Lovely Layout and Wonderful Workflow

Not Actually Me

I thought I’d talk a little about how we go about producing the Jigsaw pieces (or whatever they get renamed to, see the post from two weeks ago – while you’re here, if you haven’t already, can you tell us which names you prefer?)

[Ste Note: This article talks primarily about Loz and Ali’s Workflow – next week we’ll talk about mine and Amy’s and about how our differences help improve the pieces.]

It all starts, of course, with an idea. That idea can come from anywhere – something we’ve read, seen, eaten or written can spark an idea, but it then needs refinement. Sometimes that’s a pretty simple affair, other times it can require significantly more time in the shower. We often discuss these ideas with each other (not usually while in the shower) to get them to a point where we can do something with them. I tend to write less and have more notes, while Ali tends to write a lot more at this stage, and keep the notes in her head.

This can be a case of limiting rather than widening an idea. Death Rites started with the idea that much of what we know of ancient cultures comes from their burials (as discovered when sitting round a campfire with a bunch of archaeologists!), so it could be interesting to look at fantasy cultures from a similar viewpoint – but the question then became *which* cultures? About whom would it be most interesting to describe their death rites? Of course many adventurers are buried inside a dragon…

Comments from our backers can feed into this process too – for example the Panoply of Annem Ka took on an Egyptian flavour because someone said they wanted to see things that would fit into an Egyptian, Arabic, or Persian type milieu. It could have just as easily been Mayan or Norse in flavour – or even taken something from Shinto, if the spirits in the items were not those of once-living people.

Then we go away and write a kind of proof of concept – it’s usually the first few pages, and then notes about enough of the rest that it’s believable that it could be completed relatively easily, in the required amount of time, and to the required length. We use Google Docs for this because we can all read and edit the thing at the same time without having to worry about file locks, or working on an old version.

 

Then we wait.

 

We ask our patrons to vote on which of three pieces they would like to see – each of the three pieces will be in the state described above. Once a piece is selected it’s time to get to work. We have approximately a month to take it from ready to vote to ready to release, and whoever is the named author has the bulk of that pressure – ideally it will be expanded to full length within two weeks.

It’s at that point that the collaborative features of Google Docs come to the fore – the rest of us will read over it and add sarcastic comments, correct typos, rework sections so the grammar is clearer, and question things which aren’t clear. This can be pretty brutal, but we all know it’s going to end up with a better end result so we’re pretty thick skinned about it.

We also look for art. Sometimes pieces will come to mind when writing (most dramatically in the as yet unreleased Dream Monkeys of Antoon, which was inspired by a rather odd trend amongst 17th century Dutch artists of painting monkeys doing human jobs!), other times we will draw from stock art we have bought, or from various free sources such as Wikimedia Commons. These images can require some modification, something Ste has been doing more of recently.

We try to make sure the images (and their captions) expand on the text rather than just illustrate it – for example in the piece named Dragons, (and the freebie excerpt The Dragon and the Convent) a statue has the caption “The statue which Caron crashed into is damaged, but still stands in the main chapel as a reminder.” – this then tells you something about the decoration of the chapel and the sentimentality of the dragon Caron.

Once the first pass has been done, and we have some idea of art, I do the final layout. I have built a template, which includes the basic shape, custom fonts and whatever else. For this I use Libre Office, mostly because I know it well. I looked into other page layout tools and none of them seemed to do anything much better than a custom template on Libre Office does. (In future, Libre Office is going to have a collaborative version, so I may end up running it on a home server and working in that instead of Google Docs, but that’s not stable yet.). This usually takes a couple of passes to get right, especially if we discover at this stage that the piece is too long, too short, has too little or too much art, or the art is unhelpfully distributed – art is never finalised until this stage for that reason.

Eventually we get to the proofreading stage – Generally Ali and Ste will do this, and they don’t always spot the same errors! It’s gone through many eyes already, but typos have an infuriating way of slipping past, so inevitably there will be a few errors that creep through and need fixing after all else is done. Nowadays that’s usually less than ten, but in the early days it was far more and I used to dread having to do significant work on the layout because so many spelling or grammar oddities had changed the flow significantly!

Eventually it gets released to the backers of the Patreon via DrivethruRPG.

Now, this blog post will need to be proofread before it goes up – I wonder how many typos I’ve made…

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Changes to Patreon Fees – a response

The Changes

Patreon are changing their fee structure, as of the 18th of December – it’s simpler, but almost without fail, it’s going up. More drastically they’re moving the onus of these fees from the creators to the backers.

Currently if you back a project for a given amount you pay that much (plus VAT or similar if you’re in the EU). Patreon then take their fees out of that and pass the rest onto the creators – they take a cut, plus the card companies take a cut, and so forth, and the end result is 2-10% of the amount you pledge goes on processing fees, and Patreon take another 5% – this means 7-15% of your pledge does not go to the creators. That percentage varies depending how much you are backing in total over however many projects you back, so the precise amount a creator gets is a little bit unpredictable.

However, the new structure passes that onus onto the backers – they will now charge a flat 2.9%, plus 35¢ per pledge (plus VAT or similar in the EU). They are also keeping their 5% fee. This means the amount a creator gets is far more predictable, and that creators get the amount you say you want to pledge to them. However it also significantly raises the amount backers pay. The amount the backer pays becomes ((<pledge>+2.9%)+0.35¢)+20%, and we get <pledge>-5%.

Of course Patreon have to charge for their services – they have costs, and being a business I’m sure they would like to make a profit as well. That is in no way the issue here.

Examples

We have three backers levels, at $1, $3, and $5, so let’s use those numbers. I’ll assume VAT at 20% as it currently is in the UK (but working in US dollars because that’s what Patreon works in!). Let’s also add a theoretical $25 pledge.

Your pledge  Old system                             New system

.                       You pay        We Get             | You Pay              We Get 

$1                     $1.20            $0.85 – $0.93 |   $1.66                 $0.95

$3                    $3.60           $2.55 – $2.79   |  $4.13                 $2.85

$5                    $6.00           $4.25 – $4.65   | $6.56                 $4.75

$25                  $30             $21.25 – $23.25 | $31.29               $23.75

Now, if you back a single Patreon project for a moderate amount of money, the change is not *that* big. However if you back, say, twenty-five projects for a dollar each, you’ve just gone from spending $30 to spending $41.50 (possibly a few cents less, depending how they aggregate  and round things) – yet if it were a single pledge of $25 to one creators the increase would be $1.29, rather than $11.50!

Art – a side note

On top of this, they’re changing the way creator’s pledges work. Currently if you create a project and get money in you can spend that money on other Patreons without any processing fees – if we pledge $5 to a project for, say, art we can use in our project, the creator gets $5. They are now going to be charging creators the processing fees on those pledges too despite the fact that as it’s an internal transaction from Patreon to themselves there are no fees for them to pay!

So what do we do?

Well therein lies the problem – we don’t really know!

We are not happy about this, and do not want to reward their behaviour. Further we fear this could be the beginning of the end for Patreon and don’t want to hang around too long on a sinking ship – we have already lost some backers, and expect to lose more when people see larger bills than they are expecting come January.

There are other platforms we could use, the most important of which is Drip, which is as far as I can tell, basically Kickstarter’s answer to Patreon – if you have a Kickstarter account you can back a Drip project already, but they are only allowing creators by invite at the moment, and we don’t know when that will change. (The name is awful, but the user base makes it worth looking past that for us!).

One thing we will definitely be doing is setting up “Subscription” bundles on DrivethruRPG – essentially it works as regular bundle except that not everything in it has been released yet, and is only added when it is. We’d probably look at 3, 6 and 12 month bundles, which would be paid up front. (as a side note, these would make wonderful Christmas presents for the GM in your life!)

We have a few options:

  1. Remain on Patreon for the time being. Possibly move to Drip when it opens to the public.
  2. Set up a subscription service via Paypal. Again, look at Drip when it opens.
  3. Shut down until Drip opens. This would be more palatable if we knew when that was – a month or two would be no problem, six months would be.
  4. Move to another platform. This would likely have a far smaller user base. When we were setting up this project much of our interest came from previous Kickstarter projects, and we frequently heard “But I don’t want to set up another account on another site” or similar.
  5. Move to a donation model and releasing everything for free (with donors probably getting pieces early) – again this would be via another site, possibly Flattr.
  6. Just release pieces on DrivethruRPG and allow them to be purchased when released. Using just the bundles described above has the drawback of lumpy cash-flow, both for us and for backers – a few dollars a month is much more palatable than one lump sum and then nothing – and DrivethruRPG has fees that are comparable to Patreon’s new ones (if somewhat more honest).
  7. Something else we haven’t thought of.

We really, really need your help here, so please tell us which of the options you would like (especially when you would spend money) in the comments wherever you found this, or by following this link and filling in the form. 

In Conclusion

Patreon have made what we consider to be a grave error in this change, but we are not sure what we should do in response. We do not begrudge them taking a cut – they have costs as well – but the hike in price, especially on those who spread their generosity around the most, is probably going to do more harm than good for us, for them, and for you.

While we’ve got you…

Last week we asked about your preferred named for our coming rebranding – changing platform would appear to also be unexpectedly on the cards for that rebranding. Can we ask you to tell us which names you prefer.

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Rebranding Our Patreon – What and Why?

This month we’re going to be talking about our ongoing project, Jigsaw Fantasy, and why that’s not going to be its name any more – and what else is changing at the same time.

Come January we’re going to be officially rebranding it, and making a few other changes to new products in the line.

First lets talk about what we’re doing:

The Big Name Change

We need a new name for Jigsaw Fantasy. The old one just isn’t cutting it.

We have a few options, and we’d like you to give us your input on which name you prefer.

Endnotes -> Footnotes

Originally we decided to have Jigsaw Fantasy have “jigsaw links” as endnotes as we saw them as akin to references in a book – you flip over to find out what it says in the cases where you feel you need to.

But as the design has developed, the use of the links has become more of an informational aside, with occasional references – more suitable to a footnote.

It will also help with making them physical if we ever do so again – endnotes are great with hyperlinks in digital form, but physically it results in an odd reading experience.

Art Updates

We’ve gotten a bit better at sourcing art than we were in the very earliest days of Jigsaw Fantasy, so we’re going to be updating bits here and there as we gradually go through the older pieces and switch them over to the new brand.

Why?

After the Jigsaw Fantasy Kickstarter failed to reach its funding goal, we knew we had two choices: Give up the project entirely, or work out what the problems were and solve them – and we don’t give up easily!

The biggest problem was, we discovered, the name – most people weren’t reaching the stage of deciding whether or not they liked the product, because the name Jigsaw Fantasy was failing to convey the concept and thus they were never even looking at it.

So, in order to give our concept a fair shot at taking wing we’re rebuilding the image from the ground up – working out what works and ditching what doesn’t, piece by piece.

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Fantastic Food

Emperor Rudolf II as Vertumnus by Giuseppe_Arcimboldo

Everyone’s gotta eat. Well, except the robot and the lich I guess. Most of the time food is not an interesting part of a story – it’s something that is assumed to happen, like sleeping, travelling to the next location, or repetitive practice while learning something new.

It can become interesting though if it is somehow special, or if it is not available.

If food is in short supply, starvation becomes a possibility. If lots of people are starving, there can be all sorts of repercussions – MI5 claim that Britain is only four hot meals from anarchy, and that could easily hold true in fantasy worlds, possibly an even smaller margin if people have less to lose.

If the heroes are short of food, (perhaps trapped in a desert, or a dungeon, or a… um… dreadful diner), what would happen to them? The effects of starvation are slow but potentially deadly- 8 to 12 weeks is normal, but people have survived twice that without any food. Initially fatigue and irritability set in, the the body starts to digest its own fat and muscle reserves. Before long it has to move on to internal organs, and by then even if food is made available the victim may be too weak to even try to eat, and if force fed may suffer permanent organ damage. In a heroic fantasy tale, kidney failure does not make for a good story, so under most circumstances main character will probably manage to find food before organ damage sets in.

