Monday, August 19, 2019

Belated Friday Art Attack

Friday was a little crazy.  Here's a Monday Art Attack, I guess.  I'm going to focus on images with filenames in the Cs.

Undead sorcerer.

Undead... something or other.

Sorcerous witch-hunter type.

One of the planets in Old Republic.  I'm a bit disconnected and can't remember which one it is now.

Camelops, a Pleistocene North American camel, larger than a dromedary.

Borophagus diversidens and some early coyote-like dogs of the modern dog subfamily.

Carcharodontosaurus, the African megapredator from the "middle" Cretaceous.

Cat lady.  I dunno, just a cool image.

Classical fantasy is an underserved subgenre.

Everyone loves hot tieflings, right?

A book cover from a Cherryh Russian fantasy book.

I loved this image of a city built on a bridge.  I've got similar ideas for some of my stuff.

Some great Conan art with undead.

Always gotta make sure that I don't focus too much on fantasy or space opera but hit them both up.  Great fighter images.

Two more ghostly undead types.

Cryxian laboratories.

Again; Romans and Greeks in fantasy are underused.

A Strahd image; the D&D version of Dracula.

Cyberpunk city image.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Hasta la vista, ENWorld

In the wake of the release of Pathfinder 2, I thought it might be nice to wander over to ENWorld again and see what kind of chatter there was about it.  Y'know, just to get a sense of what people were thinking about it.  Not that I'm interested in the game very much myself—I was (mostly) politely disinterested in Pathfinder 1 when I realized that not only was it going to fix very little of the problems 3.5 had, but it was actually going to exacerbate them, if anything.

Of course, I don't really do ENWorld very much anymore.  I found out again very quickly why.  I had posted a thread months ago asking people to describe for me why they preferred Kara-Tur over Rokugan or vice versa (and threw in as an aside that they could use Paizo's Dragon Empires as a third Oriental Adventures substitute if they wanted.

It had some decent discussion for a while, and although it was an older thread, messageboards are a thing of the past mostly, so it still had some currency from time to time as someone discovered it and posted a few posts and it floated to the top again for a time.  And then, of course, some idiot SJW tried to derail the discussion by going on about how "oriental" might be considered an insulting or racist term or something.  I told him to knock it off, rather politely, I think, because no it isn't and it's derailing the discussion.

Umbran, the only mod left who ever seems to do anything, and man does he do it all, came in with his official "red letter" post telling me not to try and be "junior-mod" and just report the post.  Well, Umbran, I'm not trying to be "junior-mod" and although it might be inconceivable to you, sometimes people can resolve issues themselves without having to go run and tattle to mommy about every single little thing that they don't like.  I know, I know—you really love the self-important feeling of being mommy in this context, so you jealously guard that privilege and don't want people solving their own problems when they "should" be turning to you.  What kind of very sad, socially inept kind of guy needs that kind of validation, though?  I swear, Every. Single. Time. it's Umbran who reminds me of why I don't really frequent ENWorld anymore.  He's managed to almost single-handedly turn the place toxic, either through his own toxicity, or through his support of toxic behavior in others and his constant use of "mod power" to squash any psychologically healthy or functional behavior.  He's such a narcissistic, bratty little princess.

To this he added the idea that this lunatic SJW was right because the APA style guide and a very recent Webster's dictionary added that "oriental" might be considered offensive to some.  Those are not authoritative sources; they are second, third or even fourth removed from the original, but I actually remember watching Edward Said's demagoguery and race-baiting bigotry percolate through the academic literature as he created out of thin air the concept that "oriental" was racist (curiously, Said is, of course, not oriental. He's a Palestinian.)  I can tell you first hand that nobody really takes that crap seriously; he's just a loud, lunatic fringe—a cultural vandal—and because he has an academic post, he has a pulpit to convince gullible people at the style guide and the dictionary that there are actually people who believe oriental to be a racist designation.  There aren't.  There's just Said and his little coterie of fellow Western Civilization hating vandals yelling on the fringes of academic thought.  As historian Nikki Keddie said about it (giving Said rather more benefit of the doubt than he's observable earned):
. . . some unfortunate consequences . . . I think that there has been a tendency in the Middle East [studies] field to adopt the word "Orientalism" as a generalized swear-word, essentially referring to people who take the "wrong" position on the Arab–Israeli dispute, or to people who are judged "too conservative". It has nothing to do with whether they are good or not good in their disciplines. So, "Orientalism", for many people, is a word that substitutes for thought, and enables people to dismiss certain scholars and their works. I think that is too bad. It may not have been what Edward Saïd meant, at all, but the term has become a kind of slogan.
Anyway, once again, I'll be leaving ENWorld in disgust, reminded once again of why the place has become so incredibly insufferable and toxic. I'm tempted to post this stuff there too, but it'll just get deleted.  I don't need to flounce out like a drama queen telling everybody how much they suck as I leave.  It's Morrus's place, and he's delegated Umbran to run it the way that he wants it, and I'm a guest there.  If they want it to be toxic watering hole for SJWs, that's their affair.  Maybe I'll post it without the personal insults about Umbran and his greasy, creepy beta male behavior, but really—do I care that much?  I'm certainly irritated (again) with him and the place in general, but I'm not their dad, and it's not my responsibility to try and teach them appropriate social behavior.  Or anything else, for that matter.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Improved map

Well, I've drawn the Hill Country map, and this version is slightly less sketchy; it's good enough to use, in any case.

