Could you discuss having dangerous animals as enemies in stories or RPGs?

A bear might attack a person alone in the woods or a skysquid might attack an airship. But for many of us, our views on killing wild animals, even in self-defense, have changed over the past few years.

How does a main character protect themself from an animal without losing the sympathy of animal lovers in the audience?

Thank you.

Dave L

Hey Dave, great to hear from you again! 

When it comes to characters fighting wild animals, there are generally two sides to this. First, there’s the question of how likely a certain creature is to register as an animal to the audience, rather than as a monster. A sky squid, for example, is more likely to register as a monster because it has little in common with the kinds of animals that most people are familiar with. Conversely, most people are pretty familiar with bears, wolves, mountain lions, etc. This varies a lot based on the person, naturally. 

The creature’s portrayal also has a big impact. By default, dragons are more likely to register as monsters. But the anime Drifting Dragons portrays them peacefully going about their business until they read more like whales. As a consequence, I couldn’t get through more than a couple episodes, because the main characters are dragon hunters. It felt like watching an anime about the whaling industry. 

Second, there’s the question of animal behavior. While animals do attack humans under certain circumstances, most spec fic stories do not match those circumstances. It is very unlikely that a bear or wolf would attack a party of well armed medieval humans, and such an attack would be easily repelled. When animals start acting like hostile enemies, it increasingly feels wrong to audiences who know anything about how animals work.

If your story actually features a character at risk of animal attack, such as a lone person or small group of humans in the wilderness, there are usually more practical ways to prevent attacks than fighting the animal in combat. Animals are not a hostile force trying to thwart the protagonist: they’re probably hungry, defending territory, or protecting their young. 

This can still make for a good conflict though. Your hero might have to plan their route through the forest specifically to avoid large predators or make a calm exit when they accidentally run into a mother bear and her cub. Any sudden or aggressive moves might provoke the bear to attack, which will be a bad time for everyone involved. 

The short version is that your characters probably shouldn’t be fighting animals unless they absolutely have to, and the circumstances for that are pretty rare. There are exceptions of course, such as if your character is a hunter, in which case killing animals is part of the job. But that’s a long way from the D&D trope of the party being ambushed by a patrol of hungry wolves, which is the main thing to avoid. 

Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your stories!

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