Monday, May 8, 2017

The Grey Devil of the Desert

A few months ago I heard about this press release from the US Department of Agriculture while listening to This American Life. It describes in detail the epic 1921 hunt for "the World's Greatest Animal Criminal", the Custer wolf, a wolf from South Dakota who's "cruelty [was] only surpassed by his cunning." Below are some clips from the episode with a voice actor reading the release in a wonderful gravely monotone, sure to make any cowpoke shiver.

It seems that the trick to making your dread and hated beast a folk legend is to anthropomorphize it, to make it more man than beast in its intent. The Custer Wolf isn't horrible because its a predator that eats cattle, its horrible because it breaks their legs with wanton blood lust. Blood lust is a human emotion, the Wolf is just the canvas we are throwing the paint on.

When you are playing your Pathfinder Western game, or your D20 Modern Archaic game, or your Dealands game, or... what ever you are playing, think small when you are dreaming up monsters (at least at first). If this shows us anything its that even a normal grey wolf (it was even smaller than an average male) can scare a few states worth of ranchers out of their boots.

He even got a book! "The Custer Wolf, Biography of an American Renegade" by Roger Caras 

To further the point, some more choice quotes from the press release:
"Credulous people said he was a charmed thing. Others attributed his immunity to a wisdom greater than beast ever possessed. Still others said he escaped by plain luck-- the mysterious thing that adheres to some animals as to some men..."
 "This thin, they said, was a not a wolf -- not merely a wolf. They believed that nature had perpetrated a monstrosity, half wolf and half mountain lion, possessing the craftiness of both and the cruelty of hell. In public opinion he had all the qualities of the Were wolf of Old World legends..."
That any of this was ever published about a real animal by a real agency of the United States tickles my fancy something ferocious. The podcast implies that the reason for the dramatic press release was to show the hardworking American taxpayer that the Federal Government was working hard to tame the heathen and dangerous West.

Also, how amazingly terrifying would a half wolf/half mountain lion be? It would have to have a good name to stick in the American folklore of course, perhaps the Mountawolf (a la Jackalope), or perhaps the press release already gave us the best possible name: The Grey Devil of the Desert.


Just a quick post that explores some ideas from real life about how to build up a monster hunt, something I don't think D&D as a medium especially lends itself to.

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