Friday, 31 July 2009

on the trail of tears: the cruelest work

The last post on the Trail of Tears, this post is about the Cherokee removal. The title of this post comes from the account of an unnamed soldier who participated in the removal.
"I fought through the War Between the States and have seen many men shot, but the Cherokee Removal was the cruelest work I ever knew."
The discovery of gold at Dahlonega in 1829 and demand for cotton plantations exacerbated a dire situation for the Cherokee who faced trespassing prospectors and division of lands into lots by Georgia government. In spite of legal battles, the Indian Removal Act 1830 and Treaty of New Echota signed by a group of Cherokee in 1835 gave the removal false legitimacy.

In 1836, some Cherokee (notably those who supported the Treaty signatories and by no means the majority) began their migration. Roughly 6,000 Cherokee had relocated by the end of 1836. The legality of the Treaty was in question and Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote to President Van Buren asking him not to inflict " vast an outrage upon the Cherokee Nation.”

In May 1838, the US Army rounded up 13,000 Cherokee at gunpoint from their homes into concentration camps near Cleveland, Tennessee. Those who didn't go were shot, those who did were beaten if they resisted. In these camps, dysentery was rife and there were deaths and soldiers deserted regularly. The plan was to send the Cherokee along three routes to Oklahoma.

This was a journey of almost 1200 miles, taken on foot, horse or wagon and boat. Along the way, Cherokees were assaulted and killed, charged exorbitant fees to use ferries. At Red Clay, the Cherokee were given hospital blankets infected with smallpox and as a result, the Cherokee were not allowed near towns, forcing them to prolong their journey.

The Cherokee nation's leader, John Ross negotiated with the US Army and asked that he would organise the removal, allowing them to travel and forage in smaller groups rather than the mass herding inflicted on other tribes. The groups of up to a thousand Cherokee were able to make the journey without extreme losses but death was still a constant companion on the journey.

It is commonly cited that 2000 Cherokee died in the camps and that another 2000 died on the trail of tears. Other estimates add up to 2000 more. The removal continued into the bitter winter of 1838 where Cherokee died of exposure waiting for a Kentucky river ferry that charged a dollar for a twelve-cent ride and twelve inches of ice covered the waters of South Illinois.

Along the way, the Cherokee sang 'Amazing Grace' to maintain morale - even today the song has special meaning to them. The Cherokee rose (Georgia's state flower) is said to have been found as a sign of hope for those Cherokee on the trail. The Cherokee who were removed settled at Tahlequah, Oklahoma and those who signed the Treaty of New Echota were assassinated.

Not all the Cherokee were removed, some 600 were given citizenship in North Carolina through the actions of a white store owner. Another 400 hid in the North Carolina mountains from federal troops and yet another 400 submitted to state laws. The vast majority of those who were removed still remember those who died on the Trail of Tears.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

on the trail of tears: bribery and bones

This post continues the tragedy of the Trail of Tears - the forced relocation of five Indian nations to Oklahoma so their lands could be exploited by the US Government and it's citizens. What interests me is the differing attitudes to the tribes whose responses may inspire numerous game or story situations and the darker side of US national heroes like Andrew Jackson.

Chickasaw Purchase

Oddly, the Chickasaw nation weren't forcibly relocated. This may be due to their ongoing good relations with the US Government, with whom they allied against the Northwest Territories and the presence of the Colberts, a Chickasaw family born of a Scots trader who became influential in the tribe and in state Government. Yet even this amiable relationship would not save them.

The Government paid money for their lands east of the Mississippi and the Chickasaw moved voluntarily. Yet much of this money would remain unpaid for nearly 30 years and the fair share of it become forfeit as the Chickasaw sided with the Confederates during the Civil War; of those who remained, they sought other lands to the west.

3,001 Chickasaw moved to Oklahoma and 500 died of dysentery and smallpox along the way; on their arrival they sought to assimilate with the Choctaw. This was met with distrust aggravated by the purchase of formerly Choctaw land by the Chickasaw and in some cases violence; so that with further Chickasaw relocations, they eventually reformed their own nation.

Muskogee Migration
The Muskogee (or Creek) nation were not so favoured by the Government. In 1812, a Shawnee warrior called Tecumseh sparked off a fierce war which in two years cost the US Government $26 million. In 1814 Andrew Jackson demanded it in compensation from the Muskogee 'for listening to evil counsel' despite the aid of some tribes in the war against Tecumseh.

