Friday, September 29, 2017

Cult of Undeath—next parts

I'm thinking about what to do with the next part of CULT OF UNDEATH.  Because the structure of the modules are so railroady, I'm struggling to modify them in such a way that they're not—there's literally nothing left if I do that.  I still need to give this one more thought.  My first thought was that Revecca Lechfeld was kidnapped and whisked off to the south, hopefully prompting the PCs to go rescue her.  This better serves the goal of thrifting the modules down to a manageable size than it does eliminating the worst structural aspects of them, however, so I'm trying to think of something else here.  Even the idea of simply Revecca telling them that there's treasure to be found in the woods or something is better than a rush to chase after her kidnappers, where I have to try and entertain them with stuff going on, while somehow convince them that the time that they're taking isn't a problem.  Plus, the whole hunting lodge business is supposed to be a kind of whodunit style mystery (which I may or may not do).  But, at least, let me spell out the encounters and whatnot that they expect you to be able to use, and having them disassociated from some pre-planned plot will hopefully help me to see if they look like they'll be useful at all or not.

The gist of this part three is that the PCs go into the Bitterwood, a deep, thick wood that's heavily infested by werewolves, and then emerge eventually on the other wide to find an abandoned town that was the victim of a massacre in some kind of border war or other, but three coalitions are there now; necromancers digging up bodies and reanimating them, and two tribes of werewolves that both want to take something from the necromancers.  My own earlier summary cuts this last part out completely, and only has vague rationale for why the PCs would be passing through the Bitterwood or having anything whatsoever to do with the werewolves anyway.  So that'll need some help—but I actually think that maybe it's best deferred, honestly.  They'll find reasons in play why going that way is a good idea.  Why lock myself into something now?

ETTERCAPS IN THE WOODS Plus, a weaverworm "boss."  This is just color.  It feels an awful lot like it was literally borrowed from Bilbo's experiences in Mirkwood with the spiders.  Eminently axable.  But, if I wanted to have a giant forest spider-encounter, I'll take the wyvern stats, and make them unable to fly, and treat them as a giant spider.  If I want more of a swarmy type enemy (more like the spiders of The Hobbit than Shelob) then I can take ape or baboon stats, give them some vaguely defined web ability (that honestly, wouldn't be used in combat anyway) and just describe them differently.  I actually quite like the idea of eight-eyed and six-armed spider-baboons that swarm out of the trees.  The wyvern's poison would be a good addition to them, too.
SPIDER-BABOON: AC: 12 HD: 2d6 (8 hp) AT: bite +2 (1d6) STR: +1, DEX: +3, MND: -4, S: Acrobatics affinity, successful bite attacks deliver poison.  Target must succeed on STR+Level check DC 14 or take 1d4 STR damage.  One minute later, a second check must be passed or character takes 1d4 DEX damage.
WEREWOLF TRAP This is merely meant to be a vicious trap that the PCs come across while traipsing through the woods.  It's been set by a spoiled nobleman staying at the hunting lodge to catch werewolves—he's a guy who is meant to be a colorful character with whom the PCs can interact over the course of quite some time, although he's also meant to turn into a werewolf himself before all is said and done, and the PCs will most likely put him down.  I dislike the idea of creating NPCs with such a defined story arc already pre-planned, and I also dislike forcing NPCs on the players, while I prefer to organically interact with those that they end up being interested in on their own.  I also don't really like doing traps.  I'd probably skip this altogether.

INGOMER'S LODGE More like a small stronghold located deep in the woods, this is a place where small numbers of nobility and their retainers hang out, ostensibly to hunt.  Why anyone would come to a forest known to be crawling with werewolves to hunt (unless they're hunting werewolves, which few will be prepared to do) makes little sense to me, so I'll treat it more like an actual stronghold; a small barony, or something.  The werewolves ignore the road that leads to it, mostly.  In fact, in my version of Timischburg (as opposed to Paizo's Ustalav) most people aren't sure that real werewolves still exist (although their descendants, the woses, certainly do.)  There are werewolves in the Bitterwood, as it happens.  But they aren't going to be having some kind of succession crisis, as in the module.  There's only a handful of them.

Rather, the Lodge can be an NPC interaction station, a place of research, and maybe even a temporary localized homebase for the PCs to strike out within the Bitterwood looking for other things.   I didn't list the NPCs from the module in my summary here, although you can if you like.

WEREWOLF ENCOUNTERS  I've condensed all of this werewolf action down to this listing.  If the PCs strike off of the road, they are at risk for werewolf encounters.  I'm not messing with different tribes like the Primals or the Demon Wolves or the Silverhides or whatever, because there aren't any good werewolves in any setting I'd ever develop—monsters are monsters, and the only reason you'd ever not fight them is because you can't defeat them.  You don't make common cause with them because they're just misunderstood all-around good folk.  The thing with werewolves is, of course, that you need silver to handle them (the same is true for demons) and rumor has it (or perhaps research from Alpon's notes and library) that there is a huge stash of it in the Bitterwood and an abandoned churchyard a few miles away from the baron's castle, but who's exact location has been either lost or deliberately obfuscated in just the last few years.  There you have it; a stash of silver treasure, including weapons that the PCs may well need in the future, and you've got an excuse to go chasing after this stuff.  The werewolves, of course, don't want people finding the churchyard, which they are reluctant to enter themselves, because as cursed creatures, they still have an aversion to hallowed ground, even neglected hallowed ground, but they'll try to keep anyone else away.

THE BARON'S PARANOIA (I'm obviously replacing the Lodgemaster with a minor baron, Stefan Turcitul.  But otherwise, he's very similar to as presented in the module.)  The baron knows all about the church, but he's made a deal with the werewolves, because he is himself a warlock, and he's searching the church when he can get away from his retainers without arousing suspicion, for clues to help him on his quest for necromantic eternal life—such forbidden tomes are reportedly still lingering in the libraries below the church.  Baron Turcitul hasn't found what he's looking for yet, but there's a lot of material to go through.  If the PCs start getting too close, he'll get anxious that they'll either 1) steal the secrets themselves, or 2) report him to the inquisition, which will result in his burning at the stake.  He starts trying to head them off.

THE GHOST WOLF I'm not 100% sure that I like this concept, but the concept from Monster Hunter: Alpha is more my speed.  The ghost wolf isn't the ghost of some poor werewolf schmuck, I'd rather have werewolves being a curse of those who come across the master of the Wild Hunt, which occasionally touches down in the Bitterwood from back when it was Murkwood, the primal forest that covered all of Timischburg in prehistoric times.  He has the spirit of the wolf, a primordial avatar of the Master, who created the first werewolves during the Stone Age.  But this is backstory—I'm not sure that I want to involve the Wild Hunt already at this stage, or primordial, Ice Age wolf spirits that corrupt humans unfortunate enough to cross them.  I'll probably ax this part, but I'm not 100% sure that that's what I want to do.  I reserve the right to keep this in my back pocket for... something.

