Arty October: Combing the Commons

A CC-BY-SA piece by SarahDarkMagic

 

Much like NaNoWriMo (or NaGaDeMon) in November, October has its own creative challenge: Inktober. While we’re not doing Inktober per se – none of us are inking any artwork – we decided that a good theme for this month’s blogs would be to look at how we can do art – in a group that was founded with zero artists.

The longest-standing technique we have is simply buying the art from cheap artists on Fiverr, or stock art from DriveThruRPG and Patreon. But that’s not something that really merits much discussion, so I’m going to skip straight to type two:

Creative Commons and Public Domain Artwork

There is a huge community of artists in the world, as there has been for several millenia, and even with the modern day extension of copyright to frankly ludicrous extremes many of them choose to contribute to the world’s supply of Free Use Art through either simply releasing their art to the public domain, or tying it into a Creative Commons License which allows for great (but not complete) freedom in how their work is used.

Doing your due diligence

Search engines such as Google (with the usage rights tool correctly set) and CC Search make it easy to find people claiming that the works they’re sharing are publicly usable, and if you’re planning on doing something purely non-profit that’s probably good enough – but if, as we are, you’re working on a commercial basis you’re going to need more confirmation than that, because a lot of people mislabel images, generally out of ignorance.

For instance, this image from the above search is not creative commons licensable in many countries – the models that were photographed are themselves copyrighted, and it’s likely not to count as a sufficiently transformative work to escape that copyright. Certainly if you were to crop it down to a single unpainted model you’d be in trouble in much of the world.

Another common form of not-actually-usable work is screenshots from computer games – as the game is copyrighted an image from the game is almost certainly covered by the same copyright. So your first check with digital art should always be to see whether or not the work mentions such a source.

One of the best places to find art that you can be certain of is Wikimedia. While anyone can contribute to that site, and thus newly submitted works are suspect, there is a large team of dedicated curators who do due diligence on everything submitted, meaning that you can avoid spending too much time checking over things yourself.

Another good site for finding such things is OpenGameArt.org their due diligence standards are a little laxer than Wikimedia’s, so it’s still a good idea to check things out for yourself, but there’s a lot of fantasy art on there.

To confirm that art is actually open for use first look at it closely – if it has an artists signature which doesn’t match the accreditation on the site you found it on you can be pretty sure it’s not. If that doesn’t rule it out the second step is a reverse image search – find it elsewhere on the internet, and see whether there’s an older source that indicates a different owner.

Track your sources

Once you’ve done your due diligence making sure you can actually use the piece you need to make sure you don’t lose track of your proof. We keep a set of spreadsheets that list the filename of each piece alongside the creator, the web address of the source and the specific license used (including any special terms).

 

Anyone else have any advice to give about combing the commons? Favourite sources?

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Genre: Urban Fantasy

Urban Fantasy usually features many humanoid magical creatures such as werewolves, vampires, magic user, children of demons or angels and fae of all kinds living in an urban setting, usually in a present day city or town.

There a few concepts that turn up quite often and here some of the ones I think are a big part of the genre. Any number of these may be useful to use or keep in mind when it comes to  making world for your story/game.

The City often has a character

This can be more of a thing in books and rpgs than tv shows i find, The Dresden Files is set in Chicago, and it has a personality – you know what the city is like and how it would feel to live there in the world of Harry Dresden.

This is not so much the case in television settings – the city is often more of the background in some ways, just being used to tell the story, therefore things may not be set in stone (even when they should be). A good example of this is Buffy’s Sunnydale. Buffy is one of the best known, oldest examples of urban fantasy  TV shows, you can tell me it name but not what there other than a high school but what else is in the town changes throughout the show one week it may have a docks others it might not.

When it a suburbia/small town in the UK it might not also because with a small town it’s more the people who live there that give it character, make a place feel a certain way – and if you know all the people there’s no need to anthropomorphise the place.

While everywhere has it own story and its own history that’s not what gives a place character, its about how it feels in the present, to me anyway.

The Masquerade

In many Urban Fantasy settings something keeps all of the bad things hidden from the world, the thing that stop the normals from know about all the monsters.

This is usually done a few different ways, often some kind of magic to make you forget what you know about it, or there the no-one never believes you, or no-one can talk about it so even if everyone seen the supernatural you don’t talk about it to each other. But most settings tend to have some people with lot of money and power helping to keep things quiet – censoring the news while spreading false conspiracy theories to make the believers look foolish.

Magical Realism

In Magical Realism subtle magics are real, like white sage keeping away bad things or imaginary friends are real but only them that need them, can see them. Hold story can be built around these like “If Only You Could See Me Now” by Cecilia Ahern or “Practical Magic” by Alice Hoffman this is something that is done well in books and film but it’s not usualy a big thing in games, it may be there but its just another part of the world – running a game with the minor magics of Urban Fantasy tends to be a challenge, and few players are interested in the kind of low-intensity play it entails.