Curiously, the scanner I put it on seems to have added a vertical line.  Sigh.  It's not worth the trouble to remove it, though—most likely I'll personally refer to the actual map I drew, not this digital scan of it that's been slightly colorized to make some of the lines more obvious in terms of what they are (i.e., I colored in forests and lakes so rather than big blobby lines, they're green and blue respectively, making it more obvious what they are.)  It's just for purposes of posting on the blog for now.  Ideally I'd make a fully digital version of the map, but I'm not a great digital artist, so I may not.

This map is almost as complete as the Nentir Vale map, or the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, both of which I continually say I emulate in terms of how big and how detailed a "setting" needs to be; and certainly it's as detailed as my Timischburg map, which would abut this map on the northeastern edge.  As I redrew it, I ended up added a few more details, including some sketched in roads or paths, a few more minor Hillmen settlements, and some foreign influences on the edge; namely the Daikos Colony on the north center (Lomarians), Sharkul on the southeast shore of Lake Byewick (a Gunaakt Colony), a smaller (relative to its iteration in DH4 anyway) version of the Indash Salt Sea in the far southwest corner, including Glittering Simashki on its shores (Hamazin city-state), and two settlements of the jann from Kurushat: Sinjagat and Vuukrat, both on the edge of the Rudmont Escarpment.

What I don't have marked is where some of the "adventuring sites" would be (although keep in mind that since I dislike site exploration and clearing as a paradigm of play, I wouldn't be expected to have as many as a D&D map anyway).  Although where do some of the outlaws hang out, where are some of the ruins and haunted locations, where do the Drylanders roam, etc.?  This level of detail is not present, either because I haven't really given it too much thought yet, or because in some cases, I don't want to mark them on the map (they'd be spoilers, for one thing.)

Anyway, here's the map.  Because I've added a number of new locations, I've really got plenty to talk about, but then again—I never really fleshed out every location on my Timischburg map, and that's OK.  For a lot of locations, simply giving a sentence or two about what it is was sufficient for the time being, and more detail can be added later if or when I actually end up becoming involved directly in that location somehow.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Hill Country and the Villain's Codex

Now, let's combine the last two posts.  I've just (finally) sketched out a hasty approximation of the Hill Country (although to be fair, it's admittedly at least somewhat incomplete), and the post before that I did a semi-review semi-deconstruction of Paizo's Villain Codex.  Now, I can actually use some of the material from the Villain Codex as thought-starters for stuff happening in the Hill Country.  Here's the stuff that I particular liked:
  • Arcane Society
  • Corrupt Guard
  • Cruel Musketeers
  • Merry Outlaws
  • Nature's Scourge
  • Regal Court
  • Savage Marauders
  • Secret Society
  • Sinister Cult
  • Slayer's Guild
Stuff like the Thieves' Guild, the Scandalous Pirates, the Brutal Slavers or the Ruthless Brigands are so generic that I'll probably have some equivalent to them, but it won't necessarily borrow anything from the Villains Codex.  

How will I fit these in?

First off, Waychester will be the half of the Hill Country that has the Regal Court.  The Grand Duke (who really wants to consider himself a King; but feels he needs to subdue the southern city-state and its possessions in order to do so) has had a rift with his Queen, who is locked up in a tower.  Of course, she's a witch, so she's not as helpless or confined as everything things she is.  The Cruel Musketeers are an important subcomponent to the Regal Court, so we'll add them too.  We'll have the Merry Outlaws being primarily a northern group as well, as well as the Corrupt Guard and the Arcane Society (although that will need some work to be usable; I don't have magic perceived the same way in DH5 as it is in D&D.)  Nature's Scourge will be a threat mostly in the Wolfwood.

The Secret Society will be present in both sides, and the Sinister Cult will be mostly a southern threat.  The Savage Maurauders, here made up of Drylanders, while the Slayers' Guild will be a kemling cult that has brought a number of Hillmen on board over the years, and will operate across the entire area.  The Brutal Slavers will mostly just be integrated into the Savage Marauders, the Ruthless Brigands may come and go across the border, such as it is, Scandalous Pirates will be on the Darkling Sea only (of course, although I suppose maybe there could be some river pirates too.)  Thieves Guilds will be present in both large cities and maybe a few of the other more modest-sized towns, although they won't be linked.  I'll probably pull on some DH4 concepts, like the Cherskii Mafia, and figure out how to incorporate it, perhaps.

That gives me a number of other posts to make besides just the location based ones; as I said earlier, I'll end up having to actually do a fair bit of work to make these bare bones skeletons of organizations actually usable.  They do not have enough setting material to be truly plug and play (which is a bit odd, given that Golarion is a setting as much as anything else.)

In very broad terms, it means that the two halves of the Hill Country have a slightly different focus.  The northern half, under the umbrella of Waychester, is threatened internally, corruption, rebellion, and civil war is the theme there, for the most part.  The southern half, under the loose umbrella of Upwater, is faced with more external threats; hostile tribes of barbarians and bandits, Lovecraftian cults in the deep wilderness, and other such threats.  This is too broad to be precisely true, but at a very high level, broad perspective, it mostly works.

The Hill Country (sketchily mapped)

I've finally done it; made up a sketchy map of the Hill Country.  Normally, I can make maps in no time flat, and I used to do it as a doodling exercise in class when I was in middle school.  It was harder this time around, because I felt like I needed to really find some uninterrupted time to just sit down and crank it out.  I did end up doing that, but not for very long, and the map I made is too sketchy to be scanned and posted—although I think it'll be the template for a better, prettier one in the near future.  Let me at least describe the major features that I've put up so far, so I have a list of things to cover in future posts with the HILL COUNTRY post tag.

