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Stylized Monsters


  In the art of several ancient kingdoms is was customary to stylize the monsters depicted. Even the most comely of elves would be drawn with too-pointed face and too-slanted eyes, to keep the up-standing human community of the kingdoms from thinking of the elves as being better than themselves.

Stylized Monsters

  In the art of several ancient kingdoms is was customary to stylize the monsters depicted. Even the most comely of elves would be drawn with too-pointed face and too-slanted eyes, to keep the up-standing human community of the kingdoms from thinking of the elves as being better than themselves.
  It is not uncommon in the great hordes that bold adventurers find in deep catacombs and those protected by dragons to find artwork with these stylized monsters painted or etched on them. Great mosaics and wall paintings have also been heard of that showed the skill of ancient artisans.
  These were often commissioned by the aristocratic elite, who had enough money to be able to pay the artists. This did, however skew the view of the natural world in the art. The rich and powerful oftentimes lived in a private little bubble away from the actual monsters that ravaged the countryside or skulked in dark, damp caves away from sunlight.

  What follows is a list of the more common monsters that may be encountered in this art, and how they are depicted.

 One of the most well known of the humanoid monsters. Their greyish skins and bulging muscles are easily recognized from the many raids that they make on small human settlements near the borders of civilization. In ancient times, they were easily as prevalent, and even more feared by the people than today. However, by the aristocracy they were often seen as pests and barely worth the trouble of killing them.
 They were depicted with a greenish tinge to their skin and with piggish snouts. Their eyes were shown as beady and cruel, and their limbs were thin and stringy. They invariably were shown carrying spears, the weapon carried by the common people.
 All this was done to show them as being ugly and weak-looking and to equate them with everything petty and not as good as the noble aristocracy. Because of the common sightings of orcs, the aristocracy developed a sense that they were the "common creature".

 Much like the orcs, goblins are well-known foes. Especially on the outskirts of civilization. They are short and ugly with squashed faces and sickly yellow skin. Though goblins are weaker than orcs, they can still be a formidable foe in large groups. Goblins often work in tandem with orcs and suchlike, usually as grunt workers or fighters.
 In ancient times, goblins were seen as less of a threat than orcs. Thus, they were deemed not important enough to depict derogatorily. Goblins were shown as looking like humanoid rats. They had long, pointed faces with whiskery beards. Their bodies were shown as hairy enough to be called furry, and their hands had short claws instead of finger nails.
 Goblins were often an excuse for the men of a village to band together into a mob with pitchforks and spears. Then they would go and rout out whatever nest of goblins was nearby. Afterward, they would have a grand banquet and celebration. The goblins were seen as the poor man's heroic battle. The men of the village could feel that they protected their own and that they were brave warriors, without having to fight anything more dangerous.

 Trolls are not as common as the goblinkin or the orcs, but they are still a common presence in the tales of heroes and battles that are told around fire rings in the evening. Their immense strength and great size make them fearsome beasts. The fact that they often enjoy feasting on human flesh and livestock does nothing to make them more welcome. Trolls are easily recognized by their hulking barrel-chests and thick arms. Their skin is usually green-grey or a muddy brown.
 In the art of that ancient age, trolls were portrayed as beasts. But they were made to seem almost noble beasts. They would be shown in clothing, though it would be very foreign and exotic. Their natural two eye and bald heads would be adjusted to a single eye and a number of horns sprouting upward. Often, if the troll in question was especially well-known, the horns would be shown to be in a circle or crown in its head. They would often be shown wielding long-handled swords or large axes. They were, really, the royalty of the more humanoid monsters in the eyes of the ancient aristocracy.
 In the far flung past, trolls were very special to the aristocracy. Because they were a greater opponent than mere orcs, and yet still small enough to be taken on by a single warrior. This was very important, because the fashion for hundreds of years was to pit the young men of the aristocracy against trolls. This was meant as a test of worth and ability for the young man, and also a sign of power over the poorer folk. If there was a troll sighted, everyone about would do well to leave it be and get word to their feudal lord as quickly as possible.

