Tuesday, 29 June 2010

the man who brought monsters to life

Ray Harryhausen is 90 today. His ability to create monsters that moved and interacted with actors on the silver screen had a profound impact on film makers and gamers everywhere.  His painstaking work in stop-motion animation makes his wide-ranging body of work all the more remarkable and there are numerous acknowledgements and cameos as a result. Of those great movies, three in particular appeal to me.

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms - Harryhausen's first solo film, the story is adapted from a Ray Bradbury tale.  It features a giant dinosaur freed from Arctic ice by nuclear testing to wreak havoc on New York City.  One of the first atomic age monster movies, it's animation caused it to become a box office hit and influence on later movies like Gorgo and even Cloverfield is apparent - not just in the rampaging monster but also in the twists when conventional weapons are employed against the beast. 

Jason & The Argonauts - an iconic movie, not least for the animated skeletons fighting the heroes at the end of the movie.  The statue of Talos, the harpies and the hydra were fantastic for their time and this movie is held as one of the greats of the sword-and-sandals genre.  Strangely this film wasn't a box office success yet still  became a classic and is cited by some fans as the greatest of Harryhausen's movies.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad - The animated statue of Kali fighting Sinbad and his crew is simply awesome cinema.  With homonculi, an animated ship's figurehead, a cyclopean centaur and a griffin lend a sense of the fantastic.  And it has Tom Baker as an evil wizard who recites backwards phrases from breakfast cereal adverts whose portrayal allegedly landed him his role as the fourth incarnation of Doctor Who.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

cthulhu sequel: the potter of oaxaca

Oaxaca 1991.

Agent Jorge was alone in the workshop.  He consulted the oil-stained paper carefully typewritten sometime in 1974 then took the thick black clay and began his work, remembering his schooldays and the clay rolling between his fingers, cold and hard, then warm and yielding. Then he recalled how the callow boy would tremble at his deeds and the road he'd taken.  A lifetime ago since JFK had spoken in Berlin.  Many lives had ended since that boy looked out of his eyes. 

Now they saw only the task at hand, spelled out in type on a greasy, yellowing page.

el cáliz de arcilla

Take the black mud, rich with life when Venus is ascendant. Grind into meal, anoint with el humores vitales. Shape el barro primigenio in the likeness of Her hair.

A moment's tremor in his hand, recalling unlucky Luisa in Monte Alban as he added the contents of the sample tubes. Stifling the acid sour vomit he felt the wet clay roll between his fingers until it was merely damp. A memory of his mother gutting fish in her kitchen forced him to turn his concentration to the instructions.

Mark the head with the Voorish sign then coil her hair into the Bearer of Mysteries.   The flesh shall be formed by the rib until it is fruitful with seed.

An ancient design - the Pueblo Indians made such pots before Oaxaca had become famous for barro negro. His thumbnail made four indentations, meticulous in their proportions before taking the other end and coiling it upon itself to form a cup. Taking a curved piece of gourd, he began to press it cross-wise against the sides of the coil, evenly shaping it into a curved rim. Agent Jorge noted with faint revulsion dark fluid seeped and pooled within the clay. His voice trembled as he spoke the invocation legible despite a smear of oil on the paper.

Su vientre es fructífera con la legión de sus crías.
guías K'awil mi mano
La cabra negro tiene hambre
guías K'awil mi ojo
Ia! Ia! Shub-Niggurath!!
Mira con bondad a mi sacrificio!

He poured the third sample tube into the chalice, swirling it with the black fluid pooling inside.  The copper smell was his own blood, blessed in Her name.  The fluid receded... then it was time to dry the pot before it could be finished - which would take two weeks, when the moon was dark again.

Shape the flesh, by blade, sand and round stone.  Paint the earth with guaco juice so forest shadows touch the night sky.  To call forth the night, polish the clay with a crescent of quartz.

As he did, his stomach growled and he smiled - the Black Goat wasn't the only thing that was hungry. To lose the pot now would be intolerable. The shaping would be meticulous but Agent Jorge was a patient man, when dealing with the Long Count, you could afford to be little else.

Let the kiln birth the mystery and when the moon is full again the chalice shall be ready for the devotee.

The Elder Gods did not tolerate errors of haste.  For all their terrible passion, they demanded respect and punished the weak. Jorge had the foul-smelling guaco juice, the stone, the blade, the sand.  All was ready and all he needed to do was to finish the job.

(in response to a query by seaofstarsrpg about the clay chalice)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

cthulhu double feature: clay chalice and feast of the black goat

A couple of things for Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu.  Been getting some ideas around this genre and as a lurking fan of Delta Green, there may be more coming...

Clay Chalice
This appears as a simple chalice of fired grey clay, sometimes inscribed with glyphs dedicating the chalice to the bounty of an aspect of Shub-Niggurath.  When used as part of any spell invoking Shub-Niggurath, the caster regains 1 Magic Point expended.  More powerful versions of this simple item exist, with powers and risks defined by the Keeper and the chalice exists in many forms, from a simple spiral clay cup found in the back of a 1960s occultist bookshop to exquisite examples of barro negro chalices made outside Oaxaca in Mexico.

Feast of the Black Goat (Cost 1 Magic Point/1 SAN per SIZ point of matter affected.)
This dreadful incantation was discovered by cultists of Shub-Niggurath during an outbreak of the Black Death in Bohemia during 1380 and allowed the cultists to survive through ruinous winter famines.  The spell allows the caster to eat 1 SIZ of organic matter (dead or living) and treat it as nutritious food regardless of composition or condition.  This spell allows someone to eat rotting compost, poisonous fungi, even living flesh without adverse effect.  Inorganic poisons (e.g. arsenic, mercury) still affect the caster normally.  Additional SAN may be lost according to what is being eaten or how it was prepared at the Keeper's discretion.

Friday, 18 June 2010

inns & taverns - the pickled troll

There are many fine places to enjoy ale and wine in the city. The Pickled Troll isn't but it's ambiance as a former alchemist's shop piques curiosity. The sign shows a green, warty troll capering with a beer mug under a crescent moon. The inn is a converted three storey house whose timbers show signs of fire damage on the corner of a side street where neighbours rent rooms to traders and artisans working in the city.

Inside the walls are stained by fire damage and pipe smoke. Furnishings are simple carved wood and wrought iron, lit by oil lamps set around the bar. The effect is smoky and shadow-filled, perfect for clandestine meetings. The floor in contrast is pristine, a chessboard pattern of red and white marble tiles. A faint smell of pine comes from the floor at all times, masking the worst of the stale ale, smoke and sweat most inns develop over time and lending the place a friendlier air.

The inn is named for 'Oskar'. A troll's head on a barbed metal retort and spike in a thick glass jar bathed in cloudy 'vinegar'. This is firmly bolted onto the bar and occasionally the head will move it's mouth or roll it's eyes. While most folk believe it a fraud, a few ex-staff claim the troll's head is very much alive and will take a bite out of anyone stupid enough to take it out the jar. It's said to be cursed, anyone stealing it will die within a cycle of the moon.

The Pickled Troll prides itself on being a free house and prices are a little higher (+10%) but not unreasonable. As a result, the ales that can be found here are varied though there are two staples - a pale bitter called Knight's Ale, refreshing but for a faint bitter aftertaste that requires another to remove it. The other is a dark treacle-thick stout called Ogre-Beater jokingly said to be served in slices yet strong and warming. Both are brewed on premises.

The other refreshments are subject to the city market. Demand for certain ales are strong and The Troll is often unlucky due to a particular group of merchants so that the other ales often dry up during busy spells. Foods also vary, usually a pot pie filled with various meats and turnip though stylised decorations on the pie in the form of leaves and flowers sometimes draw comment. In autumn, pot pies that contain jellied fruits are sold to popular demand.

Staff in the Pickled Troll are a mixed bunch - ranging from surly, troubled youths to amiable and canny old geezers. The manager, Taslea wears a patch over her left eye (damaged by an alchemical mishap) and is wily enough to keep them running a tight ship. Her left arm has a serrated scar that looks suspiciously like the teeth-marks of a troll. Asking about either will make her angry and defensive but she is level-headed enough not to get violent but will wield a cutting retort.

