Monday, June 30, 2014

The Gardens of Bomarzo: A Park Full of Renaissance-Era Monsters

Roleplaying games are full of crumbling ruins strewn with bizarre, horrifying statues. In fact most players would be jarred not to find half-rotten plinths topped by tortured caryatids or twisted monsters. But how would players actually react to walking through a place like that?

If you ever get a chance to go to the Gardens of Bomarzo, you'll find out.

I check that motherfucker for traps.
This room, known as the Mouth of Orcus (I shit you not, that's the name) allows those who enter to be heard by those at the base of the stairs, even if they're just whispering. And this is just one of over 20 statues and buildings strewn through the gardens, which are found north of Rome, Italy just outside a little town called Bomarzo.

A Brief Background

If you want the full details I did a more in-depth run down in this article, but the short version is that in the 16th century a nobleman and artist commissioned this park upon the death of his wife. This artist, who was in the same weight class as Michaelangelo, labored for decades with a select few craftsmen to build a park of dark wonders the likes of which the world had never seen before.

Guy didn't fuck around, either.
These sculptures were scattered over a scenic garden, featuring everything from demonic mouth-caves, to dragons, to war elephants crushing Roman legionnaires. It never caught on, and in time the place of beautiful madness fell into decay. For centuries wars were fought, families raised, and the monsters of Bomarzo slumbered.

If that isn't a great game opener, I don't know what is.

The park was brought back into the light of day when new caretakers took over after the second World War, and they've restored much of the statuary and buildings to their original, Gothic glory. Great and terrible, this park is the kind of place that real people get chills down their spines in the full light of day. This place is a rich well of nightmare fuel, and if you want to terrify your players (or see if you can spot the statues that inspired classic Dungeons and Dragons artwork) it's a great place to start digging.

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