Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ape Men of the Black City

The happiest White Ape

I started to put my notes together for the Ape Men of the Black City, and realized - there's probably a line being crossed in my thinking, and I wanted to get some reader feedback on what would fly in their own games.  (And remember, I game with kids, so there's going to be some things in the Black City manuscript that wouldn't be fully expressed if one of the kids is playing - I don't have the luxury of running 100% adult content these days…)

In the Hippodrome section of the city, there is the crumbling ruins of an ancient coliseum that's been inhabited by different troops of White Apes that live near the surface.  The apes live near the frozen surface, but hunt and gather food down in the fecund warrens of level 2.

Here's the thing - the literary references to white apes involve seedy ape-human interbreeding.  There's the Tarzan story about the lost city of Opar that has ape-human inbreeding (such that all the men of the city are misshapen ape hybrids).  The other famous tale I can think of is Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and his Family, by Lovecraft.  Your momma was an ape!  Or in Arthur's case, great grandmother.  Ack, I must now go immolate myself.

So how to use these ideas in the Black City?  The ape men will be related to humans; both races having been genetically tinkered by the city founders  in the distant past.  I'm thinking the ape men were humans that were devolved by Grey bio-engineering to create a more durable, physical slave race for the aliens, and furred to withstand the climate.  Descendants have continued to inhabit the ruins and some of the nearby mountains and glaciers. (I'm sure there will be a  'devolution tank' in the city like the sensory deprivation tank in the movie Altered States, that can devolve a normal person into a White Ape hominid).

The dictates of good taste would leave things there.  But there will be some unscrupulous (human) raiders that have beaten down some of the tribes, taken 'ape wives' and fathered hybrid children in the ruins.  There's a dark exploitation theme regarding more sophisticated cultures taking advantage of the unsophisticated one that still plays out today in the third world - in this case, it's cross-species.  Most gamers "tolerate" half-orcs because orcs are monsters and "do that kind of stuff".  Orcs are just born bad.  And some folks like to play bad-dark-angsty anti-heroes - my daddy was an orc.  Even Lovecraft's deep one hybrids are inflicted on humanity by monsters.  It's awful, but humans are the victims.  But what about the callous, uncaring crew of some adventuring rivals being the abusers?  It's about looking into the mirror and realizing the monsters are us.

I'll see where the comments go - there's certainly a literary precedence for cross-species relations in horror.  White Apes and White Ape hybrids are race-class choices in Realms of Crawling Chaos, one of the supplements I'm using for inspiration.  Hybrids had to come from somewhere...  It lets me put some ugly secrets into Trade Town that some of the other adventuring groups would kill to keep secret.

I wonder what my players would do, if they discovered another crew of adventurers had done "bad things" to a bunch of simple primitives?   Not exactly sure, but I think it would involve axes and swords and a heap of frontier justice.

Note:  A radically different approach would be something like the Great White Ape of Mars and make these guys massive, carnivorous and ultra-violent, but so many things in the Black City already want to eat you, and it seems more interesting to make the White Apes into a bunch of peace-loving hippy primitive hominids.


  1. Could be good. My only advice would be to keep the raiders and their recent hybrids not too central, so you can leave them out if necessary.

  2. Sounds good to me, and fits in with the general theme. I'd go with John and have it as a side-bar type of thing, an extra layer that can be disregarded as necessary.

  3. Do you intend for the major emotional response to be outrage at sexual exploitation? I'm unclear on if that was your intent. If so, I agree with those above.

    On the other hand, I think playing up the sheer inhumanity of the offspring and the acts that create them would disturb my own players more. I'd have the Apes eager to breed with men, jealous of their evolved, gracile forms.

  4. That's a good idea, Antion. I did indeed plan on presenting the (matriarchal) ape society as eager to mate, which I'm sure would be skeevy and a bit uncomfortable. But my original take was maybe this was survival/learned behavior related to abuse and exploitation. Your idea muddies the water and makes it shades of grey.

    Either way - yes - this is definitely a sidebar that could could/should be glossed over. I'll use it to give some NPCs a dark secret worth hiding, and perhaps some unsettling encounters for PCs. Thanks fellas!

  5. From my perspective monsters are sin personified. When human beings are monsters in a fantasy setting, they display some kind of mark of chaos (usually a kind of mutation along with a special ability). There are two reactions to this mark. One can embrace it (and therefore cross the threshold into being a true monster) or one can rebel against it (by struggling towards repentance). This provides a mechanism for players to clearly delineate their morale choice as well as a means by which to see if and when true repentance occurs — the removal of the mark.

    To add further depth, the Greys sinned when they created the White Apes (they tried to be God sans God — Frankenstein's Monster all over again). Therefore, the White Apes will manifest that sin in some way (I would give them some kind of built-in flaw). For example, they could view devolution as the true natural order and/or they could see their forced servitude as a good thing…

  6. Beedo: I'm impressed with the entire BC mythos you're building and very much look forward to the day it's compiled as a setting. I'll be in line to send you some dollars.

    The interbreeding idea just adds another layer and is potentially a powerful bit of myth-making. Certainly something I'm going to examine n my own campaign. I think it's all the more resonant and effective as a blurry sidebar that you may choose to amplify or obscure according to the needs of your group. I think the horrific, especially in genre, is far more powerful as something that exists in soft focus most of the time.

    I admire what Flame Princess is attempting, for example, but in-your-face extreme horror appeals to the basest parts of the inner animal and loses its weirdness, its shock, its potency, fast. What your proposing, with its nuances and layers, is far more intriguing, for my money.

  7. Impressive work Beedo. Lots of obvious love and attention on this project. Kudos.

  8. With the apes cast as gentle, simple hominids, I could definitely understand the disgust at learning rogue adventurers were committing bestiality for the sole purpose of breeding compliant minions. So yes, the axe and sword it would be!

  9. Michael Crichton's Congo suggests similar interbreeding. As far as the "touchy" issue--need it be direct human-initiated interbreeding? What if it was subhumans (orcs or something) and apes? Or what if it was just a bad group of evil, depraved sorcerers or something?

    Ultimately, it's S&S: it's horror-tinged, and it suggests the world isn't always a pretty place. I don't really see the problem so long as the bestiality is linked with the bad guys.

  10. I did not know this about the origins of the white apes, and along with all the comments, I have a lot of inspiration for a one on one game I intend to run soon for the wife.


  11. Personally I think your over thinking this. Hit them hard & fast the issue will be over before there's even an issue. The above posters have hit the nail on the head. Cross breeding has been used numerous time in Lovecraft & other authors. Mostly these are monsters & that's what it says on the box. I understand the caution but its unwarranted here. Monsters exist to be killed on the sword.

  12. So, I know it's a little late, but I thought you might like to know that Lovecraft has an interesting other take on White Apes:

    Namely, the White Apes are us - not us devolved, at least not in the Darwinian sense, but actually us - anyone, going through enough neglect, shock, horror, or what have you, can become a White Ape, and they breed true.

    Of course, they also breed with humans, because they ARE humans. If you went that route you'd be combining the awkward sexual depravity angle with the personal corruption angle and mixing them both with the questionable moral imperative of pity these creatures represent.