Thursday, April 16, 2015

Of Hugos and Puppies

While I haven't been posting here much, I've actually been quite active online the last few weeks.  Much of that has been following (and commenting) on the ongoing drama associated with the Hugo awards this year.

Read that article.  It's a pretty good summary of the situation.  I haven't wanted to make a big summary here, because it's a lot of work, frankly, to retype all of that information in my own words, so I'll just link to that as the gist of it.

There's more, of course, and I may weigh in from time to time between now and the actual announcement of the awards.

To be fair, I'm finding my own sympathies starting to lean more and more towards the Rabid Puppy agenda rather than the Sad Puppy agenda.  I'm not sure that the Hugos can be saved via Reconquista, and I'm not sure that it's even worth it to do so.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Skin Game

Very belatedly, I finished reading Jim Butcher's Skin Game last night; the 15th and most recent entry in the Dresden Files series, of which I've long been a pretty big fan.  It's unusual for me to be so late in reading an entry in this series (coming up on nearly a year since it was first released) and it's unusual in that I read it very slowly; actually, I had been only about half way through it for the better part of four weeks when I got stuck in a repair shop waiting on new tires, a front end alignment, and replacement ball joint and tie rods (pretty expensive; not recommended if you can help it) for me to plow through about 150 pages and get within striking distance of the finish yesterday.  Once I got there, of course, the book fell into place very quickly.

And it's not because it was a weaker entry in the series.  Proven Guilty and Ghost Story are the weakest entries, and this book is significantly better than either of them.  It may not be as good as some of the best of them either (like Dead Beat, Small Favor, Changes, etc.) but it's a worthy entry.  No, the culprit is more complicated and has everything to do with me.

If you're a fan of the series and haven't read this yet, you should.  I recommend it.

What does it bring new to the table?  Ever since Changes in particular, each volume has had rather dramatic changes to the status quo of Harry's world, his relationships, his friends and enemies.  One thing that I'm a little surprised and disappointed in, however, is that the White Council itself has been largely absent for three books in a row; other than a small cameo of The Gatekeeper in Cold Days that actually has little to do with his membership on the council anyway.  Mab and the Winter Court of Fairies makes, as she has in the last several books, a heavy-handed appearance.  To be honest with you, I'm a little bit fatigued with fairy business in the series, and would like to see a return to... something else.  Anything else.  What about that Jade Court of vampires, huh?  Who are they?  Are we going to find out?  I don't see that changing anytime soon; certainly not before the next book, but maybe we'll be able to see it change in the next book, which is supposedly now going to be called Peace Talks.  Between whom?  The big war of the last few books was between the White Council and the Red Court, and it ended four books ago.

The Denarians feature dramatically, and are dramatically changed too, as a result of this book.  Harry's relationships with Maggie and Murph change dramatically.  And, he has another daughter of sorts, although it's not human, it's an intellect spirit; a kind of young, female version of Bob.  The Knights of the Sword feature importantly, and also see significant change as an organization.

Butcher has shown in several occasions that he's good at crafting really incredible scenes; snippets that have to be read over and over again, because they're just really good and stand out above the rest of the novel, even.  In this case, for me there were two scenes, and both were rather quiet, interpersonal dialogue interactions rather than big action scenes.  When Harry and Maggie first speak was just extremely well-written and emotional.  And when Harry and Hades have an interview together--yes, that Hades--it's another one of my favorite scenes in the book.  I'm actually quite pleased to see Greek mythology finally get its due in the series.  It was overdue.

I'm not going to worry too much about spoiling here, since the book is nearly a year old and anyone who's been following the series has probably already read it.  Rather, let me talk about what I'd like to see coming in the near term for the series.  The plan was, give or take a few books, I suppose, that there would be twenty "case" books followed by a big three-part finale.  That makes for only five more case books.  Of course, the case books have done a lot to set the stage for the finale.  But more needs to be done.

