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An Ever Changing Land

I’ve noticed a pattern that shows up a lot in folk tales, legends, and other stories in that style; a hero goes wandering not far from home and stumbles across a mysterious castle, manor, or some other mysterious structure. The location invariably becomes the source of adventure, often as home to some unearthly being or powerful wizard.

What strikes me as odd about this is that castles and fortresses are important landmarks. They confer control of an area, provide wealth to their masters, and are significant to life in the region.

In the case of the peasant-hero, the mysterious castle is understandable. It’s easy to explain that a peasant hasn’t traveled extensively, especially into woods or mountains where danger and the unknown abound. I am reminded of the scene in Fellowship of the Rings where Samwise takes his first step outside of the Shire.

However it makes less sense when reading about knights and nobles. It would be their business to know the people and strongholds of power that surround their world. It’s hard to believe that there would be a castle within a day’s ride of Camelot that an Arthurian knight wouldn’t know about.

Unless their world operates on different rules than ours does.

A common theme in early Dungeons & Dragons, and the Appendix N literature that inspired it, is the conflict between Law, represented by civilization, and Chaos, represented by the wilderness. Settlements are sanctuaries from the unpredictable and unearthly. Perhaps not safe, but their dangers are mundane and rational. Incursions of chaos into a city, through monsters or witchcraft, are treated as abnormal and cause fear in a different way that simple crime or political intrigue.

The wilderness is unpredictable, it shifts and changes when you aren’t looking. Paths in the woods lead to different places in the darkness. Forgotten groves may be both ancient and new at the same time. Those who ally themselves with Chaos may find that they can raise a castle from the darkness, to serve as a base of power or snare for a knight errant.

Through this lens the world becomes a shifting and unpredictable place. Castles, caverns, even entire dungeons may spawn in the dark places of their own accord, or by the will of powerful beasts, cunning Faeries, or sinister wizards. Rarely traveled paths may never lead to the same place twice and abandoned places may vanish entirely as memory of their existence fades.

In contrast, settlements impose order on the world. As they grow they become islands of stability, and well traveled roads become the framework on which Law fences off and restricts the spread of Chaos.

In this world brigands become the unwitting agents of Chaos, for when people fear to use the roads, the realms of Law become disconnected. Road wardens and Templars become paladins of Law, and settlers are the very seeds of Law who must be protected and nurtured.

Even the traditional “Murder Hobo” adventurers would be the unwitting minions of order, for as they plunder the wealth of dungeons and slaughter monsters in the dark places they open up new realms for settlement. No matter what alignment these adventurers claim, they serve the greater cause of Law by blazing trails into the heart of Chaos and opening the way for others to follow.

It would be fun to run a campaign that mixes the multi-generational feudal setting of Pendragon with the macabre sensibilities of Solomon Kane, where the true nature of the world is kept hidden from the players. Over time the characters and their decedents would discover the truth of the world, and how seemingly mundane events are vastly important on the cosmic scale. It would be fun to see how a group of characters would react, especially as they realize that those who know the truth can influence the universe.

Would they form knightly orders to spread Law? Form dark cabals to unfetter Chaos? Or create secret societies to hide the knowledge that reality is a malleable thing?

And my gaming bucket list grows ever deeper.

KingArthur

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2016 in Fantasy, Gaming, World Design

 

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Return to Stonehell

With the holidays behind us my gaming group decided to get back to some serious dungeon delving, so it was back to Stonehell!

This is the third expedition into the dungeon for my players. Their previous trips were before Christmas and they went very well, included some delightfully harrowing encounters, and were chronicled in a previous blog post that was eaten when I went to save it. Suffice to say that they have explored most of Hell’s Antechamber.

The party has a new member, my ten year old daughter who was very excited to play Dungeons & Dragons / Labyrinth Lord. We got out the dice and rolled her up a character, a magic user with horrible stats for constitution and charisma but excellent wisdom and intelligence. We determined that she’s a frail, foul tempered witch type, a role my daughter was disturbingly eager to play. Especially when she found out that she could be evil. Petunia the Witch and the cleric of Set are getting along famously.

It’s fun to see how players’ actions can change a DM’s plans. I have a table of events that could happen for each session. I roll once per session to see which of them, if any, will come up, but actions by the players made me decide to have several show up at once.

First there is the thief who was blinded by the Wheel of Fortune on their last foray. One of the encounters I had planned was for a sorceress to contract with the party to find a certain location within Stonehell, bring her the information, and first pick of anything discovered within. This would only come up after the party had survived a couple of sorties into Stonehell, as she would only treat with adventurers with a proven record. The sorceress provided the thief with a silk scarf that allows her hazy vision when worn over her eyes like a blindfold. The thief agreed to the sorceress’ deal, without discussing it with the rest of the party, and the sorceress’ halfling aide will be remaining in the village to receive reports on their progress.

The sorceress is known as the Veiled Lady and is covered head-to-toe in elaborate Byzantine robes and wears a mask of beaten gold. The party knows nothing more about her, though they can guess she comes from Fever Dreaming Marlinko. I’ll be interested in seeing how her relationship grows with the party. Assuming they survive.

Then the elf, named “Elf”, decided that he wants to learn the kobold language. He began asking around the village. This triggered another encounter I had on the list. A merchant is trying to get several pony kegs of liqueur to Kobold Corners, somewhere on the first level of Stonehell, but his hired guards never arrived. He agreed to teach Elf how to speak kobold if Elf would transport them and come back with a receipt from Yik-Yik, his kobold client. The party was already planning on heading there and has a line on its location, so Elf agreed. He purchased two dogs to serve as pack animals and a puppy for the blind thief, suggesting that they could raise it to be a seeing eye dog.

The thief was not amused, but she does like the puppy.

After that it was back to Stonehell. Outside the gatehouse they met the encounter that I’d actually rolled for this session, a group of armed guards with caged carts, camped casually outside the ruined gatehouse. They greeted the party and began making wagers on if they’d see the adventurers again.

It turns out that the nobles of Marlinko will buy slaves and convicts and send them into Stonehell. If they survive and bring back sufficient treasure they can win their freedom, but really it’s so that the nobles can bet on how long they’ll survive. The guards told the adventurers that the nobles use scrying devices to watch their hapless slaves inside the dungeon. The adventurers were told that if they encountered the slaves inside it would be fine to kill them, but to make it look good.

Returning to the dungeon’s depths they first stopped off to chat with “Rocky” the stone oracle. Then they were off to find Kobold Corners. On their previous expedition they’d had a bad encounter with the orcs, so they decided to cut through the undead-filled Quiet Halls.

Along the way they were ambushed by a number of skeletons, who gave the adventurers a good beating before finally being dispatched. While the party was recovering and taking stock, Elf located and opened a secret door. Peering inside he saw a crypt, and rising from the burial niches were zombies. Lots of zombies.

Elf slammed the door, ran past the party yelling, “Time to go!” and headed down the south passageway, where he promptly fell into a covered pit trap.

This was no ordinary pit trap, instead he found himself (and his dogs) tumbling down a slide into the next level of the dungeon. The party, seeing the zombies shambling out from the secret door and now blocking them from the room’s other entrance, decided to take their chances following Elf and slipped down the pit to the slide and off into the darkness. Everyone survived, though one of the pack dogs died in the fall.

The party is now in a dangerous situation. They have time to catch their breath, but they’re lost on level two. They’ve debated trying to climb back up the slide, but are not sure how far down they’ve come nor if the zombies are still waiting for them. They’ve explored enough to have discovered the temple of Yg, a primordial serpent god that the cleric of Set knows is older and not agreeable to his own deity.

And that is where we left things. The players realize that they could be in real trouble, but their luck and cunning has seen them through tight spots before. If they play things right they may yet see the light of day once more.

And if not? Well, I have spare character sheets.

Rocky

I found our “Rocky” oracle at Wal-Mart in the fish tank section.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2016 in Fantasy, Gaming

 

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Divas, Dames, & Daredevils

A fun book hit my reading table recently, courtesy of my local public library, Divas, Dames, & Daredevils: Lost Heroines of Golden Age Comics. Written by Mike Madrid, the book is a collection of stories about heroines from the dawn of comics and includes a good deal of history about the characters and the industry.

Divas focuses in on books from the 30’s and 40’s, in a time when comics were still raw and their pulp foundations were still strong. It was a time before the Comics Code Authority sapped the life out of the books, blunting their edge and taming their characters. The heroines of these stories are hard fighting, tough characters, of a kind we don’t expect to see before the 70’s and 80’s.

“In these very early days of comic books, there weren’t as many established rules about how women characters should or shouldn’t act. As a result, many of these Golden Age heroines feel bold and modern as we read them today.”

Divas, Dames, & Daredevils – pg. 15

And bold they are.

I’ve been a comic book fan for most of my life. The pulp and super hero genres are favorites of my gaming group and one of the things we love to do is find obscure characters and introduce them into our games. This book presents us with a collection of adventurers and super heroes that covers quite a spectrum of styles.

“Modern day comic book readers might be surprised at the broad spectrum of heroines in Golden Age comics – daring masked vigilantes, queens of lost civilizations and intergalactic warriors, crafty reporters and master spies, witches and jungle princesses, goddesses and regular gals.”

Divas, Dames, & Daredevils – pg. 15

Madrid breaks the book up into sections based on different heroic styles, such as Women at War about heroines fighting in WWII, Mystery Women in the same style as The Shadow and The Spider, and Warriors & Queens whose adventures rival the likes of Flash Gordon. Each section includes a bit of history, and introduction to the featured characters, and a reprint of several adventures.

Because these characters come from anthology comics, their stories are short and tight. This does come at the cost of depth and the stories are simplistic compared to comics today, but this will be nothing new to readers familiar with golden age comics.

There are several characters who stood out in particular for me. One is Madame Strange, a vengeful woman of mystery who exterminates Axis spies without mercy. Among the Mystery Women, Mother Hubbard caught my attention for being a classic old witch complete with broomstick and potions, but who wields her black magic against crime. My favorite of the Daring Dames is Calamity Jane, a hard boiled noir detective who has more in common with Phillip Marlowe than the femme fatales he deals with.

Then there is Wildfire, a heroine with a magical power over flames. Wildfire stands out in this collection, as she is a character who would be at home in the Justice Society. Wildfire enjoys being a heroine and wields her abilities with wit and humor, showing the same “daring do” as Jay Garrick’s Flash or Johnny Storm’s Human Torch.

Another intriguing character is The Sorceress of Zoom, who possesses vast magical powers and travels the world via a city on a cloud. The Sorceress is interesting because she is not a hero, not intentionally. She is motivated by a selfish desire to expand her power and she is willing to kidnap and threaten innocent people to achieve her goals, but she does follow a personal code of honor. The Sorceress collects power for its own sake, but she comes into conflict with those who would use it for base villainy. In the end she defeats these petty mortals, rewards those who have served her well, and moves on to seek her next adventure.

It’s a delight to see these characters, heroines who have an edge and allowed to take the lead, and there is a sense of discovery as you read about these characters who have been lost to time. Madrid has a passion for these characters and it comes through in his writing. If you’re interested in the history of comic books, the role of women in early comics, or just want to read some fun adventures, I recommend getting your hands on Divas, Dames, & Daredevils.

DD&D

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2016 in Books and Comics, History, Pulps, Reviews

 

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Strange, unearthly island, jutting out like a stone blade from the South Pacific?

Check.

Giant insects thought to be long extinct?

Check.

Courageous scientists risking life and limb to discover their secrets and reintroduce them to the populated world?

Check.

I think we all know how this is going to turn out.

balls_pyramid-e0228ecb378de54502cc99b9a5ef787d9f6a3ab4-s800-c85

By all means, check out this story from NPR about how the “tree lobster”, long thought extinct, was found to be thriving in the most unlikely of places. The science nerd in me loves the story, and the gamer geek in me sees many possibilities.

Currently I’m leaning towards the rats of Lord Howe Island catching wind of the plan to reintroduce their vanquished foes, leading to their attempts to sabotage the human scientists’ plans. Even if they have to risk revealing their uplifted intelligence to do it.

patrick_custom-3740c16538132c3504d984425c11a12fec3952ec-s800-c85

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2016 in Cool Stuff, Weirdness

 

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My New Favorite GIF

I spent so many quarters on this game.

I regret nothing!

Man, the best was when you’d find a full sit-down cabinet. That was the stuff.

StarWarsArcade.gif

 
 

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Against the Slave Lords

I’m not picking up any more books, physical or digital, until I catch up on my backlog. I have enough books and gaming materials to keep me occupied for a long time.

Wait, what’s this?

*sigh* Okay, ONE more .pdf can’t hurt, right?

DND Classics/DriveThruRPG/RPGNow has a lot of classic Dungeons & Dragons products on sale right now, but one of the most notable is the recently-released .PDF copy of the complete Against the Slave Lords campaign. This is the digital version of the hard cover print collection they released not too long ago. This book includes the classic A1-4 as well as the adventure A0, Danger at Darkshelf Quarry which was added for the hardbound collection. On a quick skim it looks like the .PDF is a good clean scan.

Clocking in at 178 pages the full cost is about $50, but for the time being it’s on sale for $9.99. At that price I had to fail my Saving Throw vs New Books.

You can find Against the Slave Lords right over here.

D20

Clearly I need to add a picture with the “1” showing.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2016 in Fantasy, Gaming

 

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Viscera Cleanup Detail

Viscera Cleanup Detail by RuneStorm is one of those computer games that makes you ask, “why would anyone play this?” Yet strangely enough, it works.

From the early days of Doom and Wolfenstein to today’s Far Cry and Halo, computer gamers have been splattering the guts of bad guys across virtual maps for decades. Viscera Cleanup Detail isn’t about saving the universe or surviving the apocalypse, it’s about what comes afterwards.

Namely, cleaning up.

Essentially, this is a first person puzzle game. You enter a gore-splashed environment armed with a mop, rubber gloves, and a mandate to get the place cleaned up. It’s up to you to search through whatever location you’re working in and clean up all the blood and gore you can find. Every body part and hazardous object needs to be incinerated, every splash of goop must be mopped up, and along the way you may find an interesting object or two to take home after your shift.

Clearly this is a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a goofy concept, as much a novelty as anything else, yet it is strangely hypnotic. It doesn’t provide any kind of gripping experience or captivating game play, but it’s fun when you just want a distraction and I’ve been surprised to look up and realize I’ve spent two hours cleaning up virtual body parts.

It’s kind of like playing Minesweeper or Solitaire, with ludicrous gibs.

The game offers plenty of maps to play on, including Santa’s Workshop and a map inspired by the club scene in Kill Bill. I recommend that last one, as it adds snarky commentary by your character as you clean. There is even a multi-player mode, which I haven’t tried but the concept amuses me to no end.

If you’re looking for something quirky and unusual, it’s worth a look. You can find it on Steam.

MopUHF

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2016 in Computer Games, Reviews

 

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