Wednesday, November 25, 2015

m20 Alternate Classes

Because the "optional" house rules for my m20 system provide for a la carte class modification, I thought it'd be fun to explore some of the alternatives, and maybe even give them labels.  I'm not necessarily a fan of creating labels, and these are even less official than the house rules themselves are (although that is almost certainly subject to change when the rev level bumps on the system) but they are meant to be simply examples of how you can use these rules to emulate some different types of archetypes.

As a quick review, here are the various class features you can pick from:

  • Combat bonus: +1 to attack and damage; increases by an additional +1 at 4th and 8th level.
  • Sneak attack
  • Affinities: start with 1, get an additional one a 3rd, 6th and 9th level.
Keep in mind that the Shadow Sword class is not customizable; it stands alone as the only class that cannot be altered.  Also, keep in mind that the Outdoorsman's class abilities all count as minor class abilities.  He essentially has three minor abilities rather than one major and one minor ability.  It's entirely possible that the animal companion is over-powered in this case, but I'm going with it anyway, because if so, it's not overbalanced by much, and it's pretty traditional.

  • +3 to any skill
  • a single affinity
  • an additional +3 to AC
  • an additional +1 to attack and damage with one weapon type only (light, medium, heavy or ranged)
  • an animal companion (note that there is no official rule on what an "animal" is from the monster list, so GM discretion is at play.  If a GM wants to count an imp as an animal, and treat this minor bonus as equivalent to some kind of familiar, he can choose to do so.  I would.)
The basic classes are, as a reminder, as follows:
  • Fighter: combat bonus and +3 to Athletics
  • Rogue: sneak attack and +3 to Subterfuge
  • Outdoorsman: +1 to ranged attacks, animal companion, and +3 to Survival
  • Expert: Affinities, and +3 to Knowledge
  • Shadow Sword: a suite of unique abilities; the Shadow Blade, and a limited +3 to Subterfuge (only when combined with DEX.)
How would I make a Sorcerer, Warlock or Witch, for instance?  How about pairing the single affinity (Sorcery) with a familiar (an imp would be my choice although there are other great options too) and +3 to Knowledge to better learn spells?

What would I call a character with Combat Bonus and a +1 to ranged weapons?  A Gunslinger, Sharp-shooter, or Sniper, maybe.  With another weapon type, maybe call him a Weapon-master or Gladiator, or he could be a Defender by taking Combat Bonus and +3 to AC.

Another take on the Outdoorsman archetype (and why not, let's call him a Ranger!) could be to have the Combat bonus and an animal companion.  A Scout could have +1 to ranged weapons, +3 to Survival, and a single affinity for Wilderness Survival.  Both deviate from the Outdoorsman sufficiently to feel quite different, yet not enough to feel like a totally different archetype, just a different take on it.

You could even make something like a Bladesinger-style class by giving a character the +1 to medium weapons (so he can use a longsword), an affinity for Sorcery and a +3 to Knowledge.  Or you could tweak that by making it +3 to Subterfuge instead, and get a character not unlike the Gray Mouser (as an aside, I'd see Fafhrd as a Fighter but maybe with his own +3 applied to Subterfuge rather than Athletics, maybe.)

Alternatively, you can do some unusual things without even changing the classes.  An Expert can be a Wizard or Mage by taking Affinity and making it Sorcery every time he gets a new affinity (by 9th level, he'd have it 4 times, allowing him up to 3 rerolls on any failed check involving sorcery).

One of the beauties of this system is that it's so flexible.  I don't mean in the sense that you can create almost anything you want (although you can) but in the sense that it doesn't make niche protection a primary design goal.  In other words, all characters, as they advance in level, manage to be competent across a broad range of adventuring tasks, and the class abilities are actually somewhat modest (and become relatively moreso as the character advances.)  A 5th level fighter, for example, will fight with a +7 to attack and +2 to damage, but a 5th level Expert with the same strength will still fight with a +5 to attack.  While I don't necessarily recommend that a 5th level expert pick a straight-up fight with a fighter, at the same time, it's hardly inconceivable that he'd win if he did. (Of course, more likely he won't have the same strength, since Experts are more likely to focus their traits on MND over STR.)  Any character can potentially sneak around successfully (although clearly a rogue with +3 to Subterfuge, or an Expert with an affinity for Stealth would be at an advantage in doing so), and character can learn to cast spells (although a character with an affinity for Sorcery would be a safer bet to do so), etc.  Anyone can do anything with a reasonable chance of success, and the class bonuses, while nice, are not requisite.

Why Microlite?

It's been a while since I talked preferences and theory about roleplaying games.  Maybe it's time I do it again.  I'm a keen supporter and partisan for Microlite20, or m20, and I'm going to explain my rationale and why I'll probably never really look back in terms of what my preferred system is.  That said, how often will I actually play an m20 game?  Who knows?  The last game I was involved in was a d20 game; D&D house-ruled to be used for the Star Wars setting in a way that largely was superfluous, because it worked very similarly to the (pre-SAGA) official d20 Star Wars game.  That game has now sat fallow for the better part of a year (maybe longer, actually) and we're now looking to reconvene at least a portion of our group, but we'll be playing Call of Cthulhu (as mentioned in my last post) not m20.

That said, for my setting, I recommend m20 exclusively, and although I still have all of the old documents for my Dark Heritage Hack and d20 Modern and even D&D gallimaufry rules-sets, they're only there for posterity's sake.  I don't envision ever dusting them back off again.

This right here from Saturday October 14, 2006, was the birth of Microlite, after (presumably) a period of labor on the evening of the Friday the 13th.  The original posting of the original version of the rules.  It moved, the next day, into it's own thread where it was hashed out, discussed literally ad nauseum, and eventually spawned a movement that lasted for years, and developed I don't know how many variants (two of my own devising, and I never even submitted mine for inclusion in the big collection pdfs.)

Some of the Microlite movement went down a road that is (perhaps) predictable; it became OSR.  Things like Purest Essence, often considered by many to be the apex of m20 development, along with equally popular (it appears) Microlite74, were specifically designed to refer back in many ways both subtle and not to the old school versions of D&D as many had played them.  I've said before (and will probably do so again) that when it comes to my gaming tastes, I'm old fashioned, but I'm not old school.  A number of my preferences were fixed if you will back in the days when I really first engaged with D&D, during the B/X Moldvay days, but there were always a number of aspects of that game which annoyed the crap out of me too.  And the advantage of Microlite is that it caters to the preferences that I have that were fixed based on B/X style play, while minimizing those that I always had issues with.  What are the things that it specifically allows which I like?

  • Speed of play: One of the things that has certainly bothered me the most about playing the "modern" era is how bogged down the game actually gets.  Particularly combat, but not exclusively so.  I can't imagine ever again playing a game where a relatively routine combat operation takes literally several hours to resolve.
  • Flexibility of play: Another aspect of the complexity of the rules is that there is a rule for all kinds of things.  Not in a robust sense, however, because the rules are usually too specific to be easily adopted to unique circumstances that might come up in play.  I prefer—in fact, that's too weak a word; I demand—that any rules system have robust, simple, generic rules that can be easily adopted via GM rulings to any situation that arises during the course of the game.
  • GM Authority: Along those lines, I require a game that respects and defers to the authority of the GM.  A trend, purposefully adopted starting in 3e, at least, was the notion that you couldn't trust GM's to "do it right" and therefore the game had to be designed so that they had no room to "mess it up" and play "incorrectly."  Totalitarian jerks.  A good GM is like any other good leader; you're happy to follow him because you trust his judgement.  Plus, next time around, it might be you in the GM's seat, and you want the same courtesy.
  • Player Authority: The other side of that same coin is that players need to have the flexibility to exercise their "sovereignty" if you will; their control over their character and how he's defined.  As a very specific example of what I'm talking about, I'm a huge fan of the concept and archetype of the ranger—an outdoorsy fighter who's also somewhat sneaky, and survivalist, and "special forces"-like.  But I've almost never like the specific iteration of the archetype as represented by the ranger class.  One way around this is to go the Pathfinder route; i.e., create even more rules, like the archetypes that can be used to adapt the strict classes into one that's more your speed.  Another is, if you have a good GM, you can work with him to adapt the class yourself.  Another is archetypes that aren't like straitjackets in the first place.
  • Ability to play "on the fly" with little preparation, if needed.  Sure, better game sessions happen with better preparation, but when that doesn't happen for whatever reason and you're left running the game without having prepared, can it be done easily?  Along with this, what if the players go on a complete tangent, making your preparation moot anyway?  The rules-heavy complex systems that require multiple books that all need to be referenced during play make this paradigm nearly impossible.
  • Ability to support "theater of the mind" style combat.  I don't necessarily hate battle mats and miniatures, although I don't prefer them, and I recall back in ye olde junior high D&D days whipping out graph paper as a quick and dirty combat representation, but I prefer a game that doesn't require it.
All of these things tend to drive heavily towards a much more simple system; one without unnecessary complications, without exceptions and weird rules subsets, one that is light, flexible, elegant and yet robust.

The B/X system, or the 0e system that B/X was meant to update, were built on this paradigm, and that's where my tastes and preferences were "frozen" so to speak, so all of those elements are still very important to me, and any game that fails to address them fails period.

But of course, B/X and 0e do a number of things that I don't like.  Rather than reiterate them again, I'll refer you to the tag OSR over there on my tags list, and suggest that if you need to, you read those posts again.  

But Microlite really kind of does the best of all worlds.  It provides exactly what I need with regards to the dot-points above.  It's sufficiently compatible (without any undo work) with d20 material that I can actually use d20 material if I want to in an m20 game.  And it's sufficiently flexible that it doesn't need to refer to the fundamental premise of D&D.  In fact, one of the things that I really like about it is that it's very flexible and the same system, with only minor tweaks, can be used in pretty much any genre.  I've already got a customized dark fantasy iteration that borrows from traditional D&D-like m20 as well as Western-themed m20 games, I've got a more D&D-like iteration (in my EBERRON REMIXED tag, and I've got an iteration that hybridizes those two paradigms too (CULT OF UNDEATH).  I've got a customized STAR WARS iteration, and I've got a superhero iteration in use for my Guardians of the Galaxy-like superhero/space opera setting AD ASTRA (which needs more work, by the way.)

In other words, Microlite is flexible enough that I can use it to play anything, and it is compatible enough with the majority of the RPG material that I already own that that's a major plus, and it excels at hitting all of the specific requirements that I have for a game that is customized to play perfectly to my tastes and preferences.  I can't imagine, at this point, ever again recommending any other system for any other game that I personally run or tinker with here on the blog or in person, or anywhere else.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Horror on the Orient Express

I'm not sure if I've really mentioned it or not, but our Star Wars game is essentially dead.  It's been probably a year—maybe even more—since we've played.

I got a call from one of my buddies in the gaming group a few days ago; a subset of the group—those who enjoy this particular genre, at least—are getting together starting in December for a once a month (or so) Horror on the Orient Express campaign, which was backed by some of the guys in our group when it was a kickstarter (an update to the original campaign released by Chaosium.)

So, there's our gaming as we wind up the year and get ready to start 2016.  2015 ended up being a complete dud of a gaming year, but 2016 looks to start off strong, with one of my favorite games in one of my favorite genres, with a group that really knows how to make that kind of game fun.  Should be great!

Thursday, November 19, 2015


After being rather proud of myself that I'd decided to make one of the main ethnic groups essentially be Scandinavian Rus and Russian Cossacks (both related, of course, in real life) with a mixture of Viking and Russian names, I've rather belatedly decided that I'm being a bit odd in my aversion to using any familiar elements.

As a guy who's largely descended from the Borderlanders who came to America—themselves largely the descendants of the syncretism between Anglo-Saxon and Viking and Scottish elements of northern England, why would I go out of my way to avoid anything at all like the English?  I mean, I know why—when I first developed this setting, I was deliberately avoiding what I thought were "fantasy cliches" and since fantasy as a recognizable genre is largely written by native English speakers, English Medievalism has always been a big component of it.  The Warhammer setting, for example, tried to be a little different by courting a Holy Roman Empire vibe.  I courted a Mediterranean vibe.  But given that my setting is big, and has room for a lot of stuff, my reluctance to have anything that was in any way English started to feel poorly thought out, and in fact stubborn for the sake of stubbornness.

I also started to feel that if I was trying to specifically trying to draw a line between my setting and the American West, in the same way that regular fantasy is drawn to Medieval Europe, then having nobody that was at all anything like Americans in any way also seemed—strange.  Not that I want actual Americans (just like I don't want actual Spaniards; part of the reason I focus on slightly more obscure languages to crib my names from, like Ligurian, Occitan and Catalan.)

But it's time that I change the name of Kozaky, because I don't want them to be Cossacks anymore.  I want them to be more like the Danelaw; a mix of Viking and Anglo-Saxon names, and a culture that is like that... combined with cowboys.  I'm going to call them the Scramasaxes, and propose that they wield frankas and saxes (as did the actual Germanic warriors—these weapons would be more familiar today as tomahawks and machetes) as "ethnic weapons."

Anyway, maybe it's not as dramatic a change as all that; replacing the Slavic names with Anglo-Saxon names.  But I actually intend to do a bit more with it; explore some other themes.  Not to the extent of allegory, of course, but I've got some interesting ideas to explore that I'd really like to hit on here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cheers for S. T. Joshi

Read the November 10th entry (as of the time of this posting, the top one, although no doubt that won't remain so for those who find this post later.)

In general, I'm not a huge fan of the work of S. T. Joshi.  Or, for that matter, any other professional "scholarly" literary critic; a solution in need of a problem if ever there was one.  But that right there was well-done.  The attempt by the wretched SJWs to erase the influence of Lovecraft by slandering him and judging him by their own miserable standards will amount to nothing but the diminution of their own influence and prestige, not his.
It has come to my attention that the World Fantasy Convention has decided to replace the bust of H. P. Lovecraft that constitutes the World Fantasy Award with some other figure. Evidently this move was meant to placate the shrill whining of a handful of social justice warriors who believe that a “vicious racist” like Lovecraft has no business being honoured by such an award. (Let it pass that analogous accusations could be made about Bram Stoker and John W. Campbell, Jr., who also have awards named after them. These figures do not seem to elicit the outrage of the SJWs.) Accordingly, I have returned my two World Fantasy Awards to the co-chairman of the WFC board, David G. Hartwell. Here is my letter to him:

Mr. David G. Hartwell
Tor Books
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010

Dear Mr. Hartwell:

I was deeply disappointed with the decision of the World Fantasy Convention to discard the bust of H. P. Lovecraft as the emblem of the World Fantasy Award. The decision seems to me a craven yielding to the worst sort of political correctness and an explicit acceptance of the crude, ignorant, and tendentious slanders against Lovecraft propagated by a small but noisy band of agitators.

I feel I have no alternative but to return my two World Fantasy Awards, as they now strike me as irremediably tainted. Please find them enclosed. You can dispose of them as you see fit.

Please make sure that I am not nominated for any future World Fantasy Award. I will not accept the award if it is bestowed upon me.

I will never attend another World Fantasy Convention as long as I live. And I will do everything in my power to urge a boycott of the World Fantasy Convention among my many friends and colleagues.

    S. T. Joshi

And that is all I will have to say on this ridiculous matter. If anyone feels that Lovecraft’s perennially ascending celebrity, reputation, and influence will suffer the slightest diminution as a result of this silly kerfuffle, they are very much mistaken.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Bringing Yog-Sothothery to D&D (or your FRPG of choice)

As someone I know once said, and I'm paraphrasing because I don't remember the exact words: when playing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying you think you're playing D&D, but soon you discover that you're actually playing Call of Cthulhu.

As I've wandered quite far afield in my fantasy tastes in some ways, I do sometimes wish to return to The Lord of the Rings with some kind of twist.  Even though the Warhammer setting is almost completely ridiculous in its recycling of over-used and even cliched fantasy elements, seeing them juxtaposed with a Lovecraftian undercurrent somehow just works and I like the setting a lot.  It helps that the Black Library has a lot of good fiction in it too.  I sometimes think maybe that I've wandered too far afield, and something a little more Warhammer-like wouldn't be fun to dabble in.  Of course, that's part of why I have the slightly revised incipient MAMMOTH LORDS setting; which is more "Hyborian Age" than Lord of the Rings, but eh.  Close enough.

That said, the idea of mixing a Lovecraftian tone onto high fantasy, or even evolved modern Sword & Sorcery seems difficult.  What would these kinds of stories even look like?

Copied from an old post (geez, nearly ten years now) on how to adapt a Mythos-like tone to specifically D&D-like setting/game, I present for your enjoyment, a great example of what a SWORD & SANITY game might look like...

