Introduction to 'Men & Monsters of Polynesia'

Michael O. Varhola

Following is the introduction and a few sections from "Men & Monsters of Polynesia," an RPG sourcebook recently released by Skirmisher Publishing, the cover illustration for which, by artist Travis Hanson, can be seen aboveIt originally appeared as the lead feature in Gygax Magazine issue #4. One of the monsters that appeared in that Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (D&D 1st Edition) article, the Green Lady, and D&D 5th Edition versions of two of them, the Maero and Kawekaweau, can also be found on this site. 

***

One of the most fascinating regions of our own world is most assuredly Polynesia, a vast triangular area in the Pacific Ocean that encompasses Hawaii, New Zealand, Easter Island, Samoa, and Tahiti. This area is home to numerous creatures and beings that can be readily adapted for use in role-playing games and used either in conjunction with campaigns that have a South Seas flavor or as part of one-off encounters. While they are popularly believed to be primarily tropical in nature, the islands of Polynesia include the full range of other environments, from hot rocky deserts and subtropical grasslands, to temperate forests and snow-capped subarctic mountains, and this is reflected in their diverse inhabitants.

This article contains descriptions and game stats for more than a dozen monsters from this huge, varied region and notes on existing monsters that might also be encountered within it. It includes both actual creatures, extant and extinct, and those derived from myths, legends, folklore, the reports of explorers, and other sources and is based on my personal adventures and research throughout the islands of Polynesia, notably Oahu, Hawaii, Kauai, Maui, Bora Bora, Moorea, Tahiti, and both main islands of New Zealand.

Creatures on the following pages are simply presented in alphabetical order and without consideration for things like the parts of Polynesia they might be unique to; a DM could include any one in conjunction with exploration of an unknown atoll or incorporate all of them into a campaign set on a single large island or archipelago. Native peoples, stranded explorers, foreign adventurers, or almost anything else, all of which go beyond the scope of this article, could be integrated into the same setting. Many sorts of interesting and in some cases regionally peculiar normal animals — innumerable sea-, tree- and rock-dwelling birds, and even ground avians like kiwi; lizards of every size, shape, and color; small mammals and marsupials, including bats and flying foxes; and many others — might also be found on various Polynesian islands, and GMs should feel free to both include them and refer to their presence as needed.

Some of the creatures described here, such as the Mo'o and Kupua E'epa, are sometimes revered as minor deities in the areas where they reside and given offerings by the local residents, which can help sustain the creatures and ensure friendly relations amongst all concerned. This article does not put into game terms the actual greater deities worshipped by the peoples of Polynesia; the lesser deities known as Atuas that people sometimes call upon to bless their ventures; or the household deities known as Oromatuas, which include the spirits of ancestors and can be further classified as Varna Taatas, Eriorios, and Poüaras, and which sometimes take the form of innocuous creatures like crickets and might also be found inhabiting things like trees or stones.

A number of creatures that can be found in Polynesia conform to the characteristics of existing monsters, and where this is the case DMs should refer to the statistics provided in the AD&D Monster Manual (or appropriate reference for whatever other system they are using).

Most of the creatures with native names that appear here have the same singular and plural forms.

 

Guardian Animals
Human natives of Polynesia generally have one or two guardian animals associated with their families, and these might include lizards, sharks, boars, turtles, or any other creatures that inhabit a particular area.

A normal creature of this sort will never attack a person for whose family it is a guardian, and its very presence with 30 feet of a such a character will grant it a +1 bonus on morale and "to hit" rolls. A supernatural creature of the sort associated with a person's family may attack that person if they behave in a way that would prompt this (e.g., a character who has a lizard as one of his totems might still be attacked by a Mo'o if he enters the domain of such a creature).

A person who knowingly enters an area protected by a supernatural version of his family's guardian creature suffers a -1 penalty on morale and "to hit" rolls while there and must make a saving throw versus Spell or this effect will be permanent until removed by appropriate magic. A person involved in killing either a normal or supernatural version of a creature that is a guardian of his family will not receive any experience points for this action and immediately afterward will be affected as if by the spell Bestow Curse until it is removed with appropriate magic.

 

Divine Creatures
Many normal sorts of creatures in a Polynesian settings, such as sharks or lizards, might be descended from, touched by, or otherwise affected by various deities and should be considered paragons of their types.

Many such creatures will be wholly unique in character, may be exceptionally intelligent, and may have spell-like or other supernatural abilities. At the very least, however, they will have 2 HD more than normal; have all damage dice upgraded to the next highest level (e.g., a bite that normally inflicts 1-8 points of damage would instead cause 1-10 points); have Semi-Intelligence; and be hit only by magical weapons. Divine creatures might also exhibit various physical anomalies; e.g., a boar associated with the god Kamapua'a might be identified as such by having eight eyes rather than the normal two.

Being of divine origin will not necessarily dictate the alignment of such creatures or determine their attitude toward people or the activities associated with them. They should be considered "very rare" for purposes of their frequency.

Characters who wantonly kill such creatures may or may not, depending on the circumstances and at the GM's option, suffer divine wrath or other repercussions, such as curses, for doing so.

 

Polynesian Monsters Encounter Table
The following table can be used to generate random encounters in a Polynesian setting. Encounters occur on a roll of 1 on a d20 and should be checked for at dawn, midmorning, noon, sunset, night, and midnight — although those marked with an asterisk (*) will occur only during hours of darkness and should simply be disregarded at other times. GMs should also exercise common sense; e.g., a Giant Sea Turtle will not be found on a mountaintop. Encounters that can occur only in the water are not included on this table.

This table can also be used for determining the inhabitants of randomly encountered Polynesian islands. For every 1/4 square mile an island is in size, there is a 10% chance that it will be occupied by something from the encounter table. An island that is 1 square mile in area, for example, will have a 40% chance of being occupied by something from this table, one that is 2 1/2 square miles in area has a 100% chance of being so occupied, one that is 5 square miles will have two such encounters, etc. The smallest islands will generally be either coral atolls or rocks rising up from the ocean, while larger ones might have swamps, scrublands, forests or jungles, hills, and even grasslands and mountains on the largest.

 

Roll

2d12   Monster

2                  Tiki (1-4 wood, 5-6 stone)

3                  Menehune

4                  Giant

5                  Lycanthrope

6                  Pouakai

7                  Moehau

8                  Maero

9                  Kumi

10                Boar (1-5 normal, 6 monstrous)

11                Crab, Giant

12                Men, Commoners

13                Men, Warriors

14                Men, Aristocrats

15                Animal (Normal)

16                Crayfish, Giant

17                Kawekaweau (1-4 normal, 5-6 giant)

18                Moa

19                Mo'o

20                Weta (1-5 monstrous, 6 workshop)

21                Undead* (GM's choice)

22                Tupapue*

23                Green Lady*

24                Night Marcher*