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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Arrivals Macabre

Otranto's Arrivals Macabre is a Faerunian book one should keep an eye out for. Unlike many spooky tomes of forgotten and dangerous knowledge, it is not particularly ancient (less than 200 years old) and is fairly common -- a Halruaan printer produced a print run of more than 4000 copies some 100 years ago, and many are still extant, in the collections of various libraries and wizards. It is written in Common.

It's not hard to find information on the book. It is, essentially, a clearinghouse of the author's knowledge of the planes, as well as his suspicions, and some outright rumors. It also contains some spells -- notably all the Summon Monster spells, as well as Planar Binding Lesser, Planar Binding, Planar Binding Greater, Legend Lore, Banishment, Trap The Soul, Symbol Of Insanity, and several variant Protection spells.

Arrivals Macabre discusses other books as sources of knowledge about the planes: in particular, the Necronomicon, De Vermiis Mysteriis, and the Pnakotic Manuscripts are discussed, as are The King In Yellow, the Carcosa Codex, the Demonomicon of Iggwilv, and Xygag's Bestiary. Others are mentioned as well.

Much of the book is devoted to examination of the planes of alignment. In particular, the planes of Baator, the Nine Hells, the Abyss, Limbo, Mechanus, and Carceri are examined and discussed. However, towards the end of the volume, the author gives much thought to a plane (or planes, or demiplane, or whatever it is) beyond the others: The Far Realm.

The author describes it as a place that induces madness in normal beings, a place where the rules of reality are twisted ninety degrees and then rotated a bit. It discusses the genesis of the Kaorti, a race of beings that began as human until their contamination (by attempting to physically visit the Far Realm) and transformation into a posthuman horror.

It also discusses known Major Powers of the Far Realms, including The Eater (a sort of god-mountain that walks, whose only function is to consume; its immense, pillar-like legs end in gaping fanged maws that consume all it walks upon), and other creatures even more disturbing.

Some people have become... "less than sane" for having read Arrivals Macabre, but the consensus is that it's safe enough; many wizards report having read the thing, and of retaining their faculties. In game terms, it can provide a +6 to any Knowledge: Planes check, and a +10 to any check involving the Far Realm. However, it is not possible to memorize the text; even individuals with eideitic memories have tried... and failed. In order to obtain the bonus, one must have read the text first (a task requiring thirty man-hours) and may then spend a half hour perusing the text in order to gain the bonus at any given time thereafter.

Interestingly enough, there are numerous diagrams of protective sigils, runes, and so forth...

...................................................but no illustrations.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Coming of Warduke

Warduke dates WAAAAY back; he's old school. Originally, he was one of the action figures released by LJN toys way back in 1983 for the old D&D line of toys...
...but it didn't take long before he'd spread out to fill his niche pretty well. Naturally, players of the actual game were curious: just who was this mysterious dude? What were his powers? What was his motivation?
He made a brief appearance in first edition AD&D before transferring to second edition as a major big bad from the Greyhawk setting... and obtaining a cool horsie.

He began as eighth level in AD&D, became twelfth level as an opponent in 2nd edition, and finally made his appearance in 3.5 as an 18th level villain with fiendish grafts to explain his glowing red eyes... as well as other surprises...

He made his appearance in the D&D miniatures game in 2006 in the War Drums set, if I'm not mistaken. Baaaad news....

Saturday, January 16, 2010

All I Needed To Know I Learned From Dungeons and Dragons

This link takes you to a five minute talk by a DM who knows what he's talking about. Click it.

Dungeons and Dragons and Eighties Television

"Eye of the Beholder."

The Dungeons and Dragons cartoon ran one season. I was in my mid-teens when it premiered, and I'd pretty much outgrown Saturday morning cartoons by then, but I made an exception for Dungeons and Dragons; I was fond of the game.

(For those of you born after 1990: used to be, the only place you could reliably find cartoons was on Saturday mornings; all the major networks (just three: NBC, CBS, and ABC) showed them until noonish. There was no Cartoon Network, and the only other place you could find 'toons was maybe around 3:30 in the afternoon; this was also before Oprah and the dawn of the Afternoon Talk Show, so reruns were king before the evening news)

I was disappointed, of course. The cartoon had the bad fortune to be a product of its times. Y'see, before the Eighties really got going, the Seventies had beat cartoons up pretty bad. Parent groups were convinced that shows like Speed Racer and the old Adam West Batman promoted violence... so networks imposed a set of standards. You couldn't show anything that looked like a gun, for example, much less use one. No one could die, period. Violence of any kind was largely forbidden. In prime time TV, you could have guns, but you could only show them once or twice. No more than one or two deaths per show, even on cop shows!

