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What monsters eat (or, how filling is a caravan?)

Discussion in 'World Building' started by wordwalker, May 24, 2013.

  1. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    It's one of the most commonly fudged parts of a world: how much does a monster have to eat?

    In a real-world ecology there's only so much "biomass," living matter, out there to eat. It's fun to work with a proper setting where wolves hunt people as part of the food chain, but a world might need a bit more:

    If the land is just supposed to be more dangerous, it might help to play up how unusually fertile the setting is, or maybe even make it tropical. More plants= more small animals= more predators, and also more forests for them to lurk in.

    (One variation: maybe the big monsters are still herbivores. They're happy to eat grass, but they're fiercely territorial or hate the smell of humans or whatever it is; nobody laughs at killer rhinos. Or they've been domesticated by small but vicious creatures that see humans as a threat.)

    Or, the ecology has been Seriously Altered --or pre-planned by the gods-- so that monsters are there because there are enough people to eat, 'nough said. Or they're a recent addition and threatening to devour everything...

    Still, at some point you might need magic in the mix. Ghosts don't have bodies and demons might not live quite in our world either, but a dragon probably needs to draw in a lot of magic to stay alive (let alone fly and everything else it does-- no wonder they sleep for days or years). Or it could be something like the "demons" in Peter Brett's Warded Man books, that sometimes appear out of the earth; maybe they feed on the elements but prefer people. (I really need to read the rest of those books to see how else he explains them.)

    And for something like a Dungeon of Guardians... well, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, it's obvious one of the Ark's powers was to sustain all those thousands of snakes without food (or maybe compel every snake in Egypt to crawl in there for a few days and then leave peaceably when it needed to hunt). I guess creatures that guard any kind of ancient protected site would be kept the same way; even intelligent ones could be magically trapped there (or paying off a bargain) and sustained by the spell. But it does seem easier to hide the Forbidden Sword deep in the Deathwasps' natural nesting grounds, or raise a horde of good old skeletons that won't need food to stay on guard.

    But none of these mean people can't be the preferred meal for monsters, of course. Remember what the dragon said when the adventurers missed their stealth roll:

     
    CupofJoe likes this.
  2. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    You can also play around with metabolism. Crocodiles, Snakes and Arachnids [that I know of] can go for weeks even several months and then apparently leap in to action. Who is to say that your Monsters can't do even better?
     
  3. Twinblade

    Twinblade Acolyte

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    Who says they need to eat to stay alive and evolve? If you have magic in your world, who's to say that for every time magic is used (either directly or indirectly at the monster) they feed. Obviously you would need to work more on that, but it is an alternative to them actually needing to eat.
     
  4. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    my setting is post-apocalyptic, well, I like to think of it as post-post apocalyptic, only instead of the classic Australian-outback post apocalypse, life thrived. The magical radiation caused the plants and animals to grow dramatically. So now most of the world consists of small isolated towns surrounded by large swaths of dangerous wilderness.

    Like people have already mentioned in this thread, there IS plenty of food around for the monsters, animals, plants, other monsters and so on. They aren't evil, the other sentient races are just another source of prey to them. However, even with all the food, there is plenty of magical radiation filling the landscape that they can feed on if times are tough.
     
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  5. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Yes! Someone else who's a detail psycho! Love it! My writing partner and I write dark urban fantasy, so we not only have to worry about how much our various monsters eat, we have to worry about hiding the evidence and damage control. We do not write those types of fantasy where monsters are "out of the closet," as it were. While humans make tasty snacks one-on-one in a dark ally, on large groups they are quite dangerous and to be avoided. Our preternaturals are very afraid of them.

    Our various types of preternaturals have different caloric needs. For example, our vampires on average need to feed on 1-2 pints of blood every 3-4 days. The more powerful the vampire, the more heavily they will feed. Our therian (shape-shifters) have extremely active metabolisms, and thus have to take in many more calories than the average human every day - 5-6k, as opposed to a human's 1,800 to 2k. This, of course, increases with activity level. A very active therian can require as many as 10k calories in a day. I like the above comment about crocodiles. We have therian crocodiles (and sharks) in our world who may be an exception to this rule.

    Now, as I said before, people make a tasty snack. They have no protective fur, or teeth or claws, and in an urban environment there are lots that no one will miss. So, our preternaturals tend to prey a lot on the homeless population, which is a sad fact of life even in our real world. They are easy targets, and when they disappear no one goes looking. Of course, this leads to the problem of what do you do with remains? It is an issue for many predatory groups (vampires generally do not kill their prey, and usually only feed on therian who are not only tasty but who also quickly replenish their blood volume), but we have two species that eat everything, including bones - dragons and demons. Dragons actually eat more humans than most other preternatural groups, and have one of the most efficient guts on the planet.

    And this... this just made me smile!
     
