Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Major Komo Domo, Lizard Lancer
(Illustration by Alan Jeeves, for the science fiction/fantasy zine Stardock, ca. 1970)
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Brewmaster of the Round Rock Hills
Though the dwarvish love of ale is well known, the challenges faced by dwarven brewers go unremarked. Barley, wheat and hop vines do not, after all, grow without sun. Grain and hops are major commodities for merchants and traders in dwarven lands, worth their weight in uncut gemstones.
Trade is not the only method the dwarves have for keeping their tankards full. In at least one case they have even taken up ploughshares. The poor and penurious dwarves of the Round Rock Hills have begun growing their own grain, clear cutting trees, hewing sweeping terraces out of the Hills' southern slopes and building sturdy walls with the stone they've moved. Unfortunately good fences have not made good neighbors of the free-roaming wild elves who hunt and camp in the Round Rocks.
Skirmishes are not uncommon. Most observers, however, credit one unusual personage with keeping a grumbling sort of peace. It's a peace not forged with diplomacy, but brewed in the great copper vats of the Leaf and Anvil, Thuriel Nidalfir, proprietor. Thuriel, who built his wayhouse and brewery with the spoils of an adventurer's career, has a more cosmopolitan view than most Round Rocks folk. A wild elf with a peculiar fascination for dwarvish culture, affecting stooped posture, a wispy beard and a cloth-of-copper kilt, Thuriel is somewhat of a figure of fun among dwarves and elves alike. Nonetheless, his easygoing charm, backed up by a staff of doughty henchmen, makes the wayhouse a place where all of the people of the Hills can take their leisure.
But it is for Thuriel's gift as a brewer that the Leaf and Anvil is celebrated, especially for the eponymous house blend, a smooth black and tan made with crisp Redleaf Ale and a dark stout called Loam. In addition to being eminently quaffable, this blend has the curious and apparently non-magical property of improving reaction roles between elves and dwarves by 1 (or 10%, depending on reaction table used).
I have to thank S John Ross for inspiring Thuriel with his comments on this post over Jeff's Gameblog way.
MP3: Rustavi Choir,
(This could be the song of dwarves going to war over grain; lyrics after the break.)
We must promise an oath at Khidistavi and must become blood brothers
We must attack Mukhran Batoni
Because of Mukhran Batoni I can't even have a basket of wheat
I can't bring up a heifer and can't thresh the field with a bull
You, the sword forged in Khevsureti
King Erekle sanctified you and blessed you for the war
Enemy, you defeated me, but I don't cry...
I have often been in similar straits but have never whined
Let me grind the sword
And you will reap what you have sown for me
Saturday, May 24, 2008
That said, the illustration of this city-levelling gunship is strangely unimposing:
It's a crisp, typically excellent Elmore drawing, but static and draftsmanlike. It just doesn't evoke the sort of jelly-kneed, tongue swallowing, mad scrambling panic one hopes for in a 15m wide flying saucer of destruction.
Consequently I've taken to imagining the Death Machine differently. It's not sleek and streamlined. In fact it's a clanking, tank-treaded, earthbound lummox. But if you want to crush the mutants, drive them before you, and hear the lamentations of their androids...
...this, my friends, is a death machine:
MP3: Massive Attack vs. Mad Professor,
Friday, May 23, 2008
I say this as a non-believer. Nonetheless, I share the longing for grace, for transcendence, for the numinous. This longing may well be innate in us humans, reaching up from the deep limbic wells of our consciousness. Just as innate, perhaps, is our capacity for wretchedness. Idumea is a much less known hymn written at about the same time as Amazing Grace. It is a far starker, even fearsome, treatment of the gap stretching between grace and wretchedness:
And am I born to die?
To lay this body down!
And must my trembling spirit fly
Into a world unknown?
A land of deepest shade,
Unpierced by human thought;
The dreary regions of the dead,
Where all things are forgot!
Soon as from earth I go,
What will become of me?
Eternal happiness or woe
Must then my portion be!
