(a broadside)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dawn of Worlds: We are as gooooods

Four of us gathered together with only a pdf of the Dawn of Worlds rules set and a leaf of 15x15 paper, blank but for this outline (or a close variation of it).

That is, if you're interested, a modified drawing of a methane sea on Titan. I'm fond of using interesting natural/extraterrestrial shapes as map outlines.

First things first. As we were supposed to be gods creating this world in our respective images, we thought we'd go a little bit beyond the scope of the rules and give ourselves some spheres of influence. How we came to these spheres was created and decided by the lot of us, and quite neat in my opinion.

Dawn of Worlds divides the timeline into three ages. The First Age is largely land form creation and tends to be very long, with each turn being approximately 500 years. The Second Age is the big time civilization period, with each turn being approximately 100 years. The Third Age is the recent timeline, each turn being anywhere from 1 to 25 years.

We decided that, for the First Age, we would each randomly roll for two spheres of influence. We decided on eight spheres that we thought of as universal enough to be the basis for budding, prehistoric gods.


The combinations were . . . interesting. These were:

Light and Water
Nature and Darkness
Earth and Wind
Death and Fire

I rather liked how this turned out. These are not typical combinations for most gods you find out there. They do, however, set the imagination a'going as to what kind of world this is gonna be. Nature and Darkness? Man. That right there told me that the natural world is probably going to be at least slightly hostile and twisted.   Earth and Sky gives me the image of an Earth Mother sorta goddess. Light and Water? Would not have seen that coming, either. And, of course, Death and Fire (which was rolled up by none other than lil' ole' me). That...that's just awesome. Oh, the mind churns all sorts of wonders that could arise from that!

We would each bear these two spheres for the first age, keeping in "character" with our decisions as we forged the earth. More on that later.

At the turn of the Second Age, we decided each god would, in turn, decide upon a new sphere to give to him/herself. We appraised our actions of the First Age, the results being:

Light and Water and Change
Nature and Darkness and Conquest
Earth and Wind and Strength/Endurance
Death and Fire and Conflict

...it was a mean First Age.

The (highly tumultuous) Second Age came to end, and we decided to add a final sphere to our portfolios. This time, however, the other three gods would decide amongst themselves as to what would be an appropriate sphere. 

Light and Water and Change and Pride
Nature and Darkness and Conquest and Corruption
Earth and Wind and Strength/Endurance and Vengeance
Death and Fire and Conflict and Fertility

...yeah, the rest of the game wasn't much nicer, actually.

Stay tuned for an abridged version of the actual game play, and how we each earned these appellation. Feel free to guess in the meantime.

An Experiment in Collaborative Creation

     I often say to my players that, "if you don't tell me what you like, I'll give you what I like, which may be completely at odds with anything you're remotely into." Left to my own devices, I'm prone making campaign settings filled with needless amounts of historical background, scads of the walking dead, and overwhelmingly gloomy . . . 'cause that's what I'm into. I'm a fan of horror, history, pulp and shlock.

     I've had people go into one of my games, voicing no opinions as to what they'd like to see, and then have them become disinterested and/or drop the game because it wasn't what they were looking for. 

     While I will continue drawing up fantasy worlds at the drop of a hat and for my own pleasure, I've been inspired recently to engage in acts of collaborative world creation with prospective players. The animus for such an idea came from the Dawn of Worlds game (found here) and by the excellent Dogs in the Vineyard (found here).

     To nutshell it, Dawn of Worlds is essentially a game of world creation. You get together some friends (preferably people who'll be playing in this setting), pretend to be gods for a few hours, and use a turn based point system to build a world up from a blank map outline to a thriving campaign setting. A campaign setting where the players all know the history of the world. A setting where the players themselves have an emotional investment because they built a good portion of it. Dogs mainly inspires me here by way of its "say yes or roll dice" philosophy. Don't stifle player creativity because it may not fit into your image of things. It's their game, too, after all.

     A few weeks ago (sorry for the lack of updates, O my public), I introduced members of my university geek club to the idea. They chomped at the bit for an opportunity to engage in the experiment. I'll be making a series of posts recalling the results and the findings of the experiment shortly.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Origin of Species

In my mind, the idea of dozens of sentient species all sprouting up around each other on the same planet doesn't necessarily make a whole lot of sense. Look oat our own. Several precursors, several pretenders to our throne of dominance that we either ate or mated with, and we're the latter day result. Numerous racial divisions exist, but we are all homo sapiens. Bipedal, omnivorous mammals that have proven to be highly adaptable to whatever surroundings we happen to wander into. That's why humans are all over the damned map, even in otherwise uninhabitable areas. We're tough suckers with a stubborn streak a mile long. No other being on Earth comes close. Arts, crafts, language, thought, and society separate us from the beasts of the wild. We are alone on this blue marble.

Since we pretty much killed or humped our opposition into oblivion, it seems unlikely that other higher life forms would rise to the same level at the same time.  This also points to the idea that everyone "close" to doing so was of the same genus ( Homo erectus, Neanderthals, etc). Are "demi" humans just other homo species? That could make sense. Add magic to the mutation mix and I could see hominids splitting off into wild directions to match their environment. And that would explain why most look vaguely similar and why crossbreeding is possible. Using this idea, perhaps these could all come from the same planet and from the same common ancestor. 

But what of other sapients? Mind Flayers and aboleths and beholders and so on? Well, we can always make those bizarre aliens from deep space, no problem. Prehistorical monstrosities from beyond time and space make me happy, anyway.

Perhaps animal-human hybrids (like raven men (kenku), lizardfolk, frogfolk, etc) are the result of mad science. That would work. Again, it would explain why so many beast-men types are at least somewhat cosmetically similar to men. How many monsters are just 1/2 man and 1/2 other thing, anyway? Lots and lots and lots.

Still, in line with the likes of Conan, I like the idea that certain races are bizarre precursors, strange leftovers from a previous time. Ancient people who's civilizations are long fallen, who dwell in weird lands that eschew humanity. Yuan-ti and kuo-toa for a D&D example.

But, if the races are not so closely related, it would make sense if each races started on its own native world, where it evolved in just such a way to meet its own needs. Elfkin could hale from a light, airy world, low on gravity, clean, splendid, and bursting with magic. Dwarves could originate from a hostile high gravity world whose toxic surface forced them underground. The home world of the goliaths could be a vast, rocky land of thin air and unbelievably vast mountain peaks. Halflings could have originated on a small moon, fertile and forested, with enough bad things to encourage roaming and higher gravity to encourage short growth...or they're short to discourage giant beasties from eating them.

Halflings are the ewoks of D&D. Think about that.

I like both origin ideas. I like when things make some manner of logical sense, instead of "poof, a god did it." (Sure, I'm planning on creating such a setting with some people, but that's beside the point...) Sadly, both origins don't particularly work at the same time. Both explanations would, however, point a related campaign in a different direction, making for some interesting background material.

The first option (interrelatedness of humanoid sapients) leads me to think of an ancient, cosmopolitan world of super science. Ethics issues ("we've created all these beast folk and they're kinda pissed that we treat 'em badly...who knew?" "The warforged want rights again? Can't those jerks just be happy we give them jobs?"), religious issues ("If you made us, what is "god?") could arise. Truly ancient racial rivalries could arise, not unlike our own world.

Maybe civilization has risen only to fall again in a cycle so that the origins of each is shrouded in the annals a a lost Golden Age?

The second idea (otherworldly origins for all) points me towards a Star Wars like Spelljammer setting . . . or, perhaps the remnants of one. What are all these species doing on this one lonely planet? What happened to their home worlds? Did a doom of epic proportions befall the solar system? Did sudden competition for resources arise?

Both settings could have a Great Age. Both could just as easily lie in ruins. I do have a special fondness for ruining a perfectly good world . . . .

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

[RPG Blog Carnival] "What Inspires Your Games?"

From the very nice Campaign Mastery comes the titular topic of discussion.

Specifically, "what non-game media has inspired your game and how?"

While I can easily trot out any number of novels, fantasy and otherwise, or point to a  selection of films that I've filed free of their serial numbers, these don't have quite the depth of material to plumb as our world's own written history.

As a history major, I'm sure that I'm biased. However, the fact that our history is so chock full of madness, murder, and monstrosity, of political maneuvering, quid pro quo and backstabbing, that there is more than enough material to contribute to any number of campaigns from here to eternity.

Let no one tell you that history is boring. History is nuts. It's full of epic tales and heroes and villains, each one more brilliant or mad or zealous than the last.

Need a passionate leader to stir up the common man against rapacious nobility? Look no further than Father Hidalgo of old Mexico. I could probably put together an entire campaign from his history, changing only names and locations.

Need a setting? I like to mix various places from the past into a blender with another culture or a novel/film/lone idea and see what happens. For example, I had an idea that involved mixing Pre-Tzarist Russia and The Pirates of Dark Water. Instead of one vast rocky wilderness, break up the continent into a massive archipelago ruled by a horde of petty princes, where life is only worth a blood price, and replace the horsemen Mongol invaders with a massive fleet of pirates. Bam. Skeleton of an idea. Could be fun.

The plots and personalities of history can be skewed and reinvented in a practically infinite number of ways. I can and do appropriate history for settings, the people who live in those settings, their cultures, and the plots that drive them.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Formative Canon

My parents, bless 'em, were a lax sort in some ways. They didn't police my interests, religious views, or television/film viewing. They trusted me to see after myself in such things. Also, when I was a young fella, they were under the impression that, if something was animated, it was meant for kids. An idea which we of the Internet know is not remotely true.

Therefore, I was permitted to see and delve into a variety of strange things in my formative years that helped mold me into the goofily sardonic headcase that I am today.

Ralph Bakshi's Wizards is a far flung future Earth, millions of years after a nuclear holocaust. What remains of mankind are twisted abominations wracked with radiation. With mankind gone, the magical folk that ditched the scene after Technology won the world started waking up and engaging in lots of magical hippy activity. Two wizardly twin brothers are born, one a kind, handsome fellow, the other a hateful cadaver-lookin' sucker. Oddly enough, they end up wanting to kill each other. Happy bro turns to peace, love, and Magic, while Scary Spice turns to demons, Nazis, and Technology. That's right. Undead Nazis. I was watching undead Nazis kill elves and fairies and stuff at the age of three.

Hell yeah.

Sure, the underlying message is kinda head slapping, but the world is bizarre and captivating. It was an early example of walking dead folks, truly vile villains, and a rare fantasy world without humans mucking about.

