Saturday, 6 December 2014

Crime and whatnot

This week we will be looking at an often used area of Fantasonia, the Underworld.

What, like with fire and lakes of lava and stuff?
No. Not that Underworld! I mean the underworld in which criminals lurk. The Underworld where you can meet a murderer, master thief, disgraced noble looking for kicks and more ladies of dubious history and violent tempers than you could shake a stick at.
Ah, princes of thieves and such.
And noblemen who are actually mater jewel thieves.
If you like…
And women who look like they might be_
YES! Enough!
This week we are looking at the dingy underbelly of Fantasonia, the world of beggars and thieves and cutthroats and murderererers and people who have just been misunderstood.

Goodguff was looking at the youthful face of this year’s Hero. He was a particularly vapid specimen with bucked teeth and a pudding bowl haircut. Goodguff suspected that it had been a soup bowl rather than a pudding bowl, but only because the bowl hadn’t been properly washed out and there was a piece of leek sticking out of the thatch of hair.
The Wizard tore his gaze from Hop Groundfloater’s terrible hair and swung an arm out in a half-hearted gesture which encompassed the shambles baking in the desert sun before them.
“This, Hop, is the port of Funngi-Footon. The greatest hive of…”  He stopped mid-swing and let his arm fall. “Actually, it’s about average as far as Scum and Villainy go but it does specialise in Filth and Immorality.” Hop nodded, his eyes feverish as he flicked the reins and urged the four tethered goats to a trot, the little chariot lurched forward and stirred up the orange dust which rose up and obscured most of the cart and most of the lathered goats.
“That said, they do quite well with Naughtiness and are dabbling with Unhygienic Food Handling which seems to be going quite well.”

The Underworld
Also known as the Underside, Underbelly, Hidden City and Thieves Kingdom (to name some of the more popular brands), this week we are delving into the world of Crime in Fantasy.

Right. So what goes on in the Underworld/belly/side/city/thieves-kingdom?
What do you want there to be?

Well it is fantasy.
What about a club for fighting in which members of different species batter the crap out of each other at the whims of a demonically possessed man with two faces…hang on…
What about a noble who ventures out in the dead of night in his armour to batter criminals and wrong doers…hang on…
What about a gang of amoralistic sociopaths who will do anything for money and who’s only code is “Do unto others before they do unto you” and who’s favourite activities include, murder, torture, gain by illegal means as well as inducing fear in others and warping the minds of the weak with chemical or herbal substances.

That’s a bit dark isn’t it?
Pretty much. I mean we are speaking about criminals here. In real life criminals have always been the fringe members of any society. That’s part of why they turn to crime.
They don’t have to though! And even if they do then they don’t have to lose all their morals!
Well, you’re right on both counts but so very wrong at the same time. Lets sort it out with a quick example.
·         Blog Joess is a young man with everything to live for and all of the wondrous opportunities which can be afforded to a strapping, six stone slopmonger.
·         Blog gets drafted into the army of the Dark Lord Sorebum.
·         Blog gets killed. The end.

Hmm….hang on, lets try that again.
·         Blog gets drafted into the army of the Dark Lord Sorebum
·         After fighting anyone and everyone for a few years Blog decides he’s had enough and goes off to open his very own Inn (this is a strange compulsion known to many soldiers and as yet no source for the condition is known).
·         After a couple of years of poor trading Blog’s Inn is burned to the ground by the forces of Lord Sorebum, about a week later the stables, kitchens workshop and yard, including his mongrel dog’s upturned wheelbarrow home, are burned down by the forces of The One True Hero.
·         Blog is now broke and without a means of support or a legitimate target to vent at. Instead he decides it’s everyone’s fault.
·         Several wandering vagabonds come along and steal Blogs shoes, coat and bowl of stew after beating him up. For a laugh they make him smoke Goblinscrote (a powerfully addictive hallucinogenic herb).
·         Blog “Trips Balls” for several hours, winning the disgust and comradeship of his former muggers.
·         The band of hobos wander from town to town, robbing and stealing and mugging.
·         After a while, Blog’s former Legion of Doom training kicks in and he ups the levels of violence whilst taking a bigger share of the loot, as well as getting high as a very high thing on a daily basis.
·         In order to support his growing habit, which is the one pleasure left in the horror which is Blog’s life, he expands purchases several slave girls and whores them out to his friends, whilst also threatening to batter the snot out of people who live in his area if they don’t give him money.
·         Having more or less taken over a town Blog sets his sights on the nearest city.
·         Over the course of several bloody years blog takes over the herbal distribution in the city and becomes richer than his wildest dreams, which were not that wild.
·         Blog is once more overcome by the ill-advised urge to open and run and Inn.
·         The Inn is investigated for tax irregularities and Blog dies in a hail of hail stones which also has some well-placed arrows in it.

