The Abyssal King draws champions to his realm with the promise of glory and renown. It is a twisted, broken land, dotted with castles, towers, and ruins, scattered amid craggy peaks and thick, gloomy forests. Only the bravest, most daring, and ruthless can ever hope to win a place at the Abyssal King’s table. Others must wins service with the lesser lords and ladies, or carve a domain for themselves out of the wilderness where fearsome beasts dwell. And beneath it all the Moldrig wait, the cursed dwarfs who once ruled over men, steeped in terrible wisdom. plotting their insane schemes, and working their arcane forges.
Whether by sword or sorcery a knight seeks but one thing: glory.
Once upon a time one of my 3rd grade students drew this:
THE DREADED EAGLE SHARK!
And I was like, yes, my players will have to fight this. And they did! And then afterwards they all drew pictures of it,
because they are greedy for sweet sweet experience points because EAGLESHARK!
As you can see the description sort of shifted because it was late and I was like eagle wings, no bat wings, no two legs, no four legs – two tiger, two eagle…
The Gray Weirds are the remains of certain wizards and sorcerers who sought to escape the ravages of Ur’s Fifth Cataclysm by transforming themselves into gray oozes.
In their inactive state Gray Weirds resemble stone columns supporting a stone mask or bust depicting the person they were before their transformation. When provoked they lose their rigidity and display all the characteristics of gray oozes. In addition to these abilities Gray Weirds may cast each of the following spells once per day: ESP, mirror image, and hold portal.
Gray Weirds tend to lair in the habitats of their former selves – wizards towers, isolated research facilities, etc. Whether or not they retain any aspect of their former personalties remains unknown — to date no one has successfully communicated with a Gray Weird or knows if such a thing is even possible. Gray Weirds often cultivate other slime creatures in their lairs.
“NOTE: You do NOT need a Ph.D. in History to play this game. This game is based around the most superficial knowledge of U.S. history, and the personages therein. If you only know Samuel Adams as a beer, or think LBJ is a political group fighting for the rights of alternative sexual lifestyles, so much the better!”
From “Presidents of the Apocalypse” a gonzo superhero presidents versus radioactive mutants homebrew Dennis has been tinkering with.
This game is genius.
You can be armed with an Eisenhowitzer.
Here’s a story.
I used to pass this guy every morning on my way to work at this certain streetlight. He’d be on a bike and I’d be walking.
He was an older Korean guy wearing a baseball cap and aviator sunglasses, always casually dressed but super neat like if it were raining he’d be riding the bike one handed holding an umbrella with the other, and the open umbrella would be perfectly parallel to the road, not held sloped or slanted like you or I or any other slob would.
Anyway, he always said “Good Morning” to me, so that’s the name I gave him. He was like my alarm clock. If I didn’t see him on my way to work, I knew I’d be late.
But in the past few months there’s been all this construction near work and I’ve had to detour past the place where we usually met, so I hardly see him. I still do but it’s rare and no matter when I do, he always breezes by me on his bike saying “Good Morning.” This even happened once on a Saturday afternoon.
So I told Jin about the guy and she thought it was amusing. But then earlier this week we were coming out of the supermarket and there the guy was in his track suit and wearing a cravat (and baseball cap). It was nighttime, he said “Good Morning”, and we stopped and chatted with him. Turns out the guy’s a retired master ship’s surgeon from the Korean Navy who works as a school crossing guard, which is where he’s always going in the morning. He also thought I was from Uzbekistan. Jin was more than a little amused by that, and after we left she said, “You know that guy’s now going to take you out drinking.”
That might be interesting.
So that fascinating thing I hinted at about the setting in my last post about Le Morte D’Arthur – it’s totally generic McEurope, but instead of this being a design flaw, it’s a design feature.
Actually calling it McEurope is too specific. It’s more McMedieval Feudalism seen from the top without ever looking down. It’s an aristocracy divorced from all other social classes with an endless supply of weapons and armor to fight with. You have to at least enjoy that stuff as aesthetic trappings without any attendant realism. Only once does someone go to town and see a craftsperson to get a thing fixed. That’s your realism. Peasants hardly ever appear in it, and knights apparently have nothing better to do than stand all day beside bridges challenging whomever happens to walk by. “None shall pass”, etc.
What locales there are all blend together. Bridges, cloisters, and wells with maidens (or knights) weeping beside them lend some decoration to the otherwise indistinguishable setting. There are castles, and outside every castle is a forest. Inside the forest adventures happen.
But I said this is a feature rather than a flaw. What makes it fascinating is how quickly bright sanitized McMedieval Feudalism can become weird foreboding mythic id-laden fairyland. The one rule is when you go into the forest stuff happens to you. That stuff can be the frat-house jousting (with accompanying sides of homoeroticism and misogyny), or something a lot weirder and subconsciously ripe. It’s no surprise that “the forest” gets transformed into “the wasteland” during the Grail Quest.
What to make of this? On one hand the setting is so bland and divorced from reality as to be nonsensical. On the other hand that blandness has an advantage when telling a story and playing with archetypes, especially because the bland is divided in half, a mundane world and its fantastic reflection, and the archetypes are never quite certain when the one will shift into the other. Not just this, but any deviation from the uniform setting stands out.
So it’s okay to be bland as long as it’s a conscious choice. Use it to your advantage. Dive deep and swim in the dark waters waiting beneath the bland’s placid surface. Find those pearls waiting down there along with those toothsome beasts. What you find might be wonderful or it might be ugly, but it won’t be bland. That’s for certain.
Mr. Bowes, I suspect this frightening tableaux originated with you, yes?
“Shadows Under Hexmouth Street” is my Joe Mitchell in Lankhmar story (mixed in with bits from my late aughties day job at an architectural preservation company).
Joe Mitchell was a 1940s New Yorker writer. That’s him over there on the left. He specialized in urban pieces about kooks and weirdos. Lankhmar’s a massive fantasy city created by Fritz Leiber. That’s it in the middle as drawn by Mike Mignola, the Hellboy guy. In the early 1970s Leiber published Our Lady of Darkness, there on the right. It wasn’t set in Lankhmar, but it featured a magic system called polisomancy. Polisomancy’s all about capturing urban elementals born from construction materials and was practiced by kooks and weirdos in cities.
My story’s about that.
You can read it or listen to it here.
“Professor Mannhardt relates a strange legend current in Mecklenburg to the effect that in a certain secluded and barren spot, where a murder had been committed, there grows up every day at noon a peculiarly-shaped thistle, unlike any other of its kind. On inspection there are to be seen human arms, hands, and heads, and as soon as twelve heads have appeared, the weird plant vanishes. It is further added that on one occasion a shepherd happened to pass the mysterious spot where the thistle was growing, when instantly his arms were paralysed and his staff became tinder.”
From “The Folk-Lore of Plants“, by T. F. Thiselton-Dyer