In Tolkien the Elves were not human, and you see this reflected more in the early years of RPGs with Tolkien inspired elves in them. But in the 30+ years since they’ve been increasingly humanized (much like Vampires). Now they are just people with pointy ears (and Vampires are people who sparkle) and they’re written and played more or less like any other human character.
Which strikes to core one of the major themes of Lost Heroes setting, or at least something that has been brewing in the back of my mind as I’ve been designing. The weirdness, that inhuman nature is part and parcel of mythology. The Gods may appear human but they also appear alien.
The otherworldly inhuman nature of Elves and other magical creatures is something you see throughout folklore.
I’ve tried to replicate that in the rules by saying that players can only play human and nearly-human characters. You can play a human that can turn into a dragon, but not a dragon that can turn into a human. You can play a half-Dreamling (but not a real Dreamling) or a human who has been changed to join the Elves of Asgard (but you can’t play a pure/original Elf). I create a sub system for Magic Users that is intended to make magic strange and exotic. I also wrote a long chapter called “the world of horrors and wonders”; how our human and mundane world appears to creatures and beings not from here (I hope to revise and extend this chapter in the future). Indeed the world of lost heroes is about entering the supernatural world, with it’s spontaneous festivals and fairy realms, of the supernatural community and the demands of the gods that dwell only in the land of dreams.
This hasn’t been an explicit condition of my design though. It still possible to use the character creation process to create really weird characters that do not fit any ideal of human so really it’s something that the GM will have to watch for.
Thinking on this theme for the last few days has made me evaluate how I envision the final product per say. It doesn’t change my course of action for now, but I keep thinking that the core book should be filled with the strange and weird flotsam of mythology and alien-ness, perhaps containing a cross-section of a god from each of the established pantheons and then a number of examples from the two generic ones and a number of strange realms with alien rules (mostly to highlight the strange hyper-reality of the land of the dreams).
This bank holiday morning, myself and my kids sat and watched some episodes of Ulysses 31, an 80s sci-fi series. Despite the weaker animation than modern cartoons, the kids still love it. My daughter and myself can quote the opening sequence where Zeus curses Ulysses:
“Mortals, you defy the Gods? I sentence you to travel among unknown stars. Until you find the Kingdom of Hades, your bodies will stay as lifeless as stone.”
I wasn’t a huge fan of it as a kid, though when it was on I watched it. But since becoming an adult, probably fuelled by nostalgia, I’ve become a big fan. It was originally released in 1981 so this year, 2011, makes it is 30th anniversary. A French musician, a fan of the show, is re-mastering the soundtrack and has got permission to release a special edition (his website is in French but there are demos of the track there: www.parallax.fr).
I got the box set of the entire series just a few years ago, before I started Lost Heroes RPG. And it’s only in the last year I re-watched it with the kids. I’ve done a lot of reading of mythology including Greek myths for Lost Heroes and when I watched it with the kids recently, I had a new appreciation of the series. In fact I think subconsciously the genre mashup of far future fantasy plus Greek mythology probably did heavily influence the inception of Lost Heroes RPG (which could be described as a mashup of modern day fantasy plus ancient classic mythology).
Ulysses 31 is set in the 31st Century where a modern Ulysses is travelling on a large spaceship home where they encounter a planet that kidnaps his son Telemachus. Ulysses saves his son but kills the robotic Cyclops in his efforts and so the Olympian Gods curse Ulysses and his crew. It’s originally a French cartoon but done by a Japanese studio. (If you remember the Daft Punk music videos featuring blue humanoid aliens, then you’d have a good idea of the style of animation of Ulysses). Each of the episodes are inspired by Greek myths and stories.
I like the fact that the kids, Yumi and Telemachus act like kids in the show. Modern cartoons put the kids as the superheroes now (thinking Ben 10, Witch, etc.), giving them the power while a lot of the 80s cartoons, the kids are kids. They may be brave and smart and even the main protagonists but they don’t do the fighting or the heroics, that’s up to the adults.
While the main cast only features Yumi as a female character they do encounter a lot of strong female characters along the way from the Rebellion on Lemnos where the women revolt against the dominating men to The Magic Spells of Circe where a powerful sorceress is trying to defy the gods, but still it is quite atypical of the time, where the heroes are white males.
