Friday, August 30, 2019

Flora & Fauna Friday - Rat King

I'd heard of Rat Kings years ago and always thought they were some sort of hoax, and I guess they might be still.  Recently, I saw something that reminded that they seemingly exist or existed so I clicked around a little just to see if there was any new info out there.  There's an interesting article on from a couple years ago titled, "An (Almost) Comprehensive History of Rat Kings" and it seems to have about as much information as anywhere, so check it out here.

The 1683 rat king, as illustrated by Wilhelm Schmuck

But I got to thinking that since this phenomenon came about on the tail end (pun intended) of the Late Middle Ages (1564), there's certainly fair reason to work them in to a D&D game.  However, it would hardly do to include a dead rat king in a game when a live rat king, or better a live Giant Rat King, would be so much more fun.  It (they?) would have to be surly, bitey, and very active.  I say this because it would have to be incredibly disconcerting for any rat to be tangled up by the tail and worse, to be tangled up with multiple other rats.  Add in being in a situation where the fight or flight instinct is kicking in, such as anytime any predator (humans and the like included) happens to be nearby and there's nowhere to hide.  When you are vulnerable like that, becoming aggressive is clearly the only option.  I suppose you'd have to still treat it as individual rats but perhaps randomly roll 3d2 for the number appearing as three is as few as you might want but more than six would be so unwieldy as to be little danger to anyone but themselves.  After that, roll HP for each Giant Rat and only allow up to three to attack any single opponent.  Also, for each one that dies, give a minus one to hit for any survivors.  While they might get used to the bouncing around of their live companions, each one that goes down creates dead weight throwing off the whole multi-creature organism.  Well, I know one thing going in my campaign soon.

Examining animals, plants, and the
environments we use for our tabletop RPGing.
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Thursday, August 29, 2019

Historical Thursday - The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes

I've often touted The Great Courses as one of the most enjoyable ways for me to pass my time.  Sure, I've binged every season of Stranger Things as they dropped and I was cautiously optimistic as I awaited each season of Game of Thrones.  But when I am looking for something to engage me in a more cerebral manner, I frequently grab a lecture series on history.  I recall when this first became a habit with The Western Tradition delivered by Dr Eugen Weber, PhD, and produced by WGBH in 1989.  It feels a bit dated these days, to be sure, for numerous reasons, but thirty years later it's still a solid introductory college-level course transported from the lecture hall into anyone's home.  Over time, the availability of offerings through The Great Courses, on cassette tape and VHS, then on DVD, and now through their streaming service and on Amazon Prime, has proliferated tremendously, so they've  become the main source of my incidental learning-for-entertainment.  Make no mistake, you can study a myriad of subjects through them in a much more disciplined manner than I do, but for me it's mainly a source for casual coursework on history and sometimes other things such as literature or fine arts.  To each their own.

One of the reasons I so enjoy spending my leisure time absorbing knowledge this way is because it feeds my creative fires as I world-build for RPGs.  No one can create in a vacuum.  That's the fastest way to suffocate your creations.  One needs grist for the mill and folks to feed the resultant bread.  At the end of your process, a creator needs an audience, but at start, one needs fuel.  Many world-building RPG enthusiasts love reading fantasy or other fiction novels.  I've done a bit of that.  Some enjoy getting their inspiration from television, film, or the equivalent from online outlets.  Guilty as charged to some extent.  Those sources, however, tend to feel as if they funnel me toward someone else's vision of a story that's already been told, or simply a variation of it with the serial numbers filed off.  To really get my creative juices fired up with raw material that let's me scratch-build, or closer to it, I like examining historical content, sometimes broad and sometimes detailed, and I like it in video format.  History books are great but the convenience of recorded talking heads coupled with graphics and maps works for me.

Most recently, I've been intermittently immersed in The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes with Dr. Kenneth W. Harl from The Great Courses.  It's a thirty-six part lecture series, each just over a half hour.  I've enjoyed several other courses from this instructor, so I figured it would be a good fit for me.  I don't pay the per lecture or even per series fee but rather plunk down the $8 a month then immediately go into my subscription for Prime Video channels and cancel it right away which kills it at the end of the 30-day period rather than auto-renewing.  I tend to binge when time permits rather than parcel such things out on a schedule so I'll secure a subscription for a month here and there throughout the year rather than continuously.  Some folks like the convenience of just leaving those open but I'd hate to wake from a year-long coma, fall in love with my caregiver, but also be ninety-six bucks poorer.  I'm not sure why this scenario requires me to fall in love but call me a frugal romantic.

