This article originally appeared in Pyramid #5
In the summer of 1992, I started writing creatures for horror games. At the same time, I was putting together a rough draft of GURPS Cabal, a horror worldbook. I had a contract to write it, but I was having trouble establishing the basic tone and scope of the organization. The creature ideas, however, were plentiful.
GURPS Creatures of the Night Designer's Notes
by Scott Paul Maykrantz
As the creatures popped up in All of the Above (a GURPS fanzine I contribute to regularly), I talked to SJ Games about a follow-up to the Cabal book: a horror bestiary. They liked the idea. GURPS Cabal was due on March 31st. The bestiary would be done a few months later. By February, with at least 40 creatures completed and no progress on the Cabal, I switched projects - I would do the bestiary, then Cabal.
But I didn't tell anyone at Steve Jackson Games. Sometimes it's better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission. (Editor's Note: Do not try this at home. This is not how you get on our good side here at SJ Games. I wasn't here at the time, but I'm amazed the author still lives.) On April Fool's Day, my package arrived in Austin: 56 horror creatures and an introduction to the book. I crossed my fingers, hoping for the best.
A month later, I got a response. The manuscript was accepted. A month after that, the book had a name: Creatures of the Night. They needed ten more creatures to make it a 128-page book, so I got back to my word processor and set to work.
Writing Wretches and WraithsAfter a year of writing monsters of all shapes and sizes, I have developed a system.
First, I brainstorm ideas. I sit at my computer and write every weird or sinister word that comes to mind. I also write phrases, strange statements that become adventure seed titles. After brainstorming 100 ideas, I delete all but the best ten, divide them into titles and creature names, and resume brainstorming. This is a "brute force'' method. If you keep at it long enough, something good will eventually come out. When I have about 30 good names, I start writing. One or two will demand immediate attention, so I take care of them first. Then I pick a few more from the list and keep writing.
I have no idea how I come up with the details for the creatures when I am creating them. I just let my mind wander until something clicks. When the creature is done, I try to figure out what inspired it. In most cases, there are several sources. For example, the gallows trees were inspired by Bradbury's Halloween Tree, but their cocooning feature came from a weird film called Xtro.
I wanted the creatures to have a classic feel to them, a timeless quality. I wanted them to play memorable roles in campaigns. They had to be frightening, but not repulsive. I also deliberately made many of them parasites of humans. If a monster needs humans to survive, it is much more likely to deal with player characters, rather than simply slaughtering them.
But it worked out in the end. All in all, I think the book turned out well. I was given the chance to try something a little different, to design creatures that would be inspiring and entertaining. With the help of people like editor Susan Pinsonneault and S. John Ross, I think I accomplished my goal.
Article publication date: February 1, 1994
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