How Endangered Newts Inspired Wizard Island

The Nasci prequel Wizard Island is clearly a fantasy short story with elemental magic users and a giant lobster monster, but you might be surprised to learn it was inspired by real life. I wanted to set the story someplace iconic in Oregon, so I settled on one of the most obvious choices: Crater Lake National Park.

A little research revealed that Crater Lake is home to an endangered species, the Manzama newt. They are similar to their more common Oregon newt cousins except they have bright-orange bellies. Scientists believe the two species shared a common ancestor until the high walls of the caldera isolated them from their genetic cousins. And with few predators, Manzama newts have 4,000 less neurotoxins than Oregon newts. It's nice to feel safe!

Unfortunately, things changed in 1915 when non-native crayfish were introduced into Crater Lake. Over the last century, they've slowly taken over 80% of the Mazama newt's old habitat. Given this real-world environmental struggle, I decided to make the monster antagonist of Wizard Island a giant monster crayfish. The name zarigani comes from the Japanese word for crayfish (ザリガニ), a nod to Ina's half-Japanese heritage.

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Happy adventuring!

-DM Fike