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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pig Faced Orcs and Other Changes

Nowadays, if you ask someone what an orc looks like, you're likely to get a picture that looks something like this....

...or perhaps like this....
...or perhaps even like this...

Wasn't like that for me. When I became interested in fantasy literature and gaming, back in the seventies, there was some conflict about orcs. First time I ever saw an orc, it looked like this:

...the illustration in the first edition AD&D Monster Manual.

Now, I'd read Lord of the Rings, and Orcs got quite a rap in that series. Man, orcs were just flat out mean, ugly, unpleasant, and lethal, if you let them be. They had names like Ugluk and Gorbag, and would eat your hobbits for breakfast if Saruman didn't want them alive. THESE creatures, though... WTF? These weren't scary monsters, these were confused looking pig people... or perhaps the sapient evolved descendants of Dino from The Flintstones. THESE could not be orcs. What DID orcs look like?

When Ralph Bakshi's animated Lord of the Rings movie came out, I went to go see it. Sure, they'd have to show orcs in there, wouldn't they? Well, as it turned out... not exactly.

As animated over live action footage... well... they did manage scary pretty well. But you couldn't see what they looked like for beans. They vaguely looked like badly animated guys in battered renfair gear with glowing eyes added in postproduction. What the hell DID an orc look like? At one point, I had the opportunity to buy some 25mm orc miniatures. I looked forward to painting them up and seeing what they looked like. I wish I had some pictures of those figures, because they were so badly sculpted, that once I had them painted... well... I STILL wasn't sure what an Orc looked like...
The Brothers Hildebrandt did some terrific Lord of the Rings art for a series of calendars back in the seventies. This was their first painting with orcs in it. I was still not satisfied. If these were orcs, they were Disney orcs. Where could I find something MEAN and SCARY, durnit?

Games Workshop, in England, was one of the first outfits to give me a REAL clue as to what an orc looked like, as seen above. They were green, had long pointy ears, tended to baldness, and had big lantern jaws and tusks. Well, it was a start...

It took the Dungeons and Dragons people thirty years before they decided what an orc looked like. Perhaps to avoid conflict with Games Workshop, D&D orcs are gray, and somewhat hairier than GW's. They're certainly scary, for all that they're pretty much cannon fodder and walking XP packages for players.
It took the Warcraft people, Blizzard Entertainment, to really flesh out the orc, though. Warcraft orcs are green, tusked, and remarkably scary. On the other hand, by the time Warcraft III and World of Warcraft came out, they weren't that bad -- they were, in fact, a deeply spiritual, shamanic-nature kind of folk, and had only been psychotic bloodthirsty villains due to being corrupted by demons. Sigh.

Blizzard had ushered in the PC orc... in both senses of the word; both player character and politically correct.

I mean, I know things are going to change. The game, the fantasy, all of it, is a muse for a lot of people, and there's going to be evolution in how our monsters and villains are presented.
But there are some permutations I could have gone without...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Social Skills for Gamers: Part Four

I think they actually sell these over at No fair sawing the soap open to get the d20 out! They smell great, too.

Mistaken Identity

Hm? No, never heard of him. Why do you ask?

Man Cave

Man cave goooooooood.

Social Skills For Gamers, Part Three

(Stolen from John Kovalic and Dork Tower, All rights reserved; everything copyright, trademarked, owned, and stolen from John Kovalic.)

Hot Babes Do LARP

Been there. Seen it.

Social Skills for Gamers: Part Two

This artwork is copyrighted by and the property of John Kovalic, creator of the Dork Tower comics, some of the finest comics about gamers ever written. I have stolen this one panel because it says so much with so little. Go look at more at

Social Skills for Gamers: Part One

How come I never run into chicks wearing shirts like that?

The Gun Is My Skill List

Ah, here we go... I'd been LOOKING for this one...

Beware of Dwarves

The elf Tizerk emerged from the tunnel in the rear of the Orc camp, and was immediately blindsided, falling to -4 hit points and collapsing. But the Dancing Dwarf had his back, and emerged from the tunnel to cover him.