Taslea can discreetly provide certain alchemical goods to those willing to pay a little more to keep such knowledge private. This side trade is more than enough to keep the Pickled Troll in business but she keeps the Pickled Troll running since the city's alchemists do not recognise her ability. She also prefers a more social environment and can often be found chewing the fat with her staff and regulars till the early hours of the morning.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

little brother

For a young adult book, this is exceptional stuff. There are techno-thrillers.  Then there are techno-thrillers like Little Brother who mix in geek chic, information security and social activism and get away with it.  This book is many things and somehow manages to achieve all of them, leaving you with the impression of a Swiss Army knife of a book Unlike Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon it gets in, provides information and gets out - a commando operation rather than a protracted war.  The message is quite clear - our society distrusts our children and they will beat poorly-designed ways to restrict their activities every time every time.  The tighter you grip, the more they slip through your fingers...

The impact of a terrorist attack on the BART amid an increasingly paranoid surveillance society results in the arrest of four truants for terrorism and leads to one fighting back with a little help from his friends.  There are few punches pulled with the detention scenes and rightly so, their effects on Marcus, Darryl, Zeb and their families are plausible.   The 'bad guys' are chillingly anonymous - even at the endgame there's no certainty of victory and along the way there are enough knocks and setbacks to make this battle a bitterly fought one for someone as young as Marcus who literally has his whole life to lose if the bad guys win - a slow death measured in decades of surveillance and social exclusion as 'one of them'.

Little Brother tips it's hat to 1984 and Abbie Hoffman's 'Steal This Book' as well as Kerouac's 'On The Road' and Allan Ginsburg's 'Howl' -Doctorow is a trend watcher par excellence when it comes to Internet culture, the rise of arphids (RFID tags) as covert surveillance tools, school netbooks pre-installed with government spyware and Harajuku Fun Madness alternate reality game mirror existing things.

Those familiar with Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom will be delighted to see he's improved in leaps and bounds (and Down And Out... was good stuff) since those heady days.  While a couple of characters (Charlie, M1k3y's cool Britmom) are fresh out of Central Casting, the plot is crisply logical even if the Department for Homeland Security seem toothless against the new XNet though Doctorow's portrayal of how public servants process surveillance data is chillingly accurate. 

The afterwords by Bruce Schneier and Andrew 'bunnie' Huang show that this rabbit hole goes deep indeed and challenges the readers to look at the world differently.   It's opened my eyes - I've never seen PKI cryptography explained so clearly or so succinctly.  It's like cyberpunk never died but became ubiquitous as John Lydon and Iggy Pop plan a Duranmas Duranmas advertising offensive.

To say there's gaming inspiration for all kinds of modern-era games might be an understatement on a par with space is big and fire being hot.  If you've lived in the shadow of the valley of the geek and you have pals who are counterculture and don't understand you (still!) then lend them this book.  You can download Little Brother from craphound.com for free but it's good enough to pay for.  If you're the kind of person who enjoys looking at the backstage notes, take a look at w1n5t0n.com, where the book is annotated.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

ebon zikkuract - the stair above

Your divine majesty, I beg forgiveness for my messenger's interruption.  I chastised him by your just decree.  After the attack from the western stair, the guards were replaced with warriors loyal to yourself and Ankil.  The hierophants expressed displeasure, claiming their guards were sufficient.  I begin my report of exploration of the stair above with an observation of the zikkuract itself.  I know little of other expeditions but ordered the execution of the guard who sold jewel-beetles to the traitor Nintag. When the hierophant of Algolia first ascended to the stair above, he walked along the walls and ceiling.  Many thought it some virtue of his status.  Our amazement to learn this miraculous place permitted anyone to do this was great.  Truly the gods show their favour!  Our scholar, Erkat the Scarred dropped plumb lines onto the other stairs to show this to us before we continued into the great city under the smoking sun spoken of by the hierophant.  His skill let us return safely.

The city is great, stretching to the horizon that reaches to the sky in all directions.  The air was hot and dusty, tinted with sunset.  As we walked down the zikkuract, a shepherdess hailed us and kept pointing west.  We did not understand each other, finally she left.  The buildings around the zikkuract were a mixture of hewn stone, clay bricks and cement, the ground was paved in places.  Their dwellers were strange people, weak and poor. Many wore concealing robes and shawls, a scant few who did not had grey skins with red stains about eyes and mouth.  Their movements were halting, their faces reminded me of lotus-addicts.  They spoke the same alien tongue yet looked on us with fearful avarice. The guards formed up, used spear hafts to push incautious beggars and grasping children from our group.  We made our way towards the edge of this desperate slum when a great gong sounded and the dwellers scattered like children, running into buildings.  We sought the shelter of an alleyway and watched in awe.  A brazen head flew without wings along the street, from it came an unnatural howl then a voice like that of the gods in holy Lur.  The same alien tongue but it spoke as a conqueror to a slave.  Then it rose into the air, raising clouds of dust as it ascended, circling like a vulture until we no longer saw it against the sun.

We sought an exit from the slum while the locals cowered within and found it after a time.  A market where the ashen-skinned slumdwellers came to beg or trade.  Here were many familiar and strange things for sale and their vendors called to us in the alien tongue and then in a sea of languages.  Then a spry old man with ebony skin, his head wrapped like the Amejai called out to Erkat in our language from amid a sea of reclining children who scattered as we approached.  After giving him a gold ring and sharing his salt and water, we spoke at length.  From this Akume we learned of the great city called Dhanaya. He thought us mercenaries from the black ziggurat hired to fight for the local lord (he used the word satrap) against the rebels.  I asked him how many ziggurats were here and he responded that he knew of six though these would take years to find.  "How big is Dhanaya?" asked Erkat.  "Bigger than you think.  No man has ever found it's end and it's cellars are endless.  It is too great for one ruler though many try."  Erkat was dissatisfied with this answer.  Akume responded "I have a hundred and one years.  I am the oldest in this ward.  In my youth I travelled far and wide, my last journey took a year to return from and in this time, I have never seen an end to the city.  I have maps that show strange things - all of them Dhanaya."  Erkat asked him of the bronze head and he grew quiet.  "A watcher.  Be wary and do not draw their attention for their games will kill anyone who does not know their part."

He reached into his robe and pulled out a folded animal skin - a map of the ward.  He taught Erkat and I some simple words in the alien tongue so we could ask for food and shelter then bade us leave for we would draw attention to ourselves if we stayed with him too long.  I asked why and he laughed.  "The local lord will think I am trying to distract you.  I am already a rogue and charlatan in his eyes."  I knew better than disagree, Akume had a wily look about him.  We thanked him for his hospitality and left his stall, Erkat hid the map and then we prepared to return.  Erkat said we had travelled almost a day through the great slum and if what Akume had said was true, we could spend our lives exploring this place without reporting back to your divine majesty.  He revealed the black rock and watched it point north then scowled and looked about him.  "The guidestone is deceived and the sun is constant.  We dare not return to the slum but we can follow it like a river course and the ziggurat is a memorable landmark."  On our journey through the winding streets and open courtyards we saw many strange things.

Eerie caravans of pampered, pallid men and women in fine linens borne on sedan chairs by red-skinned giants escorted by hooded warriors with tattooed gray skins wielding curved blades of dark metal.  White-haired men with masks of children harangued passers-by.  Cowled and robed figures smelling of rose attar and striking small gongs parted crowds by their presence as blue-robed men and women were surrounded by gaggles of children and beggars, eager to touch their robes.  Men with the heads of desert hounds and clad in breastplates of bronze crooned to each other where slaves were sold.  Among them city folk, beggars, fruit sellers and labourers of a dozen races.  Grim-faced soldiers with bronze spears, axes and boiled leather breastplates and wearing red cloaks broke up squabbles and disputes, moved prostitutes on and hailed us but Erkat said we were returning to the ziggurat, there wasn't enough money.  This drew grim laughter from them and they let us by with some unfamiliar words that sounded like swearing.  Another time we will defend our honour but their words were unknown and our mission more important.

When we came to the zikkuract, one of the brazen heads hovered before it.  It addressed both Erkat and I, asking if we would return.  Erkat said he hoped to.  I said that I did not know yet for my orders did not say.  The head seemed content with this answer and ascended into the sky.  We ascended the stair and heard the great gong sound twice.  Erkat has said to me that he believes Dhanaya is made by the gods, for only one thing would cause the horizon to curve like the inside of a gourd and that was if the city were built inside a great ball.  From the top of the ziggurat we could see the horizon curve upwards and away with buildings and courtyards stretching as far as the eye could see.  Though it seems impossible, Erkat's explanation makes sense.  I do not know the power of the brazen heads but I believe a hierophant may know such things if they are asked.  It is clear Dhanaya has known our people before for how else would Akume know our language?  If it please your divine majesty, I recommend we commence further exploration.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

recession-proof gaming IX: kicking it old school

There's lots of excellent old-school stuff out there.  If your gaming budget is cut in the post-financiapocalyptic wasteland, then download some stuff, get your dice and go old-school - the retro-clone community is prolific and the quality is comparable with the stuff you dragged off from the gaming shops of old (or not so old if you have a knowledgeable FLGS).

Dark Dungeons - A retro-clone of the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia, with the right DM will take your character to the dizzy heights of 36th level and immortality.  It's author Blacky the Blackball has done a great job of converting a comprehensive rules set and provides PDF, softback and hardback (yes the last two will cost but the price is insanely reasonable).  Even the errata (all one page of it) is freely available.

Monsters of Myth - plenty of monsters for OSRIC provided by the First Edition Society.  The monsters offer some interesting twists and are reminiscent of the monsters you'd find in the old White Dwarf Fiend Factory articles.  Some nice takes, personal favourites include the bedlam witch, deceived of Set, ice creeper and kheph.  Artwork is reminiscent of the old 1E Monster Manual and is also available in print. 

Terminal Space - D&;D in Space has often been attempted, since the days of Metamorphosis Alpha and that little trip to the Barrier Peaks.  Now there's a retro-clone using 1974 rules that walks the walk and fits in Traveller-esque spaceship design with Mi-Go brain canisters.  Heady stuff begging to be homebrewed with Mutant Future in a post-apocalyptic spacefaring fantasy adventure.

Wonderful combat wheels for Labyrinth Lord and Sword & Wizardry courtesy of Jed Mc.  What makes these cool is the relatively minimal work needed to assemble these - it would be nice to see other games given this kind of love.
Rapid fire NPCs needed?  Classic Dungeon Designer Netbook #4 has all you need and lots of tables in the manner of the 1E AD&D supplement The Rogues Gallery.  Kellri also has a lot of good stuff worth taking a look at - while the blog hasn't been updated in some time, there are some gems to be found.

Yes, you're probably strapped for time as well aren't you?  Fear not, module support is plentiful but here's a few to get you started on your way.

Temple of the Ghoul is a 1st - 2nd level scenario well worth your time.
The Outpost on the Edge of the Far Reaches is a 1st - 3rd level scenario by The Warlock's Home Brew.
And the One Page Dungeon Codex 2009 is lots of phenomenal adventures in itty-bitty living space.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

summer thoughts - review : kobold guide to game design volume 3

Lots of words have been written on the concepts of game design in the last few years and there's a lot of wisdom to be found using a search engine.  Game design has become one of those multidisciplinary fields that has people reaching to apply their own lenses to make sense of.  This book provides a clearer lens than most, provides a concise overview of the field and touches on design specifics, organising concepts and collaborative working among other things.

Before I proceed further, may I just say... 
Token Disclaimer
- This review is based on a PDF provided by Open Design.
Review: 4 kobolds.  The scholarly air gives this book gravitas.  Some conclusions may provoke thought and discussion among your theorist and designer pals who will thank you for this as a present.  Hardcore Open Design fans may recognise some elements.

Now I've got that out the way, let's roll.  Apart from the cover art, there was no internal art.  This gives the book a scholarly feel and it's fitting as the tone of the book speaks from experience - contributors include known faces like Ed Greenwood, Monte Cook, Rob Heinsoo and Colin McComb as well as Wolfgang Baur - all of whom have had hands in classic RPG material. 

Chapter 1 is an overview of the concept of design.  Wolfgang Baur acknowledges the role of diverse designs and notes the impact of story games like Mouse Guard and interesting design decisions around the current system market while pinning the tail on the donkey of good design in tabletop games.  

Chapter 2 takes on designing RPGs for tabletop and computers.  Colin McComb (who gave us Planescape: Torment and the Complete Elven Handbook) takes on the dichotomy of detail and human interaction and leans to the former as the future while hoping both are served well by their designers.

Chapter 3 engages with creative thought, Wolfgang Baur offers a model borrowed from Borrowing Brilliance (David Kord Murray) which itches to be tried on a couple of stalled projects I'm working on.  This chapter is something that will kindle future gaming products and is one of the high points of the book.

Chapter 4 handles the high and low of creation and design, Wolfgang Baur revealing the dark truth that behind every finished manuscript is a lot of hard work.  Punches are not pulled and personal demons are hinted at with the wisdom that execution makes the difference between pipe dreams and product.

Chapter 5 deals with mechanical ruminations but could be applied equally to setting.  Rob Heinsoo, design lead for 4E and the sublime Underdark shows subtle craft in taking design cues from both the classics and the innovations of peer systems like Agon to create your own unique snowflake with teeth.

Chapter 6 takes on combat systems.  Colin McComb demonstrates aplomb in providing a simple percentile system for a modern system that looks naggingly familiar.  This chapter is good for those who love hacking system mechanics and provides a thumbnail sketch for further exploration.

Chapter 7 is about weaving plot.  Ed Greenwood gives a lesson in plotting that draws on the roots of good and evil while showing the value of weaving multiple plots, using deception and finding those hot buttons to push so that players will keep choosing to face the peril.

Chapter 8 takes on location.  Wolfgang Baur exhibits the significance of setting as the spice for the meat and potatoes of adventuring.   Considering what makes a setting distinctive, credible and deserving of attention in concise ways makes this another powerful chapter.

Chapter 9 handles game balance.  Monte Cook explains how system may not be enough to ensure balance, takes on providing face time without having to hobble participation and touches on the wisdom of being a good participant.  It's been said before here (and expanded on) yet it's value hasn't diminished.

Chapter 10 covers the Old School darling of sandbox design and event-driven activities.  Here Wolfgang Baur reveals even the most anarchic sandbox has boundaries, order need not mean oppression and is sometimes necessary for rewarding play, reinforcing the wisdom of Chapter 7.

Chapter 11 handles collaboration.  This is perhaps the most powerful chapter of the book and Wolfgang Baur reveals the human frailties tied to collaborative design with a deft and compassionate hand and some tactics to use if you want to succeed and still be respected in the morning.

Chapter 12 deals with failure and recovery.  Churchill defined success as the ability to move from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm and Wolfgang Baur rounds this off with pragmatic hints on how to deal with the 'oops' moments of your designs and how to honour mistakes, defend decisions and get out the way.

This book is efficient.  While I disagree with some of it's conclusions (subject for another post) it presents it's arguments efficiently and where possible with examples.  I've been critical of game designers bemoaning their lifestyle in the past yet this book avoids that trap even in Chapters 4, 11 and 12 where the temptation was strong. The real virtue of this book to aspiring designers is that it has a healthy dose of reality without falling in the "You're all doomed dreamers!!" pundit trap.  While there's a summertime malaise in effect, this is a shot of design adrenalin.  It won't cure a hopeless case but will give a kick to get you off off the operating table and we will be seeing the ripples caused by this book for some time.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

inns & taverns - the throne and ferry

A ferryside inn sat on the shore of a river island, the Throne And Ferry has faded like it's royal founder, now dead forty winters.  It's sign, a gilded throne over waves is lit by a sheltered fire and visible from the other side of the river even at night.  The fire serves to warm the ferry's operators, a pair of surly broad-shouldered and narrow-minded ex-soldiers.  The stair leading up to the inn is immaculately carved stone blocks leading up to a covered porch whose warped timbers let in rivulets of rainwater during any protracted rainstorm.  The inn is usually quiet with no more than six people normally inside even on a rainy night.

Inside the two-storey inn are immaculately-polished dark stained timbers, hung with trophies from across the country, the inn is structurally sound if a little drafty.  Snarling bears, boar-heads and racks of antlers hang from the walls.  A large stair (which creaks atrociously) leads to a common room and rough-hewn quarters for the staff (nine in all) and four guests with stabling for seven horses attended by a toothless, mute ostler capable of great things with a comb and pocket knife.  Three large benches are arranged in a U-shape with an open side for entertainers and serving staff to come and go are surrounded by numerous high-backed chairs positioned by the walls.  Among them is a throne with arm-rests carved as walking bears and inlaid with golden oak leaf designs so someone seated in it appears to have a halo of gold around their head. 

