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GM Edition: The First Watch
Episode 427th September 2021 • Making a Monster • Lucas Zellers
00:00:00 00:33:07

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The First Watch is a cinematic actual play podcast making the most of genre-based storytelling. DM Andrew Coons and I discuss the seven types of conflict in literature and how heroes make the courageous, if stupid, choice.

Making a Monster: GM Edition asks actual play podcasters how they use the monsters in their games. Read the transcript and get more from the show: https://scintilla.studio/monster-first-watch/

Get stat blocks, bonus content, and other monstrous perks: www.patreon.com/scintillastudio

Join the conversation: www.twitter.com/SparkOtter

Meet my guest Andrew Coons:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCu5p4VD1CxwndFhal7DF0mA

https://twitter.com/firstwatchshow


Music by Nihilore

http://www.nihilore.com/license

Transcripts

James Mendez Hodes:

The simplest definition of a monster is that

James Mendez Hodes:

it's a, a large, dangerous entity that is in some way, not human.

James Mendez Hodes:

Like, if you put a gun to my head and asked me to define monster

James Mendez Hodes:

when I hadn't slept for a while, that's probably what I would say.

Nikki Yager:

I have some favorite monsters in fifth edition, but the ones

Nikki Yager:

that I enjoy playing are the ones who think they're doing the right thing.

Nikki Yager:

So to them, they're the heroes, but to everybody else, they're the monster.

Dan Locke:

I mean, we know who our monsters are personally

Dan Locke:

in our personal life.

Dan Locke:

So for me, what a monster is, is someone or something doing harm with purpose.

Dan Locke:

And at least in my games like that could still be an aboleth or it could

Dan Locke:

be some form of monstrous creature.

Dan Locke:

But like, I don't know, in my opinion, they still have agency.

Dan Locke:

Like they had a chance to not do the thing they're doing now

Dan Locke:

and they chose to do it anyway.

Andrew Coons:

I guess for me personally, I I would say more that monster

Andrew Coons:

being antagonist that you're not going to have a conversation with.

Andrew Coons:

But I think, and you're, yeah, you got me thinking about my own biases now.

Andrew Coons:

But even then, even then, and, you know, why aren't you having

Andrew Coons:

a conversation with them?

Andrew Coons:

Why aren't you trying to?

Lucas:

Welcome back to Making a Monster Game Master Edition, a five-week

Lucas:

miniseries featuring some of your favorite actual-play podcasts as we

Lucas:

explore the interconnected roles of monster, antagonist, villian, and

Lucas:

hero in tabletop roleplaying games.

Lucas:

If monsters are tools for storytelling, then game designers are tool-makers

Lucas:

and game masters are craftsmen who use those tools to make art.

Lucas:

This series will help us understand the storytelling tools that bring

Lucas:

us together, and the values and beliefs we bring to the table.

Lucas:

This week, let me introduce you to Andrew Coons and a show that makes

Lucas:

the most of the consensus fantasy universe of Dungeons & Dragons.

Andrew Coons:

Hi, I'm Andrew.

Andrew Coons:

I am a filmmaker and a storyteller.

Andrew Coons:

but I am the DM and the show runner of The First Watch.

Andrew Coons:

The First Watch is a cinematic actual play web series set in, in an original world.

Andrew Coons:

We've got a main show, lots of spinoff shows and one shots.

Andrew Coons:

We've got a podcast exclusive thing.

Andrew Coons:

I just love fantasy storytelling and want to do it until I'm old and gray or bald.

Andrew Coons:

Whenever one comes from.

Andrew Coons:

I started playing D and D only about three years ago.

Andrew Coons:

And we're actually just about to wrap up our very first campaign we started.

Andrew Coons:

So three-year campaign.

Andrew Coons:

And

Lucas:

That's about right.

Andrew Coons:

Growing up, I wanted to be a writer.

Andrew Coons:

I got into filmmaking, which is my full-time profession.

Andrew Coons:

And so like, storytelling was always the heart of everything.

Andrew Coons:

But I found like a new way of telling stories via TTR RPGs and just that

Andrew Coons:

collaborative storytelling ability.

Andrew Coons:

And I was like, my god, that's everything.

Andrew Coons:

That's, that's what I want.

Andrew Coons:

And was a big fan of Crit Role and Dimension 20 and all that.

Andrew Coons:

And being a filmmaker was, you know, it wasn't long before

Andrew Coons:

I was like, can we do this?

Andrew Coons:

Can we like from our living room, can we make a show?

Andrew Coons:

So we're actually we're a web series first and a podcast second.

Andrew Coons:

And we did our first season with multi-camera setup and everything.

Andrew Coons:

And then when the pandemic hit, we switched to more of a traditional

Andrew Coons:

kind of live stream style.

Andrew Coons:

We don't actually live stream.

Andrew Coons:

We would pre-record, but you know, with an overlay and everything like that, and

Andrew Coons:

we've done podcasts and stuff from there.

