Tag Archives: Retro RPG

Things Fey

8 May

Fairy Lily

“The Fairies are a silent race,
And pale as lily flowers to see;
I care not for a blanched face,
For wandering in a dreaming place,
So I but banish memory:–
I wish I were with Anna Grace!
Mournfully, sing mournfully!

-from THE FAIRY WELL OF LAGNANAY, FAIRY AND FOLK TALES OF THE IRISH PEASANTRY (Edited and Selected by W. B. Yeats [1888])

Yeats did some wonderful poetry, but he also collected some great fairy tales. There is a gold mine of myths out there for those that want to add a classical mythology to their RPG. It can lend a high fantasy flavor and is also great inspiration for games that are geared towards children, as well.

I sometimes find that RPGs have created their own versions of elves, dwarves, fairies, etc. which is great, and the choice is a fun and good thing, but it is not often that you find their folklore originals in a game. I will be discussing some of these aspects and the potential for integration of the principles gleaned from folklore into a standard D&D game in upcoming posts, soon. Indeed, some of those elements, in various forms, are the basis of much of Fantasy Roleplaying Games already. I have tentatively decided to call it my “Fey Project“.

-Jeff
“Retro”

Impact of Medieval European Society Upon The Environment: Hanseatic League, N. Europe

7 May

Iron Age in Europe: Hanseatic League, N. Europe

The Iron Age began in Europe about 1100 BCE, in the middle of the period.

The Hanseatic League was an alliance of trading cities, their merchants and guilds that existed during the 13th to the 17th centuries C.E. in Northern Europe and into the Baltic Sea area. The League primarily dealt in: timber, plant resin, fish, honey, grains, copper and iron ore/implements as well as cloth and animal furs via ships and over-land trade routes.

Although trading reached as far as Iceland and the Baltic, this map shows the main Hansa trading routes:

The Hanseatic League was the first major trading consortium in Northern Europe and while it made the flow of goods in this region much more efficient and boosted economies and settlements rapidly, it also had an environmental impact.

We can see that even in the Middle Ages, that human harvesting and use of resources was beginning to exert pressure upon the ecosystems where fisheries existed and non-renewables, such as Iron. In an article about the expansion of Hanseatic Leagues trade and technology in fishing, Carolyn Scearce notes:

“The development of a thriving trade in preserved marine products pushed shipbuilders to build higher capacity boats, navigators to explore well beyond the limits of their shores, and fishermen to develop more sophisticated gear. While these changes increased the fishing capacity of medieval fleets, it also increased the costs and attendant risks of economic loss (Tittler, 1977). Ecologists speculate that in coastal and shelf regions of Northern Europe, by the late Middle Ages commercial sea fishing was already depressing populations of commercially important species such as herring and cod (Roberts, 2007).”

(1555 woodcut of fishing industry)

Cod and herring were some of the major trading commodities of the Hansa. An archaeological find of a waste dump of discarded shells of almost 10 million oysters from this period are evidence of seashore harvests of marine life. The increased demand for timber for ships and the fish and marine life themselves all had an impact upon the renewable resources of Europe.

The culture and life-style of many of the only recently Barbaric nomad lands continued to transform Europe. The increased dependence upon domestic livestock, the domestication of hunting dogs, the harvest of deer and the hunting of competing predatory creatures such as wolves all grew rapidly during this time. Wolf species alone declined significantly across Western Asia and Northern Europe as civilization grew. Forests were cleared for farming land and for commercial use.

Besides for building the ever-larger ships, timber was needed for building, firewood and many other daily uses of the increasing European population. By the 13th century, the harvest of timber had been so great in some areas, that many landowners were already managing the cultivation of timber on their lands. This not only was an attempt to conserve or create timber resources, but the choices of those trees planted altered the natural mixture that was original present.

To protect their investments in ships, trading settlements and cargo, the use of cannon became ever increasing among Europeans. Iron ore boomed in demand as more and more uses were found for the Iron Age technology. An article from the University of Toronto about Medieval iron metallurgy industry at this time states:

“The market for cast iron objects in Europe appears late in the fourteenth century when cannonballs came to be in demand. Iron casting could make cheap, uniform cannon shot in vast quantities, and with this as a base, iron masters learned to produce and sell other simple objects for household use. Smiths also became skilled at making different forms of steel from cast iron, objects of high value when made into weapons.”

While I am uncertain as to the whole extent of this Europe-wide increase for and impact upon the various renewable and non-renewable resources and the eco-systems involved, one thing is certain: by the end of the pre-Industrial Revolution age in Northern Europe, humankind had already significantly altered the original natural resources. The pollution from industry and the depopulation of certain plants and animals had already begun long before the Modern Era.

-Jeff

==========

Resources Consulted/Works Cited:

HANSA: The Hanseatic Expansion in the North Atlantic
Historische Archäologie Universität Wien
http://histarch.univie.ac.at/dr-natascha-mehler-ma/projekte/hansa-the-hanseatic-expansion-in-the-north-atlantic/

Northern Europe: an environmental history By Tamara L. Whited
ABC-CLIO (August 19, 2005) p. 47

European Fisheries History: Pre-industrial Origins of Overfishing
By Carolyn Scearce

http://www.the-orb.net/encyclop/culture/scitech/iron_steel.html
Medieval Iron and Steel — Simplified by Bert Hall
Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology

University of Toronto
http://www.the-orb.net/encyclop/culture/scitech/iron_steel.htm

Ethereal Brain

7 May

Ethereal Brain

A well-fed Ethereal Brain (click for larger image)

Ethereal Brains begin life as sacs adrift in the Ethereal sea. Once they hatch, the brain portion is about the size of the human brain, but over time, as they feed on the memories and knowledge of other creatures, they can grow to enormous size. There are no know limits to the size of an Ethereal Brain. One as large several kilometers in diameter has been reported by several planar-traveling wizards, but the sighting has not been reconfirmed. Ethereal Brains wander endlessly in search of new and exciting input.

Ethereal Brains will latch onto any creature with animal intelligence or above and stun it with its tentacles (Save vs Stun at a minus -3). Once the victim is stunned, the Brain will copy all of its memories and knowledge… a process that takes 1 hour per point of intelligence of the creature that is its victim. The Ethereal Brain will then release the victim and it will become unstained in d6 rounds. After the “feeding” has been discontinued, the victim will be temporarily reduced 1 life-level for 24 hours. Most Brains are Lawful Neutral and do not try to purposely kill those they feed from.

Ethereal Brains are not usually malevolent and feed only for survival and an innate curiosity that drives them ever onward in the pursuit of knowledge and experiences, which its victims contain (as well as that which it gathers itself during its travels through the Ethereal and sometimes Prime Material planes).

Ethereal Brains can live potentially for millions of years, unless some other mishap befalls them. They can communicate telepathically with most sentient beings, if they so choose. Sometimes an Ethereal Brain will trade knowledge with a being, if it believes that it has an exceptionally rare bit of information will be gathered from the exchange. The willing “victim” will still suffer the temporary life-level loss. The trade time is equal to 1 round per skill level of Knowledge being traded. While the odd insane or malevolent Brain might try to steal more, the knowledge trade is usually abided by strictly, given the Lawful nature of most Ethereal Brains.

Extremely adept Ethereal Brains can cause the recipient of memories to believe they were their own. A memory recipient may also be caused to “relive” a memory experience of someone else, if the recipient is either willing or stunned by the Brain’s tentacles.

The Brains range from 1 (very young = less than 1000 years old) to 100 (ancient) Hit Dice.
They will use their stun ability as a defense and some are known to have Psionic attack capability.


From the D&D Wiki:

The Ethereal Plane is coexistent with the Material Plane and often other planes as well. The Material Plane itself is visible from the Ethereal Plane, but it appears muted and indistinct, its colors blurring into each other and its edges turning fuzzy.

While it is possible to see into the Material Plane from the Ethereal Plane, the Ethereal Plane is usually invisible to those on the Material Plane. Normally, creatures on the Ethereal Plane cannot attack creatures on the Material Plane, and vice versa. A traveler on the Ethereal Plane is invisible, incorporeal, and utterly silent to someone on the Material Plane.

The Ethereal Plane is mostly empty of structures and impediments. However, the plane has its own inhabitants. Some of these are other ethereal travelers, but the ghosts found here pose a particular peril to those who walk the fog.

It has the following traits.

▪ No gravity.

▪ Alterable morphic. The plane contains little to alter, however.

▪ Mildly neutral-aligned.

▪ Normal magic. Spells function normally on the Ethereal Plane, though they do not cross into the Material Plane.
The only exceptions are spells and spell-like abilities that have the force descriptor and abjuration spells that affect ethereal beings. Spellcasters on the Material Plane must have some way to detect foes on the Ethereal Plane before targeting them with force-based spells, of course. While it’s possible to hit ethereal enemies with a force spell cast on the Material Plane, the reverse isn’t possible. No magical attacks cross from the Ethereal Plane to the Material Plane, including force attacks.


BRAIN! (audio file)

Why You Don’t Want to Play in My Dungeons & Dragons Game

5 May

Why You Don’t Want to Play in My Dungeons & Dragons Game

I was talking with a player in my game yesterday about getting together again after a hiatus, since school will be over for me in two days (YAY!)


Here is how the conversation went:

Jeff: We should get a session going in a week or two, since I am done with school soon. You guys were on the sea voyage home… I guess I could say you were blown off course to the South polar regions. I hope you guys like scraping lichen off of rocks with your teeth. Roll a twenty-sided die to see if you break your teeth on the rocks.

Steve: I know you, you will say I broke them no matter what I roll. But I have a “Stone Teeth” spell, so I’ll use that.

Jeff: Yeah, but you didn’t say what kind of stone, so roll to see which type of stone your teeth become. I hope you get Granite!

Steve: Oh darn! I got Sandstone!

Jeff: I can see it now, your Ranger is breaking his teeth on rocks trying to be all Ranger-like in the Antarctic and the Barbarian will be eyeing the NPC Rogue saying: “He looks tasty. I know he eats well!”  Hmm, I wonder if the Rogue has “Lichen Scraping” as a survival skill.

At least it won’t be like some other game systems, where you just sit around the whole time battling a single Skeleton.

Steve: Yeah, we will just be figuring my teeth out the whole session!


Tasty Lichen

Just in case I am mean enough to send those guys off to the bottom of the world, I did some quick research on lichen, some of which ARE edible:

          “Of all the plants, lichens are best adapted to survive in the harsh polar climate. Some lichens have even been found only about 400 km from the South Pole. Lichens have proliferated in Antarctica mainly because there is little competition from mosses or flowering plants and because of their high tolerance of drought and cold.    

          On icy rock, lichens have the same strategy as plants have developed in the sand of the Sahara: they form an “oasis”. Like in the desert they miss water. They have only a chance to survive, if they settle in an area with a convenient, damp microclimate. Since what stops lichens to spread over the whole of Antarctica is not so much the big cold as the lack of water. For this reason they don’t settle in a place with the most sunshine, but in recesses and cracks between rocks. They like scanty soils, created by weathered rocks. They often quicken this process with secretion of acid.

   Snowflakes are captured in the cracked rock and melt on the dark lichens, so they can absorb the vital liquid.”

mmm… I am thinking of a Lichen Soup recipe as I read this. Unless the players have their characters trap penguin or they do some fishing, it seems it may be a long Winter ahead for them until the birds come to breed along the shores of the South polar region in the Spring!

I am such a mean Dungeon Master.

-Jeff
“Retro”

Lovecraft, Lir and the Celestial Bird

3 May

Lovecraft, Lir and the Bird of Heaven

Many myths have linked birds to the arrival of life or death. With their power of flight, these winged creatures were seen as carriers or symbols of the human soul, or as the soul itself, flying heavenward after a person died. A bird may represent both the soul of the dead and a deity at the same time.

The seagull is associated with Lir, a Sea-God in Celtic lore. Like many birds, the seagull flies between the earth and the “heaven” world, bringing messages from the Gods to mortals. Gulls are highly intelligent with a complex social structure developed partly to ward off predators and can represent feelings of safety and the security of home in certain dream interpretations.

Lir was the Father God of the Sea.  His son Manannan ruled the waves after him.  He is associated with the Welsh God Llyr.  The myths of Manannan and Lír are a relatively late addition to Irish Mythology and accounts of these gods only begin to appear in medieval times. It would seem that the medieval writers merged the character of the Sea God Lir (Llyr-Wales) known across the Celtic influenced lands with the Tuatha de Danann king Lir.

Game Notes on the Bird of Heaven:

The “Celestial Bird” or “Bird of Heaven” in the H.P. Lovecraft tale The White Ship is undoubtedly a seagull.

In game terms, the Celestial Bird is a large seagull, with a wingspan of 6 feet. It goes constantly before the White Ship. The two seem linked and the Bird unerringly appears to guide the White Ship to its destination in the Dream Lands or other realms.

The Celestial Bird’s cry is haunting and dream-like, captivating all normal creatures that hear it (unless they save vs mesmerization), soothing them as the White Ship rolls along the cosmic sea. The Bird of Heaven seems to float if there is no wind and it rarely flaps it wings in flight or when changing direction.

As it hovers above, the Bird will alert the crew to any potential threat. Should harm come to the Celestial Bird or should it show hesitation in its course, it is an ill omen, portending certain doom to those who sail on the White Ship, unless something intercedes to change matters for the better.

Z = Das Ende!

30 Apr

Well, here we are at the end of the A-Z Blogging Challenge.

I certainly enjoyed it. Sometimes it felt like a wicker cage, sometimes it felt liberating, but it was definitely worth it!

To end the Challenge, I want to post something that is a beginning, not an end:
I made a new video that is a very basic introduction to Fantasy Roleplaying Games as Mythopoesis. It is not meant to be complete or detailed, but is a very simple overview of the subject material. I may revise it later, but here it is as it currently stands.

Here is to the end of the A-Z Blogging Challenge and on to new things in the Blogosphere and in the OSR…

Fantasy Roleplaying Games: A Mythopoetic Experience
(This is not a comprehensive treatment of the subject matter. It is meant to be introductory only and does not contain details as to many pertinent details of certain aspects due to media constraints.

No favoritism of games or game systems is implied by any of the art work appearing in this video… it is a Fair Use video for educational purposes only)


Yggdrasil

29 Apr

In the Germanic spiritual tradtion, Yggdrasil is the cosmic World Tree or “Tree of Life”. It is a gigantic tree that rises out of the Well of Wyrd (“Destiny”) and gives the universe its basic infrastructure which binds together all of the Nine worlds of the universe. These Nine Worlds rest within its roots or branches and due to this the World Tree often serves as a conduit for travel between the worlds. Yggdrasil is often spoken of as an ash, though it was thought to have needles like a yew and also bore fruit. More likely than not the tree cannot be compared to any mortal species of tree, but may, indeed be a combination of them all.

The name Yggdrasil literally means the ‘Steed of Yggr’ i.e. the horse of Odin, since Yggr ( “Terrible One”) is one of Odin’s many names. This name refers to the nine nights Odin is said to have spent hanging from the World Tree as a self-sacrifice in order to find the Runes, as described in the Havamal (although the tree is not explicitly identified as Yggdrasil):

“I hung on that windy tree for nine nights wounded by my own spear.
I hung to that tree, and no one knows where it is rooted.
None gave me food. None gave me drink. Into the abyss I stared
until I spied the runes. I seized them up, and howling, I fell.”

Three roots supported the trunk, with one passing through Asgard, one through Jotunheim and one through Helheim. Beneath the Asgard root lay the sacred Well of Urd (“Fate”), and there dwelt the three Nornir, over whom even the gods had no power, and who, every day, watered the tree from the primeval fountain so that its boughs remained green. Beneath the Jotunheim root lay Mímisbrunnr, the spring or well of Mimir (“Memory”); and beneath the Helheim root the well Hvergelmir (“the Roaring Cauldron”).


Ásgard, Álfheim and Vanaheim rested on the branches of Yggdrasil. The trunk was the world-axis piercing through the center of Midgard, around which Jotunheim was situated, and below which lay Nidavellir or Svartálfheim. The three roots stretched down to Helheim, Niflheim and Muspelheim, although only the first world hosted a spring for Yggdrasil.

On the top of the World tree perched a giant eagle, (with a hawk upon its forehead named Vedrfolnir (“wind breather”), who blew the winds over the worlds with his mighty wings. The Niflheim root of Yggdrasil are gnawed at by the dragon Nihogg (“Vicious Blow”). The messenger of the World Tree (and thus between the worlds) is the squirrel Ratatosk who scurried up and down the tree between Nidhogg and the eagle, forwarding insults between them. There were also four stags feeding on the bark of Yggdrasil: Duneyrr, Durathror, Dvalin, and Dainn.

Yggdrasil is also central in the myth of Ragnarok, the end of the world. The only two humans to survive Ragnarok (there are some survivors among the gods), Lif and Lifthrasir, are able to escape by sheltering in the branches of Yggdrasil, where they feed on the dew and are protected by the tree

“The bellowing fire will not scorch them;
it will not even touch them,
and their food will be the morning dew.
Through the branches they will see a new sun burn
as the world ends and starts again.”