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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Torc of Tongues

This is a magic item I thought up for a contest for Legend of the Flame Princess. I didn’t win. Which I was kind of expecting given the quality of responses a general crowd-sourcing call gets in that part of the web. The old-school blogs I follow have pretty creative readers. I, however, thought that I would at least be the only person to use the word/item Torc. It is hardly in common usage after all. Nope, another guy used it as well. Ah, the fleeting sense of uniqueness passes so quickly.

Anyway I thought I came up with a exotic and somewhat gruesome magic item. In my opinion it is a great hook for future adventures and a great character hook. Really spells out what a adventurer will do for extra abilities. Very few characters are missing a tongue (might need to write up that critical hit table) so if this item is found the decision whether to slice out their own tongue will come up. A good gamemaster will play up the gruesomeness and gore of taking a dull rusted blade to do the deed.

Also the chance that each tongue might start saying words other then what the character is intended is a wonderful hook for the gamemaster. Will the trapped soul ask for release? Will it try to deceive the rest of the party? Will it say exactly what the character wants until they are in the middle of a tense negotiation before breaking out into blasphemous chanting and song? The possibilities are endless.

The torc also illustrates what I believe is important for magical items. It isn’t too powerful to be given out as the first treasure a character finds and on the flip side is useful enough that a character might keep it for their entire adventuring career. The lack of stats/mechanics/bonuses helps with this. That could just be to keep the item system neutral, not specifically a power level thing. My opinion is the best way to keep magical items interesting is to make each one enough to base an entire character around. Which means that every magic item should be possible to find as the character’s very first piece of loot and helping define that character from that point on.

Torc of Tongues
Nobody knows how many of these torcs are around, most people who discover the truth behind them hope that the answer is ‘not many’.  Wound around the the torc are 2d6 still living tongues of various species. The tongues are constantly moving and shifting when worn, writhing against the bare skin of the person wearing the torc.
If the person wearing the torc has lost his tongue (or had it cut out) he can take one of the tongues on the torc and put it in their mouth. It bonds to where they used to have a tongue and allows them to speak with the same creatures that the tongue came from. Depending on the tongue, they may also be able to speak in any languages they knew before as well. While wearing the necklace the tongues that come from it can be removed and put back onto the necklace and another one may be chosen.
If the necklace is removed the bonded tongue is permanently joined as the person’s own tongue and is no longer part of the necklace. Also, there is a chance (10%) that each time a tongue is bonded to the torc’s wearer the trapped spirit of the creature takes control and the tongue will say whatever the tormented soul wishes instead of the speaker.

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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Items

 

Lizardfolk

The lizard-men I have had rolling around in my head for a few years now are somewhat different then most I’ve seen in books. Though not to any great degree. The initial inspiration was from a character I made for a game that never happened, but the culture I thought up stuck with me and I have been letting it unfold and build in my head since.

Lizardfolk can be found in nearly any environment, but most stories speak of them as swamp dwellers. They have a tribal culture of hunter-gatherers with no static home. Just large areas of territory they move around in. This leads to most other races not considering them very civilised and treating them as mere savage monsters. Only the most knowledgeable scholars suspect that they have a society that extends so far into the past only the elves can match it. All passed on voice to voice down the ages.

The thing that make other races fear and hate them is their use of necromancy. The magic of the dead is considered a horrifying practice in the more settled nations, and mostly for good reason given how the power over death corrupts most mortal races. Lizardfolk explain this as a lack of distinction between two kinds of necromancy. Control of the body and manipulation of the soul. For the lizardfolk the soul belongs to each person, but the body belongs to the tribe. This is true during life as warriors and hunters devote themselves to the greater good of their tribe. But it also extends past death when the soul is no longer in the body. So the shamans of each tribe preside over the funeral rituals to make sure every dead body is preserved for the tribe’s future need.

They consider animating bodies into undead to be the same as using wood cut from a tree. A natural use of resources. The flip side is that manipulation or binding of a soul is the highest blasphemy there is and a tribe will go to any lengths to destroy a necromancer who dares to use those magics.

