Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"The Terrible Old Man" by HP Lovecraft

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

He has also been a game character.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Captain America's Leadership

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

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

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

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons, "Kobolds"

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Response from Senator Rubio

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



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

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


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            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.