Monday, October 31, 2011

Goblin Mask

Did Crystal Frazier make the mask kit?  She did make this self-portrait.

Heh, heh: Paizo is giving away an Andrew Hou goblin mask.  Download it, print it, assemble it, and put it on.  You can wear it while trick-or-treating tonight or just stay home and wear it while reading my latest Lolth post that Blogger refuses to feed.  Happy Halloween, you candy-grubbing little pyromaniacs.

Light on Lolth from the Land of the Rising Sun

In my previous posts on Lolth, you have seen me use an identification of the Demon Queen of Spiders with the ancient figure of Lilith to draw the strands of the demonic, the vampiric, and the arachnid, together with the dark elves, to revision a coherent divine niche out of traditional and game materials. The name Liloth will serve to identify this composite or revisionary demon queen. I have, however, one more strand that I wish to draw on. For this final strand, we look to Japan and its rich store of folklore. Therein we find a figure of the spider woman, though she goes by multiple names in different areas and in different stories. She has rightly become a popular figure in Japanese horror, and provides some further possibilities for my vision of Liloth. I know that my references here are not exhaustive as I would like them to be, but I welcome any further resources that my readers may alert us to.

The figure is an attractive one to weave into our web of Liloth, because she is beautiful, and she combines various features of a beautiful woman and a spider, depending on depiction, just as Lolth does in her various depictions or aspects. She uses her beauty and charm to capture men. Playing on the association with strings, she often complements her appearance by playing on the biwa or some other traditional Japanese stringed instrument. This adds another possible area for exploration to Liloth: why not make her a patron of stringed music? If the silk of Liloth and driders were strong enough to hold a tune, it would have many other applications as well. Can we learn more from portrayals of this figure? Let us turn to the names used.

Right away, we face a problem of terminology. I found that there are at least three names that this shapeshifting yokai, or bakemono, goes by: tsuchigumo, jorogumo, and kumo onna. The first two names have entries on wikipedia which promise to be helpful for those wanting more details to mine:
Tsuchigumo or Jorōgumo

The latter name seems to be more common. The jorogumo entry at the Obakemono project provides additional information from folklore (and about the spider that shares the same name). The fact that there is a particular species of spider involved fits with game developments in which a particular kind of spider is particularly identified with Lolth. For an appearance of the the jorogumo in an RPG product, we need look no further than the cover of the final installment in the Kaidan adventure series Curse of the Golden Spear:

Michael Tumey & Rite Publishing's Dark Path, cover by Jason Rainville

Thanks to Michael Tumey for reminding me of this and allowing the use of the image. (I do wish there was a bigger version available, as I forgot this fact because one has to look at the illustration for some time to realize the woman's nature.)

The final name that I found for this creature is kumo onna. This is the name that occurs in Dark Tales of Japan: The Spider Woman, which is viewable on YouTube (parts 1, 2, and 3 -- thanks to Dave Gross who retaught me how to use Google in a moment of mental impairment). While these different names are used in different contexts, so far I have no reason to think that they represent any important distinctions in the figure, at least for our purposes here. Other places that you kind find the Japanese spider woman: Hellboy cartoon, Sword of Storms, features one, and so does the manga/anime xxxHolic, which has a character named Jorougumo. (The latter's blond hair is unique among the characters, which not only serves to mark her out as the sexy blond, but recalls the white hair of the drow -- hair the color of spider silk.) The figure also shows up as the Spider Queen in the video game Okami.

This matter of hair is a particular area that I would pay attention to if I were rebuilding avatars of Liloth to fight in games, and, for that matter, vampires/driders. Liloth's spidermaids (little Miss Lolthets?) would fit with the kind of action I see in the Japanese portrayals, and with the male fascination in women's long hair, if the web were to strike out from their hair. It also calls to mind all the white-haired witches in kung fu movies that are able to attack with their hair.

But there is more to be gained from reflecting on the jorogumo (or whichever name you prefer) than adding these elements to the characterization and mechanical build of Liloth.  Often, divine or demonic figures are assumed to be popular in only one culture or segment of the world's population in RPG worlds (a human god, a dwarven god, an Eastern god, etc.)  Whether assuming a world in which such supernatural figures are real, or from real world cases of amazing parallels between mythic figures (accounted for however), Liloth might benefit not merely from some Oriental elements, but from having an Oriental presence, as well.  If, say, driders and their goddess have an above ground (nocturnal) presence in your fantasy Japan, this is another area of world-building that will call for explanation and lead to more world-building.

We might do well to close by reflecting on this figure from the Jungian perspective: this is a male anima archetypal figure, and a negative one. It represents the fear that woman will catch you in her web, and that though she seems beautiful, she will turn out to be a monster that will suck you dry to sustain her own life. That she would reign over an entire underworld of threatening, shadowy figures as matriarch is not surprising, once we become aware of the elements that she reflects. That this figure of Liloth would seem like a more compelling figure is in keeping with the strength of the psychological elements combined: lust, entrapment, loss of self and life, etc.

