Which Fantasy Writer Am I?

Interesting.  Not the writer I like best or identify with most, but not bad. I like all of Tolkien, Lovecraft and even Lewis better than I do Moorcock, and I loathe Miéville…but my fictional universes are probably a lot more like Moorcock than any of those three.

Your result for Which fantasy writer are you?…

Michael Moorcock (b. 1939)

11 High-Brow, 3 Violent, -5 Experimental and 31 Cynical!

Congratulations! You are High-Brow, Violent, Traditional and Cynical! These concepts are defined below.

Michael Moorcock is one of the most influential fantasy writers of all times, his impact rivalling that of Tolkien’s. Perhaps China Miéville described it best when he said: “I think we are all post-Moorcock.” Apart from being the editor of New Worlds twice in the 60s and 70s, thereby being instrumental in bringing on the so-called “new wave” of science fiction which changed all fantastic literature forever, Moorcock’s own work has been an inspiration to more recent writers. He is also known for not hiding or blunting his views on fiction which he regards as inferior, a trait which has lead him to apply harsh criticism on authors such as J R R Tolkien, C S Lewis an H P Lovecraft.

His most popular work are the Elric books. Elric was originally conceived as a sort of critical comment to or even parody of R E Howard’s Conan, but the character and his world soon grew to form a tragic and somewhat fatalistic drama. Elric’s world is, in turn, only a small part of the huge Multiverse, a set of stories from all sorts of worlds (including our own) which is forever locked in a struggle between the two powers of Law and Chaos. Whenever one of these powers is threatening to become too powerful, an incarnation of the Eternal Champion, a group of warriors possessing the same spirit, is forced to fight to maintain the delicate balance between the two. Moorcock has worked several of his heroes into this cycle of books, including Hawkmoon, Corum and, of course, Elric.

Moorcock’s stories are often stories about warriors, however reluctant they may be, and are usually explicitly violent, even if the purpose of all the hacking and slashing is to free humans and other beings from oppression and, ultimately, fear. There is little happiness, though, for those who are forced to do the fighting and all they can hope for is a short time of respite, sometimes in the town of Tanelorn, the only place in the multiverse that the eternal struggle between Law and Chaos can’t reach.

It should also be mentioned that, even though Moorcock has done quite some experimenting in his days, it can’t be ignored that a major part of his books are traditional adventure stories that become more than that by their inclusion into a grand vision. A little ironically , perhaps, for an author who has criticized the “world-building school” of fantasy, Moorcock achieves much of his popularity through building, if not a world, a world vision.

You are also a lot like China Miéville

If you want something more gentle, try Ursula K le Guin

If you’d like a challenge, try your exact opposite, Katharine Kerr

Your score

This is how to interpret your score: Your attitudes have been measured on four different scales, called 1) High-Brow vs. Low-Brow, 2) Violent vs. Peaceful, 3) Experimental vs. Traditional and 4) Cynical vs. Romantic. Imagine that when you were born, you were in a state of innocence, a tabula rasa who would have scored zero on each scale. Since then, a number of circumstances (including genetic, cultural and environmental factors) have pushed you towards either end of these scales. If you’re at 45 or -45 you would be almost entirely cynical, low-brow or whatever. The closer to zero you are, the less extreme your attitude. However, you should always be more of either (eg more romantic than cynical). Please note that even though High-Brow, Violent, Experimental and Cynical have positive numbers (1 through 45) and their opposites negative numbers (-1 through -45), this doesn’t mean that either quality is better. All attitudes have their positive and negative sides, as explained below.

High-Brow vs. Low-Brow

You received 11 points, making you more High-Brow than Low-Brow. Being high-browed in this context refers to being more fascinated with the sort of art that critics and scholars tend to favour, rather than the best-selling kind. At their best, high-brows are cultured, able to appreciate the finer nuances of literature and not content with simplifications. At their worst they are, well, snobs.

