Thursday 30 July 2009

All Dwarves Ain't The Same

(Later than promised, I know. The Sons of the Mountain will not be rushed
"Blogger stops work. Interrupted by carp.")

The dwarf. The bearded cube. Scottish-accented, berserkerganging Cousin Itt. Was there ever a fantasy race that was so thoughtlessly and thoroughly stereotyped? Heck, even the lowly Orc gets more love! That unholy timesink and record of the geek hivemind tv even has a page devoted to the cliché that if you've seen one dwarf you've seen 'em all.

It's a shame that the big three geek touchstones (D&D, LOTR, WoWcraft) all seem to default to being part of small reference pool (more fitting would be "shallow reference pool", or possibly "reference paddling pool". But I digress) as even a cursory look at folklore, fantasy fiction and the like will throw up hundreds of more varied and potentially interesting ideas about dwarves.

  • Norse myth gave us the idea of dwarves being spawned from the flesh of the primal giant Ymir
  • German folklore and Richard Wagner gave us dwarves as scheming gold-crazed madmen
  • African folklore offers us dwarves that are black-skinned, obsidian-toothed nightstalkers that drink blood and steal children
  • Tad Williams' Memory, Thorn and Sorrow made dwarves into reclusive, big-eyed Morlocks hiding under the mountains of ersatz Wales from the ancient cat-elf masters who enslaved them
  • Michael Scott Rohan's Winter of the World trilogy (now a sextet) played with the "Middle Earth was an interglacial period" idea by making the Neanderthals the heavy-browed, strong-thewed wielders of Dwarf cliché power
  • Sir Terry Pratchett inadvertently popularised the 'Dwarves = Jews' meme (both being stereotypically thrifty, hardworking, insular, misunderstood, respectful of age and knowledge, torn between the old and new ways, peaceable until pushed), and played with the idea of bride-price in a way both alien and touching. He also gave us the inverted dwarf archetype: Casanunda ("The World's Second-greatest Lover. Stepladders repaired.")
  • Richard Sharpe Shaver gave us the Dero (mad super-science dwarves of the underworld with rayguns and flying saucers)
  • The comically bad "Van Helsing" movie gave us the Dvergi - sharp-toothed, chittering subcontractors to the resident mad scientist and maintainers of his Rube Goldberg lightning engines
  • Warhammer gave us one dwarven culture based on a quasi-fascist command economy and the institutionalised holding of grudges (this culture also had sub-cultures of nihilistic punk dwarves, aka Trollslayers, and the earliest instance of which I'm aware of Dwarves as steampunk engineers). It also created a whole other culture of Chaos Dwarves, a pack of Assyrian-themed, magic-slinging gunpowder fiends with slave armies and bull centaurs
  • AD&D Monster Manual 2 presented the Azer, elemental craftsman who can be summed up as angry kilt-wearing dwarves...on fire!
  • AD&D Birthright gave us dwarves as honest-to-goodness living stones with hearts made from a ruby the size of your fist (supposedly)
  • AD&D Dark Sun gave us bald(!) dwarven monomaniacs doomed to haunt the site of their final failure
  • the Dwarf Fortress roguelike CRPG gave us tragi-comic drunken obsessives who fear carp and do not understand the concept of being on fire
Ok, so that's a few pop culture examples of Dwarves not all being alike. But precisely what use is all that iconoclasm for a game? Look at how little is actually written about the dwarf in the Labyrinth Lord rulebook. About 2 paras in the class description, and another para in the monster description. Plenty of solid facts; minimal 'fluff'. That gives you as DM or player the freedom to add whatever details you like without running face first into a barrage of canon.

So here - inspired by Rach's meditations on Elves - are ten alternate ideas forDwarven cultures or race in Labyrinth Lord (or other OSR game of choice).

