A Note on Islands and New Species

Copyright Phillip A. Ellis © 2010

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"Consider, then, many ways an animal species can be separated and made unique."

Occasionally, as my mentor once said, as we collected the pollen from examples of the Vitreous Moonflower that grew in his gardens, organisms swim, or fly, or float upon trees and floating mats of vegetation to islands. There, if they do not die, they will prosper. And a curious thing happens to many of them: they change.

Where birds, for example, lack enemies, they become large and indolent, often losing their capacity for flight in the process. Other, usually small creatures, also become larger, naturally becoming giant relations of their smaller cousins. This is the origin, some sages speculate, of the now-common giant rat: swimming to an island, they became large, and hardy, swimming back to the mainlands to breed and prosper, having never lost their cunning and their hunger.

Other creatures, larger creatures, become smaller, dwarf relations, one might call them. I have heard tell of a tropical island where such a race of humans once dwelt, becoming extinct due to the will of the gods, some say, or of a volcanic eruption, as others speculate.

In any case, over time, new families of creatures emerge, and become counted amongst the creatures and the monsters of the many worlds.

One of the chief, natural ways for new species to evolve is through isolation. Islands, such as the famous Galapagos Islands, are one way to physically isolate a population from its fellows. mountain ranges, and isolated mountain valleys are another. In your gaming campaigns, it is useful to introduce many new monsters and creatures in this way, by creating isolated populations that have drifted apart from their fellows, and become new species.

On actual islands, one of the key ways of doing this is through the processes of dwarfism and gigantism: small creatures become larger, large creatures become smaller. In this way the dwarf elephants of the Mediterranean islands came into being; it is also how the dodo became a larger, flightless version of the pigeon.

Your game system should have rules for gigantism in animals, making larger versions of creatures; Rolemaster does, for example, and it helps to be familiar with the rules of your system. It may lack rules for dwarfism, but these can easily be improvised by reversing the rules for making larger animals (for instance, if you would normally double a creature's level, you would halve it instead).

If you use earthnodes, or their non-Rolemaster equivalents, it is possible to consider adding magical elements to a creature. These can take many forms, so many that no list can exhaust the possibilities of your campaigns. Obviously, there are favourite possibilities, such as intelligence and a language for example. But there are many other possibilities open to you.

Consider, then, many ways an animal species can be separated and made unique. A race of giant rats inhabiting a long-sealed wizard's tower, for example, may have developed into a species that subsists upon the flows of essaence in your Shadow World campaign, or upon the decay of raw magic in a campaign that is more generic. Consider a species of living ghoul, trapped in the catacombs of a massive city, and evolving into something uniquely hideous. The possibilities are many, and they await all imaginative game masters.