This is why the original Battlestar Galactica's Cylons were robots, btw. You could blow up all the robots you wanted, but if they'd been aliens, you could only kill one or two per show... and the A-Team got real good at blowing stuntmen through the air, but hardly ever killed any of them, despite thousands of rounds of automatic ammunition being expended. And the A-Team took an ocean of crap from parents' groups about their violence...

Things changed in the mid-Eighties. Advertisers wanted RATINGS, not homogenized crap that nobody wanted to watch, and cartoon advertisers were learning how to make end-runs around the rules in order to get the kids to watch; this ultimately resulted in GI Joe, one of the great thirty-minute toy commercials ever aired on a daily basis... in which thousands of shots were fired, no one got killed except COBRA android troopers, and every battle ended with Cobra Commander fleeing and screaming "Coooobraaaa! Reetreeeeeaaaat!!!" Yeah, now, that's entertainment. Prime time got cool again with Miami Vice, Magnum P.I., and other stuff that was supposed to turn us all into homicidal maniacs, naturally.

...but in 1982, the eighties hadn't quite started yet, and the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon had been successfully merched to the network... a game based on an RPG/wargame in which combat in some form or another usually dominated the table... transformed into a medium in which violence was eschewed, no one could get killed, and showing something that looked like a weapon was forbidden. Oh, yeah, and you had to avoid "imitable behavior," because if some kid out there clouted his little sister upside the head with a toy sword, Mom could sue the network.

Is it any wonder that Dungeons and Dragons was doomed? Oh, yeah, and we had to be extra squeaky clean, because of all those rumors of satanism going around...

All this springs to mind because I picked up a DVD of the show for five bucks at Hastings the other day, in a dump bin. I thought it was quite a deal. It wasn't. I'd forgotten how I thought the show was lame at age sixteen; we have a group of kids, whisked to D&D world and equipped with magical items of dubious use, and sent on a variety of pointless quests by the mysterious gnome "Dungeon Master." It's worth noting that the party's warriors -- a Cavalier and a Ranger -- have no melee weapons. The Cavalier has a magic shield, which is handy for hiding behind, and the Ranger has a magic bow that conjures magic arrows when he shoots it (always at objects, never at people). I don't think I saw a sword in any episode of the show.

What else? Oh, yeah, our Barbarian has a magic club that causes earthquakes when he whacks it against the ground; we never find out what happens if he hits a person with it. The wizard has a magic hat he can pull things out of; regrettably, it works only for comic relief, making our wizard the most worthless member of the party. The Thief has a cloak of invisibility, which is nice... and the Acrobat has a magic pole that allows her to... um... pole vault. Yeah, that's neat. Certainly, I would want to play a game based on such incredibly lame concepts.

This morning I watched the episode "Eye of the Beholder."

My whole group had wanted to catch that one. It had a beholder in it. How could you possibly make anything lame out of a BEHOLDER?

It opens with our party encountering a knight. He's kind of a comical knight, because he's a towering coward, and he must seek out the Beholder. He has no sword, weapon, or equipment of any kind, although he's dressed in full armor. In the middle of a desert. E-yeah, we're starting off well, here.

A bunch of things happen that you don't care about because they are lame and you aren't watching this show to care, you're watching it to hopefully be entertained. Finally, our knight and our heroes must confront the Beholder.

In the cartoon, the Beholder is largely mindless, and fires energy blasts from its ten eyestalks. Upon encountering it, everyone runs like hell. It chases them. This goes on for a while, until it conjures energy-tentacles from its eyestalks and snares everyone and begins to drag them closer, closer to its befanged mouth... which point one of our heroes recalls a famous cliche, and realizes that they must show the beholder a flower. The knight has one in his lapel (of his armor, of course) and does so. The beholder immediately melts.

Yes, that's right. Death by cliche. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Just once, I'd like to see some D&D-based entertainment that someone took seriously that didn't suck. James Cameron, where are you?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Dragon's Name

Since the Scam couldn't figure out a name for his dragon, it chose one for itself. The Scam is still not sure he likes the dragon's new name.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Detect Magic

From the introduction to Identification Magics: A Beginner's Guide to Identification And Detection Cantrips And Spells, currently in use in the freshman curriculum, Halruaan Academy for the Mystic Arts...