THE STAIR OF THE MOON In the original module, this is the place where the competing werewolf tribes come to meet.  In my version, it'll be the abandoned churchyard where Stefan Turcitul does his research, and a massive armory of silver weapons used by the Old Inquisition was stored in underground vaults (don't get excited.  This isn't a dungeon, just a locked cellar.)  Finding the place almost certainly means fighting werewolves in the woods (and maybe evil woses who are their hangers-on), it might mean fighting the baron and some of his men-at-arms at the church itself.  And the baron is no slouch when it comes to foul warlockry—although he hasn't unlocked the secret of becoming a lich, as he hopes to find, he's managed to learn how to summoning some nasty critters; there will probably be skeletons around as well (from the bodies of ancient clergymen buried in the graveyard outside), servitor daemons, and he probably has an imp daemon familiar and maybe a succubus daemon advisor/temptress. (Although the webguide doesn't have imps listed a subclass of daemon, I did make that change in my master file.)

Not only the werewolves, but the daemons all are much more vulnerable to silver weapons, which the players may not really have until they find the stash of silver (and magical) weapons blessed by the Old Inquisition—but I don't want to give the PCs something useful after it's useful.  We'll see if they find a way to get to the vaults before fighting everything that the weapons will actually help with.

I'm cutting THE HANGING TREE and  FELDGRAU completely.  They have no role in my revised version of the adventure.  With this list, I've got a lot of potential little adventure material, but the whole thing carries with it the vibe of a side trip.  This is usually considered a bad thing in the world of scripted entertainment—books, TV shows, movies, etc.—but it probably is exactly what this needs as a game to give the PCs something to do that isn't intimately tied to their bigger Black Path conflict.  And actually, the church's old library is a target of the Black Path too.  I think it's important that the PCs eventually find out that Stefan Turcitul traded one of the forbidden books from the church's library to the Black Path in return for... something.  I don't know exactly what yet.  The PCs should be able to discover easily enough that the two were in cahoots in some way or another, even if they can't determine exactly what the Black Path is up to, even if they somehow manage to get Turcitul to confess to everything that he personally was involved in.

Friday Art Attack

I love big old floating cities in space.  I only have a few of them in my setting material (so far) for AD ASTRA, but it comes up with some regularity as it's an option in the randomized world generation results, as well as one in the character background material.  Obviously, there are unique challenges to the setting, both in-game (i.e., making such a place livable and manageable) as well as from a meta-perspective (i.e., making such a place interesting without making it too predictable and the same every time.)

I'm not quite sure what this is, but I really love this image.  Some kind of death cultist or undead, with a skeletal face—except instead of eye sockets, there's this smooth, skull-like indentation is all.  It kind of reminds me of the myrdraal's from The Wheel of Time (wow, talk about a series I gave up on a long time ago... but not for lack of good ideas here and there.)

Megalania—the giant komodo dragons of Australia; twice the size of the largest komodo dragons today, which are now relics in a handful of tiny islands, but which represent a period of time when these kinds of predators were dominant.  DARK•HERITAGE in particular has had a long and passionate love affair with Ice Age megafauna, which is much more varied and whatnot than most people think it is (most people just think of mammoths and saber-tooths, plus, they actually think that they just lived up in the snow.)

This looks more like a commando robot of some kind rather than a soldier in some kind of soldier-armor.  That's cool.  There's certainly a lot of room in AD ASTRA for commando robots.  That reminds me; one of the few things that AD ASTRA does still need in order to feel "complete" is a list of suggested antagonists.  Much of that will include making "NPC" like villains, including various combat robots, to fight.

I love this old-school looking space station and luxury yacht, or maybe liner, placed with dramatic scenic aesthetic in front of a Saturn-like big-ringed planet.  In my first image, my space city was floating over an earth-like planet, but in reality, of course, it would mostly be easier just to build on the planet in that case.

Yutyrannus huali, a "primitive" tyrannosauroid found in Liaoning Province of China—and the largest predatory dinosaur known to have possessed feathers (although presumably many others did too, and it's just that the preservation of evidence of feathers is wildly unlikely.)  About 125 million years old, and presumably from the Yixian Formation (although they weren't excavated by professionals, so that's not 100% sure).  It's possible that the feathers made Yutyrannus a "wooly tyrannosaur" since the climate was certainly temperate, and is notable for fairly cool winters, relative to what was normal during the Mesozoic.  This was a fairly big guy; Allosaurus-sized, but relative to more derived tyrannosaurs, was fairly old-fashioned in many ways; in fact, the most recent and probably best cladogram puts it in the Proceratosauridae; more basal even than Dilong.  This is unusual, because it is nothing like the relatively small and generalized early tyrannosaurs—rather, it clearly seems to be the apex predator of its environment.

Danger Will Robinson!  I find that the attempt to "mix up" the cliche of the damsel in distress just doesn't work.  A dude in distress doesn't have the same visceral quality to it.  I'm not sure that such clunky, old-fashioned robots side-by-side with the commando bot above makes any sense or not, other than suggesting that this is an extremely old-fashioned model that has somehow maintained itself on an isolated outpost somewhere.  Either that, or it was just designed by a totally different culture that doesn't really value anthropomorphism except in a vague sense in their robots.

This is just more of the same.  I had two pictures that were very similar, and I wasn't sure which to use, so you get both of them.  You may notice that Tobor is robot backwards, and that this was obviously a movie (Republic Pictures, 1954.)  The story itself was not too unlike Frankenstein in most respects

I like the idea of this as some kind of wooden-masked assassin of some kind.  In fact, maybe that's something I can do with the elfs of the greater TIMISCHBURG setting; they are unwilling to show their faces to the lesser races, so they all wear woodland masks.  Hmmm...

Thursday, September 28, 2017


No words.  Your move, boys.

The NFL is a bunch of narcissistic, spoiled, ungrateful, steroid-abusing, cheating, wife-beating, dog-fighting, hippy, fan-spitting, cop-killing, 9/11 mocking, Armed Forces hating, whiny, traitorous, flag burning SJW degenerates.  They have absolutely no moral high ground from which to presume to sanctimoniously lecture anyone in America; even the Fake Americans, about anything at all.  Even if the supposed "cause" that they're championing wasn't complete BS, they are the last people that any real cause would ever want to serve as their voices and champions, because they can do nothing except bring the cause into ill-repute.

Of course, the fact that the cause they are spitting on America about is a massive lie doesn't help.

The reality is that the national anthem and the flag are proxies for Whiteness.  Even the scumbag anti-White ingrates of the NFL and their cowardly quisling white fellow players (and owners, and commissioner) are mostly afraid to cross the line of actively attacking white people just for being white (but Popovich says what the rest of them are really thinking), but they can attack them by proxy by attacking symbols that stand, in their mind, for whiteness.

They may tell you that they're protesting something that sounds nice, but they are liars.  The only thing that the NFL protests are about is the visceral hatred, envy, and covetousness of the Mud World and those who come from it (even after many generations of not living there) for the White World.  They want to destroy our heritage and our birthright, and then loot our corpses, before moving on, locust-like, to whatever is next, without even the self-awareness to know that nothing is next except eating themselves.

Cult of Undeath review

Here's a direct quote from a sidebar from the third Carrion Crown adventure path module, and a great example of why I struggle so much to figure out how to do anything useful with this Paizo material, which is fundamentally unsuited to gaming, quite frankly.
Running on the Rails The sequence of events in this section places this portion of the adventure on a "railroad." You should attempt to keep the PCs "on the rails," but without obviously strong-arming them or manipulating their actions. You can use Duristan, Graydon, and other potential NPC allies to guide and support the PCs’ actions, while still leaving them free to make their own choices regarding their investigations. Should the PCs take some sort of drastic action that threatens to derail the adventure, these wealthy nobles can step in and play the voice of reason. If necessary, they can even offer the PCs a reward or bribe to keep them focused, in the form of money, a minor magic item, or even property or another type of holding (likely worth no more than 3,000 gp), to be presented once the PCs properly finish their business in Ascanor. Regardless of whom the PCs side with, none of the nobles at Ascanor desire to see the lodge destroyed or overrun by an outside agency that would threaten to destroy the sanctity and privacy of their exclusive retreat.
Ridiculous.  As much as everyone knows that railroading is bad adventure design and even worse GMing advice, Paizo still writes what they clearly admit is a railroad—and their excuse is that you can mitigate this by merely not being obvious about it!

Even so, what I find much harder to adapt is the repeated insinuation that the monsters are merely misunderstood and the real villains are transparent proxies for white, male, conservative, Christians most of the time.

It's made it very difficult to figure out what to do with a setting and premises that I actually quite like, because Paizo simply cannot stop crapping in their own bed.  It's been a fair while now since I've routinely bought very much of what they're selling, and I've found completing this CULT OF UNDEATH project was actually harder than I anticipated because so much of it is simply unusable to a normal, healthy, psychologically functional gamer.  This is why it continues to lapse as I get tired of trying to fight the material into being something worthwhile.

But, I committed to doing it, and I'm going to see it through!  I'm reviewing modules three and four for what I want to pull out of them, and I'll have them converted into a bullet point outline of the type that I actually would use to run the game.  Sometime soon.  I am working on it.  I promise.

In the meantime, since I'm lagging so far behind where I hoped to be, here's an image or two from Adrian Smith just for the heck of it, a great fantasy artist who got his name doing Warhammer stuff, and who did a lot of great work for Monolith Games' Conan.  I'm going to use some of this stuff to represent Nizrekh, an island kingdom in the sea south-southwest of Timischburg that represents a different tone of undeath.  While Timischburg has the classic Dracula vibe, set in pseudo-Medieval fantasy—where vampire overlords and tyrants are under the surface of what could otherwise perhaps be mistaken for merely a disquieting normal environment, Nizrekh is much more blatant and overt; it's Warhammer's Nehekhara (host of the now defunct Tomb Kings army; a skeletonized ancient Egypt, basically) combined with the Iron Kingdoms' Cryx—a steampunk undead pirate nation.

A Nizrekh Immortal soldier (a mummy, stat-wise)

Another Nizrekh Immortal, with poisoned claws

One of the Nizrekh Necromancers (and possibly a ghoul)

Nizrekh royalty (think of The Lady from The Black Company)
I'd actually have to hybridize the stats of a lich and a vampire to create the Nizrekh royalty.  Here:
NIZREKH ROYAL HERESIARCH: AC: 17 HD: 10d6 (40 hp) AT: touch +5 (1d6) STR: +4, DEX: +2, MND: +3, S: undead immunities, only takes half damage from non-silver weapons, regenerate 3 hp per round, on a successful hit (MND + level to resist, DC 19) does 1d4 STR damage, can hypnotize (MND + level check, DC 19), avoids garlic and mirrors, immobilized and apparently dead if a stake is driven through its heart, drowns underwater in one round, cause fear in creatures under 4th level/HD, can cast spells up to 5th level 
While the vampires of Timischburg have a powerful undead grip on immortality (of a sort) they are pale shadows of the true masters of undeath, the Royal Nizrekh Heresiarchs.  There are only a handful such that exist, but all are powerful scions of undeath and thaumaturgy, and attack with powerful physical as well as magical abilities when they are spurred to combat.  They rather spend their time in Machiavellian manipulation against each other and other rivals, however—if they are reduced to fighting for their lives, usually something has gone really wrong for them. 
Like Liches, Heresiarchs have horcruxes that make their total destruction extremely difficult, and many enemies that think that they have destroyed one find to their fatal chagrin that they just keep coming back. 
The best literary comparison to the Heresiarchs is the Ten Who Were Taken from Glen Cook's The Black Company.  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Surrounding Timischburg: names

A few names to round out the Timischburg setting:
  • Timischburg—the first developed and main part of the setting; everything else is deliberately meant to surround it.  Of course, as things evolve, much more may happen outside of Timischburg than within it in the future, for all I know.  This is a kind of Medieval Transylvania or Wallachia or something like that; a pseudo-Austrian aristocracy over a more Eastern population of peasants, lots of Gothic horror influences.
  • Terassa—immediately to the east of Timischburg; this is a kind of immediately post-unification Spain; Aragon and Leon and Castille, etc. are all components and still have their own characters, to some degree.  There's an elfish enclave or reservation or whatever you want to call it here too.
  • al Qazmir—an Arabian Nights-like country south of the sea from Terassa and eastern Timischburg; home of the jann as an exotic aristocratic race.
  • Carlovingia—a pseudo-Frankish empire located to the northeast of Timischburg, and the probable source of the Timischer aristocracy.  Can be seen as either a unified Carolingian Empire, or an early Holy Roman Empire, or even an analog to the Warhammer Empire, if you like.
  • Lexovii—pseudo-Gauls and other Celts, directly north of the Timischburg lands.  This isn't a "country" so much as it is a "nation."  There are other people who live in their lands—goblins and dwarfs, specifically, although we'll see how much I want to emphasize that.
  • Vossmark—north of the Lexovii are the fake Vikings.
  • Tesculum—west of the Lexovii and the northern parts of Timiscburg, and even bordering on Vossmark is the quite large Graeco-Roman styled kingdom, and one where I'd like to see more expansion, actually.
  • Gunaakt—the orc-lands, south of Tesculum and immediately east of the southern part of Timischburg.
  • Baal Hamazi—fractured kingdom east of Gunaakt.
  • Nizrekh—an island kingdom south of Gunaakt; a hybrid of Cryx from Warmachine and an Nehekhara from Warhammer, kinda.  
I still don't have a map, but I'll probably put together a very sketchy one shortly.  Less sketchy than this one, I mean.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Words Tolkien skipped

I'm just noodling around today—at least for right now—with some linguistics discussion.  Everyone knows, for instance, that Tolkien was a professional linguist.  (Philologist was the word he preferred, but historical and comparative linguistics is what we call that specific line of academic inquiry today.)  Everyone also knows that his professional love-affair with the Northern languages of Europe was hugely influential on the development of The Lord of the Rings.  He wrote very particularly and precisely—as Stanley Unwin's son (Allen and Unwin was his first British publisher) said in an interview that "one does not edit Tolkien"—and one of the things that he did was to reject, as much as possible, using words that came into English via Norman French.  He used a number of words that were very specifically words of Anglo-Saxon extraction.

Now, to be fair, Tolkien comes at the end of a string of authors who wrote in a Medievalist tradition that is probably considered somewhat dense and difficult to read by today's less educated audience.  I've recently re-read Robert Louis Stevenson's The Black Arrow, for instance, and Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe and it's interesting to me to see the facility with which they used fairly archaic language throughout.  William Morris did so as well, and in some ways more specifically prefigures Tolkien.  And of course, only a few generations ago, you couldn't possibly be considered educated or even anything more than an ignorant bumpkin if you weren't familiar with a number of foundational works of literature in the Western tradition that wrote in then current now archaic writing, like Malory and Spenser, for instance.  Nowadays, kids are lucky if they read heavily expurgated Shakespeare texts.  Blegh.

But Tolkien went a step further in this regard, because he specifically worked in a "Northern Thing", one inspired very little (if at all) by the Matters of Rome, France and even Britain, but rather one inspired by Anglo-Saxon and Viking literature.  In fact, he specifically rejected much of the Matters of Rome, France and Britain as being as important to his cultural heritage as the Northern Thing.  But of course, there's only so much of this that can be done.  The three pillars of Western civilization may include as one pillar the traditions and laws of the Germanic peoples, but they also include Christianity (as brought to the North by the Romans) and the Classical Graeco-Roman tradition.  But he did what he could to make Christianity a background element that is never mentioned, but who's values inform the work, and the Classical tradition is rather studiously ignored entirely.

But there's a few odd examples, and I've occasionally mentioned them here.  The first is wight and although the word itself is an old one (an archaic one in English, actually) with cognates in every Germanic language and a good history in Old and Middle English, Tolkien did not actually use it the way that it was originally used.  However, he did have some precedent; "barrow wight" was actually William Morris' translation of the Norse draug, and Tolkien used it in the exact same way.  This is curious, though—what I would perhaps have expected Tolkien to do was "create" an Old English (Mercian dialect) cognate to the Norse draug if one is not attested anywhere in the literature.  He did a lot of similar things (changing the plural of dwarf from dwarfs to dwarves and the even more archaic dwarrow, for instance.)

The second example of orc, which is not a word Tolkien created, but one that he certainly popularized in the sense that we know it today.  Orc is a word that (perhaps ironically) comes from Latin Orcus (Tolkien did express some doubts about this etymology, actually), but which has a solid Anglo-Saxon pedigree that easily predates the Norman invasion.  His doubts seem to be related to the fact that orc appears as a component in kennings—orc-néas in Beowulf, where néas is believed to be a word for corpses from the underworld, and orc-þyrs in other sources.  It's curious that if Tolkien and other Anglo-Saxon philologists of his day believed that orc was a native A-S word, comparable to (and in fact, pretty indistinguishable from it in terms of meaning) þyrs, that he selected orc instead of þyrs.  The latter actually has an Old Norse cognate, þurs, derived from Proto-Germanic *þurisaz.  It's a better word for his purposes, having a clearer Northern pedigree, and no confusion about whether or not it has a Graeco-Roman connection, and it's got slightly better textual attestation, with less confusion about how the old Anglo-Saxons might have actually used the word.  But he didn't, so we have orcs today in modern fantasy, instead of thurses, or however exactly Tolkien might have modernized the Old English word þyrs.

Of course, Tolkien does sometimes call his orcs goblins, which is a Norman derived word, but he phased this out after The Hobbit and mostly uses it as a word relegated to the more ignorant and provincial of the hobbits (meaning Sam, mostly.)

Curiously, if you do some research into the word thursar, the Norse version of the word, to see what you find, it's always paired with jötunn, or jotun, a word that's also very familiar to anyone who reads Norse Mythology, or heck, even good old-fashioned pre-SJW Thor comic books.  This is another word with an impeccable Northern pedigree, from proto-Germanic *etunaz, and which has very well-attested Old and Middle and even early Modern English attestations: OE eoten, ME eten and etend, Modern English ettin (and various other similar spellings, including yotun, which is very similar to the Norse version, and etten, see below.)  Most gamers are familiar with the concept of the ettin because Gary Gygax included them in the first Monster Manual as two-headed, orc-like, giant-like creatures.  In this sense, it reflects well the Norse tradition of trolls and jotuns that often had more than one head, but it really should just have been an Old English word for a giant—it would have served Tolkien much better than ogre, which he does use occasionally.

On the other hand, Tolkien does include a note on the map and in some few geographical references to the land north of Rivendell, which is called both the Troll-fells and the Ettenmoors, suggesting that he knew the word quite well, and just didn't use it except as an obsolete geographical notation.  His good friend and fellow Inklings writer C. S. Lewis also has the Ettinsmoor, and a section of the Ettenmoors is apparently known as the Ettendales.

Anyway, after all this, I suppose I should merely note that in FANTASY HACK, I've used the following:
  • wights, to represent barrow wights or draugs, following the notation pioneered by Morris and Tolkien and more or less standardized across the fantasy genre since then.
  • orc, to represent something more or less standard for the fantasy genre.  Less like Warhammer bald, green gorilla orcs and more like Peter Jackson style uruk-hai, I think.
  • goblin to represent a small pestilential version of the same; goblins are to orcs more or less as halflings are to humans.  In FANTASY HACK there's no such thing as a hobgoblin, although it could be a colloquial term for a rustic goblin, I suppose.  I'd defer to folklore rather than D&D lore, which takes them in the opposite direction—rather than being bigger, stronger, more militaristic goblins, hobgoblins would be smaller, more mischievous, localized goblins.
  • thurse to represent larger, more powerful savage creatures than orcs.  Although I don't envision the thurse itself as being an ogre, the stats are equivalent to ogre stats.  Also to be used for gnophkeh or sasquatch, man-apes, predatory Neanderthals, etc.
  • ettins to represent giants.  I don't have the strange array of giants that D&D does; I've just got ettins, which may be kinda sorta like the Warhammer version of giants, I suppose.  They can also be seen as equivalent to hill giants in D&D, except not necessarily savage, stupid and primitive in culture.  Ergo, frost giants would just be ettins who live where it's colder, etc.  I don't have an equivalent to lava dwelling, flame resistant fire giants, but in reality, Surtr (Swert in English?) was just a jotun with a flaming sword who kills Freyr.  It's certainly OK to interpret Surtr as the king of a whole race of fiery giants who live in Muspelheim, but it's not strictly speaking necessary to do so by a reading of the two Eddas.  And even if it is, it's possible that much of that interpretation is Icelandic in particular, having to do with the volcanic origin of the island, and that the greater Norse (or even broader Teutonic) mythological tradition may have had Surtr merely be a dark-skinned southerner giant.

Monday, September 25, 2017

(Delayed) Friday Art Attack

Well, I've been out of town, as I suggested I would be, so I'm behind in getting posts done, including the Friday Art Attack.  But because I've been out of town and distracted, that's the only thing I can think of to do, so I'll do a delayed Friday (Monday) Art Attack.  Once again, I grab some art that I've found online here and there sometime in the last many years, and highlight how I think it would be useful in the AD ASTRA, DARK•HERITAGE or expanded TIMISCHBURG settings.

The stats for Thurse were originally meant to be Warhammer style beastmen, but I saw no reason not to use them for sasquatches, gnophkehs, or any other large, savage, vaguely humanoid but much stronger type creature. Thurses today in my setting are less like the goat-heads, and more like this (some character art for man-apes in a Conan video game, if I recall correctly.)

This is actually a historical illustration; the triumphal parade in Rome of Zenobia, the rebellious "warrior-queen" of Palmyra.  This could be a scene in the nation—that still needs a name, actually—to the northwest of Timischburg; a witch being led to her sentencing after bringing who knows what misery to the long-suffering people.

The Shadow Sword character class is tailor made for a kind of supernatural, shadowy assassin.  He probably wouldn't need to be bristling with knives, since he could create his own out of shadow, but otherwise, this is very much what I'd expect one to look like while working.

Not every Idacharian or Sereaen belongs to the vile ersatzh-Sith Empire.  This is an example of one who is a regular citizen of some Bernese colony world, I'd guess—maybe Gesium, even.

In such a balkanized, colonial world setting as AD ASTRA, hardly every elite soldier is going to be a Praetorian, royal legionnaire, or other such representative of a "Great Power."  Many will in fact be local guys from a local colonial or independent government, and their sphere of influence (and thus fame) may be localized in nature.  That doesn't mean that this sniper isn't as good as any other.

I really love super retro sci-fi, and if I don't have a place somewhere in AD ASTRA for big old fashioned 40s and 50s style rocket ships landing on colonial worlds just like this, then I'm doing it wrong.

Typhon daemon, probably.  I could also use the Dark Young stats, since I don't really know exactly what a Dark Young looks like in real life.  I kind of like this better than a lot of alternatives, actually.

Sometimes I have to remind myself not to always be grim or weird.  A futuristic resort planet with happy sailors on yachts, dolphins and gulls and who knows what else might be the retreat of corrupt politicians and crime lords—or it might just be the futuristic equivalent to Hawaii or the Bahamas.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Galaxy's Edge: Attack of Shadows

Another month, another Galaxy's Edge book!  Anspach and Cole continue to deliver at a remarkable pace, and with remarkable quality!  They also continue to defy expectations by doing something different.  Let me explain a bit...

The tagline or hashtag for Galaxy's Edge has always been #StarWarsNotStarWars.  (You can easily see that vibe on the cover art right there, too.  A Boba Fett looking villain, standing in front of Scout walkers with Republic drop ships coming in over a big, bright moon, etc.)  In spite of that, the first Galaxy's Edge novel, Legionnaire, was not necessarily all that Star Wars like.  I've compared it frequently to the movie Zulu, which has become a real classic tale, told and retold, by now. (One could say that the history of Leonidas is the same story with a more tragic ending.)  If this was Star Wars, why is it the story in the jarhead (buckethead?) life of a stormtrooper, and why are the stormtroopers actually elite commandos rather than ineffective mooks?  It's a great book, but the mil-sci-fi look doesn't really fit Star Wars that well, which was always swashbuckling space opera.  So, it was a risky move.  They've sold and promoted their book as a "fork" of Star Wars—they take the concept of Star Wars, file the serial numbers and I/P off of it, and then tell it the way they think it should have been told, instead of the way Lucas and then later, Lucasfilm did.  There was a risk of audience mismatch there; but the book was good enough that it was successful.

The next volume, Galactic Outlaws was the one that is more specifically Star Wars like.  It's got the fringer space opera vibe down perfectly, with a plot that reminds you of westerns and other influences that directly inspired George Lucas back in the mid-70s.  These characters could absolutely exist side by side with Han Solo, young Luke Skywalker, Chewie, and even old Ben Kenobi (maybe not Clone Wars era Obiwan Kenobi, though.)  It has a similar feel to, especially, the very first Star Wars movie.  And if you've read any of my posts on the Secret History of Star Wars, you'll know that I 100% agree with that direction, if you're going to riff off of Star Wars, riff off of it at the very beginning!  So this one was a much less risky book.  Curiously, ties to the first book are relatively light.  It's clearly the same setting, but we don't (yet) have a sense that any of these characters have anything to do with characters from the first book (although in the next book, we find out that they do, actually.)

The third novel, Kill Team goes back to taking place immediately after the first volume (the second book takes place seven years later.)  This non-linear (or at least non-chronological) story-telling is interesting.  And we get yet another direction with this volume; this time, we've got a space-faring spy thriller.  James Bond meets Jack Ryan in space.  It's another excellent book, and another one that is bold; it does something quite a bit different than what you might expect from #StarWarsNotStarWars.  Nick Cole mentioned, when I asked him on Facebook, that I was totally right in seeing the influence of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold as well.  Of course, the other thing that this novel does, is bring together the seemingly disparate Legionnaire and Galactic Outlaws and demonstrating that they are intimately tied to each other in ways that are sure to surprise and delight readers (well, they did me, anyway.)

So for the fourth novel, what do Anspach and Cole do?  Another bold move; telling a tale in the space-faring version of yet another genre, and utilizing hardly any of the past characters!  Attack of Shadows is the opening move in trouble that's been brewing for three novels, and it describes a single day; one battle, from multiple perspectives.  There's another bold experiment with narrative structure; very short scenes that cut back and forth quickly between each other, showing the same events from multiple angles.  Most of the characters are brand new, and on both sides of the battle; shocktroopers and tri-fighter pilots of Goth Sullus' attacking force, fighter pilots from the Republic, a space-dreadnought admiral, a crooked space politician, etc.  This quick back and forth between characters that we don't know is unique; it was at first a little disorienting, but I learned to settle back and enjoy the flow of the narrative.  This book, more than the ones that preceded it, is about plot and description—the back and forth of a hard-fought surprise attack and major battle, and we get an entire novel describing the events of a single day.  I finished rather quickly, and was left somewhat breathless at the end of the novel.  I need to read it again to better absorb the details, because there were so many of them that I have no doubt that I missed some.  Plus, knowing now what I do having read the whole thing, I want to go do it again with enough context to better see what's going on with characters that I don't know well.  This is similar to how when you've just watched a very complex thriller or mystery movie, you need to watch it again to catch all of the stuff that you didn't realize was going to be important, so you didn't pay enough attention to it.

So, again—they could have blown it by doing something so bold, but yet again they manage not to by doing so skillfully.  I'm pretty pumped after reading what was a really cool battle in what's going to shake up to be a really cool war.  But I've also really had my appetite whetted to get back to the characters that I grew to know over the first three books.  Maybe knowing this (or maybe not; maybe it was just serendipitous luck) there's a three-chapter preview of the next book included at the end (Sword of the Legion) in which we see familiar characters (from both disparate main groups of characters) reacting to the events of Attack of the Shadows.  They go back in time to the beginning of the day, and foreshadow that some of the stuff that was only briefly touched upon in this novel—cameos, really—will be treated in more detail in book five, and our familiar cast will be the stars of this action.  It also foreshadows that one key event which takes place off-stage in this novel, which would seem to be an unaccountable and unforgivable mistake, will actually be the main course of action of the coming book.

So, again: in spite of the fact that so far Anspach and Cole are writing at a faster pace than anyone other than Dean Wesley Smith and his "pulp speed" crowd, I find it difficult to wait for the next novel.  This was an experimental piece, and it packed quite a punch, but most especially, it set up what is to follow.  In fact, that's my only concern (or maybe just question) at this point; if they're really going to tell Galaxy's Edge in 9-10 novels or so, which I seem to remember is what I saw or heard them say, in a podcast most likely, then we're nearly halfway through and the main story has just started!  Of course, maybe this means that they decided to take more volumes to finish it than they originally planned.  Or maybe, we'll skip ahead and then fill in details as desired with spin-offs in the future.  I dunno.   But I do know that I'm excited to continue the journey with them.  This has been a fun ride so far.  I'm glad I was able to get in on the ground floor.

Friday Art Attack

I'm going to attempt to make Friday an "Art Attack" day, where I do something like what I did here, post some art from the collection of digital art that I've found over the years online here and there, and then relate it to one of my settings under development.  So, I've tagged this post not only ART, but also DARK•HERITAGE, AD ASTRA and TIMISCHBURG—a new tag for the expanded CULT OF UNDEATH setting as its shaping up.

Of course; right away, I'm going to miss next Friday—I already know that I'll be unavailable to post anything anywhere about anything all next week.  But... after that, I'll try and make it pretty regular.  I do, after all, have an awful lot of digital fantasy and sci-fi art that I've collected over many years of looking around online, thinking; "hey, that's a cool picture" and then right clicking and saving it.  Plus, I'm a fairly visually minded guy, so having pictures is fun—it helps me more than just about anything to get in the mood to develop setting, or anything else for that matter.

So, let's start...

RAWR!  Too big to be a thurse, this is probably going to use the stats for an ettin.  Either that, or I can create another daemon type to represent it.

Maybe the main villain of CULT OF UNDEATH should be a woman!  I like the concept of saving a damsel in distress from a vile man, though—there's an element of sexual threat to that that is an ancient, visceral kind of thing (used to great effect by Edgar Rice Burroughs when John Carter has to save Dejah Thoris from Tal Hajus and then again Sab Than.)  Then again, women with magic and a bad attitude are often scarier than men, who tend to have more straightforward motivations.

I really like my idea of the Death Sages of the Voormellei Confederation; space undead.  Although you've got to admit; I need to be careful to keep them from becoming pedestrian, so there shouldn't be very many of them, nor should they make a lot of appearances.  That said; I've posted a fair number of "undead astronauts" here and there.  I think the idea of them is pretty cool.

AD ASTRA is mostly ersatz Star Wars, but then again, Star Wars is a grab bag of all kinds of influences, and one that fits very well into AD ASTRA is the thoroughly 80s notion of some cyberpunk.

Art originally developed by a Traveller fan, this would be a perfect example of a one-man space-ship—perfect for small freight runs.  This is the equivalent of a space trucker.  I'd imagine that ships like this ply the space lanes of AD ASTRA as often as big rigs ply the interstates of America.

Whereas this, on the other hand, would be the perfect ship for a full party of PCs.  It even looks a lot like the ship from Star Wars: Rebels, although I think the art predates that show.  The only thing about these two pictures, is that they are both way too clean, neat and bright for AD ASTRA.  Grunge them up, making them look dirtier and more run-down; make that docking bay look like the last time you had your car in to a self-employed mechanic.  That's the look, pioneered by Star Wars in many ways, that AD ASTRA also needs to have.

I've never been shy of undead.  In fact, I have to be careful to make sure that I don't use them too much and make them become routine.

What if saber-tooths had leopard-like spots?  Gotta throw a paleontology picture in there from time to time.  Besides, sabertooths have been in DARK•HERITAGE and the FANTASY HACK ruleset from the very beginning.

I used to say that every city in my settings was, by default, a wretched hive of scum and villainy.  This isn't necessarily literally true, but it mostly is.  This might actually be what Grozavest looks like all of the time, considering that the sun never rises on it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Baboon hobgoblins

Sometimes we lose sight of our own history, even in hobbyist subcultures like that of D&D.  I was browsing the text—written by the man E. Gary Gygax himself—of The Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Album, published by Troubador Press and illustrated by underground artist from a similar van art semi-psychedelic fantasy scene as produced the Heavy Metal magazine.  If you haven't ever checked it out, you should.  Yeah, I know—it's a coloring book.  On high quality cardstock, with prose text by Gary Gygax, and an included mini-game.  It's worth checking out.  Plus, you can find high quality scans of the entire thing pretty easily.  Here, for instance.  But I draw your attention in particular to page 20 and its facing illustration; a battle between hobgoblins and gnolls.  The gnolls are described in a way that is very familiar to D&D players even today: "...hyena-looking humanoids.  These creatures are covered in greenish gray fur, with erect reddish gray manes. The gnolls' flat black eyes, dark muzzles and drab clothing mark them distinctly... clad in filthy brown pelts or scraps of clothing, and their shields are of dark blue, white, black, or deep green markings."

However... and I had forgotten this, because it had been a really long time since I looked at it, the description of the hobgoblins is very unfamiliar, and nothing at all like hobgoblins as we know them from today's D&D.  For that matter, the 1e illustration is more similar to today's conception of hobgoblins, but Mr. Gygax himself described them very differently here.  "On one side are hobgoblins, their baboon faces contorted with hate and fury.  Reddish brown and gray-black hackles raised, orange and red faces snarling, these creatures chop and stab at their opponents. One of the hobgoblins is so close that the elf can plainly see its blue-red snout, glaring eyes of bloodshot yellow-brown and bared fangs. The hobgoblins' yellow and red shields and black leather uniforms fill the entire left side of the arena."
I dunno; I find this whole thing strange and bizarre in the extreme. How did the hobgoblins end up being anthropomorphic savage baboons?  Where did that come from, and where did it go?

