Sunday, April 30, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons, "Setting" part 1

            I have played Dungeons and Dragons for more than 15 years.  Lately, I have not had access to any other players and so I have just been kicking around ideas that normally would be in a game and instead I am just going to post them on my blog.  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 week and the week prior I talked about making monsters more exotic and interesting and pointing to various examples of othered creatures in fiction.  (“Exotic Monsters” part 1 and part 2).  This week I am going to start talking about a bigger and more fun concept, world building.
            Generally speaking the Game Guy’s job can break into 3 sections: provide challenge, provide a narrative thru line, and provide a world.
            Challenges, to me are the easy one.  There are 10,000 ways to arrange the monsters and traps present in the core books, ways to make them tougher, ways to make them simpler.  It can be difficult to eyeball all the math that goes into these things, but generally speaking given trial and error you will learn the sweet spots.  This is a thing that can only really come with practice because even if you take a carefully crafted dungeon made by someone who publishes material for a living, if you do not understand HOW the elements come together then the whole thing will play in a clunky fashion.

"Just eyeball it, I want to play!"
             Narrative thru lines are (again, to me) another easier element.  Giving a bad guy with a clear motivation, minions that follow him for a discernable reason, people who will be victimized by his actions, and rewards for defeating the cad.  Players often have to bring their own motivations for the WHY they are participating in the story, you can’t control everything, but this is the bare bones of what you need.  Greater complexity to the whys and hows come with time, but judging by many video game stories the only motivation the villain needs by most player’s perceptions is this, “He’s just an asshole”.
            Quick aside to players: you are here to play.  If you want your character to be a dangerous loner who has no interest in saving the day or working with anyone else you have two options, make a different character or find a reason for the character to want to play with the others.  The GG has too much stuff to do to try and justify bending every narrative element to keep you engaged.  You have to meet him halfway.  So, either have your character arc be, “learning to work with others and embrace saving strangers because the world needs heroes more than it needs mopey loners” or make a character who will PLAY THE GAME.

"Clang!  Clang!"
            The last element, World Building is what I wanted to talk about here.  Really, that is what most of these blogs are about… Or what I thought the majority of them were going to be about, I think only 3 of them actually are… Whatever, the point is building an effective world is often the most difficult and the most fun aspect of being a GG.  It can also be the thing that causes you to overdo it and make the game less fun for everyone.
            I speak from experience.

Published Materials: Why not just adventure in (blank)?
            There are many people out there that love Oerth, Mystara, or the Realms.  These places have appeal for any number of reasons.  Some people like have lore so thick and so deep that they can smother themselves in it.  Some people enjoy knowing that everything is mapped out and if they wanted to they could look up the best place to go have an adventure.  Others just like the stories and characters they have read about in a particular book series and the idea of putting their own character into that story and having them adventure with their favorite guys is the whole appeal, “Dungeons and Dragons: Self-Insert Fanfiction Edition”.
            All of these things are perfectly valid and there are some settings I see as being more magical and fun than others, I have drawn inspiration from basically all of the ones I have seen and taken elements that I like sometimes in their entirety (Hello, Vecna).  There is value to having a setting that is beloved by lots of people serving as the adventure local: built in audience, maps, and lore ready to be picked up and used.  If you are fascinated with a place and want to dive into it, go to it.  There is lots of tasty fluff for your consumption.  But, I will give you some warnings.

            Some players will be MUCH MORE into the setting than you.  They will know the history and major players in exceptional detail, more than you could hope to research.  They will be taking their own baggage about the setting to the table, whether they like Mystra and Elminster or they hate them, whether they want to play a Drow, or where Drizzt Do’Urden is and what he is doing.
            Maybe you appreciate this depth of interest from your players, but you won’t if you ever hear this line, “that wouldn’t happen”.  Maybe it is caused by you going against established lore, maybe it is because you have a popular character acting out of character, maybe you have your original villain defeat someone who is important… Whatever the cause of this line being uttered it will start the process of unraveling that player’s appreciation of the game for the same reason many mega fans can’t stand film adaptations, “You changed it, now it sucks”.
            This of course will not always happen.  Many players like permutations, expansions, or subversions of established lore, this is a rarer phenomenon than I am making it seem.  But it can happen and things will grind to a halt.

            Some players will like the premade stuff MUCH LESS, I am one of them.  The amount of lore can be daunting.  There are dozens of novels, numerous comics, posters, miniatures, video games… There is just a lot of stuff.  And there reaches a point in which I wish we would stop bothering to learn how to pronounce names like Drizzt Do’Urden and instead just call him Daniel or Darren.
            I do not like the Forgotten Realms as it is the gold standard of being both so bloated with lore as to be impenetrable to me, and the lore being so derivative that it is boring to try and get into.  There are too many gods, too many kingdoms, and too many super powerful named characters.  The map feels filled in and crowded to me, like all the cool stuff has already been visited, cleaned out, renovated, and they will be opening a Starbucks there next week.
            If a good world feels lived in, then to me a world like Forgotten Realms feels like it has lived out a full life and by all accounts should have passed away years ago.
            A player like me will disrupt the game not with a statement of resistance to lore, but instead will underwhelm you with this statement, “I’m sorry, who?  Are- are they important?  I am having a hard time keeping up with all of these names.”
            This is coming from me.  I have a mind like a steel trap for fictitious BS.  I know the name of Dumbledore’s brother off the top of my head (I would have to look up the spelling) and I never finished past chapter 8, book 2 in the Harry Potter series, because I kind of hate it.  Forgotten Realms is Dungeons and Dragons something I have been diving into for ages, and Realms lore slides right off my brain.  I can only imagine the random Tim, John, or Sarah that is trying out the game for the first time and is immediately put off by all of the content.
They do always get gold standard artist talent when presenting this place.
            I do not care for published settings.  As you have seen above.  That being said, they do have lots and lots of good things in them, and the multiverse is a great big thing to draw on.

Inspiration: Drawing from Fiction
            I am going to wager that a majority of people who enter into Dungeons and Dragons get there because they fell in love with Fantasy literature, movies, shows, comics, or non-table top games.  For instance, the Dragonlance novels have followings that probably don’t even know what Dungeons and Dragons is as they are so present in those circles solely because having a world in which DRAGONS are so present is awesome to lots of people.
            Nothing that exists in fiction is entirely original, everything is a remixing of elements that have appeared in older stories, myths, legends, and the popular consciousness.  Drawing from “Lord of the Rings” for DnD is pretty blatant by any standard.  DO NOT be afraid to borrow.

            That being said you eventually need to cover lots and lots of bases if you want a fleshed-out world and if you borrow elements from all over the place things might end up feeling not all that cohesive.  If you want the background of your game to be, “Evil Empire who ruled for ages is starting to collapse to numerous threats from within and without” that means you are going to have to answer this question for every new element you add to your game, “How do you feel about the Empire?” with the follow up of “Why’s that?”
            When you borrow an element of great size and complexity then it is best to understand how such a thing would affect your world.  Let’s look at something everyone knows coming into this hobby, “Lord of the Rings” (the movies, I couldn’t get thru the books).
            LotR is so ubiquitous in fantasy culture that almost all high fantasy published after it is a reaction to it.  Without Tolkien, elves would be helping Santa and making cookies, not nigh-immortal archers who live in ideal forested lands mastering healing magic and divining the nature of the stars.  Would Dwarves exist as bearded craftsmen in pop culture the way they do now without LotR?  Sure, Viking myth is a thing, but maybe the most popular image of a dwarf in high fantasy would be from the “Thor” comics at Marvel.  With Kirby drawn forges that have stylized magi-tech creations.  Or, Tyrion from “Game of Thrones” would be the only “Dwarf” in popular fantasy.

            So, if you wanted to take Middle Earth as a baseline but then start dropping in things you liked from other stories how would things change?  I don’t know.  Let’s throw some out there.  The biggest question you have to anser for all of these will inevitably be, “What’s up with you and how about that Sauron guy?”
            “I liked Conan, so I am going to ad Stygia to the south of Middle Earth, they kind of fit too because one of the main bad guys uses the Black Ring to summon monsters.”  I would guess that Stygia was on the side of Sauron during the War of the Ring, but what if they weren’t?  What if they saw the One Ring as too much of a threat to try and control it and sent poison bearing cultists of the Snake god to help in the defense of Rohan?  Or maybe they are a country that has disappeared into myth and their lesser rings are all over the place with cultists cropping up to follow the path they laid?

            “I like Greek Mythology, so I am going to use their gods instead.”  I guess Sauron is a Titan now?  Is Gandalf still an angel, or is he some kind of demi-god and if so which god is his father or mother?  Does Zeus still bump around with women all over the place if so is there a Perseus or Hercules?  Does Rohan worship Poseidon for his associations with horses even though they live nowhere near an ocean?  Where is Olympus?  What do the elves believe considering some of them have been around so long that they seem to have recollections about the world being made?  Are there any other Greek elements like phalanxes or Greco architecture?

           “I like Batman, how do I make more Batman in this?”  Is he an urban warrior fighting back against infiltrations against those who believe in Sauron’s vision of a used up industrialized world?  Was he trained by elves and rangers to get his martial arts and detective (maybe make that magic) skills?  Maybe make all of the Ringwraiths be inspired by Batman’s rogues’ gallery and give each of them different abilities based on 9 different Batman villains?  (I would suggest Scarecrow for fear powers, Mr. Freeze for cold powers, and Firefly for fire powers as those would be the easiest things to translate into game rules; 6 more shouldn’t be too hard.)

            Do you see how you can take some things from a different story and drop them in?  And they can be as limited or as expansive as you want.  Sure, Batman might be like Beorn (the were-bear) and only show up twice as a fun little aside, or he could be 10th guy of the Fellowship, or maybe a feudal version of Gotham city is under siege and breaking it is a multi-session long story in and of itself.

The Beg for Attention: Let’s take a break
            I am going to stop here for now.  I am going to start making a deliberate effort to keep the length of these blogs from getting too long.  Besides this is a logical place to end it, having talked about the good and bad of using a published campaign world and how to ask yourself key questions when blending borrowed elements into a familiar world.
            Having a good and familiar baseline is smart, but knowing how to push out the scope, or how to distort the expectations is key to building something into your own story telling landscape.  Sure, you’re inspired by other works, and because you aren’t publishing this (at least not for now) you can reference things by name, I once took inspiration from two historical figures, Shaka Zulu and Genghis Khan, didn’t even try to stop myself from calling him Chaka Khan and having my players NEVER FORGET his name or what he was about.
            Silly can be an asset.  It’s supposed to be fun.  Have fun.

First Impressions 5th Edition
            You know what makes you feel a little old when playing Dungeons and Dragons?  When a published dungeon you vaguely remember playing when it came out is republished in a “classics” collection.  And that published adventures are still as lethal for level 1 players as they have always been.

            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

1,000,000 Words, Year 4

Course correction from previous year
            April 26th is the anniversary of when I first started keeping track of how much I write and really aiming to say more with my writing.  I embraced the adage, “The first 1,000,000 words are practice and began keeping a journal as to how many words I wrote each day (quickly shifting to just logging the number of words and writing down the date).
            I logged college papers, memos, journals, emails, and more often than not these blogs.  Because so much of my writing was tied up with school and the nature of the assignments I was participating in was shifting and dropping off toward the end of things I also noticed a drop off in the amount I was writing.
            It may shock you to hear this, but just sitting down and writing can be difficult, especially if you don’t have a topic already in mind, especially-especially if you are not required to do it for grades or pay.  Writing as a means of self-improvement is like the mental equivalent of working out, except it doesn’t make you look more enticing to people which is a motivator all its own.
            Writing can be tiring and daunting and when you have been keeping a steady measure of your writing like I have you start to understand the size of the goal I have set.  This is the 4th year of this project and I am still just short of 500,000 words.  But this last year was an improvement.
            2016 had the most blog entries of any year I have been on Blogger.  It was a rather productive year of writing.  Not counting this entry, I have written 162,749 words in the last 12 months.  That I have logged anyway, there is some old trash that I wrote down as half thoughts and never hammered into anything workable.  That is 445.9 words a day.  The year prior only averaged 128.1.  I managed 3.5 times as much.  Good for me.

A Change in Perspective
            It is kind of silly to talk about this so short after talking about the 6th year anniversary of the blog as a whole just two months ago.  Which I coincided with the 400th entry overall.  This is the 419th entry… That is not a milestone.  It is not even a mildly funny number like 420.
            I have made some changes since then.  For instance, I have started using Google analytics.  Boy, is it a confidence boost.  According to them more people have been to the moon than have stayed on my page long enough to read an entire entry.  I could be putting anything on here and no one would read it.  Maybe the fat that I do put so much disparate stuff on here is why no one is reading it?  Whatever.
            I should have put analytics on this blog years ago and I have no idea why I chose now of all times to do so.  It makes more sense when I look back on my management of this blog.  I added the "Please like and share..." to the end of things in February 2015.  I didn't start using "+1" and Twitter until May 2014.
            I guess it is a good thing that I am not in charge of online communication for any political campaigns, my guy's online presence would be thin on the digital ground, in spite of it all being well written.  Maybe I should have written all of this into my 400th entry. Once again, my writing about something causes me to become introspective enough to find out what the topic of the thing should have been.

Projects for Scope and Benchmarks
            I have been writing about Dungeons and Dragons near weekly.  I have been doing more 30-day blog challenges (and plan to do another one in October).  And I have been trying to write a blog entry for everyday on the calendar, which has been going well, I will update on that project’s progress on the anniversary of starting it, November 22nd.

Some Old Tripe
            Sometimes I start writing about a particular movie or show and it just doesn’t grab me as a topic.  I figured, for a change, I would just throw some of these half-thoughts onto this thing to give an example of what my typical starting points look like.  So here are things for “The Purge”, “50 Shades of Grey”, and “Hail, Caesar!”.
            My thoughts on “Freddy vs Jason” were destined for here, but I somehow made them just enough more to be their own thing.

“The Purge” Franchise
            The movies are all about how "It's my right!" to commit violence and to destroy each other is an idea sold by the rich to the poor so that once a year the poor slaughter each other.  So, in real life when you hear someone say, "It's my right to smoke/drink/own-guns/be-a-dickhead" you can realize that it is all a part of having poor people take pride in being poor.

            You can take the movie in a completely literal and skin deep reading, which provides ZERO insight.  Or, you can float the idea that the movie is pointing to how small legal transgressions that people claim as "rights" are propagating a system in which the poor are killing each other and the rich prey on the poor.

            If you ever find yourself justifying what you are doing by saying, "I can" instead of "I should" or "I must" then you are most likely doing something bad or at the very least unproductive, even if it is only destructive to you, it is still a bad thing. All of those movies are about people justifying their bad behavior with "it's my right".

            HAPPY CONFEDERATE MEMORIAL DAY! Remember it's about "states' rights" and "heritage".

“50 Shades of Grey”
            I saw this movie on an invitation from a woman I would have liked to sleep with.  That is why this writing exists.  I actually saw this in the theater I might as well talk about it, even though the woman who I went with got bored and played on her phone the entire time, fun evening that went nowhere.
            It is clear that everyone working on this movie knew that it would be on their resume whether they wanted it to be or not, so they tried their damnedest to get this shit together.  They did not entirely fail.
            Unfortunately, only Rumpelstiltskin has displayed an ability to spin straw into gold, and since King Midas is dead this movie had to do without their assistance.  Danny Elfman, mysterious creature from the universe where music comes as naturally as speech can only do so much.

“Hail, Caesar!”
            So here is a quick review of a movie I disliked by writers/directors I respect, the Cohens, and a bunch of actors I like, in a setting I find interesting, and with a plot that should be great.  The thing was a boring slog.
            “Hail, Ceasar” is nominally a comedy but I only laughed in one scene that in retrospect wasn’t all that great.  The whole thing feels like several episodes of a hypothetical TV show (like “Mad Men”) that were pushed together to make one movie that would appeal to a particular type of person.  That type of person can be summed up with the phrase, “works in Hollywood”.

            I think that "Hail, Ceasar" might be the first Cohen Bros movie that would have been better if it were directed by someone else.  Shane Black would have made it funnier, David Lynch would have made it stranger, and Nolan would have made it more mysterious.  As is, the thing falls into a strangely dull middle ground.  It is boring.

The Beg for Attention
            If you do read my blogs, thank you.  I hope you continue to do so and hopefully I sometimes write something good enough for you to share with others.
            I would also encourage others to do similar self-improvement projects akin my writing.  Try new recipes.  Walk to new places.  Go to the gym.  Read more.  Practice playing an instrument.  Try to be better at the things that you want to be better at.
            Even if you can’t make money doing it.  Try to be a better you because it will make you happy.  I’m happier than I was.  Maybe that feeling will hang around.

            Have fun.

            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons: "Exotic Monsters" part 2

            I have played Dungeons and Dragons for more than 15 years.  Lately, I have not had access to any other players and so I have just been kicking around ideas that normally would be in a game and instead I am just going to post them on my blog.  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.

Last Time
            Last time I started talking about the idea of making monsters (particularly humanoid monsters) different in such a way as to make them more alien to the players without having to alter the rules of how those creatures play.
            Creating new statistics can be arduous, especially to new GG’s, what is more, focusing on one particular set of rules tends to make these discussions of Dungeons and Dragons and fantasy writing in general less accessible (at least, that is the excuse I give for why part 3 of the “Defense” series has fewer views than any other entry in all of my DnD blogs).  But, let me just say something quickly about new mechanics or statistics.

Something Quickly about Mechanics and Statistics.
            And easy way to make a monster unique is to give them an ability that sets them apart from the rest of the encounters in a game.  The boss that not only has lots of hit points and devastating attacks but the encounter happens in a unique location (lava castle), has an attack strategy that forces the players to rethink how they attack (you need to learn how to gun parry and dodge forward or the side if you want to beat Father Gascoigne in “Bloodborne”, his attacks move him forward enough that dodging backward does not remove you from the area he is attacking), or the villain has a particular weakness that needs to be exploited (use the Light Arrows to blind and the Master Sword to kill Ganon at the end of “Ocarina of Time”).

I unironically recall thinking graphics would never get better.

