Friday, May 28, 2010

Setting evolution

I mentioned this in my last post, but my old description of my setting as a combination of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom, H. P. Lovecraft, Sergio Leone, Charles Dickens and Robert Ludlum isn't really accurate anymore, as my setting has evolved.

Some of the Dickensesque Inudstrial Revoluation urban dystopia has faded. Lovecraft's breed of horror fascinates me in some respects, and makes me shake my head wondering what he was thinking in others; but certainly some kind of supernatural horror vibe is still important. The alien-ness of the world has been an almost complete casualty of my setting evolution; rather than being a bizarre foreign planet with almost all alien lifeforms except human, I now see it as a Pleistocene era planet, albeit one in which advanced civilizations flourish. I've played up the cowboy angle even more overtly, and added a very prominant pirate angle too.

It's still swashbuckling horror, but I think my influences are now better described as:
  • A politically balkanized Mediterranean Sea. This can be similar to Rome in decline with Barbary pirates added in for fun.
  • Arabian Nights
  • H. P. Lovecraft and classic, gothic horror
  • Sergio Leone (especially up in the northern desert areas of Baal Hamazi, which I haven't yet typed up on my wiki.)
  • Rafael Sabatini
  • Robert Ludlum (for plots and conspiracies, mostly)
  • The X-files

An incoherent mess of ideas and conventions? Possibly. But influences does not mean straight borrowing without modification, so there's room for me to make it all seamless.

Also, I'm reminded of something Corey once said about setting design every time I start to worry about coherence. For his Barsoom setting (no relation to ERB's Barsoom, except in vague thematic terms), he just threw in everything that he thought was cool without worrying about how it all worked out. And... well, it did appear to work out brilliantly. And I'm arrogant enough to think that if he can do it, there's no reason I can't too.

And his Barsoom was pretty diverse too---Spanish mafia, dinosaurs, Plains Indians, Red Martians, Hong Kong theater and Glen Cook's The Black Company all were significant and obvious inclusions or inspirations. I don't know that my settings more bizarre than that, really.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Westerns and Fantasy Roleplaying

You might have noticed that I updated my "Listening To..." box to the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack. This is a nice soundtrack, and it's obviously a nice homage and modernization of the famous Ennio Morricone soundtracks of the spaghetti westerns. Which is a nice way of saying that it kind of rips them off. Still, nice, moody atmospheric music, that even my totally Philistine kids heard about ten seconds of and told me that it sounds like "cowboy music." I don't know where they heard any cowboy themesongs, because I don't tend to watch Westerns while they're around.

For a long time, I've said of my favorite fantasy homebrew setting that it's about equal parts Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom, Charles Dickens, H. P. Lovecraft and Sergio Leone with gameplay that feels like warmed over Robert Ludlum plots.

Huh? Charles Dickens? Sergio Leone?

Well, Charles Dickens comes in because I had nurtured a steampunk, urban dystopian feel for parts of the setting, and frankly, as time's gone on I've de-emphasized that quite a bit. However, I still stick strongly to the Sergio Leone vibe, and in fact, I think Sergio Leone makes a great model for a fantasy campaign.

Think about it; compared to prior Westerns, the "Dollars Trilogy" had some radical departures (not least of which that they were filmed in Europe, but that's really neither here nor there.) The character was rather amoral and dark, rather like almost every D&D character I've seen. He's not in it for heroics, his motivations are either revenge, or a payday, or hopefully both. Compared to prior Westerns, the violence and nastiness of the villains was really ratcheted up, not unlike most D&D campaigns I've been in.

In particular, I like the idea that all of these little frontier towns are rather helpless and hapless islands under siege; a constant threat of bandits (not unlike orcs, or gnolls, or whatever in D&D) in need of a hero; but instead all they can really hope for is a gruff almost anti-hero who comes and saves their bacon for reasons of his own that do not include altruism.

Anyway, those correspondences don't seem like a lot and they seem also to be somewhat generic, but I think we forget that those movies are now over 40 years old, and we take the tropes and conventions of them for granted; at the time they debuted, they were a real eye-opener to American audiences, who had never seen or apparently even really imagined anything quite like them.

Plus: two of my absolute favorite brand of "boys' adventure stories" are cowboy and pirate stories. I'm a product of my age, I guess. I want my fantasy RPGs to allow me my favorites.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Well, I have an exciting announcement to make. This weekend I'll be Skyping in with some folks and creating the first Hobocaust---a podcast dedicated to me, The Hobo.

No, actually, it'll be dedicated to gaming. But I'm the organizer and mixer of it, and the folks I've conned into c0-hosting it with me are really A-list material. I think you'll like what they have to say. I've actually known them for some time, but we are widely separated by geography, and are mostly "online" friends.

I've also been involved in a number of "play-by-post" roleplaying games with these guys, and that'll actually be our first topic: Pbp games vs. "regular" face to face games, and then any other evolutions in gaming that could potentially bring together widely separated gamers.

After that, we'll talk about our settings, our games, our characters, and maybe even some in-character interviews, just for fun. I have no idea (yet) how regular this will be, or how long we'll keep it up before we lose interest, but in the meantime, we hope to enjoy the ride.

Let me introduce you to the co-hosts (and of course encourage them to expound further on their resumes in the comments section!)

Corey has been kicking around online RPG hangouts for some time, even winning a contest for setting design on a really long time ago (seriously. Like in 2001 or something like that.) More recently, his claim to fame has been the development of DINO PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND, which I fully expect to discuss at length over time. He's also done some other game design here and there, is really freakin' tall, and is from the completely foreign and bizarre land of Canadia.

Christy is a relative newcomer to gaming, not having been one of us old grognards who picked the game up in the seventies or early 80s during the "Olde Days of Ye Dungeons & Dragons" but she hasn't missed a beat since. Her gaming claim to fame is the highly regarded "Halfling Musketeers" saga, a game that has become so popular that Ticketmaster reports that is sells out within a few seconds of tickets going on sale. Seriously, like DINO PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND (which must ALWAYS be written in all capital letters), it's become so popular that it's almost an invitation only event at GenCon and various gamedays where it features.

Brian has absolutely no RPG claims to fame that I know of. However, he's been in two (yes, count them: two) Pbps of mine now, and I can certainly vouch for his ability to play some of the most entertaining characters I've ever seen. In fact, an in-character interview with his character was one of the first suggested topics when I first kicked off the idea of doing a podcast with these folks.

With any luck, we'll also occasionally be able to get my fourth player, Matt, involved, although the logistical difficulties of having him participate regularly are rough, being that he calls in from THE FUTURE (i.e., New Zealand.) Although I'd love to have him, I doubt I can talk him into regular participation based on said logistical difficulties. He brings a lot to the table, though, having an encyclopedia-like knowledge of the rules, a flair for the dramatic and swashbucklerish, his own Musketeer outfit, and a personal connection to Lucy Lawless that I intend to shamelessly exploit.

I've also been in face to face games with Christy, Corey and Matt, and can say without a doubt that they are totally fun people, great gamers, and run some great freakin' games. And some of that magic, I hope, I'll funnel into this podcast which will blow market indicators out of the water.

Sorry, little in-joke there. No, I won't explain it. Trust me; it's funny.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I don't often step out of my gaming related posts other than for book reviews of fiction I've just finished, but I'm going to make an exception today and talk about some classical music. Bear with me; I probably won't do this again, and then I'll be right back in either a review of a Paul S. Kemp Forgotten Realms novel, or a gaming related post by tomorrow.

See, when someone says classical music, they usually mean that in a fairly broad sense. Strictly speaking, the classical period of Western "art music" is much more specific, and is nestled between the Baroque and the Romantic period. Most my favorite "classical" music is actually "Romantic" music, i.e., belonging to the same movement of Romanticism that influenced the art, literary and intellectual world. Oddly, the Romantic period of "classical" music does not coincide well chronologically with the artistic and literary periods, being offset from them by several decades--some of Beethoven's work is considered the earliest Romantic music. The age starts at about 1815 and lasts until, at the latest, 1910.

Despite this offset in dates, the Romantic period of music really hit the same themes as literary and artistic Romanticism; a romanticisation of the past, a rejection of the Age of Englightenment and the Industrial Revolution, a celebration of nature, culture, nationalism, and emotion as opposed to the classicist celebration of reason (although the classicists were certainly guilty of romanticising the past as well; just a different era of it, typically.) Especially as the period started to wane, nationalism became a huge part of the Romantic era music,

This is what makes this kind of music fun for me as a listener; the classical masters are too clinical in their approach, and the modern composers are all over the map--some of them hearkening back to romanticism while others reject it and focus on dissonance and other practices that make the music more difficult to just enjoy. Neither the post nor pre Romantic composers (to me) really involve me in the music as a listener, and they don't take as much plain joy in the music. Ah, well.

I have been a fan of Romantic era classical music for a long time, and know many of its composers fairly well. Or, well, at least I know their best known works. A lot of my favorites are the Russians of the era: Tchaikovsky and the "Mighty Handful" or the "Russian Five." And while I've said for a long time that I like the Russian Five, I honestly only knew Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorsky relatively well, not Cui or Balarikev. And even then, I only knew their most well-known works.

For example, I had thought I was reasonably familiar with Rimsky-Korsakov, because I have the Cappricio Espagnol, the Russian Easter Orchestra, and his 1888 symphony 'Scheherazade' as well as knowing that he had orchestrated some of the works of his buddy Mussorsky (specifically 'Pictures at an Exhibition' which was originally written for the piano, not a symphonic orchestra.)

I recently discovered some other works of his, including 'The Tsar's Bride', a musical story of Ivan the Terrible. Actually, I only have the overture, since the entire work is opera, and I'm not a huge fan of opera. I also discovered his 'Fantasia on a Serbian Theme' and his first two symphonies, including the 'Antar' symphony.

It's strange to me that a stalwart supporter of Russian nationalism through music was able to write much of his most famous music about cultures other than Russian--both Antar and Scheherazade being Arabic in character. Through the strange vagaries of what nationalism meant to people 130 or some odd years ago, that was Russian nationalism, though, and specifically a rejection of the German/Austrian heritage of classical music.

The 'Antar' symphony is actually based, in many cases, on traditional Algerian and Arabic melodies that Rimsky-Korsakov then orchestrated and filled out. The result is that although possibly less polished than 'Scheherazade', at the same time it feels more authentic, which is a big part of what the "Russian Five" were always concerned about so much anyway.

Also, it slides right into my recent preoccupation with Arabian Nights and orientalism in the old-fashioned sense as an important influence on sword & sorcery in general. In fact, Antar and even Scheherazade would be perfect background music to listen to while reading Thomas Beckford's Vathek, a novel that was written at the end of the 18th century, and which was highly influential on both H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. CAS even wrote a short "sequel" to Vathek, and Lovecraft is believed to have modeled 'The DreamQuest of Unknown Kadath' on Vathek with a healthy dose of Lord Dunsany for tone and feel, as well as his unfinished novel fragment 'Azathoth.'

Here's a youtube clip of the first movement of 'Antar.' I'm not sure if it will successfully launch the other three movements when it's done or not, but it will if you watch it on youtube itself.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Was I Wazir?

I was! Heh. References to Broadway musicals and the Howard Keel movies that they made of them in the 50s aside, one thing that disappoints me about our modern day is that the west and the near east have been pitted each other in some kind of culture war. Or, at least, there's a strong perception that that's true, which is a shame. Not least because Kizmet won't be playing off Broadway as often, but also because the romanticized view that we used to have of the golden age of Arab civilization (the time of the Rashidun Caliphate) was hugely influential on our modern conception of fantasy.

This has been partly forgotten nowadays, though, and since Tolkien wasn't interested in The Arabian Nights (at least not as far as I can tell; he certainly doesn't seem to have incorporated any themes or ideas from them in his work), the influence of the Arabian Nights "vibe" has gradually faded from a lot of fantasy over the last few years.

However, with even a cursory look at writers like Clark Ashton Smith, Abraham Merritt, and especially Robert E. Howard, shows that the Arabian Nights were an enormously influential and important influence on Sword & sorcery from the very beginning.

There are reasons to believe that the Arabian Nights influence is still with us, of course. The upcoming release of Disney's Prince of Persia (not to mention the continued success of the game series on which its based) will be, I hope, nice fodder for fantasy fans. Paizo, proving as always, that they are tapped into what makes fantasy tick, has released several products that have an Arabian Nights tone and feel, especially Qadira but also Katapesh and the entire Legacy of Fire adventure path. During the second edition era we got the Al Qadim setting, which was more successful than TSR had expected it to be (and was therefore extended an additional year and more products were scheduled and released before the line ended.)

Anyway, I bring this up not just because I just bought the recently released mp3 download from Amazon of the movie cast soundtrack to Kismet (although I did) but also because I've really loved the Arabian Nights vibe in fantasy. I think it's an integral part of the genre as I know it, and I want to see it preserved and even actively encouraged.

Oddly since it has nothing to do with the Arabian Nights or anything, the music for Kismet is heavily based around classical music by Georgian/Russian composer Alexandr Borodin, which was re-arranged and layered with vocals and a few jazzy touches. There are parts of the soundtrack, however, which remain untouched Borodin; from his String Quartet No. 2, In the Steppes of Central Asia, Prince Igor and other works. Rimski-Korsakov's symphony based on Scheherazade was not used.

There's your pop culture trivia of the day.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ninja vs. Ninja vs. Assassin vs. Rogue

Well, I brought my Rokugan book with me to work in my briefcase, mostly so I could have a second look at the Ninja and Courtier base classes. I hadn't looked at them in a long time, and couldn't really remember how well they compared with other classes I had looked at more recently, such as the Complete Adventurer ninja, and the d20 Freeport Companion (retitled now as the 3rd Era Freeport Companion, presumably without any changes) Assassin and Noble, and of course, the basic SRD Rogue.

I'm not going to touch on the Noble or Courtier in this post, although that's an interesting comparison for another day (maybe compared to the other Noble class from the Sovereign Stone and Dragonlance campaign settings too.) Rather, let's have a look at the four classes that represent sneaky skill users and killer types.

I mentioned in another recent post that I thought these four classes were all fine classes, but that they were redundant; there's no reason why any given campaign should ever use more than two of them at the most, and certainly not need to enable all four. I still believe that, so the purpose of this review, then, was to figure out where I wanted my campaign to land with allowable class selections.

Let's start with the Rogue, since it's in the SRD, and is therefore the most familiar of the four. The Rogue has a ¾ base attack bonus progression, one good save (Reflex), a d6 hit die, and a base skill point per level of 8, which is the best in the game. He gets Sneak Attack bonus damage improvements at first level and every other level thereafter, gets trapfinding, evade and uncanny dodge, and has an a la carte menu of special sneaky abilities that he can get in the second half of his career progression.

He's clearly not a front-line fighter with a mediocre BAB and a low hit die, but his enormous pool of skill points, extremely handy class abilities, and the potentially devastating sneak attack ability combine to make him a versatile and highly useful addition to any type of game, even one that (like mine) tend to avoid dungeons like the plague. In a dungeon environment, of course, he's also extremely useful as a sneaky scout who goes ahead, finds opponents and traps, disarms them, and sets ambushes for creatures along the way. His ability to use the Use Magic Device skill is a convenient way for him to even double up as a backup cleric or wizard if necessary, if he's got a wand, scroll, or other magic device.

Verdict: Rogues are one of my favorite core classes to play, especially since I prefer to stay away from spellcasters, and I find the fighter kind of bland. But, even an old favorite can use some new blood and competition, so that's where we get to the next three classes that we're going to look at.

Let's start with the "official" ninja; coming as it is out of the Wizards of the Coast product line, it's likely to be the next one most potential players will encounter. It also has a ¾ BAB progression and a good Reflex save, as well as having a d6 hit die. Ninjas have less skill points than rogues, but still quite a lot (baseline skill points/level is 6), and it has a very similar skill set of class skills (minus Use Magic Device.) It has an ability called Sudden Strike that is very similar to Sneak Attack (and the progression of it is the same) but which is slightly more limited. Like the rogue, the ninja also gains the trapfinding special ability and evasion (but not uncanny dodge). The ninja also gains a monk-like bonus to his Armor Class, and has an entire slew of movement related abilities, culminating in the ability to turn ethereal for short periods of time. These abilities translate very well into capturing the flavor of the Hollywood depiction of a ninja (which is no doubt exactly what they were intended to do). Whether they translate into tactical benefit in the game itself, however, is a bit more difficult to ascertain.

My opinion, admittedly not based on extensive playtesting, is that the ninja is inferior in almost every way to a rogue. With a rogue, you could get most of these same effects, or at least very similar ones, and have other benefits to boot. The ninja comes across as a poor substitute. If I wanted to make an iconic ninja type character, I'd be better off doing so using the rogue as a baseline, and pumping him up in sneaky skills and magic items that made me even sneaker and more mobile. Verdict: This ninja will not make the cut into my homebrew, although I might raid the class ability list for an ability or two to hybridize with whatever class I do settle on.

The Rokugan ninja is less official (having been published by Alderac Entertainment Group rather than Wizards of the Coast) but enjoyed at least some hint of officialness since Rokugan was also the featured setting of Oriental Adventures. The Rokugan ninja is also built similar to the rogue in many ways, but in other ways, it approaches a different kind of ranger. The Rokugan ninja was also built for 3e, not 3.5, so it differs in minor ways from the other classes we'll be looking at today, but I don't think that handicaps it overly. In fact, other than tweaking the class skill list (which I'd have to do anyway, since I'm also adopting skills from Pathfinder as a house rule) I think it stands on its own just fine as is with the other options presented here today.

The Rokugan ninja has a full base attack bonus, one good save (although it's Will here, not Reflex), a d6 hit die, 4 baseline skill points per level, and a rogue's sneak attack damage progression. He has uncanny dodge (but not evasion), poison use, an improved version of the Dodge feat, and a few other movement related benefits. In the second half of his levels, his class abilities taper off (not a problem for me, since I refuse to run a game up into the mid-teens or beyond, and very, very rarely would I anticipate playing in those levels again either) and become a bit sparse.

I'm not quite sure what role he would play in the game. I've never seen one in play, so this is not a playtest assessment. He's very similar to the rogue in many ways (especially with the sneak attack and lower hit dice, I'd expect his role in combat especially to be nearly identical) but hits a little harder due to his improved BAB. He doesn't have nearly as much flexibility and with somewhat weak and bland class abilities, especially as he progresses into higher levels, and only half the skill points, I would still anticipate that he plays like a subtle variation on the rogue in most respects. Although with the higher BAB, it would be tempting to make him into a more mobile front-line fighter, that's probably ultimately a losing proposition, as with only a d6 hit die, and a need to maximize STR and DEX before CON, he'll go down way too easily, I think.

Which ultimately makes me question how necessary this ninja class really is. I think it could benefit from a reassessment of class abilities, giving it more to choose from, and possibly more abilties in general. The Complete Adventurer ninja could be raided for potential abilities to add. Verdict: A good baseline for an alternate ninja class alongside the rogue, but it's too bland and probably a bit too weak as is to be a tempting alternative. A re-appraisal of its class abilities could give it just enough flash to stand toe-to-toe with the rogue.

Freeport's assassin class isn't strictly a ninja, but it's a sneaky killer; it's really a ninja in all but name. For that matter, in most respects, so is the rogue class, but let's not split hairs, shall we? The assassin is meant as a full 20-level replacement for the assassin prestige class, except without spellcasting, and as such, it has some similar abilities. It has a ¾ BAB, a d6 hit die (making four for four on the hit die), two good saves (Reflex and Fort), a backstab ability that works as "yet another almost Sneak attack ability" (but different from the Complete Adventurer's ninja ability "Surprise Strike") that doesn't upgrade quite as often as the rogue sneak attack ability, uncanny dodge (but not evasion), and a number of interesting class abilities, including an a la carte list very similar to the rogue's (except focused on killing rather than generic sneakiness; actually, these would make great additions to the rogue's list of abilities to pick from, and shouldn't prove unbalancing at all as such), poison use, an improved Fort save against poisons, the ability to make money when in an urban environment off of killing contracts (a small mini game that takes place between sessions, I'd imagine). The assassin has a baseline skill point total of 6 per level.

My first thought was that the assassin was completely redundant with the rogue, except having a slightly more flavorful menu of options. I still believe that it would play almost exactly the same as a rogue in combat (making four for four there too) but outside of combat, it could do some different things. And a fresh look convinces me that this class is actually more different from the rogue than I had initially concieved. Verdict: A nice class that plays like a darker, alternative to the rogue. The contract mini-game to kill NPCs off-screen for cash is a fun idea, but probably one that won't get used very often, honestly.

Final Verdict: Well, time to lay all four of the classes out side by side and decide what to do with them for my camaign going forward. There's a few caveats up front: 1) It wasn't ever really an option to replace the basic rogue--he was going to make the cut no matter what, and 2) four rogue-like classes is about two rogue-like classes too many for me.

That said, it's not as simple as just picking one of the three alt.rogues and adding it to my line-up. I think I can do a little better than that, and once I've done so, I'll post the houserules here, on my modular campaign setting elements wiki (houserule page, linked above), and eventually integrate them into my consolidated personal "SRD" document that contains all the rules I intend to use for my ideal campaign (which is, as of right now, hypothetical anyway, because I'm not going to be running for my group anytime soon; we just started an adventure path in which I'm a player, and then I doubt I can convince the group that it's my turn to run again already after that since literally all of use want a crack behind the screen.)

In my ideal world, what I'd do is kill all three of the rogue alternates and cannibalize their elements to create two unique rogue-like classes; one that's based heavily on the existing rogue (but with just a few elements taken from the assassin and mixed in as options) and one that's a splice of the Rokugan ninja and the Freeport assasin with possibly an ability or two from the WotC ninja too. My goal is to not exceed the existing rogue in power (although possibly add a bit more options for characters who want to go a slightly different direction with their character), but to have two classes that are equally attractive from a mechanics perspective, but which focus on sufficiently different mechanical ground that they don't tread on each others' toes, even as they cover the same conceptual niche. A bit tricky? Yeah, probably. But I've got good source material to work with to make this happen. I think it'll turn out just fine.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Redundant classes

As I've been noodling over the list of available classes in my homebrew Frankestein 3.5 OGL system, I've decided that I want to at least spell out the less magic option, even if I don't decide to use it. So, for that option, I've removed all classes with a spell-casting progression or psionic power progression, and I'll be using d20 Call of Cthulhu style magic and psionics. Magic in this system works pretty much exactly like Incantations do, so in theory they're open. In practice, of course, I'd have to convert literally every single spell I'd be interested in using. So I'll probably just refer to my books and not post those rules.

This change really gives me the feel and tone that I want from my game, but the cost to get there is simplicity of house rules. In all honesty, in order to get there, I probably need to actually post all of my allowed classes so I can at least have them all in one place. Bleagh. That means work coming up with a document that has all of them, either online or as a pdf.

The sideline here, though, is that in thinking about this, I've revisited my class list to make sure I have sufficient variety. I actually do, but I have that in part because I have redundant classes. Different takes on the same archetype, or different interpretations of the same idea.

In general, in D&D, the classes work as four categories embodied by the "classic" four classes: divine caster (cleric), arcane caster (wizard), sneaky skill-user (rogue) and frontline combat guy (fighter). Most of the rest of the classes operate as hybrids of some degree or another, or as alternates. For example, the ranger is a fighter/rogue hybrid, the paladin is a fighter/cleric hybrid, the bard is a bizarre wizard/rogue hybrid with some other stuff thrown in too. A few other classes defy easy categorization; the monk is, like the ranger, a rogue/fighter hybrid, but with a completely different flavor (as is the swashbuckler), the sorcerer is an alternative to the wizard (for that matter, so too is the warmage, the wu jen, the warlock, etc.)

You could possibly also create a third axis here, with psionics; the psion as the psionic version of the wizard with the wilder as an alternate, and the psychic warrior and soulknife as fighter hybrids in two different flavors, and Complete Psionic creates other hybrids as well, including a rogue/psion hybrid, a cleric/psion hybrid, etc.

The differences between them from a game standpoint (not a flavor standpoint, but a role-protection standpoint) start to become extremely fine after a while. Take out the psion, divine and arcane caster options, and I'm mostly looking at fighters, rogues, and various alternatives and hybrids to those two roles. Some of the classes swing a little bit towards the other classes, but since they can't have a caster or manifester progression, they can only do so much. Add in third party material, and what I've found is that while I've got a lot of options, I've allowed a number of redudant classes.

As an example, I've allowed the rogue (from the SRD), the ninja (from Complete Adventurer), a different ninja (from the Rokugan Campaign Setting) and the assassin (from Freeport.) I can probably split hairs enough to have two classes that are significantly different here, but four is not going to work. The assassin (from Freeport) is basically a slightly darker version of the rogue, while the two ninjas are rogue/monk hybrids. While I don't have any problem with a player using the rules of any of these classes, I find that I do have a problem with saying up front that all four of those classes, which really just create a narrow spectrum between them, are all included in the campaign setting.

What I anticipate doing is allowing the rogue from the SRD (possibly beefed up with some assassin abilities as alternatives on the rogue abilities list for a more a la carte rogue that could be nearly the same as a Freeport assassin), and then work on hybridizing the two ninja classes and making sure it has sufficient separation from the new rogue.

This isn't the only example of where I'll need to do some rationalization work here; I've got two alt.monks (the survivalist from Freeport and the Defender from Midnight), a few contenders for a swashbuckler archetype (probably best hybridized and fused there as well), several contenders for the ranger archetype (although done in such completely different ways that I think I'll end up with a few options allowable there, and I'll also add in a few alternate weapon specialties and non-spellcasting options for the base ranger as well.)

Anyway, while I'm kinda excited about the prospect here, at the same time, I'm surprised at how much work this is no doubt going to end up being. Bleagh. Major house rule city.

It does give me an opportunity to at least present all the houserules cleanly; I can integrate the Pathfinder skill system right into the class descriptions, for instance. But, it'll be a pain to do the work.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Drowning City

I've read books that at least loosely fall under the aegis of "romantic fantasy" before: stuff like Mercedes Lackey, Tamora Pierce, Stephanie Meyer. In general, I don't like it. That's not surprising; I'm really not the target audience for it. What was surprising, (to me at least) was that Amanda Downum's The Drowning City felt like an example of it. So, given that loose identification, you'll probably not be surprised if I say that I didn't really enjoy The Drowning City as much as I'd hoped to.

I don't know that it's fair to call City really a romantic fantasy, but it certainly felt like one in many ways, and it was... for lack of a better word... very girlish. Not because it had a female protagonist, but because she was a romantic fantasy protagonist. Most of the characters were emotionally very fragile, mopey and sad, and they doted on past relationships. The emphasis of the novel was on relationship building too; the plot was nominally that of a spy sent to find insurgents in a foreign city and offer them aid to distract the empire from a potential bid of conquest. However, that plot seemed to take second place to the main characters all finding potential social entanglements; friends, lovers, and family.

In spite of being a novel about social interactions, I felt that many of the characters weren't sufficiently defined for me to remember them as the novel progressed. When characters had to pop up again because of the plot, I often didn't really remember who they were very well. That question wasn't one of taste nearly as much as it was an actual flaw in the book. It wasn't particularly long; at 350 pages, with an industry average of 200 words per page, it was probably around 70,000 words? As much as I hate to say it, because I believe that the fantasy genre is still burdened with way too many overblown and bloated works, I think this novel would have benefited from several more pages of plot and character development. When things started happening, I felt myself asking, "Huh? What's going on? Who're these people again?" much too often.

I could, however, tell you about Isylt's past relationship with Kiril and her insecurity, and what her dresses looked like. And I could tell you about Xinai's period. Quite frankly, that wasn't was I was interested in.

Up next (I've already started); some Paul S. Kemp Forgotten Realms fiction.

Friday, May 14, 2010


I've been talking about two different paradigms with some friends of mine, in relation to my previous D&D + Cthulhu post. I've got two competing goals with this:
  1. Getting a ruleset that perfectly matches the tone, feel and setting that I want to hit.

  2. Getting a ruleset that is simple to present to my players.

I'm finding that the two are in competition to some extent. In order to meet goal #1, I really should do a serious custom job on the rules; replace lots of classes, replace races, replace the magic system, etc. Of course, I've already got a fairly kludged together galimauphry of rules as it is, so doing that really starts to strain against goal #2. Just saying, "D&D 3.5, folks, with E6, and the action point and skill system changes and a different play paradigm" is much easier. But, of course, then I start bumping into problems where the feel and tone is wrong. Do I really want clerics turning undead? I know I've kept spells down to 3rd level tops with the E6 tophat, but do I really want 3rd level spells running around the setting, easy as pie for anyone to access? In a sword & sorcery dark fantasy hybrid game, is magic really something that you want characters to have ready access to in the first place, without paying a cost for it?

Honestly; I'm not sure. I'm on the fence about the issue.

Feel free to comment and convince me one way or another.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dungeons & Dragons + Call of Cthulhu

Although several of my blog posts presage this attitude, and I've been gradually migrating this way for a long time, it hit me with sharp clarity recently that my ideal roleplaying game campaign would be one that used a rulebase and setting assumption that was loosely based on sword & sorcery, humanocentric D&D (3.5 edition), but which had a play paradigm almost exactly like that of Call of Cthulhu. Honestly, I think my game is already set up to facilitate that, but there's still a mental leap required to get all the way there.

Now, Cthulhu is an interesting game. I've had basically two kinds of experiences with it, and I think both are pretty typical. One type of experience is the one-shot. Held on gamedays, conventions, and just single-session one-offs, this is the deadly, meat-grinder type of Cthulhu that many people anticipate. There's usually a PC death or two, and many sanity episodes. At least one PC will be "lost" to sanity issues. A few PCs will manage to muddle through the scenario with some degree of success.

I've actually found that this type of game is inimical to terror, in most cases. Knowing that your character is, essentially, disposible, leads to wacky behavior. When a PC goes down, it's usually an occasion for a few laughs, not one of horror. It's a ton of fun, but in many ways, it's not what people think Cthulhu is about. The tone usually comes off completely wrong. Not necessarily; I've seen it played straight, but honestly, not very often. The environment doesn't really facilitate that kind of experience, unless all the players come to the table wanting that experience, and working hard to maintain that mood and tone.

The other type of Cthulhu game that I've seen is the long-term campaign. This plays quite differently, usually. In spite of the hype, character die and go insane pretty infrequently here. This is the type of game made famous by the scenarios published by Chaosium (and others): Beyond the Mountains of Madness, Masks of Nyarlathotep, Shadows of Yog-Sothoth, etc. Fantasy Flight's Nocturnum. The entire concept of the Delta Green sub-setting.

