Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dollar Store Dungeons: Creatures


If you are going to run a game of Heirs to the Lost Worldthe New Fire, or are planning a Xeno-Meso or Hollow Earth Expedition adventure, you'd do well to pick up a $1 bag of creatures from the local dollar store. The Aztec and Mayan Underworlds are filled with bug-like creatures - especially centipedes. You may actually want a few bags of them.


For example, on Saturday, I played in one of Jeff Berry's wonderful Tekumel miniatures games where a big collection of bugs from dollar stores came in quite handy. I was playing a high-level priestess of Ksarul, up in the howdah of one of these wonderful Sro dragons:


At a certain juncture in the battle, it became necessary expedient amusing to summon some of Lord Ksarul's spider-like demon servitors in order to dispatch some of the Pe Choi and Shen who were harassing us. I didn't do too well on the roll, so Jeff told me I had summoned 13 demons who were not spiders. So out of the huge bug supply box came all kinds of other demons: centipedes, ticks, beetles, scorpions, a dragonfly, even a squid (freshwater/ambulatory/arboreal).

So don't leave home without your dollar store demons!


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Warriors of the Steppe - Myn Bala

A scene from Myn Bala - Warriors of the Steppe

Nothing says Christmas quite like a handsome bowman defending his steppe and mountains against the Dzungar horde. This week, we're watching films about the Mongols, their offshoots, and enemies. No shortage there.

And yes, The Everwayan is back from the dead. We're still not completely sure of our future direction, but we're feeling re-energized by many things these days that are Central, South, and Southeast Asian.

You'll see.

Sunday night we watched the Russian film, "The Horde". It certainly tells the Russian side of the story about the Mongol Yoke, and we had some experience of this a number of years ago in my friend Boris' medieval Russian AD&D campaign.

A very grim and gritty movie. Unromantic. It makes all that crybaby stuff about "Blood Weddings" in A Game of Thrones sound like wedding reception precedence kvetching.

Still and all, I am not sure I would recommend "The Horde" except for die hard Mongol fans. It's definitely not this Horde:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TSR1055_The_Horde.jpg

That being said, we watched a very fine movie last night. "Warriors of the Steppe - Myn Bala"Myn Bala is a Kazak film set on the steppes in the 18th Century. It's about the resistance and gradual unification of the Kazak peoples against the Dzungar horse nomads. It was much more enjoyable, and managed to portray the Dzungar as black armored baddies without dwelling in the horrors of their everyday atrocities.

I think this film falls into a more Central Asian "Steppes and Minarets" genre. We're reading a novel in a similar vein called "The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas" by Dmitry Chen, the first novel in his Silk Road Trilogy. Recommended.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Oleletletl


Today we started our formal read through of the New Fire RPG, a game set in a world inspired by the peoples of pre-Colombian Mesoamerica. The image above is of the fire god Oleletetl. He was one of the five gods involved in the primordial struggle against the Ur-caiman Sipaktli, a crocodilian mega monster living in the primordial chaos sea at the dawn of the world.

First the gods fought Sipaktli individually. That did not go so well.

Then, the Earth god came up with a strategy that involved teamwork. Oleletletl bravely confronted Sipaktli, and sacrificed his foot to the beast as a distraction, so that two other gods could strike the monster. This teamwork was successful. The elements can work together.

When the gods slew Sipaktli, its skin became the land covering the primordial chaos-sea, and its back spines became the world's mountains.

This is how the first land was created for people to live on.

The gods of the New Fire are recognizably Mesoamerican, but they are unique to the game. Author Jason Caminsky explained to me recently that he didn't want to use the real world deities since people continue to worship them. Jason also wanted to create his own deities and myths based upon the ones he had learned about the Aztec gods. Myth creation can be very satisfying, and I think he did a good job with this in his efforts to create an original game world that is very much in the spirit of historical Mesoamerica.

You can see the traces of the historical deities and myths in the game. For example, the historical deity Tezcatlipoca played this foot-sacrificial role in the real world version of the confrontation. He's often depicted as missing one foot, like the deity Oleletletl above.

http://archaeology.asu.edu/tm/pages2/mtm21A.htm

A very mysterious jaguar-associated deity, Tezcatlipoca is also linked to some of the core mysteries of our own Xeno-Meso setting.

Tepeyollotl jaguar aspect of Tezcatlipoca

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Bit More On The New Fire

Image by Ryan Lord

This is one of the numerous, lavish images in Jason Caminsky's New Fire RPG, which is set in the pre-Columbian Aztec world. My hardcover full-color copy of the game arrived today; the art is just amazing to behold. The artists really did their homework, but I suspect they also received strong, focused art direction from Mr. Caminsky.

The artistic feel of the book is quite unified. There are three types of illustration:

  • Individual portraiture for important character types (for example, the illustrations of Eagle and Jaguar Warriors)
  • Scenes (such as the one pictured above depicting a battle) as well as many depicting common aspects of everyday life (e.g., chinampa agriculture, temple interiors, modes of transportation, the Patolli game, and the Mesoamerican ball game)
  •  In-culture illustrations such as might be found in one of the Aztec codices
The three types of illustrations work together to convey how the world looks and how people saw it themselves. This is also reinforced by many small details in how the book was arranged. Each text box providing additional context on the game world is bordered on the left by a Vision Serpent, a very classy and appropriate touch that promotes immersion.

The details help one get inside the culture. I also like the fact that on page178 all the glyphs for the day signs are arranged in a column with their corresponding English name just to the left of the glyph.

More to come as I start reading the book 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Smoke From The New Fire


Readers who know of The Everwayan's involvement with the Heirs to the Lost World RPG, and our own Xeno-Meso setting will not be surprised to learn that we keep a vigilant eye open for other Mesoamerican-inspired RPGs.

Over the last year, we've been very intrigued by the tell-tale smoke from the New Fire, an Aztec/Mesoamerican RPG recently released and now available in PDF and different print formats through DriveThruRPG. The New Fire's PDF is simply beautiful, and we are looking forward to the arrival of our copy of the full color hardcover.