 Elves are the mysterious and magical beings that inhabit woodlands and the stories of humble peasant folk. They are beautiful and graceful, and sometimes even marry with humans. Elves are viewed throughout human kingdoms with a sort of half-reverence, half-suspicion. They seem wonderful and gorgeous, but at the same time are strange and different. Most humans that have not met an elf hope fervently that they would, but would be extremely cautious and shy if it actually happened.
 In ancient art, elves are portrayed very differently than they actually are. They are shown to be about half as tall as a human, with elongated ears, nose, and head which comes almost to a point. They appear sly and foreign with twisted smiles and skewed eyes.
 That self-same suspicion that heralds the viewing of any elf now was even greater in the past. Before elves came into human lands on a regular basis, they were only to be seen by hardened adventurers that traveled out into the wilds. The tales they brought back only told of the briefest glimpses of a strange people. From there, stories arose that cast these strange people in all sorts of demonic or beneficial lights. Often, the same person would tell two different stories in which the elves acted completely contrary in each. This gave rise to the popular belief that there are actually two groups of elves, the good ("Seelie" or "High" elves) and the bad ("Unseelie" or "Dark" elves. Also known as "Droe").

 Like elves, dwarves have integrated themselves into human society. These stocky, strong, and hardy people are often found as crafters of various kinds living in human cities. They also often set up temples to their thundering dwarven gods, and serve as warriors and body guards. Dwarves are so well known for their ability at working with metals that simply to have anything that was dwarf-made is a sign of status in the adventuring community.
 In ancient art, dwarves were shown as diminutive men with enormous beards that reached to their toes. They were depicted as standing no more than a foot tall and were always clad in dirty clothes and shown carrying tools of all sorts. They were often angry and at these times their beards would catch on fire and smoulder to show their pique. More often than not, dwarves would be shown working at a forge or workbench, creating weapon and armor of extreme quality.
 Long ago, dwarves were not nearly as common as now. For the most part, they kept to themselves and underneath the ground. The only times that are known of that humans met with dwarves were when a great hero needed an especially great item with which to kill a monster or perform a great deed. At those times, they would sidetrack down into one of the deepest caves in the world (called either "Dwarfpit" or simply "The Crater", depending on the story). There they would seek out one great dwarven smith or another and beg for whatever it is they need. Sometimes the dwarf would let them have it for free, other times the hero would need to run some errand for the smith. One of the major functions that these dwarves served in the heroic sagas that were told in ancient times was as a comic relief. Their anger, gruff voices, and tiny stature were played up as far as could be done in order to elicit a laugh from the audience.

 These great, hulking amalgams of man and bull have been feared keepers of labyrinths for years untold. More recently, they have begun to appear in more open places, as if driven out of their labyrinths or simply not having enough to inhabit. Their form is well-known, a tall man with the head of a bull and huge muscles.
 Minotaurs were seen with a certain amount of reverence in ancient times. Whether this is because of their supposed divine parentage or the way that cattle (the main source of meat for the people) and humans were so closely tied together in them. Whatever it was, they were painted as being almost divine in appearance. Their normally naked or leather-clad bodies were replaced with flowing robes and fine jewels. Their rough animal heads are smoothed and almost humanified, looking less the dumb bull and more the intelligent, albeit malformed human. They were often shown holding religious symbols and had the great disc of the Sun balanced between their curving horns.

 Hydras are encountered only rarely. They inhabit deep swamps which no average human will go into. The occasional adventurer that does venture into their depths does not often return. Hydras are huge, scaly monsters with great claws and a multitude of heads. Their great size and number of tooth-filled mouths make them enough of a fight for anyone. But every time that one of their heads is severed, two more will grow in its place. Many times has a bold hero attempted to destroy a hydra only to discover that his attacks are only making the creature harder to defeat.
 On the stone walls of ancient burial chambers are carved life-sized hydras. The body of the hydra is at the point on the wall where the dead body rests and the heads twine throughout the chambers and corridors, snaking their long necks around and around the hallways. The heads themselves are shown as being muzzled by strips of iron and the body is chained to a carved post.
 The only known hydra in ancient times was the "Colchen Hydra" from the tale of Druw Malgwen of the Golden Spear. According to the story, Druw Malgwen searched out the hydra in its lair in the Colchen Swamp. There he fought with the beast for a day and a night, cutting its heads from their necks repeatedly. Before venturing into the swamp, he had acquired a sword and spear and shield forged by one of the dwarves from The Crater, so he could not be hurt by the hydra. Once he realized that he would never be able to defeat the beast by beheading it, Druw decided to find a different method of stopping it. He withdrew from the combat and set down to work. As the hydra tried to force its dozens of heads through the gaps between the swamp trees to get to him, Druw used his sword and sheer strength to tear strips of metal from the dwarven forged shield. By the time that he was done, the hydra had exhausted itself in trying get to him. Druw warily approached the monster, which could do no more that raise a single, weary head towards him. He quickly bound the strips of metal from his shield about each of the mouths of the hydra and the used what was left to construct a chain which he attached to its leg.
 The saga of Druw Malgwen of the Golden Spear was one of the most well-known throughout the ancient times. It was told and retold by bards and old men for years and years. Over time, the story gained a chapter at the end where one of Druw's oldest friends is killed by another great beast. Druw, fraught with grief, buries him with all the honors of a warrior. To guard his friend's tomb, Druw puts the hydra, still muzzled, inside. This story spawned the belief that the hydra was the guardian of the dead. The inscriptions inside tombs were meant to keep the dead from returning from the other side of the grave. Hydras also became associated with the actual grave, which was sometimes referred to as the "Belly of the Hydra" or the "Belly of the Beast".