Unfortunately, I started working without looking at my older TIMISCHBURG map.  Now, to be fair, I need to redraw that reoriented to 90°, but I hadn't actually thought about making any changes.  I may have to either make one minor one, or otherwise do a bit of shuffling. In my memory of the old Timischburg map the top edge (which is now the western left edge with the new orientation) had two mountain ranges with the Haunted Forest in the middle.  I couldn't for the life of me remember what the other mountain range was, but I was sure it was there.  I could remember the Knifetop Mountains.  In reality, it was the Knifetop Mountains in the center surrounded by two different forests on either side; the Haunted Forest and the Thursewood.  So, of course, I drew the right (eastward) edge of the Hill Country, which abuts Timischburg, wrong.  I can obviously still change it, but I kinda like the idea of two vanguards of mountain ranges with a big forest in the middle.  Of course, by shifting Timischburg just a bit to the north and giving the southern mountain range a new name, I can solve all of this, but I'm not yet sure what my preferred solution will be.  In any case, the Haunted Forest is already detailed to a minor degree and doesn't need any more work at least in the short term.  The Knifetop mountains are to the north of it (and the Thursewood further north from that; just off map of my newly drawn Hill Country map) and the southern mountain range will be the Sabtertooth Range.

At the far western edge of the map is the Rudmont Escarpment, a very long and very steep fault line where the elevation changes by 1,000 to 2,000 feet over the course of only about a quarter mile or so; sometimes less.  At it's most extreme, this is a gigantic wall of rock, but at other places, it's a little bit more gentle.  Very few passes (gulleys with streams, mostly, with difficult roads hacked into them) pierce this escarpment, but some travel does take place between the lowlands of the Hill Country and the Uplands beyond where Baal Hamazi and Kurushat are located.  The passes themselves are in the hands of one of those two nations, but guards and small garrisons are placed at the bottom of the passes as well to keep potentially hostile armies from invading from the Plateau of Leng beyond.  Realistically, the deterrence factor of these small garrisons is slight, and their mission is more to warn of an encroaching army rather than try to fight it off, but there is some support given to these soldiers, and the Hillmen are cognizant of the potential threat of greedy kemlings or jann thinking that the Hill Country would be nice to be added back to their countries territory once again.

As the name suggests, the escarpment is made of reddish sandstone, and as one moves, in general, from east to west, it gradually gets drier.  The basin right in front of the escarpment, making up about a third of the map, is mostly southwestern style desert, with dry grasses, sagebrush, creosote, dagger yuccas, prickly pear cactus, mesquite trees, pinyon pines and junipers making up most of the vegetation.  The Hillmen who live here tend to be stock breeders, with herds of small shaggy horses, longhorn cattle, and some woolly sheep.  There are also semi-domesticated bison that wander in managed herds in this area, as well as pronghorn antelope, which are more hunted rather than herded in any fashion whatsoever.

But this is the southern part of the basin; the north is filled with a vast freshwater sea called the Darkling Sea, which resembles the Caspian Sea in many respects. To the north of this sea is the Wolfwood, which has small settlements of loggers and homesteaders here and there.  They also ship lumber to the ports mentioned below. Into the Darkling Sea flows the Chatterwash River from the Knifetop mountains, although it splits at Waychester into the North Fork and the South Fork and they enter the sea at a considerable distance from each other.  Omsbury is a town at the mouth of the North Fork and Milcastle is at the south.  Both are vassals to Waychester, and both also trade with Cayminster on the western edge of the sea, although Cayminster is technically politically independent.  Waychester is one of the dominant city-states in the region.  Most of the northern half of the map is loosely under their protection if not outright sovereignty, and many of the smaller communities would falter economically if not in more dramatic fashion, without the support of the self-styled Grand Duke of Waychester—who would like nothing better than to be called King of Waychester.

Upwater is the other one, which is on the Chokewater River, which also flows east to west out of the more southerly mountains.  While the Chatterwash flows through rolling karst kills covered with thick brush, yaupon and live oak and willows, scattered in an open savanna like environment, the Chokewater flows through more desolate country, and trees are more scarce except in the galleries along the river valley itself.  Open tallgrass prairie called the Golden Wold makes up the large area in the Bight of the Chokewater, although more broadly speaking, the same type of territory is common all along the length of the river.  The Chokewater does not reach the Darkling Sea, but instead peters out in the desert eventually, become first rather small and sluggish, before turning into smallish marshes and eventually just stopping altogether almost at the foot of the southern reaches of the Rudmont Escarpment.  While Waychester has better access to lumber from the Wolfwood, Upwater's efforts tend to focus on mining of copper, iron, tin, coal and smaller veins even of gold and silver in the rocky, hilly country south of the open prairie (and within it, at times) and especially at the end of the river.  Small communities along the river include Pickdown, nestled at the edge of the Haunted Forest and the Sabertooth Range, Getfield partly up the river towards Upwater, and Rackgrove at the end where large groves of willow trees manage to suck up the last water of the river before it ends.  Smaller villages and hamlets are to be found all throughout the southern hills near Lake Byewick, but other than that, ranches, homesteads and smaller family-owned settlements make up most of what can be found.

Upwater and Waychester are culturally nearly identical, and the common people of each tend to like the company of each other, but the leaders of the two communities see each other as rivals for economic and political power, and that has slowly started to sour relationships between the two northern and southern city-states and their claimed areas of influence.

Because much of the territory is still unsettled frontierland, there are other threats besides the ambitions of the two city-states to contend with.  Lingering small bands of skraelings can be found, especially in the forests and ranging, from time to time, beyond them.  Drylander hunters, not unlike a combination of the Huns, the Mongols and the Comanche, wander the vast basin between the mountain ranges to the east and the Escarpment to the west, and while they are not obligatorily hostile to the Hillmen, they quite often are.  Small communities of kemlings and jann are left over from the times in which they ruled the area in ages past, and most of them are not happy about new interlopers from the east, as they see the Hillmen.  For the most part, these camps, settlements and areas of influence of these non-Hillmen entities will still need to be marked on the map; I haven't really done that yet.