I find reading PDFs much more challenging than books, but I have been flipping around in my PDF copy while I wait for the book. This game is clearly written by someone who has learned a great deal about Mesoamerican culture and has thought through how to make an Aztec-centered game that is faithful to the source material, respectful of contemporary Nahuatl speakers, and an interesting set-up for roleplaying adventures.


Here is the most in-depth review of the game I have found so far. If you go to the New Fire website, you can also connect to the game's Facebook page, which is the most active online community for the game.


We'll have more to say once the hard copy arrives and we have a chance to digest it!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Shutdown: Choking To Death On A Happy Meal

My cousin choked to death on the equivalent of a Happy Meal. She died alone in her home. It took a couple of days for family members to guess that something had happened.

You see, she had advanced Parkinson's Disease, and could not cook for herself. The disease had advanced very far because it had been undiagnosed and untreated for way, way too long.

Why, you might ask?

Well, the short answer is that poor people avoid doctors until they cannot avoid them. My cousin had gone to the emergency room many times, but as someone who also had advanced diabetes, lacked health insurance, and was the caregiver for her mother, regular doctor's visits just weren't happening too often.

There were many diabetes medications that she had to pay for out-of-pocket first. And a 10+ year old blood glucose meter that needed expensive test strips, purchased out of pocket. And lancets. And insulin injection equipment.

My cousin lacked insurance because she was part of the working poor. In the past she had worked full time at a very steady professional job. (More on that below.) In recent years, she had worked as best she could - part-time - for as long as she could. Until the Parkinson's made it almost impossible for her to continue teaching instrumental music to children.

Eventually, she qualified for Social Security Disability but by then it was too little health care, too late - and still no visiting nurse or home care assistance to speak of.

Imagine having to care for your home-bound mother who could barely walk, when you yourself have both diabetes and Parkinson's.

It's unthinkable. Unimaginable.

But that was my cousin's situation.

Why, you might ask?

Because after 30 years of teaching children in the parochial schools of the Diocese of Rochester, she lost her job. Her entire school, along with many other Catholic schools, had to close their doors.

You see, the Diocese didn't police itself for decades. All their money ended up going into an endless series of settlements for priest child sexual abuse victims.

So no job, no pension, and no insurance.

The next time you hear about the Affordable Health Care Act, I invite you to think about people like my cousin.

She had a name: Eloise Ann Hubbel.

She lived at 541 Clay Avenue in Rochester, New York.

She mattered a lot to me.

Her death, while "accidental" in some sense, might well have been preventable if she had had health insurance and better access to health care.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Read A Book In Public Week: Artesia RPG


It is once again Read an RPG Book in Public Week, and this time around we thought The Everwayan should participate.  The RPG book we're sharing  is Mark Smylie's wonderful Artesia RPG, based on his equally remarkable Artesia comic book series. The game is a marvel of worldbuilding, as only an artist can do.

If you enjoy books like Renaissance arms and armor, have a polearm fetish, enjoyed Mary Gentle's The Chronicles of Ash (and alternate history series about a 15th C. female mercenary captain), or gaming in Early Modern Europe, this RPG may be right for you!


When the game came out, people had mixed feeling about the system, which is Fuzion, the hybrid system that Hero Games and R. Talsorian developed back in the 90s. The system is complex, but it is always good to see someone find a system they like and use the hell out of it to simulate their world.

I've heard rumors that we may see a second edition of the game using Burning Wheel.

RuneQuest 6 would also be a very good fit for the world of Artesia, which has some complex and varied magic systems, spells, spirits, and charms.

There are downloadable sourcebooks on the world of Artesia right here. There are also additional downloadable resources for the game here.

An armed company is the best company!

Art by Mark Smylie

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Judas Coat

Judas Coat

Sixteen years on
I still wear your fog armor

Grief-green
As any urban guerrilla's 
Forest

Armor sewn of
Love and rage

Cover sufficient 
For any rebel army
Or sawed-off shadowrun

Judas offers
Magical Protection
Against all Elements


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Owl Hoot Trail: Deadwood, Lead, & The Black Hills

Jollification. Deadwood People celebrating
the building of D.O.R.R. road to Lead City

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to engage our gaming group in a test drive of character generation and play for the new d20 Western fantasy game from Pelgrane Press, Owl Hoot Trail. Today I am sharing just a bit about the setting I created for my game, with a particular focus on the standard fantasy races and how I fit them into the setting.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Owl Hoot Trail offers a recognizably Western setting, with the addition of standard fantasy races (tweaked for Western flavor), magical and magitech powers, and D&D monsters reskinned for a Western fantasy game. The book provides some guidance on how to adjust your game for specific levels of realness, from gritty low magic to supernatural Weird Western. But basically GMs are left to their own devices to create the specific Western setting and the history they will use.

This is a feature rather than a bug as far as I am concerned. We'll see people doing all sorts of interesting things as they build their own settings with this game.