Monday, September 11, 2017

More thoughts and commentary on running Cult of Undeath

Now that I've mostly finished the CULT OF UNDEATH project, it makes perfect sense that I'd continue to undermine and second-guess the wisdom of even doing so in the first place.  Let's talk briefly about how I'd really run my ideal campaign in Timischburg and what I'd really do if I wanted to create a game that was open-ended and would potentially last for many months if not even possibly years.

I'd have to make a few assumptions, first.
  • 3-5 players is my ideal group size.  I'd probably not really enjoy a solo or even duo game, although I could pull it off in a pinch.  More than 5 and it starts to get too hairy trying to keep track of everyone in the group.  It's just not as much fun for anyone anymore.
  • This would be a potentially rather dark game with PCs that may skirt the line, on occasion, between anti-hero and actual villain.  At least, I've seemed to capture that vibe (whether because of something I'm doing, or just because of who I've played with) in the past, and I can run with it.  In fact, I rather quite enjoy it.  That said; dark is relative.  No creepy, pervy stuff.  But this is definitely a "hard PG-13" game, I think.
  • Characters may be a bit shady, and if not, they'll certainly have to dip their hands in some pretty shady business.  I said long ago, and I borrowed this verbiage more or less from Privateer Press's Five Fingers book, but it applies equally well to anything I run; there are three themes and most campaign-length games will alternate back and forth between them: crime and skulduggery, political intrigue, and horror.
  • As I say in the actual text of FANTASY HACK itself, I make no presumptions of a "balanced party"—in fact, I think assuming that there will be one and penalizing players, either passively or overtly, for not creating one, is a passive aggressive dick move as a GM.  Your job is to bring a campaign for the characters you've got.  As a corollary, I also make no assumptions that the party works well together.  I tend to enjoy the game most when they don't actually; when they're on the verge of screwing each other up royally rather than bringing A-game tactics and playing like a well-oiled machine.
All that said; how would I actually run the game?  Well... time for yet another list.

  1. Bring something like Chris Perkins' 3/24/2011 column "Point of Origin" for the characters to latch on to, if they so choose.  Along with the character ties rule in chargen, this means that I need players to make characters as the first "half" of the first session, but they'll be nicely tied to both the setting and to each other when we're ready to start.
  2. I'd have a bit of a minor railroad at the start.  In my experience, players rarely are capable of intelligently taking initiative for a session or two until they've managed to get their bearings in the game.  Give them something obvious to work with right off the bat.  This would be directly related to the early CULT OF UNDEATH events.
  3. Create two other plots.  I don't mean plot in the sense of novel or screenplay writing; I mean plot in the sense of "major impending problem that will be unable to be ignored.  Clues point directly to it, and mitigating actions can be taken, which is where the PCs come in."  Or, "NPCs causing big trouble that will collide with the probable course of the PCs."  But they provide the solutions; you just provide the problem.  For instance: the CULT OF UNDEATH problem is based on the secretive Black Path trying to steal one of old professor Alpon's amulets that can be used, along with human sacrifice (and of course, Alpon's daughter for various reasons is the preferred sacrifice) to open the vault under which Tarush is kept imprisoned under Grozavest.  Other ones might be: Jann pirates have grown increasingly bold on the coastal cities, and have razed some completely to the waterline.  Far from being a nuisance and mere raiders, they are now migrating to Timischburg, will burn Grozavest itself to the ground, and kill or enslave the inhabitants as they attempt to establish their own nation on the ruins of the one that stands here today. What is prompting them to move en masse from their homelands on the southern shores, anyway? Or, daemonologist heretics from the northwest are gradually loosening the bonds which hold a number of powerful daemons at bay outside of the world as we know it.  At first, only small daemons are able to slip through the tiny cracks, creating havoc in the north, but it's gradually going to get worse until a powerful Daemon Prince is able to come, which will bring about apocalyptic levels of devastation and suffering.  These are kinda cliche, but that's OK (it ain't broke) so put a twist on them.  
  4. These other plots will eventually get more development.  Clues to what's happening will start to pop up early on, and by the time we're three or four sessions in, the PCs should have all kinds of dangling hooks from which to choose and bite on.
  5. In addition to this, create a secret mystery or arc related to each character; something that is separate from the big stories, but which is important to the character.  Totally cool to work with the players on this; either because they picked an origin that you suggested, or because you're riffing off of an origin that they themselves created.  Start throwing clues of this out there too.
  6. Mix, rinse and spin.  You don't need a plan beyond this that stretches more than a session or two.  As you dangle clues and hints of things related to all of plots out there, the PCs will go whichever way they choose to go, and you are reacting to their actions rather than the other way around.  Create stuff that seems logical and predictable based on their actions.  Give them some big wins.  Give them pyrrhic victories.  Have them wallow occasionally in the agony of defeat.  Always make sure that stuff gets complicated, though.  Even the big wins will tend to have side effects, and even the worst defeat has a silver lining that can be taken advantage of to claw their way back into... something entertaining.
Anyway, that's the way I'd run this if I were actually running.  Which maybe I'll try to do.  Like I said recently, my old gaming group is too fragmented, too busy, too far apart—I don't think that's viable anymore.  But I've got a store not far that I can trawl for new players, and I can maybe come up with other alternatives too. First I just have to make sure that I'm not too busy to do it...

Dark•Heritage, Fantasy Hack and Cult of Undeath

How would I see each of these illustrations reflected in my ruleset/settings? (My ruleset is heavily informed by assumptions that are common to these settings, of course.)  Grabbing a few pics that recently fell across my hard drive.

Contrary to the high fantasy assumptions that are based on a Victorian (or at least Edwardian) morality, the pulps are almost gratuitous in their pandering to their audience.  Sexy women running around exotic settings, threatened by leering monsters who often want more than their lives, are saved by red-blooded, heroically masculine heroes that every woman swoons for in desire and every man yearns to be.  We need more scantily clad damsels in distress in any setting that uses FANTASY HACK as its rule base.  Those monsters are too weird to be woses or even werewolves; but they might be servitor daemons, extremely savage orcs, or most likely thurses.

There are few things scarier than a really bad woman, amirite?  The central character there is no doubt a sorcerous lich witch.  The champions around her seem to be wights; the one with the extra arms is really freaky, and should be represented by a wight with extra attacks.

This would be a pretty cool relatively difficult challenge for a group of higher level PCs.  A lich on her own would be a pretty difficult challenge, but three wights as reinforcements who arrive after a few rounds, including one with multiple arms, and then—what's that in the back, some kind of ghost?—round out the encounter by making the setting hazardous.  Steep staircases, high balconies, rotting superstructure that can collapse under the stress of combat, and haunts meddling with the PCs tactics... man, I'm already itching to run this baby, and come up with a brief backstory for this lich lady.

Ghoul sorcerers and a feral vampire riding on a fell ghast, attacking a sinking riverboat in a swamp... I don't even see anything that looks like PCs here, but I don't care.  It looks like there are chaos warriors there, which are of course a very Warhammer setting element, but it's hardly like powerful, daemonic black knights aren't a staple of all kinds of fantasy fiction.  I'd make them high level fighters, and then give them a few special abilities borrowed from the daemons, probably.