Despite overturning a treaty (something no other tribe managed) and dissent between military and federal government that almost led to civil war; the Muskogee were told to sell their land in lots and relocate or stay and submit to state laws. As white land speculators defrauded the Muskogee, unrest grew leading to war in 1836 when two tribes turned violent.

A significant military presence (inspired by fear of another Seminole war) ended the war quickly and forced relocation took place. Thousands of men, women and children were herded between internment camps from Fort Mitchell, Alabama to Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. Many died on the route, enough that their bones littered the trail to the Indian Territories.

This post summarises heavily; a little digging into this era reveals a rich tapestry of events and shows a side of American history some may find uncomfortable. Again thanks to Rogue Games for Colonial Gothic, without which I wouldn't have enquired into this topic.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

on the trail of tears: peace and war

Doing some research for a game led me to a potentially deep seam of material - the Trail of Tears was the route taken by the forced migration of five Indian nations into Oklahoma by the American Government at the behest of Andrew Jackson whose ignorance of treaties and court rulings in favour of Indian independence led to the deaths of thousands and spending of millions for their lands.

The Choctaw Trail of Tears
After negotiating a treaty in which about a quarter (some 5000 or so) of their tribe were allowed to remain on land ceded to the US Government, the Choctaw left peacefully, unwilling to be ruled by laws in which they had no part. President Jackson intended the Choctaw removal to be a model one - however it led to nearly 100 years of persecution by neighbouring white settlers.

The first migration in the winter of 1831 led to the migration of about 17,000 Choctaw, of whom 2,500 died due to hunger, harsh weather and being lost in the Lake Providence swamps by incompetent guides - when Alexis de Tocqueville, a French philosopher witnessed the migration, he asked one Choctaw why he was leaving to receive the solemn reply "To be free."

Future removals displaced hundreds until in 1930, only 1,700 Choctaw remained in their native lands around the Mississippi. During this, they were persecuted having '...our habitations torn down and burned, our fences destroyed, cattle turned into our fields and we ourselves have been scourged, manacled, fettered... until by such treatment some of our best men have died.'

The Seminole Wars
In 1832, the Seminole were given an offer to move west and assimilate into the Creek nation, which they had left. This offer was declined based on fears of Creek retribution, a lack of trust in the US Government and lack of authority in the chiefs approached. Some tribes moved west, others did not and the local Florida government chose to send the military in to force the issue.

This met fierce resistance - with the help of escaped slaves, the Seminole killed 107 soldiers, leaving only three survivors from an Army company. For the next 27 years, the Army and Seminoles fought a series of running wars as warriors were bribed with rifles and money to relocate and the Seminole caused dramatic casualties in set-piece battles in the Florida swamps.

After wars costing millions of US dollars, thousands of lives and requiring continued Army presence and raising militias, a series of raids on Seminole villages and significantly increased bribes helped to re-settle the majority of Seminole until only about 200 of them were left in their ancestral lands. They subsequently declined to participate in the governance of Florida.

The more I look at this, the more in awe I am of the authors of Colonial Gothic. You could adopt this story into the system of your choice and come up with encounters and vignettes that would highlight the conflict yet they did a lot of this work for you and the scholarship and research on their Indian player characters is impressive.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

tyranny, self-entitlement & getting over it all

I want all of you boys to be able to look me straight in the eye one more time and say: "ARE WE HAVING FUN OR WHAT?" -- Top Dollar, The Crow.
Ever get into one of those dialogues where you don't want to say anything but know that you'll have to? There's been recent themes in my blogosphere of late. First - a so-called tyranny people submit to when they experience a game or story - an interesting point-of-view. Tyranny implies an arbitrary or brutal exercise of power, abuse of authority, severity and oppression.

When you hear this phrase being applied to concepts like fun, the role of an author/game master or participant then you consider what boundaries of trust or consensual play have been violated. The concept of social contract (discussed here) means participants need to be honest with each other - an honesty oft set aside in the name of compromise or social fallicies.

Your time is important. It's non-renewable. Getting an invitation to 'Titanic' to discover you've arrived in 'Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus' will annoy. Communication and effective feedback is essential. Keep with what you like and acknowledge when it doesn't inspire. Speak up - you're with friends (or people with a common hobby) so why suffer in silence?

