Katamari Villainy

I’m sure you’ve played Katamari Damacy, a game about a sticky ball your little Prince rolls around and as things adhere to the ball it gets bigger. A bigger ball can pick up bigger things. Then the timer runs out and the King of All Cosmos hurls the Katamari ball into the sky as a star.

You’ll notice that a Katamari interacts with things in one of six ways.

1: The Katamari is big enough to pick the thing up.
2: Not quite big enough to pick it up, but when you run into it the item rocks (you only need to be a little bigger).
3: The thing is too big to bump, but short enough for you to “climb” up it – using it as a step.
4: The thing is way too big, and it’s solid, so it acts like a wall or floor to you.

5: The thing is mobile and bigger than you, and aware, and runs after you to bump you.
6: The thing is mobile and small enough to pick up, and aware, and freaks out running away.

The second thing you’ll notice is that as you get bigger, your perception changes. At first the flower planters act like walls you can’t even scale, but eventually you’re rolling over them and picking them up. A cat might chase you when you’re small but flee when you’re bigger. Eventually you’re picking up what you previously considered terrain like buildings and whole islands! By the time you can pick up people you stop seeing erasers and coins on the ground.

Here’s where I draw the connection between Katamari and a D&D campaign. At low level you’re like a small Katamari: you notice things nearby, you’re looking for small things to deal with, and really big stuff just passes you by way above. At middle level you can take on bigger challenges. At Name level you burst upon the political scene and stop noticing smaller challenges. Eventually the detail of which Orc tribes are doing what vanishes because you’re interacting on a larger scale.

Take a Thief. He might pickpocket at a low level. The buildings are scenery really. At middle levels he might do some highway robbery or burglary, interacting with buildings that were too well-guarded for him to handle at 1st level. By Name level he views the town less as a place with people he can victimize and more as the place where his own resources are kept (legit businesses, protection rackets, fencing).

You’ll also notice that in the Katamari video I linked, the player travels around on an island until he gets big enough to go to another island, which seems populated only by tree-sized and larger things. A mystery: if you went there when you were small, would it have been populated by small things too? Or does the game assume you won’t go there early and not bother putting small things in? I assume the latter.

This means just because you put a lot of detail into a starting game setting, you don’t need to put the same level of detail into a game setting the players travel to. You need the level of detail they’re probably going to experience at their level.

It would probably be good to flesh out some things at every detail level. High level details can sometimes lead to interesting low level reprecussions. And these things should be visible, like a human walking by in Katamari, even if you’re not big enough to interact with them.

As it pertains to villains, the DM doesn’t need to lay out an adventure or game setting for a town the villain burns down, if the villain does it when the PCs are such low level they wouldn’t interact with the attack. It can be summed up with a simple rumor from concerned travelers or refugees. The PCs might fight the low-level minions of a villain because they’re focused on the same things; low level minions do low level stuff like low level PCs do. The PCs don’t need to clear out all the low level minions to start dealing with the mid-level ones. By the time they want to interact with those mid-level minions and have the capability to do it, the low-level adventure stuff will be left behind even if unfinished. The villain might not even notice the PCs until they’re already a threat.

I offer this as an alternate to the cliche villain patterns of “minions get tougher as you get closer to my evil lair” and “I will throw weak minions at you because I don’t think you’re worth the trouble, and then slowly ramp up the difficulty to equal your abilities” as very often neither makes sense.

3 Responses to “Katamari Villainy”

  1. richardjohnguy Says:


    …but. Personally my favourite games are the ones where little you are trying to fight big God (Sauron, Cthulhu). Admittedly, that power mismatch tends to invoke mcguffins which I’m not so crazy about, but the truly memorable games have been the ones where to begin with I couldn’t even imagine how I could take the challenge on, and the solution was not “get as big as the enemy.”

  2. 1d30 Says:

    Sure, that’s how they did it in LotR. You can do the same Man vs. God thing if you include weaknesses like taking down his high priests and killing worshippers, or some special weapon made to defeat him.

    But it still follows either the Katamari pattern (you deal with things on your own level and everything else is scenery and the villain doesn’t see you until it’s too late) or the Benevolent Villain (feed you XP with level-appropriate minions and the villain sees you from the start). There’s the Dungeon Seige / Diablo model (the monsters are arranged from weakest to strongest based on how far along the path you are) and the Oblivion model (monsters are tougher if you’re tougher) both of which are kinda dumb in a non-railroad RPG.

    • richardjohnguy Says:

      the attention-modeling thing is a good point, and making the players feel it is an even better one… Diablo-ism is exactly what I try to avoid.

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