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I am writing a fairy tale style story in which a (land based) creature is attacking seemingly random people within a village. The trick is, I want there to be a pattern to the people that the creature targets. The goal is to have the main character eventually figure out the pattern and use it to confront the creature. Some of the criteria I've come up with so far is:

  • Creature only attacks either those who match the specific pattern or those who attack it
  • Pattern is generic enough that there are almost always victims, but specific enough that most people are safe
  • Pattern should not be immediately obvious, but it should also be difficult to spot without looking at all the victims together (creature has existed near village for a while without other people seeing the pattern)
  • Pattern needs to be something that a normal human could discern without modern technology (so things like blood type would be out)
  • Pattern is preferable based on something that doesn't fade upon death (so body heat would be out for example)

The village itself will be medium sized with woods nearby. It will not have technology, and though the world will have magic, the villagers will only be able to do small things with it if they can access it.

What pattern should the creature follow when hunting its victims?

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  • $\begingroup$ What is the creature? If we know what it is, it will be easier to come u pith a pattern. So a dragon loves the flavor of beatiful maidens, maybe a witch needs the hearts of people in love, things like that. $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Jan 12 '16 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ I'm picturing it as a type of were (either wolf or bear probably). It needs to be something that a "normal" person would be able to set a trap for, so something the scale of a dragon is rather out :). I also don't want the villagers to really know what it is until the end. They have legends around it and know it exists, but no one reliable has ever seen it. $\endgroup$ – lucky.hooligan Jan 12 '16 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ How much research should the "detective" do before figuring it out? How much is he supposed to ask / search around? $\endgroup$ – Euphoric Jan 12 '16 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ Is always half-man half-beast or it can change its appearance looking sometimes full human sometimes full beast? $\endgroup$ – JordiVilaplana Jan 12 '16 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Euphoric He'll be asking people and going around to different sites people were killed at. The main problem he'll run into with asking people is that one of the myths is that if you talk about the creature, he'll come after you $\endgroup$ – lucky.hooligan Jan 12 '16 at 14:46
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Make it track something that people normally don't, such as only preying on the second child. It will appear random, as lots of people are second children but only the firstborn is celebrated. They will all be different ages, in different stages of life, be men & women. There will also be a built-in throwoff for any family whose actual firstborn was stillborn or otherwise lost very early. Certain families will be completely unaffected (they either don't have any secondborns, or they have already perished or left the area), while others will be absolutely devastated (for example, if both father and mother were secondborn as well as their secondborn child... even more confusing with blended families).

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    $\begingroup$ I really like this answer. Its one of those super-simple patterns that is incredibly hard to discern from the evidence. It can also be justified via magic mumbojumbo (after all, seventh sons of seventh sons are magicians...) $\endgroup$ – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jan 12 '16 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ Or maybe secondborns have a smell, or a specific aura, or specific mannerisms that happen to put them in the beasts' proverbial crosshairs. You can weave a lot into that, such as initially dismissing the theory because some families have their secondborns still, then find out that they were adopted, or the wife adulterous so those are technically firstborns, et cetera $\endgroup$ – Vogie Jan 12 '16 at 15:45
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Have you considered a geometric or symbolic pattern? This would probably depend of how sentient the creature was, but I think it would work. The creature is killing people in very specific places, trying to make some sort of arcane symbol out of murders. It only seems random, until someone marks the sites of all the killings on a map and connects the dots, and suddenly it becomes apparent that it’s a magical glyph or a pentagram or something.

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Since you are talking about a medieval setup, I assume your people are not trained in the "scientific method". In that case a nice attacking pattern would be something which involves non-related factors like your monster only attacks second children whose job/profession involves working with skin/fur and who never ride a horse. A pattern like this can easily be justified with the creature's taste (it is magically distracted from firstborns, attracted by the smell of stuff used for bating, and disgusted by the smell of horses.), keeps a lot of people safe (firstborns, people who doesn't wear freshly prepared fur/skin, wealthy people), is easily manageable (there can be examples), and hard enough (but not impossible) to find out.

Edit:

Please note, that my answer is mainly about the complex, unrelated nature of the factors, not the actual factors themselves!

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Prey selection patterns tend to derive from specific factors, like:

  • General vulnerability of prey (age, sickness),
  • Specific vulnerability of prey to a predator's specially evolved abilities,
  • Desirability as a source of food (abundance/availability, nutrition value),
  • Competition (incursion on territory, resources, etc.)

It sounds like your predator is not yet fully designed, so if it's not I'd suggest spending some time building the creature out (appearance, capabilities, behaviors, etc) first. This will give you insight into its motivations, and from there it may be considerably easier to project an interesting and unique pattern based on its special abilities or requirements, and the above factors.

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Love is in the air

The primary sense of the beasts to track their victims is smell, and everybody smell. Maybe your victims use some kind of perfume, or like to pick some kind of flowers, or cook in some particular way, or they work in something smelly (could be almost every work, even money has its own smell), or they have a pet, or they have an specific pheromonal reaction to your beast... You can choose whatever smell you like.

Truly smells fade out after death (or are replaced by the smell of a decomposing body), but a scent can last for days. And you can always use dogs, not to track the beast (maybe dogs would be terrified too) but to track the origin of the smell or what is that smell of.

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