Friday, November 26, 2010

Monsters Monsters Monsters 2: vs. Dracula!

Okay, I lied. There's no Dracula here. What there is a visit into my fractured psyche, as we try to create some new, exciting, and original monsters and creatures for The City of Lives.

Cedric: While writing the (unfinished) short story that started much of the City of Lives, I tossed in this line, without even thinking about it: "What have you got, a Cedric stationed to keep them in line?" Somehow, the "Cedric" immediately came to mind as a guardian golem, a kind of stone robot policeman. I can't explain that etymology, except that it might have something to do with a running gag in Terry Pratchett's Moving Pictures, in which a gold golem that was obviously modeled on the Academy Awards' Oscar was constantly referred to as reminding people of their "uncle Osric." In any case, the Cedric has just sat there without finding a place in the City. On the other hand, I've recently wondered if adding golems or some other kind of automaton to the City might not make things richer and more interesting. So let's start with the Cedric. I imagine it at about ten feet tall, gray stone with crude features, no face, and a stone shield and sword. Since its purpose is to guard, it's probably not terribly bright, but extremely aware of its environment (video games guards with sixty-degree fields of vision notwithstanding, if you're not aware of what's around you, you probably won't get far as a guard). Maybe a 360-degree field of vision, hearing like a cat, and the nose of a bloodhound -- and vibration sensors. That'll do for a standing or wandering attack-on-sight security system, but a Cedric will need a few more faculties to distinguish friend from foe. Facial and voice recognition, a vocabulary of at least a few dozen words : "stop," "patrol," "show identification," and so on -- and probably at least a couple hundred if it's expected to converse with visitors.

Cobblestone Golem: The diametric opposite of the ordered Cedric, the cobblestone golem is a spontaneous construct that forms from cobbles and building pieces. I wanted to put some kind of golem in the City, and threw a few "materials" nouns together, similar to D&D's method -- which has produced an impressive number of golem types over the years. However, they never used cobblestones, which are a fundamental part of a city like mine, so I thought it'd fit well. Now, why would a golem spontaneously form? Possibly it's a form of Blightbound, a soul that makes its own body rather than returning to its corpse. I like that -- any time multiple pieces of the world can fit together under a single unifying element, it adds elegance and verisimilitude (like how virtually everything supernatural in Dragon Age eventually ties back to "the Fade" and the spirits who live there). But why would this Blightbound create a body like that, especially as we've established that being Bound is a very unpleasant experience for the poor souls. Well, let's go back to the roots of the Golem mythology: the Jewish folk tale of the Golem who protected the Ghetto of Prague from attack. Fits, doesn't it? So -- the Cobblestone Golem forms when a neighborhood is in terrible danger, and a former resident takes it upon themselves to take a body and protect their old neighbors. So, despite being utterly different from the Cedric, it's actually surprisingly similar...

Wesp: Like many of my monsters, this started as a name I liked the sound of. However, it's a pure nonsense word, so there wasn't anything I could do to derive the nature of the creature from the nature of the word. So when the phrase "vengeful fog" popped into my head, I needed a name to attach to it, and Wesp sounds kind of like "waft," so they became attached. As I'm typing this, all I have is this phrase, which has sat in my glossary for a while: "Sapient, vengeful fog that descends on the City every few decades." Well, let's move on from here. My original inspiration is probably The Mist, the Stephen King story and film, in which the titular mist is an alien atmosphere leaking in from an interdimensional rift. I like the story and Frank Darabont's adaptation, but I remember being kind of disappointed that the "mist" itself wasn't actively malicious or even hazardous, only dangerous because it hid the monsters that crawled out of the rift. I thought -- what if the mist were alive? What if it swirled around you and forced itself down your throat, choking you to death? It wouldn't really work in a visual medium, but in tabletop gaming, where everything is verbal and every sense can be invoked, I think it has a chance to be scary. After all, how do you defeat fog? Can't whack it. Can't slice it. Burn it maybe, but if the whole fog bank you're in lights on fire? Bye-bye favorite PC! I'm still not certain how the Wesp can be defeated, or what its motivations are. Perhaps it's a product of experimental Soulsharing, imbuing a natural phenomenon with emotions, which (naturally) got out of hand. Then again, perhaps it is a purely natural phenomenon, or a Far Realms creature. No answer I've found so far has felt quite right...

Still not done! Join me next time for more Monsters Monsters Monsters 3: The Post That Ruins the Franchise.