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Posted on January 02, 2022, 12:25:32 AM by Jubal
A Bad Pun RPG Idea Calendar

2022: A Bad Pun RPG Idea Calendar
By Jubal


So, recently on Twitter I foolishly said that I would post a pun-based RPG plotline idea for every like on a tweet. I am nothing if not true-ish to my word, and as the likes piled up I ended up producing over fifty of the things as the month of December 2021 wore on... and having produced that many, I decided there was nothing for it but to reproduce them in article form. And how better to do it than a 2022 calendar?

As such, here it is, with one awful pun-based idea for a sidequest or subplot per week for the entire year of 2022! Check out your birthday or other significant dates through the year for maybe-or-maybe-not appropriate puns galore, or just browse to find interesting ideas for your upcoming creative projects and campaigns. Or because you just want a lot of groan-inducing humour in your life, that's fine too. And thus - the calendar!


JANUARY
Jan 03 - Jan 09
Jan 10 - Jan 16
Jan 17 - Jan 23
Jan 24 - Jan 30
Jan 31 - Feb 06
.
FEBRUARY
Feb 07 - Feb 13
Feb 14 - Feb 20
Feb 21 - Feb 27
Feb 28 - Mar 06
.
MARCH
Mar 07 - Mar 13
Mar 14 - Mar 20
Mar 21 - Mar 27
Mar 28 - Apr 03
APRIL
Apr 04 - Apr 10
Apr 11 - Apr 17
Apr 18 - Apr 24
Apr 25 - May 01
.
MAY
May 02 - May 08
May 09 - May 15
May 16 - May 22
May 23 - May 29
May 30 - Jun 05
.
JUNE
Jun 06 - Jun 12
Jun 13 - Jun 19
Jun 20 - Jun 26
Jun 27 - Jul 03
JULY
Jul 04 - Jul 10
Jul 11 - Jul 17
Jul 18 - Jul 24
Jul 25 - Jul 31
.
AUGUST
Aug 01 - Aug 07
Aug 08 - Aug 14
Aug 15 - Aug 21
Aug 22 - Aug 28
Aug 29 - Sep 04
.
SEPTEMBER
Sep 05 - Sep 04
Sep 12 - Sep 18
Sep 19 - Sep 25
Sep 26 - Oct 02
OCTOBER
Oct 03 - Oct 09
Oct 10 - Oct 16
Oct 17 - Oct 23
Oct 24 - Oct 30
Oct 31 - Nov 06
.
NOVEMBER
Nov 07 - Nov 13
Nov 14 - Nov 20
Nov 21 - Nov 27
Nov 28 - Dec 04
.
DECEMBER
Dec 05 - Dec 11
Dec 12 - Dec 18
Dec 19 - Dec 25
Dec 26 - Jan 01



THE PUNS

Jan 03 - Jan 09
Evil wizard Butho Cai will try to create the Thousand Coloured Robe of Fate amid the the Ancient Looms of the Hill of Fading Time.

Will you stop him, or all perish? Fight cloth demons, unravel traps and find out in this adventure because it's a WYRD HILL TO DYE ON.


Jan 10 - Jan 16
Dragon-hunters use hawks to track their mighty prey - and you've just found one in a snare. Will you return it, losing time and maybe the huge bounty? Or keep pushing on and leave the bird to its fate? Your choice will have consequences in THE EARLY BIRD GETS THE WYRM.

Jan 17 - Jan 23
The Ship of Dreams carries the Elder Kin from world to world and plane to plane, powered by the dreams of a mortal who broke a fated duty. But now it's crashed in the mortal world: its pilot has escaped, and the Elder Kin raid to find him, desperate to leave, in OUT OF GEAS.

Jan 24 - Jan 30
A herbalist has grown the world's first hardy all-weather mandrake, but is under pressure from the King to hand over the secret and makes no secret of his distaste for the monarch's plans. Can you save him from the royal guard in A MANDRAKE FOR ALL SEASONS?

Jan 31 - Feb 06
You awake. Sheogorath is there. You see a bubble of abstract madness. Fifteen glowing atronachs pop in and out of existence. You wander in the nest of a moth. You sleep. You awake. Sheogorath is there. You see a bubble... welcome to GROUNDHOG DAEDRA.

Feb 07 - Feb 13
You know you did nothing that would merit this - but you've awoken in a demon's lair anyway. Are you being framed for consorting with demons? Who is responsible? And... might it not be somewhat fun even if you are? Face death and lust alike in THROWN UNDER THE SUCCUBUS!

Feb 14 - Feb 20
Sir Everhorn is a legend among knights: appearing and disappearing like the wind, saving the lives of folks who he will never see again. But can the heroes get him to commit to protecting the people for a longer term? Why does he roam eternal? Find out in ONE KNIGHT'S STAND.

Feb 21 - Feb 27
A young lady had a romantic tryst with a Selkie three summers past. Now the Selkie has left her for another, but she's still magically, inexorably drawn to the sea. Can you break the curse? Or might she still find true love in the water? This and more in SEALED WITH A KISS.


Feb 28 - Mar 06
Dwarves are notoriously secretive, their protections against Watch snooping absolute. When Elder Bastrom fears corruption in the Diggers' Guild, then, she needs you to join the guild & investigate. Can you thwart the plot? Only if you've successfully MINED YOUR OWN BUSINESS.

Mar 07 - Mar 13
A document has surfaced proving that a mere farm-hand must be the heir of the famed Beowulf. Now he's come to you: he's been exalted as a potential hero, but he doubts the document is real and has no idea how to fight a dragon. Will you help him manage GEAT EXPECTATIONS?

Mar 14 - Mar 20
Rumours of the Lost Dwarf Forge prompt streams of would-be heroes to investigate. But are the young warriors being lured out for other reasons? Why don't they return? Are the best weapons the ones you had with you all along? You'll learn more in A HALBERD IN THE HAND...

