Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Predator versus Prey

When creating monsters based on real-world animals there is a natural tendency to go for creatures which would predate on humans or are otherwise dangerous to us. Snakes, wolves, tigers, spiders, etc. A second natural tendency is to use animals we typically find loathesome (rats, insects, lizards and so on). A third is to use animals which are very similar to us and reflect our primal nature - apes. A fourth is to use animals which strike us as 'cool' in some sense (such as eagles or cats). There is no point dwelling on this rather trite set of observations.

This tendency does, however, leave major parts of the animal kingdom - herbivores, rodents, etc. - unused as sources of fantasy monsters. You don't really come across sheep-headed orcs, giraffe-people or rabbit-men in fantasy games. The reasons for this are equally trite and not worth elaborating on.

Trying to make rabbit-men frightening would pose an interesting challenge. Let alone mouse-men (or moose-men for that matter). People have an image of rabbits as being either like Bugs Bunny or like the floppy-eared pet they used to feed dandelion leaves to as a kid. Rabbits are also natural cowards, and we eat them. They are about the least threatening things you could think of. Yet that means that if you could pull off that coup you could have something genuinely interesting on your hands.

Coming face to face with a rabbit in the wild (as I often do when out and about in the countryside), you're struck by their skittishness. As soon as you see one it will typically have already clocked you and will be watching you with icy terror, torn between the urge to flee into its burrow and its overriding need to eat. If you are far enough away it will tentatively nibble on some grass, constantly on the look out for the myriad dangers (fox, buzzard, dog, human) which could appear at a moment's notice.

Perhaps this is what makes rabbit-men scary: they come cloaked in a thick veil of fear which seeps into your thoughts and saps your will and fortitude, so that pretty soon you have the heart and mind of a rabbit yourself - scared of your own shadow, spooked by the slightest sound. Maybe that's why they are to be feared. It's because they embody fear itself.


  1. Might I suggest you pick up a copy of "The Pale Lady" ?, the Artist Chris Huth did a remarkable job on exactly what you are describing.

  2. Gamma World has the Rabbit Men you speak of: Hoops. Like the ubiquitous "Ork", but much scarier and they carry guns. All calibres.

    1. They are also the 'rust monsters" of those rules as they can turn metal into a floppy rubber-like material.

    2. They are also the 'rust monsters" of those rules as they can turn metal into a floppy rubber-like material.

  3. Look up "The Bunny Man".

  4. I replaced all the orcs in my world with Hare Men (close enough to rabbits).
    I called them 'Malkin Men', which sounds cool; established that they breed like, erm, rabbits and have Stalinist societies like Woundwort's warren in Watership Down...in fact their whole vibe is evil 'Watership Down rabbit'. The film I think, whatever other failings it possesses (relative to the novel), really manages to lend to rabbits a visual menace...even an esoteric one.

    I also had them comunicate by screaming...a rabbit scream is an eerie, high pitched thing.It has a terible quality, unique to itself...the sound that is produced when something dies of fear.

    So yeah, I really think fear and rabbits go hand in hand.

  5. "You don't really come across sheep-headed orcs, giraffe-people or rabbit-men in fantasy games."

    Except of course in Runequest (or other Gloranthan games), where the broo tend to look like the local herbivores - typically sheep, goats or antelopes. And they are, I think, the best and most horrifying RPG monsters ever created. And the ones whose clutches the PCs fear the most ...

    1. Yeah they're great. Pretty much what I had in mind as a touch stone.

    2. I miss good ol' Runequest...I'd give a few good Lunars to play a game or two...I think I was a Duck.

  6. I think moosemen would be a good stand-in for minotaurs

    1. Way cooler than minotaurs a moose is a ridiculously huge animal for how virtually silent it is. A real world moose is immense and they seem to just slide along not making a peep inther native habitat.

    2. It could be the sort of Native American equivalent of a minotaur, couldn't it?

  7. I dunno, I can see rabbit-men working even without any supernatural fear aspect to them. Just the skittish, jumpy, wide-eyed stare can be unnerving if you portray it well. It's unnatural and freaky to have something like that still come at you, as if desperate. Maybe they are desperate. Maybe that need to eat-need to run behavior applies on people, now. It desperately needs to run away, and it also desperately needs to eat you.

    There's a lot of animals in nature that hunt prey despite not having any kind of apparent ferocity to their hunting. It's this weird, inexorable push forward, where the animal doesn't really look like it's trying to kill, more like it's curious or even afraid of what it's doing, and yet it still ends with the prey getting killed. Usually, it's small prey that doesn't pose too much threat, but I think that kind of nonaggressive inching forward would be really unnerving if it was a maneater instead.

    Basically, something that shouldn't be hunting you, doing it in a way that doesn't look like it should look. Sounds creepy to me, at least.

  8. I was going to comment that Noisms has likely not encountered a pack of Hoops, but was beat to the punch.

    Size seems to make a big difference with herbivores in the natural world. The really big ones have no problem with stomping or mouthing folks to death just for being too close. Re: hippos. Hippos are scary.

    Also, there seems to be more and more evidence that many supposed herbivores are not really restricted to vegetable matter as much as we thought. Deer eating baby birds and whatnot.

    The whole case for incidental death by herbivore is a good one and can be downright chilling.

  9. Requisite:

    Tim: There he is!
    King Arthur: Where?
    Tim: There!
    King Arthur: What? Behind the rabbit?
    Tim: It *is* the rabbit!
    King Arthur: You silly sod!
    Tim: What?
    King Arthur: You got us all worked up!
    Tim: Well, that's no ordinary rabbit.
    King Arthur: Ohh.
    Tim: That's the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on!
    Sir Robin: You tit! I soiled my armor I was so scared!
    Tim: Look, that rabbit's got a vicious streak a mile wide! It's a killer!
    Sir Galahad: Get stuffed!
    Tim: He'll do you up a treat, mate.
    Sir Galahad: Oh, yeah?
    Sir Robin: You manky Scots git!
    Tim: I'm warning you!
    Sir Robin: What's he do? Nibble your bum?
    Tim: He's got huge, sharp... er... He can leap about. Look at the bones!
    King Arthur: Go on, Bors. Chop his head off!
    Sir Bors: Right! Silly little bleeder. One rabbit stew comin' right up!

    [after Bors is killed by the killer rabbit]
    Tim: I *warned* you, but did you listen to me? Oh, no, you *knew*, didn't you? Oh, it's just a harmless little *bunny*, isn't it?