Thursday, June 27, 2019

Metal From the Dirt

Metal From the Dirt: Inside the Navajo Reservation's DIY Heavy-Metal Scene

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Venom and Coil

"Venom and Coil," written by Robin Laws and illustrated by David McClellan
"Venom and Coil" is an article in Dragon #305 that adds additional depth to the yuan-ti, D&D's evil snake people. Although it is perhaps unintentional, the article gets philosophical about human nature. You see, the yuan-ti strive against each other for pride of place in their hierarchical society. This isn't noteworthy in itself, but it takes on new meaning when you realize that the murderous impulse for dominance is far more common among the yuan-ti who are more human than snake. The purebloods, who appear mostly human, are the yuan-ti most likely to kill one another as they fight their way to the top of the heap. In a sense, this is a bit of worldbuilding that is saying To be human is to be violently competitive.

(The only thing I don't like about this philosophical tangent is that it falls under a heading that reads "Hissy Fits.")

The yuan-ti commit evil deeds in hopes that their vile actions will awaken Merrshaulk, their slumbering Snake God. However, only gratuitous evil acts committed in Merrshaulk's name count toward rousing the god from his sleep; if the yuan-ti receive a tangible benefit from an act of destruction, it doesn't count. Merrshaulk seems to be the god of pointless dickish behavior, but it does give the DM a license to put any old dumb plot in the hands of the yuan-ti: their end goal doesn't have to make sense or have a graspable motive, they're just doing whatever awful thing they're up to in hopes of getting their deadbeat dad to notice them.

Check out this dope Serpentor hat tho.
As you might imagine, yuan-ti are hatched from eggs. Yuan-ti priests are allowed to eat unfertilized eggs, but it is taboo for other yuan-ti to eat them. Yuan-ti are also eugenicists: their priests control the egg fertilization process, matching "male and female with careful calculation" to breed ubersneks. They also practice selective breeding to keep the correct caste ratios in place. Yuan-ti society is predictably patriarchal; only male yuan-ti get to serve as priests and other important positions. The article tries to make the claim that female yuan-ti are respected too, but falls back on the trope "the girl ones are really good at scheming!" to get there, which isn't very convincing.

As is the case with most evil races in D&D, the yuan-ti practice slavery. But if you thought we were going to get out of this article without some Fu Manchu-style orientalism, think again. The yuan-ti keep their slaves docile and pliable by getting them addicted to "white resin" (read: opium). The take-away from the article is that the yuan-ti are a combination of Howardian snake cultists, "racial scientists," internet shitlords, and the inscrutable yellow peril.

After reading the article, I took a look at the yuan-ti chapter in Volo's Guide to Monsters to see where 5e deviates from the older take on the yuan-ti. There's no mention of white resin in Volo's, but the taboo against cannibalism is also gone. The eastern Asian influence has been largely replaced with a broad Inca/Aztec vibe, which is an interesting continent shift but not necessarily an improvement.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Feast Your Eyes

Art I've been inspired by lately:

Bernard Zuber 

 James Tissot

 Travis Truant

 TB Choi

Dave Rapoza 

Dolores Previtali 

Erhard Amadeus Dier 

Sangsoo Jeong

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Betrayal of Taltos Draghul

Premise: The characters were members of the Swords of Avernus, a mercenary company plying their bloody trade in the Borderlands. The Swords of Avernus was destroyed when the band's commander, Taltos Draghul, betrayed his brothers and sisters in arms by leading them into an ambush. 

Only four members of the Swords survived the onslaught: Anya, a clockwork assassin built in the guise of a young girl; Aries, a devilish paladin pledged to an oath of conquest; Brigid, a barbaric human storm-priestess from the hoary northlands; Vargen, a mutant ranger accompanied by Olaf, his wolf companion.

The game began with the party tracking Taltos Draghul across the Borderlands of Urazya. They knew that Draghul was not traveling alone. As they followed Draghul's trail, the adventurers spied a way station watchtower at dusk. Curiously, the tower's beacon was not lit even though night was approaching. The party argued about whether it was worthwhile to search the tower or not, but ultimately curiosity won out.

