Libris Monstrum #16: Kaiju Revisited
Today we return to the Libris Monstrum’s largest monsters: the kaiju. In the first entry for these monsters we covered their origins, their mixed purpose towards the world, and using them. Today I want to visit some of the ways in which they have been utilized. From incarnations of humanity’s worst to horrible things from beyond the stars kaiju represent something a little more than gigantic monsters.
To start I want to talk about something that isn’t quite kaiju, although more recent films have begun to explore the idea. As a fan of Lovecraftian horror, I have to share the undeniable similarity between kaiju and the largest elder gods. Cthulhu, Dagon, Shudde M’ell, and more are gigantic in form. These rival the tarrasque and godzilla in size, unfathomable beings that they are. This is not where the similarities end though. Kaiju, at their core, represent nature turning against humanity because they have done something too great and too terrible. In the most common imagining is the nuclear testing of atomic bombs that led to the creatures. There are other origins, which we will discuss later, but great old ones and elder gods represent a whole new class of kaiju.
These are monstrous representations of the smallness and meaninglessness of humanity. They are beings that place our self importance in stark contrast to the vastness of the universe. The whole concept is known as cosmic indifference and it isn’t so far from what kaiju represent. Instead of our physical mistakes, originating from hubris, these entities are ancient. They are direct confrontations to the hubris and believed wisdom of humanity. Recent movies have done a great job of striding the line between the two, though you may not all agree.
Cloverfield immediately comes to mind, and before you complain about the shaky-cam style, hear me out. Cloverfield is a giant monster movie, it is a kaiju movie of a different style. Like many kaiju, this one comes from deep places in the world after being disturbed. That parallels Ccthulhu and Dagon especially, but they make it a little more Lovecraftian simply by exploring the biology. This is done subtly, but the best way are the smaller creatures that roam the tunnels and kill people and infect them with unknown pathogens. It is a frightening and stark showing that things are not simple and even a giant monster destroying New York involves so much more. There are layers and multitudes we find out we are ignorant of just from awakening a single monster.
Another movie is Pacific Rim, and it should be obvious as it even calls the monsters kaiju. What I like about Pacific Rim is that they are not just monsters from below the ocean, but so much more. They come with regularity, predictable regularity, and they come from…somewhere else. What we find out is that they are adapting, changing, and evolving to better destroy us. We are so busy fighting the monsters that we don’t really understand anything about them. They are, like the great old ones, unfathomable monsters with some purpose we cannot begin to understand. Personally I really hope that the sequel explored this more.
What does all this mean at the table? Use the tropes and cliches to run the adventure or campaign in a recognizable style. But do not be afraid to expand, stretch, and explore what kaiju are and can be for that game.
Nature Bites Back
Now that we have covered unspeakable terrors from other dimensions and how they can expand out view of table top kaiju, let’s head back a bit. We already know that our favorite classic kaiju, Godzilla, is a representative of the dangers of nuclear weapon testing. What I want to do is ignore the aliens and creations such as Gidorah. Instead let’s take a look at the others that represent nature biting back at humans in the form of giant creatures.
The one that comes immediately to mind is the Biollante. This monster is a gigantic plant, which makes it fairly unique in and of itself. Additionally it represents a changing scientific focus and fears. Instead of being created by nuclear weapons, the Biollante is created from genetic engineering. In an effort to create new crop strains and using godzilla’s cells as a resource, we end up with this strange giant monster. Oops. Be careful what you wish for, I suppose. In similar fears the creature known as Hedorah is created when human activities go to far. In this case, it was urban pollution and waste control. The result is a horrible sludge monster, Hedorah. If there is any lesson here it is the fact that the real world is rife with worries that could result in such monsters. Imagine what the fantasy worlds could have!
I want to briefly discuss a way to address kaiju in a fantasy game. Attacking them directly could be the end-game of a long campaign building up to the monster’s release. However, there is also a classic way in which we have heroes fighting kaiju. This comes in the form of robots. Or, in a fantasy world, giant golems. Chris Perkins did this fantastically in the 2013 PAX Prime game of Acquisitions Incorporated. In an effort to save Waterdeep, the group had to find an orb of control for a weapon of some type. This ended up being a very voltron or megazord style golem. Each player got to control certain aspects of the machine to aid the fight. This is certainly not the most straightforward or easiest thing to play out, but has such great potential. I suggest you watch that episode or explore your own ideas for running such an epic encounter.
They Are Unique
Finally I want to quickly discuss one of the most important aspects of kaiju: they are unique. Generally speaking there is only ever one of any kaiju. This is not strictly true, but the vast majority exist as singular entities, especially when they are in their giant forms. I think this is important and is one of the same reasons the tarrasque is such a classic D&D monster. It is storied, unique, legendary. There is weight to encounters with such creatures, no matter if they are fluff, old campaigns, or someone else’s. Use this as part of the story, part of the build up, and part of your world. Kaiju are a unique opportunity and one that may be underrated due to their cliches. Use them!