Tag Archives: urban fantasy

Just how fit are cheerleaders? What fighting styles might suit them best, given the muscles they use the most? Any weapon suggestions? I’m doing some research, but i’m not understanding it. I always understand your blog, though! My character will be fighting monsters larger than her, if that helps any. Thank you in advance! You’re the best!

Cheerleading:

Cheerleading is a sport, especially in the nationally competitive range. It’s like combining dancing with gymnastics except as a choreographed team event. It’s a grueling sport with athletes who are in pretty incredible condition, and like similar sports runs the risk of serious blowouts in the joints which will result in semi-permanent to permanent injury.

When you’re setting up a cheerleading character, the most important thing to remember is that cheerleading is a team sport. This is a character who is better at working with and relying on others than going it alone. The other thing to remember is that they’re athletes. These are driven, competitive, hardworking, and intense personality types when it comes to their sport. These are the girls who ditch their boyfriends for practice (if they have them), and sacrifice their off hours to being the best they can be. Like any athlete training for the pinnacle of they’re sacrificing a lot of personal/life time to be the best they can be. Netflix has the reality show: Cheer Squad, which may help you some. Bring It On is, of course, a classic.

Remember, this is a character who is used to working in a team when under pressure and has a social outlet. They won’t transfer well to working alone, and you’re going to need to either address this or remember to create their cheer buddies. If you want a similar kind of athlete whose sports background primary gears them for working solo when out on in competition then you want a gymnast.

This is part of the real life dynamic where Buffy the Vampire Slayer really lies to you, because if you went with the cheerleader background you’d end up with twenty girls fighting monsters rather than just one. Only one might have superpowers, but you can bet your bottom dollar the others would be ride or die. For the Sisterhood!

So, what does this net you for starting them as a martial artist/monster hunter? It cuts out a lot of the ancillary issues.

We’ve got someone who is: courageous, fearless, a high achiever, nicely conditioned, flexible, with an athletic history which means she’ll breeze through endurance training and the vast majority of basic physical conditioning has been taken care of. She’s got a running start.

You can push her a lot harder in basic training than you can your average recruit who starts with zip. She’s got more control over her body, so she’ll adapt faster. Cheer is just far enough off the basic combat move set that the two shouldn’t conflict too badly when it comes to her currently conditioned reflexes. Coming out of a background in choreography, she’s going to need some retraining for her timing and gets more comfortable with free flowing chaos.

If you wanted a character with parkour for a background, then this is one which can be adapted fairly quickly.

Monster Hunting:

So, you’ve got a big decision to make on the Urban Fantasy front for how this character is going to go about fighting monsters and solving crime. So, I’ll break it down by some of the big supernatural shows.

The “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – The Buffy modus is essentially fisticuffs. You get a superpowered heroine whose essential means of fighting monsters is punching them out. There are a few other weapons here and there like crossbows, axes, and swords, but guns are persona non grata. You get magic from the support characters and someone else does the research.

In the end, Buffy’s approach to the supernatural is fairly limited on the combat front with the interesting bits happening in other parts of the narrative like the character’s personal relationships. If you want a pure human approaching the supernatural from a combat perspective then Buffy is not right for you.

The “Supernatural” – The Winchester brothers… aren’t quite human, but close enough. This model is The X-Files and Urban Fantasy Private Investigator. Your character is more of a Jack of All Trades. They need to be able to do it all: research, fighting with a primary focus on guns, and investigation (especially in the early seasons). This is “determine what the monster is and figure out how to kill it” mode with the occasional problem that can’t be solved. 

The “Charmed” – Magic is the solution. This is where the primary solution to defeating the monsters is through magic. Magic is the weapon, and the focus, and normal weapons are mostly useless.

Unless they’ve got some sort of special, mystical weapon or a setting clear on its rules, a character who hunts monsters needs a fairly wide array of skills because the ancient monsters of myth, folklore, and fairy tales often require diverse solutions that are all fairly specific.

The decisions between guns or not, the level of technology your character will be using/relying on, their skill at researching and hunting down hidden truths in forgotten folklore, and their flexibility with alternative solutions are all on the table. Whether your setting has a “barrier” between the mundane and supernatural world is also a big decision as that will affect what level of strangeness your character can get away with.

When looking at a “standard” weapon for the character to carry, you want one that will fit a wide variety of situations or the ones the character is most likely to encounter.

-Michi

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Why do you prefer old World of Darkness? Is there cons to nwod/cofd that you’d share, or is it more like thats just what you happened to play?

As a setting, old World of Darkness was better put together. It has a heavy
meta-narrative that bridges across the games, and moves forward. There was some
really stupid stuff mixed in (I’m thinking of Samuel Haight specifically, if
you’re curious), but it was one, massive, setting.

For those of you unfamiliar with World of Darkness: the name refers to two separate
urban fantasy settings published by White Wolf Publishing. The original (or
old) World of Darkness was printed from 1991 – 2004, while the new World of
Darkness entered print in 2005. Both of these were actually a large collection
of different interconnected games, unified by their settings.

In a lot of ways, old World of Darkness was ahead of its time. It took
elements of Anne Rice, and (later on) Buffy, and ran with a connected vampires,
werewolves, and other creatures setup, that would later become the default
standard for urban fantasy. Because it was an early example of it, the books
spent a lot of time justifying their world building.

White Wolf Publishing did one very
smart thing with their world building, and it’s the reason while I’m still talking
about a series of tabletop RPGs that went out of print in 2004: they’d tell you
“why.” As a writer, it’s very easy to say, “well, I want this in my setting,”
and stop there. You’re the writer, you have final control over your setting.
This kind of thinking can easily lead to nonsensical world building. Sometimes
the real answer is, “because I said so,” but usually, this is something to
avoid at all costs. White Wolf’s games tended to be very careful about providing
explanations. Granted, often those explanations are sometimes buried in separate
pieces across five different books, but they are out there.

As a result, the old World of Darkness was really good for presenting a
setting where information is at a premium, and people with different pieces of
the puzzle are trying to understand how the world works, within the context of
what they understand.

The Consensus reality concept is actually a really good example of that.
When you filter in things like The Imbued and Demons, it makes no sense. In
fact, the entire concept of paradox is already pretty shaky when you just look
at the werewolves and vampires. These are beings that shouldn’t be able to
exist if the awakened mages were right about the universe. The mages try to
justify that by saying, “well, humanity knows they’re out there, and they
survive based on humanity’s fear of them.” Which is credible… until you start
looking at the other things in the setting and realize that paradox may very
well be a product of some other natural system slapping the Mages around.

For all their faults, and there are a lot, old World of Darkness was, and
remains a very interesting setting, with a fantastic attention to detail.

New World of Darkness is also really useful, though in an entirely different
way.

The old World of Darkness was a self contained setting. It was always very
interconnected. You weren’t ever just telling “a vampire story,” you’d get
mired down in Kindred politics, because it was immediately relevant to who your
characters were, and how the people they interacted with regarded them.

The new World of Darkness is a lot more, generic. Ironically, I don’t mean
this as a pejorative. It does two really important things; it makes the setting
more accessible, and it provides the tools to better tailor the setting to fit
the group.

Also, as a game system, it’s actually a vast improvement. The rules are
streamlined. Switching from target number to number of successes meant dice
rolls played out much faster. (Exalted’s 23 dice pools notwithstanding.)
All of the storyteller games, showed improvements over their predecessors. Old
World of Darkness was the first, and even then, the later iterations, like Hunter:
The Reckoning
, and Demon: The Fallen are systemically much smoother
experiences than Vampire: The Masquerade.

New World of Darkness was also the first time White Wolf really nailed a
good presentation format for the books. Old World of Darkness books were always
leaking information back and forth. With bits of a mystery in one, that gets
paid off in another book, often in a different game line. (Again, Sam Haight is
a huge offender here.) New World of Darkness basically did away with that. It
takes the same, “this is the real world you live in, but different, with
monsters,” and manages to actually keep the books self contained. So, if you’re
wanting to look at police dealing with the supernatural in the setting you need
one book instead of the (I think) seven in oWoD.

What I’ve said before is; if you’re an introductory writer, who’s wanting to
write urban fantasy, then the new World of Darkness books are a really useful
primer. There’s a lot of really good thought that went into them, and a lot of
the material can be legitimately function as an inspiration for your own work,
without being derivative.

At the time, I hated how nWoD wiped away a lot of the different factions
completely. Half of the vampire clans were gone, first glance said the
werewolves were now just cursed creatures instead of the Defenders of Gaia.
Over time, I’ve come to respect what they were doing with the setting, and how
it actually works on a larger context. It also has some of the most interesting
side books, and monster variations, which wouldn’t have been possible in the
original game series. For a lot of oWoD fans, that realization never came.
Also, for players who were fans of Changling: The Dreaming, Hunter:
The Reckoning
or Kindred of the East, they never really got a return
to form with nWoD (that I’m aware of, anyway).

If you’re an experienced writer, have the time, and want to look at a
massive meta-narrative, then the old World of Darkness is a setting that’s
worth the time to tear apart. It has a lot of characters who are working on
limited information, making intelligent (though often prejudiced) guesses about
how the rest of their world works, and the series was pretty good about showing
their work.

There’s a lot to recommend for both. I prefer the old World of Darkness for
it’s setting. I’ll sometimes joke about being snobby on the subject, but
honestly, n World of Darkness has a lot to offer.

-Starke

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If werewolves could be badly wounded by firearms, but not killed and the only way to kill them for sure was to cut their heads off, what would be an appropriate choice of tools for such job? I’m thinking about something that could be quite easily concealed under a coat and not too heavy, yet still viable to be used as a weapon in a melee if need arises.

The simple answer is: carry more than one weapon.

Rather than trying to force a weapon to fulfill two separate needs (a ranged weapon like a gun that is also a melee weapon), take two. I mean, if it’s completely necessary and you can’t give up the idea of a ranged weapon that can also be used in melee then you can always take a bayonet. It’s not going to work for taking off the head unless you detach it from the rifle or shotgun but it is an option. A bayonet is essentially a long knife or a short sword depending on how you want to define it that attaches to the barrel and allows the gun to be used as an impromptu melee weapon. It’s not as good as an actual melee weapon (which is why soldiers also carry knives), but it serves it’s intended purpose.

However, when attached to the barrel, the rifle’s use as a melee weapon is limited in terms of motion. The gun isn’t designed for that kind of motion, it can basically slash diagonally and stab. So, if your character needs an actual melee weapon then they should carry a secondary or tertiary weapon to support them at close range. Whether that’s a tool like a machete that can be hidden easily under the coat and will work well for taking off the head or some other kind of silver sword.

I always liked the story in Hunter the Reckoning’s Storyteller’s Handbook about gang members trying to trade in their silver jewelry only to be told that they could actually buy silver bullets. Which is true, your monster hunter actually can purchase them. However, because they were so expensive and because you could never be totally sure, many of the setting’s gangbangers started putting silver bullets as the third round in rather than carrying a full cartridge. The logic was essentially that if the first two didn’t work then the third probably would. (Except it wouldn’t always as the setting had monsters with similar powers and different weaknesses such as the WereCrocs who were weak to gold rather than silver and mages with points in Life and willing to risk the backlash, Gangrel or Vampires with Protean, etc.)

While I get the appeal of a “signature weapon”, the truth is that most people simply carry more than one weapon as you’re bound to encounter different situations/scenarios and no single weapon will ever have an advantage in all of them. Try to limit yourself to about four, but in this case this character might carry as their loadout:

A rifle – for long to mid-range, especially when outdoors for picking off enemies at a distance.

A shotgun – for close range and because you can load it with a variety of different types of ammunition from buckshot, to needles, to turning it into an impromptu flamethrower. My personal opinion is that the versatility of the shotgun lends itself really well to monster hunting in particular because you can load it up with all sorts of stuff and it’s very damaging at close range.

A pistol – the pistol is just a good middle of the road weapon, it’s small enough to conceal on your person, and it’ll have more of an advantage indoors than the rifle and even the shotgun. If you’re in a situation with very cramped quarters, then the pistol is your friend as it’s unlikely to get caught on the environment in the way a longer weapon will. Depending on the type of pistol, you can load it up with different kinds of ammunition.

A short sword/knife/sword – this is the actual melee weapon. I’m more partial to the short sword for monster hunting due to it being easier to conceal than a long sword, it’s important to remember in accordance with werewolves that in general swords are not good for hunting animals. They’re meant for humans, not nine foot snarling death beasts. If you have the room then the traditional melee weapon for hunting animals of this kind is actually the spear. The spear’s length gives it substantially stopping power when it comes to the greater force of impact that an animal like a boar can generate when it charges or a wolf can when it lunges. The spear also allows you to keep the range advantage with a much larger enemy that you give up in choosing a shorter weapon. However, in a modern setting the spear will have a disadvantage indoors and give up a lot of maneuverability as an all-purpose weapon that your hunter may not be able to afford. Keep the knife or short sword as a means of taking off the head after the werewolf has been disabled and as a last ditch.

Use any variety of European longsword for the coolness factor or denotation of the One True Hero. The long sword itself is symbolic in Western Literature, so if you want your hero to be a Chosen One or a Noble Undercover then the sword is a great way to point to that without dropping a prophecy to accompany it. Just make sure to recognize the fantasy tropes and what they promise your audience because the use of tropes can mean making promises you’re unaware of and don’t intend to keep. The longsword more than any other medieval weapon has special/important cultural meaning in Western mythology/storytelling. If you’d like to avoid the standard fantasy tropes either subvert them or avoid the sword all together.

The katana is also highly symbolic if that’s your choice, however in the hands of anyone not Japanese it can easily become laden with Orientalism. So, be careful, or at least research the accompanying symbolism both for Western audiences in the recent decades and it’s meaning/importance to Japanese culture.

