Fictional creatures (synonyms: monsters, animals, beasts, beings, entities; mythonyms: the zarrobeast, giant cave squids, embermanders) are the living beings of a fictional setting (with the exception of plants). These creatures may be giant leviathans, alien lifeforms, blood-thirsty monsters, or adorable companions. They may possess a planet-wide civilization with an elaborate culture, or could be beasts of burden on a fantasy farm. Worldbuilders designing fictional creatures must consider their physical characteristics, any unique attributes or abilities they may possess, their typical behavior, and how these creatures fit into the larger world itself. The design of these novel animals is something many worldbuilders will need to consider at some point or another.
Designing Fictional Creatures
Often when designing new creatures worldbuilders will begin with the physical characteristics. Once the appearance of the animal is known, its’ attributes and behavior can follow. Of course, there may be reasons to develop a creature based first on some behavior and then let that dictate appearance. Ultimately where you choose to begin should stem from your own creative impulses.
- NUMBER OF APPENDAGES
- COMPOUND EYES
- EYE STALK(S)
- ARMOR PLATING
Predators tend to have forward-facing eyes, while prey animals have eyes that are wider spaced.
As designing a truly novel creature from the ground up can be both daunting and difficult, many worldbuilders will begin with an animal template in mind. They may wish to develop a creature that resembles a wolf, or a slug, and begin by tweaking those real animals into something new. Our own world is inhabited by very strange creatures, and unusual real-life creatures have served as templates for some of the most memorable creatures found in film and book.
Using pre-existing taxonomies can be a quick way to focus your efforts during creature creation. Deciding that an invented creature should be amphibian-like immediately calls to mind certain characteristics that can be incorporated in the design. While worldbuilders focusing on entirely speculative and novel worlds may wish to avoid this technique as it is not truly ‘alien’ to our world, it nonetheless can be a great place to start during creature design.
Chimeras, or hybrid beasts, are fictional creatures composed of the parts of two or more real animals. Examples of this include the sphinx, owlbears, and turtleducks. Generating novel creatures by combining elements of real ones is perhaps the oldest method of creature design and is still in great use today by current worldbuilders.
Inspiration from Mythology
Many worldbuiders draw their inspiration from pre-existing mythological creatures, cryptids, or fantasy creatures. They may then use these creatures in their own world as is, or go own to alter them in ways that make them a unique presence.
In addition to whatever their physical forms convey, creatures may also have special attributes that bestow upon them unique abilities. While some of these attributes exist on a scale, such as intelligence, some are very unusual. Consider the squid and its’ ability to squirt ink. For a fictional example of this, consider the dragon’s ability to breathe fire. These attributes are a great way to further define your created creature.
- DETACHABLE TAIL
- POISON RESISTANCE
- ACID SPITTING
- FOUL SPRAY
- RETRACTABLE CLAWS
- COLOR CHANGE
- SECRETED TOXINS
Extreme and Fantastic Abilities
In fantastic worlds creatures can have fantastic abilities beyond the range of ‘normal’ attributes.
- ACID BLOOD
Senses are how animals receive information about the world. Creatures may have advanced senses beyond the capabilities of humans, or they may be lacking in one we take for granted. Senses such as sight, hearing, etc, exist on a spectrum, and determining to what degree a creature is able to use that sense is a question that should be answered.
- COLOR VISION
- INFRARED VISION
If your world contains a fictional element like magic, are creatures there able to sense it?
Determining a creatures’ behavior is critical for its design. Is this an animal that is solitary, is it a pack hunter, is it territorial, or is it docile and friendly? These characteristics should be considered when creating a new creature for any world.
- PACK ANIMAL
- TRAP HUNTER
- AMBUSH PREDATOR
Oftentimes worldbuilders will use behavioral templates to provide a familiar feel to novel creatures. Dragons that behave like cats, or animals that will fetch sticks and wave their tails with happiness are examples of this.
COMMON BEHAVIORAL TEMPLATES
Cries & Calls
Creatures may make noise for any number of reasons: to attract a mate, to display power, while hunting, while content, etc. These calls and cries vary not only between creature types, but also from situation to situation.
The relationship a creature has with its environment and other animals is an important facet of its’ creation.
A creature may typically inhabit a certain type of environment or biome. This could be the land, the water, the skies, the deepest cave systems, or somewhere else. The territory in which it generally resides will impact both a creatures’ physical appearance, as well as its’ behavior. Consider the interplay between these factors.
A creature that lives in the dark may not have eyes. A creature that lives in the seas will likely have fins.
Living organisms are defined by their ability to self-replicate.
Zombies are an example of ‘conversion’ replication.
Birth of Young
Think about whether your creature gives birth to live young, if it lays eggs, or if some other process is involved.
Suriname toads give birth to live young out of holes covering their backs.