At the court of the Crimson King

Posting a little more rapidly this week — the polar vortex has caused my library to close today, so I have some free time!

I stumbled across this absolutely stunning army of ancient lead (Minifigs mostly, with a few Citadel thrown in) and had to point it out. (The picture above is from that site & is the least of them.)  The figures are mostly Minfigs “Tunnel elves” (which were later repackaged as goblins when Minifigs had the D&D license) and the units refer to various tracks on King Crimson’s first album.  The army is absolutely stunning and surreal.

Someone on The Miniatures Page pointed out how uncannily these minis resemble Rodney Matthew paintings.   This can’t be a coincidence.


Published in: on January 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Barney in the dungeon

When my daughter was a little younger and lots of kiddy songs were the order of the day, I found myself humming or even singing some of them on my work commute and making up alternative lyrics, as you do to stay sane.  So I imagined the songs that might be sung in the dens of humanoid caverns of The Keep on the Borderlands, with its infamous encounters of rooms full of juvenile orcs, goblins, etc.

So the first one was just a list of humanoids in order of HD:

(to the tune of ‘Head and shoulders, knees and toes’)

Kobolds, goblins, orcs and gnolls, orcs and gnolls.

Kobolds, goblins, orcs and gnolls, orcs and gnolls.

Bugbears, ogres, minotaurs and trolls,

Kobolds, goblins, orcs and gnolls, orcs and gnolls!

The “pecking order” must be one of the first lessons you need to know as a humanoid.  I suppose a more accurate progression in terms of HD would be kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, gnolls, bugbears, ogres, trolls, but that doesn’t have the same rhythm.  Also minotaurs were necessary as I couldn’t think of a standard D&D humanoid with 5 HD.

The other one I came up with is pretty obvious too.  I guess if the young humanoids were singing this when the party bursts through the door, it would make the scenarios’ inherent genocide a little more palatable!

(to ‘Apples and bananas’)

I like to eat, eat, eat, clerics and paladins. I like to eat, eat, eat, clerics and paladins.

I like to oat, oat, oat, clorocs and polodons. I like to oat, oat, oat, clorocs and polodons.

I like to ite, ite, ite, clirics and pilidins.  I like to ite, ite, ite, clirics and pilidins.


Do your campaign’s  goblinoids and humanoids have nursery rhymes? Do tell.

Published in: on March 21, 2013 at 9:08 am  Comments (5)  

DaDa vs. Constrictor

No D&D content this time, just an appreciation of a couple of Alice Cooper albums.

Because my car has a tape deck, I have been able to listen to a bunch of old tapes that I made in high school and college.  Recently it was a tape with two Alice Cooper albums on it: DaDa and Constrictor.

I found DaDa at a department store, some time in the mid-1980s, in the bargain bin.  DaDa never sold well and I read recently that Cooper says he can’t even remember making it (or the preceding album, Zipper catches skin, which was also a flop), as he was in an alcoholic haze for several years in the late 70s/early-to-mid 80s.  A few years later he went through rehab and sobered up and released Constrictor.  Those were the only Alice Cooper albums I ever had on vinyl, although I’d eventually get his older stuff on cassette.  (I gave away all my vinyl a few years ago because I didn’t have room for it, my turntable didn’t work well, and hadn’t listened to any of them in years.  Once in a blue moon I regret not keeping a few albums for the covers; there were some great ones, and DaDa certainly ranks).

Constrictor was relatively successful.  It came out when a lot of older acts were returning to the studio and touring and Cooper had a successful tour for that album (I think Megadeth opened for him!).  The songs on Constrictor all fit in the ‘hair metal’ mold so popular in the 1980s, except that the sound is a little heavier and the lyrics are a little more cynical and tongue-in-cheek.  There is almost a ballad (which is not quite a power ballad); otherwise but the album is very consistent: anthemic heavy metal, with one exception.  The outlier is the main single from the album (“He’s back,” which was made for a Friday the 13th film soundtrack), which mostly substitutes keyboards for lead guitar.  The beginning of the track sounds a little like it was imitating Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” but soon drifts off into the more familiar creepy/humorous territory you expect from Cooper.  Listening to the whole album at  one go, I thought was better than I remembered but not great.  I never loved the album, but it is pretty decent as something to pass the time.