Violent vs. Peaceful

You received 3 points, making you more Violent than Peaceful. Please note that violent in this context does not mean that you, personally, are prone to violence. This scale is a measurement of a) if you are tolerant to violence in fiction and b) whether you see violence as a means that can be used to achieve a good end. If you are, and you do, then you are violent as defined here. At their best, violent people are the heroes who don’t hesitate to stop the villain threatening innocents by means of a good kick. At their worst, they are the villains themselves.
Experimental vs. Traditional

You received -5 points, making you more Traditional than Experimental. Your position on this scale indicates if you’re more likely to seek out the new and unexpected or if you are more comfortable with the familiar, especially in regards to culture. Note that traditional as defined here does not equal conservative, in the political sense. At their best, traditional people don’t change winning concepts, favouring storytelling over empty poses. At their worst, they are somewhat narrow-minded.

Cynical vs. Romantic

You received 31 points, making you more Cynical than Romantic. Your position on this scale indicates if you are more likely to be wary, suspicious and skeptical to people around you and the world at large, or if you are more likely to believe in grand schemes, happy endings and the basic goodness of humankind. It is by far the most vaguely defined scale, which is why you’ll find the sentence “you are also a lot like x” above. If you feel that your position on this scale is wrong, then you are probably more like author x. At their best, cynical people are able to see through lies and spot crucial flaws in plans and schemes. At their worst, they are overly negative, bringing everybody else down.

Author image by Catriona Sparks from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Michael_Moorcock.jpg Click for license info.

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Exploring the Contested Corridors

Friday we had a good long session of the game with the kids, where they explored more of Amityville Mike’s Stonehell dungeon, in particular the 1C section: The Contested Corridors.  The game continues to go well, and much enjoyment is being had by all.  There was one more character death this time, Grace’s character Horatia, but a succesful dying prayer (natural 20) restored the character to life in a spectacular fashion, though much in need of rest and recuperation.  The party continues to be more and more impressed with Horatia’s make-believe god Horatio, which Grace plays to the hilt.  It will be interesting to see if they ever do figure out that the god she claims to be worshipping isn’t the one she’s actually devoted to.

They also leveled up, all except Charlie’s new character (replacing the deceased Revenge) and Elyssa’s new-to-the-campaign fighter, Biff.  Mostly that involved getting another dice worth of Stamina points, since nobody opted for trying to increase any stats, and choosing a new Talent, plus selecting new spells for the Mages.   I’ve replaced the specific effects of spells  like Magic Missile, Burning Hands, and Shocking Grasp with more generalized versions where when you learn the spell you pick the element (from a list of available elements) along the lines of Trappings in Savage Worlds.   Mac’s Rogue (Thief/Mage) decided to specialize in Electrical magic, in return for the vague promise of future benefits for having done so;  Tommy’s Mage decided to branch out, so he can now cast either the Ice or Poison versions of the two elemental spells he knows: dart and fan.

I had hoped to spend some time RPing the interaction with the Adventurer’s Guild and with Rowena the Healer, an NPC they just met and daughter of Contus the boat-man, who ferries them to the island with the dungeon as needed. But the kids were getting a little antsy, and needed some good hack-time.  One of the things I’ve found about GMing Stonehell is that there are really more empty rooms than the kids will put up with.  Part of that is Mike leaving plenty of space for GMs to insert their own stuff, and part that there’s a certain logic to not having everything cheek-by-jowl to everything else,  but I’ve been sliding more and more towards having something to do or think about in every room.   Some of the time I’m just shifting the location of a random encounter so that it’s either  in the room or comes upon them while they’re checking it out, but I’m also starting to just wing extra stuff, like the giant crab pretending to be a table, or the secret compartment beneath the broken statue containing a copper bracelet that grants immunity to the lightning that the trapped suits of armor cast.  I’ll be interested to see what they do with that, once they figure it out.

The orcs continue to be a source of great amusement; making them comically stupid has worked out really well.  The highlight of the session was when Tommy (the youngest) managed to fool a big crowd of orcs who were attracted by the sounds of them fighting the giant crab by shouting through the door in orcish “They went the other way!”  It’ll also be fun when they meet the bogeys (shemped goblins) and find out that not all monsters are that gullible.

