I talked this week about qualities that make a fantastic location, well, fantastic. (I love RPG Blog Carnival topics like this; they get me weeks of material! Thank you, Mr. Davies!) I’ve done location a lot; writing atmosphere is fun, and it’s easier for me to provide a place my group wants to poke around than opponents my group wants to poke with sharp things.
I’ve alluded a bit to having given my group what happens when you cross a Fantastic Journey scenario with a Colossus Climb (or as one of my players described it, “Some kind of demented Magic School Bus trip”), letting them run around in the insides of a miles-long dead(ish) thing. I knew that to set it apart would be a challenge; how many video games (never mind the books and movies) at some point have the player running around the insides of a particularly large creature? More, I had to take into account setting this thing up in such a way that the group could, well, take it down without getting themselves squished.
The easy part was figuring out where the foci of the spells animating/controlling this thing would be. I went for the logical points: the head, the heart and (because we’re all Digger fans in this group) the liver. That meant my people had to be able to get there.
I’d been toying with the idea of trippy maneuvering involving nerves and blood vessels and the magic streaming through them, but I lost my nerve on that at the last minute (partly because the thing was still alive technically, but the decision was reinforced when they got the head first rather than last). Instead, I gave them empty space to maneuver in; first small gaps around the nerves, allowing the group’s resident medic to identify a few locations that would make sense for a clean(ish) entry, and then an area that gave a whole new meaning to “chest cavity”.
The internal logic was the trick, particularly given that I know just enough about medicine to know how little I know. In essence, I utilized two factors: one, this thing has been being nibbled on from the inside by maggots for decades at the very least, and two, being necromantically animated has probably bypassed most of its functions. So most of the digestive system? Atrophied. The internal muscles? Eaten, in large part—this part I handwaved a bit, but I think it safe to assume that something that doesn’t breathe wouldn’t really notice if its diaphragm in particular was missing. The nerves and blood vessels, and the liver? Those remained mostly untouched, since the former two were conduits for the animating spells, and the last was a seat of control (my logic being, if it isn’t controlled it’s going to start trying to purify everything else, and then where would one be?).
So there’s the setup. In practice, I made it dark; the group brought their own lights, sure, but they didn’t bring much of them, and Samar navigated almost entirely based on her ability to see the flows of power in the creature. For the first part, moving up the ulnar nerve to the shoulder, I gave it a squished, claustrophobic feel; the arms are still used to propel the creature along, so its parasites have been discouraged from nibbling there, leaving little room to maneuver, and the nerve itself wasn’t just black, it had a certain absence of light to it. Then they got to the chest cavity, and I focused instead on emptiness, and the thin bridges created by the nerves and blood vessels twisting their way through empty space. Anatomically, it was as accurate as I could play it from memory (which is to say, I know which systems are which and am not afraid to use a little poetic license), and there was almost no flat—the rib cage was upright, getting from the heart to the liver involved either climbing down and around what was left of the intestines or (as Ruby did) just jumping off and having some way to steer and keep the stop at the end from being the part that kills one. For added memorability effect, there were the locals, mostly the maggots in the chest cavity and the unconcerned turkey vulture outside the elbow.
They enjoyed it.