Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Dark•Heritage as Skull Island

A few things, and a small break from my tyrannosaur series.  I've been drawn more and more back into the pulp era (not that I ever strayed very far from it) and I'm feeling more and more like my insistence on an ecologically consistent Rancholabrean megafauna is... well, it's a personal quirk that not only doesn't matter to anyone else, but doesn't even meet my own needs very well.  Why not make the whole thing even more exotic?  What if the DARK•HERITAGE continent were less like Pleistocene North America and more like Skull Island?  By that I mean merely that what if I just made whatever the heck kind of prehistoric creature I thought was interesting, dangerous and exciting make appearances as necessary?  I need T. rexes?  OK, you can have some.  Need gigantic, pterodactyl-like flying naked mole rats, like in the 2005 version of King Kong?  Yes, please!  And of course, there's room for saber-tooths and more in here as well.

In a way, this makes my world more like the Warhammer world in some ways; I mean, although they aren't proposed to completely dominate their territory, it's not like the Warhammer World doesn't have several types of dinosaurs used as warbeasts by the lizardmen armies, for instance.  Curiously these are not real dinosaurs but "pulped up" dinosaurs: the stegadon is like a bizarre hybrid of Triceratops + Styracosaurus + Stegosaurus and the gigantic carnosaur is a greatest hits of every type of dinosaurian predator that ever lived; somehow fusing the best elements of a T. rex and a Velociraptor into a single animal.  (I guess Jurassic World kind of did that too with the "Indominus rex.")  But it's not just dinosaurs; the Warhammer World also has "sabertusked tigers" and "stonehorns" and other weird animals that look like bizarrely "pulped up" versions of ice-age animals as well, especially if you look at the Ogre armies, or Ogors or whatever they're calling them now in Age of Sigmar.  There was a Forge World mini of a Chaos Mammoth with a howdah on it.

In addition to this bizarre and clearly dangerous, Pellucidarian mishmash of prehistoric megafauna, there are other monsters of a more mythological or folklorical bent: dragons, trolls, yetis, harpies, minotaurs, cyclopses, wyverns, vampires and whatnot—although they often have new names, especially in the Age of Sigmar iteration that you find in stores today.  And of course, they have some of their own inventions, including bizarre rat-monsters in the skaven army, and things like the terrorgheist or vargulf, which are like bizarrely evolved and bestialized vampires, or the maw krusha which—I dunno, maybe it's just a wyvern that really hit the gym and scored some steroids.

And, of course, if I'm now saying that my vision more closely resembles Warhammer or some other pulp-like fantasy setting (at least in some respects) than the rather more unique DARK•HERITAGE of the past, I guess I'm saying that my long descent into an ecologically viable expression of the setting was a mistake; a kind of pedantic smugness, if you will, on my part of which I've now repented.  I didn't need to "rediscover" the classic pulp fantasy works, because I've known about most of them since I was a kid, including classics like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard and more.  But I guess I kind of forgot, in my desire to do something different and set myself apart from the vaguely D&D-like herd (or horde) of fantasy settings out there that job #1 for fantasy—at least good, old fashioned fantasy like the kind I enjoy, as opposed to politically correct tasteless (or worse; bitter) stories about girls who are sad because the attractive warrior guy doesn't like them enough or whatever—is to have exotic and exciting foes against which adventurous and strapping heroes can pit themselves in stories of action and danger.  Fantasy is little without the pulp aesthetic, because the pulp aesthetic is little more than the heroic aesthetic from mythology in most respects.  Sometimes things just come full circle after all.  And that even applies to my wandering tastes in fantasy.  Not that I forgot this, or that older iterations of DARK•HERITAGE weren't supposed to have monster and heroes and whatnot; but I did kind of take my eye off the ball and "sperg out" on details that only I would conceivably have ever cared about.

Speaking of which, I just started re-reading The Hobbit again, as a prelude to re-reading The Lord of the Rings as one should do, which I haven't done myself in at least five years, and maybe a good deal longer.  While Tolkien isn't as "primary" a source as Sturluson or Hesiod or the anonymous authors of The Mabinogion or Beowulf, you still can't read him and not be thunderously struck by the majesty, glory, and yearning awe that he himself felt for the heroic and mythological, and his love of his own Anglo-Saxon heritage (although on his paternal side, his family was a refugee to England from Frederick the Great's invasion of the Electorate of Saxony during the Seven Years War—but he appears to have quite thoroughly assimilated.)  This parallels my own journey to some degree; because I started with very traditional fantasy, I was looking for something else merely to add variety, and of course much of it was available.  What I discovered after looking a little longer, was that much of this "variety" exists because of a concerted attack on traditional fantasy and the values that it encompasses.  My return to more recognizable themes and whatnot is based on the fact that my search for variety was somewhat "faddish" and that after I found it, I didn't like it as much as home after all, as well as based on my perception that my home was "under attack" so to speak, and that working in that milieu was more useful and fulfilling than doing something else.  That said, I certainly do not ever foresee DARK•HERITAGE becoming anything like vanilla extruded fantasy product; as it becomes more and more over-the-top pulp aesthetic married to my own love of my somewhat more derived Anglo-Saxon heritage, which includes the Anglo-Scottish Borderer peoples who settled the rural, backwoods American South combined with a life history spent as much as possible in the American west and southwest.  This means that my notion of DARK•HERITAGE as the setting of Anglo-Saxons and Scots and Vikings in a pseudo North America will look quite a bit different than the Warhammer World, or Middle-earth, or the Hyborian Age—and yet, at the same time, will have some marked similarities.

And as a final note, only partly connected to the rest of what I just wrote, I want to make these carnivorous Neanderthal man-apes a part of the setting, probably especially up in the northern regions.  I may call them gnophkehs in setting... or maybe not (gnophkehs is a pain to type repeatedly.  Maybe I'll go with sasquatches, or wildlings, or woses.)

This is a slight modification to the WOSE entry in the FANTASY HACK m20 rules based on the folkloric figure of the woodwose (a word Tolkien also used, famously, in his creation of the druedain race), which is both a monster entry and a playable race in the Appendix II.  I don't actually imagine that it would make much sense to have this kind of wose be a playable character except in a very unusual campaign, although I do kind of like the notion of one that for whatever reason hangs around a civilized person as a sidekick.  A kind of fantasy Chewbacca, if you will.  I have no idea how one would actually manage to fare in civilization, unless of course there's a tradition of woses working with one of the civilized races at times as allies of sorts.  Maybe the Kurushi.

With this slight modification, the wose entry perfectly fits the concept embodied above of a predatory, night-hunting, ape-like Neanderthal.
WOSE: AC: 12 HD: 1d6 (4 hp) AT: weapon +3 (1d6+2) STR: +4, DEX: +0, MND: +0 S: +4 on any Survival type roll needed, -1 to all attack rolls and skill checks in bright light, and has the ability to see in the dark equivalent to night vision goggles.
As a player character, woses gain the night vision and suffer the bright light penalty as described in the monster entry.  They also gain +4 to STR, -2 to MND, +1 to their Survival Skill, and -1 to their Communication skill.

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