One thing they’re not very good about is running away when the odds aren’t good.  So far, it’s worked out ok for them, but so far they’ve been quite lucky with some of Horatia’s miracles.  On the other hand, at least one of the miracles wouldn’t have been necessary if they hadn’t been really unlucky with one of the orc’s damage rolls. I’m wondering if I should tweak the rules for extra damage hits slightly; I had thought that I made really bad hits rare enough, but now I’m not sure.

Old School is a Perfectly Cromulent Term

“Old School” means doing things the way people used to do them.  It’s a relative term, since what’s Old School depends on what time you’re using as a reference.  Depending on when or who you’re talking about, electric typewriters could be newfangled inventions or unbearably old school, practically antique.  School also carries a slight connotation that something may be a conscious decision to identify with a like-minded group (as when one refers to “schools” of artists).  It’s perfectly objective, in the sense that for whatever you might be talking about, there really are facts about how something was done in the old days, and techniques and approaches that hadn’t been invented back then.  If somebody is doing something exactly the same way that it was done in the past, there’s no doubt or confusion in anybody’s mind when you say that they’re adhering to the old school.  That’s true whether they’re banging away on a vintage IBM Selectric, or rolling 3d6 “mud dice” in order for their stats.

Where it gets slightly more complicated is when you want to talk about something that isn’t itself strictly Old School, but is in the style of the Old School.  Stylistic decisions are not completely subjective, but do depend on picking out and highlighting certain aspects as salient.  Here you can get strong disagreement as to whether the aspects being emphasized are essential, or whether crucial aspects are being ignored, but it’s still not the case that anything goes.  You can write entire books about what the essential aspects of Impressionism are, and books disagreeing with those books, but it’s not just in the eye of the beholder. A photorealistic painting by Ralph Goings isn’t it.  Neither is the Mona LisaView From The Dunes with Beach and Piers may be, but Composition with Yellow, Blue, and Red is definitely not.

When it comes to RPGs, because of their relatively short history Old School almost always refers to the period right at the beginning of the hobby.  Among a group of brand-new RPG players who’d never played anything except D&D 4e, you could refer to 3rd edition play without irony as Old School, but addressing a wider audience that includes people who were actually there at the start that’s a recipe for confusion; I’d recommend at least including a quick caveat.  Similarly, if you’re going to talk about how you’re playing 4e Old School-style, you probably should spell out what you mean and what aspects of Old School you’re picking up on and emphasizing in your play.  (For a humorous look at some of the possibly salient points identified with Old School Play, see Amityville Mike’s “Old School Question Finally Answered” chart.)

Does it matter?  Only insofar as words and communication matter. “Next phase, New Wave, dance craze, anyways, it’s still Rock’n’Roll to me” nevertheless presupposes there are things that are Rock’n’Roll and things that are not.  There is a sense in which Mozart and Metallica are much the same thing…but that sense is pretty limited.  It might help you if you’re asking where in the store you’ll find music CDs, but it’s not likely to be much use in trying to decide whether to buy the CD.  If someone told you “it’s all just music, man, stop trying to label it with your rigid definitions” you wouldn’t find that particularly helpful advice if you were trying to arrange with your friends to go to a concert.  And if they told you that you’re insistence that there was a difference and that you preferred one over the other was somehow wrongheaded or interfering with their enjoyment, and it’s all just feelings anyway, that’s just a round-about way of telling you to shut up.

Disagreements, even strong disagreements, about what are the essential aspects of a style and what aren’t are not evidence of time being wasted. They’re a learning exercise, at least as long as they don’t degenerate into a flame-war.  If you keep an open mind you can learn a lot about what’s important to you about a style when you’re discussing it with somebody who thinks you’re dead wrong–more than you ever learn from somebody who shares all your unspoken assumptions.  You might even change your mind.  If not, you might at least learn to sharpen those aspects that really do turn out to be essential to your appreciation of the style.  People who aren’t interested in what makes up a particular style, whether it’s Old School, New Wave, Impressionist, or whatever, are more than welcome not to join in that particular conversation.

