While I’m on the subject of things that don’t see a lot of screen time and the curious things you learn while researching for other things, have you ever heard of a Grootslang? It’s not any of the things you just thought of, many of which I’m sure were disgusting and you should be ashamed of yourselves, we’re a respectable website.
It’s a lesser known cryptid originating from South-African mythology, half snake and half elephant, and deemed too strong and cunning by the gods who created it, and as such split into two separate beings. Some of the Grootslangs escaped the separation and retreated to a cave in Richtersveld, and even now their descendants are blamed for disappearances in the area. They are greedy, covetous, and cruel, as well as supremely powerful, feeding off men, and even elephants.
What an incredible beast! And what an image that conjures, and yet I can find a grand total of two places the myth has been utilised, a cartoon called Secret Saturdays which I profess is a name I’d only heard of until now, and Pathfinder, who’s extensive bestiaries are the fantasy RP equivalent of the Simpsons when it comes to new ideas. But all of this rambling about my new favourite monster and how unloved it has gone gets me to my actual point… eventually.
Much of our general knowledge – certainly within the UK – is strongly rooted in the great nations and conquering empires of Europe, Norse, Greece and Rome, and from Africa, Egypt. Each country has it’s own mythology that it knows fairly well, but these are the cultures who’s gods, beasts and stories we know well and at times better than we know our own. For example, I’d wager more people in this country would know which heroes fought in the siege of Troy than could tell the tale of the Lambton Worm, the story of a monstrous all-consuming monster that terrorised County Durham. And how many of us could rattle off a dozen or so gods from the various pantheons above, but couldn’t tell you who The Morrigan is/are (depending on the source).
Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t lose our heritage, and that we should remember our mythology better, I’m just saying that sometimes we do not dig deep enough for inspiration. It’s so easy to write a vampire or werewolf story, or retell a Greek epic with new characters, but we’re missing out on some real classics by sticking to the same old same old.
D&D players may know the name Tiamat, but may not know her as the Mesopotamian goddess of primordial creation and a mother of monsters. We’ve all heard tales of a Banshee’s scream, but how often do we see the Irish legend well utilised in media? And what of the demon manhorse Tikbalang from the Philippines, the Mongolian Death Worm, or Nanook, Inuit god of polar bears? You don’t need to be a scholar of the lesser-known mythologies to find all of these things interesting, a great source of inspiration, or at the very least something different that breaks the mould and might just help us break free from retelling the exact same stories over and over again.
So if ever you’re stuck for story ideas, looking for something new to throw into a game, or just want something obscure to throw into a conversation with classicists, take the time to do a little digging through the history of other civilizations, and whatever you do, don’t watch Gods of Egypt…