Sunday, 2 January 2011

The Shadow Out Of (Christmas) Time

In the lead up to the holiday season, many years ago, my wonderful lady friend expressed an interest in obtaining a Hnefatafl set. In response, I decided to make her one. Rather than spend a long time constructing an army of minuscule Viking golems, I decided instead to mould the pieces after something a little more shapeless, and, well, you can probably guess which author I turned to for inspiration.

In this post, I'm going to show off some pictures of the result, a game I entitled...

"The Flight Of The Great Race."

This game is based on Lovecraft's story The Shadow Out Of Time, which follows the plight of the Great Race of Yith as they are mercilessly persued through time and space. The chase brought these aliens to a land that would one day be called Australia, long before the present day.
Australia was at this time inhabited by a race of Adorable Giant Cone People, who lived in buildings resembling helter-skelters and who wore fittingly colossal satchels. The adorable Cone People had their adorable lives destroyed when the Great Race used their interstellar body-swap techniques to take control of the conical bodies, presumably trapping the Cone People's minds amid whatever catastrophe was forcing the Great Race to flee Yith in the first place.

Once on Earth, the only things the Great Race had to fear were the natural predators of the Cone People; ancient black and bubbling horrors that rode the winds that flowed through subterranean tunnels beneath their feet (their monopodic, slug-like feet, obviously). These creatures were easily contained by the cone people's electricity firing black boxes, but in time the monsters came to overwhelm the Great Race and their boxes, and the poor aliens were forced to run once more into the twisting spiral that is eternity...

So, with this brief and slightly inaccurate summary in mind, I created a game around that epic retreat from their helter-skelter city.

The game was created to look "In Character", by which I mean that I wanted to create a game that could have been played in the setting of the story itself. To this end, I wrote up some correspondence between some fictional yet familiar academics working in Australia, allowing me to sweep erroneous information beneath the carpet of unreliable narration.

A particular problem was to be found in the writing of the rules, as at the time I had yet to meet two people who played by the same set. One particularly frustrating source had a tendency to change rules every time I played against him. As such, these are not the rules that I currently understand are the most standardised, but there you go, such is the way of things.

Professor William Goodman,
32, Jenkins St., Marble Bar
Pilbarra, W. Australia,
March 28, 1935
Professor T. M. Freeborn,
Anthropology Department,
Miskatonic University,
Arkam, Massachusetts

Dear Tyler,

      I recently witnessed two young Pananangu playing a board-game by the light of the fire. A conversation between myself, Mandawy, our guide, and Arthur, my research assistant, brought the interesting story of the game to light, and I thought I might share the details with you. I have enclosed a game set with this package, that you may explore this cultural insight for yourself. 

      The game is essentially that of a siege. The central force must aid the escape of their leader as they are beset by surrounding enemies.
The central force are referred to as the Ny-Pananangu, which I translated, concisely, as the “Old People”, or “Old Ones.” Arthur noted, however, that the “Pan” in “Pananangu” donates greatness above the mere Anangu, the other tribes and people of this land. Taking into account Wilson’s subtle interpretation of the pre-fix ‘Ny’, Arthur offered the longer term “Great Race Who Were Here Before Us”.
      The attacking force are known by several names, and combining the common themes of all these gives the translation “Older Horrors That Ride The Winds, That Were Once, And Shall Be Again, As Well The Ones Who Were Great Before Us Knew.” This long winded approach is again the fault of Arthur. My translation was simply “Different Old Ones”, amended to “Elder Things” to abbreviate, distinguish the two sides, and to satiate Mandawy’s insistence that while the defenders can be seen as men like us, the attackers are certainly not, hence ‘things’ instead of ‘people’.  All horribly egocentric, but is refreshing to note that we of the west are not alone in such prejudices.
      The game is based on a local myth that, at the beginning of the Dreamtime, the Great Race travelled without their bodies to the end of the Dreamtime, where they became the Beatle. This great flight through time was performed to escape these Elder Things, who they could not prevail against.
The Great Race certainly do not seem to look like people, but they do appear to have stylistic arms and a head, presumably lacking only legs due to the problems of balance this would present the figures. It should be noted that among many tribal people it is considered taboo to present the human form in what we would consider a realistic manner.

The Elder Things, on the other hand, take on a bizarre representation. They are described as beings that can fly, despite being represented as almost slug like creatures, and are said to lack the sense of sight, which I found surprising as I had presumed the bulbous tops of the figures to be eyes. What those spheres are exactly, none could tell me, indeed, details of these Elder Things were incredibly difficult to tease out of those I spoke to.

So, to the rules!

      The Leader of the Great People is placed on the centre square. This, and the four corner squares marked in the same way, are the Leader Squares, and can only be occupied by the Leader, though any piece may pass over the central square if the Leader is not occupying it.
      The Great People are deployed in the surrounding marked squares, and the Elder Things are placed on the marked squares upon the edges of the board. One person plays as the Great People, the other as the Elder Things. The Elder Things move first.

      The Great People win by moving the leader onto any one of the corner Leader Squares. The Elder Things win by trapping the Leader between four Elder Thing pieces, one to each side of the Leader.
      Each turn, a player may move any one of their own pieces along a row of squares, either horizontally or vertically. This piece may move through as many available squares as desired, but may not jump over an already occupied square.
     If a player traps an enemy piece between two of their own pieces, the enemy piece may be taken off the board. The enemy must be trapped on two opposite sides to be taken, and pieces diagonally next to their enemy are not relevant when trapping.
     A piece may be placed between two enemy pieces without being trapped.
     The corner Leader Squares may be counted as Trapping Pieces by either side.

So, there you have it, The Flight Of The Great Race. Doctor Francis Morgan of the Archaeology department, who as you know is studying ancient megaliths in this area, talks of a similar game played by a tribe of Eskimos, which is most apparent in the current archaeological record due to a set having somehow fallen into the hands of Norse traders about one thousand years ago. How this happened I am unsure, but I certainly see no possibility of any connection between The Great Race Game and that of the north. For one thing, the pieces of the Eskimo set seemed to depict octopi and starfish, which is completely at odds with what I am seeing. Unfortunately, the tribe was wiped out by a strange localised tsunami, and all of Morgan’s papers and artefacts were destroyed in a freak fire, so I see no way of continuing that branch of research.
      I hope you find all that informative. I will write to you again before the end of the season. Send Eve my love, I hope to return to America for Christmas, so perhaps I shall see you both then.

Your loving friend,



1 comment:

  1. Ooh, I remember you mentioning this on the forum. I asked you to see it then and you waited all these longs months - but wow is it worth it. That's great! I've been looking for a Viking-themed handmade set, but this makes me envious. Fantastic!