Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

My favorite Christmas Carol. Enjoy. And Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Old-School Monsters: Catoblepas

This Dave Trampier illustration appears in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook, circa 1978.

It is the Catoblepas, which makes it's first appearance in the 1977 AD&D Monster Manual. The Catoblepas is not an original creation of Gygax and Arneson, as it is referenced by such people as Pliny the Elder and Leonardo da Vinci. Both Pliny and da Vinci report that the Catoblepas is a shaggy beast with a head so heavy that the creature can barely lift it. A good thing too: it's glare turns you to stone, or it's breath poisons you, depending on which ancient or medieval source you believe.

I find this illustration of the Catoblepas notable for a couple of reasons. First, the picture it is illustrated from the viewpoint of the Catoblepas, not the characters who are battling (or fleeing) it. I think you will be hard-pressed to find many modern fantasy rpg illustrations that are framed from this perspective. Most modern fantasy illustrating focuses on the characters, not the monsters they are battling. The alternative perspective employed here diminishes the importance of the party, and puts the Catoblepas in the foreground of the picture frame, elevating it's stature and importance.

The other notable thing about this illustration is the characters look like run-of-the-mill types, not Paladins in gleaming armour, Amazons in scale-mail bikinis, and Wizards bursting with magical energies. No, these are farmers-turned-adventurers, and they are clearly outmatched by the Catoblepas. In modern heroic rpg art, the super-characters would instead be closing in for the kill, not hesitating, fleeing, or screaming non-sensically.

Perhaps i'm simply worshipping at the Altar of Tramp, but to my way of thinking, there is something far more interesting about an illustration where the outcome of a battle is in doubt, where the Mountie doesn't get his man, where the adventurers turn and run away so they can fight another day. Tramp and the other old-school artists got it right, whether it was portraying the adventurers involved in absurd and humorous situations, losing battles, or partaking in mundane adventuring activities.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Timelords and Ringlords

This is indeed a strange coincidence. Jimmy Cauty, one half of the discordian band know alternately as The JAMs, The Timelords, and The KLF, was also an accomplished artist, and created two posters, for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, in the late 70's/early 80's. Though I never owned either of those posters, I remember them well. I think one of my middle school buddies had one or both of them, as he and his mum were huge Tolkien fans.

I was heavily into acid-house music back in the late 1980's and early 1990's. Two of my favorite 1980's Calgary dance clubs, The Banke and The Republik, had a DJ who was in a University class with me, and he would cut us tracks from the latest Chicago and English acid-house band releases while he was DJing. The KLF was my favorite acid-house band. It didn't hurt that The KLF politics bordered on the anarchic and their antics were gleeful social and cultural disruptions.

The KLF's The White Room album was sheer genius. Too bad The KLF's follow-up album, The Black Room (a planned collaboration with the heavy metal band, Extreme Noise Terror) was still-born.

These LOTR and Hobbit posters are incredibly intricate, and the Gandalf in Cauty's Lord of the Rings poster is among my favorite renditions of the character.

I just think it's odd that Jimmy Cauty, one of the original Timelords -- Doctorin' the Tardis -- should have also been a fan of Tolkien's Ringlords.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Ivy over at The Happy Whisk, was asking me what a Chinook is. Here is the answer to that question, courtesy of wikipedia, along with a picture of a "chinook arch" over downtown Calgary. Click picture to embiggen.

A "Chinook" is a wind from the Pacific ocean flowing over the Rockies into the interior regions of southern Alberta (ie. Calgary and environs). A strong Chinook can melt one foot of snow in a day. The snow partly melts and partly evaporates in the dry wind. Chinook winds have been observed to raise winter temperature, often from below −20°C (−4°F) to as high as 10°C to 20°C (50°F to 68°F) for a few hours or days.

The ch digraph in Chinook is pronounced as in French (i.e., shinook). This is because the French-speaking voyageurs of the fur companies brought the term from the mountains.

In Lethbridge (south of Calgary), Chinook winds can gust in excess of hurricane force (120 km/h or 75 mph). On November 19, 1962, an especially powerful chinook there gusted to 171 km/h (107 mph).