Ones of the things i found about these kind of story is they tend to be more uplifting less dark and gritty like Urban Ffant can be.

Hidden Cities, Markets and other such places

Places that only certain people can get to that are hidden by a veil of magic, these can be places where the whole story happen like Neverwhere in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere or the Nightside by Simon R Green. Or they can be a side place where people go that are just part of the big world like a hidden market or fairy-land in True Blood.

These are used in games quit often and work quite well as they give you somewhere to get all the magic you need and it can look so much more fantastical than the everyday street.

Coming Out

This is a more recent form of Urban Fantasy where supernatural group comes out from hiding, there are usually reasons for this like in “True Blood” where artificial blood could be mass produced for the vampires or like in “Parasol Protectorate series” where they have all been pardoned for by crimes by the crown in the UK since the royal family found them to be very useful.

Usually it’s only one or two type that tell the world that they’re real but not everyone of the type will like it or do so, and usually there are still quite a lot of things still hidden from the human world like other race that are not ready or able to come out.

Hate groups

These are usually part of the coming out world since not everyone likes change. They’re usually very religion based in most story and setting, and they’re usually about trying to make sure humanity keep power and that the monster don’t take over.

There may even be monsters hiding in the group to stay safe from them, or a monster secretly in charge so they get the power by eliminating their competition.

This seems like something the be interesting to deal with in a game sense, but the monster not only have to be out they need to be capable of good which is why it not really seen in Buffy because on a whole this is not the case.

There is an odd case in Angel where there is a hate group but it made up of demons that hate half-demons.

The characters

There are a few different archetypes that are seen in both stories and games. The main character is generally someone who finds themselves travelling deeper into the world over time: 

The PI/cop, or soldier who knows about the monsters and hunts them down or cleans up their messes, in the cop or solder case they be part of a unit that looks into these things.

The chosen one/child of the gods and the likes, that has superhero like powers and they have been picked to fight the monsters.

There’s the human that’s part fae, or god, or angel or some other magical being that usually knows nothing of what they are when the story starts out and them finding out is part of the story, and they’re usually very attractive to the monster for some reason or another, often their magical bloodline.

Then there are the rarer ones, like wizards and other magic users that have some job that they do using their power within the magical world.

When telling a story you’ll also want numerous characters around the edges who are at different levels of knowledge – for instance the mentor or secret-keeper who knows more than the main character but is informing them only piece by piece, and the friend who doesn’t quite believe in what’s going on, but knows enough to listen when given advice.

In games it’s common to skip the “introduction to the hidden world” aspect of Urban Fantasy stories, but it can be a useful way to begin a campaign if you intend to do something unusual with your world, or if you want to create deeper characterisation by maintaining links to the mundane life that came before.

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Genre: Supers (Superheroes, Supervillains and Supercivilians)

Superheroes and supervillains are experiencing a massive boom in films at the moment, so I’m sure that everyone reading this knows what they are – but knowing it and defining it are two different things.

For the sake of this post I’m going to make a list of the key features that I consider to define a supers setting. The genre, like all genres, is somewhat fluid – and as such half of these elements may be missing in something that is still recognisably a supers setting, but more than that and you’re definitely outside the genre.

  1. Unique Powers:
    • Within a supers universe there is a tendency to have 1-3 characters with any given power set. There may be a whole species, or a large organisation, with a particular set of abilities (such as Kryptonians, Atlanteans or Green Lanterns) but if so the vast majority will either be dead or absent.
    • If it is a large supers setting there may well be tens of thousands of powered individuals – but repeats will still remain rare.
    • Occasionally this rule will be broken for villains (a whole army of individuals with one power set may exist) but not for heroes, and the villains who have repeated powers will generally have only 1 or 2 “face” characters among them, the rest remaining in the background as a faceless mob.
    • Even super-geniuses each have a unique power – they can only occasionally understand each others tech and even if they are capable of reproducing it they never will. Some settings justify this through the mechanics of their superpowers (i.e. Parahumans with its Tinkertech that requires constant supernatural maintenance) while others handwave it with personality – in Marvel many of the supergeniuses could replicate each others work, but the heroes wouldn’t steal ideas like that, and thus only the villains of a given hero will copy that heroes work.
  2. Public Existence:
    • Supers settings don’t have a “masquerade” as is found in Urban Fantasy – the world knows that supers exist, although some specific individuals may maintain their anonymity.
  3. Pseudonyms:
    • Supers have two identities – one mundane name under which they live most of their life, and the other a “cape name” which they use when throwing around their world-shaking powers.
    • Even those supers who aren’t trying to keep their real identities hidden will still have some form of pseudonym assigned, such as Aquaman, Black Panther or Professor X.
    • Occasionally supers who are incapable of hiding their “secret identity” will choose only one name, and stick with it, but in such cases it is almost universally the mundane name that is dropped, and the super pseudonym that is kept (see for instance the Morlocks in Marvel)
    • The separation of civilian and super identities may be deliberately declared sacrosanct (as in the Parahumans web serial) or it may function only when successfully protected (as in DC universe).
  4. Individuals make the world:
    • Though far from unique to the supers genre, it is a definite aspect of it that powerful individuals, or small teams of up to 10 people, will save the world repeatedly.
    • Outside of the largest supers universes (where remaining parallel to the real world over eight decades has taken its toll on realism) the supers generally shape the world too, making large-scale social and technological changes.
    • It isn’t uncommon for supers to end up ruling regions of the world – although more traditional supers universes restrict this to either villains or, strangely, hereditary god-kings.
  5. Can’t Kill The Cash Cow
    • Superheroes almost always have a very strong code against killing – or at least limiting in what circumstances they can kill – allowing for villains to constantly return without overworking the revolving door of the afterlife.
  6. Modern Day Default
    • While Fantasy defaults to a medieval/renaissance mashup, Superheroes exist in the modern day.

 

So what are the pros and cons for Supers RPGs?

Pros

  • Small groups making a big impact by punching things is perfect for adventure and/or “Monster of the Week” roleplaying stories.
  • The sheer variety of character possibilities tends to mean there’s something for everyone – whether they want to gain wall-crawling abilities from their radioactive blood, be able to heal any wound in minutes, or stretch their limbs to ridiculous extents.
  • Superheroes combine well with other genres: As long as you’re not in a Kitchen-Sink fantasy setting the appearance of people with unique supernatural talents is likely to shake things up in a new way – gritty war stories, fantastical space adventures, and high school drama can all be spiced up with superpowers.

 

Cons

  • Character generation tends to get complicated when you need to be able to represent anything (whether it be a telepathic king from beneath the waves, a super-skilled martial artist with power armour, a little boy who can gain supernatural wisdom by being hit by lightning or an alien sun-god with freezing cold breath) in a single system.
  • Pre-written adventure modules rarely work with custom characters, as no obstacle is guaranteed to actually be an obstacle – a mithril wall might block one group completely, be blown up by another, walked through [literally] by a member of the third, while the fourth group teleports straight into the center of the base and never sees it.

 

Quirks (not quite pro, or con)

  • The accepted defaults of the genre – the Marvel&DC multiverses – have some absolutely massive, and well acknowledged, holes in their foundations. This makes deconstructions and reconstructions a rich vein for unusual variations – but can make it harder to play the setting straight with more cynical players.
  • The secret identities of a group of heroes by default aren’t also a group of friends – limiting roleplaying of the civilian aspect of characters lives. However, this is only a default and many exceptions exist in the fiction, so having your group be an exception is easy
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Genre: Cyberpunk And Friends

The best known book in the genre is probably Neuromancer by William Gibson, and barring a few glaring anachronisms (in either this book or its sequel Count Zero, someone tries to sell “three megs of hot RAM”) it still stands up as a damn good book. The roots go back much further, though, to the sci fi of the 60s and 70s, perhaps even as far back as The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, from 1957 (also an excellent book, if a little dated, incidentally).

Cyberpunk is a genre characterized by a dystopian society, huge wealth inequality, and large amounts of technology – usually body modification and computer technology. Protagonists tend to be outsiders, fighting the megacorporations, all-powerful AIs and corrupt law enforcement for the little guy. Often these heroes are using scrounged together tech and stolen weapons to fight overwhelming odds and somehow coming out the other side through a combination of skill, luck and panache. There is also usually a lot of neon and chrome.

This makes it a great genre for roleplaying in. Much of the genre plays it straight, varying names of megacorporations and specifics of technology available in much the same way as classic fantasy will vary the names of kings and magics available. But one of the most popular blends this with classic fantasy to create a setting where megacorporations employ elven mages to fight anarchist shamans while expert hackers go toe to toe in the matrix and orc street samurai wade into battle with a katana in one hand a and a shotgun in the other (okay, that was kinda my last character) – that game is Shadowrun. I love the setting but the system… well the system not so much. Recently, though, I played a Shadowrun Anarchy campaign which worked far better than the standard version, and the computer games, Shadowrun Returns, Shadowrun Dragonfall and Shadowrun Hong Kong capture the feel of the world rather well (well I’ve not played the third one yet, but I have a copy).

