Thursday, August 25, 2016

Bad Books for Bad People: Bleakwarrior

Did you know I do a podcast now with my dear friend Tenebrous Kate? Here's the pitch: "Every month (or so), Tenebrous Kate and Jack Guignol cover the weirdest, kinkiest, and most outrageous fiction they can unearth."

In this episode, Kate and Jack talk about BleakWarrior, Alistair Rennie's 2016 novel in the New Weird genre that at least one reviewer has linked to black metal. Jack provides some far more accurate (and alluring!) descriptions: "as if Soul Calibur were a porno directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky" OR "as if you got your weirdest friend drunk on cheap tequila and asked them to describe what He-Man would be like if it were dirty and a bit Shakespearean." A race of super-humans leaps through time and space in search of ultra-violent battles and super-kinky sex in this sordid tale that your hosts enjoyed far more than they should have.
The guest reader for this book is Degtyarov, founder and editor of Black Ivory Tower, a website and zine devoted to esoteric black metal and related musical genres. How black metal is this book? Do your hosts care very much? To what extremely obscure and unlikely things will they compare this novel? Will the guest reader be able to hold it together through the entire passage he's forced to read that contains all manner of abominable human behavior? Tune in to this episode of Bad Books for Bad People to find out!
Listen here!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Hangman's Daughter, Oliver Potzsch

If you like Warhammer, boy do I have a book recommendation for you! Definitely check out Oliver Potzsch’s The Hangman’s Daughter. While it doesn’t have orcs, elves, or griffin-riding emperors, it does have:

• An early modern setting: Bavaria, after the Thirty Years’ War.
• A less-than-heroic cast of protagonists: a hangman (ex-soldier), a physician’s apprentice, and an herbalist.
• A plot concerning murdered children whose bodies show the marks of witchcraft, which leads to the threat of a witch-hunt hysteria.
• A murderous villain with a skeletal hand.
• A dungeon crawl through some "dwarf hole" tunnels beneath what will become a leper colony.

To me, that’s "more Warhammer" than any of the official game-related novels that feature vampire protagonists or magic-laden, invincible poets.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Magic, Dragons, and Saints in Krevborna

A typical scene of adventure recruitment in Krevborna

More Krevborna setting lore 

Krevbornites react differently to feats of magic depending on the enchantment's apparent provenance. Magic that is connected to the Church's teachings or seems saintly in origin would likely be regarded with awe and reverence. Magic that appears to originate in esoteric study and occult lore will probably arouse suspicion. Magic that carries a whiff of the infernal would certainly cause panic and revulsion, and might possibly result in an angry mob forming or the intercession of the Church's witchfinders. In more rural areas, pagan folk magic often exists uncomfortably side by side with belief in the Church's saints. In Lamashtu, the vampire lords attach no stigma to the use of any form of magic; in Hemlock, witchery and deviltry is unusual, but also unsurprising.

Dragons in Krevborna are also known as the Beasts of the First Sin. Ancient texts record that mankind's first transgressions against the commandments of the gods coalesced into the form of a dragon that punished human frailty. Great sins, whether personal or communal, continue to give birth to dragons. It is debated whether dragons exist as a scourge that punishes mankind for its moral outrages or are simply the unintended consequences of man's flawed and immoral nature.

Here is a list of saints reverenced in Krevborna with a bit of lore related to them.

St. Othric
Things we know about St. Othric:

  • In life, Othric was a slayer of the undead; he was martyred by the vampires of Lamashtu for his crusades against them.
  • The holy symbol associated with St. Othric is a downward pointing greatsword.
  • There was once an order of knights dedicated to St. Othric, which had dwindled over the generations and had essentially died out when bandits killed the last of them at the Church of St. Othric. 
  • Nevertheless, the Knights of St. Othric have begun to experience a rebirth due to the actions of players in my current game. The bandits mentioned above were converted to the faith, and a number of recent converts were placed in control of a watchtower in the town of Sellvek's Hollow.
  • The Knights of St. Othric used the vaults beneath their churches and cathedrals to imprison supernatural creatures who could not otherwise be destroyed.
  • Pen Bennett's research uncovered the location of a mythical, sacred being called Volamnus the Holy Flame, who once devoured a demon on behalf of the Knights of St. Othric.
  • The skull of St. Othric possesses healing powers when used according to an ancient rite within his northern church. 

* * *

All of the above is setting information prompted by questions from current players in the campaign. Writing what is needed and filling in details as they come up is proving to be a much better method than drafting a giant setting Bible before play even begins. As always, I'm showing my work on the exam and pointing out my influences:

  • The place of magic in the setting was inspired by Innistrad and The Last Apprentice novels in about equal measure.
  • The stuff about dragons is mostly original ideas I've been hashing out forever; there is a bit of Dark Souls in the saints document. Note that the number of saints in Krevborna matches the number of clerical domains currently in 5e D&D. I could spell out which saint matches which domains, but also I don't care which domain and saint players pick for their clerics, so...
  • St. Othric started as a throw-away setting bit that was only going to factor into one adventure, but since some players took an interest in the saint he has become a part of the themes running through the campaign overall.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Worlds' End

Of course, after the momentous Brief Lives arc, the narrative of the Sandman Saga needs a pause to regroup before pushing forward--and that pause comes in the form of self-contained, single-issue stories that connect to the main plot in only minor ways. The conceit of the stories in Worlds' End is that each issue is a story told by a traveler who finds themselves stuck at the Worlds' End Inn while they wait out a "reality storm." The tales told, as well as the tellers themselves, are remarkably varied; we get a man who falls into the dreams of a city, a tale of faerie trickery, etc. Morpheus makes brief appearances in the stories, but none of the stories are really about him. 

