Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dungeons &... Hormagaunts?

As most role-players know, one of the literary influences of Dungeons & Dragons was Fritz Leiber's outstanding Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories. I while back I purchased the Science Fiction Book Club 3-in-1 hardcover compilation of the first three books in the series to replace the tattered, dog-eared paperbacks I had originally bought from a used bookstore, and lately I've been re-reading these classic sword and sorcery tales.

My recent involvement in the Warhammer 40K miniatures game caused me to view one of the short stories, The Bleak Shore, in Swords Against Death in a whole new way.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, carousing in their favourite watering hole, The Silver Eel, encounter an enigmatic stranger - a small, pale man with a bulging forehead, who places a powerful geas upon them to seek their doom upon the bleak shore of the Western Continent. Fafhrd and the Mouser immediately depart in Fafhrd's red-sailed sloop across the Inner Sea, accompanied by their Mingol henchmen. Upon reaching the bleak shore, Fafhrd bade the Mingols return to Lankhmar, saying "Do not follow. We are dead men. Go back if you can."

Fafhrd and the Mouser set out climbing the basalt crags on the shore and upon reaching the plateau they discovered a flat landscape of black sand, barren of life, in which was embedded more than two score monstrous black eggs amid a litter of bones scattered over the sand. They hear a thin, clear voice from out of nowhere intone, "For warriors, a warrior's doom," and then the eggs began to hatch. What follows is the passage describing the hatching:

The first hint of their nature came in the form of a long, swordlike claw which struck out through a crack, widening it farther. Fragments of shell fell more swiftly.
The two creatures which emerged in the gathering dusk held enormity even for the Mouser's drugged mind. Shambling things, erect like men, but taller, with reptilian heads boned and crested like helmets, feet clawed like a lizards, shoulders topped with bony spikes, forelimbs each terminating in a single yard-long claw. In the semidarkness they seemed like hideous caricatures of fighting men, armored and bearing swords. Dusk did not hide the yellow of their blinking eyes.

Compare this photo of one of my tyranid hormagaunt miniatures to Leiber's description.  Uncanny similarity?



And here is a rendition of the creature by Fred Fields from the AD&D 2nd edition sourcebook, Lankhmar: City of Adventure



In the description of the creatures, called Gladiator Lizards in the AD&D Lankhmar sourcebook, that accompanies their stat block, they are said to "fight with extreme agility, attacking twice per round, once with each claw.  When encountered in pairs, they are always brood mates.  Brood mates have a mental link that allows them to coordinate attacks, giving the second gladiator lizard to attack in a round a +1 to hit."  This mental link uncannily parallels the synaptic link with which tyranid leaders coordinate the brood warriors.

There is little doubt that the Warhammer 40K tyranid race, in general, was largely inspired by the Alien/Aliens movies by Ridley Scott and James Cameron, but it appears as though the design of the hormagaunt warrior broods might have been heavily influenced by Fritz Leiber's creatures from the Bleak Shore.

But, more importantly, I've found a whole new use for my many hormagaunt miniatures.  Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the dungeon....

2 comments:

Shane Mangus said...

Going back over some of your earliest posts I ran upon this one. Great observation. I take it you painted the mini? Well done.

Sean Robson said...

Yes, I did, and thanks.

I had a whole dungeon level devoted to these things last year, then the party ended up bypassing that level and went straight to the next. To this day they still don't know the darned things exist.