To celebrate, here is my favorite adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Other Gods”.
To celebrate, here is my favorite adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Other Gods”.
I’ve been reading a collection of King Arthur stories called The Pendragon Chronicles.
Perhaps no mythology has been as pervasive to the western world than the Arthurian mythos, in no small part thanks to Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. However what isn’t as well realized is that Arthur’s tales are a melange of stories drawn from a wide array of people over several centuries, a body of work that continues to expand today. The Pendragon Chronicles gives readers a chance to read some of the less-common stories, from both modern and historical sources, as well as a glimpse at the history surrounding them.
One particularly useful resource is the Dramatis Personae section, which provides not only a description of the characters but also some of the myriad spellings of their names. For example, Arthur’s foster-brother Kay is known for his, “bad humor and sour temperament,” but in earlier stories he was a more heroic knight. He has also been known as Kai, Cai, Cei, and Quex. Everyone knows of Sir Lancelot, but Sir Dinadan, known for his humor and quick wit, appears in far fewer tales. Another less well known is Sir Palomides, a Saracen and Knight of the Round Table.
It’s worth noting that Sir Palomides is a person-of-color, one of Arthur’s greatest knights, and first appeared in the stories in the 13th century. Huzzah for diversity!
There isn’t a story in the book that I haven’t enjoyed, though I do like the older stories more than the modern ones. Contemporary writing conventions humanize the characters, delving into their psyche and exploring their motivations. Normally I’m fine with that, but when it comes to the Arthurian stories I want the old style where the characters are larger-than-life archetypes and superheroes of the medieval world.
My favorite story by far has been the first tale in the book, Chief Dragon of the Island. Written by Joy Chant in 1983 it’s an adaptation of the history of Arthur from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th century History of the Kings of Britain. This makes it simultaneously one of the newest and oldest tales in the book.
It’s also one of the most unconventional takes on Arthur that I have read, more mythic than the standard versions. In this tale Igerna (Igraine) is the wife of Duke Gorlis who has imprisoned her in a remote castle with a guard of women warriors. He fears a prophecy saying her son would kill him.
In another change from what we are familiar with, Uther Pendragon is not a man, he is something else. Something ancient and godlike, probably of the Tuatha de Danann. Uther uses his own magic to impersonate Gorlis and deceive Igerna, making her pregnant with Arthur. He also uses his powers to hide her pregnancy so that Gorlis cannot slay her until after Arthur is born. Thus Arthur is portrayed as a demi-god, making this tale a fusion of Christian and Pagan beliefs.
Further evidence of his divine nature is shown in this passage describing how the prophecy was fulfilled:
“The fire where the afterbirth had been cast had burned down, and out of the eggs broke a worm. The worm ate the shell of the egg and the ashes and embers of the fire, and it grew to the size of a lizard, then of a cat, then of a hound, then of a horse; then it spread its wings and rose into the air. The dragon sped down to the beach, and found Gorlas coming up from it. It swooped over him and enveloped him in its fiery poisonous breath, so that he smothered and scorched in it, and so died.”
-The Pendragon Chronicles, pg. 13
Slain by a dragon born of your child’s afterbirth. That’s harsh.
In later years the young Arthur is taken by Merdyn (Merlin) to a magical island. There he meets and falls in love with Morgen, also daughter of Uther and Igerna, and the two become lovers. Arthur does not know they are siblings but indications are that Morgen does. Like her father Morgen has a different view of sexuality that the Christian Arthur.
Arthur proceeds to the hall where he is armed with his father’s sword Caledvolc (Excalibur), “That sword would draw blood from the wind, it would divide the thought from the word.” Uther also provides Arthur with a cloak of invisibility, as well as a horse and hound of unparalleled size and skill.
It is only upon leaving that Arthur learns that Uther is his father and Morgen his sister. He rejects Morgen, considering their love a deep sin. Morgen does not understand his beliefs and curses Arthur for his rejection, saying he will know no peace with women until he returns to her arms.
There are other major differences between Chief Dragon of the Island and the Arthurian tales we know so well, such as Guinevere being the daughter of a giant. In many ways it’s a far more primal and certainly more pagan legend, while at the same time it keeps the chivalric qualities we associate with later Arthurian stories.
There are many stories in The Pendragon Chronicles that make it worth tracking down, but Chief Dragon of the Island alone makes it worth the effort.
They have shut up and taken my money.
I now have the Sentinels of the Multiverse app for my iPad and it is excellent. I don’t have a lot of experience with board-to-iPad conversions for games, but I have a great deal of experience with Sentinels of the Multiverse, and this conversion feels great.
The graphics are straight from the game, the music is good without being obtrusive and the sound effects are nice. The interface does a good job of keeping track of everything that happens in a Sentinels game and thankfully they made sure you can double tap cards at just about any time to review them. This is particularly handy because some cards put into play vanish from the screen a little too fast to read, so being able to review them is essential. One particularly clever addition is that with each phase of the game it reconfigures the screen by “turning the page” giving it even more of a comic book feel. Another nice touch is that the pictures of the heroes and villains show increasing amounts of battle damage as the game progresses.
Currently the game encompasses all the heroes, villains, and environments of the base game. The app also has an impressive encyclopedia of the characters which includes the ability to look at all the cards in their deck. Given the wide range of powers the heroes and villains have in Sentinels it’s impressive how well the application handles everything. It also has a randomizer allowing a mix-and-match of villains, heroes, and environments. Although for someone not familiar with the game this may provide unexpectedly difficult or exceptionally easy battles. For example, three heroes matched against Citizen Dawn have little hope, while six heroes vs Baron Blade will be overkill. However the randomizer isn’t locked in and you can modify the results before launching the game.
No word yet on if they will expand the game to include the expansion sets, though I would be surprised if we don’t see them coming down the pipe.
If you are a fan of Sentinels of the Multiverse and have either an iPad or Android tablet I can’t recommend the game highly enough. The only thing I can’t vouch for is how accessible the game is for people who aren’t already familiar with the card game. There is a tutorial and Sentinels isn’t a very complex game, but there are some nuances that are easier to understand when looking at a real manual. Someone new to the game will have a harder time picking up what is going on even with the tutorial.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have more justice to dish out!
Or rather I will have justice to dish out, once my battery recharges.
This doesn’t happen very often.
Old School is not the only kind of gaming going through a Renaissance. Print on demand and the PDF market have been a big boon to indie-games of all stripes. I read a lot of gaming blogs of all different stripes and there are tons of games out there that I’ve heard about but have never entered my realm to play.
I’m also a big fan of the Bundle of Holding. If you’re not familiar, this is a site that offers .pdf copies of game books at a steep discount for a limited period of time. If you opt to pay over a certain additional threshold, which is set based on average payments by other customers, you will get bonus e-books. The Bundle of Holding is a great way to dip into a game system you’re curious about for substantially less than you’d otherwise pay.
Best of all a percentage of each purchase goes to charity. Yeah, the Bundle of Holding is a cool thing.
Back to discussing indie games, I’m well aware that there are games out there that I haven’t heard of, but when I checked the new Bundle offerings I got a big surprise. They have a total of eight books, all horror themed RPG’s, and I have never heard of any of them. It looks like seven of them are complete RPG’s while the last is a campaign setting.
Seven horror games that I’ve never heard of? That’s highly unusual.
They look to all be story games, not normally my thing but often fun to read and mine. The offering is up for another five days and right now you can get it all for under $25, or just the core offering for $12.95. If you’re into story-based horror games, or just looking for something new to read, give it a look.
Or check back in six days and see what the next offering is.
Just a short post, as work is consuming my brain again this week.
Speaking of brain consumption (how is that for a segue?) I finally put my finger on something that has been bothering me for a while.
Mind Flayers. Illithids. Specifically, why I don’t care for modern drawings of them.
I admit it’s a silly thing, but I could never pin down why I don’t care for how they’re usually drawn these days. By all rights I should like them and they’re still one of my favorite monsters. Sure, there are some illustrations from the 3rd edition era that scream, “trying too hard,” with pointy shoulder armor on warrior variants of the beasts, but the tried-and-true brain eaters aren’t that different. Except in one aspect.
Take a look at the eyes on the original Monster Manual:
Huge, squid-like, soul-peering eyes.
And here’s a more contemporary image:
Tiny, beady little things. Always looks like it’s squinting.
The original seems more vibrant to me, more animated. I could make up some deep explanation, like that squids have the largest eyes in the animal kingdom and that’s why the original strikes such a primal chord with me. Of course the truth is that the Illithids I grew up with had big eyes, so I like them better that way.
Although there is one recent Mind Flayer picture that has become my new favorite, courtesy of the Infinite Machine Tumblr:
SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!!!!
I’m not a Sentinels’ addict. I can quit any time I want to.
I just don’t want to.
Following up on my post from Monday, here are some ideas for adventuring groups who are in service to a patron.
There are a few historical examples that come to mind that can provide inspiration.
Varangian Guard – Founded in the late 10th Century the Varangian Guard was originally composed of Rus warriors but soon became closely associated with the Norse. The Varangians served as elite troops and the personal guard for the Byzantine Emperors for nearly 400 years. The Varangians have a lot in common with Dungeons & Dragons adventurers; they are free men who travel to far off exotic lands to gain fame and fortune. They do this by taking on dangerous missions for a powerful lord and using their skill at arms to accomplish them. A Varangian would be right at home in Greyhawk.
The Swiss Guard – Historically the Swiss Guards are not a single company but a military tradition. The 15th Century was a tumultuous time for Europe and many young men from Switzerland decided to seek their fortunes by forming companies of sell swords. They created a militant mercenary culture that became renowned for their discipline and skill in arms. For several centuries companies of Swiss Guard could be found on battlefields across Europe. The most famous company of Swiss Guards, and the only one remaining to this day, is the Pontifical Swiss Guard of the Holy See who act as the bodyguards to the Pope of the Roman Catholic church.
The Landsknecht – Very similar to the Swiss Guard, the German Landsknecht filled the same military niche throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. In fact the Landsknecht patterned themselves after the Swiss Guards and a rivalry grew between the two groups. Like the Swiss Guard they were known for their flamboyant uniforms as well as their battlefield discipline. The relationship between the Landsknecht and the Swiss Guards is a good historical example of how you can play up rivalries between PC and NPC adventuring groups.
The Amazing Race – A patron is looking for an adventuring party worth his or her time and has decided to hold a contest, with the PC’s being one of the groups invited to participate. The objective may be to recover an artifact, or slay a dragon, or to see who can recover the most impressive amount of treasure from a dungeon. The patron may make the objective’s location known and begin the competition with a grand ceremony, giving the entire affair a feel similar to The Great Race, or discovering the location may be part of the challenge. If the groups are allowed to fight each other the adventure will quickly turn into The Hunger Games but if they are not allowed to kill each other it will present a more subtle challenge.
Belle of the Ball – When normal adventuring groups return from a successful dungeon delve they usually head to the tavern to celebrate. When they have a powerful patron they have other responsibilities. The patron will want to show off their great adventurers and exhibit the recovered treasures and that means a grand ball. The players will be both guests-of-honor and centerpieces on display as bards tell stories of their exploits while the other guests get the chance to view these exotic creatures known as “adventurers”. The status gained by such events is too important to the patron and the wise adventurers will learn that this is a duty they cannot avoid.
Such events open possibilities for role playing and intrigues. It will also give rivals of the adventurers, or the patron, an opportunity for mayhem on a grand stage.
Dancing Bear – This angle is closely related to the previous seed. Adventurers rarely come from the ranks of nobility. Usually they are low-born sell swords, peasant apprentices in the mystic arts, or later children to minor nobility. They may mingle with the noble castes but they are not of those people. This is something they will be acutely aware of and there will always be members of the aristocracy ready to remind them at every opportunity. The adventurers are possessions, no different than trained animals or the unusual objects they pull out of a dragon’s hoard. Demi-humans in particular may fall under this stigma of being exotic curios in a human-dominated realm.
The adventurers will need to suffer these insults if they wish to retain their patronage. All too many tavern brawls end in fireball spells and battles with the city watch, but giving in to such impulses among the aristocracy will bring down a whole new level of punishment. Those seeking influence over the players will know and use this. Perhaps they will ingratiate themselves by feigning sympathy and friendship, going out of their way not to be like those other nobles. Some may make offers of titles and lands in order to lure the players away from their current patron. Enemies of the patron may send agent provocateurs with the intention of causing the players to lose their temper in the most spectacular ways possible.
Escort Duty – The patron will send someone important on an adventure with the PCs with explicit instructions to bring their new charge back in one piece. Failure to do so will invoke their patron’s wrath and the forfeiture of sufficient valuables to resurrect the deceased. However casting a sleep or charm spell on the hapless target and leaving them in a local inn isn’t an option, the patron is clear that their charge must experience the quest.
The NPC will definitely be a few levels lower than the player characters, providing a soft target that the veterans will need to shield. The old cliche of making their charge be arrogant and boorish works well here, but for a change of pace I’d suggest a different route. Have the NPC be hopelessly in love and out to prove his or her worth through facing dangerous adventures. For a twist, make that the stated goal but have the NPC secretly be in love with one of the PCs.
The NPC may also have a death wish, some secret or destiny that he or she finds so distasteful that they would rather die in the unholy depths rather than live to see it come true. Or perhaps the party is being set up to fail, as the patron or one of their rivals has marked the NPC to be killed in an indirect manner.
Betrayal – Maybe the party has grown too powerful for the comfort of their patron. Maybe their fame has begun to eclipse that of their patron, their exploits no longer bringing him or her the renown it should. Perhaps the patron has to sacrifice the adventurers for some political gain. Or maybe the collecting of adventurers has begun to bore the patron and is falling out of fashion. Engineering their downfall may provide one last great legend to boost the patron’s reputation, not to mention removing their now inconvenient presence from the patron’s household.
For a twist, leave doubt on if the patron really is behind the betrayal. Perhaps the real mastermind is one of their patron’s enemies and by driving a wedge between the two the villain is now free to move against their patron.
Why We Can’t Have Nice Things - The adventuring company of another patron has become powerful. So powerful that rumors abound that their patron is now their puppet. The adventurers are growing bolder and the nobility is beginning to take offense. Other groups have approached the PCs saying that if something isn’t done soon the aristocracy may withdraw their protection en masse and leave them open to a purge, judging all adventurers too dangerous. The other groups are willing to help but the player characters are the only ones close to the renegades in power.
Have any game seeds of your own? Any other historical examples to draw from? I’d love to hear them.
Also the Landsknecht get +1 CHA for snappy dressing.