Mar 21 - Mar 27
The Host of the West comes. All forces of darkness quail... and you are one of Morgoth's lieutenants. You must devise & enact an escape plan to allow your master to flee to hiding and waylay his mighty siblings, in DISCRETION IS THE BETTER PART OF VALAR.

Mar 28 - Apr 03
In 972, you were sent to the Howling Jail of the Elfin Lords for a fairy crime you didn't commit. You escaped: still hunted, you survive as tricksters of fortune.  Now someone has a problem and no one else can help: and they've found you. Maybe they can hire... THE FAE TEAM.

Apr 04 - Apr 10
Two murders: a jilted love affair, an ensuing blood feud. Such happens in the blood-dark of a cold marshland winter. But these ghosts are unquiet: the locals think the souls refuse to leave, but you know powerful ritual magic binds them here, in TWO WRONGS DON'T MAKE A RITE.

Apr 11 - Apr 17
Lightning rolls. Two shepherds drunkenly stumble off the moor: each blames the other for the howling banshee that has been unleashed from the Auld Stones. Who is right - or is their enmity hiding the real tale? You must face the truth this time in KNOWING MEAD, KNOWING EWES!

Apr 18 - Apr 24
Preachers roam the streets chanting about the Great Floods and urging you to drive back the evil water spirits. Doom seems nigh indeed: outlying villages have been washed away. But are the water spirits solely to blame? It's time to wade into the problem in THE END IS NAIAD!

Apr 25 - May 01
A musician is forced to leave her home city of Dassalora permanently after inadvertently causing a riot. She turns to you for help clearing her name: the Council may be willing, but they have other problems to solve. In BARD FOR LIFE, see if you can help her return to fame!

May 02 - May 08
A noble believes his harvest will be the realm's finest, and has invited the king to stay. But, some say as punishment for hubris, a cockatrice now ravages his lands. You are called in: can you find the cockatrice's vulnerability and save the visit in COUNT, YOUR CHICKENS?

May 09 - May 15
The rules of troll fights are intricate and hard for humans - and then there's their strength. But now a huge young lady from from the hill clans demands your village beat her fairly on the village green or give her a husband. Will you play fair when BRAWLING A MAIDEN OGRE?

May 16 - May 22
The great bird has come to your mountain realm. It carries off the great markhors and elephants, and threatens all the herds of the kingdom. You must find a way to save the region's wildlife by travelling to the barren, rocky mountaintops in BETWEEN A ROC AND A HARD PLACE.

May 23 - May 29
You'd expected Devils to be hellish, enforcers of rules. You hadn't expected them to be so parochial. A carnival of demonic evil would be one thing: standing in perfect, recorded line to play hoop-la for your soul is somehow worse. Can you survive A FETE WORSE THAN DEATH?

May 30 - Jun 05
The Monster tears - again - a rift between Daevic and Mortal realms, unleashing curses into both. As you investigate, you find the source of its pain and realise why it it cannot rest. Can you find a way for it to exist at peace? Test your heart in THE BEAST OF BOTH WORLDS.

Jun 06 - Jun 12
The trail is cold: Geralt's investigation of a curse in scrolls and notes is fruitless. But the first witcher who took the contract is missing & could have seen more: perhaps finding him is Geralt's only hope in A WITCHER IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS.

Jun 13 - Jun 19
At the Grand Archery Tournament, a stray arrow that missed the target has shot Prince Muskwort, who is critically ill. The archer uses his own distinctive arrows... but he and the crowd swear he was facing the other way. What's the truth? Find out in HIT OR MYSTERY.

Jun 20 - Jun 26
A fae message comes from Orion, King of the Hunt. Against Forest Law, he refused to kill a magic talking stag he loved but was fated to slay: it lives wounded and hidden. The breach of law would tear the fae court apart. You, an outsider, must decide who is left HARTBROKEN.

Jun 27 - Jul 03
Rebellion and civil war loom. One last social event, the Dance of Summer Moths, will bring partisan lords together: the Great Temple wants YOU to host it & avert all-out war.

Expect intrigue, romance, murder: how you react is crucial, because THE BALL IS IN YOUR COURT.


Jul 04 - Jul 10
A fad for demon possession? You can't believe your ears, but the archmage nods. Locked in their tower, mages hunger for anything that gives strong feelings: and demonic anger is truly strong. What can men do against such reckless hate? It's ALL THE RAGE right now, after all.

Jul 11 - Jul 17
The story of Icarus' death and the wax on his wings is well known, but is that all there was to it? Having discovered Daedalus' notes you realise Icarus was never meant to land safely - and that you must journey to the sky yourself to find the truth in LIKE FATHER, LIKE SUN.

Jul 18 - Jul 24
You are in Saruman's retinue in Isengard. You've been told to oversee work in Fangorn.

A promotion? ...or is someone getting you out of the way? You might very well think that, but the events of I COULDN'T POSSIBLY CALM ENTS will determine your survival.


Jul 25 - Jul 31
A team of Dwarven thugs are operating in broad daylight in your outpost town: worse, they have a signed order from King Bhelen's governor giving them wholly free rein for whatever they wish to do. Stop their plans and expose corruption in CARTA BLANCHE!

Aug 01 - Aug 07
You dreamt of being Chosen by a god as a scarred urchin on the streets. Now it's happened! But... rather than the great war or death gods you've been Chosen by Aheria, Goddess of Beauty. Where fashion sense is sacred, tread a path from sacking to silks in BLESSED TO IMPRESS.

Aug 08 - Aug 14
Cave lions as a rule don't come into the cities, but folk in Krahlek keep hearing them. When you investigate, it turns out this isn't just a wildlife problem and that the merchant guild is involved - and that it may not be clear who to side with, in DOING A ROARING TRADE.

Aug 15 - Aug 21
A silvered blade: it strikes fear, and also a lot of sharp metal, into the heart of monsters. But the anvil that made them is lost. There's one upside: that gives YOU a shot at real glory. Venture to the clouded isles and find the forge where EVERY SWORD HAS A SILVER LINING!

