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Author Topic: The power of good and Unicorns (?)  (Read 4226 times)
GreatWolf
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« on: May 01, 2001, 07:18:00 PM »

As part of my continuing mental composting for Alyria, I recently reread Lord of the Rings.  Something that struck me this read-through (among other things) is the Ents.  Certainly they are on the side of good, but they are definitely frightening in their own right.  Just think of the storming of Isengard.

This was an element that I felt was lacking in Alyria.  I know that I haven't developed my thoughts on the forces of Good in Alyria in a public forum, but I feel that Good needs something comparable in role to the dragons.

After some thought, I lit upon unicorns.  In the same way that dragons have mythic connections, unicorns do, too.  Traditionally they are associated with purity and holiness.  At the same time, they are wild and untameable, unwilling to be corrupted by evil.

I see Alyrian unicorns as filling the role of avenging angels, carrying out true justice.  Of course, their appearance would be as rare as an appearance by a dragon.

Here's my concern, though.  The dragon's mythic qualities have been maintained even into the modern mentality.  The unicorn, on the other hand, has been watered down a lot into a cutesy symbol that frolicks happily under a rainbow.  Would the inclusion of unicorns in Alyria evoke these sappy images or the older, more magnificent mythic content?  Alternately, do you have any alternative suggestions that would fit this role?

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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: May 02, 2001, 05:56:00 AM »

I agree with you regarding the potency of Good, in mythic or thematic fantasy.

But I have a larger point to make - whom are you trying to please? You want a potent symbol/force or creature for Good in your setting. You're inclined toward unicorns.

Good! Do it! Your concern about what "people will make of it" is ungrounded. Stories' power define the meaning of symbols (no, not the other way around, despite Jung and Campbell and all those babblers). If Alyria is a powerful instrument for getting good stories made, its content and symbolism will become valid.

Quit worrying about "what others will think" and make sure that your unicorns are impressive and cool, that they play a solid and interesting role in stuff that player-characters might do, and that the story-engine of Alyria is sound.

Best,
Ron
(puffing & snorting sounds)
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #2 on: May 02, 2001, 07:32:00 AM »

{laughs}

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Ron.  I actually do appreciate your concern, and if someone had challenged my interpretation of the power of Good (as has happened with my interpretation of the nature of Evil), I would have politely told them to take a flying leap.  :smile:

However, I still don't think that my question is completely off-base, given my goals for Alyria.  The majority of the setting is original (well, as original as anything is), but I wanted to ground the overarching cosmic struggle in longstanding mythic symbols.  I don't actually think that I have to have dragons just to make my world a fantasy.  :smile:  Rather, I was trying to evoke the mythic content of the dragon that already exists.

I understand your point about stories forming the power of symbols (and not vice versa), but in this case I'm trying to draw on the power of established symbolism, rather than creating my own.  That was the reason that I have been seriously thinking about using unicorns.  That is why I asked the question:  to gauge if the power of the symbol has been eroded in the modern mind (or at least the modern gamer's mind).

Believe me, I'm not trying to design by committee or popular vote.  Rather, I'm trying to see if I will get the kind of reaction that I'm looking for by using a certain symbol.  The symbol might be adjusted for better effect; the desired effect is non-negotiable.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Paul Czege
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« Reply #3 on: May 02, 2001, 08:14:00 AM »

Hey Seth,

Personally, I do think the unicorn has had much of its mythic significance eroded. When I think of unicorns, I think of those sheets of stickers that little girls buy to affix to their notebooks. Rainbows have also been similarly eroded.

However, there are exceptions. The Titan card game has an awesome illustration on the unicorn card if you're looking for inspiration. And although I've never read it, a friend of mine who's a huge fan of Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn has led me to believe it might be in line with what you'd be shooting for.

But if I were doing it, I might select my own creature and invest it with mythic significance. I think I could be more effective at adding mythic significance to a creature that never had it than I would be trying to overcome the cute-ification of a once mythic creature. How about anteaters? They could be very mythic.

Paul
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archangel_2
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« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2001, 09:15:00 AM »

Personally, I think the idea of using Unicorns is a good one. The first time I read Amber by Roger Zelazny was just under 2 years ago, long after the "cutification of Unicorns", and the unicorn listed in the book did NOT strike me as being akin to the modern idea of what a Unicorn should be. So it is possible, just understand that people might get the wrong idea and work towards destroying that idea (in terms of Alyria, anyway).

I'd recommend a good picture of a strong and uncompromising Unicorn, to begin with. Make it as fearsome as a picture of a Dragon would be in Alyria's book. I'm not an artist, but I'm quite sure this is possible, while still retaining the inherent "goodness" of the creature.

Also, make sure that in your writings about Unicorns in the RPG, make sure that there is no doubt about the nature of such creatures. I've seen your writings - this should be a snap for you.

Anyway, all that to say that I DO believe Unicorns could fit the bill of what your looking for, just be careful to make sure you punch the point home.

Daniel Worthington
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #5 on: May 03, 2001, 05:25:00 PM »

I see a powerful Unicorn as a BIG horse, with shaggy fur over massive hooves.  A mane to rival a lion, and a long beard.  Piercing, intelligent eyes.  Something you'd fear, but respect.  Coloring could go a long way, too.  Make them a deep crimson or an ocean blue/green.  Most happy unicorns are bright white (which isn't always a culturally happy color, it's the color of mourning in many Asian cultures).

