Home > games, Monsters, Myth and Folklore, Uncategorized, WFRP > Making Monsters: The Jersey Devil

Making Monsters: The Jersey Devil


 

Recently I have posted about my favorite RPG monster books, both those I worked on and those I didn’t. These posts sparked some great discussions both here and on various social media platforms, as people shared their favorite volumes and their must-have, nice-to-have, and wow-look-at-this features of existing game bestiaries.

I have also hinted, here and there, that I am working on a couple of #secretprojects, which I hope will come to fruition over the next year or so. As some people have guessed, the first one concerns monsters.

More details will be released as things firm up, but right now I would like to ask you, my beloved readers, for your help. One of the things I want to achieve with this project is the development of a systemless format for presenting game stats, and the description of the Jersey Devil that follows includes my first attempt at doing so. The objective is to describe a creature’s attributes and abilities in such a way that GMs of any game will find it easy to develop stats for their particular rule set.

So read this, play with it, and let me know what you think. In this version I have opted for a comparative method, likening the creature’s stats to those of an average human or a common animal. There are other, crunchier methods, but I think this is the clearest and the easiest to use. Tell me if I’m right, and tell me how you would go about improving it.

I don’t want to frame this request as a competition, and I’m not in a position to offer prizes or rewards – yet – but as the project grows and takes shape I expect that to change, and I hope to be able to acknowledge and possibly reward those contributions that I found most valuable.

If all goes as planned, this will be the start of a fun ride. Are you in?

 

The Jersey Devil

Jersey_Devil_Philadelphia_Post_1909

An image from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, based on sightings of the 1909 hoax devil. Borrowed from the Philadelphia Inquirer’s website.

 

RANGE

Real World: North America, specifically the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. After 1735. Unique.

Fantasy World: Temperate pine woodlands. Encountered singly or in groups of 2-6.

 

TYPE

Local Legend, devil, or animal.

 

ATTRIBUTES

Strength: Human range, high end

Dexterity/Agility: Human range, high end

Constitution: Human range, average

Intelligence: Animal, superior (e.g. dog)

Willpower: Animal, superior (e.g. dog)

Hit Points/Health: Animal, medium (e.g. horse)

 

ATACKS

Bite: Animal, medium (e.g. wolf)

Trample: Animal, medium (e.g. horse)

 

WEAKNESSES

No special weaknesses

 

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Fly: Large, slow (e.g. wyvern)

Cause fear: Supernatural, demonic

Growl: Enhance fear effect


 

Sometimes known as the Leeds Devil, the Jersey Devil is rumored to inhabit the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. Those who have seen it describe it as eight feet tall with a long neck, crane-like legs ending in hooves, large bat-like wings, and a head like that of a deer or a dog. It is a vicious creature with a taste for human flesh.

There are many tales of the creature’s origins. Most connect it to a local merchant named Leeds and his wife Deborah. According to the most common story, Mrs. Leeds was in labor with her thirteenth child in 1735. Some say she was a witch and the child’s father was the Devil. Others say that she was unhappy to find herself pregnant for a thirteenth time and cursed her baby with the words “may it be a devil.”

Other stories view the Jersey devil as a divine punishment upon its parents: for Mr. Leeds’ harsh treatment of the family’s servants, or for Mrs. Leeds’ refusal to renounce her Quaker faith in favor of her husband’s Puritanism. A final version tells that, despite its appearance, Deborah Leeds cared for her monstrous offspring until her death, when it flew into the swamps of the Pine Barrens and has remained there ever since.

All versions of the story agree that the baby was a monster. It killed the midwife – and everyone else in the house, in some versions – fled up the chimney, and has been haunting the Pine Barrens ever since. Attempts to track down the Leeds family or their descendants have failed, and the tales cannot be verified. The beast was seen multiple times in 1909, and ever since it has been world famous – but no one has ever captured it.

 

A Tale Grown in the Telling

regal-jersey-devil-taylors

A Quaker tract denouncing the Leeds family.

 

Daniel Leeds ran a publishing business, which included almanacs. Local Quakers objected to them because they included astrological information. A feud began, with each side publishing pamphlets that used stronger and stronger language. After Daniel Leeds died in 1720, the Quakers accused Daniel’s son Titan Leeds of being “Satan’s harbinger.” Also, the Leeds family crest featured birds, but they are easy to mistake for bat-winged devils if badly drawn.