Aug 22 - Aug 28
The city-states of the Autumn Isles are a political tinderbox. A priest relays to you a divine command: to help two lovers from rival cities to elope. But far from calming things, this may ignite the flame of war... defy the gods or risk slaughter in A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN.

Aug 29 - Sep 04
The people of Lyrendorf are terrified of the Myrken Woods, where dryads wander and folk hear chanting under the moon. But now the Woods are sick - and the same illness threatens the harvest. To save either side, you must get both to work together in ALL BARK AND NO BLIGHT.

Sep 05 - Sep 11
You're fey creatures, and a human has wandered through a portal to your realm. He looks exhausted and sad, avoids talking & refuses aid. The Fairy Queen Siannura gives YOU the task of helping him learn to hope again and become a hero. It won't be easy to TEACH A MAN TO WISH.

Sep 12 - Sep 18
During the mage rebellion, a hunter comes across a wrecked shrine and the aftermath of a summoning gone wrong: he flees with the dead wizard's valuable supplies. An old templar and a desperate apostate are on his tail, though, in NO CHANTRY FOR OLD MEN.

Sep 19 - Sep 25
Dragons navigate by scent: when the king orders you to catch the Green Wyrm of the Hills, mixing a dragon-breath like gas lure is your best bet. But keeping the alchemical mix stable will be hard & while you stake it out you'll be vulnerable, in A WAIT WITH BAITED BREATH.

Sep 26 - Oct 02
The dead are rarely called on as heroes. But Sir Hordavan cannot be buried until he completes his list of side-quests: he is clearly no longer able. His will names you as champions in the event of his death... descend into the Deep Caves & finish his work in SIX FEATS UNDER!

Oct 03 - Oct 09
What dark deeds linger with those who one fought the Darkspawn? Are you willing to tear memories from the dead to find out? Few Wardens get marked graves... so you, and a troubling mage companion, venture to the Deep Roads to find the SHADES OF GREY.

Oct 10 - Oct 16
A flesh golem, brought to life by great lighting rods, is being hailed as a miracle of a new scientific age and the bringer of perfect truth. But you suspect the creature is being manipulated into parroting messages from a secret cult: can you change its tune in VOLT FACE?

Oct 17 - Oct 23
The town's household spirits are disappearing, sneaking off to standing stones, up old trees and down crumbling wells. What draws them there? What links these locations? An adventurer like you will be needed to examine THE BROWNIE POINTS and find out... before it's too late.

Oct 24 - Oct 30
Due to a problematic legal technicality and an army from its own eukaryotic kingdom, the Grand Overfungus now rules the Kingdom of Soko. You can't risk all-out war: you must persuade the Overfungus to leave before Soko is awash with mushrooms in WHEN IT REIGNS, IT SPORES.

Oct 31 - Nov 06
They believed it useless. A revenant too big to lurk in the dark, too slow to evade the witch-hunter's torch. Abandoned by its undead kin, it lay born of undeath's hubris.

But now the WIGHT ELEPHANT is back. It trumpets vengeance on the deathless: but the living fear too...


Nov 07 - Nov 13
Phoenix feathers are rumoured to have a thousand magical uses: but none in this age has ever stored a full feather and survived the bird's rage long enough to study it. Can your team be the first to return one to the alchemy guild? Burn your way to glory in in TAILBLAZER!

Nov 14 - Nov 20
The siege of Taraness drags on after years, due to a curious problem: the city keeps magically moving around the attackers! In the siege camp, you've towers and weapons but little hope: can you come up with a plan & capture the city? Have you tried TURNING IT OFT, AN ONAGER?

Nov 21 - Nov 27
Cantankerous Sir Kay was never friendly with young Sir Gareth - but tricking the former kitchen servant turned knight into being indebted to him seems a bit harsh. Can you help Gareth out and solve the intergenerational dramas of Camelot in OWE KAY, BEAUMAINS?

Nov 28 - Dec 04
Food delivery, a Viziman noble's new fad: but now a Witcher is called. A man is dead: insectoid monster eggs, ready to hatch, were snuck into the food parcels! Team up with a sorceress in training to get cake delivered safely in KIKIMORES DELIVERY SERVICE!

Dec 05 - Dec 11
A wealthy noble has had some items stolen - he won't say what, but still wants you to find them. You find they have been fed to mimics - but why and what secrets do they hold? Discover the answer in GET IT OFF YOUR CHEST.

Dec 12 - Dec 18
The ferocious Snowbound Order of Nuns lets no initiate leave their ice-monastery: but an old friend was, while habitually drunk, tricked into the magical joining ritual, and is desperate to flee. She sneaks a message to you: can you help her escape, so she can KICK THE HABIT?

Dec 19 - Dec 25
Midwinter brings a mysterious stranger with a set of musical instruments to the castle door. She hails from a land of burning sand, and wishes to find her way home, granting you three wishes for doing so. Can you find the true spirit of generosity in THE DJINN GIRL'S BELLS?

Dec 26 - Jan 01
A carpet merchant hires you to track down goblinoids who stole his stock - but they've fled into the Caves of Frost Eternal. You must fight not only the beasts but the cold too as you build a camp in the frosty tunnels! Can you be...
AS SNUG THERE AS A BUGBEAR IN A RUG LAIR?

 



 


And that's your lot! Happy New Year, dear reader, and I hope this bout of silliness has added some joy to a world that always needs more of it. Take care, let me know in the comments what quest you'll be doing on your birthday, and have a wonderful 2022!

...
Posted on October 31, 2021, 10:46:30 AM by Jubal
Riddles on a Cold Moon

Riddles on a Cold Moon
By Jubal



It's the time of year for moonbeams and shadows in the dark, the dying of summer plants and the turning of the seasons: a time for warlocks and silvery ghosts, the wakened dead and unhallows all. Yes, it's All Hallows' Eve, and so here's a special set of autumnal or dark themed riddles for you to try out. All of these were written specially for the season this week, and it's up to you to puzzle out the answers - if you dare, that is...