Anyway, as I continue to develop this, probably my first step will be to make this map a bit more presentable and post a version of it, which can then be gradually filled in and filled out.  Keep in mind that I'm not trying to make this completely developed; rather, the Hill Country is to be a territory not unlike 4e's Nentir Vale in some respects; except with more of an "American frontier in the Middle Ages" feel to it, if that makes any sense at all.  So, the second step will be to start filling in details, which will in turn drive adding more details to the map.  And so it goes.  Topics to be the subject of future posts include, then:

  • Knifetop Mountains
  • Sabertooth Range
  • The Darkling Sea
  • The Wolfwood
  • The Chatterwash River
  • Waychester
  • Milcastle
  • Omsbury
  • Cayminster
  • The Rudmont Escarpment
  • Rackgrove
  • Upwater
  • Getfield
  • Pickdown
  • The Golden Wold
  • Lake Byewick
  • Drylanders
  • Kemlings of the Hill Country
  • Jann of the Hill Country
  • Skraelings of the Hill Country
  • Other threats of the Hill Country

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Paizo titles

It's been a couple of months since I posted anything related to roleplaying games or my setting; ostensibly the purpose of this blog.  That's OK, I suppose—focus sometimes changes, drifts, and centers on other things from time to time, and stuff like WESTERN HACK was clearly a spin-off from DH5 (and actually contributed some great options to it, like the mythical horses, etc.)  But I do feel like between my various vacations, lots of stuff going on at work, and my interest in a variety of topics that have hit me this summer, it's been a particularly dry spell for RPG related stuff, whether with regards to DH5, WESTERN HACK or even AD ASTRA; my three main RPG topics of note.  It's also been lean with regards to the PAIZO DECONSTRUCTED projects, and for that matter even for my reading of anything, fiction, RPG or otherwise.  I've just been busy and when I had a few moments, other hobbies have occupied my thoughts lately.  It's the last of those topics, PAIZO DECONSTRUCTED that I want to refer to momentarily.

While I'm not really a customer of new stuff too much, I did manage to get my hands on a big lot of Paizo stuff from a friend retiring from the hobby not too long ago, so I've got a lot of material to review much of it really quite new.  (Or at least newish. New by my standards.)  And yes, I'm aware that Pathfinder just got a major upgrade to a new edition, which was probably a marketing/sales imperative after 5e ended up being pretty good and bringing lots of D&D prodigal sons back into the fold who left during 4e (many of them wandering into Paizoland, at least for a time.)  I'm vaguely aware of what some reviews are saying about Pathfinder 2, but I'm not particularly interested in it myself.  What I have enjoyed, at least to some degree, are less the Paizo "crunch" books and more the Golarion setting and the adventures—at least once I filter out the raging SJW nonsense that has infected them.  Because of that, I still suffer through both the over-the-top ridiculous crunch paradigm that I've long since left behind (to the degree that I ever belonged to it in the first place) as well as the over-the-top ridiculous Diversity, Inc.™ (which of course really means anti-white, anti-Christian, anti-Western Civilization bigotry) paradigm to filter out whatever gold flakes of value might be pannable out of the material I have. (I like also like tortured metaphors, apparently.)

Anyway, I'm going to both continue my Pathfinder Society Crawl as well as go through some of the more recent setting and rulebooks in a combination of review and deconstruction to see what strikes my fancy as usable material for me.  It's clearly not as much as I first thought, but there's still stuff out there that I can use, even in my current iteration of my setting, as I discovered a few months ago.  The most recent book I've read through (mostly, anyway) is the Villain Codex, a book that I had high hopes for once I saw what it was.  One of my favorite aspects of some very late 3.5 era books was the organizations that they described.  While several books had them, the one that sticks out most notably in my mind is the whole notion of the Black Scrolls of Ahm and the organization (or cult, almost, if you prefer) associated with them.  Sadly, the organizations in this book do not come close to that high bar; what we get are some pretty basic villainous organizations (without even any specifics!), a few paragraph long story hooks, a few new feats or spells or magic items, and then a bunch of NPC stats.  Curiously, for a book that's meant to be "plug and play", you can't actually do very much with the material here without having to whip up a lot of details on your own to make it usable.  Sure, sure—if you're in the middle of a session and get bogged down by needing some thieves' guild members, you can use them, I suppose (this is really only a problem for really "crunchy" systems anyway) but then you'll be scrambling between then and the next session trying to figure out what the deal with this thieves' guild really is.  The book itself would have been better served by cutting back on the crunch and fleshing out the organizations with some more specifics.

That's not to say some of the organizations aren't a good seed, merely that you'll need to put a lot of effort into cultivating it from seed to a plant that offers usable fruit to your game.  One way in which this is facilitated, the book's credit, is potential ties between various of the organizations, meaning that you can incorporate more than one of them to better effect than a single one—although that means that potentially even more work needs to be done.  Another curious aside is that not all of these villainous organizations are really all that villainous (the Queen's Musketeers, for example) and their aims and goals might be as sympathetic as anything else.  Heck, even the "brutal slavers", if you get rid of the curious recent SJW craze about slavery as the worst of all evils, are potentially patriotic privateers or a sort who may be as useful as allies as they would be as villains.

Now, granted, if these are just side color, then you can do without anything other than maybe making up a name for these organizations, which curiously lack any.  But if you want to actually make them an integral part of any campaign, they simply don't have enough information to be usable.  Probably that's the point; they aren't meant to be the source of an entire campaign, or to be the "main villain" of a campaign.  If they were, they'd need much more fleshing out.  But as a "side villain" or a cult or organization that can be dredged up on demand in a heartbeat, it works fairly well, I suppose, and as the seed of an organization that can be better fleshed out, these ideas verge from kinda clever to dreadfully cliche.

Here's the list of groups and organizations.  I've put a bold, red asterisk by those that I think are the most intriguing to potentially use in some fashion or other:
  • Arcane Society. * A magical guild that feigns philanthropy but in reality is ruled by a lich who makes human sacrifices to maintain the appearance of youth and beauty and who wishes to otherthrow the kingdom and set herself up as the new dark Queen.
  • Brutal Slavers. Pretty standard group of slavers, although the fact that they raid an enemy during a state of cold war makes them less evil than the authors would like them to actually be.
  • Carnival Troupe. A traveling carnival that's maybe a bit more sinister than most.  Very low level and odd threat; I can't imagine I'd use them for anything.
  • Corrupt Guard. * A great way to manage urban intrigue.  This combination of the police and the organized crime in a single organization is one of the better, albeit not exactly innovative, ideas here.
  • Cruel Musketeers. * In spite of the cheesy name, what they really are is a group of disbanded musketeers who have fallen out of favor following a coup attempt by the Queen against her husband.  While ready to rescue the Queen, they've fallen into a bit of banditry and recruitment of less savory characters than during their golden age.  Almost require the use of some of the other groups to give them some context.
  • Death Cult. Pretty standard undead cult.  I don't have a problem with undead cults, but this one offers little that better cults (such as Orcus or Tar-Baphon) don't already provide.
  • Demon Knights. A savage group of renegades who, for reasons that aren't exactly clear, emulate demons.  They really are just vicious psychopaths and barbarians who have banded together to sack villages and towns and kill almost everyone in them.  
  • Diabolical Church. There's some aspects I like of this, particular the insidious way that it comes to power (I doubt the authors were able to draw the obvious comparisons to the Left, but they're oh so very much there.)  That said; at the end of the day, an evil church, yawn.
  • Fang Monastery. I don't really have much interest in monks as a D&D archetype to begin with, and one that's a bit on the sinister side and seems to really like snakes isn't enough to purge me of that bias.
  • Merchant Caravan. How exactly a caravan of hucksters and con artists can manage to travel all around the kingdom and not make sufficient nuisance of itself to be put out of its misery isn't really very clear, but in case you want one of those, here's one.
  • Merry Outlaws. * Another curious parallel with the Left; this is obviously Robin Hood, except stripped of the veneer of folk hero morality.  Oh, the common people still believe that it has that vaguely socialist morality, but in reality, they're just bandits with a good PR department.  This would be really nice contrasted with an actual good, noblesse oblige philanthropist as a patron or victim of the PCs against these guys.
  • Nature's Scourge. * A kind of watered down version of what I've posted (more fairly, stolen) in the past about druids; eco-terrorists in a magical fantasy kingdom.
  • Regal Court. *  The kingdom's highest echelons are a hot bed of murder and intrigue.  The Queen led a rebellion against the king, and was locked in the tower for her trouble.  That said, she's a mirror witch, and unknown to the King and his corrupt vizier, can come and go at will if necessary, so is plotting still.  Combined with the corrupt guard, the musketeers, and others, this is a nice way to go.
  • Ruthless Brigands. Nothing particularly noteworthy; a mercenary company that's between clients, so is kinda living off of banditry in the meantime.  Useful combined with some of the other factions.
  • Savage Marauders. * A combination of barbarians outside of society raiding.  The Huns, the Mongols, the Comanche, etc. all rolled into a single cavalry (mostly) horde.
  • Scandalous Pirates. I don't know why they're so scandalous; they're pretty much just "pirates" although united (loosely) into a single faction or fleet, so they're more than just a single ship or captain, I guess.
  • Secret Society. * Given what is likely true about Epstein and the Deep State, this one strikes pretty close to home; a very sinister cult of elitists who seek to dominate everyone else.  For some reason, they wear cat masks and use cat iconography, but that's easy enough to change if you don't like it.
  • Sinister Cult. * The closest thing here to a Lovecraftian cult.  Curiously, of course, as with the Death Cult, Paizo already has a Lovecraftian cult, which for reasons that aren't clear to me, they didn't touch on in this book, preferring to reinvent the wheel.
  • Slayer's Guild. * Another wheel reinvented; the Red Mantis group is ignored in order to handwave up this additional assassin's cult which is basically the same thing except without so clear of a visual cue.
  • Thieves' Guild. Nothing special here; Thieves' Guilds have been a standard part of wretched hive of scum and villainy city-based fantasy for as long as that genre has existed.  It's just the Mafia transported into fantasy.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

FrankN on the latest PIE questions

It seems to me that sometimes ideas get thrown out there that are much bigger than what the data would call for; the tail wagging the dog, as it were, when it comes to some surprising aDNA sample that people then use to rewrite everything that they thought they knew about pre-history.

Now, I don't mean to say that FrankN is one such fellow; in general, I actually find him a very measured and sensible fellow, and not only one of the better contributors in the Eurogenes comments section, but also a regular actual contributor at too. (In fact, I wish he'd make an actual post out of the comments that I'm going to quote below, where he goes into more detail about what he's getting at.)

Anyway, this is a fascinating area of speculation for me, as long as everyone keeps their heads on straight and remembers how broad a brush we're sometimes painting with based on very little inferences of data.  Without further ado: FrankN, some of which is part of an ongoing dialogue with various other posters, most of whom I'm not posting.
"there are also several lose ends in regards to the steppe homeland theory, such as the lack of corroboration from aDNA for the steppe origins of the Hittites and Tocharians .."
Fair enough. I'd like to add the Swat Valley samples. The Swat River appears in the Rigvedas as Suvastu, with IE etymology, so the IA samples from there should represent IE speakers. 
Now, there is pretty solid evidence of (late) Proto-Uralic borrowing from Indo-Aryan, and the most plausible zone of contact was the S. Urals during Sintashta times [Parpola argues for Sumerian as (Para-)Uralic, with Maykop as northward link, but I have a hard time to align such a scenario with the archaeological and aDNA record.] Doesn't that mean that - in spite of weak aDNA evidence - the Sintashta, ultimately Steppe origin of Indo-Aryan may be regarded as linguistically assured? 
Well, apparently Indic contains some traces of centum languages, e.g. Bangani koto, Kashmiri hata "hundred". Zoller 2016 assesses the linguistic Picture in quite some detail and concludes (emphasis is mine): 
“I have shown that at the time of Old Indo-Aryan there must have existed a linkage of lects, with Vedic just one of them. These lectal differentiations seem to suggest that the standard model of the three branches of Indo-Iranian is in need of a revision. Their existence also supports the idea of the earlier immigration of the ancestor(s) of the Outer Language which led to a strong encounter with Munda/Austro-Asiatic languages (but to a weak encounter in case of Vedic and Classical Sanskrit) which must have dominated the prehistoric linguistic area of northern India. This dominance must have extended far into prehistory because of the many parallels in the language isolate Burushaski.” 
IOW: Even if we accept Vedic Sanskrit as Sintashta, ultimately Steppe-derived, it apparently wasn't the first IE language arriving in India. Instead, it overformed earlier IE languages spoken there (which may, or may not, have been related to Tocharian). 
IMO, everything at the moment points to (pre-)PIE originating from the S. Caspian. This includes Matt's latest PCA (thx, Matt, btw, for the efforts you always put into these). The Khvalynsk-Progress cline there points eastwards towards Tajiks, and when extrapolated further towards "ancients", it lands somewhere between Iran_Hotu and Saraszm. [The archeological connection between those two is well established: Neolithisation of Central Asian by the Jeitun culture originated in the Alborz foothills.] 
Having said that, there are still two things that puzzle me: 
1. In terms of basic lexicon, PIE appears to have most in common with Chukotko-Kamshatkan. I also compared the PIE Swadesh 100 list with Proto-Wakashan-Nivkh-Algic (PAW) as proposed by S. Nikolaev (links under, with a surprisingly high number of parallels that go beyond what I term "paleo-substrate". E.g., PIE *h₁egʷʰ- “drink” and *h₂ékʷeh₂ "water" find almost perfect matches in Nikolaev's reconstruction. What is even more intriguing is that Nikolaew reconstructs *wä- "water" as generic PAW term (water body, liquid, etc.), with *hek - wä meaning "drinking water". So, the analogy isn't just restricted to the basic roots, but extends to the way the roots are combined in order to express a specific concept. 
The issue here is that Nikolaev's PAW is transpacific and ancient, so there is no point in trying to find steppe signals in modern Chukotko-Kamchatkans. We are either dealing with an early Caucasian expansion that ultimately made it to the Americas (c.f. Kennewick Man's mtDNA X2a vs. the X2 in Iran_Neo), or late Mesolithic ENA influence on PIE, e.g. connected to the introduction of "combed"/ "pseudo-corded" pottery that can ultimately be traced back to the lower Amur Epi-Paleolithic. 
2. There seems to have been significant cultural influence of late Mesolithic/ early Neolithic Ukraine on Khvalynsk and Yamnaya, far beyond its rather meager genetic contribution. Points in case are ritual trepanations (first evidence from the Dniepr Rapids area during the 6th mBC, common in Progress/Vonyushka and also Khvalynsk), use of red ochre in burials (a common UA_Mes, Baltic_HG and SHG feature), and also the "proto-Kurgans", essentially not much more than stone heaps, in Progress/Vonyushka. 
Opposite to what Anthony suggests, they hardly have anything in common with the large and richly furnished Leyla-Tepe / Maykop kurgans, but correspond well to contemporary practices in the Donetsk area. 
If the late Mesolithic Dniepr-Donetsk area was culturally so important, why not also linguistically? 
Suyindik has above cited D. Reich as follows: 
"about ten thousand years ago there were at least four major populations in West Eurasia—the farmers of the Fertile Crescent, the farmers of Iran, the hunter-gatherers of central and western Europe, and the hunter-gatherers of eastern Europe. All these populations differed from one another as much as Europeans differ from East Asians today."
So far, the linguistic implications of this observation seem to have gone widely unnoticed. Genetic isolation of course also means linguistic isolation, and a longer period of specific linguistic drift. Most of the major language families have now been reconstructed to proto-level, at a time depth of typically 5-6 ky ago (substantially longer for Afro-Asiatic). Apparently, except for mixed languages/ creoles, since then no new language family emerged. There has also been some recent work on comparing, possibly combining proto-languages into Macro-families, which bears the potential to increase the time depth by another couple of thousand years. However, any attempts to do so for PIE (Nostratic, IndoUralic etc.) have so far remained unconvincing, meaning that (pre-pre-)PIE is apparently very ancient.  
As such, I believe that when it comes to the "homeland" issue, a key question is: When and where could a family develop its specific features that set it apart from all other families. Outside the tropics, the "when" question is answered relatively easily - we are either dealing with the Younger Dryas, but more likely with the LGM, when relatively small populations concentrated in spatially confined refugia, linguistically and genetically isolated from other populations. 
The "where", of course, then needs to be answered separately for each population/ language group. As concerns (pre-pre) PIE, my best guess in this respect is the S. Caspian refugium. Theoretically, Siberia might be considered as well, but then we run out of LGM refugia out of which pre-pre-Proto Uralic and Altaic could have emerged...
"So, what if two consecutive migrations brought IE languages to India?" 
What would have been the first migration? Acc. to Adams, Andronovo already fails for Tocharian, so I can't see it having reached India. Also, the Swat_IA samples preclude significant Steppe (Andronovo) ancestry in that "outer language" area described by Zoller - even more so, if the meager Portion of Steppe ancestry in them is to be attributed not just to Sintashta-derived overforming, but actually to two Steppe migrations.  
Nah, the only plausible source of this first migration is Central Asia, and that means ultimately (directly, or with a stop-over in Zerafshan) the S. Caspian. While we still lack aDNA IVC aDNA, otherwise the NE Iranian connection is genetically obvious - be it Reich's old ANI, haplogroups of Indian goats and sheep, or the ca. 3500 BC Walnut finds in Kashmir. Modern Kashmiri Walnut trees have been established to descend from S. Caspian stock, one of the 2-3 LGM refugia for the Persian(!) Walnut (the other refugia lay around the Pamirs/ Tian Shan, that's where a/o modern Chinese trees originate from).
The Narasimhan preprint clearly distinguishes Steppe_EBA (w/o EEF/ANF admix) and Steppe_MLBA (with such admix). So these 22% Steppe_MLBA are Sintashta-related, not from Andronovo, and there is actually nothing in the pre-print suggesting Steppe_EBA (Andronovo) making it across the Hindukush. 
22% is what I call "meager", considering the impact of a similar magnitude of admixture on Basques (speculatively also Etruscans). 
In addition, look at the timescale: Steppe_MLBA ancestry appears around 2000-1500 BC in BMAC, by 1200 BC it is attested in the Swat valley. Now, the Rigvedas are commonly dated to around 1500 BC, and explicitly mention the Swat river as Suvasto (with IE etymology). Steppe_MLBA alone is not only too little, but also too late to explain this IE toponym.  
After all, the Swat is quite a major river (and was important enough for being mentionned in the Rigvedas), and such rivers tend to keep their names for a long time - c.f. Missisippi (Algonquin), Guadalquivir (Arabic), Havel (->W. Slavic Hevelli), etc. This holds even more true if an ancient resident population isn't completely replaced, but only assimilated through "elite dominance" or whatever else you want to call 22% admix.

