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Guild Wars, the Moa, and New Zealand …

Originally published on Sept. 19, 2009, on my Livejournal.

It’s New Zealand Spec Fic Blogging Week.

New Zealand – a land of mystery, magic, and moas. When I sat down to find a topic for my contribution to New Zealand Spec Fic Blogging Week, I was flummoxed.

What do I know of New Zealand? Very little. A few strange factoids–mostly urban legend–have stuck in my mind over the years, but I kept choking on the cliche. So, I looked around the web at pictures of New Zealand. Wow. The more you look, the more you realize what a fertile land this is for speculative fiction.

Speculative fiction deals with the strange, the unnatural and the abnormal. Where better to be a spec fic writer than in a country that has so much of the above!

And then, I stumbled on the topic of my article: the moa. You’ve heard of the emu, the ostrich and the kiwi, but are you familiar with the moa?

Every Guild Wars fan knows the moa. But, did you know that it is an actual extinct bird from New Zealand? I didn’t know. I figured the moa came from the imagination of previous GW game designers (before my time). Nope.

The moa is a species of flightless bird that is endemic to New Zealand. It died off around 1500 A.D. They find its bones, its nests, and preserved footprints all over the islands.

Ladies, the female moa stood 150% taller than the male and weighed 280% heavier. No evidence exists to suggest that she killed and ate him after satisfactory (or unsatisfactory) copulation, but those hens definitely ruled the roost!

Scientists figured this out using ancient DNA from bones.

The moa reached full maturity at ten years of age. Scientists consider this a long time for most animals. They also had a relatively low birth rate. This, along with unhindered hunting, contributed to their extinction. Moa eggs were primarily white, although one special moa type is known to have had blue-green eggs. The largest eggs recovered at dig sites measure a little over 9″ in length and 7″ in width.

So cool! They found some soft tissue preserved in dry caves where a dry wind blew constantly enough that it kept the tissue from desiccating. The picture above is one such piece. Click on it to see it larger. It’s amazingly well-preserved. Check out those claws and the pads on its feet.

In many Polynesian languages, the word “moa” means chicken or fowl.

In the fantasy game Guild Wars, the moa is both a herd animal and a dangerous wild creature. There are strider moas, black moas (and the black moa chick), white moas, Wintersday moas, and even sickened moas. The images below show some of the ways it appears in the game.

They’re one of the iconic animals of the game. You encounter them first in Pre-Searing Ascalon. Later, you can charm one to be your pet.

From now on, whenever I write text related to moas, I’ll think of New Zealand and those dry caves in which the giant females nested. How rich!

P.S. If you’re now jonesing for a little taste of a New Zealand accent (sexy!), go listen to “The Salt Line” by NZ author Grant Stone, read to you (yes, you) by kiwi Tim Jones. It’ll curl your toes, much like in that picture of the moa toes up there.

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