Riddle 1.
‘Twas you stole my unborn, you who slashed me apart,
And you too must be blamed for my burning heart.
Though you strive by my start iron and water to bend,
Your brother and mother will meet my end.

Riddle 2.
I once took gold from powers on high,
But lost my purpose when night drew nigh,
I’m often torn from gnarled, hard limbs,
And teeth rip at me on beasts’ dark whims,
Til’ when nights turn to deathly cold,
I fall: I turn to dust and gold.

Riddle 3.
I protect all that’s you, be you peasant or earl,
Be you bard who would raise me to speak of a girl,
Unless I am naked, to name me is rare,
And when I am naked, no name comes from there,
So I wonder the reason for your unease?
I’m a mere memento, plus, that which sees.

Riddle 4.
Legs needed I none to give wisdom’s euphoria,
But I’ve four if you find my home under Victoria,
I’m in the precise things you needed to know,
I’m done unto eggs: say my name, and I’ll show,
And if you’re now stumped, if there’s aught you require:
Let’s make a deal – I know you’ve what I desire.

Riddle 5.
Those said to be like me may wheedle and flatter,
But my biggest lie – it’s not me holed in batter.
Though my cousins found fame on the Owl-queen’s town’s stage,
And dropped on two crowns through a sky-threatened rage,
I’ve not got their complexion, but I’m doing just fine,
So if you stayed in check, then I’ll be at the line.

Riddle 6.
They made me from that which was dead,
They bound my fingers to make my head,
My namesake’s robed in gold and green:
But I grasp dirt they don’t want seen.
And I am grasped in turn, and rise,
By these unhallowed hands and thighs,
My head, from dust, thus seeks the skies.

Riddle 7.
These tired rivers now flow blue,
They say, for kings, they always do,
But not for you and I, my friend:
The proof can come from blades that rend,
Though they sound much like preening pride,
You need these rivers, deep inside.



Hope you enjoyed these riddles! Feel free to comment answers, ideally in spoiler tags, below. If you enjoyed this riddle set, do check out our regular riddle thread for the latest unsolved puzzle there! Stay scary, and have a suitably happy, or horrifying, Hallowe'en!


...
Posted on October 27, 2021, 07:09:07 PM by Jubal
Apocalypse Now, Or Never: A Brief History of The End of the World

Apocalypse Now - Or Never?
By Jubal


Part 1: A Brief History of The End of the World



Some days, you just need to turn the planet into a supermassive black hole. Via Wikimedia Commons.
“The world is in peril. You are all that stands between the gathering darkness and the fragile lives of every-day folk in villages and cities scattered across the lands you know as home.” If this situation sounds familiar, well, it probably is. The total and existential threat is a classic of fantasy stories, gaming and is an exceedingly common trope in modern fantasy RPGs, both computer-driven and otherwise.

There are various minor variants on apocalyptic showdowns: what “destroying the world” literally means, whether it’s a black hole or turning the planet into a demon-only hellscape or simply a thousand years of oppression by brutal dark overlords, can vary. What all of these things fundamentally share is that they are worse than anything you or any regular actor in the setting can imaginably do. No regular despotic tyrant could even envisage this sort of power: and that’s why you have to stop it. There’s no question of where it sits on your to do list (at least in theory), because if this doesn’t get done then you won’t have a To Do list.

In this and hopefully one or two subsequent articles, I’m going to take a look at the end of the world, where it fits into our fantasy settings, and some problems with using it that we may or may not be able to solve. I’m mostly going to focus on ends of the world that are mythic or intentional, such as tend to fit into classic fantasy settings, rather than mass depopulations and post-apocalyptic waterless wastelands. In this first part, I’d like to take you on a whistle-stop tour through the history of the apocalypse, and we’ll see if we can find one or two interesting things to discuss along the way…






Ragnarok: is facing the apocalypse a god's job? Johannes Gehrts, via Wikimedia Commons
Facing down the apocalypse has a long history: the first imagined apocalyptic event in known literature is possibly Ishtar’s threat to release the dead to devour the living in the Epic of Gilgamesh (though this is a threat to ensure she gets to provide her preferred albeit technically lesser punishment to the epic’s heroes, specifically releasing the monstrous Bull of Heaven on the city of Uruk). It’s notable that whilst the Bull is defeated, Ishtar isn’t – ultimately, in ancient societies, apocalypse is in the hands of the gods more than mortals. We see the same in the medieval Eddas’ tellings of Norse mythology, where Ragnarok is specifically a conflict between gods, one in which others may fight but ultimately a cosmic inevitability. Christian revelation, likewise, is an apocalypse of gods, not of heroes.

Indeed, we might even suggest that an apocalypse the protagonist can get involved with and one only the gods can manage are semi-exclusive: a genuine world-ending scenario to be defeated cannot so easily be envisaged when it’s a tenet of faith that there is one specific world ending, which has already been mapped out and is core to your religious understanding of the world and its cosmology. You may be on the look-out for symbols of your pre-existing apocalypse (and there have been, to put it gently, a lot of false start calls on those over the years) but it’s harder to then invent or conceptualise other literary apocalypses.


Another feature of apocalypses as imagined in religion and myth is that they are frequently in some way punitive, a setup for the next world, or both. That is, not only is stopping the end of the world not a thing you actually can do, but it’s a thing that would ultimately be bad if you managed it. Either that or they're mainly to be combatted through fundamentally internal, moral struggle: the external problem is a consequence of moral failure. See for example Dr. Eleanor Janega's notes in this post on Jan Milíč of Kroměříž, who did believe the apocalypse could be delayed, but only through fixing what he saw as the moral and social failings of his contemporaries, in particular re-instating a harder line on clerical celibacy and establishing a more powerful, unified, Christian empire at the heart of Europe. The changes he sought were ultimately socio-political, not individual and heroic, in character. The concept of the end of the world coming alongside a general degradation of humanity that necessitates its destruction can be seen not only in Abrahamic faiths but also in for example Vaishnavite Hinduism (where at the end of the Kali Yuga, our current age of decay, the incarnation of Vishnu called Kalki will come and rally the righteous to purge the world of evil). Both Vaishnavite and Norse eschatologies, along with others like that of Zoroastrianism, also include the concept of a post-apocalypse world better than the one that passed before being formed after an almighty final battle.

