Thin men look like run-of-the-mill monsters. I don’t think they are.
Some introductory thoughts:
1) Even in the early-Renaissance-style economies of most fantasy RPGs, more than 95% of the population will be involved in agrarian pursuits. That means there are a lot of fields and pastures out there. If dark dungeons and trackless forests have their spirits, so should farms and plantations.
2) People die on farms all the time. When I was young, I was told to never, ever go near a grain silo (I could drown/suffocate in grain) or into the cornfields (but if I did, I should walk in a straight line until I hit a road, so I didn’t wear myself out going in circles). And that’s not even taking into account the potential for mayhem that’s possible when you add isolation plus farm implements (from sickles and scythes in the olden days to shotguns and combines today).
3) Just rows and rows of corn by themselves are creepy. See especially Corn comma Children of the.)
4) The same goes for sugar cane—maybe more so, given that the swampy/tropical environments cane grows in can hide all manner of beasts and…things.
5) Speaking of which, over the years I’ve had a number of mentors who at various points exposed me to Caribbean literature. In many cases, these stories were magical realist in nature—where the world of spirits was closer to ours, and the relationships to them very transactional: You do this to avoid this hex; you do that to honor this spirit. In these stories, it was not a matter of belief or religion or real vs. fantasy; it was a matter of being good neighbors. Thin men would fit right in such tales.
All of which brings us to the thin man from the Inner Sea Bestiary. (Note: I can’t tell from the Introduction who created it.) Thin men are creatures of cane, elusive predators that hide right in plain sight. And because thin men are fey, they do more than just exist—they represent. Other fey and undead stand for or express our fear of the wild, of travel, of crossroads, of caverns, and so forth. Thin men are the inexplicable calamities that strike on a summer afternoon, the monsters in your own back 40 that you never saw coming.
A superstitious redcap hates the piety of a nearby farmer, but he fears to take action because the farmer marks the borders of his land with consecrated carved tokens. The redcap sends his accomplices, a band of thin men, to tear down the holy symbols and pick off the farmer’s hands one by one.
Rock gnome and grippli myths have a number of names for the Adversary, a tunneling, mole-like demon. Thin men are said to be the Adversary’s servants, collapsing burrows, gnawing away the roots of crops and sacred trees, and appearing seemingly out of nowhere to attack goatherds and travelers.
Templeton Smithson inherits a plantation. Appalled to suddenly find himself a slaveholder, he and his friends—adventurers and explorers all—travel to the far-off island estate to settle affairs and emancipate the slaves. Doing so will not be an easy job, however. The slaves do not trust “the Young Master,” his neighbors are terrified his actions may spark rebellions on their lands, and a coven of witches seeks his wealth for their own, sending hexes and juju zombies his way. Worse yet, things live in the cane fields that seem to defy the laws of physics—terrible thin men and hounds from another dimension entirely.
—Inner Sea Bestiary 52
In the Golarion setting, thin men are endemic to Rahadoum, though why is still a mystery.
Also, yesterday was my 500th Tumbler post!
Oh, and if you were expecting a radio show yesterday, sadly there wasn’t one—despite Friday’s post I was still on vacation last weekend and not on the air.