The world’s laziest posts, part 1: GIS dungeons

I’m terrible at drawing maps, and designing rational floor plans.  Sometimes I’ll Google image search (GIS) things like crypts or temples, which is always turns up tons of great stuff. Like this Egyptian temple:

Khonsu Temple Floor Plan

and this plan of Olympia:

Or this abbey:

 

But sometihng you might overlook are other types of plans, particularly those for old gardens. If you GIS “garden plans” (or better yet, “historical garden plans” so you don’t get as many modern drawings that are actually illustrations rather than plans).

The garden a the palace of Versailles is particularly vast and you’ll find lots of images like this map:

or this elevation:

Weird symbolic plans can be inspirational too:

Whether you were planning to run it as an outdoor maze or an underground dungeon, the unusual layouts can help break the monotony of halls and rooms.

Limiting your search line drawings or black & white makes even generic searches for “plans” useful.

 

Published in: on September 19, 2014 at 9:01 am  Comments (1)  
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Dyson’s delves

Some time ago I got a pdf copy of Dyson’s Delves. I didn’t have to pay for it — it was a consolation prize to replace something else he’d tried to send to me and which was apparently lost or stolen in the mail — and he didn’t ask for a review, but it’s only fair to post one now because I have had some time to look it over and have even used one of the scenarios. <Edit: There is also a Dyson’s Delves II? I didn’t know about that until just now when I went looking for links. So this review is just about the first one.>

Anyway idea behind Dyson’s Delves is to provide both a set of usable dungeon adventures and a set of maps, ready to be keyed and stocked (with sheets of blanks provided on facing pages for those who want to keep a permanent record in their copy). Some of the maps and adventures have already been published on Dyson’s blog. They are all pretty good. There is a “mini-mega-dungeon” that was originally published on the blog as “Dyson’s Delve,” and which consists of eleven smallish levels (with room for expansion). This mini-mega-dungeon has multiple entrances, so higher level adventurers could bypass the goblins-infested uppers, and there are multiple paths through the dungeon — the party may need to go “up one, down two” to find everything. This dungeon could easily serve as the centerpiece to a dungeoneering campaign, and yes there is dragon in there somewhere. The dungeon is designed to take a party from first to sixth level. (I have a copy of the “deluxe edition” printed out that I keep on hand just in case I ever need to run something with no preparation… though I’d probably swap out the goblins for almost anything else.)

There are several other keyed dungeons, ranging from single-level adventures to multiple-level dungeons. The dungeons have a variety of difficulties, which is very nice for DMs looking for a quick side-adventure in a campaign, as I am often am because I did not have time to prepare or because the players go so far afield of what I expected. There is a surfeit of first-level one-page-dungeons, so it’s nice to find delves here for mid-level parties. My favorite is probably The charmed grotto (for level 5-8 characters), which I ran  in my home campaign and provided a decent challenge to a mid-level party, but you’ll also find adventures for 3rd-6th level parties, ranging from the award-winning one-page The worm’s gullet  to another multi-level crawl, Erdea Manor.

The blank maps are generally very good.  Anyone who has visited Dyson’s blog will have seen his work, so there is not much for me to add about that.

It’s available in PDF, softcover, and hardback. No-one asked me, but if he did I’d tell him to see about offering in a spiral bound edition, as my experience with perfect-bound print-on-demand has been that they do not hold up well to use at table, especially if you’re writing in them. As it is I guess you could get the pdf and print yourself a copy and have it spiral bound at an office supply store. Or just three-hole punch your printout.

In any case Dyson’s Delves is great idea, well-executed and worth a look.

Published in: on September 15, 2014 at 12:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Pages from a rutterkin’s notebook

The gaming group is has been pretty irregular over the summer, what with work schedules, vacations, and assorted BS.  One of our players is going to start an indefinite AD&D 1e game though — first we’ll try out a module with 5th level PCs and if we’re enjoying it, we might continue with him as DM for as long as he can stand our shenanigans.

So we each making two PCs, and naturally one of mine will be a half-orc fighter-assassin. 4th/4th then, and any equipment normally available in the PHB, but no poisons, elfin mail, strong bows or magic, as those are all the purview of the DM.  Sticking to BtB AD&D 1e, with only the MM, PHB, and DMG should be interesting.  That’s how I started D&D thirty+ years ago.

