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DShomshak

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Everything posted by DShomshak

  1. Re: Elves and half-breed "races": I don't think it's intrinsically a bad idea for That Fantasy RPG to provide many varieties of elves, if they are presented as options to help you customize your world. After all, elves have been presented many different ways in Fantasy fiction, as they have been in folklore. Do you want your elves to be elusive forest-folk? Haughty lords of magic? Sinister twilight folk? Here's a variety of elf. But trying to fit all of them in one setting risks feeling cluttered. D&D 5th ed. does a good thing in calling out some PC races as options not every DM might want, but it could do better at stressing that all the variations form a toolkit from which DMs pick what they want. As for halfbreeds, I too saw this as a can of worms I didn't want to open. If half-elves and half-orcs, why not half-dwarves? Half-halflings? Could somebody be half elf, half dwarf? So I let my players know there are no half--anythings. The Five Peoples (humans, dwarves, elves, halflings, orcs) are all interfertile to some degree (though offspring might be sterile mules), but in game terms they use one template or the other. Dean Shomshak
  2. Re: Informal poll. Lkikewise, it depends where you set the boundaries of Fantasy. If you leave out Dr. Seuss, I read the Oz books, Dr. Doolittle, and a fair bit of Edward Eager while still in grade school and unaware of categories such as "Fantasy." Assorted fairy tales, a kid-suitable adaptation of tales from the Arabian Nights, Greek mythology. An LP of The Sorcerer's Apprentice -- one side just Dukas' music, the other side with narration. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings came in junior high. In high school I ripped through Leiber, Moorcock, Norton, and a lot more. The Gormenghast Trilogy. Not so much Fantasy in the last 20 years as so much seems, hm, very much of a muchness. Dean Shomshak
  3. Wow, someone else who's read Pile! <Offers the secret handshake of the initiated> Dean Shomshak
  4. Wow, someone else who's read Pile! <Offers the secret handshake of the initiated> Dean Shomshak
  5. Thalassene is a large city by pre-modern standards: 200,000 people, comparable to the largest Medieval cities such as Paris or Constantinople. So even crafts for luxury or semi-luxury goods, such as embroidery, can pretty sizeable if they are also labor intensive. One of the neighborhoods is named Broider for its chief industry -- though a lot of the work is for trade or to supply the hinterlands. Wand- and rod-makers are a definite possibility. Wizards would go to a jeweler for orbs or crystals, or a wood-carver for a staff, but wands and rods tend to be flashier and look like they could involve multiple crafts. (Even assuming the manufacture is purely mundane, on which I have not yet decided.) Good call. (And I'm not a fan of "spell component puches," but there too, in a large community it would make sense to pay someone to gather all the whatnots instead of scrounding around oneself.) Other good thoughts, too. Dean Shomshak
  6. Beaders already operate in another neighborhood, as they are actually a somewhat important part of this trade city. Excerpted from the player's guide I wrote for Thalassene: ------------ Not everything in Old Town is wretched. Some neighborhoods are poverty-proud, the houses and tenements kept tidy and the streets patrolled by volunteer guards. Prinks, the neighborhood of milliners and ribbon-makers, and Gauds, the neighborhood where cheap ornaments, beads and trinkets are made, are quite nice. Their inhabitants see themselves as the gentry of Old Town. ------------------ BOX: Trade Beads A branch of the Vitrio (glazers’ guild) in Gauds produces trade beads of multicolored glass. As the name suggests, these beads are widely traded to primitive cultures for their local commodities. Thalassene manufactures more trade beads than any other city in the Empire, and of the highest quality and demand in distant lands. It’s a point of pride in the Vitrio that some countries use Thalassene trade beads for money. Other countries buy trade beads just to trade with their own neighbors, giving the Plenary Empire a presence in lands where its name is unknown. Lorusa Beader, owner of the largest trade-bead factory, is the leading citizen in Gauds. ------------- Years back when I researched primitive money and ancient commerce for an Exalted writing job, I learned a bit about trade beads from a book on early money. Multicolored trade beads were once widely used as proto-money in Africa. The book said a curious aspect of their use is that glass can't be dated. (At least it couldn't at the time the book was written. Might be possible now.) So if you found a trade bead somewhere in the hinterlands of Africa, it might be 2 years old, made in, say, England... or 2,000 years old, made in Rome. The practice is that old, and the beads never wear out. This is why Fantasy GMs should do research. It's not to "get it right," a shifty concept for an imaginary world. It's because you'll find bits of truth that really are stranger than fiction. Dean Shomshak
  7. Speaking of worlds on turtles... I've enjoyed many of the Diskworld novels. Often funny, often pointed in its satire. But for me at least, hardly ever immersive. No matter how much I enjoy the story, I am fully aware this world "exists" to comment on other stories or aspects of RL. It's never a world that feels like it could exist in its own right. Again, at least not for me. Dean Shomshak
  8. Background: In my current Fantasy campaign, most artisans in the city of Thalassene belong to guilds: the cobbler’s guild, the silk-weaver’s guild, the papermaker and printer’s guild, and so on. (There are also guilds for professions such as doctors, lawyers and bankers.) But some crafts are too small to have guilds. There just aren’t enough artisans to make it worthwhile. These are locally called “oddmongers.” And just as most of the big-time jewelers cluster around Gold Court and most undertakers are on Coffin Street, the oddmongers have a neighborhood of their own called, naturally, Oddmonger. This is where the PCs are based, so I’m developing the neighborhood more than the rest of the city. I have thought of many different oddmongers, but I could use more. Suggest away! Explain why a craft wouldn’t employ many practitioners, and why it wouldn’t be folded into some larger group of artisans. To illustrate, here’s what I already have: Parasol-Makers. Some lace, some cloth, some painted paper. A couple factories as well as freelance artisans, but I’s enough of a specialty/luxury item that the whole industry fits easily on one short street. Fanmakers. Likewise, and on the same street as the parasol-makers. Paper or cloth fans may be painted, so the business involves limners as well as artisans to glue the material to the frame of wood or ivory ribs. Lots of people own fans, but it doesn't take a lot of people to make them. Artificial Flower Makers. Paper, silk and one fellow who works in glass. The craft began with religion: flowers as a common offering at household shrines to show piety, but the cost mounts up for fresh flowers every few days. So, buy realistic fakes. (Though it eventually became something of an art form in its own right.) Wax Fruit Maker. A newly invented craft, for similar purposes as artificial flowers: Look like you can afford fresh fruit all the time, when you actually can’t. Featherworkers. Anything from little ornaments to shimmering feather cloaks. A foreign craft introduced by Furanian refugees. Picture-Scroll Printers. A sort of long comic book in scroll form. Outside the printer’s guild because halflings invented it and still dominate the craft. (Inspired by RL art form from old Japan, btw.) Sugar-Spinner. A gnome who is both a master alchemist and master tinker invented cotton candy. No one else has yet duplicated his two-story machine, which requires several strapping laborers to turn the cranks, pump the bellows and stoke the furnace. The confectioner’s guild would like to have him, but he insists that selling cotton candy is only to fund his further experiments to his ultimate goal: edible candy clothing! It’s genius, I tell you! Genius! Tattoo Artists. Complex, detailed body art, not the basic ink of a soldier, sailor or thug. Music-Box Maker. Another luxury item, too tinkery for the musical instrument makers, and too musical for the tinkers. Bonsai. Some gods are traditionally worshiped at sacred trees rather than temples. How to do this in a built-up city? Own a miniature, portable sacred tree. Toy Soldier Maker. More detailed than usual for the pewtersmiths; comparable to jewelers. But they are not jewelers. Lens Grinders. You can buy spyglasses or spectacles, but these precision items cost a lot. Denturists. Another precision craft, and costly enough that the market remains small. Paper Appliqué. Another foreign craft, recently introduced: patterns or pictures of colored cut paper applied to a wooden surface and coated with lacquer or varnish. Not quite a poor man’s enamel work, but not quite as expensive. China-Doll Makers. This requires specialized forms of multiple crafts: porcelain-workers to make the heads and other body parts, some tinkering to put them together, and seamstresses to make the miniature clothing. Hm. There might be enough artisans to form a Toymaker's Guild, but presently they're scattered: People who make wooden toys, for instance, in the woodworker's guild. Mask Makers. Several possible crafts (cloth, leather, wood, etc.), possibly in combination. For costume parties, some religious festivals, or the big Autocrat’s Ascension Day parade down in Mactown. Vellum Maker. Papyrus and true paper have largely supplanted parchment and vellum, but the lone business in town that still makes writing material from animal skins stubbornly resists absorption into the guild. Pearl Carver. Making stuff from nacre. Not quite a jeweler, and there’s a foreign aspect as many techniques and designs are copied from the merfolk. Alchemists have a small guild, but there is no magic guild. Dean Shomshak