This seat of kings is fiercely guarded  by the landlord Isbarr, a grizzled and scarred former pageboy to the old king, now an old, cynical ex-huntsman to the current king.  He will be harsh to anyone who dares that seat but will treat others with courtesy (a little strained perhaps) who comes visiting.  The rest of his staff are extended family, other notables include his sister Rowena, a fair cook and former field surgeon and her husband Morrin, a whip-thin, brilliant scholar yet disastrously inept carpenter responsible for the rickety porch and stairs whose groans have inspired at least one bard to sing of 'young lovers thwarted by the groaning stair' much to Isbarr's frustration and Morrin's chagrin.

The fare is notable.  To drink there is a good selection.  A strong brown ale and reasonable pale pine ale that is brewed by Isbarr according to a family recipe keep most customers satisfied.  Casks of traded ales and rough wine round out the roster along with a potent local herbal liquor sold by riverfolk that tastes of aniseed called 'blueshine' for the halo flames take on when you drink it.  For food there is game pie (a mixture of pigeon and rabbit baked with duck egg and flavoured with herbs), a thick yet tasty 'hunter's broth' with various vegetables and meats boiled into a glutinous soup served with rye bread, thick coiled sausages flavoured with forest herbs and for those willing to spend gold, a fine cut of smoked pork served with fine cheese and a keg of pine ale.

Accommodation is basic, the common room holds nine in comfort, twelve in familiarity and fifteen at a pinch.  The apartments are rustic yet near-obsessive care has been taken for years with them and the mattresses are comfortable enough for royalty wishing to enjoy a hunting trip.  If the guests in the apartments are nobles or deal with nobility Isbarr will personally oversee the care of those staying in the apartments and advise servants who customarily do for their masters about the finer points of the accommodation, when is a good time to get  hot water and where to find fresh flowers for a lady.  Rowena has offered surgeon's help to guests injured in various pursuits and the ostler is also an exceptional barber-surgeon in his own right.

The Throne and Ferry serves occasionally as a stopping point for some merchants and nobles whose families knew of Isbarr and his family.  Most others avoid it seeking to curry favour with the current court, though the hunting on the island is excellent, most people hunting there tend to travel by flat-bottomed boat in the dead of night, preferring to avoid Isbarr and his kin.  These hunters (some may call them poachers) rarely risk flogging by the local sheriffs who view the Throne and Ferry as a quaint, backwoods inn owned by a family trading desperately on past glories.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

inspirational stuff

Gaming magpie?  Why yes!  We all borrow stuff, anyone who says otherwise is trying to hide their sources.  Yet sources reveal a lot about games and this month's RPG Blog Carnival is all about your inspirations outside of gaming.

Music deserves it's own post so I'll just stick with the top five books and comics that shaped my gaming first.
  1. Beowulf - Hard not to mention this one given it's provenance as one of the first English stories.  Monsters with corrosive blood, a mother who is twice as bad as her child, boasting and court rivalry, fatal showdowns with a dragon and matter-of-fact heroism.  Does any of this sound familiar...?
  2. From Hell -  Alan Moore's take on Jack the Ripper shows obsessive research and while the end is unconventional (what did you expect?) it is a powerful story set in a horrific metropolis where people are driven by forces beyond their control.  Good Victoriana/urban noir fuel.
  3. Ramayana - Epic battles, gods reincarnated as heroes, invulnerable demon kings, kidnappings, magical weapons, nonhuman and more.  Told and retold across Asia, this is a model for epic games and dynastic intrigues as well as a demonstration of virtues.
  4. Shakespeare's Tragedies - Shakespeare does dark spectacularly well - those needing grim and gritty can take a look at King Lear, Macbeth or Titus Andronicus.  For intrigue, Othello and Julius Caesar and when it comes to doomed romance, what better than Romeo and Juliet?  
  5. Slaine - Pat Mills and 2000A.D. have a lot to answer for.  Before the d20 and RuneQuest settings by Mongoose, there were drune lords, flying ships, gae bolga, magical cauldrons, otherworldly weapons, malevolent shapeshifters disguised as helpless maidens, towers of glass and plenty besides.
    Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

    Greatest Hits