Andrew Coons:

But yeah, I just, like, for me, it was just a matter of like, okay, this is

Andrew Coons:

finally the way I can tell the stories that I've had bad way into my brain

Andrew Coons:

since I was a little kid sort of thing.

Andrew Coons:

Cause I don't have the patience to sit and write a book.

Lucas:

How long has the first watch been running?

Lucas:

You said it was pre pandemic you started.

Andrew Coons:

It was pre pandemic.

Andrew Coons:

We had finished filming and released most of our first season when the pandemic hit.

Andrew Coons:

We kinda lost our steam for a couple of months there.

Andrew Coons:

And then the pandemic hitting actually gave me the editing time I needed

Andrew Coons:

to to finish the first season.

Andrew Coons:

So yeah, it's been about, I think we're coming up on two years.

Lucas:

what makes your game unique?

Lucas:

What's kind of the conceit of First Watch?

Andrew Coons:

We're a cinematic actual play web series.

Andrew Coons:

So, so first and foremost, we don't do live streaming.

Andrew Coons:

We prerecord.

Andrew Coons:

So even our stuff that is kind of formatted more like a live stream

Andrew Coons:

with an overlay and everything is prerecorded and edited.

Andrew Coons:

So we're taking out the lengthy rules discussions for taking out the,

Andrew Coons:

some of the mistakes and what not.

Andrew Coons:

We're leaving some of that in in fact, I've started leaving more and more

Andrew Coons:

of the goofy moments and whatnot in then I maybe did in our first season.

Andrew Coons:

Cause I think I had a different vision at that time of having like this really

Andrew Coons:

like almost like a movie type thing.

Andrew Coons:

But that's not what this format is.

Andrew Coons:

Like most people it's an original world.

Andrew Coons:

But I, I'm a filmmaker at heart, and you know, that's what I do in my day job.

Andrew Coons:

And so, like, I draw out the genre a lot.

Andrew Coons:

I go into each new project thinking about a genre that I want to emulate.

Andrew Coons:

So each of our three character backstory one shots hearkens back to

Andrew Coons:

a different genre, whether it's horror films, fairytale stories, or, war

Andrew Coons:

film, like 1917 style you know, all our different, you know, we've got a heist

Andrew Coons:

series, we've got a high adventure, we've got a children's adventure.

Andrew Coons:

We've got you know, like a cozy, almost like hallmark movie type podcast.

Andrew Coons:

Um, that's kind of the lens I use to, to think about things in the, I hope

Andrew Coons:

that it means that even though there's a lot of content and maybe you don't have

Andrew Coons:

the time to catch upon all of it, that there's a little, there's something for

Andrew Coons:

40, no matter what genre you're into.

Lucas:

Tell me about your players.

Lucas:

What was it that

Lucas:

made you want to record with these people?

Andrew Coons:

Yeah.

Andrew Coons:

So everybody that is in our first, see our main show was in our home game.

Andrew Coons:

And it's my wife, Melissa, and then my friend and coworker Benji.

Andrew Coons:

And then my friend from college, Joe, who also writes all our music

Andrew Coons:

which is probably another kind of unique selling point that we have.

Andrew Coons:

We have original scores for most everything.

Andrew Coons:

But yeah, I think it was like, it was a little bit of, of, okay.

Andrew Coons:

Where are the people who are available?

Andrew Coons:

You know, are we the ones who want to try this, but as we've gone through

Andrew Coons:

and done these recordings and stuff, like I've just been blown away with how

Andrew Coons:

much thought and care that they have given to bringing this world alive.

Andrew Coons:

And that's the beauty of, of collaborative storytelling, right?

Andrew Coons:

Like I can only take things so far.

Andrew Coons:

And then it's, you know, it's a okay play.

Andrew Coons:

Here's where, where are we going to go?

Andrew Coons:

And it's been awesome to see them develop their stories and really

Andrew Coons:

care about their characters.

Andrew Coons:

Like, you know, getting those 2:00 AM, text messages about

Andrew Coons:

something that happened in the game.

Andrew Coons:

It's like, I love that I'm here for it.

Andrew Coons:

But yeah, they're, they're phenomenal and they all have.

Andrew Coons:

A really cool balance of loving RP, but also like they're really tactical

Andrew Coons:

and like combat is challenging for me as a DM because they're smart.

Andrew Coons:

And I mean, they don't always do the smartest thing, but like it's yeah.

Andrew Coons:

It's may take advantage of things and they're tricky to,

Andrew Coons:

to, to sneak up on and whatnot.

Andrew Coons:

So, yeah.

Lucas:

I got that from your episode.

Lucas:

I've played long enough to be able to kind of suss out people's

Lucas:

play styles pretty quickly.

Lucas:

and you can tell, like who's doing the math who's, who's

Lucas:

got that roll 20 measure and

Lucas:

figuring out where the lines are.

