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I believe that the premise of the player as the monster of the game quite compelling. Vampire: The Masquerade is obviously the pioneer in this genre, and other creatures such as werewolves, ghosts and demons have been notoriously used in diverse games as PCs. Are there other monsters which can fit as good PCs?

Interesting monsters would probably:

  • Establish social groups, at least small ones, so a group of monster PCs would be viable.
  • Even being monsters, they should be charismatic characters, in the sense that their tragedy (or vilanny) is interesting to play.
  • Although supernatural, they should be at least similar to a human — shoggoths, for example, are just too alien.

The creatures that comes to my mind are the Frankenstein's monster and revenants (see The Crow), both of which would be so rare that a group of those would be really unusual. Also, it's doubtful that these creatures would be willing to find others of their kind, so they may not be a good choice for players.

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You may want to check out White Wolf's full catalog. They have games built around most of the monsters you mention in your post, including Frankenstein's Monster (Promethians) and Revenants (Geist, Wraith, or Mummy, depending on flavor). –  AceCalhoon Apr 10 '12 at 3:39
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Any reason this shouldn't be closed as a list question? I mean, it's certainly a great topic, but it's really more of a discussion/idea seed than a question. –  Oblivious Sage Jul 21 '13 at 13:31
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I think answers that adhere to Good Subjective, Bad Subjective can be "best" and not "list" answers. See @TimothyAWiseman's answer - that's the kind of "here's some options and I've actually done them" that is a great answer to this kind of Q, as opposed to, to be fair, a lot of the other answers below that are pure opinion or have no backing details. –  mxyzplk Jul 21 '13 at 13:45
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Siding with @ObliviousSage on this one. I find no criteria for a 'best' answer. This is chatty. Good topic, for sure, but not for this site's format. –  LitheOhm Jul 21 '13 at 16:32
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@mxyzplk If we edit this to be specifically looking for answers like TimothyAWiseman's, or even better like AlexP's, would the mods be able to then go through and remove all the existing Bad Subjective answers that no longer fit? –  Oblivious Sage Jul 21 '13 at 18:08
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closed as too broad by Oblivious Sage, LitheOhm, BESW, wax eagle, Ernir Jul 22 '13 at 13:13

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

9 Answers

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I second everything that aramis has said. But, it seems you were looking for more specific examples and I have done some of this in the past.

As AceCalhoon pointed out, you should look at White Wolf's full catalog to start with. They have done revenants (a minor expansion to Wraith) and Frankenstein's Monster-types (see Prometheus: The Created).

I have personally done Lich's in a modern setting (using Mage: The Ascension with a few house rules) and found that worked quite well. They could pass for humans, but only through the use of magic, and while they were more powerful than most Mages (by virtue of age and experience) they were shunned by the vast majority of all Mage factions. It provided for interesting social challenges and themes of isolation and "us-against-the world".

In a more gothic (modified Ravenloft setting), I have dealt with groups of death knights. Normally Death Knights are purely evil, but it doesn't take much to get into a position where the Death Knight came to his position through evil acts and deserved it, but he was a good man that fell to temptation and then began seeking redemption (there was an instance of this in the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon setting). With a little tweaking you could have a truly good person turned into a death knight by an evil power in revenge for something the goodly person did to thwart the evil power.

I noticed the horror tag, but I will point out that Dragons make excellent PCs as long as you are going for a high power game. In DnD, most dragons can easily take on a human form, but they have a lot of power and a different enough thought and social structure to get into some interesting culture-shock situations. And sometimes it is fun to just run a high powered game where the PCs can decimate a large percentage of the opposing army at first... until that army comes back with its own Draconic backing.

And of course it can be fun to experiment, especially for One-offs rather than extended campaigns. I have done a cyberpunk setting one-off where the characters were AIs. I haven't tried it yet, but I think a game where the characters exist entirely in Dreams (think something like Nightmare on Elmstreet) could be fun. They might be able to subsist only on strong emotions and be forced to move to different dreams as the dreamer wakes up. If they were generally benevolent, they might have the challenge of creating strong emotions in a positive (or at least nonharmful) way, and find that the easiest ways to create strong emotions are by inciting fear and anger in ways that might harm their hosts. If they were less benevolent, it could be fun to just let the players creatively torment their hosts for their own sustenance while the hosts hunted for ways to end the nightmares.

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Never thought before about the idea to liches as PCs -- really cool! –  Metalcoder Apr 10 '12 at 22:59
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Any intelligent monster with free will and the ability to manipulate its environment is a potentially good PC.

It needs free will to be suitable, otherwise it's no fun at all.

