Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Out of Lovecraft Country...

Comes a Lovecraft story, but one not set in "Lovecraft Country".

Here's a little horror story set in the Greater Arkham Metropolitan Area- a family became lost in a maize maze and turned out to be a mere 25 feet from an exit. The funny thing about this incident is that it takes place in Lovecraft Country, but the tale that it uncannily echoes, takes place on Venus.

Somehow, though, I think the Old Gent would be pleased...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Origin of the Blink Dog?

I can't believe nobody's written on this before, but it just hit me that the blink dog is a dead ringer for Eugene the Jeep from the old Popeye cartoons. Of course, the yellow pelt of the blink dog may have had its immediate inspiration elsewhere, but the Jeep shares this coloration:





It must also be said that the Jeep was able to use a limited form of teleportation (among other powers):





Of course, the inspiration may have been subconscious, but I'd have to say that the blink dog is a dead ringer for the Jeep. I don't know the inspiration for the blink dog/displacer beast animosity (besides the stereotypical cats and dogs rivalry), but I'll be on the lookout for Popeye the Sailor/Voyage of the Space Beagle crossover fanfic.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Irene Done Kicked My Ass

While my home suffered no damage due to Hurricane Irene, I was stuck at work for thirty hours because of the storm and the resultant flooding. If I had been asked about Irene's severity at four in the morning, I would have opined that Irene was really no worse than a typical Nor'easter (granted, a Nor'easter is certainly no picnic). By five-thirty, the rain began to pick up, and things got interesting. The major task I had to perform throughout the night was monitoring a pump that our head of maintenance had set up to prevent our (sandbagged) basement from flooding. Every half-hour or so, I had to venture out in the night and wind to check up on the damn pump, and (if necessary) get it started again. Luckily, I had packed as if I were on a camping trip- I ended up changing clothes more often than Lady Gaga does in the course of a concert.

In the light of day, things didn't look so bad, water not too high, pump working on the main building. The rain stopped around eight AM, and I figured I was out of the soup, but (Irene being a huge, slow moving storm) the accumulated floodwaters dumped in the region caused a local waterway to crest For a while, I and the skeleton crew that had showed up in the morning, thought "we're gonna make it, we're gonna make it" but then the stream overtopped the bank, flooding another building on site to a depth of a foot and a half. I was standing calf-deep in dirty, rushing water as this dimwit was characterizing Irene as a bunch of hype. It must be nice to live in a bubble. Of course, with local roads being flooded, I wasn't getting home, and my relief wasn't coming in. I hunkered down until nine PM, when the guy working the Monday graveyard shift came in to relieve me, three hours early. He's not my type, but I could have kissed him.

I got my ass kicked, but, besides being dirty, fatigued, and sore, I skated out of things pretty well. Others, of course, weren't so fortunate.

Enough of my yapping, think I'll post a video- here's The Storm by Scotland's Big Country, with an intro that beautifully showcases the late, great Stuart Adamson's use of the E-Bow, which gave the band its characteristic sound:









Monday, August 22, 2011

Wonder If The Good People of Lake Geneva Had This In Mind

One of the most gloriously cheesy "SF/horror" films ever to grace celluloid was The Green Slime. One has to wonder if the movie inspired the eponymous dungeon hazard:





The movie is clearly an inspiration for Tom Wham's The Awful Green Things From Outer Space. Besides that, the movie's claim to fame is its groovy, psychedelic theme song:


Loss of Initiative

It's been ages since last I posted- between vacation (followed by the typical post-vacation madness at work), family visiting from Europe, and friends visiting from British Columbia, things have been hectic. Of course, that's a good thing, even if it leaves little time for escapism.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Peryton Sighting?

Ruh-Roh, there's been a peryton sighting in Montana. Was this a migratory peryton which got snagged in the wires, or was it a more sinister event, an initial foray to do to Missoula what was done to Rome?





Hopefully, the good people of western Montana have some enchanted weapons on hand...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wuthering Heights RPG?

So, while checking out the Groovy Age of Horror blog (the place to go for all your giallo needs), I saw the link to the Wuthering Heights RPG, adapted from a French original (links are broken). I don't know how to approach the game... is it a parody, or is it workable? I love the "Oldness" characteristic- why wasn't it translated as "Age"? Is "Oldness" a physical characteristic, or a spiritual/psychological one? Could a young character afflicted with a crippling ennui have a high "Oldness" characteristic?

RPG net has a quick review, and The Forge has a more elaborate one.

Maybe it's high time to brew a pot of tea, put out a platter of petits fours, and invite the members of the Ladies' Auxiliary over for an evening of some ferocioius Wuthering Heights roleplay.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Monster Makeover: Repurposing the Norker

Reading Mr. Easterly's post on bland Fiend Folio humanoids reminded me of some work I did "repurposing" uninspiring monsters to give them new potential.

Pity the poor norker, a monster which has a description which differs in many particulars from that of a hobgoblin, followed by the sentence:

In all other respects they are similar to hobgoblins.

It would seem that the norker is a spoof monster, a riff on a Douglas Adams' joke:

He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

Yeah, the norker is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a hobgoblin. What can be done to rehabilitate this uninspiring beastie? We have a squat, goblinish goon wielding a blunt weapon, and possessing three-inch canine teeth... wielding a blunt weapon, and possessing three-inch canine teeth... I think we can work with this, and transform the silly norker into the dreaded haemogoblin!!! No need to change the basic characteristics- keep the hit dice, armor class, and attacks, but add a stirge-like blood drain (maybe 1-4 h.p. per round) to a successful bite attack. The fondness for blunt weapons can be explained by a sanguivore's need to conserve the delicious blood in a victim for alimentary purposes. The high armor class is due to a combination of a thick hide (uh, if it doesn't have muscle attachments, it's not an "exoskeleton", just a very thick integument) and the use of armor (typically thick hide... "epidermis all the way down, baby") due to the hazards of a harsh environment which they share with other sanguivorous horrors.

Perhaps the haemogoblins are the victims of a curse, or the recipients of divine favor from a bloodthirsty demon or god. Their leadership structure is similar to that of their hobgoblin relatives, their leaders typically wield more puissant blunt weapons such as maces and flails.

A little flavor text, a simple tweak, and a jokey monster gains some potential as a decent baddie.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Quick Kobold Note

Grrr... sometimes it seems like Blogger has gone all pear-shaped. I unsuccessfully tried numerous times to post a comment on James M.'s piece about kobolds. In the Appendix N listed novel Land of Unreason by DeCamp and Pratt, kobolds figure prominently as antagonists, forging iron swords to be used against the fairies of the Court of Oberon and Titania. The kobolds of German folklore play ambiguous roles, some are house spirits analogous to brownies, some are micheivous denizens of mines. The more "evil" kobold of original D&D may have been inspired by DeCamp and Pratt's subterranean arms dealers.

Personally, I like the little lizardog men of the Monster Manual. Of course, the Monster Manual is a bit of a mess when it comes to the kobold... it clearly states that they lay eggs, but also implies that they are closely related to (presumably viviparous) goblins. I like to see these kobolds as the end result of an alternative path of Synapsid evolution. Rather than continuing on an evolutionary path resulting in mammals, these critters would have kept on laying eggs, while evolving into cunning, bipedal sapients.

Horns, hair, scales, eggs, well-developed external ears... yeah, make my "Sutherland" kobolds the descendents of these guys.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Monster Also-Rans: Exhibit B

I recently re-read Michael Moorcock's second "Corum" trilogy, Moorcock's answer to The Book of Invasions, and sequel to the trippier "Swords Trilogy". The Devil Dogs of the Fiend Folio seem to be an interpretation of the Hounds of Kerenos in the Corum books (the fact that the original write-up mentioned that packs would occasionally be accompanied by zombies seems to corroborate this, with the zombies filling in for the Ghoolegh of the books). The undead Pine Warriors of the books made an appearance in a later issue of White Dwarf.

White Dwarf 21 contains the brief adventure "One Eye Canyon", which features a write up for the "Brothers of the Pine" (I prefer "People of the Pines", being fond, perhaps overfond, of alliteration- plus, "Brothers of the Pine" reminds me of cough drops), the undead minions of the trilogy's villains. The People of the Pines have been exsanguinated, with their blood being replaced by pine sap.