I hope that helps.

-Michi

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In terms of the different sorts of bows, which would be best to hunt monsters, theoretically speaking? Or would this depend mostly on the sort of arrows? I mean, the war bow does produce a lot more force, but would a hunting bow be able to kill unarmored opponents (human or nonhuman)?

Honestly, it depends on the monster.

The short answer to the question is that a general hunting bow can kill a human, though arrows don’t work the same way as a gun. (Guns don’t work the way Hollywood portrays them, either.) Death is unlikely to be immediate. You’re setting up a slow and painful death. They can survive for hours, and are just as likely to fall prey to infection. Even with modern hunting, you have to track the animal as it wanders off. They don’t just fall over dead.

Archery and hunting are a lot more complicated than just picking a bow. You need to choose the right tool for the job. For example, the war bow fired heavier arrows with larger heads designed to penetrate armor. Including heavy plate.

However, the real answer that usually gets overlooked with monster hunters is that you’ve got to stop thinking about them in terms of signature weapons and more in terms of investigation. The line between hunter and investigator is really very slim. This is why you see so many pulpy monster hunters doubling as paranormal investigators.

Whether you’re hunting animals, humans, or monsters, your character still needs to be able to tell what they’re looking at and bring the appropriate gear for the appropriate task. For example, you don’t go hunting a deer with the same gear that you’d bring for a bear. You don’t go after a werewolf in the same way one would a vampire, they’re different. They have different priorities, and it’s up to the hunter to be able to tell them apart from the signs at hand. Depending on the kind of setting you have, they may either need to be able to use magic or some sort of holy relics to repel the monsters.

A good example of a monster hunter in fiction is Geralt of Rivia from the Witcher. He carries two swords, one of them is steel and the other is silver. The silver sword is for dealing with certain kinds of monsters, the kind vulnerable to silver. However, the silver sword will get wrecked on normal humans and monsters that are not vulnerable to the material. That’s what the steel sword is for.

You have a character who brings a bow to every encounter, regardless of what the threat is. Then, they’re going to be up a creek if they’ve got the wrong weapon paired to the wrong monster. Depending on your setting rules, your archer could fire regular hunting arrows into a werewolf and be perfectly fine. I can tell you that they’d be a very dead archer in both the Witcher setting and in White Wolf’s Werewolf the Apocalypse where the werewolves will just soak that damage off. Bring an arrow tipped with silver nitrate or wolfsbane and it’s a slightly different story.  

Sometimes, it’s easier to treat your monster hunter like an investigator. They’re solving a mystery. They need to be able to figure out what kind of monster they’re dealing with, especially because the locals may not know. This can take some fairly advanced specialized knowledge and a fairly wide array of skills if they have to go it alone.

A monster hunter is:

One part warrior. One part hunter and tracker. One part hedgemage. One part medic. One part fletcher, blacksmith, silversmith, and apothecary/chemist. One part academic, one with a fairly wide knowledge of folklore, ritual by region (multiple types, multiple cultures, especially that which has been forgotten), history, human behavior, and psychology.

Traditionally, most monsters and curses have their root in the actions of people. Someone did something wrong and putting things right requires sussing out the issue. More than that, depending on how technical you want to get with their monster hunting then those actions can create specialized, distinctly different curses or creatures that require very specific solutions. While violence may be an intermediary step and needed for surviving the experience or subduing the monster, the stabby isn’t what’s actually going to get rid of it.

For example, this Hellboy Animated short: The Iron Shoes. In this bit, Hellboy deals with a redcap. You’ll notice that he does fight him, but to kill it he has to drag him back to the Church at dawn to toss him over the threshold. Here’s the redcap entry on Wikipedia. On the list of things that may freak one out forever? In the modern world, redcaps look a great deal like garden gnomes.

There’s an advantage to going about it this way, rather than the Buffy way. It takes more work but, in the long run, it also justifies your character’s existence more. If the solution to a monster issue is as simple as “violence” or enough power applied to the problem, then there’s no need for a specialist.

If the only way to kill a vampire, for example, is with a stake through the heart then that’s actually not so bad. Once you get over the initial shock of them actually existing, it’s not so hard to get one’s hands on a wooden stake-like implement needed to take it out. However, if the stake only paralyzes it, and one must cut off it’s head and fill it’s mouth with garlic, bury the body on consecrated ground, or wait until sunrise and watch it burn, then it’s going to be a little more complicated. This is before we get to the rather long laundry list of different vampire types. (This isn’t even a complete one and whether some of these can be considered vampires is debatable, but it’s a worthwhile one. Detail is everything.)

To tie it all in, there’s a great Extra Credits about how The Witcher 3 may be one of the best detective games ever made, which helps explain some of the overlap between pulp fiction detective and monster hunter.

Below, I’ve listed a number of references. However, the key thing to really think about is the kind of monster hunter that you want, the kind of hunter that you want to write. Their place in society, what they hunt, and the skill set that they need in order to be able to do their job.

Once you’ve thought that through then figuring out what types of weapons that they use will be much easier. Remember, combat is a form of problem solving and there aren’t any universal tools. There’s the old joke about not bringing a knife to a gun fight but, in most cases, your characters are going to be trying to do the best they can with what they have available. Figure out what they need to have, build it into what they could have, and then walk it back to what they do have available to them.

Some monsters require enchanted weapons. Some monsters need a strike from a sword in order for them to be put down. In some cases, a bow might be better for distance or against one that might take flight. Spears are the common hunting implement for dealing with large and dangerous animals like boars. Traps. Snares. Pits. The possibilities go on and on. Ultimately, the more possibilities that there are then the more ways there are to solve a problem.

The question here isn’t what’s right? It’s what’s right for my character?

-Michi

References and Resources:

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapowski (The Witcher book series) – Though your most likely to find them in the “Tie In” section of the bookstore now due to the game’s popularity, these are what the Witcher game series is based on. Geralt is one of the best monster hunters I’ve read about and this collection of short stories focuses on the struggles he faces in navigating the human issues surrounding his job as much as it is about the monsters he hunts.

The Witcher: The Wild Hunt – The other two entries in the series are very good, but The Wild Hunt is excellent in terms of it’s world building and it’s focus on detective work. If  you haven’t jumped on the hype train yet, then look at this one.

Hellboy – Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics are famous and Hellboy as a character is probably more fascinating than he should be at first glance. There’s an interesting exploration of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu style mythos while also drawing heavily from Folklore and myth. Hellboy isn’t human, but he’s very sharp and intelligently written. There’s a lot to be gleaned from him when trying to build a monster hunter. In terms of other entries, I recommend the animated over the live action. Hellboy: Blood and Iron is a particular favorite of mine.