Having been to the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota for the first time just a few months before doing my test run with the game, it seemed natural and fun to set my game in the Black Hills. Since the game provides no explanation for the existence of standard fantasy races, I made a few decisions:
  • Shee (i.e., elves), orcs, and humans have all been in the New World for thousands of years - and some are more recent arrivals from Europe as well. The ones who have been here for a long time migrated using the same routes as other native peoples, OR came with the Vikings and other early visitors from the north and western fringes of Europe.
  • Half'ins arrived in this century. Most fled contested regions of Europe such as Alsace-Lorraine, and the rapidly unifying German polity. But more than a few are booze and weed-addled slackers fleeing rapidly industrializing pockets of Europe.
  • The Hill Folk (dwarves) are also recent arrivals, drawn to the emerging industrial opportunities in North America. They live communally in fortified cantons that specialize in mining/metallurgy. The fortified town of Lead, just a bit to the southwest of Deadwood is a Hill Folk canton. The Lead Canton operates a Land Office which sells people the rights to pan for gold in specific locations, or to prospect for gold or other precious metals. Of course, almost all of the land rights they are selling are fraudulent claims. In fact, from the Dakota peoples' perspective, the Black Hills are the sacred lands that belong to no one - especially not to interlopers from Europe.
Deadwood is of course the freewheeling home base for new arrivals intent on making their fortunes in the West, and in particular in the Black Hills. It is on the northern edge of the Black Hills region. Trails along this northern edge lead into Wyoming (Devils Tower would be 2-3 day's ride to the west), but Deadwood itself is tucked a bit into the Black Hills and ideal for heading further into the hills. Not that everyone does. In fact, more than a few inhabitants of Deadwood arrived with great ambitions and have settled into a life of gambling, spending (wasting) money, drinking, gunfights, and other dissipation. A town of flophouses, gambling houses, brothels, and saloons. A typical place for adventures to begin, and (often enough) for careless lives to end.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Testamento de Pablo Neruda


Testamento (I)


DEJO a los sindicatos
del cobre, del carbón y del salitre
mi casa junto al mar de Isla Negra.
Quiero que allí reposen los maltratados hijos
de mi patria, saqueada por hachas y traidores, 
desbaratada en su sagrada sangre, 
consumida en volcánicos harapos. 


Quiero que al limpio amor que recorriera
mi dominio, descansen los cansados,
se sienten a mi mesa los oscuros,
duerman sobre mi cama los heridos. 


Hermano, ésta es mi casa, entra en el mundo
de flor marina y piedra constelada
que levanté luchando en mi pobreza.


Aquí nació el sonido en mi ventana 
como en una creciente caracola 
y luego estableció sus latitudes 
en mi desordenada geología. 


Tu vienes de abrasados corredores,
de túneles mordidos por el odio,
por el salto sulfúrico del viento:
aquí tienes la paz que te destino, 
agua y espacio de mi oceanía. 





Friday, September 6, 2013

The Quiet Year



The Quiet Year is a card game that involves mapping. The players collaborate with the cards and a community map which they create, and explore what happens to a small community over the course of a year. The community, which has already survived the collapse of some kind of larger polity, has a year to prepare for the arrival of the Frost Shepherds, who bring about the end of things. Our gaming group played a year last night; it was a great experience.

The game starts with the players collaborating on establishing a few details of their community, and the landscape surrounding the community. They also need to identify a few commodities such as food and water and identify which are scarce and which plentiful. Players take turns defining features and drawing them onto the map. More details of the map are filled in during play.

Here is how our map looked (click on the image to expand it):



Our most plentiful resource was food in the form of crayfish. Unfortunately, the water supply of the town was not very clear. The mountains "west" of the town include a volcano, the statue of an ancient despot that has been entirely buried in volcanic ash, and the source of Signal, a mysterious commodity upon which the community responds which is a form of Clarkean astral wi-fi technomagic for communicating with the spirit world. To the southwest you can see one of the major hazards our community faced: cyberwolf zombies, who also had some kind of connection to the Signal. There was also another community to the northeast of the map. During the early moves of The Quiet Year, we built a dam to reduce the flow of water to their community, and then built a keep to guard the border.

Each turn stands for a week of time. A player draws a card for that week. The cards are color coded and progress from Spring to Summer to Autumn to Winter. Somewhere in the Winter cards is the Ace of Spades, which represents the arrival of the Frost Shepherds. Once they arrive, the game ends.

Each card typically has two options for what happens that week - or asks a framing/existential question. The player who makes the draw decides which option affects play for that turn. One of the early existential questions on a card I drew asked us to define the highest status group in our community. I made the decision that it was elders (sans priests and prostitutes) who rule as a council. A fairly conservative community in which elders were in conflict with youth emerged from my answer that elders were the highest status group.

Some options ruin or accelerate the advance of community projects, or introduce new problems (either natural disasters, issues due to outsiders, new discoveries, or new personalities, conflicts, issues and characters within the community.

Once a player has selected and dealt with one of the two options on the card for that week, the player may take one more of the following actions:

  • Start a community project of some kind. Some of ours involved building a water purification plant, a dam, a keep on the border with a nearby village, creating a militia, excavating subterranean garbage veins for goodies, excavating and exploring a strange mountain capped by an opaque dome, hunting the cyberwolf zombies, and building a concrete cap so that effluent from a garbage vein didn't seep into our water purification system. Note that projects can be entirely cultural or ideological in nature as well; you could start a new religion as a project. Projects are drawn onto the map, and take from 1-6 weeks (the players decide as a group what the project length should be), and a die is used for each project to count down the number of weeks until project completion.
  • Hold a discussion on a community issue. Players go around the table and each provides a brief statement on one community position/opinion on the issue. Note that no decision is made during this activity; a player needs to initiate a project in order to do something substantive about a community issue. We all thought this was a pretty realistic and amusing simulation of how community problems often get discussed - with no apparent resolution - in the real world.
  • Discover something new. A player could for example make-up an entirely new location or resource and place it on the map somewhere.

(I think all of the above is fairly accurate. I am reconstructing it from memory, as I don't own the game.)

There is also a mechanic for showing Contempt. A player can use this to register a point at which they do not feel heard. I think this mechanic is intended to increase inter-player tension and represent community conflict over player decisions that may feel arbitrary. We didn't use it.

It is very difficult to register Contempt for other people face-to-face in Minnesota.

Overall, playing The Quiet Year was a really great experience, and I would look forward to doing it again. As with the game Microscope, I see all sorts of ways the game could also be used to create a setting for an RPG scenario - particularly one involving a small community.

As far as the Frost Shepherds go, I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that the designers had read Hal Duncan's masterpiece Vellum.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Owl Hoot Trail


With all the excitement over the release of 13th Age, it might be easy to overlook another excellent new release from Pelgrane Press, the Western RPG Owl Hoot Trail. It is a digest-sized RPG that is about 136 pages long. The first 63 pages are the rules, and the remainder of the book are scenarios and tables.

