Guestblogger Curgoth here again on the RPG beat.
This time around, I’d like to talk about “monster races”. Orcs, Kobolds, Drow, Dragons, Trolls and their ilk. Entire species whose ecological niche is being antagonists to adventurers and heroes.
It is my contention, dear readers, that any campaign (D&D or other game), should have only a handful of monster races. Too many monsters, I feel, disrupts the narrative flow of the game. Compare the average D&D game to your favourite fantasy series.
The Lord of Rings has wargs, goblins, orcs, ringwraiths, wights, fell beasts, balrogs and trolls. Middle Earth has dragons, but none appear in LotR. Not including Sauron, that’s eight. Even if we include elves, dwarves, olyphants and Tom Bombadil (hey, *I* wanted to kill him), that’s only an even dozen, over a beefy trilogy.
Compare this to even one volume of the D&D Monster Manual, or just one published adventure. Lots and lots of monsters. This is fine if your play style is hack n’ slash – in a dungeon crawl, the dramatic tension is created by the wacky monsters the PCs find and hack to bits. If you’re looking to create a larger story arc, though, narrowing it down will have the PCs feeling like there’s something big going on that they’re involved in.
This doesn’t mean every encounter has to be the same – sure, units of orc shock troops to mow down are fun, but having specialized orc units as the PCs get more powerful gives them more involvement in the great orcish invasion of the kingdom. As the PCs realize that a lot of their opponents are working together to some common (and nefarious!) goal, they get an idea that there is more at stake than the local village and the reward they posted for the rescue of their prize cow.
It also goes some way to reinforcing the believability of the setting. A single world can only support so many critters – there are a limited number of ecological niches, and even goblins need to eat more than they can forage unless they have an isolated area to hunt and gather in.
To sum up, my recommendation is to keep it down to a dozen or so types of enemy, and your story will thrive. Overdo it, and your epic battle for the universe may devolve into “what the hell is a slaad?!”