The Death of Kalendra – Nursery Rhymes in Fantasy

Remember, remember, the death of Kalendra,
Staked, beheaded then burned.
If Kalendra’s beheading was held at a wedding,
T’would be the birth at which she returned.

If you don’t recognise that rhyme then I’ll be quite surprised, but if you recognise the words I’ll be astonished.

Nursery rhymes have a powerful ability to infect the mind – they’re like ancient earworms – but they can also convey significant amounts of information and emotion about the history of their origin.

To illustrate, let’s first look at what the original rhyme would tell us if we were not of this world:

Remember, remember, the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Well, the fifth of November is clearly a date, and one on which a major event happened. An event that involved gunpowder (the meaning of which will become clear once we discover that guns are a type of explosive crossbow), and treason.

So we have a little idea of what’s going on, but not a huge amount – it’s not a well-structured rhyme for worldbuilding, but it doesn’t need to be. Still, if we want more information we could look at the rest of the poem (which is, in my opinion, much less well composed):

Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England’s overthrow.

By god’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him?
Burn him!

Now we know that we’re dealing with a monotheistic monarchy (with some sort of parliament supporting the king), that Guy Fawkes is the traitor in question, and that burning someone is a fitting punishment for treason. All portrayed in a much more fun way than just listing it out.

Now for the breakdown of Kalendra’s tale – For this act I’ll go line by line, for by design it’s densely packed.

Remember, remember, the death of Kalendra,

So we start with the fact that Kalendra is someone important who is now dead. Simple enough, but slightly useful for worldbuilding.

Staked, beheaded then burned.

Okay, so someone really wanted this Kalendra dead – and from the staking we can guess that vampires are a thing in their world.

Now “hung, drawn and quartered” is a thing in our world, so overkill is entirely plausible as a torture method – but beheading wouldn’t come before burning in that case, as you don’t want them to be actually dead until the third act.

If Kalendra’s beheading was held at a wedding,

An odd image. Obviously it wasn’t held at a wedding, but the fact that it’s something that would be suggested says that just as public executions could be celebrations in our world perhaps they could be combined with other celebrations in this world.

T’would be the birth at which she returned.

This line is the most important one – obviously Kalendra came back after being massively overkilled, but significantly she didn’t do so until after the expected gap between a wedding and the first child.

So Kalendra was not a simple vampire, but if she is a Lich or similar then she is not one that can just pop back up an hour later, but one that must regain her strength – more like Voldemort than Vecna.

Slightly less obvious is what this tells us about weddings within this world: Weddings can work in many different ways in different places, but here it is clear that wedding and birth are intimately linked – and not just in the abstract “married people have kids” sense – either the fertility in this world is quite high, and as such it is to be expected that the first pregnancy will occur within a few months of the marriage, or it is commonplace that people get married during the pregnancy.

In Your Games and Stories

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Fairy Colours

Colour

This month’s theme is colour and what it can mean in story and games.

Art Produced by Nolan Nasser for Letiman Games upcoming Kickstarter

Fairies’ Colours

Colour is a big part of our world, we use it in many contexts and each colour can have multiple important meanings, so it only makes sense that colour is a big part of the fae world too. Different colours can show what powers the fae may have or what they are linked to within the world. This time I’m going to talk about the small ones with wings, fairies themselves (especially the small pixies), since they can come in all the colours of the rainbow though the most common colours for these little guys are green, blue, white, purple and orange.

This piece talks about how they can be seen within popular culture: stories, books, and games.

They show their colour in a few different ways: skin, wings, clothing, their fairy dust, or their glow. A lot of fairies have peach coloured skin and wear clothing or have wings of one particular colour, this can be any colour, such as pink or yellow or reddish-brown/orange but that colour usually links them to something like a flower or season.

Plant fairies are one example of these nature-linked fae, each fairy is linked a type of plant, most often flowers but those can include the flowers found on trees. They not very powerful and their job is to help their plant grow and spread. The flower fairies that were depicted by Cicely Mary Barker in the 1920s are a form of this type of fairies, the art work is less than a century old but the concept that there are little fairies for plants helping them grow and that live within them is eons old.

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Jigsaw Fantasy – With Freebies

Monstrous Mondays has had its first month, and I hope you enjoyed it, but to avoid burnout April’s going to have a somewhat different focus – each Monday we’ll be talking about a different one of our ongoing or upcoming projects, plans and/or products.

This week it’s Jigsaw Fantasy that’s on the agenda

jigsaw logo colour transp bearowl

What is Jigsaw Fantasy?

Jigsaw Fantasy is our monthly series of RPG setting elements on Patreon, a stream of releases aimed at middling to experienced GMs lacking either the time or the energy to create every aspect of the world they’re running – or who simply want a little extra inspiration to help them on their way.

Each release is between 18 and 22 pages long and details a region, set of characters, or organisation in sufficient detail to provide fodder for at least half a dozen game sessions.

Why is it Unique?

There are a lot of RPG setting pieces out there, but Jigsaw Fantasy takes its name from its unique trick – Jigsaw Links.

Each Jigsaw Piece includes a set of footnotes explaining how to link it in to other pieces of writing, including established settings, mythology, and our other creations – making it easier for a GM to fit it into their own world by providing context on how things can be clicked together.

Take a Look

In addition to the Patreon you can learn more by checking out the two free releases of Jigsaw Fantasy – The Wandering Tavern and our April Fools release “My Little Yeti Ranch

Next week we’ll be looking at Emperor’s Hand – a card game that has been brought home for redevelopment to expand its player range from 3-6 to 2-8.

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What is a Monster – Monstrous Mondays

Ed Note: This was meant to go up on the first week of March, but I, umm, forgot…

What Is A Monster

They are the creatures of your deepest, darkest nightmare, and yet we use them to tell stories, to protect, to explain the things we do not understand – or do not wish to – and so much more.

We need them for all these reasons but most of all, we need them because they cause fear, a powerful feeling. It is a feeling that we need to protect us from things like fire and to help us understand the world – but it also can be used against us. This is why we need to understand fear, which monsters help us to do, they create a context to which other fears can be compared.

Monsters can come in many forms – legendary creatures, illness, mutations of man and animals. Over the centuries we have learned to fight, understand and explain these monsters but we still use them to tell our stories. Sometimes those stories twist the original myths almost unrecognisably – but the core is always drawn from something that came before.

What I find most interesting about monsters is the history, stories, and what caused these stories to begin – what the monster could actually be and their physiology.

So I will be giving a write up of a monsters each week, from Z-A to help you with your game and stories.

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Talk About Timing – The Upcoming Emperor’s Hand

In fitting with the theme of this week’s post, it’s coming out a few hours late.

Why? Well, this week I want to talk to you about our schedule. First things first:

Emperor’s Hand is Coming to Kickstarter
March 9th to April 2nd

With that said, one thing might stick out – it’s a week shorter than most kickstarters. There are a number of reasons for that, and I’d like to go through them:

1) A shorter Kickstarter means less slowdown in the middle.
Our previous kickstarters have had less than 20% of their funding happen in the middle two weeks, with only ~5% or so in the middle 7 days. Missing out on that 5% isn’t great, but there’s no guarantee that we will. In fact, by having only 3 weeks the starting rush and the ending jump may run together – as some kickstarter’s have found in the past – and create more hype.

2) Running a Kickstarter is a lot of work and stress.
We already have a lot to do, and marketing etc. for a Kickstarter eat into that time, along with the stress of every day where the backing drops below the prior, and never knowing how much it’ll pick back up in the end. Dropping the middle week cuts that stress significantly – by at least 1/4, but likely closer to 1/3.

3) We want its profit in this tax year. (By April 5th)
We’ve been converting some stock into cash this year by trading at conventions, but we have made very little net profit. For various reasons we’re optimistic of much more income next tax year, and having nothing this year and all of it next is suboptimal, so we want to end this tax year.
Given that we’re not ready to launch this week, a three week Kickstarter is the longest we can fit in.

And last, but certainly not least

4) We have big things planned for later this year.
Clash of Blades, the game I’ve been working on for the last 6 years, is finally ready to launch, with no more nits to pick. But I don’t feel ready to send it out to crowdfunding right now. In all our previous kickstarters something has gone wrong, and we’ve delivered slightly behind schedule. While our Patreon has shown that we can stick to a monthly schedule, we want to do something bigger, with more moving parts and some physical fulfilment, to prove (both to our backers and to ourselves) that we are ready for all the trials involved.
But we also want to launch Clash by the middle of this year – and that means that we have to have the precursor project done and dusted by that point.

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Help Us Choose a Name

In the next week or two we’re going to launch a Kickstarter campaign for our new game. The campaign will fund production costs and artwork. As you can see from the images attached to this post the cards are functional but not spectacular, and we would really like the game to be beautiful.
8 of Trees

Wish us luck with the growth of this game

We also need a name. That’s where you can help right now. We have four names we are considering:

  • Elemental Dynasty
  • Emperor’s Hand
  • Hand of the Five Elements
  • Pentelemental

It’s a fun, elegant card game themed around the five Chinese elements: Fire, Metal, Earth, Tree1) Sometimes called Wood, and Water. Each card represents one element, and is numbered from one to ten. As the elements have a complex interplay of creation and destruction, each card also gains a bonus from each card in play that represents the element that feeds it, and a penalty from those that harm it. Lower numbers gain bigger bonuses and smaller penalties, and vice versa.

The Elemental Pentad has many interactions

The Elemental Pentad has many interactions

Each round, The Emperor plays a card face up, then everyone else plays one face down. When all the cards are revealed, whoever has the highest number, after taking into account bonuses and penalties from other cards, wins the round and becomes emperor. Players can try to second guess each other to gain bonuses and avoid penalties. There are a few optional rules, such as the Dragons of the Four Seas, that mix things up a little and increase replayability, but that’s the core of the game.

So, from those four names, which is your favourite?

 

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References   [ + ]

1.  Sometimes called Wood

T is for Tiamat – Mythic Mondays

T is for milk-and-two-sugars – no, T is for Tiamat, Sumerian goddess of primordial chaos.

Austen Henry Layard's 'Monuments of Nineveh, Second Series' plate 19/83, London, J. Murray, 1853

Austen Henry Layard’s ‘Monuments of Nineveh, Second Series’ plate 19/83, London, J. Murray, 1853

The Mesopotamian worldview is obsessed with water.One can understand why – in a part of the world where there is limited fertile land, and therefore control of water supply is the definition of power, the gods are going to be wet. Tiamat then is the personification of the primordial waters of the sea – uncontrollable and frequently angry.

She does have a role as a creator – mating with the sweet waters to create the younger gods, but this is as an adjunct to her primary role. For most gods, I would add something here about their worship, but Tiamat wasn’t worshipped so much as feared. Avoided. A turn- round- three- times- and- touch- wood if you mention her name kind of fear. And yet, the myths have her die at the earliest age of the world, so why should she be feared now? Perhaps because she is such an imminent personification, she can never really be fully banished from the world.  

I’m going to be a bit D&D specific for the next bit… TSR got Tiamat all wrong. The Monster Manual gives her alignment as Lawful Evil, so she can rule over chromatic dragons. She only shows herself as a dragon if she feels like it – she’s more likely a sea serpent or even a waterspout (see, there’s that Sumerian obsession with water again) But you can’t stat such a changeable creature, so I guess she was always going to be D&Different.

As usual, today’s tale is a blend of myth and fiction. The original has many more characters, whose role is to be the different kinds of destruction. I’ve simplified the story – and omitted the dozens of interim stories about how Marduk gets his names – partly because such tales are often an excuse for ‘we conquered you, so your god is our god now’ Most of the gods we recognise benefit from, or are victims of, such syncretization. This would be in part because the characters we know are only those that were recorded – in many cases, long after the tales were formulated.

Story

Tiamat is the serpent and the sea. In the time before men ruled the world, when all was new, she and her children created and destroyed at a whim, and the world cannot stand such chaos,

Of the younger gods, the bravest was her grandson Marduk. And Marduk resolved to gain from her the Tablets of Destiny, which gave her much power to destroy. But he knew that she would not give up the tablets short of death.

And Marduk went from place to place to collect the things he would need to kill the serpent. In each place where he stopped to rest, he performed some feat that won him a name. Fifty places he slept, and this is why he is called Marduk of the Fifty Names. Each settlement gave him a name, and with it a little of their power.

In a place to the North where all is cold, he was given shards of ore to make a sword

In a place to the East, on the edge of the sea, he gathered water from a spring that sprang from the depths of the earth

In a place to the West, in the deep desert, he learned the art of making a sword whistle through the air

In a place to the South where all is hot, he took the shards to a volcano, and made himself the sword, and quenched it in the water, and he named it Shu Hada Ku, the Supreme Bright Weapon.

So Marduk went to the centre of the earth, where Tiamat raged, and there he fought to control her. For three days and nights he fought, until Shuhadaku pierced the monstrous throat of the goddess.

He took the sword and carved her into pieces. He placed her ribcage overhead to support the heavens. Her blood became the thrashing seas, and her eyes he placed nearby, to weep forever down to the sea. The left eye was called Tigris and the right eye was called Euphrates. Her great tail he placed in the sky, and we now call it the Milky Way.

The Tablets of Destiny he took with him, and went we know not where. Some say he walks the world still, using the power of his names and the power of the Tablets to right wrongs, destroy monsters, and banish evil.

In your games and stories

Tiamat does have a historic connection with dragons, but the mythological goddess is ruler over (and probably mother to) all kinds of monsters. Expect a place blessed by her to be very well-guarded by fierce creatures – many of which could be chimeras. From snake-lion-goats to scorpion-centaurs, chimerae (the form of the plural is debatable depending on your adherence to classical language forms) are monsters with a mix of parts.

Chaos is an excuse for cultists! Since Tiamat doesn’t really have priests or paladins, her followers are likely to be insane cultists, looking to bring the end of the world. Not so good for protagonists but great for opposition.

Of course, she’s not a current goddess, but a dead one. My spell checker objected to the word “deicide”, but it’s a perfectly valid way to describe god-murder. Under what circumstances might one be able to kill a god? Does one need to create disbelief in it? Must one use a particular weapon? Does one need to be another god? And why do your protagonists feel it necessary to go to such lengths, upsetting the cosmic balance, and leaving a domain with no god….

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