Monday, September 26, 2011

The Life and Death of Lord Dunn

In the mountain town of Hobbington there are legends and rumors regarding Lord Dunn that are considered common knowledge, and as they may be of interest to the Adventure's Guild, I will record them as I have heard them from the locals in the town. It should be noted that the legends and rumors change somewhat depending on which area of the town the residents come from. Those who live in the wealthy area known as 'The Heights' have a tendency to look highly on Lord Dunn, and so those elements of his legend that shine brightest are emphasized, while the rumors regarding his demise are somewhat marginalized. Those who live near 'The Old Quarter', which is the lowest area of the town, and the poorest, have far more colorful versions of these matters. I will include both and let the reader decide which among them has the greater veracity.

According to legend, Lord Dunn was a Baron in the Kingdom of Oswald. When Good King Oswald's twin children were captured and taken by some unknown force out of the Kingdom, the King and Queen were besides themselves with anxiety. Lord Dunn was the first of the Lords to propose sending expeditions far and wide to seek news of the children. When the mysterious Queen Watho arrived shortly thereafter, she consoled the Royal Household by stating that she knew the children had been kidnapped by an evil wizard who happen to be her rival in an hitherto unknown kingdom across the Western Mountains. Lord Dunn was again the first of the Barons to propose taking an army over the mountains to confront the villainous wizard. Seeing as how the Campaign would lead into unknown territory it was decided that a third of the Barons would join the expedition under the guidance of Queen Watho who knew the passes through the mountains. And so the army was gathered, retainers equiped, and a following of artisans for the upkeep of the force was assembled, and they set off over the Western Mountains. These events occured many decades ago. It was unfortunate luck that caused an avalanche to block the pass leading back to the Kingdom of Oswald, and so the army had no choice but to forge ahead, and eventually made their way into the Glendale valley. Although a quarter of the army had perished of cold and privation, it was Lord Dunn's good leadership that allowed the remainder to survive the terrible journey. Lord Dunn also distinguished himself while crossing the snow capped mountains by leading the van, and defeating several mountain monsters along the way, the greatest being a huge troll named Otorg the Red who lived in a massive cave high up on Whitefrost Mountain who had threatened the life of Queen Watho.

Finally Lord Dunn lead the van into Glendale valley, as guided by Queen Watho. He was told that there were a number of old towns that had been abandoned long ago, and could be easily occupied while the Oswaldians sought a pass by which they could return to their own Kingdom. The closest of them was a place she called Hobbinton, and only a week's journey southward. Beyond that by another week or two would be other hill towns. Though the Barons wished to complete their mission and return quickly to their own Kingdom, that was now impossible. And so it was that Glendale was settled by the Oswaldians.

Queen Watho however, had caused a great stir when she advised the Barons that since they were trapped on the west side of the mountains that they ought to swear loyalty to her own Kingdom which was further to the north of Glendale valley. Lord Dunn considered this request and held council, but the other Barons lead by Lord Beltaine refused it, declaring that such disloyalty to Good King Oswald would be worthy of a shameful death, and so in a pitch of wrath Watho stormed off with her brother, a powerful wizard in his own right, and they vanished upward into the snow capped mountains to the north. This left Lord Dunn in a difficult position, as most of the Barons thought he had shown obsequious weakness to Queen Watho by failing to denounce her plan immediately. And so it was that the army was divided, and Lord Dunn with his knights and retainers and the bulk of the lesser sorts of artisan workers headed through the tall hills to the east in search of Hobbington. The town, it is said, was not named after Hobbits as is supposed by some, but rather after Hobgoblins where were said to occupy the Old Quarter by Watho when she originally described the ruin to the Barons.

