Once more, my GM has suggested a theme, and it’s quite a tricky one.
‘Horror, wonder, and the bronze age universe.’ Thanks, Tom…
The reason it’s so tricky is it’s wide. We play these games for enjoyment that includes a sense of wonder, or at least, I do. It’s the strangeness that makes it a great place for me. However, it’s hard to nail down what creates that sense of wonder. Instead, I’m going to talk about the horror part.
There’s one easy source of horror here, and that’s Chaos. It takes what is normal and makes it strange and often terrible. The randomness of what it can do makes it terrifying. To the Storm Bulls it’s a force that is synonymous with wrongness. To the Lunar Empire it’s a thing that can be used.
There are a few things I lean on. One is bodily strangeness. A mark of Chaos may give you extra limbs, turn your head to face the back, make your skin out of gemstones, make you spit tadpoles whenever you speak. It’s not always bad, but it’s alien – it’s a thing you can’t get without a change. You can’t practice to be as strong as Thed’s gifts can make you. You might be able to Heroquest, but the price would be huge.
The other thing I look at is psychological strangeness. Your eyes are pools into your soul, and there are distant terrors reflected in them. You react too slowly, or too fast. Your reactions are just wrong, because pain makes you laugh but joy makes you weep. Chaos, at its base, is understandable as long as you know that it’s got rules and the rules are entirely not yours.
The way I make my Chaos terrifying is the same way I build any villain; I assume that what they are thinking is true, and then build on that. The scorpionmen don’t attack you because they’re evil. They attack you because they’re hungry, and you’re food. Chaos is consistent even when it seems not to be, it’s just a matter of which bits of belief, fact, and logic are distorted.