Monster of the Week: It Follows

Wherever you are its somewhere, walking, straight for you. All you can do, is pass it on to someone else.

A low-budget modern classic that works on multiple levels, the entity from It Follows (2014) is a haunting presence throughout the film, whether completely on-screen or as is more often the case, appearing out-of-focus walking in a slow gait towards the films heroine. Writer-director David Robert Mitchell (Under the Silver Lake, Virgin) delivers an effectively terrifying portrayal of a relentless supernatural force that preys on a group of teens in a surreal, suburban setting. The movie itself has a simple enough plot: girl from the teen group has sex with boy who reveals that he has just infected her with a curse, whereby a supernatural creature will constantly follow her until it kills her. How the film approaches this plot however is highly nuanced, though-provoking and utterly terrifying.

After watching It Follows fairly recently, it quickly became one my top horror films of all time. I’m a sucker for atmosphere, excellent score, and quality cinematography and the film is packed with all three. Along with seemingly endless interpretive layers behind the movies actual meaning, It Follows can be broken down along a myriad of theories and is the rare tonal film that lends itself to practical discussions about realistic defenses against the monster and practical calculations like how far the monster walked in the film. But for our purposes, how does this highly suggestive monster fare in the world of D&D? Let’s find out!

Conversion. The immediate thought to this creature’s base was of course, the invisible stalker; an air elemental brought to the Material Plane to hunt down creatures on behalf of a magical summoner. From a trait perspective, I started off by giving the Entity two of the stalkers core traits, heavily modified to better suit the silver-screen characteristics: Invisibility and Faultless Tracker.

However, like many of these horror monster conversions, the invisible stalker felt much more formidable to your real-world human and scaling its stats down to a less immediate threat seem appropriate. It also seemed like a decent villain for any level of creature, high or low level, which ultimately lead to the damage output for its death straddle attack, a highly suggestive Action from the only scene in the film where we see the entity and how it appears to kill its victims. For this attack, the classic finger of death damage seem highly appropriate, even if its output is off the charts for such a low-level CR: the entity is meant to one-shot its victims after all.

So once it’s base form was given shape, more or less of course, and its signature death move had a base as well, fleshing out its other traits came next. This is definitely the most numerous traits for any of these horror monsters I’ve created to date but once again, they were a lot of fun to develop.

Being a curse, it felt only natural to give the entity immunity from other curses and since being essentially a curse brought about by a disease, immunity to diseases also seemed like a logical addendum. Although the entity behaves with a seeming sense of free-will in the movie, even if it has specific purpose, it does feel very much like a traditional golem. And so the immutable form for golems was added, as well as a host of condition immunities that simply felt like a cursed creature should have so as to thwart any attempts to slow it down. Again, the natural next step with this line of thinking was magical resistance, although I was sorely tempted to give it complete magic and damage immunity, but the fact that the entity took damage in the film negated this train of thought early on. Still, wishful thinking!

While the defenses were being fleshed out, the relentless curse itself loomed as a constant threat (sort of like the creature in the film) as needing its own definitive wording. Fortunately, my experience with the Infected (a few months back) was helpful in developing a tightly worded curse that was suitably expansive enough to cover the film’s apparent parameters for the contagion, but also robust and short enough to conform to 5e’s trimmed-down design aesthetics. Again, the fact that the entity is a curse, and that it had a very clear way to remove the curse (if only temporarily) seemed like it needed a bulwark against common D&D solutions like remove curse or cure disease. Dealing with divination magic, so as to prevent players from locating all infected creatures seemed like a no-brainer as well. And finally, making the curse outlast even the neutralizing effects of a wish spell may seem daunting, but there are plenty of ways I imagine a creative party can neutralize this monster, however temporarily … even as it always walks slowly towards its target.

With its core defining traits taken care of the next were its more nuanced traits – the funnest aspects of creature building!

I believe this was the first horror creature I gave a passive fear aura to. While this may seem particularly powerful and out of place, the film is pretty good at depicting any time a character who is actively cursed as seeing the entity, running away – hence a clear and obvious feature with a passive characteristic.

The immortal purpose of the entity, unlike the fear aura, is a little more obvious although debatable by the films ending. The lich rejuvenation trait is of course the standard for such monster abilities.

The final trait, taunting pardon, was a fun call-back to the film. The teenagers manage several times to apparently mortally wound the entity (gunshots to the head) which causes it to fall and stop moving, ever so briefly. It was an effective and new take on a classic horror-trope: the killer isn’t dead yet. It had to be added to the entity!

Apart from the traits, the actions for the entity were fairly simple and uncomplicated. The basic 5e slam needed complementing by the two signature actions already touched briefly on earlier. The death leap, where the entity prepares to finish off *cough* its victims by leaping onto of them and then the death straddle which is how this monster kills them, are more callbacks to the only scene we get where the monster visibly murders its target. Once again the spell finger of death is a clear winner for what the outcome should follow although the case could be made for power word: kill. But the obvious double meaning of the former, left little room for doubt!

But what do you think, is the Entity that Follows too traumatic for your players to handle? Or will they delight at the chance to simply, pass it along? Download my rendition of  the Entity that Follows in PDF format for your campaign and teach the virtue of abstinence to your players, whether they want to learn it or not. 

monster-a-week-it-followsmonster-a-week-it-follows2

 

(Updates from the REDDIT community now LIVE! – formatting per: https://www.reddit.com/r/UnearthedArcana/comments/dl2ltl/horror_movie_monster_it_follows_2014/)

Tactics

The entity’s tactics are fairly straightforward – walk slowly towards its victims, get within jumping distance and kill them.

The nuance for this creature is its many false forms it can take as it makes its way towards its victims. And this is where you can customize the entity to your campaign. You can have it take the form of dead characters from your players’ backstories, offering an excellent chance to develop them even further! Or you could have the entity take on the form of known npcs or significant figures in your campaign. What better way to rattle your players than having the guard they just murdered suddenly start stalking a character who the others wouldn’t be able to see or perceive through divination magic!

Despite being a simple enough opponent (high hit points and low DPS), and very likely being killed each time it shows up, the real threat to the entity is that it keeps coming back! Of course if players can come up with inventive ways to halt its advance (you should give them some time away from the threat), nothing short of divine intervention should be able to stop it completely. So while you may have characters looking to stop Tiamat, halt the demons Out of the Abyss or escape from Avernus, the entity is a perfect lingering threat that can show up literally anywhere – battlefield or brothel. Staying on watch now has real consequences, just as staying in an apparently safe, warm inn, with only one entrance. It can color every scene in your campaign with a sense of horrific dread. Just as It did in the movie.

Add the ENTITY THAT FOLLOWS To Your Campaign

Of course the obvious way to include the entity in your campaign is to have one of your more amorous player’s become infected with the curse (I’m looking at you, bard). Like the film, this presents a host of moral dilemmas for the characters, especially since the entity will always come back.

An even more insidious means of inserting the entity into your campaign may be to have an npc infected, perhaps one intimately tied to a character;s backstory. So while a player may be easy to defend themselves against It, a loved one or visibly important character may lack the means necessary, turning your campaign into a constant protective affair. This may get old rather quickly however, which makes the characters decisions even more weighty and problematic – the essence of horror!

BONUS: What was It?

BONUS: Add Some More Love Bugs to Your Campaign

Lover’s Handbook (5E)

Book of Erotic Fantasy (D20)

Sources:

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