But who can resist poring over the books looking for a loophole? Not I. So I discovered some obscure AD&Disms that I had mostly never really understood or taken note of before.

ITEM: Belladonna and wolvesbane.  These two herbs are for sale in the PHB and easily overlooked.  In the real world, both are poisonous — belladonna (or “deadly nightshade”) is the most toxic European plant, and a single leaf or a handful of berries could kill, though it was also used medicinally and cosmetically.  Wolfsbane is also poisonous if eaten, but you’d need to eat a fair amount.  Belladonna was also supposedly used to make arrow poison at some point in history but I forget by whom or how effective it was — even I would not push that.  Anyway, Gornor stocked up on a few sprigs just in case he could feed it to something or someone in the game.  But then I started looking for rules related to them and I found that the MM and DMG both give somewhat contradictory information about how they are used to prevent lycanthropy.  The important bit for an assassin is: eat some belladonna, and there is a very small (1%) chance you’ll die.  But in any case you will be incapacitated for d4 days!  (MM, p. 63) I assume that is a very bad trip, given belladonna’s reputed hallucinogenic properties.  Still, no save is mentioned, so that makes it pretty useful.  There is no explanation of how wolfsbane drives away weres as it does in B/X.  DMG p. 220 only mentions that it is reputed to be a sedative and drive away werewolves.  NPC clerics use it (along with belladonna) in lycanthropy cures though (DMG p. 22).

Belladona image

Atropa Belladonna, from Wikimedia.

ITEM: Assassins can set traps pretty darn well.  The DMG (p. 20) clarifies that the Find and Remove Traps (FART) ability can be used to set traps, and that assassins set traps as thieves two levels higher than their level, not level minus two as with most abilities.  So my 4th level assassin sets traps as a 6th level thief, 45%, plus 5% for being a sneaky ass half-orc, or 50% chance of success!  Not too shabby!  Time to dig out my Grimtooth’s books.  :)

https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3753/9153727363_9571123568_z.jpg

Church trap. Source: Aaron Muzalski, https://www.flickr.com/photos/sfslim/9153727363/

ITEM:  Assassins attacking with surprise and who choose to assassinate rather than backstab automatically cause weapon damage (it is not, however, multiplied as if it were a backstab).  So with surprise you might try the assassination table with a chance for automatic death and guaranteed damage, or go for a backstab, risking a miss but causing somewhat more damage.  We used to play that you had to make a backstab, and if you hit you roll on the assassination table, or something like that.  BtB looks like an improvement.  On the other hand the chance of an assassin moving silently or hiding is pretty weak at low levels so you’re really not likely to get a lot of surprise opportunities without careful planning.

Zarak!

Surprise! Zarak attack! From the D&D cartoon & action figure line. Source: http://www.dungeonsdragonscartoon.com/2009/08/zarak.html

 

Published in: on September 7, 2014 at 4:15 pm  Comments (2)  
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St. Guinefort of Lyons

This is what they did recently in the diocese of Lyons. When preaching there against sorcery and hearing confessions, I heard many women confess that they had carried their children to St. Guinefort. I thought he was some saint. I made inquiries and at last heard that he was a certain greyhound killed in the following way. In the diocese of Lyons, close to the vill of the nuns called Villeneuve, on the land belonging to the lord of Villars-en-Dombe, there was a certain castle whose lord had a baby son from his wife. But when the lord and lady and the nurse too had left the house, leaving the child alone in his cradle, a very large snake entered the house and made for the child’s cradle. The greyhound, who had remained there, saw this, dashed swiftly under the cradle in pursuit, knocking it over, and attacked the snake with its fangs and answering bite with bite. In the end the dog killed it and threw it far away from the child’s cradle which he left all bloodied as was his mouth and head, with the snake’s blood, and stood there by the cradle all beaten about by the snake. When the nurse came back and saw this, she thought the child had been killed and eaten by the dog and so gave out an almighty scream. The child’s mother heard this, rushed in, saw and thought the same and she too screamed. Then the knight similarly once he got there believed the same, and drawing his sword killed the dog. Only then did they approach the child and find him unharmed, sleeping sweetly in fact. On further investigation, they discovered the snake torn up by the dog’s bites and dead. Now that they had learned the truth of the matter, they were embarrassed that they had so unjustly killed a dog so useful to them and threw his body into a well in front of the castle gate, and placing over it a very large heap of stones they planted trees nearby as a memorial of the deed.

