Epic Environments – Life on the Water

By Thomas Quine (Reed Islands of Lake Titicaca) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Thomas Quine (Reed Islands of Lake Titicaca) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The world’s land is limited, and the Earth’s surface is 70% water, so finding a way to live on the sea is a very attractive proposition, but truth be told it is actually very hard to do.

There a few ways to do it – you can island hop, live in a big ship and dock occasionally, or you can build a floating village. This week we’re looking at how floating villages can work, to go with last Thursday’s freebie.

 

Floating Villages

There a few of these around the world, Ha-Long Bay: in Vietnam Lake,  Stilt Village: in Ganvie in Africa, Tonle Sap: in a lake in Cambodia, Floating Islands of Uros: Titicaca Lake in Peru and Sama-Bajau which are found in the sea around the Philippine.

Most of these places are in stationary water, and are built on stilts which support the house. Despite all being called “floating villages” few of them are actually floating on the water unsupported – but although it’s rare it is possible. Two places where this unusual feat has been managed for centuries are the Uros whose homes are made completely from reeds which are found growing in the shallows of the lake and Ha-Long Bay where they live in house made of wood on top of either bamboo rafts or (in more modern times) empty metal or plastic barrels.

People living in these villages will generally eat mostly fish, seaweed and seafood like clams and crap, this mean they get a lot of water from their food means they have to find less clean water to drink. Drinking water can be made by boiling the lake water which will kill of most of the harmful bacteria, but more often it, along with vegetables, flowers and clothing will traded for from the mainland in exchange for the fish.

People that live in such places tend to have long lean bodies, can swim before they can walk and have deeply tanned skin since they are out fishing most days and there no shade from trees that far out in the water.  

Why Do They Live There? Continue reading →

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Fairy Colours

Colour

This month’s theme is colour and what it can mean in story and games.

Art Produced by Nolan Nasser for Letiman Games upcoming Kickstarter

Fairies’ Colours

Colour is a big part of our world, we use it in many contexts and each colour can have multiple important meanings, so it only makes sense that colour is a big part of the fae world too. Different colours can show what powers the fae may have or what they are linked to within the world. This time I’m going to talk about the small ones with wings, fairies themselves (especially the small pixies), since they can come in all the colours of the rainbow though the most common colours for these little guys are green, blue, white, purple and orange.

This piece talks about how they can be seen within popular culture: stories, books, and games.

They show their colour in a few different ways: skin, wings, clothing, their fairy dust, or their glow. A lot of fairies have peach coloured skin and wear clothing or have wings of one particular colour, this can be any colour, such as pink or yellow or reddish-brown/orange but that colour usually links them to something like a flower or season.

Plant fairies are one example of these nature-linked fae, each fairy is linked a type of plant, most often flowers but those can include the flowers found on trees. They not very powerful and their job is to help their plant grow and spread. The flower fairies that were depicted by Cicely Mary Barker in the 1920s are a form of this type of fairies, the art work is less than a century old but the concept that there are little fairies for plants helping them grow and that live within them is eons old.

Continue reading →

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What is a Monster – Monstrous Mondays

Ed Note: This was meant to go up on the first week of March, but I, umm, forgot…

What Is A Monster

They are the creatures of your deepest, darkest nightmare, and yet we use them to tell stories, to protect, to explain the things we do not understand – or do not wish to – and so much more.

We need them for all these reasons but most of all, we need them because they cause fear, a powerful feeling. It is a feeling that we need to protect us from things like fire and to help us understand the world – but it also can be used against us. This is why we need to understand fear, which monsters help us to do, they create a context to which other fears can be compared.

Monsters can come in many forms – legendary creatures, illness, mutations of man and animals. Over the centuries we have learned to fight, understand and explain these monsters but we still use them to tell our stories. Sometimes those stories twist the original myths almost unrecognisably – but the core is always drawn from something that came before.

What I find most interesting about monsters is the history, stories, and what caused these stories to begin – what the monster could actually be and their physiology.

So I will be giving a write up of a monsters each week, from Z-A to help you with your game and stories.

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X is for Xiezhi – Monstrous Mondays

HK Wan Chai China Resources Building animal statue 01 Xiezhi Oct-2012

This is a new one to me, chosen because… well there aren’t many monsters beginning with “x” other than Xenomorphs from the alien moves.

History

The Xiezhi is a goat like creature from Han Dynasty (206 BCE) of China, it was said it could find wrongdoers and see evil and injustice better than any man.