~ A Secret Culture ~

Dwarves are Mad Max

Hardy, strongly resistant to disease and magic, living in vast underground tunnel networks, the dwarves are little more than scattered survivors of a legendary cataclysm. To them the world, over-run with marauding orcs, rampaging dragons and dirty spindly-limbed humans and elves is a post-apocalyptic waste; a hellish mess better forgotten and ignored. Some dwarves have been specially engineered to survive in the world gone mad; others flee the surface for the relative comfort of the subterranean depths. Now one dwarf must venture forth from his ancestral clanhold in search of a decanter of endless water.
(Yes, the Fallout references are intentional)

Dwarves are Master Sailors
Traditionally it is bad luck for a sailor to know how to swim (I think the logic is that you are both betting against yourself and tempting fate), and who will want to stay out of the water more than a short, stocky race with a natural negative bouyancy? The dwarves are the master mariners of the seas. Copper-bottomed, iron-ribbed dwarven trimarans ply the seas. Dwarven master mariners eye the sea and sky warily, listening to the ticking of dwarf-built chronometers and grumbling prayers that the gods of seas and wind will deliver them safe to Terra Firma once again.

Dwarves are Communists
The Sons of the Mountain care not for wealth! Let no dwarf achieve riches at the expense his fellow dwarf. The greatest shame is in prospering while your clan brother starves. Glory to the Dwarven Peoples' Supreme Council of Elders! Their wisdom and foresight ensure that all have their needs provided for...if they are but patient and submit the requisition forms without error. Prisoners are shackled in chains of gold so heavy they can barely walk, and dwarven children play games with jewels worth a king's ransom in the surface world while the enlightened dwarrowletariat enjoy the cultural attainments of their workers' paradise.
(Yes, More's Utopia. Well spotted)

Eldritch Dwarves of the Catacombs
The mythic underworld leaves its mark on all who venture therein. How much more on those who choose the unending dark over the sunlit lands? The underlands are never silent, and the whispering in the darkness has given the dwarven people dark and powerful wisdom unknown to the loremasters of the realms above. The pale-skinned dwarves bury their honoured dead with all the pomp they can muster, decorate their choicest goods with bones and other memento mori of their beloved forebears, and whisper in hushed awe of the unfailing wisdom of the ancestor gods.

Dwarves are Librarians
"An interesting idea, but doomed to failure. It was tried during the Reign of King Snorri the Litigant nearly 2,000 years ago, and the assembled Assayers of Worth ruled that such a motion was inadmissible in these circumstances."

Surrounded by the words of their ancestors, immured among the recorded judgements of older and wiser heads, the dwarves consider that all good (and bad) ideas have precedent. Before any action of significance is undertaken the chronicles must be consulted, the terms defined, and the ancient rites of the Rechtsstreitkampf (lit. lawcasefight) enacted. No serious-minded dwarf will undertake any matter of importance without the reassurance of a precedent graven on black stone from the law mines. No dwarf ever wants to earn the damning epithet of 'innovator'.

~ A Race Apart ~

Dwarves are Maggots
Dwarves thrive in the darkness, gorging themselves on nothing but meat (the higher and more stinking the better). Maybe new dwarves are naturally produced by the giant carcasses left to rot by passing adventurers, maybe they grow from carefully prepared sides of rotting beef. Do the maggotborn (a killing insult) labour under a divine curse, or were the first dwarves truly spawned from the flesh of the Ur-giant. Imagine are outlandish and bizarre the belief system of such a race would be. No wonder the dwarves are tight-lipped about their culture and touchy of slurs to their ancestors.

Dwarves are Fungus
Tough fleshed, insensitive to pain and stubborn, the dwarves are physically adapted to thrive in ecosystems where the sun is never seen. Their luxuriant flowing beards are root systems which can draw water from moist air or sustenance enough to survive from even the stoniest soil. Their secret sporing ceremonies are hidden from outsiders.

Dwarf are Hive Creatures
Dwarves are communal subterranean creatures who guard their (few) females well and defend their tunnelled holds ferociously. Their strength and endurance are legendary, and their capacity for work inhuman. The stony uplands of their mountain homes cannot support their burgeoning population and the lucrative trade of dwarven metals for human crops and lumber (most of which becomes mulch for the vast dwarven fungus field) can no longer ensure the security of the hive...I mean hold.
(Hellstrom's Hive was a major influence here)

Dwarves are Rocks
This is an ancient idea, going back arguably as far as Norse myth. It's been played with lots of ways since then, with everything from Birthright's 'dwarves are living rocks' idea to James M's revelation that the dwarves of dwimmermount use their carefully harboured wealth to craft their offspring. What could be more fitting than the Sons of the Mountain being carved directly from the earth? Be it in the form of statues animated with reincarnated dwarven souls (why do you think dwarven tombs always have an exquisitely detailed statue of the deceased) or the discovery of unique jewels which will grow or hatch into dwarves when cared for correctly. The Arkenstone of Thror: the dwarven equivalent of a phoenix egg?

