Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Bit of Inspiration

It's been a while since I posted one of these, because, life, but that in no way means that I stopped interpreting everything I see on the internet through the lens of "can I use this in a game". Given the mostly nautical campaign I am running right now, let's look at some materials that may be directly useful for that, and perhaps some items I am already using...

For starters let us introduce...

1) The Vampire Cephalopod from Hell

Yes, that is the official name of this awesome animal.
Vampyroteuthis infernalis sadly does not feed on blood, is quite small (maxing out at roughly a foot long), and lacks the color-changing abilities of shallower dwelling squid and octopi. These in no way reduce the awesomeness of this beast (and, of course, there is always room for a giant version in D&D).
Living in the deep aphotic zone of the ocean, the vampire-squid has proportionally the largest eyes in the entire animal kingdom. In place of the chromatophores that allow octopi to change colors, the Vampire-squid is covered in modulatable photophores, allowing its entire body to light up or flash with varying patterns and intensity -- providing its own light or dazzling and disorienting enemies. In place of ink it ejects a sticky mass of bio-luminescent mucus from the tips of its tentacles... Tentacles which are joined by webbing to make a kind of cloak, and covered on the inner side with tooth-like spines instead of suckers...with the typical sharp squid-beak in the middle.
To add to the weirdness (or awesomeness), the vampire-squid lives in the OMZ (a layer of the aphotic zone normally thought to have too little oxigen to support aerobic lifeforms), also known as the Shadow Zone (because its home of course needs a sufficiently creepy name). In order to maintain agility and buoyancy while minimizing oxygen use, their body tissues are made up largely of Ammonium (a positively charged compound of nitrogen and hydrogen that is toxic to many other lifeforms -- including almost all plant life).
So, there you have it...toothed tentacles, blinding flashes of light, luminescent mucus clouds, and largely made out of poison. If that is not good monster fodder, I don't know what is.
Because analyzing an obscure
cephalopod is a useful tool for
examining the human condition?
Oh, and if you need to throw in some blood-sucking, there is always this great quote from a 2010 Rolling Stone article comparing Goldman Sachs to: "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money". The real vampire-squid might not have a "blood-funnel", but the monster version totally needs to latch on to human faces and jam one in.
There is also this great book by the Institut Scientifique de Recherche Paranaturaliste. If a "Scientific Institute for Paranatural Research" is not sufficiently gameable, I really don't know what is. And, even better, it includes lines like "The vampyroteuthis cannot fathom Utopias, for the structure of its society is not a cultural product, but rather a biological given. When it engages in politics—it commits a violent act against itself.
So now our Vampire Squid from Hell engages in self-destructive politics? The squid may be from Hell, but I've gone to monster-inspiration heaven here...

2) British Tars...
When I first started planning my Beyond the Shore game, I stumbled upon This Blog which focuses on historical analysis of paintings and images of British sailors from 1740-1790, Now, I knew two things going into this campaign: first, that I wanted to not be too tied down to a particular date, but that I did want to evoke 18th century British imperialism, and, second, that I really wanted the party to be press-ganged aboard a ship fairly early in the campaign. Entirely by coincidence, I stumbled upon "British Tars" while it was running a series titled "Press Gang Week 2015"...
And thus was I blessed with tons of period images of sailors with cudgels forcing people onto boats...who could ask for anything more?
"The Press-Gang in New York," Howard Pyle, 1882.

3) Casabianca
There is a tremendous wealth of poetry surrounding the lives of sailors in the 17th and 18th centuries, and I don't just mean Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner (though that is certainly a good one). There is so much material, both new and period, that I have been trying to start every session of the game with a reading of a poem that evokes the mood and portends some of the encounters for that night's game. Of all of the poems I have dug up and stashed as inspiration for the game, my absolute favorite so far is "Casabianca" by Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1826). It opens with the famous line...
The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle's wreck
Shone round him o'er the dead. 
Because, really, what better way to start a game about piracy than by talking about children standing on burning, sinking ships strewn with corpses.
The poem relates to an incident of devotion and heroism witnessed during the Battle of the Nile (July 1798), in which an British naval squadron under Lord Nelson caught the French fleet at anchor and unprepared. The French flagship was the L'Orient and it soon found itself flanked by English ships attacking from both sides. A fierce battle was soon raging and the flashes of 2000 guns lit up the ships in the gathering darkness. L'Orient was caught by the English broadsides and was set ablaze. 
There came a burst of thunder sound... 
The boy-oh! where was he? 
Ask of the winds that far around 
With fragments strewed the sea. 
It was then that the English sailors saw an amazing sight. There on that burning deck they saw a boy standing alone. He was Giocante Cassabianca, the 12 year old son of one of the ship's captain. There he stood, alone at his post. He was surrounded by flames and facing the astonished English foe. Soon afterwards the fire reached the powder magazine deep down in the hold. The boy perished when the whole ship erupted in a massive explosion.
The sound of L’Orient blowing up was heard at Rosetta 20 miles away. And the glow of the fireball was seen in Alexandria. The English sailors stood in awe at what they had just witnessed. For some twenty minutes the guns were silent. The English officers and men were absolutely horrified at the carnage that had taken place. The account of that boy who stood on that burning deck was told and retold. Eventually it passed on into legend. 
 With mast, and helm, and pennon fair, 
That well had borne their part; 
But the noblest thing which perished there 
Was that young faithful heart.

The Explosion of the L'Orient, by George Arnald (1763-1841)

4) Another terrifying monster...
This image has been floating around the internet for the last year, largely thanks to this Reddit thread. While the larger image has lots of clear satire (nuns with phallic holy symbols, jester characters, et. al) I prefer this zoomed in focus on the cat...because, seriously, what better way to terrify players than with a monster that makes off with one's reproductive organs and permanently maims rather than kills...
The monster version of this cat is named the Koro (for obvious reasons)... 
The Koro
These strange cat-like predators love the water, living in the ocean, but preying on land-dwelling beasts. At night they steal aboard ships, seeking out men as they sleep, and absconding with their private parts. Some believe they do this because they lack such parts themselves, and must steal the phallus of a man in order to work their own reproduction. The Koro despises the smell of dead fish and can be driven off if confronted with such. 
Obviously since the game is using Pathfinder rules, the thing needs to have Improved Sever as a bonus feat...
Koro recoil from the smell of dead fish. These things don’t harm the koro—they merely keep it at bay. A recoiling koro must stay at least 5 feet away from the fish and cannot touch or make melee attacks against a creature holding a dead fish. Holding a koro at bay takes a standard action. A Koro attacked with a fish while holding a penis, must make a DC 15 Will save or drop its prize. A successful attack roll with a fish will also negate the Koro’s damage reduction for 1 round.