Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Halloween Watching Suggestions

            I figured for Halloween I would do one of the easiest hack blog entries a person can do, a series of movie recommendations based around Horror.

 Franchise to binge: “Nightmare on Elm Street”

            I don’t think I am ruffling any feathers in the horror community to say that the Nightmare franchise has the highest overall quality, ESPECIALLY for a series with as many entries as it has.

            A special commendation has to go to the second entry as being the one with the best themes and best blend of creative dream nonsense with actual horror elements, but I am betting that number 3 is the one that most people will list as the high-water mark of the series.  The fifth entry is perhaps the worst, a shame because I feel it brushes against greatness.  There is just something off about it which kills it.

            With 9 entries it is enough for a whole Halloween, and I think that Freddy the character, the implied mythology, and the various missteps I see in the series could fill a book.  I have talked about the franchise some before, but it was only last year that I finished watching all of it.


TV Shows to Watch

            As a Netflix and Amazon guy there is a lot of stuff on Hulu that I am not able to access (but there is still stuff I would recommend).

            The first pick would be “Hannibal” which is a series I watched on a lark thinking, “A prequel series to Silence of the Lambs…. I bet this is a cash grab mess.”  Turns out it is one of the most visually arresting series I have ever watched, and I consider the heroic protagonist Will Graham to be a character I identify with to a shocking level (like, while watching the show, I would finish the character’s sentences).  The first season is fantastic and will hook you for the second.


            The second is one people have probably already seen, “The Haunting of Hill House” (I did a review of the audiobook).  Mike Flanagan is a creative person who has instantly entered into my “I will consume anything and everything they make” category.  And as soon as I have more time I will be binging his latest series, “The Haunting of Bly Manor”.

Cartoons Series and Animated Movies

            I have talked before about my infinite love of the “Ghostbusters” franchise, and I can point to two opportunities to experience underappreciated aspects of the franchise.  Extreme Ghostbusters” (It has one of the best theme songs ever) the 90’s animated sequel to the 80’s “The Real Ghostbusters” cartoon is probably the most underrated cartoon of the 90’s (plenty of people would point to “Freakazoid”, but that show has gotten a lot more love in the years that followed).  It is currently on Hulu, and I love it.

            Continuing with ghost busting, there is “Filmation’s Ghostbusters”, which aside from having a talking TV, Car, and Gorilla on the team is also one of most fever dream of all the cartoons I have ever seen.  I wish, in the depths of my soul that Filmation had been less of a shit about “The Real Ghostbusters” because I think a crossover animated movie would have been a delightful relic of the late 80’s.  What could have been.

            As far as movies, I have talked about my love of stop motion before, and this is going to be a case of me vigorously pointing at the work of Studio Laika and saying, “Watch their stuff!”  But start with “Coraline” an adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name (and I love Neil Gaiman).  But then move onto “ParaNorman” a movie that gets the tears welling up at the climax every time I watch it. 



Most Under Rated Movie

            I find myself mentally revisiting the movie “Underwater” all the time.  It is a mix of science fiction and horror tropes that speaks to me.  The acting is great, the use of claustrophobia and aquaphobia are fantastic when coupled with the simple plot of, “We are being hunted and we have to get out”.

            It has perhaps the coolest monster reveal at the films climax I have ever seen.  I was legitimately filled with dread and awe when watching Kristen Stewart trying to deal with these horrifying things in the dark.

            I would also say that this movie benefits from the audience going into it knowing as little as possible to help preserve some of the set piece moments and plot developments.

           Give it more of a shot than the studios did, when they released it to no fanfare, little promotion, and after having shelved it for years.

 

 

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Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Dungeons and Dragons, "Tomb of Annihilation" ep. 1

             Continuing with my first real attempt to run a published Dungeons and Dragons adventure (and planning to use additional adventures from Kobold Press to make things more weird and interesting).  This is going to cover the first two sessions (you know, with a lot of superficial details cut to keep things manageable) which together form a sort of prequel to the actual adventures in Chult.

The Characters

            I have 3 players currently, with a half dozen others in the wings dealing with life event stuff like children and the plague.  Ultimately a strength of “Tomb of Annihilation” is that players can make new characters without too much difficulty, and new players can enter the game without much trouble, “we are also on jungle safari trying to find the cause of the Curse of Fatal Death” or “I am a big game hunter in the jungle to get at dinosaurs, but I could join your team to save the world”.  There are plenty of options.

            The first member of the team is a Tortle Barbarian following the Ancestral Guardian path from “Xanathar’s Guide to Everything”.  He took the Anthropology background from “Tomb of Annihilation” and decided to make himself quirky by being a food tourist.  He plays him as a good-natured bumbler with this delightful character illustration he found online.


            The second player decided to go with a Tabaxi Monk, with the Drunken Master path… except instead of booze the cat-man uses catnip to get wasted and fight.  The first thing that jumped to mind when I looked over his character was the Kajit from Skyrim and their use of Skooma.  Beyond that his backstory involves being trained for ages to combat a prophesized great evil that threatens the world.

            Lastly is the party’s human wizard using transmutation magic and is based off the villainous wizard from “Conan the Destroyer” who talks like a raving lunatic but is highly knowledgeable.  He is an egomaniacal shouty guy who believes his power comes from the spirit of his dead wife.  His wife having died in Chult years back and now he believes that he should go to the continent to investigate her death.


The Adventure

            I may have mentioned this in past entries, but I am a frequent user of Humble Bundle when it comes to them releasing a bunch of digital 5e content, mostly in the form of adventure modules, so much so that I now have many more adventures than I could ever expect to use, and those I do use I will be modifying the heck out of because I also have lots of books that have monsters and NPC’s that I want to use.


            I settled on “The Hallowed Ring” a 5th Edition Adventure by Stephen Chenault.  Overall I found the premise quite solid, and it would serve as a great introductory adventure for most Dungeons and Dragons games, as it presents a fully fleshed out location to serve as an adventure hub, the Gum Log Inn and Tavern, while at the same time having plenty of lore and hooks to help set up the rest of the campaign: a cult, a legendary heroic duo of a dwarf and giant, a stone book that traps evil outsiders, and a potent magic item that I don’t feel is unbalanced and fits surprisingly well as a useful tool in Chult which involves Giants and Dwarves.  There is even a cool monster, the Flesh Crawler, which I was able to tie into the lore I added to the “Tomb of Annihilation” background in my own game.

            For the stuff I added I pulled on Kobold Press’ Creature Codex.  It is a robust and well-designed collection of monsters that I highly recommend, so much so that I contributed to its sequel’s Kick Starter campaign.  The “Megapede” a giant acid spiting caterpillar which destroys weapons was a good addition to the theme of “Worm Monsters” and I threw in the Void Cultists as part of the ongoing story (I plan to play up the worm monster theme as the machinations of a great classic Dungeons and Dragons bad guy, Kyuss).


How it Went

            I fault myself for putting too many monsters up front and playing them a little too well, a few bad rolls and I had almost steamrolled my players.  Unexpected because they are level 3, even with me pumping up the encounters they still should have had an easier time.

            That being said the theming and lore went over well, I was able to give them several useful magic items, and their success in the dungeon ultimately introduced them to the lore I wanted to introduce and gave them a logical reason to be recruited to go to Chult by the “Tomb of Annihilation” NPC, Syndra Silvane.

            I also added another element, that the cultists of Kyuss had been growing something in the dungeon the group had ventured into, a massive (like the size of a refrigerator) purple heart that had tendrils of violet cartilage reaching out thru the whole dungeon and bleed a thick, stinking, and sticky fluid when cut.  They ultimate took a sample and told Syndra Silvane about it before leaving for Chult, with her assurances that she would look into it.

Recommendations to Others

            I have a feeling that some DM’s will look at my additions quizzically, but I have to say, putting in a bunch of weird elements and allowing the players to fixate on certain elements while the rest fades into the background is a good way to keep them interested over the long haul.

            I have answers for what the big Purple heart is, I have an answer for what Kyuss has to do with things, and I have ideas for how it fits in with Chult, but those things can change to better fit the story as it evolves with my player’s actions.

            You might consider that sloppy, but I find games with too much information and too many definitive answers to be inflexible.  A big problem I had with playing “Curse of Strahd” was how there is always one (and precisely one) answer to a given mystery.  It is possible for the players to guess the right answer easily or for them to wrong foot the whole thing because the clues are too obtuse.  If there are 3 possible bad guys and depending on what clues the players find the bad guy can change (like old adventure game logic on computer) then it allows for twists in the narrative.

            Don’t write out and decide everything ahead of time.

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            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Dungeons and Dragons "Tomb of Annihilation" ep. 1/2

             Leading up to my first game of “Tomb of Annihilation” I did what I think many good DM’s should do, lay out ground rules, explain the premise of the campaign, and creating places where all of those things can be easily kept for reference.

            Let’s start with the most basic thing I just mentioned, creating a place to keep things.  My group is playing on Roll20, using the digital items that come default with the program.  Additionally I have numerous maps and other items gotten from Humble Bundles over the years (more on them later).  In addition to setting up the character sheets and some maps (not enough, my fault) I made use of something that has been my default for years, the Facebook group.

            I have real problems with Facebook as a company, but they are my default way of keeping in contact with people I know, far more than email or texting, and the group feature allows for the posting of documents for easy reference later.  If your group needs to keep track of a lot of information finding a social media platform you all share and creating a group within it may prove to be the best option for you, but Facebook is…. Sadly… the default.

 

The Art in this book is rather top notch.

Ground Rules, Guidelines, and FAQ’s

            So let me show you the other two items that might give you an idea of how to run a game in the future.  Let’s start with the Crunch, that is to say, relevant rule changes that will crop up in the campaign, both at the stage of creating characters and those that are more long term.  These are “The Guidelines” more accurately described as “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)”.

1)      I ask that you not look up spoilers for the "Tomb of Annihilation". Even tho I plan to change a few things, adding some monsters from the various supplements I own and throwing in NPC's from my own campaign setting I plan to use the puzzles and traps provided, so don't try to cheat.

2)      We will be starting at Level 3, this will allow every to start off as a somewhat established adventurer being recruited to go on a dangerous journey to a foreign land full of danger, rather than a bunch of Level 1’s who would make as much sense going into this situation as throwing a handful of corn at a charging dinosaur as a means of stunning it into submission.

3)      You all will be using the Elite Array for your stats, 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8.  You can then add a +1 to any of those numbers in addition to your racial statistics or any bonuses you might get from feats.

4)      You all are going to start off as an established group of adventurers on a short adventure at the beginning.  The success of this short adventure is what gets the attention of the NPC who is doing their best to coordinate teams and send them to Chult to combat the Curse of Fatal Death.

5)      You are going to have the sort of boring equipment a level 1 party would have; you will get more stuff over the course of the first introductory adventure.

6)      I plan to use my kind of healing items for this adventure.  Which means cheap healing potions that can be used as a quick bonus action… but that expire over time, and other healing items that work slower but keep for much longer.

7)      We’ll be using the various religions I have cooked up in the past, the 5, the 3 (I will post a long blog about it, just like the others, I have it written it will be on the way), the Preserver, Orc Maltheism, the High Arcana, and the local religion of Chult which worships several regional deities after their chief creator and protector god abandoned them in ages past.  If you would like to create an off the beaten path custom religion I am welcome to hear your input.

8)      Please write up a character background (Good to note this is roughly the same setup I use in my own neglected blog series about creating characters), try to include:

·         Name

·         Class

·         Race

·         Background

·         History

·         Goals

·         Methods

9)      More rules might be added to this as time goes on, I will try to keep things consistent, but as always, I lend toward “Rule of Cool” which means if you have a good idea I am inclined to let you go for it, rather than simply saying “No”.  I am also more of a roleplaying guy rather than contriving combat… but this is a much more savage environment, combat will be more typical. 

10)  Lastly, there is a story in this, and I plan to give you guys a chance to make some decisions during this, rather than just jumping thru the hoops, you guys can gather more resources and allies along the way until you have a lot of power for the final boss fight, I find that kind of adventuring rewarding.

 

The Premise

            I am going to go on the record as saying that the premise of “Tomb of Annihilation” that people who have died are not coming back to life… To just be an inherently silly idea.  Welcome to the REAL-WORLD JACKASS!  That is why I titled my campaign the joking name “The Curse of Fatal Death” which is a reference to a Doctor Who comedy sketch.  That being said, I attempted to write all of this diegetically.


            Something terrible has started to assault the peace and security of the world.  People who die, cannot be brought back from the dead.  While the common people of the world have hardly noticed the difference, the rich and powerful see this development as a major crisis, as they now might suffer the same mortality that the common folk have always experienced.

            At first this might not seem like a massive issue, but there is an additional problem, those who have been brought back from the dead before are now wasting away, slowly being consumed by whatever horrible force that has made death final.

            This too may not immediately seem like a massive difficulty, until you realize how many of the various super powerful and capable heroes in the world have been brought back to life, and all the various horrors that exist just outside of our plane are readying themselves to attack our world the as its defenses and champions begin to wither and die.

            Expeditions to oracles, divinationists and other seers have resulted in conflicting messages about what the cause of the curse is, only that its power is growing, and more death will begin to creep in around the edges of the world until everything is swallowed.

            Adventurers of all stripes not yet affected by the Curse have begun scrambling to locate the source of the problem and currently the best leads have taken many to the land of Chult, a savage land of dinosaurs, undead, and barbarism that has pushed their great people to the coasts.  Deep within this continent is the promise of combating the Curse of Fatal Death. 

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Monday, July 27, 2020

Dungeons and Dragons, "Tomb of Annihilation" ep. 0

As I have mentioned on this blog MANY times before I play Dungeons and Dragons.  I decided that I will try to DM the “Tomb of Annihilation” in the near future (along with a large number of modules I got from Humble Bundle).  I like the premise, the tone, the setting, and the promised final confrontation sounds exciting.

To get my players in the mindset for playing the game I thought to throw together a recommendation list of movies to watch to help get them thinking in terms of that setting. So undead lords, jungle adventures, untrustworthy guides, and exotic cults.

After throwing out a short list on Reddit I received a handful of suggestions, unfortunately I have not seen all of the movies on the list (they are either not streaming on service I have or I don’t have the DVD), but I have seen most of them.

So here is the list, they are presented in order of release and contain a short description along with a link to where it is streaming or where it can be purchased… Which is a real waste of time now that I think of it, as the streaming options change so quickly that some of these changed while I was making this list.

THE LIST

Apocalypse Now (1979) sent on a mission to kill a rogue military leader who has set himself up as a minor warlord in the heart of the jungle, a team of soldiers must journey down the river deeper into the heart of darkness.  Lots of little episodic adventures and encounters along the river before the ultimate confrontation in the middle of a jungle.  Streaming on Hulu.

Conan the Barbarian (1982) seeking to avenge the deaths of his family and his enslavement, the warrior Conan and his allies must learn the secrets of a dangerous snake cult and destroy its sorcerer leader.  Let’s be clear, this movie could be suggested FOR EVERY DND GAME EVER.  It is perhaps the best single film in the genre and with the amount of snake men in the “Tomb of Annihilation” it fits thematically.  It is for rent from Amazon Prime.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) the titular adventurer is stranded in a jungle village and must unravel the machinations of a death cult to rescue sacred relics and enslaved children and return them to their village. This movie is underrated.  The idea of breaking the seeming deathly curse put upon the village after their relic is stolen easily fits with the looming Death Curse in “Tomb of Annihilation” but the presence of a goofy cult and an iconic villain with a trap filled tomb… it fits.  It is on Netflix.

Predator (1987) a team of adventurers on a hostage rescue mission are being stalked by some mysterious monster thru the jungles, picking them off one by one.  Jungle setting, check; team of adventurers, check; and a looming doom set to pounce at any time, check!  Possibly on Hulu?  There is a Starz trial thing…

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) on the search for the component to a local drug for potential use as a pharmaceutical, the investigator is drawn into the machinations of a local hoodoo cult.  This is not really an adventure movie, but more of an exploration and mystery movie with lots of horror elements.  It definitely plays on the same tropes of journeying to a mysterious tropical land with the threat of “undeath”.  For rent on Amazon Prime.

Jurassic Park (1993) one of the wealthiest mad geniuses on earth brings dinosaurs back and seeks to create a theme park on a remote jungle island. It is dinosaur necromancy in a thematic setting, hitting multiple concepts at a time.  Rentable on Amazon Prime.

Congo (1995) group of adventurers journey into the jungle for a variety of reasons but find a lost city of diamonds and killer gorillas. I think this movie is highly underrated.  The Jungle setting is one aspect here, but the bigger element is the team of adventurers searching for a lost city and hitting threats along the way.  Currently on Hulu.

Anaconda (1997) a team of explorers must battle a giant snake along a jungle river with the help of an untrustworthy guide.  It is now on Amazon Prime.

The Mummy (1999) a team of archaeologists unlock a long-forgotten menace into the world from a hidden city.  While not set in a jungle, it has pretty much everything else, a lost city, an undead lord, and a team of adventurers.  (I have not seen the Tom Cruise one, I hear it is better than one would expect, but not great.) To rent on Amazon Prime.

The Road to El Dorado (2000) two rogues get possession of a map that will take them to the lost city of gold where they must successfully navigate the politics of the city thru an elaborate ruse.  Jungle and lost city are the only elements here, but the movie has an adventurous feel to it that is also a lot lighter.  Currently on Hulu.

The Rundown (2003) a bounty hunter must locate a treasure hunter lost in the jungle. The area is dominated by the tyrannical diamond mine owner who is being opposed by a local resistance movement.  Comedy action film that I think captures a certain play style of goofing along as the game unfolds.  It is on Hulu.

Apocalypto (2006) Jaguar Paw must flee thru the harsh jungle to evade being sacrificed to the blood thirsty Aztec gods and return to his wife and family.  This is different in that it is fleeing from the city of evil cultists rather than going toward.  But it does capture a level of dread and horror that is at least interesting.  It is on Amazon Prime.

Tropic Thunder (2008) a group of actors are left stranded in the jungle during the botched filming of their latest movie and must contend with the dangerous local warlord.  I would say this has the fewest elements from “Tomb of Horror” but judging by how players typically play a Dungeons and Dragons adventure, this goofball behavior is where we all know it will end up.  Available to rent from Amazon Prime.

Kong: Skull Island (2017) a group of adventurers must journey to the savage Skull Island to unravel the mystery of ancient monsters and giant beasts.  This is the most entertaining movie with King Kong in it, but you could easily throw in any of his movies at still have some of the elements from “Tomb of Horror” be recognizable.  This one is stupidly hard to rent or stream.

The Lost City of Z (2017) a true story about Amazon exploration looking for evidence of a lost advanced civilization. It is on Amazon Prime.

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That is the list.  Some good, some really good, some … that are not to everyone’s tastes.  If you have your own suggestions leave them in the comments, I get so few from actual people and only a couple from bots selling garbage.  My comment section is lonely.

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            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Medicine

            It is odd to go on medication and realize how long you have been unable to properly feel things.  That for so long you were hollowed out like a melon rind.  I don’t know how long I was hollow.  I don’t know how long the color was turned down on the screen of my life.  Maybe I just thought the slow decline was part of getting older.

            I remember being happy in the past.  Able to laugh to myself about some joke that came to mind for no other reason than I wanted to make myself laugh.  I have been doing that again as I pace around my apartment.  I have gotten silly songs stuck in my head and then remixed them with dirty lyrics.  I have messaged people nonsensical silly images.  I have managed to be witty or perhaps just enthusiastic.

            My sleep schedule is all over the place.  It is something to work on with exercise, which doesn’t help, and with supplements, which hopefully will help.  But even then my dreams are different.  I remembered two dreams over the last few years, and both were nightmares.  They weren’t the worst nightmares I had ever had, but they were bad.  Now I have had fun dreams about helping Dwayne Johnson run for Congress or getting into an argument with a school of fish who were in my shower.

            And when I wake up from dreams both aspirational and strange I have the strangest sensation.  I can feel so much more intensely.  My fingertips feel more.  I don’t want to describe it as tingling, but there is no other word for it.  My fingers feel so much more that they seem to be tingling.

            I let myself daydream.  My daydreams used to be a blending of frustration and grey resolve.  I used to buzz with anxiety.  That was the words I used to describe it to the doctor.  I was constantly buzzing.  Other times it felt like something alien was within me.  Drinking me.  That a vine was growing or creeping up the length of my body just beneath the skin and sapping my blood.  I don’t feel that anymore.  I am not buzzing.  I am going un drank.

            Instead, my daydreams let me think of aspirational things that will probably never happen but make me happy.  They let me reminisce about missed opportunities.  And rather than lament those misses they let me turn the event around in my hands like a crystal bobble to see all the angles to it.  I understand my past better and can envision my future better.

            I can lay in bed and feel relaxed.  I can listen to music. 

            I can daydream about silly things.  As I listen to music I can picture myself talking to the singer in a casual environment and being the 10,000 person in their life who was nice but got nowhere with them.  I can think back to the various women in my life that I felt for and learned from and how I wasn’t ready to be anything for them because I was somehow hollowed out.

            I feel more alive and awake than I have in a decade.  And let’s ignore the irony of my saying that during a global pandemic.  That was the thing that finally pushed me over to try something.  The buzzing had reached new levels and I just could not focus.  Looking into the future was a blur.  The only thing I could see looking into the past was my mistakes, that glowed like lighthouses in the haze.  Couldn’t dwell on those, the light told me to steer clear.

            Why did I let myself be sick for so long?  Why did I let this get so bad?  Maybe I was worried that what I was feeling was as good as it could be.  Could you imagine a worse diagnosis than, “That is just how things are”?  How damning would that be?  That there is nothing wrong and that is just how bad it is.  The buzzing will never stop, the vine will keep drinking, the haze will not lift, and that is as good as it will get.

            That must have been it.  The thing that kept me from trying to fix it.  I worried about hearing the words, “Nope, that’s normal”.

Kind of wish this website did a better job of labeling which images they would charge for.
This one was free.

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            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Dungeons and Dragons, "The High Arcana"


Gods of Dungeons and Dragons
            I have over the years put out several entries on the topic of fictional religions.  I never really went anywhere with my discussion of Religion as an aspect of settings that I wrote about years before that, but since then I have tried to come at the topic in ways that would make it interesting for someone who had been playing for a while or someone new.
            In each instance I have tried to either go in an entirely new direction like with my unique take on Orcs a while back.  I then did a short follow up to that with a pair of orc characters in that context.  There was also a more traditional pantheon of deities that act in concert with one another, "The Five".  I did a follow up to that one in which I created a team of characters that each serve as an exemplar of the various members of The Five.  My last entry was “The Preserver” which was my attempt to graft a messianic style belief system onto environmentalism oriented religion.
           To continue with this I am going to write up more of my stranger and off the beaten path religious aspects of my own campaign world and see what people think.  This will kind of be a series, much like my attempts to write characters for all the class and background combinations it is something that is informal and rarely done… I am a surprisingly busy person…

It is important when making a symbol for a fictional religion, to keep the iconography simple enough for people to draw.

The High Arcana
Holy Symbol:
            Lines on either side of a pentacle above a curve, the “Wand, Sword, Pentacle, and Cup”
Cleric Domain:
            Arcana (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide) or Knowledge (PHB).
            There are also some sects that ascribe different domains based on how they worship.

World View & Mythos:
            The universe is chaos.  From that chaos emerged the Arcana.  The Arcana is the living energy that empowers all things.  It is knowledge and imagination.
            The arcana is a concept beyond mortal reason and cannot be perceived or understood by mortals and instead is perceived in various facets.  22 “gods” form a sort of pantheon, when acolytes seek to understand the arcana or see the future they evoke these gods and attempt to divine the answer to their questions via which gods appear and in which order those gods make those appearances.
            Linked below are the 5 blog entries that give names and identities to all 22 of these “gods”.  This is more an overview to see the religion from more of a birds’ eye view and the idea of them being gods in the traditional sense of a pantheon of beings with genders, goals, and personality.  (COMING SOON; turns out writing 22 of these things takes more time and creative energy than I realized, and I stalled out in the middle of the pack).
            Part 1: The Leaders: Empress, Emperor, High Priestess, Hierophant, and Magician.
            Part 2: The Adversaries: Fool, Hanged Man, Death, Devil, and Wheel of Fortune.
            Part 3: The Virtuous: Strength, Temperance, Justice, and Judgement.
            Part 4: The Cosmos: Star, Moon, Sun, and World.
            Part 5: The Others: Lovers, Charioteer, Hermit, and Tower.
 
For those who don't know what this is a reference too from this opening, here is an additional clue.
Beliefs:
            The High Arcana does not listen to prayers.  They are not a “they” but simply many different faces of a higher form of knowledge and energy that exists beyond the mortal ability to perceive time and space.  It is mercurial, uncaring, random, and often capricious… from the point of view of mortals.  Followers seek foreknowledge and truth by channeling the arcana, but the replies come in such a cryptic manner that divining what they mean is often an exercise in futility.
            As a religion they are (at best) something a “worshiper” tries to listen intently to and decipher in hopes of gaining some kind of edge on the tumultuous circumstances that constantly assault people’s lives.  They might reveal the key to casting a spell, a coming storm, or simply hint at the mood and focus that will be needed in the coming days.

Practices:
            To the world at large the most common practice associated with the High Arcana is prominence of oracles and divination utilizing cartomancy, the use of cards to predict the future.  Each of the 22 images of High Arcana are dealt out and the meaning associated with each of the images is interpreted based on where it falls in the chain.
            As the cards never deal out the same way twice, a common criticism of this practice is, “if I were to ask the same question twice in a row, why would I receive different readings?”  This question has created the main schism with currently divides the religion based on how they answer this question discussed in “Churches and Denominations”.
            The Holy symbol represents the Lesser Arcana, the meaning varies depending on who you ask within the faith.  The most common answers to tend be some variation of, “They represent positive actions taken in the material world based on the guidance of the High Arcana.”  That is to say, attack, cast, heal, or learn… But even that varies and some people in larger churches think that the symbols should be discarded.
 
Thank you to Lucas Pezeta for the free stock photo from Pexels.
Superstitions and Taboos:
            The faith has a 22-month calendar, 9 of months having 16 days, the other 13 having 17 days.  They do not have weeks or weekends and see the calendar strictly as a means to keep track of holidays.  Each of the months is associated with 1 of the gods and it serves as a zodiac.  There is division in the faith between those who believe that one’s birthday can influence one’s persona or one’s relation with the arcana, some holding so true as to not associate with people who are born in certain months because they assume those individuals have conflicting personality traits.

Social Organization:
            Generally speaking there is no prescribed social order in the belief systems of the High Arcana.  Implicit in the belief system are certain virtues and social roles, but they are descriptive rather than prescriptive, that is to say, the reason one of the gods is “The God of Emperors” is not because there should be emperors, but because the word “emperor” best describes his role within the pantheon.

Churches and Denominations:
            The two largest groups were split over the question, “if I were to ask the same question twice in a row, why would I receive different readings?”  The first group are called Refractory Readers, they have the easiest explanation to understand and as such are the more widely understood.  Their explanation is, “The first reading was the ‘correct’ reading, and as it has not resolved itself another reading cannot be taken yet.  The second time you asked the question you were just getting psychic noise from the High Arcana.”
            The Second group is more esoteric and are called Infinite Readers.  Their explanation is as follows, “whenever you ask a question you are only seeing a small amount of an answer, the first few cards, in reality the answer is not cards but an unknowable glimpse into the High Arcana.  You could ask the question an infinite number of times and you would get a different answer each time, but they are all the same answer, one long stream of information that is simply too much for you to take in and interpret.”
            Essentially they are giving the same answer, “too much information for the person to process” but there is a nuance to each’s explanation that has spawned their own canon to be explored and contrasted by the various followers.
            As for formal organizations, there are two exceptionally large churches that have formed, and they are in tension with one another.  The first is the Order of the Oracles, which focus on trying to see the future of the material world and provide such services to communities.  The Oracles have their own missionaries and often study other forms of divination in addition to cartomancy.  The Oracles ascribe to the Refractory Readers explanation and are more generally accepted by the public at large.

            The other group is the Church of the Highest Arcane and prescribe more to the Infinite Readers explanation.  They do not feel the material world is of interest and spend most of their time seeking out a greater understanding of the higher dimensions.  The Astral Plane, the Ethereal Plane, and the Dream Plane take special interest them.  They are favored by Wizards, Warlocks, and others that value Knowledge perceived to be beyond ‘typical’ people.  They are seen as elitist, aloof, and as unproductive intellectuals.
            There exists a third group which is growing in size and influence called the Pantheists.  They believe that the High Arcana should be seen and worshiped as a traditional pantheon of gods with temples to each, pilgrimages, holidays, and each having their own holy symbols.  This group tends toward traditional cleric practices of picking one god to follow with a domain suited to that god, these clerics are often call themselves “Embodiments”.

Cults & Heretics:
            The “Literalists” are a small faction of the faith do believe that these concepts should be applied more literally to the world and have tried in small utopian communities to create a social order based around the various symbols, appointing people to fill each role which can be seen as a person, codifying ideas like Temperance and Judgement into the law, and creating actual Wheels of Fortune that people may gamble upon.
            These groups are viewed by the larger faith as missing the forest for the trees to a comical degree and derided as misrepresenting the faith to the outside world.
            Another group are the “Charlatans” which is a term used for anyone who pretends to practice the art of divination with a set of High Arcana cards but does so without faith or purpose.  They are seen as false prophets and are shockingly common because the cards are often sold or given away as tokens of the faith.
 
And thank you to Scott Rodgerson on unsplash.
Heretical Symbol:
            The Literalists use the same symbol, the “Wand, Sword, Pentacle, and Cup” and see themselves as the true faith.
            The Charlatans also use the “Wand, Sword, Pentacle, and Cup”, it would dispel their ruse if they used a different symbol.

Heretical Domain:
            The Literalists tend toward Order (Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica) or Knowledge (PHB) while Charlatans use the Trickery (PHB) domain.

Heretical Texts:
            Often these small groups will be founded by a leader or group of leaders who wish to set themselves up as the Emperor of their own community.  They will frequently write their own holy text which serves as a supreme and final word on how the high arcana should be interpreted.
            Often times they will rename the gods, create dozens of new gods, or make themselves the 23rd god.  Ironically, none of this behavior can be called “heretical” in any meaningful sense.  The existing names of the gods are placeholders for larger inscrutable concepts.  More gods are just as likely and 22 that exist currently were part of previous generational efforts to codify various ideas, the last to be added was the Charioteer, and there are still debates on whether that god should be split off to a 23rd in the form of the Paladin, to say nothing of splitting the “Devil” into multiple devils representing sins as they are commonly understood.
            Even the idea of adding one’s self as another god is strange, as that is what the card “World” is often interpreted as.  Not the literal world, but the world as a person perceives it. 
            The larger religion is flexible and contains no supreme “Evil” that can be called to as exists in many other faiths, the closest being those who wish to worship the Devil as a means to gain power thru misdeeds, but even that is atypical, because the Devil is rarely seen in those terms by others within the faith, instead seeing him as a source of knowledge (often forbidden) or the embodiment of personal drive (often leading to self-destructive ends).

Inspirations
            This is going to be pretty obvious, but the big inspiration here is Tarot Cards and their presence in the pop culture as a form of divination.  I find them somewhat entertaining in the same way I find all real-life expressions of the occult to be entertaining.
            This was also inspired in Dungeons and Dragons by two things the first is obviously The Deck of Many Things, an iconic magic item which… inexplicably is not just a Tarot deck in spite of it having 22 cards in it.
Love this art style for the third party publisher trying to release this as a game supplement.

            Seriously, if you look at the list of tarot cards they suggest using for the various Many Things they suggest using numbers from the cups, swords, pentacles, and wands.  That is just weird.  Why not just make the Deck of Many Things the Tarot cards?  Just straight up make them the same things.  It is all nonsense anyway…. What is really weird is one of the suggestions they use is for the “Idiot” in the Many Things deck should align with the “Juggler” in a normal tarot deck…. There is no “Juggler” in a typical tarot deck!  It is the Magus or Magician, both things that belong in DnD more than a Juggler.
            Also, why does the Deck of Many Things need an Idiot, a Fool, and a Jester?  Those are too close together.  It is dumb.
            The other inspiration was the Tarokka Cards which were an add on to the recent Ravenloft “Curse of Strahd” adventure for 5e Dungeons and Dragons.  Having looked thru the cards I found a lot of their theming to be off and weird.  They are clearly ordered with the basic fighter, rogue, cleric, wizard arrangement in mind, but aside from the wizard I think that the archetypes on the others were not entirely right.
            This is another instance in which they could have just used a Tarot Deck and published a Dungeons and Dragons themed deck.  It would have been much more accessible and sold to people who don’t play DnD, instead it was so niche as to be a waste of money.  I will say that I LOVED the art in the Tarokka deck, as the black and white portrayals are cool enough that it could have easily served as a sort of Gothic/retro style for some kind of collector’s edition of the Player’s Handbook.  And I will say, that if they were to do some kind of “Ravenloft Player’s Handbook” with this style of art thru out, and adding a half dozen new options for players (maybe just a beefed up version of the Innistrad options they put on the internet), I could imagine the thing selling a lot better than the decks.
Seriously now, the art looks moody and great.
Check out each.
            In regard to the church denominations, the Order of Oracles was inspired by the Oracle of Delphi, the most famous organized practitioners of divination in Western history, and there were many other oracles both in Greek myth and in the real Greece, to say nothing of all the shamans and oracles that exist in nearly all cultures.
            The other, Church of the Highest Arcane is a sort of parody of any religion that keeps secret knowledge for the highest of their members.  In general I am not a believer in any supernatural power, but I find those groups which deliberately keep information hidden from worshipers to be particularly insulting.  If you think your mythology is too silly or strange for a layman to just not “get it” you may have to rethink whether you believe in it at all.
            The idea of utopian cults forming is pretty easy to find in real life, but they are most often centered on doomsday, this video by Jack Rackam explores one such group, and this video by Crash Course European History discusses one such “utopia” founded on Calvinism.  I am sure that you reader can conjure in your memory any number of groups and communities that have been created by an exceptionally literal or particularly esoteric interpretation of religious text.
            Charlatans really require no great explanation.  There are any number of false prophets back thru history and in the modern world.  Those who perform a religion for profit to bilk the trusting of their money and futures.  And those who turn such performances into industries unto themselves, when they are not scheming people in other ways.
            There is always a danger in pulling inspiration too directly from real world sources, and I have talked about that before in my creation of the “Wild Elves” which I based on the Sioux Indians, and specifically looked at via the lens of racial bias.  However… there really is no other way to make things.
            We exist in the real world and our personal perceptions of the world, what we learn, and how we learn it, limit our ability to understand greater concepts.  The best we can do is take those elements we “know” and remix them into something that feels familiar but is still original.  Dungeons and Dragons, and genre fiction in general allows us to explore concepts like this and I feel allows us to understand something better via such distortions, by shuffling disparate elements together we see their similarities and contrasts all the better.
            Maybe, when I finally finish this series of entries it will ultimately be seen as entertaining, and even something a person might want to include in their own game.  Regardless, I hope it was entertaining to read.  Have fun.
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