Let’s Make: A Fantasy Monster – Gekouls

Welcome back for the second part of this week’s accidental series of Let’s Makes. If you didn’t read Tuesday’s Let’s Make: A Fantasy Alcohol, you can check it out to find out how my creative process led me here.

Regardless, the goal of this post is to make a new fantasy monster for use in a future project–Rainwater Archaic. Because of Tuesday’s Let’s Make, I’m starting off with the idea that these monsters will be goblin-esque.

Now, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with going 100% goblin here. Fantasy is a genre with a large well of creatures to draw from, and even if we didn’t add a bit of flair to goblins, there’s nothing wrong with using them regardless.

However, that’s just not the kind of writer I am. Everything has to be abnormal. New. A pain in the ass to make.

So, let me walk you through what I already know about the race of fantasy monsters I’m creating today. And then, let’s figure out the rest of their details together.

Step 1 – Consider What We Already Know

This Let’s Make is going to start a bit differently because, again, we already know that these creatures are intelligent. Smart enough to make crude stills, which means they’re smart enough to fashion tools and weapons. They likely also have their own strange language and possibly make simple clothing for themselves.

That was my starting point last Tuesday, after posting. Since then, I’ve made one more decision about these creatures . . .

Step 2 – Decide on a Base Monster Aesthetic to Start With

If you read the salutations from yesterday’s post, you know lizardmen have something to do with this Let’s Make. What is it?

Yesterday, in the shower, while idling in brainstorm mode, I took this second step of the Let’s Make early, trying to figure out what kind of mini-humanoid I wanted to make. Beast-like? Elf-like? Goblinoid? Kobold?

The thing is, I didn’t even get to consider any of those options, because “mini-lizardmen” popped into my mind immediately. And then I laughed.

Because, man, if there’s one race I actually hate, it’s lizardmen. The go-to, forgettable, middling flunkies of fantasy. Do you remember the 80’s, when lizard people where slightly more threatening because of Conan: The Barbarian?

Neither do I.

When it comes to making a race of annoying, stupid, stunted swamp monsters, lizardmen were the perfect choice.

Step 3 – Add the Weirdness

Let’s face it–I’m weird. Three Let’s Makes in, I’m just embracing it.

Because, even before I got to this step–back when I started this post–an idea for a weird detail popped into mind, and I’m going with it.

These small lizard people have tentacle mouths.

A Zoidberg, if you will, only not crustaceans; they’re still lizardfolk, but their mouths are hidden behind writhing tentacles.

Which winds up making them feel a lot more like strange question marks, and a lot less like archetypes. “They’re those small, squid-faced lizard things that live in the swamps,” someone would say, instead of, “They’re the lizard creatures that live in the swamps.” And that level of uncertainty is something I strive for. Because it almost always feels better to make a unique thing that warrants an explanation instead of a simple thing that needs no explanation.

Adding just a bit more weird here–they’re also hunched over. I don’t know why I’m so hellbent on that idea, but the thought of them having perfect posture, running easily on two legs, seems completely wrong. These things, although bipedal, need to be borderline harmless, shuffling around everywhere with slow, grasping, chameleon steps.

Step 4 – Add a Culture

We already decided that these things are intelligent, so we need to give them some kind of culture.

I don’t think going crazy with it will serve the idea well, however. At most, these guys might have a crude religion, but even just imagining them worshiping whittled idols feels wrong.

Because these little bastards just seem too . . . primitive for that. They’re only borderline sentient. Like, imagine if a cat could talk; these things are only slightly above that level (so I guess they’re in intelligent bird territory?).

Whatever. The point is, I think they’d have a society, but that’s it.

And their society would absolutely be based around a queen. Because an animal hive-mentality seems right for them.

Which works well with the only other idea I came up with for these things in the shower. I thought, “Maybe there would always be one giant alpha in every clutch of mini-lizardfolk.”

No, buddy. That giant, tentacle-faced monster standing at nine feet, able to run on all fours like a wolf? That’s their queen.

I . . . love these things.

I’m really just adding more weirdness here, so I’ll reign it in. But first, really quick, if you haven’t heard of surinam toads, they’re amphibians who give birth from their backs. I’m not saying the queen of these lizardfolk gives birth in a similar way, but I like the idea that these creatures gravitate towards the queen’s back. They definitely can and often cling to her as she migrates and hunts, but she does the latter very rarely, spending the majority of her time bathing in pools of swamp water, face down and hibernating, her back acting as the central hub for her drones’ camps.

Those drone spend the majority of their time hunting–to feed her and themselves–and stealing as part of a mating ritual (the lizardman with the most shinies is most enticing to the queen).

This thievery is likely how they’ve learned to fashion tools, weapons, and simple armor, which they use to aggressively defend their territory, or venture abroad for plunder.

Their kleptomania is also likely how they learned to develop stills. They, apparently, have a great love for alcohol.

Step 5 – Decide on a Name

“Cthuls” came to mind immediately, but it feels too easy.

Trying to think of something else that ends with “-uls,” because I feel I can get away with that much, and it reminds me of “ghouls,” which I love.

Thinking of common reptile words and sounds, my mind snaps to “gecko.” The end result is “geckuls.”