In closing let me add this addendum: I believed I was being creative and somewhat original in my identification of Lolth and Lilith, but to show the nigh impossibility of actually being the first person to have a totally unique thought and do so something with it, check out this link that I later read, and this illustration that I recently found. While all the connections are not present, either implicitly or explicitly, it gives one pause if one is inclined to entertain Jungian thoughts. But who can tell with the power of linguistic attraction at work?  On that note, I bid you Happy Halloween, and a good Mythopoeic Monday.

Lilith Queen of Lust by Icequake Design

Other contemporary illustrations of the jorogumo may be found about the internet, for example, check out this illustration by Matthew Meyer.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Not-to-Miss Mentions

A couple of items here at the dawn of the new week.

From last week's Paizo blog: though the Beginner's Box is what everyone is talking about, Paizo also unveiled three more of the upcoming release of Pathfinder Battles from Wizkids!  To get your Halloween dreaming kicked off, feast your eyes on the zombie, werewolf, and spectre.

Also, I recently used a Ralph Horsley image.  If you haven't seen his Deviantart page, I recommend it.  I love his use of color and the dramatic quality of his work.  And he doesn't mind sharing nice-sized images.  Give this man more work, says I!

Also, I assume everyone has been clicking jack o' lanterns like mad over on DriveThruRPG/Comics/Wargame Vault/RPGNOW.  Whew.

Also, two things you might have missed:
  • If you haven't voted in the poll, please do so (top of right sidebar)!
  • Be sure and check out the Free stuff from CGP for Labyrinth Lord & Pathfinder.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

"On Thud and Blunder" for our Times?

By: Schick

Poul Anderson's "On Thud and Blunder" is a classic essay on errors of fact in fantasy that detract from verisimilitude and may interfere with the reader's willing suspension of belief.  I recommend it to all mythopoets, be they writers or gamers.  One of our fellow Ramblers (thanks, Sarah!) pointed me to K. V. Johansen's "Five Things You Should Never Do in Epic Fantasy."  Johansen's essay follows in the same vein.  I recommend it for your consideration, as I know I will be rereading it.

Number one on Johansen's hit list is all you post-Enlightenment city-slickers out there who toss hay-bales into the scenery on the way from the keep to the dungeon.  Many of us are so historically out-of-touch, we imagine the above is a traditional bucolic image.  Why?  Because all contemporary urbanites know that nowadays, bales of hay are rectangular for convenient seating or stacking and bound with tight plastic.  Check the OED! thunders Johansen.  Might as well ask me to eat vanilla ice cream or take a nap.  

Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Harvesters, 1565
Now, I don't have the room or the money to fulfill my dream of personally shelving the venerable set, and Fate has been cruel to my magnifying glasses, so for years I've been making doT with the two-volume, Shorter OED as the next-best thing.  Bale (third entry) leaves me in a bit of quandry: L15-E19.  That is some range there, clerks of Oxenford.  Maybe the full version tells a more complex tale, but it looks reasonable to me that the word entered English from the Dutch during the time when we were doing lots of business with them involving "package[s] of merchandise, originally round in shape, now usually compressed, wrapped in tight canvas etc., and tightly corded or hooped."  If so, the late middle ages seems likely.  No examples are given in SOED.  With one of my favorite Pieter Bruegel paintings firmly in my imagination, I look up "hay" to see what gathered hay might have been called in ye olden days.  Haystack?  Bundles or trusses held with a hayband?  (Yeap, there is a word for what you see at the top of those things that I guess we are not going to call bales.) Sadly, the historical stuff is what gets trimmed down for the shorter version.  Hayrick? Haycock?  Heaps?  Piles?  Now I see we were just being linguistically lazy no matter how the anachronism issue plays out.  Also, I get the feeling that we have size issues here that could benefit from accuracy.  Do I see a haystack in the far distance in the left background?  Then I want to call those things in the right middle of the painting something else, like bundles of hay.  (By the way, you really have to see this big blond beauty in person at the National Gallery in London.  Man, PB really has created a psychological study of humanity in this masterpiece that you don't see when you are looking at the whole instead of the parts.)

Historical linguistics and creative writing is a tough intersection.  How far do we take things?  Where are the lines?  Johansen is lying in wait for me if I refer to the peasants baling hay, but I bet if I refer to the above as corn harvest (it's actual title, unless you want to call it August), then most of my readers, Americans of various stripes, I'd wager, are going to have heads filled with maize: a crop I am not going to put in my imaginary worlds unless you are on your way to dreaded Tamoachan (a one-way ticket to Xibalba!).  But for the majority of the history of the English language, corn is the right word, so we had corn supply, corn laws, corn riots, and even corn rebellions. (Helpful hint: If you are the player playing Rome, never lose control of Egypt.  Never.)  So we have the history of language behind us, our mythopoesis churning within us, and the audience in front of us.  From before and behind, we have relevant issues interacting with our internal process that demand the best of our judgment in mediating these issues.  And remember, there's a few of us word mavens out there waiting, cudgels in hand.  I hope the links help you think well about how to do this, even if they don't give you the bread needed to buy yourself OED access.  Happy mythopoesizing!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Exclusive: Clockwork Gnome is Rotten to the Core!

FREE CONTENT from the publisher below!

By: blondieb38
It all goes back to my childhood.  I was given an allowance and made Chief Disposal Engineer of the Household.  Dealing with the garbage gave me a little cash, responsibility, and let me start being outside for a little while late at night twice a week.  Above all, it exposed me to all sorts of things I had been sheltered from in my youth and innocence.  The first time I opened up a garbage can on a hot summer day and found it crawling with maggots shocked and disgusted me.  There was something about those pudgy white worms eating rotten meat that reached down deep into my gut and made me want to hurl.  I didn’t, but I can still feel myself gagging.  Since that day, I have always found them really revolting.

That is why when Allen Taliesin announced Morithal the Maggot God in his Campaign Cogs product line, I was filled with revulsion.  And excitement: when imagining evil powers that would give your players nightmares and unite them in iron-willed hatred, it is hard for me to come up with a concept more fitting than the Lord of Unceasing Hunger.

I knew the Clockwork Gnome had been hard at work, tinkering with multiple projects.  But I am thrilled to hear that one of my favorites – which just happens to be the one most appropriate to this time of the year, is coming out soon, and that he had primo exclusive content to offer us Mythopoeic Ramblers.  Like an evil race tied to Morithal.  What’s that?  You're worried about what game system it’s being offered for?  Well, how about Labyrinth Lord and  Pathfinder!?

So consider this not only a fine freebie that will probably cover most gamers round-hereabouts, but a heads-up that The Virtuous and the Vile: Morithal, Lord of Unceasing Hunger will appear in two versions, one designed for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game (published in the Campaign Cogs line) and one designed for the Labyrinth Lord Roleplaying Game. Both versions will provide a detailed religion for use in any fantasy campaign.

Previewed here is the walking hunger, a new race of creatures that appear in Morithal, Lord of Unceasing Hunger. These abominations are born from the indirect influence of the Morithal, the Maggot God. As a result, they inherit some of that foul god's traits, including a hunger that can never be satisfied.  This preview includes statistics for both game systems.

Morithal, Lord of Unceasing Hunger contains a wealth of information on The Feasting Worm, including myths, an origin story, and details on his cult.  As a part of this preview Morithal's origin story and a myth surrounding his part in the creation of the Underworld are featured below.  

Walking Hunger
No. Enc.: 1 (1)
Alignment: Chaotic (evil)
Movement: 90' (30')
Armor Class: 2
Hit Dice: 12
Attacks: 3 (2 claws/bite)
Damage: 1d8/1d8/2d6
Save: F12
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: XVII
XP: 2,800

Due to their lack of skeleton, the walking hunger are impossible to restrain. They may also squeeze into spaces many times smaller than their size. A cloying smell of rotting flesh clings to these beasts at all times, sickening those who come too close. Anyone within 30 feet of a walking hunger must make a save vs. poison or be subjected to nausea and vomiting (-2 to attack rolls) for 1d4 turns.  Walking hunger feel a constant need to feed, an impulse that impedes their senses. Illusions are particularly potent against walking hunger (-4 to saves) but can they also be easily tricked, especially if carrion is involved.  If a walking hunger rolls a 20 or exceeds the number it needs to hit by 4 when using its bite attack, it may swallow its opponent.  A walking hunger can only swallow a creature that is roughly the size of a human or smaller and may only swallow one creature at a time.  While in its gullet, an individual takes 1d8 points of damage each round.  At the Labyrinth Lord's discretion, a swallowed creature may attempt to cut their way free.

Walking hunger look like giant maggots with two, spindly legs and humanoid arms that end in wicked claws.
Instead of a skeleton, the body of a walking hunger is composed of thick, powerful muscles that provide support while remaining flexible.They stand 10 feet tall but weigh very little in comparison.  The walking hunger are genderless creatures and incapable of procreation on their own.  Their birth is still somewhat of a mystery, but it is clear that they only arise in locations with a high density of morthacite (a rare mineral found only in the Underworld) and an unusual amount of carrion. Even when both of these elements are in abundance the creation of a walking hunger is rare, perhaps taking place once every twenty years.  Walking hunger emerge fully grown, both physically and mentally.

By their nature walking hunger are solitary. They consider all other creatures as food and feel threatened by others of their kind.  Combat is always the result when two walking hungers meet, with the winner cannibalizing the loser.  The only thing a walking hunger respects is strength and they will serve more powerful individuals, so long as a steady supply of meat is provided.  A walking hunger's unending appetite means it quickly depletes an area of potential food, forcing it to move its lair in search of new sources of sustenance on a regular basis.

Walking Hunger
What appears to be a massive maggot lies upon the ground, its flesh quivering as it enjoys a putrid feast of rotten meat.  But as it turns its eyeless head towards you the truth is so much more horrifying.  The pallid worm rises upon two legs, pushing itself up from the ground using its thin arms that end in wicked claws.  As the vaguely humanoid creature shambles toward  you the stench of rotten meat assails your nostrils, turning your stomach and making it difficult to breathe. 

Walking Hunger                            CR 8 ( 4,800 XP)
CE Large aberration
Init: +1; Senses blindsight 60 ft.; Perception
Aura stench (DC 22, 10 rounds)
AC 18 touch 10, flat-footed 17 (+1 Dex, +8 natural armor, -1 size)
hp 126 (12d8+6)
Fort +9; Ref +5; Will +9 (+5 versus illusion spells or effects)
Immune disease
Speed 30 ft., burrow 20 ft.
Melee bite +14 (2d6+4), 2 claws +12 (1d6+2)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks rend (2 claws/bite, 2d6+6)
Str 18, Dex 12, Con 22, Int 6, Wis 10, Cha 12
Base Atk +9; CMB +14; CMD 25
Feats Improved Natural Weapon (bite), Improved Sunder, Multiattack, Power Attack, Weapon Focus (bite), Weapon Focus (claw)
Skills Acrobatics +9, Climb +12, Escape Artist +17, Intimidate +9, Perception +7, Sense Motive -10; Racial Modifiers Escape Artist +8, Sense Motive -10
Languages Aklo, Undercommon
SQ compression, driving hunger
Compression (Ex) Walking hunger lack skeletons and can move through an area as small as one-quarter its space without squeezing or one-eighth its space when squeezing.

Driving Hunger (Ex) The need to consume food never fades for the walking hunger.  This unending appetite often impedes judgment and makes it difficult for a walking hunger to determine truth from falsehood. Walking hunger receive a -4 racial modifier to Will saves versus illusion spells or effects and a -10 racial modifier to Sense Motive checks.

Stench (Ex) Walking hunger are surrounded by the cloying smell of rotting meat.  Any living creature that comes within 30 feet of a walking hunger must make a DC 22 Fort save or be sickened for 10 rounds.  Creatures that successfully save cannot be affected by the same walking hunger's stench for 24 hours. A delay poison or neutralize poison spell removes the effect from the sickened creature. Creatures with immunity to poison are unaffected, and creatures resistant to poison receive their normal bonus on their saving throws. The save DC for this ability is Constitution based.
Environment subterranean
Organization solitary
Treasure standard

Society and Habitat
By their nature walking hunger are solitary creatures. They form no bonds within their species, considering them to be competitors for resources, and generally treat other creatures as potential food.  Unless controlled by a more powerful force, a walking hunger will always react negatively to the presence of another of its kind.  Battles between these beasts are violent in the extreme with the victor cannibalizing the loser, sometimes while the creature is still alive.

The only thing a walking hunger truly respects is strength.  When another creature demonstrates its superior power a walking hunger will immediately show deference, even going so far as to offer service in exchange for its life.  Temples of Morithal often take advantage of this instinct for self-preservation to compel walking hungers into their ranks for use as guards and soldiers. So long as food is provided, a walking hunger will serve a more powerful individual or group without question.

Ultimately a walking hunger's primary motivation is the search for food.  Every action they take is devoted to satiating their endless hunger and in this way they closely resemble their creator, Morithal. This drive leads a walking hunger to focus only on the immediate future. Planning head is alien to their way of thinking. It this reason alone that a walking hunger will not serve a creature weaker than it, even when offered an endless supply of food.  They would rather feed the direct need and slay the individual rather than make any kind of deal. Naturally this shortsightedness makes a walking hunger susceptible to trickery and manipulation. 

If left alone, a walking hunger will quickly deplete food sources in an area rather quickly.  They prefer to eat carrion and will never consume anything but the flesh of other creatures.  While their predilection for rotting meat helps slow a walking hunger's depredations upon an area, these beasts find it necessary to move their lair on a fairly regular basis. During these periods a walking hunger will pack the valuable goods it has gleaned from its victims and simply wander until they find a new region more to their liking.  As expected, they will avoid powerful communities, but are not opposed to settling near small subterranean villages and using them as personal source of meat. 

Walking hunger look like giant maggots with two, spindly legs and humanoid arms that end in wicked claws. They stand 10 feet tall but weigh very little in comparison. Instead of a skeleton, the body of a walking hunger is composed of thick, powerful muscles that provide support while remaining flexible.

The walking hunger are genderless creatures and incapable of procreation on their own.  Their birth is still somewhat of a mystery but it is clear that they only arise in locations with a high density of morthacite and an unusual amount of carrion. Even when both of these elements are in abundance the creation of a walking hunger is rare, perhaps taking place once ever twenty years.  Walking hunger emerge from decaying flesh fully grown, both physically and mentally.

For their entire lives these beasts know only one sensation, a desire to feed that can never be satisfied.  Despite being sapient and possessing the ability to communicate through language, walking hunger form no close bonds and only speak when absolutely necessary.  They are incapable of feeling love, compassion, pity, or even anger and despair.  All that matters to them is food, which makes their attacks disturbingly impersonal.  The closest a walking hunger can come to rage is when they meet another of their kind.  Even so, the impulses they feel to destroy each other stem not from any kind of vendetta or grudge but from a longing to hoard resources.

A walking hunger's impressive appetite is believed to come from the two sources. The first of these is most obvious, the walking hunger share a sympathetic connection to Morithal due to their origins.  His unending hunger is encoded upon them at creation, leaving very little room for anything else.  The second has to do with the walking hunger's bodily functions.  Their metabolism is surprisingly high, meaning they burn energy at a remarkable rate.  Walking hunger find it difficult to stay sedentary for long and only enter a sleep state once every week.  Sleep periods can last anywhere between two and six hours, though they rarely exceed four hours.

Morithal's Unholy Maw
Records from the earliest days of civilization speak of Morithal as an ancient god.  Cave paintings depict him as an immense maggot that feeds on the flesh of world. He has been the patron of many dark and ancient empires, now ground into dust by the press of centuries. By all accounts Morithal has always existed, plaguing mortals with his insatiable hunger since the beginning of the multiverse.  There can be no question that the Lord of Unceasing Hunger is one of the oldest deities in existence.  In comparison to the Maggot God, the anthropomorphic gods of the mortal races are mere children.

Morithal's story stretches back far further than many imagine, to a time well before the creation of this reality.  It was in the last days of the previous multiverse that the Lord of Unceasing Hunger began his journey to infamy.  Morithal was once a god of abundance, worshiped by farmers and druids on a world whose name is long forgotten.  When that multiverse began to buckle and come to an end, as all things do, Morithal hid himself within a crack in the fabric of space and time.  There he waited until the cataclysm came to an end.  Cut off from his faithful, who no longer existed, the god became hungry for the power of worship.  As milennia passed and the essence of creation began to reform into something that could develop into a new multiverse, the hunger only grew until it consumed everything that Morithal was, his mind was usurped.  When the current reality rose out of the chaos, Morithal slithered from his hole and into legend.

Creation of the Underworld
When Morithal left his hiding place he immediately came upon the initial act of creation, a single planet and star, newly formed in the young Material Plane.  His hunger was all consuming and his only thought was to feast upon the flesh of this planet.  The Maggot God devoured with impunity and in his wake he left endless tunnels and immense caverns.  He feasted for centuries and honeycombed the world with a subterranean complex of incalculable size.

Sensing that new worlds had come into being on the Material Plane and unable to satisfy his ravenous desires with this place, Morithal folded the essence of space and arrived upon a new planet.  Again he gorged himself upon the soil and rock for centuries, hollowing out a labyrinth of passages and caverns.  Yet, his hunger still raged like an unquenchable fire.  As before, Morithal moved on to a new world in the hope his desires might finally be sated.  So has the Lord of Unceasing Hunger done since the beginning of the multiverse, seeking new worlds and hollowing them out as a worm ravages an apple. 

It is said the tunnels beneath the surface of these worlds are connected by the magic Morithal used to pass between them.  Travelers might pass from planet to planet, never aware that they are jumping across the Material Plane through the folds of space.  Some creatures use these invisible portals to travel to and from various worlds, forming trade networks and establishing outposts on a hundred worlds.  Many of his followers build massive temples at these locations, hoping that someday  the Maggot God will return that way.

The Virtuous and the Vile
Morithal, Lord of Unceasing Hunger
The Final Consumption approaches!

Since the beginning of time, the Maggot God has burrowed his way through the earth, indulging a hunger that can never be satiated. Morithal is an artifact from another time, a being who survived the fall of one multiverse and the birth of another. Cursed with a unending desire to consume, He Who Gnaws has hollowed out vast caverns beneath the earth and these have become the subterranean realm of the dark elves, derro, and other depraved creatures. Despite his repulsive nature, Morithal's followers are powerful and many. His cults are everywhere and each of them is tasked with a single goal: to bring about the reign of their god so that he might consume the stars and cast all the worlds of the Material Plane into eternal night.

The Virtuous and the Vile - Morithal, the Lord of Unceasing Hunger includes:
  •  An in-depth overview of Morithal, his origins, myths, and other important traits.
  •  Information on the cults of the Maggot God, their goals, and the benefits of their faith.
  •  A fully mapped and detailed temple of Morithal including statblocks for the NPCs who worship there.
  • The Famine domain (PFRPG version) and new spells that embody the horrid hunger of the Maggot God. 
  • Three new monsters who embody Morithal's unceasing need to feed.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Original Fiction for Halloween

Kelly O'Donnell, my college DM, wrote a short piece on one of the recurring villains of our campaign for his creative writing class.  I loved the piece then, and I still do.  After being lost for many years, he happily uncovered the only known surviving copy recently.  With some minor revisions, he has agreed to allow it to appear here as one of the blog's special Halloween treats.  Thanks, Kelly!

Pawns of the Pathfinder Beginner Box

Reviews of Pathinder RPG's Beginner Box are making the rounds, and many of them link to Paizo's unboxing video (appearing on this blog immediately after its release).  One of the features of the box that I was particularly excited to see -- and felt like the video gave short shrift -- were the pawns.  I will address this lack out of my own interest in the pawns, and to help inform my readers, with a selections of photographs I took of some of my favorites among the 87 pawns.  They are very nice illustrations of appropriate monsters and characters for games between 1st and 5th level, and printed on very sturdy cardboard, and the bases (stands) hold them erect with no problems.  Other parts of the boxed set may be seen in the background.

Paizo Pawns:
Because if you say you don't want to be able to play an all-elf party of hotties, you lie.

Paizo's Iconic Goblins, dancing around the fire.

The Heavy Hitters (High CR Opponents)
The sound of large wings beating is the signal to RUN!

Inbred hill people room.

Will o' Wisp and Ghost
Medusa: Hottest of the Tough Monsters.  The other two just are just lackeys for composition.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Poll Gadget Update

Sorry folks, that gadget was not  winning.  I replaced it with another one.  The first person to vote went with GM & Players, and I apologize to him or her that said vote was lost and needs to be recast.

I won Dungeons and Dragons... and it was Advanced!

In case you don't know...
Leave it to Chevy Chase to show chumps like Charlie Sheen what WINNING! looks like.  What does winning an RPG look like to you?  Or does the question even make sense?  I've decided to try my hand at my first poll.  Check it out in the top right hand corner (the sidebar).

EDIT: My apologies to the one person who voted previously (the person who voted for GM & Players), but I had to switch to another poll gadget.  The first one was causing people way too much trouble.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Gygax on Game Design, Part I

Part I

Welcome to this week's installment of Tomeful Tuesday.  Continuing my ramble through Gary Gygax's Role-Playing Mastery (1987), this week brings us to chapter 8, and this week I will cover the chapter through page 146, that is, through PC generation.

Chapter 8
pp. 138-146.

"Have you achieved gaming mastery?" asks Uncle Gary (Grandpa Gary, to some of my younger readers). "Are you ready for the challenge of the 'ultimate feat of creativity'?" (138)

"Yes," responds the eager rambler.  "I hunger to prove myself up to the gygaxian standard and become a game designer!"

"Then, for you" Gary replies with a frank and fixed look, "'this chapter should be required reading for the sake of the basic guidance it supplies'" (Ibid.).

Gygax breaks the basic choices in game design down into Initial decisions and Rules.  As has been my general practice, I will outline and sometimes summarize Gygax, focusing on any ideas or quotations that I find exceptional.

Initial Decisions (138-140)
Genre.  The imaginative field in which the game will be set.  Sci-fi?  Fantasy?  Espionage? etc.
Period.  The time period in which the game will be set.  Mythic?  Late Medieval?  Victorian? and so on.
Scope.  Where play will begin and the action from there to the end of play.

Writing the Rules
Once these initial decisions for the game have been made, rules may be written that are appropriate to play in the genre and time period, that allow play to progress from its starting point towards its intended end.  Gary then divides rules into what he sees as the most common elements that they must cover.

Technological base.  Delineating the level of technology available, appropriate to genre and period, and rules governing the use of technological devices.

Game area, or milieu.  Identifying where the action of the game will take place.  It's not enough to say Victorian espionage.  Victorian espionage might be taking place on airships protecting India from invasion by a Sino-Russian Marxist confederation who is attempting to extend its undead Marxist proletariat southward into the British Empire.

Time scale(s).  Of the various sizes needed for play within this game.

Distance scale(s).  To govern the movement of people, vehicles, and other objects.

Movement.  With the above two to allow for the spatial aspects of the game.

Combat at a distance

Hand-to-hand combat

Morale/Reaction.  Rules for determining how all beings in the game other than those personifying the players react to events.

Player character generation.  Gygax identifies this as "one of the most critical portions of any RPG.  At the root of everything, a character is... a set of numbers that quantify just what a character can do...and how difficult it is for him" (143-144).  These numbers, assigned as the scores of particular attributes, also oblige the player "to do his best to portray the character in that vein when that particular attribute comes into play during a scenario" (145).  He concludes, "without a sophisticated and comprehensive system for character generation, we would have role assumption rather than a role-playing game" (146, the emphasis is Gygax's). While he notes that this means that character generation can become an off-putting, "tedious and time-consuming process," yet "clever and careful rule design and some imaginative methods of keeping action and adventure in the process of statistical generation and the recording of character information" can alleviate this (146).

Stopping here allows us to end on a high note of the chapter.  New readers who are interested in catching up on this series are directed to the "Gygax" and "Tomeful Tuesday" tags below.  Until next week, I bid you happy perusal of your tomes.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lolth's Kind of Guy

Hextor by Ralph Horsley

I think it was the day I got my Hextor miniature, but it may have been when I saw WAR's illustration of Hextor (sadly, I can't find a nice link to it).  I took one look at the eight-limbed freak: big, strong, violent, evil.  And, above all, with strong arachnid features.  Just Lolth's type.  That is why, in the version of a fiendish hierarchy that I developled for 3.5, I planned to develop a liaison between Lolth and Hextor, despite their differences in alignment (don't make me state the obvious about male-female relationships in the real world).  I like the idea so much, that I would consider using it in another setting if I never used this setting again. 

Hextor also seems a good choice to me for the worship of goblinoids, especially hobgoblins, given his goblinoid features and his warlike character.  Does anyone know where this design originated?  Hextor was not on my radar back in the days of first edition, only coming to my attention with third edition.  Did Hextor look like this in the old world of Greyhawk materials?  In my opinion, this is a strong design. 

By the way, in spite of the what I said about WAR's illustration, I do like the work that Ralph Horsley has done for WotC, Paizo, and others.  I especially like his use of color.


The people in my condos are now talking about The Squee Heard Round the Property.  Oh, man, it is pretty.  The pawns are awesome.  The selection, organization, and graphic design really looks helpful to introduce beginners (I say, "looks," since I have to imagine myself as a beginner.)  The solo adventure seems like a smart idea.  In other words, at least as pretty and savvy as it seemed from a distance.  The proof of course is in the tasting.  I'll keep folks updated.  Well done, Paizo crew!

One Week Until Halloween

by Southernfried
There's only a week left until Halloween.  If you're going to celebrate the holiday right, it's time to get things together.  If you've been putting preparation off, it's time to get busy!

I've got a couple of special features coming up on the blog to celebrate the season, so be sure and check back through the next week for their arrival.

More Getting Ready
In a perfect world, I would carve some jack-o-lanterns, get a new costume, go to at least one adult Halloween party, and a Halloween game session.  All of these look unlikely this year...again.  Oh the joys of underemployment (adjunct faculty = legal slavery).  I will probably end up just accompanying a couple of nephews on their trick-or-treat round, which is nice, but leaves me a feeling a little bit like someone who has prepared a month for an anti-climactic ending. Enough moaning.

I'm still working my way through my published reading list, and will be adding some updates about it, but in the midst of complaining about American Horror Story, my colleagues have insisted that I watch The Walking Dead.  Zombies (hungry zombies?  lesser ghouls?)  are not my favorite monster, but I watched the first episode since the full-time faculty told me not to show up at lunch today if I failed to do so.  Man, it is grim and gross.  Especially gross.  And while it's not my favorite of the genre, they definitely have some of the methods of good horror story-telling down: not revealing too much at the beginning, withholding information, building tension, and so forth.  While they do end up showing lots of zombies, that is a rule that it would seem especially hard to adhere to in the zombie movie, which depends in its most essential nature on fear of the crowd.  Based on the first episode (and the confidence of its fans), this looks like it has a better chance than AHS.

A Fiendish Hierarchy

I have previously blogged about the amalgamated, generic D&D setting that I created for 3.5.  I wanted to use some figures that players were already familiar with, and chose from among those they new from various D&D settings and monster books while trying to create a setting that had more coherence, and added some new twists to the familiar.  Building the celestial hierarchy was important for clerics and paladins, building the setting's mythic background, and the calendar, as I tried to indicate in the posts on those subjects.  Just as important -- maybe even more so -- is the opposition.

The Fiendish Hierarchy
Arch-Devils (5 for the pentagram)
  • Hextor, the Warlord: patron of war, discord, massacres, conflict, conquest. Diabolic Knights (=UA’s Paladin of Tyranny) the ancient Urromite Empire and Drachand; also popular in the city-state of Adikos. (Wrath & Pride)
  • Lilith, Queen of erinyes, succubi and incubi, creator of Vampires: patron of stillbirth, abortion, infant death, kidnapping, sexual addiction, sexual perversion, sexual seduction, and sexual infidelity.  (Lust & Envy)
  • Mammon, Plutarch of Hell: patron of the accumulation of wealth for its own sake, gambling addiction, evil bankers, insurers, and usurers.  (Greed & Sloth)
  • Mephistopheles, King of Devils, the Father of Lies, the Buyer of Souls: patron of lies, evil illusionists, manipulation, deception, temptation, and (general) seduction.  (Pride & Lust)
  • Tiamat, Queen of evil dragons, creator of dragonspawn: patron of all evil draconic creatures.  (Fear and Hatred)  

Demon Lords (6)

The Chaos symbol.  (I don't like the one with 8 arrows: it doesn't look chaotic at all.  So I adapted it to the anarchy symbol.  Voila!)

  • Abaddon, aka Apollyon, Typhon, and Pazuzu; the Destroyer, king of the locust-demons and evil air elementals.  Patron of Destruction for its own sake (includes suicides).  (Hatred & Wrath) Realm: where the planes of the Abyss and the Air touch.
  • Dagon,   Lord of Aboleths, Leviathans, Krackens, Sahuagin, Locathah, and Ixitxachitl. Patron of Typhoons and Hurricanes.  Called the Illithids.  Creator of the first (evil?) giants (the Cyclops.  Through a pact with the powers of elemental evil, the giants were improved?)  Thus the source of the enmity between the dwarves and the giants goes back to the warfare between Moradin and Dagon.  (Gluttony & Hatred).  Realm: Where the planes of the Abyss and of Water touch.
  • Demogorgon, Prince of Demons; patron of monsters, chaos and destruction in the animal realm.  (Pride & Envy).  Realm: Where the planes of the Abyss and Earth touch.
  • Hekate, Demon Queen of hags, witches, and lycanthropes, bestower of curses.  Patron of Madness and Nightmares, Hallucinogens and Psychodelics.  The Dark Moon.  In some cultures, she is known as Baba Yaga, one of her avatars.  (Hatred & Lust).  Realm: Where the planes of the Abyss and the moon touch.
  • Lolth, Demon Queen of the drow and of evil arachnids.  Patron of drug dealers, sadists, assassins, and poisoners. (Pride & Hatred) Sworn enemy of Orcus.  Realm: Where the planes of the Underdark and the Abyss touch.  
  • Orcus, Lord of the Underworld, maker of undead (excepting vampires, liches, and mummies), maker of the Orcs, patron of Necromancers.  (Gluttony & Pride). Sworn enemy of Lolth.   Realm: The whole of the Abyss.  His claims extend to the entire plane of the Underworld, and his desires to extend the Underworld into the Underdark have earned him the eternal enmity of Lolth. 

Other Evil Powers

  • Baphomet, patron of minotaurs, demon prince of beasts and vengeance.  Thrall of Demogorgon.  Patron of Anti-Paladins (= UA's Paladin of Slaughter).
  • Cerberus, Lord of all hellish hounds, Hound of Orcus. 
  • Graz'zt, Dark Prince, the Great Usurper.  Devoted enemy of Demogorgon and his minions.  Also known as Arioch.  
  • Uzir, patron of Miżraim, supplanter of Set.  First Mummy, Lord of Mummies and of false afterlife.  Vassal of Mephistopheles.  In the Uzirite heresy, it is claimed that Anqet, as primal goddess, gave birth to Uzir.
  • Iblīs, The Caliph of the Efreet, The Grand Sultan of the City of Brass, Wazir of Mephistopheles.
  • Gruumsh, first orc, patron of all orcs, as well as conquest, strength, survival and territory, greater servant of Orcus.  Patron of evil barbarians.
  • The Lady of Pain, the resultant split personality of Orcus' kidnapping of Kora.  Patron of masochism, loss, grief, and isolation.
  • {Spoilered},  a figure associated with a major arc in some games that were put on hold.  Just in case they get started again.
  • Yeenoghu, consort of Demogorgon and patron of gnolls.  Also known as Lamashtu.  (Yes, he got a sex change.  Gnolls should be matriarchal, like hyenas.)

The Four Horsemen (aka the Malefactors, NE)
  • Tyranny    (Titan, patron of tyranny)  
  • War           (Akhillon, Hextor's Herald/Shield-bearer).  First King & Patron of Adikos. 
  • Pestilence (Nerull, patron of disease)
  • Death        (Charon, opposed to Anubis. Orcus' ferryman.)

Vestiges of Vanquished Evil Powers

  • Acererak (Vestige)
  • Mok'slyk (Vestige)
  • Tenebrous (Vestige)
  • Tharizdun (Vestige)

  • Erythnul, patron of hate, envy, malice, panic, ugliness, and slaughter.
  • Usaht, wife of Uzir.  Patron of opportunistic abandonment of family, total freedom of worship, cooperation in scams and hoaxes, mothers who aspire to give birth to gods, and wives who have to search for their husbands.  For her betrayal of the gods, Usaht was transformed into a Serpent woman.  Thenceforth, she has become the patron of Serpentfolk and other serpentine monsters who are not already minions of Tiamat. 
  • The Lady {Spoilered}.  Connected to the spoiler above.

It may just look like a hodgepodge of listing, but if you dig into it, there was a good deal of thought that went into it, in how the various evil powers are related and their opposition to the celestial hierarchy.  Thanks for stopping by for this week's installment of Mythopoeic Monday!