Monday, December 17, 2012

K is for Kinzassál

Records of the ancient days of the Mezzovian area are scanty and poor, meaning that many of the kingdoms, nations, tribes and peoples of long ago are poorly known, if at all.  The scientific inquiry into the past via archeology, anthropology, parahistory and prehistory is in its infancy in the Mezzovian area, compared to what it is in our own world.  But it is a fruitful area of inquiry to those of scholarly bent who aspire to learn more of such things, and while records may be poor, in some cases there are other sources of information that can be tapped by the brave or foolhardy: vampires, who's memories stretch back centuries, shades, ghosts and specters, and Outsider demons and angels or other spirits who's memory reaches into the past.  Trusting such sources is fraught with academic dangers--to say nothing of the actual physical dangers that come with inquiring for information--but occasionally academic and scholarly information worth its weight in gold comes from such lines of inquiry.

One kingdom that, relative to many others is somewhat well-known as a name, at least, if details of its history are not, is Kinzassál, a kingdom that sat north of the Mezzovian sea and east southeast of the Indash Salt Sea.  Today, this land is a wilderness, populated only by nomadic Untash barbarians, but these Untash are relative newcomers to the area.  Prior to their incursions, it was part of the Empire of Baal Hamazi, and although the badlands were thinly settled, they made up an important part of the satrapy of Pnakot or Pnakotus, the capital of the area on the shores of Lake Kidin, and still an important successor city-state of Baal Hamazi today.  But the Badlands weren't always as forbidding an environment as they are today, and there are many indications that climate change in the last millennium has dramatically changed the landscape.  Much of the land inhabited by the drylanders today was not, in fact, desert at all, but received far more rain than it does today, and it was dotted with pluvial lakes, the Indash Salt Sea being a shrunken remnant of the last of them, one that once covered all the land between the Kindattu and the Dagan mountain ranges, and much of the Shutruk Savanna as well.  These lakes were in retreat at the time of the very earliest historical records, which tell of the rise of the early balshatoi kingdoms: Rozovķa, Ryazan, Pjarmia, Pezhek, and Vuronezh.  The balshatoi kingdoms were along the northern coast of the Mezzovian Sea, and thus south of the lands that later become the Drylands.  Long before the arrival of the nomadic peoples who occupy the area today, a series of kingdoms of a completely unrelated ethnicity lived in the area, and dealt with the early balshatoi as traders, as allies, and occasionally as rivals and enemies.  The greatest of these kingdoms, and the only one who's name as come down through the ages, is Kinzassál.

The Battle of Eltdown, with much artistic license
At the time that the early balshatoi kingdoms were carving out their influence, the great kingdom of Kinzassál was already in decline, as waves of subsequent droughts depleted the shrinking pluvial lakes that made up their homeland, and the area become increasingly xeric.  This set in motion a great deal of unrest within Kinzassál, which brought them into conflict with the balshatoi kingdoms, especially Ryazan, which was located directly to its south and beyond the forests.  In those days, there was no gap between the Shifting and Haunted Forests, which were not known by those names, nor did they have the evil reputation that they gained in years since.  Legend has it, in fact, that many of the changelings that gave the Shifting Forest its name were originally Kinzassian peoples displaced and cursed by the droughts and associations with werewolves of the forest.  The Kinzassians contested right of passage though the area with the expanding influence of Ryazan, since settlers related to and subject to the king in Volék Szemennok, the capital city of Kinzassál, already lived to the east of Ryazan, in lands that later became Tarush Noptii.  It seems likely that the Tarushans today were related ethnically and culturally with the Kinzassians.  Some scholars even posit that Tarush Noptii was little more than a colony of Kinzassian settlers, while others speculate on more complicated relationships, calling the ethnic Tarushans more like "cousins" of the Kinzassians rather than direct descendents of them.  In any case, whomever the peoples were who lived in Tarush Noptii at the time, they recognized the authority and sovereingty of the Kinzassians, which put them at odds with Ryazan, and later with Pezhek, when it inherited Ryazan via dynastic union.  The borderlands of Ryazan to both the north and the east were unsettled and uneasy for many generations, although open warfare was rare.  Only the pitched battle at a location very close to the present day sleepy village of Eltdown is known to historians, while otherwise border skirmishes and diplomatic wrangling appear to have characterized much of the relationship between these kingdoms.

On the night that has retroactively been labeled "The Falling of the Star of Doom" the fate of Kinzassál appears to have been sealed.  A great sign and omen in the heavens was the falling of Tæriruuş, the Death-god from the sky.  The language which rendered his name is unknown, but he was eventually called simply Tarush, and is immortalized in name with the kingdom of Tarush Noptii.  Twenty great champions of Kinzassál traveled to the place where the the god fell, and by their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of the ancient Witch-lord retainers they brought with them, Tarush was contained for all time beneath the surface of the earth, and eventually the capital city of Tarush Noptii itself was built over the spot where that triumph was realized.

This ancient sorcery and the legendary battles of the Twenty with the servants and creatures of Tarush ruined the land of Tarush Noptii for generations, though.  Ryazan and Pezhek turned its face from the land and contested it no more, and it took many centuries before the native population regrew to a sustainable level.  The loss of this territory devastated Kinzassál, however, which was still suffering from a climatic crisis that continued to worsen.  At the same time, barbarians--the most ancient ancestors of the drylanders and the tribesmen of today--had made their way on the now dried corridors between the mountains and the Salt Sea.  These nomadic peoples had an economy that was better positioned to take advantage of the drying conditions, by following nomadic herds of bison, pronghorns, or feral longhorn cattle, who spread across the dry savannas as the woodlands retreated following many years of drought and drying.  These barbarians fell upon the weakened Kinzassians until they met the balshatoi, who were now ranging up through the forests to the borderlands of the savanas and badlands itself.  By the time the two people first contacted each other, though, Kinzassál was largely a depopulated wasteland, and its few remaining inhabitants were absorbed completely into one of those two successor populations, leaving behind little evidence of their existence.

The ancient capital of Volék Szemennok's location is unknown, and its ruins are undiscovered, at least by Terrasan or Hamazin scholars.  Such a find would be a great treasure trove of knowledge, as it is believed that extensive archives of historical and arcane knowledge were lost with the city.  Some believe that the vampires of Tarush Noptii, as the sole remaining heirs of the Kinzassian people, know its location and have long ago looted it, or perhaps haunted its ruins, hoarding it for themselves, but this is only idle speculation.  In truth, very little of Kinzassál is really known, other than the legend of "The Falling of the Star of Doom" and the foundation of the current nation of Tarush Noptii as a splinter of sorts from Kinzassian sources.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Blog round-up

Normally, I don't post posts that are simply links to someone else's blog post, but this is just too excellent to pass on.  Plus, given that DARK•HERITAGE is a self-professed "wretched hive of scum and villainy" and decadent urban intrigue is one of three preferred play modes for the game, this fits in too perfectly to pass up on.  It really needs very, very little tweaking to fit in one of my games as written.

http://talesofthegrotesqueanddungeonesque.blogspot.com/2012/11/random-cabaret-generator.html

Friday, December 07, 2012

Desert Symphony

Although I've never lived there, some of my favorite memories of my youth (and more recently) were of time spent in the Colorado Plateau, specifically in the deserts and mountains of southern Utah.  If this video can't express why I love that part of the country so much, I don't know what can.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Post series

Well... so, I decided to look through my archives for a little bit today.  I decided to make a list of post series that I promised I would write, but which remain open for whatever reason.  In a few cases, there wasn't any plan necessarily on how often or how many times I would add to the series, and a few are probably ready to be closed.  But many remain open, or unresolved, so... I thought I'd make a note of them so that they aren't completely forgotten and fall off the table.  Most of these series have post tags associated with them, but not every post tag is a series, if that makes sense.

A TO Z

I just did J recently, so I'm a little less than halfway done.  This one is moving slowly, but moving nonetheless.

ANTI-D20

This was a rules lite alternative to d20 that I was working on as a homebrew; kind of a hybrid of Savage Worlds and The Window.  I'm not working on this anymore, and haven't been for a long time.  DARK•HERITAGE HACK, or DHH has replaced this as my rules light alternative to d20.  And frankly, I'm much less keenly feeling the need for a rules light approach to gaming, since the way I run d20, it works fairly well for me anyway.