And, at first blush, the stories don't seem to be about anything in particular. They don't connect, they don't cohere into a larger narrative moment. In a sense, they make the reader feel like they too are stuck in the Worlds' End Inn, waiting for something greater to happen.

But that feeling of suspended moments whiled away--in which stories told help us to kill time--might be the larger point in itself. What if, despite our best pretensions to the contrary, stories are only ever about passing time? What if all that muck about "expanding our point of view," "enlarging our ethical sympathies," and "coming to self-knowledge through the mirror of fiction" is all just empty justification for what we're up to when we give and receive stories? Maybe we're not making sense of the world at a fictional remove, maybe we're just watching the hour hand move round the dial at a glacial pace.

If that's what Gaiman wants us to realize, then Worlds' End is provokingly placed since it comes just before the big climax of his now epic-length series. A moment of self-doubt perhaps? (Why have I spent all this time working on this story if it has just been a distraction for the audience?) A dire warning to the reader? (This all means nothing, in the end. We're just passing the time, each and every one of us.) Toying with expectations? (I'm telling you this is a waste of time, but maybe the big stuff will start to happen and you'll have to reconsider the importance of storytelling for yourself...)

My money's on that last one.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Youtube Theatre: The Best DM Advice

Ah, Youtube, home of cat videos and the most venomous comment sections known to mankind. But, there's also some folks making decent videos with advice for their fellow DMs about running games. I don't agree with everything said in the videos posted below, but these are my picks for the most helpful videos of this sort.

Being Everything Else playlist (Adam Koebel and Steven Lumpkin. This series of videos is a good walk-through for the starting DM; they cover the basic of what a DM does, the best ways to prep for a game, how to make memorable NPCs, etc.)

Running the Game playlist (Matt Colville. Another good series for the beginning DM, especially if you're planning on playing D&D specifically; he covers expectations for your first session, how to make the starting location for your game, etc.)

Office Hours playlist (Adam Koebel. Koebel answers questions sent in by viewers; he hits a wide variety of topics from how to use cinematics in your game to how to be confident speaking in front of your players.)

Matt Mercer's DM Tips playlist (Matt Mercer. General advice, mostly with a modern D&D flavor. Covers things like how to build social encounters, and how to roll with it when your players do unexpected things.)

RPG Discussion Topics & Advice playlist (aFistfulofDice. This series is a bit scattershot, but has interesting videos on how to introduce new players to RPGs and how to be a better roleplayer.)

Hack Attack playlist (Adam Koebel and Steven Lumpkin. This series is all about how to hack an existing game to get the experience you want out of it. This is based in real-world application, as you get to watch them hack 5e D&D, Shadowrun, and Star Wars for their Rollplay shows on Twitch.)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Slang in Scarabae

Is bespoke slang for a setting annoying? I've definitely seen people complain about it in Planescape, and a bit in Shadowrun as well. Nevertheless, I'd like to think that a little slang could go a long way toward establishing aesthetics and tone--if you don't let it become overbearing, it doesn't obscure meaning, and doesn't become a barrier to entry. 

Or I could be entirely wrong. But I'm willing to see where this takes me; here's a slice of what you might hear on the streets of Scarabae, most of which has been adapted from real-world Victorian slang:

Adam/Eve – a naive person, a rube
Bite o' Pie – an attractive person
Bobbin – money, especially ill-gotten lucre
Buttoner – a thief-taker or bounty hunter
Crossed-Off – dead, deceased
Crypt Kicker – an adventurer
Don't Sell Me a Sausage – don't lie to me
Get the Stitch – to be patched up by an illicit doctor or healer
Give Them the Brick – to approach fearlessly
Gone Grave Digging – to be melancholic
It's Enough to Make the Taxidermy Laugh – something preposterous
Mammoth – an important person
Name Level – when a crypt kicker's fame is great enough that they are infamous in the city and their name is well known
Pigeon Chaser – an easily-fleeced idiot
A Real Rumchug – a bad situation
The Slosh – rumors, circulating gossip
Squeal Stick/Squealer – a weapon
Tiddlywags – dandies, wealthy wastrels
Tattletrap – mouth
They've Had Their Afternoon Tea – a well- informed person
Tossed to the Rats – drunk or intoxicated
Wormwood Licker – a crazy person

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Autothysis Trap

Wikipedia has this to say on the subject of autothysis: 

Autothysis (from the Greek roots autos- αὐτός "self" and thysia θυσία "sacrifice") is the process where an animal destroys itself via an internal rupturing or explosion of an organ which ruptures the skin. The term was proposed by Maschwitz and Maschwitz in 1974 to describe the defensive mechanism of the carpenter ant (Camponotus saundersi). It is caused by a contraction of muscles around a large gland that leads to the gland wall breaking. Some termites (such as the soldiers of Globitermes sulphureus) release a sticky secretion by rupturing a gland near the skin of their neck, producing a tar baby effect in defense against ants. It is a form of suicidal altruism.

D&D tells us that there are a lot of giant versions of bugs around. Some of these bugs must be capable of autothysis.

We can make a trap out of this.

A clan of Krevbornite witches might keep giant termites chained up in their dungeons as a kind of biological defense system. 
Anyone who doesn’t smell of witchery who approaches one of these termites (or tries to pass by one to get down a corridor) sets it off; it ruptures into sticky goo that roots the hapless adventurer to the spot (saving throw pending, of course).

Perhaps the witches assume they will discover any adventurers held in this way in due time and use them as sacrifices to dark powers. Perhaps once an adventurer is stuck in place a secondary effect is triggered: descending ceiling spikes are a favorite, as are a flood of hungry fire ants unleashed in the vicinity.