Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Monitors: cornerstones 2

So once again, I'll be discussing some of the cornerstones I'm working on for the Monitors game: things that the game experience needs to be built around. I had a look at some of the biological aspects last time, and before that I've spent a while discussing general mechanics. That's all getting a little bit dense.

Instead, let's move on to more immediately exciting things: career paths! By which I mean, what kind of cyborg secret agent warlock space lizard can I be?

There's at least two major elements here that I can think of: what sort of archetype you want to be, and what sort of species you want to be.

Archetypes in Monitors

As I've mentioned before, this is supposed to be a skills-based system, so when I talk about roles I'm thinking mostly about portraying particular types of characters, not about occupying mechanically-discrete slots. The following examples are organised by very broad archetypes just because it's convenient. Ideally, there will be a fair amount of overlap between Monitors so that it makes sense for them to be handling similar missions. So what kinds of character might Monitors be expected to support? Not necessarily all in the same game, mind.

Naturally, Private Eyes are a shoe-in. Okay, Monitors aren't quite like self-employed PIs, but you can certainly have characters who specialise in investigating, interrogating, searching for clues, puzzling out problems, tracking, sneaking, and generally poking their snouts in where they're not wanted. These are your Erast Fandorins, Men from UNCLE, Dick Bartons, Del Spooners... maybe even the odd Thraxas but probably not anyone as much a lone wolf a Philip Marlowe. Monitor 'private eyes' might appear publicly as official investigators, or might adopt civilian personas to pry into suspect organisations and notable people, or simply turn up for a black-ops job and try to avoid engaging with their targets at all.

Based on this lizard photo by Moayed Bahajjaj under CC-BY-SA-2.0 licence, plus one of Bogart.

Marines are another likely contender, by which I mean tough, combat-trained, and typically armoured characters who're most at home with confrontation and overt danger. Here you might end up with characters like Marcus Fenix, Titus, B. A. Baracus, Samus Aran et al. Monitor 'marines' are likely to be a bit of a mashup with some other core skills, because they're agents rather than actual soldiers, though there's certainly fighting to be done. They'll be perfectly capable of fighting by themselves, but bear in mind we're looking for team players, not one-man armies.

It's a sci-fi game, you've got to have Engineers of some kind. The kind of lizards whose idea of a good time is being chest-deep in the guts of a scoutship, trying to persuade it to run on the local cabbage-based vodka, or reprogramming the pirates' mainframe to do nothing but play Qbert. Your Donatellos, MacGyvers, Men-At-Arms, Steels, Agatha Heterodynes, and your Flynns. They'll need lots of gadgetry to use, mechanical and electronic obstacles to deal with, and opportunities to invent, tinker, sabotage and hack their way to success. They're likely to want vehicles too.

While I'm expecting a fair bit of action, Scholars should also be a reasonable bet. While perfectly capable of handling some rumpus, their focus is on knowing things, interpreting clues, doing science, reading runes, generic wisdom and suchlike. When an astronomic anomaly shows up, or you find ancient alien ruins on your planet - when, in other words, there's something strange in your neighbourhood - you call these people. So, arguably, Lara Crofts, Indiana Joneses, Gileses, Susan Calvins, Dana Scullys, Reed Richardses, and of course, Doctors Who. This sort of thing is likely to form part of a mystery, and it's noticeable that (with the partial exception of Dr. Calvin) those are all pretty active adventurous sorts who get very hands-on with their work.

There's a whole slew of other characters that don't really fall neatly into one of those, but are generic plucky do-gooders who mix up bravery, quick wits, luck and inquisitiveness.


The closest thing to character classes will be the different species you can choose from. I’m going to leave my biologist hat to one side for this, and just look at broad distinctive characteristics and tropes, rather than getting hung up on technicalities (like “species”). Not all of these will necessarily turn up in the final game, especially the non-lizard ones. I've decided to call these "Lineages", on the grounds that they're only vaguely based on existing species (what with being bipedal magic-using technophiles) and that "Bloodlines" is far, far too Vampire.

Some possible lingeages and their associated traits:

  • Chameleon : colour-changing, tongue, gripping feet, separate eyes, UV vision
  • Geckonid : fast, climbing, night vision, tail-shedding
  • Heloderm (gila monster) : poison bite, slow and clumsy
  • Varanid (monitor lizard): large, powerful, can run for long periods (unlike most reptiles)
  • Basilisk : water-running, swim, fast
  • Chelonian (tortoises and that) : armour, slow, swim
  • Crocodilian : large, powerful, swim, secondary eyelid
  • Anuran (frogs): jump, swim, tongue, poison, water-breathing, water-dependence
  • Caudatan (salamanders): swim, tail-shedding, regeneration, water-breathing, water-dependence

I might allow some lineages (particularly geckos) to choose from nocturnal or diurnal ancestry: they either get night vision or colour vision, but not both. Notably, nocturnal species tend to have much more compact functional temperature ranges because they can't bask; I can't decide currently whether this would make things too complicated, or nicely interesting.

I originally only planned to have actual lizards, but Dan seemed very keen to play "a psychic terrapin", and with things like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles inspiring me, and my abiding love of frogs, I'm easing up. I'm currently leaving snakes out of the equation because, well, limbs are really useful. Particularly if you want to use weapons, operate tech or generally do anything remotely complicated. I'm not saying there's no chance of snake Monitors, but it seems pretty problematic. Of course, you can add limbs, but then you're removing some key snakiness. Similarly I've made no attempt to comprehensively cover possible reptile or amphibian types.


  1. Snakes could have powered armour with robotic limbs.

    Or they could all be telekinetic, like beholders.

    1. I was semi-seriously considering robotic arm harnesses.