 Gorgons, with their snake-for-hair style and their beauty that will turn you to stone with a look, are widely known. Widely known, but not widely met. They seem to form only a small base of the foes of an everyday adventurer, gorgons are still feared throughout the taverns and dark corners of the world for the permanency of their stony gaze.
 In the ancient frescoes and murals, the gorgons were shown as huge serpents with the heads of lovely women. they were usually shown with snakes for hair, but occasionally these would be replaced by a cobra's hood. Gorgons were depicted winding their way between fallen stones in ancient ruins. Even back then, there were ancient ruins.
 Gorgons were seen very much as they are today, except for almost never being seen. The very, very few accounts that the civilized world had were the gibberings of men driven half-dumb by fear at seeing their companions turned to statues before their very eyes. These stories were so corrupted by fear and so hard to understand that all the listeners could figure out was that something that was part woman and part snake had turned the man's companions to stone just by looking at them. From there, the power, danger, and mystery of the creature forced it into legends and ghost stories.

Giant Spider
 Every adventurer that has ever dared to venture into a deep cave or an abandoned tower or a dark forest has encountered one of these huge arachnids. Their great, white webs are strung between trees and along corridors and above chasms in seemingly haphazard ways. The giant spiders are much like their smaller, more common counterparts. They have eight long, spindly legs, a large thorax from which they can spin webbing, and a head with too many eyes that all glitter like black jewels in the torchlight.
 In ancient times, giant spiders were just as common as they are now. They roamed forests and mountains and other places that few but adventurers dared to go to. But everyday people knew what they looked like from the regularly sized spiders that live everywhere. They just a had a little bit of confusion as to exactly how large the giant spiders were. Thus, giant spiders where painted on murals as being the size of mountains, complete with trees and cities built on their backs. According to one particular mural from the throne room of an ancient kingdom, the giant spiders could be controlled by mages and made to carry entire armies into the field of battle.
 This view of giant spiders brought into existence the stories of a mythical city called Kirklin that rested atop the shiny black thorax of a giant spider. The city itself was filled with gold, jewels, danger, and magic. It was the quest of many legends and legendary figures but it was never actually found until the saga of Druw Malgwen of the Golden Spear. Druw found the spider and scaled a strand of webbing hundreds of yards long to reach the creature's back. Once there, he crept into the city and proceeded to find and rescue a princess that had been kidnapped. But even Druw was unable to keep any of the gold that he had picked up while in Kirklin, as it all turned to stone once he had made his was safely back to the ground.

 Stories and sightings of men becoming beasts are as old as the beasts themselves. Men of knowledge differ on opinion of whether werewolves were formed from some sort of deistic or magical curse, or if they are a natural occurrence. But the fear that the idea of a wolf that has all the cunning of a man and the power to turn you to one of its own and control you exists in every heart. Even the smallest child living on a farm far from the bustling cities knows exactly which herbs are needed to counteract the powers of the werewolf, and why silver will keep them at bay.
 Werewolves were shown, in ancient times, as genteel men that just happened to have the heads of wolves. They would be wearing silks and ruffles and all the trappings of the aristocracy. Polished and jeweled swords would hang at their side and a handkerchief would be tucked into one sleeve. They were often shown in scene of grand balls or elegant courts of wolves and beasts.
 Werewolfism, or lycanthropy, is a hereditary disease that can be contracted just by a slight graze or nick from a tooth. Because of the inbreeding that was rampant among the nobility, if any of them contracted werewolfism, then all their children for generation upon generation would have the same disease. Luckily for them, the nobility had enough money to build "summer homes" in which to sequester themselves and their children during the full moon that would bring out their wild side. The occasional peasant wouldn't be missed if the nobles got hungry, especially if the family was paid a few coins to keep quiet. Coins and threats, that is. After a time, some of the aristocracy that had this disease became enamoured with the idea of the noble beast, and would host parties at the time of the full moon. These were wild, savage, elegant masquerades that would invariably culminate in a great hunt, with mere humans as the quarry. Some especially wealthy nobles would  hire mercenaries with a story about wolves infesting his estate, who would then become a more interesting quarry to hunt.