But what about when food is available?

Usually “and the heroes eat again” is not very interesting, so much so that in D&D “Create Food and Water” is a very low level spell which solves the problem entirely so long as there’s a cleric in the party.

Sometimes, though, food matters. George R. R. Martin is famous for his descriptions of what the characters are eating, and I seem to recall David Eddings describing a meal of bacon and gruel in rather more detail than was necessary.

A special meal deserves mention, though, whether it be in The Hobbit when the dwarves all show up and eat everything in Bilbo’s larder, or the welcoming feast for the new students at Hogwarts in Harry Potter. These feasts tell us something about the characters and the situations – Bilbo is a creature of comfort who keeps plenty of food in his larder, and Hogwarts is a comfortable and welcoming place (at least on the surface).

Food can, then, tell us things. If a lord throws a banquet and everything is delicate little dishes on fine china that says something quite different to a banquet where the centrepiece is a boar the duke hunted himself, and he tears legs off geese and eats them with his bare hands. But in either case it says that this person is rich, and likes to show it off in the form of entertaining and feeding his guests. In one episode of Batman the Animated Series, the extremely fat villain is seen to always be eating, while not allowing his slaves to do the same because they should be working – unsurprisingly he gets quite satisfyingly beaten up by Batman!

Let me finish on an anecdote: I was playing in an epic level D&D game when we entered a halfling city. I decided my character wanted to buy a cake (he was a by this time recovering psychopath, and wanted to treat the party to something nice), so I went into a nearby cake shop and asked for one. The halfling baker – seeing an opportunity to fleece a rich adventurer – upped the price from about two coppers to two silvers. Not knowing anything about the value of money, I apologised and offered a rare astral diamond instead – that was about a million times more than the cake was worth, but I didn’t wait for change. Being an enterprising halfling, he invested the money in some very special equipment, and from that point on magic potions in the form of cakes have been a running joke in our games! [ED: Ginger cake is an especially good source of fire resistance]

Now, I think it’s time I went and made dinner.

p.s. If you like the way we think, take a look at our patreon

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Posted in art

Music and Sound in Fantasy Games

In character

Music in character is usually either of the PCs making – often on the level of  “bluff bluff bluff the stupid ogre”, or from the GM as part of scene setting. Your players may run the gamut of skills in music or lyrics, so other than saying “if you find a bard with any actual talent, encourage them” I’m going to focus on what you can influence as a GM..

Every book, talk and advice from older GMs on scene setting I have ever come across features the hint “use all the senses” Seeing as I’m the musician of the team. I figured I’d focus on sound.

Think about the ambient sound in any location. Is it busy and cosmopolitan, with many voices in multiple languages?. Is the only sound the rustling of the trees? Is there music, and if so, what? From the 1920s onwards, is there a radio or TV – or hyperview? Tuned to what channel?

For help with what kind of sounds are appropriate (technically, it’s called building a soundscape) imagine loading up one of the old fashioned computer RPGs – Ultima, Baldur’s Gate or Fable. When you walk into the pub, it plays “Jolly Pub Theme” when you walk into the woods, it plays “Spooky Forest Theme” What theme would your location need? Take a look amongst your DVD collection, at the extras. Do any of them have a piece on Sound in This Film – Men in Black 2 had an awesome piece about foley work – getting the right sound of footsteps or bodies falling. Or aliens exploding, but that was less transferable.

Musical styles invoked in description can bring a sense of place, or of pace. Think of walking into a nightclub. Is it a metal bar? Is it full of thumping techno? A jazz lounge? The picture in your head is likely very different in each case. Use that to evoke what kind of emotion your players feel – a biker might be tense in a pool hall that played classical, but much more at home if it played “Hits of the Seventies”

We can use music to colour in civilisations too. Use the pentatonic sound of Japanese music to shade in a place where elves hang out. Perhaps the islanders here play reggae? Deciding on the musical style of a culture can help you – and your players – get a handle on what kind of people these are – by paralleling them to the mundane culture that developed that kind of music.