As it happened Lord Dunn after many sundry adventures along the way, finally found Hobbington on Zatok Mountain. It was a ruin at that time, and some portions of the town were completely destroyed. However, the adventurous men, and their wives and children, who had come over the mountains, made the best of things and began building the town up again. No one knew anything about the former inhabitants, but it seemed that once upon a time, long long ago, a prosperous fortified mountain town had been thriving there. Bridges were repaired, water ways cleared, buildings renovated and all was well. A town council was elected and approved by Lord Dunn, and various town institutions established, including Saint Elaine's Hospital, The Court House, the Prison, and the town's wealthy people took ownership of 'The Heights' and Lord Dunn and his family and Knights occupied the Palace. There were two pagodas in the town, one in the center, and one near the Palace Gate, that two groups of monks took possession of. The one in the center was called The Pagoda of Heavenly Harmony and Divine Light, and the other was called The Dragon Gate Temple. The mayor took ownership of the upper area beneath the lake and discovered the water works that fed the fountains of the town, and soon they had flowing water and all was well.

It was not long, however, before strange rumors began to spread. It seemed that people felt that there were ghosts in the town. Especially in the Old Quarter, which at first was occupied by the poor, but then most of them moved away into other districts, and now the Old Quarter is hardly occupied at all. It is said that Lord Dunn himself spent many months and then years investigating the warrens beneath the Old Quarter and became obsessed with discovering its secrets. Rumor has it that he also took a mistress at that time, who was a powerful sorceress. She gave Lord Dunn a magic cloak, ring, and sword and with these he began to oppress the people of the town. There was a rebellion, but the cause is not clear. The Mayor of the town became the leader of the rebels and fought against the Aristocrats, and that warfare went on for some time. The Monks of the Dragon Gate sided with the Aristocrats, while the Monks of Heavenly Harmony sided with the rebels. Civil strife became epidemic and many people died. The Court was burned down, and the Palace was invaded.

Suddenly one night there was heard a great wailing on what is now known as Dunn's Bridge leading into the Old Quarter. A crowd gathered to see what it was, and they saw Lord Dunn himself on the top of one of the four spires holding a blazing torch. In a fit of rage or despair he flung himself to his death in Dunn's Brook, and vanished into the dark swirling waters, never to be seen again. After that the rebellion ceased, and the Mayor of the town gained control of the various factions and there has been a tenuous peace ever since.  Blights of strife, famine, and disease break out now and then and life in the township seems somewhat precarious.  The environs round about are populated by ferocious beasts, and there are rumors of ghosts and devils throughout the region.   It is said that Lord Dunn haunts the bridge to this day, and having investigated it on our arrival in Hobbington, we can confirm that there are indeed strange forces at work on and around Dunn's Bridge, especially in the dead of night.

As yet we are just at the point where we have trained enough Adventurer's to begin exploratory Missions, and we will continue to record discoveries as we find them.

Rothmon Thornwood, Guild Master of the Hobbington Outpost
Guild Archive - September 26, 151 New Kingdom

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mystery of the Yellow Robed Man

Once upon a time in Hobbington, an ancient and sturdy fortress-town built on a plateau along the side of Mount Zatok, there lived three young men who wished to become adventurers. So they joined the new Adventurer's Guild and sought training there. One was a Hobbit from the wealthy part of town, by the name of Ishcandar, one was a poor farm boy named Hermel, who had come up from the village at the base of the Mountain to make his way in the world, and the last was yet another Hobbit by the name Lido who was not satisfied with his father's meager life as village tanner and wished to achieve fame and fortune for himself.

The old Guild Master, who was recently arrived in Hobbington from the Guild Hall in far off Glendale, decided to accept the three young adventurers and give them training, after which they would be considered novice rank. He thought, when they came in for their initial inquiries that they showed some promise, not so much for their physical attributes, which were not necessarily so impressive all told, but for their wit and spirit of adventure. So he accepted their applications and put them to work training in the Adventure School there. Two of the young men decided not to join the Guild formally, but instead chose to learn their skills as Freemen, while the third joined as a full member and entered into the Thieving Class. They each wished to learn the skills of thieves, however Hermel also chose to learn a mystical healing power called Earth Healing. They studied there very hard for several months and finally graduated their courses and so were ready to begin taking missions from the Guild Master, an elderly pepper haired and rather grizzly fighter-sage. His name was Rothmon, a keen eyed, and solemn fellow who took his responsibilities seriously.

