Friday, October 10, 2008


Here's another concept for a fantasy setting. Illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi is the one to blame for this, with his consideration of such a setting and his Mouse Thief character sheet, which was so cool-looking that it made me start thinking about it. Go read that blog post before going on to this, because he states the concept better than I would.

The idea is a fantasy world inhabited by intelligent animals. Yeah, it's basically Ironclaw - furry fantasy - though I imagine it with the animals having more anatomically-correct physiques (digitigrade legs and so on) than just being humans with animal heads. I still picture them being on the same relative scale, though - elephants will be larger than mice, but on the order of Halflings v. Half-Orcs. D20 Modern has stat modifiers for "Moreaus", which are basically animals genetically modified to be human-like, so I've already got a simple go-to source for D&D game stats.

Nations are mostly divided up by species, though there are some more progressive lands (trade capitals, I imagine) where they mingle more freely. Some might include a large mix of species, somewhat like how Britain contained a mixture of peoples after being invaded by so many of them (Celts, Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, etc.), while others are more homogeneous and perhaps xenophobic. With the exception of those isolationist or hostile nations who think they should be Top Dog, I wouldn't want to be too harsh on this segregation, as my experience with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG series informed me that players like having the opportunity to choose from a wide range of species.

I also want some big racial enemies, to provide a Doom that looms on the distant horizon. My first thought - influenced by one of my current real-life conflicts - was that of Cockroach Barbarians. An evil, ravenous, implacable horde of scavengers who sweep across the countryside with lightning speed, destroying all in their path, producing little of any worth. If you see one, there's probably ten you don't see. They multiply incredibly quickly, and once they get into a region, they're nearly impossible to displace. I guess Locusts would work just as well, but I think Cockroaches are more evocative of "icky" feelings and thus make more viscerally interesting foes (I guess they could always ride giant locusts...yeah, that's the ticket!). The fact that they're a different Class (Insecta) from the other races makes them more alien to those who must defend against them. In other words, they're Orcs.

Another enemy came to mind as I considered these guys, inspired by my relatively recent sale purchase of Vigil Watch: Warrens of the Ratmen from the Scarred Lands D&D setting. I've liked Rat-men ever since Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay introduced the Skaven; the Ratmen (or Slitheren) of the Scarred Lands are Skaven with the serial numbers filed off. So this world definitely needs to have a Vast Underground (literally!) Conspiracy of Domination-Driven Chaos Rats to threaten our bright-eyed, fluffy protagonists.

As I began to consider this world, thoughts of their religions, genesis, and overall cosmology began to suggest themselves. Going with the basic conceit of the animal RPG eco, the peoples of Fauna believe that they were once of a lesser form (dumb animals, that is) until they were endowed with intelligence and more capable bodies by a divine being. They're uplifted, but with a mystic rather than sci-fi basis. Given their humble origins, I began to consider the possibility that perhaps this is a world that once was inhabited by humans, but they experienced something akin to a rapture/judgment End Times deal, and are thought by the bestial natives of this world to have either Ascended to a higher state of being, or were Damned to a lesser state. In either case, they're long gone, leaving behind only ancient taboo-shrouded ruins to be explored by the bold and the irreverent. This, of course, suggests a body of eschatology in their religion warning that they're in for the same fate someday, an ultimate judgment of their character by the God(s).

While the pre-existence of humans in this world allows for the possibility of human-like or human-based creatures (like Centaurs, Lammasu, Lamia, etc.) to exist, I think it gives the world more of a unique flavor if one strikes all creatures from the Monster Manuals that have these distinctly human parts. I don't mean to get rid of anything anthropomorphic (though, now that I think of it, that's not a bad idea), but I just don't want any creatures running around with a human face.

The concept of animals-as-people always introduces an uncomfortable question: what do they eat? What fills the role of animals in a world populated by anthropomorphic animals? I didn't want to have the strange co-existence of Goofy and Pluto. Fortunately, other people have tackled this problem. I took Stan Sakai's idea from Usagi Yojimbo and filled some of this niche with lizard-type creatures. In fact, I thought, why not fill the niche with dinosaurs? They could range in all sizes, most of them miniature, but some of them large enough to serve as beasts of burden, war mounts, and so on. As for their diets, it might retain a sort of cultural/racial flavor for species to remain herbivorous, carnivorous, or omnivorous. Rabbits still eat only vegetables, while Cats eat meat.

This setting is by no means unique, of course; as this bounced around in my brain I began to mentally list other settings that influenced the idea: eco, the surprisingly engaging (to me, anyway) RPG by Morrigan Press where you play normal animals who have been endowed with heightened intelligence a la "The Secret of Nimh"; Skyrealms of Jorune, which includes the genetically uplifted Children of Iscin; Mutants in Avalon for the After the Bomb setting supplement for the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Weirdness RPG, the Justifiers RPG and the comic and RPG Albedo Anthropomorphics. Also influencing this were, obviously, Brian Jacques's Redwall series of novels and David Petersen's Mouse Guard graphic novels, although the latter casts the protagonists as being "actual scale", the size and anatomical build of real mice rather than human-sized anthropomorphizations. Also influential was the "Dimension X" story arc of Ninja High School (which featured Napoleonic Rats fighting Cockroach Barbarians).

1 comment:

Michael Slusser said...

If you want to see what the inhabitants might know of their human forerunners, check out what Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was up to back in 1939:

Man—it's too bad we can't show stuff like this to kids any more. It would probably wake them up a bit.