AVENGERS

For a little while there, I was reviewing episodes of the animated TV show, Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.  I'm not even watching it anymore.  I'll pick up the rest of season 2 when it shows up on Netflix alongside Season 1; in the meantime, this series is dead.  When I get around to watching the episodes, reviewing them will be pointless.  I'm calling this series caput.

CAMPAIGN THREADS

This was an open-ended series.  I had hoped to do more of them, and I hope to yet, but there's no compelling need to go out of my way to add to it at the present.  I think I'll leave it open yet dormant for now.

DARK•HERITAGE

This series is for any setting (or rules) update related to the titular setting of the blog.  Naturally, this one remains active and gets updates about as often as I post, since most posts belong to this series.

DUNGEONCRAFT

I was paraphrasing the old Ray Winninger series of articles, but with my own examples at one point.  I haven't made an update in this series in literally years.  In fact, I had pretty much forgotten that it was still open.  Ray's column kinda peetered off without a firm conclusion itself, so I wasn't ever completely sure how it was going to conclude anyway.  I'll just consider it abortive and officially close it out.

FRPG

Sure, this one was hot and heavy for a while, and then slowed way down.  I'm still working on this one, though, as time permits and as topics occur to me.

PODCAST

I had grand designs for podcasting with a rotating cast of guest hosts.  It didn't really happen.  I recorded a second episode, which ended up being accidentally deleted.  Scheduling guest hosts started to become more trouble than it was worth when I attempted it a third time and had no-shows.  Plus, I don't really have the web infrastructure in place to host a bunch of podcast audio files (unless I were to have them be youtube videos or something), so my grand experiment into the world of being a gaming podcast host ended up being one single episode.  Which I still think is a pretty darn good listen, for whatever that's worth.  The series as a whole?  Finito.

REGIONAL SUMMARIES

I got excited about doing this, briefly, when I saw a similar format on someone else's blog.  I did one entry and then... lost my enthusiasm for it.  Oh, well.  I might yet add to it (someday) but don't hold your breath.

WIGHTS

This is a relatively new series, so it hasn't even had a chance to stall yet.  I have a few ideas still in mind for posts here, but there's no schedule, no agenda--I'll just keep adding to it as ideas come to me.

YOG-SOTHOTHERY

This is in the same boat with one big exception--it hasn't had a new entry in quite a while.  But, when I need one, I'll add it.  It's an open-ended and flexible kinda format.

Another thing that I've been tempted to do for a long time, and will probably try in the near future, is to take some short fiction stuff, set in the DARK•HERITAGE setting with the ICONIC characters, break it up into manageable postable chunks (kinda like how Paizo does their web fiction in the blog) and add it.  Of course, before I can do that, I need to write more, and polish what I do have so that it's presentable.  I won't "officially" announce that new series before I've got something firm that I can post under that new tag.

Correia on the classics

I've been reading some Larry Correia lately, and while surfing his website looking for more info on the just released book (and the projected continuing books in his Monster Hunter series which is listed on Wikipedia) I cam across this post of his.

I think that maybe there's some Thermidor reaction gist to that post--maybe it goes a little too far into the opposite territory before swinging back to a balanced view.  And yet, I find that I mostly agree with it too, and I've talked a bit about it as well.  Literature sucks.  Reading, on the other hand, is fun.  I think it was Terry Pratchet who said--of one of his characters--that she hated Literature.  She greatly preferred, instead, a good book.

http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/correia-on-the-classics/

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fauna of Dark•Heritage

Keen-eyed and nitpicky observers may have noticed a flaw--or at least bizarre little nugget--in my last post, which makes reference to the Juugashi in Kurushat--hyena-headed magically designed super-soldiers.  The post also made casual reference to hyenas.  But I've said many times before that DARK•HERITAGE features a North American Rancholabrean fauna--and there ain't no hyenas in that faunal assemblange.  This isn't actually a flaw so much as a design decision that I've not really talked much about before.  And besides, if anyone of my readers is paying enough attention to pick that nit, then I'd be really surprised.  But for my own benefit--and to document the fact that I've thought this through on the off-chance that some future DARK•HERITAGE novel becomes a best-seller and people on the internet start dissecting my blog posts, here's the real scoop.

When I say that the Rancholabrean fauna from North America is common in DARK•HERITAGE, what I really mean specifically is the northern shores of the Mezzovian Sea.  On the southern shores, we really start getting into Pleistocene Europe, with animals as seen in caves like Lascaux or Altamira.  A late Villafranchian fauna, mostly.  Many of the animals are quite similar (mammoths, wolves, brown bears, elk vs. red deer, cave lions vs. American lions, cave bears vs. short-faced bears, wisent vs. bison, aurochs, Merck's rhino and wooly rhino, etc.) although there are obviously some differences.  Many of them are also part of the faunas of a greater Eurasia or Africa... and in fact, the spotted hyena was a Pleistocene component of the fauna prior to the Holocene extinction event, which limited their range to sub-Saharan Africa.  In Europe, they were called cave hyenas, and appear to be a much larger subspecies than is present in Africa today.  Not only are they present in fossil and cave art form from southern Europe, but they also appear in fossil form as far away as the Russian far east.

When you get to Kurushat, you really are talking more about a classical African and ancient Near East fauna altogether, with maybe a few Pleistocene animals which are now extinct, or other animals which were extant historically but are not any longer.  Syrian elephants, or Elephas recki being a great example.  For the most part, Africa today retains its Pleistocene megafauna, which is why it feels so exotic and adventurous to Europeans or Americans, who's megafaunas are impoverished.

In real life, North America, Europe and Africa are not, of course, close to each other geographically, and haven't been since the very earliest Jurassic--long before the time of any recognizably modern fauna (heck, the dinosaurs were still just coming into their own back then.)  So, what keeps my faunal populations separate?  Well, nothing.  Author fiat, I suppose.  And the concept of extant species keeping expansion of another species in the same ecological niche from expanding into new territory.  You don't have small terrestrial/arboreal omnivores like Old World monkeys wandering into the northern territories because raccoons are already well-established, for instance. But it gives me the possibility of adding unusual elements into the fauna.  North America didn't have any primates, for example, but if I want baboons roaming the savana with my bison--well, it wouldn't be hard to justify it, since there are baboons not that far away in the Kurushat region.

Other than Kurushat being more overtly African, the southern Mezzovian being more Pleistocene Europe (including being the homeland of the Cavusto, or Neanderthal population, so not surprising!) and the northern area being more southwestern Pleistocene North America, what else have we got that's unusual?  Gigantic anthropomorphic apes up in the Lakama jungles.  These apes aren't exactly equivalent to anything known today.  Gorilla-like, but not gorillas--maybe they're more like the apes of Tarzan fame.  Feral cattle similar to the Texas longhorn probably wander much of the territory on both sides of the Mezzovian.  A few other primates might be seen in areas where you wouldn't expect them--mandrill-like terrestrial Old World monkeys up north, for example, or completely fantastical carnivorous langurs, etc. Just for the fun of it.

Does this make my geography a little bit nonsensical?  If this is supposed to be the southern hemisphere, why do I have an essentially tropical megafaunal assemblance in the far southeastern region, south of a temperate megafauna associated with Pleistocene southern Europe?

I'm not explaining it.  Honestly, it isn't that big a deal.  The entire region of the Mezzovian Sea is southern Europe like in terms of climate, or southwestern US-like.  This is subtropical or warm temperate, so if a large region is more tropical--even on the latitudinal extreme of the area, well that's probably related to elevation, or the jet stream, or other climatic factors.  It's not worth it to me to worry too much about it.  Much like the southern hemisphere in our own world, the climate here is not continental except in patchy areas of high elevation and particular distance from a sea, so in general it's much more mild and even in any case.  I think it works if one assumes (and I haven't really thought about it one way or another until now) that the Cavusto steppes are particularly higher elevation plains that are wind-swept and much cooler than the areas around them (barring mountain ranges, of course.)  If they're high enough, the climate can even be alpine or subalpine, and therefore correspond in every meaningful way with being subpolar--therefore the more tundra-like animals of the European Ice Ages can have a presence here.  Otherwise, the areas south of the Mezzovian Sea would remain more like the southern areas of ice free Europe, like the Iberian peninsula, for instance.  Or perhaps North Africa.  This means my climate model can work after all--I just need to decide that the Cavusto Steppes are pretty high elevation.  That actually works quite well with the sketched map that I have.

Which reminds me--I really need to get to work on creating a digital map of the setting, don't I?  Talking about it would be quite a bit easier if I could refer readers to such a document.