Respelling it so it doesn’t sound like a pelvic muscle, I end up with “gekouls.” It feels oddly clean–like the correct pronunciation would come naturally–but it also feels like it could be the name of a mythical, forest dwelling creature from an Earth-modern culture, and that’s the real win for me.

~~~

Phew. This was a lot of fun. I’m excited to use these weird little bastards in Rainwater, because I absolutely love them. Thanks for joining me as I worked them out, and I hope that look into my process helps you make a strange race of huggable, violent monsters in your own fantasy world!

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Either way, I hope to see you again tomorrow. Until next time, as always, write well.

 

Lizardmen: They’re Out There, Losing, Right Now

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re experiencing slight delays because a Lizardman is on the tracks directly in front of us. The MTA would like to apologize for the delay. As soon as the Lizardman is shooed along, we will proceed.”

“Will the owner of the red Volvo please report to Lot A; a Lizardman appears to be sleeping on your vehicle. Again, will the owner of the red Volvo please report to Lot A? Thank you.”

“Sir, we’re sorry to inform you that your parcel was lost. It appears it was handled at one point by a Lizardman who failed to deliver the package to the processing center.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to talk to you about Lizardmen.

Let’s begin with a story.

A friend of a friend once started a D&D campaign. The setting was a city in famine. Very dog-eat-dog or cat-eat… Well, you’ll see.

One of the players decided he’d play a lizardman. When he entered the city, he saw a cat in an alley. Roleplaying the stupid lizardman, and perhaps drunk on his ability to eat furry things like cats, the player decided to chase the cat. In the alley a battle was initiated, which, in D&D, breaks time into 6 second intervals where you act based on chance (embodied by dice rolls for different actions). The lizardman rolled for initiative, but the cat won because it was small and quick. So it struck first, and because it had a large target and it was tiny, it easily succeeded in scratching the lizardman for a laughable 1 HP (Health Point). But no sweat off the lizardman’s back; he only needed to hit the cat once to take all its HP. Only, it was tiny. And fast. And, as a lizardman, he’d forgotten his one fundamental weakness–that he was a lizardman. He attempted an attack but missed. And then, more likely than not, he failed the dice roll that would’ve allowed him to see the group of 20 cats that came out of the rubbish piles around him. 20 feral, hungry cats.

A starting character in D&D has a max HP of 12 at best, with no exception for lizardmen that I remember. So do the math. On the second turn, 20 tiny, fast cats all get an opportunity to hit the lizardman, and all of them will definitely hit. All for a laughable 1 HP each.

The 6 seconds weren’t even up when the Lizardman died.

Ladies and gentlemen…

T H E  L I Z A R D M A N

Since time immemorial, Lizardmen have been the failures of the fantasy genre. Servants, useless foot soldiers, cannon fodder. I’m aware there may be a place where Lizardmen are winning, but that place is not here, nor is it anywhere that I’ve seen.

But They Look Cool

Yeah, I’ll give you that. If there’s one thing Lizardmen do right, it’s look cool.

But that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? They’re like very shiny used cars; they look like a great idea, but they’ll probably get eaten by cats.

My D&D story aside, I’ve only ever found Lizardmen in the low threat tier of enemies in RPG’s, just above (or sometimes below) those sentient balls of jelly that find their way into EVERY RPG. My brother tells me that the Lizardmen in Demon’s Souls pose a threat, but he hasn’t been playing the game for long at all. And besides, from what I understand, everything is a threat in Demon’s Souls. Especially the jelly.

In visual media, they’ve never faired any better. Just recently I saw an episode of Conan: The Adventurer where the cruel wizard Rathamon killed a Lizardman who was standing next to his throne. Why? Because he was angry. But also, I’m betting because he knew he could. I imagine Rathamon goes through a full bushel of Lizardmen on his bad days.

Otherwise, we have Reptile’s performance in the Mortal Kombat movie, who, aside from being an absolute mess of CGI, completely dropped the ball in his battle with Liu Kang.

Social _________

Outside of appearances as enemies, Lizardmen seem to enjoy the most absent of social classes. For the Final Fantasy series, it began with Tactics Advance for the Nintendo DS, where Lizardfolk (?) found their way into society under the social tag “Bangaa.”

This is a Bangaa.

I believe I’ve said enough about Bangaa.

No. Wait. I should try. They… … they’re stronger than humans. And also, unlike Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, the subsequent Final Fantasy XII did not feature a Bangaa playable character. Oh, and they’re astutely never called “lizardmen”.

You may remember a similar situation in the Elder Scrolls series. If you do, then you already know of “Argonians” and the two things that they add to the Lizardman mythos.

1) Lizardpeople are latently good at hiding. And also, stealing things.

And 2) Lizardpeople don’t always look cool.

“Popular” Lizardmen

But surely, there are Lizardmen out there who do count for… something, right? And the answer is, “Of course… Kinda.” Always only kinda.

Reptile, for example, would totally count if at the height of his popularity he wasn’t just a dude called Reptile who showed his lizard face ONLY when you did one of his fatalities.

Where does that leave us then? By my count, with two. First…

… with Lizard.

A Spider-Man villain who the larger part of society doesn’t know. When scientist Curt Connors tries to grow back his arm with reptile DNA, he transforms himself into the monster known as (sigh) LIZARD!

The funny thing here is Dr. Connors appeared in all three Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies. Why didn’t they ever use him, you ask? They knew better. At his best, Lizard was a throw away villain who’s easily forgotten if not easily beaten.

Aside from him, it’s…

… Lizardman… Damn these names are great.

Riding the tails of Soul Calibur fame is possibly our generation’s most “popular” Lizardperson (?). “Popular” because no one cares about his virtually nonexistent character; in the Soul Calibur series, it is canon that Lizardman is one of a race just like him. The simple implication is this: Lizardman has probably been killed by a character you prefer (any other one, really) and replaced hundreds of times. Combine that with the way he (she/it?) doesn’t speak and this…

… and you’ve get a lame character who’s damn lucky to be in a very popular series.

Poor Bastards

I know. Where does that leave Lizardbeings (whatever)? Are they forever damned to fall to the wooden swords of Level 1 characters and feral cats? Will there ever be a day when a race of awesome Lizardbeings appear in a video game or work of fiction? Will a writer somewhere, someday, deliver them some majesty? I, for one, hope so.

Or… maybe I don’t.