The King is Dead

Monday, February 20, 2017

Ersatz Kaiju and LEGO Batman



A kaiju by any other name would destroy as sweetly…


As I’ve written on this blog before, one of my long-term goals (after finishing The King is Dead sometime this year) is to write a kaiju-centric setting book. I’ve kicked around a few ideas on how to approach it – I pitched an article to Savage Insider for a militaristic take on Pacific Rim called Ring of Fire, for instance – but I’m probably going to use my “unified field theory” take, Mecha Kaiju Sensō Tai!!!. Since I obviously won’t be getting the rights to Godzilla and the other Toho monsters, that means I need some knock-offs to fill their roles.


Thankfully, Japan has already provided them.


I believe I first learned about the Four Guardian Beasts/Four Gods/Four Symbols/Shishin from the Gainax anime Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, the same series that introduced me to Abe no Seimei and onmyodou – though they were also mentioned in a context I didn’t understand on an episode of Cowboy Bebop. Basically, they’re four astrological symbols represented as monsters mapped to the cardinal directions.


They are:
  • Seiryu, the Green Dragon, guardian of the East.
  • Suzaku, the Vermillion Bird, guardian of the South.
  • Byakko, the White Tiger, guardian of the West.
  • Genbu, the Black Turtle, guardian of the North.
Hmm… Some of those concepts seem familiar.
  
A dragon lurking the east, where the Pacific Ocean is from Japan’s persepctive?
Godzilla (2014)
A bird monster in the south, perhaps near the city of Fukuoka on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu?
Rodan
  
A turtle in the north?

Gamera: The Giant Monster
The only difficult one to figure out is Byakko, and that’s because of a surfeit of options. I could go with a quadruped, like Anguirus. Playing off the West’s association with the element of metal, I could go with a cyborg or robotic beast, like Gigan or Mechagodzilla. Heck, given that King Kong’s Skull island is usually located near Indonesia – in other words, west of Japan – I could make the mammalian White Tiger the expy for Kong. Any of the above have been rivals or opposites for Godzilla at one time or another.

(It’s not mentioned much in the Japanese version of the Four Guardian Beasts, but there’s actually a fifth beast: Kōryū or Ōryū, the Yellow Dragon, guardian of the Center. A yellow dragon?
Destroy All Monsters
Maybe the reason it’s not mentioned in the Japanese version is because the other four are sealing the Yellow Dragon away, guarding against it? Hmm…)

I’ve used this concept in numerous campaigns with Robin over the years, dating back to before I even started playing Savage Worlds. It isn’t unique to me, either; the ‘90s Gamera series used it, especially in the final film of the trilogy, Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris, though they only had Genbu and Suzaku involved. (Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi equated Gamera and Genbu too, for that matter.)

So, why did I mention LEGO Batman in the title?

***SPOILERS AFTER THE CUT***

Monday, February 13, 2017

Mecha Kaiju Sensō Tai!!!: Intro Fiction




The klaxon sounded and Captain Tom Rodgers jolted awake. It felt like he’d only just fallen asleep. Thankfully, somebody had hooked up his coffee machine to the kaiju monitoring system and a fresh cup was waiting for him even as he finished pulling on his flight suit. He poured the extra-strong brew into a thermal bottle, added a cup of milk and heaping spoonful of protein powder, shook it up, and dashed out into the pre-dawn light at Yokota Air Base.

As he approached the hanger, Rodgers saw that the crawler-transporters were already carrying Achilles and the Mobile Launcher Platform down the runway. Ops must have been tracking the incursion for hours. 

“Temporal, aquatic, or astronomical?” Rodgers first question to the command crew sounded strange to his ears; it wasn’t the kind of sentence he ever expected to say when he was growing up in Birmingham. The world had gotten so weird over the last few years.

“Astronomical,” Lieutenant Diaz responded. “A meteor shifted course at 0200. We thought it was headed toward Nevada until an hour ago, when it changed course again.” She glared at the radar screens. “Sneaky bastards.” 

“We haven’t been able to get a good picture of it on any of the satellites,” said Colonel Tatopoulos, “but you know those space monsters. Probably some kind of cyborg with ray shielding and laser eyes or some crap like that. Get down there and get strapped in. We’ll let you know more as we know it.”

Rodgers paused long enough to finish his coffee. He didn’t want to spill anything on the giant robot’s controls.

