Friday, September 13, 2013

Here Be Monsters

At Thoul's Paradise, perdustin posted a copy of a beautiful map of Iceland c. 1590, which includes a bestiary of sea monsters believed to infest the waters of the North Atlantic.

Two things jump out at me. First, the map includes features such as ice and trees, the latter described as windthrow from Norway. I like encounter tables which include features like this, both for local color which brings life to the setting and to provide the players with a potential resource to tap for their own schemes.

Second, it's a reminder of how superstitious the late Renaissance and Early Modern world remains. This map is dated just 36 years before the present year of my campaign. We haven't yet reached the cusp of the Enlightenment, and monsters and witchcraft are still accepted as real by many in the game-world. Stories of mythical beasts, rumors of dark arts - these, too, bring the setting to life, particularly when myths and mysteries have a basis in fact which can appear as well, as with the giant squid in Michael Crichton's Pirate Latitudes.


  1. Even in a straight historical setting, there remains the fact that most people in most ages believed in all of kinds of crazy stuff (the original source material for fantasy). And what difference does it make if the cult of human sacrificers' demon god does or does not exist?

    I like the idea of an historical campaign in which all the NPCs act as if all these things were real and the GM holds the cards close to his/her chest as to whether or not they are right. To be really evil, one might toss in poison, madness, mass delusion, psychotropic drugs, sleep deprivation, et al that could cause the PCs to directly experience something "fantastical" (perhaps with a roll against Wit or Endurance =)

  2. This shows 10 maps from the 6th to 16th Centuries, showing how the view of the world changed over time.

    Maybe the world IS shaped like a dish, and the world ocean runs around the circumference.

    Who knows, maybe the Garden of Eden or Prester John's kingdom IS out there after all.

    Note also that depending upon period and culture, the top of a map could represent East or South instead of North. This could make it more of a challenge for PCs to decipher old maps.