If there’s one part of Fantasy writing that I’ve largely ignored on this site, it’s Fantasy monsters.
And, right out the gate, full disclosure: it’s because I have a hard time creating them.
In part, it’s because I turned off the “dragons are great” part of my brain ages ago. I have personally always written with the mantra “no old man wizards and no dragons.” Not because I think those things suck, but because I wanted to avoid using the tropes that came with them.
The thing is, that mantra was shorthand. What I really meant was, “No old man wizards, knights, kings, elves, dwarves, <deep breath> dragons, griffons, medusas, hydras, skeletons, zombies, wyrms, elementals–
And I’m just gonna stop there, because I grew up with JRPG’s and I’ve played a ton of D&D, so the list goes on.
Which means that when I put a monster into a WIP, I take wa-a-a-a-a-ay too long trying to make that monster unique. And, yeah, already a total nightmare.
But, on top of that, Fantasy monsters have never easily meshed with the bureaucratic side of my brain either. So even when I do create something I’ve never seen before, I then have to figure out why/how it exists.
Most of the time, that means my “monsters” are just weird animals that attack humans the same way a lion or a cassowary bird would (and if this is the first time you’ve ever heard of them, cassowaries are huge birds that are real and have giant claws on their feet, similar to a velociraptor; they look doofy, but do not fuck with them because they will murder you).
But sometimes, my monsters need to come from somewhere, so I engage in the insane practice of creating entire systems by which they exist. In my first book, for example, the monsters were all undead nightmares (the story was heavily inspired by Castlevania), so I had to invent a school of Necromancy that focused exclusively on making those monsters.
So yeah . . . A lot of work.
In the end though, all of this means that I spend way less time thinking about Fantasy monsters than I should. I want to rectify that. And I figured, “Hey. Why not do it on the site?”
So thank you for joining me for the very first installment of what I’m calling “Monster Showcase,” a series where I’ll be talking about a monster that I thought was really awesome from a book, game, movie, or TV show. I promise to never go typical with this (I’m always going to try to bring something genuinely weird and unique to the table), but there’s one in particular that’s going to be a nostalgia trip, so keep in mind that we may go deep into 80’s movies here at some point.
Anyway, for this first installment, we’re talking about . . .
The Orphan of Kos
Where It’s From: The Orphan of Kos is the final boss of the Old Hunters DLC for Bloodborne.
What It Is: It’s . . . <sigh>. I’m sorry. Bloodborne in particular has some bizarre fucking monsters, so this is tough. Apparently, the Orphan is the newborn child of a dead, Lovecraftian god. It is humanoid, skeletal, has giant flaps of skin hanging off of its back (which start floating behind it like wings in its second phase), and it’s holding its placenta, which it uses as a weapon.
“What the fuck?” Yeah. I heard you say that out loud, and I know–trust me, I’m right there with you.
To actually understand this thing though, you have to see how it moves and hear what it sounds like (nightmare fuel on both counts). Here’s a video from the Boss Fight Database on YouTube (the second phase, with the weird wings, starts at 2:41 [and here’s a convenience link to that as well]).
If you don’t have access to video, this thing alternates way too quickly between “hunched slow walk” to “leaping around the entire battlefield to slash at you.” Even though it’s bipedal, it attacks with the too-quick ferocity of a rabid dog . . . while gasping and crying out in an eerily human voice when you hit it.
Why It’s Worth Talking About: First, because it is just so fucking bizarre.
If you’ve never played Bloodborne, it is a master class in “What the fuck am I fighting?” Halfway through the game, I realized that I’d never win the metagame of trying to guess what the next boss would be.
But the Orphan really takes the cake.
Why is it humanoid?
Why is it so creepily thin?
What is that thing it’s holding? Oh–that’s its placenta. Great. Real cool.
And why those wings? For me, the wings are really what pushes the Orphan into “wait–what?” territory. Give me a gangly skeleton man, give him a placenta, and tell me he’s a Lovecraftian god’s baby, and I’m like, “Sure. I guess. Whatever.” But give that skeleton man gossamer wings and I’m like, “Fucking what?” Why did they make those wings silken? Why did they want them to look pretty as it screams, cries, and lunges at you from 20 feet away in a heartbeat?
It invites you to speculate on what the Orphan actually is–to draw the natural parallels to angels, sure, but to also question not only what the game’s “Great Ones” actually are, but why you’re fighting one of their children when you have no clue what they are.
And, beyond the crazy design of this monster, the Orphan’s ability to make you ask those questions is what really makes it worth talking about. Not just how cool or weird or creepy its design is . . . but how that design makes you feel.
Because a normal monster looks tough, scary, or intimidating, but the Orphan . . . makes you question yourself.
You find it on a beach as it’s being born. During the fight with it, it will sometimes scream–deeply and agonized–a signal that it’s doing a lightning attack. But that attack . . . comes from its mother’s corpse. It’s hard to be sure about anything when it comes to the orphan, but the implication seems to be that it’s sad about its mother. Maybe it doesn’t know what’s going on. Just a weird monster, born only a moment ago, attacking you with the only thing that it had close to hand–fighting you because you’re there and you’re aggressive.
And you, on the other side, totally unaware the Orphan was out here on this beach. At this point, you’re deep inside what NPC’s have called “a Nightmare”–what feels like an alternate pocket of reality where you’re living the past and walking across a twisted dreamscape.
So you, unsure what’s going on, fight the Orphan because it’s there and it’s aggressive.
From Software games usually don’t give you a happy ending, but killing the Orphan was particularly strange because it felt . . . like you were killing yourself somehow. Not in the uplifting sense that you were killing the dark, feral side of your human mind, but that you had become that part of your mind–that you had finally become a Beast, like so many NPC’s before you–and you were just slashing wildly at a mirror.
The Orphan of Kos is an interesting monster, because fighting it makes you the monster.
What I Learned from It: I was already aware of the idea that monsters are better if they come with their own little stories. If you want to design a small lizard, for example, you’ll get way better results if you think about what that lizard wants, how it eats, where it sleeps, etc. The same goes for violent, true monsters (I still differentiate “unique animals” and “true monsters” in my mind, which I guess I’ll talk about another time); a phantom possessing a suit of armor is way more interesting if you create the story for how the phantom got into that armor, why it picked that particular suit, what it intends to do, etc. And, when you’re done, both the lizard and the phantom will tell that story without words; a reader/viewer/player will see that the lizard is dirty and walks really slowly and infer it lives in the dirt and maybe has some kind of defense mechanism that makes it so chill.
But the Orphan makes it clear that those stories don’t have to always be internal. A monster’s design can affect a person beyond making them scared or creeping them out.
A monster can make you question yourself, and, at the very least, that’s something worth thinking about.
Phew. That wound up being longer than I expected. I hope you enjoyed! If you did, feel free to drop a like or a follow. I’m not sure when I’ll do another “Monster Showcase” (I play all of these posts by ear), but if you “Follow House of Error” via the button on the left side of the screen on PC or the top right on mobile, you’ll have my future posts emailed directly to your inbox.
Man, I really need to find a new name for this site. Whatever–that’s for me to figure out.
Until next time, take care, stay safe, and watch There Will Be Blood if you haven’t. That movie is amalzing . . . Also, Kim’s Convenience is really good. Okay–bye!