All Dwarves Really are the Same
Why not subvert the subvesion of all dwarves being the same. Dwarves are clones, or pod people, or subject to a form of genetic conformity similar to the Jibarru (?) of Dan Simmon's Hyperion. Dwarven society works so harmoniously (when was the last time you heard of a dwarven coup de etat?) because all the inhabitants think alike and share identical aims. With only scars, and affectations of garb and beard braiding to differentiate them, no wonder outsiders can't tell dwarves apart.

So what does this mean for the Vaults game? Well, ultimately only as much (or as little) as the players want. I'll be throwing some odd dwarf analogue creatures at the PCs, just to keep them from assuming that subterranean miner = dwarf = "Hi ho". Hopefully between this blog post and the power of British irony no-one will resort to the John Rhys Davies 'Urist McBeard of the Clan McBeard' cliché.

(image tirelessly mined from nuklear power's 8-Bit Theatre)

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Old School: Not for the Likes of ~You~

A few weeks back there was some scuttlebutt bouncing around the echo chamber about how to get the younger generation into old-school/neoclassical (hat-tip: Trollsmyth) gaming. I think the best way to go about this is to play to the inherent wilfulness of youth.

Stop trying to convert people. Tell them that they're not welcome, and that this game is not for them.

Sounds perverse and counter-intuitive, I know. But kids, as a rule, are fascinated by and drawn to what - at least by adult lights - they can't or shouldn't have. We can all think of instances where prohibition and dire threats of calamitous consequences about foo, bar or skub actually pique interest in a way that sober explanation and parental indifference never would. It should be easy enough to make difficulty, obscurity and exclusivity a selling point to a price- and status-conscious group habituated to playing zero-sum 'pecking order' games by their everyday lives.

To paraphrase something I read on Grognardia a while back: think back and remember when you were playing Basic D&D back in the day. Fun, wasn't it? Right up until you heard about AD&D, the more complex, advanced game with "For adults 12 & upwards" right there on the front page. That cleverly worded caution was a siren call to many a young geek, just like the 18A (UK) or R-18 (US) rating on a movie became a lodestar for seekers of illicit televisual extremes. One look at those big hardback books and suddenly you didn't want the kiddy's stuff that came in a box any more: you wanted the big, difficult grown-up game. The fake sense of exclusivity was enough.

Moreso even that with TSR's own advertising, D&D was never so popular as when it was "the satanic game" which drew the wrath of lunatic pamphleteer and porn imagery appropriator Jack Chick, and gave the delightfully deranged Pat Pulling and her absurd MADD pressure group conniptions and sleepless nights. This odour of brimstone gave our tame little paper-and-dice pastime a faux-rebellious air of danger that the best Madison Avenue campaigns could only ever dream of. Heavy metal imagery and Anton Lavey's Satanic Bible became inextricably linked with the DMG and polyhedral dice in the minds of entire generations of imaginative teenagers with money clutched in their hot little hands.

A similar controversy = profit! outbreak occurred in the 1990s when the release of the first iteration of Vampire: the Cash-Cow lifted White Wolf to the top of the RPG market on the strength of its darker-and-edgier, bad boy imagery and subject matter. Of course, this was helped greatly by the fact that TSR had by that point lost any sense of what the paying customer actually wanted from their game. As WOTC later discovered with the interesting but less-than-stellar selling Everway, New Age simply don't shift product the way the adolescent rage and angst of SLA Industries did. (Just imagine if they'd bundled a Tarot deck in the Everway box though...)

How do you recapture that sense of edginess and danger? Well, assuming that trapping that particular lightning in a bottle twice is even possible, I offer you three words: Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa. By confronting and openly talking about subjects in his old-school release that the generally PG-13 mainstream games industry (honourable exception: Call of Cthulhu, and I bet this has a lot to do with its longevity and near-universal popularity) usually shies away from or tries to prettify Geoffrey McKinney made a name for his product. Love it or hate it: you've heard of Carcosa, and probably have an opinion of it.

I'm not suggesting that the OSR needs a darker and edgier Dork Age, or that many of the excellent writers out there should strive to be crass and outrageous for the sake of it (that way FATAL lies...), or so desperate for edgy topicality that they mimic Holistic Design's rather tasteless 'ripped from the headlines' Real Life Role-Playing war porn series. But there is a provable market advantage to not being entirely wholesome, clean cut, and the kind of thing your Sunday School teacher would approve of. Games Workshop made millions from their brand of war fetishism with a gothic flavour, and I understand Metal Hurlant and 2000AD have been selling well for decades on the back of their definitely non-Comics Code content. Outrage and controversy, if done right, get noticed.

Another few words for you: Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Some people consider James Raggi a loudmouth with a fine line in toe-stomping hyperbole. These are usually the same people who conveniently ignore the fact that the man has actually put his money where his mouth is when it comes to his (strongly held) opinions on gaming. I'm not saying Jim should be the model and/or mascot for a putative OSR youth outreach program. In fact, I'm pretty sure he'd run screaming from the idea. But who better than someone dramatic, loud and opinionated to proselytise young gamers desperate to find something worth investing their time, energy and effort in? There's a good reason that pompous, over-loud, overblown, outrageous rock music appeals to the 'young, unsubtle and all nerve endings' age-group after all. ;)

When the endless fekin' grind of WoWcraft becomes a chore, and the empty gaming calories of XboX achievements leave a sickly taste of ennui, there should be someone older and wiser standing by there to say: "Try this. It's the good stuff. First hit's free. We won't judge you, you just want some fun." (Hmm, I wonder what the current things you're not allowed to say taboos are...)

Stop letting lazy media hacks treat us as cheap punchlines and instead present old-school D&D as the kind of shady, slightly edgy and 'not for the likes of you' thing that outrages parents (quite regardless of the fact your Dad did it back in the day. The young have little, if any, sense of historical context). Watch the new players flood in.

note: I'm claiming no definite knowledge on this and am definitely not looking to start a new Mishlergate. I'm just another geek with an opinion. But I know what got me into old-school again. The sense (true or spurious) of it being a well-kept secret shared by a few like-minded souls.

Head back behind the parapet. Time to get back to game content for me.

Sunday 26 July 2009

Death Frost Doom - Losing is Fun!

"You will die, but first, you will suffer."

Bleak, stark, unforgiving - this module is very, very much the product of a particular personal vision of what old school adventure is about. Death Frost Doom has some lighter moments, but it maintains an air of 'damned-if-you-do; damned-if-you-don't' pessimism that borders on the nihilistic.

DFD is absolutely and unapologetically not a 4E module: James E. Raggi's world is not a place in which 'status effects' disappear on a successful save or at the end of the encounter. This is a module where anything your players do will have consequences. Many of these consequences will be permanent, most of them will be negative. Remember, this was produced by the man who brought us the Green Devil Face collections: anything you touch can kill you... and your buddies... and everyone else in the area... DFD is old school as horror; it's D&D as Fantasy Feckin' Vietnam.

That caveat given, I have to say that this is one of the most immersive, thematically unified modules I've read in a long time. Many of the descriptions are richly evocative of the sort of creeping, 'in over our heads' horror that is rarely seen in D&D. The descriptions of the crypts had me almost smelling the musty scent of earth and corruption which would break lose as the PCs looted the sepulchres. The situations and some of the trappings would be right at home in a "Call of Cthulhu scenario".

Certain tropes of classic fantasy adventure make an appearence, either used straight (bottomless pit? check!) or with a particular twist (purple lotus powder random effects table), but the absence of other expected cliché elements can be used to disorient players and put them on their guard. JER helpfully makes a point of explicitly calling these aspects of the scenario out in what is almost a mini-masterclass in horror.

What? The loot? Yeah, there's loot. Some of it has strings attached, other parts are just uncanny in a cool way. Although, in a module with at least two ways of catastrophically reformating your campaign, and a number of other lesser (but still substantial) horrors on offer, I honestly think that even the most profit-motive driven players will be less interested in Greyhawking the place than they will be in just getting out alive.

The impressionistic monochrome artwork by artist Laura Jalo meshes well with the bleakness of the module. The cartography is clear and workmanlike. The writing clear and entertaining throughout. Heck, there's even an Elder Futhark easter egg for you to play with!

My one petty quibble is that some details - like the activity cycle of weird hermit Zeke - are overstated. Perhaps a simple table would have laid the information out more clearly than a couple of paragraphs of prose?