            These alterations challenge the players to master mechanics and skills beyond what they would typically be expected; to recognize that strategies that have worked before are not working; and to shift resources and effort toward something that shows an impact.
            As a general rule, you ALWAYS need a story reason to justify why a creature or character has abilities previously unseen in its kin.  If the Gelatinous Cube is flying thru the air, be ready to offer an explanation, “It swallowed a spice rack full of potions, one of those potions granted flight, the bottle stopper has either just now dissolved allowing the monster to fly or the Cube’s biology has been permanently altered by the potion to allow flight.”
            In contrast to that rule, you DO NOT ALWAYS need changes in statistics to reflect a change in in the story.  Sometimes the acquisition of an artifact or the uncovering of an important archeological site does not result in a change in a character’s ability to hit things with a sword.  For instance, let’s say that Thomas the Hobgoblin is a Captain in his army and discovers the lost homeland of his people, numerous statues, documents, art, and cultural history make him a “powerful” force in hobgoblin society, but he is just as easy to kill as any other Hobgoblin.  Sometimes the only “statistics” that change are how many minions they command or how devastated their people would feel if you were to kill them.
            Colonel Thomas the hobgoblin might be a capable officer who thru luck, intelligence, or intuition did something important, but it didn’t give him super strength, magical powers, or an invulnerability to everything but weapons that are painted blue.  He is still just a guy who can be pummeled to death.  Don’t make the mistake thinking that all the boss monsters have to be “special” in the sense of rules, and do not make the mistake of not explaining why “special” bosses have their strange abilities, even if it is just BS no one will be able replicate ever again.
            On to pointing out instances of weirdness in fiction.

Warhammer and Warhammer 40K: “Our (insert monster here) is different.”
            While one could point to each of these properties as being a kitchen sink approach to their respective genre, they do this with such bald-faced sincerity and a gung-ho immunity to self-awareness that I can’t help but kind of love them.
            Warhammer has their derivative elements, they have their imaginative elements, and they have REALLY EXPENSIVE BOOKS AND TOYS.  Fucking hell Britain, why do you need all this nerd money?  Is it for Brexit?  Did Games Workshop foresee Brexit and get as much geek coinage as they could while the getting was good?
            I digress….
            I found two creative parts of these properties, one each and figured I would point to them as yet another example of how you can do a society with a totally different social order can be utilized in a game’s lore.
Not pictured: Lizardmen breeding.
            In Warhammer, there are the Spawning Pools of the Lizardmen.  Slann, Saurus, Skinks, and Kroxigors are all monstrous humanoids that emerge in mass from sacred pools aligning with astrological timing.  Tadpoles plop out of these pools after days of spawning and eat bugs to balloon their growth as quickly as possible, emerging completely once they have fully developed as lizardmen.

            In the dark millennium of 40K, Orks are psychic fungus… Good lord that sounds silly… That bud off of large plant like masses and grow into the various flavor of ork.  Thru a constant state of war… Excuse me, “WAAAARRRGH!” …  Only the strongest of Orks grow to be true warlords, and among the strongest and most dangerous of monsters in the galaxy.
            Ork growth is boosted by the psychic power of their peers.  A self-fulfilling prophecy, as an Ork survives battle after battle they become looked up to and revered by the other orks and thus becomes powered up by their psychic energy, making them tougher and able to survive more fights, and more revered, and more psychically powered, and bigger, and so on.
            I point to both of these because they are not straight up manufacturing of creatures like my examples from last week, but instead have a distinct communal interaction.  There is a social order at work that gives a physiological imperative to its members.
            The spawning pools of the Lizardmen need to be protected to be spawned into, the pools require numerous environmental factors to function properly, and they create a social gathering point that must be protected for the safety of the species.  They can’t just move that shit to the frozen north or to a desert.  Their biology requires certain conditions.
            On the contrast, orks can go anywhere and they do spill out across the galaxy invading everywhere and fighting everyone, but they are powered up by other orks and emboldened via that hostile action.  More “WAAAARRRGH!” means more chance for glory and more growth to wage more “WAAAARRRGH!”  It is a biological imperative that would explain the Orcs of Dungeons and Dragons being the go to opponents of most civilized society far better than them just being barbaric and violent.  It would also provide an in-game explanation for making more powerful orcs beyond giving out class levels.  Such a change would have the side effect of getting rid of half-orcs… Which honestly could be jettisoned without losing too much, I personally do not see their inclusion as critical, but that is just me.

Lord of the Rings: Working in the Slime Pits of Isengard
            I consider the “birth” of the first Uruk-Hai, Lurtz to be an iconic moment in the “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”.  These are movies built on iconic moments and that scene still sticks out to me.  It instantly establishes that this monster birthed of filth and violence is a powerful and menacing opponent that will pursue the heroes.
            The creation of the first Uruk-Hai in the movie is seen as some kind of experiment and Lurtz is fully formed, not entirely clear of self and purpose, but possessed of a singular instinct toward killing.  This is a spin from the books in which the Uruk-Hai were more traditionally bred for war, but as Peter Jackson was working with a compressed time scale for the movie he chose to have breeding pits creating monsters.

"We must seize the means of production."

            I like this change.  I generally like all the changes made for the movie.  I was never able to get thru the “Lord of the Rings” books (if you want to know the furthest I ever made it I can answer you with a link to this song).  The creation of monsters makes them more alien, more apart from the natural world they are destroying with their war, more of a threat to the natural world beyond the sight of Saruman’s Tower.  This goes back to last week’s discussion of othering, as these guys are about as “Othered” as they can be.
            The Uruk-Hai are still humanoid, they still use weaponry, they have language, and can be understood as a thinking/feeling/planning threat.  They are however, so dirty, violent, thuggish, simple, and driven by base desires of hunger and fear that the audience doesn’t have to feel bad watching them be slaughtered by the train car load.
            Having the bad minions born from ooze of pure evil is perhaps the easiest possible way to establish that they can be killed without concern for the moral implications.  Which is good because they are on the receiving end of a freaking genocide by all the prettier (white) races of Middle Earth at the end of the series and… Let’s not go into the eugenics esc subtext of Tolkien’s world.
Would have been that hard.  Just take one guy from the bad guy races and have him be a good guy.
Heck, have a bunch, have them all be worthy of going to the Undying Lands at the end. Redemption for the ORCS!

My Own: How I integrated some of these ideas
            How I do Giants is a little different.  In my self-created world Giants are a manifestation of the planet’s natural magics.
            The natural energies of the world, Mana flows thru the world along the ley lines, a well-known of but often misunderstood lattice that patterns the planet.  Druids map these paths and have a habit of building conduits into this energy for the purposes of studying the pattern of the lines, they call the ley lines, “Life Web”.
            Sometimes this energy pools in particular areas.  More often just causing things like fairy circles to appear, maybe even an elemental to pop into our world.  But, a particularly large pool forms into the birth of a giant.
            The type of giant is based on the environment the energy pooled in.  Tundra produces Ice Giants for instance.  Hills, mountains, rocky steppes, or the bottom of the sea all of these places filter and concentrate different mana to birth a giant which rips up out of the ground blessed with some awareness but mostly living like Enkidu the wild man until their full senses and ancestral memory takes hold.
            Giants have an awareness of the world via their connection to the Life Web and eventually grow savvy to their surrounding via this preternatural sense of the world.  They recall weapons and crafts and language and eventually transform into full-fledged living and thinking beings.  The process takes less time if they are found and taught by others of their kind.

And over time, they will become even more a manifestation of the elements.
             In my game the Giants of the continent had joined a great alliance of other races, Catfolk, Humans, Warforged, and Goblins to defeat and push off an invading empire from a neighboring continent.  You might ask, “Why would they bother?”  Because they had to.
            This invading nation was known for their civil engineering, architecture, and roads.  Roads are the “Life Web” of urbanism, cities, and the tamed world, when they are built long enough and strong enough can cause disruptions in the world’s ley lines.  Too many roads can prevent mana from pooling in enough quantity to make a giant and can inhibit their connection to their ancestral knowledge.
            This alteration to giants was done to explain their diversity and it would explain why they need to come into conflict with particular groups of humans.  They have a biological instinct to combat the construction of cities and roads.  They have a vested interest in keeping the world wild and dangerous to humanoids because that is the realm that they dominate.
            This is why Hill Giants are typically the dumbest and weakest of giants, hills are relatively friendly to construction by small humanoids and thus the Hill Giants were being driven into a state of weakness and might go extinct.  Meanwhile the frozen or mountainous areas of the world rarely had any paths that were not buried or destroyed by snow falls and avalanches, so their ley lines were free and flowing.  That also explains the non-existence of Plains or Flatlands Giants.
            Giants are not without civilization in my game though.  There were instances of Giants building cities, but their architecture made note of any ley lines and could even direct the energy more efficiently to pool and generate more giants.

            I like Giants as an image.  Powerful, enigmatic, and chilling out.  The Giants of “Skyrim” are kind of my quintessential example of what I am looking for when I don’t bother to integrate them into the rules of DnD.  That the massive humanoids stick to their own thing, you don’t see any of their children, any gender roles, and all of their language and art is simple and swirling patterns that are not conveying anything to the smaller races, but might have substantive meaning to them.
            Instances in which the Giants come into conflict almost always involve them defending their territory/livestock or you are helping a backstabbing orc try to curry favor with a demonic patron.  I like how these creatures at once feel completely a part of the world and yet are kept at a distance from all of the regular humanoid events.  They are like deer or flowers; they are a part of the terrain.
Visit and support a rando on deviantart.
The Beg for Attention:
            These giants and last week’s goblins are all I have for now in regards to making monsters a bit stranger, I think these ideas are good places to start from as both of these monster types are encountered in numerous games, one at low levels and the other at middle to higher levels, the players would be able to see the differences but not all at once which might alienate them.  Gotta ease them into the strange.
            If you have any suggestions for other monsters you would like to see changed, or other instances of monsters in pop-culture or myth that require unusual conditions to exist share in the comments, I feel this is the easiest topic in the world to expand upon and will almost certainly return to it.
            Regardless of strangeness feel free to just write one or two monsters you enjoy in the comments.  Have fun.

First impressions of 5th Edition
            I contrast my vision of Giants with what I have seen of them in 5th Edition so far, I hate how Dungeons and Dragons is utilizing Giants now.  Strict deference given to some kind of hierarchy not based on any ideology, need, desire, or threat?  What is the point of saying “Hill Giants always defer to Frost Giants”?  What is the point of having Giants be united as some sort of racial caste system?  How does that help any story?  I can’t believe I am saying this, but 4th Edition did it much better as giant would eventually grow into titans of the elements they embodied, that fits with my ideas near perfectly.
Can I ask why they made Fire Giants look so much like Ganondorf?

            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Fantasy World of "Xanth"

            Currently they are kicking around the idea of a TV show based on the Xanth books by Piers Anthony.  I am familiar with his work.  When I was in 7th and 8th grade we had a program called "Accelerated Reader".  You would read a book and then take an 8-20 question test (dependent on the length of the book) and get points for doing well. A typical young adult book was worth 5-8 points.
            Somehow the Xanth series by Piers Anthony was on the list, each 400-page novel was worth about 14-16 points and I liked them so much that I read one a week.  All 17 that existed at the time and scored 100% on each quiz.  I had the 6th highest Accelerated Reader score in my middle school of 900 kids that year.  My Mom volunteered at the school running a mini-toy shop that allowed you to spend your reading points on prizes for your hard work.  (I have mentioned this before.)
            I have grown beyond Piers Anthony.  To the point where I just can't bring myself to read anything by him.  It kind of makes me sad, like how I can't really enjoy anything from when I was a kid except in a nostalgic sense.  I just don't get the same rush from Lego, video games, candy... Each day the world is a little colder, colors less bright... Adulthood blows.
This book is actually lots of people's introduction to fantasy so the nostalgic looking back is not uncommon.

And Introduction to the Series
            Let’s talk about the first book, “A Spell for Chameleon” and to a degree the earlier stories.  The premise is that in the magical land of Xanth everyone has one magical talent, these are all different, randomly assigned X-gene style to the residents of the continent and ranging in power from “spot on the wall” (powers that are basically the ability to cause momentary discoloration on some surfaces) all the way up to “Magician” having tremendously powerful abilities like controlling the weather or talking to any and all inanimate objects.  The first book starts off with Bink, the only man in a long time to not have an obvious talent, if he is unable to display a magical ability he will be exiled from Xanth into the world of Mundania (Earth).
            Bink goes on a road trip of sorts from the Good Magician Humphrey’s castle to ask him for information on what his talent is, then across the canyon “gap” which splits Xanth in half meeting a strange woman named Chameleon, into Mundania where he meets the exiled Magician Trent who tried to conquer Xanth in ages past.  Bink, Chameleon, and Trent all end up back in Xanth where they discover an ancestral castle of a lineage on kings and Trent eventually becomes king with Bink’s help, with Bink’s talent being revealed as being Magician caliber power but best when kept secret.
            Really, the plot is a background to instead explore the rules of the world and society.  As to whether this was intended to be a series at the start it certainly feels like an introductory read.  Numerous rules, locations, prominent characters, and key locations are all introduced.  Future books would explore the place so thoroughly that there is nary a corner that remains unmapped.
If you can't tell, Xanth is based on Florida.
The biggest difference being all the mountains and the canyon.
Magical creatures and monsters are actually too common in Florida for that to be considered a major break from reality.
Strange Authorial Quirks
            The writing is exceptionally skeevy at times.  Nearly all writers of genre fiction let their strange kinks creep into their work at various times (look back at my discussions of Wonder Woman for a good example of that) and Anthony is no different.  Lots of talk about women’s underwear pops up thru the series, one of the titles of the series is just “The Color of Her Panties”.
            This is to say nothing of the amount of nudity, topless centaur women, the origin of things like centaurs, and lots and lots of people being perfectly cool with everybody being naked.  Not to kink shame, this is all just a warning for you if you intend to give the series a whirl.  There are a few angrier perspectives on this topic you can find regularly online.
This is the cover of "The Color of her Panties".
I have no idea why that was the title, I barely remember this book.
There are maybe 6 that stick out in my mind and this ain't one.
The Humor
            Most of the humor comes from puns that are so numerous and go by so quickly that they have all vanished from my memory for the purposes of giving examples.  In the later books, there are entire chapters that can be skipped because it is just a literal parade of strange creatures based off of puns.  In the first book things are a little subtler, for instance there are “Cent”-ipedes that are tiny copper colored bugs that take coin sized bites out of people.  Oddly there is a missed opportunity for a pun in the form of a man named Justin who was turned into a tree; didn’t want to make that a “Joshua Tree”?

In Conclusion
            I got a kick out of these when I was in Middle School.  They were more of an introduction into high fantasy settings than anything else I can think of (I am that mutant that never cared for the “Lord of the Rings” books) along with the “Magic: The Gathering” novels, so I do not hate them.  They are just weird in retrospect.
            They are kind of perverted when I view them thru the lens of adulthood, but in a way that is so juvenile and silly that it feels harmless.  The writing is only okay (at best) when I look back on it after having read literally hundreds of books.  The setting is bloated and cluttered, even when compared to everything-and-the-kitchen-sink type fantasy settings like “Warcraft”.
            I do not regret having read these.  I would not heartily recommend them to anyone who has already read a lot of books, not when Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is around, with humor that is far more droll and clever.  I can imagine young readers enjoying this as their first steps into fantasy though, they feel like books aimed at a younger mindset.
            Maybe I am wrong, but that is my take and if you enjoy them more than I do, have fun.

Piers also wrote the "Incarnations of Immortality" series.
In this series the Grim Reaper, Father Time, Lady Fate, War, and Mother Nature work together to stop Satan.
It is better than Xanth because it is tighter, but it is also rather bloated.
            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Audible Review, "The Forever War"

            I finished this book on Audible not too long ago and decided to expand on the review I put there (hence the list of questions about the book to help give the review some structure for people who do not review movies and books as a hobby).  Strangely this book was recommended to me by my former roommate back in 2014-2015 but I never got around to reading it because I was too busy being a lazy pile of garbage masquerading as a graduate student.
            Anyway, I almost gave up on this book a couple times because (aside from the emotional core of the C-plot) there wasn’t much about it that entertained me, it is kind of a slog.  That “TLDR” said, this is my review of Joel Haldeman’s “The Forever War” or as it could have been called, “Space Viet Nam”.
Unlike "Stranger in a Strange Land" this book has a metric ton of art.
Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?
            I would only recommend this to a person who really likes science fiction minutia. There are big sections that are just descriptions of the weapons, armor, tactics, materials, and other science related details of fighting a battle. If you like the "tech" part of science fiction than this will definitely appeal.

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?
            I would have had more characters call out the main character on his bullshit.  It only happens once and it is one of the better things in the book.  There is a chapter in which they give him a psych evaluation and call him a "Failed Pacifist" and that his "tolerance" is only what he thinks is tolerant, that he actually does have bigoted thoughts and they do interfere with his judgement, but he doesn’t admit such things to himself.  That is clever, I wanted more of that.
            Hearing a lot of the main character’s thoughts as a modern audience, his describing himself as "normal" because he isn't gay comes off as bigoted to me.  I have to keep telling myself how it is a product of its time.

What about the voice actor, George Wilson’s performance?  Did you like it?
            George has a strong ability to give distinct voices to all the different characters, it is much appreciated. I think that Plot-C (the love story) works so well in large part because he is such a strong voice actor.

Did “The Forever War” inspire you to do anything?
            Continue with looking at other science fiction titles dealing with war, though other books much lighter in tone.  (I liked “Old Man’s War” a lot more because of its lighter tone, even if it is far less “realistic”).
I will probably get around to all of these before the TV series starts getting put out.
Any additional comments?
            To me, there are 3 big aspects to the book that can be broken up at looked at individually, mostly because the thing changes gears between them super abruptly.
            First, there are the discussions science. Tech is described in detail and at length... Kind of boring unless you really like that kind of harder sci-fi.  The science is surprisingly hard and realistic.  At one point a seismic event happens because of an attack drone hitting the surface of a moon at near light speed and it kind of cracks the planetoid.  That’s cool.  At no point, do you feel like something is unclear in how it works or what it can do.

            Second, the social commentary of leaving Earth and coming back to a totally transformed society in which fashion, urban unrest, poverty, and homosexuality are major cultural forces to the point that it massively alienates the protagonist. This stuff comes off as obnoxious at various points and kind of took me out of the story, which is set 40 years after this book was written; apparently, there will be interstellar flight and explosive growth and shrinkage of the Earth's population in that time which reads as insane.
            Compared to the discussions of science this part seemed laughably out of touch.  It also has a shockingly poor grasp of the UN’s role in international politics, sure it might change with interstellar war going on, but the idea that they institute a worldwide currency based around rationing sounds crazy.  This is another instance in which “YOU HAVE INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL” should have a much bigger impact on how Earth works like how I squinted condescendingly at the film adaptation of “Ender’s Game”.

