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
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.