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IN EVERY “FIRST ENCOUNTER” UNCERTAINTY IS ALWAYS THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENT OF TRUE DANGER

What I like best about what is implied in this book (hinted at but not much developed in the article) is the idea that you may have competing descriptions of various monsters. Which might very well mean that you have various (interpretive) versions of the same monster, which of course, in and of itself, implies that a monster might be this or might be that, or might even be neither or both in any given milieu or setting.

Which would be a very Game of Thrones, Martinesque version of a monster, sure enough, though if you’ve ever read the Silmarillion (or even just the Hobbit) you know that Tolkien really invented the technique of presenting competing and unclear/unreliable versions of history and myth, at least as far as modern fantasy is concerned. The larger idea, of course, stretches all the way back to the Greeks ( and beyond into prehistory and oral cultures) who had several very different and even competing versions of various prodigies and monsters depending upon the author, the source, the time period, the regional geography/telling, and the nature of the myth itself.

As a matter of fact this is something I have often done in my own game designs and in my own fictional writings going back to when I was a kid, but it is extremely gratifying to hear that the idea is possibly being explored in core material books of D&D and possibly for other RPGs as well.

Because what this means, if taken to its logical conclusion, is that even if players have access to the Monster Manual then that does not mean that they are in possession of concrete and reliable information regarding what any given monster’s true nature, behavior, or even physiology and capabilities might be.

Since I have designed and redesigned famous/standardized D&D monsters in this way since I first became a Dungeon Master back in my teens I know precisely how effective this technique can be (as well as how valuable it makes rumor and field investigation and intel-gathering as a capability of classes like Rangers, Rogues, Bards, and Wizards) in designing and developing a truly exciting game and a truly disturbing method of “encountering monsters.” (Potentially, in some ways at least, every single encounter of a monster can b a “first encounter,” even if you have already encountered the same species dozens of times before.)

When every encounter (or at least a large number of them) are built upon rumor, possibility, and analytical interpretation of conflicting reports rather than upon reliable information and hard, verifiable data then Monsters become far, far more dangerous than they ever were before.

So I am very glad to see Core-Designers possibly adopting the same position.

As a matter of fact I’ve written several essays on that very subject.

Such as these as just two examples:

Crawling Into Oblivion

The Blood of Uncanny Monsters

 

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Dungeons & Dragons is changing how it makes books

“We live in a post Game of Thrones world.”

The venerable Dungeons & Dragons franchise, the granddaddy of the modern role-playing game, is now in its 5th edition. And, to hear publisher Wizards of the Coast tell it, the sourcebooks are selling like hot cakes. More people than ever before are discovering the magic of rolling dice and telling stories with their friends, and lapsed fans are returning in droves.

For lead designer Mike Mearls, that’s created a bit of a problem. How do you keep the source material fresh for a 42-year old franchise? And, when you’re in the business of selling books, how do you make the next one more interesting than the last?

Consider a pillar of the franchise, the sourcebook known as the Monster Manual. The first, titled simply Monster Manual, was published in 1977. Since then there have been 18 iterations, some for different editions of the game with different rulesets, others with slightly different snippets of lore. But, through the decades, it’s always been roughly the same thing: An alphabetical list of monsters.

“I have this kind of personal philosophy for managing the product line,” Mearls said last month in Renton, Washington. “I don’t want to duplicate any product that’s come before. I think that if people have seen it, then it’s not really new and it’s not really exciting.”

The first Monster Manual, circa 1977.

This time around, he and his team have decided to do something a little bit different. Their next take on the Monster Manual will be called Volo’s Guide to Monsters and, for the first time, it will have a lot more character to it.

“It’s risky,” Mearls said. “In the end, it’s still a giant book full of monsters. No one would argue with that. But I just think that if that’s all the Monster Manual is, then we’re selling ourselves short. So the idea was, the kind of genesis of it, was that want to do something that’s more story oriented.”

Volo’s Guide will have a narrator — two actually. One will be Volothamp Geddarm, an over-the-top, braggadocious explorer. The other will be Elminster, the wise Sage of Shadowdale. And the two will often be at odds with one another. Their differing accounts will be scattered throughout the book, and take the shape of comments scribbled in the margin.

WIZARDS OF THE COAST WANTS THEIR SOURCEBOOKS TO BE FUN TO READ.

Put simply, the goal is to create a book that high-level players and dungeon masters will enjoy reading. The goal, in the end, is to inspire new stories at the table, not simply reinforce the lore of the Forgotten Realms and ram storylines down player’s throats.

“I have this pet phrase I use,” Mearls said. “I like to say that we’re living in a post Game of Thrones world. Fantasy has changed.

“If you look at science fiction follows, I think an arc that fantasy is following now. In the 50’s, science fiction was very iconic, and at least in movies, very much templated. You had the flying saucer, or the rocket ship, you had either the aliens who were clearly monsters — like the guy in the deep sea diving helmet wearing the gorilla coming to eat people or whatever. Or they were people in funny outfits who were very inscrutable and so much more advanced that we were, and that was your pantheon.”

Later, as science fiction entered the ‘60s and the ‘70s, it began to be entrusted with more serious themes and dealt with issues of change in modern culture as a whole.

“So you have this new wave of science fiction coming through and science fiction grows up,” Mearls said. “It became Alien — a horror movie in outer space. It becomes Soylent Green, which is kind of like this social commentary on science fiction. It’s Rollerball, right? This entire thing about what’s it really mean to have free will, and can there really be freedom in a technological society? But it’s still science fiction.”

THE FANTASY GENRE IS GROWING UP.

Mearls sees Game of Thrones as evidence of the same kind of evolution in the fantasy genre, and it’s his hope that Volo’s Guide can become a new kind of sourcebook to help bring about new kinds of stories.

So what’s inside? I’ve had an advanced digital copy for a few weeks now and I’m pretty impressed at what I’ve found.

The first third of the book is a series of deep dives on specific species of monsters. How specific? Mearls and his team lavish nearly 14 full two-column pages on beholders alone, exploring every aspect of their nature both in and out of combat.

Most of the information is great fodder for dungeon masters. How do you roleplay a beholder? How do you speak like a giant? What does their four-tier caste system contribute to goblin society? What does a gnoll chant to keep his spirits up while on the hunt? What is the lifecycle of a mind flayer?

Well, actually, I’ll let Volo himself handle that last one.

Ever wondered what a hag is most likely to drive off the used car lot, or fancied a careful examination of the kobold pantheon? It’s all in there, and something is going to light a fire in your mind and bring a richer, more memorable experience to the table.

The second third of the book might be my favorite. I’m not able to share much, but suffice it to say that with Volo’s Guide both dungeon masters and players will be able to bring new races to the table, both as player and non-player characters. That includes rules for goblins, orcs and even something called a “firbolg.”

The final third contains rules for 96 monsters that are new to fifth edition, including the Gauth and the Mindwitness.

All told, Wizards of the Coast sent over six pages to share with our readers. We’ll include the final three below.

The very last section of the book features a great add-on. It’s a nice little appendix that includes a handful of fully detailed stock NPCs. It makes the entire package a fantastic resource for dungeon masters, turning a pretty standard sourcebook into a self-contained toolkit capable of spawning dozens of different dungeons — or sparking entire campaigns — without very much prep work at all.

To create it, Mearls says his team has had to take a long hard look at Dungeons & Dragons’ oldest and most iconic creatures. Their goal was to explain them to a degree that’s never been canonically attempted before in one place.

“If you take a look at something like a mind flayer,” Mearls said, “it has that sort of ‘50s science fiction feel. It’s the creepy monster that lives under the bed and eats your brain by the end of story. But I think with a 21st century approach, you can say, ‘Well, who is the mind flayer.’ And it sounds funny, but then you start getting into it. What’s with this guy eating brains?

“Dungeons & Dragons was very much developed with this almost scientific mindset,” Mearls said. “What’s the biology of the mind flayer? But no one asked about its feelings. But when you think about, it the game tells me that mind flayer has an 18 intelligence. The highest intelligence a human can achieve, that’s their average. Literally, they walk in the room and they are the smartest being there. They are smarter than every human they’ve ever ate. So talking to us is like meeting dogs, for them. What’s that got to be like?”

Mearls says that, if the book is successful, he intends for his team to handle more of their upcoming sourcebooks in a similar way.

Volo’s Guide to Monsters will be available at your friendly local game store on Nov. 15. You can also find it on Amazon. It’s also the first Dungeons & Dragons product to have a collectible, alternate cover which you can see here Babykayak.

 

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SKULL ISLAND TRAILER

ESSAY ONE: CRAWLING INTO OBLIVION

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN

Essay One: Crawling into Oblivion

Some things that have always bothered me about D&D, and indeed most fantasy RPGs, happen to deal with the way monsters and other dangerous types of creatures and NPCs are presented. In D&D the monster has been reduced to little more than a set of statistics, numbers, and aspect summaries, with little if any regard ever given to the idea of what the word actually means. What it means to be a monster, and what monsters would be like if they really existed (I’m leaving aside for the moment any consideration of the “human monster” who is often far too real, but is in many instances a good guide for how non-human monsters would behave and operate).

For instance many dungeons, adventures, and scenarios are built around the idea that for some unknown (and rarely if ever well-explained) reason, creatures that are hostile and dangerous to people somehow, and usually without prodding, just seem to naturally cooperate with each other to attack adventurers, but not each other. For instance orcs and kobolds can often be found in the same dungeon, no explanation given as to why they would tolerate each other rather than slaughter each other. And many monsters just seem to sit around waiting for the hapless adventurer rather than patrolling whatever dungeon they inhabit, with a well-practiced defense or attack plan, cleaning out the other potential hostiles. A typical dungeon filled with a number of different types of belligerent monsters would hardly be a likely, believable, or functional scenario even in the often not very well thought out world of fantasy adventuring.

This type of incredulous scenario is especially true of the so-called Dungeon Crawl.” Monsters, because they are monsters, would kill each other off and by the time the party arrived the adventurers would be dealing only with the most dangerous and aggressive survivor. For instance, if the Minotaur and the Chimera both existed in the same Labyrinth then sooner of later only one would be left. Furthermore, monsters, if they were organized by some higher force would not be sitting around in a dungeon room just waiting for the adventurers to blunder into their living area. At the first sign of infiltration the monsters would be on the prowl, seeking out and hunting any invaders without rest until such invaders are slaughtered. Monsters cannot be both hostile, aggressive, full of avarice and greed, hoarders of treasure, and bloodthirstily dangerous, and simply lounging about waiting to see if their lair will be invaded by some dangerous force, while calmly playing gentlemen card games with the goblins in the next room to see who gets to keep the ancient artifact they all covet. It’s ridiculous, even in the silliest of fantasy worlds. Without a very excellent and extremely fearful need to cooperate, monsters simply don’t. They kill each other instead and eat the remains of the weaker creature.