J is for Jekara

Jekara is the capital city of the Kurushat khaganate, as well as the home of the khagan's palace and harem, and many of the nobility of the Kurushi overall.  The kurushi race, as described earlier, is unique and distinct from others in the land of the Three Empires.  I'll repost the description of the Kurushi briefly before moving on to the details of Jekara specifically.
The Kurushi are a group of peoples who live in the very southwest areas that are mapped. Their name comes from the major country in the area, Kurushat, but in reality, many of them have only recently been integrated into that polity, and some of them have more loyalty to their local traditions than to the grand, national one. Be that as it may, the kurushans have a similar appearance, traditions, language and way of life, even if their more or less unity into a single country is a recent thing. Fiercely militaristic, frequently even jingoistic to the point of obnoxiousness, and an active, virile and growing group of people, the kurushans are ready to take on the Mezzovian region by storm... except that, well, they're still relatively removed from the area, and have enough of their own issues going on around the shores of the much smaller inland Karkose Sea to deal with. Fractuous and proud, they will probably always have to deal with local pride, insubordination and other issues within their khaganate, especially as the old khagan sees the end of his life approaching and the tempestuous scrabbling for his position that will no doubt follow his death among his eligible heirs apparent. The Kurushi are fairly tall and pale-skinned except when tanned by summers of campaigning and other outdoor activity. They value achievement and ambition, and even the wealthy and the nobility pursue scholarly, athletic, military, or even mercantile pursuits. Success in any of these arenas brings prestige. Because of this, many kurushans are fairly tanned; they maintain an active, outdoor lifestyle. They have dark hair and extremely pale gray eyes, which are often almond shaped due to modest epicanthic folds. Kurushans have only fairly recently been coming into the lands of other peoples, have been isolated on the other side of the Black Mountains and the Cavusto steppes, but when they have come into contact with isolated settlements, villages, or even full cities other other nationalities, their response has often been aggressive: raiding or even outright conquering and enslaving of thousands of people. They now have diplomatic relationships with Terrasa and others, so much of that has been officially curtailed, but the kurushans, once they get past their local issues, have been eyeing the rich lands of the Mezzovian region and seeing themselves as the natural overlords.
Kurushat as a country is a relatively recent phenomena.  While ethnically, culturally and linguistically linked, all of the people in the Karkose Inner Sea region were more independent and Balkanized until recently.  Some of the cities that now fall under the banner of the Empire have done so recently--the most recent in living memory, even--and in some cases, that banner waves uncomfortably over a still recalcitrant populace.  Jekara, on the other hand, is the homeland of the group that conquered the rest.  To use a real life example, Kurushat would be much like the early days of the Roman Republic, and the Romans themselves--the Jekarans--have only recently imposed themselves over the Sabine, Samnite, Faliscan, Oscan or Umbrian peoples--and started calling them all Kurushi in an attempt to create a monolithic Kurushan culture.  Assuming its continued political dominance, it'll get there eventually, but realistically there are generations yet to come in which the Jekara dialect, Jekara fashions and customs, and loyalty to the entire nation as a whole rather than to regional concerns remain elusive.

Jekaran Praetorian
Jekara is located on the coast of the Karkose Inner Sea, at the mouth of the Sukotu River.  Its closest neighbor amongst the major cities that are now part of the Empire is Sinjagat, and long before the formation of the Empire, they had a long and mutually beneficial relationship as allies and trading partners anyway.  This created a great deal of cultural symbiosis, so that while Jekara is the secular head of the Empire, Sinjagat is its spiritual head, and the cult and worship of Yinigu, the patron god of Kurushat, started at Sinjagat and is still centered there.  Because of this, there are still a number of people in Jekara who maintain practice of their old ancestor worship cult, often side by side with the worship of Yinigu, but sometimes in place of it.

Since it is the headquarters of the Khan of Khans, life in Jekara is largely shaped by the political manuevering of its noble class.  The supreme leader of Kurushat is the Khan of Khans, The Almighty Khagan, Kajim Tokraas IX, Blessed of Yinigu, Blade of the South, Hammer of the Weak. Kajim Tokraas is a very wily ruler, and he is old and powerful. Despite his age and relatively passive appearance, he is a monster of a warrior, and his age has not in the least dimmed his reflexes, strength or battle instincts. As a master of unarmed combat and some small sorcery, he is always armed even when he appears harmless or defenseless.  His most notable trait is his absolute ruthlessness, reliance on a combination of convoluted plotting and naked power to hold on to his position. Nobody loves the Khagan, but everyone fears him.

The Cataracts of the Sukotu River at Jekara with the Khagan's palace
There is no heir per se to the khagan, but a number of khans, many of them his siblings and children, have been positioning themselves for years to take over the mantle of the khagan on his eventual death. This is the ancient Jekaran leadership ritual; a ruler holds power until he no longer can hold it (i.e., he is violently ousted and killed by a prospective replacement, or he otherwise dies of natural or unnatural causes.) On the death of past khagans, a brief period of anarchy grips the khaganate, as each of the khans attempts to ascend the throne. Usually this means a great deal of fratricide, patricide and filicide, and a significant depletion of the ranks of the upper nobility. The new ruler then spends some time consolidating power and his grip over Kurushat.

Currently the favored khan to inherit is the oldest surviving son, Kajim Qaerkuun, a gigantic brute of a man that many whisper is half Neanderthal based on his massive build, ugly features and prominent body hair. He's not--he's just really big, ugly and hairy. He's served for many years as Tokraas' brutal enforcer and Right Hand, but this appearance of loyalty is a sham, and Tokraas knows it. Tokraas has no problem allowing Qaerkuun to inherit as long as he waits for a natural death and doesn't get impatient, but he keeps a wary eye on his ambitious son.

Most of the other khans serve important roles in the khagan's court, or serve as an equivalent to regional governers. Under the khans are the various members of the noble caste. Many of them have administrative roles in the government of the khaganate, although many of them are merely titular heads of their households, and their only role of leadership is over their clan soldiers, laborers and slaves. A few of the nobles have charters that were extended to them as the city-state of Jekara gradually went "Imperial" and started expanding as the Kurushat Empire, but for the most part, these local lords were killed when their own countries and/or city-states were conquered, and nobles of Jekaran blood were installed. For some of the older conquests, this has been the situation for many generations, and is a well-established status quo. For others on the frontiers of Kurushat, the local lords are newly installed and the local populace seethes with rebellion and general unruliness. These far-flung leaders have a light presence in Jekara itself, as their duties (and distance) keep them otherwise occupied, but no khan is willing to foreswear Jekara entirely, and the more settled khans maintain permanent residence here, to better ensure that they are close to the seat of power in Kurushat.

Life in Jekara--and increasingly so everywhere in Kurushat--is dominated by a complex and convoluted caste system.  The following are the castes commonly associated with Jekara and Sinjagat and Kurushi culture in general.

• Royals: These are those who could potentially take over the crown in the event of the death of the khagan. Permeability is extremely low; it would be a very unusual and exceptional case for someone not born to this caste to enter it. This is the khagan himself, and all the khans, and their immediate families.

• Praetorians: Professional soldiers. Most make up heavy infantry units, and train almost from birth to the soldiering career. Sorta like hereditary positions in the Roman legions. The numbers are relatively small, but there's enough of them that the army pretty much has to always be on the move. The recent khagan's have created an unsustainable situation in which without a foreign war to prosecute, they've got entire castes of kurushi that are essentially unemployed and the economic basis of the entire country would collapse. You can be born into, or buy a commission into this caste. Although most praetorians are not overtly wealthy, it is seen as a noble, almost a holy calling, and praetorians are a very prestigeous caste.  They are especially common within and around Jekara itself, which is a highly militarized area.

• Cataphracts: Also professional soldiers, but also nobility. Not unlike the knights of medieval Europe. Titles to this caste can be granted by royals, so permeability here is relatively good. You cannot buy commissions as a cataphract, though, and they are always fewer in number than the Praetorians.

• Mortitheurges: To borrow a label from Privateer Press's skorne society, these guys are both religious and arcane in nature and serve as a priestly caste. Although not celibate, moritheurges do not raise their own children nor do they marry, so you cannot be born to this caste.  Their origin is in the ancestor worship beliefs of the past, but most of them have been seamlessly adopted into the worship of Yinigu as well.

