Libris Monstrum #6: Kaiju
The day is calm, peaceful. Not a single sign of anything bad. No demons, no thugs, no undead….nothing. Until a roar unlike anything, including those dragons you fought, could compare to. The ground shakes and the day goes from nice and serene to something more akin the end of the world. That is the effect of a kaiju as it makes its way through a city. Kaiju are a classic monster that has a long, if small, presence throughout much of Dungeons & Dragons and other table top games. Of course kaiju are hard to deal with from either side of the screen, and there is a reason. Everything about the kaiju exists on an incredible scale, unlike anything else. Today’s Libris Monstrum is going to cover what kaiju are, what their presence has been in D&D, and how they could make a greater presence at the table.
Daikaiju & Nuclear Weapons
I think the best place to begin is the origin of kaiju and their greater cousins daikaiju. These creatures are not something out of ancient folklore, or even modern folklore. The kaiju are creatures that have evolved from film entertainment and the zeitgeist of the early half of the twentieth century. Nuclear power was something incredible, it is still something incredible, but at the height of its development and testing it was the subconscious fear of the world. Godzilla, one of (if not THE) first kaiju is often attributed to having formed as the result of nuclear testing. Other, I think more canonical, stories tell of a great beast awakened by those same tests. Either way, nuclear power and early film lead to the creation of a whole sub-genre of monster: the kaiju. Kaiju literally translates to strange beast and daikaiju are just the most massive of these creatures. Most kaiju we know of are considered daikaiju, but the specific differences are often debated.
“Strange beast” perfectly describes what kaiju are, especially when talking RPGs. Each kaiju is unique, despite the fact that we see things like Baby Godzilla. Even that small creature has a different personality and powers that suggest deviation from its….father? Among well-known kaiju are Gozilla, Mothra, Gamera, King Ghidorah, Rodan, Gigan, and Megalon. Some of them, such as Rodan and Mothra, are just giant, powerful versions of normal creatures. Rodan is a super-fast pterosaur and Mothra is a mystic, reincarnating Moth. Others are stranger. Gamera is a giant turtle, but he also has tusks and can shoot fire that allows him to propel himself through the air. King Ghidorah is a three headed, lightning breathing monster with no arms but wings. Then there is Megalon, a giant beetle-like creature that can use its large drill arms to burrow. The key to kaiju are that they are giagantic, strange, unique, and unlike anything that has been handled on a normal scale. Things beyond even the size of most dragons.
Protecting & Assaulting
Another important detail to remember about kaiju if you wish to include them in a campaign world or adventure, is that they are not stupid beasts. They may be strange, but they have purpose and goals. Kaiju can, generally, be placed on one of two sides. Neither of these is the side of the players or any other small folk, though. If on the side of protectors, kaiju play for the long term success and survival. They care nothing for the cities and people who live there. Collateral damage is not something a kaiju concerns itself with. Instead a protector kaiju seeks to save the world it inhabits. Sometimes this is the detrimental advancement of that worlds people, but other times it is invaders. That is where the other side of the kaiju coin comes in. Some of those invaders are, themselves, kaiju or have created kaiju to attack the planet. What ensues is a battle between kaiju for the fate of the world. Occasionally people help through smaller actions. They direct kaiju from the sidelines, create mecha to get on the level of kaiju, and battle against the forces that drive the kaiju. Look to these parts of the story for your table.
Kaiju, Dungeons, & Dragons
There is one kaiju that has been around D&D for a while, though many would dread fighting such a beast. The tarrasque is a gigantic turtle that wakes every few centuries (give or take) and goes on a hungry rampage until it is finished or put down. Even then, it is not dead but simply waits for the next time it awakens. This is classic Godzilla, except for the part where the tarrasque awakens to fight enemies from another plane. That usually isn’t used. What makes the tarrasque a kaiju in my book isn’t just the size. There is also that fact that it is unique, there is only one, and it has a number of strange abilities, including a shell that reflects all magic. Defeating the tarrasque constitutes the end adventure of a long campaign and certainly ends with the simple act of preventing as much damage as possible and putting the beast back to sleep.
The tarrasque is not the only creature that lives on such a scale. There are others in fantasy games and one of the most common creatures is a perfect example: dragons. Specifically, the most ancient dragons, who have generally developed unique abilities or skills, make for good kaiju. They come close in size and certainly have a unique strangeness about them. I suggest looking at the 3.5 Draconomicon for some very interesting dragon prestige classes to get some ideas. Other capstone creatures include the avatars of gods, legendary krakens, and summoned demon lords. Any of these can surround the story of a whole campaign without fighting the party. Eventually the group could fight such a monster by careful planning, magical items, and/or proxy. Maybe they cannot kill whatever it is, not permanently, but defeating the monster is good enough. Unless you are a young elf. Then you may live to see it rise again…
Pathfinder Has Kaiju!
Pathfinder is a great resource for how to use kaiju or, at least, how to stat such things out. Kaiju are their own subtype which include certain features that make them nearly invincible. Aside existing at a very high level, they are also considered epic. This makes them even more powerful, dangerous, and hard to kill. Interestingly enough, the stats build in their size to not just ignore terrain, but also to show an inability to deal with smaller creatures. Specifically, they cannot opportunity attack huge or smaller creatures. It is not a crazy piece of mechanics, but it is an important one. Other mechanics include energy resistances, fast healing, and certain immunities. What is important is that these creatures are kaiju. They are created to be representative of those film monsters within a high fantasy world. That is exactly the baseline that will help you in developing your own. In addition, they are great example of the unique, strange beast that are kaiju. For example Bezravnis is an immense scorpion with three tails whose stingers glow with molten heat. Terrifying to thing about something like that, let along something so large!
There is no simple way to use kaiju, but there are ways. First of all, the kaiju can be a background for a campaign. Something that looms in the future, but with no evidence except what certain people claim. They are creatures that defy expectations of a nation’s ability to deal with. A slow build is a great way to include the kaiju, but it can also be included as something good fighting on your “side” but still causing wanton destruction that the PCs could be forced to deal with. I think one of the best ways to include them would be to have the kaiju fighting another in the background of an adventure. The PCs themselves are fighting against the creators / allies of the enemy kaiju.
If you want to go crazy, though, let the PCs fight the kaiju. Perhaps you could give them a golem that works like Voltron or the Megazord. Each PC has certain aspects to the battle and perform certain abilities in single-combat with the kaiju. I would suggest something a bit less crazy. Something that allows each player their own turn and actions still. Allowing the players to grow to huge size would give them a more even footing. Like normal sized people fighting a not-so-ancient dragon, the giant party can take the kaiju in an epic final battle. Perhaps they put the beast to sleep or perhaps they destroy it for good. You may even consider having them fight alongside one against a stronger individual. It may take some rounds before the allied kaiju actively works with the party and cares about not hurting them. Regardless of choice a kaiju battle is certainly memorable.