In Pincher Creek (also South of Calgary), the temperature rose by 41°C (from -19°C to 22°C) in one hour in 1962 - trains have been known to be derailed by chinook winds there. During the winter, driving can be treacherous as the wind blows snow across roadways sometimes causing roads to vanish and snowdrifts to pile up higher than 1 meter. Empty semi trucks driving along Highway 3 and other routes in Southern Alberta have been blown over by the high gusts of wind caused by chinooks.

Calgary gets many chinooks - the Bow Valley, in the Canadian Rockies west of Calgary, acts as a natural wind tunnel funneling the chinook winds.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

If Two Strength-13 Fighters Arm-Wrestle, Which One Wins?

Is there a D&D mechanic to simulate this sort of contest, or would each of you simply roll a d6, high number wins?
What about if a Stength 14 fighter arm-wrestled a Strength 13 fighter? Would the Strength 14 fighter win every contest?
I ask because Dying Earth RPG has an interesting dice-pool mechanic, where your attribute score is the number of dice you receive. Potentially, in that circumstance, a lower strength character could beat a higher strength character, if the former was lucky or the later unlucky.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Laws Of Magic

There was a question the other day regarding how a certain new spell that I posted operates. To answer that question more generally, I point you to this excellent article on the Laws of Magic. While you may enjoy reading that article, here is a brief summary. The following notes should assist in the creation, and prediction of the effects and limitations, of spells employed in Dungeons and Dragons (understanding, of course, that those spells are simply game mechanics, and are not real...).

Law of Mind Over Matter: This Law holds that the mind controls the body and the physical environment. Put another way, every physical creation is preceded by a mental creation.

Law of Belief: this law states that in order to command or perform magic, you must believe in it, and your power to control it.

Law of Knowledge: knowledge is power. The more you know about a person or phenomenon, the more powerful you magic can be in relation to them or it. Spell and Character "levels" in D&D try to account for this law: for example, higher level characters can use higher level spells of the same type that are more powerful (think of the power word spells, or the various fire-control spells).

Law of Self-Knowledge: Nosce te ipsum -- know thyself. Those who are self-aware and know their abilities are better able to use them.

Law of Names: knowing the name of something gives you power over it. The more specific the knowledge, the more power you have. For example, Maple heartwood is more specific that wood; Thomas, son of Donald, is more specific than Thomas, is more specific than Man.

Law of Association: this law states that things that are associated with each other can effect each other. An obvious example of this law would be a voodoo doll: a pin poked into a voodoo doll will injure the person the doll is associated with.

Law Of Similarity: this is a sub-law of the Law Of Association, which posits that effects resemble causes. For example, pouring water on the ground will make it rain, or striking a match will create a fireball.

Law of Contact or Contagion: this law states that things that were once in contact will continue to act on each other once the physical contact is severed. A good example of that is the "Leap Of Logic" spell that I posted the other day: the stone that the player throws, continues to be "connected" to the player after it is thrown, allowing the player to leap to the same location as the stone. The author of the above article uses another example, of a warrior eating the liver of a lion, in order to gain the strength of the lion.

Law of Words of Power: Words of Power are such things as "abracadabra", hocus-pocus, Jehovah, Pope, Vizier, or the proper name of an infernal Lord. The power of the Word is tightly bound to the weight to which others ascribe to the Word, or the person using it. This is why it is important that magic-users garb themselves in sufficiently arcane and fearsome attire, that way, their use of the "power word" spells will have greater effect.

Law of Identification or Imitation: this allows someone to assume the characteristics of another, for example, shape-changing, contact other plane, or divination spells.

Law of Synthesis or Opposites: this law states that two opposing viewpoints can be synthesised into a new viewpoint that is not simply a compromise between the two.

Law of Polarity: this law states that everything can be separated into two polar opposites.

Law of Balance: this is an exhortation to be even-tempered, flexible and open to alternatives

Law of Infinite Data: this law says that there is always more information out there.

Law of Finite Senses: while data is infinite, our capacity to receive and process all that data is limited by our senses.