So, whilst the end of the world has a long history, for most of it there hasn’t been a lot for heroes to do with it other than perhaps get judged with the rest of us or turn up as groupies for whichever deity is purging the unrighteous. Or at least, that’s mostly true: apocalypses as world domination, rather than as world destruction, are a slightly different matter. Even these are quite rare in classical and medieval texts (with the usual caveat that my knowledge is relatively Eurocentric in these matters). An exception would be some (though not all) western medieval treatments of the Mongols. Writing in the thirteenth century, the Franciscan friar Giovanni di Plano Carpini assured his readers that “The Tartars mean to conquer the entire world if they can… it is said, they do not make peace with anyone unless they submit. Therefore, because except for Christendom, there is no land in the world which they have not taken, they are preparing to fight us.” The concept of a mighty threat from the east which must be resisted at all costs is in some ways an echo of ancient Greek writers’ views of the Persians, but when added to the religious, moral threat that someone like John saw in the Mongols, we move from invasion to apocalypse: in a future dominated solely by the Mongols, there will be nowhere in the world left to run to. As Giovanni puts it, “it is not fitting that Christians should submit to the Tartars because of their abominations, and because the worship of God will be reduced to nothing and their souls perish and their bodies be afflicted”. Not only moral risk to the soul, but physical corruption is hypothesised as the effect of the Mongol advance. In his account the Mongols are somewhere between the human and monstrous: beatable as long as Christendom unites in time and adopts the right methods for dealing with the threat, but a threat on an existential and spiritual level, nonetheless.






Did a more global world need world-shattering villains? Via Internet Book Archive
These templates of world ending as conquest and world ending as true apocalypse are brought together in the grandfather work of modern fantasy – Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Sauron is an apocalyptic figure, well beyond the potentialities of any human ruler, and physical and moral corruption is core to the systems of his power. There are echoes of John of Plano Carpini in the presence of orcs as corrupted peoples (exacerbated by Tolkien’s private descriptions of them as ‘mongoloid’, one of the more awkwardly racist notes in the Professor’s conception of his world). There are echoes, too, of the extent to which uniting against him is key to his downfall. Middle-earth, though, is a heroic fantasy, and this unity can be built by a small number of exceptional individuals. It is important to Tolkien’s conception of Sauron that he is small on a cosmic scale: even his master is in truth only of a super-angelic rank, with the real eschatological muscle in the hands of the creator. Ultimately, though, Eru Illuvatar is a more modern sort of God: a background figure whose ultimate justice does not prevent proximate world-ending catastrophe.

Tolkien wrote against a backdrop where the end of the world had come closer to home in literary terms. The genre of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction had developed through the nineteenth century in English & European literature, though most of these works covered ideas of natural (or divine) catastrophe and the possible aftermath situations. A turning point to note was perhaps H.G. Wells’ 1898 The War of the Worlds – one of the first modern works in which ultimately, though not due to its heroes, the apocalypse was both driven by a sapient, intentional force, and also lost. An apocalypse that could be defeated: the path for the modern heroic fantasy was open.


In the 1970s and 1980s, the dawn of fantasy gaming created new demand in the apocalypse market – we’ll look in the next section of this series at why apocalypses are such a useful plot driver in games. It was now more socially acceptable (the so-called “Satanic Panic” notwithstanding) to reincorporate demonological works and other aspects of Christian and mythic eschatology into fantasy literature and games, with the additions of Moorcock’s concepts of Chaos and some aesthetics from the eldritch works of H.P. Lovecraft creating a wide range of looks already associated with end of the world scenarios that writers could draw upon. With fewer religious themes in these works, too, the apocalypse had lost its sense of providence and possibility: the pathetic-aesthetic protagonists of Warhammer or the anti-heroes of sword and sorcery novels invited us to consider that the end of the world might not have anything better after it, and if it did, well, what was the chance of scumbags like us being among the morally pure elect?

Bringing mythic and weird fiction elements into apocalypse fiction for modern fantasy audiences meant changing them to fit, however. In particular, it meant humanising and rationalising concepts and creatures that were primordial, unknowable, or defined by a fundamentally pre-set place in a story in their original contexts. Rather than being primarily intangible threats to morality and the soul, to become drivers of an apocalyptic story demons also need to become tangible threats to material reality. Pulled out of their original context, demons (and, in a different but not wholly dissimilar way, elder gods) could become far more present, tangible forces of destruction ready to destroy the worlds we know, rather than primarily forces of temptation and corruption that undermined them from within. For this to make sense, in many cases the aims of apocalyptic villains needed to be changed to more tangible and material ones - actions that a heroic character or characters could then fight back against. Gods were either elevated too high above the picture to influence it (as per Tolkien), removed entirely, or reduced to the point where they, too, were at risk from the course of events.




There are now more pieces of apocalyptic fantasy game and fiction than any one writer can cover, but this pathway to the present highlights a few features of how they got that way. We’ve seen how apocalyptic events were once more the preserve of the gods, and how the presence of a pre-defined idea of apocalypse in faith might be a barrier to telling other tales of the ends of the world. We’ve seen that eschatological apocalypses aren’t always evil or created as evil acts: they may be punitive, but this comes as part of the ultimate destruction of evil and sin. Giovanni di Plano Carpini’s ideas of the Mongols offer them as an alternative premodern view of absolute destruction, one that can be resisted, though one also tightly bound up with ideas of faith, monstrosity, and moral risk.

