Worldbuilding: Hunters – Lone or Team?

How do you want your supernatural Hunter to operate? A lone avenger Walking the Earth, a la Vampire Hunter D, or a known (if possibly kooky) member of a team and community?

The answer, of course, lies in what kind of story you want to tell. Each of these approaches lends itself best to different kinds of stories: action horror, versus deeper questions of morality and what it means to be a hero – or even a human.

The lone avenger Hunter may not be completely alone. Blade had various people who made weapons for him, and Supernatural paired up brothers Sam and Dean for most Hunts. But generally speaking lone Hunters have more in common with action and thriller heroes like James Bond (007), Jack Reacher, or even the Preacher in Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider. They wander in to handle a problem, they wander back out once the problem’s dead enough. They have no ties to the monster-afflicted community, no personal skin in the game unless they’re after one particular monster for revenge.

This is, by the way, how at least some actual vampire hunters in Eastern Europe used to operate, so you have real history to back you up. And it’s fine, if you want your story to revolve around the action, gore, and monsters. For that, a disposable, liminal person who can kill and move on works. But if you don’t wrap your readers completely up in the thrill of the moment, and leave them with a dissatisfying downer ending, this kind of Hunter can make the rest of humanity look… less. Not heroic. People who can’t solve their own problems, and maybe shouldn’t even try.

Contrast that with the style of Hunter we see in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Scholar who Walks the Night, where completely ordinary people do their best to help take down the Monster of the Week. As Xander put it, “Cavalry’s here.” (Beat.) “Cavalry’s a frightened guy with a rock, but it’s here.”

Likewise Ho-jin, beggar turned scholar and household manager for the only friendly vampire in Hanyang, is scared of just about everyone and everything. From vampires to guys with swords to a girl trying to chop wood for the first time. (Ax flies by his head. Poor guy faints dead away.) Yet he will put himself between the people he’s protecting and all the bad guys with sharp pointy things. He doesn’t have the skills to physically fight, so he distracts people. Comes up with escape plans. Makes himself enough of a nuisance long enough that enemies have to pay attention to him… which is generally all Kim Sung-yeol needs to flash-step behind them and wreak havoc.

Ho-jin is part of Kim Sung-yeol’s team. Sung-yeol, a vampire who hunts other murdering vampires, has friends. A place in the community as a reclusive and eccentric scholar. A city and people who know him (though most don’t know that he’s a vampire), and that he tries to protect. Not just for vengeance against one specific monster, but because he cares.

In Scholar who Walks the Night, as in BtVS, not all supernaturals are evil. And not all of the monsters are supernatural. Who’s the more evil? The vampire slaughtering humans because he can, or those humans who cooperate with him and terrorize and kill even more people in the name of power?

A Hunter with a team is a Hunter with a heart. This can let you tone down the action (and the story body count), because that heart can be in as much danger as any damsel in distress. Grief, rage, emotional breakdown from knowing those you care for are dead or in peril – all of these can tempt any of the team, especially the Hunter, to cast the heart of their humanity away and descend to the same tactics as the monsters. Tempt them to just do this one evil, and win.

Yet that’s never a win. It’s a horrible defeat. The true win comes when the Hunter reaffirms that their heart is not a weakness. For a vampire (or Slayer) who’s fought to stay sane, it’s the source of their Heroic Willpower. It’s what keeps them going. It’s what makes fighting to the last worth it.

So pick your Hunter, and pick your story. Do you want straight-up, blood and guts, get-the-popcorn action? Or do you want to light up the darkness – and frightening strength – of the human heart?

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30 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Hunters – Lone or Team?

  1. This makes me think of “Chronicles of Darkness” setting, which is the official name of the New World of Darkness…

    it has around two dozen conspiracies and compatcs of hunters, but each has its own modus operandi:

    you got the the guys that focus on specific type of monster- like Vampire hunters dont go to hunt Werewolves, but either ignore or pas it on to other hunter group and go to look for vamps elsewhere.
    (or vice versa- a hunter attacked with silver a vampire who had a wolfman form ability, and after realizng its a vamp and not a werewolf, just apologized and left – checking if its a evil vampire never was part of the consideration, that Hunter was werewolf exclusive Hunter)

    you got the Andrenaline Junkies, who are after the thrill of hunting after a monster, instead of after a dear, boar or even a human.