That said, who wants to be an ass? Consider how you'd respond if your statements were made to you. Think about the words you're using before going as a friend of mine puts it 'all bardic vomit'. Give respect and you'll get it back. It's really that simple. Tactful suggestions on how it might go better can help steer people towards greatness.

Secondly is the opinion tabletop RPGs are doomed. This particular saw has been played since the 1990s by people who fear their hobby will fold in the face of large-scale collector games or computer-based gaming. The latest view is customers are so cheap that when they can find free alternatives, they do so, rather than spend money on merchandise that can be hard to find.

This pessimism is taking the industry further away from it's audience. It implies a basic lack of respect about the product and it's seller. So is complaining about how hard it is to make it in the hobby today, about which version is best, or how it doesn't fit your vision of the ideal game even though they make blog content. You might have to move on. You might have to get smart.

Choose carefully - remember your time is important. And if you think your audience or peers are petty, self-entitled whiners you may be in the wrong business or peer group. I'd rather be with a bunch of discerning, creative enthusiasts. I know they're out there. So do they - and I don't have to insult or litigate against them to get them to listen. Does that count for something?

You might even want to look at how people who are making it in the environment are going on. In closing - a video of a presentation by Mike Masnick of on a case study featuring Trent Reznor, Jonathan Coulton and others who have realised that it's now about the patronage of the customer. It's a bit lengthy - start from 02:30 if your time is short - but worth it.

P.S. By the way...
Have you?

Thursday, 23 July 2009

the veiled caves

Famed locally and further by those who know of such matters, the caves are known as a place of mystery. The oracles of the veiled caves are occasionally sought by seekers after truth who must face charlatans who haunt the upper caves. These charlatans are seldom discouraged by the true oracles and those who dwell in the deeper caves - such matters are beneath their perspective.

The entrance is decorated with veils and pieces of faded cloth nailed into the rock, from afar it looks like strange moss, the truth grows clear as you get closer. Petitioners come and go, some visiting a specific oracle while others seek deeper mysteries or adventure by going into the deeper caves. A few, with resolute faces, claim to visit the deepest cave of all.

Entering the caves
  • At the uppermost cave, there is a cleft in the ceiling in which a variety of birds have taken roost; ranging from doves and pigeons to vultures. The walls and floor of the cave are as expected particularly foul with birdlime and rotting birds. Acolytes of the nine oracles can be found procuring feathers or birds for their masters.
  • There are nine upper caves in which a different oracle (and their acolyte guards) can be found - none have real power but sooth-say with the best. One advises fairly based on what they're told by the petitioner, another will cast dice, demand exorbitant prices and gleefully lie. The rest range from well-intentioned predictions to drawing random lots.
  • Beyond the oracles are a number of veiled passages. These veils conceal those who live in myriad caves; denizens include savage yet wingless bird-men, three-mouthed beasts that snort fire, reclusive madmen tortured by visions, deceitful shapeshifters and ghosts of dead sorcerors capable of minor magics that torment visitors until they reach the depths.
In the depths
  • A twisting mass of caves hides a cult of degenerate sorcerors clad in bird masks of blue and yellow wood (and little else) who guard a chalice of lapis and topaz. To drink from it affords a vision of the thing most desired by the drinker then brings a madness where the drinker joins the sorcerors in protecting the chalice.
  • A bubbling pool surrounded by bluish rocks holds a dreadful secret. Those who bathe in the waters are bodily transformed, the longer spent in the pool, the more extreme the changes that take place. Anyone who spends a day in the pool may change their gender; anyone who spends three days may change their race.
  • One of the larger caves has a crevice in the roof. Ensconced within is a ball of pale light redolent of an eye that showers sparks on any passing under it. Usually harmless, for some the sparks burn. The reason why are unknown, yet it happens to wilfully-ordered individuals who can use the word personnel and mean it or anyone carrying a disease.
The Deepest Cave
  • The deepest cave is filled with white mists that obscure a strange thing - a living sculpture of floating spheres and strut-like limbs from which a thin piping emits. This eerie creature is not of this world and flow towards the visitors independent of terrain or gravity.
  • If the visitor resists or attacks it, it will seek to swallow them whole. If the visitor keeps still, they will see a vision of their choosing. If the visitor keeps walking steadily into the sculpture, they travel to a place and time of their choosing on a one-way trip.
  • Only the gods know if past actions can be changed and they are not inclined to tell though it is said by obscure sages that such travellers visit different worlds arranged like beads on a string and that the string is the creature in the deepest cave...
(inspired by the Oracle at Delphi, Ramsey Campbell's The Render of The Veils and the WFRP/40K demon Tzeentch)

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

shemp development: yet another oracle

Following on from the previous article on shemp development (see Uncle Bear for definition and origin of shemp), I mused on the possibility of doing this by random generator based on a lifepath system. By freakish coincidence I was looking into fortune-telling using playing cards and then I thought of the oracles at Abulafia...

The result is an open-source, system-free way to add flair to your baseline shemp. Use to taste - there are multiple options for the system depending on inclination and there are multiple systems of card divination courtesy of Google to use if this method isn't to your taste. Without further ado, The Oracle of Shemp.

(Token Disclaimer: Fame & Fortune discourage using this as a divination tool even if there were cartomancers using this in 17th century courts. No challenge to any kind of copyright intended - what do you think I'm crazy? C'thulhu fthagn! ia! ia! Must be this tall to ride. )

Sunday, 19 July 2009

the bloody chamber

An extra door appears in the halls of a lord renowned for cruelty; or in a dungeon where there is an exemplar of evil. The door is made of dark-stained wood and rust-red iron bands and hinges keep it secure. The door is locked with a red-iron lock that refuses normal attempts to pick it and common magics used to unlock, see beyond or obliterate it. Those with a sense for such things will feel it is wrong.

The Promise
  • The ownership of the room is a private agreement between a local and a demon; there will be dreams of bloodshed and bathing in blood. A low voice will growl "Do you want to own the chamber?" If the local agrees, they will find they have gained a set of silver keys.
  • Once the room is found (usually fairly quickly due to the door's unusual appearance) and entered, the voice will ask "Blood for the chamber." If fresh blood is supplied; the chamber will reveal it's powers by expanding and then contracting to the rhythm of a heartbeat.
  • It should be noted that using a key will stain it with blood. No amount of washing or scrubbing will clean they key unless the room's owner does so in blood. Then the key is as good as new; a fine bright silver. The keys can be sold on for a small sum by the greedy.
  • From this point onwards, the dreams recur for every six nights that someone is not killed in the chamber. The voice gets louder and angrier the longer it's left. After 42 nights, the demon will begin to seduce someone else with the intent of killing the original owner.
The Door
  • The door is as tough as iron, despite it's wooden appearance. Trying to smash it down will meet incredible resistance (most people cannot cross dimensions when attempting to break down the door) and attempts to enter by this method are unsuccessful regardless of what strength is applied.
  • If the door is struck with a weapon, it makes bellowing screams and fountains of blood will decorate the attacker. This blood is mildly caustic yet if the door is repeatedly struck (over a period of six rounds) then it will open. The screams will draw attention not only from the surrounding area but from inside as well.
  • The lock is a circular device inset into the door and very difficult to pick. Looking through the keyhole reveals a dark room if nobody is inside. If more than six seconds is spent looking, a circular blade similar to a cookie cutter punches from around the mechanism into the eye socket doing damage similar to a battleaxe
The Room
  • The room is made of red marble with black veins shot through it and has no sources of light within it. An iron lattice is bedded into the ceiling twelve feet above the floor and though there is more space above it, it's tricky to judge the height of the ceiling.
  • As may be deduced, this room is in fact not of this dimension. The room is as big as the owner desires and the walls and floor seems to flow to expand or contract to a minimum size of 36' x 36'. This growth occurs at six feet per combat round.
  • From the lattice hang chains and meathooks (at least six of either). Those impaled on a meathook are immobilised but gain the gift of slow regeneration, healing minor wounds quickly though massive damage (lost limbs etc.) are not healed. This regeneration also prevents death by thirst or hunger. Victims left here will not die but will be unable to move from blood loss and weakness (they help to feed the room). If a dead person is affixed, they are perfectly preserved.
  • The lattice itself appears to be the only constant in a room capable of distortion; on closer inspection there are countless runes and glyphs which are difficult to translate (doing so reveals an endless litany of names interspersed with the phrase 'blood calls to blood' - attempts to get beyond the lattice or bend the bars are doomed to failure.
(Inspired by the WFRP/40K demon Khorne and the eponymous Angela Carter story)

Saturday, 18 July 2009

the pleasuredome

Enclosed in ancient walls and ruined towers eight miles round lies a decaying realm of beauty and splendour carved out the land by a warlord of legend. The bards say when the realm was founded, he became invincible in war and contested his brother's claim to the throne with such vigour his brother bowed before him at the warlord's crowning here. The truth is lost to stories and fables as now the land is beautiful but wild, it's stewards are lost yet bound to the place by addiction, longing and ritual, their descendents grow inhuman amid ruined statues, overgrown gardens and palaces conquered by creeping plants bearing sweet fruit and serpents with jewel-like scales and exquisite venoms.
  • Getting past the walls and ancient towers is not so difficult; the land has slowly shifted and in some places, the walls are tumbledown and crawling with vines and flowers. Scaling the walls is easy, though the snakes among them makes a climbing attempt a little more exciting for those expecting an easy journey.
  • The gardens are overgrown but hold precious trees awaiting harvest; exotic resin and strange fruits that offer bliss when eaten. The descendants of the ancient gardeners and porters are now hermaphroditic shape-shifters, addicted to the decadent harvest who share the bounty to visitors as a presage to using them as breeding stock.
  • In a fissure covered by cedars on the side of a hill lies an entrance to the caves guarded by a dome of golden marble veined with purple and lit by enchanted mirrors of crystal so that the dome's shadow is always visible to those within. The wary may hear the whispering of waters from the caves or they may hear a sibilant voice whispering secret desires.
The Dome of Pleasures
  • A dome supported by eight pillars each bolstered by eight statues of androgynous women that becomes scimitar-wielding warriors if the warlord was attacked. Now the dome is pristine and deserted, the serpents and plants are cut back by the statues. The dome is a perfect shelter, a chill breeze from the cave keeps heat at bay in the day.
  • The shadow of the dome falls upon a cave entrance from which cool air rises; further within can be found tendrils of frost. The cave entrance has treacherous footing and the air is chill enough to cloud breath. There are infrequent sounds of rushing water and the clattering of stones; there are no denizens near the cave entrance.
  • Ice-caves fed by a chill underground spring which spits geysers of icy water and rocks as large as skulls (the latter with some force) aloft at regular intervals. The spring maintains the ice in the caves and occasional rains of rocks discourage habitation though some of the dwellers below come here for fresh water.
The Sunless Sea
  • Beyond the ice-caves flows a meandering underground river along five miles of caves that are inhabited by ape-like, pale-skinned degenerate humanoids armed with primitive stone and bone weapons. Their orgiastic hunger is only exceeded by their violence and devotion to an entity that appears to be part woman, part serpent and part crab.
  • The river opens out along eight salty estuaries. Each estuary has a settlement, there are tales ranging from albino serpent-men in purple robes and wise in alchemy, to eerie fungal giants, to pale lovely women with siren voices and ape-like guardians. One of the estuaries is alleged to have a fiend bound to it's shores, a black bloated and hungry thing.
  • Within the deep caverns ebbs and flows a sunless sea. White scales tinged with gold and purple bear witness to the presence of great, scaled serpents in the depths of the sea; some are found by those who fish the sea or washed up on the shore of an estuary. The sea also holds stranger things than these...
(inspired by Samuel Coleridge's Kubla Khan and the WFRP/40K demon Slaanesh)

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

staging epic conflict

This post over at Campaign Mastery deals with the question of the showdown with a powerful wizard; there's some sage advice yet it got me thinking about epic and how to do larger than life without cheese. So what makes epic, well, epic?
  1. Bigger - Scale makes a difference. Road trip to Mordor is. Going shopping (usually) isn't. Crossing a mountain range with elephants is. Crossing town (usually) isn't. Some common sense is best applied but yes, bigger is usually better. This is one lesson that Hollywood teaches with every blockbuster; from Transformers to Saving Private Ryan.
  2. Battle - Conflict is a driving force and battle is conflict on a large scale; consider the sea battles of Hornblower, the 300 Spartans of Thermopylae, the sack of Rome or Custer's Last Stand. In large battles, ordinary people are made small and extraordinary deeds are writ large by those who survive and remember.
  3. Enchantment - Magic is a common theme. Whether it's flames surrounding Brunnhilde, the sword of a hero that can cleave stone, a lamp that contains a jinn or a blue rose; the presence of magic and magical things provide extraordinary boons or challenges for the heroes to face and the villains to reveal.
  4. Heroic heroes - Going back to Homer, heroes are given desirable attributes and rightly so; for these people represent virtues. Fleet-footed Achilles, cunning Odysseus, strong Hercules - to give Joe Average epic scope, give them a chance to show heroic endurance in the face of adversity.
  5. Magical & mythic things - The presence of the fantastic gives a sense of the epic; it is hard not to do epic in the presence of a dragon. Equally the presence of myth (passing down explanations for traditions) and ritual embeds the epic in the memorable and helps to transmit those traditions in a virtuous cycle.
  6. Romance - Not just hearts & flowers; also exploring emotional extremes as well as the inherent beauty of nature and the world. The emotional component can drive characters in the story to extremes; the revenge of the forty-seven ronin and the love that Lancelot and Guinevere have are but two examples.
  7. Supernatural - Whether it's the Underworld of Gilgamesh, the Grail kingdom of Sarras in the Morte D'Arthur or the fabled lands of Sindbad's voyages. Space opera replaces this with alien worlds; in the Star Wars cycle Bespin, Hoth and Endor provide different environments and experiences.
  8. Justice - The ending need not be a happy one but it needs to be just. Ulysses after his ten-year voyage is happily reunited with his loyal wife after a reckoning with her suitors. Beowulf dies a hero when taking on a dragon almost single-handedly. The tale need not have a moral but must itself be moral.
Removing cheese from this menu means the following:
  1. Avoiding repeated use of obvious cliches. Having villains in black is a convenient short-hand but it's also obvious. Think about the Stormtroopers in Star Wars and how this was specifically inverted. It made them memorable. Look at TV Tropes for examples of how this is executed well (and badly) by various media.
  2. Being internally consistent. The epic must also be believable; the presence of a deus ex machina may have appropriate use (the eagles in Lord of The Rings who save Frodo and Sam are foreshadowed by Gandalf's rescue (and Bilbo's in The Hobbit) even if they could have circumvented a lot of the journey through Mordor...

Sunday, 12 July 2009

weekend warrior: shan

The enigmatic Shan live in the east; their enduring and isolated dynastic empire untouched by all except Turalar raiders and hardy merchants who seek the exotic materials the Shan create (fine silks, alchemical reagents, exotic spices and delicacies). Their armies are founded on an ordered society and precise strategies delivered through the iron-clad authority of their generals and innovative use of drums and alchemical reagents for signalling and battle.

The Shan value strength and intellect; however childhood diseases ravage them and they are quite superstitious. The priests of the Shan place more value on learning than on healing to the detriment of the people; as a result the Shan are susceptible to illness and fancy. This is kept in check by the fierce authority of the generals and ministers. Shan society is founded on duty to family, nobility and those with authority and a healthy respect for history.

Shan Infantry
Half of all Shan forces are made up of their infantry. Trained in disciplined ranks when they are tall enough to use a glaive a mass of Shan infantry give pause to any who dare them for their skill in spotting openings leads to an auspicious strike; a devastating attack against an opponent which creates another opening.

Those who cannot engage foes with glaives use crossbows. The Shan will concentrate fire to break formations, kill missilers or controllers or the steeds of opposing cavalry. Such unchivalrous behavior are seen as tactical necessity - they leave heroics to their heroes and get on with the duty of war.

Shan Hero
About 25% of all Shan forces are made up of these plucky skirmishers, these 'righteous rogues' are not rogues as such but skilled in thievery and war - commando tactics are their forte. Their use of alchemical fire is primarily to sabotage enemy fortifications or stabling yet they are not above using it to disperse formations in battle; their skill in breaking formations and sudden strikes on enemies make them a versatile force and one not to be sneered at.

Their relative vulnerability keeps them mobile and using a strong offence; the heroes can bolster morale not only by their deeds but also by their shouts and chants which inspire allies to swift attacks of their own. They often provide crossbow support for a mass of infantry - heroes may use sudden strikes with a crossbow to target enemy officers or artillery workers in order to disable their foes and help their allies.

