Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #4-3: Scalar Planar Collisions

Scale is the means by which things are measured whether it is a mile, or a millimetre, or a setting or plot. The scale of story elements in a horror story tend toward the small with a few notable exceptions. One of those exceptions is the zombie apocalypse story. The apocalypse portion of the requirement does not rule out the small scale though. The focus always narrows down to the key characters and their involvement with the crisis, and the antagonists, the zombies. This focus shift is true for all stories. If the intention of coming up with the setting is not for a single story then the scale needs to be examined even more thoroughly. Though they come in different flavours a predominant number of role-playing games fit in the fantasy mould.

Whether the intention is a horror fantasy role-playing game or a storyline with that cross-genre mix scale is an important factor. Zombies are no strangers to fantasy settings, nor are mummies and animated skeletons. They are common on a small scale. Armies of them appear occasionally, covering the middle ground, but usually not as a global level threat. Given the day-to-day level of horror inherent in most fantasy settings, even to some extent in medieval life, zombies don’t rate very high. Where swordsmen wander ceaselessly crushing evil, zombies are not a real threat without an edge greater than being similarly armed to the swordsmen. Something more powerful is usually pulling the strings and presents a greater level of menace bringing the scale, the focus, down again.

Another option is replacing the harbingers of the apocalypse with something more frightening. Defying demonic invasions from the outer planes are the fodder of prophecies to be fulfilled in many a fantasy. Certainly a horror fantasy could reverse things. The prophecy predicts the invasion, or better yet and somewhat its own horror to the protagonist(s) the prophecy fails to be fulfilled. Hell on Earth has a certain appeal for a storyline, or a state of the setting, a backdrop upon which to paint the rest of the story. This is about setting, not plot. This level is the foundation and some of the story structure. Like a house, with only a basement and some outer wall joists any number of frames is possible. Where the construction goes from here quickly becomes a matter of perspective.

Music: Metal Health by Quiet Riot and Funeral Mute by Stever.

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