All-in-all, money well spent. Howls of anguish and curses will rain down on the name of James E. Raggi IV, and his laughter will echo about the icy northern wastes.

But wait! There's more!

DFD includes, as bonus feature and further evidence of the unrelenting blackness of JER's cold and twisted heart, the very Green Devil Face-ish trick/trap/locale The Tower (previously seen in Fight On! #4). This is a masterful deconstruction in three pages of the Arthurian/Disneyesque rescue the sleeping princess trope. It may not be to all tastes, having more in common with the bleaker Metal Hurlant strips than a traditional fairy tale, but it is an interesting exercise in 'give them enough rope' DMing.

So, Death Frost Doom. You get to support a hobbyist creator. Your players will whine and bitch. You will remember why you love this game all over again. Totally worth the money.

Saturday 25 July 2009

Post-Vancian Haze

Oh wow. Thanks to Monster Brains for the pointer to the Spanish language Quique Alcatena art blog. As well as retrospectives on Golden Age Dr Strange and - I think - John Carter of Mars comics, there's some seriously excellent black-and-white monster goodness. Ctrl+S frenzy commences in 3... 2... 1

In other news:

  • Death Frost Doom! arrived this morning from the icy Finnish temple-fortress of the Flame Princess. Review to follow when I stop gawping at the art, hugging the module to me and chortling evilly
  • Cheap fantasy/scifi novels from the tat-bazaars of the webotubes continue to rain down upon my doormat like chunky, papery hail. Latest arrivals: The Seven Altars of Dusarra by Lawrence Watt-Evans, Hellstrom's Hive by Frank Herbert, and Desolation Road by Ian McDonald. Hmmm, now how does one set up that funky little "what I'm reading/watching/auditing" sidebar widget?
  • This weekend we will be looking at Dwarves, why they're not all the same, and why anyone who thinks they are suffers from a perilously narrow reference pool.

Friday 24 July 2009

Heresy on the Dying Earth

Warning: heresy, wrongbadthink and crimes against nerd orthodoxy ahead.

Jack Vance is over-rated. There, I've said it, and I'm prepared to stick by it however much nerdrage comes my way. Now don't think I say this lightly. For one, I am nothing if not a herd animal, and iconoclasm makes me uncomforable. For two, you don't diss lightly any man who can use the word "nuncupatory" in cold blood and with malice aforethought. But despite that the fact remains that - for me at least - Jack Vance is little more than an 'ok' writer.

I've been re-reading Tales of The Dying Earth recently, soaking up the old school pulpiness of it and hoping that it will grow on me in a way that the grindingly tedious wallbanger Lyonnesse never did (100 pages in and nothing worth caring about has happened? WTF?! Even War and Peace moved faster than that!), and it slowly dawned on me that not only am I not really getting into this book; I'm actually finding it a bit of a slog.

Sure, the language is pretty; yer man Vance can sling words like few others, even if his dialogue is as stilted and mannered as that of a particularly poncy Versailles courtier. But the language in Tolkien, or in Dunsany, or in Clark Ashton Smith, or even in Eric Rücker Eddison's "more verbally baroque than thou" The Worm Ouroborus is equally poetic. And those are stories where, by-and-large, something interesting actually happens.

That's one of my main gripes with the Dying Earth stories: the rigidly linear plotting. Yes, there is spectacle and wit, but there's little sense of suspense or of drama in any of the stories.

That one character in the first book (his name escapes me; great sign of a memorable character that!) who memorises 4 spells, which happen to be exactly the abilities the plot requires. It does make me wonder if there wasn't an element of self-aware parody going on there (plot-significant items, etc). I've seen it said (either over at The Gaming Den, or in a comment on Vance at Grognardia) that the Vancian casting system was a knowing mockery of S&S magic tropes - magic as sufficiently advanced technology; mysterious but reliable, and ultimately a little dull.

The phrase 'mysterious, reliable and ultimately a little dull' could be a damning indictment of the entire Dying Earth idiom. Stuff happens. Then more stuff happens. The characters make witty comments and carry on with their lives. Then some more stuff happens. The end. There is little sense of building dramatic tension, little indication that the plot is actually moving towards a denouement. The stolid acceptance of the protagonists goes beyond cool-headedness into the kind of absurd, intentionally witless stoicism that the Carry On team or Harry Enfield used to parody.