These undead have 3HD, AC 5, and do damage according to weapon type. A typical specimen can cast one first-level druid spell per day (the No. Appearing being 10-200, the potential for a TPK in an encounter with a large group with multiple entangle spells would seem to be great). For every 20 "brothers", a 4HD leader with spell-use as a 4th level druid is encountered, and a group is led by a 6HD "jarl" with the spell-casting ability of a 6th level druid. In the original writeup, they are hit only by magic weapons, are immune to cold, take half damage from lightning, and double damage from fire. Personally, since they are corporeal, I'd allow them to be hit by normal weapons, but take half-damage from piercing and blunt weapons (finally, the guy with the battleax gets some L-U-V). They are turned as shadows, and are affected by spells that affect plants. Finally, they give voice to blood-curdling shrieks which force morale checks on NPCs.

I am digging this variant form of undead. Tired of the usual skeletons, zombies, and ghouls? How about a pine-scented, spell-casting forest fiend? Are the People of the Pines sacrificial victims, their blood drained by an insane druidic heretic who seeks to address the imbalance of power between loggers and trees? Are they cult members who willingly undergo the exsanguination in order to achieve an arboreal apotheosis?

An encounter with the People of the Pines could be played up for maximum creepiness. A party enters the clearing, spying a man on a dolmen- a vampire vine wrapped around his leg, a pipette from a pine tree lancing his arm... if they free him, does he show gratitude for his rescue, or rage at his thwarted transformation? Another possibility... would the ritual work on non-humans? Would it work on a gorilla, producing the dreaded coniferous ape? Uh, sorry...

It's too bad these puppies didn't make it to the Fiend Folio, taking their place among the terrific undead in the book. Yeah, too bad I wasn't exposed to them "back in the day". That being said, I will use this monster in a campaign someday. Sheesh, one could base an entire campaign on this monster.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Been Out of it for a While

I had to replace my antiquated laptop, then took a week to visit family out of state. Catching up with the real world takes time... catching up with multiple worlds takes even more time.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

News from England

I don't ordinarily write of real-world topics, but I'll make an exception yet again. For me, the biggest news story of the week came from England. Yes, the death of the remarkable Poly Styrene of the X-Ray Spex came as a blow to me.

The X-Ray Spex 1978 album Germ Free Adolescents is perhaps more relevant now than it was when it was released. Featuring such songs as Genetic Engineering, Plastic Bag, and Germ Free Adolescents, the album documents the wonders and terrors of a culture saturated with chemicals and advertising, an "existence supported by mechanical resources". Poly's strident howl was a warning from a punk prophetess, a call to resist the siren song of marketers and pedlars of convenience at the cost of authenticity. Poly also resisted domination of all sorts, whether from authority figures or commodification. My personal favorite by the 'Spex is The Day the World Turned Day-Glo, an ode to the beauties and horrors of modern chemistry which perfectly captures the spirit of the Spex, and their frontwoman:


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Paying the Bursar

Been busy, making sure that I pay the exchequer, so I don't end up in a federal pound me in the ass prison.

I don't really mind paying taxes- I live in an area with decent roads, and bridges which seriously need renovation. I'll take paying taxes over careening into a river any day.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Still a Little Hung Up on Stross' "Laundry" Books...

Because I enjoyed The Atrocity Archives so much, I attempted to locate a copy of Len Deighton's The IPCRESS file. The book is currently out of print, but a new print run will be coming out in July (did Stross put Deighton back on the map?).

Being the sort of fellow who can see through a brick wall if given enough time, I finally realized that Randall Garrett's "Lord Darcy" story The Ipswich Phial is an homage to Deighton's Book. The Ipswich Pial is a thaumaturgical espionage tale, with Lord Darcy, an agent of the Anglo-French Empire, attempting to track down a dangerous magical item before it falls into the hands of agents of the Slavonic Empire (a Polish autocratic kingdom). Randall Garrett's works featured many allusions and veiled references to other books, television shows, movies, and individuals both real and fictional... I just didn't have the wherewithal to spot the reference to Deighton until recently.

As luck would have it, I have tracked down a library copy of The IPCRESS File and will use the interlibrary loan service to get my grubby paws on it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Smells Like Victory Delving!

