondria in your cells.

Those creatures who don't seek the advantages of external contact and trade generally get bypassed and left to rot in their lairs until someone sufficiently greedy and lustful for glory comes and picks them off (see class levels below).

* Active Opposition
- Cultural Hatred: "Mindflayers, Kuo-Toans, and Team Monster simply do not play the same game that everyone else is playing, mostly because their culture simply does not understand other races as having value. And that means that even other Evil races want to exterminate those peoples as a public service." - Keith and Frank

- Class Levels: It is a provable fact that D&D-land shares a cosmology with "Highlander" in that killing the powerful and taking their wealth and toys makes you more powerful in turn. If you're a big, visible threat (like a dragon) then opposition will come from miles around to take a pop at you. Ubermonsters either have to be like western gunfighters - always ready for the next punk who wants to call them out - or they have to retreat into the wilderness for some peace and quiet (see 'isolation' above). If you're a quiet threat (like doppelgänger), then you can either keep your head down and move circumspectly, or you can expect to be on the receiving end of witch hunts.

* Agenda
Q. Why, given that it spends more on its military than the next ten countries combined, does the USA not just invade Canada and take their abundant resources?
A. Because the Americans can get what they want more easily and cheaply without declaring Canada a rogue state.

Things could arguably be the same in D&D-land. Why should the local dragon torch the human city and sift the ruins for loot when it knows that useful quislings like Casiodorus Rex will happily run a loot-and-virgins protection racket for it? Why should the mind flayers invade their (pretty hardcore) neighbours in the underworld for brains when they can just teleport to the surface and buy cheap slaves from the orcs who knock over isolated farmsteads on their behalf? Why would the doppelgänger kill and impersonate the king if what they really want is new experiences, rather than a perpetual grind of government business? Sheer damn laziness is a powerful (de)motivating force in human affairs; I can't imagine D&D-land being all that different.

That's my take anyway. Thoughts?

(pic looted from outdoor oddities blog)


  1. Hmm...I must like bright colors myself, because I was thinking about this long and hard myself (hey wait, what's that shiny object over there).

    I like all your points, one other to throw into the mix is intra-cultural competition. Not only does Team Evil Monster have a tough time with those outside their species they also likely have a time internally getting along. I mean hell, do you think Mind Flayers spend a lot of time trying to make nice and build consensus amongst each other? Even the lawful evil ones are likely to have intensely competing hiearchies, right?

  2. @ckutalik: Oooh, good one. Kicking myself for missing it.

    Looking forward to reading your thoughts on the matter.

  3. I like this - well done.

    "Barmy"?! That's a new one!

  4. Maybe they already have taken over; the humanoids just haven't figured it out yet because everything seems fine, and not the living hell one might expect.

    Of course, the so-obvious-it's-invisible one is: they haven't taken over because if/when they try, they get smacked down by a group of adventurers.

  5. @Chgowiz: "Aaaah, in my country barmy is word of highest praise, reserved only for wise man with mighty hram and many herd of guinea pig."

    That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. ;)

    @kelvingreen: If D&D has taught us nothing else, it is that the guy behind the guy behind the guy is *always* the major villain.


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