1. The Old Speech: Traders on strange vessels have arrived from faraway lands, speaking strange tongues. They're goods are odd, artistically, but nothing is dangerous about their cargoes. But the language they speak- it's hard to forget. People dealing with them pick it up quickly, and find its vocabulary replacing their own. They find themselves considering things to have darker, more malign implications than other. Sexual attraction becomes overwhelming desire for dominance and subjugation, students become mindlessly devoted to their now-cult leader like teachers, and so on. Soon they lose their ability to speak any other language, and start infecting others...friends, family, townsfolk, whoever. The PCs can be involved at any stage- hired as guards for merchants, assigned by the local rulers to investigate, infected and hoping for a cure, whatever. Eventually there will be riots as the infected descend into madness, becoming as the Old Ones. The traders depart for the next port, leaving chaos in their wake and taking with them the strongest of the infected. 
2. The Sky: The PCs are underground, battling some cult or some evil underground race that already worships foul, blasphemous deities. Something alone the lines of Drow or whatnot. They discover an idol to said deity that leaves an impression in their minds- they start having strange dreams of a great eye moving behind clouds in the sky, a nameless terror of open spaces, etc. When they return to the surface they find themselves beset by a vision of the sky, one terrifying and ominous. Forced to flee for their sanity back underground, they'll have to search for source of this ancient evil in order to cure themselves of this Old One induced agoraphobia.  
3. The Gates: The PCs discover, or are hired by those who have discovered, whatever the hook, two mystical portals that lead between two important locations in the campaign. However, travelling between these portals isn't something people can just describe- they never remember exactly what it was like, just that it was unpleasant and violating. The time it takes to travel between each portal varies, and some people come through with a bizarre, fatal sickness (i.e., radiation poisoning). At some point someone doesn't come through the other side, and the PCs have to go in to get them. Say an empire was trying to use the portals as a way to secretly move troops or spies into a rival empire, and their army never appeared on the other side. Something along those lines. (Or they arrived...changed) 
4. The Strange High Castle in the Mist: Haunted Castle. Crazy old Witch lives between the dimensions within, drives residents mad or sucks them into her crazy multi-angled plane. I.e., it's Dreams in the Witch House, only in a castle, and probably with more stabbing of things with swords.  
5. The City of the God: Decadent city in a wasteland. Fading power, evil nobility that exists only to gratify its monstrous urges...and the PCs are captured, or their beloved NPCs are capture, or the King's Daughter has been captured, or they're out to find this city to A. Enjoy its forbidden delights B. Steal something from it C. "rescue' someone who went to enjoy its forbidden delights...and may not want to leave, like the King's Evil Daughter, etc... 
Anyway, somewhere in the city is a god trapped in a pit- not a Big Timey God, more like an overweight shoggoth with some spells or a lesser Old One. Anyway, like Conan, they probably have to stab it at some point to get away. Extra points if the city and its inhuman nobility are destroyed in a cataclysm as the PCs flee. 
6. The Glove Cleaners (stolen from an Unspeakable Oath): Someone with access to a mythos tome and a printing press has decided to start scattering pages and excerpts from it all over the place. Never enough to assemble a whole spell, but just enough to unsettle those who read them and upset the delicate balance of the fragile or sensitive. Now the King's Daughter (i.e., insert Generic NPC In Distress) has gone mad after collecting too many of these fragments, and the PCs have to go hunt down the printer who is disseminating the forbidden knowledge. But he doesn't even know why he does it, just that he has the urge, and is otherwise a normal guy. (Probably protected secretly by a cult for your obligatory battle sequence) EDIT: Even better if you borrow from "Rome" and have it be mythos-themed graffiti against the local government or nobility. 
7. The Disturbances: In the "Call of Cthulhu" short story, when the Big C stirred in his sleep as a result of Ry'leh's short rise to the surface, psychics, sensitives and artists all over the world went mad, had nightmares, or otherwise had a pretty bad couple of days. Now it's happening to the PC's homeland, continent, or to the King's Daughter. The PCs have to go and travel to the location of the not-awake-but-not-asleep GOO and stop its cultists from disturbing its slumber. They haven't woken it up, but they're causing it to thrash around a bit in its Forbidden Island/Underground/Remote Mountaintop/Ancient Ruin/Underwater Chasm/Vast Forest prison. That or it's not cultists but foolish archaelogists who happen to be mostly deep sleepers. Or...Dwarves. When in doubt, blame the dwarves...

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Horse, The Wheel, and Language

I like pie.  I also like PIE, the acronym of Proto-Indo-European, and one of the most important and interesting prehistoric stories ever told.  I've long been of the opinion that a book, like the Gears' People of the Wolf, but without the raging political correctness, and focused on the PIE community, would make for excellent reading.  Maybe I'd use it to tell the story of the break-off of proto-Tocharian, most likely represented by the Afanasievo culture of the Altay Mountains.

In this, I'm with the mainstream of workers in the field, who do not see either the Anatolian nor the Armenian hypothesis as particularly serious, as both have very challenging problems that their theories do not even attempt to account for.  The Armenian hypothesis is largely based on linguistics, and is—at best—handwavey about archaeology, while the Anatolian hypothesis does the opposite; proposes an archaeological solution that ignores linguistics.  The only model that has the potential to be taken seriously is the Kurgan model.  I'm kinda sorta reviewing the book (not that it's new, but I just read it just now) The Horse, The Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders From the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David Anthony.  He adds a bit to the discussion by drawing on some archaeological data that has been largely unavailable to the West in the past because of the Iron Curtain, as well as more work that he was personally involved with in detailing new Pontic-Caspian steppe fieldwork.  And although it post-dates this book, genetic evidence, particularly the R1B1 Haplogroup, but even moreso this really quite new work further corroborates the Kurgan Theory.  But it's a mistake to think, as the copy on the cover of the book I'm talking about says, that this is really new.  The Kurgan Theory was first put forward by Lithuanian archaeologist Marija Gimbutas in 1956, further reinforced/reiterated by J. P. Mallory in the 80s, and now with the 2007 publishing of Anthony's book, it's even more solidly mainstream than it already was.  Otto Schrader proposed the same homeland, using at least some of the same arguments, back at the very beginning of the 20th century, and even by Theodor Benfey some decades before that.  The theory has been augmented by more information, but remains little changed since at least the 50s, when Gimbutas first laid it out.

In spite of the fact that ever more facts are brought to bear on question, it remains, of course, an unproven and unproveable hypothesis, a just-so story, if you will.  In Anthony's book, the just-so stories tend to be on a more micro-level, and I'll mention a few specifically in a bit.  I will point out that, of course, in this discipline, a just-so story isn't necessarily untrue just because it is unproven.  Barring the completely shocking discovery of clay tablets or other decipherable texts in languages and from cultures believed to be illiterate, we will never be able to prove that Proto-Indo-European is associated with the steppe cultures, or how the languages spread.  Anthony's work is clearly influenced by a number of ideas that are somewhat faddish these days—some of which the genetic information listed in the link above—are already partly refuted, or at least its implied that they are not correct.  Among these faddish ideas that Anthony buys into are the following:

  1. Although he makes an attempt to step outside of the western box and accept the old Russian paradigm of folk migration, he still is very reluctant to do so, and fills such talk with caveats, virtue signaling, skepticism, social linguistic spread models that don't require much in the way of actual migrations of actual people, etc.  Of course, the link above clearly indicates that a lot of Yamnaya people actually moved into areas that shortly thereafter emerged as speaking a differentiated Indo-European language.  
  2. He believes that the original "Old European" languages of, for example, the large and long-lasting Cucuteni-Tripollye culture probably had a very early branch of the Afro-Asiatic language.  This is based on a single possible loan-word (which Mallory mentions in his book decades earlier); the word *tawr- for bull.  Given that their is no other evidence whatsoever for an Afro-Asiatic language in Europe, this seems far-fetched.  Granted; the linguistic picture of Old Europe is very poorly documented, and therefore anything said about it is by necessity at least somewhat speculative, but if I were a betting man, I'd put money on it being related to the pre-Greek substrate language, such as Pelasgian, which might be related to either the Minoan language of Crete prior to the arrival of primitive Greek on Crete, or to the somewhat hastily proposed Tyrsenian language family which includes Etruscan.  Both of which, I'll add, are geographically much closer to the Balkans, and which are observable not Afro-Asiatic, being rather either language isolates, or more likely members of families that were already in decline with the advent of writing, and therefore remained poorly documented and somewhat anonymous.
  3. The wheel had to have come from the Near East.  Actually, there are three competing theories for where wheeled first developed.  As it turns out, the Pontic-Caspian steppes and the Proto-Indo-Europeans of the Yamnaya Horizon are one of those three candidates.
  4. In general, Anthony seemed to be very reluctant to give too much credit to the Indo-Europeans about all kinds of things, but as we chip away at the biases and prejudices in the science through new information, we're coming around more and more to reiterating the ideas that were popular in the first part of the 20th century after all.  Heck, I expect very shortly to see a re-embrace of the word aryan as a descriptor of the Proto-Indo-Europeans after all, since reflexes of it appear all over the place, even if they're now largely discounted.  The "evidence" used to discredit this once wide-spread linguistic belief appears to be little more than, "the Nazis liked to use it, so therefore it's racist, and therefore its out of favor." While this may well do for a political idea, anyone who knows anything about how science works should know that this is no good.
  5. Although it seems possible—maybe even probable—Anthony's identification of the Maikop culture as non-Indo-European and probably proto-Kartvelian in nature (although the Pontic or the Caspian language families, also indigenous to the Caucasus and appearing to be isolate-families unrelated to each other or anyone else could do so as well) it remains speculative.  I will add that although there are clear ties between Maikop and some of the steppe cultures, they do seem to be economically unrelated, at least.  I suspect that Anthony is right in decoupling them from the PIE family, but I'll also note that this is a unique addition of his own.
  6. Anthony's description of how the languages may have corresponded with specific cultures, especially the spread of IE languages into Europe, and which languages later developed from specific archaeological material cultures is, by its very nature, a just-so story.  Even if he's right, it's all speculative.  He even acknowledges this tacitly in the text by sprinkling these discussions with a lot of "probably" and "possibly" and "perhaps" caveats.
That said, his model is quite nice, and describes the development and earliest spread of the Indo-European languages quite neatly.  Lacking another model that does so any better, there's no reason not to accept Anthony's description of how it all worked.  A few places where it differs from Gimbutas' own description: 
  • He believes that the Bug-Dniester culture may have been linguistically part of the same complex from which PIE derived, but that it probably was absorbed linguistically into the language spoken by the Criş farmers (which, see above, he equates with Afro-Asiatic, I presume it's more likely that it was a native Aegean/Balkan language instead.)  In fact, much of the cultures associated with IE archaeology, he posits are too early to be anything other than pre-PIE cultures that were on their way to developing into PIE.
  • The Suvorovo-Novodanilovka culture, which seems to have replaced the lower Danube Old European cultures like Cernavoda he associates with the very first group to split off of archaic PIE—the ancestors of the Anatolian branch.  He also posits a minor climatic change (not unlike the Little Ice Age) as causing environmental shifts as the cause for this change, more than any cultural effect.  Major changes to the Tripolye towns and on the steppes themselves seem to have happened concurrently.
  • He has five "final Eneolithic" cultures that he posits as being on the very eve of classic PIE: Mikhailovka I, Post-Mariupol (which he admits is an awkward name for a culture), late Sredni Stog, late Khvalynsk and Repin.  It's from the latter that he derives the Afanasievo migration and founding of the Tocharian branch, although he admits that continued contact with subsequent Yamnaya peoples flowed eastward for some time.  Also on this eastern frontier of the Caspian steppe region (still on the west of the Urals, though) is where he places the domestication of the horse, first for hunting, and later for riding, earlier in the Neolithic.  It's also here on the eastern frontier that true pastoral nomadism, with mobile dwellings, is established, which brings us into the Yamnaya horizon.
  • He believes that the material cultural same-ness of the Yamnaya horizon (which is partially due to terminology; the Yamnaya horizon certainly had significant regional variants all along) probably disguise the spread of a "prestige dialect" from the east, which homogenized the PIE-speaking area.  This actually isn't necessary, since we have no idea to what degree mutual intelligibility existed among the dialects already extant in the area.
  • Although he replaces Mallory's rather vague story of steppe intrusions into the Balkans with specific Yamnaya sites in the Balkans, he still maintains an air of vagueness about it when he asserts that they "probably" are the roots of the Celtic and Italic branches, and maybe the German ones too after they moved up into the Corded Ware horizon.  He later makes a vague case for Greek and Armenian coming out of the steppes a little later, but this is much more vague; and doesn't address at all where the Thracians, Dacians, Illyrians and Phrygians may have come from, since they have to be derived out of the Balkans as well.  For that matter, the Baltic and Slavic families get barely a mention.
  • He also tells an interesting story of the development of Proto-Indo-Iranian and its eventual split into specific Indic and Iranian language groups, but by this time, he's clearly just making assignments.  Much of what he said was proposed, and then criticized by others as being too vague, years earlier; i.e., the identification of the Sintashta culture with Indo-Iranian, Andronovo with Iranian specifically, and some southern Andronovo variants as well as the filter through the BMAC as the vector for Indic.  There isn't really any new archaeological evidence that he brings to bear, although he is a bit bolder than Mallory was willing to be in assigning ethno-linguistic identities to various material cultures.
All in all, a good book.  An interesting one.  I may have buy a copy to be a companion piece to Mallory's book, which I own and pull out and read every few years or so.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A pair of interesting links

Discussing D&D, the Appendix N, Lord of the Rings and its influence on the game, and the cultural context in which D&D was first created.

Great reads, both of them.  Both come highly recommended.

Undead in Dark•Heritage

I've blogged before about my love in general for the Undead as a monster type.  Here, for instance.  And I've talked plenty about the Warhammer setting, which I think is pretty nifty, and does a number of things that I also like, including (but not limited to) their interpretation of the Undead, which in many ways I'd like to borrow from rather heavily.  As this Halloween season is upon us, I'd like to talk just a bit more about the Undead, the Warhammer Undead in particular, and what use I can get from them.  While we do this, to set the mood, why don't you hit play on the video below, to hear the first track of the soundtrack to Bram Stoker's Dracula.  While it's playing, you can scroll down and keep reading.


Now.  I'm also on record (see my first link above) as thinking that there are too many Undead monsters in general.  Most of them are minor variations on only a handful of original themes.  And Warhammer has a lot of Undead.