...which brings us to Detect Magic, a simple first-order spell every competent mage learns quite soon in his career. This minor but extremely useful spell allows the user to not only determine whether or not a given object is magical, but with practice, an experienced wizard can determine the intensity of the object's dweomer as well as its type of enchantment, be it necromantic, evocation, illusion, and so forth. What many students of magic fail to consider is this: how does this simple spell work?
The fact of the matter is "We don't know." The spell is old enough that its originator's name is lost in the mists of time. A clue, however, is provided in what we DO know about the spell:

*It functions only for the caster
*It is not dependent on sight
*Multiple objects may be "scanned" at once

It is theorized by Hattersley the Studious that the spell acts not upon the items in the spell's range, but upon the mage casting the spell -- allowing for a new sense, similar to sight, hearing, or smell -- a "magic sense" -- to begin to function, and to continue for a short time. Hattersley is also noted for his "Third Eye" theory -- the idea that several detection and analysis spells are tied to one's vestigial "third eye," and allow it to "open" and percieve the universe "differently" for a short time (i.e., the spell's duration).

While this theory is interesting, it begs the question of what would happen in a situation where to percieve LESS would be desirable -- say, in the presence of a medusa or catoblepas. What horrors might a "third eye" reveal if it were to see too much?

Dragon News (1)

The Scam spent much of his afternoon toilet-training his dragon, after it took a crap in his bed, the size of which can be described as "gargantuan."

And I'm not talking about the bed.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I am a baaaad man....

The Scam spent much of his afternoon staring at a dragon egg. They got the egg last week during a dungeon crawl, and he's been obsessing about the thing ever since.

"How do I hatch it?" he asked.

"Look at the literature," I said. He hated that. He doesn't want to read. Today, he skimmed the Monster Manual and The Practical Guide To Dragons before finding much of what he wanted in The Practical Guide To Dragon Riding. He successfully figured out that it was a bronze dragon egg, and was able to figure out how to hatch it.

What he didn't like was the time factor -- bronze dragon eggs can go for up to 600 days after laying to hatching. Then again, he didn't know how long the egg had been sitting there. I made him wait all afternoon. I made him do listen checks on the egg. I made him do spot checks on the egg to see if it was cracking yet. The ordeal lasted more than an hour, in which he did absolutely nothing other than stare at that dratted egg.

It about drove him crazy.

Ghod, my stomach hurts from laughing... I shouldn't be allowed near children. I don't molest their bodies, but lord, I do screw with their little minds...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Left 4 Dead: No Mercy

Spent a nice portion of a quiet afternoon playing Left 4 Dead; no one was online, so I played alone. It occurred to me that I'd never played all the way through the "No Mercy" campaign -- the first one -- I'd only played the individual scenes. So today, I thought I'd play it straight through.

1. The AI has a gruesome sense of humor. It is a very bad thing to encounter a Witch in the sewer. I'm convinced that if this keeps up, we're going to have more and more teenage boys out there with white hair; people will go "Yup, there's a kid who has Left 4 Dead and met a Witch in the sewer." And what's with putting a Witch right in front of the fraggin' elevator? How the hell do you sneak past a Witch who has parked herself right in the middle of what will soon be a major combat zone?

2. I'd forgotten: Mercy Hospital, for some reason, has a gunnery post mounted atop the radio station on the roof. One way to hold off the horde for fifteen minutes is to take the gatling gun and mow them down as they come while your buds guard your back and sides.

Sigh. Three Tanks, about four minutes apart. Do they EVER actually appear in the firing arc of that damn minigun? Three times, I got slapped sideways, sailing through the air. Never actually fell off the building, though... and survived to take the helicopter away, having earned the achievements of Mercy Killer and Burn The Witch (hey, if she's going to sit right there in front of the damn elevator, she can jolly well expect a few molotov cocktails for her troubles...)

Left 4 Dead II: Daring Bot Rescue

It's not QUITE as funny as watching Hobbes go flying off into the sunset from the helipad, but I thought it was pretty good...

Game Status: 1/16/10

Game will be on, unless events prevent it.

...but... but, WHY?

The topic: "Books that, if read, represent a threat to your sanity."

Well, sure. ANY book, depending on who and what you are, represents a threat to your sanity; it simply depends on who and what you are. In real life, I once knew a kid who, through careful study of the Bible, concluded that music was evil, and that the more music you listened to -- whether you wanted to or not -- the more threat to your soul of going to Hell.

We couldn't let him in the day room in the rest home; if the TV was on, well, you know that every commercial has its own jingle, and he'd attack the TV set.

Consequently, it could be said that the Bible drove this poor kid insane. Interestingly, he would not be the first; people who develop psychoses often latch onto something in the Bible as justification for it. Does this mean that the Bible was responsible for their insanity?

Yes and no. Most people who read the Bible are not insane (although after watching certain revival shows on Sunday morning, some could make a case otherwise). In real life, usually, the person starts out nuts in some way -- his reading material is usually just nightmare fuel that points him in a certain direction, or provides a justification for some craziness he's already decided on. My Bible-thumping kid patient, above, is an example of the latter (since I'm quite sure it doesn't say a durn thing in the Bible about music being evil).