  9. My desk dictionary, published decades ago, defines "electrum" as "A natural pale-yellow alloy of gold and silver." Latin, from the Greek elektron, with a note about its connection to "Electric." Gygax didn't invent it. Dean Shomshak
  10. My desk dictionary, published decades ago, defines "electrum" as "A natural pale-yellow alloy of gold and silver." Latin, from the Greek elektron, with a note about its connection to "Electric." Gygax didn't invent it. Dean Shomshak
  11. I don't think "anachronism" is the right word for some of what Phil finds annoying. I'd suggest "anamythism" -- not from the wrong time, but from the wrong story. The genre boundaries of fantasy are very wide, but that doesn't mean every possible thing fits in every story. For instance, take railroads. They can fit perfectly well in some alternate-historical fantasies such as Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest, in which the Industrial Revolution is happening at the same time as the English Civil War, and both are of interest to Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the Elves. There is an internal logic here, and it is also important to the theme of the story. Even in a setting with no explicit connection to Earth, railways are not unthinkable. The first RL railway was built, IIRC, in ancient Greece. It was short, powered by oxen pulling the cars, and not duplicated, but clearly the idea was possible. But... railways (whether powered by coal, oxen or dragons) aren't going to catch on unless there are certain political and economic conditions that don't apply in most bog-standard fantasy settings. They didn't even apply equally in RL Earth history -- development was much slower in Eastern Europe than in Western Europe. Railways say a lot about what kind of world it is, and what kind of story you're going to tell in it. Dean Shomshak
  12. Yes, if it's just tossed in for no apparent reason beyond "It'll surprise the PCs" or "I want every bit of geek culture I think is cool." This might work if it's part of the setting foundation, and you work out reasons why it exists and what the effects will be. For instance, "Magitech" is an important part of the anime-influenced Exalted setting. But it doesn't exist for no reason. These are the wonders of the First Age, which modern folk struggle to maintain. There's a background of supernatural quasi-science that encompasses ley lines, mystic power sites, and materials that are especially good at channeling and focusing mystic power. Sometimes Exalted still gets it wrong, IMO, as with pistols and rifles powered by a quasi-natural "firedust." Firedust comes from the extreme south of Creation, as congealed power from the elemental Pole of Fire, and it can be used for other things. But... it's all a little too on-the-nose. A lot more so than, say, a massive "lightning ballista" siege engine powered by alchemical reagents, channeled and focused by Air-aspected blue jade. Dean Shomshak
  13. Oh, and while we're trading academic citations, I'll ad Guy Swanson's Birth of the Gods. Swanson stresses the diversity of supernatural beliefs: EG, while many cultures ascribe awe-inspiring natural phenomena to gods or spirits, they don't agree on which phenomena require divine explanation; the idea that people in some way continue after death is near-universal, but the form of continuation varies widely; and so on. Swanson's book attempts to test the hypothesis of sociologist Emile Durkheim, that the symbolic referent of the sacred/supernatural is society itself. Like a spirit, society is immortal, nonlocal, intangible, and posse3ssed of nonmaterial powers. Swanson finds strong correlations between several common supernatural beliefs (high gods, superior gods, reincarnation, witchcraft/black magic) and particular social structures. But none are 100%. Dean Shomshak
  14. Oh, and while we're trading academic citations, I'll ad Guy Swanson's Birth of the Gods. Swanson stresses the diversity of supernatural beliefs: EG, while many cultures ascribe awe-inspiring natural phenomena to gods or spirits, they don't agree on which phenomena require divine explanation; the idea that people in some way continue after death is near-universal, but the form of continuation varies widely; and so on. Swanson's book attempts to test the hypothesis of sociologist Emile Durkheim, that the symbolic referent of the sacred/supernatural is society itself. Like a spirit, society is immortal, nonlocal, intangible, and posse3ssed of nonmaterial powers. Swanson finds strong correlations between several common supernatural beliefs (high gods, superior gods, reincarnation, witchcraft/black magic) and particular social structures. But none are 100%. Dean Shomshak
