Those Who Fight (lords, ladies, knights, squires, kings and queens) Those Who Pray (nuns, priests, monks, cardinals and popes) are monsters, like right out of the Monster Manual and Fiend Folio. Dungeons are knightly manors, churches, cathedrals, castles and even burial mounds and tombs.
Very often monsters are in the dark forest, on the edge of town, out in the mountains and other places where people pushed to the margin might go. Let’s put them on thrones, at pulpits and at the head of armies and see what happens to the usual D&D adventurers.
In this setting, the idea of a human king or queen or any humanoid is laughable. Every once in a while there is an orc, troll, ogre or hobgoblin king but that is as close as it gets.
There is no human pantheon. Maybe there was one and the monsters ate it or maybe humans have never ascended. Clerics gain powers through scrappy saints who are tapping into wells of power so that humans can have access to healing and all that stuff. For the monster pantheon, I’ll build it off of Tiamat and Bahamut with some Gruumsh.
Keep all of the dynastic, crazy shit nobles got up to in history: inbreeding, feuding, marrying for political gain. Merchants who are baseborn human trying to upjump into nobility, marrying their children into desperate monstrous families. Their coats of armies are stylized humans giving them what they want.
It recontextualizes humanoids as creatures bred for specific purposes. Suddenly, Half-Orcs and their monster blood means they are most likely to rule along with Tieflings and Dragonborn, bred to specifically serve devils and dragons.
Adventurers are villains or villeins from the old meaning of the word.
I love flipping through monster manuals. Here’s how we make up a monstrous kingdom. Roll 6d6 or flip through a monster manual or 3 and think about who…
- rules this duchy
- Ogre Magi
- Angel or Devil of your choice
- wears the the crown and who rules over the dukes
- enforces laws and collects taxes
- puts down rebellions
- Purple Worm
- sees over local religious services, sermons blessings and marriages
- executes vyleyns
We’ll start the game at a young fort-town, a human enclave struggling to survive. Humans have no idea how to rule themselves and so have defaulted to a kind of medieval anarchist glorious mess called Thousand Councils that is a messy mix of the chaos of the elves and the rigid guilds of the dwarves. Of course there is always some asshole who wants to be king. Or maybe there is no human enclave. Let the players carve it out of the world and see what kind of world the players set up.
What about undead?
Undead are what monsters say will inevitably happen whenever humans rule over anything. They are the disease that comes from non-monsters on thrones because of their villainous, non-noble blood. Radical humans say that undead are what happens when humans are corrupted by the evil feudal system. Undead hunters say that undead are just a disease that needs to be purged and nothing more.
What about good monsters?
Good monsters are still monsters. Unicorns, angels, gold dragons might treat Those Who Toil in a kinder way but only because they think it will serve them better in the end. A Lawful Good monster’s views on humans are still condescending and ultimately selfish; they still don’t think humans can take care of themselves and don’t think they should be autonomous.
What happens when different monsters breed?
Pick a monster that seems like it would be made by those 2 monsters breeding. Make it one of the parents with a slight change. Make up a new monster. Have fun.
Do you need more setting?
There is a dragon-empress but she is sleeping and her children are not up to the task of keeping her empire together. Until she wakes up it is monster feuding and cold war.
Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library. “The doome warning all men to the Iudgemente” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1581. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/fc2a81f0-7aab-0130-9b52-58d385a7bbd0
“villain, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, July 2018, oed.com/view/Entry/223…. Accessed 8 September 2018.