In these types of games, it is easier to get a feeling of horror. Your characters aren't meant to be disposible, but they are still relatively weak and fragile. Ironically, this type of game provides an environment in which the lurking, brooding horror of the game can best be made manifest, and yet it doesn't do so by ramping up the count of PC death and insanity. It does it slowly, and by whittling away the uncautious, the reckless and the unlucky. It's a game that fosters a gradually growing sense of paranoia amongst the players. But they get to maintain continuity. It's a fun game. Much more fun that the flash-bang one-shots that blow through PCs like so much chaff.

As I mentioned earlier, the challenge is getting everybody on board with that paradigm. Making the mental leap into a Cthulhu-like playstyle, even though you're using rules that appear to resemble D&D. If you don't have that, your efforts to get that kind of game will most likely be frustrating and disappointing. If players don't ever adopt the cautious, paranoid feel of a good Cthulhu campaign, then likely they'll just go through PCs quickly and either play it off for laughs, or get frustrated. It's a case of managing expectations, and is (in my experience) a little bit tricky to pull off.

Anyone have any experience in doing something like this? If so, I'm curious to hear how it's worked out for you.

The attached image is a very unusual representation of Cthulhu, which is part of the reason I like it so much more than the more "classic" images.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gods & Deities, Mk. II (with details)

Some scholars of theology believe that all the world actually only worships a single pantheon of gods; it's just the names and representations of them that differ, as well as regional importance of one god over another. Others resist that notion, calling each nation's pantheon of gods a unique set, specific to that culture, although cults may migrate from culture to culture from time to time.

Be that as it may, these are the gods that have temples in your area, as well as a handful of others that are also worshipped. Although, honestly, people in general are better described as "superstitious" rather than "religious." Offerings and invocations are tossed off out of habit, and people have a healthy respect for the ability of a displeased god to give you a really bad day, but they don't often otherwise pay particular respects to them. Pick whatever domains or favored weapon you think are appropriate if playing a cleric or other class that needs domains.

The way the pantheon works is that no god has "primacy" over another one according to myth. The various gods work in their respective sphere of influence, and their importance varies from region to region. Because the gods appear to be "hands off"; how their worshippers view them, and the popularity of their cults, evolves over time. If the gods exist at all, they may not resemble what mortal worshippers think of them anymore.

While many gods and goddesses have priests or priestesses dedicated solely to their worship, few people worship one god exclusively, including most clergy.

Czernovog (CHERN-uh-voag) "The Black Prince" - As his name implies, Czernovog was originally a Balshatoi god; perhaps even the chief god of that people. His cult has spread throughout the surrounding area, however, and he is an important figure in the religion of the Terrasans, and even moreso in the religion of Baal Hamazi, who view him as their divine "father." In most representations, he looks like an ideal hamazin; jet-black skin, handsome, sharp features, and a crown of six horns poking up through his hair. His concerns seem to be with civilization, although that has taken on a darker pall in many cults, where he's also seen as the patron of the seedier side of civilization: thieves, plague, corrupt politicians, bandits, and worse.

Perun (pare-OON) - He also sports an originally Balshatoi name, but Perun, "The Thunderer" is associated with war, and as such, his mystery cults have suffused the Terrasan military for generations. As he's worshipped today, he's a hybrid of the original cult of Perun and the cult of the war-god of the south, Belcadros, and is sometimes referred to in full as Perun Belcadros. Perun is usually depicted as a primitive warrior, wielding a spear, hammer or ax, all of which are metaphors for his thunder and lightning.

Ashtarte (ash-TAR-tay) - Also known as Ishtar or Ashtar, depending on the dialect of the speaker, Ashtarte is one of the goddesses most associated with civilization. She's sometimes known as "The Divine Librarian" or "The Goddess of Knowledge." Her search for knowledge is only one aspect of her worship, though, and older cults still remember her as a more generic goddess of civilization, to whom fertility and animal and crop husbandry was as important as knowledge. To this day, heirodules, or "temple prostitutes" make up an important part of her religious observances.

While the search for knowledge is an important part of her worship, and the libraries of her temples are amongst the greatest in Terrasa or beyond, Ashtarte's priests are notorious for lusting after knowledge they shouldn't have, and the more forbidden the knowledge, the more they seek after it. Even the old myths talk about Ashtarte stealing forbidden knowledge in scandalous ways (as a courtesan, or through murder.) The temples of Ashtarte have to cover up the scandalous actions of her too-curious priests with disturbing regularity. Ashtarte is usually pictured as a voluptuous naked women with angelic wings, seated on a coiled serpent for a throne, and with a smaller serpent in her hand. In her other hand is a book.

Orcus (OAR-cuss) - The God of Death is not much worshipped or revered locally, but since his temple has charge of preparing dead bodies for funerary rites, it remains important nonetheless. Ironically, the priests of Orcus are notorious for trying to escape death---urban myths of the priest of Orcus who turns to dark necromancy are common bogeymen that mothers use to frighten their children. Orcus himself is never pictured out of superstitious fear; nobody knows what he's supposed to look like---or if they do, they're not saying.

Dagon (DAY-gonn) - One of the most respected and revered gods near any body of water is the Lord of the Sea. Since literally everyone in coastal areas depends on the sea to some degree or another---either for food, livelihood, or at least in the hopes that it won't rise up in a tropical storm and wipe them off the map---Dagon's ceremonies are the most attended of any in those regions, and icons of him appear in almost every single building. He's usually shown as a merman with a flowing beard, but he's also occasionally pictured otherwise; one popular variant is a shark-like creature with grasping tentacles and mouth and eyes similar to that of horrible deep sea hunters.

Veles (VELL-us or VELL-eez) - Veles is the goddess of magic, and few are the arcane spellcasters who don't at least give her some nominal votive offerings from time to time. Her priests are famous for selling charms that protect the faithful from minor harm and bad luck. Most people agree that they do indeed work, although some decry the practice as charlatanism.

In the myths of many peoples, she is linked with Orcus, but the nature of that linkage is obscure, and varies from place to place.

Susinak (SOO-sin-ack) - Susinak is the ultimate traveler. Most people about to embark on a long journey will stop by the temple district and touch the hem of the robe of her statue. Most cities have a brass statue of her in an important plaza, but temples are few. Clerics and other faithful clean and polish the brass statues daily. They do, in fact, frequently start to lose some of their detail and definition because of the constant polishing.

The etymology of Susinak is unclear. While clearly not a native word in Terrasan, she is a goddess who's cult originated in the south, perhaps amongst neighbors of the old Terrasans.

