Saturday, June 12, 2010

Unicorn Brainstorm

What to do with a unicorn?

Riding unicorns is preposterous. Seriously, it always feels like a dumb idea--the image of it. Its overkill--you have a sword and your horse has a horn? What the fuck? The unicorn needs to be its own thing. Maybe Satan could ride a unicorn, that's it--maybe.

The-unicorn-is-secretly-someone-else. Ok, who?

-Someone good? Seems boring. If the unicorn is someone good then they're basically the same as they were only a unicorn--they "mean" the same thing either way, and act the same. But then maybe if the unicorn acts like an animal then maybe once you get the unicorn you have to let it go because it's secretly someone good. That's tragic. Though in D&D, seriously, who gives a fuck about some NPC? Plus what's the point of the pre-transformation unicorn-having part of the story--to temporarily have a magic horse to play with? Lame. It's the idea of the unicorn that's interesting, not the mechanical possibilities.

-Someone useful? Ok but then so either the unicorn is a unicorn--which is interesting, or is themself--which is interesting. But they're pretty much separate things that aren't better together. Unless it's a wereunicorn. Man, what a dumb idea. Next!

-Someone evil? Obviously this has merit. Then the question is whether the unicorn acts evil or just is a dumb animal. And, etiher way, there needs to be some threat of the evil person becoming a non-unicorn any minute.

The esoteric unicorn--it's like some sort of spectral 2D-seeming unicorn that sort of crosses your field of vision like it comes out of one side of a tree. Like a sort of heraldic image of a unicorn come to life. You could do a whole creepy sort of playing-card Camelot thing with weird stiff symbolic chivalrous types moving around and being inscrutable. Ok.

Victim Unicorn. You can be sure the bad guys are bad because they're fucking up a fucking unicorn. That's even worse than cutting down the magic pixie forest. The best bet here would appear to be to cruelly objectify the unicorn like in some Mackinnon/Dworkin wet dream (or would that be dry dream?) and just have the bad guys be fucking it all up and the beast itself has no agency at all.

In effect, the unicorn is, in this case, just a ground upon which the badguys can display their badness. Thinking up exotic badnesses to have them practice upon it is the hard part.

Unicorn-as-ingredient. The unicorn contains something of value, or something which will cause trouble if left uncollected. The unicorn can either be a victim (as above) in need of rescue or can be just out there and the PCs have to get it--in which case it gets to act like a regular monster (finally) and fight back.

Mutant unicorn. Like for example that creepy RuneQuest unicorn-head guy, or some sort of deformed abomination. Pretty much writes itself, since the creepiness and corruption is automatically embedded in the concept.

Important unicorns--like, unique ones which are exalted and meaningful to some group of people or citystate or reigion--are annoying. Ok, maybe not if it isn't obvious where they are. But having one just in the middle of town like "hey this is our unicorn", I hate that. Some random unicorn in a forest somewhere that you can't kill because it will make all the children of Grophyndoria grow a second head that will bite their first head, that's ok. Important but obscure is the point, I guess. Not a fucking mascot.

And if it glows or something, fuck it.

Trapper-Keeper Unicorn
. So, it's like pink and sparkly and frolics. I sometimes think it'd be fun to have some acid-trip adventure where the girls have to fight some deluded princess in her horrible sparkly pink kingdom with kitten warriors on unicorns and clouds that cry rain on you. Not today, though.

Talking unicorns
suck. What are they going to say? Anything a unicorn has to say is too funny. Can't do it.


  1. But, Zak, are you sure one or more of the ladies won't just kill the damn thing anyway?

  2. Unicorn as heart of darkness/inherited guilt symbol, as in the WFRP short story "Unicorn Ivory".

    The vicious flesh-eating, hunter-stomping mares and the mincing bishy deer-like stallions in that story fair dripped gender role commentary.

  3. One of my favorite authors, Glen Cook (of Black Company fame), did a series of private investigator stories in a fantasy setting. Surprisingly good, BTW. In his Garrett, P.I. books, unicorns are carnivores, and vicious ones at that. Hard to concentrate on teh cute when they want to eat your sorry ass, isn't it?

  4. I think you are going the wrong direction. I think the unicorn is Purity, not Goodness. & should be Fierce. The virgin is there to lure him in so the army can jump the unicorn, after all. I think the unicorn needs to be dangerous; I also think it should have ancillary effects. Heck, maybe everybody rolls on the wild magic table when it is around. You are right about it not being a mount...if someone tries to mount it, I'd go ahead & have it kill them. The Unicorn is Artemis.

    Conversely, the Unicorn is a kind of dragon. Just play it up as being more Ki-Rin.

  5. Robot Chicken's sunny muffin sketch could server as adventure fodder. The party would have to rescue animals that have been mutilated and transformed by a six year old girl. Could have a unicorn in there somewhere, which is actually a horse with a horn drilled into it's skull.

  6. The unicorn is the true form of the demon Amdusias:

  7. I liked the old Beaver and Steve comic which had the creepy idea of unicorns as an infectious disease.

  8. It's a weird stag-thing in the film, but I've often felt like there's mileage in using the unicorn in a Princess Mononoke god-of-nature type role.

  9. Unicorn as PC. (Actually ki-rin, rather vaguely translated into Hero System, as badass PC.) With badass other PC, with sword, as rider. Equals frigging tank.

  10. Oh, the parenthetical comment was based on actual play, and emphatically not a "you should do this".

  11. "Our village is protected by that mightiest of guardians... the Rhinoceros of Purity!"

  12. Personally, my perception of unicorns of late has been a little skewed by Axe Cop; I kind of like the idea that unicorns don't exist unless they're created as a magical artifact, a focusing lens someone grinds to amplify their own magic or to just prove that they've mastered the ultimate in magics. Like Bubastis in Watchmen, half pet half "look at me I'm awesome, I did what nobody else could do." Then the issue would be these incredibly magical, incredibly powerful creatures potentially getting loose, running around the world with no instincts of their own and just bouncing off of people's expectations with disastrous results.

    Mostly though I've always liked the idea of unicorns as infantry of nature. You see them in forests because the forest creates them for defense, you see them galloping on rainbows because they're being born from it like Skittles. Unicorns born of storms, and when the lightning strikes their horn it arcs out and creates more unicorns around it. Serious nemeses created only when the most egregious of offenses and trespasses had been made against the land or the river or something.

  13. What about PC becomes unicorn? Not PC unicorn, but a transformative curse, or else Nature reshapes a PC into a unicorn as a guardian, sort of like the Welwa, or a Jabberwock. The rest of the party wants their comrade back, but the newly created unicorn exists in a state of blissful communion with nature and no longer wants to be it's former self. This puts the PCs in the position of "helping" someone who dosen't want to be helped.

  14. Sexual predator unicorn! Run it against type.

  15. Unicorn as the Damsel-in-Distress: (see: The Last Unicorn)

  16. "Victim Unicorn. You can be sure the bad guys are bad because they're fucking up a fucking unicorn... In effect, the unicorn is, in this case, just a ground upon which the badguys can display their badness. Thinking up exotic badnesses to have them practice upon it is the hard part."

    This occurs in great detail in The Once and Future King, Book II. Fucking brutal, and I've never quite recovered from it.

  17. I like the talking Unicorn from the "Spellsinger" series by Alan Dean Foster. The bad guys try to trap him with a virgin, but they use a girl, and the unicorn is gay, so it doesn't work.

  18. I'm going to concur with what Doc Johnson mentions above, the Garret P.I. unicorns are where it's at. They look like your classic ones and they're EVIL. The protagonists are more worried about a herd of unicorns than the nest of vampires they're about to go after. Like shit-in-pants scared.

  19. I'm gonna suggest the Nethack Unicorn here.

    The good ones are white, and the evil ones are black. And killing a coaligned one, well, that's bad. But killing the other kind, that's OK. And once it's dead then you can cut off its horn and use it as an instant Cure Disease--which is good for fighting Juiblex--and an instant potion-unfucker.

    Nethack actually has a bunch of stuff you can pull back into an actual D&D game and have it make sense and pull the games in directions your players didn't expect.

  20. I was coming here to mention The Last Unicorn, but I didn't think "damsel in distress" was her role there. More like "damsel on a quest." As a player, I would be drawn to help a unicorn succeed on her tragic quest about a hundred times as much as some random NPC. Guaranteed plot hook pickup.

    Also, don't let me ride the unicorn into combat or anything, but let her bear me somewhere, and stress that one memorable ride. Into a celestial glade, or escaping a pack of hell hounds at my heels.

    -Someone good? Seems boring. If the unicorn is someone good then they're basically the same as they were only a unicorn--they "mean" the same thing either way, and act the same.

    Castle Whiterock lets you meet a character from the castle's history, long dead, who was reincarnated as a unicorn paragon. That's interesting two ways: makes the backstory into the plot, and makes the character more notable. Visually looking like a unicorn makes an NPC stand out, and being deserving of such reincarnation does too.

    That level also has a unicorn graveyard and a redcap victimizing unicorns who are coming there, preventing them from reaching their final peace. You might fight their violated spirits, and also some maddened unicorns whose horns cause bleeding wounds.

  21. Peter Beagle's "The Unicorn Sonata".
    There are people in the world who are actually unicorns - they decided to leave their own land and to live as humans because it's something they lack in their true, unicorn state. Naturally, there's something strange and unusual in those people, even if they're just homeless beggars.
    Close enough to were-unicorn, and not really that ridiculous, methinks.

  22. The "Unicorn as Victim" I used once in my Shadowrun game. There, I just had the runners (a bunch of faces mostly) working as general assistants to some big bad with horrible fatal "I live in a tank to stay alive" cancer. One of their missions was going to Nairobi (a post-colonial paradise) to obtain a "Class DCL-5 hunting permit" or something. Which, unbeknownst to them, was the "Endangered Paranormal Animal" permit. So the evil street samurai could kill a unicorn & bring the horn back. Making them complicit like that was effective.

  23. Unicorns are Buddhists. They are monstrously powerful in battle and highly sexually compelling (this gets at the dual nature of the unicorn's horn--phallic symbol as well as weapon--but also the whole horse-fetish thing many girls seem to have), but they willfully abstain from employing these abilities in order to further pursue enlightenment, even when their own lives are in danger.

    However, they may go bad or be taken under the control of an evil wizard, in which case their horns are +5 swords of wounding and blows from their hooves have a percent chance equal to the damage dealt of shattering the target's armor. It can use charm/seduce person on any female with a -5 on the save regardless of antagonism.

    Building on what Noumenon says, a person borne by a peaceful unicorn will be completely rested and healed of all wounds, diseases, minor curses, and poisons, and the trip isn't instantaneous but always takes less time than expected. This has to be a journey somewhere, you can't just toss a badly wounded comrade on the back of a unicorn and ask it trot once around the block for a full recharge.

    Unicorns don't talk, but communicate with coarser beings through psychic empathy.

  24. Unicorn as mainifestation/avatar of the will of a specific locale, in this case, an ancient forest.. Not just guardian or a spirit but a singular, unique entity with near-godlike abilities to affect reality, the conciousness and magical power on an entire region -- but only within that region. If it heals you and you go outside it, whatever afflicted you is back, disease or fatal wound. Of course, it's gonna take more than passing niceness to get it to do anything for you -- and it may demand something..

  25. *Trapper-Keeper Unicorn. So, it's like pink and sparkly and frolics. I sometimes think it'd be fun to have some acid-trip adventure where the girls have to fight some deluded princess in her horrible sparkly pink kingdom with kitten warriors on unicorns and clouds that cry rain on you. Not today, though.

    I did this a few weeks ago with "Candyland is F'ing metal". A band of halflings wished to live in a land of Milk and Honey with a monkey paw. The place had mandatory happiness and gruesome public executions for those with a case of the frownies. Gingerbread houses, Teddy Bear shock troopers, Snarling attack poodles, Wing Cupids raining death, Doves pecking out the eyes of the dead..oh and a badass unicorn and a princess white witch.

    It was a blast.

  26. What about a protector unicorn? Some kind of highly intelligent (but non speaking) guerrilla fighter, just under the High King Stag in the forest's hierarchy, comanding its lord's army against those who would soil the sacred land by walking into it and/or pilfering its resources (as in hunting, fishing or lumbering). A fierce fighter, a brilliant tactician, a respected leader (as I think of it, this kind of unicorn would be the Captain America of the wood!) XD

  27. Victim Unicorn inevitably reminds me of the Unicorn Tapestries at New York's The Cloisters (at Fort Tryon Park, in the Bronx).

    It's a set of Medieval tapestries (French, IIRC) picturing a unicorn hunt, which has puzzled the experts for some time now, but which some speculate could be a metaphor for the Passion of Christ.

  28. pink and sparkly is the very next game I want to play. The Githyanki in my Flash Gordon game have oily-rainbow armour and ride pastel-coloured hell-horses, because that counts as camouflage where they come from. Sadly I've never got my players to try a raid on their purple obsidian castle.

    Unicorns are the little bit of good that Extremely Evil Big Bads have to tear out of themselves in order to achieve Ultimate Badness. As such they're untainted and odly innocent but magnetically linked to their dark twins - they're the irreducibly good by-products of evil magics. So of course they're the Big Bad's nemesis maguffin - and this is where you get to ride the unicorn and stab the Big Bad with the horn.

  29. ...also, if you're going on a magical midnight ride to somewhere otherwise unattainable, in my game you ride on Garuda, which is every kind of gentle but terrifying dragonbeast, googly eyes and all.

  30. In a game that one of my-co-bloggers ran once we faced a Unicorn, as a curmudgeonly-yet-zealous punisher of the "unclean", which in this case meant non-virgins.

    Seeing as I had recently purchased a Yes/No/Maybe dice, I offered that it be used to determine the PC's respective virginities. The 3 "No"'s jumped into the lake to hide from the Unicorn, the 1 "Yes" just smiled and kept on bottling the healing waters of the lake, and my PC, the only "Maybe", was forced to roll Bluff to convince the unicorn that "It doesn't count because...". The possibilities were endless, and the situation was hilarious.