Variants

Much as the cyberpunk ethos encourages tearing technology apart to build something new, so the genre has been torn apart and rebuilt to create many variants, all helpfully identified by the suffix “-punk”. Generally they maintain a dystopian future and a punk attitude, but the nature of the technology and the emergent threats change.

Magic-punk is where technology is replaced with magic – gigantic magical machines power everything, often magic can be almost coded like a computer, and personal augmentation may be replaced by daemonic – and often demonic – summoning and possession. This hews closer to classic fantasy than Shadowrun, which is definitely a cyberpunk system despite the heavy influence of magic.

Dieselpunk is not, as you may guess, a setting in which everything is powered by Vin Diesel, but rather one where the technology being hacked is more likely to be cars and trucks and the most valuable resources are likely to be fuel and water. The most famous example is probably Mad Max.

Steampunk started out as a kind of retro-Victorian variant of the genre in which all the amazing technology was powered by that latest of inventions the steam engine. It has since taken on a  life of its own however and become genre and style involving an awful lot of brass cogs!

Transhumanism

Transhumanism is kind of a special case of a variant. While cyberpunk focuses more on the technology, transhumanism is more philosophical and asks the questions “What is human?” and “how far can we alter a person before they stop being a person and become something else?” These questions are not unique to transhumanism, of course, but it places them front and centre.

Transhumanists take ideas to their logical conclusion –  If you replace a leg or an arm then a person is still a person, but what happens if you replace more? The heart, the sensory organs, the brain? If the brain can be mapped, then can it be modelled in a powerful enough computer? If so is that computer a person? If you copy someone’s brain is the copy the same person? How about if you then download that brain into a new body? What if it’s an entirely robotic body?

These and more questions are clearly very very hard to answer and don’t obviously lend themselves to a roleplaying game so much as a discussion down the pub! So the most popular game in the genre, Eclipse Phase, hews back towards cyberpunk with powerful corporations and evil AIs to fight, and revolutionary politics to foster that conflict, but those corporations are not megacorps, they’re smaller and more agile than that, and the AIs are hyper-intelligent beyond human comprehension, and have fled for reasons unknown.

The Future

So is cyberpunk the future? I hope not – the technology is pretty cool, and the style is certainly striking, but the dystopian inequality and constant threat of violence for those on the fringes is less promising. Personally I’d like to skip past all that and just upload my mind to the internet!

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Genres: Fantasy

This month, because we’re working on all-new Setting Shards, this blog is all about genre. What we play, what we read, and what the smeg is it? [Ste Note: Appropriately enough, my brother considers Red Dwarf fantasy – rather than sci-fi. He even commissioned a Red Dwarf themed card for the fantasy Concept Cards deck…]

In one sense, genre is a fiction (see what I did there?) It’s trying to put games (or books, or films, or whatever) into categories. Creative types usually hate being pigeonholed. There are three kinds of people who like genre-lising. People trying to understand creative works – academics and critics. People who are trying to file creators – publishers who can talk about ‘fantasy authors’ or cinema owners who screen ‘arthouse films’ And people trying to sell you something similar to what you already like – “customers who bought this also looked at …”

But as with so much creative, it’s quite hard to fit things neatly into boxes. This month we’re going to try to sketch in the edges of some big genre classifications; look at games that fit, and ones that don’t quite; and talk about why using genres might actually help you play – whether it’s to help find new games, or new material for the ones you’ve already got (*cough* Shards *cough*cough*)

We figured fantasy goes first, because DnD. It’s probably the oldest RPG; certainly the most heavily marketed; and probably the widest played. Therefore DnD in all its myriad variants has come to define the industry. (I, like anyone with sense, am going to exclude Spelljammer, which is DnD In Space) So fantasy is a place to begin.

But how to define fantasy? The classic core is medieval tech level, with magic; and featuring elves and dwarves, and probably some races one could describe as ‘touched’ – beastkin, nephilim (half -angels), affriti (fire-blessed), whatever. Yet almost every example world I can think of breaks some of that, some of the time. I’m going to start by excluding the whole sub-genre of urban fantasy, because Amy wants to talk about that later. Cyber-punk-fantasy is a rule unto itself (magiopunk?) becuase you have to detail the interaction between magic and technology.

I’ve played not-medieval – the swashbuckling Lace of Steel, and both Fate and WOD adaptations in Ancient Rome. I’ve heard good things about a Norman era LRP, and hope to crew a Mag-eolithic era one (Stone Age with a few magical exceptions). I’ve played mostly-human Ars Magica. My major LRP has only two races – humans and orcs.