Waked by the trumpet sound,
I from my grave shall rise;
And see the Judge with glory crowned,
And see the flaming skies!
I listened to this song this afternoon, and it broke me open. I should have expected it to; music is as close as I get to prayer. We are, of course, born to die. It is one of those truths so obvious that most of us confront it only in extremis. And all of us, believers or not, must also face in this life the choice between happiness and woe, between fear and relief, and sometimes must endure shadow and drear before we reach home. This song is a beacon.
MP3: Marc Almond,
MP3: Shirley Collins,
Both versions from the Current 93 album Black Ships Ate the Sky [Compact Disc & Downloads]
SEE ALSO: Idumea is a classic of the shape-note repertory, and many more versions can be found here.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
"Those are some expensive coloring books, son"
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
How I Played the Game, Then & Now
I was about 8 years old when I started hearing about this cool game from a kid at school. Dungeons and Dragons. He didn't play himself. He just liked bragging about his older brother's god-killing rampage through the heavens and the hells. Fascinated, I asked for the Moldvay Basic set for Christmas, and dove right into it. What I did wrong was treating the game like a very elaborate kind of solitaire. I never found anyone else to game with!
I'm exaggerating, a little. But my strongest memories of the game are lonely. The hobby shop in town was devoted to model kits and trains, and had only a small selection of D&D books, modules, and minis. I tried going to a few open sessions at the local rec center but was always one of the youngest kids. The hazing I suffered might have been more friendly than I realized, but the eye-rolling over my painstakingly colored-in Monster Manual withered me. When an older player demanded my character draw from a Deck of Many Things before joining up with his party I just about cried. Yeah, I guess I was a pretty wimpy kid. I couldn't even catch a break from my confessor: the D&D playing junior priest at St Joe's took one glance at my halfling archer in leather armor and pronounced him "monster fodder." Faith, Hope and Charity my ass, Father Geoff!
I did play with some kids closer to my age, but we couldn't meet very often, and never finished a module, let alone develop an ongoing campaign. This was true in high school as well. All of my close friends were gamers, but it was a large and scattershot group. Mostly we rolled up new characters, played the start of an adventure and then broke off to shoot the shit and watch videos, never to pick up that particular scenario again. There were some pretty good runs through Pitz Burke and Legion of Gold and Tsojcanth, but the tales were never told in full.
So, yeah, I played wrong. I played with markers and crayons. I played by poring over the AD&D manuals, drawing maps, rolling up characters and running them through the Caves of Chaos or random-chart dungeonhacks. I played by making an analog spreadsheet on graph paper of all of the gods in Deities & Demigods along with their alignments, divine portfolios, favored colors, and symbols. I filled in the blanks in the artifact section of the DMG, assigning all of the powers minor, major and primary, and all of the effects malevolent and benign.
I wasn't playing the "right way," no, but I loved it. Coming back to RPGs after many years, I still find a lot of joy in the solitary aspects of the hobby, character making, rules-tinkering, adventure writing. But I'm not the shrinking lilac I was back in the day, nor the distracted teenager, and I'm ready to play to the fullest. Starting off easy, catching pick-up games when I can, while actively seeking a group to meet with regularly. I have my favorite games, but I'm open-minded: I just want to get together with some folks and throw some dice! In the short term I'll just be a player. In the long run, when I get the confidence to run a game, my plan is more diabolical. Look out! Or, look me up.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
A Boy and His
Dog Guinea Pig
Big Billy Cheroot
Big Billy was born to rodent farmers in the NewLenz Fens, in a year of Bad Water. Most of the kids and livestock born that year grew at an enormous rate, too fast for their lungs and bones. They died trying to stand. Billy was one of the few to survive that dark time. He grew tall and strong, four meters high by age of nine, and kept right on growing.
By the time he was a teenager he was doing the work of many hands. He had a knack for jerry-rigged tools and an easy way with the stock. The meanest bull nutria gentled to his touch, and he never failed to holler back a stray jennypig.
Unfortunately Billy just couldn't keep out of trouble. Every few weeks some snake-hooded menarl would come itching to fight, or badder buckaroos would jump him on his way back from the levee. Gators, stink-lions, poomers and worse came marauding the farms so regular you could time your planting by 'em. To spare his folks more rough whiles, Big Billy hit the highway, taking with him an enormous jennypig name of Cavvy, his lifelong pet.
MP3: Jelly Roll Kings,
Stats after the break!
Big Billy Cheroot, The Man with No Home
MS: 11 (17 vs. Mental Attack)
PS: 20 (+5 damage)
New Body Parts: Poison sting finger, intensity 9-18, 5 doses/day.
Sonic Blast: 3-18 damage to all within 15m radius
Taller: 8m tall, +6 ST, +8 to hit, +6 HD
Heightened Brain Talent: +2 figure out artifacts, +4 MS vs. Mental Attack
Heightened Intelligence: +4 figure out artifacts, +2 MS vs. Mental Attack
Improved Symbiotic Attachment: Control one creature touched; requires Melee & Mental Attack; dies if controlled creature dies. Maintains a permanent bond with Cavvy while within 1100m.
Summoning: Summon and command any creature of IN 4 or less within 1km, duration concentration, 1/12 hrs.
Unconscious Summoning (Defect): When at peace for two weeks or more, all natural enemies within 1km seek Billy out until he fights something.
Fiber Armor & Shield
Two-Handed Sword (of normal size, wielded one-handed),
serape, boots, camping gear, and very large bedroll.
Cavvy (mutant guinea pig): HD 10d12, HP: 77, AC: 9, Move: 16km/900m/24m, Mutations - Gas Generation (bad-smelling and irritating, no other effects), Sound Imitation (immune to Sonic Blasts, mimicry), Taller
Friday, May 16, 2008
The Hopeless Character: A Survey
The thing is, you've got a problem. You want to be an iron-thewed hero, a giant among men. You end up a pipsqueak, a twig among trees. You long to harness ancient sorceries and bend the world to your will. But you can barely wrap your head round the alphabet, and a dunce cap is the only pointy hat that fits. Maybe you're a klutz, a dogface, a sniffling sickly wretch. Maybe you're a moron, a milquetoast, a poltroon without sense to come in out of the rain. Face it, chump: you're a weak-backed, weak-minded, weak-willed, wilting weakly worm.
Kill Yourself, Start Over
While it is possible to generate some fairly playable characters by rolling 3d6, there is often an extended period of attempts at finding a suitable one due to quirks of the dice. Furthermore, these rather marginal characters tend to have short life expectancy... (AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide)
If your scores are too low, you may scrap them and roll all six scores over. Your scores are considered too low if your total modifiers (before changes according to race) are 0 or less, or if your highest score is 13 or lower. (D&D 3e Player's Handbook)
If two or more Ability Scores are less than 6, the character may have problems later on. This type of character should also be discarded, unless the DM says otherwise. (Mentzer Basic)
What do other games have to say about the hapless hopeless PC?
EDIT: Here's a post that quotes a terrific passage from the D&D Second Edition Player's Handbook, landing it squarely with Palladium in the Make the Best of the Worst camp.
MP3: Hawksley Workman,
MP3: Talk Talk,
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Howard Phillips Hovercraft
(With gratitude to the Onion AV Club commenter who uses HP Hovercraft as his handle)
SEE ALSO: Arzachel, Aazthoth. Fantastic bit of eldritch psych I haven't got in my personal collection.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Duranmas2: Two for the Doctor
In honor of Duranmas Duranmas, Encounter Critical goes new wave:
|ATT %||melee 41/ranged 77|
|Damage||1-2 or by weapon/1-12|
|Special||Disrupt concentration; Break objects|
Some speculate that the diminutive gnomi are a hybrid between hyperspace gremlins and deep-space sonar drones. No one knows for certain and it is as good a guess as any other. Only half the height of a hobling, they are great collectors of techno-gadgets and elaborate couture. They will typically be found with 1-4 items, some as useful as an extra-dimensional coin wallet, others merely shiny widgets and doo-dads. They spend much of their time in singing practice.
Gnomis prefer to attack with ranged weapons such as lightning ray pistols (as stun ray + 2-5 damage) or rubberband lazers (damage 2-7; range 20"/220"; can be used to snap target from 1-10" away from attacker or as a lasso). They also attack with a falsetto sonic song which affects a 20" cone. This scream will disrupt spellcasting or psionics unless a Psi Resist role is made. A Gnomi can roll a Lesser Feat of 45% or lower to damage a single small item it targets with its falsetto; a Greater Feat of 2% or lower disintegrates.
MP3: Klaus Nomi,
Frenchie Rockets, robo-doxy
Sold for scrap by a failing 'bot manu-factory, MLLE-17 was purchased for spare parts by an orcish ham radio buff. Before he could disassemble her, Pig Mallon fell in love with the young robot girl. They were married, moved into the nosecone of an abandoned klengon rocket in the spaceport slums of God City, and set about making a home for themselves. He called her Frenchie.
Disastrously, Pig's shortwave radio hobby caught the attention of Radio Pirates, and he was forced to flee in fear of his life. Frenchie has taken up the quest of finding Pig and rescuing him...or avenging him. She also seeks seed money and investors for Doxy by Proxy, her AM/FM companionship service.
MP3: The Rockets,
SEE ALSO: Klaus Nomi should be seen as well as heard.
SEE ALSO: M83's Saturdays=Youth : 80s Alternative :: Castles & Crusades : AD&D
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Sneak Preview: D&D 4e Monster Building and Customization
With attacks and abilities built right into the name, spelled out in ubiquitous damned adjectival compound nouns, a DM need only decide the creature's level range and role, and let 'er rip.
EDIT [in response to James Mishler]: The beauty of 4e is scalabilty, to wit
Actual Play: Papers & Paychecks
For my part, I missed several crucial Productivity checks at the start of the day, so my character spent much of the session idle. On the other hand I rolled well enough on the Current Accounts charts that my overall earnings were high. But keeping my head down and trusting the dice isn't very satisfying.
And we're scheduled to play every day this week. I'm actually glad to be missing Friday's session...
Saturday, May 3, 2008
In the Rage
Fifty feet from the trees and the sonic blaster whines. Fifty feet from safety and Rran screams, falls, skull shrieked to crumbs. Don't look back, run stumbling run. Run for trees and shadows. Don't look back. Dagg Nazty in the jungle, alone. The last, weaving through vines and blotchy leaves.
And come the White Knights.
They hadn't killed him yet. No, they musn't. Jungle swallows him whole and he's in territory. Another shadow born in, borne by the forest. Dust purple skin moist with sweat, longtall cadaver, chest heaving.
Further in. Come the Clean Knights.
Quick up behind twisted trees, pressed close to bark, in the breathing Jungle. Manic greengrey eyes wide with fear. Listens, hears the rustle and snap of pursuit, crack and breaking branches. They hadn't killed him yet, no they won't.
Springs away, with soft rasp of stained claws on bark and swish of loose rags. Crossbow bounces on back and a quiver of steel bolts. Forceblade strapped to his side, switched off and dormant. Dodges under and over tangle of underbrush, creepers, crawlers, and no flowers except the ones that bite. Panting, he runs ahead.
Dagg Nazty in the lead at nightfall. In the Jungles, groan and moan, skitter and squealings of large things eating small things in shadows. He halts and climbs to safe tree roost. Under mottled leaf canopy, he rests. And waits. Deep black night noisy with survival and malice and the whistling of deformed insects.
He drowses fitfully, rocked asleep by fear, and shook to waking by anger. He is the last, all friends gone. Killed. Rran gone. Asp gone. Xarta gone. And Braal.
But not him. Never, not ever. Mind seethes, teeth grind. Rage thickens, coils in loud darkness. Rage that smears greasy and rips jagged. Rage any color but white. Unhuman, freak, DNA casualty, and all that they called him, cursing and spitting. Dirty mutant bastard. Not pure like us. Their words dissolve like poison in his mind. Teeth glisten in his sharp face, a tight grim scowl. Fingers twitch.