But that’s just a bog standard gangster plot!
Yes, and why not? Crime novels can transposed into fantasy very well, Pratchett has done it for years with the Vimes series (one of the best detectives ever written and containing some lovely homages to various other detectives, ten points if you can spot and name the Colombo reference).
Fantasy is fantasy because it takes place in a realm in which anything is possible. Imagine how tough a criminal would have to be to survive in world in which Dragons occasionally burn a village to smoking cinders. Then imagine how tough the police-esque force sent after the criminals would have to be to survive. And if they weren’t tough, then how smart.

But I’m not a criminal, how do I start?
Well your hair and fashion sense say otherwise to me but if you insist.

The official definition of crime is as something with contravenes a nation’s legal code and/or something which transgresses an individual’s rights/bounds.
Crime is broadly conducted under two guises.
1.       Disorganised crime- More or less what you’d expect. Normally this is just opportunistic stuff, burglary (which is only rarely associated with the other type of crime) stealing and vandalism are the most common types and are difficult to predict as they are usually the work of one or two isolated individuals with little or no support structure.
2.       Organised Crime- Again this is a Ronseal job (Does exactly what it says on the tin). For crime to be Organised and classed as such it must involve at least three people (no seriously this is actually true and is the current legal definition in the real world).
Organised Crime is committed with intent and planning. There will be someone who is in charge (or several someones) and they will decide what activities the group will be involved with. This is the major difference between the two types of crimes and affects the sentencing and everything else massively.
·         Jenny Bunn and the Pink Street Girl Guides(Troop 6) see a delicious apple pie on a window ledge cooling in the afternoon sun.
·         Jenny decides as they are walking past they might as well take it.
·         The local Watchman sees them doing it and gives chase.
·         Having caught them red handed in stealing a pie the Pink Street Girl Guides(Troop 6) are given three hundred lines each about why they shouldn’t have taken the pie in the first place.

·         Jenny Bunn and the Pink Street Girl Guides(Troop 6) see a delicious apple pie on a window ledge cooling in the afternoon sun.
·         Jenny realises that the pie belongs to a bakery which has produced several dozen pies that day.
·         Jenny Bunn takes the Pink Street Girl Guides (Troop 6) back to their den to plan how to steal the pies.
·         They ‘work the angles’ until a suitable plan is concocted.
·         Having found an entrance point they lower Jenny Bunn into the bakery via a skylight and three hundred feet of rope.
·         Jenny Bunn descends through a tangle of magical warning beams which will scream if they are broken by even a fly.
·         Having acrobatically reached the bakery floor Jenny Bunn unlocks the bakery storehouse to get at the pies.
·         The pies are distributed amongst the Pink Street Girl Guides (Troop 6).
·         One of the Pink Street Girl Guides (Troop 6) is caught trying to sell the Pie to a “Street Herbalist” and the Pink Street Girl Guides (Troop 6) are arrested and sent down.
·         At the trial it emerges that Jenny Bunn is actually the daughter of the leading judge, they were separated at birth in a freak snowstorm at sea.
·         The judge is disgusted with his daughter’s behaviour and sentences the lot of them to fifteen years hard labour in the Return-Ye-Nott Penal colony.

I get it! opportunistic crime is less dangerous ‘cause it just happens but organised crime could happen anywhere and deprive everyone of apple pie!
More or less, yes.

Organisational types of Organised Crime Organisations. Organised.
Organised Crime (or OC for the sake of my fingers) generally organises its self in two broad lines.

Type 1-The feudal tree.
This is the classic horses-head-in-the-bed-you-ask-me-this-favour-on-the-day-of-my-daughter’s-son’s-best-friend’s-dog’s-second-birthday-cake-eating-rememberance godfather structure.
·         At the top Will be the King of the Thieves/Not so Fairy Godfather.
·         Immediately beneath them are two to three Captains of Villainy or Cappo’s. These are the line managers of the crime organisation and will be responsible for their own brands of law breaking with distinct responsibilities and areas of operation.
·         Beneath these fearsome individuals will be the Lieutenants, normally there will be two or three per “crew”. These are the frontline commanders, responsible for overseeing much of the actual crime and enforcing most of the discipline.
·         Beneath them are the sergeants, the guys who lurk on street corners and pick the houses to threaten and the marks to make.
·         Under them are the troops, the day-to-day shoulder thumpers, master pickpockets, con-men, arsonists, psychopaths and assorted low-life vermin who do 90% of the breaking of the laws.
·         At the bottom of the pile are the lookouts, the scouts, runners, mules and trainee villains. Most of them will be children, all of them will be on the run and a lot of them will end up caught, dead or deported long before they get the chance to be promoted.
Type 2-I know a guy…
This is the sort of “organisation” which give law enforcers the most problems and which is actually more prevalent than the Cosa Nostra style.
·         At the top Will be the King of the Thieves/Not so Fairy Godfather.
·         Immediately beneath them are two to three Captains of Villainy or Cappo’s. These are the line managers of the crime organisation and will be responsible for their own brands of law breaking with distinct responsibilities and areas of operation.
·         Each of the Captains will have an informal network of Guys/Girls-They-Know who each fulfil a different task. “I wants a job doing, bit of rough work…” “Sure boss, I know a guy.”
This kind of organisation is almost impossible to penetrate because aside from the main players, it does not exist. New runners would be used for each task and the regular “employees” would be kept isolated from leadership, much like revolutionary cadres, terrorist cells and “spys”.

Just some ideas for you, go have fun.

Goodguff nodded at his hero’s question before answering.
“It is indeed a staff. A more complex weapon for a more intelligent time. Now, you stay here, finish your juice and be a good boy.” Hop just nodded at him and let his gaze drop to his juice.
Hop wasn’t fond of the place he was in. It was filled with ugly people doing ugly things and drinking ugly drinks.
A blast of gibberish hit his right ear.
“Sorry.” He muttered and moved down the bar a bit.
The gibberish came again followed a thump on the arm. Hop apologised again and moved as far as he could down the bar.
“My ‘friend’ says he doesn’t like you.” Hop apologised a third time and shuffled so far down the bar that the he was nearly hiding behind it. “I don’t like you either.” Hop couldn’t dodge any further down the bar and instead ducked behind it as the two bullies drew weapons.
He was flinching away from the incoming pain when a blinding light wiped his vision out and something Hop suspected might be blood spattered his face.
Shreds of bully hung from the ceiling and the clientele were pretending nothing had happened even as the staff started reaching for the mops.
“As I said, a weapon of a more intelligent time.” The wizard looked up and pulled a chunk from his beard. “Bloody messy though.”

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.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Halloween Horrors Part II- Werewolves

So, the next member of the Major Horror Triumvirate to be tackled is going to be the Werewolf.

Now interestingly the Dictionary has a definition of Werewolf which challenges a lot of the Pop-folklore which has arisen from the many and varied films.

A person fabled in folklore and superstition to have been changed into a wolf by a bewitchment/curse or said to be able to assume the form of a wolf at will... In the Ancient Persian callander the eighth month was called Varkazana- October-November, literally "the month of the wolfmen". 

