Sunday, 18 May 2014

The Fantasy Writer's Guide to Alcohol

Given it's a weekend this seemed appropriate. So, you know what's coming now. Sit back, crack open a bottle of your favorite poison and prepare to enter the world of booze. Or go and boil an egg, whichever you prefer.

After a hard day adventuring, slaying wenches and saving dragons etc., your average Hero heads straight to the nearest tavern and sinks a couple of gallons of ale before quietly dissolving into a puddle under the table and being kidnapped, missing a raid or wetting him/herself. All of which is perfectly rational and understandable.

Yet you'd be amazed at the number of writers out there who don't seem to understand how alcohol works. Their characters stride manfully/womanfully around the tavern to deal with some problem even though they have drunk enough booze to sink a battleship. These leadguts have no problem with standing, walking or winning a fight (against outlandish odds of course), even though the collection of bottles before them is as thick as fallen leaves in a forest.

Mogmush the Mighty let out a booming laugh as he tipped the horn of ale back and drained it to the dregs. "More, wench!" he bellowed and thrust the empty horn out to the passing woman. She didn't actually work in the tavern but felt compelled to fill the horn anyway, such was the power of Mogmush's charisma. Laughing, he raised the freshly filled horn back and drained it again.

The local slopmongers who had been cowering away from the maniac Mogmush suddenly went quiet.  Mogmush looked blearily round and saw a patrol of the Dark Lord Sorebum's elite henchmen had entered the tavern. Suddenly the pleasant buzz that had been filling his mind was flushed away in a rush of anger.

"YOU!" roared Mogmush. In a single movement he rose to his feet, picked up the table and hurled it at the patrol. He laughed as he drew his mighty broadsword "Cabbage" and dove into the fray...in his mind. What actually happened was slightly different.

Mogmush looked around and saw a patrol of a dozen men. There were actually only three of them but he was totally smashed and couldn't count anyway.

"Yoargh!" He burbled something incomprehensible as he tried to stand. Somehow his foot got caught on something (possibly his other foot) and Mogmush stumbled, crashing into the table and breaking it to splinters.

Mogmush struggled to his feet spluttering a gibberish warcry and tried to draw his broadsword. The weapon was slung over his shoulder, the hilt pointing up over his head. He managed to tangle the baldric around his neck and got the long scabbard caught between his legs as he stood. 

"Glaugh!" Mogmush squealed as he stumbled and fell over backwards. There was a deep thump and an unpleasant cracking sound as the hilt of his sword broke two of his ribs. 

The soldiers of the Dark Lord looked at the fallen Hero and then at each other.

"What was all that about?" Snagrot the sergeant asked.

"Not a bloody clue sarge."

"Right... Evening Regie, three of the usual please." Snagrot greeted the landlord and leant on the bar. 


So, without further ado, welcome to the Fantasy Writer's Guide to Alcohol!


What is it?
Excellent question! In the modern world there are more varieties of alcohol than you can shake a slightly blurry finger at.

Alcohol is usually made by allowing a base ingredient to ferment. Fermentation is a fancy technical-type word for alcoholisation. Scientists and other such boffin types will try to convince you what happens is a by-product of yeast and other such micro organisms reproducing. What actually happens is that the Booze Fairy blesses every drop as it is made, giving the liquid its magical properties and changing it from basically being dirty water into some excellent vintage silly juice.

The types are almost endless but there are certain beverages that are more common than others in Fantasonia.

What types of alcohol are most common?
Ale: In England today Ale is everywhere and an excellent substitute for mass produced piss. It is also known as beer and more recently as craft beer. Which is the same but makes it more obvious that some poor bugger has to brew it without drinking it.

Wine: Wine is the fruit of the vine...squashed. Grapes are picked by the local slopmongers and diligently and exhaustively crushed between the delicate toes of the largest woman in the village. Wine tends to be supped by the richer members of society and lonely princesses in high towers. It also tend to be an excellent delivery mechanism for a variety of poisons. As an interesting point, the colour of the wine dictated by how the skins are left in the crushed pulp and what mood the Booze Fairy is in.

Gin, whisky and other spirits: Otherwise known as "The Hard Stuff", this section of the alcohol world tends to be the preserve of the recently bereaved, anti-heroes and villains. It can often be found in slim flasks and clay jugs marked with a number of X's.

Mead: A potent smelling brew of fermented honey. Invented by the Vikings and loved by role players and nutters of all kinds. For maximum effect it should be quaffed (read consumed) from a horn.

Right...Who drinks the stuff?
In short, bloody everyone.Viking children were weaned from milk straight onto beer or mead. The average fantasy city or town will treat their local river as a highway and open sewer combined, making the water more or less undrinkable. Wells would also be hit and miss. In order quench one's thirst and not die of dysentery, the water would need to be filtered and purified. The brewing process is  an excellent way to get rid of the nasty bugs and bad magic that cause illness. That being the case everyone and his dog (literally the dogs too) would drink some sort of booze.

Where is made or consumed and such?
It is made wherever men gather and posses an overabundance of food of some sort. These bearded pioneers will throw anything and everything into a pot and leave it to brew. They possess the secret brewing knowledge of the ages and will be in the first in line to taste their (potentially lethal and/or rancid) creation.
On the whole it is consumed everywhere. If you're thirsty and you know that the water will kill you then booze is the best way forward!

When did people start doing it?
When they realised that drinking the river water they'd been shitting in was probably a bad idea.

So what happens to a hero who drinks too much?
In short, they become a non-Hero for a varying amount of time. Permanent loss of Hero status is possible, aka death. Contrary to popular belief and a chronic lack of knowledge, if someone drinks too much, be they Hero, slopmonger or Henchman, they will suffer.