            Lastly there is the love story, which works completely.  At least it did for me. The story epilogue was sweet and appreciated because this C-plot worked so well.

            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons: "Exotic Monsters" part 1

            I have played Dungeons and Dragons for more than 15 years.  Lately, I have not had access to any other players and so I have just been kicking around ideas that normally would be in a game and instead I am just going to post them on my blog.  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.

Last Time
            My last Dungeons and Dragons entry was part 3 of a series on the Defense mechanics in 3rd Edition and several suggestions from me on how to do things differently.  Here are all three parts: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
            I should also note that I have just bought the base 3 books of 5th Edition and will be playing a game of it soon.  I like what I see for the most part (the art is excellent) but that might just be the idea of getting to play again after so long.  Anyway, on with the very soft and fluffy topic of making monsters weirder without altering their statistics.

What Have I Got: Some Boring Monsters
            This is the sort of thing I didn’t even notice when I started into the fantasy and science fiction genres when I was much younger.  Monsters in all their varieties are exotic by their nature.  Be they the hodgepodge of parts like a Chimera, the thudding simplicity of the Purple Worm, or the elegant menace of the classic Vampire, monsters are cool.

            After years of surrounding myself with these genres I have noticed somethings that start to feel a little drab, and then problem I was having started to come together.  The idea being that monsters could be more exotic than I had seen portrayed in Dungeons and Dragons.  This makes sense, DnD is basic (it used to have Basic in the name) and it is up to the creativity of GG’s and players to grow the world with their own touches.  That is what I have been doing and I will illustrate how you too can draw inspiration for this.
            I am kind of getting a head of myself, what do I mean by boring?  Mostly my vision of boring had to do with the life cycles of monsters.  That many of the creatures (humanoids) more often than not exist in lives like much like those of humans.  Two people of the opposite sexes copulate and make a baby, that baby grows, learns, they themselves breed, then they age, and eventually die.  That life cycle is true of goblins, orcs, and nearly anything else barring Aberrations, and Aberrations were the first things to draw my attention to other possibilities.

Lords of Madness
            The life cycle of Mind Flayers is terrifying.  They cut open the head of a human, insert an alien tadpole spawned from a giant brain with tentacles and after and ungodly transformation that human is warped into a Mind Flayer.  Purple skin, tentacle mouth, and psychic powers all from alien brain surgery.

"Brains?  More like creatine fool.  Need to get swoll!"
            How this process was carried out when Mind Flayers first appeared on this plane is a mystery, considering humans didn’t exist at the time and Gith were the only humanoid race the book discusses.  Maybe Gith are human enough for it to all work out?  Regardless, this was something intentionally strange and unnerving.  Mind Flayers were meant to be set apart from other creatures in the game not only by their look and mindset, but also in how they exist at all. Along with the other monsters discussed in the book, Abeloths and Beholders being the most iconic, Mind Flayers were made fun and different via this exotic trait.
            What I found so interesting was how a creature could be totally dependent on another species to procreate, Mind Flayers are more a perversion of humanity by some hostile external mutation than it was its own existence.  This got me looking into the topic and I started to look at monsters and species that do not give birth, they instead manufacture their progeny.  Let’s first start with a character that is beloved, and more importantly a good guy.

Doctor Who: “So you are like the son/clone of someone important?”
            I like “Doctor Who”.  It is perhaps the best iteration of a Mary Sue character in popular fiction.  The universe is huge (though often derivative of both other things and itself), the opponents are menacing (when they aren’t silly or pathetic), and the dialogue and stories are often well assembled and pop with energy (when they are not garbage).  It is a good science fiction show (whenever it isn’t being god awful).
            That being said, I have come to find out the live action show jettisons a lot of really creative and interesting material from the comics, the books, and even older episodes of the live action show.  One of these ideas was that of the Looms.

It might be a little impractical to have your species breed entirely via giant tube technology.
            When Time Lord society took over Galifrey under the leadership of the inventor of regeneration (the process by which Time Lords are nearly immortal), Lord Rassilon created what could be considered 3-D printers of people.  These were called Looms.  Each family would have a Loom and those individuals printed off by the thing, created by blending various genetic data from all of the existing members’ regenerations, would be considered cousins to each other and the descendants of all those members who had passed on before.  This is a creative and alien social structure.  It’s fun.
            It was hinted that the Doctor is descended from a being called “The Other” who was the third founding father of Time Lord Society, I do not think this is ever confirmed and with all of this stuff flushed down the drain in favor of them just being people who live regular lives I doubt it will be brought up at all in the live action series.  So, I guess we are all just supposed to shrug and say, “who cares, whatever”.
            The reason I bring this up is that it is an illustration of how a human seeming, personable, and beloved character can be exceptionally alien in many interesting ways when it comes to family structure and how they view themselves in the context of their social order.  Dungeons and Dragons talks about how Elves value personal freedom and Dwarves value their clans, but… Elves and Dwarves still have kids and parents and their families are not all cousins born from the same giant mechanical womb.
            This is an example of how a familiar and heroic character can be strange.  How can that be applied to DnD?

Eberron: “You know what would be cool?”
            I am not going to pretend I know what was going thru the creators’ heads when they started really synthesizing the disparate bits of creativity into a workable alloy of awesome that became the definitive setting of 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons but I can imagine one conversation sounded something like this:
“You know what would be cool?”
“A playable race of robots.”
“Woah?  I was going to say ordering in pizza, but let’s talk about your thing while we wait.”
            If any of you people reading this know Keith Baker, try asking him if that is how it initially went down and then tell me if I am close.   Also, tell him I admire his creative prowess.
This is the Creation Forge.
Anybody else wondering why "Breath of the Wild" shrines have such a similar look?
            The Warforged are a race of quasi-living golems created whole cloth in magical forges that pressed them out like pewter wargame miniatures to fight a war.  The idea of a sexless society that was created in a state of adulthood and whose life was entirely defined by combat and the morally dubious position of having no value as individual beyond their disposable nature as soldiers is awesome and could be the basis of entire series of books resembling “I, Robot” or “Ex Machina”.
            Regardless of the accuracy of that, I contend that the playable race of robots called the Warforged are one of the coolest things ever.  I like the premise of their existence so much I have modified them to fit my own games both in DnD and in Science Fiction games and have added my own levels of pathos, like groups of them trying to build a giant clockwork computer to calculate the formula of a soul so they can all have one and start to ruminate on their place in the world and ensure themselves a place in the afterlife.
            I like robots.
            While magical technology might not fit in every (or even most campaigns) the idea that these critters do not have spiritual successors in other settings (seriously, “why are the robots not in Spelljammer?”) baffles me.  I do feel that ideas like these should be looked into in more GG’s self-made game worlds.
            So, what is the idea behind this sort of alien life cycle in fiction?