Now, please not the underlined point there. It doesn't mention the full moon at all. In fact the only reference to the Lycanthropic transformation being triggered by the full moon which I could find (which wasn't tied to the modern cinema era) involves sleeping outside on a particular Wednesday or Friday night in the summer with the full moon shining directly onto your face.
No one mentions being turned into a wolf/hybrid by force once the moon is full.

So, bear that in mind as we move into the world of the Werewolf.

OK, so what makes a werewolf? 
In short, a Werewolf is a person who can become a wolf-like creature or a wolf either through the magic of a curse of because of the moon...because that's what the moon does to certain people. Makes them wolves.

Oh really? And the sun makes vampires I suppose. 
Don't be daft. The sun makes Boggarts. However, the moon does have a strange effect on people. A very strange effect. If you ask anyone who works in the police or A&E they will tell you that their pick up and entrance rates go up around the full moon. It's a well known phenomenon in certain circles. And it makes a strange sort of sense.
The moon controls/causes the tides, its gravitational pull does that, or it's the moon's sex appeal to water doing it. Either way, that minx the moon does that to the largest bodies of water on earth and we squidgy humans are largely water, the moon is going to have something of an effect on us it is fair to assume.
Now bearing that in mind it is quite straight forward to guess that the moon might have something to do with Werewolves and their transformation.

How does one become a werewolf
Normally by being bitten by one, or being cursed. Other choices also include putting on a wolfskin belt/onesie or being bored and running around with a wolf hat on and howling at the moon.

What are the drawbacks
Well, depending on what variety of Lycanthrope you are dealing with anything and everything from being forced to transform under the light of the moon, full or not, right the way through to uber painful and/or permanent transformations.

What are the bonuses
Well, anything from increased sight and smell and hearing to increased agility and strength as well as rapid healing/immortality from anything short of silver...or dismembering and incineration, which works for more or less anything.

Are there any perks?
Did I mention the immortal bit? As well as the whole having a tail thing.

Do I have to become a wolf?
Why, no! Not at all, you can be anything you like! But if you are bitten by a Werewolf then some sort of wolf shape is traditional. The thing is that if you can change at will, as is often claimed, then you would be able to hold the transformation process at will...more or less. Once that becomes possible then you can choose how much of the wolf you would like.

Why wolves instead of bears or birds or badgers?
Anthropomorphic tendencies.

You what?
People like to give their qualities to animals and sometimes even to inanimate objects. The thing is that wolves are already very like people. They have rigid social structures and are dedicated and cunning predators. Qualities that early man saw and emulated. Early man studied the way wolves hunted and copied them, then they mystified the wolf. Golden eyes and all the rest.

How do you stop/kill a werewolf?
Well, if you can then lopping the head off is always a good option. Most things tend to struggle without the head. Traditionally however it should be a silver bullet. Preferably to the heart.

Is it permanent?
Well, death tends to be. Lycanthropy is usually permanent as well. Unless it is caused by a curse which is somehow lifted.

Werewolves in fantasy
So, having covered the basics of what they are etc we can address their general absence from the Fantasy genre.

Like the humble/stumble Zombie generally (with one or two exceptions that I have come across) Werewolves seem to have been sidelined into Horror-only. Usually set in our universe and stuck firmly there.

What could be more fantastical than a person who can change their shape? Well, having said that quite a lot and shape-changing is an area of magic that does pop up occasionally. But rarely is Lycanthropy mentioned. Which I find very odd, especially given that the father of modern fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien mentions werewolves in his epic creation story, The Silmarillion. Now, fair enough, they didn't quite make it into LoTR except as a brief footnote fund in the novel sized appendix, but come on, there has to be some more examples of Werewolves in fantasy out there.
And when I say Werewolves in fantasy, I don't mean fantasy about them, possibly set in our universe,because that is it's own genre, otherwise known as horror.
What I mean is the Dark Lords out there could be missing out on some seriously nasty shock troops!

