Saturday, December 10, 2011

Lives of the Predators, The Red Hourglass, by Gordon Grice

First, let me say that Gordon Grice writes with a smooth flow that is easy to appreciate regardless of why you might be interested in reading in the first place. His tone is easy on the inner ear and yet has its own pace, timing and black humor to it.

Having said that, I would recommend anyone interested in adding some more details to the 'mundane' animals in their role playing games, or in their fiction if writing, buy and read The Red Hourglass. It's entertaining and after watching some nature stuff on dangerous animals on the Nature Channel or the History Channel or one of those shows that has completely sold out, doesn't treat you like you were some brain dead dolt.

When last I left off, there were quite a few chapters to go. I'm going to try not to bore readers with a breakdown of each chapter, rather I'm going to hit a few things I thought were interesting and a few that even made me think in terms of where some of our belief systems come from as opposed to why we have them.

Looking at the Mantid, the thing I took from the author is that while we may attribute features to an insect based on our own lifestyles, such as needing a head to survive, they may not be true. Grice talks about roachs living for a month before dying or starvation. This would be a great thing to add to a role playing game where you still keep the villains fighting, perhaps minus an attack, to showcase the grizzly nature of combat against non-humanoid foes.

Another bit that Grice adds is that we don't know everything. The author captures some weird bug and throws it in with a Mantid, fully assuming that the Mantid, a very dangerous predator in its chain, will easily kill the creature. It retreats, it runs, it seemingly shows fear! Keep in mind that there may be some horrific monsters in a role playing game, but that doesn't mean they know no fear. Just because the players may not know what something fears, doesn't mean the creature is fearless. This could result in a separate quest in and of itself in which the players have to find a fierce predator that is fairly harmless to everything else but their chosen enemy. What if there is some weird type of deer in another reality that finds Mind Flayers taste just like deep fried squid?

Rattlesnake is a potent reminder that rules for poison should favor the players. This isn't to say that poison from snakes or other animals isn't potent or dangerous, but it isn't always fatal and may be the result of a 'dry' bite. Snakes have their own hunting mojo and methods and the interesting factor for many different types of snakes is in terms of their venom. If you're not throwing a huge snake at the party to crush them physically, be ready with a few different types of venomous effects. Does it cause the organs to fail? Does it cause internal bleeding through lack of clotting? Does it just really mess with the body causing other issues like heart attack and stroke, but not outright death?

I put the pic of a tarantula up front because the author makes a very strong point about tarantulas, sharks, and crocodiles. Sometimes, a simple predator that leaps on its enemy and rips it to pieces, a throwback in terms of evolution, is all you need. Sure, there are hundreds of templates, numerous bestiaries and manuals of monsters and other sources of creatures, but sometimes, simple is better and brute force is indeed the answer.

Pig and Canid, despite having little in common in Grice's words, do have one thing in common. They are both flesh eaters, both scavengers, and in the dark ages of humanity, ate dead human flesh. Grice contents that the Jewish prohibition in eating pig flesh is in part because of their diet of dead human flesh. The fear of cannibalism even through a third party so to speak.

He also brings up an interesting point in terms of how quickly some animals are able to be tamed and made into different things contrasting the wolf and the dog, contrasting the wild hog and the slaughtered pig. This isn't necessarily a bad thing though, because he points out that some domestic pigs are huge and only possible due to their specific breeding conditions. He also notes that there are several similarities, in terms of organs and placement, between pigs and humans. It's almost too easy to imagine a setting where orcs are the direct result of skin and organ grafting between humans and pigs as opposed to their own wholly original race.

Grice ends with the recluse spider. This is another example of giving players a break with poison. Some people die from the bits of the brown spider. Some develop a small necrotic piece of skin that falls off. Some suffer greatly and for years after as the venom effects them for the rest of their life. Some don't suffer any effects at all.

Lastly, as entertaining as Gordon Grice is, don't take any one source as the end all be all. I've paged through his next book a little and he has a huge section that provides a list of recommended reading. Don't be afraid to move beyond a single sourcebook if you feel that adding more details and options will make the material more entertaining.

On the other hand, if youre running a beer and pretzels game, save or die in the OSR is pretty standard and you should enjoy that horrible power while you have it!