The description for The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes is as follows: "Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan loom large in the popular consciousness as two of history’s most fearsome warrior-leaders. Yet few people today are aware of their place in a succession of nomadic warriors who emerged from the Eurasian steppes to seize control of civilizations. Get startling new insights on how the world was shaped and discover cultures and empires you’ve likely never encountered."  The course spans a great swath of time and looks at the intersection of three continents and is fairly comprehensive.  What has been striking me as most interesting is how fluid the cultures and languages develop, wax, and wane.  The impact of the people who sprang from the Steppes is so much more powerful than I had ever imagined, and repeatedly so.  Various cultures in Asia, Europe, Northern Africa, and, of course, the Middle East have all been influenced, invaded, displaced, usurped, supplanted, conquered, integrated, and infiltrated by people from the Steppes who, in turn, have then come to one of the aforementioned fates.  It's amazingly dynamic.

The beginning of the series touches on some of the later highlights, Attila the Hun, Tamerlane, and Tem├╝jin, AKA Genghis Khan, as well as Hulagu Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, who is mentioned in the opening salvo.  The latter besieged Bagdad in 1258 over the course of forty days and, after the eventual surrender, felt no mercy because of the delay to submission.  The following sack of the city was a massacre with great loss of life, destruction of architecture, and obliteration of many records.  The limits of historical data is a recurring theme throughout the series and Dr. Harl makes it clear when information and sources are disputed or sketchy.  After giving an overview, he quickly dives into the nuts and bolts: the domestication of the horse, the search for good pasture lands, the drive for trade goods (and slaves).  These things drove early cultures on the Steppes and mostly continued to be an underlying factor throughout time.  One might think that it could become rather one-note but the nuances are there as well.

I'm enjoying The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes as I have many other series from The Great Courses.  Take a look through their catalog to see if there is enough of interest to you.  If you already have a Prime subscription, a meager eight bucks let's you sample much of what they offer and I've no doubt there's plenty enough to interest anyone.  Enjoy!

Sifting through History to
enhance our tabletop RPGing.
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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Worldbuilding Wednesday - Medieval High Jinx

Over on Atlas Obscura, they have a fun article titled, "Between Plagues, Medieval Peasants Enjoyed Bawdiness and Brawling."  Among the many activities, there was ice golf and, apparently, a lot of wrestling!  Read more here.

Worldbuilding Wednesday on
The nuts and bolts of Worldbuilding
for our tabletop RPGing.
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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Tuesday Sundries - Gold Drop Mine Exploration

Over on the Exploring Abandoned Mines YouTube channel (I'm so glad this exists and is named as such), there's a video called "Gold drop the rat king mine, the mine with the most and friendliest rats."  It's a slightly deceptive title but still an enjoyable video.

To quote the intrepid explorer, "The Gold Drop mine historic Gold and Silver mine. Main haulage tunnel, several intermediate and cross cut levels and many good ladders that I used to explore all the levels. A very warm mine that has more rats than any mine I have ever explored and man I hate rats. They even used the ladders!"

The Tuesday Sundries on
Essentially, a clearinghouse for topics on
not covered elsewhere or wanting a particular focus.
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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Tuesday Sundries - The Golden Girls and 2E AD&D?

I'm a big fan of the Old School artists like Dave Trampier and David Sutherland.  Neither is with us any longer but their influence on the hobby came early and was very strong, especially for me.  This piece of Tramp's is one that springs to mind whenever I think about an adventuring party.  This illustration appears in the 1E AD&D Monster Manual as a full-page facing opposite the Appendix Treasure Table.  So, this was one of the last images one saw when paging through the first AD&D book ever released.  It stuck with me.

Naturally, when I recently became aware of a Mike Mearls tweet from October 2017 in which he seemingly jokes about the influence of The Golden Girls on the development of AD&D 2E, I had to chuckle.  There was no doubt in my mind he was joking so be careful not to jump to conclusions about the veracity of the following.

Obviously, the basic adventuring party pre-dates 2E by a good stretch with (O)D&D having three of the basic classes and adding the fourth in the first expansion supplement.  So, too, 1E AD&D had the four basic classes (then some "sub-classes") as the clear core of any adventuring party.  Of course, I prefer to think of them as my monsters' four basic food groups, but don't tell my players! Anyway, the convergence of these things prompted me to do a little mashup.  Enjoy!

The Tuesday Sundries on
Essentially, a clearinghouse for topics on
not covered elsewhere or wanting a particular focus.
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