What is cool is their treatment of the classic myths. I love their take onChronos in Chronos, Father of Time where he is exiled from Olympus so he captures Ulysses, hoping to use him to get back into Olympus. There these cool steampunk/clockwork like robots that serve Chronos and in the end Ulysses defeats Chronos by turning the clock of the Universe back! Or when Ulysses ventures to the centre of the universe in At the Heart of the Universe and is tricked into waking Atlas which causes the entire Universe to start to collapse.
I found many of the characters they met were more rounded out than the main cast, like the story of Sisyphus in The Eternal Punishment. They also managed to maintain the tragedy of Sisyphus in the episode, not something you’d find in many kids cartoons. In fact that is one of the qualities of the series, they really managed to keep the tragedy and sadness of many of the original myths, like the story of Orpheus in the final episode or the Minotaur in Lost in the Labyrinth.
I managed to find a video of the intro on youtube, embedded for your viewing pleasure:
For pure fandom, apparently there was a pilot episode created. It followed the same plot as the original first episode but all the character designs are different and it was never translated to English. It was online at some point, but when I found out about it, all the links were dead.
Warning, I paid no thinking if this post contains spoilers, so read ahead at your own risk!
I don’t get out to the cinema as much as I did before we had kids, so I generally catch up on movies on my birthday and Christmas, by giving my family a list of movies, available on DVD, from the year I haven’t seen. Easy presents. And so I finally got to see Clash of the Titans last week, one of my Christmas presents.
First off, I will say that this is a bad movie. There is no getting away from it. I didn’t really expect anything else. But it’s about mythic heroes and Greek Gods! I’ve got to find something in this movie I like, right?
Well my own Lost Heroes is about mixing up different mythologies, with Odin’s warriors fighting Olympian monsters or along side Ares’ centaurs. But I still found it jarring within the first few minutes of this movie, a Kraken (a Norse monster) is claimed to come from Hades, though I’ve been informed since that this is in the original movies. I put that aside while watching, giving it a chance.
What I did like was the monsters: the harpies, the kraken itself, the witches, the giant scorpions, Charon, the Jinn and the Medusa and the ensuing battles between the heroes and the monsters. (FYI, the witches, harpies, Charon, Jinn and Gorgons are all in Lost Heroes!).
But everything else felt like a missed opportunity. Take the Olympian Gods themselves. Why are they all wearing armour, though none of them ever take to battle? It felt like the Gods had been made more masculine. Why does the whole plot resolve around just Hades and Zeus? Apollo is featured in the deleted scenes, but he just comes off as a brat (rather than the beautiful youth I’d imagine him to be). Poseidon seems sheepish, despite being the God of Earthquakes. And where was the intrigue between the other Gods? Surely Hera might align herself with Hades to bring down Zeus? Why doesn’t Athena don her armour and go to battle against Hades to protect her father?
On a side note, why does Perseus have a shaved head? He looks like a US marine in roman armour. All the other male characters have long hair and fancy beards. Couldn’t figure that out. I’d imagine in that sort of culture, having your head shaved and beard cut would be a mark of shame. Fun fact, Spartan men would have half their beards shaved off as a punishment.
And all the characters were moaning about how awful and unfair the gods were, blaming them for the lack of fish, the plague, poverty, etc. and how they should revolt against the bad gods. I kept thinking is that these problems are not the Gods fault, but are social and technical problems. We, the audience, were never shown the tyranny of the Gods, except that life was hard back then. Not that I had a problem with a humanity battles gods theme. In fact, it appeared to be the opposite as half-way through the movie, Zeus refused to destroy the human army that had laid siege to Olympus, because he loved them too much! Zeus got off on their love, not their torment.
What it felt like was a pilot to a really cool fantasy-hero TV series, a gritty and darker Hercules or Xena. Or rather what those two series would look like if they had been created after the movie 300. Because in a TV series, the different gods could be explored and their complex relationships and politics exposed a bit more.
And I’ve just read a sequel is in the works: Wrath of the Titans. Might be fun.
The Lost Heroes setting is basically a fantasy setting and it does include elves, dwarfs, magic and has the potential for adventuring. So as a mental exercise I went through each of Rob’s points and see how it compares to the setting that I’m working on.