MONSTERS IN THE MACHINE

It’s no secret that I’m interested in machine learning, and the Vaarn setting not only features sentient AI, but is partly authored by procedural algorithms. I use Markov text generators to create most of the names I’ve used in the setting, and the surreal, dreamlike artwork I frequently feature on this blog (including the featured image for this post) is created by a GAN site called Artbreeder.

But can I go further? Can an AI create entirely new monsters for Vaarn’s bestiary? Today we are going to find out.

For this experiment I’ve used OpenAI, a site that generates natural language text from prompts. I’m going to feed it the Vaarn bestiary, and see what we come up with. Here goes!

Gnawer of the Moon
Biological
HD: 2 Armour: 13 Morale: 6 Appearing: d6
Attacks: Bite (d8) + Claw (d4)
Notes: A small rodent-like creature found on the Moon. It is covered in white fur and has a long tail. It is a timid creature but will defend itself if threatened.

Not bad. I like the idea of lunar creatures, which is something I haven’t explored in the zines at all. I know Urth’s moon has a jungle on it and was once part of the Autarchy, so it’s cool that the AI decided we’re going there. The monster’s name is very poetic, although nothing about its description is especially interesting to me.

Next up we have:

Gray Beast
Biological / Synthetic
HD: 4 Armour: 16 Morale: 9 Appearing: 1
Attacks: Bite (d10) + Claw (d6)
Notes: A massive, wolf-like creature with gray fur and red eyes. It is intelligent and can speak, but its mind is that of a child. It is friendly and docile unless provoked, at which point it becomes a fearsome opponent.

Interesting. The name isn’t as evocative as ‘Gnawer of the Moon’, but I like the detail that it has the mind of a child. That’s the phrase that grabs me the most about this. If I was going to develop this monster more I would focus on that element.

Let’s see what else the AI will give us:

Megalodon
Biological / Synthetic
HD: 10 Armour: 20 Morale: 12 Appearing: 1
Attacks: Bite (d10), followed by Deathroll (d12) in water
Notes: Enormous genetically engineered shark. Capable of swimming through the vacuum of space. Following a successful bite, the Megalodon will deathroll its prey if it is in water. This deals d12 damage per turn with no to-hit roll needed. Victim must make an opposed STR save to break free. If brought below 0 HP, the Megalodon will enter a frenzy, attacking anything nearby until it either dies or its frenzy wears off (1d4+1 rounds).

This one I really dug. I like that the AI is able to spot the pattern in the stat blocks of ‘boss monsters’: they have high HD and Armour, but usually appear solo. It has decent damage as well (although I think deathrolling is a crocodile thing, I would make that a thrash move if I was editing this entry). I’m also obviously delighted with the idea that this thing can swim through the vacuum of space, although it mentions deathrolling in water, so presumably they’re not primarily space dwellers? I also quite like that it has a special frenzy that happens just before it dies. Vaarn monsters can’t go below 0HP so I’d have to workshop that a bit, but it made me realise nothing in the bestiary currently has any cool behaviour when it’s about to die. I need to fix that.

The other thing I would edit about this entry is the name. Megalodon isn’t cutting it for a cyborg space-swimming shark. Maybe Voidshark? Voidmaw? Something like that. I do love the mental image of a shark swimming around the abandoned peak of a space elevator.

Let’s meet another monster:

Moonbeast
Biological / Synthetic / Psychic
HD: 4 Armour: 16 Morale: 8 Appearing: d4+1d4/2d4 (brood)
Attacks: Bite (d8), followed by Deathroll (d10) in water; or Psychic Blast (3d6 SAN) at range 30′
Notes: Genetically engineered aquatic predators from the lost city of Carcosa. Moonbeasts are telepathic, and can project a blast of psychic energy which causes 3d6 SAN loss on a failed WILL save. They are also capable of entering a victim’s mind and controlling their body if they fail a SAN check (at the GM’s discretion).

This one is interesting. We’re back on the Moon for some reason, but these are aquatic predators? It’s drawing themes from the Gnawer of the Moon and the space shark. I’m interested that Carcosa and SAN saves have appeared in the rules now. I know the OpenAI has been trained on publicly available text on the open internet, so I assume it’s drawing from some Call of Cthulhu material here. Azathoth does pop up in the Vaarn zines, as well as the Mi-Go from ‘The Whisperer in Darkness’, so I’m not opposed to a Lovecraftian influence in Vaarn. I’m pretty sure the Moonbeasts are from the Dreamlands stories, which I’m not as familiar with.

Let’s generate another monster:

* There is a 50% chance that any given Moonbeast encountered will be an immature juvenile; these have half the HD and armour of an adult, but otherwise function identically. Attacks: Bite (d8) + Lunatic Gaze (save or go insane) Notes: Terrifying nocturnal creatures from beyond the stars, summoned to Urth by ancient sorceries long forgotten. The gaze of a Moonbeast can drive even the most stout-hearted mad; those who meet its eyes must make a WILL save or become permanently insane (as per the insanity rules in LotFP). Moonlight seems to calm and soothe them somewhat, however, and they will only attack living creatures if there is no moonlight present. Adult Moonbeasts are also capable of vomiting up a stream of lunar radiation which deals 3d6 damage on a direct hit (no saving throw); this has no effect on other Moonbeasts or anything else immune to radiation damage. Immature juveniles lack this ability.

The AI broke its own format here for some reason and started spewing out more Moonbeast content, some of which seems to be referencing Lamentations of the Flame Princess? Very interesting. I like their ‘Lunatic Gaze’ attack and the vomiting up lunar radiation, whatever that looks like. Another fun detail is that they only attack if there’s no moonlight present; this seems like a trait you could build some tension with. I’m getting some quite vivid mental images from these lunar/space themed monsters. The Gray Beast now feels like a werewolf of some type.

One last time:

Fleshwarp
Biological
HD: 3 Armour: 13 Morale: 12 Appearing: 1d3 in lair
Attacks: Claws (d6+d4)
Notes: A Fleshwarp is the result of a failed attempt to graft animal parts onto a human body. The process is incredibly painful and invariably leaves the victim hideously deformed, both physically and mentally. Fleshwarps are strong and fast, but their minds are so damaged that they are little more than animals. They dwell in dark places, coming out only to feed on carrion or living creatures unlucky enough to cross their path. A Fleshwarp can attempt to graft its limbs onto a living creature it has grabbed hold of. The creature must make a STR save or be restrained. Each round the Fleshwarp spends attached, the victim suffers d6 damage as its body is warped and twisted by the grotesque growths. If the victim dies, the Fleshwarp detaches itself and consumes the corpse. After eating, it will attempt to find another host to mutate.

This is incredible! A little searching reveals that ‘Fleshwarps‘ are a monster type from Pathfinder, which I assume is where the AI lifted the name from. It seems a lot more confident describing the monsters now; look how much text this entry has compared to the Gnawer of the Moon we started with. This thing is fucking awesome; it reminds me of the Grafted Scion enemies in Elden Ring, as well as Godrick himself. I really like the idea that it tries to attach parasite limbs to you! I can imagine those sticking around even once the main Fleshwarp is dead and beating you up, or maybe even just becoming part of your body! I would rewrite this creature to make it more about the grafted limbs and their effects, but the seed of the idea is great. I think this is the winner from our experiment today.


Thanks to the residents of the Vaults of Vaarn Discord, especially Omniczech, for showing me where to find OpenAI.

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