Archive for July 13, 2018

Sick bastards!

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

From the Journals of Stephor the Seeker:

My travels in search of the necklace have taken me across the vast expanses of everywhere and right next door. Strange creatures abound everywhere that can’t be contained in a single volume bestiary. None have been so strange as what I have come to call the Lucha-iraffe.

Edward and I had just recovered from knees and elbows bar brawl with the Carnivorous Strawberries that ruined a perfectly nice day near London watching an admirable woman win her sporting match, when we drove our borrowed chariot back to where we parked our ship. It was as the guidebook asserted a typically gray threatening to rain sort of morning. We drove through suburban houses trying to find the highway, more on the irony of two strong men used to tall ships and the right stars to steer them fumbling with that infernal navigation assistant, later.

We came upon a fellow hero (we assume) being attacked by the foul beasts in question. Edward is even crazier than I when it comes to supporting other heroes, he hasn’t said but I assume he pays penance for…well, Blackbeard. Edward had the wheel as my previous times at the controls came from that other great English speaking country where the chariots assume Right Lane, Wheel on the Left and asserted the switch would kill me. Truthfully, I just wanted to look at the trees and houses. Don’t tell Edward that.

So when we saw the incident depicted in the photo pasted next to this entry, Edward jammed the foot brake while pulling the handbrake forcing us into a spin. He had paid attention turning the wheel into the direction of the spin and – THUNK! – wiped out the third of what looked like giraffe-men who for reasons of photographic decency wasn’t preserved in this volume. When this third beast landed in a nearby oak tree, Edward exited his door with all the violent bluster I’ve come to expect of him.

“Aye, me lads, what have ye?” Edward asked in his characteristic bellow.

Edward cuts a fine imposing figure even when his speech doesn’t revert back to his original slang. However, he’s the first to suggest that tire irons in lieu of his much favored steel cutlass does more than speaking Pirate to help those impressions. The giraffe-men, whom at first I took as idiot men dressed up for a costume event, barely looked over their shoulders from their task pummeling the hero with the metal Roman helmet. Around this time, I took the picture with my borrowed phone as my images are more aesthetically pleasing.

We charged in headlong as much because the beating the helmeted man took complete with abject bleating for mercy did cause us to question his status as hero. But, then again it was a prodigious beating and we fight whenever we can or need to. I reached the struggle first leading with a hard elbow and shoulder throw. Edward had picked out the other one, the beast seen grabbing helmeted man by the nutsack. He has such a low tolerance of gropers, must be another pirate things I’ll never fully understand.

WHAM! All you need to know at this point in the fight is that both Edward and I wound up flat on our backs grateful for the fact that our foes hadn’t yet finished with the helmeted man. In my case, I didn’t fight a delusional man as I suspected, but a monster or at the least a human-derived mutant. He had an extremely stretchy neck that he bent in the middle to escape my modified shoulder/neck throw. Edward later told me that his opponent extended his neck forward like a battering ram to bash him in the chin forcing him to drop the tire iron.

Suddenly, my mind reached the instantaneous conclusion that the giraffe analogy was spot on. I had assumed it was just the orangish mottling on their skin, but the stretchy weaponized battering ram head cemented this. The helmeted man bleated his last words for at least three weeks and fell by one of the tires of a parked chariot. And then the battle became even stranger…

Edward had scrambled to his feet dogged at every turn by his giraffe-man. The villain had my large friend by the throat flailing about for any sort of hand weapon finally closing his hand on a side mirror attached to the blue chariot. I sparred with my beast using every wit I had left to avoid getting my ass kicked by someone that moved like he’d been taught at a secluded Chinese temple. Apparently, hand to hand combat among bipedal creatures is largely the same, except for pressure points.

I nearly broke my hand on his head, I shifted left and got him on the chin with a front snap kick. That got his attention as he wobbled slightly and ever so briefly. WHAM-CRUNCH! Edward mashed his villain with the mirror raining glass shards over the pavement drawing blood that thankfully proved crimson. I don’t like other hues of blood.

“Bucear desde el coche!” Edward’s villain shouted instructing mine.

The beast before me went vertical stepping up off the tire up into a backflip that landed behind me. Hard won experience in these fights already had me moving my head to the left so this orange bastard couldn’t throw the inevitable rabbit punch. Even though they were bleeding almost as much as we; they moved like acrobats cooperatively switching between Edward and me as targets.

They spoke their language, I later identified as Spanish as they proved the best fighters in my life to that point. In one case mine took a cupped hand boost leading into a pike and full layout that – CLONK! – resulted in me getting a foot to my chin. They had no words other than announcing their blows. Still, we thought we had the pattern until the return of the stretchy battering ram head.

Attrition killed us as it kills everyone…eventually. Edward and I stood back to back spitting blood and at least one tooth…his I swear. We mumbled our ‘forever and forever farewells’ and we kept our hands up when…KA-BOOM! KA-BOOM! A resident of what had been a sleepy neighborhood where good people live emerged on the front step of his single floor house with a double-barreled shotgun killing both of our foes…

Editor’s note:

Stephor and Mr. Teach profusely thanked the homeowner for their deliverance and promised to provide the man’s grown daughter a good husband, which was promptly declined because he only had sons. The blood ran dark crimson on the pavement where the two previously invincible armored heads attached to stretchy necks lay blasted across the asphalt and into the nearby gutter. It was this homeowner that named the lucha-iraffe, a portmanteau of luchador and giraffe after how they fought and their orange giraffe-like hides. Stephor noted that bullets solve many problems…

In game terms, the lucha-iraffe is a mostly humanoid monster or pissed off human mutation with a penchant for mugging in order, people wearing shiny objects, nosy people wearing shiny objects that butt in where they aren’t wanted and anyone else they feel like. They have two major weapons at their disposal superior hand to hand combat skills and the described armored heads attached to those surprising stretchy necks.

They fight normally like luchadors jumping or falling off cars, handrails tucking into a highly acrobatic combat style. Luckily, so few have ever been encountered in wresting or boxing rings so it is only unsupported conjecture that the lucha-iraffe gain bonuses (+4 optional) to both the attack and damage when there is an actual turnbuckle to leap off.

It is not known why they only seem to speak Spanish or have the disturbing tendency to grab certain opponents by the privates. Another, not fully documented trait is that the lucha-iraffe has a highly developed sense of gender in that male would consider it beneath them to fight with females though this changes when there are females of the species present.

As they are human-sized bipeds with interesting adaptations for combat, the best available data suggests a range of three to seven D8 hit dice per example. Their native armor is roughly equivalent to leather armor. Apparently most of that armor springs from the thick bones in their skulls that they use as battering rams. It is also untested but presumed logical that native armor increasing with hit dice as they age. Another untested theory is that the rubbery stretchy necks might be susceptible to severing and all around beheading. Repeat this is untested.

And there you have it bored gamers…The Lemony Lucha-iraffe.

One of many representations of Circe, a named corespondent herein…

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Spurred on by the repetition of at least one of my defining whines, not reading nearing as much as I wanted in the past few weeks, I finally read The Rat Queens Vol. 1 (see review). Ironically, this graphic novel about a quartet of plucky femme dungeoneers also touches on my other great whine, not playing enough tabletop RPGs, but I digress. Anyway, my point. There was a panel (picture omitted for surprise value) that when you get past the NSFW goriness that got me thinking about the relationship between the magic that wizards cast and that of clerics. Simply put, I have a lot of recent trouble telling the difference between wizards and clerics in my fantasy RPGs.

First off, definitions. A wizard, sorcerer, magic user, illusionist, witch or warlock refers to any character that casts magic spells that doesn’t come through the auspices of the campaign’s local deities. The repertoire includes all the classics inspired by Gandalf or the Dark Witch in the Woods: Fireball, Lightning, Sleep, Open Doors, Charm, Persuade, or Love (or the appearance thereof) and many more. Healing spells are definitely off the menu, probably the Inter-dimensional Brotherhood of Adventuring Clerics filed a grievance.