Whatever medium we’re looking at, it probably isn’t fantasy without magic – and yet Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials manages to have a parallel pseudo-science that fills the same narrative role. Even seemingly-middle-of-the-genre Game of Thrones has very little actual magic. Whether you consider the arts of the magisters to be magic rather depends on whether you subscribe to Clarke’s definition – ‘Magic’s just science that we don’t understand yet.’ Magisters feel like scientists, so I’m going with the theory _they_ understand what they’re doing, even if we don’t.

GoT has dragons and undead, and a few clerical healing effects – but not much in the fireball and lightning department. Much of the supernatural is attributed to Gods – but is the distinction between magic and the divine that clear cut?

On the subject of Gods, there probably are some. Rare is the fantasy world without some kind of divine influence – whether that be a paladin’s Lay On Hands; or a demigod hero. Mythology is a whole sub-genre, and contains gems such as Nephilim – lovely ideas, system is a contender for Worst Ever; In Nomine, which was apparently written in response to Jack Chick; and Mazes & Minotaurs, which I keep meaning to play, since I hear good things about it.

I think the problem I’m running into here is why do we bother? Fantasy – stripped of elves and dragons – is about people.We can look through young Garion’s eyes as a mere kitchen hand, and see a what-if world – if lifting things were just a levitate spell away, what use cranes? Why, in a world where a low-level cleric can Create Food and Water, are there still people going hungry? If you had the power to summon lightning with a few words, what would you do with that power? And our stories become about characters and their actions – so, no different to historical or scifi or romance.

Fantasy’s easier than most genres to be a Big Damn Hero in. This RealLife LRP is really hard to make any meaningful influence on – all the best plots are hoovered up by the GM’s mates. But fantasy games allow us to be the hero – warrior or wizard – because if you’ve just saved the kingdom from a dragon, the king looks a bit underwhelming. But best leave him to get on with the boring bits like feeding everyone and opening schools; you’ve got a new evil to conquer.

We might head off to space; we might spend a while being super, we might even dip a toe into eldritch horror. But we come back to fantasy because it’s heroic, it’s familiar, and it’s darned fun. Excuse me, I’m going to go dip into my bookshelves. Which, by the way, I’ve just acquired more of. What should I fill the gaps with?

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Monstrous Mondays: K is for Kelpie

History

Kelpi are an old scottish/celtic water monster that looks like a horse, the stories tell of a fine horse which appears from the water in Scotland. It tempts people to ride it and once they are on it becomes uncontrollable, carrying them back into the water to drown. There are ways to survive this encounter, one tale tells of a boy who cut of his own fingers to escape its gripping fur once he touched it, another said that if you can get the bridle away from a kelpie you can escape and maybe even control it.

Like many water basic monster stories, these exist to keep children away from water, but they also serve to stop young maidens from talking to strangers since kelpie can take on human form – usually male, though some later art shows them as siren-esque women.

One theory for their origin is that they’re linked to a misunderstood weather effect known as waterspouts – which are columns of water that can appear over body of water, these can sometimes make unusual shapes on the water.

These monster are not seem much in books or films today, except when they are linked to the Loch Ness monster.

Physiology

  • They have the head of horse with glowing green or red eyes.
  • They have the front body of a horse.
  • They usually have the back end of a horse,
    • But sometimes they are depicted with a fishtail as there back half, like a hippocampus.
  • Their tail is sometime horse hair tail, but made from matted seaweed.
    • Sometimes it is a fishtail instead
  • They’re usually covered in fur made from matted seaweed.
  • Some story tell of them having inverted hooves.
  • They can also change form into human, but their feet sometimes stay as hooves.

 

Ideas

 

  • You could have someone who keeps horse and have some of them be kelpie that they tamed.
  • You could have a kelpie that lives in the human world as human, where they are a swimmer and a real lady’s man.
  • The heroes could find a set of horses abandoned on their journey, that reveal their true nature in the middle of the heroes’ journey

 

References

https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/The-Kelpie/

https://www.pottermore.com/explore-the-story/kelpies

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Kv3m_ACEmE

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelpie

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterspout

 

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Monstrous Mondays: M is for Manticore

Manticore

One of my favourite monsters since I was a child because its a mixture of so many things that still fits together.

History

A manticore is a Persian monster with the body of a lion, face of a man and the tail of scorpion.

There are few stories of this monster, most just talk about what it looks like, not what it does, but I have found a few a story telling of how the young were hunted by men on elephant back, since the elephant is the only animal whose hide could not be puncture by it spikes, and the youngsters lacked the deadly venom in their tails. There are also stories told of it being given as a gift to kings in the middle east.

A Greek story tells of how the manticore was driven into the underworld to be watched over for all eternity by Hades.

Many theories suggest it was an over exaggerated tiger, given features that a tiger could never have to make people more scared of it. The name itself means man-eater which we know big cats like tigers do, and they do come from that part of the world, they are also seen as an omen of bad luck.

Sadly this chimera of a monster is not seen much in books or film today but is mainly featured in games both computer and table top, games like D&D where it is treated as a big beast for you to kill no more than that.

Physiology

 

  • The face of a man with grey or blue eyes and a moth that gose from ear to ear with 3 set of teeth like a shark.

 

    • Sometime shown to have horns or tusks

 

  • The body of a large cat, broad and stocky with a mane like that of a lion.

 

    • They sometimes have wings coming from their back, they can be like the wing of a birds but are more often those of a dragon or a bat.

 

  • It is usually depicted with the paws of a big cat but sometimes the manticore has monkey feet instead.

 

  • It usually has the tail of a scorpion with a large poisonous stinger but there are some images of it with a tail of dragon or a big cat, with barbs coming out of it.

  • It can turn this tail 180 degrees, allowing it to attack all around its body, and can shot out barbs as well as stinging someone in melee.

  • It is usually furry all over, except the tail, and it can be anything from a pale or golden yellow like that of sand, or brown or red like the fire.

  • It can be anything from the size of a large dog to that of four elephants, but is most often sized such that it is the same height as a man with the proportions of a lion.
  • They can be found anywhere in the wild, hunting large prey – will often not bother with an individual human, only attacking groups.

Ideas for stories

Have it be the monster that other monsters flee from – when a town comes under attack by monster after monster the heroes must find out what is driving them from their homes.

Since it has the face of a man you could have be as smart as, make it able to talk, have it be the big bad with some elaborate scheme or the warlord head of its army.  

You could have it be some kind of primal beast like in d&d 4e, trying work their way up to godhood, representing all of nature’s predators.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manticore

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojFXUnq-3us

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/manticore

https://www.britannica.com/topic/manticore

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Manticore

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=manticore

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Monstrous Mondays: Nephilim

The sons of God saw the Daughters of Men that they were fair by Maurice Greiffenhagen

 

Nephilim

The children of women and angel are not always good and are stronger than any man. Sometimes they are monsters, and other times they are not.

 

History

A nephilim is a creature mentioned in the Bible but no no one seem to be sure what it is, the word itself is said to mean giants and is written as such in some versions, so some think that they are or were just giants – nut parts of the word mean ground, or fall, or earth. Since this word is found in the same paragraph as sons of God, which could mean angels, lying with daughters of man many think that a nephilim is what happens when an angel, or a fallen angel, lies with a woman, and its nature tends to depend on if the angel was fallen or not – but it also depends on their actions since they are also part mortal and we choose our own fate.

 

There are no stories of them in the bible, only a few mentions of them and all are before the story of the great flood, so many believe that the nephilim were killed off in the flood, which is why we do not see giants or nephilim or whatever they may be.

But modern media has cemented the idea that nephilim means the child of an angel and a human woman, since most stories are set in the modern day and if that is the case nephilim can still be present as an angel can sleep with a human whenever.

They are usually the love interest in many films and books, like the Hush Hush series; and there are usually both good and bad nephilim – the bad sometimes have black feathers on their wings. So even though we are not sure what they are or should look like this is what they have become to most of us and few of us know anything else about them.

 

Physiology

From head to toe

  • They’re usually male
    • Often a handsome human male with blonde hair – akin to standard european depictions of angels.
    • In books and comics they’re often somewhat androgynous – again reflecting the standard depictions of angels in artwork.
  • Well toned human arms and chest.
  • They often have a large set of wings that can come out of their back, these usually allow them to fly.
    • Most Nephilim are capable of hiding these wings, making it harder to see their nature.
  • Well toned human legs and feet.
  • Can be larger than a normal man in height and size but a lot of books and films only have seem that way when their wings are out.
  • They often use swords as these are seen as the favourite weapon for angels.

Many story tell of them having all kinds on powers, some of the most common are: being able to talk to animals, talk and understand anyone, superstrength and of course flight.

They can be good or bad it all depends on the story they’re in, their nature and the nature of their angelic parent.

Ideas

  • Do a story where the only nephilim in the story is female, changing the sex of an character can make things play out differently.
  • A story or adventure where a nephilim is going around make people think he’s a god and is trying to recruit followers, paladin’s and the like. This would work well in 13th age where the big powers can change from age to age.
  • In the common polytheistic fantasy setting a nephilim rejected by their god, because their god disapproves of such mating, might choose to follow another god – their native god will send them to hell, but if they can become a saint perhaps that can be avoided?
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Monstrous Mondays: Oni

[ED Note: We’re back to Amy for another month of monsters – enjoy]

Photo by Xeal on Flickr

Oni

I first came across this creature in Magic: the Gathering’s Kamigawa expansion.

History  

An oni is an ancient eastern monster often with red/blue skin, an ugly head with horns and sharp teeth.

The story tell of how they were once men, men that were so wicked that they became oni when they died, some of them were so wicked that they became one in life – often through a mask that they had been wearing to disguise themself fusing to their skin. These beings are so evil that they attract other evil beings to them.

The theories is that Oni once just meant a ghost or soul it only over time that it has come to mean evil ghost or being. Since this monster is depicted with horns it is often seen as a demon when put into a western framework, but could also be seen as an ogre, giant, or poltergeist.

In the media they are seen as a Japanese monster but it appears they actually come from a form of Buddhist mythology that has roots across north Asia.

They are often depicted as demons like in magic the gathering where they had two types of them the big bads were demons and the lesser ones that were under them which were a type of ogre.

 

Physiology

  • An ugly human face with horns, sharp teeth, glowing yellow or red eyes and they usually have black messy hair on their head and face.
  • The body can be very muscular or have a very big gut.
  • The arms are strong and muscular with big hands that usually carry a metal club.
  • Strong muscular legs with big feet.
  • They usually have red or blue skin.
  • Are about 8ft tall – larger than any man.
  • Supernatural strength
  • Supernatural toughness
  1. How it acts
    1. Evil they eat and terrorise people
  2. Where it can be found (if need).
    1. They can be found anywhere, but they have been known to hide until they an army of evil beings following them.

Ideas

You could have a story where someone becomes one and they seen the error of their ways and they try to turn them self back to human but they have to act against their nature to do so.

Since they attract evil to them you could have one set up near a peaceful town and then all these bad things start happening and the party have to work out what the cause is.

You could have the party get into town on the night of hyakki yakō which is the night parade of one hundred demons, and see what the party do when surrounded by monstrous beings that are currently well behaved.

 

References

http://yokai.wikia.com/wiki/Oni

https://www.britannica.com/topic/oni

http://yokai.com/shutendouji/

http://yokai.com/hyakkiyagyou/

http://yokai.com/oni/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ogre

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oni

 

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Gaming History: Twissen

We’ve each talked a bit about how we got started on gaming – but there are four of us, and this month has five mondays, so we decided to leave the best for last: The prologue of Artemis Games – the story of our first games together.

We met at Vague – The MMU 1)Manchester Metropolitan University tabletop gaming society – despite the fact that none of us had ever attended MMU, nor had any intention of doing so. I was, at the time, studying Physics at University of Manchester, while Amy was studying Biology at Salford University, and both Loz and Ali had finished their university careers already.

We were largely brought together by a friend who (though not part of the business) remains part of our gaming group – Iain Fortune, who appears in our Concept Cards as “Iain The Fortunate – creator of the Pot of Endless Tea”. Me, Loz and Iain played a brief D&D 4th Edition campaign at Vague, and then Loz mentioned that their gaming group was down a player – and as it happened we lived just down the street from them, so me and Amy ended up joining Loz, Ali, Iain and their friend Shiny 2)actually named Amy – the Amys had to be distinguished so one became Shiny and the other Purple for their respective obsessions in a new campaign at their house.

After the first two stories in this campaign we decided to sit down together and build a world for it – Twissen, a cylindrical world orbited by two suns (one northern, the other southern) and a single moon – and one where the gods themselves were all mad.

This campaign lasted for several years but as we’re talking origins, I might as well finish this up by explaining the its origin story:

The Beginning

The world was created when the Elemental Chaos, substance without form or order, collided with the Divine Prism, form and order without substance. The center of this collision became the mortal world, but the impact was felt throughout both realms – suddenly the Elemental Chaos had minds capable of shaping their surroundings, and the infinite minds of the Divine Prism had matter on which they could act. The northern end of the cylindrical world fell off into the Divine Prism, while the southern end sank into the Elemental Chaos.

This new-formed world had a sun, Shamedan, born of the elemental fire which burnt the southern lands, and a moon, Procan, born of elemental water which brought rain and tides to the southern lands.

Shortly thereafter gods, elementals and nature spirits formed – each within their own realm. The elementals cared little for the oddity that was the mortal world, while the nature spirits were born of it and could not leave, but the gods saw it as a toy with which to play – matter to shape to their whim.

It is at this point that the world gained its northern sun, Pelor, and its northern moon, Sehanine, as gods reached into the world. The sun was born of pure radiance, and the moon of condensed thought.