Shan Warsmiter
About 15% of a Shan force are made up of these warriors. They are deployed in pairs on war chariots to charge and shatter the ranks of enemies or trap cavalry. Warsmiters are raised from childhood, their training emphasises use of strength and longsword use so that they can perform athletic feats in full armour and wield sword and shield with considerable skill.

The heavy armour of the warsmiters make them a tough nut to crack and their skill in co-ordinated fighting makes assaulting a war chariot perilous. Their use of crossbow from chariot makes them mobile snipers despite their armour but this is not their primary function. Their use of alchemical fire to break formations makes them feared by their enemies - a popular tactic is to throw the flask over the heads of the first rank so the fire burns multiple ranks and forces them to disperse.

Shan Officer
About 10% of a Shan force are made up of officers; skilled warriors and capable scholars who have learned the tactics of their warlord ancestors and whose battleplans have been honed by hours of study of history. This effectiveness translates into battle; the officer is an exceptional individual who can be told apart from their warsmiter troops by the red plumes worn on the helmet and a scroll case containing tactical histories.

The officers are keen tacticians, their understanding of military history and past battles helps to inform them of current situations. The officer will make History checks to try and establish an advantage in battle but is also no slouch when it comes to the battlefield. Accompanied by a warsmiter in a battle chariot, the officer is often key in creating a situation where a weak point is found and exploited to the advantage of the troops. Their use of the bold execution maneouver can turn the tide of battle when facing a large or dangerous foe.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

something rotten

A new hill is forming, the ground slowly stretching over what lies underneath. The grass on the hill has turned stringy and yellow-brown, yet the grass around the hill seems secure for now with small patches of yellow. Approaching the hill, there are subtle signs of taint.
  • Animals refuse to approach the hill. Steeds will need persuasion to get closer, supernatural creatures are disinclined to approach without a good reason. There isn't a tangible smell as such, more of a feeling. Those rightly proud of their intuition will sense something wrong.
  • The notable exception to this are carrion eaters and scavengers. Oily-black crows and feral dogs circle the hill; a sleek and well-fed rat may rush through the grass seeking to tunnel into the hill to find food.
  • Hairline fissues sometimes form on the hill, from these cracks gust clear, foul-smelling mist to taint the air and sicken the weak and unwary. The cracks collapse as more ground is pushed out, filling quickly and too narrow for most breathing things to pass through.
Digging Deeper
Beneath the topsoil is a horrific amalgam of grey mud and blackened putrid flesh, shaped into chambers and corridors that radiate away and down like a web woven of cancerous fungus; the stench is unbearable at first but fades in time to become a bad taste in the mouth. Where the digging takes place reveals different things.
  • The top of the hill opens out into a chamber with seven sloping corridors leading away from it. On the walls are frescoes of skeletal figures striking down twisted depictions of people with diseases. Those who attempt to leave the chamber without praising the one who made this place will find the skeletons able to leave their frescoes and can attack.
  • Halfway down the hill there is a curving corridor, which if followed encircles the entire hill; there are entrances into chambers deeper inside the hill. What lies in those chambers will sicken and infect those who adventure inside - diseased ghouls, bubbling fonts of fouled water (the source of the sickening vapours) and icons of plague and rot.
  • At the base of the hill, digging reveals shafts and sloping corridors leading to chambers strewn with flyblown-piles of waste and writhing maggots. Diseased ghouls are chained to protect chambers - a thrown bone placates them as giant maggots crawl after prey and maggots aggregate to make mockeries of human form with a diseased touch.
The Heart of Corruption
  • A mass grave is hidden in the top third of the hill; the source of the diseased flesh which helps make the walls. Bizarrely there appears to always be enough corpses to nearly fill the chamber and even if corpses are removed; the chamber never empties. Giant diseased ghouls swim in this sea of bodies, grazing on body parts and bloating from the feast.
  • In the heart of the hill is a temple to disease; the corners have festering corpses and piles of ordure. Feverish fanatics are chained to pillars and mutter a litany of praises before iron cauldrons warmed by bonefires. The cauldrons are tended by bloated priests whose curses can rot flesh and their cannibal acolytes who wield poisoned blades.
  • In the depths of the hill is a cavern that houses a sulphurous spring; the air in this chamber is thick with contagion. A writhing swarm of demonic creatures, all mouth and claws flows around this chamber, guarding the sulphurous spring. Their bites fester with pestilence and they can overwhelm a small group who are incautious in battle.
(inspired by this post at Dungeonskull Mountain and the WFRP /40K demon Nurgle)

Sunday, 5 July 2009

let me tell you about my game

Hi. I'm a Dungeons & Dragons addict. Is that how it's supposed to start?