The cleric is a holy one, shaman, priest(ess), imam (ardent Islamists might freak here the way ardent Christians have already freaked abouteverythingRPG), or spirit guide that derives power from worship of and, let’s face it, evangelism for one of the deities provided by the DM/GM. While the spell list is actually more varied to mimic most of the cool miracles that come to us from the Bible and a few other sources, in practice the cleric bulks up on heal spells…the team medic. According to most game systems, when it comes to wizards and clerics never the twain shall meet, except at the Prancing Pony just before the beginning of the adventure. Define arbitrary for the next ten generations.

In the specific example of Dungeons & Dragons, the RPG system of which awareness appears nearly universal, both classes are kept in check using the leveling system common to all character classes. Reading the The Player’s Handbook, you’ll see charts telling how many spells/divine miracles a character gets per day/rest period. There is a chart for wizards and another for clerics; the restrictions are generally similar. A beginner gets one spell per day or rest period and experience characters get more according to the progression on the chart.

In D&D, the wizard or cleric memorizes or prays for spells up to the limit of his or her class level. A player with a wizard character has to guess what one, two, three or more spells will be most needed for the next session (characters sometimes die guessing wrong). A cleric could have this problem, but in practice the party only needs the medic so Heal spells every time. A spell is lost until the next day or rest period (typically four hours per spell level) and spells can’t be switched out on the fly.

If you’ve been paying attention to this blog column, you may have read my previous post (see post) highlighting my confusion about how dungeoneering, as seen from the characters’ perspective, actually just takes too long and that after three rooms cleared no set of monsters or other foes should everbe surprised. Part of this dynamic results from the party needing to stop after every three or four rooms to recover spells. What happens to wizards and clerics in the state of – “My energy’s spent at last. And my armor is destroyed. I have used up my weapons. And I’m helpless and bereaved.” – depends on the character class.

The wizard, generally drawn from a studious librarian archetype, suddenly becomes an arrow sponge. They have the worst hit dice (D4) of all the player character classes. They still carry the staff, pointy hat and visible talismans the pretty much advertise the – WIZARD, KICK ME – sign so frequently taped to their backs. Until the next rest period the wizard hides behind the more convenient of Big Rock or Even Bigger Warrior.

By contrast, the cleric has more immediate survival prospects. The generic cleric of the early editions couldn’t carry swords, but maces and hammers aren’t too shabby. This is an homage to the ordained brothers and fathers that fought with the various crusading militant orders (Templars, Hospitalers, Teutonic Knights and Knights of Malta), who lawyered a proscription against swords by being amazingly literal. Clerics get D8 hit dice, swing a bashing weapon that helps a lot with skeletons and wear decent armor…they’re almost warriors.

As a side note, it took a few editions for clerics to gain rules that allowed them to adopt the weapon most associated with their chosen deity. In part this touches on the subject of another possible future essay on the push-pull tension with Christianity built into the game system from jump (but not today). Suffice it to say, worship a deity associated with swordplay, carry a sword. Simple logic.

There are other RPG systems available that arrive at the same general place of controlling how much magic inexperienced characters get to throw around by different means. Most of these use some form of exhaustion rules that deduct the magic as a temporary cost from a running health tally. You can cast any spell you know switching on the fly and you stop when you can’t stand up to fight. To the best of my knowledge and understanding, GURPS Magicand the card game Magic: The Gatheringused variations of this system. Clerics are still handled separately, it seems.

Up to this point, the need to explain how things are has precluded discussing the arbitrary distinctions between the character classes. Here goes…

Are wizards also not healers in some form? When the NSFW image from Rat Queens crossed my eyeballs, I certainly was inspired to ask this question. I also thought back to the literary antecedents in fantasy literature. Doing so broadened the question to – aren’t wizards also not clerics, to the extent that cleric and healer aren’t synonyms?

Gandalf, pretty much everyone playing a wizard takes a few cues from Tolkien; it’s union bylaw. Delving deep into the supporting works, the five wizards were basically the lowest level of bad ass angels that could be sent to Middle Earth without breaking the delicate balance of the universe. And since Tolkien, in linking his work to C.S. Lewis’ Prelandra books, decreed Middle Earth as one type of fictional pre-history, similar to Atlantis, Lemuria or the Hyperborean Age of Robert Howard. All spiritual outcomes in Tolkien’s work then leads into the Modern Age and the new name for  Morgoth is Satan.