I’ve always pictured the lizardfolk as skull-adored creatures of stealth and ambush. Yet powerful enough to be dangerous in fair fights. With dozens of preserved bodies on call anywhere a shaman might need to animate them for protection. As well as a few dozen zombies and/or skeletons accompanying the shaman everywhere.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2012 in Monsters

 

Anime: Code Geass

Well, this one is probably a series you’ve at least heard of. A good chance that if you are a anime fan you’ve already seen at least an episode or two. If not, then you should go fix that right now and go watch some.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion is easily in my personal top ten favourite series. Nice animation, clever writing, deep characters, and giant robots. What’s not to like? The primary reason I like this show so much is, first, that there are heavy moral struggles in the show. Second, that the moral struggles are not confined to a artificial duality such as a simple good vs evil conflict. In Code Geass everyone has to pick between bad choices and worse choices in a world that seems completely determined to destroy everything they are working towards.

Basic premise is a alternate scifi history. Main power of the world is the Empire of Britannia that conquered Japan a decade or so previously and renamed it Area 11. Reducing the local population to second-class citizens or slaves. There is a resistance, but they aren’t doing so hot. Mostly because the Britannian military is too powerful due to their use of humanoid robots in combat. Which is weird and amuses me. That Japan gets conquered because the *invader* have superior robotic technology.

Main character is Lelouch, a son of the emperor who everyone thinks is dead and is living in hiding in Area 11. He hates his father and has the dream of destroying the empire as revenge for his sister being blind and in a wheelchair. This is mostly a long-term dream until the events of the first episode. There he gains the power of the Geas. The ability to give a order that the victim must obey to the best of their ability. The trick is that the power only works once for each person. Another reason I like this show is that after the intial rush where he goes a little crazy, Lelouch is very methodical in testing and figuring out the limitations of his new power.

He eventually uses his genius and the Geas to become the leader of Area 11’s resistance movement. Using them as the first tools to topple his father’s empire. The main obstacle is that his best friend from his childhood is working for the empire. Suzaku Kururugi is the son of the last prime minister of Japan and ended up as a soldier in the Britannian army. He ends up piloting a prototype military robot and is the main reason Lelouch’s plans fail time and time again during the show. His goal is to save Japan, but from inside the empire and obeying the rules instead of simply trying to break it from outside.

There are many, many good characters and relationships in this show. It is the connection between the two main protagonists that shows how complex things get. Both Lelouch and Suzaku are children of royalty, of one kind or another. Both were raised to lead a nation. Both of them had their lives destroyed by the war that conquered Japan. Both of them are highly skilled and capable at accomplishing what they set out to do. They were even close friends who agreed, both when they were younger and now, that the empire is the problem with the current state of the world. Yet for all their similarities they both pick wildly different paths to fixing that source of trouble, and because of that they end up fighting each other. In the end it comes down to a fundamental difference in their core personalities.

Which is on one hand weird because their basic personalities would seem to point to them switching places in the larger scheme of things. Lelouch is a manipulator. He uses his intellect to guide the flow of people and events down the actions he wants to happen. He sees most people as mere pieces on a chessboard to be moved by his will. Suzaku is a person of direct action. He always does things himself regardless of the challenges in the way of success. Just from that you’d think that Lelouch would be trying to manipulate the system from the inside, and Suzaku the one smashing against it from outside. The difference being is that Suzaku is willing to sacrifice to something greater then himself, while Lelouch doesn’t believe that anything outside of himself is capable of surpassing his ability.

The subtleties of both personalities and interactions unfold gradually throughout the entire series. I’ve met people that had totally different interpretations of anything and everything in this show. So you really should check it out yourself. Two seasons long and good enough that I’ve watched it four times and found something new and interesting each time.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Anime, Reviews

 

Anime: Hell Girl

jigoku Shojo or Hell Girl is another one of the shows I like a lot. Given that they’ve done three seasons of it, all pretty good quality, obviously proves that my tastes control the anime industry. Maybe not, but I can dream.

The premise of the show is pretty simple. Supernatural agency of horrible revenge manifesting as a cute girl named Emma Ai. In my personal definitions this show falls under science fiction, though the show itself would be closer to fantasy for most people. The reason I enjoy it so much is that it is mostly just thought experiments. For most of the first season the show is extremely episodic with each episode standing alone with nothing except Emma Ai and her three minions connecting them together. Each episode is almost ritualistic, very much like a stereotypical magical girl show now that I am thinking about it. Situation is explained, tragic backstory is expounded on, villain demonstrated, Hell girl is summoned, victim wishing revenge has to decide if going to hell themselves is worth dragging the villain down with them, then revenge is carried out. End of episode is the brief view of the aftermath. Next episode repeats.

Yet even in the very cookie-cutter formula that most of the first season consists of shows plenty of human drama. Given the tone of the show we see the worst aspects of the human condition, but I never really felt that the characters were mere cardboard cutouts. The single-shot situations and characters almost always felt like full characters. I’m sure that a lot of that is that we never really have enough time to find the flaws in the characterisation, but I feel that is a strength. Easy to fake depth short-term, so to speak.

The first season does attempt a more coherent plot over the last third or so of the season, which works better then a lot of series manage to pull off. Part of me wishes they had just gone with purely episodic for the entire run. They’ve managed to make two more seasons of the anime, and a live-action adaptation to boot. So they probably shouldn’t listen to how I would do things. The live-action was actually done really well.

The later seasons don’t change the formula much. Her minions backstories and personalities get explored. The ruler of hell shows up at one point. The second season was really enjoyable (for a show about horrendous things happening to horrible people that is) because the show spends many episodes extrapolating what might happen in various situations that fans may have thought up during the first season. All the little loopholes in summoning or triggering the supernatural revenge.

On top of everything else, the visuals are top-notch. About average animation in general, and in Emma Ai’s ‘transformation’ scene the visuals are top-notch. Apart from the animation itself, the art style is just breathtaking. it is a show worth watching solely for how pretty it is.

Do be warned, it is a show that dives into some fairly brutal subjects and gets fairly gory in places. Hesitated to use the term ‘realistic’ about a show of supernatural forces, but there is no cartoon violence here. Blood, guts, murder, the kind of things that would make you want to condemn someone else to hell at the cost of your own soul.

Haven’t really gotten into the content of the show, mostly because of the very ritualistic form of the episodes. If you watch the first episode you know exactly what the show is going to be like. Not in the ‘this is the tone of the show’, but much more literally. The characters and situations, the details change, but the format and unfolding of the next half-dozen episodes is practically a ‘fill the blank’ style. Don’t let that worry you though. For this show that is a strength, not a symptom of lazy writers.

So go watch that first episode. Unless you don’t like any amount of violence or emotional darkness in your entertainment. Then you really shouldn’t try this show. Otherwise it is worth seeing.

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2012 in Anime, Reviews

 

Drakes

Drakes are my troll analog. It also fits into a running sub-theme I use from time to time which is normality being twisted into something monstrous. In another fashion, Drakes are also a replacement for ogres as bigger and crude humans. In this case, it is a bigger and crude drakkar (dragon-person).

Drakes are incredibly dangerous creatures. Built much like the more civilized drakkar, many theories connect them as relations of some type. Some scholars even think that the drakes are somehow corrupted versions of the that race. They have lost the wings of the drakkar and stand several feet taller. Averaging around 8-9 feet at the shoulder. Often looking shorter with a crouched-forward posture. They lack higher intelligence but retain a feral cleverness for traps regardless of their own strength.

Filled with and constantly wreathed in raw elemental forces that make wounds disappear nearly as fast as they can be inflicted. This also means that any place that a drake stays for long stretches of time get soaked in that same raw elemental energy. Poorly made structures and items will crumble and be destroyed, becoming rubbish. Any high quality items may last long enough to capture some of the forces and become powerful, if crude, magic items.

The lair of a drake will be filled with traps and elemental eddies. Spirits and mephits spontaneously conjured by such energy will defend the drake’s lair as their own home. If the Drake is defeated the energies will ebb and disappear, forcing them back into the elemental chaos. So they strike from hiding using the same ambush tactics. Hiding in their elements until they strike, then vanishing again. The traps in a drake’s lair are often very viscous, but not instantly deadly as they have no concern about being wounded.

The greed of dragons is very strong in a drake. Even though they don’t seem to have any reason for wealth or understanding of value they like to gather precious metals and gems. Hoarding them instinctual. This hoard never gets bigger then the drake can carry as they never want to be very far away from what they have collected.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2012 in Monsters