    You got the the neighborhood watch, that looks after local community and will protect it from local hostile supernaturals but they are protecting their home, neighborhood, and city, they WONT be leaving the area to hunt after a monster elsewhere, doesnt matter if its bigger monster with more victims, nor will they leave the city to chase after and finish a monster that managed to escape them – they protect their community, not the world…

    Then you get the “Barret Commision” an american organization of government officials and politicians Hunters whose focus is ESCLUSIVELY on supernatural corruption in the government, an ancient vampire that seeks to skimp of tax money etc- they are afte exclusively supernatural corruption and will ignore a human corruption. they focus soley on preventing supernaturals from turning the government into its proxy or influencing it. so vampire, or vampire controlled senator is their target, but the vampire living in the sewers and murdering people is NOT.

    So i think the best way, is to have many hunters, but keep them specialized- the world is BIG, and there are lots of supernaturals out there, either have this or that group focus on specific type of supernatural, or on specific territory ( protecting those 5 streets, protecting this area, etc), often both.

    a mixed group, from different hunter conspiracies, would be MOST interesting. when you get the guy who wants to kill the monster for its being an abomination against god, together with the guy wanting to protect innocents, and the guy who joined in becaus e he thinks is a werewolf, and will need a verygood reason to stay, if it turns out he was wrong, and they all with that and with them that mysterious fourth member, who didnt say much, but seemed to just know where to go for the next clue after their target, and whose presence seemes to made all three others start having strange nightmares ever since he joined the group.

    all are Hunters, who partied to seek the monster together, but they got divided loyalties, and may have conflicting goals…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. More practically speaking, working alone is a terrible idea.
    Even if there’s only one badass, there’s plenty of ways someone else can help.

    What if you’re faced with the choice of rescuing the prisoner or chasing the bad guy?
    Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone there to split the tasks?

    They can watch your back, carry tools, help carry bodies, even just opening a door can be critical.
    Even if you have to scout ahead, having someone waiting with the getaway vehicle is a good idea.

    Going it alone usually comes across as arrogant and risky.
    “It’s impossible for anything to go wrong, I don’t need backup!”

    The other issue that often comes up is the authors insist on the support being badass combatants.
    They want to acknowledge their contribution, but they are incapable of showing it without punching someone in the face, because face-punches are how you measure value.

    This can devalue the work they do as support and also devalue the exceptional abilities of the badass.
    If anyone can win against monsters, then what makes the badass special?
    If the support is only impressive when they fight, then what about all the other help they give?

    Imagine this scenario:
    A Watcher and a Slayer are attacking a nest of vampires in a building.
    They are confident that the Slayer can win the fight.
    The only real risk is if it’s a trap, with more vampires or enemies closing off the escape route.
    So the Watcher watches the door and keeps it open.
    If another pack of vampires approach, then the Watcher yells a warning and *runs away* followed by the Slayer.
    The purpose isn’t to hang out until the absolute last second and the situation is dire, the point is to only fight while you have an escape route open.
    Anything that could potentially threaten that is grounds to abort before they have a chance to be an actual problem.

    Narrative logic dictates that the Watcher has to hold the doorway against an army, or fight the way to the Slayer in a dramatic moment of badassitude, but all of those indicate that you stayed too long and should’ve fled the instant things went slightly off.