Five hundred years prior to The Final War of the Ring the wizards get off the boat sent from the people across the sea to help with Sauron, actually a second rank fallen angel like Beelzebub. They live forever or until the war is over. They provide wise counsel and when that fails they bring enough magic firepower to even things up against a bad guy that doesn’t feel any restrictions using magic for his own gain.

So is Gandalf a pure wizard character? We can argue the leap that he’s a massively ripped angel probably at least three levels below Archangel on the assumption that sending Michael probably has the unintended consequence of knocking planets out of orbit. Could an angel figure also take on traditional cleric roles due to being an angel and the fuzziness describing from where he gets his power? Wise counsel and moral leadership? Could be.

On the healing front, Gandalf isn’t depicted doing his own healing magic. But, he traveled through a world that also had Elrond and Galadriel in it. These elf lords and ladies lived in Middle Earth for far longer and knew all the medical tricks at the level where medicine and magic might be indistinguishable. Gandalf could safely delegate curing Frodo to Elrond in the hopes of the best care possible. The movie versions accomplished elf healing with a lot of super bright white lighting that could be mistaken for a cleric asking his gods (the Valar in this case) for the grace to heal someone. A spell.

Additionally, Gandalf might have wanted to delegate the more normal healing, herbs, setting bones and such to Rhadeghast the Brown. A forest protector would, as a matter of character design have more immediate access to the herb knowledge, especially Kingsfoil, that he might do better. But, is anyone someone operating under the impression that Gandalf couldn’t do anything magical if Tolkien wrote it so?

The most telling example of the Gandalf arc that muddies up the argument about him purely being a wizard is his treatment of Theoden King of Rohan. Grima Wormtongue speaks in the apparently dotty old man’s ear. Gandalf talks somebody  at the door into letting him keep his staff. First, he beats up Grima wiping the floor with him. Then, he points his staff at the king and ejects the part of Saruman holding tight to the king’s nightmares.

Sure looks like an exorcism to me. Clerics in games typically have exorcism in their arsenals but they don’t ready the spell until they know that they need it. Yes, gamers have also seen The Exorcist. The first blurred line between wizard and cleric.

Bringing this out of the fictional works of Tolkien, there are other traditions in our common sociological/anthropological/mythological database that give rise to our fantasies about magic. For instance, an author/DM/GM has the tried and true myth of Hecate the goddess of magic. All wizards using this Greco-Roman concept are all by definition also priests and priestesses of Hecate. Circe from The Odysseywas depicted as Hecate’s star pupil and high priestess. Cleric or witch? You decide kids.

Similarly, many pagan faiths, some of which have survived into the present, all seem to blend the distinction between wizard and priest even further. Many call upon a goddess. And in the specific case of Black Magic, it’s a name that tradition associates with Satan. And when you read the accounts from all of these traditions, the spell caster is actually able to do anything desired from both the spell lists of the RPG wizard and cleric without regard to the alleged difference. People fly and heal at the same time.

I realized all of this when I also recently started serializing a story appropriately titled – Who Needs a Cleric?(See post). I was originally going with Dungeon Hospital, but I hadn’t thought up enough characters to make it a soap opera.

I drop a Hispanic first-year surgical resident in media res on a tough case of open-heart stab surgery on a dwarf. She comes from the La Brujeria subculture and was sent to the fantasy realm to acquire a magic battery to return home to Earth. She gets the dwarf on a hand-cranked version of a heart bypass machine, but has to deal with the embolism that many times follows successful surgery. Her dormant magic kicks in to help.

Using a variation of See Through Walls she sees the blood clot lodged in the brain as if looking at real time MRI imagery. Then, she warms up a Focused Heat spell to broil away the mass to clear the nerve cluster and blood vessel all without opening the dwarf’s skull. Both pretty much use straight up wizard magic to replace key pieces of equipment common to real world surgery.

Is she a witch/wizard because she uses traditional wizard spells in a creative way to heal a patient? Or because she comes from a female bruja bloodline that is just as likely to call upon a goddess, angel or something else to get things done, do we call her priestess? I wrote her and even I can’t fully answer the question. I suppose we might lean towards witch/wizard simply because the heal spells of a cleric or Tolkien elf seem to cast the messy business of diagnosis upon the named deity – “Take the wheel, Athena!” Too subtle a difference for most readers and players, for sure.