Dagg Nazty in the Rage. They could hate, and he could hate.
He waits, midnight, after midnight, dead of night. Angry sleep and no peace. And somewhere, them. The White Knights, the Clean Knights, huddled around a glowcube, unsettled in the dark and shivering for day. He waits, twilight, and just before dawn...
Glower of sun, glower of gloom. He wakes from halfsleep and stretches, taut and wiry. Glances down and steps from his branch, plummets lightly to damp ground. He twists off in a new direction, watching, listening.
Curves back slitherlike at his hunters. Hides in shadows. Crawls on thorns. Stealth and fury. Slow, slowly, the long way around and behind. Hours. Minutes.
Still of noon and there, only fifty feet away, through unbreezed tendril curtains. He hears the sound of vines hacked, shoved aside. The sound of a voice. He moves even slower now, muscles strung tense, bound frenzy growing. In the Rage.
It reaches out, peers around broken trees, whispers along the ground, sinuous, in undergrowth and brambles.
He unstraps his crossbow and quiver and leaves them aside. Clutches tight the hilt of his forceblade, strokes the trigger switch. And there. Closely seen and alone, white armored and so clean, gaze jumping and eyes nervous. One of them. One of the pure. The White stands frightened, turns side to side, shaky hands holding shudder rifle. Nazty sneers and chuckles. The White whirls in his direction, mouth open, "Brother Mikl, are you--"
as Dagg Nazty, body jerking, mind clenching, howls and sends the Rage, tangible and lancing mind to othermind, serpent whip, brainknife. The White gasps, cries pain, hands on temples and tripping backwards
as Dagg Nazty leaps at the falling form, forceblade slashing into humming blue existence at midswing, slices soft neck flesh and through, and winks out...
Pretty scarlet and mud spatters clean white sheatharmor and the body crumples to the dirt. Eyes festering with joy, he breathes hissing and flatly, "Welcome to the Jungle. You looked lonely."
Dagg Nazty joins the Hunt.
lo, a poem
outside, the winds blow, blow, blow. lo, the darkness, the darkness, the cold freezes the heart, the sacred heart, the venerated heart of our Savior "Jesus, it's cold," say the brittle broken bums of the world, "Can you spare a dime?" but there will always be poor. and it is best to render unto Caesar as you would have him render unto you. lo, the Golden Rule, the Golden Rule. the winds, the winds, the winds blow, outside.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
ye Grognarde: Yon sprats, they have it too easy! We've moddlecollied them so much they can't even read a variable number spread without their little d6 or d8 what tells them how to roll. Gone is the respect for 3-12 and 4-24! Lo, in this fallen age they roll 3d4 and 4d6. The problem-solving spirit of yesterday is fading, alack and woe. These youngsters wouldn't know how to solve a puzzle like 3-9 or 8-11 if they had feat in arithmetic!
Johnny Come Lately: 3-9? Go to bed, old man! What's the point? Oh, right, cause it's sooo fun to back engineer a monster's Strength bonus! Look, mathlete SWAT team dungeoncrawls just aren't my thing. I want a game that's streamlined for maximum cinematic action. Shoot, man, if only I didn't have to roll dice at all. Hell, no dice, no table, no players at all, just non-stop fun action...
DD-iBot: IN THE FUTURE DICE ROLLS WILL BE BEAMED FROM CENTRAL PROCESSING DIRECTLY INTO YOUR BRAIN.
ye Grognarde: (sputters, dies)
MP3: Robyn Hitchcock,
MP3: Frank Sinatra,
Hashed, trashed and cashed
behind the crown of the freak of the week
brains like hash browns, unnatural
up hell's creek, no spatula
issues with dudes and bad attitudes
an aptitude for crapitude
in pursuit of rages and wages
from pages of greeting card speak
don't end up in cages like circus geeks
bleak as cancers fuck what the man sez: