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."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Weird Wonder Wednesday: Mosquitoes!

Summer is upon us and, if you live in Manitoba, that means its time to break out the shotgun and engage in a little point-defense against our provincial 'bird,' the ubiquitous mosquito.  Okay, I know, mosquitoes are so commonplace as to defy the tag 'weird wonder,' but I was inspired by James Maliszewski's recent post, Summer of the Shrooms.  We're getting the same weather here in Manitoba as in Ontario; namely wet.  Mostly cool and wet, but then the sun comes out and it becomes hot and wet, which, to quote Robin Williams: "is okay when you're with a lady, but it ain't no good when you're in the jungle."

The uncommonly moist weather has, indeed, been a boon for local fungus.  My wife, Diana, who is the Curator of Botany at the Manitoba Museum, has been having a field-day - quite literally - collecting many uncommon fungus species that have been cropping up, for the museum's collections.  But mushrooms are beneath the notice of most, while mosquitoes are on everyone's radar, hereabouts.  Manitoba is a swampy lowland where numerous river systems drain into Hudson bay, and it has so many lakes that there is almost as much surface water as land (okay, not literally, but you get the drift), and since mosquitoes lay their eggs in water, this makes Manitoba an ideal  habitat for one of the Earth's most obnoxious pests, second only to telephone solicitors.

Mosquitoes have four stages in their life-cycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult and all but the adult stage lives in water.  As we know, all too well, mosquitoes have mouth parts that are well-adapted to piercing the skin of plants and animals.  Males feed mostly on nectar, but females require a blood meal before they can produce their eggs.  Below is a picture of my friend, David Rudkin a palaeontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum, serving up many such blood meals in Churchill, Manitoba (Photo by Graham Young).

As annoying as mosquitoes are, their main impact on humanity is as vectors for diseases and parasites, such as malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, and elephantiasis - and it is in their capacity as vectors that mosquitoes are relevant to the 'weird wonder' series.

My main goal in writing the 'weird wonders' series was to highlight some of the more bizarre and fascinating creatures of the natural world that could be used as inspiration for new monsters in gaming.  Of course, 'mosquitoes' have long existed in D&D canon:

As unsettling as a swarm of blood-sucking stirges are to a party of adventurers they could pose an even bigger threat as carriers of disease or, worse still, parasites.  Oddly, though diseases have long been a facet of D&D, I don't ever recall seeing parasites associated with the game.  To my mind these are even more unsettling an infliction - to have something living within you, growing and working its insidious purpose is just the sort of frightening threat that might make for an interesting game situation.  I've never seen an ecology for stirges; perhaps they not only draw blood from a victim, but lay their eggs within its flesh, nourished and warded by the living tissue of its host.  Imagine the horror when a character discovers cysts growing all over his body.  And what happens when those cysts burst and stirge larvae erupt from within.  This gives me the creeps just thinking about it so, naturally, I'm going to have to think about it some more.  I think stirges are about to get a whole lot more interesting.

Of particular note are the very nice stirge miniatures produced by Otherworld Miniatures:

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