Cryptomen of Antiquity Picture

Reading a pretty good book about the history of mythological monsters like vampires and werewolves, and during a discussion of some of the exotic humanoid monsters of classical legend, I was struck by the fact that they could easily be reinterpreted as either "prehistoric posthumans" (genetic experiements on the part of an Atlantis-type superciv) or as alternate primate, even hominid, lineages. And from there it seemed like a natural step to an "alternate antiquity" RPG world where the player characters--as Greeks, Egyptians, Romans and the like--get to interact with some of the exotic "monster men" of mythology...without invoking the trappings of magic or mysticism. A "hard pseudo-science" alternate history RPG, if you will! So here is my thinking on a few of the classical favorite "cryptomen," as I've dubbed them.

In this scenario, the Blemmyes become hulking orangutan-like anthropoids, perhaps along the lines of Gigantopithecus, whose low-hanging heads and broad facial flanges lead to the misconception that their faces are located in their torsos. This misapprehension would easily be reinforced by the incidence of "eyepatch"-like display features (note the sleeping but "unblinking" gent at top), with the myth further embellished to include "eyes in the shoulders." I think these guys have all kinds of potential for somewhat dim-witted but powerful enemies and allies.

The "dog-headed" Cynocephalii become fully bipedal baboon-derived pseudohominids. My original image for the styling of their artifacts and acoutrements was something between Masai or Zulu and Roman Egypt (that doesn't really come across here). I think there are also a lot of possibilities for tribal scarification as a supplement or compliment to mandrill-like facial display features (I'm aware that mandrill aren't technically baboons, but I'm picturing multiple variants and subspecies). There's also an obvious overlap with the idea of the Egyptian animal-headed deities, especially the naturalistic way in which they were depicted during the Ptolemaic era. Reinvisioned like this, I think these guys would make great "NPCs" and occasional bestial player characters, something along the lines of gnolls in D&D.

The Sciapodes are much more heavily modified or derived and would probably be better explained in "game terms" as genetic experiments rather than as alternate hominids. Here they become blubbery, amphibious quasi-humans with conjoined legs and feet forming a floppy "fluke" or paddle with which they shade themselves when hauled out on river banks. The tarsier-like toe pads allow for the possibility that they are partially arboreal, and sleep hanging upside down from (presumably stout) tree limbs like bats (which could conceivably give rise to some of the more exotic Indian "vampire" legends, depending on their geographic distribution). The way I've reinvisioned these guys deviates significantly from the original myth, in which the Sciapodes were said to lie supine (on their backs) rather than prone. This "error" could be put down to a garbled mistranslation, I guess.

The Panotii probably also work better as engineered beings, in my estimation. Here the hypertrophied sheltering ears become almost a cocoon completely enveloping the body. I was thinking along two different lines: that the ears could either protect the being from dehydration and exposure while in a state of aestivation (i.e. during desert droughts), or that the Panotii are a race of religious ascetics who spend long periods of time in trance states, perhaps with the body metabolically suspended during meditation. (Or perhaps one ability or predilection arose from the other.) To this end I've depicted two different forms here: a wiry, leathery "Khoisan" or "Bushman" and a cherubic "Buddhist sage" with distended lobes resembling angel wings.

I was picturing most of the "action" taking place in Africa and the Near East, but I think any of these guys could easily be relocated to other continents and cultures...The South American Sciapodes become something like Amazon river dolphins, for example, and the Blemmyes become derived sloths. I'm well aware that there is tons of room here for reinterpretation, elaboration, and improvement, so if you'd like to take a crack at this idea, please be my guest. I'd love to see what other people come up with!
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