Over the centuries many stories have been told all over china about how it used its horn to point out who had started a fight or argument. It horn would glow and it would point at whoever was at fault in the argument and, if the fault was sufficiently severe it would charge, ramming at them with its horn, gouging holes in them. If the wrongdoer tried to escape the Xiezhi would kill and eat them.

The stories tell of how the emperor would use one as judge of crimes and criminals, and that he trusted its word so much that he declared it the only thing which could judge the emperor himself.

Because of this unique power over the emperor, it was the ultimate symbol for law and justice – and it remains so even to this day, it can be seen in buildings of law and order like the law schools, police stations, courthouses, and some police uniforms even feature them.

Over the centuries as this creature fell into myths its shape has shifted and changed, to a point where the statues of it look vastly different from one location to another. Some show a simple goat with one horn other have features of dragons or lions as well as some form of horn.

Physiology

From horn to tail.

  • It has a long horn on it head which can find evil and wrong doer.
  • The head is sometime that of a goat, but more often that of a lion or dragon.
  • It stands on all fours and has a stocky body which can be depicted in scales, fur, or a mixture of the two.
  • It can have hooves or clawed feet.
  • Lastly it has short stubby tail like a goat’s.

Questions

  • Why does it change its form?
    • Perhaps its a sign of age, or perhaps it has one form for battle and another for peace.
  • Is the horn useful magically?
    • If so, how do you get the horn? Can the Xiezhi be killed and the horn cut out, or does it have to be freely given – or does it lose its horn/antlers and grow (a) new one(s), like a deer, so you just have to wait for it to fall out – although the dead antlers may be less potent in their effects.
  • What allows it to see who is a wrongdoer? Is it the horn or eyes or brain or is it some other part of the body? 
  • Do the scales or hide have any powers?
    • Perhaps a cloak made from Xiezhi skin would hide signs of evil from all magical senses
  • Could it be used to hunt people down over long distances?
  • Can it be wrong? And if so what are the causes (and consequences) of this?
  • What other powers do they have?
  • Can they hurt demons since they can sense evil?

 

Story ideas

  • If you’re in a fantasy setting it could be some kind of god or a steed of one.
  • Since its form shifts maybe it is a shapeshifter – in D&D it could be a form taken by Gold Dragons.
  • A wild west story where a Xiezhi help a Sheriff find criminals.

 

References

http://chinese-unicorn.com/ch01/

http://traditionscustoms.com/folk-beliefs/xiezhi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xiezhi

http://artatrunnymede.com/magna-carta-xiezhi/

http://www.cultural-china.com/chinaWH/html/en/25Arts1424.html

http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/2013-11/26/content_30711101.htm

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Z is for Zombies – Introducing Monstrous Mondays

 

For the duration of March, Mondays will play host to monstrous beasts and beings. While we intend to eventually complete a full alphabet for these too, Mam Bach was getting burnout from 6 months of Mythic Mondays, so we’ll be doing it one month at a time.

Zombies

Zombies are everywhere today – books, movie and games, both tabletop and computer – so it might be hard to work out how to give this monster a new and interesting twist in your game and stories. Sometimes the easiest way to make something new is to look to the old:

History

Zombies are in some ways a very new monster, since the version in a lot of people’s’ minds has only been around since the 1960s – but their origins are older than that, with the first written description being from 1816 Brazil.

The term “zombie” has its roots in Voodoo1)Or Vodou, Vodoun or whichever spelling is chosen – it was not originally a written religion, and thus spellings are varied., which is practised mostly in Haiti though it derives from a mixture of African religions crossing with Christianity. In Voodoo a zombie is a dead person who has been revived by a bokor, a Voodoo sorcerer – that person is then under control of the bokor.

Many stories suggest that darker bokor use a somewhat alchemical ritual to make living people into zombies. It usually involves a specially prepared mix of earth, roots and tetrodotoxin (which comes from a pufferfish or related species). If done correctly it can leave someone alive but not in control of their own body.

There is also an astral zombie, a person’s soul that has captured by a bokor to use for magical purposes, this suggests that making someone into a zombie may split their body and soul which may be why the zombie has no free will.

Priestly bokor are rarely said to deal in the physical zombies, but may interact with the astral form, using their aid to heal the wounded and infirm.

So far these zombie are far away from the zombie we know and love today. Indeed, modern zombies are more akin to other forms of undead than to the Voodoo zombie. Many forms of media have been involved in the journey to the zombies we know today.