I started playing back in junior school when BBC's Pebble Mill did a hobby piece featuring Leslie Ash pre-lip surgery and it sounded like fun so I got a red box with books and dice you had to colour in yourself. I then got the Fiend Folio (daringly ignoring the Players Handbook, DMG & Monster Manual) and watched Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back from very different perspectives.

Friends played and moved onto running around fields, chasing girls and listening to punk rock while others discovered drugs. I kept playing as families went nuclear or shattered (mine was the latter) and I found solace from the early 1980s, Thatcherite politics and spectres of nuclear war in fantastical worlds, dabbling with Traveller & Runequest with Michael Jackson, Mike Oldfield, Phil Collins, Genesis and Queen playing in the background.

I got a Jonesin' for fantasy literature and discovered my uncle's Shakespeare collection in Tel Aviv. 1984 I got into 1E AD&D, along with Gamma World. I was the school geek anyway so it didn't matter - council estate hip hop just wasn't my thing and I slowly but surely discovered rock music, girls, drinking and all those things keeping those who refuse to conform afloat.

Friends moved on, I went to college and discovered Unearthed Arcana, Saturday working, mid-week clubbing, hard drinking and shouty adolescent relationships. I got my act together, played a triple-class drow fighter/magic-user/thief, a conniving magical charlatan and a flint-hearted druid, did the fast food & hot dates thing then found my future wife (and gamer) to the horror of my family before going to Uni for three years.

Gaming and blondes, inextricably linked to me. A good thing? I think so.

In Uni, I accumulated a pretty impressive character body count in one particular 1E game then 2nd ed came out. I discovered gamer friends and computers, dabbled in LARP, widened my social circle, played in one epic campaign, ran two epic campaigns, dabbled in other things and returned to being hungover every Thursday owing to a brilliant rock night. After Uni, recession, biotechnology went onto the back burner and jobs were hard to come by.

Games kept me occupied between searching for jobs paid more than nothing. Our characters - phlegmatic fighters, cunning magi, reckless swashbucklers, ill-starred Vikings and inept thieves gave us hope. The social circle dwindled and bloomed again. Another 2E campaign I ran led to some wonderful memories. The campaign my future wife ran led to more. We experimented with vampires, werewolves, Arthurian knights (and how!) and then back to old faithful.

Relationships formed, were tested, broke, mine held on against all odds as I discovered Usenet and ICQ, then there was a little thing called Magic: The Gathering. The gaming industry faced a crucible that it came out of with D&D 3rd edition. Eventually we settled down, regular game sessions and marriage. The books came out fast and loose, some of us noticed the publish or perish model was being followed. Options were explored. And how!

I played an elven monk, a bumbling priest of Fharlanghn and when the DM stopped killing us and had fun, a halfling gossip with a heart of gold. 3.5 came out and people protested though it smoothed some rough edges down exposed by the flood of books. And if you think 4E was a whingefest, I recall extreme bile on 3.5 vs. 3.0 - one impassioned soul said he would never play D&D again to our cynical laughter. He's now running Pathfinder.

The next game I played a lawman with a sorcerous dark secret in a world where gods lied and hid their deeds and it was fun - that story hasn't ended yet, the DM experimented with other worlds - a twisted realm where I indulged my dark side with a mage whose mutating form was as treacherous as he was and a shattered world where I played a musician, swashbuckler and assassin. I GM'd a game of Celtic heroics and that game isn't finished either.

Somebody created this thing called World of Warcraft. Back to the crucible.

Now we have 4E. Like Marmite, people love it or hate it. I like it but despair of ever finding a group unless I run it apparently. I appear to have come full circle. Sometimes blogging is lonely work but then you set a spark and people chase it for miles. Now I'm back from Cyprus I've got a few ideas. You'll see some here. Some names you'll recognise; others you won't unless you were part of a select circle. So where now? Onward, dear friends. Once more unto the breach!
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