So there you have it, a lot of words about how some things endemic to role playing games and the accompanying literature have logical flaws that few care enough about to argue. Am I advocating for some kind of rules change? No, it is first and foremost a game and playing is a social contract to agree to a set of rules. Really stupid rules can be jettisoned but the rest, you just go with them. For example, Football still has many odd rules remaining from Rugby Union made moot by the shape of the ball. And let’s not go there with those highly variable Free Parking rules in Monopoly. That causes fights. And let’s get back to the rest of our day.

A bad day for Supes fighting the Purple Wizzer…

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

From the journals of Stephor the Seeker:

One night during a lull in the on-deck concert by the men and their instruments, my Number One, a fine man by the name of Edward Teach, told me of a beast so foul as to make our recent encounter with a Noir Easter seem like mere childhood terrors, like a first visit to a tooth puller, that fade with time. Ridiculous name or not, the Purple Wizzer (Edward’s name for it) is a deadly and foul abomination that isn’t ever to be taken lightly.

According to Edward, he was still Captain of his former vessel the Queen Anne’s Revenge. She always sounded like a fine vessel, even when put to her reputational nefarious uses as a pirate. But, since the story Edward told me figures in how I now can trust him as the single finest mariner I’ve ever seen, I suppose I can, as always, refrain from torturing my friend with his past.

Anyway, the tale he told while the strings and guitars argued about tuning put shivers to me that I didn’t think I still had. He sailed near Charleston at a time when the city fathers still debated the spelling whether the current one or the older Charlestown. A fat prize of the kind that always proves irresistible to salt dogs of his ilk appeared a little bit to the north.

The usual mundane aspects to reavers closing and boarding a fat merchantman transpired. None of the target crew appeared on deck. Only Edward gripped his blade with the appropriate force once he swung over to that heaving deck. A superstitious man of those superstitious times, my friend kept warning his men to greater alertness. Of course, from what he said next I doubt that tighter grips on sabers, epees and cutlasses would have helped.

The official history of my new favorite realm known as Earth records that Edward Teach, Blackbeard and last Captain of the Queen Anne’s Revenge merely opened the wrong wardrobe door in the officer’s quarters allowing a dashing naval officer to spring the ambush Scottish Claymore in hand. If true, a fitting end for unrepentant pirates. The truth was far stranger…

Edward recalled vividly poking his sword point between frame and door of that wardrobe. His hands shook telling me of his racing heartbeat and heavy breathing. A pirate bosun tripped and kicked over a spyglass. Edward shrugged once the rolling brass tube nestled against the bulkhead thinking that he’d used up the bad luck for everybody that day. He leaned in and twisted open the latch.

If the Royal Officer had actually been hiding with the coats, Edward wouldn’t have gone straight. He swears he was too sober and good to lose to just anyone. I have no reason to doubt my friend; he wins more deck fights than he loses. Even now, once we have switched over to Glocks this is still the case.

All Edward would say when asked to closely describe the beast was, “Fuck, Stepho, it was purple…I think!”

Editor’s note:

Stephor goes on to explain that his first officer threw up an arm and recoiled falling back to the deck. The purple whatever reached with sharp claws for the bosun that hadn’t moved as quickly. At which point, the monster ripped out the poor man’s throat. The monster wasn’t moving at full speed so Mister Teach did say that the beast appeared purple and mostly humanoid.

The monster took a moment to scoop flesh and blood into its mouth. It slurped like how Edward sometimes eats his soup. Then it threw a shoulder into a spin and sped off racing across the deck to fast to see except as a purple blur. This method of motion made a lot of noise much like the buzz of a pissed off beehive.

Edward Teach freely admits shitting his pants crawling away towards a bench along the bulkhead. A good man detailed to other sections of the boarding party entered the officer’s quarters, likely attempting to report. The Purple Wizzer vibrated back towards this new threat in order to rip off the pirate’s head and scoop out his brains. With each bite, the monster became more purplish in skin tone leading Mister Teach to speculate that the beast ate flesh and blood to keep up its proper healthy color. The monster casually tossed the remainder of the body aside to crash into the bench breaking it open to reveal the British officer history records as the slayer of Blackbeard.