Example time (parachute trousers are optional for example time)

  • Sorebum-"I really need that annoying band of freedom fighters flattened. They appear to have wiped out the Zombies I sent to wear them out and I don't want to waste more or try my crack legions. I need to hit them with something hardcore and vicious. hmmm..."
  • Henchman 6- "Lord of all darkness, what about the Werewolves?"
  • Sorebum- "Aha! I've got it, I will use the Werewolf Brigade!"
  • Henchman 6- "An excellent plan, my lord."
  • The Werewolves are committed after dark (these being the "change when you want" type of Werewolves) they sneak up toward the band of heroes.
  • Round dawn they attack. Dawn being the best time for sneaky attacks as everyone is a bit sleepy and generally not at their best, especially after a day of Zombie fighting. 
  • The tired heroes are battered by the ferocious assault and several are greviously injured before they can retreat.
  • Dark Lord Sorebum cackles and rubs his hands in glee at the news of the injured heroes.
  • On the next full moon (something has to kick off the change) the injured heroes change into Werewolves and run amok.
  • Sorebum-"Yes, I think that worked out rather well in the end. Pass the cocoa please Henchman 6."
  • Henchman 6- "Yes master."

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Halloween Horrors: Part 1 Zombies

Mogmush leant on the pommel of his huge sword "Cabbage" and watched the soldiery lining up. He shifted his weight before leaning his chin on the cold cross of the sword's quillons. He waved his hand at the men lining up. 

"So, the spears form the centre?" Mogmush took a lazy swig from a wine skin and wiped some dribbled wine from his chin. The knight next to him nodded slowly whilst eyeing the huge barbarian.
"And you lot with the shields and the swords and whatnot lurk on the ends of the line."

"That's right."

"And you stop the stinkers from rolling up the spears..." The barbarian paused in thought for a long moment. "Which is just as well as they're the ones who will win the battle for you."  

"Well I wouldn't go that far." The knight's voice sounded strained. A little further along the Wizard, Gudguff sniggered into his beard.
"No, think about it!" Mogmush was getting into his stride now. Or rather his lurch, given how much he had drunk. "The spears are nice and long and unarmored. They're terrified peasants stinking up the valley for the world to smell. The..." He paused, realising that he had already said called the horde of dead Stinkers. "Walking rot," he let the name sink in before carrying on, sounding pleased with his inventiveness, "will go straight for them. All the peasants have to do is some serious prodding." The barbarian nodded to himself. "It should work." 

"So pleased we have your approval." The knight muttered to himself before heading off to find his lord and complain. 

Mogmush stayed where he was and stared at the aggressive geography of the valley before them. 

The valley was simply known as "The Pass". It had defeated more armies than the plague and dysentery combined, or so the locals said. To be fair, they've  resisted Sorebum this long. The barbarian looked at the forces shambling into line down below, then raised his gaze toward the distant entrance into the steep valley. The walking dead clogged it from one side to the other and stretched back out of sight. 
There's more dead walking into this valley than I have numbers for. The huge drunkard mused. he spent a last moment looking out before shambling toward the waiting skirmishers. Mind you, I cant count so that's saying much.   

Yes, that's right, in the run up to Halloween I will be looking at some of our favourite creatures each week. This week I thought I'd tackle the one being that, despite world wide recognition and almost infinite movie, tv and literary incarnations.

So what's wrong with Zombies?
Nothing! Absolutely nothing. As fodder for fantasy they are perfect, the ultimate in chop-through-able bad-guys. They are excellent as expendable "troops" for the Dark Lords out there. Ultimately expendable, totally cost free to maintain and utterly obedient (to a given value of obedient) to the Dark Lord/s.

And I'm narked because with the possible exception of Song of Ice and Fire and a couple of choose your own adventure books Zombies don't seem to have made the crossover into mainline fantasy and I just don't understand why.

Lets go through the anatomy of the Zombie and see what we find.

Zombies the Ins and Outs.

  • Cause of a Zombie: Actually unknown. Unlike most other monsters or creatures Zombies seem to have no single cause. Rather you have a total smorgasbord of causes ranging from cursed graveyards, high background magic or magic meteors and GM food. Radiation would also be a half decent excuse as well as bizarre disease. The major thing with those last two would be that they would take over your entire plot, unless you had a seriously biiig plot. 
  • Type of Zombie: Realistically you've got two types. One. The first are the traditional, slow and stumbly but utterly implacable. Two. The second are a type not really seen in any of the popular incarnations. These would be the survivors, the first wave of the infected who just become mumified and leathery. Imagine a zombie made out of leather and wood, no soft targets just thick hide and bone. These things would be scary as hell and tough to deal with, a job for maces and heavy axe blades.
  • Spread: By spread I mean infection rate. Zombies tend to move toward clusters of people, meaning that they would go from village to village, gaining strength as they went. With the exception of refugees or maybe runners in an organised realm there would be little or no news moving from village to village. The slow and steady pace of a growing horde of mobile corpses would be sufficient to wipe out most of a region.
  • Response: At best the local lord/s would be poorly equipped to respond to such a threat. Most of their levies would probably have been devoured by the horde, leaving them with only their household troops to rely on. At best they would be heavily outnumbered and that would only get worse. If the local lord/s allowed themselves to be besieged by the dead then the situation would be equally shitty. They might be able to hold out, or whittle down the horde with some good arrow work, or maybe open the doors and use the narrow choke points to get rid of as many as possible. Assuming the weight of numbers didn't force them into submission. 
  • Cure: Magic! That or a lot of killing. 
So you're saying you want to see Zombies?

Look, they are a very versatile subject to play with. There are no shotguns to kill them, no generators to provide shelter and warmth and comfort. Just muscle and steel and fire. 
I'll now break down an example outbreak. 

  1. A bitter and hated man dies and is buried with bugger all ceremony, mourned by no one.
  2. The dead man rises as a revenant, a vengeful spirit hell bent on wreaking horror. In the process of the horror-wreaking half a dozen people are bitten. Covering a range of ages, builds and sexes. 
  3. The locals don't really understand the problem and dismember the Revenant but ignore the bitten, giving them such treatment as can be afforded.
  4. Several days pass, the bitten succumb and turn wiping out the whole village, which then slouches away towards the next village in the area. 
  5. Local lord hears about peasants abandoning villages, tax collector/s report no one around and spots of blood. Lord assumes his/her rival has launched a raid so goes to raid his/her rival.
  6. meanwhile the Zombies slouch onwards and consume more and more of the locals.
  7. By the time the Lord has finished with the rival, either winning or loosing, their housetroops are tired and wounded and totally unable to deal with the massive threat now lurking not far away.
  8. The Lord is besieged and unnable to do much of anything. His/Her rival turns up for some vengeance, spots the siege and goes home, deciding to ignore the threat as it's doing his/her job for them. 
  9. Six months later most of the local lords are now dead and slouching their way toward the capital as part of an enormous horde of the dead which no one realised was festering away within the borders. 
Zombies have a right and fitting place in the world of Fantasy that no one seems to be using at the moment, its a crying shame actually that no one seems to want to combine the two genres and create something new and functional out of it!

Mogmush gave up, he'd killed at least thirty or more of the stinkers. He didn't know that however as he couldn't count. He belched mightily before spinning around and wandering back toward the main battle line. 
"Bollocks to this!" He yelled to the skirmishers behind him who were still sending arrows at the shambling horde. "It's no fun when they don't fight back!" 

Mogmush crossed the hundred yards in fairly quick time and spoke to the grinning Wizard Gudguff. 

"Squishy bastards don't fight, they don't run, they just..." The barbarian struggled to find the words for his disgust, "shamble at you." 

"Good, so you've seen what we're up against?"

"Bollocks to them." Mogmush muttered as he urinated copiously toward the horde. Gudguff ignored the barbarian and summoned a fireball the size of a horse. 

"You'll want something hotter than that my friend." 

The fire sizzled toward the oblivious Zombies who were about to become a little more oblivious.