The tower eerily silent, but showed signs of enduring an assault: the door had been broken and hastily repaired, some of the furniture inside had been smashed during what appeared to be a pitched battle, and there were blood stains on the floor throughout the structure. However, there were no corpses to be found. While exploring the tower, the party was set upon by a group of degenerate humans and slavering ghouls who were hiding in the upper floor. The battle was brief, their enemies were slain, but the adventurers received dire enough wounds that they decided to rest for the night inside the relative safety of the tower before picking up on Draghul's trail.

Examining the corpses of their foes yielded an important revelation: although they didn't recognize the degenerate humans, the ghouls were all wearing the uniforms of members of the Swords of Avernus. In fact, Vargen recognized one of the ghouls--he had fought side by side with the woman in a past battle fought by the Swords.

In the morning light, the party could see a walled village in the distance. As they rediscovered Draghul's tracks, it was confirmed that the village would be their next destination. Perhaps the villagers would be able to help them find their traitorous former commander.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Fellowship, Love Ties, and Blood Feuds

Art by Giorgio Baroni
These variant rules for awarding and using inspiration can be implemented to further the bloody drama of The Liberation of Wormwood. When these rules are adopted, inspiration can be granted and used in the following ways:

When a player character protects another player character or a friendly nonplayer character from harm, their player can declare that they have a bond of fellowship with that character. When a player character has a bond of fellowship, they can invoke that amity to gain inspiration when they act to defend the character they are bonded to or when they act to further that character’s interests. Inspiration can be invoked by calling on a bond of fellowship once per session.

A player can declare that their character is in love with another player character or a nonplayer character. If the attachment is between two player characters, it is a good idea to discuss this at the table to make sure everyone is comfortable with it. Keep in mind that this love is not necessarily reciprocated. When a player character has a love tie, they can invoke that intimacy to gain inspiration when they place their trust in the person they love or sacrifice themselves for the loved one’s benefit. Inspiration can be invoked by calling on a love tie once per session.

When a player character is harmed by a nonplayer character, their player can declare that they have a blood feud against that character. When a player character has a blood feud, they can invoke that vendetta to gain inspiration when they act to injure the object of their hate or to frustrate their goals. Inspiration can be invoked by calling on a blood feud once per session.

If you like the content above consider checking out The Liberation of Wormwood, a supplement for generating characters facing the invasion of their hometown by a usurping force, now available in print and pdf from DriveThruRPG.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Folklore and the Monsters It Brings

Since I currently have an HBO subscription to watch the end of Game of Thrones and the Deadwood movie, I thought I'd poke around their other offerings to get my money's worth. One show that I stumbled upon was Folklore. Folklore is an original miniseries; each episode is a self-contained story taking place in a different Asian country that showcases some facet of that culture's horrific folklore. 

Here's the trailer:

The episodes range wildly in terms of tone and aesthetics. I thought they were all roughly "good," but the real interest for me was being introduced to monsters that I might want to research further for my own projects. Here's a breakdown of which folkloric element is featured in each episode, in case you want to delve into the stacks too:

  • A Mother's Love (Indonesia): Wewe Gombel, the menacing spirit of a woman who adopts abandoned children.
  • Tatami (Japan): A haunting caused by memories and emotions seeping into tatami mats. 
  • Nobody (Singapore): Pontianak, the specter of a woman who died while pregnant.
  • Pob (Thailand): Pob, a murderous spirit that feeds on human flesh.
  • Toyal (Malaysia): Toyal, a childlike creature controlled by black magic who is used to bring luck and bestow curses.
  • Mongdal (South Korea): Mongdal, a virginal male ghost who desires to marry a woman's ghost to find peace.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Japanese Song of Ice and Fire

Check out the cover art on these Japanese editions of the Song of Ice and Fire books: