Game Designer's Notebook: Shore Crabs

Michael O. Varhola

BORA BORA, FRENCH POLYNESIA -- While walking around this tropical island I noticed that may people's yards are rife with holes and that, upon closer examination, crabs are lounging about in or around them and scuttling back and forth between them! By all accounts they seem to be filling about the same niche as would squirrels in neighborhoods familiar to most of our readers here and the picture that appears here is one that I took of some of them. Their behavior, along with their very presence, suggested a number of game-oriented things to me:

* Even at their current size the crab holes can make the areas they have been dug in a bit hazardous to negotiate, and characters attempting to engage in combat or perform other activities in such areas might be subject to skill checks (e.g., Balance), twisting their ankles, etc. Larger holes could, of course, produce even more unpleasant results, such as having one's leg go knee-deep into a hole and then be attacked by an unseen crab from within it.

* It is not clear to me if in reality these various crab holes connect with one another, although it would make sense that many of them likely would. In an RPG, of course, holes and denizens of this sort could serve as inspiration for a unique twist on a dungeon.

* It was remarkable to me how quickly crabs could disappear into their holes -- and they were pretty shy and inclined to do so upon receipt of any attention. In a game, this could manifest itself in such crabs making attacks against their victims and then scuttling back down into their holes before anyone can respond (e.g., via Spring Attack in OGL games, or simply if they have great initiative in other systems, possibly forcing those attacked to hold their actions until such time as the crabs reemerge to attack again).

* In environments that do not support familiar critters like squirrels it is interesting to contemplate what might end up filling the same relative niche (e.g., crabs on tropical islands). Fans of Futurama may recall that they series addressed this in a humorous way by having owls replace pigeons as widespread urban nuisance birds.