Andrew Coons:

It's funny too.

Andrew Coons:

As a DM, like you start to realize which players will challenge you more.

Andrew Coons:

Like Joe specifically who plays good Morgan or show?

Andrew Coons:

Super nice guy.

Andrew Coons:

We've been best friends for a long time, but like, if he thinks that

Andrew Coons:

a rule is not the way it should be, like the friendship hat comes off and

Andrew Coons:

he's just like, no, no, no, not now.

Andrew Coons:

And I love that about him.

Andrew Coons:

I love it.

Andrew Coons:

It keeps me, it keeps me on my toes.

Lucas:

Great, No.

Lucas:

free rides with Joe.

Andrew Coons:

No.

Lucas:

I mean with challenging tactical players, what's your

Lucas:

goal for your players when you put together an encounter for them?

Andrew Coons:

Well, I think like a lot of people who run actual plays for

Andrew Coons:

public consumption, which is essentially creating a form of entertainment,

Andrew Coons:

it's different than what my home game looks like, because I'm not using-

Andrew Coons:

eh, and maybe there are folks who do it, definitely, but this is, this has

Andrew Coons:

always been my style - for the show, like I'm not using random encounters.

Andrew Coons:

I'm building kind of touchstone moments throughout the season

Andrew Coons:

that we're going to hit.

Andrew Coons:

And I do want each one to mean something.

Andrew Coons:

I think it might've been Brennan Lee Mulligan, who talked about the

Andrew Coons:

fact that like with an actual play, if there isn't real danger in the

Andrew Coons:

encounter, then why are we doing it?

Andrew Coons:

The audience will check out.

Andrew Coons:

It is different from a home game where, okay, we're just grinding for XP or it

Andrew Coons:

was a random roll of goblins or something.

Andrew Coons:

I think that's a valid criticism of, of actual play is you're

Andrew Coons:

creating entertainment.

Andrew Coons:

So I am keeping that lens as well.

Andrew Coons:

But again, the same way we do genre with our shows in general,

Andrew Coons:

I almost want to emulate and create genre within encounters.

Andrew Coons:

So there are encounters that feel more like horror movie encounters,

Andrew Coons:

and there are encounters that feel more like specific moments for one

Andrew Coons:

character to shine and have like a breakthrough moment and there's

Andrew Coons:

dice involved with that, obviously.

Andrew Coons:

So it's not a predetermined thing that that character will have that moment.

Andrew Coons:

But you're, you're kind of setting the table for them

Andrew Coons:

and hoping that that happens.

Andrew Coons:

In season two, Wasteland, where they're trekking north through the barren deserts

Andrew Coons:

and having kind of multiple encounters happen I definitely was thinking through

Andrew Coons:

like, okay, this is a group encounter.

Andrew Coons:

Okay, this is an encounter.

Andrew Coons:

That's going to test this player.

Andrew Coons:

This is an encounter.

Andrew Coons:

That's going to test this other player.

Andrew Coons:

I'm trying to keep balance that way so that everybody felt like

Andrew Coons:

they had their moment in the midst of all the, the challenge

Lucas:

What are the antagonists in your story then?

Andrew Coons:

Yeah.

Andrew Coons:

so, and again, with a writing background and we all did some of this in high school

Andrew Coons:

English class, but I am also thinking of those classic things of mankind versus

Andrew Coons:

nature, mankind versus himself mankind versus each other versus God or whatnot.

Andrew Coons:

And I'm thinking about those because we have some encounters in our show that

Andrew Coons:

are more like environmental encounters.

Andrew Coons:

There's a whole episode where they get stuck in a gorge and they're

Andrew Coons:

just being struck by lightning and they've got to figure a way out.

Andrew Coons:

So there, there's some of that in figuring out what the antagonist is going to be.

Andrew Coons:

Behind it all, there's, you know, there's a secret society in their mages

Andrew Coons:

and there's kind of some of the more classic stuff, which I don't apologize

Andrew Coons:

for it because like when I started the campaign and the show, one of my

Andrew Coons:

guiding principles was I'm fine with this being cliche, as long as it's good.

Andrew Coons:

Like, I'm fine with it being like, oh, this kind of feels like Lord of the

Andrew Coons:

Rings, or this feels like Redwall, or this feels like anything else that's

Andrew Coons:

been done before, because no one's ever going to completely reinvent the wheel.

Andrew Coons:

And that was like, those are the things I love.

Andrew Coons:

And like, as long as I feel like it's good, then it's worth doing.

Andrew Coons:

So there's a lot of kind of classical tropes in our villains and whatnot.

Andrew Coons:

And yeah, I mean, season one was about monster hunting and being

Andrew Coons:

those those rogues who get coin for bringing back goblin ears and

Andrew Coons:

sorta stuff, and then seeing how that, tumbles into we're now part of

Andrew Coons:

this bigger conspiracy and whatnot.

