Sunday, 30 November 2014

Significant dates.

Mogmush struggled against it but it had him totally in his power now. for an idea it was horribly corrosive. 




Mogmush surveyed the assembled cuthroats and marauders. Their faces were lit by a single candle which was guttering in the foetid air of the pub. 
He looked at the candle.

Someone had tried. They really had. The candle had been carved down until it was about as thin and dainty as could be. The reduced candle had been placed with as much care as possible, onto a thick slice of Probably-Pork Pie. 
As far as the effect went, it wasn't too bad. Mind you, the six inch nail doesn't do the whole thing any favours.

Mogmush looked at their faces again. 
Thats Caracog the Murderer, Thosov the Butcher of Vaaaaagh, One eared Willie, Three eyed Mike, Bogdan the Overly Affectionate... He did a double take in disbelief. Murderous-Three-eyed-Legless-Fire-Starter-Chopper Bob! I thought he was dead!

The most villainous men for a thousand miles in any direction were all smiling at him with idiot grins and genuine sparkle in their eyes. 
A birthday was a big thing in their world. Especially once you had a name. 

Mogmush looked around and sniffed as he felt a lump in his throat. 


So, as you can see from from the snazzy title this week will be a slightly delayed blog about, yes birthdays.

What have Birthdays got to do with fantasy?
Well, quite a lot actually. Don't forget that LOTR begins, eventually, with a Birthday and the associated party.

Birthdays originated as a way for slopmongers to pass the time before they died. Obviously as slopmongers started living longer and longer Birthdays became something else. In our society they are a nice way to surround your self with friends, family and well wishers whilst getting what you want (most of the time) and having an excuse to do/say what you like.

Thank you for explaining that. I did not know any of that. I thought they were a way to celebrate being alive.
Well, yes, yes they are.


And that is what they are/can be in Fantasonia as well!

Not following you there...

Example time!

  • You live in an area which is routinely plagued by a) A Dragon, b) Goblins/orc/ks from the moutnains, c) zombies from the earth, 4) atrocious, crop flattening weather from the skies and ~) distant relations of Cthulhu.
  • By the age of 5, you will have survived (statistically speaking) One razing by Dragon. One major famine, Three Goblin/orc/k raids from the nearby mountains. Six attacks by budget Shoggoths which look and move like a Ray Harryhousen Creature but which attack like a rabid Bargain Hunter on Black Friday.
  • By the age of 10 at least one of your parents will probably be dead or missing.
  • by the age of 12 you will be condsidered a young adult.
  • by 13 you will probably be married.
  • by 18 you should have at least one or two kids.
  • by 19 your homeland will have been invaded at least twice.
  • by 22 the Goblin/orc/ks have given up on raiding your shoddy hamlet and are now actually leaving gifts of food because they feel sorry for you.
  • by 25 at least half of your kids are either adults, dead, married, wandering adventurers, apprentices or master sorcerers. 
  • by 29 you are getting seriously worried as you are now the oldest slopmonger in the village and everyone is coming to you for the answers to their problems, most of which you have never heard of before. 
  • by 29 and one month you switch to a diet consisting entirely of soup, thick strong ale and porridge as your teeth will have all fallen out by now. 
  • by 30 you switch from ale to spirits because you're fed up of spending half the night almost asleep but not quite because your bladder is keeping you awake.
  • by 33 the slopmongers from neighbouring villages are travelling to you to hear your wise words and to point and stare at the oldest person for miles.
  • by 34 your eldest son is dead, killed in a Dragon razing and his son has taken to playing with a knife whenever he sees you as your's is the biggest house in the town (what with the older building styles being so much more expansive, being from back in the days when there were only ten people here)
  • by 35 you give up, walk up the nearest mountain until you find a cave and a) get eaten by a bear/dragon/bunch of goblins/orc/ks/troll/harpy/mountain lion/vampire or b)learn to survive on a diet of snails and moss as you become a hermit oracle, able to predict the future only because it's all re-runs these days and you know the scheduling like the back of your beard.
Birthdays are important but only possible in an organised society, one which tracks the seasons and makes the effort to remember. Anarchic warrior societies are less inclined to be so organised, or nice.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Magic Part III

So, I've been mulling this one over for a while now. Before I get in to it though...

Mogmush frowned for a second as Gudguff threw his hands up and stomped off toward the bushes. 

"Useless! utterly useless!"

Mogmush looked back at the small pile of rocks and then at his hands.

"Why can't I just throw them like I normally would?" He muttered the question to himself while slowly reaching toward the rocks.

"Leave the pile and do it again!" Gudguff's voice snapped across the little camp like whip. 

Right. The barbarian's thoughts were crowding his mind. Clear the mind. He felt the urge for a drink and squashed it for a moment. Focus on the air. The air is my friend and will move whatever I ask it to. He stared at the rocks so hard that he thought he might have burst something. I'm asking you, Mr Air, to move those rocks. Just a little. Go on. Please.  He felt himself straining as he concentrated on the rocks, his whole body was tense like a bow string.
Gudguff stood and watched as the barbarian went slowly redder in the face. Maybe trying to turn him into a paladin isn't the best idea I've ever had. The mostly naked man was quivering slightly as he concentrated on the pile of stones. But if he can't even manage a simple budge with the air then it might be a moot point in the end. 

Goodguff's musings were suddenly interrupted as Mogmush violently broke wind and lurched over sideways.


"Well, at least you can summon your own wind."

The Rules/Laws of Magic.
So, these have been festering in my mind for a little while and I thought that now would be a fairly good time to go into them.

Magic has rules?
Well, that really depends on the author/s involved here. A lot of Magic is exactly that, Magic. It can perform great feats once directed by the will of an appropriately practiced agent. In the case of a lot of authors Magic is more or less limitless in it's reach and scope and is occasionally very nearly sentient.

The problem is that unless you have the kind of world in which boulders can float freely without any problems then Magic needs to have rules which govern it, just as much as gravity does. Now, obviously, as with gravity, some of the rules can be pretty mental and almost unbelievable (much in the way that the gravity of a black hole can bend light and distort time (it is believed)) then Magic should have some rules which will be known, to give it limits, like all good characters. Once the rules are known then you can start to bend them, or move in opposition to to them.

Rules will mean things you can and can't do. Giving your characters limits will give them things to struggle against and to strive to overcome.

You've mentioned that one before.
Yes I have! It's important, that's why!

Why though? Especially given it's magic, you can more or less do what you want.
Right, I see. Example time then!

Scenario 1

  • Goodguff is trapped in a special oubliette created specifically to trap him by the Dark Lord Sorebum. 
  • The oubliette is made out of a rare material which blocks all of the usual means of magic which are open to Goodguff.
  • Goodguff simply thinks very hard and comes up with a new form of magic which he is instantly able to master because he's an ace Wizard. Magic bitches!

So, obviously Magic without limits is actually a major pain in the arse when it comes to actually trying to have an engaging plot. 

Scenario 2
  • Goodguff is in the special prison.
  • It has been comprehensively sealed and warded against all types of Magic, sorcery and wizardry. 
  • Goodguff spends several long months in the oubliette before he finally figures out that magic might not work.
  • over the next few dozen years Goodguff spends 23 hours a day to probing the prison and finding what it's flaws are. 
  • Eventually he discovers there are no flaws. 
  • Goodguff goes somewhat mad.
  • In his madness Goodguff finds some strange anti magic.
  • Still insane he uses the anti magic on the prison.  
  • It doesn't work. 
  • Goodguff goes totally berserk and starts using the contents of his chamber pot to redecorate. 
  • The guards come in to stop him (for some reason) and Goodguff brains both of the them with the chamber pot.
  • Stepping over the unconscious guards Goodguff discovers, once outside, that his powers are now far greater than they had been, all the magic potential having been building up over the years. 
  • Goodguff sneezes and accidentally blows out all the windows and creates a massive hole in the wall of the prison before leaving and wreaking havoc.

OK, so maybe that wasn't the most illustrative but I think you get the idea. 

Rules and Structures.
Just to flesh this out properly and give you some idea of what I'm actually on about, please accept this list of basic ideas to use as a framework for the creation of magic systems.

Balance-What goes out must go in
If a practitioner creates a fireball the size of a horse's head then the energy for that has to come from somewhere. It might be channeled from the driving forces of the universe its self or it might have come from the practitioners themselves. Either way it needs to be accountable. If it is coming from a body then there will be side effects, if its directly from the universe then how much can be used before the whole thing starts to wobble, also, is it finite?

Specificity- Chronomancy, Pogonomancy, Scatomancy and more.
What might be good fun is to divide the magic systems up, make boundaries between the skill-sets which can be learnt. Can a Pyromancer also learn Aquamancy? Could a Menatlist become a Physicalist? Do some types compliment others, just as they are a bar to some?

Unpredictability- 2+2= lemon.
Even a master will admit that sometimes, even with a known quantity or something that is almost an artform because they know it so well might produce an unexpected result. If Magic is a slightly raw/untamed force then a master (if it is possible to survive long enough to become one) will be well aware of the difficulties involved in predicting what might go wrong.

Invention-Ah Ha! I knew it!
Science is constantly pushing forward, in Fantasy however Magic usually seems to have stalled or be regressing. Pushing the bounds and experimenting is part of what humans do naturally, so go for it!

Consequences-No gain without pain, through which you must strain.
This one sort of goes back to the beginning. Every action has an equally and opposite reaction. This must be true in Magic, or there would be no point. Magic is effectively just real world shortcuts with extra sizzle. 
The Big thing is that everything we do means something else happens, sometimes it is a good thing, sometimes it is a bad thing and sometimes we have absolutely no control over what will happen beyond choosing whether we start that thing or not.


Monday, 10 November 2014

Travelling in time.

Mogmush stared at the mountain. he knew that within the huge iron and granite doors all sorts of vile and generally grim deeds were being committed. He had seen the monsters and their feasts and something other than booze was burning away in his stomach. it felt a lot like anger.

"Your're th' wizard! Open the bloody doors!"

Mogmush leered at Gudguff the wizard and jabbed a meaty finger at the portal before them. Behind them the trees bent under the caress of a gale. The Wizard looked quizzically at the barbarian and conveyed, in one simple and yet encompassing gesture that he hadn't heard the...request... and also that he was indeed a Wizard and was owed the respect of his title. 

"I said! Open the doors!" Mogmush jabbed his finger toward the door again and spoke in the slow and clear tones of a man dealing with a simpleton.

Gudguff frowned at the barbarian. 

"You do realise that those doors are three feet of iron over twelve feet of granite." He stepped forward and swung his staff gently at the gates. The staff cracked and snapped backwards at a hundred times the speed. Gudguff held the splintered and smoking ruin of the staff before his eyes and examined the shards of wood sticking out of it. 
"It's also protected by as vicious a rebounding enchantment as I have ever seen." He eyed the faintly glowing runes that were slowly fading. "In fact this might be unique. I don't think I have seen anything as powerful as this since the golden age of sorcery."

There was a long pause as Mogmush seemed to absorb most of what he had been told. 

"So open it then."

There was another long pause as Gudguff went through several unhealthy shades of skin colour before he gave a measured and appropriate response. 

"What part of this don't you understand you hair brained cretin!? It's ridiculous! The only spells that could get through it died with Anathrom the Black! He's been dead a thousand years and then some you tit! I can't do it! He probably couldn't have done it!" The Wizard wound down as the wind gently whipped some of the froth away from his mouth. Mogmush nodded and took a swig from the flask of brandy he'd picked up in the last town.

"So learn?" He belched slightly and wandered off to find some stones. The rebounding spell might be good for a laugh while he waited. 

"Learn!? Learn!?" The Wizard's face started to change colour again before he pulled his pointy hat off and started to gnaw on the rim. Half way round he stopped, an idea forming in his overworked mind.
Mogmush returned from the edge of the trees with a dozen decent sized stones. He was risking immodesty by carrying them in his loincloth. He figured it didn't matter as he was up in the mountains, several squirrels would have argued but they couldn't quite work out how to convey their embarrassment and settled for chattering at the huge man from a nearby tree.

"What are you doing?" Mogmush asked the Wizard. 

Gudguff was standing in a circle made out of bits of sticks and surrounded by runes gouged into the shallow earth. 

The Wizard looked up at the massive barbarian and grinned a manic grin. 

"I'm going to learn!" 

Mogmush looked on as the Wizard uttered some mystic runes and waved his hands in gestures that caused strange patterns in the air. Mogmush stared as he sorted his stones into groups. There was a blinding flash and the Wizard dissapeared. 

"Huh." The barbarian patted out the small fire on his loincloth and put out the the flames that were eating away his eyebrows before walking across the scorched earth and gentle knocking on the huge doors.
"Anyone home?" 

Time travel.
Time travel has previously been a preserve belonging to Sci Fi, but why? It fits the Fantasy bill perfectly. It's basically mucking around with the fabric of reality to create a new/better reality, or at least one that meets with your Hero/Wizard's aims.

I get you! Yeah it makes sense, you're making the world work for you!
More or less.
terry Pratchett is a prime authorial example of some one who has used time travel, several times, to great effect. It allows him to mess around with his established universe without messing up any future plot lines and without ruining his universe. It's a bit like the "It's all a dream" set-up but without the cringing horror or wasting your reader's time by having a plot which actually doesn't matter.

So, example time!

  • Situation-The Dark Lord Sorebum is winning and things are looking seriously hopeless. 
  • The Wizard council or conclave or whatever they are realise that their hero has been converted to the Dark Lord's legions and is now wearing the spiky and dark uniform of a baaad dude.
  • The Wizards are now so up shit creek that they decide to send one of their members back in time to try to stop the Dark Lord from converting their precious little hero.
  • They desperately race against time and the Dark Lord to create the spell needed and send a wise man back to enact their changes.
  • It goes wrong and they send a confused simpleton back who can start a fairly low key resistance.
  • The simpleton's mind is scrambled by the spell and he/she ends up as the Dark Lord's most trusted henchman. 
  • See point one.
Yeah, that's the problem with time travel, it can sometimes make more of a mess of things than it sorts out. The film Butterfly effect deals with exactly this problem.

The thing about time travel is that once you'e managed to go back in time there is no telling what your presence and the changes you make will actually do.
Also, once you've gone back in time you have no idea how long you need to be there to effect the changes that you need.
You then run into the problem that the timeline you have come from might actually be the result of you going back there in the first place, in which case once you're back there and you get back towards your original timeframe you might realise that your intended changes have done nothing, and then you might want to try to change something else by going back further and trying to warn yourself (assuming that such an act would not destroy the universe) or to change something further back that might effect you when you go back in the first place. But then you run into the "it's this way because it's this way and it's this way because of what I tried to do to change it" thing.
Often referred to as a paradox, or a thing which can only happen/exist because it has happened/exists. Much like a Dixon's sale, it is there because it is there and there is no time when it isn't there but theoretically it has to end at some point and has to start at some point...I dunno, bad example.

But doesn't make time travel difficult and sort of pointless?
Well more or less, yes. The major problem with time travel is that it actually ties your head in knots. The human mind perceives time in a linear fashion, like a road. We do this for good reason, namely it hurting to do otherwise. Also, given we evolved from primates mucking around with concepts like "I ate the banana in the morning so I am hungry in the evening" is probably not a good idea. I.E. "I ate a banana in the morning and is evening now but I traveled back to this morning to eat the same banana before I ate it the first time round and now I'm twice as hungry and also wondering what happened to banana I ate the first time round as I can't feel it in my stomach anymore."

But, to give you a simpler example of what might happen...

Mogmush stirred and slowly woke up, struggling and kicking his way out of his blankets. He grunted as he let a stream of piss fall into the ashes of his campfire. 
Mogmush was thrown onto his back as a crackling sphere of lightning appeared roughly where the wizard had disappeared the night before. 

Mogmush stared through the protective circle of his arms. In the centre of the dissipating sphere Wizard Gudguff lurked. He was robed in black and carried an enormous staff. It looked like it was engraved obsidian and it was topped with a small skull that had more eye holes than Mogmush was comfortable. 

The Wizards gently glowing eyes swiveled around and glared at Mogmush. 
"What day is it?" The Wizard's voice held tones and undertones that caused the air to vibrate in strange ways.

"Tomorrow?" Mogmush hazarded a guess. 

There was a loaded pause as the Wizard looked at the Barbarian and frowned.

"Bugger." The word shattered the otherwise imposing image that the Wizard had been going for and he deflated a bit. "Fine. Lets get it over with."

Mogmush lurched to his feet and stood a respectful distance away from the Wizard.

"I take it you learned then?"

"I studied with Anathrom the Black. To do this I had to prove myself by venturing into the unfromed lands and battle with a greater demon. I had to forge a staff from the soul of a volcano and inscribed it with the runes of power which I had to steal from..." Gudguff took in the slightly glazed look on the Barbarian's face. "Yes. I learned." He sighed to himself and for a moment found himself wishing to be back on the demon haunted plains of the unfinished lands. 
"You might want to stand back."

Mogmush stepped back and looked on as the Wizard seemed to do nothing. Gudguff breathed in and uttered a single, soft word. 

Mogmush felt his loincloth fluttering as a vacuum formed around the Wizard. A thousand square yards of air was being compressed into a space about the size of a pin's head in front of the Wizard. Gudguff spoke another soft word and glared at the huge stone doors. His hair seemed to crackle and the energy was suddenly released. 

The oxygen in the tiny space was set alight with a word of power and a tiny star was born. Gudguff flicked his fingers toward the doors and tiny flare shot forwards and ploughed through the rock and the iron like a hot knife through warm butter.

Afterwards, when Mogmush had stopped dodging the falling stone chips and molten iron shards he looked at the place where the door had been. 
What had been the front of a mountain was now a gaping black hole. The rocks were glowing and dripping slowly as the intense heat slowly dissipated. On the other side of the doors were the incinerated remains of both the monsters and the victims they had been there to rescue. Gudguff was wandering amongst the ruins and prodding at the odd charred ruin. 

"Weren't we supposed to kill the monsters and save the people?" Mogmush yelled. "I mean, dont get me wrong, the monsters are definitely dead. But so are the people..." 

The Wizard turned around and suddenly Mogmush wasn't sure what he was looking at anymore.

"Let the God's sort them out."

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Halloween Horrors part III- Vampires

Vortifan looked at the scroll in front of him. It was ancient and tattered but the ink was still legible. 
I see. His thoughts rang around his head in a hollow way. Smoke rolled from his mouth as he took the pipe from his lips and continued to read.

Inne the Darke off ye nighte itt commes. Sneeking ande seekinge thee lives ande the bloode off ye slumbersome.

Vortifan paused and in his reading and rubbed at his neck. Three months of searching and hunger, three months of deciphering the erratic spelling of the most famous hunter of vampires the world had known and he had nothing to show for it but headaches. There was nothing about the transformation or any possible cure. Just a lot borderline poetry about how to recognise a vampire and how to deal with it. most of which seemed to involve impaling or beheading. 
Which would work on more or less anything I think. He stood and walked out of the cramped chamber. The royal library was vast and shadowy at this time of the evening. A few scribes scurried from one chamber to another, most were weighed down with parchments and books. 
At the main doors the chief scribe looked up from his ledger and pushed it towards Vortifan. A quote from a scroll he'd read three days before bubbled into his mind.
Vampires prefere soitarie careeres inne whiche theye hyde fore manye yeares, pickinge offe innocentes where theye finde theme.

The cheif scribe was a thin face man with thin bloodless lips and claw-like hands. Vortifan couldn't help but think that this would be the perfect place for a vampire to hide. 
He smiled as he signed himself out.

So, as you've probably gathered I am rounding off my series of monsters with the most famous and most re-imagined creatures out there.

Ok, so you're going to do some vampire bashing. 
Not really, I actually like vampires as a concept! They are the ultimate apex predator. They are horror made flesh and somewhere between a serial killer and a demon. Generally able to lurk unseen in human society and more intelligent than other sorts of parasites.

Oh, I see.
Yup. They have a very valid place in fantasy. They are immortal and kept alive by death, a balanced paradox.

I just want to see more of them and done better.

Yup, its example time!

  • Member of the city watch investigating a series of horrid murders.
  • A panic in the city being made worse by the murders and their gristly nature.
  • The intrepid detective/watchman finds their task is being made harder by the random deaths being caused by the unrest as well as series of copycat killings.
  • The detective/watchman is starting to wonder about the nature of the murders and starts looking for traces of the vampire.
  • Detective/watchman runs into myth and confusion whilst trying to figure things out. 
  • The city descends into greater panic and the detective/watchman hits even more trouble. 
  • A couple of weeks and a couple more murders happen.
  • The detective/watchman eventually traces the vampire down and kills it with little ceremony or magic, just a fleshy thud sort of noise. 
  • Things calm down and go back to normal for a while. 
  • It turns out that the killings were the work of a local lunatic rather than a vampire and the detective/watchman was wrong all along and becomes the next victim.

Ooooh, dark.
Yup, it should be as well. 

I remember reading the original Vampire story, Bram Stoker's Vampire story. The part which got to me the most was the paranoia running throughout the captain's journal. The voyage of Demeter.
It's a captive crew being fed on by something they brought on board. Being picked off one by one by something they don't understand. Imagine the storms and the long, long dark nights of fear. The sweat beading cold on the crew's foreheads as they wonder who is likely to be next...

That is the strength of a good vampire. They turn your mind against it's self and isolate by their very nature. Making you distrust what you know and the people around you, jumping at shadows and suspecting those closest to you...

Vampires are the ultimate bumpers in the dark. Created by inverted/uncompleted/botched exorcisms, cursed by god/s or themselves or tricked by Demons and preyed on by other/older vampires. They live for as long as they can and prey on weak humans with no mercy. The older they get and the longer the world has been around them then the stranger their motivations become. They might start looking for a lost love (Stoker again for you) or start lusting after power and dominion over the world, if only for easier pickings (go and watch the first blade film) or simply because they just can.

However, to really understand what makes vampires as unsettling a thing now as they were back in the days of gas lamps and carriages then you need to watch Nosferatu:
Ethereal, unnerving and frankly flat out weird this 92 year old film in all of its black and white glory will still scare the crap out you. It certainly does me, which is why I watch it every Halloween.

Go forth and shiver.