To recap, for those who aren't already familiar with it, the Warhammer game has had Undead from pretty much its inception in the early 80s.  Back then, the Undead were a single army list, and things like mummies and vampires were assumed to march together.  Keep in mind that Warhammer is primarily a miniatures battle game, and therefore its goal was to create interesting army lists rather than to necessarily represent a coherent setting.

But this seems to have gradually changed somewhat; a number of "lumped" armies were split into different thematic elements in order to better align with the fiction of the setting.  Chaos, for instance, became three armies: warriors, daemons and beastmen, which are all separate, but who sometimes ally with each other.  This happened to the Undead as well, and they split into two armies, the skeletal Tomb Kings with a dry, Egyptian-like theme, and the Vampire Counts with a more eastern European Dracula and whatnot type feel.  This change didn't happen until the 6th edition, though—in Y2k—so it's a relatively recent change.

More recently yet, for the End Times, Nagash has been reborn, and with him are a handful of his most important and infamous generals—Arkhan the Black, his most trusted lieutenant while yet alive, Neferata, the first of the vampires, and Mannfred von Carstein, arguably the most powerful of the vampires.  Under the influence of these most powerful of Undead, including Nagash, the founder of the entire art of Necromancy and the Father of the Undead (both types) the two armies were, again, brought together in alliance, at least, and you can again create an army list that mixes Tomb Kings and Vampire Counts forces under the aegis of a reunited Undead.

What I'd like to do is go through the entire list, including links to images of the miniatures (I wish they had art instead of miniatures, but finding really good art of the miniatures themselves is harder than it should be).  I'll summarize what each type of monster is, and then briefly talk about whether or not I think there's a place for it in the DARK•HERITAGE setting or not, and if so, what kind of place.  For my money, I'd prefer to see many of these as almost individualistic creatures rather than "troop types" if I use them, or I'd use various of them as merely variants on the same theme.  But let's get to it, shall we?

Nagash, Supreme Lord of the Undead
Click on the images to make them larger, if needed.  The first here is Nagash himself.  As the Father of All Undead, now reborn as a kind of God of Undeath, if you will, he's a towering figure both literally and figuratively in the setting of Warhammer.  Monstrously sized, and still bearing the Egyptian like iconography that was his birthright in life, Nagash is an awesome piece of sculpture, and one of the few characters to have really great artwork associated with him—although don't take my word for it.  Do some Google Image Search for yourself!  I'd post some, but I already have many times.

As discussed with my CULT OF UNDEATH thread and mini-setting, which is set in Tarush Noptii, my own vampiric kingdom more closely resembles the Vampire Counts in tone and theme than the Tomb Kings (although the Tomb Kings could represent even more ancient vampiric expansions of the distant past.) My closest analog to a Nagash like figure is probably Tarush himself.  I've never really described exactly what he is.  Is he a god?  Is he a mortal Necromancer turned larger than life due to his own fell sorcery?  I think of Tarush as somewhat like Kina from the Black Company in most respects, and those questions about her are not necessarily clearly answered either.

Going through the list of miniatures online (which doesn't necessarily have an order that makes sense) we get next to the Blood Knights, semi-feudal vampires that ride on horses and fight as knights, basically.  Being vampires, of course, they are rather savage and bloodthirsty (literally) compared to other knights, and have a host of supernatural abilities.

My conception of Tarush Noptii is that it is primarily a mortal kingdom, although certainly ruled over by an undead (i.e., vampire) aristocracy.  The notion that there could be some of these vampires who are sadistic and bloodthirsty hand to hand combat juggernauts is not in the least out of character, although ranking them up as heavy cavalry probably is.  The nature of the the vampire aristocracy is that they tend to be very individualistic.

Neferata mounted on Dread Abyssal
Neferata, the Mortarch of Blood is next in our list.  The same kit can also render either of the other two Mortarchs, Mannfred von Carstein or Arkhan the Black, but rather than post images of all three, just click on the links above to see them.  They're all quite similar.  Arkhan is perhaps a little different to the other two, as they're vampires and Arkhan is a lich.  As such, he has a much more skeletal visage and doesn't need to drink blood, but that's more cosmetic than anything else.  All three are potent warriors and sorcerers who are almost impossible to kill—really the main feature of any evil champion.

All three ride on dread abyssals; some kind of demonic creature in a skeletal monster form, stuffed with the ethereal skulls of souls that they devoured in the afterlife or something like that.  These monstrous skeletal bodies were wrought by Nagash himself, in part as a display of his mastery over the concept of Undeath and his godlike power.  I could certainly see the dread abyssals, or something very like them, having a place somewhere in DARK•HERITAGE.  They're cool.  As for characters like Arkhan or Neferata or Mannfred; again, I don't make so many distinctions between types of "supervillains."  All three could qualify as equivalents of the Ten Who Were Taken in the Black Company, and therefore all three could qualify as part of the Heresiarchy of the Twelve in DARK•HERITAGE which is a similar concept.  The first thing any sorcerer who aspires to that level of power does is to make himself functionally immortal.  Whether that's through something like conventional lich-hood or vampirism or some other method is less important than the end result, really.

Mortis Engine
The Mortis Engine is a massive model, but basically it's a Corpsemaster, a master necromancer, sitting on a throne that's borne into battle by a horde of banshees and other spectral ghost-like creatures.  To be honest with you, I prefer to again minimize the distinctiveness of various creatures. Ghosts, banshees, wraiths, spirits, phantoms, spooks, poltergeists, etc.—they're all really just disembodied spirits of some kind.  While the details of the manifestation of any such disembodied spirit may differ somewhat, is there really a conceptual difference between any of these?  I think not.  In DARK•HERITAGE while certainly a ghost may have a banshee scream, or a wraith's life-draining touch, they really aren't different classes of monster; that's just individual variation among them.

The Coven Throne is another variation on this same model, and it's also a variation on the same concept.  Rather than a Corpsemaster, it has a reclining female vampire attended to by her attendants, on a palanquin carried by the same types of spirits (literally the same models, of course) as that of the Mortis Engine.  I can see why from an army list standpoint they'd maybe be separate, but I can't imagine any reason why my setting would need to make a distinction between a Coven Throne and a Mortis Engine.  And since open battle between monsters is more of a Warhammer thing than a DARK•HERITAGE thing anyway, I'm not sure that I'd ever have any need for either of them anyway except as a bit of color.

Morghast Archai
The difference between the Morghast Archai and Morghast Harbingers is really more about having different weapons; this big Grim Reaper-like pole-arm with a ghostly wailing haft (pictured, left), or big paired sword-like blades.  The Morghasts are supposedly the corpses of some type of pseudo-angelic being sent by the Egyptian-esque god Ptra to kill Nagash many thousands of years ago.  He killed them instead and turned them into monstrous, flying undead things.  Their bodies are stuffed with the ethereal skulls of the victims of their deadly blades.

These are a really arcane and esoteric type of creature, but they also are not terribly unlike the dread abyssals, which I can see a place for.  I do have angelic like creatures already in DARK•HERITAGE and I can see a place for a real master of the undead to turn them into a cruel, blasphemous parody of their original purpose as an undead creature, not unlike the morghast.  Mor-, of course, is probably from Tolkien's own use of the prefix (as in Mordor) because it has the proper sound to readers of fantasy to be "evil."  Because it also sounds like mortis, the Latin word for death, it gets double the exposure as sounding "bad."  Ghast is a D&D creature; a kind of more powerful ghoul, but the name seems to have been coined originally by H. P. Lovecraft in his Dreamlands stories.  It's obviously a based on the word ghastly, which actually comes from the Middle English word gast which led to—not only ghastly but also the English word ghost.  A ghast is just, then, an alternate spelling, if you will, that never quite made it into being a real word, of ghost, and it is meant to be the same thing.  It's also cognate with the German word geist, as in poltergeist.  Keep that thought in mind as we proceed to more creatures....

Ghoul King mounted on Terrorgheist
The next kit is the Zombie Dragon with Vampire Lord or Terrorgheist with Ghoul King.  A zombie dragon is pretty much what it sounds like (although animated mummified dragon would probably better describe the model) and the terrorgheist is supposedly some kind of pseudo-skeletal super-gigantic bat creature.  In reality, conceptually the terrorgheist is no different than the fell beasts from Lord of the Rings, although with a less overtly scaly dragon-like appearance than the movie gave them (which is fine.  I'm a much bigger fan of the books than I am of the movies.)  The name terrorgheist is actually kind of interesting, because gheist is very similar (deliberately) to geist, but with the added [h] it makes it look more like ghost.  I like the concept that poltergeists are merely one manifestation of the the concept of different kinds of -geists.  But -geists should be ghosts, not gigantic bat things.  I love the concept of the gigantic undead skeletal bat thing, but it's not unique to Warhammer, just the specific visual.

I also don't think that there's really a difference between a "vampire lord" and a "ghoul king" other than a bit of thematic cosmetics.  A ghoul king is a more savage flesh-eating, ugly type of vampire, while a vampire lord is a more traditional, romanticized Dracula-style vampire.  But they're both vampiric monsters.

The Casket of Skulls is basically the Ark of the Covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark except instead of a French archaeologist allied with Nazis opening it, it's a Lich King.  While the Ark of the Covenant is a bit too "done already" for my taste to be used without being an obvious call-back to Raiders, the Lich Kings are important.  In reality, from my perspective there's only minor differences between a lich and a vampire.  The vampires are more human-like in appearance in most respects; the liches bodies having rotted away to a skeletal, mummified husk, and the vampires require feeding on the blood, flesh or life-force of the living, whereas liches merely hate the living, but do not require anything of them.  Ideally, for a master sorcerer, he'd have neither the weakness of needing human life force to sustain him, nor the weakness of a wasted physical appearance, but in reality, even the greatest of sorcerers usually fail to completely implement that, so they're left with at least one of the two drawbacks.  This is the primary difference between liches and vampires.

The Black Coach is a very iconic Dracula moment.  A haunted coach picked up Jonathan Harker and bore him to Castle Dracula.  Games Workshop has reimagined this as a war machine of sorts; the coach bears the coffin with the vampire in it, and rides over the battlefield, sucking the life and even blood from enemy troops that it runs down.  This is... well, it's a miniatures wargame, right?  It makes sense in that regard.

Of course, the concept of haunted coaches drawn by skeletal steeds and manned with wraith-like coachman is perfectly acceptable in DARK•HERITAGE, or as far as I'm concerned, just about any fantasy setting that is even tangentially related to Western civilization.

The Bone Giant is, surprisingly, not merely the animated skeleton of a giant, according to the Tomb Kings army book.  It is instead, basically, a really big golem made out of bones.

I'm a big fan of the notion that there isn't a real difference between golems and the animated undead.  Undead that actually feature the trapped soul of people are one thing, but being merely an animated corpse or whatever is no different than being an animated anything else, therefore you could almost consider any mindless undead as merely a golem made from a human body.  Of course, in many systems, such as D&D, golems are very powerful adversaries whereas skeletons and zombies and other mere animated corpses are not.  Do with them as you will.  I actually prefer zombies to be more like the original Haitian folklore of zombies.  Zombies of modern zombie pop culture have actually picked up a number of traits that were originally more associated with vampires and other revenants.  I like the notion of undead creatures being somewhat more like Frankenstein's monster or Herbert West's reanimated corpses, which are—as it happens—basically flesh golems in D&D terms.

Sepulchral Stalkers
The Sepuchral Stalkers and Necropolis Knights are two different troop types in the same kit.  As above, they have a golem-like quality to them—they are basically animated snake statues with an undead patina laid over top of them.  The Necropolis Knights are animated statues of cobras with a golden human skull-like (but fanged) mask, ridden by skeleton warriors.  The Sepuchral Stalkers use most of the same parts in the kit, but they actually have a core of a human corpse in their torso and carry weapons with bony human arms, as pictured there to the right. The latter even hide beneath the desert sands, rising up in ambush.  The idea of human corpses merged with animalistic statues and animated isn't something that would be foreign to DARK•HERITAGE. In fact, I can see expanding this beyond the merely snake-like into other animal forms as well, maybe.  Heck, the Soulhunters from Privateer Press's Cryx armies (worthy of another similar post someday, for sure!) are kind of the same concept, except in "undead centaur" form.

Speaking of which, the Necrosphinx is another animated golem in human-animal hybrid form.  Shaped like a leonine centaur with a massive humanoid torso and muscular arms bearing ghastly gigantic blades, and Egyptian sarcophagus like iconography, the Necrosphinx is a real showpiece of a miniature and monster—although again, unless you decide that "undead" and "animated statue" aren't really significantly different from each other, exactly how it fits into an "undead" army is a little obscure, in my opinion.