One day Rothmon and his two fellow Guild Masters arrived from a journey taken outside the town, and they seemed very excited about something. And so the three young men followed them, furtively as possible, to the library and listened in on their discussion. As it turned out, Rothmon had gone to investigate a report from some villagers who said that several farmers had been killed by "devils" on the north side of Zatok Mountain. When they went there to see, they followed three-toed tracks up along a difficult trail and came to a waterfall, behind which they found a cave. When they entered the cave they saw an iron bridge crossing a river that led to some caverns deep within the mountain. At this point they decided to return and plan out their approach before proceeding and this was what they were discussing in the Guild Library.

When Rothmon noticed that the three boys had secretly been listening in on what the Guild Masters were discussing amongst themselves he was not angry, but instead invited them into the discussion, and explained the situation. He told them that they would be mounting an expedition to explore the cave, but it would probably be too dangerous for them, since "devils", or whatever the three-toed creatures were, might inhabit the cave, and they were really novices in the adventure game after all. He offered the boys several other possible missions inside Hobbington that would be safer. They were relieved, as "devils" didn't strike them as something they felt ready to tackle at any rate. He explained that the Guild's purpose was to acquire new information and catalog it in the Guild Library, adding that they would be paid fairly for any maps, or detailed information of interest that they should discover during the course of their adventures. The higher the quality of the information the more they would be rewarded. He then went on to describe several possible missions, and the boys chose the one that seemed the safest, since they were newly trained and really had no practical experience, yet. Better safe than sorry, they agreed, and so it was settled.

So they went off to find a mysterious man wearing yellow robes and a yellow turban who had caused a strange disturbance at the Palace Gate the day before, and this mission was named "The Mysterious Yellow Robed Man". They headed off immediately. Along the way toward the Palace Gate where they thought they might find information about the mystery man, while passing through the market, Ishcandar, who was always looking for an opportunity to practice his new skills, decided to try to pick the pocket of an old blind man that they were passing. Having succeeded at cutting the old man's leather purse from his belt without being noticed in the jostle and bustle of the crowd, he was quite pleased with himself, and offered his two friends an equal share of his victory. He was a wealthy Hobbit and had no real need for money, but in the pouch were three iron pieces, and so he gave each of his friends one and kept the third for himself.

Hermel, who received an Iron piece from his friend with a courteous bow, then suddenly turned about, saying he had left his bag behind and would catch up with them momentarily. He ran back to the market and seeing the old man sitting on his chair by the side of a market stall walked to him and and gave him three iron pieces, the exact amount that his friend had stolen. The old blind man was very appreciative. As it turned out he was a fortune teller, and so he offered to give the boy a reading of one card. Hermel, not especially superstitious, but humoring the old fellow, reached out and took one of the cards from the deck at random, and it was revealed to be the card of the Dragon. "This is a powerful card indeed", the old man croaked. "The Earth Force of the Dragon will go with you," he concluded with one hand raised and a slight bow of his head. With a quiet chuckle to himself the boy thanked him and ran off to catch up with his friends, most certainly none-the-wiser.

The boys sought information in the wealthy area of town known as "The Wall District" that bordered Palace gate. They asked a burly looking man with a great black beard if he had heard any news of the strange occurrence from the day before, and he said his daughter had seen the entire affair. And so he called down his daughter who happened to be a very lovely young woman named Elizabeth, and she gave them more information about the man in the yellow robes and turban.