Another thing that bothers me about D&D is the fact that once you meet a monster, or have read about it in the Monster Manual, from then on, it is far too often simply just a matter of encountering hit point variants of the same creature. Having fought Trolls before you know how to kill them and make them stay dead they are an extremely dangerous encounter, afterwards, not so much. (In horror/weird, sci-fi, detective, even some military/modern and superhero games – though superhero games, like fantasy often have on-going villains whose nature you are already well familiar with – this is not nearly as big a problem because often one is constantly encountering new creatures and beings and enemies about whom you have little, if any, advanced foreknowledge.)

Of course historical records could account for a certain degree of knowledge about monsters in fantasy game settings (though such accounts should always be mixed with rumor and mis and disinformation), but otherwise because they are monsters they should be unknown or at least little-known entities; a shock to the system, a surprise, and a real danger. And anything you have advanced intelligence on is far less dangerous than the unknown. These problems regarding monsters greatly reduce the tension and sense of danger in playing the game, and for that reason, they greatly reduce the fun.

I have tried over the years to address these monstrous and monsterous problems in my Campaign setting, and in the adventures I write for the players to undertake. For instance in my world monsters are unique, usually one of a kind creations, much more similar to the monstrosities and prodigies of ancient Greece, than the creations of modern fantasy role play. This means when the party does encounter a monster then in game terms it is a real, dangerous, feral, vicious brute. Really and truly monstrous. It also means you can’t pull out the Monster Manual to know best how to fight it or know if it likes laying traps and ambushes or the straight out, let’s get bloody, man-to-man brawls.

Furthermore it knows where it lives, how it moves, what its tactics are, what techniques it will employ far better than the players. (Which ain’t the case most of the time you encounter monster sin most fantasy game sis it now.) Making it that much more dangerous and lethal because it is an unknown quantity with unknown qualities. You don’t know the creature’s level, challenge rating, hit point count, what it can do, etc. You just know it bites, claws, employs magic, has set traps, is extremely cunning and vicious, and kills. (But only after you’ve seen it in operation, until then it is all potential.)

So in that way I’ve solved the “Over-familiarity/Lack of Danger Aspect” of monster design weakness in D&D. (This is just a general “design principle,” and like all design principles it is of course open to whatever the DM and players want to do. If the DM and players want gnolls who dress like circus clowns and eat hay and farm naked molerats for monsters, so be it. I’m talking however about milieus and settings with game monsters that are truly monstrous, and dangerous, and unknown, not colorful and comic, humorous, and so familiar they might as well be wearing body scales made out of neon glowing statistical probability charts. If monsters were real they would not be “readable and predictable,” instead they would be lethal, unpredictable, crafty, vicious, natural survivalists, and stat graphs and hit point counts would be the very least of your worries if you encountered one that was pissed off, moody, or feeling kind of hungry.

The First Problem though, the problem of “Cooperative Design and Behavioral Unbelieveability,” is harder to address, especially when you want to create a “Dungeon Crawl” for your players to game. Because, let’s face it, although the standard crawl is silly and extremely weak as normally designed, it is also fun and exhilarating, and is what most people (especially older players) think of first when they think of playing D&D. The common crawl, although utterly ridiculous in many respects, can be a lot of fun if designed right and executed correctly.

So, to that end, it seems like if you’re going to create a really first rate Crawl, and I think most DMs should include at least one good crawl (if not many more) in their campaign repertoire, then a few basic design rules would help a lot.

1. Make it as logical and believable as possible, so that even in the middle of a crawl it still seems dangerous and believable. Something where the player wouldn’t say to himself, “That’s stupid and silly, no orc would ever team up with a gelatinous cube to try and keep me from killing the giant python who lives on top of a pile of gold.” So, if there is to be cooperation between creatures whose aims and interests vary, not to mention outright oppose one another, either include a force powerful enough to control and manipulate them all, or use other methods that make it at least seem plausible that the hobgoblin would be working with the Barrow Wight instead of fleeing in horror from such a terrifying and dangerous undead creature.

2. Place in the crawl creatures the players have never encountered before or at least variants of the typical monster types so radical that the players won’t really know what they are fighting, or even exactly how to fight them. Bring back the excitement, wonder, horror, and lethality of the monster. He ain’t just a giant with 300 hit points, he’s a vicious, black-hearted mutha who will snap off your head with his bare hands, drink your blood and grind your bones to make his bread. He means business, he’s set traps for you, and if you get close enough that he can catch you he means to rip your arm from the socket and club you to death with it. He enjoys doing that kinda thing because, well… he’s a monster.

3. Include tricks, traps, ambushes and other dangerous things that the players are unaware of but the creatures know exist. And let the creatures, monsters, opponents use these traps, tricks, puzzles, and ambushes in such a way as to most damage the party and most enhance their own (the monster’s) chances of survival. That is to say the monsters know their environment and how to use it, the players don’t. Let the monsters use every advantage they have, especially environmental.

4. Use every other trick and technique you have available to make the crawl disturbingly believable, but also as risky as possible. Remember the adventurer is infiltrating a place he has never been before, has only sketchy, at best, intelligence on, and is by its very nature supposed to be hostile to unwanted visitors. The characters are going into places dark, deep, and undiscovered. That fact alone, as I know from Vadding, can make the venture very dangerous. Throw in monsters, traps, ambushes, patrols, a coordinated defense response, a generally hostile neighborhood, and other dangers of that ilk and you have a very lethal combination. To say the least. Crawls, to use an analogy of military terminology, should be just short of suicide missions, and therefore should perhaps be the most dangerous and enterprising type of fantasy RPG adventure one can undertake. Make the players wish they had prepared as if they were intending to invade hell itself. Because maybe that’s exactly what is waiting for them. They don’t call them monsters only because they look and smell funny, they call them monsters because they are laughing while they disembowel your still steaming entrails and eat you alive.