The game uses a very rules light implementation of the d20 system. The game includes the standard fantasy races with slight name changes which help to Westernize them (so to speak) for the genre being played. Thankfully, these fantasy races are not used as substitutes for minorities or specific real world ethnic groups, as they are in Wolsung and Victoriana. Native peoples and people of color are not disproportionately orcs or goblinoid races. Yea, fantasy races in the "real world" done right! Of course, you could entirely ditch the non-humanoid races if you wanted to, but the way they are presented makes them interesting and relevant to the setting.

You choose one of two origins:
  • A greenhorn is from back in "civilized" lands, and has a higher Learning skill
  • A native is someone who was born out West, either in a tribe or a small community, and has a higher Wilderness score

Character classes include: Gunslinger, Marshal (who has healing powers when sharing booze), Ruffian (a dirty fighter), Scoundrel (cheats and swindlers), Scout, Gadgeteer, Mentalist, Preacher, and Shaman. The Gadgeteer has science-based wondrous abilities, and the Mentalist, Preacher, and Shaman all have magical abilities.

There are three Ability Scores:
  • Grit - which makes you rough and tough
  • Draw - which makes you quick and ready
  • Wits - which makes you awake and sharp
There are five Skills: Amity, Learning, Toughness, Wile, and Wilderness.

There are rules for gambling and for gunfight duels.

The setting is mostly up to you. You can dial up the Weird Westerness or dial it down and keep things pretty gritty. There is a small section on foes and monsters, including some D&D old reliables reskinned a bit for a Western fantasy setting. Any GM worth her salt will be able to adapt easily the monsters from any d20/OSR game for Owl Hoot Trail. The statblocks are short and sweet.

This game will appeal to OSR folks who miss games like Boot Hill, as well as indie gamers who like Pelgrane's quality products and are willing to try new things.

Since coming back from South Dakota, I have been thinking about running a Western game. I am itching to try this game out.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Con of the North 2014 - Game Candidates

Minnehaha Creek Flood Stage

We're inundated with convention gaming ideas at the moment. Con of the North 2014, the largest gaming con in the Upper Midwest, is scheduled for February 14-16, at its new location: Crown Plaza Minneapolis West. I usually run 3 or so games there as part of the House of Indie Games theme room. This year things are a bit more complicated with the new space, theme tracks are on but room arrangements is a more complicated picture. There will also be a Tekumel theme track.

I will almost certainly be running a FATE Core based Tekumel game, probably set in the city of Katalal. I am also thinking about running 1-2 more games.

Candidates include:
  • An Everway  6-hour marathon session
  • +trey causey 's pulp-inspired Weird Adventures setting, using FATE Accelerated Edition (FAE) as the game engine
  • An adventure set in my Xeno-Meso setting as featured on The Everwayan, using FAE (or Everway, or Swords & Wizardry)
  • A medieval African adventure using +Kevin Crawford's Spears of the Dawn RPG
  • Tenra Bansho Zero
  • 13th Age, which shares a design lineage with Everway. Maybe even an Everway-13th Age 6-hour marathon crossover game.
Event descriptions need to be postmarked by September 3, 2013, so I have about a month to get this all figured out.

EDIT: I am surprised I forgot to list a Ubiquity system game: either All for One: Regime Diabolique, Hollow Earth Expedition, or Leagues of Adventure. We need to consider those games too.

Friday, July 26, 2013

On Bad Lands And Ruined Cities


A day's walk to the southeast of the Black Hills, rolling green prairie suddenly cuts open into a multicolored abyss of sand, rock, and scrub. It's easy to miss, even though The Waste goes on for miles and miles. The Waste hides in plain sight within the prairie. If your scouts come back to you after they find The Waste, keep them in your party. They are trustworthy and doing their job.

Many seek their fortunes here amid the rocks and ruins. Few return, as the hills, cliffs, and caves are extremely brittle. Sudden collapses are the norm. And there are other dangers.

At first sight, The Waste appears to be an unusual and very hostile land feature. Sometimes it is beautiful; at other times it is menacing and sinister. The Waste's coloration and appearance changes throughout the day, with different qualities of light and shifts in the weather.

Some tribes hunt here for game. You often see pronghorns on the cliffs, and there are rabbits, snakes, and other game - as well as stranger creatures - living mirages - that appear and strike from thin air.

But spend time looking at the cliffs, and you will see why strangers come here. The Waste is an ancient ruined city, blasted by the gods for some horrible sin committed in times long-past. The Waste may once have been one giant city, miles across, with walled cantons for different clans. Or perhaps the "city" was in fact a cluster of walled villages, temples, and citadels. Between the walled areas were carefully tended commons for hunting and gathering, as well as farm lands cultivated by specific walled village compounds or city precincts.

The pattern would have been:

walled compound - farm lands - wild commons - farm lands - walled compound

The Waste's original inhabitants may have been distant ancestors of the Xeno-Meso peoples in the far south. Clan-based city builders, mound builders, kiva, ball court, and temple builders. Players of games - from ball games to flower wars.

They sacrificed millions in their temples. Once you discover the Chopped Bones, the vast subterranean ossuaries where the bones of their sacrifices were dumped, you will see and believe.

Delvers from as far away as Xeno-Meso have discovered many treasures and horrors within and below the ruins. Subterranean tunnels and mazes extend for miles under the ruins, crumbling crawlways filled with death and wonder. There are gates here, too.

Photo copyright 2013 by John Everett Till.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

It's All About The Attitude!

Photo copyright 2013 by John Everett Till

This is an example of the extraordinary ceramic art from the exhibit "Ceramica de los Ancestros: Central America's Past Revealed" the new exhibit at the Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. The exhibit features the art of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.

