Friday, November 21, 2008

Lines and Holes

One of the things that I really loved to do before the advent of the internet was to page through books and photocopy cool images for my Dungeons and Dragons group. When they started adding supporting images to modules I was in love. S1, S4 and C1 were truly evolutionary for me. But the best resource I had besides any image that was included in a module was the magazine "National Geographic". You could find the neatest, most amazing, unbelievable things between the covers of those magazines.

It's true that reality is often stranger than fiction. The old adage "You can't make that up...", nearly always holds true when viewing an odd image out of a "National Geographic". Fast forward to the modern era and toss Google into the mix and Viola! You've got one of the coolest inspirational tools at your disposal. I'm going to mention just two small instances of real-world examples that just beg to be ported into your fantasy campaign: Cenotes and Nazca Lines.

A cenote (Wikipedia link) is basically just a type of naturally occurring hole in the surface of the earth, through which the ground water can be easily accessed. These are for the most part a pretty common occurrence on the Yucatan Peninsula. But they are far from common when you see them in real life. They absolutely scream "Cool access to an underground fairy realm!", or "Portal to the elemental plane of water!". I'm sure that you can think of all sorts of things right? You don't have to view them in real life to be inspired, they're seriously cool man.

Now, the Nazca Lines (Wikipedia link) are NOT naturally occurring, which in fact is one of the things that makes these things so damned neat. Simply stated, these Nazca Lines are a series of "pictures" (otherwise known as geoglyphs) that stood for something to the ancient indigenous peoples of Peru. They're massive, sometimes cryptic, sometimes recognizable images of things that can actually be seen from space. Despite the many rumors that surround these lines, it is widely held that they were in fact quite easily constructed by the technology that was readily available to the people of that time. But who cares? Look at these things...Tell me that doesn't make your mind spin.

You look at a Nazca Line and immediate you're thinking ancient space faring race right? Or some kind of cult that created ley lines pointing to deeply important religious sites. These things of course can be stumbled upon by adventurers...maybe deep in a jungle, or on a high plateau, and they'd be tough to recognize from that angle. What are they? These things that stretch off in impossibly straight lines? Off into the far, dusty distance or the emerald shadows of a jungle, they stretch towards unknown treasures and lost cultures. 

Just like in real life.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Working with ancestors

James M., over at Grognardia had a nice little write up on his "Drow", he calls them Eld. And to be quite frank, like James, I'm a wee bit sick of Drow and am in dire need of something a little different. I loved the Drow when they first appeared on the scene in the G modules, but unfortunately R.A. Salvatore and Drizt has ruined it for me. For some reason I associate Drow with WoW or McDrow these days. They've just been run into the ground and are as stale as last week's pancakes.

So it's back to the drawing board. I'm going to borrow a little of James' hard work (His original article can be found here.) as the basis for my elder race and give them a tweak or two in order to personalize them a tad and let them slip seamlessly into my fantasy taxonomy.

Eld: (yes I'll keep the's cool)
The Eld are an ancient race, descended from the deep voids of space, that had originally colonized the dark side of the largest moon, orbiting the "world". A natural hop, skip and jump placed them smack in the middle of a wilderness that had yet to be populated by an intelligent "master" race. The Eld fit that to a 'T'.

By bringing strange technologies from their home world, coupled with their mastery of the arcane forces of chaos, the Eld were masters of all they surveyed. 

And so on and so on... Much like James' Eld, but with a twist. Read on.

The Eld were a race born of the darkness between stars and had descended from a planet that knew natural light only a fraction of the time (Think "Pitch Black"). While direct light wasn't part of their evolution, light did exist and was used....The closest moon to their home world was a luminous and silvery entity that marked the Eld's day and night with its orbit.

Reflected light played a large part in the magic of the Eld, and they became masters of reflections; Travelling through mirrors, pools and any reflective surface the Eld also were able to cast over long distances and discovered much about the dark places by casting their reflections farther and farther into the chaos. And as all things that touch chaos for too long, the Eld soon became warped through close association.

The current Eld now live in the deeper darkness beneath the surface world and there they still cast their likeness and weave their madness-laced spells through flickering light and reflection. A shadow or an errant reflection seen in a mirror is often termed "An Elder Casting" by the common folk of the surface world, but the meaning has been largely lost. Some of the older races know of the Eld but it has been long since they've been heard of...and longer yet since they've been "seen".

Their are a few ancient Eld cities still in existence, now mostly inhabited by degenerate slave races, that lie deep beneath the surface. These cities are twisted and strangely difficult on the eyes of the surface folk. They reflect any light cast upon them into odd dimensions so that the buildings and thin purple spires twist and weave as if they live. Shadows seem to rush and ebb, as if they were the tides of an unseen ocean that crowd the narrow, empty streets.

