athelind: (hoard potato)
Dungeons & Dragons is infamous for having a lot of minutiae that "nobody's ever going to use".

This is a long-standing tradition in the game: as a single example, Greyhawk, the first supplement to the original D&D rules, contained elaborate modifiers for comparing specific weapons to specific kinds of armor that almost every player dismissed as an unnecessary complication.

Blackmoor, the second supplement to the original D&D rules, had a whole section about "Underwater Adventures" that almost always gets lumped into this category. There are pages of underwater combat rules, the effects of casting spells underwater, pelagic and benthic monsters galore, and no small supply of aquatically-themed magic items.

Most players looked at all of this and immediately decided that they would never, ever, EVER venture underwater. The most obvious obstacle of Not Drowning was the matter of least concern, easily handled by spells, potions, or magic rings; the Monsters of the Deep were formidable, but no more so than those found in other, drier regimes.

No, it was the matter of sheer inconvenience.

The normal strategies and tactics of a typical band of adventurers would be severely curtailed in the Undersea World; the mainstay offensive spells, Fireball and Lightning Bolt, were ineffective or uncontrollable; heavy armor limited one's swimming mobility; swords, axes, and other weapons that relied upon swinging were severely penalized, in favor of stabbing and thrusting weapons like spears and (of course) tridents). Bows and slings were useless; the only viable ranged options were heavily-modified crossbows. A party from the surface had a choice between fighting in hobbles, or abandoning their precious arsenal of magical toys.

And for what? The same gold and jewels that every monster hoarded, with the added bonus of overspecialized magic items that were of very little use on dry land -- or in the underground corridors whence most characters in those ancient days spent the bulk of their careers.

All in all, it was deemed far too much trouble for too little reward. Not "risk", mind: D&D players have never minded taking crazy risks with their ultimately disposable, but they have always HATED being impaired, disadvantaged, or "nerfed". A Dungeon Master who dragged his players into an underwater adventure risked horrible retribution: I have heard stories that I hope are only an urban legend about a disgruntled gaming group that added anchovies to the DM's pizza, in order to "maintain the theme".

(Excuse me, I need a moment. Brrr.)

Alas, D&D is also infamous for failures of imagination.

There is a lot of underwater-themed material in Blackmoor -- more material than a DM might need to take a party of surface dwellers on one or two dips in a pond.¹ There's enough there to build an entire campaign around, a long-running game centered around aquatic adventures. If players hate getting dragged underwater once in a while, though, who'd want to pull their party under the waves on a regular basis?

Here's the thing: Blackmoor is also full of intelligent aquatic creatures, many of whom would be entirely viable player characters.

Why not have a whole party of aquatic characters?

Merfolk, Tritons, Locathah, the inevitable Sea Elves.

If memory serves, the section even includes underwater options for the various PC classes -- again, sections that "nobody would ever use" if they were only thinking in terms of surface dwellers descending to an especially damp dungeon.

Of course, since tabletop gaming never throws anything away (except THAC0), the vast bulk of this material was inherited by AD&D, D&D3/4/5, and Pathfinder. Despite this, in the forty years since TSR published that book, we've seen official, published D&D campaign worlds set in a Hollow World, on a dying world, in the Romulan Neutral Zone of Gods and Demons, and far more, but to my knowledge, neither the Lads in Lake Geneva nor their Coastal Successors have ever published a campaign setting based on the adventure potential of three-quarters of the surface of a typical Earth-like fantasy world.

Other than GURPS Atlantis, I don't know of any other game companies doing so, either for their own systems or during the turn of the century's explosion of third-party d20 products. The SFRPG Blue Planet might qualify if you're not too picky about that line between "high fantasy" and "hard science fiction".

I have never even heard of anyone running their own aquatic campaign. I've proposed such a thing myself a few times over the decades (including a superhero variation using Champions), but each time, it's been shot down in favor of more traditional game milieus. Did you really expect me to go a whole post without a single TV Tropes link?

I honestly don't understand this. Mermaids are perennial and iconic elements of fantasy and folklore -- more so than faux-Tolkien elves. The ocean is a beautiful and varied environment even before you start dropping fantasy magic and fish-people into it. The generation that turned this oddball hobby into an industry grew up on Captain Nemo, Aquaman cartoons, and The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.

I mean, I get why some of my other pet ideas have no traction in the gaming world; even I can see that playing a squad of inch-tall CMDF agents might have a limited appeal.

This one, though, seems like a natural.


athelind: (Magnum Opus)
Okay, I'll bite. What's the Rune Star Tapestries?

It's the blanket title for the Sword & Sorcery Magnum Opus* I've been tinkering with on and off since the early 1980s. It stars several of the characters I played in [livejournal.com profile] godhi's Corongond Campaign, the first big, ongoing tabletop RPG campaign I was ever involved in.

Yes, characters. It was the Dawn of the Nerd Age, before Dallas Egbert was lost in the steam tunnels, in the days of the Great Dice Famine. In those days, playing more than one character at a time and having characters who jumped from campaign to campaign was still fairly common. Game mechanics have matured and evolved a great deal over the last four decades, but in that cusp between the Seventies and the Eighties, between Carter and Reagan, between Eldritch Wizardry and the Player's Handbook, gaming culture was equally embryonic, and many of the customs and conventions now taken for granted had yet to emerge. Many off-the-cuff, ad-hoc decisions made in a convention hall's game room about how a fantasy world might function went on to shape not only game settings but fantasy literature as a whole.

(Had we known we were setting precedent as binding as the Common Law, we might have made different decisions.)

I have dithered around with these ideas and these characters for almost four decades, developing and discarding settings that just didn't work, haring off after misguided attempts to write a "proper" Quest Fantasy Trilogy despite a set of decidedly improper protagonists. After the untimely demise of my friend, Jim, who was an important part of that antediluvian tabletop chronicle, and who never stopped encouraging me to bring my characters to a wider audience than the gaming table, I realized that it was well past time to get serious about this saga.

For the last few months, in fits and starts, jotting down notes at work and in the evenings, I have striven to do just that ... and I'm ready to start sharing.

That's ... informative. But what IS the Rune Star Tapestries?

Well, let me tell you what it *won't* be:

It won't be a Trilogy Quest, where the protagonists have basically One Big Adventure to overthrow One Big Bad, and that's it, they're done. That's the end of their story.

It certainly won't be an Everlasting Gobstopper: those Neverending Series of Thousand-Page Doorstoppers, which drag characters through tragedy after indignity without ever really *accomplishing* anything. [Cue Portentious Violins over Clockwork Maps.]

It won't be a Grand Epic about Destined, Prophesied Chosen Ones.

I plan a throwback to the classic days of Sword and Sorcery: an episodic, picaresque collection of short stories and novellas about a trio of well-meaning troublemakers, three misfits seeking their fortune in a world of magic and high adventure. I feel no obligation to write them in chronological order, any more than Howard or Lieber did. It will be character-driven and setting-driven: the core theme will be exploration and discovery, as Our Heroes seek out interesting and exotic locales and interact with them.

And those ad-hoc decisions I mentioned, up above, that turned "Dungeon Fantasy" into its own subgenre? It just might be a chance to play with some of the eccentric, off-the-wall wildness that didn't wind up as Common-Law Precedent for the ISO Standard Fantasy Setting.

The most quintessential fantasy cliche is the tale of a Heroic Knight-Errant who rescues a Fair Princess from the clutches of a Wicked Dragon.

The Tapestries begin when a Plain Servant Girl rescues a Noble Dragon from the clutches of Errant Knights and would-be Heroes.

They take refuge with a band of Goblins, and that's where their adventures *begin*...


*Yes, that icon is Opus with a Magnum. Thank you, Derrick Fish.
athelind: (Magnum Opus)
The Shortest Distance Between Two Towers, by Steve Tompkins.

I'm only half-through this, and want to read it when there's a more favorable gray-matter-to-phlegm ratio in my cranium.

The author takes issue with the idea that Tolkien is not Sword and Sorcery, and in fact has far more in common with Robert E. Howard than most genre observers would grant.

Since I've loudly advocated the "plaid and paisley" position myself, this interests me.

I've also become keenly aware that Howard's work is another critical gap in my reading history. When I first dove into Sword & Sorcery after getting initiated into D&D in 1978, I read Moorcock and Lieber ... but not Howard. My exposure to Conan, to that point, was through the Marvel comics I mostly ignored. Milius's 1982 film and its star did nothing to temper my inaccurate impression of Howard's best-known creation as "Big Dumb Guy With Sword".