The latest in Indo-European origins studies

While not exactly new, it's new to me, and a new issue of the Journal of Indo-European Studies is coming out that is devoted explicitly and almost exclusively to the discussion of this potential topic (there are a few other non-related articles at the end of the issue.)  This is the Caucasian Substrate Hypothesis.  Although I obviously can't read this, since it's not out yet, an earlier version of Bomhard's original proposal as well as a pre-print of David Anthony's response to it are available at

Substrate hypotheses are very popular in Indo-European studies.  I was briefly intrigued by Carlos Quiles and his Uralic Substrate Hypothesis, and while the whole general gist of that is untenable (Uralic languages almost certainly arrive later, and more from the East, along with uniparental markers associated with the Y-DNA clade N1a, or whatever they've updated the label to be most recently.  But that doesn't mean that the baby need be thrown out with the bathwater; a plausible model (given an off-hand supporting comment in Anthony's paper referenced above) proposal is that what we know of as Late Proto-Indo-European (i.e., after the Anatolian group had already split off, and probably as the Tocharian group was splitting off) actually spread over the entire Pontic-Caspian steppe region to form the Yamnaya horizon from a more constrained area in the eastern portion of the steppes, more commonly associated with the Khvalynsk culture that was present there than with the Sredni Stog culture that was more to the West.  The latter probably spoke relatively closely related sister language dialects, and genetically they were very similar, although the preponderance of R1a vs R1b was different from East to West.  It is also possible that as Quiles asserts, the spread of the Yamnaya from the east not only absorbed much of the former Sredni Stog area, but also displaced them to the north and further west, where they became the core of the Corded Ware culture.  However, unlike Quiles' assertion, there's no way that these Corded Ware people spoke Uralic; they probably spoke a very similar language to that of the Yamnaya from which they were largely derived and closely related.  Some see in this archaeological and genetic distinction an early marker for the split between satem and centum languages, and this actually works fairly well as long as you assume that in parts of Europe (the Germanic-speaking parts in particular) you're willing to accept some handwaviness with regards to a putative substrate of satem speakers underneath a later arriving Unetice-based centum language... that seems genetically to be derived from a Corded ware derivative in the Netherlands called the Single-Grave culture, filtered through the confusing membrane of the Bell Beakers and showing significant ties with obviously satem-speaking Sintashta and other post-Corded Ware cultures further east.

Bomhard's proposal does seem to share a few high level details here; that pre-Indo-European was originally a "Euroasiatic" language related to Uralic (although the reasons for assuming so are handwavey at best) which was superimposed over a language related to the Kartvelian family.  This Kartvelian-related substrate underneath a Uralic-related superstrate eventually became some level of archaic Proto-Indo-European, which then continued to evolve more or less in situ into the Late Proto-Indo-European which split into the daughter languages known today, but our ability to recover many details from prior to the late PIE frame is difficult other than to note similarities with Uralic, Kartvelian, and others.  This may have happened so long ago, in fact, that it goes back to the fact that Yamnaya is, at a high level, about half and half Eastern Hunter Gatherer (EHG) ancestry and Caucasian Hunter Gatherer (CHG) ancestry (Eurasiatic superimposed over Caucasian?) with a hint of local Western Hunter Gatherer (WHG).