"The sun is dying and all the world will be reduced to darkness. Ancient evils stalk the land and vicious rogues plot ceaselessly against one another."
"Heigh-ho, rum do what? Pass the port."

An air of apathetic ennui and casual callousness pervades the books, which is even stated by one character as people just passing time until the world ends.

Maybe the problem is that I came back to reading the Dying Earth after overdosing on Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Karl Edward Wagner and David Gemmell. I'm trying to be diplomatic here, but Cugel the Clever - for all the cleverness with which his dialogue is written - is no Grey Mouser, and Rhialto the Marvellous and his largely interchangeable ilk haven't a tithe of the grandiose dark glamour of Red Kane. Cugel, poster boy of the Dying Earth saga and designated protagonist of Eyes of the Overworld and Cugel's Saga Cugel, is at best little more than a mediocre picarro who only seems sympathetic by comparison with the uniformly conniving scum with whom he comes into contact. For ingenuity and audacity the character simply can't hold a candle to the casually magnificent bastardry of Saki's Clovis or Woodhouse's Psmith. Cugel just an unsympathetic schlub to whom things happen in a series of episodic, disconnected vignettes. He draws no conclusions and gains no wisdom from his circumstances, and walks heedlessly into situations which a supposedly cunning roguish character would deftly avoid. Heck, even Elric seems foresighted by comparison!

I will say that Vance can string a pretty sentence together, and that he can worldbuild with the best of them (although his supposedly ancient dying earth has little of the sense of layered history found in Leigh Brackett's or C.L.Moore's evocations of Mars, or in M. John Harrison's better Viriconium stories. As for the kind of sheer outre bizarreness of Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time: fuggedaboutit), but that simply isn't enough to justify his place in the pantheon IMO. The Dying Earth books are interesting to gamers because they formed part of Uncle Gary's inspiration. As stories in their own right they are of limited merit.

Next week on the Nerd Orthodoxy Outrage Blog (the nOOb): why G.R.R.Martin is a hack writer who can't pace worth a damn, or "food, clothing, gorn and goatboy's taste for young girls do not make for a satisfying fantasy epic".

PS: don't waste keypresses ranting at me anonymong style. Your outrage only increases my arousal!

(image yoinked from Tom Kidd's artblog)

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Desert Island RPGs

Bryant started this meme, and I am pathologically incapable of resisting a bandwagon. He originally specified you could take any ten RPGS (and all the supplements) to the proverbial desert island. I laugh at his puny, weaky ten game decimal fetishism, and instead elect to play under the true scientific realism of the Plomley Memorial Hard Mode rules (8 games. Core book only):

- Moldvay Basic D&D/Labyrinth Lord
- TNMT & Other Strangeness
- WFRP (either edition)
- LUGDune
- Pendragon
- Fading Suns
- Savage Worlds
- One BRP system (I'm torn between Runequest, CoC and Elric/Stormbringer. Don't make me choose!)

Honourable mentions: Ars Magica, Feng Shui, Mutants and Masterminds, Risus

Let's have a look then. No indie cred at all. A good few retro-stupid games. Also a surprising(?) amount of pretentious...

Nightmare mode (only one system): That's a toughie... WFRP for hilarity; LL for ease of use; Pendragon for theme and tone; Fading Suns for gonzo kitchen sinkery.

Tune in next week for Mornington Crescent: the Great Wheel Cosmology edition.

Bestiary of the Vaults: Mrotas

Mrotas (aka, Gibbering Cave Imps)
No. Enc.: 1-10 (5-40)
Alignment: N
Movement: 30', fly 180'
Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 1/2
Attacks: 1 bite
Damage: 1-2
Save: T1
Morale: 5
Hoard Class: XI (in lair)

Mischevious, bulbous-headed imps of the underworld less than a foot tall, Mrotas are ugly little bug-winged humonculi that flit about the Vaults carrying messages and scavenging enough to feed their voracious metabolisms. If unable to find food anywhere else they will act in the office of crocodile birds or cleaning wrasse to the larger and more sedentary inhabitants of the Vaults.

Although of limited analytical intelligence Mrotas have a facility for mimicry, a knack for languages, and a wicked sense of black humour. Their high-pitched cackles and whoops of approval echo around the halls whenever some poor fool falls to one of the numerous traps of the Vaults. If their latest playmare proves boringly cautious Mrotas will helpfully bait swarms of bats, stirges, centipedes, or other larger creatures into his path to enliven his day.