Andrew Coons:

So when I think about the antagonists, I mean, I, I like the variety of what

Andrew Coons:

both their character's background of being general monster hunters allows for.

Andrew Coons:

They'll hunt any monster?

Andrew Coons:

Cool.

Andrew Coons:

I can make a million encounters out of that.

Andrew Coons:

And then also the kind of arcane weirdness of my world as they're going

Andrew Coons:

through this trek north through the wasteland, and like the different planes

Andrew Coons:

of existence are merging and causing different monsters to come in and out.

Andrew Coons:

It creates at least variety if nothing else.

Lucas:

Hey there, it's future Lucas just breaking in to remind you about

Lucas:

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Lucas:

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Lucas:

Of course you do, that's why you're here with me and Andrew.

Lucas:

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Lucas:

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Lucas:

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Lucas:

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Lucas:

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Lucas:

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Lucas:

Alright, back to the show.

Lucas:

If we're talking cinema and B plot, then I'm thinking back to Buffy the Vampire

Lucas:

Slayer and those kind of Supernatural, those monster of the week kind of

Lucas:

shows that had their season long B plot or C plot, however you call it.

Lucas:

Is that the way you think about it?

Andrew Coons:

A little bit.

Andrew Coons:

Certainly in season one more than anything else, that was the thing.

Andrew Coons:

In season two, and I talked to the players about this, it's not an on

Andrew Coons:

the rails adventure, but it's a very directional adventure in season two.

Andrew Coons:

We are south.

Andrew Coons:

We must go north.

Andrew Coons:

And there's not a lot of room for, for straying off that path.

Andrew Coons:

So it was really a lot more about like hitting and getting through

Andrew Coons:

every obstacle in their path.

Andrew Coons:

It was a war of attrition type story.

Andrew Coons:

So the B plots really become more about what the characters create in the moment.

Andrew Coons:

And I'm worried a little less about creating those for them.

Andrew Coons:

I do always have kind of my background going on and like I'm constantly making

Andrew Coons:

notes as far as like, okay, they've been here for this long, that means X

Andrew Coons:

person, 700 miles away has done this.

Andrew Coons:

And how will that eventually affect the story?

Andrew Coons:

So it's not something you're actively seeing throughout the campaign and

Andrew Coons:

the show, but it's, you know, watch it through and you'll see it come to roost.

Lucas:

Right.

Lucas:

Yeah.

Lucas:

When you put all this together, where do you get your stat blocks from?

Andrew Coons:

I'm lazy.

Andrew Coons:

I don't Homebrew a ton of stuff.

Andrew Coons:

I'll, I'll pull them off of on online and I'll add some home brew

Andrew Coons:

elements every once in a while.

Andrew Coons:

I tend to think first of what the encounter is, and then I go look

Andrew Coons:

for something that'll fit that.

Andrew Coons:

So, yeah, I, the, what I'm doing with staff blocks mostly is as

Andrew Coons:

far as any tweaks or whatnot, is I'm usually bumping up the HP.

Andrew Coons:

Because most stat blocks are just written too low.

Andrew Coons:

In my opinion as far as the HP numbers go And yeah.

Andrew Coons:

And then I'm looking for like cool ways to like flavor attacks or flavor weapons

Andrew Coons:

and swap things out versus just, oh, the stat block says that he has a spear.

Andrew Coons:

Well, what if I don't want him to have a spear?

Lucas:

Sure.

Lucas:

And you've been doing this for about, we've been doing this for three years.

Lucas:

It must be dozens of things that you've chewed through or used, right?

Andrew Coons:

Yeah.

Andrew Coons:

I mean, both in the show, and the home game, like, I mean, I've run my fair

Andrew Coons:

share of goblins and orcs and wolves and everything, but yeah, it's, I've been

Andrew Coons:

trying to branch out more and more, and that's been one of the reasons why in

Andrew Coons:

my world, I liked the fact that we've got this element of the planes of existence.

Andrew Coons:

The barriers between the planes are very thin.

Andrew Coons:

So a lightning storm will cause the Fey wild to shift into, into realm all

Andrew Coons:

of a sudden, because what it allows me to do is have a very easy narrative

Andrew Coons:

reason to bring in any monster I want.

Andrew Coons:

So I've had some weird stuff come in that like, okay, this, the magically

Andrew Coons:

makes no sense in this setting.

Andrew Coons:

Um, But it's a cool monster and got world reason for it to happen.

Andrew Coons:

Yeah.

Lucas:

With your focus on genre, it seems like it would be hard to say from the

Lucas:

back front, which monsters you're going for or which ones you find most useful.

Lucas:

If you had to look back and think on, on the whole or on average or

Lucas:

the ones that keep coming up what are the things that those monsters

Lucas:

have in common or the, the traits or themes that you find most useful?

Andrew Coons:

Yeah.

Andrew Coons:

I don't love running combats that have a ton of moving

Andrew Coons:

pieces for me to keep track of.

