Thursday, 27 August 2009

Of Hares and Quolls and Da Gama, Ceiling Wax and Kings

[Apologies for the lack of posting the last few days. We visited the in-laws, in darkest Tohoku, where internet access is patchy at best.]

I've been reading Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration by Felipe Fernandez-Arnesto recently. It's an excellent overview of human explorers from prehistoric times to the current day, with the bulk naturally focused on the Iberian voyages of the 15th and 16th centuries, though I confess to a slight irritation at the author. (Fernandez-Arnesto believes that it was the poverty of Western Europe, especially Iberia, which caused the burst in exploration and colonisation - not technological advances - and that this is generally the rule around the world. Fair enough, but it leads him to be overly dismissive of other factors, such as personal bravery - Vasco da Gama for example is portrayed as a fool and an incompetent who could barely tell his arse from his elbow, which simply doesn't square with his achievements. There are also a heck of a lot of unsourced assertions throughout the book; whatever happened to popular history books with actual bibliographies?) You can also quibble about whether mass migrations such as the Polynesian colonisation of the Pacific, however impressive, really qualify as "exploration" in the same sense that Magellan's voyage did.

But anyway, I'm getting off on a tangent. Reading the book has given me an idea: Animal fantasy in the Age of Sail. Think of it. European animals (Rabbits and lynx from Spain and Portugal, Hares and foxes from the British Isles, frogs from France) venturing across the mighty ocean on cogs and caravels, discovering strange foreign lands populated by weird and unimagined beings (quolls, bandicoots and wombats in Australia, dholes and cobras in India, ocelots and caymans in South America) and getting up to all kinds of hijinks.

It surprises me that there isn't a game, much less a series of novels, about this. (There may be and I'm just not aware of it, of course.) It seems so obvious.

Anyway, I'm of the growing opinion that the world needs more Animal Fantasy role playing games, if only to seize the ground back from the furries - who as we all know are the lowest of all the many forms of geek, sitting just below LARPers and people who write stories about Kirk and Spock naked bedtopwrestling.

More thoughts on this tomorrow. By which I mean Animal Fantasy, not Star Trek slash fiction. Just to be clear.


  1. How about minks and badgers for France?

    It's a start.

  2. There's actually a game called Furry Pirates that is pretty close to what you're looking for, if you refluff a bit so it's not anthropomorphic.

    Of course if that bothers you I'm sure there are plenty of other systems that could handle it as well. In fact I recently stumbled on a d20 book (I know you don't care for the d20 System, but I'm sure it'd be easily convertible) focused around presenting character options for Narnia-style sentient animals.

  3. As an addendum to my earlier post, I'm only recommending Furry Pirates because its system is quite good at the whole age-of-sail thing and it's already about halfway to the Animal part. As such I merely suggest it as a starting point for homebrew.

  4. Just as last time this came up, I would direct you to Palladium's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Game and the Palladium medieval system with which it is compatible.

    The TMNT game has a great "mutants down under" supplement (excellent illlustrations) full of Australian mutant animals plus you can (if you choose to dip your toe into such a murky ocean) use any of the Rifts worldbooks (africa, souh america japan, etc). And it's all Palladium, so it's all compatible.

    The nice thing about the TMNT system is you start with a basic animal and spend points to selectively anthropomorphize it (full hands, partial hands, full bipedal, partial bipedal etc.).

  5. jesus i sound like i work for Palladium.

  6. "Darkest Tohoku"... Sounds exotic!

  7. Please do go off target, Noisms. Your tangential discussions are always fascinating reads!

    First, however, I should address the main topic: furry-based RPGS.

    If I remember correctly, Animal Farm and Watership Down utilized anthropomorphic characters in order to deliver subtle political commentary. From what I can tell, however, politics are virtually non-existent within gaming culture. Few demographics remain as apolitical as geeks, for the obvious reason that those afflicted with Aspergers often seem uninterested in the political process.