The orcs moved in. Strangely, they ignored the Dancing Dwarf in favor of stripping Tizerk's corpse and perhaps making soup out of him. They paid no attention to DD as they casually sheathed their weapons and argued about who'd get the ring and who'd get the bow as they moved forward.

So DD casually hacked one of the orcs into chutney. He was around ninth level at the time, so the orc was in about four pieces before any of him actually hit the ground.
The orcs froze, thunderstruck. What the hell? How did THAT happen? They paused to look at the dismembered orc corpse. Meanwhile, Tizerk kept rolling to stabilize, and not doing too well at it. DD reached down to administer first aid, but then had to stop and chop up another orc who approached before he could do anything. Tiz was at -6 and falling.
By now, a crowd was starting to gather. Another orc approached, and died in a welter of scimitars and gore. The other orcs discussed the matter at some length. Perhaps the elf had had some sort of disease? Was it contagious? WAS there a disease that caused orcs to explode into gory chunks?
It was about this time that DD realized that the orcs couldn't see him... even when he attacked. He'd forgotten all about the shirt of +1 chainmail... that made him invisible to orcs... that he was wearing. He'd had it for ages. He hadn't fought any orcs since about fourth level. It actually took him a while for this to dawn on him. Meanwhile, Tizerk stabilized, and DD continued to have to hack up about one orc per round, as they tried sneaking up BEHIND the corpse, rushing at the corpse, and tossing a lasso at the corpse to see if they could move it (DD cut the rope). The orcs were mystified, and beginning to get a little scared.

"What is UP with you nitwits?" screamed a goblin. "There's THIRTY of you idiots, and ONE of HIM! KILL HIM!"
"Um," said an orc, "I think he's almost dead as it is. Unless he's just moving so fast we can't see him. And if that was the case, why would he lay back down? He could have killed us all by now."

"WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?" screamed the goblin. "There's ONE DWARF, you pack of utter morons! WHY IS HE STILL ALIVE?"

"Dwarf?" said the orcs. They looked around. "What dwarf?" DD took advantage of the fracas to slip the Ring of Regeneration onto Tizerk's finger... not realizing it wouldn't heal wounds that had occurred when he wasn't wearing it. By now, the rest of the group was beginning to get antsy, and had moved into the far end of the tunnel.
"This is stupid," said one of the orcs, truly a mental giant among his kind. "If there was a dwarf, and he was invisible, Zog there wouldn't be able to see him, either. Therefore, there is no dwarf. And did Zog just call us a bunch of names?"

All the orcs turned to look at Zog. "But... but," sputtered Zog the Goblin, "THERE'S THE DWARF! HE'S RIGHT THERE! HE'S RIGHT--"

And as the orcs gleefully slaughtered their most outspoken critic, the group collected poor Tizerk and sneaked out the way they came...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Colossus of Ylourgne

Long one, this time.
One of the neater things TSR ever published was the old Castle Amber module.

It had nothing to do with the Roger Zelazny novels. It was a rather unique Dungeons and Dragons adventure based on the works and worlds of fantasy author Clark Ashton Smith, and it was a doozy, containing mysteries, puzzles, monsters, planar travel, and at one point required the party to time travel in order to solve a mystery. At this point, this post will take two forms: the black text explaining what the party did, as opposed to the red text quoting from the Smith original story...

Upon successfully obtaining the Potion of Time Travel, the party, in their quest to escape from a parallel universe (medieval France) and return to the Forgotten Realms, set forth to the capital of the province, Vyones, in order to seek out the Viper-Circled Mirror from the wizard Gaspard du Nord.

Unfortunately, en route, they encountered a terrified curate, fleeing from his monastery – the last survivor. The monastery had been destroyed by the necromancer Nathaire, in the body of a hideous horror, the Colossus!

“In the interim, several monks of the Cistercian brotherhood, watching the grey wall of Ylourgne at early dawn with their habitual vigilance, were the first, after Gaspard, to behold the monstrous horror created by the necromancers.”