The Eld themselves are a dying race and it is extremely rare to ever come across one. Most of those that still live are deeply ensnared in a "casting"...and can be found on occasion in front of one of their enormous black mirrors, staring deeply into the depths, as unresponsive as a corpse. Their cities are troves of strange technologies and magics, the likes of which would bend most sane minds, still, these are items of great power.

Who knows what power the Eld still wield as a collective race. They yet might control things on such a subtle scale that none can detect their influence. Or maybe they've been "gone" so long that they've been eternally lost to the chaotic maelstrom. No one living can tell these things. And that may be for the best.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Making hay while the sun shines...

I love that old adage. What it means to me, in this day and age, is that you've got to work while the muse has its talons in you,'s gone. Piffft! Like morning mist under the hot sun, it just somehow disappears.

My daughters (10 and 7) have finally rolled up a couple of characters for a sandbox game of Labyrinth Lord. I was (and still am really) vacillating back and forth between LL and Swords and Wizardry. I finally decided upon Labyrinth Lord due to the existence of the thief. I know that there's a lot of hemming and hawing in regards to the thief and the part that class plays in the game, but I'm a fan. Simple and straightforward.

What I've got so far is a small town called Botkinburg (from C&C's Blacktooth Ridge), which I thought apropos since we've just returned from a trip to Germany and much of what the Chenaults have written seems to be very Germanic in name and feel. Let's just say it's the mood I'm currently in and go with that.

I'm using the Hruesen river from the Troll Lord Games setting as well...since, well it's there. Beyond that though, it's a crap-shoot. I've gathered all sorts of ideas from near and far and have yet to truly place them on a map, not to mention flesh them out. So, I thought I'd try and post a couple of ideas / locations per day (not likely, but hey, a guy can dream can't he?).

Up first, is the hermit from B2 Keep on the Borderlands. I've always loved the Erol Otis illustration and I always imagined that there was a lot more to the gnarly dude than the little snippet mentioned in the module.

So here's my take (apologies to GG if I'm treading on toes or messing with "canon".):

The Hermit of Tangle Downs is of an indeterminate age, as well as race. No one has spoken with him in ages, but he's also been a part of the local lore for as long as anyone can remember. The Tangle Downs is an area rife with danger, and the hermit sits right amidst it without a care in the world, with only a wild cougar to call companion. Now why might that be?

As previously stated, no one knows where the Hermit came from, he's "always been there". Which might seem to be the case, but the truth of the matter is, he's a dead wizard's "familiar" guarding a long forgotten library.

Long before this area was inhabited by humans, a stranger came out of the far east, some say from beyond the ocean, some say from even further. But the exact location has been lost to the passage of time. What is known, through old wives tales or just plain myth, is that he worked in the arcane arts and bent the forces of chaos to his will in order to build an abode. An ebon tower of basalt had sprung up over night. And within? There were none about, not elves, not gnomes, nor dwarves or hobbits, that were brave enough to explore that fell dwelling.

Long years passed, the wizard disappeared and the tower fell into disrepair...decaying quicker than natural. There are those that say that it was chaos claiming its own.

Today the Hermit sits and waits. He guards that which is invaluable; lore of the forgotten ages.

While the Hermit is interesting, what lies below is even more so. The ancient oak that grows twistingly towards the sky was at one time just a seedling in an old crumbling parapet garden, sitting atop the tower of that eastern practitioner of dark arts. The energies released from thaumaturgic circles and night-borne rituals eventually made their way to the tree, and over time fed it in a way that no natural rain or sunshine ever could.

Over the ages the tower crumbled, but the oak endured, as did the servant within. His master had died long ago, but the enchantments that kept him here were strong beyond imagining. Decades, then eventually eons passed and the lure of the knowledge drew him to the shelves upon shelves of books and scrolls. There he feasted upon dark thoughts and ancient, twisting wisdom until he had sated himself.

The ancient tree's roots slowly replaced much of the stone in that top tower room, the only room to survive the passage of time. And in so doing, a vaulted chamber of stone and living, enchanted wood became the resting place of much stygian learning.

These days the Hermit sits in a small, simple room within the tree, above the ancient library. He guards and watches as he's always done. And every once in a while, if the right question is asked, if the right tone of voice is used and the correct offerings made, the Hermit's mind takes fire and it is possible to hold discourse with him....For a short time. His knowledge of the arcane, of the places between places, creatures from the depths of the void and what once stood in the area, are beyond ken. He is truly a font.

But, this slight window does not remain open for long. The chaos of what slithers upon the pages below overcomes the rational, and he reverts, back to the mad Hermit that has forever dwelt in the Tangle Downs.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

My Avatar

This guy is so cool.... I can't even tell you what Hobbes means to me. He and Calvin were, and are, such an integral part of who I was during the time that the cartoon was nationally syndicated. Bill Waterson is brilliant.

I mean really, there's no one I can think of that's capable of coming up with such a loveable couple of characters.