• Juugashi: The Juugashi are the Elect of Yinigu, special shock troops that have been selected via a painful and potentially fatal initiation ceremony to undergo a magical transformation to better resemble the god of their religion as "were-hyenas" of a sort (although their physical change is permanent, and has nothing to do with the moon.)  Juugashi spend some of their time cloistered in special monasteries, but they also serve as elite troops on campaign, and as bodyguards for wandering clerics and nobles within the empire themselves.

Juugashi soldiers
It is illegal for all but a khan or other extremely highly placed noble to interfere with the Juugashi, so many of the common citizens of the Empire see them as little more than state-sponsored bandits, and want nothing to do with them if they can help it. Soldiers are more forgiving, as the Juugashi have a proven track record of "getting it done" when things get difficult.

In keeping with the nature of Yinigu, and the hyenas that they resemble, the Juugashi are brutal, aggressive and domineering.

• Ugiun (Artisans): A more prestigious force than laborers, these free-born entrepreneurs can belong to guilds, and are known as masters of their crafts. Not unlike medieval guild-type professions. Doctors and others also qualify. In modern society, we would call these "skilled trades."

• Haaziran (Laborers): Much less prestigious than artisans, these are the unskilled laborers. From farmers and urban unskilled labor to domestic help, this vast throng of mostly non-Kurushi, disgraced Kurushi, or those of recently conquered populations, humans, Neanderthals, and others who have somehow avoided slavery still find their lot little better than serfs in most respects. They are, however, socially somewhat invisible, and for that reason, they can move about the empire more freely than the government would care to admit. Their control over the laborers is slight; however, since most laborers have to work to survive, the potential for civil unrest from this quarter is lower than it might otherwise be.

• Kabaatas Erkek (Traveling merchants): A relatively prestigious caste that has the freedom to come and go throughout the khaganate and beyond is rare, and this privilege belongs to the hereditary merchant caste. Each merchant (and his retinue) has a charter from a khaganate himself, giving him authority to enact non-local trade relationships, and this charter is passed down from parent to child. Younger, less able, or less interested children can be placed, due to the merchants wealth, in the praetorian, scholar and administrator or artisan castes as well, to ensure that the entire family prospers.

• Qaabru: Not unlike the Nazi SS; a caste that is police force, paramility force, and which operates somewhat independently of the other arms of the government here, and which has its fingers in all aspects of Kurushi life. Members of the Qaabru are hand-picked by its leaders. In theory, this is a eugenics program; the Qaabru are supposed to be everything that's best about the Kurushi race, and an attempt to improve on that even more and perpetuate their better qualities without sullying them with any other concerns. In reality, the leaders of the Qaabru quite frequently allow Kurushi to buy entrance into this caste for their children, or they pick them as political favors.

• Slaves: Name speaks for itself. Few slaves have any rights, and their lot is a miserable one. However, this isn't universally true. The khagan himself, and his top khans, select slaves for administrative talent, and most of the bureacrats of Kurushat are slaves, Kurushi or otherwise. They can rise to great power and wealth in these roles, but they can also lose it overnight if they don't play their cards exactly right. There are also regiments of slave soldiers, not unlike the janissaries, usually led by a charismatic and powerful Juugashi individual. These jannisary-soldiers are exclusively non-Kurushi, and Terrasans and Neanderthals make up the majority of their numbers.

Finally, an interesting bit of local color for Jekara is the existance of "The city above the City"--a network of catwalks, rickety shanties and scaffolds, that are build atop many of the buildings of Jekara, in an overt example of strange squatting.  This neighborhood, called Overcity by the pretentious and Rickets by the rest, is a strange home to escaped slaves, lower class citizens with nowhere else to go, criminals and more.  Why the khagan tolerates it is unclear, but for both practical reasons and as a matter of policy, local law enforcement views the Rickets as off-limits.  Many argue that if it were cleared away, it would simply spring back up again like mushrooms within a matter of days anyway.

Clone Wars

It's a little bit old news now, but I somehow missed the second trailer for season 5 of the Clone Wars.  Frankly, if this is the direction we can expect the new Star Wars movies to go, I'm quite pleased and excited.  This show is so much better than the prequel movies were that it's not even funny.  Too bad that they're a bit more stylized visually than I'd like, but even that doesn't bother me much.  I just recently got all caught up on Season 4 (which I didn't DVR for some reason, so I had to wait until it came out on DVD a few weeks ago).  I've also got most of Season 5 taped (so far) although for some reason I'm missing the second episode, "A War on Two Fronts."  I might buy that as an Amazon download or something if it doesn't re-air soon to get picked up by my DVR.

Later today, I'll continue the A to Z posting challenge, which I've let linger for far longer than I ever meant to.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Christmas list

On the off chance that some eccentric rich person who doesn't know what to do with all his money is a follower of my blog, here's my Christmas list.  I'm just doing this to archive stuff for my own benefit.

1) Cabela's "Perfekt 10" (or 7) hiking boots by Meindl.  They're almost $300. The very stingy CFO of our household (my wife) doesn't see them in our near-term forecast, sadly.

2) Barring that, the all-leather Pronghorn's by Danner are a good alternative.  Although they're nearly as pricey.

3) Under Armor EVO shirts--I'd wear these all the time!  In Realtree AP and Mossy Break-up Infinity patterns.  I've also seen them at other sporting goods stores in black.

4) I can always use more cargo pants.  I never have enough!  Actually, the last year or two, I haven't had any.  My wife tells me that a gift certificate to Old Navy from her mother coming my way at Christmas-time is likely, but I'll still put in a plug for the Old Navy loose-fit cargos.  Moose Brown is my favorite of the colors, but ideally I'd have one of each.

5) Whoops!  Almost forgot; if I'm expecting new boots, I need new hiking socks to go with them!  I'm not picky, but these look nice.  In addition to the wool socks, I also need a thin liner sock to go underneath them.  So yeah; get the boots a half size larger than my current shoe size to accomodate all that sock.

6) A friend of mine and I joked about the demographic differences between those that shop at Cabelas vs. those that shop at REI.  Crudely put, Cabelas is for the rednecks and REI is for the hippies.  While I identify much more with Cabelas (plus I like their stuff better) I don't want to leave their West Coast rivals out of the action.  REI in particular has some pricey but nice looking casual pants and cargos.  Here's the Sahara Cargo pants in Concrete and Army Tent (yes, those are colors.  Of the two, I like AT better.)  The price on the Kuhl Rydr pants means that they better be just about the best jeans available (in Espresso, please) but I'll take that chance.  Kuhl's The Law pants and Revolvr jeans I could probably get away with wearing to work most days, when I'm not wearing them out in the back-country hiking, or wherever.  Sadly, the former will happen way more days than the latter.

7) While for many years, I was a stodgy traditionalist who was happy to lug along a canteen or aluminum water bottle, I've since come to believe that--especially for day hikes, where I end up in the evening back at the car and checking into a hotel or lodge--that the Camelbak-style hydration system is the way to go.  I haven't picked one up yet, though, so it's on my list.

8) Why the heck not?  A 2013 Jeep Wranger Sahara in the new Camo Green color.  Get an aftermarket 4" lift kit, oversize super macho swamper tires, and just for fun, order me up a new grill in either black or mineral gray, so I can have a ricer add-on for looks.

I'm not holding my breath.

9)  Anything in the gaming world?  This blog is mostly supposed to be about gaming, right?  Actually, I'm pretty set there.  I'm struggling to think of anything I wanted other than the Wayne Reynolds artbook that Paizo is putting out (which has been delayed until the spring I believe anyway).  I'm not sure that there's any setting material that I don't already have and still want (except maybe the Linnorm Kings book, or the upcoming but just barely in time to qualify for Christmas Mystery Monsters Revisited book.)

10) I've had a ton of fun playing Dominion with my family.  We also have the Intrigue and Prosperity expansions, and I wouldn't say no to Hinterlands or Seaside.

Anyhoo--when the holidays start for real, I'm going to be unlikely to be posting much, because when I'm home I find that my time is always better occupied, and getting online (other than for quick-n-dirty Facebook updates or whatever) doesn't happen much.  With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching (starting in a few hours for me, actually) I'll be unavailable for several days, so I'll go ahead and say now--Happy Holidays!  I'll be back for early December, but as we get closer to Christmas, I'll probably disappear again.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Paizo comic book

I just got this in my email, since I have a Paizo shopping account and they send me routine email.  I'm not likely to be the first to make the obvious reference.

Here's the iconic cover art from the graphic novel in 1985 or 1986 of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns; the book that single-handedly (well, Watchmen no doubt deserves equal credit) reinvented the comic book industry and the character of Batman.


Here's the image of the new Pathfinder comic book--a variant cover that's available direct from the Paizo store but not in retail stores:


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Mammoth Lords" details

I'm trying out the "Mammoth Lords"--although honestly, that's unlikely to be the title I settle on.

Anyway, a few details of what the setting's like:

1) Start by taking a "calque" of North America in roughly 975 A.D. or so, during the highpoint of the so-called Viking Age of Europe. In this setting, travel across the Atlantic will probably be constrained by a brief period (a few years) of exceptionally (and possibly supernaturally formed) cycles of winter storms and other bad weather, effectively isolating North America from Europe for at least a few years. As in other calques, such as Robert E. Howard's own Hyborian age, the Warhammer world, or Paizo's Golarion, I'm not using literal historical groups of people or countries; when I say, for example, Viking, it's understood that I'm using my fantasy version of Vikings, not actual ones.

2) First major difference from real history that I'm imitating; the Viking age here is considerably more "Golden" than it really was; there were more vikings, going to more places and just generally "doing more" than they really did. They've discovered North America and settled it successfully almost immediately, building a number of colonies on the East Coast of Canada the the Northern Seaboard that are still thriving. This doesn't mean that they are all united into a single kingdom; I can see analogs of Knud's North Sea Empire, an eastward looking Kingdom of Sweden and allied Rus states even further east from there as all part of my "Viking Golden Age." Well; fantasy equivalents, rather, of course.

3) The second change major change is that the Vikings, being more successful and widespread than in real life, may have migrated, or caused to migrate, other European populations or refugees. Therefore, there are also population pockets in the New World of Slavs, Saxons, Scots and Irish. Given the heavy Viking settlements and integration in England, Scotland and Ireland anyway, this isn't too much of a stretch--think of the Northern Sea Empire of Knud the Great as a sustainable one and you're mostly there. Keep in mind that by the end of his life, almost all of Knud's closest inner circle were Englishmen and not Scandinavians, too. Anglo-Vikings, Anglo-Norse and Gall Ghaedil and other hybrid Scandinavian peoples, as well as flat-out Englishmen, Scotsmen and Irish who were allied with the Vikings (and Wends too--Knud's grandfather was Mieszko I of Poland, after all) have moved all across the globe, and in most instances still cling to their local culture as they've done so.  This way I don't have to get fatigued by too many Old Norse names all the time.

4) Because this is the Bølling-Allerød interstadial, the animal life of Europe and North America is quite a bit different than what we have today. The Great Plains of North America are much like the savanas of Africa; native North American lions, sabertooths, scimitar-tooths, short-faced bears, wolves, coyotes, pumas, "cheetahs" and dire wolves all hunt several species of native horse, ass, "zebra," pronghorn, bison, giant peccaries, giant camels, long-legged llamas, giant sloths and even two species of mammoth (up north the Wooly mammoth, and down south the Columbian mammoth, which is, essentially, just an elephant. Mammoths and living Asian elephants are more closely related to each other than either are to the African elephant) and mastodons. A handful of other fictional critters such as predatory diurnal hunting bats and whatnot, complete the scene.

5) I'm going to assume that the historical populations from the 1600 and 1700s just get pushed backwards in time and get used anyway. Those are the only real Indian populations that we know enough about to calque anyway.  Therefore, the Vikings, Saxons and whatnot can interact with the Five Nations of the Iroquois, the Algonquins, and the classic, well-known tribes of Plains Indians, such as Apaches, Comanches, Sioux, etc.  With different names, of course.

6) There are hints that the Chinese may have also "discovered" America. In this setting, they have, and also have colonies on the West coast.

7) The Moundbuilders are a nation, or group of nations, still extant in the east central part of the continent. Although some nations, such as the Cherokee and other Iroquois speaking nations, may have some link with them, they purposefully keep seperate; the mound builders are feared and shunned as dark shamans and sorcerers of ill-repute. They appear to be a hybrid culture of native american and stragglers from Atlantis.

8) As the last entry hints at; I'm not at all opposed to throwing in plenty of overtly fantastical elements into the stories. Dark wizards or shaman, ghosts, demons, malevolent spirits; all of these will feature prominently in any stories set in this setting.

Another bit of info, adopted from my very bare wiki:

Northern Europe (although probably not Scandinavia) would be ice free, and calqued cultures similar to the Vikings and others would be present and accounted for. Taking another page from Howard, I'm not using "real" nations, cultures and peoples, but transparent "calques" of them.

Africa would also be considerably different, as the Bølling-Allerød coincided with one of the "Green Sahara" phases. Lake Chad would have swollen to be larger than the present day Caspian Sea, and the Sahara would be largely grassland with antelope, elephants, giraffes, and riparian life and civilization that included crocodiles, hippos, and villages of people who lived primarily by eating fish.  If you take the water erosion theory of the Sphinx seriously, then some kind of proto or pre-Egyptian civilization lived on the Nile.  If you remember Howard, you'd expect something like Stygia anyway--his "fantasy" Egypt.

In North America, the Berengia corridor would be open. Although sea levels were higher during the Bølling-Allerød than they were during either the Older or Younger Dryas periods, they still were not as high as today. All of the "lower 48" would be ice free, as would much of southern Canada, and a corridor of land east of Canada's Coast Mountains. Much of the Great Basin and American southwest deserts were not as dry during the the late Pleistocene as they are today, so places like Monument Valley, for instance, would be largely wooded, not unlike the Kaibab National Forest today, instead of the much dryer scrub desert that prevails over the canyonlands region today. Huge pluvial lakes, like Bonneville, Lahontan, and the Manly lake system (that, among other things, completely flooded the Death Valley region) as well as numerous relatively smaller but still quite large lakes would have dotted what are today desert regions of the American west. Florida, the Yúcutan and the isthmus of Panama would both be quite a bit wider than they are today. Massive Lake Agassiz, holding more water than all the freshwater lakes in the entire world today, sits in south-central Canada as a freshwater cool inland sea formed by meltwater from the retreating Laurentide ice sheet. Although no one in the setting itself would know this, Lake Agassiz is a bit of a time-bomb waiting to happen; when the ice-wall that separates its waters from the Hudson Bay finally breaks, the catastrophic flooding and draining of Lake Agassiz, over the course of just a few months, the massive influx of water into the Arctic Ocean led to rapid climate change and the Younger Dryas cooling and glacial advance.

The Sunda shelf would be much less submerged than it is today, so much of what is today the East Indies would actually belong to a much greater Malaysian peninsula, up to the Wallace line, at least. New Guinea, Tasmania and Australia would all be connected as the continent of Sahel, which has its own unique megafauna, including giant komodo dragons (Megalania), thylacines, thylacoleos, giant wombats, giant-short faced kangaroos, and other unusual life forms.

The Spartel Bank, off the coast of the Gulf of Cadíz, has only recently been submerged by rising sea-water at the end of the Older Dryas, creating a diaspora of its advanced inhabitants known as Atlanteans. Although this would be entirely whimsical, and nobody believes that these sunken continents have seen the light of day in over 20 million years, lowered sea-levels during the Ice Ages or not, I think it would be fun to have the sunken continents of Zealandia and Kerguelen breach sea level too; they can be the "lost continents" of Mu and Lemuria, doomed to sink again as sea levels rise following the Ice Age--they are in fact undergoing quite the crisis currently, since the Bølling-Allerød is quite a bit warmer and has quite higher sea levels than during either the Older or the Younger Dryas periods that bookend it. When Lake Agassiz floods the Arctic Ocean, these two continents will go completely underwater, and while sea levels will drop again during the Younger Dryas, these will not re-appear; the Muans and Lemurians are undergoing the early stages of their own diaspora, following in the wake of the Atlanteans (who occupied a much smaller landmass anyway) who went through it more recently.