"He was amazingly fast and moved in a very strange way", she said. So much so that the guards at the gate were unable to capture him at all, or even lay a single hand on the fellow no matter how hard they tried. No one was injured but after that the yellow robed man mocked the guards declaring that they were completely useless, and with a loud laugh, he vanished into the crowd in the direction of the Main Market. The boys surmised, being as the man was a stranger from outside Hobbington, that he might be staying at the Fountain Inn, on Market Street. Sure enough when they got there the yellow robed man was sitting at a table in the foyer of the inn, enjoying a lovely coconut-banana cocktail, the kind with a little paper umbrella in it. They decided to send Hermel, who wished to practice his skill, to speak with the man, and offer him some meager information in the hopes of befriending him and finding out more. He did this, but did not make a great impression on the man, who told him that his name was Wutong of the Golden Plain, but otherwise gave him little to go on. He indeed moved in a very strange manner, with sudden gestures, and wide eyed glances and he had a rather peculiar habit of suddenly scratching his short cropped yellow beard like monkey. He was very strange indeed. But Wutong offered little information about himself or his intentions, and seemed to be neither afraid, nor concerned when Hermel explained that people in the town had heard of his exploits and were looking to find out who he was and what he was doing in the town. He only sat and listened intently, smiling widely, nodding his head emphatically, and giving out the occasional laugh at what Hermel was saying.

The boys decided to have two of them return to the Guild to tell Rothmon they had found the yellow robed man at the Inn, while Ischancar kept Wutong company at the table, drinking and trying to find out more information about him. However, it was just the reverse, as Wutong asked Ishcancar quite a few questions about the Palace, its surroundings, and whether or not the boy knew of any tunnel or way into the Palace other than the Palace Gate. Ischancar, though from The Heights, which was the wealthiest area of Hobbington and situated at the base of the Palace, didn't know of any tunnels that would lead into it from below. And so he drank merrily and babbled on with increasing joviality until the others returned.

Rothmon, when he heard the news came to the Inn very quickly, introduced himself politely, and began speaking with Wutong in a strange language that the boys did not understand. In the end both Wutong and Rothmon had learned something of one another, but they could not come to an agreement it seemed, and so Rothmon left with a final warming that any attempt to enter the Palace would be fraught with danger and cause a great deal of mischief. He would not help, nor would he interfere either. With this Rothmon thanked the boys for their help in finding the yellow robed mystery man, and told them they would be rewarded in the morning, and left with his broad brown cloak swirling behind him as he exited the Inn. When the boys looked back around they found that Wutong had vanished from sight.

The boys were puzzled by these events, but as they had completed their first Guild mission, they felt quite pleased with themselves, and so celebrated over a good meal and a few rounds of ale.

Previous Episode: Homeward Bound - Part 5

Next Episode: The Ghost Fish of Dunn's Brook

Thursday, September 08, 2011

What Good Are RPGs, Anyway?

RPGs as Escapism

Life in the new millennium is fraught with stresses produced by a rapidly changing, often shocking, and at times highly dangerous environment. Stress and danger, however, are not new to modernity. The notion that we would want, and perhaps need, a mental escape from life's stress is not new either, as many have postulated the same through the ages, and pretty much most forms of entertainment are to varying degrees forms of escapism. Added relatively recently to the catalogue of forms of entertainment known to man was the Role Playing Game.  A wonderful invention, indeed.   And clearly, RPGs serve the need for escapism, and this may even be its primary and most useful function.

However, if the RPG is merely a form of escapism then it could be argued that it is no better than doing drugs, rendering one impotent in the real world in proportion to the level of escape achieved. Escapism could be a more than a mere vacation from harsh reality - it could become an unhealthy, and ultimately anti-social, civilization-diminishing addiction. One might even argue that people who spend their time escaping reality will not help to resolve the problems of the real world, and therefore it not only provides no benefit to or enhancement of civilization, but is completely counter productive. Of course, to make that argument is to argue against all forms of escapist entertainment, of which RPGs are merely one.

