Behind The Screens – Godzilla As a GM’s Secret Weapon

SimCity is a landmark city builder video game that launched a franchise and defined a genre. Players are given a plot of land with some amount of urbanization and have to manage a budget and public appeal to expand their city. You could also open the disaster menu and summon a monster to wreak havoc on the city you built.

Heading straight for the Hospital, too.

What could have possibly motivated designer Will Wright to include this Godzilla feature? The game is all about creating a city, what made him think “I bet people who play this city would love the opportunity to destroy it.” Because whatever it was, he was right. You couldn’t get through a conversation about SimCity in my schoolyard growing up without Godzilla showing up. And honestly, I played a tonne of SimCity in my youth and enjoyed the city building aspects of it, but I don’t know if I would have ever tried it if I wasn’t looking forward to putting the Disaster menu’s main attraction to good use.

Thanks to the Know Direction network’s own Luis Loza, now you too can add Godzilla to a game that isn’t about Godzilla. But I’m sure there are GMs out there who are asking me the very question I asked SimCity’s designer: Why? Why add Godzilla to Golarion?

Why indeed.

Foreshadowing
One of Pathfinder’s storytelling challenges is that it isn’t long before the heroes start to feel like super heroes. Levels 2-4 are exponentially so much better than that each level that proceeds it, characters can feel like they’ve come so far so fast. Then you hit level 5, entry point to the sweet spot. What could possibly make a 5th level character feel anything short of invincible?

#godzillashead

Humble overconfident PCs with the image of a radiation-breathing super dinosaur leveling the next town over. Maybe they can teleport to the scene, but is there anything they can do to penetrate the King of Monsters’ whopping AC 48? How lasting an impact can they leave on a creature with DR 20/epic and fast healing 30?

Storytelling Opportunities
One thing about Kaiju movies is that they are rarely about fighting the creature. They are about surviving it. The PCs might not be able to fight Godzilla in the above example, but they can provide relief for the fleeing survivors, aid to rebuilding efforts, insight into why that just happened.

GM boredom, probably.

Instead of telling the players that disaster struck a city, show them disaster striking!

Lack Of Prep
A great GMing tool for improvisation is “You see ____. What do you do?” Flesh out the scenario by answering the questions your players have, drawing on a combination of internal logic and reference.

In this case, “You see Godzilla. What do you do?”

Before long, their questions have helped you create a scene, given you an idea about what concerns them about this scene, and hopefully sparked some creative ways to turn these concerns into challenges.

What’s especially valuable to you, my fellow GMs, is that most of those ideas won’t involve confronting Godzilla. But in the (far too likely) event that one of the PCs charges Godzilla, Luis has you covered. Frankly, I envy the player whose PC death story involves getting a surprise round on Godzilla (reducing his AC to 42, so you know it’s the right answer)!

The Id Factor

I’ve described myself as a fan of Godzilla in concept more than I am most things in execution. I’ve seen two Godzilla movies, both American, one was terrible, the other I enjoyed. But even if the second Godzilla movie I saw was worse than the first, nothing will make thinking of Godzilla not bring me some measure of joy.

Awww. He thinks he’s people

Now, a lot of what tickles the id enrages the ego. Who would accept this pop culture infusion into a fantasy setting? What if I were to tell you that Godzilla is only 26 years younger than Cthulhu?

Math!

HP Lovecraft died in 1937, but he was only 47. He would have been 64 in 1954, younger than the average lifespan. Statistically speaking, people HP Lovecraft knew could have seen the original Godzilla film in theatres.

Research!

Do I literally mean you should include Godzilla in your Pathfinder game? Yes. But I understand your concerns. Even with the serial numbers filed off, introducing kaiju to a campaign that isn’t specifically about kaiju can cast a gargantuan shadow over your actual plot. However, what I hope you take away from this, my fellow GMs, is that the next time you see an option like a monster that feels above the CR your players will ever be able to face, ask yourself, like Will Wright did before us, “how would this option change my game?”

Ryan Costello

What started as one gamer wanting to talk about his love of a game has turned into an empire of gamers talking about their games. Ryan founded what would become the Know Direction Podcast network with Jason "Jay" Dubsky, his friend and fellow 3.5 enthusiast. They and their game group moved on to Pathfinder, and the Know Direction podcast network was born. Now married and a father, Ryan continues to serve the network as a co-host of the flagship podcast, Know Direction.

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