***

A nightmare woke Kaneko Ayako – a vision of shattered concrete and melting steel, screaming people and roaring monsters. Her alarm clock went off moments later, the Vocaloid AI singing her a personalized wake-up song. She paused for a moment to enjoy the bishonen hologram dancing on top of the clock before shutting it off. She’d learned that the summons was never so urgent that she didn’t have time for little pleasures. 

She got dressed and made breakfast, alone in the apartment as usual. She wondered for a moment if she should get a cat, but then reconsidered; if she died protecting the planet, who would take care of the cat? Her parents worked overseas, after all, and bearing the magatama meant her life was devoid of close friends. She had to skip school so often that she could hardly participate in any clubs, let alone hang out.

Ayako sighed. She was going to get expelled at this rate.

Moping about cost her extra time. Toast dangling from her mouth, she dashed off to the train station. She needed to get to Yumenoshima before the government closed off access to the island. She hated meeting Seiryuu further inland; Odaiba had been closed for week after she met him at the Ferris wheel there.


Oh well, at least she got to see her “boyfriend” today.
 

***

“Swordsman, we’re tracking an aquatic incursion in Tokyo Bay.” 

“Roger, Lighthouse,” Rodgers responded. “Any visuals on kaiju 2?” Rodgers suspected it wasn’t a threat. Blurry photographs from the surveillance buoys popped up on his HUD; the dorsal plates, scaled hide, and sinuous body confirmed his suspicions.

Seiryuu.

The dragon-like kaiju had first appeared in 1954, attacking US facilities in the Ryukyu Islands and Tokyo before being driven off. Since then, Seiryuu had returned time and time again, more often intent on battling other kaiju rather than destroying cities. Sometimes it seemed more cooperative than at others; Rodgers remembered it being considered a hero when he was a kid – there was even a cartoon – but then it had run amok for a few years when he was at the Air Force Academy.

He’d first personally encountered Seiryuu two years ago, during a temporal incursion by a kaiju code-named Ultraraptor. When the dragon rose out of Tokyo Bay, Captain Rodgers had asked the ops crew to tell his mother he loved her – he was sure the two kaiju were going to rip him to shreds – but Seiryuu had turned on Ultraraptor instead. Ever since, Seiryuu had protected Japan; they’d fought side by side repeatedly.

“We’re putting Ajax on standby,” Diaz said from ops. Rodgers knew it wouldn’t be necessary, but also knew there was no point in arguing. Seiryuu was still considered an unfriendly; he just hoped Ajax’s pilot wouldn’t be pissed. Edwards could be a jackass at the best of times. “The bogey has hit the thermosphere. Impacted expected in 10… 9… 8… 7… Bogey has slowed. Countdown has restarted. 5 minutes to impact. Fighters engaged.”

Rodgers watched on his screens as a squadron of F-35s engaged the falling kaiju. It looked like a big hunk of space rock for the moment, but he could see that it braking, decelerating in mid-air as it fell. The jets tested it with short bursts from their cannons, but the bullets didn’t penetrate. 

Maybe they irritated the kaiju, though, or tickled. The center of the meteor began glowing and the fighters pulled back; they were safely outside of the blast radius when the meteor exploded. Gigantic wings spread as the monster uncurled from its fetal position inside the stone.
 
***

Ayako flattened herself on the ground, hoping the hedgerow would be enough to hide her from the police. Warning sirens blared everywhere in Tokyo, urging people to seek shelter in an underground bunker as quickly as possible. Police rounded up everyone they could find and spirited them away to safety as best they could.

Years ago, the Japanese government had learned there was no point in evacuating the cities. Highways clogged with traffic just led to more loss of life when kaiju or mecha crashed through them, crushing or incinerating scores of vehicles. Earthquake-resistance building codes enacted in the 1980s doubled as an opportunity to increase Tokyo’s preparedness for kaiju attacks, and now most city blocks contained at least one civil defense shelter.

Ayako heard the explosion and looked up. Burning meteorites showered across the sky, falling to earth all across the city. She sprinted across open lawn toward the shelter of the Daigo Fukuryū Maru museum, unconcerned now with whether or not the police grabbed her. 

A man screamed as the sky darkened. A massive shadow descended across the artificial island as a humungous form rose from Tokyo Bay. The crash of water sluicing off of Seiryuu’s body was louder than the exploding meteor. Ayako couldn’t hear the hiss as flaming shards of the meteorite were deflected off of the draconic kaiju’s hide.

She stopped running. 

Seiryuu snaked his head toward her as Ayako closed her hand around the comma-shaped, blue jade bead she wore around her neck. The kaiju’s eyes narrowed, focused on her. No matter how connected they were to him, Seiryuu still had difficulty perceiving the tiny forms of humans scampering at his feet. He chuffed, a deafening purr of recognition as he registered where Ayako stood. 