If escapism is all that they really amount to then it casts a rather gloomy pall over the whole concept of the RPG and I think I might be persuaded to oppose it on principal. However, I am of the opinion that civilization requires alert, energetic and engaged minds to maintain and advance, and that a certain amount of escapism is actually good for people.  It is also interesting to note what Tolkien once said on this subject. 
"Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisioned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we're partisans of liberty, then it's our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!"
S. Lewis was also fond of humorously remarking that "the usual enemies of escape are ... jailers".  I am of the opinion that escapism is actually a healthy and life-enhancing activity, but like everything else, can be taken too far.  So for this purpose RPGs are pretty darn good.   Escape to a Fantasy World for an afternoon, and enjoy adventures that would otherwise be impossible to you.  It's fun.  And, if not taken to an extreme, good for your mind.

RPG: Some Rationals for Justification

It seems to me that there is fundamentally more to RPGs than mere escapism. And for this reason I should like to argue in favor of considering what use RPGs may have for the advancement of individuals and civilization as a whole, and in so doing deflect some of the spurious claims made against RPGs, and attempt to address some of the legitimate concerns which have surfaced.

The principal rationales that come to my mind that could justify the existence and popularity of RPGs are:
  • That it is necessary that some time be spent in mental escape from dull or harsh realities in order to rejuvenate the mind.
  • That it is advisable that some portion of the population that is not able to tackle the actual real issues of the world be offered some means of mental escape least they suffer an incapacitating crisis of stress.
  • That RPGs are not mere escapism but provide a useful function for the advancement of individual mental capabilities, and thereby civilization in general.
Lets consider each of these in turn.

RPG As Mental Spa

To the first point, it is entirely possible that modern stresses and challenges to the psyche are of such intensity that some form of temporary mental escape may be considered a useful mechanism for the rejuvenation of the mind. One might call into question, however, if RPGs are the best mechanism for this effect, as meditation may be much preferred for this purpose. RPGs, after all, can be quite stressful… it is not like watching a field of flowers grow to have your beloved Character threatened to be mashed by the claws of an outraged and hostile red dragon. So if RPGs themselves can produce stress, albeit of a different nature than “real life”, will they really provide a rejuvenating function? This, doubtless, would depend on the nature of the RPG being played in the same way that some movies produce peaceful and happy feelings, while others leave one in a state of noxious anxiety.

However, let us suppose that some RPGs may result in mental rejuvenation. We might think of such RPG games as something like a spa for the mind; a mental workout, which in the end leaves one refreshed and ready to come back and tackle the problems of the real world with renewed vigor. Those seeking mental rejuvenation would naturally gravitate towards such RPG worlds. Which is not to say that all RPG worlds would provide this effect, but that RPGs in general have the potential to do so. If this is the case then a reasonable argument can be made for the potential, if not actual, usefulness of RPGs along these lines.

RPG As Bread & Circus

The second point, that some portion of the population should and must be offered means of mental escape from life's harsh realities is another possible rational. It may be that mass escapism is a requirement of a healthy society. Thus, for those grinding against a harsh reality in such a way as to cause themselves more harm than good, an alternative is available.  RPGs could be seen as a means by which those who can not directly effect the course of affairs of the world may find an escape from the real-world stress, and for them that may be a valuable service. As such, RPGs may be thought of as merely another form of entertainment, like a TV show, or a movie or a novel.

Conversely, one could dispute this by arguing that if everyone did fully participate in the solving of the issues of our time that we could achieve even greater heights of civilization. In this case, escapism, we would argue, would merely be a means by which the masses could be lulled into complacency and denuded of moral and social vigor. The RPG might be considered a form of mental opium, and the argument for its use, like that of the Bread & Circus of Rome, could be construed as a means by which those in power could seek to keep the masses from actively participating in the real world. While this indeed would be deplorable, it would be no more so than any other form of modern entertainment. In fact, were we to accept this argument, we would have to consider the RPG as merely an extension of already existing forms of Bread & Circus in every form of entertainment we have ever had as a civilization.   That seems absurd, and so I think this argument fails the "reasonable people would agree" test.

