every offended sense of completeness; or, why terriermen don’t work (no edit edition)

I remember TMNT & Other Strangeness and I liked it very much. I remember that iconic picture from Rifts with the four—differing breeds—Dog Boys with a Psi-Stalker pointing the way. If you’re going to have dogmen, you have to have different breeds with different stats and characteristics.

That’s the problem, though, and why I don’t have dogmen as playable races in my settings, is because doing so offends my sense of completeness. That is, if I have dogmen, why not catmen? And if I have dogmen and catmen, I have to have a full set of sub-breeds, for each, reflecting different characteristics. And if I have subraces for each major breed of dogmen, and each major breed of catmen, suddenly we’re not playing D&D, and down that way lies madness.

And that’s why I don’t do it, because the minnow will swallow the whale. Something very strange happens when you have a game with humans, elves, dwarves, and orcs . . . and nineteen races of dogs and cats. At that point, why have the humans and elves and dwarves and orcs?

I was always dissatisfied by the fact that D&D has gnolls—lazy vicious slavemasters—but no anthropomorphic dogs, a creature known for cheerfulness and loyalty and bravery. But now I know why there’s no place for it.

There’s a place for games with dogs and cats and mice and badgers, all being cute and plucky and heroic. But that’s not this game.

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claustrophobiac and alone

They will cut cities from bare stone, tear up every vein, embellish every surface, then, when there is no unworked spot or unplanned gap, when every single piece and thing has become a channel for planned creation, when even the pebbles stare up from the floor with idly carved eyes, then they move on. — excerpt from treatise, Veins of the Earth, learned scholar unknown.

There are few surface-dwellers who know of the duergar. Of those who do, the vast many spend their days porne over manuscripts of the older, wiser days; missives from far-off places, passed hand-to-hand and never more than a sentence away from falsity; and indistinguishable from either, rankest fantasies penned the week before. The vanishing minority, those not scholars, bescarred and often as not staring into the middle distance, are those who have made their way through the earth and reemerged.

These people say that there is a race of work-obsessed dwarves, what used to be dwarves, which ply compulsive labors in the casket-black darkness of depths where dwarves find themselves claustrophobiac. Who touch every speck of the stone, who make all in their image, only moving on when all is complete. Who have been doing such since there have been dwarves. The men under the mountain, those who will speak of it—never to toplanders—make it clear that some dwarves go mad and go down, or whisper of a lost expedition sent to harvest a resource or fight a desperate sortie, or of darker things that bubbled up and drained down and took good dwarves to an unending fate.

That is so much bullshit.

Those who are invested in such stories don’t know they aren’t true, but do know—somewhere deep within—that it’s really, really important that people believe them. Everyone believes that those twisted creatures below are degenerate things, hunched by time and dark and compulsion, of being prey and predator, of bodeful energies and cannibal desperation. Good things went too far into the earth and became bad things.

All things come from the earth. Duergar are the dwarves, and the dwarves are duergar who fought compulsion and by slow prudence made mild a rugged people, and through soft degrees subdued them to the useful and the good. A dwarf is a driven creature, goals met and grudges held tight and lifeworks completed. Where does that—usually admirable—drive come from? The dogged follow-throughedness, to achieve, to complete?

From duergar compulsion. Dwarves have found how to work and not be consumed, to create and not (re-, re-, re-, re-) recreate, to set down hammer and tong and eat and drink and fellowship with other dwarves. Duergar do none of these things, but dwarves do. It isn’t dwarves who went, off—it was duergar who shook loose their defining aspect and opened themselves to something else.

To lose some to the Rapture, that some will end up wrong, this is the admitted risk of all who travel the shaftmines and squeezes and black cataracts of the land below. It is to be rued that you could degenerate to such a creature. But it is a shame so vast, incomprehensibly devastating, that the ancestry and ancient kings and received wisdom and such a painstaking genealogy could spring forth from the monomaniacal drive of the twisted toilers below, workmad and insensate.