Charun (char-OON) - Charun is a bull-headed god famous for his feats of strength. His temples are small shrines that are simply a roof supported by four pillars with a granite altar in the center.

Selvans (SELL-vans) - "The Horned God" is often seen as a dark god; a representation of nature "red in tooth and claw, and frequently associated with wolves or wulfen. Hunters and outdoorsmen worship him, but these are hard and cynical men, usually. His depiction is common, but his name varies wildly from place to place. He's also known as Cernunnos, Herne, and in the southwest, in Kurushat, as Yinigu. There, he is seen as the patron of the entire nation, and associated with hyenas instead of wolves. It's possible that all of these have different root myths for a similar figure which has merged in the minds of the more cosmopolitan modern world.

Vanth - The God of Penitance is not a popular god, but one that you occasionally hear about from those who have had to spend time in prison. He encourages extremely dilligent penitance and flagellations, so his followers are at least easy to spot. Mythology supposed a link between him and Orcus and Ashtarte, usually hinting that Vanth is a discarded lover of Ashtarte, and a former prisoner of Orcus.

Moloch (MOLE-ock)- The god of fire and the sun. His worship is more prevalent in tropical, open areas (unsurprisingly) where he is seen as a harsh and demanding master. In more temperate climes, he's more likely to be viewed benevolently, as a bringer of clement weather and bountiful harvests. In hotter regions, folks shake their heads knowingly, and watch their own crops go sere with Moloch's displeasure.

Human sacrifice, especially of slave children, has been strongly associated with Moloch's worship in the past. In most Terrasan regions today, this is no longer practiced.

Culsans (CULL-sans) - While never openly worshipped, this god of thieves is very commonly given a quick prayer by the land's many less than upstanding citizens. Also known as Frezur Blue as a nickname (origin unclear), many invoke his name only to make fun of it, and ask what part of him is blue (usually with a randy joke about his sex life) which causes the priests of Ashtarte or other more learned theologians no end of frustration. They simply roll their eyes, comment that "Blue" in this case is merely a mispelling of his proper name anyway, and although Culsans may seem to be an easy-going god who doesn't mind a few jokes made at his expense, only the truly foolish think that it is wise to upset the god who can take away everything that they own, and even steal their very souls.

Many other gods exist, but these are the ones that are most important and that everyone will know.

With thanks to Green Ronin; this bears obvious similarities to the deities of The Pirates Guide to Freeport, mingled with the demonic pantheon showcased in Armies of the Abyss. Also thanks to the Etruscans, Canaanites, Elamites, ancient Slavs and ancient Romans. You guys rawk, dudes!

RIP Frank Frazetta

Well, all the comics news sources (not sure why it's happening there, exactly, instead of on more conventional news circuits) have been reporting today on the death of Frank Frazetta, who by this point was a very elderly man, living in a post-stroke state of relatively poor health.

It's impossible to underestimate the contribution of Frazetta to fantasy art and to the commercial viability of fantasy as a genre in the first place, thanks to his covers for such authors as Edgar Rice Burroughs (Pellucidar and Barsoom) and Robert E. Howard (Conan) and others. Honestly, no matter how much the fantasy art field has blossomed in recent decades, and attracted some really skilled artists, nobody does it like Frazetta did.


Here's one of his book covers; I bought this book in high school in 1988 or 1989 for no other reason than because of the cover, of course. I went on to buy the rest of the series (still sitting in my unread queue at home, I might add... but I still pull them out and look at the covers from time to time.)

RIP, Mr. Frazetta. You'll be greatly missed.


As I posted about previously, I was casting about for some new names to use for my pantheon of setting deities. One name that I had liked was Chemosh, a Levantine god comparable to Baal, Dagon, Moloch, or Astharoth (Ashtarte). Since I've already got Dagon, Moloch and Ashtaroth, he seemed a shoe-in.

Coincidentally, I was flipping through some older copies of Dungeon magazine recently, and I saw an add for a Dragonlance novel by Margaret Weis, which mentioned Chemosh as a deity in Dragonlance!

It seems Dragonlance has adopted the name as a death god, which is unlike his "real" profile, but which is also fine as the name is kinda obscure. Or, well, it was, I guess. If Dragonlance has used it, then it probably isn't anymore.

Sounds like I'll have to keep looking... My other main choice was Chernobog, which is not only descriptive, but fits as my substrate language is loosely Slavic-like. To be honest with you, though, I just didn't like the name quite as much. I'll probably tweak it slightly.

The image attached is a Moabite stelae extoling the virtues of Chemosh, by the way. Not that I expect anyone to read it.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Metal and D&D

This video of an Afrika Bombaataa remake/remix of Gary Numan's "Metal" is tongue in cheek for a variety of reasons (one of which being that turning the song into a club-friendly pseudo-rap song kinda defeats the whole purpose, theme and tone of the song in the first place--the other being that this kind of music is anathema to metal fans) but hey, I can occasionally throw a weird non sequitur out there, right?

It should be obvious to anyone who's talked about D&D online before, but there are a lot of folks who play D&D who infer a serious and thorough link between Dungeons & Dragons and metal. Metal the music, I mean.

This inference is really bizarre, in my opinion. Other than the fact that a handful of metal bands have Frank Frazetta art as album covers (or Frazetta clones) I'm struggling to see any link at all. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that at a certain point in the 80s both metal and D&D were saddled with a similar image problem; linked with Satanism and all kinds of other bizarre claims. Both of these links were equally absurd, but is that enough to explain the bizarre fixation many gamers have with linking metal and D&D?

For my money, metal is just about the worst music I could play during a session. For metal fans, it would be distracting. "Are we here to listen to your CDs, or to play D&D?" For metal non-fans, like me, it'd be distracting in a different way. "Can you turn this crap off so I can hear what the GM is saying?"

This is true of any music with lyrics, though: it tends to be distracting. There's a reason that most movie soundtracks are orchestral music; or if they're not, the volume of the soundtrack goes way down when characters are talking. Lyrics are extremely distracting.

But used appropriately, music can add greatly to your session, just like it does to a movie or TV show. Some people swear by having certain tracks queued for certain types of activities in-game. For me, that would be distracting as a GM; too much effort. Rather, I tend to find soundtracks that give me the basic ambient "feel" I want for the game, put them on shuffle, and let them rip in the background while playing.

Although their musical acumen is perhaps a little bit suspect, you can't beat outfits like Nox Arcana and Midnight Syndicate for pure mood. They've both made their names for themselves primarily around the Halloween music circuit, but they both have a lot of stuff that's highly appropriate as background music during gaming. Heck; Midnight Syndicate even made the official Dungeons and Dragons Soundtrack, fer cryin' out loud. Nox Arcana's Blood of the Dragon is a direct answer to that CD, combining the same vibe with a synthesized Conan the Barbarian and Braveheart soundtrack. And for that matter, their Halloween themed music is still pretty darn appropriate for most games I've ever been in and certainly every game I'd ever run, since I really enjoy a dark fantasy twist on my fantasy gaming.

For my money, though, the best music to listen to while gaming is actual movie scores. I've mentioned before that I've managed to amass a fairly impressive collection of movie scores over the years, and this is exactly the reason why: to play in the background while reading, writing, or gaming.

Here's a (partial) list of some of the soundtracks that I've used and continue to use for my gaming, reading and writing sessions, as well as during game preparation. This is meant more to give you a flavor of what I listen to than to be complete. I don't espouse or recommend any of these movies at this point for anything other than their musical scores.

Raiders of the Lost Ark
Batman Begins
The Wolfman
10,000 B.C.
The Mummy
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Fellowship of the Ring
Clash of the Titans
Van Helsing

All the links above go to Amazon, where you can hear samples, and for most of those, you can also buy them as mp3 instant downloads.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Hyborian History

"Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars ... " -- The Nemedian Chronicles

I've blogged before about the brilliance of Robert E. Howard's idea to create the Hyborian Age. It's important to remember that Howard wrote several decades before the formulation of the theory of plate tectonics, and while continental drift had been suggested in vague terms by a few scientists, there was little acceptance of the idea because it lacked compelling evidence until it was combined with sea-floor spreading, radiation heat, and various other lines of evidence that crystalized in the late 1950s and early 1960s into the theory of plate tectonics.

Therefore, Howard's Golden Age, the Hyborian Age, was framed by disasters; global cataclysms on the scale of the Biblical flood, that plate tectonics now tells us were impossible.

However, of course, in a fantasy setting there's no reason why scientific rigor has to be maintained. The more I think about it, the more I think I was perhaps wrong, or at least barking up a slightly wrong tree, when I wrote my blog post "Realistic" maps. Rather than realistic by plate tectonics standards, I think realistic by earlier 20th century standards would be more fun. After all, the allure of lost continents, (Zealandia, Sundaland and Kerguelen notwithstanding) and massive natural disasters shaping the history of life on earth is ingrained in our cultural heritage, and too alluring a prospect to ignore.

Speaking of which, I had two options for some images of lost civilizations, both by Les Edwards. Since I couldn't decide which one I liked best, I attached them both.

Gods & Deities, Mk. II

I pulled the gods and deities info from this post from my Modular Campaign Setting Elements Wiki and posted it more or less exactly as it was originally written. Since that put it in front of my face again, I've been reviewing it, and I think there's a problem with it.

Basically, it's too "cute." Which, granted, in the spirit of the games that I've used them for, was OK. Those were pretty silly, almost parody games. So having obvious D&D demon lords repurposed as the pantheon felt more like an attempt at a clever in-joke rather than something that could be taken seriously. Which was too bad; I first got the idea from Green Ronin's Armies of the Abyss where it was meant to be done straight, and lead to a notably darker vibe to the campaign. In practice, I didn't find that it worked quite as well as I'd hoped. Like I said, it more resembled a wink and nudge esoteric joke than something that added an element of "darkness" to the game.

So, I'm going to scrap them. I've been trawling through real-life mythologies looking for names that I can adopt or adapt into my new mythology. Or, I might just make up my own names. I'm not sure yet. The only thing I'm sure of is that I don't want these obvious and overt D&Disms in my setting anymore.

Monday, May 03, 2010


It's surprisingly difficult to find a good image via Google for "swashbuckler." My search mostly came back with page after page after page of Halloween costumes. I ended up doing a more specific search for Captain Blood (my favorite Rafael Sabatini novel, and one of my favorite "old movies" in general, too.)

Although I consider my gaming tastes to lean towards the dark end of things, I also really like swashbucklers, and my settings tend to have more of a swashbuckler feel than a traditional fantasy feel. I'd rather have D'Artagnan than an traditionalist Arthurian knight, for instance. I think a lot of the original sword & sorcery foundational literature also has a similar feel; Conan, Fafhrd, the Gray Mouser, etc.--they're essentially swashbucklers, moving through an occasionally fairly dark setting. In fact, I privately suspect that the adventure novels of guys like Sabatini must have been an influence on a lot of the pulp writers, and not just in sword & sorcery. As were the often swashbuckling tales of the Arabian Nights, and other occasionally picaresque works that all are part of the melange that led to the formation of the sword & sorcery genre.

Of course, by throwing in a large sea into my setting, and having vaguely "Arabian Nights" esque major powers like Qizmir, I've often subconsciously paved the way for a similar feel myself. My Qizmiri colonists; those that come through the Strait and into the Mezzovian Sea itself, are the most adventurous, frontiersmen types. They're not noble. They're not royalty. They're not disciplined soldiers. They're basically Barbary pirates. The Terrasan Empire itself is decadent and weak; breakaway statelets like Porto Liure are not at all unlike Green Ronin's Freeport in most respects.

All in all, I've generated an environment that's much more friendly, I believe, to the swashbuckler than to the "traditional" fantasy tale. How exactly do swashbucklers and dark fantasy cum horror go together? That's a little bit trickier. A few works of media have attempted to combine them in very iconic ways, such as Stephen Sommers' Van Helsing. Then again, that movie isn't really very good, is it? Sommers had better luck with his earlier The Mummy, and in fact Brendan Frasier was described by Sommers as having that perfect Errol Flynn swashbuckling type character. You can't get more authoritatively swashbucklerish than Errol Flynn.

So; it's a tricky line to walk. I'm not sure exactly how well I walk it, but even my failures to stay correctly in tone, or whatever, tend to be entertaining, so I'm not sweating it too much. Also; whew! It's exhausting to hotlink stuff in my posts that intensively. It's an experiment, though. I'm trying to do more of it, but we'll see how well it turns out.