Friday, February 6, 2009

Dichotomy of Spirit and Beast

Scala Naturae is medieval concept of a hierarchy among all things. It is mostly an excuse to put religion at the top of all things, but I do like a few ideas it offers. Notably that flesh is fallible and is malleable, while on the other hand spirit is permanent and in not malleable. Men operate in a strange dichotomy since they have both. I think this relevant in Valley of the Blue Snails for two main reasons.

The first is that I already have lore heavily based upon the existence of worldly spirits. While these are certainly not the sort of angels in the Scala Naturae, I like the idea of spirits of basically having an unchanging nature. Sort of a force of nature. That is, they are what they are and nothing will change that. There is no such thing as a benevolent Nakki or an un-mischievous Menninkaine.

Secondly in the Scala Naturae all I like how critters each have their place, their own rung in this hierarchy. Among Valley of Blue Snails I wanted to condense this hierarchy quite a bit to allow for greater animal and culture interaction. Not in the sense of Narnia or an uplifted animal kingdom, but to the extent where quite a few animals that are trainable and malleable. Not only by humans and demi-human, but by all races fair and foul. Animals could do straight forward duties when properly trained and motivated. They would be finicky creatures, but just about anything could be domesticated to some extent. Naturally ill-treatment or other neglect would have adverse side effects. Also animals have little natural disposition towards war so they are not often used as such. The exception would be mounts, but only a few would fall into this category.

So in that sense animals and spirits are opposites of one another. One is a stagnant being of spirit, the other an extremely malleable being of flesh. I think there should be some inherent conflict between the two – a natural distrust, a sense of wrongness, general unease when the two are near each other. I suppose this would be a good of a reason as any for animals to go ape-shit just before supernatural things occur. I would expect animals would definitely be uneasy in the presence of the spirit and perhaps seek to chase them away. Likewise spirits would loath certain types of animals and seek their demise.

I think most of the playable races would be much more in harmony with animals than spirits. Not always the case of course, but it would give a place for crazy witches that people (and animals) avoid because they deal with spirits. I think people would use animals to ward spirits away as much as anything else. In general people want to stay away from spirits, period.

Anyhow, I have intended for some close animal/culture interaction. When walking into a village it would not be uncommon to see a bear working the blacksmith’s billows, a duck washing the stone tiles with a rag in its bill, or a porcupine prodding along an ill tempered cow into the barn. Here are some others that come to mind:
  • Spotted Finches – These small birds use their beaks in a number of ways. Most notably to remove ticks and fleas from those in their vicinity, which Halflings are particularly fond of. They have been known to be trained by thieves to manipulate sticks and wires for all sorts of mischief.
  • Squirrels and Chipmunks – These tree dwellers are adapt at storing and remembering the location of food and all sorts of other items. It is not unheard of for a key or gem to be given to a squirrel for safe keeping. They are timid enough to only obey those who handle them daily.
  • Olive Crawdads – Other than being quite tasty, these crawdads will gladly will gladly use their mouth filaments to clean dead skin from hands, feet and even wounds.
  • Crows – Crows and occasionally rare jungle parrots can memorize phrases and repeat them. Even offer different phrased based on a particular reply. This can be misinterpreted as the birds actually conversing with people but in truth it is only a memorized response. While the animals do not understand the words they can carefully and diligently act as messengers.
  • Bearcats – These rust-colored beasts appear as a large wolverine with a prehensile tail. They can be trained as mounts and to sniff out prey. They are one of the few beasts that can be hardened for open warfare.
  • Blue Snails – These large snails act as (slow) beasts of burden. Rope is covered with glue and salted, then attached to the snails shell. The Snails can then pull many times their own weight for days at a time. The snails are oddly social creatures and appear to have a very alien intellect.
  • Dragonflies – Huge primeval dragonflies glow in the dark of night and are set loose upon the dark net-covered streets. This offers shifting lights that coat the night lit buildings in shades of purples, blues and greens.
  • Snakes – Stripped snakes can be trained to climb trees and swallow large amounts of bird eggs they find. They will then return from the tree and regurgitate them in a basket.
  • Bulb Toads – A platter of bulb toads can mimic many types of wind instruments and repeat them flawlessly. The toads are quite adept and can play this odd music for hours at a time.
  • Bile Wasps – The large wasps are highly territorial and can be placed in cylindrical tubes to form an impromptu fence. They in fact only sting those who cross their direct path, thus are easily avoidable by those who simply move well around their fence.
And so on. I will eventually create a large lists for the place of domesticated animals but it should be fairly open. If someone really wants a moose as a mount, well it is probably out there somewhere. Most animals will have a predisposition towards certain activity and would be very hard to train it out of it. Teaching a cat to fetch is iffy at best. Teaching a bird to fly down and pick up shiny objects on command is very doable.

'Blue Snails' I may change up to have a bit more of an impact than slow beasts of burden. Perhaps some meaningful by-product ala Sandworms of Dune. The newbie location Valley of Blue Snails will have them of course, out in the wild. Since the name of the setting is Valley of Blue Snails I think the actual Blue Snails or the Valley itself it should have a bit more weight - hmm.

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