This may be the origin of the Jersey Devil, but its tale remained obscure for almost 200 years. The creature gained its current fame in 1909, when the owner of a private museum in Philadelphia organized a publicity stunt. A kangaroo was fitted with fake wings and sightings were staged around New Jersey. The plan was to announce that the Jersey Devil had been captured and put the disguised kangaroo on display. Ever since then, pictures and descriptions of the Jersey Devil have all looked very like a kangaroo with wings.

 

Almanac

The Leeds family crest and the cover of one of Titan Leeds’s almanacs. It is just possible to interpret the badly-drawn birds as horned, winged devils.

 

Links

The Skeptical Inquirer published a piece on the Leeds family and the Jersey Devil in 2013, which is worth reading.

The Philadelphia Inquirer covered the 1909 hoax in detail on its 110th anniversary.

  1. a.
    February 5, 2020 at 2:09 pm

    I’m not qualified to offer anything on game formats & stats, but I really like the background folklore (the longer & more detailed, the better). Do you envisage using genuine traditions (like above), or setting the creatures in a fictional space compatible with rpg/fantasy worlds, or both ?

    • February 5, 2020 at 2:54 pm

      Creatures from legend and folklore are one of my passions, and over the course of my career in rpgs I have accumulated information on more than a thousand creatures from all over the world. This project finally gives me an opportunity to share them.
      My plan is to represent their origins accurately, with additional information that would allow them to be used in any kind of fantasy or horror setting. The “Range” information on this description of the Jersey Devil is a step in that direction.

  2. Jimmy Crawford
    February 5, 2020 at 3:55 pm

    Keywords would be a good idea. I’d been toying with it for a setting I never got around to writing that was intended to be system neutral. So “Melee” would indicate stats for a combat character, “Scholar” would be more equivalent to a, well, scholar and so on. Same for creature traits. That way you can pick what you need from whatever career system you are using.

    • February 5, 2020 at 4:00 pm

      Nice! I’m definitely using some version of that. Thanks!

  3. February 5, 2020 at 3:58 pm

    Great article! I’d like to say that I have also been pondering that same thing about how to present monsters in my own System Free publications and I think you have hit the nail on head about how to present them. I’m going to have to use something similar if you don’t mind, as the idea is a good one! (Hope you don’t mind!)

  4. Wolf
    February 6, 2020 at 8:09 am

    It’s a great idea with real appeal to a wide range of people – including some not interested in RPGs at all. Sadly, I can’t think of anything useful in terms of creating useful ideas for system less stats beyond saying that this looks like as good a way of doing it as I can think of.

  5. Ricky Broome
    February 8, 2020 at 3:43 am

    Excellent stuff! I’d love to see a setting/system agnostic book of monsters. Is your plan to include fantasy creatures as well, or are you just focussing on real world myths and legends?

    Also, that real history behind the Jersey Devil is a great adventure seed for Colonial Gothic. Just throw in some actual occult/Satanic activity and it’s good to go!

    • February 8, 2020 at 3:24 pm

      I’ll be sticking to the real world, at least to begin with. Over the years I’ve been involved with fantasy games, I’ve collected more than a thousand creatures from myth and folklore, and I don’t think I could make up anything as interesting or challenging than most of these beasties.
      That said, though, I plan to make sure that each creature will be useful in a fantasy setting, and not just historical fantasy or folk horror. As you’ve seen in the case of the Jersey Devil, I’ve included some notes on using it in a fantasy world, and I intend to develop that side of the format further.

      • Ricky Broome
        February 10, 2020 at 3:31 am

        Fair enough. I think you’re right about creatures of myth and folklore being interesting and challenging enough in their own right. And of course they tend to be fairly fantastical anyway, so easy enough to slot into fantasy worlds.

        Looking forward to seeing more!

  6. Wolf
    March 1, 2020 at 3:49 pm

    Personally, I would just like to say I agree with using monsters from real myth, legend and folklore. To me, such creatures have a depth that even the most beautifully crafted new monsters often lack. The stories told about them provide ready made hooks for anyone to latch onto, the people who told them give a cultural background for those who might inhabit the worlds where they might be found and there is generally a useful ambiguity about such creatures, in terms of their roles, their abilities or their presentation, which makes them often surprising in ways that more carefully thought through invented creatures might not be. I might well be unusual in that though!

  1. February 29, 2020 at 6:02 am
  2. March 7, 2020 at 6:02 pm
  3. May 5, 2020 at 12:21 pm

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