How much of this geography would be known and relevant to any characters in this time frame? I'm not sure exactly how cosmopolitan I intend to make it, but since a false "Golden Age" of the Vikings is another influence, certainly I think it's possible that characters may have been in eastern Europe, the Eastern seaboard of North America, into the interior of North America (where I really plan on having the action center), and possibly north Africa. Any "Chinese" inhabitants on the farther side could have been as far south as the Wallace Line without raising eyebrows, and of course, the American Indians themselves are fairly recently spread from Berengia too, in this scenario. In fact, they are newcomers relative to some of the older peoples living in North America; the peoples affiliated with the Spirit Cave mummy or Kennewick Man, for instance, who have been described as showing physiolocial similarities to the Ainu or far-flung Austronesians. This makes them colonists from Mu; in my setting, much of the people who later emerge as Austronesians are descendents of Muans genetically, if not linguistically, and the stone heads on Easter Island are the last remaining artifacts of their existance from a far flung colony (Zealandia does not extend nearly as far as Easter Island). It's entirely possible that plate tectonics doesn't actually work at all in this fantasy version of Pleistocene earth, which frees me up to do all kinds of geographic catastrophism theories if I want to. Because, let's face it--they're dramatic.

Like Howard's Hyborian Age, I want fantasy cultures, but fantasy cultures that are very transparently borrowed, or "calqued" from real life cultures.  Here's a quick and dirty list of some of the important ones:

Vikings: Vendels, Varangs, Norsmenn
Lapplanders and Permians: Beorms, Kvens, Veps, Lomarians
Eskimo: Inuto
Anglo-Saxons: Haestings, Marrings
Celts (Scott/Irish): Gaidhel, Gaelings
Picts: Picts
Byzantines: Komnenians, Helladians
Slavs: Kayazy, Leches, Wends, Surbs
Turks: Vatheks, Komans, Khozars
Eastern Woodlands "skraelings": Ojowe, Saunak
Confederacy of the Longhouse (Iroquois): Mowauk, Wendat
Chinese: Fusangites, Tsin
Plains indians: Tatankans, Nakota
Cliff dwellers: Kayenta, Azani
Mound-builders, Mississippians: Cahokians, Chumaws
Atlanteans: mixed with some native americans to form classic moundbuilder culture in the American south
Muans: refugees from a shrinking Zealandia colony; Ainu, Spirit Cave mummy and Kennewick man
Lemurians: refugees from a shrinking Kerguelen—unlikely to appear in significant numbers in Europe or North America

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bølling-Allerød interstadial

While the DARK•HERITAGE setting naturally gets the lion's share of attention on this site (given the site's name), I also have other projects and interests that I dabble in from time to time.  One that's lingered for quite a long time in a parallel development path is the unnamed Pleistocene setting.  Based on a similar idea to Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age, it posits a mythic age prior to the launch of recorded history.  Taking some paleo-historical/climatological data, combined with pseudo-science, I've been developing a setting that mimics superficially the Hyborian Age in many ways.

Geographically, I've set it up to be the Bølling-Allerød interstadial--about 14,600 years ago through about 12,800 years ago.  The Bølling-Allerød was an inter-stadial period, i.e., a period of relative warmth and glacial retreat.  It ended with the Younger Dryas--the prevailing theory is that as the Laurentide Ice Sheet continued to melt, an ice dam broke and the massive Lake Agassiz--containing more fresh water than all of the world's freshwater lakes today--flooded into the Arctic and North Atlantic Oceans, disrupting thermohalene circulation, and causing a pronounced cold spell (nicknamed the Big Freeze) which lasted for 1,000-1,300 years or so.  (Technically, the Bølling and Allerød periods are two separate interstadials separated by the Older Dryas cold spell--according to some chronologies, at least.  Others have them combined, with only two Dryas cold spells instead of three.  I went for the simpler model.)  This Big Freeze not only set in motion the extinction of much of the Pleistocene megafauna, resulting in the impoverished megafaunas we see today in most continents other than Africa and to some extend Asia, but triggered the advent of civilization as we know it.  Reactions to the changing climate are hypothesized to have triggered the formation of agricultural civilizations (such as the Natufian culture of the Levant) from the hunter-gatherer civilizations that existed previously.  From amongst these earliest agricultural civilizations later emerged the first recorded and historical civilizations--Sumer, Egypt, ancient China, etc.  This is the stuff that's actually scientific, and forms the first leg of my three-legged High Concept chair.

The second leg comes from the best-selling, yet scientifically panned ideas of Graham Hancock, a Scottish pseudo-archaeologist who writes books about aliens building the face on Mars at Cydonia and stuff like that.  Among his slightly more credible--yet still only marginally so--ideas include the notion of global Ice Age civilizations that were destroyed by rising sea levels, the notion of the sphinx being earlier than dated by contemporary Egyptologists (the water erosion hypothesis is actually supported by some pretty credible data, but Hancock has hijacked it into his theories, which doesn't help its believability, sadly) and other fringe ideas.  He also has a number of catastrophic theories in print that would seem to contradict plate tectonics theory--but which you've gotta admit lead to some dramatic story potential.

Combining the first and second legs already gives you the potential to have something quite like the Hyborian Age.  Taking cues from that, as well as other interests of mine like the Viking exploration of North America, I create the third leg--and the more overtly fantastic leg, wherein I utilize the Hyborian model to project transparently more modern cultures backwards in time to the Bølling-Allerød, "fantasy" them up a bit, and include such "classic" ideas as the lost continents of Atlantis, Mu and Lemuria.  It's with this third leg that I abandon any claims to rigorousness to the real-life scientific leg of the chair, and admit that it's only a platform from which inspirational ideas are launched, at best.

In any case, I recently re-read Howard's famous historical essay, in which he placed the Hyborian Age in context with his prior Thurian Age, and the later historical ages, explaining in his alternate history where the Hyborian Age fits in.  I'm working up my own similar essay, creating context for my own "Hyborian Age" which is, of course, not really what I'm going to call it.  But this unnamed setting, which is much more overtly sword & sorcery influenced, and not at all unlike Howard's Conan series in terms of setting background (although more heavily focused on North America rather than Europe and the Near East, and more heavily featuring the wild animals of the time as a recurring plot element).  This separates it thematically a fair bit from DARK•HERITAGE, but hey, that's why it's a separate setting after all.

I've included some art from Ka-Zar, a Marvel Comics character who's kind of like a Tarzan analog, except in the Savage Land, so he was raised by a sabertooth and fights dinosaurs and stuff.  It's a weird conceit in some ways, while in other ways, it's the best picture I could find to illustrate my setting as I envision it.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Linguistics in DARK•HERITAGE

I've talked before about my thoughts on linguistics in fantasy.  Linguistics and fantasy are no doubt forever going to be tied together, because of the influence of Tolkien, who's inspiration for writing The Lord of the Rings was, by his own admission, primarily linguistic.  I've also been a fan of linguistics and consider it a minor hobby to be at least somewhat conversant in some linguistic topics... but I'm certainly no professional linguist.  And, in fact, I've come to the somewhat reluctant conclusion that linguistics is better placed in the background, and better glossed over rather than brought to the foreground.

H. P. Lovecraft and Lin Carter both criticized Robert E. Howard for his linguistics--the notion of linguistic Scandinavians, Greek, Romans, Arabs, Egyptians, etc. in his Hyborian Age setting turned them off quite a bit; they thought fantasy names should sound fantasy-like, and not reflect any actual earth cultures.  Of course, in my opinion, this is a big mistake.  Reading a slew of unrecognizable and difficult to parse names in a fantasy story is likely to be meaningless to most readers, and possibly even confusing.  My kids and my wife already complain quite a bit about the similarities in names between Sauron and Saruman as it is when they watch the LotR trilogy.

But there's something to the notion that too much familiarity can ruin the tone and feel of fantasy as well.  Although Bob (and Robert) or Bill (and William) and a number of other names like Richard, or John, or Mark or Luke, have fairly old pedigree, and would have been perfectly common, acceptable, and work well in an actual Medieval story (a la Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, etc.) which is, in some ways, the inspiration for much of the fantasy genre today, I prefer to go with a slightly different feel, and then to twist it even a little bit more.

English fantasy fans are not as familiar with the sound of Mediterranean fantasy (at least not until somewhat recently) but Spanish, French, or Italian names are hardly unfamiliar, especially North America where much of our territory was once part of Nueva España or Nouvelle France, or at least has seen massive influx of Italian immigrants due to the Italian diaspora.  In fact, English speakers are sufficiently well-versed in those languages (or at least names that come from them) that they almost sound as familiar as English names.  So, while I like the Mediterranean vibe, I don't want to use actual Spanish, French of Italian for the same reason I don't want to use actual English names--they're too familiar.  And while English speakers may not be quite as familiar with the other "major" Romance language, Portuguese, I am kinda, because of one line in my own family tree that comes from the island of Madeira.  Plus, as the BRIC economies become more and more integrated into the global view, Brazilians are becoming more and more familiar to us as well.

Luckily, there's actually a long list of other Romance languages which are somewhat more obscure now, but which still linger, and which historically covered vast areas.  They sound very similar to Spanish or Italian (or occasionally French) but subtly different.  Exactly what I want.  Close enough to bring to mind associations--sometimes even subconscious ones--in the minds of readers (or players, since I'm doing better running games in DARK•HERITAGE than writing novels) but slightly "off" enough that it doesn't bring to mind too-familiar associations.  Catalan, for instance, is a language common on the east-coast of Spain, and due to nationalistic tendencies, is actually growing from a low point a few decades ago.  It seems to have a vibrant future, and is still heard (and seen on signs) frequently in places like Barcelona, Valencia or the Ballearic Isles, including Majorca and Ibiza.  Occitan, a hundred years ago or so, was more common in France than French, but has suffered greatly from the systemic imposition of the French language, to the point where its long-term survival is in doubt.  While geographically located in France (mostly), Occitan is much more closely related to Catalan than to French, and any "Frenchisms" in the language are mostly considered borrowings of words, structure or sounds rather than native elements. 

Ligurian is a north-Italian language, not especially close to Italian (in terms of the Romance language family) but is rather seen as a bit further east on the spectrum from Occitan (in fact, in areas where they border each other, some dialects struggle with labels.  Is the Niçardo dialect of Nice a Ligurian dialect heavily influenced by Occitan, or an Occitan dialect heavily influenced by Ligurian?  Jury's still out there.)  That spectrum would continue further south and east into the Tuscan dialect--which is the basis for what is today known as standard Italian.  Ligurian still is official in some areas, and its unclear whether it's in decline or not.  As the native language of Genoa and Monaco, it at least as some prestige.  It would also have been Christopher Columbus' native language, for whatever that's worth.

Even farther to the east, we have languages that are kind of off the spectrum, having been interrupted by the influx of Slavic speakers during the expansion of the Slavic languages near the end of the first millennium A.D., making up the Romanian branch.

In DARK•HERITAGE, I've borrowed much of my names from either Catalan/Occitan, Ligurian (or Piedmontese) and Romanian, and made handwavy gestures to the fact that the Catalan/Occitan is the standard in the southern area of the Terrasan sphere of influence, Ligurian/Piedmontese is more common in the north, and Romanian represents dialects from the farther east--not too unlike the actual geographic distribution of the languages, to be fair.  Of course, I also often handwave all that away, and just take a Spanish word that I know from my time in Argentina (I'm a bit rusty, but I used to speak Spanish fluently enough that I could convince people I was a native. Mostly gullible people, but still...) and tweak it a bit to not sound too Spanish.  My city of Iccleza is basically the Spanish word iglesia made to sound more vaguely Italian-like.  The actual Italian word for church (I've since looked it up) is chiesa.  And the Mezzovian Sea is taking the concept of the Mediterranean and the Italian word mezzo which anyone who's learned to read music should know, and turning it into a semi-made up word too.

What brings this up to mind today?  Curiously, on Saturday I went with my daughter and my wife to a Church activity for young women (my daughter is 14) in which they celebrated some of the accomplishments of young women in our stake--an administrative unit in our church similar to a diocese in the Catholic church, which may be more familiar to my readers.  The meeting itself would have been an equivalent of sorts to a Boy Scout Court of Honor... just for young women rather than young men, and their accomplishments in the program that we have for them.  Two other girls on the program from within our stake but not our ward (similar to two parishes within a diocese) were on the program--sisters--who had a last name which caught my eye and piqued my interest, because it coincided with my linguistic fascination with these south European Romance languages.  Lorenc.  Hey, I've used that name before for a character!  Or at least one very like it, the Catalan name Llorenç which means, basically, Lawrence.  I had thought that maybe it was an Occitan name, or something similar. Since the c-cedilla is unlikely to be retained by a family that's lived in the US for a few generations, I could see it being rendered as simply c.  Curiosity piqued by a linguistic puzzle in my own hobbyist area of linguistics, I did some digging.  The modern Occitan version of the name is actually Laurenç, which is even more distant than the Catalan version, but the Old Occitan language version--the language ancestral to both Catalan and Occitan and dating from the later Middle Ages, was Lorenç.  I had found the name!

Or, well... maybe not.  Another quick search on Google just to confirm suggests that the name is actually from a Polish/Czech spelling of their version of the name Lawrence--which is of course very common throughout all the languages of Europe, and which comes from a Latin name Laurentius, which means "man from Laurentum."  Laurentum may have its linguistic roots in being associated with the laurel tree, but more proximally, it was considered by the ancient Romans to have been the original capital of the Latin people, before the founding of Rome itself.  In legendry, it was where Aeneas came after the Trojan war, where he met with King Latinus, and provided the genesis of what would become the Roman people.  But back to the linguistics, in terms of spelling, the only difference between the old Occitan and the west Slavic is the cedilla on the c--which probably wouldn't be written in English anyway. 

So, another linguistic caution--don't be too eager to declare your solution without taking a broader, bigger-picture look.  My first "solution" seemed obvious and correct, but it looks like it was not.

Completely off topic, I thought the Lorenc girls seemed pretty cute, I was impressed with the presentation one of them made, and they seem to come from a good family (not that I know them really, but still.)  I'm going to tell my 16 year old son he should check them out and get to know them.  He won't listen to me of course, but I'll have done my duty as a parent regardless.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Shape

After taking the kids trick-or-treating, and then putting them to bed, my wife and I watched the second half of Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers last night.  This post is partially based on that.

Disease and illness are always a problem in DARK•HERITAGE, and many have been brought down by the ravages of plagues and disease.  But among the most frightening and least understood are those that ravage the mind rather than the body.  Sometimes insanity can be explained--somewhat--the experience of severe trauma, for instance, leads to a somewhat understandable insanity.  Sometimes, though, it occurs for no reason that anyone can discern.  People are occasionally simply crazy.  Messed-up.  Something is born wrong with them, and it never gets better.  And sometimes, this can turn into violent fixations that put others around them at risk as well.

While a serial killer is frightening enough, there are times, for reasons that are completely unknown, when a serial killer with a fixation for violent death, when a serial killer becomes something less--and yet in other ways frighteningly more--than human.  Killers that seem unstoppable.  Endowed with superhuman strength, cunning, and a fiendish ability to be at the wrong place and the wrong time, these individuals become nearly unkillable, able to shrug off or heal from wounds that would kill a normal person many times over.

For reasons that are unknown, these Shapes--as they're sometimes called--become faceless and voiceless as well; in losing their humanity, they don faceless masks and utter no word or sound.  Some believe that this is some kind of ritual or curse that gives them their powers, others believe its a conscious choice, or even merely a coincidence.  But since nobody can say what gives these killers their seeming supernatural powers, nobody knows.

Numerous theories abound, and myths and urban legends are multiple.  Some say that these killers are not alive at all, but are some kind of ghost or other undead creature.  Others think them possessed by daemons or other evil spirits.  Others believe that they somehow accrue their own magic, and remain mortals--just magically augmented ones.  And there are many who dismiss any notion of supernatural powers at all, saying that the appearance of such is merely a side-effect of their mental pathology.

It is usually said that these Shapes can't be defeated.  They can be set back.  They can turn quiescent.  You can escape them, but not defeat them.

One of the most famous was one in Porto Liure who was originally called the Shape, and hence the source of the name.  As a "John Doe" in the Arcamo Asylum for many years, it is unknown who he was or where he came from, only that he had suffered some kind of serious injury as a child, since he was missing a hand and was fitted with the asylum doctors with a blunted hook.  But when he escaped, he focused on a small neighborhood in the outskirts of town, killing 11 civilians, mostly teenagers, and several City Watch guardsmen with a matchet and his hook, now mysteriously sharpened to a deadly weapon.  Although he was finally stopped, his body was not found, and occasionally rumors surface that he has come back to murder some more.  Frequently, these rumors are associated with illicit rendezvous by the unmarried young, prompting the belief that such can actually resurrect his spirit, others dismiss that as merely a cautionary tale invented to prevent youngsters from getting ideas.

