Another column I wrote, this time for Game Geek 6:
All sorts of horrible monsters stalk the average fantasy world. Against many of these creatures, the common people have little defense. (Heck, even a irritable cat poses threat to most commoners’ lives and limbs.) How do the common folk manage to stay alive when a single mob of shadows could lay waste to the average hamlet?
Adventurers are a big help. It seems like any time a supernatural problem arises in a community, some adventuring party comes along to smite evil and take its stuff. This makes for some great plot hooks and leads into some memorable adventures, but it doesn’t really satisfy on the macro level. Adventurers aren’t supposed to be a dime a dozen. They can’t be everywhere all the time.
What to do?
Well, I could just continue to ignore the issue. After all, it’s hardly a game-breaker. RPGs have worked fine for decades without placing much emphasis on the problems of lowly commoners. The game isn’t about them. The adventurers occupy the spotlight, and rightfully so. Still, for my current Pathfinder campaign, I want to add an extra layer of verisimilitude (which is not be confused with realism). A campaign world is verisimilitudinous (yes, that’s a real word) to the extent that it encourages and assists the willing suspension of disbelief.
Thus, I sat down and answered this question: What common means of defense against supernatural monsters exist? Here’s what I came up with.
Watch just about any horror movie. Someone’s probably going to set some thing on fire in order to destroy it. Fire has a long history of use as a purifier. In the game, fire gets deployed a lot, especially against regenerating monsters and when taking out groups of foes conveniently clustered together in fireball formation. Other monsters, such as mummies, have well-known vulnerabilities to fire.
Some creatures have a lesser vulnerability to fire. Against fire-based attacks, these monsters suffer +1 point of damage per damage die. Fire-users need to take care, however. Not all lesser vulnerabilities to fire apply to mundane fire. In these cases, only magical fire causes extra damage.
What could be more iconic than the stalwart monster hunter holding a vampire at bay with a boldly presented crucifix? The game system puts this iconic image into play in a cleric’s ability to channel energy to thwart the undead. That’s all fine and dandy for clerics and other characters with the necessary class feature, but what about Farmer Brown?
Anyone can present a holy symbol associated with their faith in an attempt to hold supernatural evil at bay. Doing so is a standard action that does not provoke attacks of opportunity targeted against vulnerable creatures within a 30-foot spread who have both line of sight to the presenter and the holy symbol.
The presenter makes a Will save which is opposed by the Will saves of the affectable creatures. If an affectable creature’s Will save is less than the presenter’s Will save, then the affectable creature is dazed for 1 round. If the presenter scores a natural 20 on his Will save, all affectable creatures within range are dazed for 1 round regardless of their respective Will saves. The presenter can attempt to hold supernatural evil at bay repeatedly.
One cannot attempt this mundane use of a holy symbol while using the channel energy class feature.
Just about the only creatures in the game vulnerable to iron are the fey, and even then it only serves to get past damage reduction and is limited to the rather expensive cold iron type of iron. Again, this doesn’t seem of much use to Farmer Brown. He’s not likely to do well in a fight to begin with, and cold iron is out of his price range.
Let’s broaden our scope a bit. As any fan of Supernatural knows, iron also works quite well against incorporeal undead. Since I just adore Supernatural (as do my players), I can’t think of a single good reason not to incorporate this television element into my current campaign.
Normal iron’s properties affect the fey and the incorporeal undead differently:
Normal iron and fey: Normal iron doesn’t bypass DR, but it does harm fey creatures. A normal iron weapon enjoys a +1 bonus to damage rolls against fey. An iron implement (such as a horseshoe) that is held against a fey’s skin for one full round burns the fey creature for 1d6 points of damage.
Normal iron and incorporeal undead: Normal iron weapons (including improvised weapons) cannot inflict damage on an incorporeal undead, but they can disrupt its form. Striking an incorporeal undead with an iron weapon forces the monster to make a DC 15 Will save. If it fails, the incorporeal undead is disrupted.
While disrupted, the incorporeal undead can only take a single move action each round. It becomes invisible and cannot be harmed by weapons of any type. Magic and channeling energy can still harm a disrupted incorporeal undead. Each round at the beginning of its turn, a disrupted incorporeal undead gets to make a DC 15 Will save as a free action. If it succeeds, it is no longer disrupted and may act normally. A disrupted incorporeal undead gets a +1 bonus on this Will save for each round that it has been disrupted.
Some supernatural creatures cannot cross running water. They can’t even use bridges or fly over running water. This is one more reason why most communities are built near rivers or streams.
When confronted with running water, a supernatural creature with this vulnerability can attempt a DC 15 Will save. Success allows it to cross the running water, but the creature is treated as if staggered during the crossing. Failure means the monster simply cannot cross under its own power. It could, however, have a minion or vehicle carry it, but during the crossing the creature is treated as helpless. The monster is only ever allowed one saving throw to cross any particular body of running water.
Salt purifies and preserves. In some places during certain times in human history, salt has literally been worth its weight in gold. Without salt, food spoils more quickly and sickness and death await. Against certain supernatural creatures, salt has two uses. First, it can form an effective barrier. Salt can also cause damage.
Salt barrier: As a move action that provokes attacks of opportunity, a line of salt can be poured across a single side of a 5-foot square. Creatures susceptible to salt cannot move across this line using any innate means. This includes all modes of movement as well as spell-like and supernatural abilities. The salt line does not prevent the creature from attacking across the line, however, so salt users had best move back to avoid reach.
Also, while the creature cannot directly affect the line of salt, it can use a variety of means to break the line’s integrity. A gust of wind can blow the salt away. A bucket of water can wash it away. Thus, in many instances, a salt barrier provides only temporary security.
Contact with salt: Salt susceptible monsters who are exposed to salt’s touch for one full round suffer 1d6 points of damage from the contact.
Silver sits in pretty much the same boat as iron. It’s useful to bypass damage reduction, and that’s about it.
Creatures without DR #/silver that are vulnerable to silver suffer +1 points of damage from silver weapons (including improvised weapons like a silver candlestick holder). A silver item (such as a silver piece) that is held against a vulnerable creature’s skin for one full round burns the creature for 1d6 points of damage.
The sun’s light chases away the darkness and the creatures who live in it. It is the most common defense against supernatural evil, even if one must survive for several hours before it can be put into play. In many folk tales and fantasy stories, all sorts of creatures can’t stand the light of day.
Several creatures already have sunlight vulnerability or light weakness. These game effects are well-defined. In my current campaign, I will expand the number of creatures with these traits. Also, there are some monsters for whom the touch of sunlight is quite deadly.
Petrified by Sunlight: A creature with this weakness that is touched by sunlight must make a DC 15 Fortitude save or be turned to stone (as flesh to stone). Of course, keeping the trolls talking all night can be a bit tricky.
Before inviting that handsome stranger into the house, make sure he’s not a vampire. Everyone know that once a vampire’s been invited, he has carte blanche to just show up whenever he wants. If anything is worse than an uninvited guest, it’s a guest that feeds on his host’s life energy.
Creatures with threshold weakness cannot enter a building unless invited. It doesn’t matter who invites the creature, nor is it relevant that the invitation is gained via deceit or magic. Of course, this weakness doesn’t prevent the creature from setting the building on fire or sending in its mob of brain-eating zombies.
Monsters suspectible to iron, salt, silver, and holy symbols can also be kept from entering a building if the appropriate item is affixed or poured near the various entrances. Hanging an iron horseshoe over the front door doesn’t just bring good luck. It also helps keep malicious fey out of the living room. One needs to take care that all potential entrances are so warded. The horseshoe over the front door won’t stop a bogie from entering through a window.
Putting all this into play
Since these are the commoner’s methods of defense against the supernatural, it stands to reason that the various methods are well-known. For my current campaign, I need to decide ahead of time which creatures possess which vulnerabilities. Then, I need to let my players know this information before it becomes relevant.
Let’s say our next game session involves the PCs heading to a logging camp that’s been having trouble with members of the Unseelie Court. The PCs know before they leave town that they will be facing evil fey. In general, fey have problems even with normal iron. The PCs are advised to stock up on iron weapons and to bring along a sack of iron nails to affix near building entrances.
Let’s further imagine that one of the Unseelie sighted in the area is a redcap bogie. In my campaign, redcap bogies are so wicked that they can be held at bay by a boldly presented holy symbol. This vital bit of information should almost certainly be shared with the players.
Once these customized bits of campaign fluff and crunch have been put into play, they need to be documented for consistency’s sake. That way, the next time the PCs encounter a redcap bogie, I’ll remember that, yes, the devout fighter can whip out a holy symbol and have a chance to daze the monster before it can gut the party’s wizard.