Thursday, November 29, 2012

Nothing New Under The Sun?

African Sunrise by Austin Thomas
Timing can be an interesting thing. After putting up my quick post on the Wydarr I decided to catch up with my blog reading and came across Noisms' post On Creating New Monsters in which he speculates that it's impossible to create monsters that are truly novel and without antecedents. There's great stuff in the comments over there, and I was going to just post my own thoughts, but they started to get so long that I figured I may as well make a blog post. Happy double post Thursday!

I really don't know how I feel about Noisms' definition of novelty. I mean, (without spiraling down a quantum rabbit hole) all the elements in the universe are made of protons, neutrons and electrons right... so by this logic, when they combine, nothing truly novel is actually created. And same thing with molecules right? It's still just protons, neutrons and electrons. Kirby Ferguson really is right in that everything is remix.

When it comes to monsters, I believe that successful monsters, particularly those of folklore, are just the exaggerated personification of human fears, and fear can only exists when the person experiencing it can relate to the implied consequences associated with the thing. For example, let's look at fire. Even though fire is exceptionally dangerous children don't fear it until it burns them. In fact, I think it's safe to say that children are drawn directly to it, like moths. Other fears are taught as well, and they can only take hold after curiosity on the particular topic has abated. Spiders aren't scary until you watch your mother and father flinch, squeal and flee.

So if a monster is truly created without antecedents, it cannot be a monster because it would inspire curiosity and not fear.

Since successful monsters are typically exaggerated personifications of a specific fear, size increases are common. Your culture has taught you to fear spiders? Bam, how about some giant spiders?! The size of your hand?! The size of your face?! The size of a car?! Additionally, a single feature or concept can be exaggerated to great effect, like big yellow eyes to see you in the dark, or giant fangs to rend your flesh. Regardless though, these things cannot be monstrous unless you are able to relate to them, and then extrapolate the possible consequences of interacting with those things. I read an article a while back that talked about vampires being an outgrowth of the fear of rape. There's no telling how accurate that idea is, but on the surface it feels pretty solid as they come into your house, at night, and kill you in an intimate way.

A number of commenters indicated that language makes this situation problematic as well, but I don't know that the problem is actually due to the weakness of language as much as it is due to its strength. Metaphors and similes are phenomenally powerful, and to me, they're the basis of most "this with a that" type monsters. Saying that a creature has a large, powerful jaw doesn't do much. It doesn't resonate. It's vague, and can be applied to many things. It's possible to relate that statement to a friendly creature like a dog, and completely undermine the intended psychological effect of this monster. Likewise, precise measurements of the jaw and quantifying the amount of force it can produce is equally, if not even more abstract. But if you say that a creature has a jaw "like a crocodile" it immediately becomes more concrete, and thus potentially more frightening for a larger audience because the likely-hood of a mental association increases.

Just because a creature is described as having a jaw like a crocodile doesn't mean the creature is a derivative of a crocodile. It's just being put into a context that resonates, thus producing mental images, and allowing the audience to extrapolate the consequences of coming into contact with those jaws.

Finally, Geiger's Alien falls very cleanly into the "this with a this" category of monster. It's an exceptionally gaunt human, with black skin and a penis for its head. I'd say the creature is frightening because so many of its features are recognizable as human. It's a *corrupted* human. And it looks like it's been bonded with machines too. Geiger's Aliens are very much a product of their time, and very much a representation of the fears of the time. What does it mean to be a highly sexualized humanoid machine?

In the end, just because something is relateable doesn't mean it's not new. Being able to see recognizable echos of reality in fantasy makes that fantasy even more powerful because once the idea becomes plausible, the brain can start extrapolating terrible terrible consequences.


The Bone-Back Wydarr by Safari512
Safari drew up this cuddly looking critter before coming on board with the Swordfish Islands. He had it buried in a pile of more traditional amazingness (mummies, werewolves etc). and as soon as Wintergreen, The Diviner and I saw it, we knew this tiny abomination needed a home on the islands. Safari said he'd just been fucking around while sketching it up and hadn't really had any plans or thoughts as to how it "worked", so we brainstormed up a few things.

