The maggot farmers

I’ve always found something a little creepy about Breughel’s engraving “The beekeepers.” Before I learned the title of the picture, the basketry masks looked, to me, like sawed-off tree stumps, and I thought these were more of his Bosch-like monsters. The furtive sidelong glance of the left-most beekeeper also seems vaguely sinister to me, as does the central figure’s stiff posture and limp arms. There is something wrong with him; maybe he is in a trance.

These beekeepers with their blank wicker masks remind me of the featureless faces of the figures in M.C. Escher’s “Relativity,” a woodcut I first saw as a child in a book of optical illusions. Here is a detail:

Although I never found these guys eerie or disturbing, once I had a fairly odd dream that reminds me of both images.

In my dream there were zombie-like creatures that were descending the steps of a tower. Their heads looked approximately like paper wasp nests while their bodies were those of normal people. Their heads were surrounded by a halo of flies, which flew in and out of them. In my dream these zombies were largely unaffected by damage to their bodies (like Romero’s zombies), but when struck with a heavy blow to the head, or when knocked down, their heads would shatter like clay pots and a cloud of flies would emerge. These flies would attempt to infect people by crawling into their orifices (ears, nose, mouth, even eyes). In my dream I thought of the whole phenomenon as a sort of fungal infection for some reason. I found the whole thing fairly stomach-turning but when I awoke I wanted to develop the image into a short story, which I never did, although the image does come back to me once in a while.

So, instead I’ve decided to incorporate them as a new monster in my Telengard game.

<My players, if they happen to be reading, should stop now!>

(more…)

Published in: on March 19, 2011 at 6:00 am  Comments (10)  
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Landscape with the fall of Icarus

The Triumph of Death post has been popular, as has Mad Meg, so I thought I’d hitch my my wagon to one more awesome Brueghel painting, Landscape with the fall of Icarus.

The myth of Icarus & Daedalus is fairly well known, and like many Greek myths deals with hubris, but of course it’s also a charming Father’s  Day tale.  Daedalus, a Greek inventor, builds wings of feathers and wax and has his son Icarus test them out, warning the lad not too fly too close to the sun, Apollo’s chariot, with the inevitable result.Frederick Leighton’s “Icarus & Daedalus,” and the creepiest illustration of the myth I could find.

I must have first heard of the myth in D’Aulaires’ Greek myths, which I checked out of the library often in grade school, although by far I like their Norse books more (Norse gods and giants and Trolls).

Anyway, when Iron Maiden released their song “Flight of Icarus” (1983) I was already way into Black Sabbath (to the exclusion of almost everything else) but I did catch the video on MTV or USA’s Night flight, and really liked it.  The Iron Maiden song is fairly sparse lyrically but basically reads the myth as a tale of how parents fail their children, or perhaps more broadly how everyone and everything fail everyone.  Good times.  It’s an really boring video but a great song.

Some time after that I’d name several RPG characters after Icarus, more because it seemed like a very metal name than anything else.

So without further ado,

click to embiggen

You’ll notice Icarus is not very prominent in this painting at all.  A small cloud of feathers, a splash, and one leg kicking out of the sea.

W.H. Auden wrote a fairly awesome poem about this painting:

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

As did William Carlos Williams:

Landscape with the fall of Icarus

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
near

the edge of the sea
concerned
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

unsignificantly
off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

Well, that’s about all the exegesis Brueghel’s painting probably needs.

Landscape With The Fall of Icarus
by William Carlos Williams
According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
near

the edge of the sea
concerned
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings' wax

unsignificantly
off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning
Published in: on June 20, 2010 at 3:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Skeleton recruiting party

I broke down and ordered a bunch of figures from Noble Knight Games a little bit back, around the time I realized how much I’d like to have classic Valley of Four Winds “Skeleton recruiting party” originally released by Minifigs and now available from Games Figures Inc. (GFI). On the one hand this set very nicely mimics a detail from Bruegel’s Triumph of death, and on the other hand it includes a skeleton carrying a big lantern, which dovetails nicely with my current hireling craze.

Here’s the whole set:

One nice surprise was that you actually get a choice of “payloads” for the cart: a pile of bones or a coffin. The coffin has a removable lid and another skeleton that can be placed inside. I’ll go with the bone pile but I can think of some uses for the “spare parts.”   You can never have enough dungeon dressing.

I will post again when I get them put together and painted.

Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 12:41 pm  Comments (3)  
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Mad Meg, adventurer

One of Bruegel’s less famous paintings is “Mad Meg.”

I always liked the Triumph of Death more but from a D&D perspective, there is a lot more here. ToD is all skeletons raining death on people. Mad Meg shows a hardcore adventurer — Mad Max’s great-grandmother, I suppose — Mad Meg!

Check her out. Partial armor (is that a pot on her head?), bastard sword, and huge swag bag, already overflowing with loot, and she’s still charging headlong into that most mythic of dungeons, the Mouth of Hell.

And check out her henchwomen, kicking some demon ass.

Yeah, I know Bruegel was illustrating Netherlandish proverbs about greed and vengeful women and what not. But this is the venality of adventurers that the Old Man in the Mountain writes about. Go get ’em, Meg!

Here’s the Open Creative Commons Game Content System-Neutral stats you’ll need for Mad Meg, should she appear in your games.

<grabs 3d6>

Strongness: 14

Dextrousness: 12

Intestinal Fortitude: 8

Intellect: 13

Wizenedness: 8

Charismaticness: 10

Not very good stats, but not impossible to work with. As a Henchwoman for hire, Meg is a level 2 Fighting Person. She has cobbled together armor equivalent to Mail. (There is no such thing as “chain mail.” That is a silly redundancy. “I don my Chain Mail and wield a Blocking Shield and Stabbing Spear, for I am a doof.”) She carries a war sword, which most gamers will call a bastard sword. Her luck gives her the maximum Abstracted Damage Capacity Points (HP) possible for her level, with Intestinal Fortitude adjustments. She also tends to pick the optimal (in terms of loot) path/action/door in any multiple choice situation. If encountered later on in her career, she has advanced to sixth level Fighting Person, having cashed in tons of loot from Hell. She’ll have a magic item or two as well, although she may not even realize they are magical, they just looked valuable to her. She’ll have 2d6 retainers, mostly townswomen who have been lured into adventuring by the promise of easy treasure, and her luck has rubbed off on them, too, so while they are 0-level Humans, they each have 6 HP.  They are also well-armed and fearless.

Mad Meg is voraciously greedy and stupidly brave, and only her astonishing luck has allowed her to venture repeatedly into the Hellmaw and return over and over loaded with loot. She can draw a crude a map of several levels of the dungeon, but being Hell it changes subtly each time you return and her map will only show the route she’s taken, which is completely stripped of treasure. 

Published in: on April 16, 2010 at 12:53 pm  Comments (4)  
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The triumph of death

Click to embiggen. This pic is pretty big, and swarming with detail. (more…)

Published in: on April 15, 2010 at 10:55 am  Comments (9)  
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