Thursday, 21 September 2017

There'll be no accusations, just friendly crustaceans...

On G+ somebody asked about an underwater campaign setting I was supposedly writing, called "Unit Swim" or "Union Swim" or something. This tickled me tremendously, but it also gives me the opportunity to talk about Behind Gently Smiling Jaws a bit - which I haven't done in a while.

One of the rules I made myself promise I would follow, pretty early on, is that nothing in BGSJ would come from or be based on other existing works of fantasy. It all had to be either completely novel or based off real world history or legend. This has worked well in large part, but has created a real sticking point in one area of the world map - the Underwater Ziggurats. These are remnants of alien cities on the sea floor which the crocodile supposedly saw in some lost era, akin to Atlantis - the conceit being that aliens did actually colonise the ocean bottom millions of years ago and the crocodile was witness to this. It's based on the Yonaguni Monument/Formation.

So far so good, but it turns out it is really difficult not to turn this area of the campaign setting into Deep Ones and Cthulhu and Father Dagon. Coming up with a concept of aliens living in underwater cities which owes nothing to Lovecraft is hard. His work is practically the first and last word on the subject.

I'm working on it.

Another stumbling block is more practical: format. I know that producing an eight-volume slip case is a really bad idea. A really, really bad idea. A really, really, really bad idea. But sometimes bad ideas sound very good - like that decision to eat a Double Decker after lunch, or that decision to miss the last train home on a night out, or that decision to have a cigarette when you know you shouldn't.... The multi-volume slip case idea just will not relinquish its hold.


  1. Suggestion: mantis shrimp. Real mantis shrimp are degenerate descendants of the original aliens, which explains why they are so weird. And an approximately man-sized mantis shrimp alien would have sufficient strength to crack stone for building monuments.

    1. Oh dear god. Man-tis shrimp that are cooperative.

    2. Or maybe all arthropods are degenerate descendants of the original aliens?

  2. You don't need to be 100% original -- maybe a small twist could be enough.

    Make them Monotheistic, Lawful Good Aliens - The ones who first came up with the stories about Adam and Eve and the Christian God.

    Or make them highly advanced, with spiritual and psionic powers -- their knowledge and philosophy being the common root between Indian and Tibetan mystical practices and Japanese Zen philosophy.

  3. Stross' Laundry novels have a take on Deep Ones which departs a bit from the standard Lovecraft. In those books, they are a very advanced and powerful civilization that is mostly indifferent to surface life. They could and would exterminate us if we did them any harm, which we could, though we could neither defeat them nor resist our destruction.

    A fantasy take on this is that such an advanced civilization could exist under the waves, and probably human society would have almost no ability to have any impact on them. The main nuisance they would have to deal with would be human adventurers with water breathing potions who want to plunder their "magic."

    The undersea people know that humans have their own societies but know next to nothing about them. When adventurers successfully plunder them, they respond with disproportionate retaliatory strikes on nearby coastal communities.

    This means that the artifacts from under the sea are both highly valuable and highly taboo. Possession of powerful undersea technology implies the mass deaths of hundreds or thousands of people in weaponized tsunamis.

    This leaves you with some interesting adventuring hooks. Coming up with their weird physiology and technology/magic is fun dressing. Maybe their tech works by opening up portals to highly specific parallel universes (think of Rick and Morty and things like the Meeseeks). They are bison-sized telekinetic jellyfish that flash with plasma storms of pure thought. Their highest art form consists of contests to find the most tragic parallel universes.

    Just some ideas.

  4. Speaking of which, I have a couple of ideas for BGSJ that you might be interested in.