Law of Infinite Universes, Law of Pragmatism and Law Of True Falsehoods: these three laws are inter-related, suggesting that, since everyone sees things differently, one should be flexible and accepting when your views conflict with the views of others.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Valley Of Graven Tombs

Along the slow-moving river Scaum, between the towns of Viliyat and Doomerth, lies the Valley Of Graven Tombs. The Valley Of Graven Tombs is yet another interesting locale in The Dying Earth, along with Tunnelsmouth.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

New Spell: Larodrm's Leap Of Logic

Level: 2
Components: V,S,M
Range: touch
Casting time: 1 segment
Duration: special
Saving Throw: none
Area of Effect: creature touched

The arch-mage Larodrm, known for his laziness and fear of riding beasts, created a number of leaping and travelling spells to allow him to journey long distances with minimum effort. In addition to his Leap Of Logic spell, he also created the 9th level spell, Leap Year, which allowed him to leap, continuously for a year. Behind his back, the other arch-mages derisively named his Leap Of Logic spell, *LOL*, since the sight of Larodrm's leaping never ceased to fill them with great mirth.

Larodrm's Leap Of Logic spell allows the spell-target to leap a great distance. It is similar to the first level spell, Jump, but the distance leaped is equal to the throwing range of the creature affected.

The distance that can be leaped by the target is equal to the spell target's strength, times 10 feet (or yards, if outdoors) to a maximum of 140 feet (or yards, if outdoors). In order to use the Leap Of Logic spell, the target must toss a rock (properly ensorcelled and covered with runes) at the location he intends to leap to. The spell-target then leaps to that same location. The material component is a bag of ensorcelled rocks, with runes etched upon them.

This spell is similar to the 3rd level Cleric spell, Leap Of Faith, and the 3rd level Enchanter spell, Lover's Leap. The Leap Of Faith spell requires that the arrival location is in visual range and that the departure point is prepared with symbols of the deity of the person leaping the distance. The Lover's Leap spell requires that the person leaping can see their Lover to whose location they leap. Otherwise, the range is limited to the leaper's strength, times 10 feet (or yards, if outdoors) with the same maximum distance as the Leap Of Logic, and the leaper must imagine that his lover is at the location being leaped to.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Magic Item: Death's Door

It is unknown whether Death's Doors were created by Sorcerers and Necromancers, or by the infernal powers themselves to tempt mortals to their doom. No two Death's Doors look the same, and some are sufficiently non-descript that there is no outward clues to their true identity and function.

A Death's Door, when placed into an doorway, functions as a passage to the Underworld. The Underworld to which Death's Door opens depends on the user, so the Death's Door could open to different infernal planes for each person attempting ingress.

Death's Doors can weigh several tonnes, but because they are magical, regardless of the weight of the door they can be carried by two or more people, or transported in a cart or wagon.

The standard use of a Death's Door is to attempt the recovery of a fallen comrade or lover from the afterlife. The term "hovering at Death's Door" refers to the hesitance of the users to pass through Death's Door, for several reasons. First, they must brave the dangers and horrors of the underworld. Second, once the comrade or lover is located, every demon, devil or other denizen within range will be alerted to a mortal's presence, and will make every effort to capture the interloper(s). Third, there is a chance that the deceased will refuse to accompany the searcher back to the land of the living, as they are quite content where they are or feel they have no reason to return to a mortal life.

Once placed in a doorway, a Death's Door cannot be removed by infernal creatures. That, along with the fact that the users of the Door will unerringly know in which direction the Death's Door is located, provides some assurance that once an individual uses the door, they will be able to find their way back. However, non-infernals can move the door, and if that is done, knowledge of the Door's location is lost, and the person(s) previously using the door may be trapped in the underworld, unless the can find another Death's Door location or other passage to the land of the living.

To operate the Death's Door, the user must think of the deceased person, and recite an incantation that asks the Death's Door to find and allow passage to the person being so located. The Death's Door will typically open a passage to the underworld that is within one mile of the deceased, although, being a somewhat capricious form of magic, the door may open above a lava flow, chasm, vacuum, or other deadly location.