Thursday, January 23, 2014

Origin of Species - Satyrs

Detail from Red Figure Psykter (Wine Cooler).  British Museum 
Mythology with it's stories of monsters encountered and overcome is one of the deepest roots of the hobby.  Many of us probably had an idea of these creatures before we cracked our first Monster Manual.  Culturally, the stories and their characters from Greek and Roman mythology are the common heritage of Europe and America and their images abound, albeit distorted from the original through the lens of time and demands of narrative in our media.

Consider the satyr, you may have first encountered him as Mr Tumnus in Narnia or as depicted in Legend. The 1e Monster Manual depicts them as "interested primarily only in sport - frolicking, piping, chasing wood nymphs, etc."  A gentle woodland creature, apt perhaps to play a trick on the players, but not generally considered an enemy.

Now look at the description of satyrs given 1900 years ago.

Pausanias - Description. Of Greece . There is also a smallish stone, just large enough to serve as a seat to a little man. On it legend says Silenus rested when Dionysus came to the land. The oldest of the Satyrs they call Sileni. Wishing to know better than most people who the Satyrs are I have inquired from many about this very point. Euphemus the Carian said that on a voyage to Italy he was driven out of his course by winds and was carried into the outer sea, beyond the course of seamen. He affirmed that there were many uninhabited islands, while in others lived wild men. The sailors did not wish to put in at the latter, because, having put in before, they had some experience of the inhabitants, but on this occasion they had no choice in the matter. The islands were called Satyrides by the sailors, and the inhabitants were red haired, and had upon their flanks tails not much smaller than those of horses. As soon as they caught sight of their visitors, they ran down to the ship with out uttering a cry and assaulted the women in the ship. At last the sailors in fear cast a foreign woman on to the island. Her the Satyrs outraged not only in the usual way, but also in a most shocking manner.

A much more wrathful creature than the gentle piper of the forest.  Researching the original myths is a good way to find alternatives to the usual depictions of monsters that will surprise your players with an unexpected challenge, keeping the game fresh for everyone at the table.

Yes that IS what the satyr is balancing the cup on, history is rarely G-rated.  For a very different take on Mr Tumnus and Narnia in general  try this entry from S#!t Roleplayers Say.

[Ed. Did you know Blogger's spellcheck doesn't check the Title? Corrected.]

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