Thursday, April 9, 2015

B is for Beasts (and bestiaries)

In a previous entry I mentioned about how we often portray animals in fantasy RPGs as part of the natural world and how we think the natural world operates. However, D&D (and the like) being a fantasy game, animals don't necessarily always have to operate like they do in the real world. In fact, if we examine some of the descriptions of mundane animals from the days of yore (like in old bestiaries), we can find some wondrous oddities. Case in point, check out this page on medieval bestiaries. It includes not only monsters we'd recognize as mythical today but also descriptions of  animals that are no less mythical.

For example, did you know that you don't even need a rust monster? According to Pliny the Elder, some kinda=s of mice were known to gnaw on iron and even gold!

And the blood of the pelican's breast resurrects her dead offspring

For that matter, we need not stop with characteristics of specific animals. We can build whole ecologies from outdated theories of the generation of life. One of my favorite disproved theories is spontaneous generation. This theory refers to how life might spontaneously birth itself from dead or inanimate objects. For example, without understanding the relation of flies to maggots, it was really easy to observe how maggots seem to sprout from rancid meat without any sort of outside cause.

Taken further, spontaneous generation could have profound implications for the "living dungeon", a dungeon that lives and breathes of its own (mysterious and seemingly incomprehensible) accord. You know the one, that weird link to the mythic underworld that mutates and evolves given enough time to sit alone. How does it get its monsters? Well now we have an answer!

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