Across the vast gulf of human and kaiju perception, across the divide between mankind and the sublime, Kaneko Ayakao and Seiryuu, the Azure Dragon, Guardian of the East, communed.

The instinct toward territoriality, the deep urge toward rage and violence that were programmed or trained into him ages ago (or perhaps ages from now) by his creators, focused as Ayako’s consciousness suffused into his. The Pacific coast of Japan was not merely his hunting territory to be defended from another predator; Tokyo became his den, his lair, and the humans in the city became his hatchlings. The predator became the protector.

Ayako sank down onto the grass half-conscious. Seiryuu turned his head toward the kaiju in the sky and roared.
 
***

“Swordsman, you are good to go. Lethal force is authorized against Peacock King,” said Diaz.

Whoever was in charge at the Japanese institute that monitored kaiju had named the kaiju “Peacock King” as soon as it unfurled itself. A dozen barbed, ribbed, yet flexible tails lashed menacingly behind the creature as it descended toward the city; its wings flapped lazily, obviously used more for maneuvering than actually keeping it airborne. Some kind of antigravity unit must be contained in its mechanized torso. A glaring red light oscillated back and forth in the visor-like contraption installed in place of its eyes. Rodgers thought that it sort-of looked like a peacock, if you squinted real hard.

Maybe it was more intimidating in Japanese.

Achilles ran full-tilt through the streets of Tokyo, following a route that would only take him down avenues wide enough to accept his massive frame. Captain Rodgers let the computer-assisted navigation handle most of it, keeping an eye on Peacock King instead. The kaiju was now swooping over the skyline on an intercept course with his mech. 

Gouts of plasma erupted from the barbed ends of its tails, scorching lines across skyscrapers, boiling glass and steel. Rodgers pulled Achilles up short, flipping a few toggles. “Achilles, arm shield,” he commanded the computer-assist. Scores of electromagnets unlocked. He shrugged, the giant robot copying his motion as it shifted the mass of reflective titanium panels it used as a shield onto its arm. 

“Achilles, arm sword,” he said. The electromagnetic coupling released the weapon, and he unsheathed the Xiphos 9000. Five belts of industrial diamond-tipped chainsaw blades ran down its length, ducking under a titanium-steel stabbing tip. He pulled the trigger and the blades began whirring. 

Peacock King’s mindlessly lashing tails suddenly stilled, radiating out in a circle around its body – a weapons system coming online, arched and waiting like a scorpion’s sting. Plasma jets arced toward Rodgers and Achilles took shelter behind his shield.

Suddenly, hurricane-force winds buffeted the enemy kaiju, catching in its wings and tossing it into a bank of buildings. Plasma fire went wide. Seiryuu dove out hiding like an oversized crocodile, battering Peacock King with another typhoon roar before seizing it in his gigantic claws.   

Achilles leapt to assist. As he stabbed at the alien kaiju with his power sword, Captain Rodgers could hav sworn he saw Seiryuu wink at him.

***

Miles away, Kaneko Ayako – only dimly aware of what went around her, barely conscious of the fact that the police were carrying her away to a shelter – smiled to the handsome brown face she could see in her mind’s eye. 

There were worse ways to spend an afternoon than flirting with an American pilot.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The King is Dead: Poetry

From Robin

Poetry often overshadowed fiction during the 18th century, so I decided to add poems into The King is Dead. This is one of the first poems, written from a vampire's point of view.



A devotion of body and soul

Wait, my love, for the moon to rise,
Your breath, hold fast til break of night;
Await my kiss and do not sigh
For I come out by evenins’ light.

Your supple skin is pure and soft,
A warmth to lure me close, and oft
I dream to touch and to caress
Your neck’s faint bend, where I may rest.

For my heart aches and pounds in time,
With the rhythm of your pure heart,
And with my lips I reach to find
The very place our bond does start.

And with a sigh, our souls do touch;
My lips will part, and without much
You give to me what I most need:
To me, you live; for me, you bleed. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Last Days of the Law Introductory Fiction (First Draft)


from Onmyouji by Reiko Okano
(Why hasn't this been published in English?)

The lady lived in a run-down house on the western side of Heian-Kyo, the decaying, half-abandoned half of the imperial capital.
Perhaps the onmyoji who assisted the Emperor Kammu in divining the location of his new capital yielded to his desire to place it in Kadono at the cost of their own judgment. Perhaps they made a simple error. Perhaps they made malignant choices, irritated with relocating the capital again only nine years after establishing Nagaoka-kyo. Perhaps the vengeful ghost of Prince Sawara blinded them to the marshes bordering the River Katsura.
Regardless, the western half of the city – the Right Capital, as it was called from the point of view of the emperor’s throne – had been in decline practically since Heian-Kyo was established. Most noble families owning mansions there had abandoned them for residences in the crowded Left Capital many years ago, leaving the western half of the city to the dissolute, the destitute, and the desperate.
Fujiwara no Kinto suspected his lady was one of the destitute, though it was possible she was dissolute instead; perhaps she was not the impoverished child of a fallen house yearning for a good alliance, but rather a wealthy wife arranging an assignation far from the eyes of her husband. A dilapidated mansion on the western side of the capital would be perfect for such a plan.
Lord Kinto worried not at all that the lady might be luring him into a trap. He justifiably assumed his position as a scion of the powerful Fujiwara clan would protect him from robbery. If the lady demanded marriage, he would be happy to make her his concubine and take her far away from the filth and hovel s of the Right Capital. He already had several wives and mistresses; a new one wouldn’t matter.
Truthfully, though, he doubted any ill intent on the young woman’s part. The shy glance she’d given him when they met the other night, her halting, virginal discomfort during the resulting conversation, her blushes when he suggested visiting her, were enough to convince Lord Kinto that this undiscovered beauty hailed from one of those unfortunate families who had lost their fortune to imperial (or Fujiwara) whim. He’d been lucky to come across her broken-down ox-carriage when he did, otherwise some other nobleman was sure to snatch her up.
The streets of the Right Capital were much rougher than those of the left – parts of the district had even been abandoned to farming – so Fujiwara no Kinto rode in a palanquin rather than his ox-drawn carriage; it was better that his servants’ feet were plastered with mud than that his carriage got stuck in a rut in such an unfashionable area. The servants walked slowly, cautiously, unsure of their footing in the dark and in such unfamiliar areas. They paused frequently to gain their bearings or search for the landmarks the lady had claimed would lead them to her home.
The delays left Lord Kinto impatient. When the palanquin-bearers finally stopped and lowered him to the ground, he leaped from his seat and plunged into the waiting gate of his mysterious new paramour’s home. He slipped through the gate of the mansion and into the grounds, slipping quickly around the edges of the buildings, searching for the room the lady must call her own.
Lord Kinto assumed the young woman would have a separate pavilion of her own, isolated enough from her parents’ rooms to allow would-be lovers to court her discretely, as was the custom throughout Heian-Kyo. He hoped to find some wandering servant who could tell him which way to go, but Kinto slowly came to the conclusion that the entire complex was deserted. No sounds or sights or scents of human habitation emanated from any of the buildings. Where there should be song, there was silence. Where there should be the warm glow of oil lamps; there was darkness. Where there should be the comforting scent of cooked rice, there was only the smell of rot.
“Is there anyone there?” he whispered into the darkness.
The twang of a biwa’s strings answered him. A woman’s voice lifted in song. He followed.
“Though the wind
Tears at us terribly,
The moonlight also leaks
Through the tattered roof
Of this ruined house…”
He found her at last in a pavilion perched over the stagnant pond in the garden. Were the house not so thoroughly abandoned, it would hardly be an appropriate place for their first assignation – but by now Fujiwara no Kinto was convinced that no one save his would-be mistress dwelt in the crumbling mansion.
She sat upon a pile of pillows, the shape of her limbs and body lost in the voluminous folds of her twelve-layered silk robes. The room was only lit by a charcoal brazier, its brassy light discoloring her pale features and casting her eyes and long, long hair into deeper blackness. She played a smaller, lighter gogen-biwa of the type that fell into disfavor a century before.
Far from the innocent and retiring maiden she had appeared when they first met, the lady was transformed by the night, by the firelight, by the decay that surrounded her into something strange and dangerous. Lord Kinto was surprised to find his passion surged.
The last echo of the biwa faded into the night. She motioned with her plectrum to comfortable cushions across from her. She smiled shyly as he sat, something of her virginal innocence returning. She set the instrument aside and poured some of the waiting sake for him.
Her hand was cool, but her skin was silken-smooth as their fingers briefly touched when she passed the bowl. Kinto was tempted to throw the rice wine aside and grab her then and there, but decided against it. He could tell she was eager, but needed coaxing.
“Does this evening find you well, my lord?” she asked.
“Your home was hard to find… but now I am well,” he answered.
She leaned back and twanged the biwa’s strings. He felt his chest tighten in anticipation.
“Does the moon not shine beautifully, my lord?”
“Nothing this night is as beautiful as you.”
She twanged the biwa again. He felt rooted to the spot, overcome with longing.
“I… I have hungered for you this night,” she half-whispered, eyes lowered.
“And I have hungered for you,” he exclaimed.
She struck plectrum to strings again. He tried to move closer her, and discovered he could not.
He looked down, and realized that his arms and chest were wrapped around with thin, softly-glinting threads – threads he could not break as he struggled against them, threads that instead cut through his sleeves and into his flesh. He peered into the darkness and beheld that the threads adhered to the walls of the pavilion, trapping him in place like spider silk.
The lady moved, uncurling from where she sat amidst her pillows and silks. A painful tug on the spider silk that bound him told Lord Kinto that the threads were connected to the lady’s biwa. He watched, horrified, as first one, and then another, and then another long, segmented leg unfolded from beneath the beautiful maiden’s robes. The pile of cushions – the sides of the ox-carriage on the night they met – hid the body of a spider as large as a tiger, upon which the torso of the false lady sat.
Lord Kinto closed his eyes and wept.
Another twang, and the spider-woman cried out in pain. The sound was lighter, sharper. It was not the sound of a biwa being plucked, but the sound of a bow – the ritual twanging of a catalpa-wood bow, as used by the warriors of the watch to ward off the monsters and spirits Fujiwara no Kinto had always assumed were just products of the imagination. He opened his eyes, craning his neck to see the squad of watchmen he assumed were there to rescue him.
Instead, it was another woman, as young as the spider-creature had appeared.
He knew her. She was a cousin’s daughter, pledged to serve at the Kamo Shrine as a show of the Fujiwara clan’s piety. He remembered the ceremony three years ago when she took the pledge, and the regret that such a beautiful girl was being wasted on a life of celibacy and mysticism.
He could not remember her name. For all intents and purposes, she had ceased having a name when she became the Kamo shrine maiden, when she became a miko.
The miko’s eyes were hard and merciless as she drew back the string of her bow again. There was no arrow set to the bow, but the woman-spider screamed again as the bowstring twanged. The monster now bled from two wounds.
The spider-creature rallied, snapping the threads that bound it to Kinto and the pavilion in order to lunge at the shrine maiden. The maiden twanged her bow one final time and the monster collapsed, its human head split open by an invisible arrow. Scores of tiny spiders spilled out of the bloody cavity. One of them ran across Fujiwara no Kinto’s face and glared at him with human eyes before disappearing into the darkness.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Races of Altellus: Nymphidae for D&D 5e


Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus by John William Waterhouse

"Looking at one will cause permanent blindness unless the onlookers save versus magic. If the nymp is nude or disrobes, an onlooker will die unless a saving throw versus magic is successful." – Gary Gygax, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual

Beautiful, graceful, variable… Descended from spirits of sea and sky, stone and tree, nymphidae embody a host of contradictions.

Animism Ascendant
Though sages and scholars often use the term “nymph” to describe a specific form of pond- and spring-guarding fey largely renowned for blinding adventurers with the unutterable perfection of their naked bodies, “nymph” is more accurately used to describe a host of related nature spirits. Dryads and hamadryads are nymphs just as much as the more familiar watery nudists – as are the asteriae of the stars, the nephele of the clouds, the oreads of the mountains, auloniades of the valleys, anthousai of the woods, nereids of the seas, and cocytiae of the underworld. Over the centuries, the insatiable curiosity of adventurers has driven them to explore the secret havens of even the most rare and inaccessible nymphs, resulting in a variegated breed of demihumans barely united by a common ancestry. 

Similar in some ways to both elves and genasi, nymphidae differ from the former in being more closely connected to other races (particularly those that account for their mortal ancestry) and differ from the latter in being more specifically attuned to a particular natural aspect rather than a broad element. Like their distant cousins the satyridae, nymphidae may be descended from practically any humanoid stock, but the nymph traits show strongest; a goliath-born nymphid may display some of that race’s stature and sturdiness and a Halfling-descended nymphid may be powerfully short, but they will always be remarkable primarily for their shared beauty rather than their dissimilar traits. As with satyridae, while nymphs are uniformly female (at least on most worlds), nymphidae may be of any sex.

Long-Lived and Languorous 
Nymphs live for as long as the natural feature they inhabit or protect lasts; given that some nymphs embody stars and mountains, this makes them effectively immortal. Their descendants live far shorter lives, but still rival dwarves and elves.

To cope with the boredom of an eternity watching grass grow or rocks erode, most true nymphs spend the majority of their hours in a barely-sentient torpor, awakening to full consciousness only when summoned by others or when their sanctuary is threatened. Centuries might pass while a nymph sits unfeeling, unseeing beneath a waterfall. Nymphidae inherit some measure of this languor, entering a state similar to the elvish trance while they rest – but remaining just barely cognizant of their surroundings the entire time. It is very hard to take a nymphid by surprise, even when they appear to sleep.

Infinite Variety 
As noted, nymphs embody a host of different natural features, and their descendants reflect that diversity. Nymphidae have many subraces, outnumbering even the elves and genasi. Divorced of their ancestors’ bonds to a specific spring or tree or what have you, most nymphidae are happier to plunge into mortal society, taking on the cultural mores of the people that surround them.
Protector of the Forest by Sakimichan
Nymphid Names 
Second-, third-, and later generation nymphidae usually take their names from the humanoid society to which they belong. First-generation nymphidae are most often named by their mothers, based on the traditions of the fey.

Female Names: Aba, Aora, Brettia, Chania, Clonia, Cnossia, Danais, Dercetis, Echemia, Eunoe, Hegetoria, Hyllis, Mendeis, Menodice, Mideia, Nacole, Nomia, Ophelia, Paphia, Pareia, Rhene, Sabrina, Semestra, Syllis. 

Male Names: Achilles, Alcmaeon, Ascalphus, Aspledon, Channing, Chrysippus, Cinyras, Ergiscus, Eunostus, Hylas, Inopos, Lapithaon, Ochimus, Oileus, Phoroneus, Sicinus, Sithon, Xenodamus, Zeuxippus

Nymphid Traits
Nymphidae share certain traits as a result of their fey descent and connection to the natural world.
Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 2.
Age. Nymphidae attain maturity in their early 20s and live for six centuries or more.
Alignment. The reserve needed to watch over their natural feature carries over from nymph mother to nymphid child; most nymphidae are neutral to some degree, not committing fully to law or chaos.
Darkvision. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Size. Nymphidae range from under 5 to over 6 feet tall (depending on their forefather’s race) and have beautiful facial features. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Fey Ancestry. You have advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put you to sleep.
Keen Senses. You have proficiency in the Perception skill.
Languor. You never fully sleep, instead resting in a semiconscious state. While you must enter your languorous torpor for a full 8 hours a day, you have advantage on any Wisdom (Perception) checks against being surprised while in this state.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Sylvan and the language of your father (or the culture that raised you).
Subrace. True nymphs are bound to natural features as divergent as mountains and trees, stars nd the sea. The offspring of nymphs fall naturally into one of several subraces based on their nymph ancestor's sacred focus: celestial nymphidae, land nymphidae, plant nymphidae, sky nymphidae, underworld nymphidae, and water nymphidae. Choose one of these subraces. In some worlds, these subraces are divided still further (such as the divide between sea and spring water nymphidae in Altellus), so if you wish, you can choose a narrower subrace.


Celestial Nymphidae
Celestial nymphidae include the descendants of such nymph sisterhoods as the Hesperides, Hyades, and Pleiades. How, precisely, the heroes of old ascended to the stars to make love to their shepherdesses is an exercise for the imagination of sages; nonetheless, these nymphidae carry in their veins the light of the heavens.

Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 1.
Astrobius. You can breathe air and phlogiston.
Extra Language. You can speak, read, and write Celestial.
Made of Starlight. You can innately cast the light cantrip. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for it.

Land Nymphidae
Land nymphidae include the descendants of such nymph sisterhoods as the Auloniades of the valleys, Leimakides of the pastures, and Oreads of the mountains. Their connection with the earth is strong, but results in them being less in touch with their non-nymph side.
Extra Language. You can speak, read, and write the Terran dialect of Primordial.
One with Stone. You can innately cast the stone shape spell once and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for it.

Plant Nymphidae
Plant nymphidae include the descendants of such nymph sisterhoods as the Anthousai of the flowers, Dryads, and Hamadryads. Some of the most common nymphidae, plant nymphidae integrate better with mortal cultures than their cousins.
Ability Score Increase. Your Wisdom score increases by 1.
Extra Language. You can speak, read, and write one extra language of your choice from the following list: Common, Elvish, Gnomish, Halfling.
Green Thumb. You can innately cast the druidcraft cantrip. When you reach 3rd level, you can cast the speak with plants spell once and regain the ability to do so after a long rest. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for these spells. 

Sky Nymphidae 
Sky nymphidae include the descendants of such nymph sisterhoods as the Aurae of the breezes and Nephele of the clouds. They are often the result of liaisons with mountain-dwelling peoples.


Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 1.
Extra Language. You can speak, read, and write the Auran dialect of Primordial.
Wind Summoner. You can innately cast the gust of wind spell once, using Charisma as your spellcasting ability. You regain the ability to cast the spell after a short or long rest.

Underworld Nymphidae
Underworld nymphidae include the descendants of such nymph sisterhoods as Cocytiae of underground rivers and the Lampades who light the way in the underworld; while those two sororities seem to bear more resemblance to water and celestial nymphs than each other, they are united by the darkness in which they dwell. While the underworld in some crystal spheres may be a physical system of caverns and may be a metaphysical realm in others, the darkness unites them all.

Ability Score Increase. Your Wisdom score increases by 1.
Extra Language. You can speak, read, and write one of the following languages: Abyssal, Deep Speech, the duergar dialect of Dwarvish, the drow dialect of Elvish, the svirfneblin dialect of Gnomish, the black hobbit dialect of Halfling, Goblin, Infernal, Orc, Primordial, or Undercommon.
Superior Darkvision. You have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 120 feet of you as if it was bright light, and in darkness as if it was dim light. You can't discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.

Water Nymphidae
Water nymphidae include the descendants of such geographically diverse nymph sisterhoods as the Crinaeae of fountains, Limnades of lakes, Oceanids of the oceans, and Potameides of the rivers. They are the second-most common subrace of nymphidae, falling only behind the plant nymphidae.

Ability Score Increase. Your Wisdom score increases by 1.
Speed. You have a swimming speed of 30 feet.
Amphibious. You can breathe air and water.
Extra Language. You can speak, read, and write the Aquan dialect of Primordial.

Nymph in Lab Coat with Glasses by Clay Mann

Nymphidae in Altellus
Nymphidae in Altellus hold the same cultural position elves do in many other worlds: exceptionally long-lived inheritors and guardians of ancient knowledge. However, since nymphidae (like satyridae and the other part-humans of Erigone) are the descendants of the human cultures that bred themselves out of existence, the ancient knowledge they guard is that of the Arkadian city-states and the Tiberian Republic. In defending this, the nymphidae of Altellus have made themselves the ruling elite of Erigone.

Greater honor is bestowed on those houses that claim descent from a nymph who was once the lover of a god or attended a god's retinue. This is as much a practical matter as a religious one; such nymphs had greater opportunity during the slow dying of humanity to gather worldly power. While some such nymphid households attempted to seize royal titles during this time, those dictatorships were crushed and the survivors abided by their proscribed roles in the various Senates. Those houses honored before others claim at worst titles such as "First Among Equals."





Tuesday, January 31, 2017

PAX South 2017



Honestly, I spent most of Acquisitions, Inc. watching it on a screen. I can do that at home.


Scheduling conflicts turned attending PAX South 2017 into a minor fiasco. While Robin and I enjoyed what we could, the time we spent downtown at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center functioned better as a reconnaissance mission for next year than it did as a weekend’s entertainment in its own right.


The bigger scheduling problem was that Robin teaches late Friday afternoon and Saturday morning classes this year, and so she wound up missing over half of the convention. The other scheduling problem was that Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff of Mystery Science Theater 3000 were in San Antonio on Saturday night for their The Mads Are Back live tour, and there was no way we were missing that. (Honestly, if we had known way back when we bought our PAX badges that Trace and Frank were going to be in town, we probably would have bought only single-day passes.) Thankfully, the live riffing show interfered more with afterhours options than with convention attendance; we had to give up a night out with Clint and Jodi Black, Preston DuBose, and Shane Hensley and family, but we’ll see them in May at Chupacabracon.

(Just in case I don’t get around to writing a separate piece on The Mads Are Back, Trace and Frank are warm and hilarious live. We watched Glen or Glenda? – my first time seeing that Ed Wood film – and they riffed hard on it while also expressing great admiration for the film’s progressivism. There is a distinct aesthetic and philosophical difference between the Cinematic Titanic alumni – who genuinely love the corny B-movies they promote through their riffing – and the RiffTrax gang – who will riff even classic films like Casablanca – and I am decidedly on the side of the former.)

Thankfully, between The Mads Are Back and the panels we attended at PAX South, Robin and I spent most of the time we did get together over the weekend laughing our butts off. The two main panels we took in were the Late Night Dub Fight on Friday and Acquisitions, Inc. on Saturday. While we currently doubt that we’d want to spend so much time standing in line for Acquisitions, Inc. next year, it was a fun experience to try at least once. We’ll probably take in Late Night Dub Fight again, but only if we can get in right before it starts.

(We really hated standing in line as much as we did.)

Late Night Dub Fight features a panel of internet personalities making up goofy improvised dubs over various media both good and bad. It was funny and we laughed a lot, but there’s not much to report there. Acquisition, Inc., for those who are reading this and somehow don’t know what it is, is an ongoing celebrity D&D campaign run by D&D 5e designer Chris Perkins. Despite the terrible line to get in, it was pretty enjoyable – but would it kill the players to actually learn about the Forgotten Realms?

Seriously, they would have gotten much further with the plot if someone had just read one or another of the various Waterdeep supplements that have been published over the years. They wasted at least half an hour trying to suss out where an antagonist was living when I immediately realized she had rented one of the rental villas in Sea Ward. Hmph! Oh well, I guess I can’t blame the players entirely. Perkins could have simply given them an info dump like “As long-time residents of Waterdeep, you know that several large mansions are available for rent high above the cliff-face in Sea Ward” rather than trying to lead them to do things the way he wanted.

While that matter – and the way the players ignored several intriguing plot hooks – aggravated me, I was overall entertained by the sessions (not enough to stand in line for hours to see it again, but pleased to have done so once). Perkins started the game off with a rooftop chase, so he immediately earned some respect from me, and kept the game moving while still dropping in enough setting detail to make his Waterdeep seem alive. It was the kind of D&D session I’d like to run or play in.

Speaking of running and playing games, during the time on Friday and Saturday when Robin wasn’t around, I attended a panel on game mastering and played in a session of the Dungeons and Dragons Adventurers League. The panel – made up of Perkins, Third Eye Games’ Eloy Lasanta, and (as pointed out in the comment below) Sarah Lynne Bowman, Anastasia Marston, and Danielle Lauzon Harper – taught me nothing I didn’t already know, but it did remind me of some things I’ve let slide. I wouldn’t call it educational so much as eye-opening, not just for the reminders but also for the insight into just how freaking self-doubting a lot of new GMs are these days. I know it’s just me being an old man, but seriously, people! The answer to 70% of the newbies’ questions was “just make something up,” the answer to 15% was “ask your players,” and the answer to another 10% was “just try and/or practice.” 

(I’m sorry; I’m still a bit tired and sore and it’s making me grouchy. Also, I keep seeing these kinds of questions in my Facebook and Google+ feeds recently – by the gods, the D&D 5e Facebook group is jam-packed with people who want other people to tell them how to do things! – and it is really driving me nuts. While I disagree with the OSR in many ways, “rulings, not rules” are words to game by.)

The DDAL game was fun, even if we barely got anywhere. Most of the players were more familiar with older D&D systems and we perhaps moved too cautiously, but we also got a late start because the previous group at our table ran long. At least I got to BS a storm giant into not killing us. The DDAL leaders in the area were very good at inviting in new people and making sure everyone was welcome, so hats off to them. I think I’d still prefer playing more eclectic, more one-and-done games at conventions, but I’m willing to play DDAL again.

Let’s see… Aside from that, our PAX South experience was mainly about wandering the exhibition floor and talking to friends. We discussed teaming up with our friends Paul Scofield and Kate Lytle Elsinger of Too Real Games to stream some The King is Dead games to cross-promote each other, Robin talked with Jodi Black about some of our project ideas down the pipe, we shot the breeze with Shane and Clint (Shane keeps forgetting our names, but he’s warmed to us as people), and we met some friends of friends and hung out. (I'm not going to say more about the streaming or other projects because I don't want to jinx very early plans.) Assuming we go again next year, I definitely want to spend more time with people and less time in lines.

Also, the chairs Clint and Jodi sell through Carolina Game Tables are really comfortable. They really don’t need cushions. Amazing!



Also also, we bought Mermaid Adventures for our niece (who probably won't read or play it, but really should) and ArcKnight's Highborne Manor map pack for ourselves. We finally found a map that could work for Pemberley!



Also also also, we bought Red Flags, but we haven't played it yet.


Also also also also, thank you, Sam Slocum, for the ride on Friday. We owe you at least a meal.