  15. I think it's way too early to count out any of the Big Five (Sanders, Warren, Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar). And we haven't seen how voters respond to Bloomberg. One thing for sure, this race isn't going to be a coronation. I would like to like Biden more than I do. I value his experience. I don't hold his past compromises against him; I don't trust ideological rigidity. But his mind seems fraying, beyond his usual fumblemouth. And the argument for him to be front-runner never reached much beyond, "It's his turn now." Buttigieg talks a good game, and clearly he is very intelligent, but he just doesn't have the experience or the coattails to carry other candidates in other races. Sanders has the movement; Biden has the Establishment cred. Buttigieg has just himself. Bloomberg... I just don't know. The picture of a billionaire trying to buy his way in offends me, but at least he has real experience: Mayor of New York City is nearly as good as head of state for most countries. I hear he's racked up a lot of endorsements from other mayors, which means that as president he'd have a cadre of allies to help him implement policies and pressure others to go along. I wish I'd seen him on the debate stage, to get a sense of his mind. Not a fan of Warren. Kind of liking Klobuchar. Steyer should go away (but leaqve his checkbook, esp. to fund down-ballot races). I too would like to see Yang in some sort of cabinet post, along with many of the other early droppers-out, to help build the Democratic field for future races. Dean Shomshak
  16. He. Stay away from Exalted. In that game, the world of Creation is indeed flat, fraying at the edges into primal chaos, anchored by five Elemental Poles. Personally, it's one of my favorite aspects of the game. Dean Shomshak
  17. He. Stay away from Exalted. In that game, the world of Creation is indeed flat, fraying at the edges into primal chaos, anchored by five Elemental Poles. Personally, it's one of my favorite aspects of the game. Dean Shomshak
  18. Factually incorrect. Chinese myth and religion includes many gods, who are worshiped as such, who are mortals ascended to divinity. AFAIK the only figure in Chinese myth that predates the world is the primordial giant Pangu, who grew to become the world. While I think* there are a few temples of Pangu, he's not a major figure in Chinese religion. The main deities of Greek religion are born after the world's creation as well. There are a few primordial figures such as Gaia, but Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Apollo, etc. live in a world they had no hand in making (beyond little things such as creating particular mountains or islands). The Greek creation myths that I know of are of fairly late provenance as well -- literary creations, such as Hesiod's Theogony, or philosophical speculations such as the Orphic myth. (See Robert Graves' The Greek Myths for a survey.) Once you survey the breadth of human myth, religion and supernatural belief, you find that all the categories are blurry and any "rule" you imagine has plenty of exceptions and qualifiers. The most you can say is that some tropes and patterns frequently occur. Dean Shomshak
  19. Factually incorrect. Chinese myth and religion includes many gods, who are worshiped as such, who are mortals ascended to divinity. AFAIK the only figure in Chinese myth that predates the world is the primordial giant Pangu, who grew to become the world. While I think* there are a few temples of Pangu, he's not a major figure in Chinese religion. The main deities of Greek religion are born after the world's creation as well. There are a few primordial figures such as Gaia, but Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Apollo, etc. live in a world they had no hand in making (beyond little things such as creating particular mountains or islands). The Greek creation myths that I know of are of fairly late provenance as well -- literary creations, such as Hesiod's Theogony, or philosophical speculations such as the Orphic myth. (See Robert Graves' The Greek Myths for a survey.) Once you survey the breadth of human myth, religion and supernatural belief, you find that all the categories are blurry and any "rule" you imagine has plenty of exceptions and qualifiers. The most you can say is that some tropes and patterns frequently occur. Dean Shomshak
  20. Many of the tarot cards represent sufficiently universal/archetypal concepts that you can use them as is. You might change some images to gods of the High Faith: Kilbern foir the Emperor, Mordak for the Devil, etc. This probably won't work for every card, but it's a start. Dean Shomshak
  21. Incidentally, I vaguely remember a short story by, I think, L. Sprague deCamp in which a con man decides the big money is in religion, so he invents a god and uses his acting and oratoriacal skills to popularize it. The donations start rolling in! And then the god manifests. Oops. DeCamp, Saberhagen, Leiber and Anderson also wrote a lot of SF as well as Fantasy, and I suspect it shaped their development of the "belief creates gods" trope. As I alluded above, it seems to me like a clever notion for people who like playing ideas but who don't really care much about faith or religion. I have to include myself among that group. When Steve Long assembled the CU, he adopted a lot of the mystic cosmology I invented in The Ultimate Super-Mage. In it, I had belief and story creating spirits, gods and entire dimensions. This seemed like a good justification for the "kitchen sink" nature of the standard superhero universe, in which an angel of the Lord and the mighty Thor can be equally real. Marvel and DC kind of waffled on this, with talk of a Supreme Deity who was strongly suggested to be the Abrahamic Deity while the pagan mythic figures were merely powerful entities living in pocket dimensions. I wasn't willing to privilege one mythology over another, so I made Yahweh as much a creation of human belief as Odin or Zeus. And having the gods all be delusional, believing their own myths, sidestepped the clashing origin myths. At least the gods aren't all consciously lying to their worshipers. TA is part of the CU, so it has to use the same cosmology. This world can't be created by gods, because the contemporary CU's Earth wasn't created by gods. One may not like this approach to Fantasy world design. But it's a consequence of splicing together two different genres. Which, as I have said before, I don't think was a good idea in the first place. So I don't entirely disagree with Phil on this. Dean Shomshak
  22. Fantasy RPGs are generally based on Fantasy fiction. Fantasy fiction is generally based on ancient myths and legends, but not taking them at face value. The idea that people invent gods is not new. One of the ancient Greek philosophers, I forget which one, opined that if pigs believed in gods those gods would oink. (Or words to that effect.) William Blake had a more elegant phrasing in Marriage of Heaven and Hell about gods as personifications and metaphors created by poets, that unsophisticated people took as real with help from unscrupulous priests. The Mimamsa school of Hinduism explicitly holds that the gods don't have to be real for the rituals of worship to have power. So Fantasy authors and games aren't completely without precedent in creating worlds in which human belief creates "real" gods. Much of magic draws on symbols and concepts of divine power... but further assumes that gods (or even God) cannot stop mortals from expropriating their power in this way. See Stolen Lightning: A Social Theory of Magic by Daniel Lawrence O'Keefe. So I have no problem with the TA theology, at least in terms of internal consistency. Though some parts are fairly unpleasant, such as the role of faith: worship is the food of the gods, but faith -- belief without evidence, or even in the face of evidence -- is their wine. Which is why they don't just allow, they create religious divisions such as the Hargeshites. If faith is their wine, the gods seem to be alcoholics. And nobody's better than an addict at rationalizing their behavior. In this sense, the TA theology is very much the work of secular people who, how do I put this, don't believe in belief or revere reverence. Dean Shomshak
  23. A bizarre experiment in resurrection may soon bear fruit... literally. Dead sea date palm npr News Dates Like Jesus Ate? Scientists Revive Ancient Trees From 2,000-Year-Old ... NPR11 hours ago The world's most remarkable date palm trees might not exist if Sarah Sallon hadn't gotten sick while working ... "Like the fa mous ... I forget whether it was in this interview or the one she did with the BBC that project leader Sarah Sallon said that when she told archaeologists her plan to grow the lost Judean date palm from ancient seeds, "They said I was mad." Followed by laughter. Or cackling? Perhaps. How growing date palms from 2,000 year old seeds leads to supervillainy, I l;eave as an exercise for the reader. Dean Shomshak
  24. Jan. 2020 Scientific American: "The Galactic Archipelago." An intriguing approach to the Fermi Paradox. As the authors note, how you "solve" the paradox depends greatly on big assumptions of varying degrees of testability. They suggest a comparison with settlement of the Pacific islands: The islands vary widely in how suitable they are for settlement, and in how easily they can be reached from other islands. They also add time as a factor: For instance, Pitcairn Island was inhabited in the 1400s, but empty when the Bounty mutineers settled there centuries later. Similarly, stars suitable for settlement are probably not evenly distriubuted -- and they move, so a cluster of systems that are mutually accessible gradually drift apart. Give civilization in each system a finite lifespan, and settlement across the Galaxy proceeds in spurts and patches, with wide areas where suitable star systems are left fallow for long periods. Earth could very easily be in one such fallow area, and have been so for long enough that any trace of past alien contact or settlement might be hard to find or recognize. Dean Shomshak
  25. My sister would like to add her thanks for this post. When I told her about it, she said, "And here I thought I was just a Luddite." Dean Shomshak
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