Names and Language in Nonesuch

Anything the players want.  That’s what they do anyway, and I know from bitter experience that once I start in on listing appropriate names for cultures and races it’s just a short step to a naming language and then a full-blown death spiral into conlangs.  So Umbry, Auxi-lock, Revenge, Expendable 1401, Tomato, Hermia/Horatia, Caboose, Hurlon, Poden Persas, welcome to the Land of Nonesuch!  Hope you survive the experience!

Well, except for you Revenge, better luck next life.

One thing I haven’t really settled is how many languages there are and how many the characters know.  Originally I was allowing each character one extra language per INT bonus, so pretty much all the characters had one or none. Everybody in the kids’ game wanted Orc, because that was the first group of humanoid monsters they ran into, and they were fun to talk to.  Now I’m thinking that will be kind of dull when they run into other monsters, unless they speak common, and I’m also wondering if I’m taking too American a view of foreign languages.  In a setting where you’re exposed to them regularly, it probably shouldn’t be so hard to pick them up.  Maybe one extra spoken language per point of Int over 9, and one dead language per Int Bonus?  It would be something to do with Int for non-Mages, given the system doesn’t really emphasize skills.  And I want characters to be talking to the monsters, even the hostile ones, because that’s where the RP is.

Thoughts and suggestions?  How do you handle it in your games?

Humanoid Monsters of Nonesuch

Here’s a sketch of the various humanoid monsters common to the Land of Nonesuch.  The goal is to make them, not unique, but distinctive and recognizable…if they’re mooks, they’re not generic interchangeable mooks.  On the other hand, I want to avoid the “in this world, Orcs are descended from flightless birds, and are the proud descendants of an ancient and cosmopolitan culture, more like feathery elves” that I’m sometimes prone to.  I want them to be reminiscent of common fantasy and folklore, if slightly skew. Some of these have already made an appearance in the kids’ game.

  • Orcs – magically evolved pigs (totally swiped from Grognardia’s Dwimmermount).  Evil, comically greedy, quarrelsome, and easy to trick.  The Three Stooges of humanoid monsters.
  • Kobolds – magically evolved dogs.  Neutral, generally traders and merchants in the dungeon economy (Rat on a Stick, anyone?), some actually live peacefully in some surface cities.  Something along the lines of Nessie from Too Many Curses or the kobolds from Suikoden.
  • Hobgoblins – mischievous house-sprites.  I know that I just got done saying I didn’t want this to be another “well, in my world” setting, but folklore trumps Tolkien and D&D here.  Good, although tricksy.  Puck is a hobgoblin.
  • Redcaps – these replace the D&D militaristic, organized, larger-sized goblin troopers.  Evil, sadistic buggers who dye their caps in human blood.  Iron boots, iron pikes, and faster than anybody can run away.
  • Goblins –  I’m really torn here.  On the one hand, I have this vision of them as these nasty, deformed little mushroom men out of Goya that use human corpses for compost.  On the other hand, I’m also attracted to the Labyrinth version of goblins (also one of the sources for the feel of this setting), with each one a unique Henson-esque critter.  I could combine the two, I suppose, or have them both be true in different parts of the setting.  Or I could split them into two different kinds of monsters and call one of them goblins and the other… I could call them wirry-cows, I suppose, which would be good folklore but be unintentionally silly to my players.  Ooh.  Bogeys would be a great name for the mushroom-type.
  • Bugbears – more the creepy bear in the woods sort than a generic bogeyman. Definitely not an oversized Hobgoblin war-leader out of Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance.
  • Trolls and TrollwivesThese guys.  The males are big and hairy, with huge noses and ears; the females are slight and beautiful.  Trolls are one of the PC races in the setting, though you have to roll really well to qualify.
  • Ogres and Giants – Haven’t really given a lot of thought to them yet.  Probably straight out of the Book of Wierd.