But the castle was in due course destroyed by divine will, and the land reduced to a desert abandoned by its inhabitants. The local peasants hearing of the dog’s noble deed and innocent death, began to visit the place and honor the dog as a martyr in quest of help for their sicknesses and other needs. They were seduced and often cheated by the Devil so that he might in this way lead men into error. Women especially, with sick or poorly children, carried them to the place, and went off a league to another nearby castle where an old woman could teach them a ritual for making offerings and invocations to the demons and lead them to the right spot. When they got there, they offered salt and certain other things, hung the child’s little clothes on the bramble bushes around, fixing them on the thorns. They then put the naked baby through the opening between the trunks of two trees, the mother standing on one side and throwing her child nine times to the old woman on the other side, while invoking the demons to adjure the fauns in the wood of “Rimite” to take the sick and failing child which they said belonged to them (the fauns) and return to them their own child big, plump, live and healthy. Once this was done, the killer mothers took the baby and placed it naked at the foot of the tree on the straws of a cradle, lit at both ends two candles a thumbsbreadth thick with fire they had brought with them and fastened them on the trunk above. Then, while the candles were consumed, they went far enough away that they could neither hear nor see the child. In this way the burning candles burned up and killed a number of babies, as we have heard from others in the same place.

One woman told me that after she had invoked the fauns and left, she saw a wolf leaving the wood and going to the child and the wolf (or the devil in wolf’s form, so she said) would have devoured it had she not been moved by her maternal feelings and prevented it. On the other hand, if when they returned they found the child alive, they picked it up and carried it to a swiftly flowing river nearby, called the Chalaronne [tributary of the Saône], and immersed it nine times, to the point where if it escaped dying on the spot or soon after, it must have had very tough innards.

We went to the place and assembled the people and preached against the practice. We then had the dead dog dug up and the grove of trees cut down and burned along with the dog’s bones. Then we had an edict enacted by the lords of the land threatening the spoliation and fining of any people who gathered there for such a purpose in future. —  De Supersticione, Stephen de Bourbon

It’s probably worth noting that the legend of St. Guinefort, like so many saints, grew out of older folklore. There is a pretty solid disentangling of the story at Lapham’s Quarterly. Basically, the ‘faithful hound’ story (which has Welsh, Indian, and other versions) was apparently incorporated into the story of an actual saint, and garbled together.  The healing ritual described by de Bourbon is itself probably a sensationalized version of an older pagan ritual, as de Bourbon was a sort of inquisitor, rooting out heresy.  So there is probably a “real” saint somewhere … filtered through folklore, superstition, and an inquisitor’s penchant for finding the Devil behind things.

As far as I can tell there were not a lot of animals revered as saints. In fact the only other case I can think of is St. Christopher, who was often depicted as dog-headed (but ultimately still human).

The hagiographies of many human saints involve many animal-related miracles, such as animals raised from the dead or healed, animal companions, and extraordinary encounters with helpful wild animals.  For example several Irish saints resurrect animals like geese during their lives, and a number of English saints, working posthumously through their shrines, raised cattle and horses from the dead. Other saints speak with animals, are given warnings by birds, or are offered protection by wild animals.

Published in: on August 18, 2014 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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Off the rails in the Undertavern

This weekend I had the rarest of game-related things, now that I’m older: a Saturday night game!  I’m happy with the mid-week campaigns I’ve been playing and running but there is a nice bit of nostalgia when you play on a weekend like a student.  More or less out of the blue, one of my old friends from back in high school suggested getting together for some gaming, so four of us used to be in a gaming circle gathered to reminisce, catch up on our respective stories, and do a little gaming.