Intelligent mortal life appeared from nature – the dwarves from the soil, the dryads from the trees, and the merrow from the sea itself. Each lived in harmony with their element, drawing from it just as any other animal would, and returning to it with their death.

Three gods, seeing these new forms of life, decided to create their own immortal races: Amat created the dragons to rule over all; Corellon created the fey to experience the world; Io created the deva to explore and learn.

The dragons started the war of worlds by attempting to conquer the Elemental Chaos – leading to that chaos striking back against the gods, with the mortal world stuck in the crossfire. Amat was slain – split in twain to become Tiamat and Bahamat, the two dragon gods – but the war raged on.

Unable to endure this war the spirits of nature waited for an opportunity – the Grand Conjunction when the elemental and divine realms were closest to mortality – and struck against the gods, using two great weapons:

The first was born of Mawra, spirit of predators, and was a great beast of indestructible power – known as the Tarrasque – which sought to consume all beings of divinity.

The second and greater of the two was born of Nurgle, a spirit of pestilence, and became known as The God’s Plague. This pestilence was carried to the Elementals by Nurgle, and to the gods by Mawra.

The God’s Plague spread through both sides of the war, infecting their essence and driving them to peculiar insanities. The southern sun and moon were first to show the effects – Shamedan’s heat grew, burning the southlands ever more intensely, while Procan first reached upwards, then threw himself into the ocean while ranting about the powers beyond the stars.

Eventually all the gods, and all their immortal children, would grow equally insane, and so Corellon and Io sought to save their people by pulling from them their sparks of divinity.

The Fey

Corellon first attempted to save his people by isolating them – pulling them into their own dreams so that their divine sparks could be safe. In doing so he created a whole new realm of reality, the land of Fairy, a dreamlike mirror of the mortal realm. But while he succeeded in creating a new world he realised that he himself was infected – and that this infection would spread regardless of his actions. Thus he changed his plans – pulling the divine sparks from almost all the fey, concentrating it into the lords of the fey courts whose job it became to dream Fairyland into existence.

The fey he had pulled into Fairyland became split among the “high elves”, or eladrin, who maintained their separation from the dream and held themselves tall through pride, and the gnomes who became part of the dream, made of illusions and fragments of the nature around them.

The fey left in the mortal realm had many different fates. Some lived in the forests of the central lands, and those became the “wood elves”, living in concert with and as part of nature; but most lived in the southlands and were faced with death beneath the burning sun. More than half died within the first few weeks of becoming mortal, but the rest found themselves forced to choose a path. Some changed themselves to be as harsh as the desert, becoming the desert hags, a race known for their worship of fire; others copied the snakes and crawled beneath the sands to live, becoming known as the “dark elves” or drow; a third group chose to dive into the oceans, becoming the first merfolk; and a fourth chose a darker path – they sought to follow the souls of their dead friends, and found themselves in a new mirror of the world, the Shadowfell, created as a place for immortal souls to go after death – these became the “shadow elves” or shadar-kai.

The Deva

Io reacted more slowly to the threat, having first to study its nature, but once she did she began systematically extracting the divinity from her children. The majority of deva became humans, a simple race that possessed a thirst for knowledge beyond most others.

Some of the deva however had been in different forms when their sparks were removed – and those found themselves stuck with their transformation. Those in mammal forms became the bestials, capable of changing from animal form to beastmen though not fully back into a “civilized” form, but those who had taken non-mammal forms were permanently stuck in a hybrid form, losing most of their intellect in the process as they became Harpies, Lizardmen and other such monstrous humanoids.

Io’s delayed action meant that a whole city of his people kept their spark too long, and became infected with the plague. These became the rakshasa, a dangerously amoral immortal race that would do anything for knowledge – no matter who might be hurt – and experimented on every other race.

The Dragons

With Amat dead, and Tiamat and Bahamat still reeling, there was no-one to pull the spark from the dragons – leading to them all becoming crazed with their megalomania, and most of them dying in battle with one another. Their children, the dragonborn who had been created for them to rule, became their successors, running the dragon-cities as they always had just without the dragons lording over them.

The Greenskins

When Procan entered the ocean, he brought with him change and monstrous entities, serving as a portal to a realm that should not be. Many of the merrow sought to flee the corrupted ocean – and so they did. Most fled on to land and islands, becoming the orcs – a race of pirates and sailors known for raiding the coastal lands – but some found themselves pulled through the portal, and became known as the gith, green skinned warriors that could swim through the void as though it were water, with minds attuned to the impossible.

 

And with that, the second age of the world began – a world where immortal and mortal races collided, and crazed gods begat even more crazed devils.

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References   [ + ]

1. Manchester Metropolitan University
2. actually named Amy – the Amys had to be distinguished so one became Shiny and the other Purple for their respective obsessions