What kind of suffering?
In common terms, a hangover will appear. Hangovers are the shadow of the Booze Fairy, displeased for the disrespect shown to her magical liquid.

Symptoms that appear with hangovers:
  • The screaming shits
  • Feeling as though your head is about to pop
  • Feeling as though every sound you hear is a physical shard of glass being dragged through your skull and deep, deep into your brain
  • Feeling as though every ray of light is individually raping your eye with a burning red hot poker covered in spikes, acid and fire ants
  • Sausage fingers
  • Shakes
  • An inexplicable caving for a kebab (note to international readers: the Kebab is a dangerous animal that can only be killed by a spear from arse to mouth and is best eaten after being slowly rotated in front of a warm lightbulb for six weeks)
  • Vomiting
  • Projectile vomiting
  • Projectile shitting, aka "The Pebbledash"
  • Beer sweats
  • Beer poo
  • Beer wee
  • A sudden aversion to work
  • All of the above at once
Those who have really annoyed the Booze Fairy through repeated and consecutive offences (e.g. performing the unholy rite of the Three Day Bank Holiday Bender) can expect to sample the delights of a special torment known as Delirium Tremens. DT's are a waking nightmare. Literally. Full body spasms, severe shakes and trembling, hot, cold, wet and dry sweating, hallucinations and appearing to be going through the menopause even though you are a 23 year old man are the norm. Anyone unlucky enough to be in the grip of the DT's is grateful to be hit over the head with an ornamental brass duck and left for dead. 

But Mogmush the Mighty is a hardened drinker! He can handle it!
It doesn't matter! A Hero who has drunk two gallons of gut-rot will be out for the count for the better part of at least a day. Anyone who was expecting a rescue from Mogmush is going to be sorely disappointed. If he does manage to turn up he'll be a shambling mess covered in his own vomit and unable to walk more than a few yards at a time without groaning and doubling over. Assuming he completes the slow and embarrassing stagger up to the Triple-Headed Hardassian Mammoth without it goring him or just taking a step sideways to evade his random childlike flailing, he might as well be armed with a wet towel. It doesn't matter how strong he was yesterday: today his muscles will be sore and flaccid, much like a burst puffer fish. In the grip of a hangover he will be as strong as a damp duckling and as resilient as a wet cake.

If what you're saying is true, why the hell does anyone drink?
Well, if you have the option of drinking water that won't kill you then the only answer is that it's fun.
Being under the influence of the Booze Fairy is a lot like being mad. You know you can't dance but you dance anyway! And not only do you dance but you dance well! You can do anything! Nothing is beyond your reach!

In your mind that is.

At least until the morning when everything is beyond you and it's as much as you can do to breathe.

Well, I hope that's cleared up some of the questions you didn't ask.

Now let's find out how all that quaffing has influenced Mogmush.

The challenge had been laid down and Mogmush could no more refuse than he could spell the word 'no'. He strode manfully toward the arena and dropped into a low position that gave him the advantage of leverage. His silk loincloth wafted around in a small breeze and Mogmush felt the expectation building in the gaggle of slopmongers around them.

The drummer stuck a beat, the lutist followed it and Mogmush danced.

The slopmongers moved further out of the way as Mogmush twirled and span across the tavern's dance floor. The coloured lanterns splashed pools of illumination across the boards and Mogmush swam through them like a shark through a rain of shrimp. He smiled and laughed for the joy of laughing, gyrating his hips for a moment as he passed an attractive slopmonger. The bright pink silk of his loincloth fluttered around him as he span once more, completing a perfect pirouette. The slopmongers gasped in awe and joy as they witnessed his skill. Mogmush came to a graceful halt and struck a pose. 

"Shouldn't we do something sarge?" Rathathathakkk asked. Snagrot eyed the rookie Minion for a moment before shaking his head.

"Nah, you have to know when to strike." Sergeant Snagrot took a deep pull from his tankard and wiped his mouth with back of his hand, being careful to avoid the excess of spikes on his gauntlet and watched the horror unfolding on the dancefloor. 

The giant tit who'd smashed a table when they came in was now molesting the general area of the dancefloor. Snagrot watched the small band continue to play despite the dangerous pinwheeling of the giant barbarian stumbling around.

Snagrot and everyone else in the room winced as the prancing twat started to spin around with his arms out. The motion caused his ludicrous and heavily stained loincloth to float on the air, showing the room at large his genitals flopping sadly.

Snagrot, a veteran of numerous Tavern Atrocities, saw the lean before it began. He nudged Rathathathakkk. "Any minute now, lad."

They watched as the stumbling barbarian staggered ever more to one side as his abused inner ears gave up the battle to determine what gravity was actually doing at that moment.

"And, three...two...one." With perfect timing Snagrot counted out the seconds during which the barbarian seemed to hang in the air, defying gravity for one brief moment before crashing through a table. As he landed, breaking his nose with a sickeningly loud crunch, the barbarian flung out his arms and wiggled his hands in some pathetic attempt to complete his performance with the classic manoeuver known as Jazz Hands.

"Come on then lads, we'll give him a quick hiding then chuck him in the river." Snagrot sighed and put down his tankard.

"Won't he drown?" Rathathathakkk was't entirely comfortable with his new job yet.

"Hopefully." 

"Sarge?"

"Yes, lad?" 

"Why is he humping the floor?"

They paused and watched for a moment as the downed barbarian's arse pumped up into the air a few more times before coming to a halt with a pained groan.

"To be honest, lad? I'd say it's because he's a tosser."