“Then, with both hands, the colossus tore loose an immense rock that was deeply embedded in the hillside; and lifting this rock, he flung it at the stubborn walls. The tremendous mass broke in an entire side of the chapel; and those who had gathered therein were found later, crushed into bloody pulp amid the splinters of their carven Christ.” ---Clark Ashton Smith, The Colossus of Ylourgne

The party hurried along the King’s Road north, to Vyones, finding the town in an uproar, and the Viceroy hard pressed to maintain order. Caravans of the wealthy and noble were headed south, and they’d commandeered most of the province’s standing military to escort them! The party did what they could to help… until summoned to the chambers of the Viceroy’s chief advisor… the wizard Gaspard du Nord. Du Nord had once been a pupil of Nathaire’s, and had a secret weapon that might help against the hideous horror…

“Working feverishly by the light of the westering moon and a single dim taper, Gaspard assembled various ingredients of familiar alchemic use which he possessed, and compounded from these, through a long and somewhat cabalistic process, a dark-grey powder which he had seen employed by Nathaire on numerous occasions. He had reasoned that the colossus, being formed from the bones and flesh of dead men unlawfully raised up, and energized only by the soul of a dead sorcerer, would be subject to the influence of this powder, which Nathaire had used for the laying of resurrected liches.”

“Gaspard made a considerable quantity of the mixture, arguing that no mere finger-pinch would suffice for the lulling of the gigantic charnel monstrosity. His guttering yellow candle was dimmed by the white dawn as he ended the Latin formula of fearsome verbal invocation from which the compound would derive much of its efficacy. The formula, which called for the cooperation of Alastor and other evil spirits, he used with unwillingness. But he knew that there was no alternative: sorcery could be fought only with sorcery.” ---Clark Ashton Smith, The Colossus of Ylourgne

A bargain was struck: Gaspard would surrender the Viper-Circled Mirror if the group would aid him in laying low his former master. Armed with three pouches of the necromantic powder, and their own spells, the group set out for Ylourgne at all speed, hoping to head the monster off before it could attack the city.

They almost made it.

“A cloud of arrows, visible even at that distance, rose to meet the monster, who apparently did not even pause to pluck them from his hide. Great boulders hurled from mangonels were no more to him than a pelting of gravel; the heavy bolts of arbalests, embedded in his flesh, were mere slivers.”
“Nothing could stay his advance. The tiny figures of a company of pikemen, who opposed him with out-thrust weapons, swept from the wall above the eastern gate by a single sidelong blow of the seventy-foot pine that he bore for a cudgel.” ---- Clark Ashton Smith, The Colossus of Ylourgne

“His head was level with the tower, and his eyes flamed like wells of burning brimstone as he drew near. His lips were parted over stalactitic fangs in a hateful snarl; and he cried out in a voice like the rumbling of articulate thunder: "Ho! Ye puling priests and devotees of a powerless God! Come forth and bow to Nathaire the master, before he sweeps you into limbo!" “ – Clark Ashton Smith, The Colossus of Ylourgne

The group paled before the enormity of the task. One swat of that tree the monster used for a club would squash a man like a tomato! But armed with courage and firepower, they advanced…
They knew that the Colossus’ backpack contained Nathaire’s apprentices… all necromancers themselves, who could heal Nathaire as quickly as he took damage. Plainly, the first step was to destroy them while the Colossus was distracted. Using spells, they severed the straps and blasted the wizards within. Meanwhile, the knight Navarre, using the Hammer of Hermes, launched himself at the monster’s shoulder, hoping to grab hold and cast his pouch of powder into the monster’s nose!

Didn’t quite work that way. Lacking any practice with the Hammer, he successfully thwacked himself into the monster’s back, and got its attention. The horror turned, and found the remainder of the party barbecuing his pupils!
Scott and Nathan narrowly avoided being hammered flat with the mighty pine club (tokens were spent). Meanwhile, Navarre clambered higher on the monster’s back, using tent pegs to crawl onto the monster’s shoulder… (he can be seen, wearing green armor and green shield, in the picture below; the purple caped figure wielding green fire is Nathan.)

