Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Now in 2013 morlocks seem like a forehead-slappingly obvious addition to the game.  So it’s surprising it took until 2008’s Into the Darklands for them to really make their fantasy role-playing entrance—and even then James Jacobs and Greg A. Vaughan seemed to feel the need to justify their inclusion because of their sci-fi roots in H. G. Wells. 

It’s also one more reason a fresh setting can be a fresh start.  Morlocks never made it into 1e or 2e, and by 3.0 there was little room for them in an Underdark full of derro, grimlocks, meenlocks, skulks, and deep Imaskari/Lerara (not to mention drow, duergar, ghouls, kuo-toas, myconids, etc.).  But in the brand new world of 3.5 Golarion (Pathfinder wasn’t quite a game yet, just a magazine title), they were a perfect addition, and they promptly made their way into the first Bestiary.

And rightly so—because they’re awesome monsters.  Degenerate inbred humans turned into swarming, leaping, sneak-attacking ravening beasts?—yes, please, I want those in my game!

Do I really need to say more?  No.  But I will ask two questions: 1) Morlocks are most terrifying when they have enablers.  In The Time Machine it’s the Eloi; in Golarion it’s mongrelmen.  And in your game…?  And 2) just because they have light blindness, who says you have to keep them underground…?

The morlocks living under “The Stairway City” of Narsus have odd hunting habits—they drag their captives (preferably unconscious) down to the sunken city of Old Narsus, then let their captives come to and explore the ruins before hunting them down again.  This is due to the influence of their ruler, a dapper fear-feeding bogeyman who terrifies the morlocks more than even their worst hunger pangs.

The seneschals of Ableworth are loyal—too loyal.  When the aristocrats of Ableworth degenerated into infighting and inbreeding, the seneschals protected their secret feuds and hid their warped offspring.  When the elder nobles were laid to rest and the offspring came of age, the seneschals still sent tribute and servants to tend them in their manor houses, then their attics and basements, and then their underground lairs.  And now, generations later, the Iron Regents still send political prisoners, repeat offenders, and hapless travelers down into the depths to feed the morlock True Lords of Ableworth.

The world or Arbori is just that—an arboreal jungle planet where most inhabitants (excepting dwarves and orcs) never touch the ground, living high in the canopies.  Elves rule here, supported by human chattel and warring with the independent human states, while halflings caravans do most of the trading and secretive fey gnomes tend the trees. But every race knows to find secure, well-guarded shelter when nightfall comes.  That’s when the morlocks come out, leaping through the branches and snatching up anyone they catch outdoors to take back to their terrible hidden lairs.

Into the Darklands 54–55 & Pathfinder Bestiary 209

Arbori owes some inspiration to the world of Pryan from Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s The Death Gate Cycle.  I’m not sure how well the series has held up—the fact that I had to look up how it ended last night is a bad sign—but the first four books were fascinating world-building (particularly for showing a world of Fire that was not on fire—sheer genius actually).

See the 1960 The Time Machine if you get a chance—it’s a classic.  (My amazing school librarian Mr. B. used to show it, and I am in his debt for that and so many other great movies.)

Don’t see the 2002 film, which is terrible.  But it does provide an excellent lesson on the visual language of tragedy and comedy.  There’s a scene that is supposed to be the upsetting (second) death of a woman.  But because the director frames the death through a window while her lover’s back is turned, it stumbles into the terrain of visual dramatic irony and becomes an unfortunate laugh scene instead.  If you are forced to watch this film, look for it—it’s an epic blunder.

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