Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"The Terrible Old Man" by HP Lovecraft

            I am a fan HP Lovecraft.  Not his god-awful racism of course, but the fact that he wrote in such a stilted un marketable way.  I think it was Neil Gaiman (Though I can’t find the interview) that described HP’s work as "a churning morass of adjectives".  But the ideas in the stories, the mysterious and weird parts that lend themselves so well too modern horror are often great.
            The idea of humanity not being important at all, that the universe is chaotic and hostile, and that even knowing about these things leave the protagonists of the stories insane from the knowledge, those are all cool.
            What is also cool is that all of HP Lovecraft’s writings are public domain.  They can be re-printed, referenced, and even re-written by those (like me) who are fans of the ideas but want to make the writing cleaner, or tighter, or just less racist.  (Seriously, why did you name the cat that Howie?  Did you think it was funny?)
            I figured I would take one of his more accessible stories and rewrite it a bit as an experiment.  “The Terrible Old Man” is a classic horror set up.  Nothing too strange.  Aside from cutting out the word “very” a few times and reorganizing some sentences it is almost the same tale.  I hope you enjoy it.
            If you want to do this yourself, here is a link to HP Lovecraft’s complete works, or at least the horror ones.  I believe he wrote some romance stories too and I have no idea where to find those.  “The Terrible Old Man” also has an animated presentation I have seen on youtube using their own modifications, so check that out too if you wish.
            Anyway, here is the story.

He has also been a game character.

The Terrible Old Man
            It was the design of Ricci, Czanek, and Silva to call on the Terrible Old Man. The one that dwells all alone in an ancient house on Water Street near the sea.  The one reputed to be both exceedingly rich and exceedingly feeble; which forms a situation so attractive to men of the profession of Ricci, Czanek, and Silva.  Their profession was dignified trade robbery.
            The inhabitants of Kingsport say and think many things about the Terrible Old Man which generally keep him safe from the attention of gentlemen like Mr. Ricci and his colleagues.  Rumors swirling like leaf’s obscure the near certainty that the Terrible Old Man hides a fortune of indefinite magnitude somewhere within his musty and venerable abode.
            To hear accounts, the Terrible Old Man is a strange person.  Believed to have been a captain of East India clipper ships in his day; old, so old, that no one can remember when he was young; and so taciturn and recluse that few know his real name.

            Among the gnarled trees in the front yard of his aged and neglected place he maintains a strange collection of large stones, oddly grouped and painted so that they resemble the idols in some obscure Eastern temple. This collection frightens away most of the small boys who love to taunt the Terrible Old Man about his long white hair and beard, or to break the small-paned windows of his dwelling with wicked missiles; but there are other things which frighten the older and more curious folk who sometimes steal up to the house to peer in through the dusty panes.
            The rumors say that on the ground floor, in a bare room, a table sits with many peculiar bottles.  In each bottle, a small piece of lead hangs suspended, pendulum-wise from a string.  They say that the Terrible Old Man whispers to these bottles, addressing them by such names as Jack, Scar-Face, Long Tom, Spanish Joe, Peters, and Mate Ellis, and that whenever he speaks to a bottle the little lead pendulum within makes certain definite vibrations as if to answer.

            Those who have watched the tall, lean, Terrible Old Man in these peculiar conversations, do not watch him again.

            Angelo Ricci, Joe Czanek, and Manuel Silva were not of Kingsport blood; they were of that new and heterogeneous alien stock which lies outside the charmed circle of New England life and traditions.  They saw in the Terrible Old Man merely a tottering, almost helpless grey-beard.  A pitiable old recluse who could not walk without the aid of his knotted cane, and whose thin, weak hands shook with some withering condition of age.
            They really were quite sorry in their own way for the lonely fellow, whom was the source of deriding gossip and otherwise shunned, the ancient villager at whom all the dogs barked and snarled.
            But, as it is known with ironclad certainty, business is business.  To these robbers whose souls were in their profession, there is a lure and a challenge about an old and feeble man who has no account at the bank, and who pays for his few necessities each visit to the village store with Spanish gold and silver minted two centuries ago.

            Ricci, Czanek, and Silva selected the night of April 11th for their call.  Mr. Ricci and Mr. Silva were to interview the poor old gentleman, whilst Mr. Czanek would be waiting for them and their purloined burdens with a covered motor-car by the gate in the tall rear wall of their host’s grounds on Ship Street.  They desired to avoid needless explanations in case of unexpected police intrusions, a made these plans for a quiet and unostentatious departure.

            As prearranged, the three adventurers started out separately so as to prevent any evil-minded suspicions afterward.  Ricci and Silva met in Water Street by the old man’s front gate.  Although they did not like the way the moon shone down upon the painted stones through the budding branches of the gnarled trees, they had more important things to think about than mere idle superstition.
            They feared it might be unpleasant work making the Terrible Old Man loquacious concerning his hoarded gold and silver, for aged sea-captains are notably stubborn and perverse. Still, he was old and he was feeble, and there were two visitors with intent to ask the hard and probing questions.
            Ricci and Silva were experienced in the art of making unwilling persons voluble, and the screams of a weak and exceptionally venerable man can be easily muffled.  So they moved up to the one window on the house that cast light and heard the Terrible Old Man talking childishly to his bottles with pendulums. Then committed to their task, they donned masks, and knocked politely at the weather-stained oaken door.

            Waiting seemed very long to Mr. Czanek as he fidgeted restlessly in the covered motor-car by the Terrible Old Man’s back gate in Ship Street.  He was more tender-hearted than most robbers, and he did not like the hideous screams he had heard in the ancient house just after the hour appointed for the deed.  Had he not told his colleagues to be as gentle as possible with the pathetic old sea-captain?
            Nervously he watched that narrow oaken gate in the high and ivy-clad stone wall. Frequently he consulted his watch, and wondered at the delay.  Had the questioning proved too hard and the old man died before revealing where his treasure was hidden?  Had a thorough search become necessary?  Were floorboards, closet doors, and old furniture being pulled away and open in a mad search?
            Mr. Czanek did not like to wait so long.  He did not like waiting long for coffee in a café.  Here, in the dark, in such a place, any and all waiting seemed too long.  Then he sensed a soft tread or tapping on the walk inside the gate.  A gentle fumbling at the rusty latch.  He saw the narrow, heavy door swing inward.
            In the pallid glow of the single dim streetlamp Mr. Czanek strained his eyes to see what his colleagues had brought out of that sinister house which loomed so close behind.  But there he did not see his colleagues, only the Terrible Old Man leaning quietly on his knotted cane.  The Terrible Old Man smiling hideously.
            Mr. Czanek had never before noticed the color of that man’s eyes, but now in the dark they shone yellow.

            Little things make considerable excitement in little towns.  The rumors swirled.  The people of Kingsport talked all that spring and summer about the three bodies that had washed in with the tide.  They had been horribly slashed as with many cutlasses, mangled as by the tread of many cruel boot-heels, and were scarcely identifiable as human.

            Some spoke of things as trivial as the deserted motor-car found in Ship Street.  Some of inhuman cries they had heard late one night, probably of a stray animal or migratory bird, night owl citizens shared gossip too after all.  But in this idle village gossip the Terrible Old Man took no interest at all.  He was by nature reserved, and when one is aged and feeble, one’s reserve is doubly strong.  Besides, so ancient a sea-captain must have witnessed scores of things much more stirring in the far-off days of his unremembered youth.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Captain America's Leadership

I have talked about previously the difficulty in writing complex legal questions for comics.  The idea of applying laws and philosophical conundrums to a world of super powered beings can break down really quickly, if magic, super science, ancient myth, and Hell can all be demonstrated to exist and multiple handheld objects have the power to destroy the universe the idea of a superhero registry sound kind of silly.  See my blog about the issues I had with Marvel’s “Civil War” comic for more on that.  (I should get around to writing a review of the movie at some point, I liked it, but kind of have more to say.)
Right now, I want to talk about an issue I have with Captain America.  Not the inexplicable Nazism that is in the foreground of the comics, but the issue of Leadership.  Captain Rodger’s skill as a leader is an ability we as readers are often told about, but we are rarely shown this ability, and this is for the simple reason that it is hard to show someone being a leader.  It is hard for writers to show leadership beyond characters yelling for other characters to do obvious things.
They have solved this leadership chestnut in the movies by-the-by, Cap has plans, he leads by example, and he is able to have mature forthright discussions with his friends, allies, protégés, and normal people in such a way that feels natural and reassuring.  The sort of thing you would want from a leader that is both from a bygone era (WWII) and yet still possess youthful energy and takes an outsider perspective on things (he was frozen).
My issue with Cap in the comics (and other leadership characters) can be summed up in this image.

I don't know who wrote this comic.
I do not know who made this inspirational poster.
I would link them if I did.  Even though I am calling them shit.
In this image, Captain America is telling Thor, the 1,000-year-old warrior prince, mightiest warrior from an interstellar race of warriors, champion and veteran of 1,000's of fights and battles to put out a fire using his most notorious ability as a storm god.  Captain America is pointless here and this does not show leadership, it shows him as a micromanager of his colleges.
Leadership is not telling people the bloody obvious in an authoritative tone.
Leadership is not having a striking profile.
This is not Charisma.
This is Lame.
The problem I have with that is that it short shifts the others on the team.  Iron Man has led his own team, so does Thor, so has Hawkeye, so has Widow, Wasp, Black Panther.  And they all have their own style.
Tony has a sit down with people and discusses issues, like management of a business would.  Widow mostly keeps her teammates in the dark about her thought process and instead internalizes their behaviors so that she knows how they will react when she acts.  Wasp is personable and coaxes people’s best out of them via encouragement and friendship.  Leadership is a complex concept.  Let me show you an instance of Captain America being a charismatic leader.
 
Click to enlarge.  Make a small effort to infer what is going on from context.
In this scene, he has been physically dominated by the deranged super soldier codenamed: Nuke (he is a character in the “Jessica Jones” Netflix series, but without the face tattoo).  Captain America appeals to the deeper philosophical underpinnings that define both he and Nuke’s roles in the world.  He identifies the illogical break from the nobler intentions that has led Nuke astray, and explains to him why he has been duped and why he should calm down and rethink his course.
It is not a perfect scene.  I actually wanted to juxtapose this with Wonder Woman being a great teacher/leader that I saw elsewhere but since her movie is out googling that character results in nothing but a torrent of inspirational stills from the movie coupled with people saying some variation of “best thing ever” which is fucking meaningless for this discussion.
My point is, being a leader has less to do with Captain America’s tactical acumen.  The scene in “Avengers” where he orders the police to better positions to fight off the alien invasion is cute, but a better illustration of who he is and what he does can be found in “Captain America: Civil War” when he talks to Scarlet Witch after Crossbones suicide bombs innocent people and they inexplicably blame her for it.  It is cool, reassuring, and touches on what she needs to hear at that moment.  Much like Hawkeye’s mini speech in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” or Yondu saying nearly anything in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2”.

I don’t know what else to say.  Maybe this, don’t write leader characters as the guy who just tells everyone else what to do.  Write leaders as people who get the best out of those they work with.

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons, "Kobolds"

            I have played Dungeons and Dragons for more than 15 years.  Lately, I have only just started playing again with any regularity, but I still have numerous ideas and want to use my blog as a creative outlet.  This is going to be a reoccurring thing as I just keep hammering out things and not all of them can be turned into elements in my “random fantasy novel ideas” folder.

What Have I Got: A Retooling
            I wrote 15 entries on Dungeons and Dragons in the first half of this year and I found that writing 2,800 or so words each week was a bit much for people to read when presented by my rando ass.  Keep in mind, I had to limit myself to that high number and made an effort to start breaking things into multiple parts.
            I decided to take a break and reset my word count to something much lower.  I also am going to emphasize things being a bit sillier.  To start this off I present an analysis of Kobolds.  Consider this a sort of sequel to the “Exotic Monsters” entries but with far less insight into my thought processes.

On the Nature of Kobolds
By Professor Farrowdel Malanar,
Vizier to the Marquis of the Southern Oasis

            I have studied with great diligence over the course of a century the relations of numerous races and governments as they exist on this Southernmost continent of our world.  Gnomes, Warforged, our brethren the Painted Elves, and most recently the race of the Kobolds.
            The Kobold species is by and large a cunning lot.  They take an almost perverse pleasure in outsmarting opponents via complex duplicity, riddles, word games, puzzles, and most dangerously their uncannily constructed traps.
            While other races show great technical proficiency, the aforementioned Gnomes and Warforged being prime examples, and the Coal Dwarfs of Marketopolis have shown themselves the single greatest manufacturing power via the consistency and simple elegance of their large-scale management of systems, Kobolds possess a singular mad genius that I cannot find evidence of in any other race or society.
            Their mechanisms range from crude and brutal to elaborate and intricate.  They are able to hide fine mechanisms in art work, build clockwork and gearwork into previously unworked stone in hours, and an ability to make the most of materials at all times.
            They are however limited in many fashions, getting started chief among them.  Ask a Kobold to protect a fort or tower and the surrounding wilderness will become a deadly maze of poison gas, bolt launchers, pits, and pendulums of every imagining.  Ask them to build a tower and you will end up with a ramshackle structure, poorly situated, poorly supplied, securing an area of no strategic value, and as ugly as it is useless.

A we sure this is a "Secret Tower" and not merely the "Poorly Situated Tower"?
            Kobold nations in history are rare, limited to tribes even in the largest of mentioning, but they have always found a place in larger communities.  They revere dragons and as such see themselves as the smaller counterpart to Dragonkin in much the way Halflings could be seen as the smaller counterparts to Humans.
            A Kobold community in any larger society will be racially harmonious, but ultimately will have issues with their malign nature.  Individual members will always be trying to get one over on others and construct scams to fleece the trusting.  A notorious Kobold was drawn and quartered by the Maunder Empire when they still held dominion over the City of Bone, the Kobold known as Ponzi had constructed an elaborate business model allowing him to sell useless licenses to contracted employees and unload numerous inventions of questionable utility.  Racism against Kobolds following the scheme led to many members of the community leaving to the wilds of the Northern Mountain ranges and tribal living.
            Kobolds are useful allies.  They are defenders of precious things, but not ones to make or dream of precious things.  They are stalwart in loyalty and deadly to those who betray them.  They will hold up every promise or fall on the mercy of the court should they find themselves unable to.  They will fleece the unprepared, and make rich those investors who know how to close their loopholes.  Anyone wishing to attack a group allied with Kobolds should be prepared for a dangerous undertaking, and anyone who allies themselves with kobolds would be wise to never renege on an agreement.

Kobolds by Edition
            There are vast differences between editions in how the Kobold is depicted in art.  For a more detailed presentation on how they have evolved follow this link to an article from Bell of Lost Souls.


            I feel Kobolds became their best in 4th edition as several pages of functionally different members of a kobold squad were presented in the base book.  While that edition's emphasis on party role (Controller, Defender, Leader, Striker) was overall a negative for players, it was a BIG BOON to DM’s who needed help with composition of encounters.  Unfortunately, the race’s importance so dropped off in 5th edition that the in-game explanation that “their racial god is trapped in a labyrinth” seems like a pretty good meta-explanation as to why they are suddenly all dull and dumb.

The Beg for Attention:
            Remember in your own games, to put your own twist on an established monster or make an effort to emphasize their role in the world when the players encounter them.  For instance, this entry is a handout I gave to my players after they went thru a cave system dungeons with numerous kobold constructed traps.
            Have Fun.

If you would like to read one of my longer entries here is a complete list with links. 
Alignment, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 (this should have been edited into 5 parts)
Defense, part 1, part 2, part 3
Exotic Monsters, part 1, part 2
Setting, part 1, part 2, part 3


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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Response from Senator Rubio

            A few months ago, I sent a letter to the office of Florida Senator Marco Rubio.  I wrote a blog which includes the full text of the letter and you can find it at this link.  The reason I am bringing this up is that today I got a response from Senator Rubio’s office.
            It is as well written as a standard answer to my criticisms can be and I am sure the staffers who have had to write these responses are working hard.  Working hard for a terrible… terrible end.  Regardless, I present the letter below and would like to point to the two largest sections (outside of the platitudes).
            First, there is the section pointing to “…the United States has always provided a safe haven to those escaping unthinkable atrocities, ethnic cleansings, and other horrors.”  I do not find this assessment to be entirely honest, the United States has been rather lax with its treatment of refugees, most notably those fleeing the early stages of the Holocaust.
            He then follows this up with, “We must balance this honorable tradition of America’s generosity with the recognition that the federal government’s first responsibility is to protect the safety and security of American citizens…. That is why I have supported enhanced vetting.”  To respond to this, I would like to point to the video of John Oliver from “Last Week Tonight” pointing out the extreme depths that already exist to the process of vetting.  As I see it as enough of a rebuke to any calls for more extreme forms of vetting for those seeking refugee status.



            Maybe I am being unfair to Senator Rubio.  I do seem to be asking a lot from a grown man who holds a prominent elected position from one of the most populated states.  If you feel that I am, feel free to leave scathing comments, or block me from your life.  If you agree with me I invite you to go back to my original letter to the Senator, retouch it to speak to your representative of choice, print it out, and MAIL IT IN.
            Do not stop making calls, sending letters, protesting, or just tweeting or commenting to those in power.  There is only so much noise they can willfully ignore.  Make them listen to what concerns you, be it Healthcare, Refugees, or the fate of our Republic.
            Thank you.

 
Click for full size.
Apologies for this scan having so much detail in the form of folds.


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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons, "Setting" part 3

            I have played Dungeons and Dragons for more than 15 years.  Lately, I have only just started playing again with any regularity, but I still have numerous ideas and want to use my blog as a creative outlet.  This is going to be a reoccurring thing as I just keep hammering out things and not all of them can be turned into elements in my “random fantasy novel ideas” folder.

What Have I Got: What a Wonderful World
            Last time I talked about borrowing from history.  That the eras as we think of them today were vast, both in length of time and in how big the area they refer to could be and to adapt them with that in mind.  What you consider the core or best aspects of a historical era might not even register with someone else.
            I also talked about the importance of ambiguity.  When introducing characters, places, and events to your world you want different people in the world to have different assumptions and dispositions toward those elements.  Maybe no one knows exactly what happened or why, only that the fallout from the events was so bad that everyone forgot what started it.
            The idea here is sort of a continuation from those in part one, when I talked about using published campaign settings and borrowing elements from other areas of fiction for adaptation.  All of this is very top down and broad strokes.  So, let’s look at something specific, Religion.
            I should warn you, occasionally this blog reads like the mad ramblings of someone who has tried to condense the topic of religion into less than 2,500 words.  Cause it is that.



Wrath of the Gods: Getting by with the Bare Minimum
            Dungeons and Dragons, in its most common incarnations embraces the idea of a pantheon of gods.  A collection of powerful entities that either created the universe or embody aspects of it.  This is in the same concept as the religious traditions of Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, the Norse, and even Modern Hinduism to an extent.
            In many ways, the game is set up for this sort of thing.  Having a collection of very real and very personal gods that regularly interact with mortals, jockey for position against each other, form alliances and break them with aplomb, all of this is the sort of classic drama that forms… Well, the Classics.
            In many stories of heroism or tragedy in Ancient Greek plays gods would appear, cause trouble or instigate a conflict, watch as it played out picking favorites and twisting circumstances, and often the power of the gods was what ultimately settled many conflicts.  The literary term “Deus ex Machina” means “God from the Machine” and refers to a literal crane used to lower an actor or statue playing the “god” onto stages back in Greece so that the character of Zeus of Athena could use their power and wisdom to resolve the play’s conflict and deliver the moral.  By modern conventions I imagine many of these plays to be kind of shit.



            Much of what we understand about heroic adventures (at least in Western Civilization) comes from stories taken from Greece.  The search for the Golden Fleece, with prominent supporting character of Hercules; the defeat of the Sphinx and subsequent mother sexing by Oedipus, caused by trying to thwart prophecy; and the supreme mother of all heroic epics in the West, the Iliad in which numerous demi-gods, numerous gods, and numerous mortal heroes and heads of state clash because of events set into motion over a beauty contest held by the gods.
            Gods, insane with power and capricious in their dealings with mortals are a big part of how heroic fantasy is conceived of and having a handful of these guys floating around to use as quest givers, reasons for cults, patrons for Paladins and Clerics, or just to have something to write parables about is important for how the world works.
            You can have a world in which no one is a demi-god and no one has ever seen a god face to face (welcome to Earth), but people will still believe in something.  It is human nature.  Better to have this kind of idea spelled out ahead of time instead of just trying to wing it, religious improve can be all over the place and have questionable continuity that can lead to conflict (again, welcome to Earth).

           You’ll need a gaggle of Gods.  That sounds silly, because the term for a large group of gods is “host” not gaggle.  Let’s move forward with these small assumptions, “There is a pantheon,” “The pantheon is all inclusive,” “There is no monotheism or other system of belief that denies the existence of any particular god,” and “Different groups emphasize the worship of different particular gods”.


The Gods Must be Crazy: Using What You Know
            This is where you have a choice to make, much like with using published materials in the Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk it is very easy to just pick a real-life Pantheon (I recommend using something that is not currently being worshiped to avoid offending someone who thinks you are making fun of their faith) and going with that.
            It is easy to say GREEK and everyone role with Zeus and Co.  You have plenty of legends you can work from and bend them to your own understanding.  You can do what Hollywood has been doing with them for years via scraping the bottom of the Public Domain barrel.

I am going to link to where I got this image, which is a blog about mythology.
However, this image is taken from the 3rd edition of "Deities and Demigods", a Dungeons and Dragons manual.
           Maybe you want Zeus to be past the horny days of his youth and looking to act more as a wise mentor to the younger gods who are coming into their own.  Maybe Zeus has left Olympus and now a divine civil war might break out between Athena and Poseidon over who is the new head of heaven.  Maybe you want things to be early in the timeline, and you want the Titans to be in charge, in which case you are going to have to explain why humans are not in their pre-Prometheus state of having four arms, four legs, and two faces.
            Maybe a reinterpretation is all the fun a creative exercise you want, but you might run into a player who is a Classics nerd who wants you to stick to the legends and might get cross when you don’t, the same sort of argumentative BS I mentioned as a potential issue with published campaign settings only in miniature.
            In all honesty, this can be plenty of fun and if your campaign world all takes place in an area that is a tight grouping of city states like the Greek Islands were, each with a patron god and all pushing to be king of the hill this will save you a lot of time.  It can also be a lot of fun when taken out of that setting.  Imagine Ancient Greek Gods but during a different era of history, I do not know how the Protestant Reformation would look different with the Greek Pantheon as the point of contention, but just that sentence alone could spawn a series of fantasy/alternate history novels.


Going a Step Further: Making Stuff Up
            If the easiest thing you can do is take a something that already exists and squish it up to your heart’s content so that it feels like your own, please do.  That’s what Rome did with the Greek Gods and people didn’t needle them about it.  But let’s try and do something that is both easier and more difficult, making up your own stuff.
            It is surprisingly easy to make up names for gods, Grisonant, Malpropre, Cul, Putain, and Autres.  You can just put a word into a translator and pick French to kick out some “names” that will have a vague context but be exotic enough to sound like… something.
            I would recommend having at least 5 gods, especially if you are going to be using the Alignment axis for morality in the world.  A god for each of the corners and the center square will allow any Cleric in Third edition to play any alignment and have clear guidance as to who they want to follow.  Here are five Greyhawk gods to serve as examples: Heironeous-LG, Kord-CG, Hextor-LE, Lolth-CE, and Boccob-N.
            You can then differentiate locations and nations by the names they use for the gods, sure Heironeous is called that in your campaign’s Paris-espy, but in London-espy they refer to Heironeous as Uther, and in Amsterdam-espy they call him Vangaret, and in Spain-espy he is Cid.  Whatever your starting point, no matter how few gods there are, people will still go to war about what the “right” name is, the proper headgear to be worn during services, or whether the Sabbath in on Saturday or Sunday.
            It is easy to create tension between the gods; it is perhaps even easier to create conflict within individual churches or fine details.
 
Honestly, you could create an entire pantheon based off of the Warcraft art you find by googling random fantasy names.
            Much like covering the basics of the alignment chart there is also the issue of covering lots of different things in the world.  God of Mountains, God of Time, God of Doors, God of Poetry, God of Fishermen, God of Fire, God of War, God of guys named Terry.  You can make as many gods as you want, but with fewer gods it might be best to make big ideas the baseline.
            Mother Nature could be a god of seasons, wild animals, trees, and fertility.  Dagon, god of the oceans, storms, secrets, and omens.  Moloch, god of war, fire, metalwork, and passion.  Discord, god of madness, humor, entropy, and dreams.  Cronus, god of time and space.  Think of all the things covered with just those 5 names.  Did anything feel left out?  Did anything feel incongruous?  Did anything feel unnecessary?  Are you offended that I listed Discord as a patron of dreams instead of Princess Luna?
 
"Oooh, Dream Weaver, I believe you can get me thru the night!"


            Gods are allowed to seem strange, they are gods.  They are big and powerful and jealous of everything.  They snap up being gods of anything and everything because they want power.  You might have a god of trickery, who is also the god of mice, odd numbers, clowns, and other useless shit.
            Those stupid little bends can be a lot of fun and add a lot of funny little chuckles at the game table, for instance: In a post-apocalyptic world, there is a shrine to a god of the woodlands, his symbol and form are of an unassuming mythical creature, they were called “squirrels” … or maybe it is “ducks” which is the word for a reptile with a shell on its back?  Not that it matters, they are all gone now.
 
The god of the "squirrels" or possible "ducks".

One Step Forward and One Step to the Side
            Rather than make a whole new pantheon whole cloth let’s instead do a combination of both borrowing and building.  There are numerous cultural figures that people see in Americana, we see them as symbols or totems in displays of strength and wisdom, but if we were to find these statues in the ruins of an ancient civilization we would label them gods without question.  Let me throw out some.
            Let’s take a quick moment to say, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Teddy Roosevelt have their faces carved into a mountain.  A mountain that was considered a holy place centuries before the US ever existed.  They’re deified to a comical extent, let’s move past that though, because that might cause some uncomfortable reflecting on the absurd levels American Exceptionalism operates on.  So, let’s exclude real people.
 
People make jokes that there is no more room on Mount Rushmore.
I always took that statement too literally and replied with, "Yes, there is, it is a huge god damn mountain".
            Lady Liberty is the largest statue in the world.  She is not a real person, but never the less has a decree written in giant letters and carries a symbol of what she is and does.  She is a God.
            Justice, a blind woman waving around a sword in a courthouse is not a real person, but (and here is a fun thing) aside from being a woman and representing Justice, she is totally different than the Greek gods of Themis and Dike whom she was originally based.  For instance, American Justice is only blind because she was drawn that way to mock how ineffective the Justice system is, and somehow that was taken as part of the package and sold as a positive!?
            Though I suppose Justice’ blindness could be a direct subversion as the Ancient Greeks had the belief that beautiful people were chosen by the gods and thus “proved” their moral superiority by stripping in court, so they would sometimes have the equivalents of judges and juries look away to keep their objectivity.

Symbolism.
            Uncle Sam is a combination of multiple figures in Americana, mostly Lincoln obviously, but he is effectively a god, especially when he is explored in DC comics as having magical powers tied to idealized notions of America, like living in a mythical extradimensional place called “the Heartland”.
            How about the Eagle we see everywhere?  With a shield, an olive branch, and a claw full of arrows?  Nobody want to call that a symbol of divinity?
            Let’s move beyond the positive ones, how about Slender Man?  An otherworldly terror that hunts children in the night and has no face but many hands?  Sounds like something from mythology.
            Then there are figures like the Man in the Moon, Santa Claus, or the Grim Reaper.  All of these things have domains over the night, generosity and good cheer, or freaking DEATH.  How about Lady Luck?  Or Bigfoot?  His symbol of course being a plaster cast of a really big footprint.

            The question of, “What strange fictional characters keep showing up in our culture that could be reverse engineered into a mythology?”  You know, like how Abraham Lincoln fought vampires, freed the slaves, and then died for our sins; that is why they rebuilt a wonder of the world with Lincoln in the place of Zeus.
 
Seriously, this is meant to evoke the Statue of Zeus, one of the original 7 Wonders of the World.

The Future: I have to write a more dedicated series on this
            I have plenty of ideas of how to outline and develop more substantive religious material in a fantasy setting, I will write about that down the line in what will perhaps be far too long a series of blogs.  If this entry has been a little lacking on the nuts and bolts that is by design, this is more about ruminating on the basics of drawing inspiration and seeing how you could borrow and adapt existing stuff or make subtle permutations to ideas you have.

The Beg for Attention:
            This is an incredibly shallow look at the topic of religion, this is done deliberately.  Religion as it is depicted in fantasy gaming could be several blog entries all its own (I have already started kicking around a better plotted series of entries for just that purpose).  As someone who owns a copy of “God’s Breath” and has had my entire adult life affected by people’s incredibly poor grasp of religion, I prefer to keep it shallow.
            Real life religion is a lightning rod for misinterpretation and crazy.  To me, it doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you follow some variation of the Golden Rule, and it is important to know, that no matter how black and misery inducing any act of heresy is derided for being, some asshole is going to go whole hog into the practice of worshiping it.
            Real life religion is complex, deep, arcane, and keeping this topic light is key to enjoying it in the context of a game.  Keep it light and have fun.


First Impressions 5th Edition
            Since we are talking about religion I thought I would point to a monster that is all about starting strange cults to gods that do not exist and somehow still getting super powers from doing so, the Kuo Toa.  Why did I want to focus on them and not something more substantive like demons?  Because this picture of the default Kuo Toa is adorable.
 
"Welcome to weekend cult services.  Can I interest you in a Sprite?  It is my favorite soda."


            Because of the necklace and face things I keep thinking he is giving me some thumbs up.  To see if I was alone in this common mistake I did another facebook poll of a RPG group I belong to and see if anyone else shares my illusion about this Fish Man being so encouraging.  Apparently, they can at least see where I am coming from.




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Friday, May 19, 2017

"Losing the Cold Peace" a Movie Idea

            “I have an idea for a political intrigue movie,” I said.  Maybe it will just be a series, or a book.  Maybe it is too long for just one movie.”
            “Let me hear your pitch.”
            “Okay,” I said.  “But this might seem a little unbelievable.”
            “I’ll keep an open mind.”

            “It starts with a sitting President at a banquet making fun of a prominent businessman who has been critical of him in the press.  And you can see the fuming of the businessman as he listens to the jokes but you can just tell he has the biggest inferiority complex in the world and wants to get back at being made to feel foolish by someone he has been so critical of.  So, he decides to run for President.”
            “Okay, sounds like a good premise.  So, is he a Gordon Gekko type?  Real sleazy?”
            “No, I thought the character would be more like a modern Caligula,” I said.  “Garish, loud, and kind of dumb.  He inherited all his money and has nearly run his business into the ground more than once, hence his inferiority complex.  He just keeps acting like he is the big man on campus and thinks that is all he needs.”
            “Is this a comedy?”
            “Thriller,” I said.
            “Okay.  How is a rich insecure doofus running for President a thriller?”
            “That is the twist,” I said.  “He has the name recognition as a businessman, and he does have the money, but he’s an idiot, so what happens is he is made the patsy of a conspiracy that has been under the surface for a long time.”
            “That is clever.  Illuminati?  Lizardmen?  Drug Cartels?  I threw the lizard men in there because sci-fi is big right now.”

            “I figure we just go with a classic Tom Clancy set up,” I said.  “The Russians might have been done to death back in the Cold War, but I think they are due for a comeback.  So, we have this older retired spymaster running the Russian government and he has retooled the whole operation as a propaganda machine.  He wants to break up all of the big alliances that have flourished since the end of the Cold War, like the EU and NATO by making all of the countries that make up those alliances super narcissistic.”
            “Ha!  And he backs the big business narcissist who is running for President.  I thought you said this wasn’t a comedy?  I can see it now; we can make the businessman transparently evil.  Racist, sexist, generally creepy, we could even give him a mail order bride from Russia that is actually a spy contact.”
            “You know it is starting to sound like a black comedy the more I talk about it,” I said.  “Let me start to unroll more of the plot.”
            “Yeah, sure, I am liking it.”

            “So, the Russian spy master starts cranking out fake news story after fake news story to make the sitting President look bad and to make the other candidate look bad,” I said.  “Meanwhile, the Businessman is transparently evil and he is so clumsy setting up contacts with the Russian spymaster he just starts loading his whole Presidential campaign with spies and traitors, and they are the last sort of people you might expect.  One is an ex-general who always looks like he just ate a bug, another is the dopey looking southern attorney who has been working in the Federal government for years.  Honestly, now we have to make this a comedy.”
            “Oh, yeah, this has comedy written all over it.”
            “So we just surround the ego maniac businessman with a growing collection of goofy spy characters who are running on a platform of racism and sexism and it looks like they are going to lose,” I said.  “The Russian spymaster is flipping his lid, turns out the President knows that something is up with the campaign, but Congress and the Senate are so mad at the President that they will call him a liar if he tries to expose the conspiracy.”
            “Because they are thinking that the racist Russian puppet is going to lose anyway, why lose senate and house seats by pointing out him being a spy?”
            “Exactly,” I said.  “They are short sighted and then the unthinkable happens.  Whoops!”
            “Turns out the voters are more racist than everyone thought?”
            “Yeah,” I said.  “But I wanted it to be an Electoral College thing.  He should win because of a bad system set up by slave holders and tax dodgers.  I think it is symbolically important.”
            “So now the President is a Russian Spy?”

            “I think it is a cool idea,” I said.  “I think the next part will be what I call ‘The Scramble’.  The Congress and Senate know President Business is a security risk and they will have to handle the situation before Russia takes over the world, but…”
            “But, they still want to push thru a lot of their legislature before they have to kick him out.  Whichever party you pick for those guys is going to hate you.  They would not like to be known as the party that put their bullshit ahead of national security.”
            “Yeah, but I can take the heat,” I said.  “What I am more interested in is how fast and furious I want things to tick down.  Maybe show the media going out of its head.  One minute just hoping President Business will stop being a loon, the next thinking maybe he’s turning a new leaf, and then slowly realizing that he really is as terrible as they seem to think he is because he just won’t shut up about every stupid thing he does and he can’t figure out why everyone is mad at him.”
            “We should have his inauguration be humiliating.  No bands want to play, nobody shows up to be in the audience, but he just keeps bragging about it being the best thing ever.  He could get super paranoid and petty about it and print up his own fliers about how big the cheering crowd was, or how many counties voted for him.”

            “That might take it too far,” I said.
            “Maybe.  This is just spitballing ideas.  It is hard to create a convincingly stupid and egotistical person.”
            “I think the conspiracy has to start to come apart faster than anyone anticipated,” I said.  “He’ll leak something important, one or more of the goofy spy characters in his cabinet will screw up, or maybe he will just let something slip.  Either way he will be considered all at once incompetent, lazy, and dangerous.”
            “Then what?  He gets impeached?”
            “I think I want to have it be kind of more bleak,” I said.
            “The ending is what made you think this couldn’t be a comedy?”
            “Yeah,” I said.  “I think what will happen is he will feel the noose closing and he will start up a diplomatic travel tour around Europe.  And then on one of the stops he walks out to play golf, a helicopter lands and he flies away, inside his gold bag is a dozen hard drives full of state secrets and computerized hacking tools he will give to the Russians.”
            “Yeah, that is bleak.”

            “I wonder if I want the ending that gives him his just deserts though,” I said.  “Have the twist be that the hard drives are full of junk, that civil servants knew he was a spy and have been snowballing him for weeks, and when President Business meets with the Russian spymaster he gets throw in a gulag.”
            “It is a strange show when the happy ending has a gulag.”
            “Leaves it open for a sequel though,” I said.  “There is still all of the Congress and Senate people who let this happen.  There are still the idiot voters who have too much power because of the Electoral College.  And there is of course the Vice President, soon to be President who, TWIST, is a super competent Russian Spy.”
            “And now that President Business Moron is gone he can really hunker down and start ruining things?”
            “Sequels,” I said.  “What do you think?”
            “It is funny.  But I am worried that it is a little to unbelievable.  And kind of mean spirited, you are basically saying that millions of people would vote for an unrepentant asshole and jeopardize the whole world in doing so because of their bigotry.  Actually, when I say it out loud it sounds a lot less hard to believe.  What is the working title?”
            “Losing the Cold Peace,” I said.


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Monday, May 15, 2017

"She Walks in Beauty" by Lord Byron

     It has been a while since I posted a poem by an author I like and I have recently discovered(?) Lord Byron from the romantic period.  This is literally the first poem that shows up when you google for him, and I like it.

"She Walks in Beauty" by Lord Byron

She walks in beauty, like the night 
Of cloudless climes and starry skies; 
And all that’s best of dark and bright 
Meet in her aspect and her eyes; 
Thus mellowed to that tender light 
Which heaven to gaudy day denies. 

One shade the more, one ray the less, 
Had half impaired the nameless grace 
Which waves in every raven tress, 
Or softly lightens o’er her face; 
Where thoughts serenely sweet express, 
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place. 

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow, 
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent, 
The smiles that win, the tints that glow, 
But tell of days in goodness spent, 
A mind at peace with all below, 
A heart whose love is innocent!

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