Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Un-Men

Ever read GURPS Fantasy II: The Mad Lands? Me, neither. I mean, I skimmed it once or twice when I saw it in the game store years ago, but it never grabbed me enough to buy it. Don't get me wrong, it could be pretty awesome, but I didn't have the opportunity to find out.

One cool idea I remember from the setting, though, was the way monsters were conceived. I don't mean in the "dim lighting and lots of booze" sort of way, but all of the monsters that I remember being mentioned were once Men that had been cursed by the gods, which as you might have gathered from the book's title, were crazy. And not just because they dropped Coke bottles from the sky.

My hazy memory tells me that each breed of monster was monstrous because the gods had stolen something from them that made them human. So these Men-driven-mad wandered the highly-dangerous wilderlands outside of the villages in a very much "Points of Light" kind of way, and each one had different behaviors and [twisted] desires that drove them. All of them, the shamans said, were murderously jealous of Men...

Bearing that in mind, I jotted down a list of monsters like this, just to see what I could come up with:

The Skinless
The Eyeless
The Voiceless
The Breathless
The Legless
The Hairless
The Armless
The Legless
The Boneless
The Mindless
The Heartless

Obviously, some of them are more Fiend Folio 1e-worthy than others, but some of them, I think, have some creepy possibilities. A lot of them struck me as horrors from "Silent Hill," all mottled skin and flesh-masked stumbly freaks. If you go beyond the obvious handicap of a missing body part and read it as more metaphorical, you can end up with some pretty unpleasant terrors.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Underground Shrine Map

While trying to work out some tech-related frustrations (Photoshop + Wacom tablet does not always do what I will it to), I spent a little time today doodling by hand. Inspired by Dyson of A Character For Every Game, I drew a dungeon map on an index card, making it up as I went. Mostly I did it because I wanted to mimic his crosshatching style, which, for whatever reason, seems to give his maps an extra visual punch that I really like. I was using a .5mm rolling ball pen on a single index card instead of a .7mm gel pen in a moleskin like he uses, so it doesn't have the same smooth, dark quality his maps have. I prefer .5 for pretty much everything else, so I may have to snag a .7 somewhere just for this purpose, and draw on top of a few layers of paper.

This reminded me of another artist's game maps that I've attempted to emulate in the past to mixed results. In the WFRP 1st Edition book Death's Dark Shadow, Ian Cooke had a cool way of representing forests in his maps. Here's a snippet from one of them:

I started doodling another map, using a technique similar to this to represent the earth and stone areas outside the dungeon walls. I'll have to scan it and post it here when I finish, since I think the concept I eventually emerged with was kind of fun. It's not done yet, though, so it'll have to wait until next time.

Anyway, regarding this map: as I drew it out, it seemed to me that it was probably an underground shrine, either someplace that had been built on top of by folks who weren't too particular about preserving it, or perhaps deliberately hidden from surface detection by the worshipers who frequented it. As you can see from the old map symbols (at least, the ones included in Mentzer Red Box Basic D&D), the entrance is through a trap door in the ceiling of the domed shrine; presumably one uses a rope ladder or some similar contrivance to descend into it.

One alternate possibility is that the chamber is entered via a magical mirror held by one of the statues in the alcoves there...

What is that rough-hewn secret chamber for? Was that created by someone other than the shrine's architects?

What caused the doorway to cave in? What was originally behind that door?

What's the deal with the well that features a submerged [further] subterranean passage to the pool in the secret chamber? Is it some sort of trick where a con-man puts on a costume of some sort (kept in the chests), swims through the passage and emerges from the well into a dimly-lit chamber filled with hallucinogenic incense? Is that part of the initiation of acolytes? Or is it an escape route, should the shrine be invaded by the authorities? Or is the passage sloped so that coin offerings dropped into the well end up in the pool, to be collected by the priest later and gathered up into the chests?

I dunno - you figure it out.