    They only have to get lucky once.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. While it’s another genre entirely, Sailor Moon shows some other reasons for mundane backup teams, too: It’s not just about the actual conflict (which the Senshi were usually more than capable of handling), it’s about all the background logistics. They were having to do three or four full-time jobs simultaneously, having trouble keeping up with them, and running on fumes. But Most of those jobs other than the combat itself could have been done perfectly well by mundane people (and, in fact, sometimes did get accidentally done by them).
      Because they were keeping everything secret and not even trusting their own families (those that had families, admittedly), they _added_ to their workload by essentially turning their potential support system into effectively enemies. Instead of having their families _help_ maintain their secret identities, they had to maintain their secret identities even from their families, which also locked them into having to work harder at their mundane life to keep that secret. (for comparison, in Inuyasha, Kagome got her family’s help keeping her secret. calling her out sick from school when she was travelling to the past, for example) It also prevented them from using the resources their families could otherwise have provided (Ami’s mother, a doctor with access to medical facilities. Rei’s grandfather, with his own powers that were demonstrated to be effective against the Youma even if not _as_ effective as a Senshi’s powers. Minako’s connections to the police from her time as Sailor V, which were basically dropped when the rest of the Senshi were awakened).
      And their jobs were pushing them beyond the limits of “time in the day”. They had school (and without their families providing cover, they not only didn’t have excuses when something else came up, they also had to waste time and effort there even when they were falling over tired from being up fighting all night), they had the effort of finding the next MotW/PotW (something which usually could have been done by perfectly mundane means, as Naru and Umino proved more than once in the first season, and which would have been made _much_ simply by adding extra eyes/feet/etc to keeping watch and checking things out, and could have allowed them to go on the attack instead of stumbling into something and being on the defensive), they had to maintain their cover (which is separate from just doing the things they were normally expected, since it requires actions to counter any slippage in other areas, and would have been made much easier if they’d had people simply willing to help provide alibis or excuses as needed), they had training with their powers and with the mundane skills of strategy and tactics (which they almost never did, because they just didn’t have time with everything else building up and getting in the way… but if they had been able to do this, it would have made other things much easier and safer), and then they had the actual fighting (which would have been much easier if they had been able to practice/train, and if they weren’t falling over dead exhausted from not having enough time in the day for everything they were doing, and from staying up all night fighting or chasing leads).
      And while the show actually did a good job of showing there were consequences to those choices, it didn’t really bring up the fact that those choices weren’t the only ones that could have been made. That they could have trusted their families, or some others. And it’s still better than we see in many other shows, where the consequences of that sort of choice aren’t shown to matter.
      And back to the thing about hunter teams, all of this brings up that even ignoring the combat question, there’s lots of things that a support network could be involved in or help with, and that the support network isn’t even necessarily just the people ‘actually on the team’. Just having family willing to call the school and say “my kid’s sick, so I’m keeping him home” would be helpful, even if they don’t get any more involved than that.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. It’s not actually clear that the Sailor Senshi could have told anyone and made it stick. I mean, the magic made people able to look right at them and not recognize them, or wander around with fan stuff for them, with pictures, and still not recognize them.

        But the point is good for secret identities.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. In the anime, Jadeite figured out their identities near the end (even if he was executed by Beryl before he could tell her), as did Nephrite (just before he was murdered by his fellow generals before he could defect), and Naru figured it out and tried to offer to help Usagi (and after Usagi’s thoroughly unimpressive attempt to lie her way out of it, Naru continued to offer help by the “I’m not telling you because you’re Sailor Moon, I’m telling you because you seem to be able to contact her” excuse to save face for Usagi). I don’t count Ami’s “boyfriend” (who used his precog power to learn about the threat to his life, and to learn the Senshi’s IDs, when learning that they might be able to protect him), since that was really “another power bypassing it”, rather than strictly countering it. Also, if you count the Sailor V manga, she was identified by multiple people too (tho she also has the more direct examples of _not_ being identified when she really should have). The rules of how the disguise effect works were not actually explained, and _some_ disguise effect clearly existed, but it also definitely wasn’t perfect. My bet is on a “if you can think of _any_ possible excuse to believe it was someone else, you’ll convince yourself of that on second thought, unless you have sufficient reason/willpower for not doing so.”

        But yes, there’s a reason why (unless you’re in the Manga continuity, with Galaxia/Chaos setting up all the early encounters as level-appropriate encounters to power the senshi up for harvesting, and would thus adjust to any aid an Isekai could provide) I consider the SM setting to be one where even a perfectly mundane person with only a barely passing acquaintance with SM canon could easily make things a _lot_ easier for the Senshi. Because really, you don’t _need_ to know all the “exactly what was each of the secret plots” to be able to help them. Just getting them to actually understand the utility of mundane logistics support would be immensely helpful to them. Also convincing them to actually _train_ (and that this would help them have more opportunity to relax), rather than waiting until they’re already in a disaster to hope for a miracle.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Seriously!