While I like many aspects of this idea, there are a few key things to keep in mind.  Genetically, Yamnaya is closely related and clearly derived from populations that were already on the steppes for centuries and even millennia without any significant migration from elsewhere; groups such as Maykop, the "Steppe Maykop" and others contributed essentially nothing to the genetic picture of the those that followed.  Neighbors such as Keltiminar or Botai to the East contributed little if anything (although were probably related to each other and perhaps the "Steppe Maykop") although neighbors to the west from the Cucuteni-Tripillyan complex seem to have had a more permeable relationship, and the Usatovo culture may well have been a hybrid of Yamnaya and Tripillyan.  Nothing that would resemble the Siberian ancestry either linguistically or genetically appears anywhere other than the tenuous link that the EHG population seems to have distant connections to the Mal'ta Buret culture of 20,000 years ago—and yet, the same is not true for Uralic which seems to have a deep Siberian connection.  Whatever migration into the steppes may have happened, it has to predate the formation of a distinct Yamnaya horizon by millennia, and connections to Uralic-speakers cannot be shown genetically or archaeologically.  Most of the details are linguistic only, which significantly weakens it.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Friday Art Attack

Well... it hasn't been the most productive of weeks when it comes to posting.  Next week will be guaranteed just as bad, because unlike this week that's just ending, I won't even have access to online most of the week.  But, well... here's your regularly scheduled Friday Art Attack anyway.

When you're in a graveyard and you see a tomb like this, you can be sure that's the one you want to loot.  Pro tip for D&D players, I suppose.

Speaking of D&D, here's another interpretation of Vecna, with a ghostly hand and eye replacing the missing ones.

Venus cat.  This reminds me of Carson of Venus and the Frazetta cover for it.

Yeenoghu, the demon-prince of gnolls.  Another D&D meta-character.

If the Empire ever wiped out the Gungans, the galaxy wouldn't mourn that much.

The Ken Kelly cover to Swords of the Horseclans, a popular series when I was a kid (or, at least, there was a very long shelf of them at the bookstores and libraries when I was a kid.)

One of my favorite Warhammer undead, which no longer exist, I guess, since the Tomb Kings are gone.  I'm pretty sure the models for these are out of print now.  Sad-face.  They were awesome.

A fantasy wizards from a setting like DH5.  They'er not kindly Gandalfy or even Merlin types.  They're weird, scary, probably fanatic and anti-social psychopaths who's exposure to energies that Man Was Not Meant to Wield have caused them to look sickly, deformed or both.

Thuvia and the banths, by the master himself.  Great image.

A Wayne Reynolds werewolf from some card art, I believe.

Deneghra the War Witch done in a pin-up style.  Heh.  Kinda funny stuff.

I'm not quite sure wha this is, but maybe giving him a few coins is a good idea...

A werew-hyena done in a fairly realistic style.  I've got some others that are more stylized or superhero styled as well. 

A wight according to 5e.  Keep in mind that barrow-wight is a word Tolkien used to refer to the draugr or the haugbui, and William Morris had already established that precedent before Tolkien.

Given my focus on the Old West and fantasy, it's inevitable that I'd try to find every image of this type that I could, right?  You'd actually think that there'd be more than there are.

As an side, although that steam engine isn't completely relatable to a real steam engine, it's clearly of the sort that belongs more to the 1940s and 1950s than the 1880s.

A nice ink of the wolfman.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Friday Art Attack

I've missed a few weeks of Friday Art Attack, so I probably absolutely and definitely owe it to myself to fix that by making sure I do it today, and making sure today's is a little bigger than normal.

My namesake.  I mean, how cool would it have been if my parents had actually named me Ivanhoe?  Probably not very, but at this point in my life I'd appreciate it at least.

An interesting and vaguely Lovecraftian take on the Jabberwocky.  On the other hand, just giving a dragon a bunch of eyes maybe isn't sufficient to make it Lovecraftian...

I've always loved this kind of art.

The Pleistocene in Japan.  Although Hokaido and the southern isles would still have been separated by a strait during the low point of Ice Age sea levels, both were connected to the mainland; Hokaido through Sakhalin to Siberia and the southern islands to Manchuria.

I might actually have posted this before, but it's still in my folder, so I'll do it again and then move it.  A montage of Barsoomy stuff.

Cool Imperial Jedi hunter fan art.

The so-called Jeep Nacho.  I really like it.  I want one.

The Jersey Devil, one of the weirdest of cryptid/supernatural ghost stories.

A scene from The Gods of Mars.

Fingolfin goes to fight Morgoth in The Silmarillion.

John Colter, among the manliest Americans who ever lived.  Love his knife too.

A Ken Kelly piece that served as the cover art for the last of Lin Carter's Callisto series.

More cool Star Wars fan art.  With a kind of sci-fi High Noon vibe, as it should have.

I'm also always a sucker for 80s nostalgia type stuff.

According to the fiction, Juiblex and Zuggtmoy are locked in low grade Cold War conflict for control of the Abyssal Layer that both occupy.  Juiblex is, of course, nothing but a named D&D shoggoth, and Zuggtmoy, the Mushroom Queen is either kinda creepy or extremely silly, depending on how they manage to present her.

I've always loved Destiny concept art.  Too bad the game(s) were kind of flat.

Salvage operation near Jupiter.  Again; I love this kind of stuff.

Some Jurassic World art.  Too bad the second movie in that reboot was kinda flat too, for that matter.

Beren and Luthien confronting the King of all Werewolves, Carcharoth.