It has come to my attention that there is a "library scented" perfume named, in a creative ferment, "In the Library". Hmmm... how about a perfume like "In the Labyrinth", smelling of slime poison and prootwaddle sweat?

Barring that, how about an "In the Miskatonic Library" variation, with the scent of old parchment and lemon oil underlaid with the faintest hint of *****SPOILER WARNING***** deliquescing Wilbur Whateley?

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Sad Centennial

I try to avoid posts which may be interpreted as political, but today I must comment on the the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. One of the worst workplace disasters in United States' history, this fire claimed the lives of 146 individuals, mostly young immigrant women. The women had been locked into their place of employment so they would be unable to steal, or take unauthorized breaks.

Look around your workplace- note the well-marked fire exits, rap your knuckles on the solid fire doors, appreciate the fact that you aren't locked in... now, mouth a prayer to honor the young women who fell from the skies like blossoms on an early spring day a century ago.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Strossful Week

I finally got around to reading Charles Stross' The Atrocity Archives, and I am kicking myself for not having read the book earlier. The book, the first in Stross' "Laundry" series, is an unholy mash-up of the spy thriller, Lovecraftian horror, and computer programming culture... a combination that could have been awful in the hands of a self-important author. Stross' obvious love of his inspirational source material is tempered by a wicked sense of humor- the book is an affectionate piss-take on the spy and horror genres.

The protagonist of the short-novel The Atrocity Archives is Robert Howard (yeah, this is a precedent setter), an IT professional for an absurdly bureaucratic branch of the English Secret Service that deals with occult threats. In the milieu that Stross creates, certain esoteric mathematical formulae can breach the walls between universes and allow "Eldritch Horrors from Beyond" into our world. Having been pressed into service after being nabbed for a potentially earth-shattering prank, Howard is now a cog in the Civil Service. The novel begins with Howard's first foray into fieldwork. After a lengthy introduction to Stross' setting, the narrative picks up speed and becomes a roller-coaster of a plot involving Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, a beautiful philosopher who knows too much, Nazi revenants, and even worse horrors. There are moments of horror- a trip to the eponymous archives to determine the nature of the threat facing the protagonist is a gruesome riff on the "Nazi Occultism" meme. Stross serves up some startling plot twists, as hunters and hunted switch roles. Throughout, there are funny allusions to other works of fiction, cartoons, and hacker culture, and a prevailing theme of the ridiculousness of office culture- the "paper clip audit" is dreaded as much as the "Soul Sucking Horrors".

The climax of the novel involves a military expedition through an interdimensional gate to a starkly hostile parallel universe- the whole makes me wish I had been sitting at the table while Charles Stross was behind the screen, rolling dice by the handful.

The book also includes a shorter coda, a novella involving another threat to the peace and sanity of the good people of Earth. While not the tour de force of The Atrocity Archives (who can top Nazi necromancers, and the things that make them look like a bunch of naughty schoolboys?), The Concrete Jungle is a tight thriller which deals with intra-agency conflict, and its unforeseen consequences.

The afterword to The Atrocity Archives is just as good as the two "stories" in the book. Stross comments on the Cold War horror fiction of Len Deighton and the early-20th Century espionage thrillers of H.P. Lovecraft (you read that right). He also goes on to note the similarity of his concept (although the execution is radically different) to that of Tim Powers' Declare (he was told not to read it until he'd finished, or his creative process would have been derailed) and to the CoC supplement Delta Green (which he claims has tempted him to pick up the dice again).

How good is this novel? It was good enough that I hot-footed it over to the local bookstore to pick up the sequel, The Jennifer Morgue, which gleefully skewers the conventions of the James Bond novels and movies. It's another delightful read, and the recognition of the tropes being skewered is a great deal of fun. For a nice introduction to Stross' Lovecraftian espionage tales, I'd recommend A Colder War, which is not really connected to his "Laundry" series, but has similar thematic elements.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sandbox Surprise 1: Bicephalous Badlands

This post, the first in my, uh, cat scat series, is inspired by, and dedicated to, the lovely Magdalena, the two-headed tortoise who captured the hearts of millions around the world. The bicephalous eagle was inspired by the heraldic animal- I have quite a few neighbors of Albanian descent, and the double-headed eagle features prominently on bumper stickers and car window decals.

This particular micro-biome should be located in a region of "rough" area, or possibly a range of hills near a desert. The terrain is roughly suggested by the North American Badlands. All of the following should be considered open content pursuant to the guidelines of the Open Game License


Bicephalous Badlands

The terrain of this region is characterized by broken rocky terrain, cris-crossed by numerous gullies. The flora is adapted to arid conditions, with scrub brush dominant. Whether due to chaotic influence, or the lingering influence of deleterious magic, much of the vertebrate life of the region is afflicted (or blessed) with bicephaly. The region is normally shunned by humankind due to the evil reputation of the place, but occasional punitive missions are undertaken by the nomads of the surrounding lands, though most of these peoples have strict taboos against women entering the area (due to an intuitive fear that the curse hanging over the region could effect human embryos). Other human groups that may be found in the area are adventuring bands or dervish warbands on a crusade to combat the evil denizens of this land.


Random Encounter Table:

2. Giant 2-Headed Troll (1-2)
3. Eagle, 2-Headed (1-3)
4. Bicephalous Dog (2-24)
5. Ettin (1-4)
6. Bird, Flightless (rhea sized), Bicephalous (1-12)
7. Badger, Bicephalous Giant (2-5)
8. Camel, Bactrian- Bicephalous (1-12)
9. Mammal, Small- Bicephalous (typically harmless herbivorous rodents/insectivores)
10. Reptile, Small- Bicephalous (typically harmless 2-headed snakes or lizards)
11. Tortoise, Giant 2-Headed (1-3)
12. Men, Nomad (5-30)
13. Snake, Giant- Amphisbaena
14. Men, Dervish (7-28)
15. Men, Adventuring Party
16. Hydra, 6 Headed

For bicephalous versions of regular animals, merely add another bite attack, but subtract 3” movement due to motor functions being controlled by two heads (an initiative penalty might also be in order). The bicephalous tortoises are barrel-sized, inoffensive herbivores with 3 HD, movement 3”, AC 2, and an ability to bite (defensively) for 1-3/1-3 damage.


One Hex Horror: Shrine of the Ettin God.

This pilgrimage site, dedicated to the god of the ettins, is located by a low tor- it is suggested a party’s approach to this vicinity be made in a gully, so the visibility is limited. As the party rounds a bend, the gully opens up, within 500’ of the tor, and the party is greeted by a grisly sight:

Peering around the bend in the gully, you see that it widens into a desolate dale perhaps a quarter of a mile in width. Dominating the skyline at the end of the dale is a small, flat topped tor. Closer at hand is a gruesome sight- the desiccated corpse of a large humanoid is propped up by a crude cairn of fieldstone. Affixed to the right shoulder of the corpse with a wooden stake is the head of a smaller humanoid. Gazing past this grisly greeter, one can see several additional corpses, in varying states of decomposition, marred in similar manner.

These corpses are the remains of victims sacrificed to the ettin god. The tenets of the ettin religion include persecution of monocephalic creatures. To honor the ettin god, sacrificial victims are “perfected” by having second heads attached to their bodies. An examination of the corpses in the vicinity reveals that the “composite” sacrifices in the area are made from various humanoid species- humans, ogres, orcs, dwarves…

In the dale, there is a 1 in 10 chance per turn that a wandering monster may show up:

1-4. Ettin “pilgrims” (1-3) coming to the shrine to make obeisance
5. Pack of death dogs (2-8) seeking sustenance
6. Giant 2-headed trolls (1-2) on pilgrimage to shrine

At the base of the tor, there is a cave in which the ettin shaman dwells. The ceilings of the cave are approximately 15’ high in the centers of cavern areas 1., 2., and 5., and approximately 12’ in the center of the other chambers.





1. Vestibule: This area is inhabited by a pack of 14 bicephalous dogs (h.p. 17, 16, 14, 14, 13, 12, 12, 12, 10, 9, 9, 9, 8, 6) , which are considered to be sacred animals. These creatures are fiercely loyal to the shamans but will attack all others who enter the cave. During the course of combat, there is a 35% chance per round that either of the shamans will hear the combat and come to aid the dogs the following round.