Hunter the Reckoning – White Wolf’s Hunter RPG is really about normal people given supernatural powers by a traumatic exposure to monsters and then go out to try to kill them. It’s at it’s best when paired with the rest of the books so that you can compare and contrast perception with reality. Characters dealing with misinformation and a lack of information, trying to put what’s in front of them together without having the tools to really do their job. It’s helpful to look at, even though it’s modern, to decide whether or not this is the kind of underdog that you want to write.

Dark Ages Inquisitor – What it says on the tin, this was White Wolf’s Hunter for the Middle Ages. Helpful, if you like Hunter and want to play it in a medieval setting.

Hunter the Vigil – Almost impossible to find, terribly expensive, and penned primarily by Chuck Wendig, this entry into White Wolf’s revamp of their World of Darkness setting isn’t my favorite. Like the others in the series, it lacks some of the general oddness which made the Old World of Darkness so fun to delve into. However, it and it’s subsequent books an excellent grab for any writer that wants work with Urban Fantasy. Like the others in this series, it’s more of a toolbox than a setting. One that’s chock full of ideas waiting to be pondered and story seeds to be nabbed.

Law & Order – At the end of the day, stories based on the supernatural are often stories about people. All stories, really, are about people. Not only is Law & Order a fantastic procedural, it can teach you a lot about observation, detective work, and why people commit crimes (and why they sometimes get away with it). At the end of the day, whether it’s real or supernatural, monsters are created by people. Homicide is an excellent choice to pair with this, one to study procedure while the other is a character study in the effects of the job. Understanding both helps to really write well.

The Tony Hillerman novels – particularly all those starring Detectives Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. These are set on the Navajo reservation and star Navajo Detectives. Well known for their accuracy, they’re interesting to read about in general but especially helpful when you want examples of well-written tracking in fiction.

Lord of the Rings – Aragorn mostly. The classic example of the ranger.

Dungeons & Dragons – The Ranger class is for you. I’d look up associated class skills too. This is how you build Aragorn.

Folklore from as many cultures as you can get your hands on, even with European folklore much of it is uniquely dependent on different countries, cultures, and histories. So even if you’re staying within the traditional vein of European monsters, don’t limit yourself to just the British Isles, look at France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Greenland, spin the globe, pick a country, look into it. I’d also study up on the same cultures’ histories and socio-political climates.

Not completely sure if anything like this has been asked before, but I’m writing YA Fantasy and I’d like to involve more sword fighting in it (completely *no guns involved*), even though it’s set in modern-ish times. Can you think of any possible reasons why guns can’t be used/would be useless?

The big one that’s usually pulled out is magic. The idea is that magic and technology don’t play nice together. Dresden Files (and most of the Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance genre), Shadowrun, and Arcanum, all make use of this concept to varying degrees. It’s not that guns are technically no longer useful, it’s that they don’t work when faced with magic and thus magic users/fantasy monsters have no reason to use them/are incapable of using them. It’s an either/or situation.

Your characters are going dragon hunting or finding a troll in the sewers, then they probably aren’t going to bring guns with them. They’ll take an enchanted sword or any other necessary equipment for dealing with the threat. This will expand out to the mass majority of society. Your police officers will probably still keep their guns for dealing with non-magical threats, but may also carry a silver sword or whatever else they need to subdue the now magical threats their job requires them to deal with. You don’t actually need a special department for that either. It’s just that there are now psychics, telepaths, and magical knights on the Force. The major thread here is that people will adjust, society will adjust, and it will go on.

Also, if you don’t know that the cop you’re character is dealing with is a telepath, then life in general just got a whole lot more interesting.

This one is very common in the genre, though. One of the others is that magic was gone for a long time and society developed without it, then it returned. This skips out on having to explain how society developed without guns but also can lead to a more post-apocalyptic setting environment due to all your comforts (like cars and computers) no longer working.

You have Highlander, where it’s tradition. The sword is also the best way to ensure they get a clean beheading in their duels which allows them to take the other Immortals power. This doesn’t stop non-Immortals (and even some Immortals) from carrying or using guns, but it does mean you’ll most likely always see two Immortals dueling each other instead of using another alternative.

If you were wanting to excise just guns, then you’ve got a bit of a problem. The gun is directly related to technological and societal advancement. This includes the technological benefits that you are enjoying right now such as your computer, the internet, the car, and the socioeconomic changes of the past 400 years. The reason why feudal lords were able to keep control of their populations was because they had a monopoly on violence. The gun disrupts that monopoly. It creates a world where it no longer takes talent, training, or skill to kill a knight.

The British Empire. The United States. Colonialism in South America, Africa, India, the Middle East, and China, would all have looked very different, if it happened at all. Without guns, our modern world just isn’t the same.

I hate the butterfly metaphor from Chaos Theory, but the spirit of it holds weight here. You change one aspect of history and then, consequently, everything that hinged on it also changes. A good example of a narrative which explores this concept is Alan Moore’s Watchmen, if you read while having a solid understanding of American history/the Civil Rights era/the Vietnam War, etc, you can really see how the creation of Doctor Manhattan specifically changed the landscape of history. Starke suggested reading it with Where the Domino Fell by James Stuart Olsen and Randy W. Roberts, which is about Vietnam and American foreign policy after Vietnam. It’s a quick shot from 1945 to 2010. It’s also worth noting that Doctor Manhattan made the gun irrelevant, he also made nuclear weapons irrelevant and that endlessly perpetuated the Cold War.

I would read the comic before watching the movie because there’s a lot of little details that get lost, but if you really want to change history then I’d label Watchmen as required reading.

This is all me leading into to saying that whatever you do with your setting, it would be a good idea to start thinking about consequences. Not big consequences, the small every day consequences that lead into your sense of safety and security. Think about aspects of your life where instead of imagining “what would it be like if I had magic”, ask yourself “what would it be like if that person over there had magic and I didn’t”. What would life be like if we didn’t have a police force, or a fire department, or hospitals. Do you still go to the dentist when you have a toothache? Or do you visit the faith healer up the street instead? What proofing did the supermarket put in to keep the technomancers from screwing the barcode readers? Did the Department of Justice establish a special magic division? How does one keep telepaths and clairvoyants from cheating on their exams?

It’s questions about quality of life that usually result in the best worldbuilding. It’s not “what do I want it to be like”, it’s “if I changed this, what would be different?”, “what would the possible outcomes be?”, “how would people try to abuse the new systems?”, “how would other people stop them?”. The more questions you ask, the more answers you’ll find, then you can establish a sense of daily life in your setting which feels normal.

-Michi

Starke, if you filled the cavity on a hollowpoint with stuff (garlic for vampires or iron for the fey or similar), would that affect the performance of the round significantly?

Does roast garlic affect them?

With handguns at close range, it shouldn’t. Though, once you start getting past about 50ft, I’d worry. I’d be more worried about the garlic slipping out and jamming the mechanisms, though. If it was ground into paste, and then capped with something, it should be fine.

