In this Training Day I’m going to talk about something that a lot of people who run games – especially horror games – struggle with: Getting into the “heads” so to speak of inhuman entities or genuinely crazed cultists. A lot of roleplaying games, especially of the horror variety, rely on you portraying things that are entirely alien, inhuman or in the case of cultists, have become utterly warped by terrible beings to an inhuman state of thought.
These characters, antagonists and NPCs can be by far the hardest things to roleplay effectively, because if they are done too “straight” they’re basically not that different from any other human villain. On the other hand, sometimes DMs go too far and make them overly eccentric, blatantly homicidal or just overly confusing. Starting with things of an alien nature, which is of the little green men or directly outer space variety, I’ll give some advice on how I like to roleplay different kinds of creatures.
Part 1: Alien Minds
Alien creatures can be tricky to roleplay for many reasons and the most obvious being that unlike us they may be entirely different not just physiology wise, but culturally, ethically and even in the very way they think. In my opinion, a good way of roleplaying creatures like this effectively is to really sell these kind of unusual or interesting behaviors to your players. For example in the War of the Worlds remake, there is an intriguing scene where the main character and his daughter are in the basement of a house. Here some of the aliens get out of the tripod, wander down into the basement with the humans and can be seen fiddling around with some of the objects. The aliens curiously examine things we take entirely for granted like the bicycle and photos. It is clear the aliens don’t fully understand what the purpose of these things are and they’re examining them as strange things. This sense that something inherently familiar to us is unusual, weird and not comprehended by the alien is what makes the scene so effectively creepy.
A good example is the Modron from Planescape, where each individual Modron follows a specific and highly ordered set of instructions without question or complaint. These creatures have an unusual trait in that each member is only “aware” of the Modrons directly under it and above it in their hierarchy. The result is that they form a specific, ordered and rigid chain of command from the bottom all the way to the top – but where the lowest rung is only vaguely aware (or in some interpretations, not remotely aware) of the existence of those above them.