The model can also be made as a Khemrian Warsphinx, which uses the same leonine body, but instead of the human-like torso, it has a neck and skeletal sabertooth-like head, and on its back is a howdah for skeletal warriors.  If golems and sepulchral stalkers or Necropolis knights can fit in DARK•HERITAGE than certainly something like this can as well—although maybe it's a bit too distinctive to the Warhammer world at this point.

Carrion are gigantic undead vultures.  I'm not even going to link to the image, because I actually think the models aren't that great, and because they're already similar to fell beasts, as noted above.  Conceptually they're no different, although the terrorgheist model is certainly much larger and more impressive than the carrion models.

Another one I won't link to an image to is the ushabti, either with great weapons or with gigantic bows.  They are also stone golems, basically—9-10 foot tall statues of animal-headed warriors with a very Egyptian like look.  Since clearly in Warhammer, at least for the Tomb Kings army, golems and undead are basically the same, these fit into that same kind of niche.

Yet another one that doesn't need linking to an image: fell bats.  Described as such: "Fell bats bear as much resemblance to ordinary bats as maddened lion bears to a domestic cat."  You get the idea.  Really big, monstrous bats.

Crypt Horrors are basically super-ghouls.  They bear a strong resemblance to ghouls, except for the ruptured spines with bone spurs and stuff sticking out of their backs.  The kit can also be used to create vargheists, which are basically devolved vampires that have succumbed to savagery and bestiality until any aspect of their humanity has been stripped away.  Vargheists are also winged, but the concept doesn't require that they be.  In fact, I think that ghouls are basically just uglier and more savage versions of the vampire concept to begin with, so they're on the same spectrum as vargheists in that regard.  I really don't see any compelling reason to keep them separate, especially if I want my vampires to not be too cliche and be stuck with all of the Dracula conceits, which to be fair, most vampires in fiction do.  Varghulfs, on the other hand, seem to be conceptually the exact same as the vargheists, but they're bigger and more powerful, looking even less like anything humanoid and even more like some kind of gigantic bat-monster.

I'll skip the Screaming Skulls catapult as a warmachine more geared towards an army game than one that I'd have any need for.  The Tomb Guard come next, and they're basically the same as those mummified priests that Brendan Frasier has to fight in The Mummy.  No need to picture them again here.  The Grave Guard are the Vampire Counts equivalent to them Tomb Guard, and they are specifically called out as wights; embodied and relatively powerful undead best exemplified by the barrow-wights of Tolkien or the draugr of Norse mythology and several Norse sagas—ultimately Tolkien's source too.  Warhammer also has Tomb Heralds, but these are just standard bearing Tomb Guard champions, not another concept.

I'll also skip the named characters, such as Settra the Imperishable, or Count Mannfred (actually the same character as the Mannfred named above, but this is an earlier version of him, and one not mounted on a dread abyssal.)  There's also a third version of Mannfred, as well as other von Carsteins—Isabella, Vlad, etc. and many other characters.  I'll skip them all in favor of coming up with my own unique characters, thankyouverymuch.

Corpse cart
I'm also going to skip the next few entries, after merely acknowledging their obvious existence—the humble foot soldiers of the undead: animated corpses.  Zombies, skeletons, armored skeletons, skeleton cavalry mounted on skeletal horses, skeletons on bone chariots drawn by skeletal horses, etc.  I will acknowledge the most unique among these types of models, though—the corpse cart.  Drawn by zombies and covered in impaled zombies writhing on its frame, and driven by a "macabre, shrouded figure" that could be a necromancer or something else, it's a real visual treat, if nothing else.

And I'm also going to skip solo models that are not really unique.  I've already talked about vampires, liches, wights and ghouls, for instance, plenty, so there's no need to point out that yes, there is a Vampire Lord and a Mounted Vampire Lord; there are Tomb Kings and a Lich Priest, and Wight Kings, and Necromancers.  Duh.  The models have to exist, but I've already talked about them in connection with something else, so I'll skip those entries.  There actually aren't too many left that I haven't already covered, and of those, even fewer yet that aren't merely variations on a theme that we've already talked about.

For instance, Black Knights are visually obviously drawn from the Black Riders of Tolkien, but in reality, conceptually they are simply mounted barrow-wights.

There's the Spirit Host and the Banshee, but I'll call them variations on the ghost theme and be done with it.  Swarms of bats, giant scorpions, and zombie undead wolves round out much of what else you'd expect (or maybe not, giant scorpion?  I guess that sounds vaguely fantasy Egypt like or something) from an undead army, and the final pieces are cairn wraiths and hexwraiths, although the only difference seems to be that the latter is mounted and the former is not.  An amalgam of archetypes including the ghost, the Ringwraiths and the Grim Reaper, these are relatively powerful, incorporeal creatures.

While a few of these concepts are probably too specific to the Warhammer setting to sit very comfortably elsewhere, most others (as is typical of that setting) come from somewhere else originally anyway, and can easily be ported into any fantasy setting without too much explanation of where they fit, assuming of course, that any kind of undeath is a thing in said fantasy setting to begin with.

Having a quick look at Forge World for alternate and rarer miniatures, we get the Mourngul, which is conceptually very similar to the wendigo myth; a famine spirit, if you will, eternally hungry and more solo; less likely to be part of any type of army.

This brings to mind another point, which I'm make briefly, but which is only tangentially related.  In the Iron Kingdoms setting, there were a number of monsters that were meant to be "solos" if you will.  As the Warmachine game became more popular, there was increasing pressure to use some of these monsters and ally them with one of the existing factions.  Therefore, guys like the pistol wraiths, machine wraiths, the cephalyx, etc. had to be shoe-horned into an existing armies.  Some of them (the cephalyx) they later backed off from on that, and made them "mercenaries" i.e., unaligned with any specific faction after all.

This is of course a problem with Warhammer, where all of these monsters are meant to be troop types in a fantasy army.  Some of them fit that archetype somewhat poorly, being essentially big monsters, or scary monsters, rather than troops.  But in many ways, if they fit the concept too poorly, they don't get added to the line-up in the first place.  One thing that is important for DARK•HERITAGE is to remember to decouple anything, regardless of source, from that paradigm.  There aren't armies of undead monsters marching through the setting.  Undead tend to be more individualistic and frightening monsters, not troops.