As I get deeper into the planning for the boys campaign I am coming to a conclusion. Is it fun to play monster of the week? To make every arc about exploring about a cavern full of alien creatures? And make the opponents of the party faceless evil monsters? Sure it is. And that is the way of most fantasy novels. Humans threatened by evil monsters bent on destruction and taking over the land.
But my question is, does it have to be monsters? Should I just create a horde of Orcs and Goblins to throw at the party? Create a terribly powerful Lich who will martial a horde of the Undead? Obviously my answer is no, not this time around.
I have maintained before that the deadliest bad guys you could throw at any party would be another group of adventurers. You’ve got a tank or two to throw at me to soak of damage, well here’s my tank. You’ve got a stealthy archer raining down arrows on my tank? Well how about a little counter fire? You’re mage is unleashing hell with AoE spells? Well how about a dispel to counter and then a spell back for good measure? Oh you have a Cleric running around playing Medic? Well we have one of those too.
And yes, I could just grant the alien races some of these same powers, and some times that works. But that is a) hard work for me, b) doesn’t make as much sense. So with this game, eventually, the party is going to start running into groups just like them. Adventurers who are exploring the same edge of civilization, and maybe less inclined to share and share alike when it comes to that treasure in that ruined tower.
Or a scouting party for a foreign power, that is trying to find out what dangers the party”s land poses. Or is infiltrating to wreak havoc. In that case think of each party as a Spec Ops team, and they are running into each other, one playing defense. There is a lot of room for some interesting arcs here in my opinion.
And I could even have the party develop some rivalries with these other groups, but then have to work together when a ‘big bad alien monster’ comes around to threaten all of civilization as they know it. I just think that would be another fun twist.
And the reality is that a lot of these arcs are just not possible in your traditional dungeon crawl/monster of the week style campaign. But then I also want to get the party to think that life is more than just going out into the wilderness, finding a dungeon, exploring it, finding strange new creatures and killing them, and then returning with the treasure. That just leads to a murder hobo approach to the game, which is boring to run.
To sum up, no, in my opinion D&D and RPG’s do not have to be all about monsters. You could very easily have a campaign with plenty of action without a roster of wandering monsters available at every turn.