A World Run By Monsters: How Daybreakers Inspired My Campaign

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on January 11, 2010

This ain’t Twilight! Michael and Peter Spierig’s recent release Daybreakers takes traditional vampires and reminds us just how bloody, violent and cool vampires actually are. The visual style and the futuristic setting feel like a combination of Gattaca, The Matrix and Minority Report, and the vampires are reminiscent of Blade, 28 Days Later and 30 Days of Night. None of these vampires are cute, cuddly, pretty-boys. They’re monsters pure and simple.

I originally saw this movie at the Toronto International Film Festival back in September 2009, and ever since then I’ve been thinking of how this idea can be applied to a D&D adventure. You have a complete society that is made up of monsters, and in this case they still try to act and behave like humans. This is the part that really intrigued me as a DM.

Before I go any further I feel obligated to provide a quick plot summary and review of the film so that readers who haven’t seen the movie, or perhaps haven’t even heard of it, have a better understanding of where I’m going with this idea.

Set in 2019 the world’s population has been infected by vampirism. Only 5% of the population remains human and most of them are harvested for their blood. Society has advanced considerably now that everyone is a vampire, but everything takes place at night. Homes and offices have no windows and cars are equipped with daytime shielding and cameras.

Edward Dalton (played by Ethan Hawke) is a scientist working for the corporation that supplies the world with blood (its CEO, Charles Bromley, played wonderfully by Sam Neil). While Dalton attempts to synthesis human blood, the vampire society is on the verge on collapse as the dwindling supply of humans die. But Dalton is a reluctant vampire and is sympathetic to humans. He meets Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (played by Willim Dafoe), a human who has been cured of his vampirism and together they try to create a cure that can be massed produced.

This film is a good balance of sci-fi, horror and action thriller. I’d strongly recommend it if you’re a fan of traditional vampire movies or just a fellow sci-fi nerd.

Getting back to the D&D connection, I’m interested in exploring how a society of monsters might work in a typical fantasy RPG. A lot of materials are already out there exploring the ecology of various monsters. Books like the Draconomicon focus exclusively on the way in which monsters (in this case dragons) have evolved to fit into the game world. But this isn’t exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about.

What if you take a random monster for the Monster Manual and create a town full of them. Now give them the traditional societal norms and conventions that you’d expect to find in a human village or town. How would that work?

Imagine Ettins or Githyanki or Minotaurs behaving like humans and peacefully working together to keep their community running. They’d do all of the day-to-day jobs and chores from tilling fields to running the tavern to operating a specialty shop. Every task necessary to keep the town functional and prosperous is done by the monsters.

I’ll admit that it’s highly unlikely that this would happen naturally, but in a magic-rich fantasy setting anything’s possible.

Perhaps the most interesting question is how visitors will react upon finding this strange community. Will they just accept it as one more strange thing in a world of diverse creatures or will they feel obligated to discover why such a town exists? Will the PCs assume that because the town is full of monsters that they have to fight everyone they see or will they judge the townsfolk by their actions rather than their monstrous heritage?

In Daybreakers the monsters try to act and behave like humans but as the movie progresses we see that some of them have become the evil, horrifying monsters that we expect vampires to be. In the monsterous community I describe above, it’s entirely possible that they began as an idyllic community but have since veered back to whatever their traditional society is like. For example, Drows who chose to live on the surface, embrace order and live peacefully might begin slipping back to their chaotic, back-stabbing ways.

So if you venture out to see Daybreakers, or if you saw it this past weekend, think about how the setting of this great vampire movie can inspire your next D&D campaign. There’s plenty to draw on if you’re just interesting in the vampire angle. But for DMs it should remind you that monsters aren’t just wandering vagabonds. They have their own home and their own society. All monsters came from somewhere and imagining what that somewhere might look like is a great way to start an adventure.

Daybreakers: 9 on a d10

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Groumy January 11, 2010 at 11:40 am

Hi,

I didn’t saw daybreaker yet, but for your inquiry on how would be a nation ruled by monster, try to read about Droaam and Darguun nation from Eberron campaing Setting, those are two monster ruled nation, the first one ruled by three Hags and populated by minautore, orge, werewolf and other, while Darguun is a Goblin nation, ruled by Hobgolins.

This will give you a good idea how WOTC see Monsters rueld nation and how human interact with them.

2 Swordgleam January 11, 2010 at 1:54 pm

I wonder if minotaurs would still use oxen to plow their fields, or if they’d have to find a less similar creature?

3 Paul January 11, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Open Grave offers some advice on towns or nations ruled by undead.

4 Neuroglyph January 11, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Oh man, I gotta see that movie! And I think your ideas for applying that theme of “monsters as just plain folks” could make for a really interesting adventure experience. Heck, you could probably do a whole series of adventures involving poor hapless player-characters as pawns in monstrous land.

There’s alot of great novels along those lines as well – there was an interesting scifi novel written in the 70’s called “Starhammer”, which had the human race as basically the servants and pets of an alien species. And “West of Eden” had prehistoric humans trying to survive in a world run by evolved dinosaur people. Great source material for creating a campaign too.
.-= Neuroglyph´s last blog ..Secret Sects: The Ebon Cabal – Part II =-.

5 Rook January 11, 2010 at 9:36 pm

That is an intriguing idea. As notes by Groumy, monster ruled nations have been done before, but I’ve never seen it done on a micro scale. Thought provoking and the movie sounds good too. I’ll have to check it out.

@Swordgleam; That brings up more interesting questions. Do minotaurs raise cattle for milk, leather or meat? I would think they would use a less similar creature, in a fantasy world there are so many to choose from.
.-= Rook´s last blog ..And me without a Girdle of Masculinity/Femininity: A tale of a modest mini. =-.

6 Ameron January 12, 2010 at 11:07 am

@Groumy
As a huge Eberron fan I’m amazed I didn’t think of Droaam or Darguun when I was writing this article. Excellent examples.

@Swordgleam
How ironic would it be if they used humans (or one of the other human-like races) to till the fields? Although I suppose that wouldn’t be a very good idea since human are so weak. Maybe they do use oxen and revere them as heroes of the community.

@Paul
I used to play a lot of Ravenloft so I’ve done the undead town or village before. But in those cases the inhabitants were clearly evil and out to kill everyone. Now if they were just trying to mind their own business and live their lives, that could be an interesting scenario. I’ll have to review the relevant sections of Open Grave for pointers. Thanks.

@Neuroglyph
I think most gamers will really enjoy Daybreakers. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t perform better at the box office. It’ll probably disappear from theaters quickly but I suspect it will really find legs on DVD (especially if they wait until Halloween to release it). Starhammer sounds interesting; I’ll have to look for a copy.

@Rook
I’ve seen nations of monsters or nations ruled by monsters but it’s this micro scale (as you called it) that really presents interesting possibilities in my opinion. I can’t wait to find a good opportunity to try it in my own camping.

I agree that Minotaurs probably don’t eat cattle. Perhaps they’ve domesticated something more exotic?

7 Paul M January 14, 2010 at 5:12 pm

I have had monster cities and vendors for a few yrs now it is much fun :)

Minotaurs eating cattle, sure they are stupid beasts

8 Ameron January 21, 2010 at 12:45 pm

@Paul M
Welcome to Dungeon’s Master. Thanks for the comment.

There is certainly room in any fantasy campaign for monsters in the mainstream. It’s up to the DM to determine how many monsters, which types, and how they behave. A monster city where the monsters behave like… monsters can be a lot of fun.

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