The Central American region, with the exception of Guatemala, is usually underrepresented or completely ignored in popular discussions of the archaeology and cultural history of the ancient New World. This is tragic, as the region had an incredible material culture, combining aspects of Mesoamerican Aztec and Mayan cultures with those of other groups such as the people of the Nicoya region.

The Aztecs and Mayans had cultural outposts in the zones south of Guatemala. But as far as we know, there weren't huge empires here, as in Central Mexico. The pattern was more one of villages with chieftains, known as caciques.

Unfortunately, the Museum did not have a catalog for the collection, so I can't tell you for sure what animal the creature above is meant to be represent. It looks like a badger, but I believe it is an agouti, a pretty common rodent of Central and South America, which is often represented in art of the Central American region.

But it sure has attitude.

This insouciant creature could have been a Mayan lord!

I'll be sharing more pictures from the exhibit, as the images are getting the creative juices flowing about the region south of The Forest of Kings in my Xeno-Meso setting!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Museum of the American Indian

Heading to the Museum of the American Indian in DC this afternoon, once my conference ends. I have been to its new location once before, about two years ago.

I visited the original museum space up in the Bronx many years ago (on my first trip to NYC back in the 80s in fact); the exhibits were incredibly dense displays, with little context. Several years ago, i went to the museum's new satellite space near Battery Park. It was a pale shadow of the museum's former glory, although at the time we were there they had a great exhibit on South American shamans and the hallucinogens they used.

The new museum site in DC is an incredible space - a fitting, spacious, and architecturally appropriate home for sharing the museum's collections and for people to actually learn and experience the history and current cultures of the native peoples of the Americas.

At least one of the current exhibits deal with ancient Central America - right up my alley given my current Xeno-Meso project. More to come after the visit.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Trash in Roleplaying

http://aia.archaeological.org/gala/2012/auction/
alluring-amphor/index.html
In last night's session of Rachel Kronick's Blade & Crown RPG, we went in search of bandits. Our party had an old map (probably from a bandit hunter of yore), which provided some suggestions about where in the wilderness to find the bandits who had plagued the region for more than a decade.

Our goal was to kill them and make some money.

We found one of their advance outposts by a combination of following the map, and following their trash. This trash was mostly in the form of clay wine jars that had been discarded in the river along our trail.

That was a new experience: I can't ever recall a time when we found our quarry in an RPG scenario by following their trash trail. I thought that was pretty cool clue placement by the GM.

I'll be thinking more about trash in roleplaying in the future.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Bear Hill in Xeno-Meso

Bear Butte, SD

To the northeast of the Black Hills, the plains dip into Iron Horse valley, which then begins to rise again into rolling hills. These hills are riddled with gates. Go a bit further to the east, and look north. You will see the Bear Hill.

The Giving Hill rises high above a windswept green plain. Buffalo rest and graze in the mountain's foothills. Pines rise all the way to its top, although much of the mountain looks bare from a distance. Get a glimpse of it, and it will call to you. To arrive is to know you are in a special place.

More than one prophet has found his or her calling here. The different peoples of the plains make their journeys to the Bear Hill to pray, meditate, and leave offerings. Many of these prayer bundles and cloth strips are tied to trees at the base of the mountain; others are left at the mountaintop. Peace treaties can be negotiated here - if the parties are really prepared to make peace.



Photo copyright 2013 John Everett Till.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Aquatic And Marine Hazards In Xeno-Meso

Marines stand ready for a boarding action!*

Yet another picture from the "Saving Serqu's Sisters" Braunstein naval miniatures event last Saturday at Fantasy Flight Games Event Center!  All of that naval action and the various (carnivorous) flora and fauna have gotten me thinking about wildlife in the Xeno-Meso setting, and what aquatic and marine horrors may exist in that world.

In the lake surrounding Xochiquetzatlan, there are a number of giant turtles that look like this:

Black Hills Institute

For the most part the turtles busy themselves feeding on fish. Large fish. In fact, many of the fish in the lake are armored. But wise persons swim with care, and watch their children in the lake.

Any fisherman worth his salt knows the proper baits to attract a number of these large creatures. A few brave (or foolhardy) youth have become popular because they have taken up the sport of shell-hopping. Once baited, the turtles congregate, and youth compete to see who can go the farthest leaping from shell-to-shell.  An accidental slip and fall can easily lead to losing a limb or worse to a hungry turtle.

Many hazards to marine navigation exist in the form of sea creatures that look like this:

Plesiosaur, Museum of Geology,
University of South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
As well as this:

Mosasaur, Museum of Geology, USD-SMT

But things get really bad in the lake surrounding Xochiquetzatlan when you see something like this:

Prehistoric Crocodile, Black Hills Institute

Thanks to Carlos the human and to the Anubian Ambassador who posed to give us a proper size contrast. 

Fortunately, these large crocodillians are quite rare, although the smaller varieties are quite abundant. The presence of large crocodillians is usually the result of sorcerous activity, including improperly dispelled gate castings. Priests and priestesses of Lord Tlaloc and Lady Chalchiuhtlicue have the power to summon these beasts from the watery otherworld of Tlalocan.

Pity the peasant who has the misfortune to have one of these monsters escape their masters and clamber up onto their chinampa.


*All photos copyright 2013 by John Everett Till

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Buffalo Head

Buffalo Head, photo c. John Everett Till

Far to the north of Xochiquetzatlan, the great continent widens into a vast land called Turtle Island. There, the continent is divided by the Great River, along which the people of Cahokia have built their towns, cities, temples, and burial mounds. North of the Cahokians, prairie lands unfold in all directions.

Keep going north, but head west, and eventually the prairies give way to a dense circle of mountains. There are mountains within mountains, and riverine valley trails run between them. The local tribes call these mountains the Black Hills, because pines make the mountains' slopes look black. There are rocks and minerals everywhere - gold, quartz and much, much more. It is as if the gods of Earth disgorged their treasuries here.