You could even go away from the horse-with-horn route, and give it the back end of a lion or some other animal (though too much mish-mashing makes something look really silly.  You know, like an owlbear).

Also, check out the Asian Kirin/Kilin (don't know if my spelling's very good).  They seem to be similar to unicorns, and aren't so cutesified.

In fact, if you are looking for a different symbol of good entirely, you could try:

  • Eagles (though this may remind people of Tolkein)
  • Lions/Other Great Cats
  • Giants
  • "Nature" elementals, picture a big chunk of forest/ocean floor getting up and walking around.  That's pretty scary, especially if there's bits of dirt/mud/sealife/bugs
  • Trees.  I've got to admit, big evil trees is a pretty powerful image
  • [/list:u]
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #6 on: May 04, 2001, 10:29:00 AM »

I'm gonna second the "lion" idea.  The Lion (Lyon?) of Alyria could be one massive, shaggy, noble, pure-hearted, courageous sonuvabitch.  Claws the spark like lightning, a mane like the sun and a roar that can level cities...

Plus the Lion has a lot more symbolism going on than the Unicorn -- there are obvious-without-being-too-obvious Christian allusions, for one...
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: May 04, 2001, 10:56:00 AM »

Lion? Aslan. Too derivative.

Best,
cranky Ron-man
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #8 on: May 04, 2001, 11:38:00 AM »

I agree with Ron.  The lion has been done (and well) by Lewis.  The unicorn is more up for grabs, I think.

I must confess, though, the idea of a mythic take on an anteater would be humorous/interesting in the extreme.  I'd be curious to see someone do it, even just as a thought exercise.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #9 on: May 23, 2001, 11:02:00 PM »

Okay, I have an idea for an animal of Good: Turtles.  Not tiny turtles, but GIANT tortoises as old as Time.  A city-sized tortoise plodding across the battlefield, snapping up troops and stomping on baddies.

If you don't use this, let me know.  I'm gonna!

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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #10 on: May 25, 2001, 12:39:00 PM »

No! Like Paul said, Anteaters!

Derivative? I'm assuming you've seen Legend? If not, you should. That's the whole plot: Unicorns are the embodiment of good, soiled by the sort of girl who'd eat apples offered by snakes, but subsequently redeemed by Tom Cruise.

Any beastie that has symbolic weight will probably have that weight because of its previous use as such a symbol. How else would it get that weight? So either stick with the Unicorn or Lion and just make it different your way, or go with the Anteater. That would be the first time the anteater was portrayed as a symbol of good, you can rest assured (now sombody'll tell me that they are known as spirits of goodness to the Aboriginal peoples of Australia or something).

Mike Holmes
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2001, 12:52:00 PM »

As an anteater fan, there's not much to them, myth-wise.  I like the fact that the giant anteaters of So. America use their tails as blankets when they sleep.  Cute.  

Edentates rock.  Especially sloths.

Aborginal myth is big on crocs, serpents and spiders (Vodun and African myth features serpents and spiders as major entities as well).

How about a bird?  Phoenix, Thunderbird, Roc, something new?


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jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
Mike Holmes
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« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2001, 01:29:00 PM »

The Phoenix is classic and has little modern use in actual form that I'm aware of. Symbolically, of course, you have the transformation of Jean Grey (right?) in the x-men, but that just referrences the original story. Y'know rebirth, rejuvenation, redemption.

And, em....fight fire with fire?

I like it. Jared does it again.

Mike Holmes
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #13 on: May 25, 2001, 02:06:00 PM »

Well, I've actually settled on the Unicorn.  It does the trick for me.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
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RobMuadib
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« Reply #14 on: July 12, 2001, 03:17:00 AM »

Unicorns


Seth

I am late to responding to this thread, but an interesting idea came to me, something to help make your game more unique. I remember reading your description of Alyria as being awash in the sea of mist (clouds of a gas giant or some such.) Anyway, I like your idea of Unicorn in opposition to Dragon. Anyway, there is a related Unicorn image that came to mind, and that might better fit your world. Are you familiar with the Narwhale? It is a whale that has a single long horn, much like a mythical unicorn. Indeed, narwhale horns were passed off as unicorn horns in many hoaxes in europe as I recall.

Anyway, I think if you Adapt a narwhale concept for your world, a native beast that is also able to ply the Clould seas. It could be something between a whale/walrus/Sea Lion and perhaps a Porpoise/Dolphin on the other. Perhaps it could have internal gasbags or such to help it fly.

It would be an unique counterpoint to dragons dark, massiveness that I imagined as you described it. Where the dragon would be the dark forboding mass rising out of the clouds, the Unicorn could be a shining golden horn piercing the clouds as it leaps gracefully into the air from the mists below, magnificent and heartwarming, much like dolphins in front a ship to sailors in our world. Also, you could give it cries and such like Whale Song, again in counterpoint to a dragons roaring and dirging growls.

Anyways, it was something that came to me. I think tying your unicorn into maritime myths such as the Narwhale would fit well into your game, and help evoke the logic of your cloud seas and such.

Anyway, hope you read this.


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Rob Muadib --  Kwisatz Haderach Of Wild Muse Games
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"But How Can This Be? For He Is the Kwisatz Haderach!" --Alyia - Dune (The Movie - 1980)
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