Thursday, September 29, 2011

L5R Cosmology: Shintao

Now we finally arrive at Shintao, and believe me, the wait was necessary.

In my previous post, I detailed the ur-religion of Rokugan as performed by the first humans, also known as the Tribe of Isawa. Now I must once again fast-forward a bit in our creation story by summarizing thusly:
The nine children of the Sun and Moon fell from the heavens. One of them, Fu Leng, fell away from the others, and his impact was such that he punched a hole straight into Jigoku (hell) and became a Villain To Be Named Later. Meanwhile, the others fell together (and more gently) and landed on Rokugan. When this happened, they immediately lost most of their divinity but still retained much power (demigods at the least.) One of these eight, Hantei, became Emperor and the other 7 swore fealty to him, creating the 7 Great Clans of the Emerald Empire.
Two things are worthy of mention here:
  • The Emperor and Clan Founders were also considered kami, because of their divine origins. In order to differentiate them from all the other kinds of kami, we are going to call them kami-sama (respected kami).
  • Of the kami-sama,  NONE of them were Shugenja. Just file that away for future reference. 

Having read this, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the socio-religious order didn't change one whit.  The Fortunes and O-kami were still worshipped; there were simply new bosses in town who were stronger and smarter than the old bosses. This is the foundation of the "We are samurai, we are better than you, because we are nobles and real people (i.e. descended from gods) and you are only half-people" caste system (also known as the Celestial Order), which is still present in modern Rokugan. More on this in a moment. 

For the average human, life went on pretty much as normal: you farmed, you prayed, and you tried not to die from disease or starvation or angry samurai... for the first 33 years, that is, because that's when Fu Leng invaded Rokugan with an army of demons. Apparently, the youngest kami-sama (who'd spent decades absorbing Jigoku's power, and basically becoming the god of hell) decided he didn't like how his siblings never went looking for him, or he was angry that he hadn't been invited to the tournament where they decided who would be emperor, or whatever. He was hell's champion, it's not like he needed a reason to attack. But the upshot is that that Fu Leng and his minions proceeded to kick the crap out of everyone and everything. He had slave races of ogres and goblins, he commanded demons, and he knew blood magic which was so powerful that it corrupted the traditional blood magic of the Isawa such that anyone who performed it became Tainted (think cancer of the soul) with the corruptive power of Jigoku.

And just when it looked like the Empire was about to crumble, a little old man walked up to the Emperor and said, basically, "The solution is right in front of you, but you're too blind to see it. Listen to what I have to say and I can solve all of your problems." 

The Emperor said, essentially, "Oh yeah, old man? Prove it."

And the old man, whose name was Shinsei, did just that. He took seven mortals -- not the kami-sama, but humans -- and the eight of them kicked the crap out of a demon-god, routed his armies, and bound him for over a thousand years.

Of course, Shinsei died while doing this, but his lessons -- many of them spoken to the Emperor himself -- were written down, and they became the Tao (Way) of Shinsei. These written lessons formed the core of Shintao, and they revolutionized EVERYTHING. 

There are really only two major tenets to Shintao, and you've already read both of them. The first is the concept of elemental rings, and how there is a progression of spirits from smallest to largest. This is the lesson learned by all shugenja, and without Shinsei, there would be no shugenja on Rokugan. 

The second tenet is the teaching that All Are One, the concept of universal unity through void.  

Big whoop, I hear you all say. We know this already. Yes, but what you are failing to grasp is the true application of these two principles, which is this:
If the void touches and encompasses and unifies everything, then I am everything and everything is me. I am the soil beneath my feet and the air that I breath. I am the tree under which I shelter and I am the fire that keeps me warm. I am the animals I eat. I am you. I am all of creation. 
You know what else is all of creation? That's right, the O-kami. 

Shintao says, "You are god and you don't even realize it. The only reason you can't access that power is because you aren't enlightened enough to access it. Get out of your own way and realize your own divinity."

Now just think about this for a moment. Shinsei says that this filthy peasant here is you. And you are that filthy peasant. And both of you are gods.

Shintao was not the great equalizer, it was the great humbler. It took the notion that the gods were somehow set apart and unattainable to all but a select few, and it threw that notion to the ground and stomped the pieces into dust. This is amazingly heretical stuff, because there is nothing an entrenched caste system hates worse than being told its repressed underclass is equal to them. 

But Shinsei got away with it, precisely because Rokugan needed to topple a god from his pedestal. Because of that, and his success, and the heroic sacrifice of himself and the Seven Thunders, Shinseism became revered and codified into Shintao. 

This heralded the emergence of the first truly ethical belief system in all of Rokugan. It works because it is very simple: "If all are one, then any wrong done to another is wrong done to yourself, and kindness shown to another is kindness towards oneself."

Or, put more succinctly, "Don't be a douche to yourself, dude."

In addition to a moral system, it also unified the Rokugani system of spirituality. Why are the kami amoral? Because man is inherently amoral, because you are them and they are you. Want them to act ethically? Then act ethically yourself. Karma, right action, social order, all of these things came about because a little old man said "I have empathy for you as if you were me."

This puts monks in a very interesting social position. Technically, they are peasants, but they are also highly esteemed due to their religious devotion. Only samurai can become shugenja, because shugenja training requires time and education and resources which non-nobles simply don't have, but anyone, even the filthiest untouchable, can shave his head, join a monastery, and seek enlightenment. At the same time, when samurai reach old age and retire, they often become monks in order to prepare their souls for the afterlife.

Monks are a social aberration because they allow anyone to join their ranks. They are an escape from, and an exception to, the caste system. Yesterday's gravedigger can become tomorrow's abbot who gets to order a freshly retired samurai to clean out the toilets because he's the newest novice.

Of course, despite being (by Imperial Decree) one of the core religions of the Empire, not everyone reveres Shintao equally. Peasants love monks (who are far more approachable than shugenja) but are typically too busy trying to feed their families to tend to spiritual correctness and Right Action. Samurai should be mindful of Shintao at all times, but compassion for others gets a bit... muddied... when bushido states you have to serve your lord faithfully, and he's just commanded you to kill those other people.

Also, frankly, most samurai are douches. There's a Rokugani saying which goes "Samurai are cursed to be reborn as samurai," which basically means that your karmic punishment for killing people in the name of honor is to be reborn as an ass who kills people in the name of honor. It's far, far easier for peasants to achieve enlightenment, or at least escape the karmic cycle of reincarnation, than it is for samurai.

The upshot of all of this is that most samurai pay only lip service to Shintao, because Fortunism is what get things done. This really only changes at the end of their lives, when they realize they may have to answer for all the bad things they've done in service to their lord.

This concludes the Basic Course of Coherent Rokugani Cosmology, and is all you need to know in order to play. More sophisticated topics will be addressed in the Advanced Course. 

If you have any questions, now is the time to ask them. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

WNW: Death Battle!

And since we're on the subject of Transformers and My Little Pony:

Click to embiggen. 

Optimus Pony

Auto Dash (for the others, go here)

So in conclusion...

Autobots! Transform and Brohoof!

L5R Cosmology: Religion in Prehistoric Rokugan

So having gone up the ladder from mikokami to o-kami, some of you are no doubt wondering, "How do humans fit into all this mess?"  I'm glad you asked.

For the sake of brevity, I'm going to skip large chunks of the creation myth for now. Suffice it to say that humans were created when the bodily fluids of Lady Sun and Lord Moon fell to the surface of Rokugan and mixed. Therefore, humans are a perfect mixture of yin and yang, or courage and cowardice, or however else you care to explain a union of opposites. What's important is that humans were created and formed a society before the children of the Sun and Moon fell from the heavens and founded an empire, and even before people knew of the kami, they had an atavistic religion.

These humans worshiped the Sun and Moon, of course, because these things are primal. Heat and cold, life-bringer and life-taker; we've seen it time and again in our world. What is unusual is that these people also worshiped their dead ancestors, believing that their progenitors were somehow sticking around as spirits, watching their descendants, and looking after them.

At the same time, these people also worshiped the Seven Fortunes that were mentioned earlier who, unlike all the other kami, represent human agency. Put these two facts together, and we may logically derive the conclusion that the Seven Fortunes are in fact super-powerful ancestors who lived so long ago that practically all humans on Rokugan are considered to be their descendants.*

If you'd like to be a bit silly, just consider the Seven Fortunes to be the first Player Characters on Rokugan and who, for all their exploits, are now recognized as gods. Blows your mind a bit, eh?

Another interesting tidbit about Rokugani pre-history is that they had a form of magic that did not pay homage to the elements. In fact, all of their magic was blood-related. Again, this goes back to the roots of "Religion as a way of brokering a deal with the supernatural to get things done without any trappings of morality to get in the way."

Let's say you wanted someone to fall in love with you. For that, you go see Benten, the fortune of love. But, at least in the early days, Benten is just a powerful ancestor. Sure, she brings romantic success to her descendants, but you aren't related to her. You have to find some way to get her favor, because all of your prayers to your grandparents aren't doing jack.

The simple answer is to use the sympathetic magic. Benten cares about her family because of blood relation. In order to get Benten to care about you, there has to be a blood link between her and you. So, obviously, you ritualistically cut yourself and offer that blood to her. Now you are symbolically related, and clearly you care enough about her to suffer and bleed. The sympathetic principle (like produces like), with a sacrifice to sweeten the deal, ensures that Benten will now accept you as part of her family -- one of her bloodline. After a while, the shedding of blood was no longer needed, but it became institutionalized.

This is how it was for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years: an ur-religion based on bloodshed, power exchange, and material gain, without any of that messy ethical nonsense.

And then Hantei, Fu Leng, and all the rest fell to earth, and screwed everything up.

Next: Shintao, I promise.

* Before you get all up in arms about ancestors becoming fortunes, I have one word for you: Osano-wo. This man was so badass that he became the Fortune of Fire and Thunder in the span of time between his death and when his son, Kaimetsu-uo, assaulted the lands of the Phoenix. This rate of ascension makes the Seven Fortunes look like snails.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pellatarrum: Broken River 4

Broken River
Part 4: Faction, Faction, Who's got a Faction?
by Mike (Rhishisikk) Kochis

Well, everyone has a faction, naturally. Most of us don't realize that we have more than one faction. Note that faction isn't an allegiance – it's a cause to which we contribute, whether we support it or not. And, because we normally get something back, if only a feeling of accomplishment, we normally keep tabs on what's going on with our faction.

For example, I once had a job with fast food. This doesn't mean that I'm attempting to pawn off grease burgers and convert the vegans. It means, that for a time, I was assisting a fast food place in exchange for money.

Take a look at a political faction, the Trask family. All are members of other factions (with the possible exception of Susan, but it's just because we haven't detailed her yet). Harver Trask is obviously going to be concerned with anything affecting his family, the Church of Light, and the Sow's Ear.

In other words, the conflict between Light and Dark and the Elements isn't just a matter of metamagical balance. It's something that affects and drives the lives of our NPCs.

Which Factions are Important?
Well... to whom? To your players and their characters, of course. Naturally, I don't know who your players are and what races, classes, archetypes, and whatnot they're playing. So I have to cover lots of bases. How, you ask, is such a thing possible?

Human nature, of course.

Stage One: Class
Remember how I told you not to generate the mayor? Now is when we generate the mayor, decide what branches of government are important, and start to worry about things like laws.

Also, we need to look at our "big four" classes, and set up at least two factions for each. I never set an upper limit for factions, which does come back to bite me in my buttocks.

Okay, fighters and related classes are obviously going to be interested in the town watch, the loose array of "rangers" (mostly warriors and commoners) who patrol lands around the outlying farms, caravans that are hiring guards, and other ways to employ their skills to shine in town.

Clerics are going to be interested in the Church of the Light, the order of midwives taking care of day-to-day medicine, the disenfranchised poor, and so on. And, of course, the Cult of the Dark; note that important faction doesn't mean friendly faction.

Arcane types will be looking for libraries (we didn't put one in), the alchemists of the Salt Works, the Order of Four (four sorcerers, one tied to each traditional element), and ways to acquire one of the not-yet-existing towers for their laboratories... but we'll get to that later.

Rogues and bards will care about the Smuggler's Union (and possibly the Sow's Ear), the Ladies' Floral Society (the aristocratic women who protect their menfolk from all manner of stupidity, normally started by the menfolk themselves), and possibly even the long-standing feud between local government and the remote government clerk, Seamus Gantry (7th level commoner).

We have a number of industries, or economic powers. I decide we don't (yet) have a farmer's co-op, although one rancher on the dirty side of town is trying to organize one. Obviously, the Salt Works sits astride the town's major thoroughfare, so in spite of just wanting to run their business quietly, they often find themselves embroiled in local situations. The Mucker's Union, those stalwart commoners who dig up the clay needed for so much of the local economy, is going to be a faction. And, of course each "noble" family (local nobles, not landed gentry, like the Family Trask) has its own economic interests.

Which brings us to an important note about factions and organizations: they rarely fit into just one category. Let us return to the Sow's Ear for a moment. Clearly, Captain Sowsberry cares about both his legitimate business, and his smuggling operation. But the network of links doesn't stop with just the big boss. Because of Sumi Dragonrage, we have a link to the half-orc community. Likewise, Mister Hamsteader ("just call me Alex") in the back can be a link to halfling and gnomish interests.

But let's examine a short "loop" of links to demonstrate where I'm going with this. Captain Sowsberry runs a "package delivery" (smuggling) operation. This is managed by Harver Trask. So, there is a first-link status between Harver and the Captain. In turn, the government "officially" (I haven't decided how corrupt the government is, yet) disapproves of smuggling, and asks the Church of Light (specifically Anton Trask) to expose and stop such foolishness. This means that Anton and Harver have two first-link statuses; from Anton to the Captain is, therefore, a two link status.

In real life, I have heard it said that we are only seven "steps" (a less formal relation than our links, which is why I specifically use the term links) removed from every living person on the planet. Do I take pains to make sure all my NPCs are only seven links removed? In fact, I do not; it often happens anyway.

So, why do we care about the links? Take our theoretical halfling rogue, Chubby Chesterson. Chubby wants to do roguish stuff (surprise!), and is looking for the "thieves' guild" at the Sow's Ear. Naturally, he's going to ask his fellow halfling. Working with both the Captain and Harver, it's pretty likely that he'll know; but will he give them up to a stranger? Probably not.

Here's the problem; we're trying to motivate the party into checking out a ruined monastery for the Church of Light. Our (again theoretical) monk and cleric are on board, and our sorcerer will be hooked in by other means.

When in doubt, kill as many birds with a single stone as you can. "I know some smugglers," Alex admits, "but I don't know that I can trust you yet. There's a man what snoops around here scaring our customers, by the name of Anton Trask. Maybe if you were to find something else for him to look into? I heard the Church of Light is interested in the old Iron Fist monastery; maybe you could manage to find something there, have the church send him to look at that for a week or so?" Just the sort of quid pro quo I associate with my halflings. Now, instead of spending time screaming around town that he's a burglar and needs work, Chubby should be motivated to go to the monastery with the rest of the party.

We note that there are the ruins of a monastery in the nearby foothills (an adventure location, again a later post), and move on.

Notice that three of our four hypothetical characters have adventure hooks right there at the Sow's Ear. Every faction has adventure hooks, rumors about it in the town, and resources that they can provide to PCs they like. Most of our major NPCs will have this layout also. Although we don't flesh that out until later, now is a wonderful time to start note cards of our ideas.

Yes, this is getting messy fast, even without a cat or small child to knock the stacks of notecards everywhere. It gets messier.

Stage Two: Race
Yes, we've all heard that fantasy worlds are egalitarian, and equal for all. How boring. The truth is right there in the fluff text, even for Pellatarum. Remember how much your brain protested Sumi (our buxom barmaid) being a half-orc? Didn't you have a twinge that said Alex should be a gnome, just look at what he does? (There are games like Fantasy Craft that just blend the two races right together into a single package of small-size heroism.)

How much worse would it have been if I had said that halflings ran the paladin order, or that only dwarves were inquisitors? Right, and I'm not going to. But, over and over again, I find that authors make these "intuitive leaps" and trample all else underfoot.

So let's look at races from an elemental perspective:

  • Air: Dragons and Kobolds. There is a strong enough bond here to consider them one faction. However, as with anything that near-indestructible, dragons have MASSIVE egos, and are their own worst enemies. I was going to have just a single dragon manipulating parts of Broken River from behind the scenes. However, now that I know kobolds are a playable race, we really need two or more, for that dragon-on-dragon cloak and dagger-ness. 
  • Water: Elves and Gnomes. Ooh, this one is a toughie. Aligned, but not truly one solid faction. The elves are still feuding with their underwater cousins, which gives us two factions of snotty elves trying to one-up each other. Most gnomes have already washed their hands of the feud, probably with the recent death of one of their leaders. 
  • Earth: Dwarves and Humans. I hadn't placed any mountains nearby, and there are no minerals the dwarves are really interested in. I create Copperbeard Jaegra, and decide she's head of the Dwarven Trade Consulate, assigned out here as a punishment for original thinking. I'll put a pin in that, for later. 
  • Fire: Orcs and Goblins hate each other. In fact, everyone hates orcs and by implication half-orcs. Even orcs hate each other. I decide that one of the dirty side gangs is run by a half-orc. Pathfinder goblins are amusing; I'll need to ask Erin if they're a playable race, also. 
  • Unaligned: Halflings are curious, even to themselves. Nobody knows where they fit in the cosmology, how they're here, or even remembers how they first attached themselves like lampreys to the underbelly of the other races (Yes, even the local orc tribe has halflings. More on that later.) 
Of course, these stereotypes are rich with NPCs. Halfling rogues, gnomish wizards, elven rangers, dwarven warriors – the list is endless. I know, I stopped trying after two pages of college rule paper, three columns per page. These are rich prototypes, which your players will identify immediately, and know where they stand with each one.

The temptation here is to over-use it. I had a dwarven player once flabbergasted to find that there were twelve dwarves in a township, and not one of them was a blacksmith. Just because a stereotype exists, doesn't mean you have to use it; for that matter, just because I say something exists in my game doesn't mean it exists in yours. I ran a module once where the players were looking for their half-elven ranger guide, the strongest reason I can think of to both read a book and to use your own archetypes when you want to.

It is, as I've already said, also important to break those molds. Make a halfling monk, a dwarven archer, and other silliness. Sumi Dragonrage, for example, began her concept as a half-orc bard; but she didn't need the magical abilities to do her job. Besides, bards always run in short supply in my designs. There's just too many places to plug them in at once you run out of aristocrats, another reason I stress using commoners where they can be used.

Another risk I've hinted at; don't over-use your races. There are only 1250 people in Broken River – it is worth noting if I have more than a dozen of any non-human race. This means that the bulk of my NPCs should be human, and I've broken my own rules in setting up the Sow's Ear. And that's okay, as long as I both know I'm breaking the rules, and that I keep things in check.

Sidebar: When to Break the Rules
For example, the Order of Four. I "trade back" my third level sorcerer for two second levelers; this means all of the Four are second level. It is easier to trade down than up; otherwise you have isolated high levelers with nobody even able to step into their shoes if they end up dead from say, a rampaging troll. Don't ask; I've had three seperate groups think bringing a captive troll downtown was just a wonderful idea. One of them set the troll loose deliberately, to show off the prowess of their fighter. Without even stopping long enough to replenish their spells.

The other time to break rules is when setting up villains. I have a number of factions that just don't play nice with player characters. At first and second level, it's okay to fight organizations led by a first level fighter or wizard or whatever. After third level? The same challenge is barely a speed bump, but again that's a different article.

Stage 3: People are PeopleIt's easy to just slap a class, location, and faction on an NPC and think you're done. Sadly, this lacks verisimilitude. Lacks what, you ask? Trust me, I don't use this word because it has a lot of syllables. I use it because it's the only word other than realism, and realism just doesn't fit. Verisimilitude is the sense of reality within the accepted fantasy. For example, wizards behave differently in Conan than Earthsea; each has its own accepted backdrop. A standard wizard in one setting becomes an anachronism and individual worth noting in the other setting.

For example, it's not a stretch to give the Captain a peg leg. This has verisimilitude. But we can't give him a cybernetic arm with a built-in lie detector (although this would be cool), as that totally breaks the motif. So when adding to characters, always keep in mind that some things don't fit.

Also, as with the peg leg, just because something fits doesn't mean it has to be there. Within what I'm about to tell you, use this engineering principle: "You have not reached perfection when there is nothing else to add, but rather when there is nothing left to take away."

Read the warning label? Okay, then. Let's jump in.

Every individual should be unique, should be an individual. Perhaps the Captain likes small furry bunnies (and in his soup, he does). However, these are things that rarely come up in the process of playing the game. Players will generally care that the Sow's Ear has cheap rent, a tolerant landlord, and has a not-too-unsavory reputation. Do they care that the wine cellar is made of halfling brick? Probably not, but it's important to know.

Why, you ask? Because knowing these things – that Harver Trask can't stand wearing a tie, and thus ducks every "high society" event that his family will let him, are important to related feelings. AND it's especially important when making the town's rumor matrix, especially for Light-oriented NPCs. As a paladin, Harver Trask probably openly derides the evils of the tie as a fashion mistake when asked – even (especially) at events where he simply MUST wear one.

Look! Look! We've just added a wrinkle to Harver Trask's character. He loves his family; he just can't stand formal events. Likewise, his mother just can't have him going about offending all her important guests. With just a little effort, we've added something that "feels real" about Harver, fits with what is already there, and defines his character just a little bit more for the players. Even if they never see him in silken finery, learning this about him makes him more of a "real person" to them.

And that's what crafting a base city is all about; players should love some characters, hate others with a fiery passion (and, if we do our job just right, different characters will evoke different emotions in different players), but should only feel indifferent about NPCs that don't matter to our plot, the story we're trying to tell.

So how does this relate to faction? Exactly because people join the same cause for different reasons. Maybe Jillian, a druid, joined the lumber union specifically to minimize the damage done to wild animals. Maybe Casker Thorn joined the Jar Breakers because of his late wife's interests, and just hasn't gotten around to leaving them. Some will join for power over others, or to have another field for rivalry with their enemies.

And, of course, some fifty to seventy percent of any faction's members are there just because they fit into the model of an "ideal member". Again, it depends upon the faction and the NPC.

But I'm approaching the limits of a single post, so I'll be back soon with a look at the kobolds of Broken River.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Super-Fashion: The Birds of Paradise, part 1

The Birds of Paradise are a super-team, much like the Justice League or the Global Guardians. Their unifying theme is that they all come from Caribbean nations, and all have some sort of bird motif going on.

This team is too large to be covered in a single post, so I'm splitting it.

Dr. Hummingbird

Shakira Martin was just a mild-mannered pre-med student when, while hiking through the Jamaican cloud forest, she was horribly injured when she walked off of a cliff.

As she lay dying, a Red-billed Streamertail, aka the Doctor Bird, came to her aid. Unable to heal her wounds, this bird -- whom the locals believe is a reincarnation of dead souls -- absorbed Shakira's soul and merged it with its own. In that moment, Dr. Hummingbird was born, a mystical fusion of bird and woman.

In addition to super-fast flight, Dr. Hummingbird can diagnose illness with just a glance; heal most wounds and diseases with but a touch; and see, speak to, and command spirits of the dead.

    Scarlet Ibis
    Trinidad & Tobago

    Gabrielle Walcott appears to be an ordinary woman, but she is not. Born under a blood-red moon to parents of  Egyptian ancestry, she is actually a vessel for Thoth, the ancient god of wisdom and the moon.

    She is a sorceress, though most of her spells revolve around divination and revelation, as well as a telepath of the highest order. She can shapeshift into a scarlet ibis, or assume a half-woman/half-bird form (seen above.) In either form, she can fly and swim at amazing speeds. She can also assume the form of a super-strong baboon (of scarlet hue), though she is reluctant to reveal this ability, as it is her "ace in the hole".

    The Scarlet Ibis is a sworn enemy of Set, and many supervillains with snake or voodoo powers are unwittingly in service to him.


    Eva Van Putten is a genius-level scientist, engineer, and inventor, as well an amateur ornithologist who longed to fly with the birds she so admired. Researching the properties of minerals, she was able to synthesize a form of sapphire which produced an effect related to piezoelectricity: when put under pressure, the crystalline structure generates thrust according to the Biefeld–Brown effect. Modeling herself after the Blue Toucan, she uses her technological expertise, as well as ionicly-powered flight/super-strength/force fields/energy blasts to soar with the birds and fight crime.

    What is most interesting about Two-Can is her ability to appear in two places at once. Most people believe this is achieved with some form of teleportation, but some theorize that she has developed the ability to create an energy duplicate of herself, or perhaps bi-locate using a heretofore unknown loophole of physics.

    What these people do not realize is that she has a twin sister, Anna, who is using the spare Two-Can suit that Eva created. They take great pains to hide the fact that there are two sisters in two suits. (In fact, the press thinks her name is Toucan, not Two-Can.)

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    WNW: Mustache Rides

    Behold the glory that is Tom Selleck's mustache. It is apparently made of ninjas, as it improves movies with its simple presence.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011

    Pellatarrum: Broken River 3

    Broken River
    Part 3: Locale and Groups (Assigning NPCs)
    by Mike (Rhishisikk) Kochis

    Okay, now the moment you've been waiting for is almost here. Get ready to touch that paladin. No, not the second level one, one of the first levelers. I know, I know. The temptation to put the big blocks on top is almost overwhelming, but they won't stay there if the little blocks aren't in place to support them.
    Does this mean we can't start with the mayor and garrison, or with the salt works, or the most powerful NPCs we can select? No. But if you start large, you'll be agonizing over where to cut. I prefer to agonize over who gets the promotion and why.

    But in general, you should start where your PCs will. For Broken River, this could be the Church of the Light, the Garrison, the Salt Works, or even the docks or a city gate. But for most groups, it is easiest to start at -

    The Local Watering Hole
    Remember how when building the infrastructure of town, I made certain to put in a variety of inns, taverns, and a brewery for a variety of alchohol? Yup, we're going to start there. After kicking around a variety of smuggler's pubs, I realize that isn't the flavor I want at all.

    I want the Sow's Ear. It's a pub that has existed under different names, but it is everything zero level adventurers could want. Small fireplace, throwing the two corners near the door into shadows? Check. Tinker-farrier working out the back so that their horses can be cared for? Check. Poor food, passable drinks, and loose women? Check. No, wait, we'll get to them later.

    NOW we start at the top. "Captain" Sowsberry has never set foot on a boat in his life, nor does he intend to. He's got a good setup – he's near enough to the docks for "package delivery", but far enough away to avoid most of the unsavory night activity. If it does find him, he can send the busboy uphill to the Garrison for help. He spends his days and nights either in the common room, or his private offices and bedroom, all on the first floor. Whenever he needs something, he just sends someone else to do the work.

    So – commoner. Clearly not a first level commoner, and more distinct than a second leveler. No, I feel third level is about where I want the Captain. As it happens, I have over three dozen of those. This is another reason why we start with commoners – it's easy to grab one out of the available pool. Craft and Profession are still class skills, so I could model the entire tavern out of commoners if I wanted to.

    Obviously, I don't want to. As stated, every tavern has bar wenches. I have a vision of a buxom, chatty, witty, well-educated barmaid, one who is uncannily connected to the gossip and news of the entire town. So, I do two things. First, I assign her an uncanny Charisma of sixteen. Yes, fourteen is about where the town should cap, just hang for a sentence. Second, I have the perfect race for her – half-orc. NOW her charisma is where it should be. Right... I'll wait for you calm down.

    There are many reasons to make Sumi Dragonrage a half-orc. First, beautiful charismatic tuskers draw attention – exactly what I want for Sumi. Also, most PCs are going to dismiss her as a romantic interest, which also plays into what I envision her role as. Lastly, I just love the internal foil, characters who slap your preconcieved notions of what they should be. I try not to over-use this tool; as with any tool, it dulls with over-use.

    So – class. I sure don't want her to be common. So expert jumps immediately to mind. I consider it a while before scratching it behind the ears, telling it "nice idea" and sitting it on my lap to wait for the proper time. No, I need social skills and a focus that says connected. Yup, there's an obvious choice for that – aristocrat.

    Yes, we've got an aristocrat working for a commoner. If it works well, I don't care about snobby preconceived notions of what the classes should be used for.

    But – I don't want her rivaling the town's "nobility". So I set her level to one.

    Okay, that expert idea is whining for attention. There's a place for it – we have a farrier working in back, if you remember. Although we could and probably should just make him a commoner, I want the Sow's Ear to shine. So the role (and level one expert) go to Alexander Hamsteader, halfling tinker. I like assigning halflings to non-cook and non-rogue roles, for reason that most halflings are drawn to such activities. Also, people just want to plug gnomes and dwarves into blacksmithing roles, which is just creatively lazy.

    For lazy, we can go with our next role – bouncer. Club, fighting ability, especially unarmed – we should make him a monk. Nope. First, no more than one PC class per site unless there's reason to gather them in one spot, such as the church and garrison. I already know where I want that singular role. So, much as I want Saul Kerns to be remarkable, I have to assign him as a warrior. After much debate, I decide that first level is good enough, but make notes to promote him if I have spare high-level warriors (I don't expect to, but notes like this help later).

    Although D&D and Pellatarum in particular have magic, it really doesn't belong staffing the local water holes (exception: bards). So, no adept on staff here. Besides, you really wanted to touch that first level paladin, right?

    Enter Harver Trask, bright shiny first level paladin. No, this is my world, so he's a down to earth, landless knight sort of person. And he's part of the Sow's Ear, so he's open, friendly, and personable. But there's no role for a paladin, right? No, let's put Trask in charge of the "package delivery" service next door.

    What is that noise you're making? Motorboat? Chicken? Shrieking bird?*
    Yes, our paladin is a smuggler. Broken River has more than it's share of poor people, and no public hospital. This means a large number of people, getting injured with no way of affording medical treatment. Plus, it puts him in a position to "anonymously" report to his brother (yes, more on that later) any unduly onerous packages slipping through customs. Harver Trask is a genuinely good man performing a shady and dubious duty because the sort of person who wants that job is the absolutely last person he wants doing it. He knows one person he implicitly trusts to run things right – and he's doing that job.

    The Captain whines constantly about security, accuses Harver daily of sabotaging his own operations (and he's right). He threatens Harver every other day, and fires him weekly – but the Trask family, as it turns out, is one of the major families in the small town. Besides, he's less annoying (and lower paid) than putting a rogue in that position would be. So, tense as it might be, the business arrangement between the Captain and Harver Trask continues to this day.

    And that roughs out the parts of the Sow's Ear that I need at this stage. Everyone else is a commoner, and probably first or second level. (The bartender, in particular, is a good candidate for second level.) 
    So, on to my next lead.

    Groups, Guilds, and Other Power Structures
    As noted, Harver Trask is a member of the Family Trask. In small towns, politics tend to run in families. Yes, one could argue they do that in the larger cities as well. I'll detail the families in my next posting (as well as other organizations); for now, I'm just focusing on the Trasks.

    The Trask family was founded on (mostly) legitimate trade concerns, steered clear of government, and gave many favors to the Church of the Light – including four of their seven children. Harver Trask, as we already know, is a paladin of the light, who seems to have an unending stash of medical supplies for the poor and downtrodden.

    Anton Trask (Yes, CJ, I stole Antoine Trask. Send your Sith assassin lawyers; see if you can get him back.) is a character from a game I enjoyed. I absolutely hated Antoine Trask, spymaster. That kind of hatred comes only to well-crafted NPCs; I knew, when I knew inquisitors were part of the Church, that Anton Trask would be one of them. We grab that second-level inquisitor; if somebody deserves it more than Anton Trask, I've yet to despise them.

    So – cleric and oracle? Oh yes, the family divine. I like treading on pre-conceived stereotyped notions, but this one is worth snagging and treating well.

    I like the character of Yorick from the play Hamlet, but Yorick is an over-used name. Yavic is close enough, and sounds like a Pellatarum name to me. I'm tempted to grab the higher level clerics; I resist. First level for you. Still working your way up that gilded ladder in the Church. Besides, I know exactly what I want to do with the church, and I want Yavic to be the naive-eyed novice with true goodness in his heart.

    Okay, too many males. One daughter was born – different. The Light itself shines from her eyes, so brightly that not even she can see through her eyes. From birth, it has been obvious that the Light itself has chosen her to see things no other mortal can bear. As I will detail later, there is another oracle who will have more experience than her, though, so poor little Miriel Trask (her mother wanted to give her an elvish-sounding name) is first level.

    And – there should be a fifth Trask, with associations to the Brotherhood of Shadow. We'll detail Scott Trask (yes, pun intended) later. For now, we only need to know that he's the outcast of the Trask family, yet still important in his own way to Broken River.

    Now, to the family patron, Oliver Trask. Aristocrat all the way, right? Nope. Expert, second or third level. We could even make him a commoner. Unfortunately, I have plans for Oliver that require a LOT of skill points. Between expert and rogue, the choice is obvious. Given his success, I really want to give him third level. Unfortunately, we only have two of those, and other NPCs have more right to claim those slots. Dang. Okay, second level it is.

    On the other hand, his wife, arranging all the social and political arrangements for the family, has a clear right to the aristocrat class. She also has a number of divine-class chilren, so she could claim cleric or adept with ease. Nope, we have plenty of second-level aristocrat slots, and Susan gets one.

    So who are the other two Trask children? Well, the eldest daughter runs the family trade company. Since she spends a lot of time on the docks, she needs to be tough and nimble in a fight. Rogue sounds right for Naomi, though I stop at making her a second leveler. Note on Naomi Trask, to come back later.

    And, a trick I strongly encourage – I put a faceless grey blob as the other child, although I assign her the female gender to balance the family out. She's probably going to be a fighter type, but not with any level of certainty.

    Take a Break
    Notice that it's hard to remain focused at this stage; it is easy, for example, to make every single member of the Trask family an adventuring class, and to justify each decision. I let most of them keep their lofty classes because I have great things in store for the Trask family.

    Also note that we'll be coming back to both of these at later stages in the design process. Right now, you've seen hints that Broken River is already taking form. Each character has required decisions that point to other NPCs, or even whole organizations.

    My desk, at this point, is a mess of notecards, sheets that will end up filled on both sides with notes, and ideas on which miniatures and paint schemes I want to use to convey the right impression in game.

    In particular, I have seven sheets of paper with the available slots organized by class and level. As I assign slots, I write in the name, race, gender, role, and default location of each NPC. This is critical for two reasons. First, to make sure I don't over-use any slot type. But also, so that I can find at a moment's notice, who's who and draw connections between the NPCs.

    Ah, but ties to the PCs? You guessed it, next article.

    * That strangling sound was me,  Erin. I've talked to Mike about this and he assures me he knows what he's doing here, so I'm content to let it play out for now. I really, really want to see how he manages to reconcile a paladin's desire to do good with the conflicting ethos of "Don't break the law" and the Church of the Light's edicts that "Secrets are Bad." If anything, poor Harver is going to make a spectacular flame-out as he falls from grace...

    Monday, September 19, 2011

    Whip it out

    It probably comes a surprise to none of you that I am an avid reader of several gun and self-defense blogs. I don't link to them on my blogroll because, Monday Gundays aside, I don't consider myself to be a gunblogger. Mostly this is because my interests lie more along the lines of "wide-spectrum geekery" and because, honestly, I don't have a lot to say about 2nd Amendment politics or the best gun for concealed carry. Which isn't to say I don't enjoy reading about such things; I just know the limits of my ignorance, and if I tried to carry myself as a gunblogger I think I'd just end up embarrassing everyone.

    But still, Weer'd Beard's blog is participating in a fun little thing, so I figured I'd play along:

    Take the knife out of your pocket and take a picture of it, and post it.

    Actually, I have three. Well, technically NONE, since I'm not wearing pants and therefore currently have no pockets, but these are the three that I typically carry.

    In order:
    • Mora of Sweden Clipper 840 in carbon steel. This is my "open carry" knife. I typically leave it at home when I'm running errands, but when I'm going for a walk I always have it with me. I have used and abused this poor knife more than it deserves, and I'm obsessive about keeping a razor edge on it.
    • SOA MT1. This is my "every day carry" knife. I admit it, the design is over-the-top macho, and the blade is only 440 stainless. Still, it's a decent knife for doing knife-y things, and I like the integral glass-breaker and seatbelt cutter. And well, the thing looks mean, which has actually gotten me out of a jam once, even though I don't know how much use it'd be in an actual self-defense situation. 
    • No-name Leatherman knockoff the NRA sent me: It's a multitool. It's useful. I carry it everywhere I go. I usually forget it has a knife blade, because if I need things cut, I have the SOA or Mora at hand.

     So, yeah. I like knives....

    My Little Mosin: Firearms are Magic (Monday Gunday guest post by Jeff W.)

    Erin says: Jeff W. is an internet friend of mine. This is his first post on my blog. 

    I’ve been a longtime reader/stalker here on Lurking Rhythmically, only having recently started commenting and talking with Erin (over My Little Pony of all things, because I am an avowed Brony), but that’s not why I’m making this guest post extravaganza. I’m doing this because another hobby I have is shooting, and Erin has kindly invited me to write a Monday Gunday guest post specifically about my first time shooting a Mosin-Nagant. I own a couple of other long guns, and I’ve been known to shoot a few rounds now and then, but I’d never fired a Mosin, or even picked one up, before last weekend.

    After breaking the ice with her about bronydom, Erin and I got to chatting about enjoying shooting, and  then Chris Bridges did his post about going to the range for the first time with Erin and shooting there. I don’t exactly know what sparked it, but I decided that I needed a Mosin-Nagant of my very own. I IM'ed Erin the next day and blamed her for this new need in my life and all she did was laugh and encourage me. [1]

    As it shakes out, I live in the buckle of the Bible Belt so gun shows aren’t exactly uncommon (I can count on at least 4-5 a year here). There was one that upcoming weekend and I declared that I was going to go and get my very own Mosin-Nagant. Unfortunately I had some issues with house care come up that same weekend and I missed my opportunity to get one. I bemoaned this fact to Erin the very next day and she sent me to this site to help me get over my infinite sadness at missing out on militias and Mosins… or because she’s a pusher and wouldn’t be thwarted by a setback on my part, I’m honestly not sure yet. [2]

    Anyhow, I ended up sending the link on to several friends, including some brothers who had just returned from a bear hunt in New Mexico (I know my target audience) to see what they all thought. About 15 minutes later, my friend J (name redacted to protect the not-so-innocent) texted me and asked if I wanted one because he was already planning on ordering some. The Friday before Labor Day weekend, we placed an order for 4 Mosin-Nagants and a crate of ammo [3] to be split between us. J knows a fellow with an FFL who would receive them and cut us a deal on the price for the transfers. By 1:00 that afternoon it was a done deal.

    Long story short (too late!), the rifles came in Friday before last and on Sunday 9/11 we went out to go shoot them. We figured on a solemn day we should actually continue life as normal and actually have fun (this isn’t a political statement, just a belief that life needs to go on). 

    We went down to our shooting spot on some land that J owns and set up to make some noise and wreck some targets. Now this land we’re shooting on is not too far from the geographic middle of nowhere but it’s very pretty. From our shooting spot to the targets is about 75 yards. That mess in the middle is a dried pond; it’s been a rough summer here in Oklahoma.

    Click to embiggen

    So since Erin got me into this, and I got the rest of the guys to fall into the Mosin trap, I got the “honor” of having the first shots. I was warned by Erin and all of the internets that the Mosin kicked like a mule so I think we were all a bit nervous about it. At any rate I went first. Here’s a video of that:

    The kick wasn’t too bad really, not as bad as I’d been led to expect [4], plus the gun was a LOT of fun to shoot. The four of us would do 5 rounds each, then go check the targets, for a total of 20 rounds fired apiece. I was shooting at the far left target in the first pic. So how’d I do at 75 yards with open sights? Not too bad…

    For 75 yards over iron sights, this is actually really good.

    My results were as follows:

    Rounds 1-5 –  Nothing of note.
    Rounds 6-10 – Group 1.
    Rounds 11-15 –  Group 2.
    Rounds 16-20 –  Nothing you can see, I was shooting at a tennis ball. I missed it.

    My buddy J got 2 tennis balls in 5 shots from the same distance, so these rifles are pretty darn accurate! I’ll probably be souping mine up in a similar fashion to Erin’s sooner or later. My biggest complaint was the weight especially when firing the gun standing and unsupported. All in all, though, these guns are a great deal of fun! All four of us thought so. I can’t wait to shoot them again. [5]

    Editor's Notes:
    [1] This is indeed true. I am an evil temptress.
    [2] Both answers are correct. See above note for clarification.
    [3] One crate of ammunition = 880 rounds total, or 220 per person.
    [4] This is a bald-faced lie, as you can tell when you watch the video. "Holy crap!" indeed. Also, I have a record of our IM conversation the next day:
    10:44 AM Jeff: 1) I'm getting my friend to email the pics, but I went 12/15 on the paper at 75 yards open sights
    10:45 AM 2) my damn arm feels like it wants to fall off
     me: LOL
     Jeff: no bullseyes but I'm pretty satisfied with the way it shoots
     me: 1) Good shooting, especially on iron sights
      2) LOL
      3) I warned yooooouuuu
     Jeff: friend of mine hit a tennis ball with iron sights from 75 yards
      you did
    10:46 AM me: How many rounds did you put through?
     Jeff: just 20 each from all four of us
     me: And did you use a recoil pad or were you all manly?
     Jeff: we were all manly
      this time
      but probably never again
     me: Never again? :P
      Yup. 20 seems about right.
    10:47 AM Jeff: then I went home, watched enemy at the gates and cleaned the hell out of that gun
     me: Who shot first?
     Jeff: me
     me: What was the first thing you said after the first shot?
     Jeff: actually the first shot I said "it's not that bad"
    10:48 AM it wasn't until about the 10th or 12th shot that I started to feel it
      and today I really feel it

    [5] Welcome to the Mosin Militia, Jeff!
    mosin militia Pictures, Images and Photos


    Sorry about the sudden absence of late. Wednesday and Friday were terrible, horrible days for me, such that I was praying for the zombie apocalypse to occur so that things would actually improve. On Thursday I had to take my mother to the ER because she was having trouble breathing (sinus infection leading to bronchitis), and all weekend I've felt tired and crappy (and cranky). I've probably caught whatever crud mom has, but since I'm younger and stronger my immune system is kicking its ass, so instead of being actually sick I'm just tired and bitchy.

    So anyway: sorry for being a slack-ass. Fortunately for me, I have a couple of guest articles I can post, and those should see me through the rest of my feeling crappiness. Obviously, Super-Fashion Week didn't turn into an actual week, so what I'll do is turn it into a recurring feature until I run out of material. It may take me until the end of the year, but I'll mock the costumes worth mocking, just you see.

    Speaking of guest articles, if anyone else is interested in writing a post for this blog which is relevant to its interests, drop me a line and I'm certain we can work something out.

    And now, I hand you off to Jeff W. for a Very Special Monday Gunday.

    Wednesday, September 14, 2011

    Super-Fashion Week: Miss USA

    Let's start close to home with Miss USA, Alyssa Campanella. Or, as she is called on Earth-P --

    Click to embiggen... if you dare.

    A newly commissioned officer in the United States Navy, ENS Campanella was a Signals Intelligence officer who was part of a team tasked with creating a new, undetectable method of sensing and communicating. Their efforts were only partly successful, however, for while they were able to modulate streams of light in a unique kinetic pattern, the effects were both bright and loud. The project, code-named GLORY, was soon cancelled, with the team reassigned and the only working part -- a multi-spectrum kinetic LIDAR rectenna -- was put into deep storage.

    Years passed, and soon Project GLORY had been forgotten -- except by Campanella. Now a lieutenant, she continued to work on the project in her spare time, refining it in an attempt to make it feasible. She felt that her career in the Navy had been stifled by the failure of the project, and saw this as a chance at redemption.

    She had her chance one night when the USS Constitution, performing its annual "turnaround cruise," was caught in a violent squall and threatened to be lost at sea with all hands -- including the civilian ride-alongs. The Navy and Coast Guard had been dispatched, but it was feared that they would not arrive in time to save America's oldest commissioned warship.

    Realizing what had to be done, Campanella raced to the storage locker where the GLORY rectenna was kept, and combined it with the modifications she had made over the years while throwing together a hasty costume to disguise her identity. With some difficulty, she was able to fly out into the storm and render enough aid that by the time relief vessels arrived, neither the ship nor the crew was lost.

    The opto-kinetic energy projected by the GLORY rectenna is amazingly bright. When it flies, it leaves streaks across the sky, and its energy can be focused to produce loud concussive blasts. (Think Jubilee's powers, only useful instead of sucky.) Given this and the circumstances of her origin, it is to be expected that Campanella modified the rectenna to resemble an American flag and her costume to look like a  Revolutionary War-era  U.S. Navy officer's uniform. She took the name "Ensign Glory" as an elaborate double-pun.

    When asked why she dressed like that, Ensign Glory replied "You think I'd cover up legs like this? Besides, I'm putting the navel in Naval."

    The oversize hat contains avionics.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    Super-Fashion Week Begins!

    As those who follow me on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter already know, I am a big fan of watching beauty pageants so that I can applaud and/or mock (usually mock) the costumes. There's something about the big multinational contests that really brings out the opulent and absurd elements of costume fashion, such that whenever I watch Miss Universe or Miss World, I like to play a little game I call "Superhero, showgirl, slut." You can probably guess what the rules are for that game.

    Since it just so happens that it's Fashion Week up in New York, and Miss Universe was on last night, I figured I'd take some of the more interesting costumes and give them superhero writeups. The rules are pretty simple:
    1. Their costume has to look like something. It can't just be a nationally-appropriate piece of clothing. Sorry, Miss Greece. Your toga looks fantastic but it doesn't specifically shout "super-powers." 
    2. Their costume must look like it could conceivably be worn in a super-battle. Therefore, floor-length gowns are out. Sorry, Miss Mexico. You'd be a one-appearance villainess at most.
    3. Their shoes get a pass because a) these are women in a contest so they're all wearing heels, and b) superheroines have been wearing impractical footwear since forever. Running in stilettoes is just one of their powers. Good news, Miss Guatemala, you're in.
    4. Their costumed identities need to come from/ represent the host country, because that'd be cheating otherwise. This gives us the fun ability to make Cultural Stereotype Heroes a la the Global Guardians.
    5. Extraneous bits like feathers may be interpreted as special effects for superpowers, because you can't get a lot of mileage out of "Tickle Lass." (Well, you could, but that would be an entirely different genre...)
    The fashion show begins in the next post!

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Will you forgive me...

    ... if I skip the 9/11 remembrance I promised back in '07? As a result of the media blitz, I am once again emotionally exhausted from having to relive That Damn Day over and over again.


    Friday, September 9, 2011

    L5R Cosmology: the O-kami

    Fresh on the heels of yesterday's post, I imagine that many of you are saying something to the effect of, Wait a minute. One giant universal godhead? That sounds far too much like western monotheism and not enough like multi-layered eastern spirituality.

    To you, I say this.

    All right then. First, the creation story of Rokugan:

    In the beginning, before the universe was created, there was only Nothing. The Nothing that existed before the birth of all things was aware, and at some point during its timeless existence, it realized it was alone -- and thus experienced Fear. This unprecedented emotion was the first Sin, and created one third of the world. The realization of Fear also created in the Nothing a sense of loneliness and a desire for a companion. These sensations were the second Sin, Desire, and created a second third of the world. And when the Nothing realized what it had done, it experienced regret and a wish to unmake what it had mistakenly created. This was the third Sin, Regret, and it created the final portion of the world, completing it and ending the Nothing’s existence.

    The newly-made universe was chaotic and formless at first, like an egg whose white and yolk had been intermixed. Slowly, the primal elements of creation seeped through the empty universe, and the energies pooled, with the heaviest sinking to the bottom and creating different layers of reality. Above was the Celestial Heavens, while below the mortal realm was born, as were the various other spirit realms and, finally, Jigoku, the Realm of Evil.

    In the wake of the Nothing came three entities whose names have never been known by any living creature, mortal or divine, since that time. When they are spoken of at all, they are simply known as the Three Gods Whose Names Cannot Be Spoken.[1] These three gods looked upon the new realms, particularly the mortal world, and recognized that it must be given form and purpose, an act beyond their means. In order to give shape to the universe, the three gods sacrificed themselves to give birth to a single man and woman, two divine beings who could do what the three before could not, and bring order to existence. Thus were born the Sun Goddess and the Moon God.

    Lady Sun and Lord Moon looked down upon the mortal world and were perplexed by its formlessness. Ultimately, they realized they could only give form to what existed there by giving names to all the things that could be found in the mortal realm. They entered the mortal realm and named it, and doing so, they created names for themselves; Lady Sun became Amaterasu, and Lord Moon became Onnotangu. They began to name all they found there, such as stones, trees, deer, and all other things imaginable.

    With the mortal realm fully formed, Amaterasu and Onnotangu returned to the Celestial Heavens, and Lord Moon’s ardor for Lady Sun grew more powerful with each passing moment until, driven by his obsessive love, he pursued the Sun across the sky, creating the cycle of day and night. Onnotangu eventually caught up with Amaterasu, and the sky was blackened during the middle of the day. It was at this time, the first eclipse, that the ten children of the Sun and Moon were conceived.

    All right, pretty basic stuff here. I included this mainly for the sake of completeness, since there are some folks reading this who haven't played the game and aren't conversant with Rokugani mythology. The only thing that you truly need to take away from that story is this: Lord Moon and Lady Sun represent yin and yang.

    Side Note: it bears repeating that kami are not moral creatures. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that Lord Moon is evil and Lady Sun is good. It is far more correct to say that Lady Sun embodies propriety (and therefore honor) and Lord Moon embodies impropriety and lack of honor. Again, divest your mind of the notion that honor = good. Other words for propriety are bureaucracy and stubborn pride, and impropriety is often another term for expedience and candor. 

    Yin is characterized as slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, wet, and passive; and is associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity and nighttime. Yang, by contrast, is fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and aggressive; and is associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime. 
    -- from Wikipedia

    Admittedly, many of the attributions aren't perfect, and the genders are switched; we can handwave that by saying "Rokugan is not Asia." That said, the comparison itself is apt: Sun and Moon are polar opposites who nonetheless complement each other, and when they come together they form a perfect whole. Elaborating upon yesterday's conclusion that the Void Dragon is Lady Sun and Lord Moon (and yet, at the same time, not), consider this:

    Lady Sun is the white element (Yang)
    Lord Moon is the black element (Yin)
    The circle that they form is the Void Dragon.
    The Void Dragon is the totality of the Four Elemental Dragons.
    The Elemental Dragons are the gestalt intelligences of their respective mikokami. 
    The mikokami are the building blocks of the universe.
    Therefore, Lady Sun and Lord Moon are everything.
    As it is written in the Tao of Shinsei, All Are One.

    The tremendous implications of this philosophy will be addressed, I promise, when we reach the Shintao portion of this series.

    [1] I believe this to be an obscure in-joke regarding the original creators of the game: John Wick, David Williams, and D.J. Trindle.

    Thursday, September 8, 2011

    L5R Cosmology: Of Void and Dragons

    In this installment, we briefly step away from discussions about the kami (sort of) in order to blow your freaking minds. Helmets may be necessary.

    Rokugani theology holds that there are five elements which comprise the world and affect the lives of mortals. You have already met four of them, and in addition to their expected physical qualities they also embody certain mental qualities. They are:
    • Air is enigmatic and mercurial in all things, and represents an individual’s capacity for empathy and intuition. Those who are aligned with the element of Air possess superior instincts and speed of reaction. Those who are at odds with Air are physically sluggish and oblivious to the nuanced behavior of those around them.
    • Earth is eternal, unchanging, and unmoving. It is the element of endurance and resistance, and represents an individual’s ability to withstand whatever trials arise. Those who are aligned with Earth have tremendous fortitude and resolve, while those who are at odds with Earth are frail and weak-minded.
    • Fire is the element of dynamic change, energy, and destruction. It is the element of motion and illumination. Those who are strong in the element of Fire are great warriors, brilliant scholars, or possibly both. Those weak in Fire are physically uncoordinated and sluggish of thought.
    • Water is the element of rapid change and alteration. It is the inexorable force that can carve mountains over thousands of years and the capricious storm that batters a ship one instant and gently carries it to its destination the next. Those who are strong in the element of Water possess incredible strength and perception. Those who are weak in Water are slow to move and possess dulled senses.
    (Copied from the Legend of the Fire Rings RPG, 4th Edition)

    All of this is quite understandable and familiar to our western minds. The fifth element, however -- the element of Void -- is anything but simple. There are many ways to explain the concept of Void, but the simplest I have found is just to look at a cup.

    As you look at the cup, ask yourself this: What makes it useful for holding water? Is it the cup itself, or is it the empty space in the middle where the cup is not? Without that space, the cup is just a piece of ceramic, incapable of holding anything. The places where it isn't a cup are what make it useful. The nothing makes it something.

    Now look again. Is the cup truly empty? Or is it filled with a limitless ocean of invisible air kami? You could have the Dragon of Air curled inside of your teapot and you'd never know. But just because you can't see it doesn't mean it isn't there.

    So the cup is simultaneously empty and not empty. The nothing which makes the cup a cup is actually filled with other somethings. This concept that nothing is something, and something is nothing, is what we call the Void. It's all very quantum, being and not being at the same time, except that unlike in Schroedinger's experiment, looking at it doesn't collapse the waveform.

    Void is a bit like the Force, in that it's everywhere and surrounds everything. It's where all the other elements meet, and therefore it touches and encompasses all of them. In a very real way, Void is the incarnation of all of the other four elements simultaneously, because Void exists where they blend into each other: a cliff (air and earth), a beach (earth and water), and a volcano (fire and earth) are perfect examples of Void.

    But as I have said earlier, every element is comprised of an infinite number of spirits, and their gestalt is what we call an Elemental Dragon. So if Void is the perfect unity of all four elements, and is itself an element...

    ... then yes, that means there is a Void Dragon, and it is not only a separate entity in its own right, but also and simultaneously the gestalt consciousness of the Air, Earth, Fire, and Water Dragons. One might do well to call that truly immense and alien intelligence god.

    And you'd be right, because the Dragon of Void is also (actually, simultaneously, and yet somehow wholly separate from) the O-kami, Lady Sun and Lord Moon, the divine incarnations of yin and yang.

    Whom I shall explain in my next post.

    The Fine Print

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

    Creative Commons License

    Erin Palette is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to