      Establish that the Squishy members of the team are strong contributors in a way that makes sense for squishies, and THEN have the Bad Guys get intelligent about identifying their weaknesses.
      After the first time that they use a not-completely-obvious weakness, have them thinking about it. Heck, you can even make that character development, like getting jumpy if they can’t lock a door. (I am so sick of basic physics being an unexpected weakness– your squishy isn’t going to be acting like physical violence isn’t a thing unless there is a good reason for them not to think of it)

      Liked by 2 people

  3. BtVS has one scene I will always hold up as the truth of the warrior who knows their support team is not only essential but cares for and loves them. After facing the First Slayer and being told the Slayer is to walk alone, this is Buffy’s reply:

    “I walk. I talk. I shop. I sneeze. I’m going to be a fireman when the floods roll back. There’s trees in the desert since you moved out, and I don’t sleep on a bed of bones.

    “*Now give me back my friends*.”

    Liked by 4 people

  4. And even if you do have a Lone Hunter, who’s perspective is this from? Is it the LH, sweeping into yet another town knowing that you are probably going to be hindered by being an Outsider, or is it from some poor schmuck who’s life just got rocked by the supernatural and now the spooky LH just stepped into town? That will change the story and tone as well.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. From vampires to guys with swords to a girl trying to chop wood for the first time. (Ax flies by his head. Poor guy faints dead away.)

    That seems like a perfectly sensible reaction to me.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. *G* That’s one of Ho-jin’s strong points – he is definitely sensible!

      Example: Ho-jin’s never afraid of Sung-yeol. He is, however, pretty well versed on how not in control a hungry and injured vampire may be, and is careful to keep his distance under bad circumstances. But even then you never see or hear him reacting with fear. Only worry that Sung-yeol got hurt that badly – and that if hunger makes Sung-yeol make a horrible mistake in feeding, Sung-yeol would never forgive himself.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. A Hunter with a team is a Hunter with a heart.

    I can’t find the meme, but there’s a really good one that shows Batman saying: “I work alone.”
    Followed by the extended Batfamily and a snarky comment on the size of it, for a confirmed loner. 😀
    (I don’t know if it had Superman and the Flash in there or not, but it should’ve. 😀 )

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I started babbling about JLA, then mentally segued into “I’m Broody McLonerface, of Clan McLonerface, and I am Immortal.” I decided that a Batman/Highlander pastiche would actually work well in the right super hero setting. The MacLeods have several extant actual clans, so the fiction implicitly has those characters as individuals out of touch with the wider clan. But, if the extant part of the extended kinship network was all immortal, a bunch of people who are extremely often isolated and solitary could still stay in some contact, know who the others are, and be an actual formal Clan, with a clan seat, etc.

      The actual Mac Leods seem to trace their ancestry back to vikings. Both the vikings, and the Irish of the ‘kidnapped Irish princess’ trope have elf traditions.

      My bunnies are a mess now, but I may want to go with this, instead of different Batman analogue.

      There’s the vampire JK and the assassin JK tropes, so I’m musing about a JK who initially thinks she is a vampire, but isn’t, and thinks she is an orphan, and broods over the lack of kin before discovering this whole weird extended kinship network.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. If you need more fodder, remember that in the Batman radio show my dad listened to as a kid, he was related to Zorro, the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Phantom, and I think the Green Hornet, and a bunch of other guys going way back. I’d have to call my dad to ask and he’s out running the dogs right now. (Probably.)

        Liked by 3 people

      2. GReen Hornet was originally related to the Lone Ranger.

        And Philip Jose Farmer is supposed to have done an everyone is related thing.

        Japanese McLonerface girl has some nice potential for actually covering her original story. The readers are culturally primed to think ‘sexism’ when a bunch of really old school guys tell a girl that she doesn’t need an education, and can skip thinking about highschool and middle school. What she overlooks initially is that they are all a bunch of insane autodidact freaks, and honestly think the formal education system is a complete waste of time. I just really like the idea of them caring about her, and her opinions, enough to find some middle ground.

        I think she is too good of an interesting match not to use this recent trope of “JK wants to make a hundred friends”. The folks trying to nurture her are all “what is this thing you call friendship” and “define friend”?

        But, my current project that may use her is later on in her life, when someone gets turned into her during my ‘in-brainstorming’ Halloween fic.