The film version of The Last Unicorn was on a pretty constant rotation for me when I was a kid. I found the music catchy (because I dig 70s band America, apparently), and the animation was beautiful for the time. The company Lord Grade produced the film - they're mostly known for a bunch of holiday specials back in the day. They did their work in English, but they hired out Japanese animators. So this is some sort of quasi anime. Anyway, the all-star cast portray a fairy tale of the last remaining unicorn trying to find her sisters. She meets an incompetent wizard, Misses Lovette the witch, a sad ex-virgin, a handsome prince, and Christopher Lee being Christopher Lee. This one also features a sentient skeleton guarding a secret, demanding a bottle of wine before he'll give up his knowledge.

"But you're dead! You can't taste wine, can't smell it!"

"But I can remember . . . "

Ah, dead people.

It's a wistful, bittersweet film, and the novel is even more so. It is beautiful and sad - a world of crumbling magic and legends where "there are no happy endings, because nothing ever ends."

Ghostbusters. Film and cartoon. Dead people everywhere. The cartoon featured an Apocalypse episode and a Cthulhu episode (my first encounter with the big guy and one of my favorite episodes as a kid).

Add the Rankin and Bass animated version of the Hobbit and I think that about covers my formatives.

One of the greatest fantasy tales ever told, a bittersweet story about unicorns, a risque post apocalyptic fantasy, ghosts and snarky protagonists. Shows and films that I would watch over and over and over again.

Monday, May 31, 2010

On Fourth Edition and Girl Genius.

I didn't care for either when I first checked them out. However, time and circumstance has sent me back into the edition fray, and a lark brought me back to Girl Genius.

I've been doing this whole gaming thing for almost twenty years. I was leery about switching from my beloved AD&D 2nd edition and from the adored TSR in favor of those card pushing fancy boys over at Wizards of the Coast and their 3rd Edition. I remember standing in the local comic shop overhearing how higher AC was new nomenclature and being filled with righteous indignation. ( "No THAC0? What is this demonry!?" ) Feats? Double Bladed Orc axes? What is this crap?

I got over it. I got over it, adapted, blew the dust off of my Planescape Boxed set, picked up the fantastic Iron Kingdoms setting, and had many a good time rolling twenties and never shedding a tear for THAC0. Then . . . then 4e came out. Oh, the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Fortunately, I missed most of that nonsense. I don't think that the game somehow damages the role playing factor. Sure, the combat feels less like "this is my gentle slayer guy" and more like a a board game or, dare I say, HeroQuest, but everyone's more useful than before. I can't stand the new fluff, but that's easily remedied.

Besides the board game aspect, my biggest issue was the spirit of the PCs themselves.  The PC of 4e is set a world apart from the average person. Certainly, PCs in D&D have always been powerful, comparatively speaking, but the PC of 4e is downright superhuman. In 2nd edition, a 1st level mage was had only one spell per day and, after blowing that, was at the mercy of a lone kobold. Or a house cat. Or a stiff wind. Compared to earlier editions, the 1st level 4e wizard is a monster. At will powers that never go away, an encounter power that "refills" every encounter, AND a spell that can be cast every day. And a load of hit points to boot. The two just don't compare.

This, at first, was a turn off to me. Too much. Too much like World of Warcraft (cooldowns? the devil! harumph!), too much reliance on the map grid (slip sliding bollocks), too superhuman PCs.  The first two issues dissolved for me when I realized that, A, I use a map anyway and I should quit bitching, and (B), it's a different game. It's not 3.5. Things change. Don't be a conservative NeckBeard.  The superhuman problem, however, dangled over my sense of realism like that blasted blade that kept bothering that Damocles guy.

This is where Girl Genius comes in.

Girl Genius, if you aren't aware, is a delightful comic by the highly skilled Phil Foglio. He has created a wonderful world, parallel to our own, steeped in "Gaslamp Romance," which is similar to steampunk.  It's funny. It's weird. It's gold.  Now, how this ties in with 4e for me is that the power players of the world, called "Sparks," are, in every way, superior to the common man. They command respect.  They are ridiculously powerful. They have massive egos. They are also targets, both socially and politically. To the Powers that Be, they are problems. These are the people that would be kings. If there's a powerful Spark in town, the local lord is gonna be falling all over himself to cajole, control, or kill this upstart, because there's a good chance that the new guy is gonna wreck the local lord's shit. They are the Big Damn Heroes. Or Big Damn Villains, whatever the case may be.

Interesting. Immediately, since everything apparently comes back to gaming, 4e came to mind. This, to me, frames how I should be looking at Fourth Edition. The PC is the equivalent of a Spark. A Grecian Hero. A mover and a shaker who will, if he lives, soon have people wanting to be on his good side, sliding a knife into his back, or writing incredibly puffed up and ribald operas exploring his exploits.

Thanks for the idea, Mr. Foglio.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Seriously. Wherefore Elves?

The more I think about it, the monster races are so much more keen than the ye standards. I'd rather have a party of kobolds, kenku, lizardmen, half giants, and, of course, the walking dead than yet another enigmatic elven archer or a halfling burglar.   Or kender. Man, #$%^ a kender.

Think about it. You're a member of a race that has, since time immemorial, engaged in raids and counter raids with each other and other humanoids( I'm going with a Dungeoncraft-like assumption of fantasy being similar to the Grecian classical age, here. ). Not only that, but your defenses are routinely toppled not by armies, but by teams of five people. After a while, it might seem like a good idea to integrate with polite society. Society evolves, after all.

I think it'd be more interesting to integrate "monstrous" humanoids into the cosmopolitan society of the Prime Material Plane along with, even instead of, the standard races. Kobold families running combination donut shop and security kiosks. Minotaur bouncers. Gnoll woodsmen earning an honest living for once. Or maybe dishonest . . . just like everyone else.

Worked for Iron Kingdoms. Worked well, too. Sure, they kept elves and dwarves (and made them very rare on the mainland, might I add), but added goblins and their own versions of trolls and ogres. These guys face heavy prejudice and are often relegated to ghettos and specific job types. Interesting stuff. Could see integrating that into a game for other monsters. May give it a shot, soon.

Wherefore Elves?

Or Halflings for that matter? 

Oh, wait. Tolkien. 

Look, I know that the standard array of fantasy races (dwarves, elves, halflings, orcs n goblins) have permeated a great deal of fantasy games and literature. Yes, yes, we all owe a great deal to the Oxford prof, but come on. We're allowed to outgrow our predecessors. 

I firmly believe that the inclusion of the Tolkienesque races in fantasy is a self perpetuating "sin of our fathers." Tolkien did it, it was successful and iconic so his followers did it, then their followers, etc. The fathers of role playing didn't particularly help, either, nor did the league of authors who've rolled d20s over the past 30 years.

Much like that blasted Star O' Texas, these races are all over the bloody place. Why? What do they add? Do they need to be in this or that setting? If they're included, must they be parrots of what Tolkien hath wrought? Certainly, there are plenty of examples of these races being twisted about in unexpected directions (I'm looking at you, Dark Sun), but they are, by and large, very similar to the source material.

Elves, man. Always enigmatic. Always hanging out in trees. Always immortal and beautiful and hippy dippy love ptewy. I own more than my fair share of tie dyed shirts, but, seriously guys, must every non-evil elf go out and hug a tree for Jesus? Or Corellon, or whoever? I understand that Terry Pratchett's elves are twisted as all get out, but I haven't read enough of the poor bugger's work to know. Perhaps I'll start.

The only recent retelling of elves that I found to be refreshing came from a book called . . . I don't remember. It wasn't very good. Modern urban fantasy type story. The only good parts were a wonderful depiction of a troll (a thing made of fleshy ropes that could absorb its victims) and the alps. Or the alphs. Elves in this story were terrible, horrible, evil, vicious, murderous bastards that would just as soon eat your eyes out of your face as give you the time of day. Nightmare creatures. The elves of real life folklore were often terrible monsters. The elves of Ireland, for example, were capricious villains. There's a story about how a group of them captured the hero's girlfriend, and made him undergo a trial to free her that involved him hugging the woman while she was turned into a series of awful, noisome things over and over again. If he let go, she'd be lost forever. That's . . . messed up. That'd be different. That'd be interesting.  

Dwarves are slightly different. Why? Dwarves are awesome, that's why. I, myself, am a very tall dwarf, so perhaps I'm biased. Still, the depiction is usually the same. Stalwart, dour warrior-craftsmen that build huge cities under mountains. Could use some work. I'm on it.

Halflings. These...these are a Tolkien thing. C'mon. You're a hobbit. Don't lie. By and large, I think we can do without these guys. Gnomes are more interesting, anyway. Was there an Adventures of David the halfling? No. No there was not. David the Gnome was fantastic and, pointy hat withstanding, I think gnomes are superior to those furry footed bastards in every way.*

I'm always looking for ways for making the standard races more interesting, so perhaps I'll post some ideas.

Oh, oh, oh, also!  What's with this whole crossbreeding thing? These aren't really different races so much as species, after all. And why is it that humans can only interbreed with elves? IE: The Hot ones. Fetish fuel, that's why. We wanna do the elves. That's what it boils down to. It's speciest exploitation, I tell you.

"But Creeps! What about half-orcs?" Man, don't get me started. Orcs are a complete Tolkien construct and, except for the awesome orcs/orks of Games Workshop, are terrible. As for half orcs, the exploitation is still there, but in a much darker realm. They're rape-babies, guys. Uncool. 4e can make its stupid assertion of half orcs being their own race of "mysterious origins," but we all know what's up. In any case, I don't generally dig the idea of inter species lovin' making a half breed that, itself, can breed. Doesn't make sense to me. Unless all these mystical, magical, super duper races are closer to humans than anyone would like to admit. 

Oh, hi Shadowrun.

*Can I contribute to Gnome Stew, now? :D

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gnosticism - So What?

Good morning, folks!  Here's where my lack of a philosophy degree, and my complete rejection of meaningless gobbledygook, will come in handy:  Playing the Devil's Advocate.

Recently, your GM threw out some ideas about Gnosticism, and its role in the fantasy worlds of games.  I will be the first to admit that the idea of a game where the protagonists have acquired an ability to tear through the illusion of the world and enter into the "real world" sounds really interesting.  I think we all have the desire to see "through" what can sometimes be a turd of an existence we've been dealt, to see the "real" world, because this one just sucks too hard sometimes to be all we've got.

There's the rub, though.  In the real world, the Gnostics would never be able to truly see Reality.  They would spend what little time they have on this planet rejecting what is around them plainly out of fear, while questing madly and convincing other innocent beings to join their hunt for the Better Reality.  I think we all know what happens when we spend our entire lives looking for Something Better.  (Hint: You don't generally find it)

Enter the fantasy realm, then.  Sure, it would be neat to have a Matrix-type game (with more a fantasy element than the technological element, if I may be so humble as to make a request).  But while there would be battle sequences against whatever embodiment The Archons take in that setting, most of your game would be focused around trying to get other people to join you.  The Preaching Game.

I can see it now:
Player1: I roll to convince the Tavern Wench that I have seen The Truth and she should come with me tonight so she may see it, too.

GM: Hm.  All right, what's your Proselytize score?  Make a check.

Player1: I have a 7 in it.  And I rolled a 12, so 19.   Good enough?

Player2: Don't forget, he's been drinking, so he's going to have a Reputation penalty.

GM:  *snorts* Oh, yeah, and this is the same wench from the night before when you tried to convince her that the ale was all a sham, so she might as well give it to you for free.  Yeah, sorry, not good enough.  The wench rolls her eyes and mutters something about alerting the local parishioners about your heresy and poor taste in pickup lines.

The battles would be inconsequential except to keep living.  Unless you set it up in such a fashion that you battle the Archons and eventually the False Creator and manage to make the whole world fall apart around the innocents who had no idea they were being lied to.

...And then what?  Do you think they're going to be happy?  You'll have to run for your frickin' lives because you will have ultimately created a mob scene and ruined millions of livelihoods with your "help."  And I find that truly hilarious, so maybe it should be looked into, after all.

All things considered, you're going to find that the Gnostics were kind of a wacky fringe-cult of Christianity for a reason:  Most people are pretty content accepting what's in front of them.  Sure, they may want a better job, more money, a hotter wife, etc., but very few people are so paranoid and upset with how things are that they would be willing to drop everything and seek out the Really Real Reality with you.  And even if you could prove that the RRR was true and the False Reality was what everyone in the world was experiencing, I would wager that the majority of people would tell you, "That's all well and good, but I've already got my life figured out in this reality and would rather not start over in the new one."

That's my 2cp.

~The Wife~

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Even More Old Time Religion: Gnosticism!

As far as I can think, gnosticism is untouched in the wonderful world of sword and sorcery. While you can do a search and find enough about gnosticism to choke a heretic, I'll go over a nutshell version for the post.

  1. There is a remote divinity.
  2. This divinity emanates the divine, creating other lesser divine beings.
  3. A lesser god, called the demiurge by some (and by me), is the creator of the world and all matter. Depending on whom you talk to, it can be either
    1. Well meaning but stupid.
    2. Insane.
    3. A tyrant jerk.
Now, this demiurge guy is probably gonna create himself some henchmen. Archons, they call 'em. They're basically angels/demons . . . servants of his will that set out to keep mankind in the dark.

     4.  The world, therefore, is the flawed product of a fake god and a sad replica of the true reality. Kinda like a painting compared to the real object. Maybe the fingerprinting of a five year old, say.
     5.  Some of the divine element (ooh, that's an idea...) fell to earth, lodged in us poor humans. That divine spark can be returned to the truly divine through a divine awakening.

I'm guessing that you've seen the Matrix. The Matrix is a pretty spot on piece of science fiction gnosticism.

The Really Real World is hidden, with the world everyone is familiar with is a construct.
The Machines are the demiurge.
The Agents are the Archons.

Neo is a gnostic hero, aware of both worlds and trying to show folks the way to regain the Truth and ditch their material world. Jesus could be said to be a gnostic hero.

Gnostic themes show up all over the place in Hollywood, not least of all The Matrix. Think about it. How many films have you seen that involve a big phony covering a greater truth? Artificial environments and the hero struggling against them? Pan's Labyrinth? Dark City?

I think these ideas can see a great deal of use within a campaign, or even as a central idea of a campaign. You could have all manners of factions who are basically after the same thing but using different methods . . . just like reality. Man, gnostic cults were awesome.

The cult of Pythagoras divided things between the material and the mathematical. The universe is mathematical harmony and the material world is merely an expression of ratios, geometry, etc. What if the Truth was mathematical? Imagine a number cosmology. The modrons come to mind.

The Ophites worshiped the serpent in the garden of Eden, normally seen as an evil entity, as a bringer of knowledge.

Cainites worshiped Cain, as well as Esau and the Sodomites. Indulgence in sin was key to salvation, since the body, being matter, is evil. One must throughly defile it through immoral activity.

Borborites were bizarre libertines, didn't acknowledge God as supreme (though they were into the Old and New Testament). They believed in 8 heavens, each ruled by a separate Archon. Their rituals were highly, highly sexualized, sometimes to the point of high creep factor.

The possibilities are endless. What is Truth in your world? Who/What is the False Creator? What roles do the Archons play, and what are they?  Going from that, imagine the different ways your gnostic style followers could seek the Truth of the Divine Spark and how they would all differ from one another.

Imagine the basic D&D cosmology using this system. Making the prime material plane slightly analogous to our world, consider that these gods would be worshiped as normal, but there are also dozens of heretical organizations that view them as pretenders to the throne.  I guess that's basically how 4e would do it, actually. The Primordials are the real gods, the known gods their flawed, perhaps accidental, creations. Hm.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Iron Kingdoms may not be the best choice.

I'm sad to say it, but IK is a significant twist away from standard D&D. I love the game, but I don't think someone new (or returning) to the hobby, someone who lacks some experience with War Machine, would have quite the grasp upon it. I suppose that I'll keep it shelved for the time being, hopefully to bring it back in time. Sad face.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Wait, wait, wait.

You know what would be awesome? Iron Kingdoms using the Savage World system. Man.

More Old Time Religion

In further discussion of the nature of RPReligion, how's about ancestor worship? This particular brand of religion comes up every once in a while, maybe as a single race or otherwise small population (eg: the dwarves of Iron Kingdoms). When you get down to it, you could very easily make an entire campaign out of such a religious view.

Come to think of it, you could probably use any of these alt religion ideas to create a campaign. I'll go reexamine the atheist version, sometime . . . maybe make a post to collect all the alts and create settings around them. Hm.

So, let's go ahead and say there's either no gods or no known gods. Maybe they ran off for somewhere nicer. Maybe they just don't interact with the world . . . like a really bad game of Populace.

In a world where the only beings worshiped are one's ancestors:

  • Would they grant divine power to your clerics? Is that power dependent on the potency of your ancestor, ancestors, or your house?The most powerful houses having the greatest share of magic prowess?  Could anyone draw such power (albeit weaker) from a lesser house?  This would mean that being dead in and of itself grants some measure of power.
    • Would they really be clerics? Wouldn't they be more like temple guardians, or some sort of special attendant that enforces your household's honor, since the idea of standard churches don't really factor into things, anymore.
      • Or do they? Would especially great families have whole churches dedicated to their ancestors?
  • The Underworld would certainly become a factor.
    • Would such a place be an "As Above, So Below" situation (like Exalted), where the Underworld is a bizarre carbon copy of the Really Real world. Perhaps the Underworld would be a place where the dead themselves are powered by the honor that their descendants bestow upon them? That would make the above ideas a circular system.
    • Would there be an Underworld at all? Perhaps The dead dwell upon the world itself, "living" in cemeteries and family mausoleums (and temples), just kinda hanging out? Imagine a singular place where all of your ancestors sit around and chat with each other for eternity.
      • Can't fathom them all liking one another...hell, I don't even like everyone in my immediate family, I can't imagine liking everyone in my family throughout all time.
      • This also paints a sorrowful vision of folks who don't get themselves a proper burial. 
    • Perhaps, instead, ancestors dwell in family artifacts? Maybe your family founder dwells within a special weapon that has been wielded by every male member of your family since time immemorial. (Pressure!)
  • Such a place would have a special relationship with the undead.
    • These worlds would basically be haunted by a vast number of ghosts, when you think about it. These would not be scary ghost, really, what with everyone being quite used to them. Unless, maybe, you did something to piss one of 'em off. 
      • Sucks to be you.
    • I like to think of the undead as either Cursed, Created, or Pissed Off. In this setting:
        • Creating undead abominations intentionally, stealing the spirits of loved ones and using their holy vessels as zombie work horses would be a particularly heinous crime. Blasphemy of the highest order. 
        • Going back to the poor sods who manage to get offed far away from home and otherwise improperly buried, such spirits could rise to walk the earth as deadly apparitions of horror and badness, cursed to wander the world/area in which they died until such a time as their proper burial. The Hungry Ghosts of Asia come to mind. Perhaps a potent curse could tear oneself away from the ancestral cycle, cutting you off from your family for all time unless a certain condition was met. All sorts of ideas could arise, here. 
          • Heh. Arise.
        • Getting your family pissed off at you would be a bad, bad deal. Poltergeisting could be a problem. Also, good grief do you not want to cheat on your spouse in such a setting. Oiwa of Japanese legend comes to mind. Yeesh. 
          • Getting someone else's family pissed at you could blow, too. Maybe your slight must be avenged, death be damned. I can see 
    • Grave robbing would be a risky, risky job, man.
      • Sucks to be you.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Plate

It's summer time, and I'm itching to roll some dice..

Now, among my flaws lies the Devil Indecision. The little blue gimp perches upon my shoulder, battling its own shoulder-gimps over what sort of advice to offer in this or that situation. I talk to my people, he talks to his people, whole lotta nothing gets done.

Also, I have this silly notion about "making everyone happy," and thus having other people pick/make suggestions. It turns out that most people have shoulder gimps. Or an Invisible Uncaring Spirit. Both are wicked and problematic for my neuroses.

So, I try to limit my options. Lay out a limited selection and go from there.

Fortunately, one game is already set. I'll be running a Savage Worlds Realm of Cthulhu game on Google Wave for some old friends Back East. To capture the pulpy feel of SW (as opposed to the "you're just a sad sack of crap" feeling I get from Chaosium's system), I'm having the game take place in the early-mid thirties, and follow an Indiana Jones type setup. Miskatonic archaeologists go on a trek to discover ancient artifacts, encounter angry natives, occultist Nazis, and ye liveliest evils have themselves a two fisted adventure.

The real life games are a touch more complicated. I have a wide group of players to work with, and I haven't played a game with most of them. I'm the kinda guy that likes to know what I'm getting into before I jump into the DM chair, but, since I haven't run a game in years, I'm starved for the manna of GMitude.

I've so far whittled the selection down to:

  • 3.5 Iron Kingdoms. Some of my potential players are familiar with the world due to the war game WarMachine, so that's a bonus. It's one of my very favorite D&D settings, filled with a non-standard fantasy milieu, steam punk, and undead pirates.  It may be too complicated for folks new to the hobby, however.
  • Savage Worlds: Deadlands: Reloaded. SW is great for people who lack time, and, with so many folks having family obligations, it mightn't be a bad game to teach to folks. Also, it's awesome. Also also, Deadlands is a fantastic setting . . . a spaghetti western with meat.
  • Warhammer Fantasy: Another twisted fantasy world. I'd probably end up using Savage Worlds instead of the setting's rules, as I find SW suitably gritty (one hit kills entirely possible), yet also quite elevating. WHFRP starts you off as a nobody. If you're really unlucky, you could be a homeless vagrant with almost nothing to your name. I love the setting, but I think SW would be able to satisfactorily convey the setting's feel.
  • And, if that doesn't suffice, there's always good ole fashioned D&D with Dave Arneson's Blackmoor as the setting du jour.

Good intros, I'd say.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Digging Up My Top Ten

  1. Iron Kingdoms (by me for the TBS Clan)
  2. Abyssal Exalted (me for the Torry Village People)
  3. GURPS Marvel Super Heroes (Glen)
  4. Firefly (Matt)
  5. Planescape (me for the Torry Village People)
  6. Solar Exalted/Rathess (me for the Torry Village People)
  7. Star Wars (Glen)
  8. All Flesh Must Be Eaten (Dragon*Con)
  9. Warhammer Fantasy RP (Ed)
  10. Eberron (Bob)
*Special Late Runner Up: Savage Worlds Pulp Adventure (Ed) Remembered at last minute.

I'm not sure of the years. All took place within a four year period after my First College Experience (2003-2007), after I came home to Pensacola and started hanging out at the local comic book shop. Halcyon times, friend.

I doubt this is a perfect list. My memory is nothing if not flawed. I know there were a great deal of games that were bandied about during this relatively short period, but most quickly petered out. These are the ones that stick out the most . . . which, I guess, is the point of the exercise.

First thing I notice is that almost half of the games have me as the GM. I apparently have quite the opinion of myself. I have come to discover that I prefer running games to playing in them. As a former actor, GMing allows me to play bunches of roles instead of just one. Indeed, the power of creation is a euphoric experience. Maybe one of these days I'll go over how I look at table top gaming as a form of theater. Back on point, there's also the issue that, as a player, I'm prone to being a wallflower.

Yet, in those five games I played in, two were awkward guys in the background. My character in the super hero game was quiet, but by no means a bystander. The Dragon*Con game had me hamming up the table. My engineer in Firefly was . . . a lunatic. What this is telling me is that I really, really don't like being a wallflower. I want to have my moments center stage. Games where I create some forgettable nobody are forgettable. Huh. Hadn't really thought of that.

Four d20/D&D games, three Exalted games, one GURPS, one WHFRP, one AFMBE. 

I like d20 (3.5) games. Flawed though the system may be, I find it to have a somewhat natural flow. It's easy to pick up, easy to roll with. Something everyone knew how to play. It's still my preferred iteration of the D&D game, though I may borrow some material from 4e to make the older game more hearty.

Exalted is fantastic. Though fourteen dozen jokes could be made about the fistfuls of dice, the world is a pure delight. Mixing Greek and Asian myth and history into an over the top anime world works incredibly well. You are a big damned hero (or big double-damned villain) dealing with big damned deals. The setting is and feel truly epic. I regret leaving my pounds and pounds of books back in Florida. I'd be nice to run another game. Or be in one.

GURPS. I...yeah. That one was character and plot driven. I don't like the system.  Savage Worlds is mostly light and simple, whereas GURPS strives to be simulationist. I found the rules to be clunky. Next time, when it comes to generics, make mine Savage Worlds.

I have nothing for or against All Flesh Must Be Eaten. It's a specific system for a very specific genre. Again, I'd just assume use Savage Worlds for a zombie apocalypse.

Firefly was almost similar to a proto-Savage Worlds. To be honest, I hadn't even seen the series, yet.

Warhammer Fantasy holds a special place in my heart. It's like a ye typical fantasy game, but . . . dirty. Grimy. Unhealthy. The setting waxes from filthy, gritty, and horrific all the way to a jolly goofiness (read: Orcs) and gallows humor. As a history major, I like how it takes a version of the Holy Roman Empire and makes no attempt to "High Fantasy Up" the setting so that you, the player, are fully aware that the middle ages were a time of disease, brutally quick death, and people dumping their effluvia out into the streets.  

What I see about these games that really made the really special ones special were the great characters, the people that played them, and how people worked together to create a feeling of life within the setting. I ran with two separate groups, mostly, and both groups could work like well oiled machines of plotting and playing. The GM/Player contract was well observed.

Also, as a final note, two of these were evil games. Both of those were with the Torry Village People; the most sadistic bunch of hooligans with whom I've ever rolled dice. They are the only folks I've ever had play evil and not only play it well, but have the group work together like a true syndicate. No real backstabbing. No traitorous intent. Everyone worked together for the Greater Bad. They took the premises they were presented with, grasped the reins and propelled their story forward without me having to step in. I think a good evil game should be proactive (instead of reactive, like most heroic games), and blackest hell were they effective at coming up with their own plots. I salute you guys. You horrible, horrible people, you.

Atheism in Gaming?

A few nights ago, I had a writing fit within my moleskin, mulling over the nature of religion and how it functions in fantasy settings. I've been trying to come up with a structured method to present this information. I've come to think my frenzied midnight notes should suffice.

"Religion in a fantasy setting.

  • Necessary?
  • Overdone
  • Like Earth's gods of myth, they often interact with/war with one another. 
  • Unlike RL, fantasy gods are often demonstrably real.
    • Grant keen powers.
    • Walk the earth like they own the place.
    • Dirt common in fantasy. Too common? 
What are the benefits of gods in a fantasy setting?
  • Adds richness to the world
  • Interesting creation myths
  • Conflict!
Hell, what would the Vikings be without such awesome gods as Thor and Odin? Without Loki to ruin things? What 
kind of warriors would they be if the warrior didn't care to earn his way into Valhalla?

I'm not saying fantasy religions are bad. Far from it. But, how about alternatives?

Worlds Without Gods.
  • Not very common in fantasy gaming. Athas (Dark Sun) is the only example I can think of.
    • But, even then, people still worship. The elements themselves are revered, as well as the sorcerer kings that rule the various city states.
      • This supports my idea that "if there are no gods, men will create them."
  • The Star Wars Universe, other than a few local deities that are rarely spoken of, has no major gods.
    • Still, they have the Force, which practically replaces gods in terms of religious faith.
In closing, I think a setting without any gods or faith is missing out. I don't necessarily think that such a setting would be worse, but I think it'd be lacking a fair amount of color and conflict. Why remove something that adds so much difficulty (and aid) to day to day life? Could you imagine if the gods of Forgotten Realms were just abstract constructs?"

Not very clean, but to the point. I'll get this whole blog writing thing down, eventually.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

What's Up With the Name, Anyway?

Resurrectionists, Grave Robbers, Body Snatchers. Subjects of such films as I Sell the Dead. Gentle folk what dig up stiffs, rifle through the deceased's grave goods, and then sell the corpse for medical research.

Everyone wins!

So, why the name choice? I'm a fan of dead people. Big fan. Ever since my early youth, I've had a thing for creep factor and ambulatory corpses. Blame Disney. No, really. Disney's Skeleton Dance, The Old Mill, and Night on Bald Mountain from Fantasia. The Nightmare Before Christmas came out right around the first time I played Dungeons and Dragons. All are delightful and creepy. Ghosts, ghouls, and zombies have thereafter been a constant companion. Gave me a fondness for classical music, too.

My players curse my fondness. Dead folks tend to worm their way into my games, making the lives of the PCs much less pleasant.

Furthermore, I rejoice in gloom. Nothing makes me quite as a happy as a steel grey sky and a rain shower. Gallows humor tickles my sensibilities. This is not to say that I reject the pleasant. I like to mesh the two. The happy and the heinous. The horrible and the adorable. Adorahorrible. This dual aesthetic is my motif. Skulls and smiley faces.

So, the name. Those who dig up graves bring rotten things to light. It's their livelihood, their "thing." I like a bunch of rotten things, with different meanings. The walking dead. Horror (and gloomy fantasy) genres. Terrible movies. I want to dig these things up and share them with you.


A Fairly Muddled Statement of Purpose

     I've been wanting to start a blog for a while, now. The only problem was/is that I have this anxiety that I have nothing worthwhile to say. Fear of failure is my greatest weakness, and is the bastard that has prevented me from doing any serious or consistent writing on, well, anything. That could be said to be my first purpose: to write. Write to write. To get out there and actually put something to "paper" and train myself to leak my thoughts out of my ears and into my fingers and splatter it all over the blank canvas of the moment. Cue the training montage from...anything, really.

     As to the actual nature of the blog, I had discussed the idea of using this as a free writing exercise, but figured that alone would be dreadfully boring. Or, at least, incomprehensible. Perhaps I should mix in my interests. Of course, in a free writing exercise, wouldn't my interests come through, anyway.

     I've been a gamer for sixteen years, starting with AD&D 2nd edition. My earliest gaming memory is sitting at the rear of Mr. Wolf's science class, my pasty compatriots crowding my desk. Hidden within, my Monster Manual dangles halfway out onto my lap, turned to the "Dragon, Copper" entry. The beast had just "appeared" to the players, who now had to kill it. Cause that's how that works, right?

     From there, RIFTS. RIFTS rocked as a teenage boy. Kitchen sink, over the top, guns guns guns, MEGADAMAGE. It was like playing a gory Saturday Morning Cartoon produced by Michael Bay. Outgrew that.

     Warhammer came and comes and goes. Money, money, money. The RPG is a delightful mess.

     Zooming through the years, I spent a good deal of time running and playing in various different games. Mostly D&D in the myriad campaign settings that TSR had out back in the day.

     Call of Cthulhu introduced me to HP Lovecraft (and the pulps in general), not the other way around.

     Later teenage years and angst lead to White Wolf games (of course). Good times, weird people, bleak horribleness.

     Then college part 1, then madness, then adrift, then back.  Then The Comic Book Shop.

     The world itself reopened to me. Wargames, Exalted, Deadlands, Savage Worlds, superhero role playing games, on and on. Halcyon days of a military melting pot filled with new ideas, new fondnesses, new games, new roots. I'll try damn near anything at least once. Give me a table and some good folks, good times should ensue.

     Now, here I am in Texas at UT Dallas, forming new contacts and preparing to play new games. That's another purpose: Talk about the evolution of my gaming experience in this grand quasi-new Texas adventure.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Less Than Fortuitous First Outing

Frank Frazetta
February 9, 1928 – May 10, 2010
Rest well, good sir.

Start a new blog and a modern legend of SF and fantasy artwork shuffles off this mortal coil. Well done, me.

I can't begin to eulogize the man. Never met him. I can say, however, that his exquisite artwork has done so very much to give life and form to the literary genres and hobbies that I and others enjoy. His men were meaty, his women were voluptuous, and his creep factor was delightfully unpleasant. His depiction of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Cimmerian is nothing short of iconic. Godspeed, sir.