CAERKARA – DESIGN OF THINGS TO COME

In keeping with what I said over the weekend about beginning to once again post my own Works (as per this Post) here is my entry for Design of Things to Come, though it is one day early due to later work week scheduling conflicts.

Also I have now corrected all my former entries in The Other World so that they now properly show in that category, as they should. Later I will begin reposting my Essays on Gaming and Game Design.

So here you go, the Introduction to The Caerkara, or The Expeditionary Force

 

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Introduction to The Caerkara

When the Eldeven folk began to realize that monsters were being accidentally created through the use of Elturgy (Arcane Magic) they began to track down and capture many of these monsters and isolate them in various places where they could be studied and hopefully cured. However the alterations caused by exposure to (especially) high level Elturgy seemed irreversible.

Eventually the Eldevens also realized that Elturgy itself seemed to be “mutating” some of their own kind, as well as other creatures, into monsters, or the Caladeem. Many at the Court of Samarkand came to understand that some of these monsters were completely rogue and out of control and could not be held or captured, that once transformed certain monsters would have to be killed due to their new and vicious nature. The Eldevens in Samarkand formed secret teams of “monster hunters” that traveled throughout the Known World (and sometimes to places in their world beyond their explored knowledge) to capture or kill monsters. At the same time the Samareül began a project that lasted for many decades that attempted to “repair” elturgy so that it no longer created monsters. But the deterioration only seemed to increase and worsen and no means was discovered to return Elturgy to a reliably benign state of operation.

Some monster hunter teams soon discovered that monsters were disappearing right before capture. The reason was a mystery until it was discovered that these monsters were fleeing to another world, through means unknown. The Samareül put his best Sages and Elturgists upon the problem and eventually the Drüidect was discovered, which allowed travel between their world and Terra, though the means by which “the Weirding Road” operates is still a mystery.

The Samareül formed a secret and elite team of Monster Hunters to go to Terra and either recover or kill the monsters that had escaped to that world. While there agents of this team met human beings and discovered human ideas about religion as well as information about Miracles (Thaumaturgy). When this team returned home and reported on their findings the Samareül decided that these events were not coincidental at all but fated, and that Thaumaturgy, God, and religion might just be the long sought answer to either repairing or replacing the troubled nature of Elturgy.

Since then the Samareül has been carefully studying humans, their society, religion, thaumaturgy, God, and other related matters. He has sent his elite Expeditionary Team into Terra on numerous occasions. Ostensibly it is the job of this team to hunt down and capture or kill the escaped monsters from their world, but secretly this team also studies humans, religion, thaumaturgy, etc. and gather intelligence to return to the Samareül for further study and research. This secret team or Expeditionary Force is called the Caerkara. Over the course of their expeditions to Terra they have spent much time in the Byzantine Empire (where many of the odd events affecting both worlds, as well as the escaped monsters, seem to tend to congregate) and humans have become aware of their existence, though not their true nature and point of origin. They have also become uneasy allies on occasion with the Basilegate, and as a result of this interaction a relationship has developed between the Court at Constantinople and the Court at Samarkand.

ON MEET-N-UP FOR D&D

On using Meetup to play D&D with a group of strangers

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2015 at 4:00 PM

Fate robbed me of an important rite of passage for dorks and nerds. Growing up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the 1980’s, I never got to play Dungeons & Dragons. Sure, I played lots of dorky video games with friends, watched the Saturday morning Dungeons & Dragons TV series, and read whichever trashy fantasy novel I could find at the library. I would always see the D&D rule books, with their beautiful cover art depicting scenes such as a wizard with an octopus face firing crimson rays at female barbarian clad in a bone bikini, at bookstores and toy stores, but I never knew anyone my age who played the game. The closest I ever came to dungeoneering in earnest, was a board game called Hero Quest (which is now worth $400! Why did you throw it away, Mommy?), a sort of D&D lite which came with plastic miniatures. Though, the only person I could convince to read the 40-plus page rulebook was my cousin Chris. A few times, we played the six-player game with two-players. Sad, but fun.

Aside from its status as a game only for the biggest dorks, this was long before George R.R. Martin and HBO had made dark fantasy mainstream, D&D has also suffered from a stigma brought on by religious groups and lazy journalists (cough-cough) alike in the 1980s. References to demons and the occult within the game as well as a well-publicized suicide of James Dallas Egbert III caused an international stir. Egbert was a severely, clinically depressed individual who happened to enjoy playing D&D. The press ran with it as they’re wont to do and, as a result, many children, such as my 9-year-old self, were denied the pleasure of invading Castle Ravenloft to defeat its vampiric lord.

Then there was Christopher “Chris” W. Pritchard, convicted of the murder of his stepfather and the attempted murder of his mother. He, along with his three cronies, happened to play D&D and they also happened to covet Pritchard’s $2 million inheritance. Even the film industry got in on the act. Three movies about the purported dangers of Dungeons & Dragons were made in the ’80s with Mazes and Monsters (1982) starring Tom Hanks and based on the novel by Rona Jaffe, taking honors as most silly. The Dungeonmaster (1984) is a close second with its dazzling special effects and memorable dialogue: “I reject your reality and substitute my own!”

“You’re not getting that. It’s bad,” our mother’s would say. It didn’t matter how cool that undead castle looked or how intense the need to fight a weretiger , “…they said on TV it’s bad.”

Time went on and, for me, D&D became little more than unrealized nostalgia. Sex (or rather, the pursuit thereof) and getting high tend to replace the lust for simulated goblin slaughter. Yet, the love of fantasy persisted. Once a dork always a dork. Laughing friends would always deride my choice of fiction. Frankly, I think they’re just jealous of the cover art. Perhaps Mitch Albom would move more copies if his covers depicted a shrieking owl-bear eviscerating a hapless halfling rogue.

Then, one day, it happened again. Strolling through a Barnes & Noble while waiting for a companion, that gorgeous cover art got to me. A beholder, a creature made out of teeth, tentacles and eyes menacing a heavily armored dwarf fighter wielding a jewel encrusted maul. All the years of deferred quests came through the mists of time. Before I could make an intelligence check, I was the proud owner of the Fifth Edition of D&D’s Starter Set and Monster Manual.

After several unsuccessful attempts to convince friends and family to indulge me in my hunger for arcane warfare and pop and chips, I was forced to Google, “How to find people to play D&D.” I’d come too far and waited too long to give up twice. By all the gods I would have satisfaction! The search led me to a site called Meetup. A popular bit of social media, new to me, but used by many to meet others with similar interests: rock climbing, quilting, support groups and dungeon crawling.

Once the obligatory practice of testing the cyber waters for serial killers was complete, I agreed to meet at a stranger’s home to finally play Dungeons & Dragons. Pop and chips in tow, I expected a human horror show from which I would politely excuse myself after an hour. Instead, I pretended I was a necromancer with a heart of gold for five hours. I actually closed my damned eyes and imagined (for the first time in ages) myself creating a crew of zombies to man our seafaring vessel. Zombies work for cheap. My necromancer’s staff featured a human skull with ruby eyes that totally lit up when conjuring skeletons. The skull, by the way, belonged to a former slave master. (I may practice dark arts, but I don’t go in for that human bondage business.)

A more friendly and diverse group of adventurers would be hard to find. The owner of the house, we’ll call him Kumai from the equivalent Japanese culture in the Forbidden Realms (the setting for D&D), had prepared delicious burgers with homemade buns, tomato salad with mint, and freshly baked, crusty Irish soda bread paired with imported aged Irish cheddar. There was Gmorg, the Dragonborn raider who also repairs cars alongside computer systems and a 70-year-old “dark gnome” cleric and retired school teacher who remembered when one had to trade sci-fi and fantasy novels at book fairs and in “back alleys.” They cost 50 cents back then. Our dungeon master was a former Marine with an uncanny ability for doing silly voices and drowning careless adventurers in pools of boiling blood. The use of miniatures and game maps, which adds a board game element to D & D, was too new-fangled for this group. One had to use their imagination with a little help from the gorgeous artwork in the player’s guide.

It didn’t matter that I was clueless to the process of rolling polyhedral dice to determine character stats such as dexterity, charisma. Nor did it matter we were five completely different people of vary ages, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds, who, truth be told, would have never uttered a word to one another outside of this gathering. We had a fucking blast and we’re doing it again next week.

Mostly, social media gives one a depressing glimpse into the cesspool of humanity. A scrying pool into a lich’s jerk-off session where you can witness a grown man refer to a group of first graders in a Christmas pageant as “bitch-ass faggots.” But this time, perhaps the only time in my memory, cyberia came through for me. I played Dungeons & Dragons with a group of strangers and it reaffirmed my faith in humanity.

“It sounds ridiculous, but it’s like a mental vacation,” said the dark gnome cleric. “You’d be surprised by how a spot of imagination can do you well.”

BLOMKAMP’S ALIEN

Neill Blomkamp Says There’s A ‘High Possibility’ He Makes An ‘Alien’ Movie After All

By 02.10.15

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Back in early January, out of nowhere, District 9 director Neill Blomkamp posted previously unseen concept art for a new Alien movie that he’d been tossing around in his head. Needless to say, the art was received quite positively on the Internet, with images ranging from Ripley wearing a space jockey helmet to another one of Ripley and Hicks. (Needless to say, Sigourney Weaver, who Blomkamp just worked with on Chappie, is a big part of his vision.)

So, what exactly are these?

On Tuesday, I met with Blomkamp, who is promoting Chappie (the full interview will run closer to release), at his New York City hotel room and asked him about this art. As it turns out, there’s a very real possibility that Blomkamp may actually be making a new Alien movie, and it sounds like the ball is very much in his court.

Where did this Alien concept art you posted come from?

Basically, what happened was, when Chappie got heavily into post-production, I could take my foot off the gas a bit. I was thinking about what I wanted to do next and I’ve been wanting to make an Alien film for like years and years.

But you’ve never really said that before.

No.

People have heard you say that you don’t want to make an existing franchise type movie after what happened with Halo, before District 9.

That’s still true, by the way.

So that’s why it’s surprising that you want to do Alien.

Speaking to Sigourney Weaver, when we were doing Chappie, she set off a bunch of thoughts in my head — I had come up with an idea that didn’t have Sigourney, it was a different idea. But I spent all of the shooting time with her, it was like, holy shit, that could actually be really interesting. When I came back to Vancouver, I had an entire year to work on Chappie. And when I wasn’t needed in the edit, I could think about Alien. So, I basically developed an entire movie and I did all of this artwork as well.

Is this an abnormal way to go about this?

It’s totally abnormal. But it’s for the reason that you bring up, if it’s going to happen, it has to be on my terms. So, I came up with it and I’m bringing this to you. It’s not like, “Would you like to do Spider-Man 36?” I still love it, I love the idea of the movie and I produced way more art than I put out.

The art was very specific, it looked like a complete story. Ripley is wearing a space jockey helmet.

It was a whole story. Then I just wasn’t sure if I was going to do another film, like, at all.

Why?

Sometimes Hollywood just sort of gets to me. I love movies, but Hollywood itself is a difficult animal to negotiate. So, then I was like, if I don’t do any, I should put some of this artwork out and that’s exactly what happened.

Is that you giving up on possibly doing an Alien movie?

It’s not really giving up on the idea.

People on the Internet responded really well to that artwork.

There’s a high possibility, a high degree of chance that it happens that I go back and try to get Alien made.

In case it never happens, why is Ripley wearing a space jockey helmet?

I can’t tell you! It might happen! It’s cool though; it’s really cool … I’ll decide soon.

Someone at Fox should listen to you about this.

That’s not the problem, actually.

What’s the problem?

Me. I’m the problem. Fox, they would make it. Like, tomorrow. They would make it.

So if you called right now and said, “OK, done.”

Yes. Then it would happen.

Would it be your vision, or do they have their own ideas?

No, I think it would work out.

Then just do it.

I know, I just have to mentally agree with that.

Then what’s the problem here? I assumed there were obstacles, like maybe Ridley Scott wasn’t on board.

No, no, it’s not politics.

Then let’s do it.

[Laughs] OK.

THE BE(A)STIARY

TRACE BACK

THE MONSTER IN ME

A superbly functioning creature whose real life capabilities could easily be adapted to a game creature or “monster.” If you ask me the very best “monsters” are those who possess capabilities adapted straight from real life creatures.

I can see many useful applications (Real World and fictional) for such a capability.

Mysterious ‘Glow Worm’ Discovered in the Peruvian Rainforest

by Tia Ghose, Staff Writer | November 18, 2014 12:30pm ET

A mysterious glowing worm has been discovered lighting up the soil in the Peruvian rainforest.

The strange glow worms, which are thought to be the larval stage of an as-yet-unidentified species of beetle, may use their phosphorescence to lure unsuspecting flies and ants into their waiting, open jaws.

Ants or termites will “fly right into their jaws, and then they’ll just clamp shut and that’s their meal,” said Aaron Pomerantz, an entomologist who works with a rainforest expedition company at the Refugio Amazonas near the Tambopata Research Center in Peru, where the glowing larvae were discovered. [See Images of the Glowing Worm]

In tests, the glow worms readily devoured stick insects and termites, Pomerantz said. Their style of attack seems similar to that of the enormous, man-eating worms in the 1990 campy movie “Tremors,” albeit at a much smaller scale, he said.

“They’re underground, and they burst from the earth,” Pomerantz told Live Science.

Glowing earth

Nature photographer Jeff Cremer found the tiny pinpricks of light glowing in a wall of earth when he was working at a lodge in the Peruvian jungle. On closer inspection, Cremer discovered several dozen of these tiny insects, which measured about 0.5 inches (1.2 centimeters), shining green in the night.

Cremer brought them to the attention of entomologists who work at the rainforest nature lodge, who had never seen anything similar in the region.

The team determined that the worms were the larvae of an unknown species of click beetle. These beetles, which belong to the family Elateridae, use a fast popping or “clicking” motion to escape predators, Pomerantz said. Adults may feed on flowers and nectar, but the larvae are probably predatory.

There are more than 10,000 species of click beetles, including about 200 that are bioluminescent, meaning that they give off light. These strange little creatures may potentially be cousins of Brazilian fire beetles and could belong to the group of bugs called Pyrophorini, Pomerantz said.

Brazilian fire beetles burrow into termite mounds, creating ethereal, glowing towers at night, Pomerantz said. Though it’s not exactly clear how the newly discovered insects produce light, similar creatures use a class of molecules known as luciferins to give off their ghostly yellow glow. Pyrophorini typically maintain a constant glow through the night, and may even shine brighter when a predator touches them.

Why they glow

Bioluminescent animals usually glow to either lure in prey or to warn predators that they contain noxious chemicals. But the glowing also occasionally serves other purposes. For instance, fireflies’ blinking is essentially a come-hither signal for potential mates, Pomerantz said.

In the case of the click-beetle larvae, it seems the creatures glow to lure in prey, Pomerantz said. The Brazilian click beetles aggregate in termite mounds and glow to attract more prey.

Right now, the team isn’t sure if it’s discovered a completely new species or a new subspecies of an already known species of beetle larva, but the researchers are contacting experts in Brazil to find out, Pomerantz said.

THE REAL MONSTER OF ALL POSSIBILTIES

I cultivate garden spiders (usually of the genus/species Argiope Aurantia and more recently of the genus/species Araneus Saevus). I very much enjoy watching their web-building and trapping techniques, studying their individual behaviors, and even watching how each new generation is a variation upon the preceding generation.

However I would love to encounter a spider like this and to study its behavior, hunting techniques, and defense mechanisms. That is the naturalist and scientist in me.

The fictional writer and the gamer in me sees enormous opportunities in creatures like this.

From modifying the size, the appearance, the drives, the “intelligence,” the defense mechanisms, the hunting techniques, and the prey. I can even imagine such things, natural or artificial, as spies (remote or organic), agents, or even a sort or familiar. The possibilities are limited only by one’s own imagination.

The Real World is always the very best source of fiction. The Real World is the Real Monster of All Possibilities.

Goliath Encounter: Puppy-Sized Spider Surprises Scientist in Rainforest

 

by Tanya Lewis, Staff Writer | October 17, 2014 07:42pm ET

goliath birdeater spider

The South American Goliath birdeater (Theraphosa blondi) is the world’s largest spider, according to Guinness World Records. Its legs can reach up to one foot (30 centimeters) and it can weight up to 6 oz. (170 grams).
Credit: Piotr Naskrecki
View full size image

Piotr Naskrecki was taking a nighttime walk in a rainforest in Guyana, when he heard rustling as if something were creeping underfoot. When he turned on his flashlight, he expected to see a small mammal, such as a possum or a rat.

“When I turned on the light, I couldn’t quite understand what I was seeing,” said Naskrecki, an entomologist and photographer at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.

A moment later, he realized he was looking not at a brown, furry mammal, but an enormous, puppy-size spider.

Known as the South American Goliath birdeater (Therapho

THE PEASANT GIRL AND THE WITCH

…Then (Baba) Yaga broke her (the peasant girl) in pieces and put her bones in a basket.

Now the stepmother sent her husband for his daughter. The father went and brought back only her bones. As he approached the village, his dog barked on the porch: “Bow! wow! Bones are rattling in the basket!” The stepmother came out with a rolling pin: “You’re lying!” she said. “You should bark, ‘A young lady is coming!'” The husband arrived; and then the wife moaned and groaned.

There’s a tale for you and a crock of butter for me.

 

Hmm… That was even more vicious than I was expecting. But that entire tale was fascinating as it involved a little peasant girl being sold into bondservice to the witch Baba Yaga.

Meaning it was really about being sold into the service of a well-known murderer.

There’s a lot to be pulled from this story. And  a whole nother story embedded in it about how to regain your freedom.

I keep thinking how much good such an obverse Baba Yaga tale might have done those little girls abducted in Nigeria had they been properly trained in escape and evasion.

Or even just simple observation and patience.

THE ESCAPIST’S ADVANCE ON THE MANTICORE

I very much like this type of Chimera (the Manticore)

 

Well, I guess I won’t be sleeping tonight.

The early release of the new Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual is but a week away in select stores, with general availability close on its heels on September 30th. During Gen Con, we had a spoiler of the entire table to contents, with Wizards of the Coast revealing a steady trickle of monster spoilers ever since. Without further ado, check out the new edition’s hideous Manticore:

If you’re interested in how we’ve received the new edition so far, you can see our review of the Player’s Handbook or all our coverage of Dungeons & Dragons. If you want to see the new edition in action, check out where we’ve been playing D&D 5e live on our twitch channel.

Curious about the book? Read our official Monster Manual review right here.

If you’re not up to date on Monster Manual spoilers so far, they’re right here:

HERCULES (SORT OF)

I went to see Hercules this afternoon. I needed a little work break and since I was already ahead of schedule I decided to relax and go see the film.

I thought about writing up a standard movie review and posting that, but after seeing the film I decided against that approach and idea.

First of all let me say this in regards to the film; it was nothing like I expected.

I had expected a rather simple-minded and plodding-plotted ass-kicking action film. And it certainly had its moments of fine action sequences. From the previews, and knowing nothing of the graphic novel(s) on which it is based (I purposely avoided reading them to be ignorant of the storyline), I had expected an upgraded and far more upscale Conan type of movie with Hercules serving as the mythologized version of Conan as the super-strong monster-slaying, justice-inflicting hero.
It certainly started out that way, as a slightly upscale version of that last (horrible) Conan film.

But it quickly evolved into something else that I did not expect at all and so I was confused by the first 20 minutes or so of the film. After that things began to solidify and I began to perceive the direction in which it was moving.

After the film was over (and I had originally expected little more than an exciting and hopefully enjoyable diversionary entertainment) I was actually left thinking. Not by the obvious and overt and easy to read statements of the film, or the rewriting of Herculean mythology in an attempt to make him into a modern man, but of the fact that Hercules and his entourage were all perfectly modern men by their very nature. Modern men who had to overcome their own modernity to become worthwhile people.

Hercules was indeed a “modern man” for a reason I shall not mention (to avoid spoilers – but it had nothing to do with him being a mercenary) but that was perfectly explained by the ending lines and post-film animations. Yet otherwise (or on the other hand) Hercules was a lion-skin wearing, war-club wielding (an ancient weapon and motif) throwback to an age of chivalry. Or the Greek version of pre-chivalry. And in many respects this is the very Hercules of actual mythology. People tend to forget that Hercules is this lion-skin wearing beast-killer who is also driven so mad by a petty and vindictive and vain goddess that he becomes a killer-beast. So the lion skin serves much the same function as sack-cloth and ashes to the ancient Prophet. Yet when not driven mad by Hera or hounded by monsters Herakles is the very model of Greek Chivalry and self-sacrifice and heroism. Or in any case as close as the Greeks ever got to the ideal on a personal level. For Hercules is almost the polar opposite of Achilles, the semi-divine who would be considered a god by setting loose his own Furies in war for personal glory, whereas Hercules is the demi-god who wishes to overthrow the misguided and often pathetic tyranny of the gods themselves, and by so doing end the typical Greek ideal of glory. This is shown in the ceiling mural scene near the beginning of the film. Hercules does not aspire to be a god, he aspires to overthrow the gods.

So the more I thought on this the more interesting the film became. Not because of the overt clues about Hercules modernity (such as Hercules wearing the head of the lion as a prop that could not possibly be the real head of the Nemean lion), but because of the underlying and prophetic mythological ones.

But the Thracians were also perfectly modern men, but in a manner much easier to recognize. Easily shaped and molded they immediately fell under the sway and vassalism of whomever claimed political power. Despite the fact of who obviously was most concerned with their welfare and despite the fact of who trained and developed them, they bent the knee immediately to any and every tyrant who gave them orders. They were easily “enthralled,” in the way modern men are usually easily enthralled, be they Germans under Nazis, or more recent modern men completely passive and subservient to their elected governments.

Rather than rising in revolt against the obvious tyrant all they could or would do was fall in line with whoever sought to command or control them.

In this respect Hercules was very much an essay on modern men, on how easily and passively they bend the knee to that tyrant who dares to command them.

So in both those respects the more I think upon the film the better I like it.

But it was not what I expected to see or hear, at all, when I first walked into the theater.

It was not an action and adventure entertainment dressed in ancient Greek garb, but rather a more subtle and political exposition on both the cynicism and perceptions of modern men and on their inherent weaknesses of character and nature dressed in the garb of Greek mythology.

And in that respect I thoroughly enjoyed it.

That might seem a strange review for such a film, but in many ways it was a very strange film.

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN: THE BLOOD OF UNCANNY MONSTERS

Essay Twelve: The Blood of Uncanny Monsters*

“The Blood of the monster is the doom of the unwary.”

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

“Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.”

“History is not the story of heroes entirely. It is often the story of cruelty and injustice and shortsightedness. There are monsters, there is evil…”

“… I prefer the monsters of my fancy to what is positively trivial.”

Synopsis: The Blood of Monsters is far more than the blood of simple animals, or the nerveless sap of tree limbs. The blood of the monster is a deep, potent, ancient, terrible thing, capable of warping the world, and either wondrously enabling, or viciously crippling and killing, the Hero. Beware the blood of the monster, and do not easily discard the tremendous potential it encloses within itself.

Essay: In myth it is often the case that the blood, tissues, organs, or parts of a monster have unique, if not astounding properties of their own, quite apart from those possessed by the whole or intact, living creature itself.

Yet far too often these additional (or inherent, really) “monstrous characteristics” are overlooked (sometimes entirely) in fantasy, mythological, and magical gaming. Monsters are slain, their blood washes over the characters to no real effect, and the monstrous bodies or corpses thereafter simply discarded, as if they were the inconvenient, tiresome, or useless detritus of the true business of adventuring. No real consequences ensue from, or for, the slaying of monsters, from being in close proximity to them when they are killed, or from being washed and covered in the gore and curses and hatred and pollution and ferocity of their ultimate demise. The death of monsters becomes a mere mathematical and mechanical expression of character survival beyond beastly endurance, rather than a fascinating cosmic struggle between weird and uncanny physical, supernatural, and magical forces and the life-force of men. And the killing of monsters likewise has either no additional benefit, nor any additional consequence, other than the taking of their treasure or the removal of their objection to whatever goal(s) the hero currently or ultimately pursues. In short the monster is far less a real monster, far less a real threat, far less weird and far less dangerous, than if hunting and killing monsters implied nothing more mysterious, fantastic, and potentially lethal than a mere exercise in hit point reduction to “less than zero.” As a matter of fact killing most monsters in many role play games implies a level of danger and consequence that is exactly that, less than zero. Once slain or nearly slain a monster is then no more of a real threat than the paper-tiger number stats used to summarize his imaginary existence. But is this really a proper expression of the idea of monstrousness? In the imagination? In myth? Or even in-game?

Certainly not so in myth, where the blood of monsters and weird beings often has dramatic (and even sometimes life-long) effects upon the heroes who encounter such marvels, perhaps even upon nearby observers, other monsters, or the very landscape itself. In this respect I think myth is often far more engaging, richer in content and implication, tremendously more interesting, and far more versatile than typical fantasy (or other genres of) role play gaming. Monsters actually mean things in myth. They are not simply the enemy soldier du jour, dressed in some fantastic garb of hoary yet impotent flesh or rotting, undead sheets of nothingness. They are not merely “tactical challenges” as would be the case as if an infantry battalion in a wargame were suddenly compressed into a single fearsome body and sent forth to fight tooth and claw against armed adventurers. Instead monsters are “danger incarnate,” they are a warping of the woof of existence, their being alters and changes things around them, they bend reality, sicken or extend it, they reshape nature (physical, mental, and spiritual) into a monstrosity of devastating potential. In myth (from which spring the sources of the idea and shapes and names and forms of monsters in role play games) monsters are dangerous, deadly, uncanny, they distort the nature of the things they encounter, and they do all of this both within and well-beyond the very narrow confines of combat. It seems to me then that the monster should be returned to his more natural (or unnatural, depending upon your point of view) state(s) of being, a being that exudes, reflects and engenders corruption, weirdness, lethality, and real, unremitting and unrepentant peril. Both in life, and in death. *

In short I am advocating the idea that even the blood, tissues, and corpses of monsters might very well, and even in some cases definitely should, have effects both upon the characters encountering them, and upon the entire atmosphere and environment of the role-play milieu. That monsters become far more than mere combat automatons, far more than just tactical challenges, far more than an enemy in a rubber mask and a plastic suit of armor who can execute feats of multiple backflips or shoot acid from a naphtha gland in his mouth.

Monsters are not simply monsters because they look weird, because men find them to be distasteful, evil, ugly, frightening, gigantic, or unique adversaries. Monsters are also monsters because of their peculiarly monstrous qualities, which extend far beyond motive and appearance and down to the very marrow of their bones, as well as throughout the blood or ichor that washes unseen through their twisted veins. And that when this blood (and/or body) becomes exposed to the world at large, when it stains the flesh of the hero, and when the bones of monsters litter the landscape, other things occur of definite and noticeable effect. Things that are sometimes wondrous, things that are sometimes terrible, occasionally even more horrifying in implication or outcome than the threat of the original monster itself. (I use the term monster in this respect in a very generalized sense. Of course the same “monstrous properties” might be said to exist for supernatural beings and alien creatures, in horror/supernatural/adventure/superhero, and sci-fi gaming. And I would hardly argue against the same types of monstrous properties I am advocating for mythological and fantasy based monsters is such cases. Rather I would just expect that given the nature of the creature in question that such properties would manifest differently, but also quite obviously, in those other types of circumstances.)

TO BE CONTINUED…

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