Best not to spend too much time thinking on that.

elven empires and other nonsenses (no edit edition)

There is no elven empire. Can you imagine such a thing? Such savage, tatterdemalion creatures, not sprinting or hiding, but building structures like dwarves do? Structures as tall as the elves are, so angular, needlespired and sun-reaching? What would such an empire look like, and who in the world could it subjugate?

Elves are sneakthieves and curs, fit to be kicked and run off, the only respect given given at night, when they excel at skulking about.

If you haven’t traveled—no, from the farmstead to canton market doesn’t count—you wouldn’t know, but like dogs, elves have found themselves fit (to call it such!) in every place a man could live; but, also like dogs, they survive on the edges, on what refuse is discarded from those who can make a living for themselves, and darting in when the eye is turned, making off with all that can be grabbed.

In the deserts they are the runners in the night, disappearing from a purple dusk and materializing fifty miles away in the dawn.

On the steppes they ride ponies knock-kneed as they, hunched over manes bow-backed and haggard.

In the mountains they hug the stones as if to stand straight would be to call down the lightning so richly deserved.

In the stone deeps below they never walk, sometimes crawl, but always sidle and slink. And wait.

On the sea, the inconstant sea, their junks and trimarans cast themselves wide to gather like ants around what shipment or cargo or jetsam cannot be defended. And, like ants, they always strip clean.

Elven empire. Such a strange thought. Come speak to me of goblin satrapies and golden hinds and blue-hued suns and men walking under the sea. Such fantasies are where elven empires belong.

 

every dragon was once a kobold shitheel (no edit edition)

Kobolds are dragons. Well, technically speaking, dragons were kobolds.

(Technically correct is the best kind of correct.)

Nobody knows this. Dragons do, but it seems strange to think of a dragon as a “somebody.” That’s like calling a mountain a thing. I mean, it is—technically correct, hella? I read what you wrote five fucking seconds ago—a thing, but it doesn’t sound right to say so. Your buddy Uffie is a somebody, a dragon is the closest thing to a living force of nature.

Each dragon knows that it was once a kobold shitheel. A very special kobold shitheel, but one nonetheless. Dragons also know that this is about the most embarrassing thing imaginable. (Dragons are creatures of towering pride, from which follows that they can also be a vessel of towering embarrassment.) Dragons are very, very invested in making sure that no one else will ever know this.

See, kobolds are kobolds, little mining lizardmen (NOT DOGFACED, NOT PIGFACED LIKE ORCS, THAT IS A DIFFERENT POST) that love to poison you nest-destroyers with vented gases from their underground smelters. There are a lot of them, like mice in your house. For every one you see there are two hundred lurking and watching you sleep. And kobolds are communal. But every once in a while one wanders off. Deeper than the rest. You know it it is one of those ones because somewhere along the way you find the pick, dropped casually like a chicken bone.

The Rapture got that one. And he just headed down and kept going.

Most of them get eaten. Or strangled in the dark by a gnome. Or incorporated into some nameless thing, most valuable for its organic matter. Or down a shaft or buried in rockfall or swept away in a black no-air-just-rock-above current or whatever. The million-and-one ways you die deep below and no one ever knows or would give a shit if they did know.

But of that one who walked away from the smelters and the one of those who actually survived, that one will just shimmy into a narrow squeeze and fall asleep. They stay asleep, and grow. Something of a desire for the wealth below and some atavistic awakening of blood and an anger at having been given the pathetic life of a kobold makes for a powerful upwelling of potential, and that kobold, the millionth of a millionth, will become more lizardlike, grow, age in that millennial slumber and dream of avarice and lofting high up in the updrafts and breathe, breathe out what destroys lesser beings.

That one, that one will become a dragon, and some forever-from-now hence future day will burst free of the earth and reign.

But they never forget that for some few years, they were a fucking kobold.

People think that dragons want nothing more than treasure and obeisance. But higher than that, it wants nothing more than for you to never, ever know that it was once a fucking kobold. It will kill you and everyone you’ve ever spoken to and anyone they have ever might have spoken to. You hear people tell stories of empires laid waste by dragonfire for having forsaken the gods or mobilized an army to destroy a dragon, but likely as not, it was really because someone penned some loonie natural history of dragons and hit too close to the truth and better to be gone a kingdom than have mere men mentioning that a dragon was once a kobold.

a crop of goblins (no edit edition)

(N.B.: NO EDIT EDITION. Normally, there is much more prep involved in this endeavor. However, that takes forever, and I want to post more. SO! HERE WE GO.)

Goblins are not actually humanoids. Well, they are, but they aren’t really mammals, I guess. What I mean to say is, they don’t get it on and have babies pop out some amount of time later. They sprout, and grow.

This is good, on a meta level. Now you don’t have to imagine sweaty grubgoblins humping each other, stinking up the place and leaving greasy humpspots all over. Bonus points if you don’t imagine them doing it dangling from inflated pigskin dirigibles.

Yes I know dirigibles have a solid framework. Bones, guys, bones inside.

Anyway. Goblins come into the world when a goblin corpse is buried, as you do with the corpses of just about any other respectable creature. This is why you see goblins—otherwise nasty beasts—burying their dead. They’re not being respectful. They’re planting new goblins.

Some weeks later some nasty spiny shoots arise from the ground. They are sticky and smell and will poke the shit out of you. Then a blossom, big and watermelon-red and stank. Just underneath this blossom, just underneath the soil, is a fetal goblin. When the blossom wilts, the goblin will shake free of soil and be the slicey self-defeating teenage-stand-in miscreants we all love.

This,  obviously, leaves a bit of a problem for trying to genocide clear lands of goblins. The orcs or humans or elves or whoever tries to kill as many goblins as possible, but then have to leave them to rot where they lie. Some will still sprout—like an acorn tossed to the ground—but most won’t. But try burying the nasty stinking  things, and you’re just investing effort into raising the next crop.

This is why there are so many damn goblins when nobody can put up with the damn things.

dungeon hexes

Here’s how this works. It’s a random table, but an iterative one: each result leads from the previous, but is not locked into any one path. It’s designed with a vague logic, but there’s no guarantee it will go any specific place.

Start in the center: loitering. For the next iteration, roll a d6 and go that way. Do it again, then again. Maybe you’ll go one direction, maybe you’ll loop back, maybe you’ll get stalled out somewhere. If you hit an edge, slide down along the edge to the nearest hex.

Idea shamelessly stolen from the Medieval Stalemate Simulator (or Six-Dimensional Warfare).1 Skerples stole it from Six Dimensional Weather.

dungeon hex

So what are the denizens2 of that dungeon doing today?

Loitering: Just hanging around. Maybe the denizens are resting. Maybe just lazy. Could be just bullshitting with each other or otherwise being useless. In any event, not doing much.

Sleeping: Most or all are sleeping. Maybe there’s a guard set, but probably not. Time to sneak about!

Eating: Do the denizens look like you? Then they’re probably eating something you would eat. If not, not. They’re eating communally, sometimes, ritually and affectionately. Or maybe everyone grabs what they can then runs off and hides before someone bigger can take it from them.

Drunk: Someone stole some liquor! Or, more likely, one of the denizens is brewing or distilling some nasty hooch down there and passing it around. Either way, everyone is drunker than two skunks, and either shouting, hassling someone else, or out cold.

Under Attack: Someone or something either wants what’s inside the dungeon, or wants to destroy it. Either way, the denizens are being attacked. It could be tomb-raiders—I mean, adventurers—trying to steal other peoples’ things, or an army pacifying the area, or maybe just farmers sick of their goats being eaten.

Aftermath: Aftermath could be anything, really, so long as it’s bad. It could be the crippled and the dead from an attack, the remnants of the Plague3, or just the photophobic remains of last night’s drunken revelry.

Vile Ritual: Any sort of eldritch skanknastiness will do. A shaman of the old ways performing the sacrifice of innocents or some sorcerer stitching together parts not made to go together or simply goblins performing their traditional (nude!) fertility dance. Something no one was ever meant to see.