  6. Tevaras

    Tevaras Minstrel

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    I like this idea of feeding off magic rather than physical 'food'.

    As a variant, the creatures could feed of a prey's 'inherent energy', with the result that the prey being fed from goes to sleep, or is unusually drowsy. If the prey is a human, this may have interesting consequences depending on when the feeding occurs. Just an idea you can ignore or play with :).

    And I too love the four food groups of a dragon: Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, and Rogue :D
     
  7. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi all,

    I'm not sure that this is such an issue, unless a monster is truly fastidious in what he eats, i.e. only humans. I mean why can't your dragons spend most of the time eating cows, only really eating people when they come at them in their own little tin suits with their pointy sticks? And if they attack a village maybe its not for food but simply to drive a threat away from their nests. This doesn't make them any less a monster. And lets be honest, wolves weren't hunted to near extinction because they ate people. It was because they ate sheep and farmers didn't like that.

    Also most man eating big cats are only man eaters because they can't hunt other prey. People are easier to hunt if you have a wounded leg etc.

    And Cup Of Joe mentioned metabolism. What he's getting at is the difference between warm blooded and cold. It takes a lot of energy to maintain a body at a constant warm temperature. But dragons, wyverns etc could all be cold blooded. So they warm up by basking in the sun and only have to eat once a month or so.

    Lastly the biomass thing. Not an issue. Yes there is only so much biomass out there, but the issue is solved because at each level of the food chain there are less creatures. So there are far less wolves than sheep. Far less sheep than grass etc.

    By the way Aelowan, you might want to read up on the nutritional value of blood. I remember reading somewhere a long time ago that it's not good and for a vamp to get his regular three thousand calories a day he' have to drink an awful lot of it.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
    A. E. Lowan likes this.
  8. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

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    I'm with Aelowan - my shape-shifters also need to eat a lot more than humans due to metabolism. It makes sense to me, as they use a lot of energy to change shapes and due to lifestyle. If my world was overrun by shape-shifters, large active dragons and dinosaurs, the food chain would collapse. For a shape-shifter living in a human world, this is a serious disadvantage because the shape-shifter probably can't obtain enough food unless he or she hunts regularly, or has money to buy lots of food and eat twice as good as a King.

    I think monsters/large animals would have to be few and far between. If you look at food chains, the lowest part has the highest number of organisms. That's where the highest amount of energy is.

    Your monsters and dragons could use a sort of photosynthesis. They could feed on the sun's energy or thermal energy or wind energy (etc). Maggie Fury, if I recall rightly, had a dragon race which sunbathed. I've used the concept a few times in stories, and I've seen it done elsewhere a bit. Dragons are a good candidate for that, though any monster can work. It might just be part of a varied diet.

    So instead of (for example, a dragon): Sun -> grass -> caterpillar -> songbird -> eagle -> cat

    It would be sun -> beastie
     
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  9. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    Lots of fun ideas here. I agree, magic is often involved somewhere, the calories get hard to balance out otherwise. But I like looking at different ideas and comparing the high-magic and low-magic options.

    Metabolism... I'm not sure that changes too much in itself, if it means something sleeps for four weeks and then eats four people instead of eating one a week. (Although, a ravenous binge-and-sleep critter would be one way to engineer a terror weapon: instead of working its way through a community, every time it woke up it ate half a town and sent the rest running, then next time it had to find another town...)

    Of course cows would be on the menu too, didn't mean to imply they wouldn't. That's another difference between types; the populace can endure something that settles for livestock longer, though they're definitely in danger of being eaten into starvation, at best. A thing that needs to eat people (for their innate magic?) or just wants to is of course nastier.

    But then, the boundaries aren't that firm, except for smaller beasties with limited jaw size. I think the pattern with real predators is that they avoid eating humans due to habit --maybe there's something ominous about a creature that spends so much time inside walls, and has so many odd smells on him-- but if that predator gets an easy shot at human meat and takes it, it's frequently pleased at how easy the kill is, and then you've got a maneater on your hands.

    (Compare to Kipling's rules of the jungle: the real reason not to kill man was retribution, the polite reason was sportsmanship, and the secondary reason (quite untrue, actually) was mange.)
     
  10. Valentinator

    Valentinator Minstrel

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    How about using "tiger coefficient"?

    Google knowledge:

    The average weight of males is 221.2 kg (488 lb).

    It means that an average bengal tiger eats about (70/488)*100=14,3% of its body mass at one time. If you monster has the same kind of metabolism you can use this value. Anyway you can adjust this coefficient depending on how slow/fast is your monster.
     
  11. Tevaras

    Tevaras Minstrel

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    Good evening aelowan,

    there are a few of us 'detail psychos' around. I too like to pay attention to the details and enjoy a story where the author has paid attention to details. I like the concept of calorie requirements depending on activity level and type (vampire, shape shifter, etc.). Is this from a single work, or part of a series? Is sounds like it could be quite interesting.
     
  12. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Thanks, Tevaras! I'm glad you like the sound of it. Yes, it's shaping up to be a big, honking series spanning 3 generations and about 50 years or so.

    You make an excellent point about the blood. No, blood alone every 3 - 4 days would absolutely not meet a vampire's caloric needs. Our vampires also need to eat food. But, and here is where the magic comes in, our vampires need living, humanoid blood to survive. The theory among the vampires is that they feed off life force when they feed from their prey, and animals just do not have enough oomph to sustain them - and this theory is basically correct. So, no raiding blood banks or visits to the friendly neighborhood butcher for our vampires.

    The funny thing is, what's proving to be tricky is not figuring out how to feed our predators, but our prey animal therian. We have rabbits (yes, were-rabbits) and swans and deer, who have the same calorie requirements, but who are also vegetarians. The poor little things eat constantly! I'm still trying to figure out what exactly they are eating on a daily basis to meet their needs, be it peanut butter or pasta or beans or what-have-you. Boy, talk about some gassy bunnies! lol
     
  13. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

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    I never thought about herbivores. My shape-shifters have generally been omnivores (wolves, cats, birds etc), because they are still human some of the time. Mine also need a high calorie intake, so they have evolved to be opportunists, and their bodies are a lot better at getting energy and use from food than human bodies. For my shifters it's quite expensive to fulfill their needs so many need to live in areas where they can forage and hunt. It also means being an opportunist is an easier way to live.

    Do you think yours could also be omnivores, as in, able to process human food in human form, even if they can't in animal form? That may not solve their needs when they've just transformed, though, and need to consume food fast. I imagine a rabbit would need to gather plants to eat every time it shifted...I suppose it would influence where they lived? Then again what if they feasted before they shifted each time, and only needed a bit to eat just afterwards?

    Alternatively, look into vegetarian and vegan diets. You'd be so surprised how filling that sort of food can be.

    I think too much.
     
  14. The Construct

    The Construct Minstrel

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    While I was reading through this thread a thought struck me. If an animal's food-source was a race of sentient, walking plants would they be herbivores, carnivores or omnivores? Maybe it's a stupid question, but what would you call it if you ate Animal-Plant-Hybrids?

    But back to the topic, it would vary depending on size and speed. Giants, say, could be extremely large, however they are often slow moving. Though this probably make up for the energy needed to support their large bodies, it is certainly a factor. Other animals, meanwhile, may subsist on a diet of both general food and magic. Possibly both simultaneously, ie. a plant that has been imbued with magic to allow it to contain sufficient energy for the species in question to feed off it in small enough quantities for both to survive.
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2013
  15. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Actually, Construct, you reminded me of a segment from the series The Life of Mammals. Totally awesome, available on streaming from Netflix. Anyway, instead of plant-eaters, they use the term plant-predators, which is actually more accurate. Plants, whether sentient or not, are living creatures, after all.

    And Jess, thinking too much is part of the fun! Yes, my writing partner has floated the omnivore idea for them, but that brings a certain meat-eating aggression to the table that I don't think the original designers would have wanted to incorporate - plus it doesn't feel right. I'm already fudging on the diet, as rabbits and swans can't eat legumes (beans and peanuts), though deer will eat anything that don't try to eat them first! >.<

    Sorry... tomato trauma. We live in the woods, and there are many, many deer... but, I digress.

    Our therian were designed by mages during the last age to serve various functions. Predators were used as soldiers, prey animals were more for... personal entertainment (Yes, bunnies! I went there. Mwa ha ha!). So, I don't think they would want them to have any latent aggressive tendencies. These mages also used to saddle our dragons and ride them like ponies, something our modern dragons would just as soon like to be forgotten, thank you very much.
     
  16. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

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    That's fair enough. It would seem strange, writing a deer or rabbit shifter who ate a fat steak in human shape!
     
  17. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Funny thing is, whenever I think about meat-eating bunnies, the only thing I can think of is the man-eating rabbit from Monty Python's Quest For the Holy Grail.

    Yeah, just can't take it seriously.

    And, swans are grumpy enough without adding meat to their diets.
     
  18. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Oh, wordwalker, I haven't mentioned how much I LOVE the title of this thread!
     
    wordwalker likes this.
  19. LadyCass

    LadyCass Scribe

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    Haha! Awesome thread and good point. So if a monster has flesh of a human then they must need something of a human diet. Flesh of an animal, flesh of an elf, and so forth. The only monster that wouldn't need food would have to be one that isn't from our planet correct? If it's ancestry comes from any folklore that originated on earth then earth substance rules would apply in my line of thinking. Super fun to think about.
     
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