Mrotas live communally in paper hives which look like oversized wasps nests. These are usually suspended from the arches of the Vaults and have rusty nails, faeces-stained barbs, broken glass and the like embedded into the outer surface to discourage predators. Mrotas rarely actively gather treasure, preferring to take their payment either in food, or in shiny things.

note: If using FrDave's weapon vs. armour type mod Mrotas are AC I, with a +5 DB from their excellent dexterity and tiny size. They're sneaky little devils, but they squish real good when you hit 'em.

Saturday 18 July 2009

More on Gadget Madness

Mishlergate, Trollsmyth, Squaremans, Noisms, now Warren Ellis:

...she was thinking, "yeah, it plays music, but what else does it do?" She didn’t ask, but, knowing her, I wonder if that was going through her head. Whether that’s what goes through the heads of her Western generation, the third (?) internet generation. Where’s the controller? What else does it do?

This is what pen-and-paper gaming has to contend with.

The rising generation of the late noughties aren't any more ignorant then we were in our youth, nor do they suffer from a lack of imagination. They do, however, expect far more interactivity from their hobby materials than we ever did.

They are accustomed to instant feedback and intuitive operating systems, not the enigmatic blink of a command line cursor or obscure esoterica hived away in half-a-dozen different places. They want to poke it and see a response. They want to see what else it does.

Who says their way is wrong?

Just some brain fodder.

Sunday 12 July 2009

Gadget Madness - it is coming

(a 7E player, some years hence)

OK, so first Rob of Bat in the Attic tweaks my Luddite nerve with his wild-eyed prophecies of Kindle gaming. And now Matt Colville of Squaremans is seriously talking about people using the next generation of iGadgets as the medium for enhanced reality RPGs.

That does it! I'm mining the lawn. Has the technophobic wisdom of Hollywood taught us nothing? Ain't no Skynet running my games for me!

*Dons tinfoil hat. Stocks tinned food, ammunition and lead minis*

"An intriguing game. The only way to win is not to play."
-- WOPR, Wargames

edit: And now James Mishler (who knows of what he speaks) predicts the inevitable doom of RPGs in terms more commonly heard from Dmitri Orlov, Jim Kunstler or the guys over at Coming Anarchy than from fun-loving game designers. Like Cold War armageddon docu-dramas Mr Mishler's thoughts are scary, but definitely worth your time.

link to James Mishler's prophecies of doom added 15/07/2009

Thursday 9 July 2009

The Rake's Progress (gamer edit)

Nick Bielik, the lord of Castle Dragonscar commands that we reveal our gaming histories. Squishy-minded and prone to drone-like following as I am ("Will minion for food. Can provide own cult robe"), who am I to argue?

~ = magazine/comic
* = board/table top game
# = books
-- = related event

Primary School
Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harryhausen movies and fantasy films
# Greek and Norse myth, Arthuriana
# The Hobbit

Secondary School/Sixth Form
# Lord of the Rings
~ 2000AD comic (UK)
Fighting Fantasy
Lone Wolf
# Michael Moorcock
* Heroquest
* Space Hulk
Mentzer Basic D&D
~ White Dwarf (UK)
Dragon Warriors
AD&D1-2E (any setting; we weren't picky)
~ Dragon magazine
* GW Warhammer (FB/40K/Epic) + Dark Future
TNMT/Heroes Unlimited
~ Game Master magazine (UK)
Elric, Runequest
WH40K Rogue Trader roleplay homebrew
~ Arcane magazine (UK)

Amazing Engine (TSR generic system - Bughunters, Once and Future King, etc.)
-- discover internet --
Call of Cthulhu
* GW Necromunda

World of Work
-- LARPing --
Ars Magica
* GW Mordheim/Warmaster
Fading Suns (longest campaign)
D&D 3.5
WFRP 2E (like tonsil hockey with an old flame: familiar, but still exciting)
D&D 3.5 + Tome Series
-- discover grogblogs --
Castles & Crusades (briefly)
Labyrinth Lord

I am such an archetypal British gamer it's not even worth joking about it. I came up during the 80s NWOBCF (New Wave of British Cynical Fantasy), and it's marked me indelibly.
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