However, one could imagine Virtual-Reality Massive Online Role-Playing Games (VR-MORG)s of the not too distant future, which may become so “realistic” and graphically addictive that millions play them in order to escape an otherwise dull or grim reality. A world ruled by techno-elites in which the VR-MORG version of RPGs could be used to produce socio-political lethargy in the masses. Perhaps we are already beginning to see this effect in the players of MORGs already present online. The imagination staggers and quails before a vision of millions upon millions of glassy-eyed VR-MORG addicts wearing their Sense-Around Helmets, completely sedated by a virtual fantasy landscape outside of which they are subjected to the humiliation of utter and hopeless defeat in the real world.   The ultimate in divide and conquer.  There was, actually, a Star-Gate episode I saw that posited this exact scenario.

I think we should all glare in horror at this possibility. Yet it is one possibility that must be noted, accounted for, and summarily terminated before it can take root. Nor does it mean that just because such a possiblity exists that we should eliminate RPGs, as some pessemistic far-thinkers might conclude.  Would it not be preferable to seek to find their benefits and encourage them toward better more life-affirming implementations?  By advancing superior alternatives and conceptions, we could prevent the RPG from evolving in the dread direction.  Naturally, it will be up to game designers of the future to determine how to make RPGs life and civilization affirming, rather than the opposite.

RPG As Mind Enhancing Pursuit

Conversely, this brings us to the third point. What positive gain might be had from the RPG, and how might the RPG be used to advance civilization rather than undermine and destroy it? Before I explore that possibility let’s step back for a few moments and review what the RPG is in essence.

I would argue that children who play Cops and Robbers, or Cowboys and Indians (and presumably in the middle ages, Knights and Knaves, and in ancient times Warriors and Savages, etc), are in fact role-playing, without the name, and without the organization that usually attends a modern, formal RPG. The act of pretending to be, and performing with ones childhood playmates like a Cowboy is in and of itself role-playing. What the RPG does, that Cowboys and Indians does not, is assign specific rules to encounters, provides an adjudication method that resolves the actions, and is more complex in that it also calls for, relative to the imaginary play of children, a certain amount of knowledge, organization, and skill.

Furthermore, I would suggest that games, first and foremost, from a broad sociological perspective, are tools for learning. Even in the animal kingdom we see that games constitute an essential learning tool. Cubs play at hunting, and learn from those experiences. Children play at being Cops and Robbers and learn from those experiences. What children learn by playing Cops and Robbers? Physical skills, social interaction skills, moral lessons, tactics, team play, problem solving, and of course, how to use their imaginations. All of which provides substantial benefits to the individuals and society as a whole.  It is perfectly natural, and we as mammals have been doing exactly this kind of role-playing-for-learning for millions of years. 

But moreover, and foremost, games, and RPGs in particular, enhance the imagination, without which it would be impossible to create new innovations and perpetuate the advance of civilization. By immersing players in imaginary settings and providing them with adventurous problems to solve, RPGs can be used as a tool to teach organizational, social, and moral lessons. Or rather, the very act of playing a well constructed RPG would by its nature teach such lessons. Depending on the quality of the RPG it can combine a great number of games into a cohesive and comprehensive fabric.

RPGs As Morality Play

Furthermore, I would say that utilizing the role-playing aspect of RPGs, it is possible to teach various kinds of moral lessons. These kinds of lessons may best be derived from experimentation in different modes of moral behavior, which may not be within the realm of social acceptance, but would nevertheless be very instructive to the player. The most interesting capability of RPGs in this regard is the use of the (often maligned) Alignment System. The Alignment System, for those unfamiliar with the concept, posits two axis of moral reality, the Good vs. Evil Axis crossed by the Law vs. Chaos Axis. In this case, players are challenged to think along various pathways that might not be typical for them, and it gives them a chance to see what kinds of consequences are attributable to various kinds of moral behaviors.  That knowledge can be invaluable in life.  And it can be learned via a game much more safely than through life experience.

For example, a child might attempt to play a Lawful Good character, only to learn that the desire to be Lawful Good is not the same thing as achieving it, and that in fact it requires much more perseverance and determination than they supposed, but still discover that in the end it is worth the effort. Conversely, someone might play a Chaotic Evil character only to discover that in the end crime indeed does not pay. And so forth. What makes these lessons possible in the safe environment of play is the RPG game system with its rules, adjudication and consequences.

In this way RPGs can teach and enhance a wide range of skills related to morality, civics, team spirit, planning, organization, strategy, tactics and creative-innovation. It is also well known that RPGs of various kinds foster the desire to learn realms of knowledge such as history, economics, mathematics, literature, philosophy, theosophy, and linguistics, among many others.

In fact, one could reasonably argue that the RPG has the potential to do this as no other game in history because the RPG is the most advanced form of game thus far created, fusing as it does disciplines and methodologies from many other games into one. In this sense, RPGs may prove to be the ideal medium by which to teach exceedingly valuable and complex organizational, social and moral lessons. To the degree RPGs succeed in this area is the degree to which civilization would be enhanced by their presence.

In the great scheme of things, small effects in large numbers aggregate into great effects in total. Such may well prove to be the case with well crafted RPGs. The advantages gained by their players in terms of advanced life skills and mental acumen could distinctly outweigh all of the former systems of game-learning combined, thereby producing an even more advanced individual and civilization than we can readily imagine today. We should hope that such an outcome would be available to us. My contention is that we would benefit to make the effort in that direction, and show tolerance (within reason) for the lesser examples and initial disasters which are bound to afflict any new artistic medium.

RPG As New Art Form

Of course, as said, all of these benefits would be contingent on the successful creation of high quality RPGs. And one can compare this to what is involved with the creation of great literature. There are many poorly written books, but we would not wish for that reason to do without the classics that are truly great literature.  Some RPGs will be bad, many in fact, and produce less than stellar results, and poor quality games. It is inevitable and unavoidable. Some, few perhaps, crafted by genius, will be truly magnificent, artistic achievements, which in time the world would not wish to do without.

RPGs are an entirely new technique of game play. They are not themselves either good or bad. Beautiful and magnificent edifices can be created, and we should encourage it. Thus, the RPG can be seen as a new form of art.  One that can produce marvelous, elegant worlds opening the mind to vistas of the imagination hitherto unknown and teaching lessons which otherwise would be much more laborious, difficult and potentially dangerous or impossible to acquire. The number of benefits civilization might acrue from well crafted RPGs would be difficult to determine in advance, but I think it is clear that there are potentially many benefits possible.

I prefer to consider RPGs as a new and fascinating form of art and game-play with fantastic possibilities and potentialities, which our civilization has only just begun to comprehend. Games are one of the measures by which civilizations may be judged, along with artwork, architecture, literature and other mediums of communication and expression. As such, the RPG represents an advancement of the concept of Game, and is among the most complex, enriching and fantastic Game inventions to grace civilization to date, and in that sense is one of the great achievements of modern world. I advocate that we use RPGs wisely, and encourage them to proliferate and prosper.  Only in this way will all of their myriad possibilities be explored and the Great Worlds brought into being for the benefit of those who are fortunate enough to experience them, and our civilization as a whole.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Vignette: A Stone in the Forest

A friend of mine challenged me to come up with some Elthos Vignettes which are examples of the kinds of people, places, things and events that exist in my World.   So here is one of them, named "A Stone in the Forest".

A wizened priest of Minvar, the Elkron of the Earth, came to the old forest to sit upon an ancient stone near the river.   He sat there in order to learn from the stone where the stone had come from and who was its lord.  During the three years of sitting the priest ate only once every other day and sat motionless on the stone, both day and night.  He even slept sitting.   This was so that the stone would speak to him, for stones speak very slowly and do not bide interruptions.  

It was a full fourteen days before the stone began to take notice of the little creature sitting on him.   Eventually he heard the little man’s voice calling to him, saying “who are you?”.   The stone sat for a while thinking about this.   Why would the little creature which flitted like lightning through the world be worthy of any knowledge of the great stone, whom he was.   But the little creature was persistent and the great stone saw that his heart was strong and determined.  This the old stone respected and he spoke.   The first sentence the stone spoke took three days.   And each sentence after that took a day or more, though eventually the old stone spoke more swiftly, though no single word took less than an hour.   And this is what the old stone said...

“I am Bjroknorenstienalar.”

The little creature was delighted and spent the next two days posing another question.   “Where do you come from?”

“I come from mighty mountain Bjroknorenstein.”

When the old stone saw that the little creature would listen to him, he began to consider that though the creature was small and fleeting, that knowledge of old stone would spread among the little creatures of the world, and old stone liked that idea.   So he began to sing a song of the old stone which he composed for the occasion.   The song can not be sung by human tongues,  but it’s words were as follows.

“We stones are old, and our memories are long, though not as long as the memory of the twinkling stars, who remember all.   Only the Mountain Lords speak with the stars for that is their wont, but we old stones speak to the earth and learn.  

I was born of the strife of the mighty Tectons, Gorundenor and Broekan, who began to collide many Mountain Ages ago.   Their striving caused Gorundenor to sink beneath the sea as Brokan rose high above to pierce the storm laden sky.   Near the front of the battle I was born in the fierce life giving magma of the conflict.   Such a journey as I have made you tiny creatures would not survive - not a single particle would be left to you, for on the gigantic back of Gorundenor and beneath the mighty heel of Brokan was I born of the race of true Granite and have lived long the life of a War-Stone.  

In my youth I fought in the Wars of the Magma Giants and was part of a great host led by colossal Bragknamnondor.    Beneath his banner we eventually found a fault in the foot of Brokan and by great splitting and melting and driving with the force of the Magma Giants we broke to the surface of the world and split the great Brokan’s toe, so that his toe was called Brokankarn and his wrath was great in those days.  

When we broke surface we suddenly found ourselves on the flank of a new war and fought against the Lords of the Air for a brief time but the Air Lords subdued the heat of our Magma and it was in that war that our legion was divided from the main army.  Under the banner of Morhardrahan the Strong our legion moved toward the sea upon the back of the Magma Giants and we fought there against the ocean for many an age. 

It was in latter end of those days that I was split off from my legion and stood against the sea alone, watching as the earth begin to fill with you tiny fleeting creatures which we call creatures-that-flit-like-lightning.  The ocean retreated when it fled eastward toward the rising sun.  After some time thereafter there came an age of ice which lifted me in its icy grip and moved me some great distance southward.  Then the ice retreated and I was alone on the plain but soon Ocean returned and we battled mightily once more, but there is no hope of winning a war against Ocean I have found.  

After a time a verdant forest grew round about me and many flitting creatures passed by, some as large as I was in those days, and very savage for flitting things.  These creatures were much ado about slaughter as I recall and their roaring could be heard a great ways off, and they were so large that when they walked the earth herself did tremble.

One day the Lord sent a Great Stone of Fire from the Heavens which hit the earth and made a great groaning in the world.  The sky grew dark and cold and there was again a long ice age.   And so I have watched and learned much through many an ice age since then and have journeyed far within the freezing hand of the Water Lord.

And so it is with the stones that we watch and learn and speak with the Mountain Lords and study the ways of Wind and Fire and Water that we might be warriors like the true Granite of old.  Such is the way of Stone-kind.   Now I sit here, an fat old stone and am slowly ground to dust by my old enemies the wind and the rain and have grown a nice burly head of moss and lichen.   Even so, I am old, yes, but compared with you I have a very long life ahead of me, little creature-that-flits-like-lightning.”

And when he had finished his song the old stone laughed for a good long time, for the tale was good and the ending of the song pleased him.

This conversation took many years, by the end of which time the old earth priest was very tired and hungry and returned to the temple and wrote the words of the old warrior stone in a book on such matters which can be found in the temple library to this day.