|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.