Jubilex the Faceless Lord, sewn from pants
In previous installments of Australian Gods there wasn't a problem describing what the nominees do. Really I just had to show a bunch of cool pictures and it was clear what these people are doing and how good they are at it. What this month’s nominee Scrap Princess does is harder to define or explain to the uninitiated- but that doesn’t mean it’s not important or awesome in its own right.
Take a look at this piece, for example.
Now the immediate, rational response to this object is to ask “WTF is that?” The correct answer would be “It’s a Beholder sewn from pants” which begs the question “WTF is a Beholder?” “A Beholder (my dear fellow) is a floating-eye monster in Dungeons & Dragons” “What’s Dungeons & Dragons?” “Why, it’s a roleplaying game…” You see the problem here. Scrap Princess is operating in a very specialized, rarefied field.
Before diving headlong into the chaotic Outer Planes of Scrap Princess’ fevered imagination let’s take a step back and quickly define roleplaying. Roleplaying games are a form of collective storytelling where players take on the roles of different characters- their decisions determine the arc of the story and their conversations form the dialogue. At the head of the table sits the umpire or Game Master (GM) whose job it is to describe the world where the story is taking place, to play the parts of monsters and people the players meet, and judge the success or otherwise of player actions. The GM is not playing against the players so much as orchestrating the action and making sure everyone has a fun/memorable time. You could do worse than watch an episode of Acquisitions Incorporated to get an idea of what a game looks like (maybe not the whole thing, it’s over 2 hours long...and beware the adult themes...the really, really funny adult themes).
For most players participation in the hobby finishes when they leave the table, but for GMs the hobby continues between game sessions and long into the night as they think up new plots, design new dungeons and create new worlds. This is the realm where Scrap Princess performs her dark magic. You see most fantasy roleplaying takes place in worlds populated by Dwarves, Elves, Humans, Orcs and Dragons; in other words, variations on Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Scrap Princess has no time for these conventions/tropes/clichés. She quite deliberately, gleefully and brilliantly dissects them, and reassembles them into barely recognisable, twitching things. It's the act of imagining something totally new that interests her, and she excels at it.
Let’s take a look at some examples from her blog, monstermanualsewnfrompants.
Example 1. In D&D golems are usually made from clay, flesh, iron or stone. Here’s one that Scrap Princess thought up:
This golem is crafted from the despair and human misery as much as the physical parts of the slums. The golem is created by casting and performing the rituals in a suitable area, the wizard need not craft the body themselves. The golem can be primed for a future event or trigger before rising up like a long centipede of splinted beam, white wash and glass. The occupants of the building are not absorbed into it but need to make their own way out, risking being crushed by the golems internal movements. As it teeters on its assigned mission it leaves randomly Symbols of Despair (in the form of graffiti), and stinking clouds.
Other Scrap Princess golems include the Wolfheads golem, Spider Hive Golem and Obsolescence Golem. Think about it- using any one of these golems in your game would make the evil cleric responsible seem just so much more…evil.
Example 2. During games players usually find magical weapons on defeated enemies or in treasure chests. Here’s a list of places players might find them in one of Scrap Princess’ adventures:
1. Several geese with tiny knights in their crops, each knight carries a +1 sword. Their crests are known and they are missing.
2. Chest of Rich Rich Rich soil and a +1 sword with an unblemished severed hand clutching it
3. A pool of glass eyes and a +1 sword at the bottom
4. Mercury coloured honey with a +1 sword stuck in it
5. 30 metres of red coral chain wrapped around the +1 sword it joins at the pommel
6. Rare and difficult papers, one with diagrams on how to fold it into a plus one sword.
Any one of these ideas contains the seed of an adventure and hints at fantastical, incomprehensible goings-on that players will find strange and wonderful/horrifying. So much better than a locked chest.
Example 3. Scrap Princess also writes lists of imaginative, cool-sounding names, but my favourites are her dragon names and the logic behind them:
Young dragons name themselves after a specific point of pride, then add to that until it weighs on them that their deeds could be merely cataloged and so give themselves sweeping titles suggestive of countless glories. There are numerous other fads and whimsies but the most notable after this is the tendency for the very oldest of dragons to have but a single word, with the implication being their name was the source of the word.
Young dragon names:
1.Bruxatonn, Fouler of the Lake
2.Cavourous, The Cattle Scourge
3. Heinous Red, The Doom of Pigglewiddle
4. Brutus, Eater of a Million Babies
5. Xorable, Who Shat On The Moon
6. Black Virens, Usurper of Bogspoke Manor
7. Seething Disrustrix, Decimator of the Wayward Moor
8. Gristle Gore, Pig Despoiler
Older than that:
1. Assanine, The Poison of The Sky
2. BroilGlare, The Wound of the World
3: Vux The Madderner
4. Turmoilous the Goreful
5. Hateful Histonix, the Merciful
6. Carst Whose Shadow is Loss
7. Umbral Craetagus, Scar of the Mountain
8. Ghastrosmous, The Stain on Gold
Ancient Dragon Names
OK. I think I’ve lifted quite enough material from her blog for one day. If you want to see more head over there and take a look around. There’s loads of strange and wonderful lists, maps, drawings and other world-making/unmaking ideas. It can be an unsettling experience- like looking at an Hieronymus Bosch painting...while sitting in a tub of spiders...listening to Georgie Parker sing Here Comes The Sun. But even if you’re like me and you feel a strong attachment to Middle Earth, Forgotten Realms and other traditional fantasy settings I reckon your games can still benefit from the injection of some of Scrap Princess’ ideas/method. Her ideas are especially well-suited to adventures set on other planes of existence, journeys to the underworld, powerful spells gone awry and the machinations of insane mages. Seriously, if you're a GM unleash them on your players and watch them dissolve (cue megalomaniacal laughter).
At the beginning of this post I said I think Scrap Princess' work is important. The reason I say that is she showed me what’s possible when you think outside the box- and the fact that I was IN a box in the first place which is kind of a big deal. And that's the true value of what she does- it shakes us out of our mental boxes...or at least it allows us to peek over their edges for a moment. Next week I’ll be posting an interview with Scrap Princess in which I asked her opinions on Tolkien, Art and her impending godhood. Interviewing Scrap Princess is a bit like walking into a dungeon- you know there'll be spikes but there's gold at the end if you make it.
(Australian Gods, Part 4)