Friday, September 24, 2021

Vanilla vs Artpunk?

It is a paradox at the very heart of fantasy fiction that, unless there is a consistent and convincing (read "realistic") setting for the characters and their actions, the story may well drift apart in flights of unbridled fancy. In order for the elements of fantasy to succeed, they must be grounded in a recognizable world inhabited by characters and creatures whose attributes and abilities are carefully delineated. For example, when Conan confronts an unnatural monster, the only valid way you're going to have hackles raised  on the audience's collective neck is if your  hero is vulnerable, his situation believably desperate, and the monster so real you can smell him coming! It's not just a willing suspension of disbelief we're talking about but an actual embrace of the fantastic images as true for the span of the tale.

[emphasis in original]

--Alan Zelentz, forward to Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian Vol. 1 No. 1 (Marvel, Thomas/Windsor-Smith)

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Signal Boost: The Jousting Piglet

 Alexis of the Tao of D&D blog is running a kickstarter. If you haven't been keeping up with his blog, I would encourage you to do so. We often disagree, but lately we've been agreeing more than disagreeing, and if you followed his blog early on and quit due to the tone, know that while he still brooks no bullshit, he is much to others than he used to be. Hard to describe how he's changed over the years. He'll still call you out on your stupidity, but he's a lot more respectful if you show you're engaging sincerely with his ideas. 

And really, he's been throwing out some posts over the past month or so that have been great food for thought (a dialogue with JB of BX Blackrazor, who is also throwing up a lot of good posts these days). 

Meanwhile, I'm just chugging along making lame Star Wars jokes and what not as I struggle to find time to put together a decent thoughtful post about D&D. Real life is like that sometimes. 

But anyway, the point of today's post is that Alexis has a kickstarter, as I mentioned already. He has designed a menu for a fantasy pub or inn. It's an actual artifact that you could throw down on your gaming table and have the players poor over. And as he mentioned in a post recently, can provide plenty of plot hooks to deepen your game world beyond just "Hey, there are goblins in them thar hills!" But he isn't getting enough backers yet.

Honestly, I don't need the menu for my games right now. I'm looking to maybe try some face-to-face gaming in the near future, but it's still iffy. And my West Marches game doesn't really need something like that. It is something I might want in the future. Anyway, I didn't back it for the menu itself, but I backed it because I'd like to see Alexis succeed in this. I don't need this menu, but whatever he produces next, if the menu succeeds, MAY be something I need for my games. And Alexis producing more things in this vein hinges on the menu succeeding.

So I backed him as much as I could afford right now, and I'd encourage you to do the same. If you don't think you need this menu -- and it is a gorgeous thing, go check out the kickstarter link (first link above) -- then do what I did and back him for as much as you can afford. It's just a small way for me to thank him for giving me lots of good ideas to ponder.

Thank you!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Gaming to Capstone the Holiday Weekend

 We're at the end of a 5-day weekend in Korea, with the Chuseok (Fall Harvest Moon) festival being this past Mon-Wed. It was really 6 days for me, since I don't have any classes on Friday. It was an interesting week, too. I got my second Pfizer vaccine on Friday, which left me feeling exhausted and with a sore shoulder for two days, but luckily nothing more than that. 

So I ran a session of my d6 Star Wars game on Sunday, and finished up the hex-crawl planet survey adventure I'd created and then regretted creating when I ran it. But the players, two of them at least, said they really enjoyed it. Well, it will be back to more situational adventures in the future. The players said they'd prefer some anti-Imperial hi-jinks. 

My younger son was asking me for the past few days to run some D&D, but we just never seemed to have the time. In the previous West Marches game, his character was left about 250xp shy of 5th level. So tonight, I ran another game of the procedural dungeon crawling thing. 

I pulled out a battlemap from the old 2E AD&D Intro box set, with a castle and small cave system. They went to the gates, which were barred by a portcullis. While trying to open it, they were attacked by giant black widows, and my younger boy's henchman got bitten and failed a save. They quickly killed the spiders and asked if they could retreat back to town to save him. Technically black widows' poison takes effect 1 turn later, but I fudged the rules and allowed it. Hey, I made sure the boys played the dice straight, but I didn't need my 7-year-old bawling shortly before bedtime (he'd already scraped up his knee on the playground this afternoon). So I fudged that NON DIE ROLL bit. Sue me. 

