Looking for some spice for your roleplaying game? Perhaps a new monster? But of course, without flavour, any new creature is just a bunch of statistics. So let’s turn to the stranger sort of news that we can find in the real world, and look at what cryptozoologists call Alien Big Cats. After all, every GM should know his ABCs.
Cryptozoology is the study of unknown or undiscovered creatures, and is a rich vein for game masters looking to challenge their players with a new and exciting encounter. Not only has this pseudo-science given us yetis, sasquatches and Loch ness monsters to play with, it can also provide us with plenty of inspiration for plot hooks and whole adventures.
So what are Alien Big Cats? This real world phenomena describes not, as you may suspect, kitties from the beyond the stars, but large predatory cats reported in places where they couldn’t possibly be able to survive, typically because the area the creature has been spotted in does not have the right sort of prey animals to support the beast’s diet. A typical ABC story involves someone being stalked and injured by an enormous animal which appears suddenly and then vanishes.
Reports of enormous cats coming out of nowhere have come from all over the world. In India, they are called Pogeyan, which means “the cat that comes and goes like the mist”. In the United Kingdom, the Royal Marines were sent out in moorlands around Devon and Somerset to hunt down the Beast of Exmoor, following a spate of livestock deaths. At the time, soldiers reported a few sightings, and claimed that the creature behaved with human-like intelligence. It was never found (and was later dismissed as a hoax).
For a GM, this sort of thing is a great place to start a story.
RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons like to describe the natural habitats of creatures, and taking a monster out of its habitat and setting it on the PCs is an old trick. However, the reasons behind such an encounter can provide a great deal of fun. Perhaps the reason there’s a huge panther successfully stalking the streets of some classic medieval city is because someone has let a gift intended for royalty escape, or an overly elaborate murder plan has gone awry and now the beast is loose. Perhaps a cult has captured and perhaps enhanced the beast and is using it as an assassin. (This also happens to be the plots of the excellent 2001 French film The Brotherhood of The Wolf, which is also loosely based on fact.) If you want a high level threat, maybe the creature has wandered in via a magical portal; a straight-forward monster hunt may then swiftly become a desperate struggle to prevent an invasion.
RPGs set in the modern day are just as suitable; one does not expect to encounter a huge albino lion when going for a coffee, after all. Subway systems and abandoned apartment blocks make for fantastically creepy lairs, and for those looking for a mundane explanation for why there’s an ABC in a major city don’t have to look very far for a reason; they are private collectors of exotic animals in the real world, and they have been reports of tigers kept in New York apartment blocks as recently as 2003.)
One of the theories surrounding the ABC phenomena suggests that the animal has adapted its diet somehow, so it’s possible that an entire pride of the beasts lurk somewhere in the city. The adapted diet may include human flesh, or maybe just coffee. Or perhaps they only eat coffee shop regulars. ABC’s also make an excellent red-herring for games featuring Vampires or Werewolves; Monster hunters who rely too heavily on supernatural solutions may have their hands full when they realise panthers aren’t repulsed by crucifixes, and though silver bullets will kill ordinary creatures, it’s an expensive solution.
Introducing ABCs into your game doesn’t come with its own problems though. Consider, for example, your favorite game’s rules for tracking: though this skill can often be a handy way to move an adventure forward, in scenarios where a small band of heroes are being stalked by a hidden and incredibly powerful beast a good (or bad, depending on your POV) roll of the dice can bring the adventure to a disappointing stop. Of course, the legend of the ABC is that they are very hard to spot. We can circumvent tracking rules in a few ways; the simplest is to cheat and to give the beast the power to turn into mist, turn invisible or perhaps teleport if discovered. For those who want a mundane explanation, then we can use an environmental reason (such as hard, icey ground making anything hard to track), give the creature very high intelligence (allowing it to cover its tracks as it moves around), or simply give the beast better local area knowledge; if it’s using underground caves, sewer systems or air vents then the tracker will have to discover that these things exist before he can successfully hunt down the beast.
Another problem is, of course, the beast itself. Some systems make it easy for the party to overwhelm a single monster and this can be a bit anticlimatic if the PCS have been tracking the creature for an extended period of time. If you’ve spent the last couple of hours building tension, the last thing you want is a short messy fight at the end. However, the stories we tell about the single solitary, ghost like threat fit perfectly for a game involving an ABC. If you’re running a one-shot game or some sort of horror, you can steal an idea from movies like Predator or Alien; have the creature pick of the party one by one. This is often not practical for entire parties, but can be a marvellous way to dispose of that annoying NPC the players insist on keeping around. Another technique from the same book is to grind the PC’s down through a series of environmental threats. An intelligent creature which knows the area well enough can easily draw a party of people into natural traps, dangerous rivers and unsafe ground. After all, why risk a confrontation when you can make soften up your prey by making it fall down a ravine? Ultimately, the struggle should make the creature’s demise all the more satisfying.
So, whatever your preference, ABCs—as a general category of adversaries—can provide some intrigue, tension and exciting combat to your game. They are have much in common with Reoccurring Villains, but where the villain usually has intellect and parting-words-that-reveal-their-plans, a hard to find Alien Big Cat has beastly brawn and a hidden agenda (eating humans; Surprise!)
Have you used ABCs in your game? If so, what has worked well?