|"Yuan-ti Anatomy Study" by Chris Quilliams|
These last few letters of our Roman alphabet are always the hardest. Therefore, I have used tenuous connections at best to discuss concepts in abstracts. So, please bear with me. :)
Last week, I briefly mentioned that some gamers want to exclude influences derived from Tolkien in their AD&D game. Maybe the idea is to create a more Lovecraftian or Howardian feel something that excludes orcs and the like (for that I cannot help but recommend Realms of Crawling Chaos). In my mind, that is what the Yuan-ti represent. If one peruses the monster books of AD&D, especially Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II, one will find plenty of what 3.5 calls "abominations" and "outsiders." There is plenty to use in a grittier non-Tolkien game.
Let's examine the Yuan-ti (MM2, p. 130). Inhabitants of tropical jungles...well that can be changed. While Lovecraft focused mostly on marine life (deep ones!), Howard's Cthulhu tales had serpent men under England and Oklahoma! They were a degenerate race from prehistorical times that hates the "monkey races" that have since dominated the surface of the planet. The weakest are the 6 HD (!) purebloods. They can pass as human 80% of the time and have some minor reptilian features such as scaly hands or forked tongues. Also, "Purebloods normally handle affairs with the outside world and may travel far and wide doing so." This brings to mind the "strange monks" (robed Draconians) in the first Dragonlance novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, and also the degenerate inhabitants of Innsmouth with their batrachian appearance. Sinister and mysterious, they could lure heroes to their doom as in the opening story to the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. The half-breeds have a single snake-like feature: a snake's head, the lower body of a snake, whatever. Here is where the horror begins. And finally, the abominations are all snake or have, at most, a single human feature. Note that the race has innate spell abilities as well.
A whole campaign could center around the return of the "snake-men," taking the party into the Depths of the Earth to confront the yusn-ti's bleak temples and end their horrid rites. The polymorph other ability could be used to transform victims into half-breeds or even abominations to bolster the ranks of their growing armies. A desperate fight into the dark places of the world, possibly by adapting the Vault of the Drow or a similar adventure.
There are other creatures that are not necessarily abomination could be tweaked as such. I direct you to a April, 2011, post on the bullywug that in which I tweaked the description for a more dark feel. This can be done with several races. Take that stock horror the owl bear. Describe it's clacking beak and its fiery eyes to the players. Make them feel its hot breath and hear its shriek of rage. Another something that is not Tolkien. :)
In all, the ability to excise Tolkien from the game is not difficult; it merely takes a little research and some substations. Oh, and imagination, always imagination. Until tomorrow, gentle readers, when I wrap up the 2013 A-to-Z Challenge!