This entire land is sacred to the peoples of the north. Few live in the Black Hills but many come here to experience the spirits and have visions. One can easily step into the spirit world here, go on HeroQuests, and relive (and sometimes alter) the myths of one's ancestors.

One of the many sacred places here is the Buffalo Head, a mountain whose peak resembles a bison.

It is said that a buffalo god touched down here, and left the shape of its head. At that same moment, the faces of the Nameless Autarchs cracked, crumbled, and cascaded into the abyss of granite shards below the faces. After praying below the Buffalo Head, many descend into the Valley of Fallen Faces to wonder at the broken faces of these lost and forgotten kings.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tekumel Braunstein

Our GM, Jeff Berry
On Saturday, I had the opportunity to experience one of the gaming traditions which led to the roleplaying hobby: "Braunsteins" are large-scale, multi-player and multi-faction miniatures events featuring both armed units as well as name or signature characters. Each faction has its own victory conditions. Roleplaying and parley are possible. I can see how roleplaying evolved out of this tradition.

You can consult +Jon Peterson's Playing at the World for more on this gaming tradition and its contribution to roleplaying. Jon's book has become the definitive book on the origins of roleplaying. This is also a good reference.

You should also check out Jeff Berry's blog for more on the event itself, including video of the event, which you can also access directly from here.

The scenario was called "Saving Serqu's Sisters". The sisters had gotten marooned in a wet archipelago, and apparently needed rescuing. They had a reputation for being ditzy, but that was somewhat given the lie quite early in the game. One of them used one shot from an Eye of Raging Power to disable a ship full of Ahoggya mercenaries. It wasn't pretty.

I was part of the Hlutrgu faction, and the character that I personally ran (for the most part) was a Hlutrgu fire shaman. Imagine Karel Capek's "newts" with a very bad attitude, and a taste for "long pig" and you get the idea of Hlutrgu. What can I say, Professor Barker borrowed ideas from only the best authors in the early days of SF.

Our primary objective was to capture, cook, and eat the sisters - and as many other human intruders as possible. We quickly decided to align with the Ahoggya (who actually had TWO shiploads of troops) and let them try to capture the sisters. We contented ourselves with killing as many other human invaders as possible.

We Hlutrgu are the Grey-Joys depicted above

Our turf. Our surf.

Here is the first ship our shaman fired:



That was a small one. Later on, we did the same with a much larger vessel.

I accidentally uncovered a Feshenga (not bright), but we actually got to kill it with on Hlutrgu's well-placed spear:

The Feshenga is the green dragon-like creature
Killing a Feshenga with one spear blow is next to impossible. They are formidable semi-intelligent creatures. In another recent campaign, we ran away from one. That is always a sensible course of action.

It was a lucky roll.

Jeff adjudicated the game using the set of rules he wrote with M.A.R. Barker:



Jeff also supplied all the miniatures, props, and materials. It was a wonderful scene he created! The experience has been making me think about the limitations of most contemporary indie rulesets, which tend to eschew miniatures and props.But these visual elements CAN be used build story and drive a narrative, especially when you use them as well as Jeff used them here.



By my count there were about 20 players and visitors during the course of the day.

All I can say was it was a lot of fun.

Thanks to Jeff Berry for organizing this, and to Fantasy Flight Games for hosting us on their wonderful mezzanine.


All photos are copyright 2013 John Everett Till.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Petty Gods In Xeno-Meso

Pottery from Esteli, Nicaragua
Photo © 2013 John Everett Till
Good poets borrow, great poets steal. The best sourcebook for gaming is often reality. The primary reference for the major (and many minor, petit, or petty) gods in the Xeno-Meso setting is this work right here:


Many of the deities of the peoples of Xochiquetzatlan (quasi-decadent Aztecs), Olmeca (Mesoamericans of African descent), and the Maya in the Xeno-Meso setting are taken right from this book. However, like any GM I also like to create/extrapolate my own creations. And Gorgonmilk's Expanded Petty Gods project seemed a perfect opportunity to do just that.

The Original Petty Gods book came out this summer, and can be downloaded here. The Expanded Petty Gods project where my deities will be featured is forthcoming this summer. I have submitted three deities, three minions, and twelve magical items for this community project.

Two of my deities will be illustrated by the incomparable +Juan Ochoa, whose website is here. Juan is also illustrating the Titzimine, or Star-Demons, which are one of the minion races  created.

Another of my deities is being illustrated by +j garrison of Hereticwerks; regular readers of The Everwayan know I am a huge fan of Jim's writing and art and it was a great to be able to work with him on the art for one of my gods.

All of the deities, minions, and items that I created will fit-in extraordinarily well with the Xeno-Meso setting, as well as with other Mesoamerican settings. I imagine they can be adapted for a variety of other settings, particularly those that use a broader cultural palette than Western and Northern Europe.

Our creations will be of particular interest to people who enjoy combining planetary romance and pulp SF influences with their fantasy settings. Sorcerers using the spells of Space-Age Sorcery will find worthy allies, adversaries, and artifacts among our submissions.

So who are the deities? I'll wait until XPG comes out to provide all the details, but here are a couple of them:
  • Chicxulub, the Petty Goddess of Decaying Orbits
  • Wicked Skein, the Petty Goddess of Unwelcome Messages

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Strangerside Scholar: The Seven Unlucky Spherewalkers


Although the Sphere of Xeno-Meso is very far away from Everway, The Paddlers are not the only Everwayans to have visited the Sixth World. According to the scroll-book Things Seen In the Obsidian Mirror by Lightning Diviner Crookstaff  (and from the title we assume you can guess the name of the book's author), seven other Everwayans have visited that Sphere.

Apparently, none of them returned.

Instead, the scroll-book tells us they became Petty Gods among the peoples of the Sixth World.

Mr. Lightining Diviner Crookstaff's cursive is quite crabbed, and consequently his scroll-book rather difficult to read. But we are slowly making progress with the text.

