Mar 29 2012


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“That guy,” said Alex, “is a jackass.”

Greg looked across the food court at the jackass in question; he couldn’t find any fault with Alex’s reasoning. The guy, inexplicably wearing a pink polo shirt over his sweatpants and untied, oversized basketball sneakers, was laughing raucously into a cellphone and, even from this distance, sharing a lot more details of his opinion on the traits of some woman than anyone nearby was comfortable hearing. The other people at the jackass’s table were scowling at him pointedly, but it was apparently not getting through.

“Indeed,” said Greg, and turned back to his chicken nuggets. “I wonder if he knows.”

“…if he knows?” said Alex.

“Yeah,” said Greg. “I mean, presumably, nobody wants to go through life as a jackass. So either he doesn’t know he’s a jackass, or he’s aware of his jackassery but unable to do anything about it. Neither scenario is very appealing, I must admit; although I imagine it’s at least more comfortable to go through life in blissful ignorance of your jackassery than to struggle in vain against your nature like some repentant vampire jackass.”

Alex blinked. “Wow. Geeze, I never thought of that before. You could live your whole life as a jackass and never realize it. That’s a scary thought. Anybody could be a jackass. Me, you–”

“Well, you, maybe, but not me,” said Greg.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” said Alex, frowning.

Greg shrugged. “If I was a jackass, Brigid would waste no time letting me know,” he said.

Alex blinked. “Well… yeah. You’ve got me there.”

-The Gneech

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Mar 26 2012

Monday Monster: Mother, Maiden, and Crone, Pt 2 — The Cold Woman

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Second in our covey of hags, the Cold Woman. In my campaign, she also had some non-combat ritualistic abilities to bring about an unnaturally early, long, and cold winter over a large region that are not reflected in the statblock, as they were purely story-related. She also had a white dragon as her animal companion, but this was treated as another creature in the XP budget (and was an NPC in its own right).

As before, this writeup was done before there was an official “Annis hag” for Pathfinder, so it’s my own version. It’s probably pretty close, but I haven’t compared it. Either one should work.

The Cold Woman (CR 10)

Female Annis Hag Druid 5
NE Large Monstrous Humanoid
Init +1; Senses Darkvision (60 feet); Perception +16

AC 20, touch 10, flat-footed 19 (+1 Dex, -1 size, +10 natural)
hp 121 (7d10+5d8+60)
Fort +13, Ref +7, Will +13
DR 5/bludgeoning; SR 17

Spd 40 ft.
Melee +1 Unholy Sickle +16/+11 (1d8+7/20/x2) or
Melee Bite +10 (1d6+3/20/x2) and
Claw x2 +10 (1d6+3/20/x2)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks Grab, Storm Burst (7/day)
Spell-Like Abilities Alter Self (3/day), Fog Cloud (3/day), Storm Burst (7/day)
Druid Spells Known (CL 5, 15 melee touch, 10 ranged touch):
3 (2/day) Summon Nature’s Ally III, Call Lightning (DC 17), Sleet Storm
2 (3/day) Barkskin, Resist Energy (DC 16), Heat Metal (DC 16), Fog Cloud
1 (4/day) Hide from Animals (DC 15), Obscuring Mist, Cure Light Wounds (DC 15), Cure Light Wounds (DC 15), Cure Light Wounds (DC 15)
0 (at will) Resistance (DC 14), Read Magic (DC 14), Create Water, Detect Magic

Abilities Str 23, Dex 12, Con 20, Int 16, Wis 19, Cha 14
Base Atk +10; CMB +17 (+21 Grappling); CMD 28
Feats Alertness, Blind-Fight, Combat Casting, Druid Weapon Proficiencies, Great Fortitude, Intimidating Prowess, Natural Spell
Skills Appraise +8, Bluff +9, Climb +10, Diplomacy +10, Fly +10, Handle Animal +10, Heal +10, Intimidate +18, Knowledge (Arcana) +12, Knowledge (Geography) +10, Knowledge (Nature) +12, Perception +16, Ride +8, Sense Motive +6, Spellcraft +12, Stealth +10, Survival +10
Languages Common, Draconic, Druidic, Giant, Sylvan
SQ Druid Domain: Weather, Nature Sense (Ex), Resist Nature’s Lure (Ex), Spontaneous Casting, Trackless Step (Ex), Wild Empathy +7 (Ex), Wild Shape (1/day) (Su), Wild Shape (Beast Shape I: Small – Medium animal), Woodland Stride (Ex)
Combat Gear +1 Unholy Sickle, +2 Cold Resistance Hide; Other Gear Staff of Healing

Natural Spell You can cast spells while in Wild Shape.
Resist Nature’s Lure (Ex) +4 save vs. effects from Fey and effects using plants.
Spontaneous Casting The Druid can convert stored spells into Summon Nature’s Ally spells.
Storm Burst (1d6+2) (7/day) (Sp) 30′ Ranged touch attack deals 1d6+2 nonlethal damage and inflicts a -2 to hit penalty for 1r.

Next week: The Keening Crone.

-The Gneech

The text is open content using the OGL. “The Cold Woman” was created by John “The Gneech” Robey. Stat blocks created by Hero Lab®.

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Mar 25 2012

The Best Picture of Me Ever

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Taken last day at the Cherry Blossom Festival, by Mrs. Gneech. 🙂

-The Gneech

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Mar 22 2012

The “My Dwarves Are Different!” Trap

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(Apologies to my long-suffering beta readers, who’ve probably seen more than they care to on this subject already!)

With some linguistic foundations in place, and using the materials I’d already prepared for the game before my detour into Elvish, I’m ready to start actually populating this setting with stories.

The first thing that comes to mind is reviving my “homecoming hobbit” story, and in fact the character (“Not-Dead” Darby Sandalthorn) features prominently in the background material of the setting-as-campaign-backdrop. I fully intend to start writing stories about this character in the upcoming months, possibly to post here, definitely with the intention of gathering into a book of “Jack the Giant-Killer”-style tales. (The one big sticker there is: do I use the premises for RPG scenarios first and then write the stories, or just write ’em, knowing that my players will read them and that I therefore can’t use them for RPG scenarios? That remains to be seen.)

However, I’ve also been making an effort to look at the setting as more than just a backdrop for my displaced halfling and a weekly D&D game. I’ve tried to make this a setting that would support both big stories and small ones, depending on the kind of story I want to tell. I have at least one very, very epic tale in mind that makes poor little Darby look like a pebble on the beach of time, which could also fit nicely in this setting, but that requires a lot more meat to be put on the setting’s bones.

To that end, as I’ve worked I’ve tried to keep one eye on the big picture, while sketching in all the little details about where Darby lives. And I also cannot ignore certain realities of both the culture we live in, and the fantasy market, and keep these things in my mind as well.

First of all, there’s a lot of fantasy out there. And not just that, there’s a lot of what for lack of a better term I’ll call “Tolkienian” fantasy, and as I’ve mentioned before, this is something I’m going to just have to get comfortable worth to make the story work. Darby Sandalthorn’s world has elves and dwarves and hobbits and goblins in it. It just does. Without those things, it would be a different world. There are some surface differences… my version of Elvish instead of Quenya or Sindarin, dwarves who have dark skin instead of pale, etc., but as settings go, at least on the surface, it’s pretty generic.

I thought about trying to come up with ways to address this, but in the end they all came down to what I call the “My dwarves are different!” problem. A lot of fantasy settings—gaming settings in particular, but fiction settings as well— take the standard tropes of fantasy and tweak them around a bit, then sit back and seem very proud of how “fresh and original” their setting is.

“My dwarves are different! They have blue skin and long noses!” “You call that different? My dwarves are really different! They’re lithophages who subsist on rocks and have diamonds for eyes!” “Oh yeah? Well my dwarves are even more different: they are all genetically-identical close who reproduce by mitosis!” etc., ad nauseam.

I… don’t want to mess with that. First of all, it’s the fantasy equivalent of giving every planet a different forehead and calling them aliens. Second, the only reason to use a literary trope is to take advantage of the tools that trope provides for you. If you don’t have any real use for the trope, don’t bother with it at all. So where I’ve diverged from the “generic,” so to speak, I’ve done so for specific purposes.

Does this mean my setting will be on the plain side? Possibly. But it’s also important to remember that the setting is not the story. I could come up with the most elaborate, finely-detailed byzantine clockwork of a setting, but nobody would give a damn if there wasn’t something interesting happening there. The setting is like the backdrop of a stage: it’s there to provide a context for the play, and can add all kinds of depth and beauty if done well, but it is not the play itself.

The one major exception, and admittedly an ironic one, is the !hobbits. Hobbits and the Shire (or an approximation thereof) are part of the core conception of this setting, and yet they’re the specific creation of Professor Tolkien’s and the one thing I can’t simply lift and use without lawsuit-proofing them first. Elves, dwarves, heck even powerful-but-cursed magic rings all have classical antecedents. And while folklore is chock-o-block with “little people” from gnomes to puckwudgies to the Tuatha dĂ© Danann, none of them are hobbits and hobbits are not them, if only by virtue of not being faerie.

Of course, “halflings” have been somewhat genericized, thanks to RPGs, Willow, and the like. So I can (and will) use them without too much fear, but I have to find a way to make them mine first. This leads to the tricky task of figuring out how to adopt/adapt/assimilate them into my work without losing the core aspects that made me want to use them in the first place.

My halflings are different! They’re lithophages who subsist on rocks and have diamonds for eyes!

Hmm… no.

For now, as least for a working model, I’m sticking with fairly generic halflings. The main ideas I’m playing with at the moment are that their own word for themselves may be “hauflin” (a Scots word that roughly translates to “young adult” or possibly “that weird period when one is neither a child nor an adult”), which gets mangled into “halfling” by the big folk; and that they may also refer to themselves culturally as “dhĂ­bir” (an Irish word which means “banished”), but this gets colloquially munged into “dibbs.” I’ve not completely settled on either of these, and I realize that it’s a sort of “theme park” approach to linguistics, but keep in mind this is just intended to be something good enough to get on with. Hopefully something better will come to me as I go.

-The Gneech

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Mar 19 2012

Monday Monster: Mother, Maiden, and Crone Pt 1: Mother

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The trio of hags known collectively as “Mother, Maiden, and Crone” are a powerful covey of terrors in the service of a great and sinister evil. In my Revenge of the Giants game, they were actually at the front of an army of giants who invaded the campaign city, but the giants little knew that the hags actually had a greater agenda of their own. While the giants were looking to conquer, the hags were only interested in slaughter and sacrifice and were channeling souls to Acererak, the demilich of the Tomb of Horrors.

The three hags are Mother, an annis matron; The Cold Woman, an annis hag druid with affinity for frost (the “maiden”); and The Keening Crone, a green hag bard. These stats were created before the official Pathfinder conversion for annis hags, so it’s my own writeup. I haven’t compared my stats to the official version, but I would guess they’re fairly close and either one should work.

Mother (CR 9)

CE Large Monstrous Humanoid (female Annis Hag Matron)
Init +1; Senses Darkvision (60 feet); Perception +21

AC 25, touch 10, flat-footed 24 (+1 Dex, -1 size, +15 natural)
hp 126 (12d10+60)
Fort +11, Ref +9, Will +10
DR 5/bludgeoning; SR 20

Spd 40 ft., Flight (30 feet, Average)
Melee Bite +19 (1d6+8/20/x2) and
2x Claw 19 (1d6+8/20/x2)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Spell-Like Abilities Alter Self (3/day), Bestow Curse (3/day), Charm Monster (3/day), Create Greater Undead (1/day), Create Undead (3/day), Cure Moderate Wounds, Mass (3/day), Cure Serious Wounds (3/day), Dominate Monster (1/week), Fear (3/day), Fog Cloud (3/day), Inflict Moderate Wounds, Mass (3/day), Vampiric Touch (3/day)

Abilities Str 27, Dex 12, Con 20, Int 14, Wis 14, Cha 14
Base Atk +12; CMB +21; CMD 32
Feats Alertness, Blind-Fight, Combat Casting, Great Fortitude, Intimidating Prowess, Multiattack
Skills Bluff +17, Diplomacy +11, Fly -1, Intimidate +18, Knowledge (Arcana) +10, Knowledge (Planes) +10, Knowledge (Religion) +10, Perception +21, Sense Motive +4, Spellcraft +17, Stealth +10
Languages Common, Draconic, Giant
SQ Rend (Ex)

Rend (Ex) Causes 2d6+9 damage if you hit with both claws.

Next week: The Cold Woman.

-The Gneech

The text is open content using the OGL. “Mother” was created by John “The Gneech” Robey. Stat blocks created by Hero Lab®.

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Mar 17 2012

Éncurod dho yrhegil aflif ydangras.

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I have finally managed to construct a complete sentence in Elvish! O.o

By which, I mean my own Elvish, not Quenya or Sindarin or any other writer’s Elvish.

Those of you familiar with my previous writing efforts may know that I did create an Elvish language for the fantasy novel I wrote some years ago, but I was never satisfied with it. First of all, it just sounded kinda ugly. Second, it was woefully incomplete, consisting mainly of about fifty vocabulary words, some incomplete cases, and a word order structure.

But real, working languages are complex things with lots of fiddly little bits. “Jane sees Spot run?” Easy. “Jane wishes that Spot would stop barking or else she intends to kick his yappy tail?” A bit more complicated. My Elvish-as-was could handle “Jane sees Spot; Spot is running.” Maybe. My new Elvish isn’t quite to the yappy tail-kicking stage yet, but it’s getting there.

Éncurod dho yrhegil aflif ydangras. Ydwandwin jútlil ulwanaras. Mér iodrad yjanlil!

I believe that the riders have reached the river. They will have crossed it at dawn. Go to them now!

“Great,” you might be saying. “But what is it good for?”

Well, that’s a tougher question to answer. Long story short, I’m doing some worldbuilding. The immediate purpose is my upcoming Pathfinder game, which is looking more and more likely to be a real thing the more I work on it. But in the more long term, well, I think I have a nice, robust world starting to form up, and I will probably begin using it for my fiction.

Is it the most original fantasy setting out there? No, and I won’t pretend otherwise. This is a setting that exists because Middle-earth in not in the public domain. On the other hand, just because the cherry tree in my yard grew from the seed of a cherry tree in the neighbor’s yard, and both trees look very similar, doesn’t mean that my cherry tree isn’t also beautiful and able to have a nifty fort in it.

…Hmm. I lost that one somewhere.

Point is, while I may be emulating the master, I’m not simply copying his work and calling it mine. The stories I have in mind for the setting to support are not the same stories Tolkien told; the issues they explore and the purposes they serve are not the same issues and purposes of Tolkien’s work. But I am using his work as a model for the kind of breadth and depth a setting (and a story) should have.

Anyway, my original idea for the RPG campaign was that I would simply use Welsh as a stand-in for Elvish, care of Google Translate, and I got pretty far into the campaign prep doing that; but as I got further and further into it, I became more and more eager to use the setting for other purposes as well, without wanting to have to go back and yank the Welsh out. And it’d be a lot easier to do that now, while I’m still in the fairly broad sketches, than it would be later, after I’ve already got dozens of maps and pages and pages of background info.

So yeah, I’m creating an Elvish language. I will also do one for dwarves (which will hopefully be easier as I’ll need so much less of it) and may at least dabble in some other regional languages. And if all goes well, this will be investment in something pretty amazing down the line. 🙂

-The Gneech

PS: Why yes, I am a nerd, why do you ask?

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