This would fit in quite well as a final battle in CULT OF UNDEATH, or as... well just about any relatively high level fight in any game or setting that uses FANTASY HACK.

Did I mention that we need more scantily clad damsels in distress?  I'm a little skeptical of the loin-cloth and pirate boots wearing barbarian (even if this is the cover to a pastiche Conan novel) because in real life, barbarians wore all kinds of leather and armor and other stuff like that, of course.    But whatever.  Some kind of crocodile or weird dinosaur, a water elemental (or even just a burst of water coming out of a tunnel) and holy crap, this would be fun.

I imagined Ketos as looking more like the Kraken from the new Clash of the Titans movie, but this would certainly work.  As an aside, I'm one of those guys who thinks that the textual evidence suggesting a "whiter" complexion for the aristocratic Greeks and Romans that lasted for centuries, if not millennia, before being swamped by the darker-haired Mediterranean people around them is almost impossible to ignore.  Then again, Andromeda was a "white Aethiopian"—not a Greek.  I've got Medusa in my monster list as well as Ketos, so this is a totally doable idea in FANTASY HACK.  As it should be.

RAWR!  This guy could pass muster as a thurse/sasquatch/gnophkeh, but he might be big enough that using ettin stats would be better.  And, again with the scantily clad damsel in distress!  You should look up fine art related to Perseus and Andromeda.  The poor girl is almost always naked according to the Renaissance and Romantic era artists.  Then again, I think they thought that the Greeks in particular just always ran around naked.

It's actually been a while since I regularly posted WAR pictures (although I posted a couple a few days ago).  I don't really have a ghost dragon per se.  I'd probably just make this a fell ghast.  In fact, I think that I like more and more the notion of fell ghasts being some kind of undead dragon—after all, they're based (loosely) on the terrorgheist model for Warhammer, which also doubles with a head swap and a few other details with the zombie dragon model.  So, all of these dracolich, zombie dragon, ghost dragon, etc. variants are all fell ghasts in FANTASY HACK.  As always, feel free to customize with a new special ability or two if you like, to make your version of the monster more exciting.  And I like the notion of crafting encounters themselves using a small, localized variant of the three act story structure; have this be the capstone of the encounter after the PCs have already been fighting undead creatures in a castle that's literally crumbling down on their heads, and suffused with some kind of necrotic pollutant that seeps through the walls like a cursed fog of some kind.

Although their inspiration was probably a little too on the nose, I couldn't resist adding ratmen, including rat brutes, to FANTASY HACK as an homage to the skaven and their rat ogres.  The Skaven are likely the best addition to the canon of fantasy by the Warhammer setting.  Although you've gotta admit that their chaos daemons are also really cool.  But since they're a hybrid of actual Judeo-Christian demons and Lovecraftian stuff, they're much less original.  Just very cool.

You'll notice that these pictures, if I'm using them to represent what I think a FANTASY HACK game—in any setting—should look like, that I'm clearly embracing a wahoo, gonzo, gratuitous exotica (and maybe even erotica) pulp aesthetic that no doubt the high fantasy tweed jacket and pipe smoking crowd would find vulgar.

Given that I consider The Lord of the Rings my favorite (by quite a long shot) work of fantasy fiction—or of any fiction, or even any literature, for that matter—it may seem surprising that I'm thinking of a much more pulpy feel for FANTASY HACK.  But then again, maybe not.  I've also said two things many times, which I'll repeat again here:
  1. I'm not old school, but I'm definitely old fashioned.  I don't like old rules, and I don't like the "pixel bitching" and dungeoncrawling paradigm of play.  But I very much do like the pulp fantasy inspiration that informed early D&D, even if it's just crass thud and blunder, than I do to modern pseudo high fantasy extruded fantasy product.
  2. Fantasy writers (or artists, or gamers, or any other creative type) would do well to recognize that Tolkien was a truly unique genius, and few can (or should) attempt to imitate him without having a bit more of his very unusual suite of talents and education, lest you want to come across as a cheap imitation.  Even other high fantasy guys who aren't modernized extruded fantasy product—and here I'm thinking of writers like Poul Anderson or Lord Dunsany, although there are plenty more to choose from—didn't try to sound like Tolkien (assuming that they post-dated him, which to a great extent they did not).  They did their own things based on mythology, Medievalist romances, etc.  So should you.

Star Wars is Dead!

Disney has killed Star Wars.  The word just hasn't quite gotten out yet.

In theory, it doesn't have to be dead dead—it's just in critical condition in the intensive care unit of the hospital.  It's possible to revive it and return it to health.  It's just unlikely, because Disney itself—and LucasFilm specifically too (even before the buyout by Disney)—is completely and totally unsuited and unwilling and unwitting when it comes to the solutions needed.

Instead, do your own thing (AD ASTRA) or read a "fork" of it (GALAXY'S EDGE) and let Star Wars go off into the sunset with a little bit of dignity.

Not saying that I won't still watch the movies when they come out.  But, I won't really expect much of them, or go beyond them at all anymore.

Friday, September 08, 2017

GMing advice

Well, I've now read the entire run of Ray Winninger's Dungeoncraft and the entire run of Chris Perkins' DM Experience.  I've done that before, mind you, but not in several years—and I was reminded of a number of cool things (the three act encounter structure, for instance, or Perkins' campaign ties as part of chargen.)

Now, just because, I'll read the Duets column, and I'll probably be overloaded on GMing advice for a time.  But I've been somewhat separated from the hobby for a little while, due to circumstances beyond my control, mostly (extreme real life busyness for everyone concerned.)

I'm thinking of popping by my local hobby store after I get back in town from my delayed backpacking trip (which will at least give me Colorado fall colors with spectacular aspens) and seeing about setting something up, with players that I can hopefully count on to meet regularly.  My old group, much as I enjoyed gaming with them, were not only too busy, but also too geographically separated and spread out. But I'd really like to put some of the techniques I was reminded of, plus the work that I've put into FANTASY HACK and CULT OF UNDEATH to use in a way that's not merely hypothetical.  (Some readers may also wonder what in the world happened to AD ASTRA too.)

Anyway, I guess there isn't really a lot of content here.  Here's links to the columns I'm specifically referencing, and I recommend you read them yourself too.  And speaking of AD ASTRA, the wonderful ersatz Star Wars Galaxy's Edge is due to get its fourth volume in your hands (or on your Kindle) next week.  If you still haven't taken the plunge, you're missing out on what is one of my absolute favorite series right now.  And if sword & sorcery is more your thing than space opera, just for the heck of it, I'll throw in a recommendation for For the Ashes of Ruin by Matthew D. Ryan.
I may also consider implementing some of the advice that I'd forgot about until rereading these columns directly into my CULT OF UNDEATH while there's still plenty of time to tinker with it too.  We'll see.