In time, the Strangerside Scholar will have more to say about these unfortunates.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Paddlers Have Plans

"The Paddler Gods" by David Nathan Allen
http://dnamaya.tumblr.com/image/14609518331

The Paddlers arrived in the Sixth World through a sea gate known as the Blue Hole. They arrived with three of their pyramidal battle barges - The Black Ziggurat, The Lucre Ark, and The Sea Lion - and a hundred great canoes. They soon made friends and formed a firm alliance for trade and protection with the lords of realm of city-states known as The Forest of Kings. This was very much a game-changer for the Olmeca, who have experienced a loss of tribute and influence in the more southern extents of the Mayan lands.

With the consent of the Mayan lords, the Paddlers have built a harbor and shipyards on the Mayan holy island of Cozumel. The Lucre Ark guards the harbor, which is the Paddlers' new home. Sacred to the Moon Goddess Ix Chel, and ruled by its priestesses, the island felt like the just right place for the elders of matriarchal Paddlers to make their new home. Here on Cozumel, they could build new fleets, plan new expeditions of trade and exploration, be fertile and multiply.

The Sea Lion stands watch at the very tip of the Yucatan. Now the Olmeca dare not approach Cozumel by sea. The Sea Lion has an escort of 15 great canoes. Another 20 use The Sea Lion as a trade base for expeditions to establish trade relations with the islanders of the Near Sea to the east.

Meanwhile, The Black Ziggurat is nowhere to be found. She left Cozumel a month after the Paddlers arrived there, setting out on a secret mission with an escort of 15 canoes. Some say she has headed to the East across the great ocean; others say she goes far South.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Django-Tlaloc In Xeno-Meso

The man Django rides becomes a conqueror

An ancient Olmeca king deified in the times before they crossed the ocean, Django was the ancient god of fire, lightning, and thunder. As the violent king, he constantly expanded his empire through endless military campaigns and battles. Because of his bloody-minded focus and discipline, many today pray to Django for a strong will and self-control. Those whom Django rides become conquerors; they conquer themselves, and they conquer others.

A double headed stone ax is his symbol. Django chooses a champion by striking them with his lightning; look for the tell-tale scars on the flesh of the mighty. He casts lightning by hurling down stones from the sky. The tell-tale signs of his lightning strikes are often found on the earth after rains clear. These thunder stones are sacred to Django, and are often found in his temples and shrines.

Photo of Tlaloc by El Comandante
(*Full Attribution Below)
The Olmeca recognize the local deity Tlaloc as an aspect of Django. Tlaloc is the Xeno-Meso god of thunder and lightning, rain, water, fertility, and agriculture. His form is part lizard and part jaguar. He has the goggle eyes of a lizard and the teeth of a jaguar. Mountains are sacred to Lord Tlaloc, as this is where the thunder comes from.

Olmeca warriors, nobles, and aspiring kings worship the human, black-skinned, kingly aspect of Django-Tlaloc. In contrast, Olmeca peasants revere the deity's scaly aspect as the lightning-bringer whose storms renew the soil's fertility through fire and rain. Of course, the Olmeca's rulers and priests ignore another aspect of Lord Tlaloc at their peril. Lord Tlaloc also extinguishes fire - the fire of life - by drowning. This is something the other peoples of Xeno-Meso never forget.

*Mask of Tlaloc, nahua god of the rain (National Museum of Anthropology and History in Mexico City - Teotihuacán hall).

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ogun In Xeno-Meso

http://www.7-angeles.com/ogun.html

Among the spirit-beings or deities that the Olmeca brought with them from the old world, the deity Ogun stands out fearless and unchanged among his peers. His iconography is the same as the day the Olmeca arrived in the Sixth World. He cannot be mistaken for or combined with any native deity of Xeno-Meso. This purity of blood is one of his aspects.

Ogun is a smith-god, and iron is his supreme metal. Only the Olmeca have mastered the art of ironwork in the Sixth World. That's why Ogun's innermost secrets and truest magics are kept by the Olmeca smiths.

As a god of war, here too Ogun stands without peer. Other war gods get out of his way, lest they be bested by him and become Petty Gods.

While all war-gods should be feared, some are more fierce than others. While deities like Huitzilopochtli can deliver the deft, quick slashes that make blood flow, Ogun delivers blows that shatter bone or cleave a person in two. While Huitzilopochtli is the graceful, gallant - perhaps even flashy - opponent, Ogun is the boisterous, boastful war god who never backs down, and delights in making even the bravest warrior turn and run like a coward.

He also drinks, smokes, and womanizes.

He can pull miracles out of his pockets.

He can slay the dragon-gods of Xeno-Meso.


Monday, May 6, 2013

The Ballgame in Xeno-Meso

http://sites.matrix.msu.edu/anp203h-ss12/
2012/03/27/mesoamerican-ballgame/

A T-shaped court. Two teams. A bruisingly hard rubber ball. An impossibly small vertical hoop. The game is played in towns and cities across the world of Xeno-Meso. While other sports exist in the Sixth World, including wrestling, boxing, and ritual combat, the ball game is the most popular sport among all classes and peoples.

http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/aztefacts/oh-balls

In the olden times, the losing team in a game could be sacrificed. The Olmeca brought about an end to that practice, considering it ignoble and unsporting. Today, communities form teams to represent themselves in competitions that cross cities and span nations. The most successful teams go on to compete with those of other states.

Each year, a series of finals is held in one of the Mayan cities; this series of contests chooses the best team among all the contending states and communities. A great deal of wealth is expended in the competition to host these games, and the Olmeca arbiters grow ever wealthier from the many offerings and bribes taken from the contending Mayan lords for the right to host the games.

http://barrickmuseum.unlv.edu/families/
maya/mesoamerican-ballgame.html

Today, the many ball teams and their athletes are the celebrities of the Sixth World. Teams play against each other for the prestige of their communities, for wealth, and their choice of mates. While among the Olmeca and the Maya teams are composed exclusively of men, among the more egalitarian folk of the great city of Xochiquetzatlan, the women's teams are even more popular than the men's.

