When I first started the Visions bestiary, I basically scoured my D&D Monster Manual and online sources, looking for interesting mythological creatures, and dumped them in more or less as they were. I had always planned to go through and “tweak” the critters, making them unique to the world…and I did that with some of them.
But not all. So I went through, looked at the terrain each creature inhabited, and looked at which race lived there. I figured that, in a lot of cases, the name a certain race gave to a certain animal that lived in their home territory would be the name that stuck. In all other cases, the common language used by all the races would give the name. Vision’s “trade language” is Arader (the weasel/otter race), because the Arader are natural exploders and traders, and it was they who made the initial contact with various places, animals, and people.
(Their language is English, stripped as much as possible of words borrowed from other languages. Because any given word in any given tongue is, at its core, a description of what it represents. We call a rat a rat because the word “rat”…or rather the word “rat” evolved from, represented a gnawing sound and that’s what rats do. Native Americans have descriptive sounding names because they’ve been translated from their own tongue to English.)
I had already decided what culture and language each race would borrow from, way back when I was naming the lakes and mountains and cities. So for each creature, I looked up what it most closely resembled in the language of the race who would have named it. For example, the Feya’s tongue sounds a lot like French, so creatures in their homeland would have very French sounding names. (I discovered, in this process, that the Feya are excessively fond of seafood. Who knew?
Then I started “wearing the edges” off the names, paring them down in ways I imagined common use and exposure to different tongues would do. Sometimes I would end up rearranging the word so that it spelled the way I was instinctively pronouncing it. (For example: “yabbyervotzk”. Which is “jabberwock”, transliterated into Russian. I was mentally pronouncing it “yabber-ya-votzk” until I noticed the spelling, and decided I liked my pronunciation better. So now it’s “yabberyvotzk”). Sometimes I’d end up abandoning the native word and going with the familiar name. I didn’t want to fall into the fantasy “calling a rabbit a ‘shmearp’ simply because that sounds cooler than plain ‘rabbit'” trap. This process will continue as I work on the game.
Last week, I was thinking about the ecology of Avatar (Cameron’s version, not Airbender), and remembering how I admired the overall sense of unity that existed on that world. (Except the Na’vi, but that’s a whole different gripe…) Because what I needed for Amphiptere’s Vision was a particular trait or evolutionary connection. Partially to unify the world and partially to help fix the “shmearp” problem. What’s unique about this world?
First thing that came to mind was dragons. Well duh, most fantasy worlds have dragons, usually of the Western, winged variety. But no one ever seems to think about how unlikely such an animal is, evolutionarily speaking. A six-limbed reptile, where two of those limbs basically grow out of its back as wings? On worlds where most other creatures sport the typical two legs, two arms symmetry? Dragons in fantasy literature are like the Na’vi of Avatar. I look at the rest of the ecosystem and wonder: how in the hell did this aberration evolve, and why hasn’t anyone else noticed how weird it is?
(Dragons created by some kind of separate, magical or supernatural process, of course, are a different matter. But this is rarely explicitly the case).
So, one unique feature of the Visions world is the existence of creatures that evolved with two legs, two arms, and two wings, arranged just so. And I remembered that dragons weren’t the only six limbed creature I’d dumped into my bestiary. I had griffins. Hippogriffs. Chimeras. A four-armed ape/yeti creature. A four-winged bird, originally stolen from D&D, I think. Two of my races have wings that sprout from the back.
I Googled “dragon skeleton”, and found something interesting. About half of the depictions showed the dragon having essentially two separate sets of shoulder blades: one set for the forearms, one set a little higher up for the wings. But the other half used a sort of combination scapula, one that could accommodate both arms and wings. I liked that one better. What if every single creature in the world (except insects and octopi and the like) had such a bone inside them? What if they all had six limbs?
I modeled a combination scapula with clay so I could really get a sense of how this thing would work. Interestingly enough, I found that if I flipped the scapula upside down, I had something that could support a four-armed creature like my ape-yeti, where the lower set of arms appears to poke out of the ribcage. If I included this special shoulder blade in every creature, I would have my uniting factor…and the creativity could come from deciding how those six limbs would manifest.
I’ve also been taking each creature and picking several different animals to use as models…because then I can say with confidence that my shmearp is not just a rabbit, but rabbit + wasp, with a little squirrel thrown in (to use a made-up example). And variety makes it easier to incorporate two extra limbs. Eventually I’ll organize these drawings and notes into a D&D-like Monster Manual, although I plan to lay it out like a field guide. Maybe Spiderwick style.