Othering: How to make something different
            Rather than give too much of an explanation of what Othering entails I will link to a video that can explain it better, but I can give this short blurb to explain it quickly.  Othering is the process of using simple physical and cultural markers to make the subject exotic and strange to the audience in order to make them less sympathetic.  Othering can be done in reverse, giving traits we think of as positive, big Disney-esc eyes, soft smooth fur, or boobs to aliens in order to make them easier to identify with.
            In TV show’s that have to produce lots of aliens often the most othering you will probably see is something like the Andorians from “Star Trek” or the Narn from “Babylon 5”.  In movies, the most “Othered” monsters are probably the bugs from “Starship Troopers” who are giant monsters presented without any redeeming traits in spite of ostensibly being a space faring intelligent society, the othering of the bugs is even directly referenced in the movie as many people find the idea of the bugs being in anyway intelligent “offensive”.

"I'm from the Home Owners Association."
"I have to tell you that your unpermitted settlement has to be brought up to code."
"Your mailbox is the wrong shade of white."
            The best example of an alien society being created specifically to be a sympathetic victim of human aggression has to be the Na’Vi from James Cameron’s “Avatar”, or as I call it, “the most over rated movie that ever existed”.  This video, done by Mr. Plinkett talks about the process of making the Na’Vi comically sympathetic.
            Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings are hardly othered at all.  They are basically just humans with slightly different views on certain cultural touchstones.  Honestly, the world views of Dwarves of Elves are so similar in presentation the idea that they are in any sort of rivalry at all kind of strange.  The only thing they seem to disagree on is preferred housing type which should keep them out of each other’s’ hair entirely as no Dwarf wants to live in a tree house and no Elf wants to live in a cave.  Aside from that they are both long perspective taking, artisan revering, friends of humanity.

My Own: How I integrated some of these ideas of Manufacturing
            First things first, I put in a lot of Warforged material.  They are typically in the background of nearly any campaign I run or are referenced in my own lore but beyond that I try and apply their ideas in a more sticky-goo kind of way.
            Warforged are very clean.  Metal, wood, some leather, but they are machines.  They come out of their forge clean and assembled and ready to go.  They do not emerge screaming and covered in Amniotic Fluid.  I chose to make a race that was all about being sticky, gross, and covered in fluid.  I made Goblins much grosser.
This is not the most crisp of resolution.
            The Goblin Pits of Io-Rach were an idea put forth in the 3rd Edition of “The Book of Vile Darkness”.  The idea behind them was that goblins had gathered vats of mutagen in big pits and lowered in warriors to transform them into more fit weapons of war.  I decided to not just make this a weapons program, but a part of the goblin life cycle.
            Goblins are not born; they have no sex or gender.  They emerge as squealing children from pools of ooze created by enough goblins dying in close proximity to pollute and corrupt the land they died in.  Goblins have short lifespans maturing to full after only 2 years and passing of old age when they are in their 20’s, at which point their remains go to a goblin graveyard/birth-pool and dissolve down to help new goblins emerge.
            Goblins have worked to refine the process over the years and “Matrons” of the society know what piles of rotten fruit and meat to add to best speed the process along, and the know that retrieving goblin corpses is useful, but not critical, a half dozen dead goblins and enough bushels of rotting beans can breed 20 goblins in a year with proper Kid-Gardening (it is a pun on Kindergarten).
            Breeding for certain traits still escapes them, goblins are by and large rather uniform, but some interesting permutations can be found with the right applications of magic at the right time.  Black skin from unhallowed areas, albinos from areas known for having lots of wild flowers, blue skin if the process is done in a clean processing facility (this also results in goblins that learn faster and live a little longer), and if enough blood of elves is put into the mixture their ears come out longer.

Let's look at the designs of the two biggest tabletop renditions of this common monster.
Pathfinder wins.  It is not that the art on the right is bad, it is good.  It is just not nearly as interesting.
(Follow that link it is a blog about the art in the 5th Edition Monster manual and is pretty good.)
            Not enough mixtures have been tried in any controlled experiment to completely understand the process but that has more to do with the short lives of goblins who can’t monitor multi-generational eugenics.  Elves and other long lived races don’t want to conduct studies and actively destroy breeding areas where they find them, seeing the goblins as akin to rodents.
            Sometimes massive battles that leave numerous goblins dead will lead to the sound of mewling infant goblins appearing from the bloody muck after a few days.  It is a gross and unpleasant cleanup of such areas.

The Beg for Attention:
            I hope you liked this look at goblins created via processing their dead and strange chemical mixtures, next time I will continue to look at strange life cycles in genre fiction and how some of those ideas can be applied to Dungeons and Dragons to make the settings more exotic without taking them too far from their quasi-feudal era settings.
            If you have any suggestions for strange monster permutations that you have used in your games share them in the comments.  If you have other examples put them in the comments to.  And if you are a fan of “Doctor Who” that resents my calling the Doctor a Mary Sue, give it a couple minutes of thought and then decide what it is about that comment that irks you, and then blast me.
            Have Fun!

Bonus: Some first impressions of 5th Edition
            I want to also take a moment to point out the definite design upgrade to the Aboleths in the 5th edition Monster Manual.  In all my years of playing 3rd Edition I had no desire to use an Aboleth because their illustration in the 3rd edition Monster Manual was so unmenacing.  I had no idea they were even supposed to be something other than a strange fish, or even that they were gigantic because there is nothing in their art that indicates their size, but in the new edition they change from big green fish to scary toothed Old One.
There is no sense of scale.
I know it is cliche to put a skull in every illustration to show how big a monster is, but could you have put in SOMETHING.
As is it just looks like a weird fish.
Again, no sense of scale.  BUT, in this instance it isn't needed because the thing is coded as a threat by the teeth.
It screams "I'm DANGEROUS!"
            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.