Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Have a very pony Christmas

My blog is going silent for a while, because the holiday chores (and stress) are increasing exponentially. Frequent readers know that this time of year is always difficult for me; this one will be worse because both of my siblings are coming to visit this year, and I figure it's about time for them to gang up on me and tell me what a loser I am.

Not sure when I'll come back... might be next week, might be next year (the week after next). It will depend on my stress level. Until then, I'm going to rely upon ponies, RPGs, and going to the range to help me with my stress.

Merry Christmas, everypony. See you on the flipside.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

We've been conquered

As my faithful readers know, I try to keep my political feelings off of this blog, because I hate it when a writer or actor I enjoy endorses a position I oppose -- mostly because I think being an entertainer does not qualify anyone to be a political pundit.

However, dark and dismal things have been developing in Washington D.C., and it's reached the point where I am now actively afraid OF my country. Examples:

President Obama has now declared that he will sign the NDAA into law -- a bill which authorizes the indefinite detention of anyone suspected of being a terrorist. What's the definition of "terrorist"? Why, it's anyone who has guns and ammunition, or has more than 7 days of food and water in their home, or who is missing fingers:

So when this passes, you can say goodbye to the 4th Amendment, and probably the 5th, 6th and 8th as well. And isn't it curious how the major media outlets (that includes FOX, btw, because my father watches Fox News every goddamn night) haven't said a peep about this?

Not really, because we're losing our 1st Amendment rights as well. The Stop Online Piracy Act essentially hands over control of the Internet to the entertainment industry (because they have your best interests at heart, after all) and threatens to bring China-style censorship to the United States. The news media is in on the act.

And finally, the botched "Fast and Furious" operation by the BATF is looking more and more like a backdoor operation to institute more gun control. I'm not even going to go into the details here -- for those who are interested, I advise you to read this -- but what I'm taking away from it is that the BATF deliberately encouraged bulk sales of guns (mainly semi-auto rifles like AK-47s) in order to make the statistics on gun sales and gang violence that much scarier, so that the Federal Goverment could say "We're here to help" and leap in with more restrictive laws on ownership. And it would have worked, if a Border Patrol agent hadn't been killed by one of these walked guns.

In short:  I feel like our Bill of Rights is being rendered invalid, and even speaking out against it can be seen as having "terrorist sympathies."  So at this point, I feel like I have three options:
  • Be a good little sheep and remain placid as my rights are trampled, until they finally come for me;
  • Leave the country;
  • Advocate the systematic dismantling of Congress, a la an Etch-a-Sketch reboot. 
I know which one I'm going to choose.  My suggestion to each of you is that if you plan to leave, get your passports in order NOW, because the right to travel is already under siege by the TSA and it's only going to get worse.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Following in the footsteps (hoofprints?) of yesterday's image (reprinted here for completeness' sake)...

... I now present not one but two related videos of questionable humor.

But hell, they made me laugh.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Little Pellatarrum

As I said a while back on Facebook, my Cutie Mark would be a Venn Diagram. This is because I am passionate about many different things, some of which my seem incongruent, but all of them link up in some way or another. Also, I dearly love explaining things to people. (See?)

In fact, this is my Cutie Mark right here:

The fact that it looks like a pastel Elder Sign is just extra additional win. 

I'm fighting the urge to define all of the parts, but I know I will cave in eventually. (Okay, I love guns and fantasy and role-playing games. Do RPGs exist at the intersection of Weapons and Fantasy, or are they at different locations? This will take me an afternoon at least, and I'm saving it for a day when I'm bored.)

So anyway, I bring all of this up because I have some stuff here which exists at the intersection of two of my passions: My Little Pony and Fantasy RPGs.

First up is a a piece of artwork from Arkhein over at Rather Gamey that is just so incredibly wonderful I... I just don't even know what to say!

The second is a lovely bit of wallpaper from DeviantArtist MCWhopper which is full of FUS RO yay!

Now I have an urge to include some kind of non-silly but still recognizable  version of magical ponies in Pellatarrum....

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Gunday: Rangin'

It's been ages since I've done a Monday Gunday post (mostly because I was observing NaPelWriMo), but that doesn't mean I haven't been to the range. In fact, I've been several times, and I'm going to post some photographic evidence (read: bragging) that my skills haven't atrophied.

Back in October, I acquired a Kel-Tec Sub-2000, and since then I've put several hundred rounds through it. I realize this is not a proper sample size (it really should be closer to a thousand), but I'm on a budget here. Still, I have some thoughts you might find interesting.
  • Recoil is negligible, due to the buffer spring and the stock. Even my 72-year-old mother could handle it, though her shoulder started to get a bit sore after 30+ rounds.
  • The bolt tube cover from Tacticool Products is really comfortable.
  • The fiber-optic sight is held in place with a screw and nut. Some time during the first 100 rounds, the screw came loose, and the sight shifted downward. This is easily remedied by a trip to the hardware store for a #4 screw, lock washer, and nut. 
  • This may just be the way I hold it, but with my cheek welded to the stock my nose is so close to the ejection port that I get a snout full of gunsmoke every time it fires. This is a case where mouth-breathing is healthier than nose-breathing. 
And now let's see the results of the shooting. (Mom has requested that I not show her target, because it was a mess. I later found out this was because she was holding it all wrong and couldn't make the front and rear sights line up. This flaw in her technique has since been fixed.)

This is me at 7.5 yards, the shortest of the pistol ranges. The initial downward holes are the result of the fiber-optic blade sight having come loose while my mother was shooting, but I was able to correct for it.


This is me at 15 yards, which my mother didn't even attempt. Again, it took me a bit to account for the sight being off.

And this is me being ambitious and seeing how accurate I could be at 25 yards, with nothing more than the (now fixed) fiber-optic sight. I only brought a single 33-round magazine because I didn't want to waste ammo in case I couldn't hit the target.

Verdict:  pretty good, all things considered, although I wouldn't want to engage anything at more than 25 yards without some kind of optic. Still, this is a limitation of my eyes, and not the carbine itself.

And now, the best for last. Some of you will recall how proud I was a while back when I scored a bullseye at 100 yards with my .22LR rifle. I am pleased to announce that I have leveled-up in firearms skill once again:


This is the same target with all of the pasters removed. You can see that I was all over the place at first, but soon I was able to settle in to the target. I seem to have gotten over my "up and to the left" problem only to overcompensate and develop a  "down and to the right" problem. I'm told that either I'm using too much finger on the trigger, or I'm tightening my grip as I squeeze. Either way, it's something I need to work on.

But still... six bullsyes and a crapload of shots inside the 7 ring. That's awesome.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Pellatarrum: My Orcs are Different

Mea Culpa:  HUGE thanks to Demonic Bunny, without whom this article would not have been possible!
With special thanks to Nathan Tamayo for his insights into orc psychology

Orcs in Pellatarrum do not have green skin, nor do they have square jaws or porcine faces. They do, however, have tusks. And thick hairy bodies. And horns. And red skin. In fact, they look like this:

Pellatarran orcs look like red oni rather than the stereotypically thuggish "Neanderthal with green skin and teeth" because they are ferocious warriors originating from the Plane of Elemental Fire, not some atavistic fear of genetic intermixing.

Just like fire, orcs cannot be controlled, only diminished. For them, everything -- even conversation -- is a contest to see who can make the other flinch first. If you flinch, you prove yourself a weakling, and therefore must submit to the stronger without question. This practice of ritual dominance has served the orc race well throughout the eons as a method of preserving tribal peace through (generally) nonviolent means and keeping the rate of casual murders to a manageable level.

Every encounter with an orc must be treated like a battle, because it is. Even in a peaceful situation, an orc will use vile insults, belligerent language, threatening gestures and anything else that will cow the listener into accepting the subservient role.

As a result of this, an orc warrior is nearly impossible to taunt or goad by any other race, save possibly the dwarves*. By showing his staunch and unflinching nature, an orc demonstrates to everyone that he is the best leader and least likely to make rash decisions -- an important quality in a race prone to fits of berserker rage. Of course, when two warriors are jockeying for position and neither is cowed by the other's threats, then it frequently comes to blows anyway. Most of the time such "debate" ends in bruises and unconsciousness rather than bloodshed and death, but such things are known to happen. To orcs, politics is a full-contact sport. 

Problems arise when orcs deal with other races who don't grasp this key facet of orc psychology, because what they assume to be imminent violence is actually just orcish posturing. Feeling threatened, they either attack (in which case words have failed and it is time for "diplomacy by other means", as Von Clausewitz would say) or they flinch but do not submit. Failing to acknowledge the dominant position of the orcs only proves to them that other races are degenerates and cowards, unworthy of trust and deserving only to be conquered. 

Orcs do not, as a rule, maintain livestock larger than pigs. They lack the patience for sustained animal husbandry beyond "pen it up until we eat it" and they lack the grazing grounds necessary for cattle and horses. However, orcs know how to "domesticate" fire elementals and keep them from dissolution -- it is believed they have rituals wherein they dance around the fire elemental, engage in mock combat, and generally indulge in various forms of passion in order to sacrifice some of their "hearts' fire" to feed their pets. These fire elementals are kept as a combination status symbol and trained warbeast.

Ritual scarification, tattooing, and piercing are common throughout all strata of orcish society, even the children. It takes a trained eye to determine which scars are for beautification, which denote status, and which are for bravery.

Pellatarran orcs are a bit like Mongols and a bit like Klingons in their current state. Prior to the shattering of their civilization by the other Elder Races, they were more like Babylonians or Pharaonic Egyptians: still warlike, but far less savage and far more educated.

Orcs are not stupid; they are ignorant. They are not savages by choice; they are survivors of a cultural holocaust. And while they are creatures of passion, that does not mean only violence; passion can also mean love, and joy, and exultation. Orcs feel emotions perhaps more keenly than any other race on Pellatarrum. Pleasure is a feeling, as is pain; both serve to remind you that as long as you feel, you are alive. Orcs savor every moment, every feeling, because while their lives are short they seek to fill them with meaning and sensation.

Other races choose to reject feelings of pain, and anguish, and sorrow as something bad to be avoided. Orcs feel this is akin to removing one of your eyes because you don't like what you see, or stabbing yourself in the stomach because you are hungry. Denial (or worse, repression) of feelings is rejecting a part of life.

Other races merely exist. Orcs live.

* Who, when they get really worked up, start pledging eternal atrocity upon everyone even slightly related to the orc in question. Threats of genocide get an orc's attention quite nicely, thank you.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Pellatarrum: My Dragons are Different (part 9)

Written as a cooperative effort by Erin Palette and Mike Kochis

"Here be dragons" -- a phrase used to denote dangerous or unexplored territories

X. History & Origin of the Species
A question which is frequently asked by novices of draconic lore is, "Why are there only five colors of dragon when there are more colors than that in the rainbow? Don't the dragons come from the sky?" The answer is that dragon colors are not a matter of biological nature, but rather psychological. 

Before the creation of Pellatarrum, there existed only one breed of dragon, a mighty predator which soared through the endless skies of the Plane of Elemental Air like a shark swimming through and endless sea. It was not the most intelligent race upon the plane -- that honor goes to the djinni -- but it was strong and fast and smart enough to be both cunning and trainable.
(Blue dragons, at this point, will hasten to point out that they are the true descendants of these ur-dragons, because blue is the color of the sky, after all, and lightning (which they breathe) is formed in clouds. Ipso facto, they are the only true dragons, and all the others are mutated offshoots.

To this, the other dragons say: You have four legs for walking on the ground, like the rest of us, and you can generate water. Neither of these abilities shouts "unchanged since the Plane of Air," you bloody hypocrites.

Needless to say, this is a point of extreme contention among dragonkind.)
These ur-dragons, under the tutelage and care of the djinni, soon became intelligent and skilled in magic, and quickly moved from becoming mounts and pets to servants and, in some cases, trusted allies, advisors and confidants.

This, as the history books of the djinni would say, is where it all went wrong.

The problem with uplifting an apex predator is that they frequently show signs of extreme ambition. They go from wanting to eat everything to wanting to dominate and rule everything. However, the djinni already ruled the Plane of Air, and did not take kindly to this rebellion. Ultimately, this resulted in a crushing defeat for the dragons and their reduction to the role of slaves.

This was the beginning of dragon paranoia and networking, for they learned that working openly only made them a larger target. In order to succeed, they would have to recruit allies and work in secret.

Eons pass...

The dragons eventually begin communicating with the dwarves, a race of elemental earth creatures in thrall to the Shaitan (a race of earth genies). The dwarves share an idea they have: create a plane comprised of all 4 elements, yet specifically hostile to actual elemental creatures like their masters. Naturally, this requires high-level magic (both in converting their races to a type better adapted to this new Prime Material Plane, as well as utilizing the cores of all 4 elemental planes (known as the Engines of Creation) to jump-start this new dimension. The rest is history, with the conspirators bringing in the elves and orcs to round out each element for the conspiratorial alliance.

Fast forward to the creation and colonization of Pellatarrum, and you find that the dragons involved with its creation are squabbling as, without a universal foe to struggle against, they turn upon each other. Each is convinced that its particular philosophy, or source of power, or obsession is the only proper one. Faced with the possibility of a costly civil war so soon after their bid for independence, the nascent draconic nation fractures as each dragon decides to go its own way, and to hell with the others.

It is from these draconic primogenitors that the 5 colors spring, and through both magical preference and selective breeding they have become separate species. A blue dragon cannot mate with a black dragon and produce viable eggs; their internal biology is too different.

There may have been other colors of dragons in the early prehistory of Pellatarrum, but for whatever reason they did not breed true. There are occasional rumors, however, of truly ancient wyrms of unusual colors, or folktales of a dragon whose passion was for magical force and who lives in a truly invisible state. If such creatures do exist outside of legend, they must be unique entities of incredible age and skill.

To be concluded. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pellatarrum: Energy Stars

Written by Ryan Roth

Everyone knows what the Positive Material Plane is: a roiling, tremulous expanse that is the source of all light and life in Pellatarrum and, if you believe the Church, the source of all souls as well. What most people don’t know is that, on occasion, the Positive Material Plane will throw off part of itself.

Actually, that’s wrong. The Positive Material Plane is doing this all the time. Flares of energy will erupt into the Astral Plane, sending shards of condensed, highly-concentrated positive energy flying into the void at high velocities, in much the same way that a normal sun emits plasma during coronal mass ejection events. In most cases, the ejected material is very minute in size, too small to see or handle. In most cases, it will crash into one of the Elemental Planes (where some scholars believe it sparks the creation of new elementals) or the Negative Material Plane (where it is instantly obliterated). But sometimes, the ejection is of significant size. And sometimes it finds its way through the Astral Plane and lands like a meteor in Pellatarrum.[1] When this happens, sages refer to the fallen material as an 'Energy Star,' borrowing an ancient term for lights that appeared in the sky above other worlds before Pellatarrum existed. The most fanatical among the Church of the Light consider such objects to be holy relics: physical fragments of divine soul-stuff that must be found, protected and revered.

Most members of the Cult of the Dark consider Energy Stars to be among the most dangerous objects in existence, and they do whatever they can to find and destroy them when they land.

A typical Energy Star appears to be a brightly shining, irregularly-shaped rock with a density and heft similar to marble. Its size is usually somewhere between Tiny and Large, but bigger versions (Colossal or even larger) are not completely unheard of. The Star constantly and continuously emits a bright white light and a pleasant amount of warmth, side effects of the constant stream of positive energy the Star emits.

An Energy Star will emit its energy into its environment unceasingly (slowly shrinking in the process) until it is all expended, where upon the star dwindles to nothingness. Like radioactive material, there is a kind of ‘half-life’ duration that one can use when describing how long a given Star will last. At the end of this duration, the Star’s size has dropped to the next lowest category. The ‘half-life’ duration is not constant; larger Stars have longer lifetimes than smaller ones. This means that, as the Star ages, it starts to dwindle away at a faster and faster rate. Despite a considerable amount of research, the Church of the Light has never been able to find a way to preserve an Energy Star beyond its lifetime. Eventually, they always fade away, a fact that the Church (and the Cult!) sometimes uses as a metaphor in its teachings.

Energy Stars, as a material, are nigh-indestructible. Normal tools cannot break or shape them, and enchanted tools don’t fare much better (treat them as having a hardness of 25). They also have a natural resistance to magic of all kinds (spell resistance); note that, because they are not actually stone, they cannot be affect by spells such as stone shape. Energy Stars are, however, vulnerable to Negative Energy, and enough such energy can instantly reduce the Star in size, hastening its death. Repeated applications of Negative Energy can obliterate a Star. (Mechanically, each Star has a Negative Energy ‘Absorption Capacity’. If that much Negative Energy hit point damage is channeled into the Star -- via the Cleric energy channeling ability, an inflict wounds spell or similar means -- it will immediately reduce the Star by one size category. Spells, abilities or effects that apply negative levels to the Star effectively do 2d10 points of such damage per negative level applied).

As one might imagine, having a little piece of the Positive Material in your backyard is likely to have a significant impact on the place. The larger the Star, the stronger the effects it has, and the larger the area it influences. Mechanically, each Star as a Short, Medium and Long range at which different effects occur.

Long Range Effects: The following occur at Medium to Long range from the Energy Star.

1) Enhanced Plant Growth. Plant life is usually the first thing to feel the effects of the positive energy given off by the Star. Growth rates of normal plants are tripled. Plant creatures such as treants heal at twice the normal rate. Eaten, damaged or destroyed plants are quickly replaced, usually in under a day.

2) Negative Energy Suppression. The Star begins to interfere with the Negative energy that makes undead mobile. Any undead in the area are considered fatigued, and cannot recover from this condition until they leave the area. The Negative energy or death-involving effects (necromancy, damage rolls, etc.) receive a -2 penalty to all rolls in the area; this stacks with the normal energy bonus/penalties that naturally exist on Pellatarrum due to the day/night cycle. (That is, Negative energy effects in the area have a penalty of -4 during the day, -2 during dawn and dusk, and no bonus during the night).

3) Positive Energy Augmentation. Likewise, Positive energy effects (healing rolls, Con checks, Fortitude saves, etc.) receive an additional +2 bonus in the area that also stacks. Creatures are nearly twice as likely to be afflicted with Mania if they stay in the area for more than a day.

Medium Range Effects: The following occur at Short to Medium range from the Energy Star.

4) Overgrown Vegetation. Closer to the Star, plants absorb even more of the Star’s energy, and grow even faster. Destroyed plants are replaced within hours or minutes. The area becomes overgrown as per the plant growth spell.

5) Enhanced Negative Energy Suppression. Proximity to the Star further diminishes Negative Energy effects. All undead in the area are effectively exhausted. Negative energy effects are further penalized by -2 (for a total of -4). At this range, fully dead creatures and plants decompose very rapidly -- a corpse will be reduced to a bare skeleton inside three days. This is not so much an accelerated rotting as it is the conversion of dead matter into new living things such as plants and insects. This also affects formerly-living object such as leather, rope, and foodstuffs.

6) Enhanced Positive Energy Augmentation. Positive energy effects are given a bonus of +4. Mania-affliction is almost certain for living creatures that stay in the area for more than a day.

7) Flora and Fauna Mutations. Over time, a Star can radically change the flora and fauna living near it. This usually requires that the creature in question be of the Animal or Plant type, and have at least a few generations of its ancestors bathed in the Star’s glow. Because of this, the first creatures affected are almost always insects, such as ants, bees or flies. This is usually followed by small animals like newts, moles and lizards. After sufficient time living near the Star, the flora/fauna can acquire the giant simple template.  Successive generations can acquire this template multiple times, creating truly titanic monsters; note, however, that a given Energy Star can never cause a creature to grow to a size larger than itself. In addition, Huge or larger Energy Stars can, over years, cause creatures to acquire other templates; possibilities include airborne, arboreal, dire, ironskinned or mighty. Those creatures neither Animal nor Plant almost never acquire the giant template or other mutations, either because of some innate difference of physiology, or because their normal life-spans do not allow successive generations to be born and reproduce near the Star while it exists. Creatures which acquire the any such template gain some dim awareness that the Star is responsible for their vigor and health; they typically become quite territorial and will actively defend the area immediately surrounding the Star.

Short Range Effects: The following occur at any distance less than or equal to Short range to the Star.

8) Wild Vegetation. Plant life near the Star becomes so vital that it visibly grows and writhes. Destroyed plants are replaced in minutes. Vines and brambles in the area grow and move, entangling any creature of Large size or less (as per the entangle spell with a DC of 20).

9) Enhanced Energy Suppression/Augmentation. The Negative and Positive energy penalties and bonuses are increased to -6/+6, respectively. Undead continue to be exhausted in the area; dead things (including worked and preserved items, such as leather, cloth, rope or foodstuffs) completely decompose in space of minutes. Any living thing entering the area will suffer from Mania almost immediately (if not already afflicted), and the symptoms will only intensify the longer the creature stays.

10) Life Charging. Any living thing that spends time near the Energy Star regains hit points every round, as per fast healing. The amount gained every round is the Strength Rating of the Star. In addition, living things near the Star cannot become fatigued or exhausted, and can function indefinitely without sleep or food. Undead creatures that manage to get this close to the Star will suffer this Strength Rating in hit point damage every round they remain near it.

Energy Star Size
‘Half-life’ measured in
Short/Med/ Long Range Absorption Capacity Spell Resistance Strength Rating
Diminutive Seconds 0/1/5 feet 1 5 1
Fine Minutes 1/5/20 feet 5 7 2
Tiny Hours 5/20/100 feet 10 11 3
Days 20/100/500 feet 15 13 5
Medium Weeks 100/500/2500 feet 20 15 8
Large Months 0.1/0.5/2.5 miles 30 17 12
Huge Years 0.75/5/20 miles 50 21 15
Gargantuan Decades 5/20/100 miles 100 25 20
Colossal Centuries 20/100/500 miles 200 29 25

There are a few more points to make note of. Firstly, nothing says that Energy Stars have to land on, well, land. A good many of them hit lakes and oceans. Which just adds an additional problem for anyone seeking to destroy, move or protect the Star: learning to breathe water. The Positive Energy the Star emits tends to charge a tiny amount of water it lies in, converting it into elemental steam, so finding the Star is usually as simple as looking for where the bubbles are coming up to the surface, then diving down towards the bright light. Once under the water, expect huge kelp forests and lots and lots of very large fish. But, if the Star is a big one that has been in deep water for a long while, expect Giant Giant Squid (no, that was not a typographical error). All things considered, though, the threat of an Energy Star is somewhat mitigated if it falls into the ocean -- the creatures it affects are likely to stay in the water after the Star wanes, and it isn’t as if there aren’t giant sea creatures down there already (though, come to think of it, those might be descendants of other Star-spawned beasts).

The second point of interest that scholars often raise is that, if Energy Stars can be emitted from the Positive Material Plane, could they not also be emitted by the Negative Material Plane? If such a thing occurred, wouldn’t the result of one hitting Pellatarrum be a region of horrible death, wherein only the undead could thrive? Well, maybe. However, it has never been known to happen, even in the records of dragonkind. There has never been a substantiated report of a Negative Energy Star, be it on Pellatarrum, the Astral Plane or elsewhere (of course, if someone did find one, would they be able to survive to talk about it?) Why Negative Energy Stars don’t exist is a point of fierce debate among the sages that care about such things, but most people are just very thankful that they don’t have to worry about them.

Thirdly, it will eventually occur to all adventurous types that having a source of radiating hit point recovery could be really handy to have around. That is, it would be profitable to carry around an Energy Star when doing dangerous stuff like adventuring, especially if you think the undead will be lurking nearby. In theory, this is correct, but in practice it really isn’t tenable. Any Energy Star that is small enough to be portable isn’t going to last more than a few days (and that’s only if you would consider a gnome-sized hunk of marble ‘portable’). During that time, you’re going to be constantly bothered by plants sprouting underfoot, slowing you down, and progressively larger mosquitoes swarming around you. And you’ll probably be fully Manic by the end of the first day. And the Cult of the Dark will want to have a word or three for you (the three words often being ‘Inflict Serious Wounds’). And the Church will want to have a word or two for you (those two words often being ‘Holy Smite’). When it comes down to it, is a few rounds of fast healing really worth all that, especially when there are easier ways of accomplishing the same effects? Most would say no.

Energy Stars are fragments of Positive Energy that can spur vegetation growth like crops, can last for years or centuries, heal people and make undead critters go poof. What exactly is the problem? Why does the Cult of the Dark hate the things so much? 

Well, it has to do with those mutations -- in particular, the part where little things get really, really big. It isn’t a real issue for the most common, smaller Energy Stars, since they don’t last long enough for the effects to become too severe; but for Medium or larger Stars it can become a real concern.

While an Energy Star exists, the giant animals it produces can feed off of the local plant life (which regrows in short order) or each other (in which case the ‘encouragement’ the Star provides to the reproductive process tends to insure that the fauna population is maintained). Since the animal life tends to stay near the Star, the net effect is that a small local ecology of giant critters quickly develops and stays relatively contained. Just stay away from the area, let the druids worry about it and everything is fine, right?

Well, no, because Energy Stars don’t last forever, even the big ones. And once the Star starts to wane, its energy output can no longer support the largest creatures it created. And then, invariably, those creatures start to spread out to foraging for food. And before you know it, the whole countryside is swarming with Gartantuan Ants, Huge Airborne Vegepygmies, and Colossal Ironskinned Chipmunks. Did I mention that all these beasts are Maniacs, and essentially act like they’ve been popping amphetamines and caffeine constantly since the moment they were born? Entire civilizations have been destroyed in days by these monstrosities.

(Editor's note: This is an excellent example of where Magical Beasts can come from, if they aren't created through magical experimentation.)

Cultists of the Dark, naturally, see the existence of the Energy Stars on Pellatarrum to be an affront to their religious beliefs -- destroying a big one is a sure-fire way to gain a healthy amount of respect in the Cult. But, more than anything, the whole ‘wiping out civilization’ bit makes them particularly keen to stamp out Energy Stars before the real trouble starts. So, when a Cultist (or sometimes a Grey Cabalist) discovers that a sizable Energy Star has landed in his vicinity, a mission to ensure its destruction quickly becomes the top-priority.

Such a quest requires getting to the Star and pumping Negative Energy into it until it pops.[2] Speed is important: the longer the Star exists, the larger and more numerous its monstrous defenders become. Moreover, if the Star is destroyed after it has already created the largest possible monsters, then the effect is the same as if the Star waned on its own (see aforementioned ‘destruction of civilization’). Speed is important for another reason as well -- if  "those damn fools in the Church" find the thing first, they are liable to guard it, set up fortifications and pilgrimages, or (if they are colossally stupid), move it into a populated area. If you’re really unlucky, sometimes druids of the Gray Cabal decide to interfere as well (if, for example, they think the local urban sprawl has gotten too big and needs a bit of ‘reclaiming’). Other times, though, Grey druids will assist the Cult in order to make sure the original ecosystem isn’t completely disrupted.

To top off everything, a Cultist can’t even rely on his undead servants to protect him on such a mission, because they weaken, slow down and eventually disintegrate. To successfully destroy an Energy Star, a Cultist will need a living escort -- preferably a group strong enough for the job and stupid enough not to know what they are getting into.

That’s when the Cultist heads to the local tavern, plays the role of the Mysterious Stranger, and waits for the idiots to ask him if he has a job for them...

[1] Note that, as the material moves through the Astral Plane, it does not necessarily fly in a straight line. Its path can curve and twist in odd ways as it is influenced by its Astral environment and the Elemental Churn. Because of this, it is very possible for the material to land on the night side of Pellatarrum or the Underworld, in addition to the side of the disk that currently faces the Positive Material Plane.

[2] If this isn’t possible, a second option is to rapidly move the Energy Star well away from any populated region, preferably by air. Incidentally, there is at least one old bard story about a green dragon who dropped an Energy Star in the middle of a Bonefield that was disrupting his study of the local ecosystem, only to have that ecosystem overrun by giant bees a little while later. The dragon was reported to find this fascinating.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pellatarrum: My Dragons are Different (part 8)

Written as a cooperative effort by Erin Palette and Mike Kochis
What do dragons worship? Why, themselves of course. 
-- Pellatarran proverb

IX. Religion

While the above aphorism is pithy, it is nevertheless to a great extent quite true. Dragons are supreme egotists, and with good reason: when you are as old and as strong and as smart as they, then a little braggadocio is to be expected. However, this is not to say that dragons do not engage in some form of spirituality; what is fair to say is that their views on religion are complex and often contradictory.

On the one hand, dragons (like most sensible species) see the benefit in a system which encourages both healing and fertility. This last is especially of use to dragons, who mate rarely and whose gestation times within the egg may be measured in decades or even centuries. On the other hand, the Church of the Light promotes such  concepts such as "community," "openness" and "lack of secrets" which dragons find simply abhorrent.

So are the dragons cultists of the Dark? Again, not precisely. While dragons hold in high esteem the concepts of privacy, solitude and hidden agendas, only those with a fondness for carnage or necromancy truly love the night in all its glory. Undeath, devastation, and entropy are not a universal preference among dragonkind.

If anything, dragons hew closest to the Old Religion: the worship of the elements and universal balance, as taught by the druids and of the Gray Cabal. If anyone can be said to be held in high regard by dragonkind, it is a druid (and to some lesser extents, rangers with access to spells), as these typically offer an appealing compromise between the twin extremes of Light and Dark, granting healing and fertility without demanding compliance or anarchy.

In an ideal world, Dragons would simply be druids, but while dragons are inherently magical creatures, their preference is toward arcane magic, specifically sorcery. It is rare (as in, "dragon taking a character class level" rare) for a dragon to dabble in divine magic. If such were to happen, it is likely that such a dragon would possess some degree of fascination (if not outright obsession) for divine magic and would make that its life's work.

Such thinking can lead to only one very disturbing conclusion: at the heart of every religious organization across Pellatarrum -- the Church of the Light, the Cult of the Dark and the Cabal of the Gray -- lies at least one dragon, obsessed with its beliefs and using its clergy as pawns and underlings. The Church, of course, denies such accusations with vehemence, declaring that dragons use treachery and guile and that these things are anathema*. Surely the Church's inquisitors would have rooted out such heresy long ago!

However, the fact remains that dragons can take human form, and that sometimes the best person to manipulate an organization is not the Arch-Paterfamilias, but rather a mid-level clerk firmly entrenched in the bureaucracy but unnoticed due to blandness. After all, how many paladins ask commoner functionaries "Are you a dragon?"

Hiding in plain sight is very much of the Light, thank you.

* The Cult of the Dark would have no problem with a dragon at the heart of it all, as such things fit perfectly within their doctrine. The Gray Cabal wouldn't care one way or the other.

To be continued.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pellatarrum: Cursebreaker Durga

Rumored to be the child of one of the legendary Shapers of dwarven history, Durga is believed to be as old as Pellatarrum itself. This claim is not as unbelievable as it sounds: every educated soul on Pellatarrum has heard of Durga; she is the matriarch of an entire clan of curse-breaking dwarves; and honestly, she looks older than dirt.

Durga is a witch, and every one of her children has a magical talent of some form. Most are wizards, clerics and witches, though paladins are not unknown (bringing a highly literal interpretation of their clan name through their actions) and, in one notable exception, a bard*.

The Cursebreaker clan has a very simple purpose in life: destroying curses and malevolent magical items. Usually this is simple, as those who are cursed seek out a Cursebreaker and pay to have dispel magic, remove curse, or break enchantment cast upon them. (Stone to flesh is also popular but requires very good friends, and often an additional housecall fee.) However, sometimes adventurers stumble upon something far more potent -- say, an intelligent and strong-willed sword, or an artifact from the Godswar that somehow made it way across the planes and into Pellatarrum -- and normal spells are unable to break the bond or neutralize the cursed artifact.

That is when the Cursebreaker clan seeks the guidance of Grandmother Durga. Usually all that is required is a high-order spell (such as wish) or dropping the cursed item into the elemental torrent within the heart of the Dayspire. If that is insufficient, Durga will consult her extensive library, cast ancient and powerful spells lost to time, and send her family out on quests for information. Given enough time, Durga can break any curse or destroy any artifact. Of course, those afflicted with truly powerful curses may not have the luxury of time...

There are two important things to know about the Cursebreaker clan. The first is that when they give their word to break a curse, you may rest assured that they will break that curse or die trying -- in which case a family member will take their place and continue their kin's work.

The second is that, unlike others with the ability to remove curses, they never charge money for their work. Those they help are instructed that "One day, one of my kin will come to one of your kin and ask you to do something in return. You must do this thing without question or pause." These debts are recorded in Durga's library, as well as the amount of difficulty it took to solve that problem. It is a point of honor that a Cursebreaker has never asked for more than someone's ability to pay.

To the best of anyone's knowledge, no one has ever failed to repay a Cursebreaker. This has less to do with gratitude or personal honor than with the belief that any curse which can be broken may just as easily be reinstated...

* Cursebreaker Simenov's inability to actually remove curses is more than made up for by his ability to tell lurid stories that are both gross and engrossing. The fact that his bulging eyes and gravelly voice give him a "creepy old guy" demeanor actually adds to the telling of the tales, which are retold often but never as well as by Simenov himself. He is the reason every civilization on Pellatarrum has heard of Durga in the first place.

A lesson learned the hard way

Listen and heed my words, so that you can learn from my mistakes and not make the same in your own lives:

When you decide to have one of your firearms modified in a manner which requires gunsmithing -- such as having the receiver of your shotgun drilled & tapped for installation of a Weaver rail -- do not assume that the gunsmith has such a rail on hand. Further, do not assume that the gunsmith can just look up the distances between the screw holes in the rails and do the drill & tap so that you can buy the rail system later.

If you make these assumptions, what will happen is that the gunsmith will decide to order the rail system, which will take weeks to arrive, and you will be charged for both the labor and the part (bought at retail price.) What you must instead do is buy everything beforehand, so that you get them at your convenience and at the best price possible, and then when you go to the gun shop you should say "Put this rail on that gun" and all you have to pay for is the labor.

I learned this the hard way, as a weekend $60 drill-and-tap turned into a two-week $115 "we've got to order the part, we'll call you when it arrives" debacle.

Sometimes I think I'd be better off if I just became a gunsmith myself so I could cut out all the crap. Sadly, I can't afford either the training or the tools.

(This isn't a Monday but I'm classifying it as a Monday Gunday post because it has to do with firearms.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Broken River: A Thanksgiving Interlude

Broken River
Interlude: Little Big Chicken Ranch
by Mike (Rhishisikk) Kochis

For those following the Pellatarum threads, this is something that Erin picked up a while ago, played with, and then got all distracted by life. But, as she pointed out to me, it fits really well with what's going on in Broken River.

Little Big Chicken Ranch
Not all things a town is famous for are in the town proper. Some, like the Little Big Chicken Ranch, are on the outskirts, the farmsteads that make "civilized life" possible.

In a nutshell, the LBCR raises dire chickens, because they have the fortitude to survive the elemental mish-mash that constitutes yearly weather, enough mean on them to resist predators, enough meat to make it worth all the extra hassle, and are still able to be handled by normal humans.
To date, attempts to mimic the success of LBCR have met with failure, and usually needed adventurers to remove the rampaging territorial chickens.

The NPCs
Garvin Olvewaithe (commoner 5) is the farmer known for running the Little Big Chicken ranch, but much of the actual work of the ranch and the homestead itself is done by his wife, Marta (com 6, our most experienced commoner). He also employs a half dozen "caretakers", who rapidly rise to second or third level (or end up being torn apart by the foul-tempered fowl).

Their oldest child is only seven, but has already gained second level. Mimi Olvewaithe is terrified of the "clucking horrors", and swears up and down that she's going to do something sane with her life. In spite of this, she hauls feed, pesters the ranch hands, and generally gets underfoot the way in which only a seven year old can manage (and only a seven year old is still cute enough to get away with).

The Tenants
For stats on dire chickens, see Erin's article here.

There are two conflicting natures – the dire beast and the chicken. Marta discovered that the chickens take shelter when she bangs two metal pots together. However, the chickens are smart enough to recognize wielded weapons, and will swarm fearlessly to defense of "their" territory.

Unlike most dire beasts, the chickens have been raised together, and work as a pack or swarm rather than individual beasts. They have learned not to attack their fence of woven barbed wire, but every so often, one (or more) will flutter into the air and find themselves landing on the outside of their pen.

Like all dire beasts, they breed like a plague – if they weren't being constantly harvested for their meat and eggs, they would have already taken over the entire farm and destroy the surrounding landscape. There used to be a detachment of four soldiers from the town guard, until times got so desperate that they were needed elsewhere (but the watchtower remains at the crossroads between the four pens.

As noted above, there are four pens. These are connected by buried walkways, allowing the chickens a single "territory". Each pen includes an artificial "cave"*, where the females can lay eggs and the entire flock will retreat to if exposed to fire, loud noises, rainy weather, arrow fire, or other situations which just cannot be resolved by swarming and pecking (the default reaction of the chickens).

The fences of the enclosures are wood covered with barbed wire. Collectively, the chickens are capable of destorying the fences – but they've never been worked into enough of a frenzy to discover this. Generally speaking, only the lower-status members of the flock spend a lot of time near the fences.

At the crossroads between the four pens are a watchtower and several "feeding troughs", which rely on gravity to get the feed past the fence. Two spears (to fend off hungry dire chickens) are also in this area. Again, the owners and hands make very certain to keep the flock well placated.

Town Politics
The Olvewaithes are not much liked by their neighbors, who are convinced that they are raising monsters. In spite of over a decade of prosperity, they will never be trusted to control their animals. This means their feed prices (from their neighbors, at least) are higher; part of this is grudge, the rest is greed (the ranch is relatively lucrative).

This means that most of the feed is actually bought from Thornshire, Broken River's halfling community. When relations are strained, and the halflings stop exporting, this includes to the Little Big Chicken Ranch. The residents of Thornshire are all to well aware of the pressure this puts on the entire northwestern farmland, and the town in general.

Although being on the "safe" side of the river, the LBCR is a target by the nearby orc tribe. For their part, the Olvewaithes are indifferent to the "orc tax" and to picking up the occasional dead orc body out of the pens – it's just one of the normal hazards of business for them.

Druids, generally speaking, hate the LBCR for "caging" dire animals (and more than one druid has died attempting to set them free).

Every so often the Smuggler's Union will attempt to "export" one or more dire chickens to another farm; these efforts always end badly, and the Olvewaithes have stopped selling their chickens, to include fertile eggs. Not that this stops the attempts, but that's between them and the flock.

Adventure Seeds
Seriously? If you can't already see three potential plot devices, go – no, no, not going there. I apologize.
  • Escaped chickens are a fact of life at Little Big Chicken Ranch. Normally there are just one or two, pawing around the outside of the fences, and wondering how they got outside. But as your player's level increases, it may be necessary to cull the entire farm. (The exact number of dire chickens on the ranch at any given time is deliberately left vague.)
  • Mimi is just the cutest little budding adventurer ever. She also knows that she's small enough to fit in a backpack. This is a dangerous combination.
  • Dire chickens eat a LOT. This means convoys of feed (both grain and meat) crossing the farmlands, year round. This means weather, banditry, and wandering monsters.
  • The neighbors have a dichotomy of their own – they don't want those monsters near their farm, but they're also afraid that if they try to do anything, ALL the chickens will escape at once.
  • Every few years, some idiot gets it into their head that dire chickens are just bigger chickens. Surely they would make good pets, or could be trained as circus animals. Meaner than normal chickens, you say? Perhaps guardian beasts...
  • As with any industry that makes money, LBCR attracts its share of bandits and robbers. The signs "Trespassers will be fed to the livestock" do little to deter such individuals.
  • If you're attempting to cozy up to the local orc tribes, they routinely lose braves who choose to steal a dire chicken from LBCR as one of their combat trials. A more difficult trial is capturing one alive.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

 * I asked Mike what he meant by "cave" and he clarified it as "a chicken coop covered with dirt on three sides and on the roof."  While this makes sense, I am rather fond of the notion of it being an actual dugout, wherein intrepid farmhands must venture into the warrens, like a tunnel rat, to retrieve eggs or die in the attempt...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Because why not, right?  These are stolen from Zak's Alignment System.

Twilight Sparkle: Curious Righteous
Pinkie Pie:  ADD Fancy

Rarity: Fancy Greedy
Applejack: Righteous Laid-Back

Fluttershy: Laid-Back Fancy
Rainbow Dash: ADD Bloodthirsty, or possibly vice-versa

And, for completeness' sake, the Cutie Mark Crusaders:

Apple Bloom: Greedy Sneaky
Sweetie Belle: Greedy Fancy
Scootaloo: Greedy ADD

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An awesome dream I had

Last night I dreamed I was hanging out with Jamie Hyneman (like you do) when suddenly we were accosted by Jamie Hyneman cosplayers. Apparently we were at a convention and the Mythbusters were the Guests of Honor. However, for whatever reason, Adam Savage wasn't there.

Not wanting to disappoint our guests (and perhaps fearing their wrath), Jamie introduced ME as Adam and gave me a "Don't screw this up" look. I of course was terrified because I look nothing like Adam but the fans seemed to buy it...

For the rest of the dream I was acting larger than life, waxing enthusiastic about stuff I didn't know anything about and just improvising like mad. I also signed a crapton of autographs, which apparently people took as legit.

So if you attended ImaginaryMythbusterCon inside Erin's Head, then you got a bogus Adam Savage autograph. Sorry, no refunds.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pellatarrum: My Dragons are Different (part 7)

Written as a cooperative effort by Erin Palette and Mike Kochis

In that day the LORD will take his terrible, swift sword and punish Leviathan, the swiftly moving serpent, the coiling, writhing serpent. He will kill the dragon of the sea.
Isaiah 27:1

So despite all this, you still want to be a dragonslayer? Then you are a madman or a fool. No one sane ever wants to kill a dragon, for the same reason that no one sane ever wants to fight a land war during a Siberian winter. Still, this is not to say such an undertaking is impossible... just very, very difficult, and even if you manage to win, you will have the scars to prove that you were in an epic battle.

VIII. To Kill a Dragon

Adventurers hate being manipulated and tricked. In a campaign featuring draconic manipulation, it is only a matter of time before they want to kill their hidden puppet masters for using them. So, how hard is it to kill a dragon?

First, it helps to find out which dragon you want to kill. As mentioned earlier, dragons are smart, extremely long-lived, and prone to holding grudges. From hatching they have been told that, if their existence is known, they will be used as pawns in the Great Game Between Dragons, and that only fools allow their true names and abilities to be known. As such, a dragon capable of amassing a hoard immediately begins to create a web of cut-outs and operatives around an information-based cellular network that would make any spy agency jealous. (See Society for more details on dragon paranoia.)

But assuming through arduous investigation that the Player Characters have determined that they do, indeed, seek vengeance upon the Great Red Wyrm Margontherog (as he is known to the orcs), they must penetrate multiple levels of obstacles and obfuscation to get anywhere close to his lair.

1)  The first layer comprises those people, many of them adventurers, for whom the dragon is – formally or informally, known or unknown – their sponsor. These adventurers may not even realize they are being sent to kill or otherwise hinder the party; they could merely show up in the same dungeon at the same time as the PCs, looking for the same treasure. Competitiveness and greed usually ensure conflict over cooperation, especially if their dragon patron has warned them that “Evil men from another land also covet this treasure for wicked ends.”

2)  The second layer is made of mercenaries, assassins, and other people from whom violence is easily bought with money. This is perhaps the weakest part of the dragon's web, in that if someone is paid to kill another, then clearly that someone has an employer who provided the funds. Truly careful dragons will arrange for payment to go through multiple locations and individuals, but with thorough enough investigation it should be possible to determine who paid whom, and eventually trace it back to either the tribe of kobolds to whom the money was given, or the particular hoard from which the payment came. Some assassins, after all, have discerning tastes, and kill for things other than mere coinage.

3)  Next is the web of favors that are owed to the dragon, either by other dragons or those humanoids brave or foolish enough to ask a dragon for help. Kindly note that favors owed by one dragon to another will only serve to muddy the investigation, as those dragons will also utilize resources 1 through 3 in order to pay the debt. (It is a humorous possibility, however unlikely, for the chain of favors to wrap back around and have the original dragon being asked to kill those same bothersome adventurers as a favor to another.)

    It should be noted at this time that steps 1 through 3 have no upper limit on their scope if the dragon is old and rich enough; it is entirely likely that cities, if not whole nations (through their rulers) could be considered assets of a single dragon.

    4)  At this point things are becoming rather personal for the dragon and perhaps some worry is setting in. He will call upon trusted servants, such as his tribe of fanatically loyal kobolds, or perhaps a half-dragon child, to deal with the party. Many of these will have character levels, and nearly all will possess some powerful magical item, either taken directly from the dragon's hoard or bought with its funds.

    5)  If the PCs survive this last onslaught, worry is definitely occurring. Dragons will begin activating contingency plans: abandoning lairs, adopting disguises, and retreating to a secure location. A favorite tactic at this point is to lure the adventurers to a throw-away lair – filled with enough treasure to be believable but not so much as to impoverish the dragon – and force a staged confrontation wherein the dragon fakes its own death. This is typically done with illusions, other beings polymorphed into identical dracoforms, cloned fail-safes or other types of simulacra. Should this tactic work, the dragon will lie low for a century or so (longer in the case of elven or dwarven opponents) until it has been forgotten and its foes are either dead or feeble with age. Then it will have its revenge, oh yes....

    6)  Assuming the player characters are undeterred by this deception, they now must face the greatest fight of their existence. Their quarry has retreated into its strongest, most secure lair, filled with traps and monsters and magics powerful enough to make the stoutest heart blanch. Through scrying, the dragon will know where they are at all times, and will constantly harass them such that they will be denied opportunities to rest, eat, and heal. They will face encounters not meant specifically to kill (although that's always a nice outcome) but rather to ablate, to eat away at the resources of the party until, when they finally stumble upon the dragon's great bedroom, they are bleeding and spent, with their potions drunk and their wands empty and their magics exhausted. And that is, ideally, when the party will discover that Margontherog the Great Red Wyrm has been dead for centuries, and who they face now is actually the black dragon Therazon Man-Eater. Surprise!

    7)  Assuming the player characters live through this – which is entirely likely, as this quest for vengeance has been a campaign years in the undertaking and in which time the party as a whole likely leveled up to beyond heroic stature – they need to ask themselves one question. One simple, small, nagging question: Which dragon manipulated them into doing it?

    Sidebar: Dragon Lairs

    Each dragon's lair will be optimized for maximum effective use of its special abilities. While an exhaustive discussion of the tactical construction of a lair is beyond the scope of this article, there are certain guidelines which are universal:
    • Dragons whose breath weapons are lines will favor long, straight passageways leading to their lairs, perhaps with a 90-degree turn to provide a sudden blindside, or a sliding wall to prevent a quick escape. If the PCs are incapable of flight, a labyrinth is terribly effective in this regard. The words “Fatal Funnel” should be a design principle.
    • Conical breath weapons, on the other hand, should encourage grouping in a cluster through use of terrain which seems helpful but isn't. Outcroppings and depressions can provide a sense of security which is proven false when the breath weapon expands to fill the area above or behind it. Obstacles which entangle or slow advancement are also effective. Think “Splash Damage.”
    • Black dragons favor lairs with pits and depressions where residual acid will linger after breath weapon usage. What may at first appear to be defensive trenches for the dragon's allies soon become pits and troughs of lingering, dissolving death.
    • Blue dragon make use of their ability to create water to flood the floors of their lairs, allowing electrical conductivity to turn a line of lightning breath into an area-effect weapon.
    • Green dragons, due to their sonic abilities, have blindsight rather than blindsense, and as such their battle-lairs are nearly all pitch-black. Repeated sonic attacks will frequently leave adventurers deaf, and PCs which are both blind and deaf are essentially helpless. They are also fond of large, deep pools of water into which armored, blind, and deaf adventurers can stumble into and drown.
    • Red dragons will use their immunity to heat to their advantage, and will occupy volcanoes or other locations which will fatigue, exhaust or kill those without magical immunity. These dragons will then cast greater dispel magic as an area effect in order to make the PCs vulnerable. Pits or piles of combustible materials are also favorites.
    • White dragons have similar tactics as reds, but are far more ambush-based predators. Their ability to create snow and ice, either through breath or magic, combined with their ability to burrow and their immunity to white-out situations makes them highly mobile and elusive fighters.

    This was originally going to be the end of the series but then I thought of more things to add as addenda. Therefore, To Be Continued.

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    Pellatarrum: My Dragons are Different (part 6)

    Written as a cooperative effort by Erin Palette and Mike Kochis

    Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?
    Beautiful tyrant! Fiend angelical!
    Dove-feathered raven, wolvish-ravening lamb!
    Romeo and Juliet, Act 3 Scene 2

    VII. Draconic Resources  

    Contrary to expectations, ploys rarely diminish a dragon's wealth. Firstly, the average dragon rarely has more than a quarter of their resources invested in their network, and rarely more than half in various markets, banks, trade caravans, and other long-term investments; the treasure trove a dragon possesses is usually a quarter (or more) of what they own.

    Not all of this is in coins; magical and mundane traps, hired guards (usually half to two armies per lair), captive monsters to feed intruders to, and such are also part of the dragon's "possessions.”

    All dragons are avid collectors of things they value. One dragon will hold the knife widely held to have assassinated a king. Another will collect the small silver chalice it suspects was used to poison him. Still another has the animated skeleton of the skullery maid rumored to have poisoned him at the queen's behest. If it is rare, valuable, or unique, some dragon somewhere wants to collect it.

    Not all such "collections" are physical things. Some dragons collect music, or folklore, or gossip, or tall tales. And some dragons collect ransoms, or kingdoms, or lists of famous people they've eaten. Like all things draconic, it depends upon the dragon.

    As such, they keep a substantial amount of coin, gems, and jewelry on hand. One never knows when the third diary of Mu Ling is going to show up, after all. And when it does, one has to hire spies, con men, thieves, assassins, and (when they have to) purchasing agents to attain it. Naturally, there are several items that cross interests of competing dragons. Their discovery both stimulates the economy and leaves a bloody trail of unsavory professionals.

    Dragons rarely employ linear thinking, such as "I'll just eat them all and take the book." after they pass juvenile age. In fact, it is possible for the collector of rare crystals to also make a "bid" for the book – she has no interest in the book, of course, but she just absolutely must have that elven glass tea set another dragon once offered her for her set of matching canopic jars of Pharoah Mushu (and she knows our book collector has a mural of Mu Ling ordered constructed by Pharoah Mushu, a win for all three of them – especially her, if she gets the book first.).

    So dragons normally have all manner of "clutter" and "junk" in their lairs, some of it quite fragile, and easily mistaken for common items. Those traps you disabled, those monsters you killed, those guardian giants you slew? All of them are part of that dragon's hoard.

    To be continued. 

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    Pellatarrum: My Dragons are Different (part 5)

    Written as a cooperative effort by Erin Palette and Mike Kochis

    If you ignore the dragon, it will eat you. If you try to confront the dragon it will overpower you. If you ride the dragon, you will take advantage of its might and power.
    – a Chinese proverb

    VI. Dragon Networks

    As mentioned before, dragons rarely do things themselves – it wastes time which is better spent making contingency plans for the backup plans for the main plans that fit into the dragon's world domination scheme. (Dragons are smart enough to realize they will never actually rule the world, but continually moving toward this goal assures that their power and influence grow, which helps protect them from sudden, violent death.)

    Instead, they work through agents of all races. Most have at least one tribe of kobolds who serve them. Through judicious use of their hordes, both through investment and ventures, dragons extend their financial empires across the infinite length and breadth of Pellatarum. Conflicts rarely result in dragon-on-dragon violence; negotiated settlements, complex games of chance, proxy wars, and breeding to give the contested area(s) to their children are all common solutions to draconic conflicts.

    For lack of a better word, dragons are draconic. They sometimes forget that their followers are not all near-genius level beings with great power. They punish failure (which can mean deviating in the slightest detail from the plan) harshly, though not always fatally. They usually do kill those who betray, assault, or lie to them (others just have a laugh at the little worms attempting to get the better of them). Although dragons do reward success, it is rarely as lucrative as fairy tales would have you believe, and if you do receive a magic sword, huge gemstone, or land grant from draconic service, expect there to be strings attached.

    Perhaps the most poorly understood aspect of dragons is the network of draconic favors that allows dragons to "borrow" each others' followers. This usually happens without the knowledge of the borrowed (if they even know who they're working for to begin with, which is rare for non-kobolds). This means that even while an "owned" party of adventurers runs about a dungeon for a quest given to them by "the old man at the tavern", they could also be looking to destroy an ancient artifact, find a bottle of a certain vintage wine, and check for rumors that thunderstone deposits are still nearby – each of them coming from a different dragon. Which is not to say that all quests ultimately come from dragons; far from it. Only about a quarter of what adventurers do is interesting or significant enough to attract draconic attention, let alone prompt them to action.

    However, the fact remains that if you're doing something, you never know if a dragon is ultimately responsible for it. More likely, in the process of breaking into monster's homes and killing them for their stuff, an adventuring party will come to the attention of a dragon. Believers of the phrase “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,” dragons are very aware that parties of adventurers are just the thing to take out a draconic rival – or themselves. So they keep tabs on potentially dangerous adventurers, finding out what motivates them and making sure they are motivated in directions other than hunting down and killing the dragon in question. And if the adventurers just happen to go into a dangerous dungeon and not come out again – yes, the loss of resources is regrettable, but at least the adventurers themselves are gone...

    Only the most trusted (or least untrusted) of a dragon's followers have access to this network, which is wide-ranging in terms of both skills and terrain. Likewise, these servants have simple tasks, such as "Destabilize this nation while making sure the clergy and farmers are not harmed" or "Make certain that this peasant farmer's son grows up to be romantically irresistible to this particular elven princess". But the testing never ceases. Dragons are certain their network contains spies, moles, and traitors – after all, they've got enough of their own in other networks, they ought to know how easy it is.

    Sidebar: What is a Ploy?

    Dragons are obsessed with their status among other dragons, and insist on proper respect from other (lesser) species. As part of this, dragons are constantly "counting coup" on each other. They are too few in number to be able to afford resorting to violence as a first recourse with their rivals; a fight between dragons is usually a few centuries in the making.

    A consequence of this is that dragons often meddle in the affairs of other dragons, if only to keep the others distracted enough that they can pursue their own obsession. In fact, draconic custom alters the level of acceptable interference based upon age, known interests, proximity to lair (with more generous zones around one's "main" lair), and so on.

    The older a dragon is, the more complex and well developed their ploys become. A ploy (as most dragons call their efforts) consists of multiple layers of activity, diversions, delaying tactics, backup plans, fail-safe measures, and other considerations. Even for a genius-level creature, these ploys require years to develop, and are so detailed that they can seem prescient when unfolding (presuming, of course, that actual prescience isn't involved – because magic, that's why).

    Indeed, it could even be possible that the dragon whom the PCs have been researching, battling the minions of, tracking, being stymied by, foiling the plans of, and all around focusing their attention on, has in fact been dead for centuries, and no one knows this but the kobold tribes who served her, and who, in her name, have been fostering the plots she lived for until she was taken by some fell disease or another draconic ploy!

    To be continued. 

    Pellatarrum: My Dragons are Different (part 4)

    Written as a cooperative effort by Erin Palette and Mike Kochis

    "This of course is the way to talk to dragons, if you don't want to reveal your proper name (which is wise), and don't want to infuriate them by a flat refusal (which is also very wise)."
    ~ The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

    V. Draconic Interactions with Lesser Beings

    Dragons regard themselves as the rightful lords of all things, living and unliving. Tens of thousands humanoids are starving? That's nice. A baby dragon is starving? That might be of some concern.

    Dragons expect a minimum of three gifts from non-draconic guests: a greeting gift, meeting gift, and parting gift (the latter of which is also expected from draconic visitors). If there are multiple visitors, the greeting and parting gifts are expected to be larger.

    The greeting gift is both a tribute to the dragon (for not eating them, being willing to see them at all, etc.) and an indication of how much value the person places on being able to meet the dragon. It is also a measure of the gift-bearer's wealth. If a dragon is willing to meet with poor people, this gift can sometimes be waived. (Hint: dragons know adventurers aren't poor.)

    The meeting gift is given during conversation, and is meant as a consideration to agree to whatever the visitor is proposing. The idea of visiting with lesser beings just for conversation is enough to send most dragons into paroxysms of laughter. The value of the gift indicates both the value of the request, and how much time the dragon is expected to take considering it. It is also a precursor to the "half up front" standard in service negotiations. If a dragon declines an offer it is traditional (but not guaranteed) that they either return this gift or, equally common, give a gift of equal value as their parting gift.

    Contrary to popular belief, the parting gift is not a bribe not to eat the departing guest. Instead, it is a measure of how much one has enjoyed the dragon's company. Between dragons, this gift is reciprocated by the host; among lesser beings, this is less common. Beware the dragon who "gifts" you with a parting gift higher in value than your own! Either it is attempting to manipulate you (and being crass about it), or is setting you up for some manner of trouble.

    Dragons are expected to hold to the letter of their word to other dragons. They are expected to be good hosts and courteous guests to other dragons. None of these conditions apply to non-dragons. Because each dragon determines its own rules relating to non-dragons, it seems whimsical to outsiders. At best, good dragons will deal with you fairly. There are legends about dragons who break promises, make deals only to eat their visitor as soon as they leave their lair (and then keep their half of the deal anyway), and even one where a dragon traded a golden lyre for a literal song (the legend down-plays the misadventures that followed the bard after acquiring his new instrument).

    It is worth noting that dragons will often eat people, some of them without being provoked. Many dragons do not consider lesser beings to be truly intelligent (of the elder races, only the elves come closest to this mark), and none regard other races as their equals. Eating someone is a mark of superiority, contempt, and a means of killing someone in a manner that disposes of the body and hinders resurrection all in one concise bundle. Some dragons limit themselves to eating "bad" people (by the dragon's definition), but there are few dragons that will not eat you under the proper circumstances.

    Deal with dragons with caution, respect, and more caution.

    Sidebar: Dragon, Inc.

    From our modern standpoint, it helps to think of dragons as corporations. They don't consider themselves beholden to the rules of conduct of lesser beings, are interested in profit, and are often willing to harm the public good in order to better themselves.

    Where this analogy breaks down is that dragons are self-policing: they care what other dragons think of them. Also, remember most dragons are genius-level intellects; they understand the concept of investment, compound interest, and short-term sacrifice for long-term gain.

    It's just that as geniuses, they intend to be certain that others make the short-term sacrifices.

    To be continued. 

    The Fine Print

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