Saturday, July 12, 2008

Behind the Scenes: Spellbreaker - The Acolytes of Pain

When I was commissioned to write my first Fighting Fantasy adventure in the summer of 1992 I had been living on a diet of Brother Cadfael medieval murder mysteries for some years and this inevitably influenced Spellbreaker.

The overall adventure involves the hero in helping the monks of Rassin Abbey recover the Black Grimoire, a book of dark magic which holds the key to unleashing a hellish demon on the highly religious land of Ruddlestone.

My take on Ruddlestone came from a passing reference in Titan: The Fighting Fantasy World, which referred to a devout populace ruled over by a priest king. Hence, a lot of the things that feature in Spellbreaker involve quasi-medieval religious mumbo-jumbo of one type or another - the bits that don't feature witches, that is.

The adventure is populated with pilgrims, holy men, martyrs, fanatics, saints and hallowed sites. One of these is the town of Hallow's Well. As our hero tries to leave the town by the West Gate he runs into the Acolytes of Pain.

A bald man at the front of the group has a metal band around his head, which seems to be spiked on the inside, and another similar artefact around his neck. Another man stares skyward while beating himself with a cat-o'-nine-tails. One woman, almost in a trance with the chanting, grips hot coals in her hands. These are the Acolytes of Pain, religious fanatics who believe that to get closer to their gods they must endure great physical suffering.

If our hero is captured by the acolytes, as a punishment for profaning the sacred way to enlightenment, he is then put to either the Test of the Wheel or the Test of Scorpions.

Apart from a general fascination for all things medieval and their religious beliefs in particular I remember, quite clearly, that this encounter was also inspired by a scene from Terry Gilliam's first solo feature film Jabberwocky.

Very loosely based on the nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll, the Internet Movie Database describes the movie as follows:

After the death of his father the young cooper 'Dennis Cooper' goes to town where he has to pass several adventures. The town and the whole kingdom is threatened by a terrible monster called 'Jabberwocky'. Will Dennis make his fortune? Is anyone brave enough to defeat the monster? A medieval tale with Pythonesque humour.

During his adventures Dennis (played by Michael Palin) runs into a bunch of religious fanatics who at first intend to set him on fire. However, the more they discuss his horrific death-to-come, the more excited one of the masochistic fanatics (played by Kenneth Colley) becomes, until he sets himself alight and launches himself from the city walls using a giant catapult. It was he that I had in mind when I wrote the description of the acolyte withe the metal band around his head.

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Blogger Thomas Nielsen said...

Ahh yes, i did suspect that you were either inspired by Jabberwocky or the flagellants from Warhammer back when i first read this book.

May 24, 2009 at 8:57 AM  

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