The man had in fact set an ambush for successful pirate, but given his present state of bound and gagged he’d run afoul of the Purple Wizzer as well. The monster vibrated in one place for a moment considering which human to eat first. And then it sped out of the room to attack sailors from both crews in other parts of the ship. Screams rose up from the lower decks.

A wave of fear and a second shit in his pants caught up to Mister Teach as he freed the British gentleman from his ropes. Each successive scream for Mother, God and Sweetie broke the pirate a little further. He called upon the god Yahweh and his son Yeshua for deliverance promising an end to his wicked ways. The officer slapped his new comrade to focus his mind. Swords in hand the men ran to fight the monster deeper in the ship.

An end to hunger did more to stop the rampage. They cornered the beast in the hold among the salt pork. The officer emptied a brace of pistols trying to stop it from eating his ship’s cook, a portly man likely to taste good to a monster. The lead balls rocked the monster but had no permanent effect. Eating the extra fat increased the purple in the skin but also healed the superficial bullet wounds.

Seeing the tactical situation worsening, the Purple Wizzer batted aside Mister Teach and then slowed down long enough to be seen as an indistinct gray male figure much like many artist’s dolls, gray when hungry and purple when satiated. The beast grabbed its cock and proceeded to urinate a purple stream onto the British officer’s back.

The man screamed having been doused with fluids that mixed the effects of lye, kerosene and something that ignited on contact with the air. Mister Teach acted quickly to cut off the man’s wool coat before the fire burned through to the skin. The man had second-degree burns that would heal in time. The Purple Wizzer used the distraction among the men of both crews putting out the fire to dash to the taffrail and swan dive into the water for a swim to the Carolina Banks.

A calm spread about the deck of the decoy ship and the Revenge. The smell in Backbeard’s pants became more noticeable. A quick count of the survivors showed that the greater majority of the dead came from the pirate crew. Mister Teach offered his sword. The officer relented seeing the continuing fear on his erstwhile foe shook his head and let Blackbeard follow the beast over the rail for a swim after gaining his most binding promise to go straight. We can only assume that the officer grabbed a body from among the carnage and passed it off as the pirate in London.

In game terms, the Purple Wizzer is hungry, but also generally sentient enough to bash enemies over the head and tie them up for later eating or to ensure escape. Eating flesh and blood acts to replenish the specific version of hemoglobin among Purple Wizzers to change the skin from gray to purple. Flesh and blood consumed in this way also act as a healing agent that fuels the beast’s regenerative powers, but fat is the tastiest and most effective kind of flesh for this purpose. Thus the Purple Wizzer attacks fat people first.

The primary attack is the super-speed that enables the beast to hit and run eviscerating its food. The few times the base model subspecies stands still it may be stabbed or shot with normal weapons. Though if it is not killed quickly and treated like a hydra with continuous burning to the wounds to close them, the injuries will grow back making for a tough creature to kill.

The regeneration and blood drinking have led to debate as to being a member of the vampire family, but since the monster dies when

The Purple Wizzer also uses a foul stream of purple urine as a weapon of last resort. The stream is part lye for chemical burns and part flammable like kerosene or whale oil with a substance much like cesium to ignite it in air. There have been variations among the many individuals as to how much lye versus flammable pee is used and probably relates to the exact quality of the monster’s recent diet. We surmise cobalt oxide mixed with hemoglobin as the mechanism for the purple skin tone, but this has not been proven. The beast is believed to be solitary except for mating season and they are not friendly with each other at any other time.

Quantifying what the Purple Wizzer does to its prey has come at a high price, but generally speaking they have about 8HD, the ability to regenerate 1HP/round when eating normally or 3HP/round when eating lots of fat and skin as tough as leather armor. However, as wide variations, even among the base model, exist some parties will see the semi-rare version wearing armor captured from prey.

And the DM/GM is also allowed to tweak the monster by casting it into one of many subspecies with one extra ability: +4 magic to hit, vulnerable to silver or anything else the DM/GM thinks is right. With that, get a slayin’!