Friday, October 28, 2011

Beyond Good and Evil: "Charming" and "Tedious"

I was thinking about this Oscar Wilde quote the other day:
"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious." *

At the risk of being tedious myself, I'd like to propose the following as an RPG thought experiment. It's not particularly profound, but it might be amusing. Strip out the "Good" and "Evil" from the standard AD&D alignment chart and replace it with "Charming" and "Tedious" -- so you end up with Lawful Charming, Chaotic Tedious, and so forth. I can't remember the number of "fictional character alignment charts" I've seen, sifting everyone from different iterations of Batman to the cast of Family Guy into the classic 3x3 grid, and I'm curious to see what such a chart would look like with that substitution. Take a character from real life, comics, books, TV, etc,, and drop them in. Take a character you're currently playing, and see where they fall on the grid. Just off the top of my head, Special Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks would occupy one end of the spectrum at Lawful Charming, while the late Muammar Gadaffi and, say, internet trolls typify Chaotic Tedious.

*Lady Windermere's Fan (1892)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Gods of Galbaruc: Seppophis the Huntress

I posted this to Gorgonmilk's blog a little while ago, and thought I'd put it up here, along with a sketch. At this stage, Galbaruc is less a coherent, codified setting than a dumping ground for stray D&D ideas, but its slowly taking shape as its own thing.

I have a rough idea of that the city-state looks like, some of its institutions, even the way people dress, but there's no map yet, and not much of a detailed history. It was originally a mercantile and naval hub of a now-extinct empire. Like Haiti, it was born out of a slave revolt, the uprising swiftly joined by those aristocrats who saw where the tide was turning and switched sides while they still could. The fact that their descendants still retain a considerable amount of power and influence in the modern Republic is galling to some, but too much harping on this point is generally seen to be in bad taste. As a result of its origins, slavery per se is absolutely forbidden in Galbaruc and its territories, though there is an elaborately detailed system of indentured servitude.

Anyway, that's about all I've decided on for the history of the city-state. Future posts will deal with imported religions such as the Cults of Urizen and Orc, monsters, electoral fraud, coffeehouses, the Island Princes, piracy, drugs, conspiracies, the variability of goblins, and the cursed bloodlines of the Struldbrugs.

I talked about one local goddess (and one of her festivals) here. Here's another:

Seppophis the Huntress, Mistress of Snares and Entanglements. NE.

Usually depicted with the body of a nubile dancing girl holding aloft a length of rope and a dripping, barbed javelin. In place of her head is a mass of long spider's legs, extending in an irregular nimbus past her shoulders. She is the patroness of all who earn their living by pursuit and evasion, by enticement and sudden surprises. Thieves and other scofflaws on the run attempt to propitiate her with substitute sacrifices (she is believed to be partial to trapped, but uninjured flies) while watchmen, bounty-hunters and and frustrated revengers hope to secure her blessing as they pursue their quarry. Brigands and pirates offer prayers and sacrifices for wealthy, unguarded victims. Prostitutes, jewelers, and perfumers give her reverence, as do all manner of mountebanks and swindlers.

Every year, in Galbaruc, an elaborate ceremony takes place on the Street of Crushed Petals in which a fantastically costumed and masked troupe of stolid, upright citizens and officials representing Law square off against their opposite number, representing Chaos. Through a series of competitive dances, recitations, songs, and feats of strength and cunning, two opposing champions are chosen -- suitors to the goddess, and these are led in a winding parade to the outskirts of the city, to the cave believed to be the entrance to Seppophis' lair. Both champions enter the cave, though only one will emerge in the morning, maddened and screaming. The other has been taken as the Consort of Seppophis, and is never seen again. His faction will enjoy a bonus to all activities relating to their trade for the remainder of the year.

When Seppophis deigns to take human form, it is either in the guise of a slim, dark-haired girl, smelling faintly of cloves and cinnamon, or of a gaunt, silver-haired matriarch of no known family line. She is attracted to scenes of intrigue and hopeless entrapment.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

State of the Dandy: 10/08/2011

Some of you may have noticed that posting frequency has dropped significantly of late. I originally intended to update the thing at least a few times a week. That later dropped to once a week, and from there, it's gone steadily downhill. The main reason for this is that I've taken on a second job. While this has improved things on the "being able to pay the rent, start paying off student loans, and not having to stockpile ramen" front, it's definitely thrown a damper on things as far as rhapsodizing on the theory and practice of pretending to be an elf goes.

"Believe me that's the last thing I'd like to throw."

But anyway, I'm hoping to get things moving again, with more frequent posting, and more interesting content. Here's what's currently in the works:

I'm planning to run a regular "mini-sandbox" campaign on Google + set about a generation after the death of Alexander the Great. While this is set in a specific historical context, I'm going for a looser, sword-and-sorcery feel than a strictly historical one. I'll be using Paul Elliott's excellent Warlords of Alexander along with a custom version of BRP consisting of elements swiped and modified from RuneQuest 2nd ed., Stormbringer, Elric!, and Call of Cthulhu, as well as bits of Pendragon and WFRP. This mutant hybrid, under the working title "Hellenistic FrankenQuest" is my current pet project. Luckily, a lot of the work has been done for me, and what I'm left with mainly consists of choosing which parts to scrap, which to tinker with, and which to keep whole. I'm definitely keeping hit location, for instance, but replacing the multiple rolls with the WFRP method, which reduces to-hit and hit location to one percentile roll (you roll under your score to hit, and then flip the number to find the location).

The nice thing about using BRP is that Elric! and Call of Cthulhu spells (of which there are a great many) can be freely inserted into the game with minimal fiddling. Pendragon's Glory rating (here renamed Kleos) charts your PCs growing fame and importance. Eventually, a character with high enough Kleos can achieve godhood, though your sphere of influence may revolve around a particular city and might only take effect posthumously.

I intend to make this campaign based on a location, rather than a consistent party, as Jeff Rients is doing with his Caves of Myrddin game. This means a lower commitment from those involved, and an ever-shifting cast of characters, with perhaps a couple regulars. The city of Trapezos, on the Black Sea, is the most tempting candidate right now. There are pirate raids at sea and along the coast, monsters in the hills and ruins outside the city, all manner of intrigue within, and innumerable petty kingdoms to the south.

2. The Tekumel- LotFP conversion is temporarily on hold, as I'm still waiting to hear back from the Foundation re: some questions I had. Also, I'm having a blast running and playing EPT right now, so I'm a little less interested in rules- tinkering with this particular setting at the moment. The next Tekumel thing I do will probably be the Jakalla Encounter Table.

3. City- State of Galbaruc - This began as part of an entry for Chris Kutalik's Nautical Contest, but the more I thought about it, the more potential I thought it had for a setting of its own, and the perfect place to bring together a lot of setting ideas that had been bouncing around without a fixed abode for some time. I ran an IRC game several years ago set in a city I half jokingly referred to as "Venichmar" (Venice + Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar). Eventually, it became something a bit more interesting and complex than the derivative name would suggest, but the game folded before I had an opportunity to really work out much of the detail. I'll deal with more of the particulars in a future post, but here are a few of the influences I'm drawing on, here:

- Mediterranean islands like Malta, Sicily, and Sardinia
- Over the Edge's Al Amarja
- Ahistorical, but leaning toward an Early Modern period feel (16-18th centuries) as opposed to Medieval.
- William Blake's cosmology and pantheon (Los, Urizen, Orc, etc.,) intermingled with other strange local gods.
- Pirate Havens
- The Saragossa Manuscript
- Ancestor-worship among traditional nobility
- Jacobean revenge tragedies


This isn't so much a concept for a single, discrete setting as a toolkit for running sci-fi games in a trippier vein suggested by early Heavy Metal comics, Metabarons, Jodorowsky's abortive attempt at Dune, stoner metal, psychedelic rock, (Hawkwind's Space Ritual, etc.) movies like Zardoz, etc. Still really vague, but it's something I'd eventually like to do.

5. Even more nebulous at this point, but I have a broad concept for a LotFP adventure with conquistadors in not-South America called Dreams of Blood and Gold. Still needs a lot of work even to bring it up to the outline stage.