Monday, 21 November 2022

Scenes from the Ideas Scrapbook

I have a big mental scrapbook of anecdotes, factoids, and little titbits of information that I have never quite manage to find space for in a game or in writing but one day intend to.

Some examples:

1. When Leo Strauss was teaching at the University of Chicago, a doctoral student came to him and said that he had the opportunity to spend a summer at Freiburg University, where Martin Heidegger was an emeritus professor. The student asked Strauss, "Should I meet Heidegger if I have the chance?" Strauss is said to have replied, "Yes, you should meet him, but when you do, do not shake his hand." 

I love the idea of a prominent evil figure, now fallen from power, but retains the ability to win some kind of advantage over people through an everyday gesture like a handshake. 

2. Colonies of giant bullet ants of Central and South America constantly fight wars against each other, and the result is that there are often maimed ants wandering about in the aftermath of skirmishes. These are parasitised by a species of fly, whose females lay eggs in the still-living wounded, and whose males come to mate with the females. Healthy ants are not susceptible as they can find the flies off. 

A deliciously horrible idea - a type of parasite attracted to wounded people, which lays its eggs inside. What a nice additional reason for PCs to want to avoid not having full HP, and a nice additional threat once combat is ostensibly ended.

3. Lake Vostok lies 4000m below the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. The water down there may have been undisturbed for 25 million years. It is thought there could be "unusual forms of life" down there. 

OK, it's a cliche, but come on - the PCs as explorers of such a lake and finding "unusual forms of life" and more?

4. Christian converts in the islands off Nagasaki in Japan kept their religion hidden from the 1600s onwards when it became oppressed by the Shogunate, disguising it with Buddhist imagery and paraphernalia. When religious freedom was re-stablished in the late 19th century most came out of hiding and rejoined the Catholic church, but some kept up their (by now very strange) customs and continued as so called hanare kirishitan or "separated Christians". A documentary was made about them in the 1990s called Otaiya, and it revealed that the only two surviving priests hated each other and didn't talk, and that lots of individual members more or less followed their own separate religions as the last living survivors of ancient lineages.

The whole thing is very D&D-able but I especially like the idea of a community, or communities, of clerics who each has a completely unique religion or interpretation of a religion, and different abilities, treasures, guards, etc. as a consequence.

5. The pithui birds of Papua New Guinea feed off a type of beetle that gets into their skin and feathers and makes them poisonous (perhaps through the bird smearing its own feces on itself). Scientists who have studied them say that merely holding the bird unprotected is enough to completely numb the hand.

Poisonous birds are kind of a cool concept but I also like the idea of smearing one's own shit on oneself (well, I like it in the abstract) in order to make oneself poisonous or derive other abilities from one's food. I could imagine all kinds of humanoid races doing this with all kinds of prey - but hey, why not even the PCs? Just killed a basilisk - now are you willing to eat it and then cover yourself in your own and your colleague's excrement in order to gain stoneskin?


  1. honestly smearing yourself in your own shit is hella underrated, don't knock it until you try it

  2. Slather yourself in the fliers' dung

  3. Shit-smearing always makes me think of my shock when, aged around 10, I saw TV news footage of the "dirty protests" in the H-Block prisons of Northern Island.

    I'd always assumed that the point of it was just... dirtiness. It was only last week when I was giving my daughter a lift, and she played me the latest episode of the "Troubles" podcast, that I discovered that they did it because that way it dried out quicker and didn't stink their cells up quite as much.

    Sorry, not quite sure whether that's gameable. Anyway. I also once started my own religion based on a misunderstanding of a far older one. But that's another story.

  4. Shit smearing in prisons serves a lot of purposes. It can be smeared on cameras to disable them, smeared on oneself to make the guards and other prisoners hesitate to touch you, in some holding cells the guards have to clean it up. Pschologically if someone smears shit on themselves, even if it is cleaned off there is this fear of this crazy person who cares so little about anything that they can smear shit on themselves.

  5. #4: Ooh, *someone* who used to post OSR content had a setting where there was a single god, Urizen (I think from Blake's poetry), but roughly as many saints & sects as there are temples, so every community could have a unique take on religion if you wanted, and you could have many sorts of religious tensions within arbitrarily small political entities.