Sunday, February 5, 2012
Lost Worlds Part 1: Lost Worlds and Me
I'm not the first one to discuss the importance of "lost world" fiction to D&D. A quick scan of Appendix N makes it clear that the genre appealed to Gygax, and its impact on the development of D&D cannot be overstated. However, I haven't read as much of Appendix N as some of my fellow bloggers, and as such I don't feel comfortable guessing the effect of this genre on Gygax beyond the above truism. Instead I want to focus on two things: how lost world fiction has influenced me and how lost worlds can be portrayed in Dungeons & Dragons.
There are few things nine-year-old Evan liked more than the science fiction and monster movies of the 1950s and 60s.* This love had grown out of the typical childhood obsession with dinosaurs, and it was those monsters that most resembled prehistoric creatures that were my favorites. My parents at some point purchased a VHS "documentary" entitled Hollywood Dinosaurs that they thought would entertain me. In it a narrator would discuss various trends in giant monster movies -- few of them were actually about dinosaurs -- and then they would show the trailer of some monster movie that illustrated the narrator's point. I posted some of these a while back, and you can see the one for Mothra: Monster God at the beginning of this post.
The one for Mothra and the one for Valley of the Dragons -- the later of which seems to have disappeared from the internet -- both captured my imagination in a way that the other trailers on that VHS were unable. They both have something in common beyond their lost world plots: they provide a list of awesome things that are in the movie. In the more naive time in which these films were made, the trailers would often provide a list of things to SEE or THRILL at while watching their motion picture. These two had particularly good ones: Vampire plants, monster gods, gorilla people, stone age mountains, and underground demons.**
Now, I've not seen either of these movies, and perhaps in execution these things are lackluster. In my mind's eye, though, they are magnificent. They combine the feelings of both wonder and terror, which is the ultimate expression of what D&D is.
At some point in high school I began listening to Coast to Coast AM. Now, I'm not a conspiracy theorists, and my primary reason for listening to the show is its unintentional hilarity. However, I have drawn a great amount of inspiration from the litany of whack job guests for both Call of Cthulhu and D&D. Just before I entered college they had a guest on who discussed Hollow Earth theory and the Shaver Mystery. The combination of bat-shit-insanity, Ufology, lost races, and dinosaurs really tickled my brain. I tried to work vast, subterranean areas into my Wilderlands games, and eventually I came up with my own Hollow Earth setting.
The Underworld is a cool setting. I said in one of my responses to Zak's questionnaire that of all the things I've made I was most proud of Nightwick Abbey. This is true; however, I have a feeling that if I was ever able to get Underworld to work that it would be my greatest creation. Nightwick Abbey is obviously an idiosyncratic blend of things I enjoy, but those things aren't that far from baseline D&D. Underworld is different while still fitting very well with the kinds of activities one does in D&D. It has more or less been replaced by Uz,*** but I sometimes think Uz lacks the requisite amount of wonder. It has plenty of terror though.
Lost world fiction had greatly affected the way I view D&D. They define the range of emotions that I seek to evoke as a DM and that I want to feel as a player. I want to marvel at things not seen before by human eyes. I want to flee in terror from pallid creatures who have grown sightless in their benighted land. I want adventure.
This post has become much longer than I originally expected. I'll spend further posts discussing the different ways to do lost world scenarios in D&D and the pros and cons of each. I don't know how many further parts there will be because I initially intended this to all be in one post. If the other parts run away with me the same way this one did, you can expect a lot more.
*One of those few things was the Universal monster movies of the 30s and 40s, and I would later add Hammer to that list. However, I've already made that setting.
**Notice I remembered several of the ones from Valley of the Dragons despite the fact that I do not have any way to watch the trailer. Now that is good advertising.
***There may be some Uz related announcements shortly. On a related note, make sure you're reading Dandy in the Underworld and Rogues and Reavers. They're cool blogs run by cool people.