The now aged Doctor Enrique Lumiço may be the only person alive who can shed any light on the mystery of the original Shape, or perhaps give some straight answers on what causes this phenomena, which has now been reported in other cities on occasion as well.  But he's notoriously reticent, and refuses to speak to most about the events some years ago which created the first mystery of the Shape.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Monster Hunter International and.... Star Wars

I read Monster Hunter International and finished it yesterday.  It took about a week, and at just over 700 pages, that was a pretty good clip.  I had a friend lend it to me, and he's been talking it up for quite a while.  To be perfectly honest, I was a little hesitant at first.  My friend tried to sell it to me on the basis of it being a fantasy book told from a right-wing perspective by a gun nut.  I dislike political ideology in my fantasy and am largely indifferent to guns.  But I loved this book after all.  Great storytelling.

There's a famous review floating out there which is mostly famous because it's kinda funny, but it makes a throwaway point at one point in it that's actually pretty germane and interesting.  It talks about two kinds of ideological works of fiction; overt ideology and subtle ideology.  Something that overtly preaches an ideology is ... well, overt, while a setting that doesn't do so, but which finds itself steeped in assumptions is more subtle (to varying degrees.)  A great example of this (partly because it's not really all that subtle) would be your average book my S.M. Stirling--which a friend of mine once disparagingly wrote off as always having the same theme; the world is made safe by heroic lesbians, feminists and/or nerds.  Especially lesbians.

The Monster Hunter books are also more subtle.  Yes, they definitely focus on the notion that guns are awesome.  The author is a confirmed gun nut himself, so that's not surprising.  Luckily for those of us who appreciate but who are largely otherwise indifferent to guns, this doesn't really go overboard.  A lot of reviews make a lot of noise about how accurate and detailed the guns are; I didn't find it to distract from the story in any way.  I'm guessing that's something that the real gunheads can appreciate, but which otherwise doesn't factor into the story much.

Yes, the stories are set in the South.  Mostly Alabama, to be exact.  And the stories are sympathetic to the South and its culture rather than disparaging and dismissive (a trend that I'm glad to see reversed.  I grew up in Texas which is part of the South.  As well as part of the West and as well as completely its own thing to boot--but definitely sympathetic to the culture of the South.)  Given the predominent subtle ideology of most works of fiction, who are written by liberal folks who live in urban areas near the east coast, the west coast, or inland liberal meccas like Ann Arbor, Michigan or Austin, Texas, this was a nice change of pace.  I definitely felt like it was written for the vast body of "fly-over" states who lean reddish in elections.

Yes, the stories are not very sympathetic to the notion of government intervention, giving a distinctive Libertarian slant to the point of view character.

But like I said, this doesn't really stand out much.  It's all in the background.  Frankly, it felt like home to me.  It was written by a guy who understands the people and place where I grew up, people I knew from childhood, and recasts them as realistic fictional characters.

Yes, the main character seems to have a bit of a Mary Sue thing going on, another point I was worried about going into the books based on scuttlebutt I'd seen in advance.  This also didn't get out of hand, and before I knew it, I found myself forgetting that it was a concern I had going in.  In point of fact, the main character does have some obvious flaws and a bit of an arc, which makes the idea of him being a Mary Sue a little more difficult to pull off.  Yeah, he is large, likes guns, and was an accountant.  Same as the author.  This came across as more the author writing what he knows rather than making his main character into a super heroic version of himself.

The books have a fair bit of humor and light-heartedness to them; as much good horror and semi-horror does, while still managing to wrangle a pretty good deal of horror too.  In fact, much of the horror is overtly Lovecraftian, which is interesting, especially to me.  Clearly author Correia knows his stuff around fiction; he hits all the right notes for a blockbuster action movie, for a good horror story, it has some good buddy cop stuff here and there, it hits a lot of B-movie tropes, a lot of Lovecraftian tropes, and even a handful of specifically fantasy tropes, making vague reference to Dungeons & Dragons, and having a few things that were obviously very specifically similar to how D&D does them (in particular, much of the undead.)  On top of all this, it's engagingly well-written and reasonably fun.  I also borrowed the next two novels from my friend, and frankly, I've already charged nearly 100 pages into the second book, despite an incredibly busy schedule which makes that kind of reading kinda difficult.  Luckily for me, the second book is a bit shorter.

The second thing which I can't help talking about today, is the big entertainment announcement that blew up the Internet yesterday--Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm (including all subsidiaries) for just over $4 billion, George Lucas' retirement from blockbuster film-making, and the passing of the torch of Star Wars to other hands, with three new Star Wars movies planned with only limited involvement from Lucas himself as a retired "creative consultant."  My relationship with Star Wars is complicated; the first movie came out when I was five years old, and it's literally the first movie I ever remember seeing in theaters.  For many, many years I also listed it as my favorite series of movies, and if I had to pick a favorite, then it would be The Empire Strikes Back.

I don't hate the prequels.  George Lucas didn't "rape my childhood" or whatever other nonsense melodramatic language is du jour there these days.  I do recognize them as deeply flawed films that aren't really very much fun to watch, though, except as an appreciation of visual design.  The same with the various "updates" given to the original trilogy.  I own the DVDs.  I also own DVD-Rs ripped from the laserdiscs, and frankly, when I want to watch Star Wars, that's where I turn.  Much of what Lucas has done to Star Wars in the last fifteen years or so has diminished the franchise.  That said, the Clone Wars TV show on Cartoon Network, and the Old Republic stuff by BioWare have both polished the franchise off to the point where I can say that I'm excited to see new Star Wars material again.

In general, I'm more a fan of Disney than not, although I recognize where they've dropped the ball on various things as well, so I think the development is positive.  Certainly, Disney isn't likely to drop the ball as badly as Lucas himself has with the latest movies.  I think there's room for some optimism about the future of the franchise here.

A few folks have got to be on pins and needles, though.  The Clone Wars cartoon will almost certainly end at the end of the current season to make way for some new Star Wars content on Disney owned TV stations like ABC, ABC Family or DisneyXD (like what we saw happen with Marvel's Cartoon Network shows.)  Dark Horse Comics has got to be sweating bullets knowing that Disney, who now is the facilitator of the license that they have to print Star Wars comic books, already owns a world-class comic book company.  In fact, the world-class comic book company, which has mostly consistently led in sales and volume for decades.  When that license expires, I imagine we'll see Marvel Star Wars comics again, and Dark Horse will have to look for something else to do.  Fantasy Flight just started talking publicly about their Star Wars license for RPGs--how does that play into announced new content?  Probably way too early to tell, and I doubt anyone has given any thought to that yet (or will for a long time to come.)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Special month designations

So, all this last month (October) has apparently been Breast Cancer Awareness month.  It was a hard one to miss; I saw gigantic pink everythings all over the place.  I actually have a personal connection to breast cancer awareness; my mother-in-law is a breast cancer survivor, which means that I'm keenly aware of the possibility that my wife may get breast cancer someday as well.  Certainly it's something that I am concerned about in her behalf.

And yet... I find most of the breast cancer awareness paraphernalia to be shallow, superficial, and faddish, and I'm not quite sure that it accomplishes much good other than to make the people who participate in it feel better about themselves.  Cranky and judgemental?  Possibly.  I make no excuses anymore for the fact that I've become a cantankerous old guy, lamenting the values of "kids today" and people who stand on my lawn.

And maybe I'm also just a bit put out by the fact that until sometime this last month, I didn't even know that September is National Wilderness month.  Hey, why is literally everyone aware of National Breast Cancer Awareness month, and nobody knows anything about National Wilderness Month?  It's probably a good choice to pick September; conventional wisdom is that in most years, the best time to spend time in the mountains is late August and through much of September.  Occasionally I get people who I've talked to about my love of the wilderness assuming that I'm an environmentalist.  I actually dislike that label, mostly because it would associate me with people I consider to be really stupid and kind of crazy (like those folks on Whale Wars for instance.)  Rather, I consider myself an "old skool" conservationist, and take much of my lead on conservationist issues from the likes Theodore Roosevelt, and I take cues from the likes of John Muir and Ansel Adams as well (although Muir and Roosevelt didn't always see eye to eye on all issues.)

Because of that, here's some belated Wilderness shots, celebrating our nation's remaining wilderness areas.  Some of them I've even been to; others I strongly desire to visit and are on my short list of places to see.


Shadow Lake and the Ritter Range from across the valley on the Pacific Crest Trail in the Ansel Adams Wilderness.


Approaching the Cirque of the Towers in the Popo Agie Wilderness of Wyoming.


The Mount Timpanogos Wilderness in the Uinta National Forest.


The Chocolate Drops, Maze District, Canyonlands National Park.


Cerro Castellan, Big Bend National Park.