Andrew Coons:

Um, So I'm not a huge, like, "oh, you're gonna fight 17 skeletons" type of person.

Andrew Coons:

Or if I do, I'm going to treat them like a swarm.

Andrew Coons:

I do like finding big, beefy encounters that are still challenging because the

Andrew Coons:

trick, whenever you've got one monster versus a party of any size is they

Andrew Coons:

start flanking, they start kiting.

Andrew Coons:

Like it's very quick to go against you as a DM.

Andrew Coons:

But if you look back through our two seasons so far, we've had, you

Andrew Coons:

know, a really big troll encounter.

Andrew Coons:

We've had the giant skeleton, they fought the Lonely at one point,

Andrew Coons:

one of the Shadowfell monsters.

Andrew Coons:

And I'm looking for mechanics that allow those big beefy kind of singular

Andrew Coons:

enemies to hold their own against a party, whether that's the fact that the

Andrew Coons:

troll was a two on one and that's just dangerous for anybody or the skeleton

Andrew Coons:

has three attacks and tons of HP.

Andrew Coons:

So I was like, okay, there's a good chance.

Andrew Coons:

Someone's going down in this encounter.

Andrew Coons:

And also this giant skeleton had immunity to Turn Undead.

Andrew Coons:

So I knew my cleric couldn't do anything about it.

Andrew Coons:

Which was a cool kind of story moment.

Lucas:

Right.

Lucas:

Yeah.

Lucas:

The first time that

Lucas:

doesn't work.

Andrew Coons:

It's huge.

Andrew Coons:

Or the Lonely, just being built for that type of an encounter.

Andrew Coons:

The Lonely is all about, "Yes, bring me as many people as possible and

Andrew Coons:

I will bring them to myself and do psychic damage against them."

Andrew Coons:

So it, it, it was almost a.

Andrew Coons:

That one was almost like a ruse against the players.

Andrew Coons:

Cause why?

Andrew Coons:

Oh yeah.

Andrew Coons:

There's four of us.

Andrew Coons:

One of him.

Andrew Coons:

That's exactly what he wanted.

Andrew Coons:

So, um, so yeah, that's kinda what I'm looking for in my team.

Andrew Coons:

Now I gotta shake it up though.

Andrew Coons:

Now that I've identified it.

Lucas:

I think that's what D and D does, is so much of your

Lucas:

storytelling is determined by how is this going to be satisfying and

Lucas:

how do we balance the action economy of four people versus one monster?

Lucas:

So in that sense, I feel like the game is by its nature,

Lucas:

making you do some things with

Lucas:

the villains that you have in the game.

Lucas:

Are there reasons other than mechanical crunch that you would

Lucas:

use a certain monster in your game?

Andrew Coons:

Yeah, for sure.

Andrew Coons:

I mean, I think that, honestly, there are just times when I'm just flipping

Andrew Coons:

through the Monster Manual or Volos or whatnot, and I'm like, that's cool.

Andrew Coons:

I want to run that.

Andrew Coons:

I want to try it.

Andrew Coons:

So I mean, there's certainly the fun factor.

Andrew Coons:

I mean, if the DM's not having fun as well, then what are we doing here?

Andrew Coons:

I think that the, the ones that have more emotional weight

Andrew Coons:

are those ones that are NPCs.

Andrew Coons:

Right?

Andrew Coons:

And those, you know, those people that they knew that betrayed them

Andrew Coons:

or that person, that they can have a conversation with before attacking.

Andrew Coons:

And this is just kind of a, maybe a terminology thing I need to get over.

Andrew Coons:

But when you say monster, I don't immediately, my head doesn't

Andrew Coons:

go towards, an intelligent, arch mage type of encounter.

Andrew Coons:

My, my head goes towards trolls.

Andrew Coons:

That's just what I'm wired to think of when I hear monster.

Andrew Coons:

But there is a, there is a really good point to be made for those social

Andrew Coons:

skills and that conversation and that decision-making also being just as

Andrew Coons:

important as, as the combat which they've run into for sure in our season.

Andrew Coons:

I like stakes.

Andrew Coons:

I just think that stakes mean different things at different times.

Andrew Coons:

And when it's a big beefy monster, the stakes have to be, are we

Andrew Coons:

going to live through this?

Andrew Coons:

And when it's something else you can play more with the stakes are, you know,

Andrew Coons:

is this person going to betray me or is this person going to kill the other

Andrew Coons:

NPC that we love so much or whatnot?

Lucas:

You've anticipated my question, which gives me some faith

Lucas:

in the way I put this together.

Lucas:

I know how the Monster Manual defines monster it's on page four, I think.

Lucas:

And it essentially says anything with a stat block.

Lucas:

Other than just troll do you have a way of defining for yourself what monster means?

Andrew Coons:

Yeah.

Andrew Coons:

And it's, it's funny because even in our very first episode

Andrew Coons:

of season one we pick up mid hunt with the party hunting a troll.

Andrew Coons:

But the twist on that encounter was that the troll starts trying to talk to them.

Andrew Coons:

They just can't speak its language.

Andrew Coons:

So even then there's like, I was hoping to sow some seeds, which will still

Andrew Coons:

pay off in season three of okay, you think it's just a mindless beast?

Andrew Coons:

It's not.

Andrew Coons:

It has thoughts and emotions and dreams and whatnot of its own.

Andrew Coons:

And yet we hunt these things.

Andrew Coons:

I think that for me, it's a really, really easy answer is anything

Andrew Coons:

undead you know, they're skeletons, they're zombies or whatnot.

Andrew Coons:

Shoot them up, you know, like we can just, we can just go crazy.

Andrew Coons:

I I'm, I'd be very happy to be proven wrong or, or given a different

Andrew Coons:

opinion on that one as well.

Andrew Coons:

But I think the way I look at it, you know, the undead have

Andrew Coons:

already had their life and they're not back of their own accord.

Andrew Coons:

So there's almost some mercy in putting them down again.

Andrew Coons:

But yeah, I hope that in the midst of telling a classic story where

Andrew Coons:

you know, people are fighting orcs and goblins and trolls and whatnot,

Andrew Coons:

there are moments where we can stop and go, why are we fighting them?

Andrew Coons:

And what have we been told that causes us to fight them and whatnot.

Lucas:

So it sounds like the way you're using it, And I'm, I'm really kind

Lucas:

of reading between the lines here.

Lucas:

It sounds like the way you're using the word monster is to mean

Lucas:

anything that that you wouldn't have to feel bad about killing.

Andrew Coons:

You could

Lucas:

I close?

Andrew Coons:

Yeah.

Andrew Coons:

I mean, I guess for me personally, I I would say more that monster

Andrew Coons:

being antagonist that you're not going to have a conversation with.

Lucas:

Okay.

Andrew Coons:

But I think, and you're, yeah, you got me

Andrew Coons:

thinking about my own biases now.

Andrew Coons:

But even then, even then, and, you know, even like, I was just saying

Andrew Coons:

the example of like, why aren't you having a conversation with them?

Andrew Coons:

Why aren't you trying to?

Andrew Coons:

I mean, there's very much of an idea of like, you know, the real monsters

Andrew Coons:

are within us type of thing, right?

Andrew Coons:

Anyone can be a monster.

Andrew Coons:

I think there also has to be that sense of danger and evil with it, you know,

Andrew Coons:

if they have a conversation with said troll and realize that said troll is just

Andrew Coons:

trying to live his life and it doesn't know why people are hunting him, all of

Andrew Coons:

a sudden that's not monstrous anymore.

Andrew Coons:

It's not scary.

Andrew Coons:

It's not other.

Andrew Coons:

All those things that I think are important to to think about.

Andrew Coons:

And as characters in this story, you know, making money, trying to survive

Andrew Coons:

in a very tough environment they maybe think less about it than we

Andrew Coons:

as 21st century people of privilege, get to sit back and think about.

Andrew Coons:

And then how do you rectify that, you know, player versus character

Andrew Coons:

decision balance and all that?

Andrew Coons:

It's complicated.

Andrew Coons:

It is complicated.

Lucas:

I love the, we talked about it earlier.

Lucas:

The most common thing I hear people do is trying to subvert what it means to

Lucas:

be a monster or trying to do something unexpected with their antagonist.

Lucas:

Why do you think we do that?

Andrew Coons:

Oh boy.

Andrew Coons:

I think it's because . . . some of this is probably rooted in my religious upbringing

Andrew Coons:

as well, which I'll certainly own.

Andrew Coons:

But I think that there's an element where we all recognize

Andrew Coons:

our own capacity for evil.

Andrew Coons:

Even if we feel like we are good people or do good things, I think there's an element

Andrew Coons:

of, we recognize our capacity for evil.

Andrew Coons:

And I know I recognize the fact that you know, me and the murderer.

Andrew Coons:

You know, that that person didn't always think or know they were

Andrew Coons:

going to do a horrible thing.

Andrew Coons:

There are circumstances, there's nature and nurture that goes into it.

Andrew Coons:

And certainly there are decisions, but I think at the end of the day, we recognize

Andrew Coons:

our own capacity for evil, we choose to do good, and we hope for redemption.

Andrew Coons:

And I think that there's an element of we find monsters in each other.

Andrew Coons:

We find monsters in our characters, but then really we are hoping

Andrew Coons:

that they get redeemed in the end that they come back around.

Andrew Coons:

No one wants a story where someone just turns out to be evil and that's it, right?

Andrew Coons:

That's the magician making something disappear, but not bringing it back.

Andrew Coons:

And so.

Andrew Coons:

We want to see the, the, the horrible journey and the betrayal, the knife in

Andrew Coons:

the back and the, you know, you know, the hero's journey that they go on.

Andrew Coons:

But in the end we want some sort of reconciliation or, or some

Andrew Coons:

sort of closing of the book on it.

Andrew Coons:

I think we recognize that we have to go down in order to

Andrew Coons:

go up on that rollercoaster.

Lucas:

I do want to get to the other side of that.

Lucas:

if monster is redeemed toward hero, then how do we end up with so many heroes who

Lucas:

have that relationship to the monstrous.

Lucas:

But before we go there, I want to, I want to detour a little bit cause

Lucas:

you did say that that your religious upbringing is something you have to own.

Lucas:

And I really wonder what you mean by that.

Andrew Coons:

So yeah, I mean, I was, I was raised evangelical

Andrew Coons:

and I you know I and I do hold to a lot of those faiths still.

Andrew Coons:

I think that there are elements of being raised, religious that as an adult, I

Andrew Coons:

now look back on and see as like, okay, with, with my own life experiences

Andrew Coons:

and my analytical brain, like I agree or don't agree with X, Y, and Z.

Andrew Coons:

And I think that there's a lot of, um, depending on the circles you run in,

Andrew Coons:

there's a lot of fear-mongering that goes on and there's a lot of painting

Andrew Coons:

with very black and white brushes.

Andrew Coons:

This is good.

Andrew Coons:

This is bad.

Andrew Coons:

There is no in between.

Andrew Coons:

And that is problematic from the standpoint that I think

Andrew Coons:

we're all in the gray area.

Andrew Coons:

I don't think anyone's a hundred percent evil or a hundred percent good that there

Andrew Coons:

is, you know, as Skywalker would say that I could feel the good in you there it's

Andrew Coons:

there deep down in and the flip side of that means that the evils deep down in

Andrew Coons:

there somewhere too, and that we have to make choices on how we act on that.

Andrew Coons:

But yeah, I guess I qualify that just so that when people don't

Andrew Coons:

think I'm coming to it with an immediate black and white approach.

Lucas:

Do you feel like it's a liability in the community that you've found

Lucas:

yourself a part of in the TTRPG space?

Andrew Coons:

At all.

Andrew Coons:

not at all.

Andrew Coons:

I mean, the TTR PG space is incredibly varied and diverse, and there are

Andrew Coons:

people like me who are straight white men who are Christians.

Andrew Coons:

And there are people who are of, you know, all walks of life and sexualities and

Andrew Coons:

genders and races and religious beliefs.

Andrew Coons:

And like, I think the beauty of it is that we come together through

Andrew Coons:

storytelling and that we don't have to necessarily agree on.

Andrew Coons:

Or, or not even agree or even like, just be able to relate to everybody's

Andrew Coons:

individual upbringings and backgrounds, but that we have this commonplace

Andrew Coons:

of storytelling and that through that and that, in that, you know,

Andrew Coons:

there are there, you know, we need to be respectful of one another.

Andrew Coons:

But if you can do that, then it's family.

Andrew Coons:

It's awesome.

Lucas:

I'm really glad I got that on tape.

Lucas:

I'll have to figure out how to handle it.

Lucas:

Cause it is a little bit.

Andrew Coons:

It's a little heavy.

Lucas:

Yeah.

Lucas:

But it's really important to me.

Lucas:

I want to circle back because I want to talk about heroes.

Lucas:

Dungeons and Dragons being an example of heroic fantasy means that it

Lucas:

has such an emphasis on the hero

Lucas:

and that every player is themselves a hero and together, you know, they're

Lucas:

functioning narratively as one hero and that hero has the name of the party.

Lucas:

So if you, if you have a working definition of monster, and if hero and

Lucas:

monster are diametrically opposed, then what's the working definition of hero?

Andrew Coons:

I feel like it's a lot more complicated.

Andrew Coons:

Even within D and D there are certain ways that it encourages players to

Andrew Coons:

be an antihero or to not necessarily fit that White Knight in Shining

Andrew Coons:

Armor, you know, type of thing.

Andrew Coons:

I mean, you know, the rogue who's chaotic neutral, but is still a hero, even though

Andrew Coons:

they may do some really shifty things.

Andrew Coons:

Heroes are problematic because you have any hero you've got, you have

Andrew Coons:

to recognize that unless they're Superman and they have no flaws and

Andrew Coons:

no character flaws that there's, that there's darkness that comes with it.

Andrew Coons:

And so what is it that makes them heroic?

Andrew Coons:

What, there, there is an element of overcoming of doing the right thing

Andrew Coons:

in the face of adversity of courage.

Andrew Coons:

But even then, could you have a coward who, who still became a hero?

Andrew Coons:

I think that if I had to give a working definition of hero, it is a person

Andrew Coons:

or a character that we see ourselves in, but that inspires us to try to

Andrew Coons:

be a better version of who we are.

Andrew Coons:

So that's vague in the sense that it doesn't assign any sort of

Andrew Coons:

like, you must slay the dragon, you must save the princess.

Andrew Coons:

You must help the orphan.

Andrew Coons:

No.

Andrew Coons:

A hero to X person could be really shifty.

Andrew Coons:

But if X, but in fact here will also helps them realize that no, I

Andrew Coons:

mean, I can make the right decision sometimes and I can do that thing

Andrew Coons:

that I thought was really hard to do.

Andrew Coons:

It's a small heroicism, but it's, it's heroic.

Andrew Coons:

Yeah.

Lucas:

Let's take that and then let's work backwards.

Lucas:

In doing this little mini series with actual play podcasters, I've heard

Lucas:

as many interesting definitions of the relationship between monster

Lucas:

and hero as I have done interviews.

Lucas:

And I know it talked about them being opposites.

Lucas:

If you could, recontextualize that relationship, how do you describe it?

Lucas:

What's your metaphor for that?

Andrew Coons:

I think that at the end of the day, you know, it's funny, I

Andrew Coons:

talked about earlier, you know, there's the whole man versus nature, man versus

Andrew Coons:

god, man versus himself, man, versus whatever, really, they all boil down

Andrew Coons:

to man versus himself, humanity versus themselves in one way or another to me.

Andrew Coons:

Because whatever antagonist you're going up against, whatever monster, whatever

Andrew Coons:

evil villain, whatever environmental challenge, that you're up against,

Andrew Coons:

at the end of the day, it's kind of like the real flip of the coin is

Andrew Coons:

are you going to screw your courage to the sticking place and do this?

Andrew Coons:

Are you going to stand your ground?

Andrew Coons:

Are you going to take that leap when you have a D the percentile

Andrew Coons:

say you really shouldn't.

Andrew Coons:

And that's what we want out of our heroes, right?

Andrew Coons:

We want them to kind of throw care to the wind and do the

Andrew Coons:

right thing and everything.

Andrew Coons:

Monsters and encounters give an opportunity for that courage

Andrew Coons:

to be on display for those decisions to be on display.

Andrew Coons:

And this is why I think that it's tough to as, as again, people in a 21st century

Andrew Coons:

world where, you know, there are certainly are soldiers out there fighting and

Andrew Coons:

doing physical combat, but for a lot.

Andrew Coons:

if not most of us, we're not fighting for survival, the way our answers, the

Andrew Coons:

ancestors did, we can manage, you know, a meal a day and a roof over our heads

Andrew Coons:

and enough clothes to keep us going.

Andrew Coons:

Even if that it can be tough, like we can survive.

Andrew Coons:

And so we still have within us those desires to, to prove

Andrew Coons:

ourselves and to have those moments.

Andrew Coons:

And I think some people find unhealthy ways to do that.

Andrew Coons:

And I think D and D offers a health, a healthy way to kind of vicariously live

Andrew Coons:

those moments and make those decisions in a game where it's like, no, I,

Andrew Coons:

I will face down the the pit fiend, even though I'm the last one standing

Andrew Coons:

and my party lies dead around me.

Andrew Coons:

I will not run.

Andrew Coons:

That's not about fighting a pit fiend.

Andrew Coons:

That's about you and your character.

Andrew Coons:

Making a conscious choice to be courageous, maybe a

Andrew Coons:

little stupid, but create.

Andrew Coons:

courageous.

Lucas:

Man.

Lucas:

Yeah, you did it again.

Lucas:

No one else has given me exactly that and I love it.

Andrew Coons:

Isn't that the cool thing though, is that in, in this, in this

Andrew Coons:

infinity game, there are just so many different ways to think about and play.

Andrew Coons:

And I, yeah, I, I, this is one of the reasons I love this community.

Andrew Coons:

I love doing interviews like this and whatnot is like, I just get

Andrew Coons:

to hear so many different diverse perspectives and it's, it's beautiful.

Andrew Coons:

I love it.

Andrew Coons:

Humanity is a cool thing.

Lucas:

Thanks for listening to Making a Monster.

Lucas:

I’m really excited to share with you what I’ve learned from these

Lucas:

storytellers, so I hope you’re enjoying this diversion from the format.

Lucas:

First Watch is a show committed to visual quality and making the most of its genres.

Lucas:

Here's how you can find out more.

Andrew Coons:

To find The First Watch, we can be found on Twitter

Andrew Coons:

mostly at first watch show and then YouTube channel has all of our

Andrew Coons:

content, including our podcasts.

Andrew Coons:

So that's a YouTube slash The First Watch Show as well.

Andrew Coons:

And yeah, we're on Instagram and Facebook and whatnot as well under the

Andrew Coons:

same handle, but Twitter and YouTube or where you can usually find us.

Lucas:

If you like what you've heard on Making a Monster and you want to

Lucas:

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Lucas:

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Lucas:

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Lucas:

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Lucas:

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Lucas:

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Lucas:

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