This dalliance with being the Winter Knight and the heavy involvement with the fairies seems like a tangent.  The lack of any kind of contact with the White Council also feels the same way.  I'd like to see Harry (and Molly) find a way to more or less amicably end their fairy involvement and get back into White Council business.  There's still a lot of corruption in the White Council that needs to be rooted out and found.  There's still little--if really anything at all--that we know about the so-called Black Council and Nemesis; heck, we never even suspected such a thing until Cold Days, which also told us little if anything about it.

Although maybe I'm being a little harsh.  One of my friends, Cory "Barsoomcore" Reid once said, of his scary, Ten Who Were Taken like super-villainous characters, that they all believed that they were saving the world.  Sometimes from each other, but certainly from something.  Conversations Harry had with Deidre of the Denarians makes me wonder if they aren't in that same vein.

Anyway, I'm excited to see the series continue.  But I'm excited to see it start going somewhere, which to be fair, it's done a fair bit of in the last five books or so, where major upsets to the status quo which existed for most of the first ten books was verboten.  But I do feel like it's been treading water just a bit with this major fairy side-story.

Monday, March 23, 2015

New m20 Iconics: Gruzia Pazmany

Gruzia Pazmany is an elderly Tarushan woman, and is an almost iconic representation of a witch.  Her personal history is unknown to any but Manoel himself, but it is clear that she has allied herself with Manoel and his team.  Although his other allies (i.e., the other iconic characters) are suspicious of her and disconcerted in her presence, they accept Manoel's recommendation of her.  She lives in the Rua de Xavier house, but appears to only rarely emerge from her own quarters.

Her story, as related to Manoel himself, is a tragic one.  Brought up in a traveling Tarushan Gypsy caravan, her group included a minor vampire as the leader.  She was often fed upon, but not to the point of death (obviously) and was inculcated into the mystic arts by the vampire.  She was also abused in every way imaginable, and lived a life of constant terror.  When her beloved sister was killed by the vampire, she finally had had enough and made use of her magic to disable and then flee from the group.  She was not powerful enough to defeat the vampire, but managed to escape, at least.

Hidden for years in Porto Liure, she was astonished to find that some of her group were in town.  Traveling Tarushan gypsies rarely (if ever) voyaged by ship, but for some unknown reason, the vampire had been drawn to Porto Liure and was attempting to set up shop permanently here.

By this point, Gruzia had made Manoel's acquaintance, and the two of them, along with Manoel's "bodyguard" Ottvar, were able to successfully hunt and eliminate the vampire, one of the seminal events that led to the founding of the group of iconics.

Gruzia is elderly, but not as old as she looks.  Blasted and withered by her use of sorcery, she has now retreated into an advisory role, for the most part, but she will still occasionally involve herself in events as needed.

Character sheet:
Name: Gruzia Pazmany
Class/Level: Expert 3
Race: Human (Tarushan)
Sex: Female
Height: 5'3"
Weight: 105 lbs.
Hair Color: White
Eye Color: Brown
Skin Color: Pa;e
STR: 9 (-1)
DEX: 13 (+1)
MND: 14 (+2)
Hit Points: 22
Armor Class: 12 (no armor)
Athletics: +4
Communication: +4
Knowledge: +7
Subterfuge: +4
Survival: +4
Melee To Hit: +2 (+4 using light weapons)
Ranged To Hit: +4
Magic To Hit: +5
Wealth on Hand: 33 gp, 1 sp, 14 cp
Weapons: Dagger 1d6 Damage, 50 ft. if thrown
Pistol 2d6 + 1 damage 300 ft.
Other Equipment: Glass bottle, candle, flask, ink, inkpen, hooded lantern, lock, mirror, flint, torch, peasants outfit, Nameless Cults, Eltdown Shards.
Spells: Mind Grab of Shaggai, Eye of the Mi-Go, Withering Blast of the Lliogor, Cryptic Circle of Itrito, Benevolence of Tinar, Binding of the Poltergeist, Phantasmal Mirage of Gaziyet, Hayaz's Rupturing, Breath of Cthulhu, Eyes of Lucifer, Invocation of Ahm I, Tongue of Cadazzo, Blasphemous Piping of Azathoth, Invocation of Ahm II, Hejaz's Cleansing Touch
Notes: An imp serves as her familier