[Lots of talk on the blogs I'm reading recently about fudging or not.]

Anyway, armed with an extra potion of antidote (and a potion of growth for my older boy) purchased in town, they returned to the castle. I won't go over all the details, but they managed to negotiate with ghouls! (lucky die rolls on the reaction rolls), battled some elves, and tricked some dwarves into leaving a silver chalice unguarded so they could swipe it and flee back to town. My 7yo wanted to taunt the dwarves as they fled, but my 13yo talked him out of it. 

Bulldog, my 7yo's character, is now a 5th level Lark (like the BX Elf class, but not an elf), and chose Haste/Slow as his first 3rd level spell. While brushing his teeth, we talked about ways he could use it to help the party, and he seems excited by the possibilities. He complained that his older brother was trying to talk to everyone instead of fight, but I explained to him that it's often better that way, especially if you can still get the treasure without the fighting. He seemed to get it, but we'll see if he remembers the next time we play. 

My 13yo was in good form tonight (despite too much teasing of his little brother), trying to think his way through the encounters (all monsters, no traps or specials this time). He rarely does that when we play online. The voice chat we use doesn't hold his interest, especially when chatting with his friends on Discord is just a new browser tab away. 

 I know at least one local player is also fully vaccinated, and another has had at least one shot. I should ask everyone's status and see if they'd like to risk some in-person gaming.

Monday, September 13, 2021

12 Years of Blogging

Another blog anniversary passed. Why I decided to start this blog on 9/11 I still don't know. I know it wasn't a conscious decision to do so. And obviously, I'm a couple days late posting this this year. 

Well, real life is a big downer. And it's really not covid life. Or not much. I've pretty much gotten used to teaching via Zoom, gaming via Roll20 and Google Meet (formerly Hangouts), mask wearing, occasional upticks in cases that make us hesitate to visit restaurants, all that. I've gotten my first shot of Pfizer, and will get the second soon. Korea's vaccination rates are chugging along, with about 1,000,000 shots given (first and second doses) on a good day. About 2/3 of the population have had at least one shot. 

The downer is pretty personal. My father-in-law's lung cancer has finally caught up with him. He went six years from diagnosis to today, but his condition is deteriorating. And my wife is pretty busy helping her mother take care of him (he doesn't want hospice care, long story). So our family is under extra pressure right now. But we're managing. 

I'm still gaming, and tinkering with my rules. I'm also starting to develop the locations for East Marches, something that a year ago I thought I'd never get around to doing. But here we are. I'm firmly on the way back to race-as-class for my house rules, with the TSR-East Marches rules (better name than simple TSR-East) using that paradigm. I bet I'll be modifying my more "standard" TSR rules to suit that as well. I've pretty much decided I don't like the plethora of dual-class classes that I made, and most aren't getting any play anyway. I still want to give TSR-East Marches another simplification pass, but pretty much I think it's good to go. And with the PC options, spells, monsters, and treasure stuff done, I'm able to work on East Marches the (mega)module. 

My West Marches campaign and Star Wars campaign are still ongoing. We just had a pretty good session of West Marches this past weekend. The party managed to take out Onyx/Khisanth, the dragon of Xak Tsaroth, with a potion of luck and an arrow of teleportation (and a failed save on the arrow). The treasure was looted, and the dragon, if they ever encounter it again, is gonna be pissed! 

I made an adventure for Star Wars that I thought would be cool and different (and fast) but it's taken two sessions and at least one more. But I'm going to try and get that done this upcoming holiday week (Chuseok, lunar thanksgiving) so we can move back to more traditional bounty hunter/criminal underworld shenanigans with occasional Imperial incursions. The one good thing I did with this kinda boring adventure is set the PCs up to potentially be in conflict with the Pyke species. And that's most likely to be the case at the end of this thing. So that's something fun to work with. 

As for blogging, I've actually got quite a few topics I'd like to discuss, but honestly it's hard to find the time. Several are reactions or reflections based on other bloggers' recent(ish) works, but the more I put them off, the longer it's been since the original posts, the more I think I should just forget them. Still, I expect at least one or two of them to eventually find their way into pixels. 

Anyway, hoping the end of the year picks up. I've got Dune, The Eternals, and Spider-Man to look forward to in the theater, The Book of Boba Fett on TV, and plenty of gaming.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings -- Movie Review

My family went to see Shang Chi this afternoon. I'm definitely going to have a second viewing (or more) of this, both because of the things I loved about it, but also because there were a few things I missed (the trouble with taking a 7 year old to a movie like this is he can't focus when things aren't action packed or funny, so I can't focus). There may also be a few plot holes. Pretty much, though, it's a solid movie. 

Also, mandatory warning on language (since my blog has "curse" in the title and Google directs parents here): There are quite a few minor curse words. My 7 year old loves that. Mostly from Awkwafina's character Katy. No F-bombs, but similar levels to those in Black Widow and The Falcon & the Winter Soldier. 

My initial, and spoiler free, impression of the movie is that I liked it. A LOT! If you know my RPG work, you won't be surprised. I was looking forward to a super-powered kung fu movie. I figured, since it's involving a villain mostly from Iron Man comics (although with alien tech "magic" rings), that it would be relatively grounded in the "real world" of the MCU. Nope! Don't want to spoil things, but it's more akin to Thor or Dr. Strange than Iron Man or Captain America

Also, the second half of the movie was very much like a game of Flying Swordsmen! So yeah, you can guess I'd dig it from that. 

It's Marvel Studios, so of course the production values were great, the action scenes well done (most of them were easy to follow, but one was a bit confusing for me -- but again that may have been because I had to constantly stop my younger son from kicking the seat in front of him or climbing on the back of his own seat). The casting was good. Nice to see Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh. Makes me want to rewatch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Jet Li's Hero. I haven't seen either of them in a while. 

Also, there are two helpings of shawarma. I was expecting one to tie in to The Eternals due to (spoiler) and because it's the next MCU movie to come out, but it didn't directly. The mid-credit scene was pretty funny, while the after-credit scene was just a short set-up for a future film. 

Are you an MCU fan like me? This one will wet your whistle. Are you a martial arts/wuxia fan like me? This one will deliver. Are you an Asian-themed fantasy buff like me? You'll be happily surprised at a few little things here and there. If you don't really like any of these things, why are you bothering to read this review?

Friday, August 27, 2021


 Yesterday, Nathan Irving posted that he'd done a bit of simple research on dokkaebi because of my post, and made some interesting suggestions on how to modify the class. 

This morning, I randomly found one of my son's books of Korean folklore about a dokkaebi on the floor (along with a few other books). So, even though my Korean isn't great, I read it to him and he translated a couple of points I didn't understand (Korean is very easy to read, even if you don't know what you're reading). 

The story is about two brothers. The older is lazy, the younger one hard working. The older brother sends the younger to the mountain to collect sticks and bring back some food. Younger brother (no names given) finds some sesame nuts and collects them along with the sticks. But he gets lost, it gets dark, he finds a run-down old house to spend the night. But he hears a ruckus outside, and hides in a cupboard just before a group of dokkaebi enter. They smash their spiked clubs (bangmangi) on the ground and both food and treasure appear. They begin to feast. The brother is hungry, so cracks a sesame nut. The cracking sound is so loud, the dokkaebi think it's the roof cracking and about to fall in, so they run away. Brother takes the treasure and one of the bangmangi that was dropped, and heads home in the morning. 

The dokkaebi feast
Older brother hears this and decides to get off his lazy butt and copy his little brother's good luck. He doesn't collect wood, just sesame nuts, then hides in the shack. The dokkaebi come back, looking for the missing bangmangi. Older brother starts cracking sesame nuts to scare them away, but they realize it's just a human hiding, pull him out, and beat him up for stealing the club. He comes home, having learned his lesson, and the brothers use the treasure to buy a new, bigger home. And older brother becomes hard working. 

It's a fairly typical instructive folktale for children. And the dokkaebi in it are rowdy party dudes, but also perform the function of teaching the lazy older brother his lesson. 

One of the most famous Korean folk tales is that of brothers Heungbu and Nolbu (I mentioned this in my reply to Nathan). Heungbu is kind and hard working, but poor. Nolbu is fat and lazy, but rich. Nolbu is so stingy he won't even share any rice with his younger brother's family. 

Heungbu sees a swallow with a broken leg and nurses it back to health. The swallow may or may not be a spirit creature, but anyway it returns and blesses his house by laying magical eggs. When Heungbu opens the eggs, treasure spills out. 

Nolbu hears about this and decides he wants some free money, too. He dresses like a snake to scare a swallow into falling and breaking its leg. Then throwing off the disguise, he nurses the swallow just like Heungbu did. But the bird is not fooled. It does return and lays eggs. But when Nolbu opens them, dokkaebi appear and start trashing his house. Then another egg breaks and floods the house with shit. Nolbu learns his lesson when Heungbu gives up some of his treasure to help Nolbu rebuild. 

The flood of poop, and dokkaebi

Again, a folk tale meant as instructive for children. And who doesn't love the idea of the rich, greedy, lazy guy getting his stuff ruined by a flood of diarrhea? Anyway, this is where my conception of dokkaebi as dispensers of divine justice comes from. 

I just found a third book (my wife, like many Korean women, buys these sets of books from publishers, and most kids never really read all of them) with another dokkaebi story. I should read it a bit more closely (or with my son so he can fill in the gaps), but it seems like a spirit of a mountain is bothered by a bunch of rowdy dokkaebi, and chases them off. Then at the end of the book he gets taught a lesson by a witch (or group of witches? She seems to duplicate in the pictures). Here's a picture from the beginning of the story. 

I've made a quick revision of my dokkaebi class. Now they're a bit more trickster-ish, although still primarily a Fighter-type class. And they have some small ability to create items (but not treasure, obviously) when needed, a few times per day. Also some stealth (Halfling hide ability transfers nicely to them to mimic the invisibility caps of folklore). And I kept two "clerical" abilities from before. One is the ability to detect evil at will (which they had before), but only on a 1-2/d6 roll. The other is the ability to summon a spirit companion (Nate makes good use of the Channel Spirit spell to have Finn, his Dokkaebi Mudang (shaman) PC, summon Fang, his "brother" to help fight).

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

More Demi-Human Thoughts

 I've spent my free time this week working up Dokkaebi (Korean goblin), Koropokuru (Ainu dwarf), Shenseng (Pan-Asian spirit folk) and Vanara (Indian monkey-men) as classes for TSR-East. 

Mostly I'm satisfied. The koropokuru is mostly a fighter variant, but has a few special abilities, similar to the way the dwarf and halfling classes do in normal Classic D&D. Shenseng are spellcasters, but may be clerical or magical depending on spirit type (forest, mountain, river, or desert). Vanara are just a variant of my new (Flying Swordsmen inspired) Martial Artist class, with some unique martial arts abilities. I think these are all playable and fill niches in the game. 

The dokkaebi class, however, I'm not so keen on. I started out making it another fighter variant, but since Nate is playing a dokkaebi shaman, and in legends they have magical powers, I gave them spell-like abilities instead of most Fighter abilities. While this may fill a niche (slightly better at fighting than a Cleric...but not a lot, and able to fill some Cleric duties but not a lot), the Forest and River Shenseng also fill this niche, although a bit more clerical than fightery. 

Since the dokkaebi is the class with redundant purpose and novel mechanics that haven't been tried before (by me), I'm thinking to revise or scrap it. 

I could go with just three demi-humans. But I would like something definitely Korean in origin. I've been living here 13 years, am going to be living here a lot longer, might as well give Korean legends and myths some love. The problem is, Korea doesn't have a lot of original mythical creatures, and most of the ones it has probably aren't appropriate for PCs in an RPG of dungeon delving and treasure accumulation. 

So, make the dokkaebi class more like the Fighter? Or find something that might fill in a pseudo Thief slot? The koropokuru class has a bit of Rangery ability, with better surprise, hearing, dwarf-style trap detection, and infravision, so they can make good scouts in dungeons or wilderness. 

If I want a more thief/ninja type demi-human, though, there aren't a lot of good candidates with Korean flavor. Bears and tigers are important in Korean mythology, but anthropomorphized bears and tigers seem like variant fighters to me, so I might as well stick with the Dokkaebi. Or maybe I should stop thinking about Nate's character (I won't be switching my West Marches game to these rules) and make the Dokkaebi more of a bruiser and less of a support caster type.