        Hoping to do some stuff on this today, but not expecting anything done for sure. My normal issues are a bit difficult, but ATM things have been extra fun, and haven’t been to doctor yet.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. I haven’t woken up enough to think past the pun of ‘walk the knight’.

    As in, supporting a super intuitive but very much not intellectual jedi knight or knight in shining armor. Probably also ADHD or some other deficit of some sort.

    Get them on scene, and they will start feeling things out, and come up with the decisive act to finish things.

    But, for whatever reason they /need/ a minder to guide them on their travels. Maybe they don’t correspond, maybe they don’t travel efficiently, maybe they freak the mundanes enough while working that they would get shut down without someone to run interference.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Drat it all, you made my eyes damp. Darn it, this is what I wanted for the Scarlet Witch in the MCU and the comics *and they won’t give it to her*. “Oooh, let’s just make her go crazy and rewrite reality, killing all her friends not once, but twice!” (That was Disassembled and House of M, for those who don’t follow comics.) The WandaVision TV show had her mind-control a whole town to live out her fantasies with Vision. DARN IT, just let the Avengers *HELP HER* keep her sanity, won’t you?! That ‘s more interesting, fun, and *life-affirming* than “go crazy to live out fantasy because reality is harsh” will ever be. :headdesk on repeat:

    Thanks for the post. I needed this.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Yes, absolutely! If the hero or heroine crashes, that’s fine. Normal even. But to have *no one* in the ensemble notice in time to intervene and/or help them get back on their feet? :facepalm: That’s not how real life works, darn it!

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Vampire Hunter D is interesting in the first few books because a lot of his “lone hunter” stuff is less what he wants then the realities of the situation(and there’s indications that there’s been times he’s settled down somewhere for a while), but when you’ve lived 10,000 years and still have the heart to give a pep talk to a kid who wants to go to college, I can see why he doesn’t settle down. But also everything is from the view of the people he’s dealing with and the effects on them, you don’t really ever get into his head. (I stopped reading at 12, because it went just a bit too much into “More Power” and the translation got a lot worse.)

    Blade also amuses me because in ToD, *he’s* the one that’s telling everyone else they need to have a life outside of hunting, and refuses to be the lone avenger hunter.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Some people may not be adrenaline freaks, and may not be bothered much by killing people, either. Some people just really enjoy hunting, either as a tactical puzzle game or as a more physical game.

    And if that sort of person never gets too excited or worried about it, and avoids exciting situations, sometimes they don’t have much PTSD about it, either. And if they already have decided about the morality of what they’re doing, they can do it for quite a while.

    (Snipers are weird, special ops guys are weird, etc.)

    Of course, this sort of person sometimes has problems if unexpected bad things happen, or if their superiors try to make them do things they would think were bad.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Ryk E Spoor’s “Princess Holy Aura” has the latest reincarnation of the Holy Warrior decide that gosh-darn-it, they’re going to change the “rules”, and very deliberately brings *all* of the various parental units in on the secret as the new Warriors are discovered. Also gets into the metamechanics of *why* an Ancient Power would keep choosing adolescent females as its champions instead of recruiting, say, SEAL Team 6. Basically, “Sailor Moon” as written by Tom Clancy (early Clancy, before he went downhill), with an honest attempt to make the Magical Girl genre tropes actually make *sense*. I’m looking forward to the sequel.

    I’ve always been a fan of the GURPS “Mundane Advantage,” where an unpowered person could be *so* normal as to be immune to illusions, magic just bounces off (including healing magic.. oops), and when they punch a vampire in the face it hurts the vampire as if the vamp were human. Another of Spoor’s novels, “Polychrome,” utilizes this as the “secret power” of the Mundane Human that a desperate character comes from Oz to recruit (yes, Oz — Spoor is a *big* fan of the Baum books, and “Polychrome” is almost as much a tour guide to the Oz mythos as an isekai-ish adventure novel).

    Personally, I’ve always been a fan of “made” heroes — basically, Iron Man. No magical birthright, no mutant powers, just brains and tech. I keep waiting for someone to make a good Sailor Moon(ish) story where one of the “mundanes” figures out how to bring Sufficiently Advanced Technology to a magic fight….

    Like

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