That’s certainly not the only creative ammunition option though. High explosive rounds come to mind. There are a lot explosives that will detonate on contact, and can be fired from a gun… mostly, safely. mercury fulminate is the first one that comes to mind, thanks to an old Law and Order episode. I’m not sure if picric acid would detonate when the weapon was fired, or only on impact, but it would also deliver a devastating wound from what you could pack into a hollowpoint.

If mass tissue disruption is enough to stop them, Glaser safety slugs might actually be a legitimate choice. These things are designed to shatter on contact spraying birdshot everywhere. I could easily see someone taking the basic design and loading it with a far more disruptive payload, like holy water, or maybe even the garlic paste above. This might be a better delivery method for an explosive round too.

With fey, if any iron would do, steel core AP rounds might actually be a better option. The softer metals should slough off on contact, and the resulting iron would do… whatever it was supposed to in the first place.

In theory you could make the entire bullet out of iron, but, with anything other than a very soft metal, you’ll irreparably damage the barrel’s rifling after the first or second shot. That said, you can stick a soft jacket over it, lead or copper are common choices. This protects the barrel from damage, but allows for much harder bullets to be fired. If you’re curious, that’s what the term Full Metal Jacket refers to.

Copper is a good option, even for lead rounds, because, unlike the lead, the copper isn’t toxic. So you can handle the rounds without having to be as paranoid about lead exposure.

You can use iron shot in a normal shotgun load, so that might be an easier option. I think you can actually buy up to 6mm steel shot commercially.

For iron bullets, there are apparently issues with them losing momentum faster than with normal rounds. I don’t know if this is relevant at handgun ranges or if it’s a rifle issue. That is the case with silver rounds, as I found out a couple years ago. (They’re fine for pistols, but rifles lose range and accuracy.) This has something to do with the density of silver, but explaining it requires a slightly better grasp on ballistics than mine.

If you’re wanting to take a more high tech look at vampire hunting, my recommendation will always be the British TV series Ultraviolet. Not to be confused with the 2006 American film. It takes a very non-mystical approach to tracking and eliminating vampires, with characters using graphite fragmentation rounds, and re-purposed gas grenades that disperse the active ingredient from garlic that affects them. Also, it’s got Jack Davenport and Idris Elba as the leads with some very sharp writing. This really is worth watching if you want to do vampire hunters in urban fantasy.

-Starke

On Unfortunate Implications

In fiction, we often use the supernatural and fantasy races as analogies to real world situations. We can say that it began with Buffy, but that does the genre a disservice. Linking vampires to sexual freedom and using them as an analogy for the dangerous sexuality of foreigners goes all the way back to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Horror, mystery, speculative fiction have used monsters as stand ins for xenophobia, repressed sexual urges, and countless other social issues. Both horror and speculative fiction have always been venues for which we talk about real world issues and fear in different guises.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with writing a story about monsters where the monsters are analogies for the fears and worries we have about growing up. Werewolves, for example, make for an excellent parallel to going through puberty. The issues pop up when a writer decides, accidentally or intentionally, to make their monsters thematically representative of a real world issue. When you explicitly make your werewolves about sex, remember that you’ve also opened them up to a discussion about rape. If your story involves a violent act on an unwitting party and spurred on by traumatizing transformation then yes, you may indeed by dealing with a rape analogy. Making magic, particularly demonic possession, your stand in for a discussion about mental illness is more than a little awkward given the history of treating mental illness. The discussion cannot simply be waved off because you don’t want to have that conversation. If you choose to start it, you will end up telling a story that says and means something vastly different from the one you intended.

For example, in Paranormal Romance and some Urban Fantasy, there’s a disturbing trend of supernatural creatures who want to be “normal”. There’s nothing wrong with this concept or desire in isolation. In fact, it’s a perfectly natural to want what society tells you you’re supposed to. Nearly every person experiences this desire at some point in their lives. However, there’s a difference between a swinging single young woman with a history of abuse entering into a relationship with the average handsome romantic lead and a werewolf jumping into bed with someone who has no clue that they just ate the neighbor’s cat (or used to kill runaways in Atlantic City on long weekends before they decided they didn’t like it anymore). When we step back and realize that most supernatural communities are treated as the equivalent of criminal organizations, mobster families, or gangs in their worlds then the process of leaving becomes much more complicated.

How do you feel about characters who knowingly endanger the lives of their loved ones without their knowledge or consent? Who knew they would be endangering their lives by entering the relationship before it even began? Is it romantic to sign the person they claim to love up for a gruesome death because their desires are more important than their lover’s life?

It doesn’t matter if you’ve decided that your character is a good person. It doesn’t matter if they’re supposed to be a hero in the context of their novel. There is no out to a dangerous lifestyle, there’s only delay. They know this, or they should, because most stories will bend over backwards to tell us how intelligent their protagonist is. If your character is a supernatural monster engaging in turf wars or a monster hunter or merely existing trying to get by, they’ll have made enemies. Those enemies aren’t going to simply go on sabbatical and hang up their hat just because the character has decided they’re done. While this can be a good source of drama in a story, it’s also worth noting that any character who does this is a selfish asshole. They can be a hero and an asshole.

What I’m saying is that it’s slightly different when a character discovers their boyfriend/girlfriend is a telepath who has been reading their mind the whole time after they’re already emotionally invested. Telepathy represents the ultimate breach of privacy and a character should have a choice to decide whether they want to have their minds read at all, much less realize that their “perfect guy” is literally knows their every whim. When the thread of the novel revolves around the idea that the love interest must acquiesce to allowing this character inside their mind (whether or not it’s within their control) and the character making no move at all to even negate the effects says very little about how much they value their lover and their right to privacy. When the novel ignores these problems, it becomes an issue.

For a real world parallel, how would you feel if your boyfriend hacked your Tumblr without your permission? How would you feel if a guy you’ve been crushing on at school did because he wanted to know more about you? Not just Facebook stalk or Twitter stalk, but a full on investigation into every aspect of your life. Instead of talking to you, he reads your diary and decides you’re the perfect girl for him. You don’t even get a chance to tell him you like him, he already knows. He’s decided you’ll be together, you can’t say no, and everyone in your life agrees with him. They think he’s great for you even though he’s been in your bedroom rifling through your underwear drawer.

Connotations and implications do matter, there’s a disconnect when the author says one thing about a character that doesn’t match up with who the character is in text. What your characters do and say, how the novel approaches their problems, who you choose to say is your character’s True Love, all these things matter.

There’s an easy solution to the problem which is allowing other characters to react in a realistic manner and sort through their feelings without being pressured or introducing new information to make the previous transgressions okay within the narrative. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if there’s a good reason for their harmful behavior. Kant is bullshit.  Regardless of intentions, justification is just how we live with ourselves and the choices we’ve made. It doesn’t mean other people have to be okay with or accept the choices we’ve made.

“I’m sorry I was a dick, but I was only doing it protect you!”

This doesn’t change the fact that one character hurt another character and now these two characters have to sort out where they’re at in the context of their relationship. Own it, your story will be better if you hold your characters to the consequences of their actions. Don’t force your characters to stay, give them the choice to walk away. Maybe they stay, maybe they don’t, I personally never know until I’m working in the moment. I’m often surprised.

In the end, there’s no way of escaping Unfortunate Implications. We are all flawed human beings shaped by our experiences and cultural prejudices. Despite our best intentions, they’ll always be there. All we can do is attempt to mitigate and address the problems we find. The trick is to acknowledge that they’re there and work to circumvent them both with our world building, plot, and characters. Handwaving or ignoring the problem won’t make it go away nor does it mean you automatically have to dislike or hate those characters because of it.

-Michi

A World of Darkness

So, I keep recommending Hunter: The Reckoning to everyone who’s got a question about their characters hunting monsters. Well, okay, so I recommended it twice last week, but, it’s something you should be aware of if you’re writing urban fantasy. Part of this is because I really like the World of Darkness setting it’s part of, or I wouldn’t be writing about it a decade after the setting nuked itself and closed up shop. The other part is; today, World of Darkness represents a road not traveled in mainstream urban fantasy.

With all the urban fantasy questions we’ve been getting lately, I really should talk about setting in more detail and why I recommend it.

More urban than fantasy, the World of Darkness setting drops it’s supernatural critters into the world, and rather than isolating them off, forces them to cope with modern realities. Vampires that were alive to see the fall of the Roman Empire face the threat of a street punk with dragon’s breath shotgun shells. Werewolves have to contend with gangbangers that pack a silver round in their guns “just in case,” and human hunters have to circumvent or avoid the police in order to actually hunt because rigging up a car bomb will bring a federal taskforce down around their necks.

First off, these were roleplaying games. We continue to recommend RPGs for writers because they’re fantastic idea toy and toolboxes. A well researched sourcebook will cost far less, and be much easier to digest than a detailed technical manual. As a quick aside, the GURPS books are consistently a fantastic research starting point.

That said, RPGs can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to writing. Once you understand the numbers, they’re a very slick and effective way to quantify what your characters are actually capable of. On the other, they can quickly create nonsensical fight scenes because, “no really, my character would get an attack of opportunity because her opponent just moved through two adjacent spaces, so I can do a circle kick from behind while they’re using bull rush.” …just, no.

I don’t like recommending D&D (or D20 in general) for dummying up characters, because of the amount of paperwork a basic character requires in those systems. But, with some caveats, D&D is really good about limiting your character to “realistic” levels. So long as you remember that anything over a level 10 character is rapidly heading into superhero territory.

For dummying up characters, the World of Darkness games actually work pretty well. You have a list of attributes and skills and other traits that score 0 – 5, with 2 as average for most things. When you’re dummying up a character with the system, you can do it really fast. That said, there isn’t any power checking the way there are with levels in D&D, so you’re left to your own judgment on how powerful a character should reasonably be.

The system itself is pretty abstract, so it tends to avoid the kind of tabletop eccentricities I was giving D&D flak for a minute ago. Just keep in mind, either of these (or really any RPG) can be a good tool to work through your fight scenes with, but they both have flaws. The same thing applies with dummying up characters. It can be useful, but you should never take that as gospel.

So, that’s systems, and, while I like the system, it isn’t really anything special, so let’s talk about what we’re really here for; the setting.

Well, settings, there were two different Worlds of Darkness, and in spite of some overt similarities, these are completely different animals. Normally, I’m inclined to recommend the old setting, but depending on where you are as a writer, the new setting might be more useful, so we’ll get back to it in a minute.

Old World of Darkness entered print in 1993 with Vampire: The Masquerade. This was rapidly followed with Werewolf: The Apocalypse and Mage: The Ascension.

From the beginning, the setting was on the clock to the end the world. The books do a really good job of capturing pre-millennial anxieties about how the world was going to end when the clock struck 2000 (the end of the world arrived in 2004). There are signs and portents all over the place that “the end is nigh.” Including new supernatural creatures appearing (and a few old ones reappearing) as the clock ticked towards the end. This, incidentally is where Hunter: The Reckoning fits in.

 The world, as a whole, is a sprawling Rashomon gestalt as various supernatural societies try to deal with the world. One thing that’s really important to understand about the setting is that there is no unifying body. No one group polices them all or oversees them. More importantly, no one has a complete picture of the world.

Everyone has their viewpoint. As an outside observer you can look at what the Vampires say about the Werewolves, and then go look at the Werewolf book to see how wrong they actually are. This might sound like a minor thing, but from a writing perspective, this is incredibly useful. As a writer, you will write characters that are trying to learn about something, and inevitably, when they have incomplete information, they will make mistakes. Here are hundreds of examples of that scattered through the books, where you can actually check the perceptions against each other. In many cases you’ll also get both their views of themselves and an objective, systemic truth.

If you’re writing urban fantasy, this is even more valuable, because it’s a persistent reminder that: no, as an outsider, your character probably shouldn’t be fully conversant in the exact cultural norms for a secret society of monsters. Or even really know everything they’re capable of.

There’s also subtle rule differences between the different games. On one hand, this is kind of annoying, because you can’t just cross one character from one system into the other. And it can confuse players (no, Imbued don’t actually deal, and never receive, aggravated damage). But, at the same time, it’s an important reminder. If you’re working with an urban fantasy setting that has vampires, werewolves, and any number of other creatures, why would they all work under the same rules? On the whole, I’d stick this as more of a negative, beyond simply thinking about the general concept when you’re building a setting.

The setting is also really good at setting up mysteries. Not so much with actually paying them off. Usually the answers would be buried, in a supplement for different series. Now, 10 years later, the easiest way is usually going to be to just go digging on a wiki, to have someone else put the pieces together from the half dozen books you’d need. But the original sources are useful to see it actually being done. To be fair, the way it hides information isn’t a bad example, the issue is more where it hides its secrets.

The setting has a kind of “horror-punk” aesthetic. Depending on your preferences that can easily translate into a permanent sense of “trying too hard.”

Also, it’s worth knowing that this isn’t always the most culturally sensitive settings. The Mafia book is more Goodfellas and Godfather than actual organized crime, the middle east book for Hunter recommends Patai’s The Arab Mind, and one of the writers on the Gypsies book didn’t realize they were a real culture until after the book had gone to print. So, be careful with what you pick up along the way.

Having said that, let’s cover the games and what they do. In rough order:

Vampire: The Masquerade is an Anne Rice soaked game. The game does a good job of dropping Vampires into a modern setting where someone with a flare gun is a real threat. The game thrives on petty political maneuvering. You know, vampires, back when they were threatening, parasitic monsters, and weren’t particularly interested in high-school girls.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse is about eco-terrorist werewolves. Which sounds kinda goofy, but at least you can’t accuse the writers of doing the same thing as everyone else. The werewolves see themselves as guardians of Gaia, and one of their primary antagonists is actually a multinational corporation. The game has a slightly amusing Captain Planet on meth vibe. But, at the same time, there is some really interesting stuff with how they treat their human (or animal) relatives, and an entire culture facing extinction. Also the non-wolf shapeshifters go way beyond “like werewolves, but they transform into a cat/snake/bird.

Mage: The Ascension is about people trying to change the world without getting caught. The Mages have the ability to alter reality at a fundamental level, in very fluid ways. But, if they practice magic overtly, they’ll be crushed by the disbelief of the populous. This is easily one of the most philosophically complicated RPGs I’ve ever seen. Also, if you’re using magic in your urban fantasy, the consensus reality mechanic Mage uses is something you should be at least aware of.

Changeling: The Dreaming put players in the shoes of Faeries stranded in the setting. Beings of imagination and whimsy they are fighting against the banality of modern life in order to survive. Part crazy person living out a storybook tale, part, well, storybook fantasy, this was actually one of the most upbeat pieces of the setting.

Hunter: The Reckoning focused on people suddenly being forced to confront the presence of monsters as a part of their world, and going insane. More Falling Down with monsters than Buffy, the game focused on the deterioration of characters, as their lives fell apart from hunting monsters. There’s also borderline urban terrorism theme, because of the lengths the hunters need to go. This often manifests as a reminder that, “the cops will be hunting you for this, plan accordingly.” There’s also some fantastic interplay between different outlooks on how to deal with monsters in the first place, ranging from “we need to save them” to “kill ‘em all, and anyone who helps them.”

Wraith: The Oblivion focused on the setting’s underworld. It’s interesting, particularly if you’re writing about characters dealing with life after death, but bleak as hell. Ironically (or not), Dark Souls comes to mind as the closest analogy with characters that were constantly struggling to retain their identity.

Mummy: The Resurrection was the only series in the setting that was outright about “the good guys.” And, that was kind of the crazy part, because you were playing a Mummy. Mummies had a split soul. A modern character who’d lived and died miserably. And a millennia old soul from Dynastic Egypt who had purified the modern soul. Mummies were actually trying to save the world from the apocalypse, and ease the world’s pain, as best they could.

Kindred of the East dealt with Asian vampires. (Kindred was an explicit term for vampires in the setting.) There’s some really interesting stuff with the Chi eaters interacting, and fighting with, the western varieties of Vampires.

Demon: The Fallen focused on demons who’d just been released from hell. This was one of the last games in the setting. The demons would possess the corpse of a recently departed, and their return was one of the biggest signs that, no really, the world is about to end. This was loaded in Judeo/Christian/Islamic cosmology, more than most of the other games in the series. It casts the demons as semi-sympathetic figures that rebelled to fight for giving humans free will.

And then the world blew up. There were four books, Gehenna, The Apocalypse, The Ascension, and Time of Judgment, which detailed multiple possible endings for all of the series. Time of Judgment covered most of the smaller lines, while the big three got their own book. (Gehenna is Vampire’s.) If you’re writing about a supernatural apocalypse, these are probably worth looking at.

There was also a limited run series, Orpheus, about ghost hunting mortals. Technically it’s supposed to be part of the old World of Darkness, but it doesn’t really fit into either setting smoothly. Systemically it has more in common with new World of Darkness. So, let’s just move on to that.

Launched a couple months after the original setting detonated, new World of Darkness was an attempt to create a more accessible setting. Gone are the massive metaplots, the impending end of the world, and a lot of the interconnectivity.

The biggest difference is that new World of Darkness is modular. If you pick up a book for the setting, you’ll get a lot of random pieces you can pick out and use, or modify and use. It’s more of a toolkit for a writer. Want to write about cops that hunt the supernatural? Grab Tales from the 13th Precinct, and see what gets suggested in there. Want to do the same thing, but with soldiers? Dogs of War. This is actually a good thing, because it means you don’t need to go hunting for five or six obscure books to parse out what you’re seeing. But, in the process you lose the effect of seeing the same thing from multiple angles.

The new World of Darkness launched with Vampire: The Requiem, Werewolf: The Forsaken, and Mage: The Awakening. Which is why I have to keep typing out the subtitles for most of the games.

Superficially, Vampire: The Requiem is basically a rehash of Masquerade, but with most of the clans missing (and one from a vampire that didn’t produce a clan in Masquerade). This actually manages to sidestep about 90% of the most convoluted mess in Masquerade’s backstory. And, as a result, Requiem is remarkably accessible. But, you lose a lot of the pay off for political relationships that have stretched back centuries, with various groups stabbing each other in the back whenever the opportunity presents itself, that is to say: “almost constantly.”

So, minor mea culpa, I’m not nearly as well versed in the new setting as the old. In part because the piecemeal format didn’t really appeal to me. So, this information might be a little wonky.

Werewolf: The Forsaken focuses more on werewolves as your traditional movie monsters. There are still elements of the “Protectors of Gaia” theme buried in some of the supplements, but these are a lot more generic, which might be what you want.

Mage: The Awakening shifted off the philosophical bent of understanding magic, to a more adventure focused finding and preserving ancient sources of power. There was also a transition from the freeform system in Ascension to a more traditional spell list in Awakening. You can still create magic on the fly, but the game is actually more obtuse on that front.

Hunter: The Vigil isn’t really an update of Reckoning. It’s more of a revival of the Hunters Hunted books. These focus on normal (or mostly normal) humans who go out and hunt monsters. Possibly because it’s their job, or because they’re freelance.

Changeling: The Lost is almost a polar opposite of The Dreaming, it deals with malicious Fae who are victimizing children into becoming the next generation of Fae.

Geist: The Sin-Eaters is (sort of) a relaunch of Wraith. This is one of the two series I don’t have books for. This focused more on ghosts that had returned to the living world, as opposed to wandering in the underworld.

Prometheus: The Created is a new addition to the setting. This dealt with beings that had been artificially created. Like Frankenstein’s monster or a homunculus. As with Geist, I don’t actually have a copy.

Scion isn’t technically a World of Darkness game, so far as I know, but, it is in a similar vein. This is the American Gods or Percy Jackson presentation of players as the offspring of gods from various pantheons. Scion actually gets pretty creative with this, including things like American and Soviet pantheons in one of the later books. This trends more into the fantasy end, we are talking about the offspring of gods after all. But, it might be just what you need.

New World of Darkness, as a whole, is more useful to newer writers. As I said above, it’s a toolkit, and each book will give you more ideas to play with. It’s also (systemically) a better, or at least more streamlined, game. Gone are the mixed rule systems, that actually hid some pretty important interactions and thematic elements. It’s also a much better to look at if your setting only has one kind of supernatural creature.

Picking apart the old World of Darkness is more valuable to writers at an intermediate level. You can get a lot of practice in working out what characters would know about one another, especially in a setting where your supernatural critters don’t have any kind of formalized relations with one another, and don’t have easy access to the others’ cultures.

It’s also better about presenting a cohesive world where monsters can’t simply segregate themselves off from the modern world whenever they want. This is especially important if you’re writing monster hunters, and why Hunter: The Reckoning keeps coming up.

-Starke

For a monster hunting character without the budget or means to get firearms, what sort of melee weapon would you be looking at? (Modern day-ish setting, so something that isn’t too hard to get through doors or keep to hand in a car would be good).

Tire iron. It’s like a crowbar without the suspicion. They don’t even have to explain why they have it, they have a car. Enough said. The same is true of the heavy duty metal flashlight they keep on the inside of the driver’s side door. It’s there in case they get stuck on the road in the dark. Enough said. But if they’ve gotta crack a monster across the side of the head with it, then fair enough. Maybe the character is part of an after work softball club in which case he/she carries around an aluminum bat and a softball bag in their trunk (which may hide other gear).

Your average roadside assistance kit will net you regular flares and a flare gun, useful for signaling when you’re having car trouble. Also useful for burning out a vampire.

I have a less savory character (vampire) that drives around with an average toolbox he bought over the counter at a Target in his trunk. Little does the salesperson know it moonlights as an easy to use set of torture implements. The wrench makes for a great bludgeoning tool. He also carries a set of bungie cords, a tire iron, a roadside assistance kit, a pack of cigarettes, a liter, a set of matches, and two liters of Coca Cola. You may have to think back to chemistry class to realize why the coke is helpful. He also carries guns loaded with explosive rounds, but that’s neither here nor there.

We’ve said it before, if you’re writing monster hunters using modern weaponry in modern day: get Hunter: the Reckoning. The Players Guide and Storytellers Guide are also useful. It has a whole list of useful information covering a lot of different aspects you may not have thought about but are good to include. From weapons, to the monsters hunting you, etc, it’s all good stuff to think about.

One of my favorite anecdotes from the series was the gang members loading their guns with a silver bullet as the third round in the cartridge. They didn’t know specifically what they were facing, but they figured if it could take two rounds to the chest and keep coming then it probably wasn’t human. Better safe than sorry, right? But, they didn’t pack the gun full of silver bullets because, as one might expect, they are expensive.

If you’re looking for improvised weaponry in hand to hand, weapons that are easily overlooked and ignored then every day household items are you’re best bet. You’re looking for the things people don’t think about, objects that are belong.

You don’t question why a smoker is carrying around a pack of cigarettes until they use the smoke to destabilize their opponent and put the lit cigarette out in their enemies’ eye. Nicotine is a potent neurotoxin when combined with water, perhaps that spray bottle in the sport’s bag isn’t full of H20.

That vodka collection and liter are pretty cool, but are they going to a party or plotting one with a different kind of cocktail?

In The Suicide Kings, you’ll hear the Dennis Leary mobster bemoan his frustration at his inability to hit a golf ball. You may not think anything of it, until he takes the golf clubs out of his trunk and starts beating a man for information.

A crowbar has taken on association with crime, see a man take one out of his trunk and you might think something is up. See a guy take out a tire iron and you’ll probably wonder if he has car trouble.

Does your character carry around jumper cables in case of a dead battery or does he do so because he can hook a uncooperative vampire up to the battery?

Decide how rough and tumble you want to get. Hunter is a really awesome jumping off point, especially because it handles combating all the monsters in the Old World of Darkness, from vampires, to werewolves, to ghosts, to mummies, to fairies, to demons, and finally some really weird shit. It’s especially good at discussing the perspective of your character fighting monsters they may not have the knowledge or tools to comprehend and the dangers of those monsters noticing, of hunting them, of using the rules of the society the hunters live in to hunt them.

Think about your monsters. The weapons your character carries will be a reflection of what works against these creatures. They may carry a variety of different items which will work well against different kinds of creatures because they don’t know what they’ll be facing.

Vampires may only be irritated by bullets, but one in the brain may put them down long enough for your hero to get out the stake and put it through their chest. Are they vulnerable to fire? With a little futzing, hair spray and a lighter could work as a makeshift flamethrower. Spray paint in the eyes is pretty nasty. Do your monsters need to see?

Improvised weapon choices are going to be about exploiting opportunity and conventional weaknesses if you’re in a setting where the characters can’t take the monsters head on in conventional warfare. I’d look into guerrilla tactics.

However, when writing monster hunters there are a few different paths to consider. The action path: ala Blade, Underworld, or John Carpenter’s Vampires. Where the horror is secondary to the action adventure. The Noir/Mystery/Thriller: Blade Runner. The detective must solve the supernatural mystery.Noir/Thriller/Horror: Fallen (1998) with Denzel Washington: Detective John Hobbs must uncover the mystery behind copycat killings that are exactly like those of a serial killer he recently put on death row even as he is being framed and hunted by a supernatural force. Action/Horror/Humor: Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Lost Boys. 

All of these are legitimate approaches, but you should figure out what kind of story you’re telling and plan accordingly.

Reading/Watching List

The first ten or so episodes of Supernatural are decently on point for Hunter type monster hunters.

Fallen (1998)

Suicide Kings Denis Leary’s mobster is interesting to watch in terms of improvised weapons.

The Watchers from Highlander. No, not the ones from Buffy. So, very dangerous. Check out any episode dealing with them and see their tactics for eliminating Immortals hundreds to thousands of years older than they are.

Any movie, television show, story, or book where the character is forced to improvise or aren’t really in a position where conventional force works well. Crime movies, especially ones dealing with underworld elements on the down low will be helpful to you.

-Michi

Hi! This blog is so helpful. I have a question regarding armor. My MC is part of a s.w.a.t. like team. They fight supernatural being who use sword and shields and engage in gunfights. What kind of armor would would you nede to be alle to engage in both?

Well, riot armor actually reduces mobility. It’s good for dealing with someone chucking a bottle at you, but if someone opens up on you with an automatic weapon, you’re screwed. I’d assume your supernatural beings would be slightly more dangerous than that.

Normal SWAT gear is probably the best option, honestly. Unless they’re dealing with a specific threat that calls for heavier armor.

If you’ve never seen it, the British TV series Ultraviolet, might be a good thing to look at.

I would strongly recommend against sword ‘n board in a modern environment, though. The problem with going toe to toe with a monster that’s superhumanly strong and fast is, in melee, you’re just going to lose. If your characters are going up against werewolves or vampires, or something worse, a shield isn’t going to save them, at best it will become the implement used to beat them to death.

Something Ultraviolet does, that might be worth expanding on is specialized ammo. Just because a vampire is “immune” to a chunk of lead passing through their body, doesn’t mean a dragon’s breath shotgun shell won’t ash them on the spot. High explosive rounds are a (rare) thing, so your monster might be able to soak off a .38 to the face, but when that .38 explodes on contact, it’s a different story.

Even things that are immune to conventional weapons might not be able to shrug off a Tazer slug.

The other thing that might be worth looking into is Hunter: The Reckoning. My fondness for the original World of Darkness is pretty well documented, but, Hunter was about humans with limited superpowers going up against monsters in an urban fantasy/horror setting.

-Starke