 Skeletons that walk are one of the oldest and most familiar of the unknown monsters of the night. They move at the command of a necromancer and do his bidding. Many brave heroes have faced groups and even armies of skeletons and only barely lived to tell the tale. While individually weak, skeletons can easily outnumber any foe.
 On ruined walls and broken pottery, skeletons were shown in long, tattered cloaks and carrying scythes of various sizes. They moved through piles of dead bodies and were always surrounded by swarms of flies and hornets. They were always shown being solitary, and all depictions are almost identical.
 In past times, skeletons were just as common, but never in large group. The magics necessary to produce such an undead were still new and hard to master. Only accomplished necromancers could form and animate such a creature, and even then they had little control over its movements. So any skeletons that were made would eventually end up walking endlessly. With little will and no age, the skeleton would just begin moving and not stop or change direction unless forced to. This led to terrified villagers as skeletons wandered through their main streets. Because of their necromantic essence and the swarms of flies that flew about their forms, skeletons would often carry disease and plague in their wakes. This bred in the minds of the common people that the skeletons were plague incarnate, come to reap men and livestock.

 Even more well known than skeletons, zombies are the dead bodies animated by necromantic magic that still have flesh and muscle clinging to their bodies, not yet rotted entirely away. They shamble slowly, but are hard to kill. Normal means of killing someone do not work against a creature that does not need blood to live and does not need arms to kill you.
 In ancient art and nightmare, zombies are drawn exactly as humans are, except for one thing. The zombies never had faces. They were the bodies of men, but not really the men themselves. The did not look like real people, and so could be killed with impunity. Where the face would be, a zombie would simply have a blank black spot. Seeming like a bottomless hole that would stare out of the picture and into your soul.
 Zombies were shown this way in an attempt to separate them from what they once were. Too many times did a man have to strike down a zombie with the face of his father or his wife or his child. The nobles thought the suffering of the peasants childish, and so decided that zombies had no faces to cry over and no souls to worry about.

 These are perhaps the most well known and most feared creatures of myth. They rule the skies with huge, sun-blocking forms and they defend their hoards of gold and jewels with fang and claw and fiery breath. Legends are told about even the least of the dragons and any hero bold and strong enough to kill one of these beasts will go down in history for no other reason that this one feat. Dragons are covered in shiny scales that mesh with their beds of gold to create a shining coat of armor.
 However, in ancient art dragons were depicted as scrawny little beasts with no draconic qualities other than pointed teeth and vestigial wings. They stand on two legs, no taller than a dog, and hold their tiny forelimbs in close to their bodies. They are often shown crouched over carrion, feasting, while a bold knight in shining armor rides in behind them and spears them with his lance. They are nothing like the real beasts.
 There is a reason for this blatant lie. In ancient times, there was a well-known, long-standing edict from the king that anyone who could best a dragon in one-on-one combat would immediately be named a knight, a position of minor nobility. The aristocrats, those that were born into their power and wealth, were furious at this. The idea that any fool with a sword could come along and have the gall to earn their way into the noble ranks was horrifying. While this edict was almost never put into practice, as not many men could kill a dragon single handed, the nobility still seethed for generations at the chance of it happening. Their fury was directed into making dragons be shown in art as being tiny beasts, more animal than noble dragon, and definitely not worth knighthood for killing. The golden hoards were ignored in favour of tiny dens that the "dragons" would skulk into each night.

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Comments ( 4 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

September 2, 2010, 20:51
Nice narrative contribution, overview of a look back at "monsters" from a historical perspective, taking some real-world techniques and folklore and mixing with typical gaming archetypes, interesting hybridization.
Voted JPatterson
September 2, 2010, 22:50
Only voted
Voted Cheka Man
September 3, 2010, 13:12
Only voted
Voted Murometz
November 16, 2012, 12:59
Stylizing monsters...very interesting concept!

Random Idea Seed View All Idea Seeds

       By: Drackler

Once a year, the king steps down from his throne, and lives as a peasant for one day, the next day is the anniversary of his coronation, and it is celebrated by a reenactment of the ceremony. This is doubly beneficial, firstly, because the people are able to have the grand parade that always precedes the ceremony. Secondly, because the heir to the throne is given a day on the job every year. Although, apparently, the thought has not yet come to one of the kingdoms enemies, the assassination of the king during the renewal coronation would be a moral, as well as a political blow to the kingdom.

Ideas  ( System ) | July 24, 2008 | View | UpVote 1xp

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