Saturday, 31 July 2010

inns & taverns: the minotaur's horn

This busy two-storey inn is the heart of a small village crouched over a rocky hillside spring.  The inn is a simple whitewashed stone building with a neat courtyard shaded by lime trees and surrounded by a drystone wall drowned under bramble with a latched wooden gate.  The sign showing a minotaur's head in relief is topped by a pair of horns (actually bull's horns) chained in place above the sign.  A number of well-fed grey cats laze in the sunshine, ignoring or begging food from passers-by.  The courtyard has a pair of benches often part-occupied by farm labourers or masons who the cats usually ignore.  The labourers and masons are friendly to those willing to talk but have little patience for braggarts. The entry has a trellis from which hang the spade-like leaves of betel vine, a relative rarity in these parts.

Inside, the inn is usually busy if a little chill, lit by oil lamps reflecting off pieces of amber glass.  Whitewashed walls decorated with simple murals in black of warriors and athletes striving shelter a spacious comfortable arrangement of well-worn tables and chairs of grey-stained wood.  Both floors are available to patrons but service is more reliable on the ground floor, the first floor is used by those wishing to drink in peace and quiet, some nights the landlord can be found sharpening a sword as old as he is and willing to tell stories of his band's exploits against the minotaur reavers who plagued this land some twenty years ago. In one corner a table with a chessboard shelters a knot of aged, leathery farmers who sip at tumblers of fiery, clear spirit and play chess almost continuously.  Travelling traders working the market road and labourers drink side by side, tended by two sisters who tend bar and sing local songs.  The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming of all but the most ominous figures to whom the sisters suggest that upstairs may be preferable to them.

The sisters who tend bar are the cousins of the landlord, a grizzled former adventurer whose scars were gained by fighting off minotaur raids.  All three of them take an equal share of the profits and the Minotaur's Horn is quietly lucrative, due in no small part to their talents as brewers and innkeepers.   They live in the cellars where they brew.  A passable brown ale enjoyed by farmer and mason is the main drink, along with sweet blackberry wine and the fiery clear spirit (called sivesir) favoured by the old farmers.  For cold nights, a measure of sticky-sweet, sepia-tinted liquor called 'mountain mist' made of honey and blackberries warms any living heart.  Lime segments wrapped in betel leaf are sold for a copper and travellers new to the area are sometimes alarmed by red betel-stained juice dripping from the mouth of a labourer and the indifference of other patrons.  This usually ends in the travellers being bought a round at the expense of everyone and their introduction to betel leaf as a stimulant.

Floor space is available to those with nowhere else to go for a silver coin a night.  After three nights though any such visitor is politely told to leave and not return for a lunar cycle.  This tradition has come about after a tragic incident involving a shapeshifter and the landlord has a stash of silver blades and spear heads in the event that one attempts to take the inn by force.  This stash is a well-kept secret, the blades and spear-heads are worth a pretty penny to those needing protection of that kind.  The landlord's interest in the silver trade is a matter of gossip among the locals.

Monday, 26 July 2010

growing the hobby: kill comic book guy

Another post for this month's RPG Blog Carnival by Mad Brew Labs.  The icon of the stereotypical gamer is a Comic Book Guy splendid in his neotenic isolation.  Yet this same image is dwelled upon and the words spilled before that icon lend it unearned power.  In the absence of relevant demographic data that isn't (a) US-centric, (b) after 2004, (c) available on the Internet for others to use, then stereotyping happens. Some are funny, those living the caricature may find Jess Hartley's One Geek To Another helpful while some bad examples may appreciate Geeky Clean for Christmas in July but there is a warning even in this simple approach. 
The mind is everything.  What we think about, we become.
                                                                                       -- Buddha.
When the only mirrors you have are funhouse ones, makeovers are trying - small wonder the community has an image problem!  Be it a 'hurt & rescue' sales strategy, face-saving exercise over past failures to connect or only satire, emphasising your own flaws erodes confidence and shows insecurity. For the silent majority blessed with normal hygeine such diatribes get old.  These iconoclasts have careers ranging from soldier to movie star, disposable income and some even have families and children.

So, let's accentuate the positive for a change.  The tabletop gamer is a social animal, task-oriented with a mile-wide creative streak and imagination to burn.  They are passionate fans, willing to travel far for a game and naturally congregate in small groups.  They are conversant with Internet technologies, some are avid collectors.  They are discerning innovators, vocal if they see something out of line and willing to brainstorm solutions.  Like any other customer group, treat them with respect to return intense brand loyalty.  If these sound like nightmarish clients, maybe it's time to rethink your business plan.  Be assured, someone wants them as they've helped seed enterprises and franchises worth millions.  Some of which you will have heard of.

Appendix A: Typical Gamers (roll 1d20, re-roll if you get a duplicated result).
  1. Biker
  2. Trainer in IT/social media
  3. Volunteer group CEO
  4. Lawyer
  5. Porn star
  6. Dating expert
  7. Firefighter
  8. Librarian
  9. College student
  10. Banker
  11. Mum
  12. Metalhead
  13. IT + A/V Technician
  14. Software Developer
  15. Jazz/Blues guitarist
  16. Research Assistant
  17. Copywriter
  18. Computer game designer 
  19. Teacher
  20. Marketer
Each and all of these people are more interesting to deal with than the CBG who, for us at least, is the worst. stereotype. ever.   So please, let's move on shall we?

    Thursday, 22 July 2010

    growing the hobby: play me

    This month's RPG Carnival (courtesy of Mad Brew Labs) is about growing the hobby.  One thing Wizards of the Coast have got mostly right is D&D Encounters - where game shops host games to give a taste of what kind of fun 4th edition is.  Some FLGS understand running games help foster a community of customers - if they've got the floorspace - and in some cases they have gone even further and organised events.  Wizards have understood making the play experience easy to get into, it's unusual more companies haven't picked up on this.  Even more curious is that for conventions events can run up to 4+ hours.  This is good for a stable group, bad for encouraging the casual gamer. 

    Compare this with D&D Encounters which has a two-hour duration and publicity from it's business sponsor (always a smart move).  That's roughly equivalent to a football (or soccer, depending on geography) match.  The characters are pre-generated, everything is kept simple and encounters are designed to play to character strengths.  While Wizards have used Wednesdays for D&D Encounters, there are fans of 4E who can't make it then.  With at least four other days in the week, there are options for other sessions - heck, even other companies - to get a word in.  Those FLGS working seven day weeks have even more options - and if you've published, then why not support your product?

    The second Read An RPG Book In Public is coming soon.  Is there mileage in a Play An RPG in Public beyond YouTube hijinks?  While I'll be participating in the Read, I'll also consider taking it further... So to wind things up, here's a couple of questions for you to comment on - as comment is free!
    • What would you need to run a demo game at a local FLGS?
    • What incentive do publishers need to produce demo material to compete with D&D Encounters?

    Sunday, 4 July 2010

    cthulhu double feature: delapore's lantern show and the serpent oracle

    Hubert Delapore's Travelling Carnival was an obscure collection of freakish curiosities and sinister folk that toured Europe from 1876 to 1922.  For the price of a penny, patrons could view numerous natural sports, be entertained by performers and view homunculi and hinkypunks believed to be aberrations of nature.  Yet for every three fakes, at least one exhibit was very real and to the knowledgeable scholar, a troubling expression of the Mythos many would just believe as another fake.  Delapore was a troubled fellow who combined the theatricality of carnival, a keen eye for a bargain and a passing knowledge of the Mythos.  His disappearance in Paris in 1921 while visiting a local cemetery surprised few of his employees.  His carnival fragmented soon afterward.  Exhibits were sold as curios in Montmartre while most employees fled Paris to various points of the globe.

    Delapore's Lantern Show was an old-style Victorian lantern show which cast shadows on a screen for the delight of viewers.  In appearance it was a complex array of mirrors built on brass armatures surrounded by a yellowed vellum screen into which flowing shapes were etched and carved. Assembling the lantern show takes 30 minutes and casts shadows onto a white surface at least 9 feet 5 inches away.  Failure to keep this distance just creates a chaotic swirl of shadows and light.  While such diversions were typically limited at best (the flickering images would repeat themselves with minor variations in most shows without the help of marionettes), Delapore's show didn't need puppets, the shadows themselves changed without prompt due in part to the random movements of the mirrors.  Delapore attributed the lantern show's design to an Arab but nobody else appeared to know much more. 

    Often these flickering shadows displayed scenes of a fantastical nature, slender robed and crowned figures move about, playing out an intricate courtly dance to fascinate viewers who entranced by the scene lose a Magic Point.  After half an hour's performance, the dance would change to portray the murder of one of the characters, then the dance would resume as though nothing had happened.  That night, a random member of the audience who view the murder scene inevitably died in a way hinted at by the portrayal. While the shadow-death only affected the sensitive (SAN 0/1), those making the connection between the portrayal and the following murder (an Idea roll) find it disturbing (SAN 1/1d4).  The deaths are usually by mundane means but sometimes an unlikely event will overtake someone.

    The Serpent Oracle is a wizened homonculus, a shrunken (almost 3' tall) hybrid of human and serpent man with elongated face, scarlet eyes and scaled skin similar to that found in congenital ichthyosis though use of the Medicine skill will indicate that the Oracle is both genuine and not suffering from congenital ichthyosis.  Seeing the Oracle results in a SAN loss of 1/1d4.  The Oracle although wizened is kept in a half-filled tank of water to prevent hyperthermia and dehydration.  It whispers dreadful secrets to those close enough to listen to it but can only be heard if an ear is pressed to the glass.  These secrets are a mix of considerable deductive skill (the Oracle has an 80% chance of revealing an insight about someone on seeing them), nearly forty years life experience and Mythos-inspired understanding (40% skill) - if the Oracle has a name, it does not share it with it's audience.  The Oracle enjoys fine food and when allowed will seek out delicacies and wine to enjoy them - encouraging people to bring it fine food in return for a secret or two.

    Friday, 2 July 2010

    inns & taverns - the resting pond

    Known to travellers as a fine place to watch the condemned die over a pie and pint, the Resting Pond is named for a small yet deep freshwater pond (for drownings) and nearby sycamore tree (for hangings) sheltered by a hillside cemetary for paupers and criminals. The Pond sits on a well-used trade road in a barony known for it's harsh punishments. The inn is an eight-sided two-storey structure of whitewashed stone and seasoned timbers complete with thatched roof and shutters and actually digs into the hill on two sides. Painted on the southernmost wall above the door are the words 'The Resting Pond' and a well-worn path leads from the inn's door to the sycamore tree and the pond that provides it's name.  Horses are tethered to a cartwheel chained to the side of the inn.

    Inside the inn is dry and warm, the presence of the cemetary hill does little to dispel the cheer of the place. Though you'd expect gallows humour, the locals have an infectiously bucolic passion. The inn is often busy and bawdy songs are sung by patrons after sundown. Yet when an execution is called, there is a festive air and people from nearby villages flock to see justice exacted.  The Resting Pond encourages these crowds such that the landlord now has a tradition of offering the condemned a final drink or meal, which is indulged by the baron and cheered on by the watching crowd.
    The landlord, Skard is a great, bulky fellow capable of lifting a barrel of ale onto one shoulder and has a voice capable of shouting down almost anyone.  His wispy hair and beard are mocked by locals sotto voce and this tempers an otherwise insufferable brewing lout into a damn fine landlord.  Skard is a widower and has almost given up looking for a wife, channelling his passions into brewing.  There are two bar staff, war veterans with leg injuries who will tend bar and gossip with anyone.  In the kitchen labours Rolver, a former soldier and fair cook whose talents with a crossbow prevent rowdiness going too far.

    For drink, the landlord brews three regular ales and buys others in so there are usually five kinds of ale to be found at any time during the month.  After large trade fairs or when the local baron feels the occasion needs to be marked, there may be seven or eight kinds of beer to be found.  The house ales are as follows:
    • Sunbeam - a flowery pale ale, light, refreshing and quaffable in large quantities.  It muddies the senses but without lasting consequence, usually gone after an hour.  This ale is often sold to those watching the executioners in large quantities and this makes the landlord a pretty penny.
    • Sunset - a full-bodied russet ale with a hops bite favoured by locals that complements cheese well. Barrels of Sunset sometimes find themselves taken to neighbouring baronies and even found in the stocks of the Summer Swan.
    • Winter's Sun - A strong black porter, fruity and capable of rendering even the most miserable beer drinker cheerful for a time but the hangover is particularly fierce.  This is the traditional ale offered to the condemned who sometimes quip they don't have to deal with the hangover.
    The food offered is basic but nourishing, thick-crusted pies filled with beef and ale gravy, firm cheddar-like cheese and 'rounds' of black bread.  Prices for this fare is typical and this generous pricing is more than enough to ensure the Resting Pond's reputation and loyal customers.  For entertainment, the locals sing bawdy songs to each other, a couple can manage passable tunes on fiddle and drum but if a minstrel visits, they are plied with hospitality to play as the range of bawdy songs known is somewhat limited and gets worse as more ale is consumed.

    Though there is a single room at the Resting Pond, accommodation is not offered for any period less than a month.  This is monopolised by four prostitutes who sleep cramped and who work the Pond.  Executions are a busy time for them and they all have each others' back - a slight to one is avenged by all of them who carry knives to discourage such activity.  If Skard hears one of the girls is injured, there will be an immediate rousing of angry locals and said unfortunate may find themselves on the receiving end of a lynch mob intent on taking them to the sycamore tree for a hanging unless a generous offer is made. Skard is businessman enough to decline payment in kind.
      Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

      Greatest Hits