The other side of the tape is DaDa.  The album cover is an homage to a Salvador Dali painting; Cooper and Dali knew each other so I guess it was probably something Dali approved of — I don’t remember there being any mention of Dali in the liner notes though.  (One thing I do remember was that the back cover had all the credits & lyrics in a script typeface, but the credits also mentioned someone specific as the calligrapher of the lyrics.  I can’t believe the lyrics were all written out by hand, as the font is so uniform…but there it is, in the credits.  How quickly we forget what life was like before computers did everything.)

Anyway DaDa opens with a seriously creepy song that mixes a baby saying “dada” with a synthesizer playing minor chords and a drum effect that sounds like a gunshot or a heavy door slamming, and eventually some dialogue fades in.  The album as a whole does not exactly have a unifying theme, but it is as much a concept album as Alice Cooper Goes to Hell and Killers — there are some oblique connections among individual pairs of songs and like many concept albums before and since, the last track fades into the beginning of the first track, suggesting an eternal recurrence.  This makes a certain amount of sense.  If the song “Dada” introduces a disturbed man with a problematic relationship with his son, the second song, “Enough’s enough,” gives the son’s side of the story, before the next song, “Former Lee Warmer,” tells of a monster being cared for and hidden by his sibling — echoing the line in “Enough’s enough” (“why’d you hide your brother?”) as well as the confusion about how many children the patient in “Dada” has.  The subsequent songs mix humor and horror, and for the most part could be describing some of the struggles (with mental illness, violence, and perversion) of either the father or the son from the first songs.  The song “I love America,” easily the funniest of the tracks (“I love that mountain with those four big heads…”, delivered with a redneck drawl which, however, by the end of the song seems less satire and more earnest), is like an intermission or interlude before the final two songs.  “I love America” in fact contains an intermission of its own in the form of frenzied used car commercial.  But the last two songs — “Fresh blood” and “Pass the gun around” — seem to complete the cycle of violence.  The former chronicles the protagonist’s struggle to resist the urge to kill, while the latter is a disturbingly autobiographical song about slow suicide by alcoholism.  It is unlikely that any song here but the last has any real autobiographical significance for Cooper, but immediately after finishing the album, Cooper headed into rehab.

The songs on DaDa are hard to categorize musically; not as heavy as the earlier work by the band Alice Cooper, nor the solo albums from Constrictor onwards, they are more like the mixed bag of progressive rock albums Cooper did during his pre-rehab solo years (Goes to Hell, Welcome to my nightmare, etc.), but with a bit more of a pop/rock sensibility and maybe New Wave.  If he’d released the album twenty or thirty years later than he did, it would be called “indie rock,” I think.

Looking for images of the these albums, I found a pretty thorough writeup of Alice Cooper’s entire discography here.

Published in: on March 8, 2013 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Lyke Wake Dirge: a lazy lyric post

Lyke wake dirge is a traditional dirge or funeral song that I first heard on a Buffy Sainte-Marie album.  Here’s a transcription I found which looks about the same as Buffy Sainte-Marie’s version (the refrain in italics is in every verse, but only given in the first verse):

THIS ae nighte, this ae nighte,
  Every night and alle,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,
  And Christe receive thy saule.     

When thou from hence away art past,
To Whinny-muir thou com’st at last;

If ever thou gavest hosen and shoon,
Sit thee down and put them on

If hosen and shoon thou ne’er gav’st nane
The whinnes sall prick thee to the bare bane

From Whinny-muir when thou may’st pass,
To Brig o’ Dread thou com’st at last

From Brig o’ Dread when thou may’st pass,
To Purgatory fire thou com’st at last

If ever thou gavest meat or drink,
The fire sall never make thee shrink

If meat or drink thou ne’er gav’st nane,
The fire will burn thee to the bare bane

This ae nighte, this ae nighte,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte.

A most excellent exegesis of the folk song is here.  D&D players will enjoy learning the etymology of  the word “lyke/lich,” which keeps cropping up in old school blogs.  I’d take slight issue with his rendering of “This ae night” as “On this night” because “This one night” seems more accurate — the idea is that this is the lyke’s (lich’s, or body’s) last night in a house, as it will be buried tomorrow.

Anyway it sounds like an excellent template for a D&D adventure to the ‘other side’!  The Whinny-moor, a field of dangerous nettles and spiky plants must be braved, and then the Bridge of Dread, just to get to the other side.  The Whinny-moor would obviously have some lost souls, “picked to the bare bone,” haunting it, as would the fires under or near the Brig’o’Dread.  The Bridge may just as well be guarded by some other kind of gatekeeper; I’d try to resist the temptation to use the version in Monty Python & The Holy Grail, but still a riddler or even an inquisitor (who reminds the PCs of their many damnable transgressions!) would be cool.

Buffy Sainte-Marie has several other unexpectedly D&D songs that could be fuel for adventure ideas; maybe I’ll get to them some other time.

Published in: on February 27, 2013 at 4:59 pm  Comments (2)  

Shadowrun/GURPS Cyberpunk soundtrack, circa 1991

When Shadowrun first came out in 1989 or 1990, my gaming group got way into it, at least for a while.  We eventually moved on to using GURPS for almost every setting, but we also flirted with Cyberpunk 2020.  Anyway we were ready for a break from D&D and the fusion of near-future science fiction and punk rock appealed to us.  I used to really dig having appropriate music to the mood for RPGs too, so I made a couple of “mix tapes” for our sessions.  The tracks were a collection of punk rock and “industrial” music, with some heavy metal  — and of course Devo — mixed in.  (In fact my knowledge of industrial music was pretty much restricted Ministry and similar “industrial metal” bands.)

Here’s tape one:

  1. 53rd & 3rd / Ramones
  2. Ace of spades / Motorhead
  3. Judy is a punk / Ramones
  4. Stigmata / Ministry
  5. Blitzkrieg bop / Ramones
  6. Rawhide / Dead Kennedys
  7. Iron fist / Motorhead
  8. Pink pussycat\Mr. DNA / Devo
  9. Motorhead and Somebody put something in my drink / Ramones>
  10. Thieves / Ministry
  11. Chainsaw / Ramones
  12. Emergency / Motorhead
  13. Shortest straw / Metallica
  14. Gimme gimme shock treatment / Ramones
  15. Moral Majority\Hyeractive child\Kepone factory\Dog bite / Dead Kennedys
  16. Test / Ministry
  17. Chemical warfare / DK
  18. White riot / The Clash
  19. Friendly fascism / Consolidated
  20. Let’s lynch the landlord / DK
  21. Clampdown / The Clash
  22. Warthog / Ramones
  23. Orlock,” a song that was the mirror image of another of their songs, so that the chorus had “Yo yo” instead of “Oi oi!”
  24. When? / Bad Religion
  25. Drug me / DK
  26. Stoned / Consolidated
  27. Give you nothing / Bad Religion
  28. Drug raid at 4AM / Lard
  29. Your emotions / DK
  30. You know what you are / Ministry
  31. Kill the poor / DK

I guess you can see I was really into the Ramones, the Dead Kennedys, and Motorhead then.

The second tape was from the following year and was a little more diverse, as I’d discovered “alternative music” and the game Underground, which carried all the cyberpunk themes to their most extreme and humorous conclusions — rather like the novel Snow crash —  :

  1. Unacceptable / Bad Religion
  2. Kill yourself / S.O.D.
  3. Burning inside / Ministry
  4. Give it / Helmet
  5. Bomber / Motorhead
  6. Rambozo the clown / DK
  7. Jerry was a racecar driver / Primus
  8. Bodies / Sex Pistols
  9. Territorial pissings / Nirvana
  10. Mate, spawn, & die / Lard
  11. 502 / Megadeth
  12. Family man / Red Shift <my college roommate’s band>
  13. That’s progress / Jello Biafra & DOA
  14. Unsung / Helmet
  15. Gimme gimme gimme / Black Flag
  16. Jesus built my hotrod / Ministry
  17. Beers, steers, & queers / Revolting Cocks
  18. Negative creep / Nirvana
  19. I’m so bad (baby I don’t care) / Motorhead
  20. God save the queen / Sex Pistols
  21. Tommy the cat / Primus
  22. Positive aspect of negative thinking / Bad Religion
  23. I executioner / M.O.D.
  24. The end of the world / Dag Nasty
  25. TVII / Ministry
  26. Holiday in Cambodia / DK
  27. I’m a boinger / Billy & the Boingers
  28. Trashed / Black Sabbath
  29. California sun\I don’t wanna walk around with you / Ramones

Looking back on both collections, I guess my selection process amounted to: does this song have a pessimistic outlook? Are there mechanical/industrial sound effects in it? Is it just odd?  Is it heavy?  Answering yes to two or more questions must have been enough.

I unearthed these two tapes recently (and many others from my college days) and have been listening to them a lot on my commute.

Published in: on August 29, 2011 at 6:00 am  Comments (3)  
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Lazy Sunday lyric post — the pit

All the way down to the bottom
All the way down to the fire
All the way down to the devil
(To the bottom of the pit, now)

I got sins
Piled high
Wait for me
When I die
Holy love
Dirty deed
You don’t care

All the way down to the bottom
All the way down to the fire
All the way down to the devil
(To the bottom of the pit, now)

Fire burns
Cold as ice
No more hate
No more lies
Coffin nailed
Dirty deeds
No more life

(“The pit” by moe.)

moe.*  is a “jam band” and I have only ever listened to one of their albums, The conch, which is where this song comes from.  It’s preceded by an instrumental piece called “Tubing the River Styx” which ends with the main “theme” or “hook” or whatever you call it of this song, “The pit.”

The song is maybe five or six minutes long, and very repetitive, apart from a weird bridge that uses some eerie, echo-y sound effects, while the main parts of the song use a fun, crunchy guitar riff.

Anyway the song is not great but it is catchy and it’s germane to my Telengard campaign because lately the party has been exploring a massive, thirteen “level” open pit mine that goes all the way down, descending 666 feet from the start in the “physical space” of Midgard but the bottom is … well I won’t spoil it for my players, a couple of whom read this blog.  I will drop a hint and mention that Heraclitus can be wrong about the the way up and the way down being one and the same. 🙂

De Plancy's Beelzebub

Also: “Beelzebub.”   As you know, this is usually understood to mean “Lord of the Flies,” and is meant to mock “Ba’al” or “Ba’al Zebul,” names for a Philistine god.   “Ba’al” just means “Lord” (in exactly the same sense that “Lord” is used in English versions of the bible) and “Zebul” means something like “heaven,” “high places” (=literally the tops of ziggurauts or other temples? the Bible mentions the “pillars of Ba’al”…), etc. “Bel” is another common title for the gods of the region, and I assume the “el” in Bel,” and the “‘al” in “Ba’al,” share some etymological root with Hebrew’s “El” (“God”).  Most of the Ba’als and Bels you read about were fairly vanilla Babylonian gods, or in some cases demigods born of a human and god, some of them quite similar to the myths surrounding Jesus, oddly enough.  (As fas as I can tell these parallels begin to break down when you consider that Baal is not a mushroom at all.)

A statuette of Baal

But back to Beelzebub — one interpretation is that Beelzebub is literally crap, and thus surrounded by flies (=his followers?).  The Hebrews, according to I Kings, tore down the temples of Ba’al in Tyre and turned the site into a latrine, in an edifying lesson of religious tolerance.  And “Beelzebub,” like all the middle eastern rivals of the mountain god Yaweh, is now counted as a demon or devil (sometimes Beelzebub is THE devil, although more commonly he’s just one of the bigger devils; AD&D made him an arch-devil of course).

The Ba’al of Carthage was supposedly offered the infants of the upper classes in times of duress (Ba’al Hammon = Mammon? = Moloch).  It’s hard to say if all, or any, of these Ba’als are the same guy; probably not.  “Ba’al” just means “Lord.”

Moloch being offered infants

When the Romans were grinding down the Carthaginians in the Punic Wars (especially the third “war” which was very one-sided, as Rome decided to finish off their defeated and humiliated ’empire’), they began to frantically sacrifice more and more of their children to Ba’al/Moloch, hoping that their god would do something, anything, to help them.  It’s hard not to draw parallels with the Aztecs, desperately sacrificing to their gods when European disease & conquest were upon them.

Fritz Lang's Moloch from the film Metropolis

*Yeah, it’s “moe.”, not “Moe” — the idiosyncratic capitalization and punctuation is part of their “thing”

Published in: on June 5, 2011 at 6:00 am  Comments (1)  
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Lazy Sunday post: song lyrics II

The Hero (from Amon Amarth’s Twilight of the Thunder God)

The blade I swing
Is black as night
Black as my soulless heart
It bears the burden
Of many lives
But I don’t feel remorse

I lent my sword
To anyone
Willing to pay the price
No regrets for
What I’ve done
A mercenary’s life

But there I was
On battleground
Until I felt the jaws of death
Cut into my flesh
Defending old and weak
But I did not retreat

Now, here I lie
In my own blood
And strangers cry for me
I’m prepared to meet the gods
I wish they’d let me be

I don’t deserve
Their sympathy
I know who I am
My soul is death and misery
I am an evil man

I rest in my blood
Soon I will face the gods
Strangers cry for me
I wish they’d let me be

Show no sympathy
Shed no tears for me
I know who I am
I am an evil man

I know who I am
I am an evil man

Man I like this song. The music is like molten lead being poured out of a ladle, and the words are fairly badass yet also just dorky enough to make you think of a D&D character.  I’m not entirely sure if the protagonist of the song is dying after fighting to protect the old & weak or was killed by a defender of the old & weak.  Probably the former, so I kind of imagine a “Seven Samurai” sort of scenario where a very bad man takes a job helping defend a village and dies heroically but as he dies, rejects the villager’s mourning, for after all he might just as well have been one of the marauders that day.  Hard core.

Published in: on February 27, 2011 at 9:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lazy Sunday post: song lyrics I

Singapore (Tom Waits, from the album Rain dogs)

We sail tonight for Singapore,
We’re all as mad as hatters here
I’ve fallen for a tawny Moor,
Took off to the land of Nod
Drank with all the Chinamen,
Walked the sewers of Paris
I danced along a colored wind,
Dangled from a rope of sand
You must say goodbye to me

We sail tonight for Singapore,
Don’t fall asleep while you’re ashore
Cross your heart and hope to die
When you hear the children cry
Let marrow bone and cleaver choose
While making feet for children shoes
Through the alley, back from hell,
When you hear that steeple bell
You must say goodbye to me

Wipe him down with gasoline
’til his arms are hard and mean
From now on boys this iron boat’s your home
So heave away, boys

We sail tonight for Singapore,
Take your blankets from the floor
Wash your mouth out by the door,
The whole town’s made of iron ore
Every witness turns to steam,
They all become Italian dreams
Fill your pockets up with earth,
Get yourself a dollar’s worth
Away boys, away boys, heave away

The captain is a one-armed dwarf,
He’s throwing dice along the wharf
In the land of the blind
The one-eyed man is king, so take this ring

We sail tonight for Singapore,
We’re all as mad as hatters here
I’ve fallen for a tawny Moor,
Took off to the land of Nod
Drank with all the Chinamen,
Walked the sewers of Paris
I drank along a colored wind,
I dangled from a rope of sand
You must say goodbye to me

Apart form being a fairly infectious song, the references to the Land of Nod (yeah, probably he means this) and the dice-throwing dwarf make this an interesting jumping off point for a D&D campaign, modern or medieval.

Published in: on February 20, 2011 at 8:00 am  Comments (2)  

Barely treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality

“May your sword stay wet, like a young girl in her prime”

— Man O War, “Hail & Kill”

“Anoint my phallus with the blood of the fallen”

–Nile, “Ithyphallic”

I had a few more seriously stupid heavy metal lines in mind and intended to make a list but these two deserve to be appreciated on their own. I mean, you could probably just paste in the entire opus of GWAR for similarly silly lines, and yeah, I know these guys don’t take themselves all that seriously. “Hail & Kill” and “Ithyphallic” stand out for me because they are fairly awesome musically IMO but the silly lyrics kind of spoil things.

Feel free to add you favorite slightly retarded metal lyrics to the comments.

Published in: on September 3, 2010 at 12:59 pm  Comments (5)  
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Appendix M

My Appendix M

The “appendix N” of the first edition Dungeon Masters Guide has become a bit of a shibboleth for the gamers and grognards of the “Old school” revival (a movement I am watching with delight from the sidelines).  To some extent I think they fetishize Gygax’s reading list, although the Old Schoolers mostly admit to over-thinking things.  But I do think it is very worthwhile to examine the list, if not to make sure you’re doing D&D “right,” then at least to discover some great stuff that might otherwise be buried by the mountains of Tolkien rip-offs and throwaway series from the last couple of decades (beginning in my opinion with Dragonlance and including almost everything that is published as a trilogy+).

DestroyYouAlot (at the blog Mighty thews & Non-Euclidean Geometry) has already given a good overview of the influence of D&D and fantasy on heavy and “extreme” metal so I won’t talk about the bands he’s covered, for the most part. (Oddly, he doesn’t quite get the lyrics to The Wizard right…)

Rather, I’ve been thinking a bit lately about the music that I associate with D&D, and have some suggestions for inspirational listening.


Published in: on November 25, 2009 at 5:21 am  Comments (7)  
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