Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hollow Earth: Thoughts On Monsters...

Good Evening, All:

When players think of an adventurous game, they frequently think about encounters. In the Hollow Earth setting that's currently eating my brain, that boils down to two common types of encounters: humanoids and monsters. Humanoids are easy, I think. We've already discussed how the setting would most likely be limited in scope in those regards. Of course, the primary species present would be humans, but there's also room for primitive Neanderthals/cave men and for the Sword & Sorcery staple of the lizard-man or even the snake-man concept. I'd likely reserve the snake-men for bigger NPCs, and make them much rarer, but the others would be much more common. Taking from the Pellucidar novels as inspirational material, I can also imagine gorilla-men, monkey-men, tiger-men and bison-men. Okay, maybe the last two strain my personal concept here, but it might be fun to have a minotaur race, as that has a strong Ancient Greece feel to it.

In terms of how the locals would identify the monstrous dinosaurs and other great reptilian creatures that would inhabit a Hollow Earth setting, I started looking at various words in languages that would be common to the cultures of Mediterranea. I tried dinosaur first, but most words I found are a variant on the Latin word dinosaur, so I didn't get anywhere quickly on that one. I then look at lizard, figuring I'd find something there I could then append with some prefix or suffix to indicate a dinosaur's great size or their feathered nature. There, I stumbled into a list of different words for dragon in foreign languages, and that really gave me some ideas. After all, wouldn't the sight of a dinosaur inspire some kind of correlation to stories of dragons and such? I eventually narrowed the list down to tahneen (Arabic), thrakon/thrakena (Ancient Greek) or thuban (from th'uban, Islamic), which all seemed to sound good rolling off the tongue. Since one of the major cultures of Mediterrenea is Achea, based on Ancient Greece, I think I'll make thrakon the "local name" for dinosaurs, and build the list of saurian monsters based on that. Adding in a huge amount of prehistoric mammals, and there's already a great difference in non-humanoid encounters from a more traditional or classic fantasy campaign.

If I reserve supernatural abilities for those creatures that are tainted by spirits of the Spirit Realm, then I will either lose a lot of the classic monsters or have to re-imagine them. What I'm currently considering is going through the more mundane magical beasts of the SRD and trying to assign more natural abilities instead of supernatural ones, and then reviewing what I come up with to see if I like it or not. For example, I could replace the breath weapon of any non-extraplanar creature with either an acid spittle attack or a poisonous spray, as either of these options sound less supernatural than the ability to breath fire, ice or lightning upon one's foes. Obviously supernatural foes, such as demons, angels, elementals and undead, could easily retain their magical abilities, as that would emphasize the raw power that comes from the Spirit Realm, and thus build upon the Sword & Sorcery nature of the intended setting. As an aside on this particular topic, I envision that only creatures imbued with the magic of the Spirit Realm can have an immunity to non-magical weapons, and not all such creatures possess this immunity. This, again, is in keeping with the reservation of supernatural or magical abilities for creatures tainted by the Spirit Realm.

I imagine that, even with the restrictions that these thoughts might impose, Hollow Earth will still be a fertile ground for adventuring. There's a lot that can be done just using humanoids with the occasional monster, as I found out in my two-year-long Sword & Planet campaign a few years back. I wonder if there are enough players interested in such a setting to make significant development worthwhile.

More Tomorrow,


Trey said...

I suppose "fire breathing" is completely impossible. That special a few years back on discovery channel about a natural (alternate) history of dragons dealt with it. Also, a short of "natural" pepper spray--not exactly acid, but an irritant to living things would be a possible "breath" weapon as well.

Jayson said...

I am always conflicted when using dinosaurs in my B/X game--I never can settle on portraying them as simply spectacular animals a la "Jurassic Park" or primordial monsters a la "King Kong". In the end they behave both ways depending on what I need them to do.