The earliest zombie apocalypse story might well be “The Day of The Triffids” – a book where sentient plants, which move around in herds, slowly hunt down humans to eat – making a rattling noise to communicate with each other when they find fortified prey. The similarities to modern zombies notably include the requirement that they be decapitated in order to kill them.

The next notable development is in another book “I Am Legend”, they still seem to move around in herds but were only active by night because they were essentially a form of apocalyptic vampires but the main character treats them like they were zombies, thinking them mindless beasts.

Cementing the zombie into popular culture was “Night of The Living Dead”2)Aided by the fact it became public domain upon release where the creatures have almost all of the archetypical qualities or the modern zombie, though they are called ghouls by a character within the films, with the term zombie coming from the fans and the John Russo series of sequel films – which also introduced the famous hunger for brains.

These are not all the examples but they are major parts of how the myth became what it is today.

History in your Games and Stories

One way you could use the ideas from the Voodoo zombie in your games and stories is the person could be saveable, if their soul (the astral zombie) could be recombined with the physical zombie – which means killing them may become a dilemma for your protagonists, especially if the victim is known to them.

There could also be a cure for the zombie-creating alchemy, needing rare ingredients that the players must quest for. Or there could be a great sorcerer who knows how to reverse the ritual and bring the friend back from the dead but of course you have to go and find this sorcerer first or you may have to do something immoral for the sorcerer to get your friends back.

Drawing instead from “I Am Legend” you could instead choose to have a zombie infection that behaves differently in the living and the dead – with those already dead upon infection being animated as mindless ghouls, but those who were alive remaining somewhat aware and possibly even being able to recover their faculties while remaining zombified.

Physiology

Zombies are usually only humans, though some games and films, such as resident evil have zombie beasts – most often dogs. Still these are rare enough that I’ll be mostly ignoring them for this section.

Zombie are often dead even though they can walk and make noise, but there are many examples where this is not the case, often with a more “scientific” approach to zombies.

One modern example where a living human has been mystically zombified by tetrodotoxin is done well in the TV series Grimm: though the zombified individuals lose willpower they are not innately dangerous – unless something goes wrong.

They’re usually mindless beasts, all they know is the need to feed – often specifically on living humans, like in Walking Dead, but there are examples of such zombies being capable of thought or even smart in stories such as iZombie and zNation.

Occasionally instead of hunger they have an irrational need to kill – such as in 28 Days Later – with the eating of their victims being an afterthought or even an irrelevance.

They tend not to be able to see well in the dark and are attracted by light, sounds and some can smell fresh of blood so sometime hiding is better than fighting, you may even be walk among them by covering yourself in rotting fresh and old blood, like they do in The Walking Dead.

They are usually hard to kill, and tougher than the average human in a fight – usually a head shot will kill them but as always there are examples that go again this rule, such as Braindead with has the zombies animated by magic and has any part which is dead come to life, with only way to end it being to understand and break the curse.

Their skin can be anywhere from slightly grubby to green, thin and rotting with skin missing and bone visible – sometimes both extremes can even coexist, based on the age of the zombified corpse.

If the zombie are reanimated from old buried bodied they can often be boney with hard, yellow nails which can be claw like.

They are not usually ambush killer, they tend to make groaning noises which let their prey know that they are coming but also let other zombies know where food can be found, giving them a strong pack mentality, all of these things are clearly seen in Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland and George Romero’s films.

Being a zombie is often seen as contagious disease that is spread by being bitten or scratched by them or a mixing of the blood like in 28 Days Later – but this is not always the case, it’s common that everyone who dies is reanimated, and being bitten or scratched simply accelerates the process.

Using Their Physiology in Your Games and Stories

Firstly it’s important to consider how you can mix any of the possibilities together – it may seem hard to work out how you can be a living zombie with rotting skin but a fungus or a rare bacteria that released tetrodotoxin and ate away your skin would make you mindless and allow the skin to rot even before death.

Then think what setting your story is in. In science fiction you’d likely want some sort of virus or nanite infection – but you’d also have alien zombies which could still have many of the abilities of the alien, for instance they could have telepathy and have a full on hivemind like the borg. Or perhaps you have a species without a mouth, that eats in some other way, like through their skin, and they just need to touch you to infect you.

In a superheroes setting your zombies might keep mutant powers like super strength, this means they could rips legs and arms away. Or what if your zombies virus can mutate – how does the virus change the physiology of the people that are infected.

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References   [ + ]

1. Or Vodou, Vodoun or whichever spelling is chosen – it was not originally a written religion, and thus spellings are varied.
2. Aided by the fact it became public domain upon release