We figure that the Wydarr are diggers. The bone-like hooks it has for forelimbs grow continually, much like a hamster's teeth, so as a hamster needs to chew continually, a Wydarr needs to dig. They eat anything, are roughly the size of a two drawer filing cabinet, and tend to travel in packs of either 1d4 or 1d6. There's also a Crystalback variant with metallic plates or bands in place of fur, and crystal spikes in place of bone, sketch is done, but not yet scanned!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Vaesen - Brilliant Animation

I found this animation earlier called Vaesen earlier this year. It's a bachelor film project from The Animation Workshop and it's amazingly beautiful. The story is timeless and simple, a prince seeks a McGuffin to save his dying father, but beautifully told using only sounds and animation, no words. Find a spare 6 minutes and watch this!

Adrian Dexter, Birk von Brockdorff, Arnold Bagasha, Drude Mangaard, Jody Ghani, Mikkel V. Petersen (couldn't find his blog)

Watch these guys... beautiful things are going to come from them.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dire Boar Den - Map and Key

We've been busy mapping, keying, and populating the caves and dungeons of Hot Springs Island. The task was beginning to feel insurmountable and then I read a post over on Papers and Pencils that snapped me out of my funk and got me refocused!

My concern for creating the dungeons that appear in our hexes was that I didn't want each room to require the same amount of writing as the Points of Interest found in each hex, 'cause that could get obscene rather quickly. Once I started using the "room description fits on a single line" method detailed over on Papers and Pencils everything just kinda fell into place. If you check out the pdf you'll see that I'm being pretty fast and loose with those constraints and some things take multiple lines, but the concept helped out tremendously.

The layout is pretty bad, but as I used Word to do it, I have no one to blame but myself. :D

Many changes will be made to this doc (especially in terms of layout), but if you're in need of a one-shot adventure, involving a Dire Boar, feel free to drop this monstrosity somewhere in your campaign world!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Plants of the Swordfish Islands - Part II

Lotuses in White Rock Spring

Write-ups for plants has continued. Ideally each plant could be easily added to your own world, and  there should be "just-enough" info to whet your imagination.

Click here if you missed The Plants of the Swordfish Islands - Part I and hop below the break for 15 more plants in Part II.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Doubt and Pulpy Inspiration

Made a post over on therpgsite to see if I could wrangle up some feedback on our hex system, which I'll compile and report back on once they've run it through the wringer. Hopefully it gets a little attention and isn't met with silence! I'm beginning to wonder if I should have included a 9 rats and 2000 cp joke somewhere in there....

In the meantime, enjoy some pulpy, yet inspirational artwork.

STANLEY BORACK - I hunted heads - Stag magazine cover, July 1955

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Diviner's Creative Process

Hello folks, Diviner here with something for you to pass the time. Pandesmos will occasionally toss me a homework assignment for the following week. One such case came up two weeks ago, when I was tasked with dressing two of our dungeons. What you are about to read is a conversation I had with myself regarding the second of the two dungeons known as The Temple of Tranquility. My "conversation" starts after the break. Hope you enjoy.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hot Springs Wallpaper

Writing continues. Never as fast as I'd like, but progress continues to be made! Our current goal is to have Hot Springs Island completely finished and play testing before December. We'll keep making updates so add us to your readers, and in the meantime, here's a quick wallpaper!

Safari's been working on some logos to help capture the feel of each of the major islands. This is Hot Springs.

Dress up that desktop and give Safari's portfolio some love!
Stay brütal my friends.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Monster Inspiration - Coral

Turning to myths and legends for monsters is awesome, but now that we have all these awesome HD cameras, timelapse and whatnot it's become so much easier to see just how truly terrifying nature is. It could just be that I've been reading Roles, Rules and Rolls' posts on Hodgson a little too closely, but the ocean is full of terrible, terrible things, like coral:

Plate Coral Feeding:

Fighting Corals:

Makes me wonder what a non-underwater garden of these things would be like.