Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Medusa and the Gorgons

Poster for Possession (1981) by Basha AKA mythic Polish
graphic artist Barbara Baranowska.
Long ago, in ages past, I warned you there'd be more art posts. Today you get to see my collection of artwork depicting Medusa or the other gorgons known from classical mythology. Some people get annoyed that D&D has always referred to the monster as "a medusa" instead of treating that as a proper name, but I don't really care either way. All I know is that this is one of my all-time favorite monsters, and one which I am in terrible danger of over-using.

Once again, I'll put in some effort to credit properly and maybe provide additional notes as I can. If you have more artwork that you like, I'd love to see it as well. Some of the art in here is obligatory historical inclusions, some are genuinely brilliant, and some just have a unique variation on the basic design.

For this post, we can also go in (roughly) chronological order, starting with the original Ancient Greek artwork. It gets better and better the further we get, though. You can just look at the pictures if you like (that is what this post is for, of course), but if you like art history/criticism then I'll go ahead and provide some amateur supplemental details. I'm not learned on the matter, I'm just enthusiastic.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Nested Tasks

[This post contains mid-sized spoilers for the video game Breath of the Wild and the RPG adventure In the Shadow of Tower Silveraxe]

Your quest is to awaken the slumbering elf king by bringing him the fairy stone. To do that, you must journey to the ancient shrine of Cernunnos, now controlled by orcs deep within their dark, industrial colony. You get behind enemy lines, sneak past orc armies, kill some scouts, steal their maps, and locate the shrine. Once at the shrine, you have a dungeon to clear out. There's a sequence of rooms you discover, soon finding the fairy stone. It's locked behind the Hart Gate, an ornate lattice fence shaped like a stag. You'll need a series of keys, each one hanging from a branch of its antlers so you can unlock the gate. That means exploring the maze of trials and secrets throughout the shrine. In each room of the shrine, there's monsters and orc patrols, puzzles and riddles, traps and hazards, secret treasures, imprisoned civilians to free, and weird magic stuff to play with.

Room < Dungeon < Hexcrawl

The above adventure doesn't exist. But the broad strokes are familiar. All adventures are a sequence of tasks. But the way those tasks are organized goes a long way in shaping the whole thing. There's a hierarchy. Every room of the dungeon presents a short-term task. You start a combat encounter with some orcs, and for the next stretch of playtime that is the task you are performing. But those are all contained in the context of the dungeon task, which you're also performing simultaneously. It's not just a series of arbitrary, disconnected episodes. There's a through line tying it together. Collect the keys to unlock the gate and get the MacGuffin. That's a mid-term task you began when you entered the dungeon and which you completed after finishing a bunch of the rooms. But the dungeon is not the full story, either. It's also a piece of a greater context. Doing the dungeon is just the middle task in the hexcrawl. Getting to the dungeon was a series of tasks, as is getting back from the dungeon. All of those hexcrawl tasks, with the dungeon task in the middle, comprise a long-term task. And it's that long-term task that is the true "quest."

This probably sounds obvious, but I have a theory.