The Land of Nonesuch

I’ve been working a bit on the setting for my game with the kids, which is also my backup game for the Bumblers, possibly a play-by-forum game in the future if I get my act together,  and finally an example setting for the system (tentatively titled The Majyc System).  So it needs a name, and possibly a hook.  I’m a little leery of the “elevator-pitch” approach to game settings; too often they end up sounding like something out of They Fight Crime: “He’s an all-American white trash shaman haunted by an iconic dead American confidante She’s a beautiful antique-collecting femme fatale from a secret island of warrior women. They fight crime!”  On the other hand, there’s certainly something to be said for being able to succinctly state what the game is about, and give the players an expectation of the tone and kind of adventures they’ll be playing.  And bog-standard dungeon bash doesn’t sound all that thrilling, even if you’re confident that playing it will be a blast.

For now, I’m calling it the Land of Nonesuch, and working on the premise that (unknown to the current crop of characters) they’re inhabiting a land described in a book of odd and somewhat macabre fairy tales called The Land of Nonesuch, by the mysterious George Jester.  Both the book and the author appear both in our world, and in the land the book describes.  My overall plan, if something so vague and inchoate can actually be called such, is that this setting will let me scratch several itches that I’ve had for quite a while now: running a game in a setting inspired by The Book of Weird, and by the Oz books; getting some use from various cast-off pieces of prior settings (such as the settings of the games with the Three Paladinos, and the one-shot To Rescue the Sun) and swiped from other people’s settings (like Thool, or Dwimmermount); to do some bottom-up setting design, where I haven’t worked out a whole map of the setting and a thousand years of history before I begin; and finally, putting that all together, to do some gaming where I haven’t systemetized everything and there’s not a way that magic or religion works, and I’m not pinging the players with info-dumps.  Naturally, I have ideas on things I want to see in the setting, and spring on the characters, but I want to be much more encouraging of letting the players make up crazy stuff too, and just rolling with it.  I want to recapture, at least for some of the time, some of the much more free-wheeling GMing I did in my youth, where a lot of stuff was decided on the basis of either “Yeah, that sounds good!” or “roll a die, high is good.”

Unlucky 13

I generally like the idea of fumbles in games, being both true to life and literature, although they can be a problem if they’re too frequent or severe.  A fair number of published systems would have a tenth or more of an army incapacitating themselves over the course of a battle. Another thing that I think is a problem, albeit a minor one, is that most systems tie fumbles into failure, so it’s impossible to both succeed at a task but have something go awry.

Here’s the system I’m currently using in my D&D-esque game:  whenever rolling a d20, a roll of a 13 means something unlucky potentially happened.  Roll a Luck save (luck is a Stat in this system, but you could substitute some other sort of save).  Success means nothing happened, failure means something bad but relatively minor or recoverable (weapon twists in your grip and you can’t attack next turn, sun gets in your eyes, etc.).  A second roll of 13 means something quite unfortunate happened, such as dropping your weapon or falling down.  Roll again and keep rolling if 13 keeps coming up, making the result more severe the more 13’s you get.

Obviously you can adjust just how bad it is to taste; I feel that dropping a weapon one in 400 times is probably bad enough, but you might prefer that to be the result of failing the luck save, and have the roll of a second 13 be more spectacular, such as a broken weapon.  You could also make it more severe, so that e.g. a weapon breaks on a failed save after the initial 13, if you want things to be more chaotic; I lean against that, in part because in most RPGs that sort of thing can really make the PCs seem like klutzes.  During a campaign players tend to make many times more roles than any individual NPC they encounter, so a 1 in 20 or 1 in 40 shot may well turn up for each character at least once a night; if the failures are particularly memorable that can be a problem.  1 in 400 is more like once a session or less for some PC or NPC…enough to add flavor without being overwhelming.

I like this because it’s an easy mnemonic, which can be important for something relatively rare.  It’s a pain to have to, say, check each roll to see if it missed by more than X if it’s only going to really matter 1 in 400 times.  I also like it because it makes it possible to both succeed (if 13 was good enough) and still have something untoward happen, such as hitting a target but having your weapon stick.

Random Exotic Traits Table

  1. Is a Shape-shifter
  2. Is a Were-Creature
  3. Inherited 1d10 * 100 times the usual starting money
  4. Has Random Magic Item
  5. Has an Unusual Pet
  6. Has a Magical Power
  7. Inherited a Noble Title
  8. Gets one Wish,which may be used before the start of play or saved
  9. Never fumbles (ignore rolls of 13)
  10. Savant: automatically has rating of 6 + 1d6 in starting Talent

You’re allowed to roll for an Exotic Trait if you have no Stats above 11 and at least one stat less than 9.  This is inspired by Mac’s campaign, where she has a similar rule where you can be a shape-shifter if you have no stats other than Charisma that are higher than 11.

Shape-shifters roll a d100 on a table of random animals, ranging from aardvark to zebra.  Were-creatures have the standard immunities to weapons except silver, and so on, but it’s a genuine curse, complete with attempting to eat people when the moon is full.  In both cases clothes and equipment don’t shift.

Refusal to mourn the death by Orc-blade of a child in a dungeon

For after the first character, there is another

Stonehell claimed its first victim in the kids’ game last night, as Charlie’s character Revenge fell to a mighty critical by an orc.  The dice weren’t particularly kind to him on his new character, either, which he promptly dubbed Expendable 1401, though really it’s pretty much average:

Expendable 1401: Human Fighter Str 8  Int 12  Wis 11 Con 7  Dex 12  Cha 11  Siz 14 Lk 9

King, Oxy-lock’s war dog also succumbed in that fight, though an impressive miracle from Horatia (Grace) brought him back (about a 1 in 1440 chance, if I calculated the odds right).  This cheesed Charlie off a bit, but it wasn’t as if Grace saved her miracle for the dog…

It was a fun session, with a lot of Orc and rat bashing thanks to a pair of random encounters right outside the orc’s watch-post in the Contested Corridors area.  Things might have gone much worse if the party hadn’t managed to break the Orc’s morale with some threats in Orcish conveniently backed by a lucky Smite from Horatia and her false god.  They retreated to the surface with a great sense of satisfaction, and then spent the last ten or so minutes of the session giving Charlie’s new character a hard time because of the suspicious and weaselly way he chose to answer their questions about why he was on the island and whether he was Good.  I’m not entirely sure what that was about; I’m not a big fan of D&D alignment but I’m using it in this game for continuity with Mac’s  game, and Charlie made his character Lawful/Good so he had no reason to be evasive.

I was a little concerned that I let the gore level rise a bit too high, but the kids really seemed to get a kick out of it, and Mac thought it was ok when I asked, since I didn’t dwell on the descriptions.  I more or less took my cue from her and her rather gruesome bluff against the Orcs (“Look! Your bowels are coming out!”).  While I’m not trying to teach any moral lessons, and in the context of the game killing Orcs is jolly good fun, my personal preference is not to make combat too sanitary.  I think I achieved a reasonable balance, but as I said I had some qualms.

Chgowiz On Getting Your Family to Play D&D

Chicago Dungeons & Dragons Examiner: Getting your family to play Dungeons and Dragons

4. Make your games simple and fun

First impressions are always the most lasting impressions, so make your first games simple and fun. Leave the complicated plots and backgrounds for future games – make your first games simply about exploring a long lost temple or dungeon, or a simple rescue or some other common fantasy trope. Your family will feel familiar with the story and it won’t be a stretch for them to participate.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! My wife played RPGs with our group every week for six months, and never really got it until she started playing in Mac’s game where the plot was “Go into the dungeon, kill monsters, take their stuff.” Once it clicked for her, she started enjoying the more complex story-lines in the other games, but there was just too much to absorb being thrown in the deep end of the hobby. Learning the ropes one room and monster at a time was invaluable for her.