"Draw nearer, Nathaire, if indeed it be you, foul robber of tombs and charnels," he taunted. "Come close, for I would hold speech with you." ---Clark Ashton Smith, The Colossus Of Ylourgne

…and it was then that the monster finally realized someone was on his back. He seized Navarre and began to squeeeeeeeze!

Nathan summoned the Hammer of Hermes to his hand! The weapon lay forgotten at the base of the city walls! It leapt to the air, and tore back to its master’s hand…. punching straight through the monster’s thigh! The monster screamed… and began to draw breath…

…and the party flung their pouches of powder into the monster’s face! Scott immediately triggered the spell designed to return the souls of the dead to their stolen bodies – and then, inspired…. Blessed the creature!

The monster stopped. It looked confused. It dropped the near-dead Navarre from a twenty-foot height, doing him no good at all.

“The anger was erased from the mighty, contorted mask, as if from the face of a dead man; the great cudgel fell with a crash to the empty street; and with drowsy, lurching steps, and listless, hanging arms, the giant turned his back to the cathedral and retraced his way through the devastated city."

"He muttered dreamily to himself as he went; and people who heard him swore that the voice was no longer the awful, thunderswollen voice of Nathaire, but the tones and accents of a multitude of men, amid which the voices of certain of the ravished dead were recognizable. And the voice of Nathaire himself, no louder now than in life, was heard at intervals through the manifold mutterings, as if protesting angrily."

"Climbing the eastern wall as it had come, the colossus went to and fro for many hours, no longer wreaking a hellish wrath and rancour, but searching, as people thought, for the various tombs and graves from which the hundreds of bodies that composed it had been so foully reft. From charnel to charnel, from cemetery to cemetery it went, through all the land; but there was no grave anywhere in which the dead colossus could lie down."

"Then, towards evening, men saw it from afar on the red rim of the sky, digging with its hands in the soft, loamy plain beside the river Isoile. There, in a monstrous and self-made grave, the colossus laid itself down, and did not rise again. “ ---- Clark Ashton Smith, The Colossus of Ylourgne

The adventure ended with a crazed three-day party, the payment of a substantial reward from the grateful populace of Ylourgne, and (as the party was leaving), the apparent construction of a statue of the three of them in the town square… the Saviours of Ylourgne!

“Of Gaspard du Nord, who had been the saviour of the province, it was related that he lived in much honour to a ripe age, being the one sorcerer of that region who at no time incurred the disapprobation of the Church.” – Clark Ashton Smith, The Colossus of Ylourgne for the whole text of the original story!

The Battle Of Bulette Pass: An Exercise in Group Storytelling

TODD THE BARBARIAN, half-orc. Still getting the hang of this "magic axe that comes back when you throw it" thing.
IXCHEL THE MAGE: No armor whatsoever. Eek.
SNIG THE GOBLIN: Why should adventurers have all the fun?
FATHER ANDERSON: Cleric and den mother.
MISER THE MINSTREL: Bard and seduction machine.
MEREDITH: Druid and animal lover. This does not include bulettes.
REDGAR: A fighter. A BIG fighter. A very STRONG fighter. But not a very high LEVEL fighter...
TIZERK OF THE GOLDEN BOW: Elf. Archer. And not present for this session, regrettably.

Part One. The bulette has attacked the group while traveling through the mountain pass out of the Battle of Bones, en route to a treasure site somewhere in the Anauroch Desert. Miser the Minstrel has had the crap beat out of him, and has retreated back into the wagon. Todd the Barbarian has had the crap beat out of him, and is on the ground in front of the wagon, barely alive (behind the bulette).

Yes, Tizerk, your horse is fine.