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Hex-King

Baal Hishutash in the far north of the Kindattu Mountains, and nearby Tahrah at the mouth of the Mundu River, have apparently lost contact with the rest of the Baal Hamazi cultural area.  Refugees have been streaming southward, and they refer, in vague and garbled rumor, to the return of the first Priest-King; someone claiming to be Hutran Kutir, the semi-mythical founder of the Baal Hamazi Empire.  He's not happy that his empire has fallen apart to squabbling city-states and hordes of nomadic tribal barbarians, and he's dead-set on reestablishing his empire again by force of the sword--and he's not interested in anyone's stories of competing claims to the throne, appeals to freedom and equality, or excuses that this is nothing more than a somewhat prolonged interregnal break.  This empire is his, and he wants it back.  Now.

Of course, those rumors are garbled.  What exactly is going on up north in the last few months, and why?  Although my idea for this predates the rise of ISIS by some years, I see this as a similar phenomena; an idealogue appealing to romantic and nationalistic notions to swiftly conquer and establish a new state in the area, and a threat to the somewhat steady and stable city-states that already exist, as well as any border regions, since this new state is fiercely and violently expansionist.  But, so far it's only taken on an area of rather uninhabitable wilderness; the Hamazi Canyonlands, a large area that today resembles parts of the Colorado plateau, specifically the Canyonlands National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and the northern Kindattu Mountains, a range of alpine peaks that runs north-south just to the east of the Canyonlands, and the very north of the Indash Salt Sea; a large endorheic sea that would be equivalent to Lake Bonneville.  Because this area is so desolate and inhospitable, in general, this newly established and conquered state has to expand.  The lands of Baal Hishutash can not support a much higher population than already exists there, and Tahrah exists mostly on fishing and trade; it is surrounded by salt flats that are completely non-arable.

Rather than answer directly what the story is with this Hex-King, as he's called, let me explore some possibilities, and then we'll see which of them I like better at some future date when I need to define it.  I see basically three main ideas, although all of them have subtle shades of nuance that can also be applied.

1) Hutran Kutir really did return.  It was prophesied, according to some (although nobody can find where this prophecy was documented, and it may be propaganda generated after the fact) that he would return in the Empire's darkest hour to save it--a. la King Arthur.  The current state of the Empire certainly supports this interpretation, as the Empire has essentially ceased to be entirely, and it would take a new conquering of the now independent city-states to reestablish it.  The mechanism of this return would be unknown, but Hutran Kutir had powerful sorcerous allies, the equivalent of a member of the Heresiarchy, and he may have been able to access magic that enabled him to live indefinitely.  Of course, if that's the case, then where has he been the last several centuries since his reign?

2) Hutrain Kutir has been brought back from the dead.  This is significantly different in scope from the option above; it posits that essentially Hutran Kutir is some kind of revenant, ghost, or other type of undead returned from his tomb in the sand-buried ancient capital of Baal Hamazi.  This isn't necessarily a stretch either; at least one of his rumored advisers during his life was a vampire from Tarush Noptii.

Not that Hutran Kutir even in his normal living state wouldn't be a nightmare tyranny run amok, but this is, of course, significantly worse; an empire of the Undead ruled by an undead Hex-King wouldn't just be a nightmare for the oppressed, it would be a nightmare to any who live.

As an aside, either of the first two means a new, major sorcerer appeared on the scene essentially out of the blue.  This will no doubt significantly impact the delicate balance of power and tense, Cold War-style peace that exists today between the members of the Heresiarchy.

