Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Bit of Inspiration

Being a collection of weird things from non-gaming news which may prove useful for future campaigns...

This issue is brought to you by Beetles and temple artwork...

1) A Kingdom of Cave Beetles?
A recent study out of China is vaguely fascinating from the standpoint of discovering new species--specifically 7 new species of blind cave beetles. The title however, A Kingdom of the Cavernicolous Dongodytes sounds like an awesome adventure title...
The new beetles belong to the genus Dongodytes whose members are easily recognizable by their extraordinary slender and very elongated bodies (very ant-like). Members of this genus are usually very rare in caves, with only five species reported from China before now. The recent study of the cave systems in Du'an Karst drastically changed these numbers however. Out of the 48 visited caves 12 held populations of trechine beetles. A total of 103 samples were collected, out of which the team of scientists determined ten different species, seven of which are new to science.
2) For religion, art history, or awesome ancient temple buffs...
Some research out of the University of Alabama Birmingham has shown a clear meaning and order to the sculptures of Hindu gods adorning the iconic Virupaksha Temple in Pattadakal. The discoveries identify images that glorify the king by referencing his family, conquests, and accomplishments, as well as other sculptural elements that offer religious guidance. Cummings describes one series of sequential inscriptions that depicts taking refuge in a deity, showing faith and then salvation. Dr. Cummings also published a book about it.
Why do I care (other than it being an awesome looking temple)? Because the core idea--that sculptures and artwork on temples are not just random depictions of the deity but actually tell a story and provide guidance for worshippers--is one that could breath a lot of life into the religions in a game world. What if, instead of the standard, pseudo-Christian "here is a generic iconic image of the saint/deity, now go look in a book for the doctrine", you instead could describe a new cult's doctrine and ideals and ceremonies to the players by describing a series of detailed images? What if the players find the old temple but start with the wrong image when trying to decode the secrets of its powers? What if they describe a unique spell or ritual that could have horrible consequences if the PCs get the order wrong? Or maybe detailed analysis of the images would let the party successfully masquerade as worshipers and infiltrate an enemy faith?
I am not artist myself. I couldn't draw or sculpt something like this to use in a game. But gamers are used to getting vivid verbal descriptions of visual scenes, and such descriptions might be an interesting way to indirectly infodump about a religion in the game.
3) A new addition to the Roman pantheon?
In other ancient temple news, some archaeologists from Munster discovered a five-foot tall basalt relief of a previously unknown Roman-era fertility/vegetation god in an ancient site in Turkey sacred to Jupiter Dolichenus (a.k.a. the Baal of Doliche), near the remains of the medieval monastery of St. Solomon.
The basalt stele shows a deity growing from a chalice of leaves. Its long stem rises from a cone that is ornamented with astral symbols. From the sides of the cone grow a long horn and a tree, which the deity clasps with his right hand. This is some awesome iconography...
...maybe combined with the above idea?
Other gaming potential (beyond, "Hey, a new god") is the idea of the overlapping place of religious significance. "New" (medieval) monastery built over/near the remains of an ancient place of fertility-god worship. Druids vs. Monks territorial dispute anyone?

4) TIGER BEETLES ARE AWESOME!
So I somehow managed to never hear about Tiger Beetles before. How have a not heard about something that is (relative to size), the fastest creature on earth? Not only do they run at 480 scale miles per hour (120 body lengths per second) when pursuing prey, but when they do this, they move so fast that they cannot actually see said prey.
So, seriously...why, amidst Giant Rhinoceros Beetles, Giant Stag Beetles, Giant Water Beetles, Boring, Bombardier, etc. has there never been a Giant Tiger Beetle for D&D?! Seriously, I want giant beetles that run at 480 miles per hour running down PCs and eating them alive...
Sorry, the full article is behind a paywall.

So...underground complex filled with blind, superfast beetles...which was once sacred to a fertility cult...and plastered with complex bas-relief iconography depicting the proper forms of worship of that god...buried under an old monastery...which needs the PCs to go down into said cavern complex to decode the artwork to find the proper ritual for halting the super-fast beetle attacks...


5) And last, just for fun...



...High-precision, Katana-wielding Robots!