Meanwhile, Redgar sneaked out of the back of the wagon, flanked the beast, and whacked it a good one, getting its attention. Father Anderson, holding the torch, is seen to the left of the wagon, having had the crap beat out of him, too. Meredith the Druid is visible at far left, using her Bag of Boulders to pelt the beast with mega-sling-stones. Ixchel the Mage is not visible, as he is hidden in the wagon, poking his head and arm out every turn to launch a spell at the monster, then quickly withdrawing to safety.

Part Two. After having the crap beat out of him, Redgar is swallowed whole on a natural twenty. The monster then goes after the source of pain in his left buttock (Father Anderson and Meredith); Anderson is closest, and gets attacked. Ixchel continues to pop out, launch spells, and pop back inside, like a demented Whack-A-Mole that shoots back. It is somewhere around this time that Snig the Goblin is seen, hanging onto the monster’s underbelly and trying to hack through its armor. The group yells at him to get out from under the thing, which he does.
Part Three. The group disperses to raid assorted fast food joints, regrouping a half hour or so later.

Part Four. Snig does a Legolas Maneuver, charging up the monster’s tail onto its back, drops prone, and begins using his daggers as pitons, to move forward onto the monster’s face, closer to its vulnerable eyes. Redgar is taking heavy damage from the monster’s digestive juices and constricting stomach. He solves this by tearing open a bag of caltrops, hoping to give the monster indigestion. This works, but also has the effect of turning the monster’s guts into something resembling a cheese grater, in which Redgar is now being abraded and squeezed to death. Meanwhile, angry and in great pain, the monster attacks Father Anderson, bulldozing Todd and knocking the wagon aside, nearly onto Miser (seen at right). Critically injured, Father Anderson desperately looks for a way out – and notices Todd’s battleaxe, which is still embedded in the monster’s armored forehead…

… and Father Anderson leaps onto the monster’s head, seizing the axe, nearly losing a foot when he uses the thing’s lower lip as a springboard. He is now in one of the few places on the map where the thing cannot bite him… but he’s in deep trouble if it decides to start burrowing again!
Meanwhile, Snig claws his way closer, closer, to the monster’s eye – STRIKES – misses, and promptly fails his reflex save. He’s sliding forward, right toward’s the angry beast’s mouth! Fortunately, Father Anderson is in the way, and his ears provide fine safety handles. He finds himself nose to nose with Anderson, terrifiedly clutching the cleric’s head for dear life. Anderson is just as terrifiedly clutching the axehandle. Redgar, dying, begins frantically kicking the monster’s tonsils around with his heavy boots---

---and Todd, still axeless, charges around behind the monster and whacks it in the butt as hard as he can with his mighty Gauntlet of Fury!

---and the mortally wounded (and VERY nauseous) bulette projectile-vomits Redgar some thirty or forty feet (far right). Redgar takes serious damage from this; imagine a flexible cheese grater suddenly and violently giving birth to a large fully armored fighter, and you’ll have a clue.
The monster collapses, convulsing, dying, heaving its last.

Miser turns and runs towards Redgar, beginning a healing spell under his breath. The monster gags and coughs, one last time. A blast of blood and phlegm, studded with a great many iron caltrops, erupts with the monster’s dying breath.

Miser catches the edge of the moist shotgun-blast, and is knocked ass over teakettle, although his injuries are minor.

Todd, feeling very pleased with himself, roars the Name, to summon his mighty magical axe back to his hand… having completely forgotten the purpose it serves at the moment.

The axe ploughs a trench up the dying monster’s forehead, up and over its back, down its spine, and right at Todd’s face, taking Father Anderson and Snig with it. Todd glances up and sees his axe, with a goblin’s butt poised right above it, screaming right for his face.

Todd blinks twice, and promptly flings himself on his back, using his Uncanny Dodge.

The axe plows into the ground above Todd’s head, stopping cold. The axe haft catches the plummeting Father Anderson in the belly, stunning him badly. He falls on the unfortunate Snig.

And lo, there is much rejoicing.

Left to Right: Todd, Ixchel, Snig, Fr. Anderson, Meredith, Redgar, Miser, and a raccoon.