    For example, I once had a monster symbolize the Bush administration: It was a hydra-like chimera, each head representing a political arm within the admin. The central head was of a middle-aged gentleman, which gibbered, rather than spoke. One of the secondary heads was of a wizened old man, who talked out of the side of its mouth. Guess which head had to be removed in order to slay the beast?

    Additionally, as if my point was not blunt enough, the chimera was addicted to a black, viscous fluid: without it, it would die.

    Needless to say, the players had no idea what to do.

    I'm curious: Does anyone on these forums ever include political commentary within their campaigns? Does it ever work?

    Anyway, your idea seems to be a great genre worth exploring! Unfortunately, the message may fall upon the ears of the political neutral or uninformed.

    :-) By the way, I had forgotten about the furries. They are very nearly the vilest of the vile. However, World of Darkness LARPers are still strictly worse, since they are little more than transvestites and virtually fantasize about necrophilia.

    Referencing your tangent, I would cite a brilliant study on world economic growth between antiquity and 1800 as an example that poverty could not have driven expansion, as everyone was poor and had always been poor. Otherwise expansion would have been greater throughout history than it was after 1800. But it was after 1800 that the race to explore the Earth in its entirety was ignited.

    Heroic individuals, coupled with technological innovation, sounds like a better explanation.

  8. I miss Bunnies and Burrows.

    Barking Alien

  9. Mouse Guard?

    I understand it's like Pendragon, but with mice...

  10. Stop making me regret selling off my TMNT/Palladium collection back in the 90s! :P

  11. Anon- I'm not sure that Watership down is necessarily a political book any more than Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a math book. They were somewhat informed by ideas related to those subjects, but at heart they are still just stories told by a man to young girls for their amusement.

  12. Rach, you are one smart cookie. ;)

    I am always impressed by your insights and I would have to agree with you on this one.

    Now then, you mentioned a book with Narina-like Animal Characters...D20 is not my bag but I would be interested in it nonetheless. Do you know the title?

  13. James V: Minks are from North America originally aren't they? I'm not sure why I think that, but I'm pretty sure it's true.

    Rach: Furry Pirates. Hmm. I have to say the title doesn't exactly instill me with confidence... ;)

    Zak: You do sound like you work for Palladium. I have this irrational thing against that company (no idea why) but I always hear great things about TMNT. If I can ever get my hands on a copy again...

    Zero_Zero_One: You'll find out just how exotic in a few weeks, I daresay.

    Anonymous: I'm interested to know what you mean about Watership Down having a political message. The Animal Farm one is obvious but I haven't heard anything about Watership Down's politics.

    Barking Alien: If I can ever get my hands on that, too...

    Chris: The problem with Mouse Guard is that it's basically Burning Wheel, isn't it? I've thought about buying it, but I really don't know if I like that system even in a simplified form.

    Rach: Although some would allege that Lewis Carroll wasn't just telling young girls stories for their own amusement...

  14. I need to hold back on the coffee. Post was long winded.

    Probably my reading of politics into Adam's work was incorrect... I just read that Adams himself said it was political barren. But my gut instinct was that it was commentary about independent thinking. The rabbits who follow mindlessly suffer and die, while those who think for themselves survive.

  15. Anonymous: That's okay, it was interesting stuff! As for the politics, I certainly took that from Watership Down too, though I must admit I haven't read it for well over 10 years.

    I suppose people from all political stripes can read something into Watership Down - on the one hand Fiver et al are like libertarians sticking up two fingers to the government, but on the other hand they're like utopian socialist anarchists setting up an ideal communal society.

  16. Yeah, any political insights I can see in Watership Down are pretty strictly middle-of-the-road. A "Be ready for danger, but don't let fear dominate your whole life" sort of thing. Although I must admit, Efrafa always did remind me of some South American third-world dictatorship.

    Seeing what people get out of a book with such an ambiguous message might be an interesting political litmus test.