Typically, when Xochiquetzatlani teams play in Olmeca and Maya lands, gender mixed teams are sent. While this always causes some scandal among the Olmeca and Maya, they have grown to respect the Xochiquetzatlani teams; they are quite competitive, even with the all-male teams of the other states.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Olmeca In Xeno-Meso


The black-skinned Olmeca rule the lands southeast of great city of Xochiquetzatlan, and collect tribute from many towns and villages from Xochiquetzatlan in the northwest well down into the small tribal villages of the Ithmus between the two great oceans. The Olmeca arrived from over the eastern ocean in great ships carrying hundreds of warriors. Armed with iron-tipped spears and swords, their warriors were unstoppable. The native defenders had little chance against these weapons, let alone against the fearsome new spells of Olmeca's terrible masked magicians, priests, and griots.

The Olmeca established their own great state, took native women as their wives, made slaves of their weak and newly conquered foes, and built new towns, cities, palaces, and temples on top of the old. These days, the Olmeca empire is not so much expansionist as extortionist. The Olmeca demand that the lords of Xochiquetzatlan and the surrounding lands hand over tribute in order to avoid wholesale death, enslavement, or even worse - ensorcellment - at their hands. No one wants to be come a spell-slave in one of the Olmeca's masked sorcerer-societies.

All the great Maya folk of the peninsula used to pay tribute to the Olmeca, until their new allies, The Paddlers, arrived through the sea gate. The Maya communities closest to the Olmeca homeland continue to pay their full tribute, while the Mayan towns and city-states further south and east now make only symbolic tributes. This has heightened resource conflicts among the Olmeca elites, and many fear that war - either civil war or war with the more independent Maya states is inevitable.

The Olmeca have been in the Sixth World for several generations. The blood of their leaders has not grown too diluted, because their priests carefully arrange and approve all marriages in order to concentrate the ancestors' blood in each successive new generation. Increasingly, the sons of the great chieftains of the Olmeca are wed to conjure wives, witch-women who arrive in their palaces unnoticed and unheard during the deepest, darkest hours on moonless nights. Many a young prince awakens and finds himself in the embrace of these fearsome and beautiful brides.

Olmeca religion is a complex matter. The temple of Ogun remains their supreme warrior cult, but the Olmeca also worship other gods they brought with them across the ocean, as well as their ancestors, and many of the gods of the native peoples of the Sixth World. Temples and cultic spaces of all kinds proliferate in Olmeca cities, their cults and mythologies combining and recombining in bewildering ways.

Cults, warrior societies, and priests engage in deadly contests for power and prestige in Olmeca cities and towns. Religious riots often erupt, fueled by sorcerers and cultists. Many in their villages and palaces alike mutter rumors about impending religious and civil war. Whether the Olmeca king can hold all these factions together for much longer is uncertain.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Strangerside Scholar: A Stranger In Olondria

Cover art by Kathleen Jennings

Sofia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria is finally out from Small Beer Press. Those of us who live in the Twin Cities hear a name like Samatar, and of course wonder if she might be Somali. The author is indeed Somali American, and I believe I have her father's book on anti-colonial resistance movements in Northern and Eastern Africa. You can read a piece by the author over on John Scalzi's blog.

It's about books and about reading - a book for fantasy readers who love books and reading. Just look at the big red tome under the arm of the protagonist on the cover. Makes you wonder what it is?

A Stranger in Olondria is also a book about someone from the "periphery", who moves to and becomes absorbed in the life and world of the metropole. I imagine there are many Spherewalkers who make it to Everway and have a very similar experience. It must be easy to become lost among the many peoples of Strangerside, let alone in Everway's great places such as the Library of All Worlds.

Twin Cities readers and friends: I also have an advanced reader's copy that I'd be happy to pass on to the first person who let's me know they'd like to read the book. Leave me a note in the comments. As long as I know who you are, I'll be happy to set it aside until we meet.

Monday, April 29, 2013

First Impressions From Playing Dungeon World

Art by Kyle Ferrin
I had the opportunity to play Dungeon World this weekend at JonCon '13 in the Twin Cities, MN. Overall, I thought the game was a lot of fun. I was quite surprised at how easy the game was to play - and how fun, especially compared to my experience with d20/3rd Edition. Combat is fairly fast-paced. Agency is almost entirely in the hands of the players. The GM rolls no dice; players even roll their own damage when they suffer an attack by a monster.

A number of people on line have commented about how hard it is to GM Dungeon World. When I brought this up with the GM after the game, he said that this is because it requires a very different mindset, in which the players are the ones setting the pace and determining what happens next. It felt a lot like playing FATE, so the whole experience felt pretty natural to me.

There are a couple of things I am still not quite sure of about the game's defaults:

First, I agree with +Zak Smith's criticism of the design decision to force players to pick from a list of names. I get doing something like that with a specialized setting with unique naming systems, like EverwayMouseguard or Tekumel, but this seems pretty stupid to me for a game with a generic fantasy setting. I had pretty similar feelings about some of the character specification "choices" like "sad eyes, sharp eyes, blubbery eyes", etc. Why are the choices so constrained? Who benefits from that, really?

Second, I am not sure whether this is a "serious" game. That is, I am not sure whether Dungeon World is making fun of first edition. I guess this is a matter of perception and perhaps more exposure will tell.

While I find some of the Dungeon World spell names amusing, like "Metal Hurlant" for the bard, that really militates against immersion, at least for me. It undermines attempts at serious world creation, the kind going on in places like Hereticwerks. When it comes to serious world creation, there's nothing in Dungeon World yet that makes me want to abandon FATE Core or FATE Accelerated Edition, or that makes me feel it is a viable fantasy RPG toolkit like Swords & Wizardry or Legends of Anglerre.

Still and all, I had a great time with a wonderful GM and group of players. The experience left me wanting more, and I'd definitely like to play Dungeon World again a bunch more times.