So... can a book, or piece of knowledge, drive you crazy? Perhaps. Depends on how firm your grip on your sanity was to begin with, or the nature of the information. If I were to discover that my late mother had been Jewish, this information would impact my mind and life... not at all. I couldn't care less.

If I were Hitler, on the other hand, or an Islamic bomb zealot, this might have been a pretty big thing, don'cha think? Strong enough to rattle my cage, maybe? Shake a few nuts and bolts loose?

One of writer H.P. Lovecraft's favorite tropes in his fiction involved the idea of "Shattering Epiphany," that is to say, "a character learns an essential truth of the universe... and can't handle it, and goes stark raving fruity-gumballs, right there on the spot." In short, Mom wasn't Jewish, she was a hideous slime alien from the constellation of Paisley IV, and her DNA is starting to wake up in my own cells, right this minute...

Often, these "essential truths" are found in books. His famous Necronomicon is a prime example of this. The hideous play The King In Yellow is another. Others included the evil witch-book De Vermiis Mysteriis, the Revelations of Glaaki (ten spiral notebooks written during the Sixties by an insane hippie), the secret history of Earth contained in The Pnakotic Manuscripts and the Eltdown Shards, the pre-human mysteries of the Scrolls of Skelos... Lovecraft and his buds left us quite a library of books you don't dare read; I've barely scratched the surface. Other authors have added on; one author whose name I can't remember added on the hideous Massa Requiem de Shuggay, a full-length opera which if performed correctly causes the Apocalypse to happen partway through the third act, and Le Fin Absolue de Monde (The Absolute End Of The World), a film which, if watched, will drive the watcher to act on his darkest or most painful impulses... unleashing his inner demons, so to speak. here's the question: WHY would anyone create such a work?

In fiction, there are lots of reasons. The Necronomicon, the Pnakotic Manuscripts, and the Eltdown Shards were written by scholars to preserve knowledge. Only afterwards did it become obvious that some people simply couldn't handle the knowledge in question. The Necronomicon's author, Abdul Alhazred, did not go insane, although he did suffer some pretty bad nights. However, he did wind up getting torn apart by invisible demons who didn't much care for the publication of their names and addresses. We can classify works like this as "Mostly Safe, if you have the mental strength to handle the truth."

Le Fin Absolue de Monde was created by a film director in the name of extreme art. He didn't realize how powerfully he'd succeeded until his own creation drove him insane. We can classify this as "Mind Poison, Unsafe At Any Speed."

No one knows who wrote The King In Yellow, so no reason can be given for its creation. However, it is highly unlikely that the play has ever actually been performed; in Robert Chambers' stories, the people who come in contact with it merely read the play.

Le Massa Requiem de Shuggay was written by a mad Italian operatist who thought that it was high time for the Apocalypse, and used his musical genius to craft an opera which acted as a summoning spell for the mad demon-god Azathoth; since Azathoth is the size of a galaxy all by himself, summoning him into a Milan opera house would have the same effect on our planet as a sledgehammer would have on a hummingbird egg. Overkill? Sure. But the author was crazy, remember. Classification? "Atomic Bomb"

De Vermiis Mysteriis, the Mysteries of the Worm, and the Revelations of Glaaki share a classification. In the story of the first, we find Ludvig Prinn, a medieval wizard imprisoned for his blasphemous sorceries, who wrote De Vermiis Mysteriis in prison. Our protagonists obtain a copy and use it to gain eldritch knowledge... only to discover too late that Prinn wrote the book as an act of revenge: it contains any number of summoning spells to unleash primal alien horrors into the world... but the spells for containing them and sending them back are mere gibberish, powerless. In the second, we find that the crazy lakeside hippie who wrote the Revelations was a mind-puppet of the alien Glaaki, who was unable to leave the lake... but wanted people to read the notebooks and use them to accidentally summon horror-servitors that COULD walk the earth freely.... Classification: "Gateway For Nightmares."

The Scrolls of Skelos were a series of spellbooks and research notes compiled by the reptile race that ruled the earth right before humanity arose and claimed dominance (in the King Kull and Conan stories of Robert E. Howard). They are decipherable... but created by alien minds, and were never intended for use by human sorcerers or human minds. They were easy to misunderstand or misuse (human mouths were not designed to correctly pronounce the serpent people's magic words), and it was easy enough to unleash something dangerous to body, mind, or soul. Classification? "Alien Weapon, Handle With Care, Engage Safety Before Use."

So, Hobbes, if you're reading this.... which do you think it is?

First Post

This is largely intended as a private blog, for members of the Knights of the Double Entendre gaming group. Perhaps in time it will become more. I dunno. Perhaps it will be unnecessary, due to the regular emails I routinely send out to the group. I just figured I'd dink with it and see what shook loose...