I know that's not the case, after reading about Howard's work for decades—and yet, I've never cracked the covers of a Howard tome.

That needs to change—particularly since my own magnum opus is assertively on the Sword & Sorcery side of the fantasy divide.

If there really is such a divide.

Addendum: Also adding a "read when brain works" link to Spacesuit, Blaster and Science(!): Confronting the Uneasy Relationship between Science Fiction and Heroic Fantasy, by Michal Wojcik, which addresses another set of genre-trope prejudices I hold even though I know they don't bear sustained scrutiny.


athelind: (grognard)
Does this ever happen to anyone else?

Every now and then, I get an idea for a character that just won't leave me alone. It would be one thing if it were a character that wanted me to write it—but when this kind of thing hits me, it's almost always a game character.

Sometimes, it's a game that nobody I know even plays. I have any number of files and character sheets and general notes for games like GURPS, Castle Falkenstein, and Mutants & Masterminds.

This time, it's for a game I don't even own, in a genre I haven't touched in years.

That's right. A Dungeon Fantasy character has my creative cortex by the short axons. He'd work acceptably in Dungeons & Dragons proper, but only in Third Edition. He'd work better by far in Pathfinder, Paizo's fork of D&D 3.X.

His story: )
athelind: (grognard)


I confess that I was a little disappointed when the new edition of Gamma World decided to use a collectible card model to implement random mutations. Gimmicky mechanics like that tend to keep a niche game limited to a niche market.

I was also a little dismayed when the game description included adjectives like "wacky" and "rollicking". On the day of its release, one of my store's regular customers, looked at the blurb on the box, and summed up exactly what I'd been thinking: "Aw, jeez. We always played it straight."

On the other claw ... one problem with the White Wolf version of the game was that they took it too seriously, downplaying the frankly comic-book super-power mutations of "classic" ΓW, trying to treat it as semi-hard SF.

And ... certainly, Back In The Day, we "played it straight" -- but only as "straight" as we played D&D. In those ancient days of yore, there was always a level of whimsy at the tabletop. A D&D adventure could include a Burma Shave sign or an encounter at Monty Python's Bridge of Doom, and it didn't derail the game or detract from the atmosphere. A game like Gamma World wasn't played so much "straight" as "deadpan", and surely, Gabe and Tycho's tale of a Funeral for a Deceased Laser fits perfectly with that style.

The new game uses D&D4 "as a foundation". I hope it's a solid foundation that leaves it essentially D&D-compatible; a huge chunk of the critters in any given Monster Manual fit a post-apocalyptic science-fantasy setting far better than they fit the Tolkien Bar Sinister motifs that the "traditional" D&D settings try to ape.

And, yes ... I'd love to be able to effortlessly treat one game as a supplement for the other, and run a setting with the mix of "sorcery and super-science" of Thundaar the Barbarian.


I have half-a-dozen entries with the "Gamma World" tag, but somehow, I've never managed to link any of them to Bigfella Machine's Mutant Bastards gallery. WotC really should have hired the Bigfella to create the look and feel for the new book.
athelind: (hoard potato)
Arnold Schwarzenegger sings "Crom!", from Conan: the Musical.

Slight spoiler warning, for safety:

[livejournal.com profile] athelind spit-takes when it gets to the line where the guy is stepping on Conan's hand: [SPOILER DELETED]
[livejournal.com profile] gatewalker: yes
[livejournal.com profile] gatewalker: I'm so glad I didn't have a drink in my mouth when that line came
[livejournal.com profile] athelind: HOT COFFEE MAN
[livejournal.com profile] gatewalker: hahahahahaha





athelind: (hoard potato)
Last Saturday, [livejournal.com profile] quelonzia and I saw the new version of Clash of the Titans. We both enjoyed it: it was fun and exciting, and we both appreciated the nods to Harryhausen's original.

That said, Quel still liked the original more.

Heretic that I am, I prefer the remake.

I've heard a few people ask why they felt a need to remake the original. It's a question that comes up whenever a remake of anything hits the screen, but one questioner asked a much more cogent version: why, of all of Harryhausen's films, would they remake that one?

Answer: Because it's the one that needed it the most.

Please understand: when Clash came out in 1981, I was a 17-year-old Dungeons & Dragons player who'd grown up on Bulfinch's Mythology and Harryhausen's classics. I was the target market for that movie.

I liked it. I enjoyed it a great deal.

But it didn't quite click.

The original Clash of the Titans didn't quite know what it wanted to be. It was Harryhausen's last film, and the only film he made in the post-Star Wars era. Hollywood still hadn't quite figured out the transformation of High Adventure SF/Fantasy from B Movie to Blockbuster. Clash demonstrated that, even when you throw a Star Wars-sized budget, big names like Lawrence Olivier, and a blatant R2-D2 clone at a B movie, it remains a B movie in its heart and soul.*

As I said, Your Teenaged Serpent enjoyed and appreciated the art of the "B" in those bygone days. Broadcast TV was full of them, and I didn't watch Movie Macabre just because of Cassandra Peterson's wardrobe

When I went to see Clash, though, I confess I was hoping for something more—and last weekend, I finally got it.

The remake is the movie I wanted to see when I was 17.




*It wasn't the first movie to demonstrate this, and it was far from the last.
athelind: (grognard)
[livejournal.com profile] paka posted some thoughts on LotR Elves vs. D&D Elves, in which he noted that Unca Gary wasn't that much of a Tolkien fan, since the Professor's work "wasn't pulpy enough for his tastes".

I responded:
I have long felt that the reason Dungeon Fantasy mutated into its own peculiar, inbred subgenre that, frankly, doesn't really WORK that well was because players tried to graft the tropes of Heroic Quest Fantasy onto a system whose initial assumptions were rooted in the very different tropes of picaresque Sword & Sorcery.


I may be the only person who thinks so anymore, but to me, D&D's haphazard combination of High Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery isn't so much a matter of "you got peanut butter in my chocolate" as "you're wearing plaid and paisley together."


athelind: (gaming)
Posting this so I don't lose the link: d20 Modern, The Full Monte

They have a zipped, downloadable version right there on the front page.

For those baffled by this, geeky prattle follows. )
athelind: (Default)
Posting this so I don't lose the link: d20 Modern, The Full Monte

They have a zipped, downloadable version right there on the front page.

For those baffled by this, geeky prattle follows. )
athelind: (cute)
Amongst various other loot which I will quite enjoy, I received the entire seven-book Dark Horse release of Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar series -- a seminal sword-and-sorcery saga that contributed much more to the heart and soul of Dungeons & Dragons than Tolkien's more superficial influence.

Combine this with my recent ruminations re: Gamma World, and Your Obedient Serpent may be hankerin' to run a good, old-skool, High Adventure campaign in the near future....


athelind: (Default)
Amongst various other loot which I will quite enjoy, I received the entire seven-book Dark Horse release of Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar series -- a seminal sword-and-sorcery saga that contributed much more to the heart and soul of Dungeons & Dragons than Tolkien's more superficial influence.

Combine this with my recent ruminations re: Gamma World, and Your Obedient Serpent may be hankerin' to run a good, old-skool, High Adventure campaign in the near future....


athelind: (furries for obama)
This made me happy.

(...I also really want to play in that game setting.)

athelind: (Default)
This made me happy.

(...I also really want to play in that game setting.)

athelind: (Ommm)
Back in my high school years, the fantasy shelves had yet to be overrun by never-ending phone book sagas, superficial Tolkien ripoffs, and cheesy D&D-based Imprint Novels.

In those days, D&D players didn't have to suffer through the regurgitation of other people's games for inspiration. We were fortunate enough to have the primary source materials conveniently available in inexpensive paperback editions. I speak, of course, of classic Sword & Sorcery, a genre subtly but significantly different than the quest-based High Fantasy that follows the Tolkien mold.

Alas, graduation from high school began a phase of my life that demanded mobility, and that in turn demanded a winnowing of my library. In a move that seemed reasonable at the time, I purged my collection of the books I deemed easily replaceable -- after all, they'd been in print for years, and would remain in print for the foreseeable future.

And so it was that I divested myself of the works of Fritz Lieber and Michael Moorcock.

Foresight has never been one of my strong suits.

Now, decades later, I feel the lack most keenly. I would love to dive back into those worlds, and immerse myself in Lieber's wry humor, and Moorcock's psychedelic prose.

And they are no longer in my grasp.

Back in those ancient days of yore, the sagas of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
and Elric of Melniboné were available in elegant matched sets, each volume in their respective series having a continuity of cover design, and tales arranged chronologically. Now, alas, I can find no evidence that all of the books are even in print in the U.S., much less available from the same publisher.

I would, ideally, like to restore these two classic epics to their proper place in my hoard. I know that Moorcock added additional volumes to Elric's tale in the 1990s, and I would, ideally, like to read these in the proper sequence with the older works. Similarly, there is an additional volume of Fafhrd and the Mouser that I've yet to read.

I beseech you, loyal readers: can you direct me to one or both of these series? My preference is for matched sets: all of one series, from the same publisher, in the same format. Mismatched brings out the Mister Monk in me, and the closer I can get to "one-stop shopping", the better. I would also prefer hardback over paperback or trade paperback; though I mourn the loss of editions that are both easily accessible and inexpensive, if I am going to go to great efforts to find these tomes, they should be in a format that will endure the years. I am willing to entertain the purchase of UK editions, if US editions are simply unavailable.

By and large, my preference is for new editions. Haunting the used and out-of-print shelves for a whole series can be frustrating, as I learned years ago whilst gathering my mismatched collection of Doc Smith's Lensman titles. I find it vile indeed that these works have been allowed to go out of print, when entire forests are razed for hacks like Salvatore.

(And yes, I'm looking at the Science Fiction Book Club website. Their omnibus collections appear to lack the seventh volume of F&GM, and the second of four volumes of Elric. Still, if I manage to land a decently-paying job, it might be worth my while to rejoin the SFBC for the first time in three decades...)
athelind: (Default)
Back in my high school years, the fantasy shelves had yet to be overrun by never-ending phone book sagas, superficial Tolkien ripoffs, and cheesy D&D-based Imprint Novels.

In those days, D&D players didn't have to suffer through the regurgitation of other people's games for inspiration. We were fortunate enough to have the primary source materials conveniently available in inexpensive paperback editions. I speak, of course, of classic Sword & Sorcery, a genre subtly but significantly different than the quest-based High Fantasy that follows the Tolkien mold.

Alas, graduation from high school began a phase of my life that demanded mobility, and that in turn demanded a winnowing of my library. In a move that seemed reasonable at the time, I purged my collection of the books I deemed easily replaceable -- after all, they'd been in print for years, and would remain in print for the foreseeable future.

And so it was that I divested myself of the works of Fritz Lieber and Michael Moorcock.

Foresight has never been one of my strong suits.

Now, decades later, I feel the lack most keenly. I would love to dive back into those worlds, and immerse myself in Lieber's wry humor, and Moorcock's psychedelic prose.

And they are no longer in my grasp.

Back in those ancient days of yore, the sagas of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
and Elric of Melniboné were available in elegant matched sets, each volume in their respective series having a continuity of cover design, and tales arranged chronologically. Now, alas, I can find no evidence that all of the books are even in print in the U.S., much less available from the same publisher.

I would, ideally, like to restore these two classic epics to their proper place in my hoard. I know that Moorcock added additional volumes to Elric's tale in the 1990s, and I would, ideally, like to read these in the proper sequence with the older works. Similarly, there is an additional volume of Fafhrd and the Mouser that I've yet to read.

I beseech you, loyal readers: can you direct me to one or both of these series? My preference is for matched sets: all of one series, from the same publisher, in the same format. Mismatched brings out the Mister Monk in me, and the closer I can get to "one-stop shopping", the better. I would also prefer hardback over paperback or trade paperback; though I mourn the loss of editions that are both easily accessible and inexpensive, if I am going to go to great efforts to find these tomes, they should be in a format that will endure the years. I am willing to entertain the purchase of UK editions, if US editions are simply unavailable.

By and large, my preference is for new editions. Haunting the used and out-of-print shelves for a whole series can be frustrating, as I learned years ago whilst gathering my mismatched collection of Doc Smith's Lensman titles. I find it vile indeed that these works have been allowed to go out of print, when entire forests are razed for hacks like Salvatore.

(And yes, I'm looking at the Science Fiction Book Club website. Their omnibus collections appear to lack the seventh volume of F&GM, and the second of four volumes of Elric. Still, if I manage to land a decently-paying job, it might be worth my while to rejoin the SFBC for the first time in three decades...)

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