Monster lists and the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis

So, Delta put up an interesting analysis of the LBB monster list, Original Monster Elegance. One of the things he noticed was the creatures were grouped by type and ordered, within type, by hit dice. You had humanoid types from half hit dice (kobolds) to 12 hit dice (giants). Similarly you had undead from half hit dice (skeletons) to 9 (vampires). In both cases the top monster had a variable range (8 to 12 for giants and 7-9 for vamps). After that you get, in Delta’s words, a block of chimerical and serpent-like monstrosities, culminating with dragons, purple worms, and (on the flip) sea monsters.

Lately, I’ve been looking at the very common OSR idea of campaign unique monsters and spells. I wondered, what if you took the LBB groups and did the same thing uniquely. A group of humanoid monsters, a group of undead, and a group of…well, what do you call them, monster monsters.

There is this linguistic theory called linguistic relativity. Read the Wikipedia article for the detailed and not screwed up by me defition. I first heard of it as the Sapif-Whorf hypothesis in a Heinlein story (Gulf if memory serves). I’ve always understood it as “the words you have influence what you can think about” but Wikipedia tells me it’s more complex than that. However, I think there is a kernal of truth.

See, when I was coming up with my three basic groups I was looking for a word to describe what Delta called “a block of chimerical and serpent-like monstrosities”. Then, one hit me. I wrote down kaiju. At that moment, as silly as it might sound, just choosing the word to define the group of non-humanoid, non-undead monsters put it into focus. I immediately started thinking not only of Godzilla but Rodan and Gamera.

Maybe, in the end, the monsters won’t end up that different. After all, they’ll still be based on real animals in some way. I certainly don’t want to create some “Japanese” setting. To be honest, if I wanted to use Japanese media as a primary inspiration it’s more likely to be for a space fantasy game using Message from Space, The War in Space, Atragon, and so on. However, I do think choosing that word got me out of what I’ll call the D&D mindset, the whole Elfy/Dwarfy thing.

3 thoughts on “Monster lists and the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis

  1. @Brendan: Your chart was another influence although I'll admit the shape had me confused.

    The one of yours that is really rattling around in my brain is your bit breaking down what is in the books and the idea of the player and GM interfaces. It got me re-thinking some of my work on a White Box based Rifts style game.

  2. Pingback: Sapir-Whorf-Hypothese | Der Propagazzi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *