Wednesday, 23 July 2014
Wahey We're The Insects
My friend Patrick wrote an excellent recent blog post which set my mind whirring with different post ideas. Expect me to pontificate at great length about Tall Tales of the Wee Folk in the near future, but in the mean time I thought I'd resurrect an old idea which is germane.
Anthropomorphic insects is an idea I've had in my mind for a while but it never quite gained any traction. Recently it has as I've been watching our back lawn get increasingly overgrown - we're in the process of moving house and, to be frank, I can't be fucked mowing it if we're going to be moving anyway. I'll probably get around to it next weekend.
Anyway, when a garden gets overgrown, even in a benign environment like the outskirts of a British city, all sorts of things start to happen. The grass gets long and sprouts these high, almost waist-high, tendrils full of seeds. Miscellaneous flowers - buttercups, dandelions, daisies - appear from nowhere. Big patches of clover spread inexorably across huge patches of hither-to pristine lawn. Bumblebees of different varieties hover from place to place, expertly dodging grass fronds which must, to them, be like trees are to us. Flies and midges float about in intricate, private dances. Butterflies appear for a moment and then flit onwards to the next garden. Strong thistle-like weeds thrust up through cracks in flagstones. At night hedgehogs appear, snuffling round in a manner which is cute to us but genocidal, baleful, inexorable terror to worms and beetles.
It's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.
So why dress up an anthropomorphic insect RPG into anything more than somebody's overgrown back garden? To a beetle, my lawn is the size of a city. And my lawn is not particularly large. Most sizeable gardens are to them as large as a county or a minor. And there is another one right next door. Moreover, this is a three dimensional, complex environment. Ant burrows and cracks in the earth lead to tunnel networks akin to dungeons. Shrubs and bushes are like gargantuan jungle trees bigger than anything a human can comprehend the scale of - like sky scrapers, in fact, rather than trees. What's in that watering can? A cold, stagnant lake full of hunting larvae lurking in its depths. What's under that flagstone? A tribe of armoured woodlice muttering to each other in the damp darkness. What's in the corner of the shed? An undead spider lich and the dusty, dead cobwebs it uses for its spells.
And think of the possibilities for playing with alien mindsets, alien values, alien needs. The praying mantis class: obsessed with waiting; for it patience is pleasure, and it can only use its full powers when the foe is unawares. The ladybird class: voracious, uncaring, protected by its shell; it simply attacks and eats anything small with instinctive ferocity that cannot be overridden. The cockroach class: not so much a survival expert as a paragon of longevity - it does nothing well except continue to live. The aphid class: not one individual but a dozen clones who each know exactly what the others will do because they have more in common than the closest twin.
In this environment the enemies would be spiders, intelligent hunting sorcerers who play with the bodies of their victims; robot-like ants who simply swarm and devour with mindless purpose; dragon-like birds with sharp eyes which will swoop and attack the instant you cross open ground; and many other threats from above, below, or under the nearest stone. Treasure would be the different nectars produced by flowers, or the bonanza of a dead rat or fledgling. Quests would be to rescue kidnapped comrades from the lair of the termites, to assassinate an ant queen just beginning to set up a new nest, or to raid a neighbouring garden for the toxic ingredients to repel a blackfly invasion.
Or perhaps the goal is simple survival. The PCs as a group of insects with a certain sentience who live under the constant threat of death - death from hunting, death from starvation, death from the weather, death from poison, death from sheer twist of fate - and who, for some reason, have the rudiments of cooperation necessary to rise above the nasty, brutish, short lives of their peers and achieve something approaching rest, peace, security, calm.