Hunting: Some or all of the denizens are out hunting for whatever they eat. That might be you.

Preserving: The hunt is over, and now everyone is packing away the goods for later use. Skinning, dismembering. Packing or pickling. Salting and smoking.

Decamp: Something has caused the denizens to decide to leave. It could be super boring! Maybe the well dried up. Or maybe they’re frantically fleeing something more sinister.

Prisoners: The denizens have captured what is now the unluckiest of souls. The use of said soul being ransom or punishment or feasting.

Trading: Merchants, of the traditional sort or something weirder, have arrived at the dungeon to do business. What are the means of barter?

Parlay: Enemies negotiating to become not-enemies. Sometimes it even works.

Riotous Disportment: It’s a ruckus! Up to you just how vicious the amusement happens to be.

Fortifying: The denizens are terrified, but doing something about it. The attack is imminent, and if the dungeon was hard to break into before, it will be harder soon. Traps are set, doors are barred, rubble blocks hallways, the children and valuables hidden away.

Gambling: Everyone is bored as fuck, so out come the knucklebones or the absurd wagers or the feats of speed and strength and foolishness. Everyone hates the winner.

Fighting Amongst Selves: Actually, everyone hates everyone. Someone shat in the larder or the boss is too bossy or someone fucked someone someone ought not have or a favorite spoon got stolen or some damn thing kicked off the fight.

Unrecognizable Weirdness: Just fucked up. These folks are up to some nonsense you wouldn’t have thought up given all the time and all the dope.

1 The War is a thing in your campaign, right?

2 “Denizen” is a funny word. But I don’t know who or what lives in your dungeon, so there we go.

3 The Plague is a thing in your campaign, right?

abashed the devil stood, and felt how awful goodness is

For children are innocent and love justice; while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.

There used to be a time when men loved justice. That time has passed.1

In those times, there were legions of angels, and those angels’ only purpose was to plummet to earth and dispense justice.

In those times, everyone knew how the world operated. Two people come into dispute. Those people cannot conclude their dispute amongst themselves. They both pray—a quick prayer will do, muttered under the breath—and an angel of justice, an adjudicator, would crash to earth, survey the disputants, and administer summary justice then and there.

Virtue is always rewarded. But most men are not virtuous, and do not get rewarded. Most all men are wicked, and the adjudicators can see your wickedness.

The problem is that it never takes long for people to realize that whatever petty spat they have going on—a drink-soaked brawl, an eloped daughter, trampled crops—really is petty compared to what truly lies in their hearts. And the adjudicators see, clear as a morning’s ray, those wickednesses: the crippling sloth, a neighbor’s envied wife, the infant thrown with the hog slop. Adjudicators persist until a work is done, and when called down they address each sin, each dispute, and each disputant; the calling prayer only brings their attention. They do not take commands, and the prayer is not a command, just an invitation. And when you invite them to extirpate wickedness, they do so.

Battistero di San Giovanni, dome, The Tongues of Men Speak Forth Sin (1225).2

Those men of old knew of all of this.

Perhaps then it was why they were so kind to each other. If disputes lead to wildness and wroth and the cloudiest of thinking, it is too easy to forget that calling an adjudicator is always just but rarely wise. So men, reacting as could be expected to the smoking holes of arguments past and the now-limping now-beggars whose ugliness within was writ without, learned not to dispute. It only takes one to call down an examiner who harrows the sins of all.

And so men forgot. The memory of the prayers fell away before the kindness did, but the kindness fell away too, and now we have the world we all live in.

Those legions still exist, but they are purposeless. They enjoy their current position—that is, adoration at the feet of the deity—but hedonism—and that is what it is—is ultimately unfulfilling. Purpose gives meaning, and exercising that purpose provides joy that lasts beyond when the activity ends.

1 People still think they want justice. They really don’t.

2 Marie-Lan Nguyen (CC-BY-SA 2.5)