2. Sanctuary: This cave is used in religious services- there is a flat, blood-stained boulder, approximately 6’ x 4’ x 3’ in the center of the cave which serves as an altar. A crude stone axe, used to decapitate captives (the ettins use clubs as melee weapons), rests alongside the altar. In a crude bag made of camel hide, is an assortment of miscellaneous objects- a tortoise shell, various animal skulls, bits of oddly shaped stone (including a chunk of lapis lazuli worth with a base value of 20 g.p.)- used to perform divinations of dubious utility. The first-level shaman (h.p. 56, spell cure light wounds) is typically in this area, performing various minor rituals and routine shrine maintenance.


3. Guardian: An amphisbaena (h.p. 34) serves to guard the adjacent holding pen. This horror was originally tamed by the senior shaman using a snake charm spell, and has subsequently become accustomed to the presence of the shamans, who feed it on a regular basis. It will attack any monocephalic foes with great ferocity. Among the various bones of small animals, there is a 150 g.p. opal.


4. Holding Pen: This area is blocked off by a large boulder which takes a strength of 20 (singly or combined) to move. Future sacrificial victims are kept in this area. Currently in the pen are a badly beaten ogre (current h.p. 7) and a dwarf who was captured while prospecting for gold (LN, level 3 fighter, average stats, h.p. 16). While these two individuals have no love for each other, they maintain an uneasy d├ętente in the face of their common enemy.


5. Living Quarters: The two ettin shamans use this area as a dining area, and the junior shaman sleeps here. Although the ettins have a midden outside their abode, they are indifferent housekeepers, so there is a small scattering of bones (camel, human, flightless bird) around this chamber. In the pile of dirty furs that the junior shaman uses for bedding, there is an ill-used giant weasel pelt which could still fetch 150 g.p. if salvaged), and a “hoard” of 157 silver pieces.


6. Senior Shaman’s Room: The senior shaman (3rd level, fights as 11 H.D. 69 h.p., cure light wounds, cause fear, chant) resides in this alcove. He is immensely strong (+1 to damage rolls) and unrelentingly vicious. Among the furs which he uses as bedding, there is a +2 cloak of protection and a cache of 83 copper pieces, 62 silver pieces, and three gems (500 g.p garnet, 100 g.p. spinel, and a 50 g.p. bloodstone).

Nice Sandbox You've Got... Shame if Something Happened to It*

"Sandbox campaigns" and "hex crawls" being popular forms of play, I've been thinking about nasty little surprises that can be deposited in the sandbox like cat scat. Even in a "vanilla" fantasy campaign, little elements of weirdness serve to spice things up- I favor micro-biomes which are affected by extraplanar forces, or pernicious effects of bygone magical effects of great power. Dropped into a hex, these areas can perplex players and make them search for a greater underlying pattern that might not be significant.

Because of the flexible nature of "sandbox play", these items will just consist of an underlying theme and some vague characteristics, and a suggested random encounters table. At the heart of each item, I'll include a "One Hex Horror", a smaller set encounter area from which the nature of the larger "biome" can be extrapolated.


*Alternate LOLCats Title- I'M IN UR SANBOX, POOPIN' MY BRANES OUT!!!

Disaster in Japan

When I started this blog, I determined to include as little "real-world" content as possible (after all, this is about escapism), but I have to express my sorrow at the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan. I have a real appreciation for Japanese culture, and an affection for the Japanese people. One of my sisters-in-law was born and raised in Tokyo, and has family still living there. I traveled to Japan for my brother's wedding several years ago, and found the Japanese people to be extremely hospitable and gracious. My heart goes out to them.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's Cute! It's a Mutant!

It's a cutant!!!

The pattern of the plastron of this adorable monster is quite pretty, it reminds me of some sort of glyph.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Also-Ran Monsters: Exhibit A

I've been thinking about monsters from various sources that never made it into the "official" AD&D 1E material, and I figured that two monsters featured in Dragon 63 (here's a good retrospective of the issue as a whole) would make a good starting point. While the issue featured the debut of the devas, which made it into the official canon, it also featured the chagmat spider-people (I'm not being politically correct, I just don't want Stan Lee to sue) from the eponymous mini-module by Larry DiTillio, and the shoosuva, an undead servitor of the demon prince Yeenoghu.

While the chagmat, with their two-caste society (2 hit dice fighters and 1 hit die clerics, with the proviso that higher level individuals of both castes could be encountered- with no level caps given) never made it into an "official" first edition publication, they seem to have had the "serial numbers" filed off and were passed off as the chitines of 2nd Edition AD&D, complete with a non-interbreeding priestly class. In a stunning combination of 2E and Realmsian "drow overload" and "A wizard did it" excess, these spider-folk were presented as the creations of the dark elves, rather than the independent evil entities originally conceived by Signor DiTillio.

The shoosuva, a 6 hit dice undead hyenadon/ghoul mash-up, was a brilliant concept- a demonic servant which bridged the gap between ghasts and demons in the retinue of the Demon Prince of Gnolls (and patron of ghouls). The shoosuva was presented as a bound servant summoned by powerful shamans or witch doctors, and featured a powerful bite and a "creeping" paralysis special attack. How this critter failed to make the cut for an official sourcebook is hard to figure.

The two "non-official" monsters of Dragon 63 are, in my view, both more interesting that the "official" monsters presented therein. Similarly, a "non-official" Bandit class in the magazine was a more workable, better-executed class than the Barbarian class which appeared in the same magazine and received the official seal of approval.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Eros in the Dungeon

While I'm going to keep the tone of this post as clinical as possible, the subject matter may be unsuitable for the kids (who should get offa mah lawn!). Of course, I was exposed to the bulk of this material as a pre-teen... uh, KEEP OUT KIDDIES!!

This being the Solemn Feast of St. Valentine, a discussion of the topic of amatory content in gaming may be fun. While "Sex Appeal" was a "talent" in The Fantasy Trip, it wasn't really elaborated on. Having a core customer base composed mainly of adult wargamers and college students, D&D didn't shy away from "adult" content until the hobby base expanded, and the game was marketed to younger consumers, leading to such buzz-killing policies as the Code of Conduct discussed by James M.

Early on, such images of the nude on the cover of and the succubus/type V demon illustrations in the body of 1976's Eldritch Wizardry were an element of gaming literature. The cover image (painted by a woman), is more suggestive of ritualistic violence than of eroticism. While the succubus is clearly a temptress, her fellow female demon is also more of a destroyer than a seductress.

Perhaps the height of the salacious content in D&D was in the "D" section of the GDQ series of modules. The first hint of some slightly provacative content in GDQ is the depiction of Jarl Grugnir of G2 as a ham-fisted lothario, trying to force a captive storm giantess to be his "leman". The "adult" content is ramped up with the introduction of the drow in G3.

The drow, especially the "slender and shapely" females, are portrayed as creatures with extensive, though deviant, sexual appetites. Eclavdra, the "strangely attractive" evil genius behind the giants' depredations, stays in an inner sanctum decorated with tapestries of "suggestive (or lewd) nature". In D2, the devout Kuo-Toans possess a religious tract which denounces the Drow patroness as the "Mother of Lusts". In D3, the lusty nature of the drow is hammered home repeatedly in the short text of the module. The bailiff of the tower defending the cavern home of the drow "has a few lewd and erotic statuettes and tapestries decorating" his room, and the female commander of the temple guard has "several lewd statuettes" in her quarters. The high priestess of the fane has a lounge "decorated with innumerable perverted and lewd paintings, tapestries, statues, etc. Even the carpets are obscene." To amuse herself, the high priestess has a captive- "an insane human of great strength kept by Charinda for whatever purposes please her at the time. There are several whips, and torture instruments on one wall, and near them is a gag and a ring of invisibility." The clinical detatchment with which Gary Gygax describes these depravities does nothing to diminish the kinkiness.

The salacious content of 1978's D3 reaches a crescendo in the description of the City in which the bulk of the drow reside:


Beggars of all sorts are seen, and half-Drow thieves, pimps and harlots are as common as the enslaved human and elven prostitutes displayed before certain esstablishments.

****

The tiers and dungeons of Erelhei-Cinlu reek of debauchery and decadence, and the city's inhabitants are degenerate and effete. (Those with any promise and ability are brought out of the place to serve in the fighting societies, merchant clans or nobel houses. The rest are left to wallow in the sinkhole of absolute depravity which is Erelhei-Cinlu.) The most popular places in the city are the gambling dens, bordellos, taverns, drug saloons, and even less savory shops along the two main streets. The back streets and alleyways too boast of brothels, poison shops, bars, and torture parlors. Unspeakable things transpire where the evil and jaded creatures seek pleasure, pain, excitement, or arcane knowledge, and sometimes these seekers find they are victims. All visitors are warned that they enter the back streets of the city at their peril.


Clearly, the place described makes the Times Square of the late 70's/early 80's look like Disney World. The best models for the "average" drow of the city would seem to be the drug-addled, casually violent Sid and Nancy. D3 also has drug references that would never have passed muster a decade later- "There are various containers for wine and spirits scattered about, and several sorts of drugs (mushroom powder, poppy juice, lotus dust) are contained in gold and crystal dishes..."

To my knowledge, D3 represents the greatest extent of "adult" content in official D&D materials. The infamous Random Harlot Table of the Dungeon Master's Guide, while giggle-inducing to an eleven-year-old, is presented with the cool detachment of a naturalist compiling a list of finches.

As far as non-official D&D material, October 1977's The Dragon 10 has a article titled Orgies, Inc. by Jon Pickens, accompanied by a whimsical Trampier cartoon of goblins carousing with nymphs. The article suggests various means of separating PC's from their monetary gains, with the following suggestion for orgies:

Lusty indulgence in wine, women, and song. Maximum expenditure is 500 GP per level per night (250 GP if recuperating and under 50%). A player may orgy continuously for as many days as he has constitution points, but then must rest for as many days as he orgied.

Uh, what about the ladies? The default assumption of male readership may explain the presence of this article in the first place. A later issue of The Dragon (1980's issue 36) has an editorial by Larry DiTillio titled Painted Ladies and Potted Monks, in which the author decribes a gaming session in which he DM's for some teenage players who are stymied by the inclusion of a brothel/house o' hedonism in a dungeon, and goes on to discuss how issues of sexual matters, drug-use, and racial intolerance can be explored using RPGs (in the interest of full disclosure, I pretty much agree with this guy when it comes to issues of sexual identity/civil liberties.

The last bit of suggstive content I can recall in an official product is a brief aside in 1981's A2: Secret of the Slavers' Stockade, in which the utterly depraved Markessa has a bodyguard/boytoy whose exercise room features "a goose down matress for exercise sessions with Markessa." Hmmm... what's with those evil elf girls, anyway?

Of course, with the fan base for the game expanding to younger players, the suggestive content disappeared pretty quickly from the game. It was up to players to come up with the really depraved content (not gonna link that stuff, it's infamous enough as is).

Postscript: For an overview of the visual depictions of drow, James' post is invaluable. I think Willingham's illustrations are the best, with Erol Otus' D3 cover being excellent as well. In my mind, though, the best indication of what a female drow would look like is Man Ray's glorious, surreal image of Jacqueline Goddard:


Trying to Rekindle a Work Ethic...

Between work, brower sluggishness (effin' Firefox- how does it work? Honestly, I love the search engine, but my laptop hates it- I've been uninstalling and reinstalling the damn thing on a serial basis). I have also fallen into the Wesnoth trap- for fans of fantasy and strategy gaming, this free download is more addictive than opiates. The gameplay is simple, yet sophisticated, the plots of the campaigns form an interesting narrative which clearly partakes of the traditions of fantasy literature while avoiding some of the more egregious cliches, and the game is beautiful... the unit icons are well animated, the maps are colorful and nicely detailed, and the illustrations of unit types are among the most beautiful fantasy illustrations I've ever seen. The art is classy too- no chainmail bikinis, or oiled steroidal types. I cannot say enough about the art- it's incredible (I am especially impressed by the renderings of that rarest of creatures in fantasy art, a fully clothed, accomplished, middle aged woman). I cannot recommend this game highly enough, though, being fun, it is a timekiller.