 

In games

Over time, every GM acquires a repertoire of what I call ‘effects’. Things you can do to bring the game to life for your players. Music is one of the easiest of these, but I’m going to throw a few others into the mix too.

Voice time

I’m going to assume you can act a bit here. Think about the voices of your NPCs. Not everyone can pull off convincing accents – but if you can, consider making some characters have a Southern drawl, an Irish brogue, a Geordie twang. Even if the NPC has the same accent you do, think about tone. A reedy “when shall we three meet again?” has little in common with “I’m Brian Blessed”. Although you should take care not to annoy the neighbours, you could vary the volume – think Good Morning Vietnam’s “I’m in Artillery!” A character who whispers (or stage whispers) could make what he says seem more important.

Terminator tapping

So the party are investigating a haunted house. The ghost in question is an Iteration X construct – basically, a Terminator. So when the players are busy rolling to investigate the attic, I start to tap on the arm of my chair. Da Da Dum Da-Dum.  Da Da Dum Da-Dum – until one of the players notices. Then stop. Then when they’re arguing about what they’ve found, again. Da Da Dum Da-Dum.  Da Da Dum Da-Dum.. The same player looks at my fingers, tapping. “Guys, I’ve got a gut feeling this isn’t a human thing. Can robots leave ghosts?” Cue the one member of the party with the skill roll a Mage Lore check and leap to the thought that the pool of mercury wasn’t ectoplasm, it was body remains.

This trick only works if the musical theme is instantly recognisable – think the opening from Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Ode to Joy; or Land of Hope and Glory. Movie and TV music are good for this – Cantina Band, the Indiana Jones theme, X-files  Instantly set the mood for cinematic games with the “title sequence” – this was very effectively done in a convention game with the Nerf Herder track for a Buffy the Vampire Slayer game

Give a major NPC a ringtone that indicates something about him. Have a theme song for characters to indicate hidden influence in a scene – even if it never makes it out of your notes, it can help you remember the emotional backdrop – spooky, pensive, tense, lighthearted, comedy.

 

Phone box mobile

So, another convention game – Shadowrun this time. Contact Bob has two pieces of useful information for the party – one he will reveal for the asking, and one he thinks of later. So what would a good buddy do. Call you back.

A call from a friend became much more real when the GM’s mobile rang with “BOB” on the screen. The GM hands the phone unanswered to the player whose contact is Bob. “it’s for you” Player picks up the phone, answers, and “Bob” – with a similar drawl to the GM’s first personation – rattles off Information Point Two, and finishes up with ‘gotta go, think the cops are coming. See ya’

Achieved by priming a steward pal to slip out to the phone box in the hall, ‘any time after you get the text’. Turned out to be exactly right timing, but by more luck than judgement. Not really something you can pull off every week, but nice for a showpiece.

So, sound in RPGs.-  Music, rhythms, voices, ringtones, Think about the tools you have – computer, phone, hands to click or clap, and use them to develop a soundscape that complements your gameworld.

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Posted in art

Visual Art In Fantasy

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

 

When you say “Art” to most people they think of paintings, and maybe sculpture – Visual art or fine art. Wonderful though that is, it’s not the only thing to which “art” could be referring – last week’s post on nursery rhymes are looking at a more low-brow sort of artistic expression. Later posts will address music and food.

But for now let’s talk about visual art.

More often than not it is relegated to “some paintings” on the walls of the local lord’s manor or describing a palace as “richly decorated”. This tells us something about the individual, but just a little more description can tell us a lot more: Pictures of ancestors that tells us the lineage of this noble is long (ste: or if they are few in number that the lineage is short but with great hopes for the future) – if the decorations are not just rich but beautiful it shows us this person has good taste.

Or to reverse them, maybe the paintings are of someone else’s ancestors, and this person is a recent usurper trying to claim credibility and status they may not deserve, if the decorations are gaudy or clashing it tells us the lord has more money than sense or at the very least no taste. If someone’s fingers are dripping with rings, and they are wearing crowns, brooches, pendants and the like it tells us they like to display their wealth at all times, wherever they are.

If there is next to no art in a manor house it would feel very empty. Maybe the noble is broke due to bad investments, or debts come calling. Or maybe they have no care for art, they concern themselves solely with functionality – the only concession to decoration may be a suit of armour or a pair of crossed axes over the fireplace which are as functional as they are decorative.

A little more description again can tell us yet more. I’ve touched on portraiture and military regalia, but what of other things?

Delicate vases are unlikely to be on pedestals around boorish drunken lords (well not for long), and delicate princesses are unlikely to have gory battle scenes in their bedrooms, so their lack or presence would set expectations. Of course expectations can and should be reversed occasionally – maybe that boorish drunken oaf has a butler always three feet behind him to catch all the delicate vases, which he has on display because he simply loves to have fresh cut flowers around him at all times. Maybe the princess has a tragic back story and it’s the last remaining picture of her true love after the incident… Maybe she’s not really the delicate princess she appears to be, but she can’t express it in public for some reason. Or maybe she’s a psychopath.

Sometimes art is used as treasure – heroes find jewelry, gems and artworks in a dragon’s hoard – it’s more plausible than finding gold bars, I guess, but it tells us basically nothing unless it was a curated collection (in which case it’s akin to the examples above)

But what of making the art the focus of the plot rather than a roundabout way of describing a character or extra-bulky cash? That can work very well. Probably the most famous example is the One Ring from Lord of the Rings – the entire plot circles around that little band of gold. It is not treasured for its artistic value though, but rather for its power as a magical artifact.

In some settings magic and aesthetics can be tied together – a magical sword must be beautifully crafted to hold the spell in place and therefore a beautiful sword is likely magical. If a suit of armour is finely crafted yet non-magical it may even become magical simply by being used by great heroes on their quests…

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Posted in art

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

Continue reading →

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Why is Halloween Monstrous?

Samhain Offerings by Avia Venefica

 

This time of year is associated with ghosties and ghoulies and long leggedy beasties. But why? Apart from “it’s cold and dark and time for fires therefore stories”.

The derivation of Halloween from Samhain is a classic example of cultural evolution.

The exact details of the original festival are unclear, because the Celts wrote down very little – most of our sources are later and/or Roman, and thus it is akin to studying the Blitz using only present day memories or German sources. Still, we know many of the details, and as the festival never fully died out much more can be recovered from the later forms.

The world of the ancestors flows away from and towards our own, and comes close four times a year – at the beginning of each of the seasons. At Beltane – Mayday – the helpful spirits of the land cross over, and their blessings are welcomed with flowers and dance as summer begins. But at the beginning of Winter, darker spirits roam, and meeting one brings only curses. So the prudent householder would bribe the spirits with whatever he had excess of to ward off their ill will. The barley harvest falls in early September, so six weeks later, the first beer of the new year would just be ready, apples have also just been harvested and milk is less seasonal, so these became the traditional gifts. If one had a good harvest, one would share with neighbours, so that the spirits would see one as a good friend and be unable to harm the good man.

Young people would dress up as “spirits” and wander the village, claiming the bribes on behalf of the spirits. After all, are we not kin of the ancestors – and if they don’t turn up in person, don’t let it go to waste! The fact that the feast falls at the end of a period of very hard work – preparing for winter – probably contributes to this part of the celebration

Enter Christianity. The early church sought to adapt facets of the older faiths – it’s why Christmas falls so conveniently at Yule/Winter Solstice. The old spirits can’t possibly be good, therefore they must be devils. And anyone who feeds them must be witches. Of the old-crone-cursing variety, not our modern follower-of-a-nature-faith variety.

So, the Church co-opted the idea of reverence for the gone-before, and invented All Saints and All Souls – an opportunity for any local do-gooder to be remembered and prayed for, reducing time in Purgatory. They ditched the pagan aspect, and made the returning spirits evil. The sharing-with-neighbours part fit too, and became the Harvest Festival.

When the Americas were settled, Irish migrants took the old stories with them. As the USA developed its own culture as a blend of its constituent parts, the Irish merged with the French and Germanic witch and fairy traditions (for example, Oberon is first seen as an antagonist of Charlemagne) and All Hallows Eve became the time to mock the evil spirits by dressing as them. As sugar became a more prevalent product, giving the ‘ghosts’ a piece of sugar cane became easier than beer or milk. Sugar cane became chocolate, became any kind of Treat, to ward off the Tricks of the “fairy folk “.

Now Halloween means hordes of small children begging for candy, and teenagers demanding money in return for not putting fireworks through your door.. I’m not sure I like the evolution, so I celebrate this time of year by sharing the fruits of my labour. Here you go, neighbour! Have a whole lot of thinking.

So what?

If your fantasy culture has been around for a while – centuries or millennia – it has likely evolved in a similar fashion. There will be those who keep fast to some version of ‘the old ways’ and some who have applied them in new ways. If a nation has been conquered, colonised or even conquered others, the newcomers bring new customs and new gods, and few conquerors allowed the natives to worship unhindered. Even mundane things like introducing a new crop can reflect in the spiritual life of a people. According to a Papal Bull, capybara are officially fish (despite being rodents) so Catholics can eat them on Fridays.

Think about how the new gods and the old interact. Do you follow the Ice and Fire model of “some worship one set, some the other, mostly they coexist, and that’s fine”

The Roman model of “Zeus? You mean Jupiter. Sulis? Oh, you mean Athena.”

The Christian model of “Our god is the only god and all others are evil”

Or even the Mongol model “there are many gods, and yours are ok, as long as you don’t try to convert us”

When languages merge, you get dialects and creoles. When cultures collide, you get history. And what is history but another branch of storytelling?

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T is for Thunderbird – Monstrous Mondays

Thunderbird

No i’m not talking about the tv series – though that’s a fun thing too.

History

In a lot of ways the thunderbird is not exactly a monster, it seen as many thing to a lot of people, to some a god, to others a nature spirit – and to most it’s the bird from the new Harry Potter film – but what is its story?

A thunderbird is a giant bird, that shoots lighting and eat whales (especially orcas) it’s also a sky spirit of some Native Americans tribes from long before Europeans ever set foot in their land. Story of the great thunderbird could be hard from the tribes Northwest Coast through to the people of the plains, and each tribe has a different one to tell.

The Algonquian mythology tells a story of a thunderbird that controls the upper world and a great horned serpent that rules the underworld. The thunderbird throws around thunder and lightning at the underwater creatures.

Menominee a northern wisconsin tribe tells of the thunderbirds that dwell in a floating mountain, they control weather like thunder, lightning, the hail and rain all the brutality of a storm. In their stories the thunderbird is also the messenger bird of the sun and they like to do great deeds like fighting the minions of the horned snakes known as the Misikinubik.

In Ojibwe story they serve to hunt down evil people and the dark spirits of water, and live on the four winds.

The Winnebago actually have a truly monstrous story of the thunderbird – one steals away a orphan boy and feast on the contents of his stomach and planned to do the same to the boy afterwards, but he was saved by his loyal pet pigeon hawk. These darker thunderbirds still fight with the water spirits, but they don’t distinguish between good and evil ones – in fact in Winnebago myth the thunderbirds started the feud.

Because of this mixture of stories and origins it is seen a variety of ways, and while it need not be a monster it can easily become one.

 

Physiology

From beak to claws

  • They have the head of a bird but some pictures depict them with ears where others have them having horns.
  • They have bird like eyes but they shoot lightning from them.
  • They can have a beak or teeth.
  • The body is that of a bird but covered in many different bright colours.
  • Wings that when they clapped together they make thunder.
  • Claws big enough to pluck a killer whale from the sea and carry it away to feast on.
  • They live in the mountains and other high up hard to reach places.
  • Their feathers are often brightly coloured – especially when they’re actively creating storms.

Ideas

A dark thunderbird could be at the top of a mountain and your player have to fight it to save children it has abducted.

A cool character might be a warlock, or even a cleric with the thunderbird as their patron – strong electrical powers but an utter hatred for the sea.

Or maybe the evil water god has stolen all of the thunderbirds so he can take over the earth and you the heros must free them to bring back order.

 

If like to know more about this here some link you might find useful.

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