The ability to manipulate its environment is a prerequisite for effective PC's. It can be by magic, tools, or its own limbs, but it's not fun to play the brain-in-a-box.

Intellect is requisite for being playable as well, generally, tho' it can be rather low. I've run games with PC's that were mental midgets, so I know from experience that it's important. It takes a special group of players to play imbecilles. But it can be done.

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I agree mostly with the "needs free will" however mindless minions of a greater power can make scary adverseries; the souless golems that the wizard creates to slay his foe, the ranks of zombies that mindlessly march through fire against their enemy or the necromancers shadow sliding in through a window to slay another noble; these are more aspects/tools of the greater power; so maybe I should just say that "minions" are an excellent aspect of a really good monster :) –  Rob Apr 10 '12 at 7:30
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@Rob hey, you gave me a great idea. In the case of monsters with little to no interest in forming packs, they could be minions of a greater evil, so they don't really have a choice. That way, the pack of minions can be the troupe! Obviously, they still should be interesting to portray. –  Metalcoder Apr 10 '12 at 9:57
    
Glad to inspire :) –  Rob Apr 10 '12 at 10:31
    
+1: It takes a special group of players to play imbecilles :D I have a player (Int 6) that rolls 50% to forget anything smart he is about to say. –  kravaros Jul 21 '13 at 14:11
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Well, ages before Shreck and the Orcs trilogies by Stan Nicholls, I had lots and lots of fun playing as an Ogre, or an Orc, or as a Troll, or Kobold, or Goblin and the rest of that stinky villains... thanks to a D&D Gazzetter published by TSR - see a more extended review here.

Like most good RPG books, it can be reasonably adapted to whatever RPG game or edition or expansion you want, with a tiny pinch of salt.

I also had a shorter experience playing as a Centaur, or Pixie or Satyr or Leprechaun or similar other fairytale races, monsters and nightmares... it was fair fun as well, and the related TSR publication is this.

As usual, in role playing games, only your fantasy is the limit! ;-)

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While a wide variety of creatures work as RPG protagonists in the generic sense, horror-themed RPGs tend to use inhuman protagonists as a way to internalize the fundamental thematic elements.

Vampire's Formula: "Personal Horror"

White Wolf's design for Vampire: the Masquerade was based on an idea they called "personal horror": you are a vampire, and always will be. Like body horror, personal horror gets a lot of its power from the feeling of corruption and inevitability, though instead of visceral disgust and violation it's generally playing towards the emotional and tragic.

Sure, your vampire PC might encounter and defeat all kinds of awful monstrous things, but one thing you can't escape is that you yourself are corrupted and monstrous. Losing control to the Beast, the slippery-slope morality mechanics, the rules for having drink blood to use your powers — all of these are around to remind the players that just living as a vampire involves hurting people all the time; however moral and altruistic you may try to be, the bedrock of your life is exploiting and abusing others.

The Monsters You Play Are Also Victims

Vampires are also compelling because they used to be human. A Vampire PC's "unlife" started with someone else turning them into the thing they are now. And from your sire you inherit not only the power and curse of vampirism but also membership in a culture of clans and elders, a society that exists mainly to perpetuate itself. Vampire society is there to continuously tell you that you ought to be dehumanizing everyone below you (they're "kine"), that trying to live your life any other way is doomed and fruitless. (At its core, I think this setup was a pretty smart take on the moral unease experienced by many middle-class teens: Am I just going to end up a soulless parasite? Why did everyone before me just decide to fall in line and turn a blind eye to the suffering of others?)

Monstrous nature represents indelible psychological scars in many other games:

  • NWoD Changeling has been described as a game that's really about abuse victims trying to find their way back into normal lives.

  • Prometheans are, by their nature, forlorn and isolated, struggling for human connection.

  • Wraith's themes are most clearly expressed in Charnel Houses of Europe: How can you move past a hellish experience? Will it define you forever in ways you can't control?

Powerful and Powerless, Victim and Victimizer

I think a good template for monstrous PCs starts with these elements:

  • The character's monstrous nature is a source of strength. Even if you're not playing a game about supernatural badasses, it's important for the inhuman part of the PC to be useful in accomplishing goals, because this creates a reason for players to continually bring it up in play.

  • A lot of the core horror in horror fiction is based on powerlessness and suffering. The monstrous protagonist is still a protagonist. Part of the price of admission to all that monstrous power is that it's also your weakness and your burden.

  • Horror monsters defile and abuse. That doesn't change just because we decided to make them the protagonists. If the players want to be horrible monsters, make them do horrible things. It's their nature. It sustains their existence. It makes them exciting and tragic.

Monsterhearts interprets supernatural teen drama (like Vampire Diaries) through a lens like this, representing different forms of emotional imbalance as vampires, werewolves, witches, &c. Their nature both empowers the characters and hurts them, and can easily lead them to hurt other people.

Note that the horror monsters needn't be a full-fledged species with their own civilization and such. You can just easily play a game where the monsters are rarer and never spend their time relating to any NPCs of "their own kind" (imagine The Crow if it was about three friends who were all brutally murdered by the same people, for instance). The important thing is that they have lots of ways to relate to people.

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Any (intelligent) monster will do as good PCs. Just because humans and their allies are the dominant force in most RPGs doesn't mean they're the only ones with societies out there.

Take orcs, they're intelligent, have a strong social structure (biggest wins, smallest gets eaten) and no doubt have villages or communal gathering areas, family/tribal groupings, forms of exchange (gang with the most axes gets to exchange your stuff for insults and spit) and some sort of law and order (whatever the big guy says goes).

ok, so that's a little facetious towards the orc society, if I was to come up with something, it'd be a nomadic tribal system based on strong family ties and honourable or possibly fear based social interactions with other tribes. Think mongols for an example culture.

The main thing to realise is that orcs don't magically exist and don't live off air and sunlight. They need crops if static, domesticated animals and/or hunting areas if nomadic. They can't be total kill-everything mindless monsters or they'd have killed each other off by now.

So you can happily play an orc in an orc environment, over in the hills or deserts where orcs hang out. Occasionally you can be part of a orc posse that goes and kicks some marauding humans back to their territories, or engages in some expansionist adventures to bring back glory for the tribe.

Whatever, just remember that monsters are people too :)

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I really think that if you want to take the "inhuman" route, the best way to do it is probably the Dresden Files RPG, or possibly Anima (or Big Eyes Small Mouth by extension).

In Dresden they give a lot of tools for a story-heavy mechanic that allows for inhuman characters of all varieties because of how free form it is. Plus, because it is based off of a series of books that have some mighty fine definitions with soft-spread physics adaptations to what exists are well within the frame. I could list some examples, but I am not sure how much would be unwanted spoilers.

Anima and BESM are anime related games so you can more or less claim your character to be anything you want within the DM/GM/ST permission and come up with a backstory. However these don't really cover the depth and development that you are looking for.

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While not an entirely serious role playing system, Kobolds Ate My Baby casts the players as, you guessed it, Kobolds!

http://www.koboldsatemybaby.com/

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It all depends on the system. Storyteller is balanced for the "monsters" that are the core of its essence. Some systems allow for this form a mechanics standpoint, but not socially - i.e. if a character of X race walks into town, will they burn them!? Once you get past this, then game balance comes in. Would the race favor a character too much? Lastly, do the mechanics allow for integrated the "monster" into normal character creation processes? I've allowed players to play very questionable races.. most usually can't function because of the lack of social acceptance. Players find their character must either fade to the back and not participate in many situations, or actively engenders hostile reactions. Those that do work i always consider "atypical" - i.e. i might strip away some of their abilities because they are not part of the culture/society which pushes them to develop in that direction. Most times this means the characters are not as glamorous... exotic and different yes (which usually appeals to players focused on story and can make good use of it), but mechanically weakened compared to their normal state (less appealing to power gamers).

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Another couple creatures you can consider are the Arajang from Philipine mythos.

Arajangs are beautiful mosquito-women which use their tongues to stab and suck blood of men at night.

Arajangs can be on the sunlight, but they love humid places as their half-insectoid part demands. They can show their true hideous forms if exposed to fire or stress.

Arajangs usualy act normal and try to blend into our society, not all of them are evil and TRY to live a normal life with their husbands and chldren, but are usualy hunted down or their instincts win over their minds and butcher their families, ending in a tragedy.

You can also consider Living Object spirits from Japanese lore. Theyr'e entities with human like shapes which come from objects that "lived" more than 10 years, and meant something special for a person. They usualy avenge the person's death and live with us without noticing, however they can turn into said object in a monstruous way to haunt people in the roads or slaughter persons. Examples are the Wanyuudou, a fire wheel with the face of a monk, he can turn unto a human to give lectures to runaways and drunkards on the roads.

Another example comes from the Fatal Frame 4 videogames, a doll that fell in love with her owner. The doll spirir apeared as a beutiful woman who called the owner from indise a hospital, the owner had memories of playing with another girl who cared about her, this being the doll. In the end the doll reveals to her, and as the owner tries to run away scared, the doll kills her to have her "soulmate" in hell forever.

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