I ran a one-page dungeon when I realized, at the last minute, that we hadn’t really talked about who GM or what we’d play.  I ran it in ACKS, my regular group’s current flavor of D&D, and used Telecanter’s “The undertavern”.   (Go ahead and check it out.)  I loved the central idea of a monster chained to a track that limits his mobility, but I had never read it through and unfortunately I realized there is a lot that DM needs to fill in … all the reasons for the bizarre scenery and NPCs.  Why all the blind baby mice? Why the straw dummies and model tavern?  What the hell happened with the beached behemoth?  What the hell is the undersky? (The Word version, also at the link above, is more detailed with NPCs etc. but never answers my questions either.)

If this had been more than a one-shot adventure for us — if I were going to run a campaign with this as an early side-adventure, I might have liked this more.  For one thing, the undersky area would be a neat entrance to a mythic underworld type dungeon.

However, I thought the whole thing was a little unsatisfying as a one-off, and really failed to work as a one-page dungeon, at least for me, since I expect OPDs to save me some time as DM.

The session was fun, despite a number of complications.  Since this was a one-shot, I unabashedly railroaded the party into taking the bait and going under the tavern.  I hate railroading but in the circumstances it was ok.  Another complication was the early PvP conflict, which changed the nature of the adventure considerably, though in a fun direction.  Also, the party was badly mauled by the main monster but managed to defeat it early on, so that the tension of having Gulo chase them did not work out.  In hindsight Twitch might have been a good ersatz pursuer (I should have just made him wear a straw cloak and drag the chain along the tracks to scare the PCs away).  In the event though I used a lot of the victims/prisoners as sources of replacement PCs, and good thing I did — two of the starting PCs had to be replaced early on, and a third replacement was needed a little later.

We certainly had fun, and I’d run the Undertavern again, but only with some careful planning to provide some veneer of explanation as to what all the rat references were about!

Published in: on August 11, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Nate’s minis

A while back a visitor here sent me some pictures of some of his minis, and I asked if I could share the pictures because while they not terribly hi-res, they are damn cool and show off a nice collection.

beholders from then top now

A line up of beholders, from ancient Grenadier models to WotC plastic.

Hirst temple-house

Some adventurers and NPCs. The three guys in the front are Citadel flagellants.

Manticores from then to now

Manticores! Ral Partha, Grenadier, WizKids, WotC, and Citadel, I think.

owlbears1

Owlbears! Grenadeir, Ral Partha, a “great horned owlbear” by Kenzer, and a couple I am no sure about.

owlbears2

Another view of of the same because owlbears, fuck yeah!

scale creep ropers

Ropers! Four Grenadiers and huge, more modern one I can’t place. Love the Easter Island idol in the background.

minotaurs

We’re gonna need a bigger labyrinth. Mostly Citadel and Marauder minos, I think, with a few other makes.

snailattack

Nate also sent in-play shots. The giant snail is a garden decoration, I think.

Published in: on August 9, 2014 at 8:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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FSS, Bugbears again? (a little ranty)

I used to joke that every few months the OSR blog-o-sphere blows up with some bullshit controversy or other.

 

DSC04397More recently though there has been a increasingly ugly thing going on where some people don’t like to see that people with opinions on things they disagree with have had some influence on 5e.   So they post stuff on various blogs (no links for the wicked) and whatnot saying these guys are … well the charges keep changing, apparently.  At first the accused (Zak S. and RPGPundit) were supposed to be anti-LGBTQ, then they were cyberbullies or something, and now the charge is something like: they send coded messages that send internet trolls (Manchurian commenters?) to harass their enemies.  No, really… get your tinfoil hat.*

And if you ask for proof well that’s harassment right there.

And it gets “better,” I guess, if you are a student of human stupidity and assholery, because now people who spoke out in defense of the first two guys (who frankly seemed able to speak for themselves…) are actually being harassed — I mean they are actually able to give evidence of it.  I’m just glad the guys making up the charges against Zak and the Pundit are decidedly not part of the OSR community.  They make whatever community they are part of look awful.

The irony is that no-one reads the sites where the original accusations were raised but the two guys being attacked felt affronted enough to defend themselves on their more public sites and asked for people to show support, calling out the lying liars and their lies.  At this point no-one I play games with is probably even aware of all this BS.  I was only vaguely aware of “RPGPundit” and had only heard of one of the shitty people calling him and Zak S. transphobes or whatever.  From what I can tell, most gamers don’t know anything about all this.  Hell, I know some gamers that don’t even know there is a 5e. And WotC is certainly not commenting on any of this, for reasons of their own I guess.  I’d keep the hell out of it too.

So naturally I’d been ignoring this for the last week or so but then I saw that one of guys who’s been fending off the baseless accusations is in the middle of dealing with a health crisis on the part of his long time girl friend and for fuck’s sake.  Enough already. 

My advice to RPGPundit and Zak S. would be to ignore these losers.  But it’s not my name they’re dragging through the mud so I guess they gotta do what they gotta do.

I can’t really say anything about RPGPundit though I suspect that it’s all lies about him; what I do know of Zak makes the charges so ludicrous as to merit no attention.

Granted both of them argue a lot and doubtless hurt people’s feelings at various times, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that every person who’s been offended by RPGPundit’s “swine” comments and Zak’s unrelenting debates in comments areas and forums has come out to attack them or reblog the original attack.  How sad.

At this point I should be posting something, anything, else as a palate cleanser, but I’m tired.  Maybe later this weekend.

=========

* (To my discredit I gave some credence to the notion that their rabid fans might secretly be bugging the people they named & shamed.  I hereby apologize for the indirect damage that might have been done by my entertaining this idea in the comments on someone else’s blog. Asking someone to stop lying is NOT harassment.)

Published in: on August 7, 2014 at 10:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Alicorns

“Unicorn horns are highly sought after, since possession of one is a sovereign remedy against all poisons. Alternately, a single horn can be used, by an alchemist, to manufacture 2-12 potions of healing. Unicorn horns sell for 1,500 gold pieces or more on the open market. “AD&D 2e Monstrous Manual

So I’ve been reading Odell Shepard’s The lore of the unicorn — a treatise on unicorn lore, it should be noted, rather than a treatise on unicorns, as Shepard is principally interested in what writers said about them, how they were used as symbols, and the meaning of the symbolism and legends associated with unicorns.  It’s mostly interesting but also dry — it could well have been written in the nineteenth century, and reads like something a country vicar would have compiled in his ample free time … cf. Sabine Baring-Gould.  Still, there is some great stuff, and this post harvests some of the triva from an early chapter.

Historically, in the West, unicorn horns (or alicorns – the term has also been applied, incorrectly, to horned pegasi) were highly sought after treasures.  Filings from an alicorn were valued at ten times that of gold, by weight; a whole alicorn would be worth double that.  As the narwhal tusks which were sold as alicorns can weigh ten kilograms, a whole specimen was a rare treasure to be found only in a king’s treasury or a major cathedral.  By the late 16th century, however, nearly every prince had one or part of one as protection against poisoning, which had become a widely practiced art.  Deadly diseases like plague were considered to be a kind of poisoning, so to the medieval mind, a cure for poisoning was also a cure for diseases.

The anti-poison property of an alicorn was far from unique, however. A mixture of herbs, minerals, and animal parts called “theriaca” was manufactured as a cure-all, and used both as a salve and ingested medicine, but it was very expensive due to the complexity and time taken to create it, and would be roughly as pricey as alicorn powder.  The prince on a budget had many other options when collecting talismans against poison — many of them obtained from animals that were themselves poisonous or thought to be poisonous.

Bezoar stones (concretions of indigestible matter and minerals recovered from the guts of animals) could be dipped into a drink to purify it (bon appetit!)

Cerastes horns (the prominent scales, called “horns,” of the cerastes serpent) were said to weep or sweat in the presence of poison.  They were placed on the dining table in artful arrangements to detect poison.  Legend had it that the walls of Prester John’s palace were made with a concrete including cerastes horns to prevent any poison from ever entering his demesne.  From antiquity, Western scholars held that the cerastes serpent killed its prey by burying itself so that only its poisonous horns were above ground, and passersby who stepped on the horns would die instantly.  “Horned serpents” captured the imagination of Westerners from the time of Herodotus, who described them in his History.

Snake tongues would be hung, in bunches, on the table as well, and they too would weep in the presence of poison.

Glossopetra (the “tongue stone,” actually shark tooth fossils) were used in the same manner as snake tongues, and were thought to be the petrified tongues of snakes. They were also credited with warding off the evil eye.

Toad-stones, supposedly recovered from the bodies of toads, were placed in rings to prevent poisoning.  Surviving examples of these “toadstones” are probably sting-ray teeth.

Griffin’s claw (usually ibex or buffalo horns) was fashioned into a drinking horn, which would purify any beverage of poison.

Venetian glass or crystal was thought to shatter if any poison were poured into it, and was therefore a popular material for goblets and bowls.

Ruby (also called carbuncle) and amethyst, if placed over poisoned food, would make it inedible and thus prevent a poisoning.

A severed vulture’s foot was thought to clutch in the presence of poison, so candle-holders were fashioned with a claw positioned just so that if it closed, it would snuff out the candle.  (In the Middle Ages vultures were believed to be poisonous themselves.)

Terra sigillata was a specially prepared clay from Lemnos, cakes of which were imprinted with a seal depicting Artemis; hence the name.  It was used to make amulets which warded off poison, and as an ingredient in theriaca, or as a medicine in its own right.

Walrus tusks and rhinoceros horns were also believed to have some potency in this regard, yet they were were also used to counterfeit alicorns.  Some accounts say that special chemical treatments were used to give them the characteristic spiral of a true alicorn.  (Certain antelope horns which have a twists or spirals were also imported as alicorns.)

The heyday of the alicorn was in the 14th ro 16th centuries.  Belief in their efficacy decline slowly.  In Italy and France, belief in the alicorn’s power died out in the 1500s; in England, belief lasted into the 1700s.

One possible echo of the belief in alicorns is the practice of keeping stag horns as trophies.  The medieval bestiaries reported that stags ate snakes, and/or that their horns (or the smoke emitted by their burning horns) were fatal to snakes, and for this reason stag horns were hung over doorways to keep out serpents.

Published in: on July 23, 2014 at 12:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Eric Brighteyes

H. Rider Haggard — best known for his adventure tales set in Africa, like King Solomon’s Mines and She — wrote one of, if not the first, modern English sagas in the Icelandic model. (William Morris’ House of the Wolfings was published at about the same time, from I’ve read so far it also models itself on the Icelandic saga, though it is set in earlier times.)

Haggard wrote this shortly after a visit to Iceland, and he did his best to incorporate the best of the sagas — poetic descriptions of landscapes, seascapes, and battle, clever word-play and dialogue, and above all the muscular paganism of the Viking world — while leaving out the most tedious part (long catalogs of lineages and digressions about minor characters). So this is a lot more accessible than similar works like E.R. Eddison’s Styrbiorn the strong or Poul Anderson’s Hrolf Kraki’s saga — both of which are excellent in their ways and worth reading too!

Haggard’s hero is a fairly typical type of saga hero: brave and honorable, strong and handsome, and doomed by tragic character flaws and choices. The story has a fairly simple set-up: two half-sisters both love the hero, and his choice between them causes the scorned sister to wreak a drawn-out, perfidious revenge.

Along the way Eric fights a berserker, makes powerful enemies who have him outlawed, and sets sail on a viking expedition where he joins the court of an English king. His fights against warriors, witchcraft, and the deadly forces of nature at land and sea, and eventually returns to Iceland to face his destiny.

ericAnd128

The pacing and action are excellent, and his slightly archaic language evoke the sagas well. The plot details all feel appropriate to the genre, but are also inventive and don’t just copy the sources. The elements of magic and mysticism are also appropriate, and reminded me of the more fantastic sagas like Grettrs Saga.

I listened to a dramatic reading of this via LibriVox, and the reader’s enthusiasm for the story made it an especially good LibriVox recording, though some of the voicing, especially for the female characters, was unintentionally funny.

So the above is what I posted to Goodreads.com for my review.  But what use is this book for D&D?

If you’re looking for ideas for use in a Vikings type campaign, there’s plenty of grist, of course, in terms of interesting places and events you could incorporate into a game, as well as names — Haggard does not fall into the all-too-common trap of using only stereotypical Norse names (Thorsson, Thorssonsson, etc.).  A number of characters are Finnish, and have distinctively non-Norse names; others just have very usual sounding names like Ospakar and Gizur — which are actually names from the Edda and so forth.  Haggard manages to pack in just about every trope you could ask for in a Viking saga: revenge killings, ‘holmgang’ duels, a wrestling match, berserkers, the Allthing, a doom-ring, chases and battles at sea, snow storms, outlawry, thralldom is inflicted, oaths are taken and broken, rune-reading, names and -nymics are bestowed, barrows robbed, a hall is nearly burnt, and on and on.  It is in fact a checklist of just about every interesting plot device you find the sagas, though in many cases Haggard uses them inventively.

The magical elements of the story are confined to a few spells/potions (a love potion, a fast-acting poison, a sleep spell, and a pact with a demon that causes a shipwreck) as well as numerous visions and foretellings (the introduction dryly notes that such things would probably be interpolations by later writers/editors of the legends), the occasional appearance of a familiar or and a magic/cursed sword.  An arresting event early on involves a severed head prophesying doom to the one who slew the owner, but for the most part magic is furtive, “off-screen,” and open to interpretation, so there is really nothing you couldn’t equally well steal for a game in a purely historical setting.

I found myself wondering too whether Tolkien had read this novel, or if it is a case of both Haggard and Tolkien using similar sources, because many events and characters could have walked right out of Middle Earth.  (The more I read stuff like Haggard, William Morris, and the like, the less original Tolkien’s work seems to me…or rather what is distinctively Tolkien’s is less interesting than the common sources they share.)

Anyway Eric Brighteyes is well worth a look!

Published in: on July 21, 2014 at 4:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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The city outside the world

Was Lin Carter on a one-man mission to confirm Sturgeon’s Law?

I keep reading Lin Carter books thinking he’ll exceed my expectations and finally deliver a story really worth reading. It’s strange because he certainly had a knack as an editor for selecting excellent stuff in anthologies and recovering forgotten classics. But his original stories — despite his constant, awkward self-promotion — always seem like poor imitations.
He tried to write almost every sub-genre of sci-f and fantasy. Here, he’s imitating Edgar Rice Burroughs (or actually, he’s imitating Leigh Brackett imitating Edgar rice Burroughs!) with a third rate planetary romance. The hero, Ryker, is a brawny thief, and while the convention in this sort of thing is to leave the protagonist relatively two-dimensional, Carter manages to make pretty much everyone in the novel uninteresting. The setting of course is Mars, though Carter slightly bucks convention by having the planet colonized by Earthlings who have Columbused the planet and displaced the Martians. Ryker is a criminal, exiled to Mars and living on the borders of Earthling and Martian society until he inadvertently rescues a trio of outcasts and tries to help them flee to their home city far to the north (or perhaps outside the world entirely). We never really get an explanation of how they arrived in the city that Ryker starts off in, nor why they were so far from home, and the story becomes a series of cliffhangers and narrow escapes in the Burroughs’ tradition. Except the Martian world just feels like a pastiche of Burroughs and his imitators, and the characters almost to a one fail to be interesting, even the villains. (I think he tries to create something original here, but simply isn’t up to the job of envisioning an interesting, reasonably consistent world. Half-way through the book a footnote points the reader to another of his Martian novels, indicating his dedicated, but hamfisted world-building.)
The final chapters have some promise, right up until the horrible deus-ex-machina ending.  This is almost redeemed by some zombie vengeance, which was an unexpected twist, but page after page of boring monologue at the end makes this adventure end with a whimper.

Two out of five stars, mainly for some inventive scenes and action.   (I do begin to wonder if Carter’s books would be more enjoyable for me if I read more of his source material — I have only read a few Burroughs novels and one by Brackett.  Maybe aficionados of pulp genre fiction will find crafty homages and allusions to other works?)

Confession: I realized, as I neared finishing this book, that I actually have two copies of exactly the same edition of this.  I was looking for a small, light paperback to take on a camping trip and pulled out a second copy from my shelf.  One is in really good condition, and the one I read was more beat-up, but they are identical.  I must have picked them up at different times.  I think both are going to be donated back to the library book sale.

 

Published in: on July 2, 2014 at 2:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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