In modern fiction we’ve seen how some of those ideas of corrupted monstrosity and ultimate moral hazard recombine in Tolkien’s apocalyptic antagonists, after a 19th century surge of interest in world-ending scenarios – and then how the reintroduction of classically demonic or new eldritch aesthetics and their increasingly tangible position within fantasy worlds created the scope of apocalyptic possibility that’s easily available to fantasy writers today.



~


So, welcome to the apocalypse – I hope you’ve enjoyed the few thousand years it’s taken us to get here. In the next article in this series, I’m going to write a bit about why the apocalypse is so useful in modern fantasy and game writing, and question whether there are alternative ways we could use and frame it outside the ones we use so often. See you then!

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Posted on October 24, 2020, 12:36:43 PM by Leafly
Seven More Things to do with Giants by Jubal

Seven More Things to do with Giants
By Jubal






Sinbad Plots Against The Giant by Maxfield Parrish
Used under CC license by, Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966)
.

Giants are a core part of many fantasy settings, and there are very good reasons why. Literally larger than life, giants are a core part of mythologies worldwide. They provide over-size mirrors for us to hold up to ourselves, with our passions and our best and, more often, worst sides oversized along with them. Whilst there's a fairly standard fairytale giant that commonly appears in fantasy settings - big, brutish, kicking houses down and getting outwitted by farm-lads - the possibilities of giants are actually much wider across world folklore and literature. In this article I explore a few more options and thoughts on how you can use giants narratively to best effect, whether for an RPG, a story, or anything else you might be working on.

Giants around the world

A few of the other items in this article draw upon folklore from parts of the world outside the Anglosphere and Western Europe more generally. Giants are often assumed to be the creatures of a standard jack and the beanstalk narrative, usually presented, but a huge range of world cultures have some sort of giant myths, and not necessarily ones in keeping with our standard understandings of giants as brutish antagonists.


In Somali folklore for example giants like Biriir ina-Barqo are heroic characters: it's perhaps a peculiarity of western myth that whilst super strength is seen as a good power - a sign of heroism - super size is generally seen as a negative. This need not be the case.

There's also no reason why giants can't travel, and arguably many reasons why they should in a fantasy setting. The prodigious size and appetites of a giant both give them the ability to travel and many reasons for leaving (one too many disappeared sheep) or heading for new places (how many lords would like to hire a literal giant for their army)? As such, it is perfectly explicable to have a giant who is from outside the mainstream culture sphere of your setting. One caution to perhaps give with that would be to avoid the "monstrous races" trap in which giants are solely coded as a foreign "other" to your default setting area: whilst this trope did exist in medieval writing, there's a fair point that uncomplicated use of this sort of portrayal has had a very dark historical pedigree, especially in the colonial era. Nonetheless, there's a lot to be said for portraying giants who come from a variety of different cultural backgrounds, and for upending the idea that it's necessarily the protagonists who travel to the giant rather than vice versa.



Giants as endurance hunters

If we're going with bad giants that eat people, how they hunt is worth considering regarding their threat to other characters around them. This is one place where I disagree with Dael Kingsmill's brilliant video on giants: her view is that giants, being big, should also be fast, able to catch up with horses. There's undoubtedly a good chase scene there, but I think that it somewhat clashes with our view of giants as lumbering, and that we can do scarier things as alternatives. Whilst the giant's long legs of course would give a giant a short speed advantage, big bipedal predators like Tyrannosaurus were probably ambush, not pursuit, predators: and besides, there's a far scarier thing we can do with giants as predators, which is to scale up the predation strategy of arguably the most successful apex-predator meat-eating species in earth's history: us.

Humans don't hunt by outrunning things, and we don't usually hunt by ambushing them: we are neither faster over long or short distances than a quadruped like a deer. What we're really good at, instead, is walking. And keeping walking. And keeping walking. A prey animal can run as fast as it likes - we'll catch up eventually. We don't need huge amounts of food and can keep going for days and eventually most things will get tired before we do. Endurance predation is the hominid strategy: and giants, being hominids scaled up, could very validly become scaled up endurance predators.


Dear reader, apply this to a giant hunting you and it's terrifying. Sure, you can saddle up on your horses and outride the giant: the giant doesn't care. He can still see you (an extra five or ten feet of height gives a good vantage), and possibly smell you too if we're going with giants having the blood-smelling fairytale characteristic. So he'll keep walking after you, quickly but never running - and also never stopping. Your horses can outpace him for hours: he can keep walking for days. You could try and hide, but how well can you mask your smell? You could hope the horses sate him, but do you want to negate the rest of your speed advantage? There are probably at most small settlements anywhere near, and you'll have to decide if you want to risk setting a hungry man-eating giant on innocent villagers for the slim chance offered by safety in numbers.

The endurance hunting giant presents a more tense, longer-term potential threat, and a difficult tactical and moral situation, and I personally tend to find those more narratively interesting than a rapid chase - your mileage may vary, but it's an option to have in mind.


Giants finding humans cute

Humans' inevitable reaction to tiny things is to find them cute. If confronted with an entire village full of waist-high or knee-high people, many people's first instinct would be to see them as children. Especially if you're not going for explicitly evil or man-eating giants, one could plausibly and amusingly have giants with exactly the same reaction to human beings around them. What if a giant just thought you were kind of adorable, and didn't really see you as a serious being?

Now, there are some narrative issues with this, the biggest one is that protagonists often really don't like being talked down to. Nonetheless, especially for a lower level group where they don't pose any threat to the giant, this does make for a narratively interesting problem: it may well be that the giant has something that you need, or can do something that you can't, on account of being a giant, but how do you persuade them to help you? What does a giant want, and how can you get the giant to take your request seriously? Perhaps indeed they never do take you or your request seriously, and you have to find some way to get them to treat it as playing along with your "little game".


Giants as resource denial

I feel that we're sometimes insufficiently imaginative in the threat that bad giants pose. The tendency is that the threat of the giant is direct and physical - the problem is that the giant wants to eat you. Sometimes there's also a power structure issue: the king is, or has, a giant and you need to defeat it, David and Goliath style.


