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So today, I was painting. And taking occasional breaks to waste time on the internet. You know. "A day off."

And I noted something interesting on artist Tony diTerlizzi's blog:
MonsterManual.jpg Tony's got this really interesting article up about the origins of some of the first Dungeons and Dragons monsters... whose MINIATURES actually predate the MONSTER! Usually, someone comes up with the idea of "beholder" or "Frog Dragon" or whatever, and then someone SCULPTS the thing. But these creatures actually caused the development of their D&D counterparts -- in the illustration above, the rust monster, bulette, and owlbear, respectively. In this case, Gary Gygax bought a bag of dinosaurs at the dime store, found some things in there that were decidedly NOT dinosaurs, and literally whipped up encounters based on them ANYWAY.

Can't blame him. Would you believe there was a time where miniatures of D&D monsters were really pretty hard to find? Outside of a bottle of Old Skiddocan Squeezin's, anyway.

It got me to thinking about inspiration sources. I'm no sculptor... well, I am, but no one in their right mind would pay me to sculpt anything more complicated than a very relaxed ooze ... and I found myself looking at the figure I'm painting at the moment: the medusa from the first Bones kickstarter: 77037, by Bobby Jackson, for the completists.

 

Now, while this is a perfectly good medusa -- attractive, detailed, and certainly quite menacing -- it ain't the medusa described in Greek literature. I had to go and look around at the shelves to see the other medusa... 02354, sculpted by Jim Johnson. Not the poison koolaid guy, the sculptor. Two totally different guys, really.

...no... still not the Greek mythology version... where had I seen this before? And then it hit me: The original version of "Clash of the TItans." So... we have RPG adventurers facing off against a Greek mythology critter, as filtered through the sensibilities of movie SFX master Ray Harryhausen, and then through the minds of two different sculptors.

Made me think hard and seriously about inspiration sources for sculptors. I mean, everyone has a mental idea of what a zombie looks like, sure... and owlbears... well, once you get the idea of "crossbreed between an owl and a bear, mostly bear with owl head, and big honkin' claws and the temperament of a wolverine who took the brown acid," you can draw a pretty quick mental image.

77156_w_1.jpg 77156, by Jason Wiebe.
Here, Jason Wiebe takes a basic idea by someone else, and goes pretty gonzo with it -- while the one in the picture up top looks like it might be satisfied with a few pick-a-nick baskets, Boo Boo, and watch out for Mr. Ranger... Jason's looks like it wants to rip my arm off and shove it down my throat, just to see the horrified look on my face.

My point: The original idea wasn't Jason's, but he took it and ran with it. And he's not the first, nor is he the only. I was kind of surprised when the D&D folks didn't sue Blizzard for some of the things that turned up in World of Warcraft:
Moonkin.png Jason Wiebe coulda done 'em better.

 

...and anyway, I guess I'm not sure where I'm going with this. It made me think about cultural bleedover, and how "orcs" started out as one thing when I was twelve (Lord of the Rings) and became another thing when I was thirteen (Dungeons and Dragons), and would become yet another thing when I was in my late twenties (Warhammer), and to most of today's kids, have become yet ANOTHER thing (the LOTR and Hobbit movies). Like I said, cultural bleedover. Our myths are CHANGING. Sometimes in small ways, like owlbears in dynamic poses instead of just standing there. Sometimes in BIG ways, like the ever-changing orc.

Anyway, anyone interested in diTerlizzi's blog article? It's here: http://diterlizzi.com/home/owlbears-rust-monsters-and-bulettes-oh-my/

Edited by ladystorm
nude images removed
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...and that's kind of my point.

The first orcs with which I was familiar were the ones in Tolkien's books. The descriptions were a tad vague; they were apparently black, had black blood, and were very ugly, nasty, and dirty, and had names like Ugluk and Shagrat. I had a vague mental picture of heavily armed winos wearing Dracula fangs, and painted jet black...

Then there was D&D, and I started with the Holmes basic set... which had no pictures of orcs. What the heck DID orcs look like? And on my very first visit to a gaming store, I bought a blister of orcs from some company I can't remember; they weren't Grenadier, though. And after I'd finished painting them, they were so poorly sculpted, I STILL didn't know what orcs looked like.

 

And the D&D Monster Manual introduced pig faced orcs, which... well, for lack of any better orcs, I could live with. Their whole job involved getting killed, anyway.

 

Then there was the Ralph Bakshi movie, in which orcs appear to be footage from "Zulu" that someone has painted black and added fangs and red dots where the eyes were. This was unsatisfying.

The Rankin-Bass "Hobbit" and "Return of the King" seemed to think that orcs were... well, kind of hallucinatory. Weird long necks and triangular heads. Kind of wish someone would produce Rankin Bass orcs in 28mm. Hell, Rankin Bass' Gollum, too.

Later, I would encounter Games Workshop orcs, which had a nice, orky look to them, for all that they were green. And by the turn of the century, D&D had successfully retooled its orcs into gray beastmen with GW prognathous jaws and tusks, but without the awful Liverpool accent.

And then Peter Jackson went and redefined them for a generation. Again. And then AGAIN, for the Hobbit movies... orcs and goblins in Jackson's films literally change, based on their geographic location in Middle Earth; the goblins of Moria don't look a thing like the ones Thorin & Co. encountered, and the Gundabad orcs don't much look like their Mordor or Isengardian cousins. And don't get me started on the Uruk-Hai.

We live in an age where the media recreates these things FAST, compared to what used to be.

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I've been (very slowly) reading "Playing At The World" which goes remarkably in-depth into the history of D&D - not just how the game was created from wargaming, but how wargaming came along; not just why fantasy was chosen as the genre, but where the fantasy genre came from. It's pretty amazing, although a very dry read (like a textbook, or academic paper).

 

Anyway, one of the many amazing tidbits that stuck in my head is that orc, ogre, kobold, and goblin are all regional variations derived from the Latin word for the god of the dead (who is, himself, a demonic god in D&D - Orcus), and all more or less started out describing the same thing, a nasty spirit or monster along the lines of grendel. Likewise, the words for undead - spectre, shade, wight, lich - also came from the same early routes, and started out describing more or less the same thing, but were later split up and monster manualed.

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The evolution of monsters is still going on today. Authors and Hollywood are constantly having long established monster tropes reimagined or redefined.

 

Look at what's happened with werewolves, zombies, and especially vampires over the past few years.

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I've been (very slowly) reading "Playing At The World" which goes remarkably in-depth into the history of D&D - not just how the game was created from wargaming, but how wargaming came along; not just why fantasy was chosen as the genre, but where the fantasy genre came from. It's pretty amazing, although a very dry read (like a textbook, or academic paper).

Anyway, one of the many amazing tidbits that stuck in my head is that orc, ogre, kobold, and goblin are all regional variations derived from the Latin word for the god of the dead (who is, himself, a demonic god in D&D - Orcus), and all more or less started out describing the same thing, a nasty spirit or monster along the lines of grendel. Likewise, the words for undead - spectre, shade, wight, lich - also came from the same early routes, and started out describing more or less the same thing, but were later split up and monster manualed.

Oh, yes, and "elf" meant ghost or ancestor. "Svartelf," or "dark elf" meant dwarf (take that, Thor movie), and "drow" was a regional variant of "troll."

 

"Wight" just meant man, and is a surname; the real name of veterinarian memoirist "James Herriot" was actually Alf Wight.

 

"Kobold" eventually lent its name to the metal cobalt, and the blue pigment which is derived from it.

 

The book sounds very intesting.

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The evolution of monsters is still going on today. Authors and Hollywood are constantly having long established monster tropes reimagined or redefined.

 

Look at what's happened with werewolves, zombies, and especially vampires over the past few years.

 

Funny you should mention that. I was reading something recently about how as far as European folklore goes, "vampires" and "zombies" were essentially the same thing -- reanimated evil corpses that weren't real bright, hid out during the day, and came out to feast on the living at night.

 

Wasn't until the modern age, though, that we split them off into a dozen different categories.

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The book sounds very intesting.

I think you'd enjoy it, but I'm not joking when I say that it's very dry, and very in-depth.

 

"Explore the conceptual origins of wargames and role-playing games in this unprecedented history of simulating the real and the impossible. From a vast survey of primary sources ranging from eighteenth-century strategists to modern hobbyists, Playing at the World distills the story of how gamers first decided fictional battles with boards and dice, and how they moved from simulating wars to simulating people. The invention of role-playing games serves as a touchstone for exploring the ways that the literary concept of character, the lure of fantastic adventure and the principles of gaming combined into the signature cultural innovation of the late twentieth century."

 

http://www.amazon.com/Playing-at-World-Jon-Peterson/dp/0615642047

 

I'd give it a solid five stars thus far, but I'm still only about 40% through and really need to get back in.

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Oh good grief. That book again. Sooo painful.

I've made it 108 pages in. Just over 600 left to go.

If I finish it do I get a Certificate? Diploma? Professorship? Maybe a Doctorate?

You'll look more knowledgable on internet message boards, and have a resource to cite if anyone questions you. If they continue to question you, you can throw it at them*.

 

*Or, possibly, fire it from a trebuchet.

 

 

edit: 276/698, including index.

Edited by Last Knight
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Oh good grief. That book again. Sooo painful.

I've made it 108 pages in. Just over 600 left to go.

If I finish it do I get a Certificate? Diploma? Professorship? Maybe a Doctorate?

You'll look more knowledgable on internet message boards, and have a resource to cite if anyone questions you. If they continue to question you, you can throw it at them*.

*Or, possibly, fire it from a trebuchet.

edit: 276/698, including index.

On the plus side it makes a great coffee table book... Well, it makes a great coffee table anyway.

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