Libris Monstrum #11: Naga Revisted
Tonight we have the first revisitation article for Libris Monstrum. Each entry into the series ended up being a bit different. Some focused on real world examples and some ended up focusing on various iterations within RPGs. With each revisit, I will be trying to build on what I have already. Whatever I didn’t get into, whatever I couldn’t fit, and the suggestions you provide will be included. To start of we go back to the beginning with naga, talking about different myths, both real and fantasy, that I never got to in the first one. If you want to read that before delving into today’s article just head over here!
Lord of Naga
Let’s start by going deeper into the real-world myths surrounding naga. I left this particular story out, because it deviated from the dominant theme of secret guardians. The Phaya Naga, which means lord of naga when translated from Thai, is still a serpentine creature. The Thai and Lao people consider the creatures, which live in the Mekong River and estuaries, semi-divine. Unlike the naga described in our first entry, these are more akin to creatures like Champ or Nessie, lake monsters which are supposedly living throughout the lakes of the world as remnants to ancient marine reptiles. The main difference is the significance of the Phaya Naga in culture, not as a cryptid but as something to be revered and feared. Everything from markings on houses or cars to strange wave phenomena are attributed to these creatures.
This brings us to naga fireballs. The Thai and Lao people believe that the phenomena are tied to Phaya Naga, hence the name. The Mekong River is home to a strange occurrence which takes the form of variably sized red balls of flame. These erupt from the river and the lord of naga are claimed to be responsible for them. The size of such manifestations range from small sparks to basketball sized. They have numbered in tens and up to the thousands in a single night, attesting to their mesmerizing existence. Rising up to a couple hundred meters into the air before disappearing, these orbs are probably not from Phaya Naga, but from phosphine gas. For a little more on similar things, check out the will-o’-wisp entry as they are often attributed to witch lights and not serpent monsters.
I want to head back into the fantasy realm now and discuss the world known as Azeroth. Those of you familiar with the Warcraft franchise will know exactly what I am talking about, and those of you who don’t can get an insight into the complex and interesting universe Blizzard created. I will be as brief as possible, but the story is complex and worth looking into if you are curious. The naga are one of the monstrous races of Azeroth, sea serpent demi-humanoids that were once elves. Millenia ago, Azeroth had just one continent and it was ruled over, vastly, by the elves. Masters of magic, these beings were immortal and closely connected to Azeroth through the Well of Eternity. However, through a complex series of events, the Well became corrupted along with the selfish highborn elven mages. The result was an implosion of the Well and the Sundering which created the continents Azeroth knows today.
This brings us to the survivors of the Sundering. Of those who survived were a variety of elves, but also those who would no longer be considered elves. Among those are the naga. While demons tempted and turned Queen Azshara from most of her people, it was the Old Ones imprisoned within Azeroth that drove much of what happened. One of those boons includes the transformation of Azshara and her highborn followers. Being at the edge of the Well and the center of the implosion, they surely would have drowned in its magical waters. Instead the naga were born. Male naga tend to be huge, brutish warriors and females are lithe, 4-armed casters. These creatures still worship Azshara like a god, and she may very well be close at this point, causing havoc all around Azerot’s shores. This take is interesting because it, along with others like harpies or satyr, is not a monster but a monstrous race. Nor are they significantly different (inherently) like they are in say D&D. Instead they are the offspring of corruption, greed, and selfishness. I think there is a lot of room in Dungeons & Dragons for races that descend from subgroups that have gone a different path. Not just subraces, but whole new ones, much like tieflings of D&D today.
The Naga People
Today’s entry is going to end with another real-world entry that is not directly related to the mythic creatures we all think of. Mentioned in a comment when the first entry released, the Naga are a people who live in North East India and North West Myanmar. These egalitarian people exist in tribal groups made up of various clans. Households are made up of various intermarried clans and come together to form villages. Clan territories are known as khels and the village and clan are of utmost importance for their society and power structure. Or, at least they were. More nuclear families, younger generations, and Christian missionaries (among other influences) have begun changing the ways of these peoples. Nevertheless, they are named for the region they inhabit and their common practices. The Nagaland and Naga Hills are likely named for the creature we have discussed. I bring these people up, despite the tenuous connection, because of the inspiration they could provide. These people were notoriously headhunters, preserving the heads of their enemies. What if a monster known to a civilized people were actual just a less modern people out in the wilds. In the real world stories have often been exaggerated. What if adventurers just found the naga to be headhunter natives? What if after learning to deal with that, they discover true naga as a greater adversary and perhaps worshipped by these people? Such events could provide interesting dynamics and a number of surprises for your adventuring parties.
In the next Libris Monstrum we will revisit the mimic. If you have any suggestions for that, or anything of note I missed about naga, please leave a comment!