3) A more prosaic option, of course, is that "Hutran Kutir" is an impostor; someone else who merely is using his legacy and his legend to claim power.  This doesn't mean that this impostor is some chump; in fact, if this is the case, most likely it's one of the Heresiarchy posing for the time being as Kutir in an attempt to quickly amass an army of fanatical soldiers and a mortal kingdom of some means.  This will also, needless to say, spark the rest of the Heresiarchy into action once it becomes known what's going on.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

De/Vision Greatest Hits

In 2013, after their latest full length CD release (Rockets + Swords), De/Vision released a retrospective, 25 Years - Best of Tour.  It has 33 tracks on it.  I'm a pretty big De/Vision fan, and I have all of their regular albums, and manymost, evenof their CD singles and remixes, although I don't necessarily have all of their compilations, live albums, and there's a remix or two out there that I haven't tracked down yet, no doubt.

Anyhoo, I've created my own Greatest Hits list, and because the original CD limits itself to 33 tracks, so have I.  For some songs, I'm picking specific remixes which qualify.  In some of these cases, the remix substantially changes the tone or feel of the song, so another version cannot be assumed to substitute for the one I picked.  Anyway, this is just a semi-random music post, just for fun.  All songs are in alphabetical order by song title, and where it comes from is listed as well.
  1. "Be a Light To Yourself [Paralyzed Remix]" - From The Mix 3.0
  2. "Binary Soldier" - From Rockets + Swords
  3. "Blue Moon '99" - From Remixed (Ltd 2-CD version), but also appears on Blue Moon '99 single
  4. "Boy Toy" - From Rockets + Swords
  5. "Brothers In Arms [Extended Version]" - From Brothers In Arms single
  6. "Deliver Me" - From Monosex
  7. "Digital Dream [Electroclash Mix by DJ Ram]" - From Digital Dream EP
  8. "Dinner Without Grace '98" - From Zehn
  9. "Drifter" - From Monosex
  10. "Drifting Sideways [Gigi D'Agostino Viaggio Mix] - From Underconstruction 3 Remix
  11. "Flash of Life [Melancholic Mix]" - From Popgefahr - The Mix (German version)
  12. "Flavour of the Week" - From n00b
  13. "Foreigner [Original Version]" - From Void
  14. "Hear Me Calling" - From Monosex
  15. "Heart-Shaped Tumor [Neurotic Mix]" - From Heart Shaped Tumor single
  16. "I Regret" - From Fairyland?
  17. "I'm Not Dreaming Of You" - From 6 Feet Underground
  18. "Life Is Suffering" - From n00b
  19. "mAndroids" - From Popgefahr
  20. "Plastic Heart [Renegade of Noise Floor RMX]" - From Popgefahr - The Mix (German version)
  21. "Rage [Mesh-Tantrum Mix]" - From Popgefahr - The Mix (curiously, this version is on both the German and the North American releases)
  22. "Ready to Die [Hearhere Mix]" - From Popgefahr - The Mix (this one is also on both releases)
  23. "Silent Moan" - From Two
  24. "Slaves to Passion" - From Monosex
  25. "Subtronic" - From Subkutan
  26. "Take Me To The Time [Memphis Mix]" - From Remixed (Ltd 2-CD version)
  27. "Try To Forget '98" - From Zehn
  28. "Turn Me On [Rename Vocal Club Mix]" - From Turn Me On  single
  29. "Twisted Story [Rob Dust Remix]" - From Popgefahr - The Mix (both versions)
  30. "Until The End of Time" - From Popgefahr
  31. "We Fly... Tonight [Night Flight Remix]" - From We Fly... Tonight (Remixes) although I have it as a bonus track on my version of Monosex (which for whatever reason, when I ordered from Amazon, I got the Japanese, not the German version of the CD)
  32. "What's Love All About [Kant Kino Remix]" - From Popgefahr - The Mix (North America version)
  33. "Your Hands On My Skin [Sonnet Shuttle Mix]" - From Remixed

Monday, February 23, 2015

Neanderthals in Dark•Heritage

I've done it. I'm trashing the race selection a bit in DARK•HERITAGE and replacing changelings and Neanderthals both with a totally different mechanic.  Both are no considered to be merely cultural differences of the same race.  And both use a slightly modified version of an m20 Orc mechanic that I found and adapted.  I feel that both of the mechanics that I did have didn't really focus enough on the core concept of the race, which now focused through the lens of this Neanderthal Predation Theory as described by Danny Vendramini.  I'm not very interested in his take on the evolutionary psychology aspect of the theory (plus, I find the r/K-selection applied to human evolutionary psychology much more convincing.  I don't necessarily believe Vendramini's theory at all, although I do find it attractive from an aesthetic perspective as applied to fantasy.)  Let me summarize the salient points:

  • Our view of Neanderthals--both from behavior and from appearance, is colored by a strong anthropomorphized lens.  In reality, the Neanderthals were a different species of humanoid, and our attempts to render them as human is flawed from the get-go.
  • In terms of appearance, we have generally done a poor job of rendering the skeleton as if it were any other prehistoric animal, and instead used criminal forensics techniques that are suited to reconstructing humans, not humanoids.  To whit:
    • Neanderthals eye sockets are much larger than humans, meaning that we've made their eyes all wrong in reconstructions.  This also suggests that Neanderthals might have been much more nocturnal in their habits, and could see better in the dark.
    • Neanderthals eye sockets are in a much higher position on the head than in humans.  And their skulls, in profile, have a much more "great ape" like profile than human-like profile.  They look like big-brained chimpanzees.  All of these features combined mean that Neanderthals almost certainly wouldn't have looked very human-like.
    • There's no reason to believe that Neanderthals would have lost their body hair.  No other primate, except humans, have ever done so.  Since Neanderthals lived in the same environment as woolly mammoths, woolly rhinos, cave bears, etc. they almost certainly had thick fur of their own.
  • Although Neanderthals don't have out-sized canines, like most other primates, due to environmental necessity, they were almost certainly nearly obligate carnivores rather than omnivores or gatherers.
  • Although shorter, in general, than humans, they have a much more robust skeleto-muscular system, and were almost certainly significantly stronger.
  • Neanderthal cannibalism is well (although newly) documented.  Their inclination to predate on humans, then, seems easy enough to accept, albeit somewhat speculative.
  • The notion that Neanderthal/human interbreeding is the result of sexual predation is also speculative, but not hard to believe.
I've decided that the Neanderthals of the Cavusto Steppes and the wildlings of the Shifting forest and other temperate forests of the north are merely cultural expressions of the same race, in the same way that kurushi and terrasans are.  Why not?  They're both expressions of the same general idea; savage, dangerous, wild men who are in a sense subhuman.  Having the wildlings be watered down werewolves or the Neanderthals being guerilla fighters can all be done as cultural.

I'm going to say that due to generations of wife-stealing from human populations in the forests up north, that genetically the Neanderthals of the north are less ape-like and more human-like in their appearance, although they maintain a purer cultural approximation to the Neanderthal ancestral position.

Also; Neanderthal is a name that is rooted in the real world, being named, of course, for the actual Neanderthal, or Neander Valley, Neander being a Grecized version of the German name Neumann.  Neanderthal literally means Neumann's Valley, and of course, makes no sense as a label in DARK•HERITAGE itself.  Names used to describe them in setting include woses (especially wood-woses in the north, where they are boreal in habitat most often), sasquatches, wildlings, and man-apes.

The revised rules in m20 (which means that I'll need to update the document again, sigh) are as follows:

  • Neanderthals, regardless of place of origin, gain a +4 to their STR stat and -2 to their MND stat.  They also gain as well as a +1 to their Survival skill, and -1 to their Communication skill.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Neanderthals in the setting

I've long had Neanderthals as a race available in DARK•HERITAGE.  I've long gone for a very anthropomorthic interpretation of Neanderthals, which is the default, really.  Images published recently by National Geographic and others support this view.  See below:

But what if that's wrong?  What if that's optimistic, in fact?  What if the Neanderthals were very, very different?

Not sure if I will change the interpretation of Neanderthals in my setting or not, but I have to admit, this new interpretation is... really, really interesting.  I might!  The only reason I would maybe consider not doing it, is that it essentially overlaps the wildling race that I already have.  I'm not sure that I have a need for both.  But that was already kind of true anyway.