David and Goliath by Carravagio
Used under CC license by, Caravaggio Wikimedia
.

But societal power and direct murder aren't the only ways that a giant's strength can allow them to be a threat. Think of the various things humans need for life - whether that's water, food, shelter, company - and it quickly becomes obvious that, especially for resources that are already stretched, the power of a giant can simply be in denying resources to other people. This could be either unintentionally, perhaps we can't hunt because the giant is eating all the wild oxen, or entirely intentionally, if say the giant has a hidden cave that only he has the strength to open the giant door of, and he keeps a key resource hidden in there and forces people to do things for some limited access to it.

This particularly struck me in the Somali myth of Xabbed ina-Kammas and Biriir ina-Barqo, where Xabbed, the evil giant, doesn't eat people, and he doesn't - he just uses his prodigal strength to put giant rocks over all the wells in the area and then extorts camels from people to eat, only allowing them access to their wells if they provide him with food. This is a really interesting way of playing the giant, one that recognises and emphasises his incredible strength, but without him being reduced to a symbol of brute force. We're more uncomfortably reminded in Xabbed's story about very human ways of using power and strength to extort, rather than simply as brute force, and that can very effectively set the giant as villain apart from other monsters and make their role more individual.


Giants as role embodiments

We accept the idea that giants are larger than life versions of things we do as humans, but often this is restricted to general traits - like appetite, or boastfulness - or to roles in kingship or war, where the giant's prodigal strength could be seen as a natural qualification. But we can also scale up other traditional roles and embody them in giant form. We could have a mother-giantess that looks after the women of a particular valley, or a smith-giant who teaches the craft to young artisans, or a woodcutter giant who lives out in the wilds and watches out to help those who venture into the woods alone. A particular inspiration for this is the Musgoso, a giant from northern Spain, who is a "shepherd of shepherds" and looks after the herdsmen on the mountain hillsides, being called upon when they are under threat.


We often give these sorts of hyper-embodiment roles to elderly characters - but giants, great in size where the elderly characters are great in age, can also work well for them. Much like an older character's age, a giant's size can set them in a somehow magnified position, and give them an easily visible hook that displays why they in particular have this role. Some roles don't work well for this - especially those that rely on nimbleness or dexterity, so a giantess as the embodiment of roguery and theft probably isn't on the cards. Nonetheless, if our characters are going to go and seek help or take an NPC to the master of their craft, having that character be a giant can be an interesting and less immediately common way of setting them apart and one that, because the scaling up of the giant's size somehow logically fits with the scaling up of their societal role, oddly does work on an intuitive level.

Giants as heroes


As noted above, giants' size is often portrayed negatively: we tend to like stories of the smaller, quicker witted hero defeating the bigger, lumbering villain. The idea of the giant as villain isn't universal though: we've met the giant heroes of Somali myth already in this piece, and the legendary ten foot tall Emperor Keikō of Japan also deserves a mention among other giant heroes worldwide. For these heroes, their giant nature allows them to fight otherwise impossible enemies, achieve tasks no other person could, and may be a sign of particular favour or being marked out for big things in some way (no pun intended!)

There are some interesting twists one could run on moving giants into a more protagonist role - Gullivers' Travels in Liliput, where Gulliver, there in the role of the giant, has a variety of demands made of him by his tiny hosts, and those sorts of situations can provide excellent opportunities for particular sorts of adventure. It's important that where the protagonist and hero is bigger than surrounding people, that we establish clearly the morality of the situation through other means, though: nobody wants a situation where the giant hero just splats tiny enemies with relative ease and there's no sense of threat or challenge. Rather, we have to focus on the giant's size enabling them to take on proportionally bigger challenges that ordinary people could not - and perhaps also we need to establish that size isn't everything, with potential drawbacks to being a giant whether that's the cost of food, the inability to fit into the same sized spaces as everyone else, or the jealousy or hatred of others.


Giants as landscape designers

One thing that giants are especially good for, compared to other kinds of monster, is having roles in shaping the landscape and world around them. This is because they combine the scale and strength needed to feel like potential landscape-shaping creatures with enough rationality and humanity to allow them to do so in a more thought out way than, say, a hydra or most dragons. The real world has plenty of examples of this, from the giants' causeway to the 'cyclopean walls' of Mycenean Greek cities made of stone blocks that seemed otherwise unmoveable.

All too often, the worlds of fantasy settings lack the powerful link between creatures and the land around them which is a massive part of most real-world mythologies, settling into being a generic backdrop of trees and hills. Linking stories and creatures like our giants back into that landscape, even when they're not visible, can be useful in a number of ways. First, it can be a trailer: you set up the sheer enormity of the giant when you see the huge lake that locals say he dug one day just so he could have a bath big enough to sit in, or the mountain ravine that she cleft out with her axe because she was angry that the mountain was bigger than she was. Second, it can show the giant as existing beyond, and potentially having utility beyond, its role as a combat encounter. Could the characters trick or bribe a giant into reshaping the landscape to their benefit in some way? Third, it can create a sense of spectacle and draw characters, players or readers back towards the physicality of the world they're moving through.


~

As a final point, it's worth me pointing you to a few other sources that sparked this thinking. Most notably, I mentioned Dael Kingsmill's ideas for giants video above, and friend of Exilian James Holloway's Monster Man podcast also has lots of episodes with giants (seriously). I hope you find these useful additions to your thinking.

So there you have it - some more ways and thoughts on how to use giants and why they can be such useful and versatile parts of a setting. Have you had particularly good uses of giants, or have you used one of the tropes discussed in this article? Do let me know in the discussion below!



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Posted on August 28, 2020, 10:10:45 AM by Leafly
My Final Fantasy by rbuxton

My Final Fantasy
By rbuxton



The Final Fantasy (FF) series is one of gaming’s best-known franchises. Each game in the main series (there are many spin-offs) is a stand-alone good vs evil story set in its own fantasy world. They are role-playing games (RPGs) in which the player takes on the role of the main protagonist and leads a team of characters. The series is synonymous with Hironobu Sakaguchi, the director of the games until about 2003. I’m going to describe my personal relationship with the games but let’s start with some facts, courtesy of Google:


Years active: 1987 to present
Games: 94 (15 in main series)
Units sold: 154.5 million
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: All of them, but traditionally consoles like the NES




Final Fantasy XII. Gameplay image, Bing.


Playing an FF game involves wandering around a fairly open world, meeting interesting characters (some of whom join the party) and gaining experience from random encounters with monsters. Characters have various combat roles – magic, melee weapons and so on – and there’s usually a small amount of customisation possible (picture Pokémon but without the animal cruelty). Certain features reappear time and again in the series: spells, races and big flightless birds you can ride on.


I first encountered the series in about 2001, when I was 9 years old. My older brother came home one day with a list of spells from FF8, which he and a schoolfriend had been pouring over. I noticed the spells were neatly categorised and used the word “party” without mentioning presents or cake. When the schoolfriend brought the game over my imagination was immediately caught by the battles, monsters and bizarre guardian angels. Since I’m being open, I’ll add that the seeds of my sexual awakening may have been planted by the game’s female characters (this was before some FF characters were forced into bikini armour. Or bikinis). My brother and his friend spent years playing and talking about FF games; they once agreed to race to complete one. I was furious – since his opponent was an only child, my brother’s only hope of victory would be to “hog” the PlayStation 2.


During my teenage years my brothers and I played FF10 and FF12, complementing them with enormous guidebooks. FF10 remains the most emotionally affecting game I’ve ever played: its story of love, loss and daddy issues had me close to tears on numerous occasions. FF12, on the other hand, had a fascinating, fluid battle system which rewarded experimentation. Somewhere between the two, perhaps, lay my perfect game. FF12, however, was cursed with a limp, maguffin-led plot; while FF10’s battle system was clunky and repetitive. I clearly remember playing through a very atmospheric FF10 scene (the aftermath of a disastrous war), wincing every time it was interrupted by the thunderous battle theme and the same boring band of monsters. My dad felt the same way: from the next room he was driven to an uncharacteristic rage. “How can you listen to the same music over and over!” he scolded, “You are all musicians!”. Eventually I stopped playing FF10 and, like every other FF game, watched my brothers complete it. I’m still haunted by its final scene.


University opened my eyes to gaming culture through my housemate’s copy of FF7, easily the most iconic of the series. Released in 1997 it represented a milestone in gameplay and 3D graphics (though I was constantly struggling to walk through doors). Its main character, Cloud, is a very popular choice for cosplayers. I enjoyed playing bits of FF7 but for me there were too many tangents to the plot and the party was soon bloated with characters. As a perfectionist I felt I had to invest in all of them, even when they were as unfathomable as a cat riding a giant marshmallow. The nail in the coffin of FF7 came when the internet spoiled its twist for me (and what a twist it is!)



Cosplayer of Cloud Strife, Final Fantasy VII. Used under CC license by, Rob Boudon Wikimedia.


Though my relationship with the FF games is complex, with their soundtracks it is anything but. The partnership between Sakaguchi and composer Nobuo Uematsu has been likened to that of George Lucas and John Williams (unfairly, in my opinion, since Williams’ music keeps the audience engaged for a matter of hours, Uematsu’s for days). Uematsu’s musical interpretations of the FF stories cover every known genre and more; he is surely one of the greatest composers no one’s ever heard of. I can study for hours while listening to arrangements of the scores, tactically avoiding those, like FF9, which make me cry. Through YouTube recommendations I eventually discovered the work of another contemporary Japanese composer, Joe Hisaishi, which led me down a different rabbit hole altogether.


As a child I learnt to play the piano and for years I viewed this hobby as separate to my other interests. Though it wasn’t Uematsu who changed this (Hans Zimmer did) it was through him that I found my go-to piece, my muse, the first thing I play on a new piano: FF10’s To Zanarkand. My fingers know it so well my brain can no longer keep up. Is it arrogant to consider To Zanarkand my “theme”? Lots of the FF characters have themes - tunes as much a part of them as their thoughts, flaws and emotions - can’t I have one too? Pieces like this bring musicians closer to composers, and to each other.


Please don’t assume that playing FF pieces is a distraction from “proper” study of the piano – they are always challenging and frequently bizarre. I once asked my mum, a music teacher, to help my interpret a musical direction in FF8’s Find Your Way. She bounced over, as I knew she would, with her mental Italian dictionary at the ready, only to find the direction was in Japanese. It remains the best joke I’ve ever made at the expense of one of my family members. Between us we fill the family home with music, though it’s quieter now that my brothers and I have flown. Last Christmas my younger brother, surprised that I had learnt FF8’s Shuffle or Boogie, picked up his base guitar and started a jam. Before long, for the first time ever, all five of us made music together.


Where is the Final Fantasy series now? I don’t know and, to be honest, I’m not sure I want to. The old creatives have gone and, it seems, taken the soul of the series with them. This impression was reinforced by the announcement, in 2015, of an FF7 remake. I don’t really play video games any more but I’ll always cherish those moments of “overkill” and “limit break”; of the three of us curled up on the sofa laughing at Yojimbo’s silly sound effects or Zell’s not-so-white teeth. Final Fantasy made me see games as an art form which could immerse its audience in a way no film, book or play ever could. I fantasise about the games a little bit every day, and will continue to do so until I, too, reach Zanarkand.

~

Since music is such a key part of this story, I recommend the following playlist:



Nobuo Uematsu, To Zanarakand:

Joe Hisaishi, Always With Me:

Nobuo Uematsu, One Winged Angel (FF7):

Hans Zimmer, Davy Jones’ Theme: 

Nobuo Uematsu, Shuffle or Boogie: