Monday, December 30, 2013

Joomavesi - The Golden Crab

Long ago when the world was new and the oldkin walked the lands there was one named Joomavesi. Joomavesi was beautiful and her black hair rippled and folded like the mountains. For long she walked beneath the stars seeking paradise and she found it on an island where the heart of the earth boiled the sea.

The island was a special place. A magic place, full of life. Joomavesi had walked so far and so long beneath the stars that her stomach rolled and hissed like the steaming ocean. And then, as the sun began to rise, she saw the crabs. A thousand thousand crabs of gold marched out of the water and rushed across the island like a wave.

As the crabs swarmed past her, Joomavesi plucked one from the mass and broke its body in her hands. She ate it raw, such was her hunger, and its meat was sweet with a whisper of the sea. It was delicious! Joomavesi fell upon the crabs. Her hunger insatiable.

For a year and a day Joomavesi ate of the crabs. Each morning swarms of the golden creatures rushed from the waves to cross the island, and each evening the black sands were dressed in broken shells and claws of gold. Each day Joomavesi prepared the crabs in a different way. This is why she is the mother of all cooking. She baked them and caked them and spun them on spits. She stewed them and souped them and dried them in pits. She boiled them in pools close to the heart of the earth and streamed them in the mountain's vents. The piles of shells and claws grew larger, and Joomavesi was content.

And then, the crabs did not come. For six days she waited by the sea, and still they did not come. On the seventh day without crabs Joomavesi cried out to the sun, "Golden One! Where have you hidden your children? They are gold like your rays, and they rise and rush with you each day. What have you done with them?"

And the sun said, "Oldkin! Gold they may be, but they are not my children. I surely loved watching them run each day and seeing my rays bounce off their bodies and dazzle the air. I do not know where they have gone, and I have seen you among them. What have you done with them Joomavesi?"

She cursed at the sun, "I have done nothing with them Golden One. You must be able to see them from up there. You are either lying to me, or blinded by your own radiance."

Then Joomavesi cried out to the mountain. "Rugged Pillar of the Earth! Your roots stretch down to the heart of the earth and your head rises up to the heavens. Have you seen the golden crabs? Do you hide them in your secret places?"

And the mountain said, "Oldkin! Your hair is as beautiful as my folded basalt form, and I wish I could help you, but I too have not seen the crabs since seven days. On that day I heard you laughing and heard them screaming in my steaming vents. I miss the way they tickled as they ran across my face. What have you done with them Joomavesi?"

She cursed at the mountain, "I have done nothing with them Pillar of the Earth! You must be hiding them in the folds of your stone cloak." In her fury Joomavesi struck the mountain and broke his crown. The mountain cried out in rage and shook with anger, but no golden crabs could be found. This is why the hot red blood of the earth still pours from cracks in the mountain.

Then Joomavesi cried out to the sea. "Mother! Do the golden crabs hide in you? Where have they gone? I have not seen them in seven days, and the sun and the mountain say they have not seen them either. Surely you must know where they have gone."

And the sea said, "Oldkin! You are of me. You know my secret ways and can hear every song in my currents. You know in your heart what has happened to the crabs."

And Joomavesi cursed the sea. "Long have I been gone from you. You cast me out upon the land long ago and your songs are soft and forgotten in my memories. I will find where you hide them. Whether you help me or not."

Joomavesi dove into the sea. She listened for the currents, but the songs were soft like faded dreams. She swam for three days and three nights before she heard the song of gold. It was so soft, and so faint and tinged with so much sadness that Joomavesi almost missed it. She followed it and found a single golden crab perched on a rock above a forest of red seaweed. Joomavesi licked her lips. She could wrap this one in the seaweed and steam it in one of the mountain's vents.

The crab cried out to the oldkin, "Wait!", and Joomavesi paused. Never had the other crabs spoken. "You have eaten my children oldkin. Let that be enough. Do not eat me, for I am cursed, but I am old and tired and death draws near. Please. Let me die."

Joomavesi laughed, "Do not lie to me little golden one. I have seen a thousand thousand others. You cannot be the last. You must be trying to delay me as your kin run over the horizon, but it will not work. I am hungry and once I eat you I will chase your friends."

"You are a fool oldkin." snapped the crab. "I was once as you, with soft skin and beautiful hair. I lived with my people in a village by the sea and we too ate the golden crabs until only one remained. The gold mother. She begged with me to let her die, but I too did not listen. I ate her and became her. It was my curse to bear as many children as the stars and not die until they were gone. I ask you again, let me die."

Joomavesi paused. "Gold mother? I am a child of the sea. Never has there been a gold mother. Where do the others hide? Are they in the forest of red seaweed? No matter. I shall find them after I steam you in the vents of the mountain and eat your sweet meat."

"You are a fool oldkin. Let me die and the curse along with me."

Joomavesi laughed and gathered seaweed. Then she bundled up the crab and returned to the mountain where she steamed it in the vents of the earth. It was the most delicious crab she had ever eaten. Sweet, tender, meat kissed by the flavor of the sea.

The next day as the sun rose, Joomavesi stretched her supple arms and laughed. Her skin was soft, and her hair was as beautiful as the mountains, but the crabs still did not come from the ocean. She returned to the place she had found the gold mother and looked for crabs in the red seaweed forest, but she found none.

The next day as the sun rose, Joomavesi smiled and watched her beautiful hair float upon the ocean currents. Her skin was soft and her limbs were strong. The golden crabs were nowhere to be seen and so she traveled over the horizon for that is where they must have gone. Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months and still Joomavesi looked for the golden crabs.

Near the anniversary of steaming the gold mother Joomavesi grew tired. She had never managed to find another golden crab and was beginning to despair. Perhaps the crab's words had been true. As weariness began to overcome her senses, Joomavesi saw a large rock outcropping surrounded by a forest of red seaweed. It looked comfortable, and her arms felt so heavy. So she lay down and slept.

When she woke she felt strange. She tried to stand but immediately fell. Her legs were no longer her own. They were the shape of crab legs. Her arms were claws covered in a golden carapace and her belly was covered in a thousand thousand tiny blue-grey eggs that squirmed with life.

Three days later hoards of golden crabs swarmed across the island once more. The sun was happy to see his rays bounce off their bodies and dazzle the air. The mountain was happy as they tickled his face, and the sea was filled with a new song.

What does Joomavesi want?
To kill
To consume
For all her children to be eaten
To eat all her children (compulsion)

What does Joomavesi NOT want?
To be a crab any longer, but she cannot communicate or figure out how to fix it
To lay eggs and make many children (compulsion)
To eat all of her children

What else?
Joomavesi, the golden crab, is now colossal in size. She hungers and is compelled to eat her children. Like an addiction. However, if she eats more than 100 of her brood it causes her to immediately molt and grow and induces the type of pain and terror only gods can bear. She now wants her children to be killed and eaten by others which is why she lays in the Swordfish Islands.

She is currently hibernating at the bottom of the sea overdue to produce a brood.

Her progeny are giant crabs in their own right and normally about 1000 grow large enough to swarm across the islands attempting to eat everything in their path. Most are consumed by the flora and fauna of the islands.

If her children are not all killed and consumed in three days, Joomavesi will emerge from the sea (preceded by tsunamis) to find and consume all that remain. She is drawn to their location and cannot resist the pull.

Monsters (especially wydarr and the coralkin angler) are in tune with the normal timings of the golden swarms and begin to gather in anticipation days before the event.

The swarms of gold crabs normally emerge from the sea at Crab Mouth Lagoon (HS-14) and rush across Hot Springs Island.

Friday, December 20, 2013

On Calidar, Fluff and the Future

This was supposed to just be a quick G+ post, but I got long winded and philosophical so I figured I'd put it here instead.

Seasonal monetary commitments have been accounted for and I had enough left over to back Calidar. I was never exposed to Princess Ark, but I really dig the idea of system neutral settings where much of the creative point is fiction, feel, and interesting set pieces or problems that can be explored directly or dropped piecemeal into an existing, unrelated campaign world.

I'm also personally biased because I'm trying to do something similar with the Swordfish Islands. Right now WoTC, Paizo et al, in my personal opinion, make the bulk of their cash by selling things that make players more powerful. It's all rules, rules, rules. Content's king, when you have 5 players and a GM, if more than one copy of an adventure is sold to the gaming group there are spoilers. There's meta-knowledge. So rules become the way to go. With 5 players and a GM you've got six potential sales of rule books.

"I know you've given us some money, but if you give us more, you can min/max your crit build better!"

"Want to play a half warforged half dragonborn?! It's just one dead president Grant away!"


I think there's another way, and I think it's with "fluff". With fiction. With graphic novels of other adventures and adventurers exploring the lands. Everyone can buy it. Everyone can read it, and if it's done right it makes players not just invested in the content, but hungry for more. Not everyone has an existing gaming group, or the time to play in hangouts. Some people that like these things just want to read, so why not make something for them too? Find them. Get them. There's nothing prideful about obscurity and a limited audience. Humans love stories. So attract them with stories. Then give them the tools to write their own, and example stories they can personally consume, and content that they can collaboratively build into shared experience.

Now, we can say that TSR tried this, and Paizo puts out their own fiction, but I think they're doing it wrong. Dragonlance being the perfect example. The novels hobbled Krynn with cannon. The stories were too big. The timeline too fixed. Raistlin did this, with these people, at this time. The gods threw a mountain at that specific time. Then the gods all went away. Sure you can go against it, but now you're on your own. You're off the timeline and the content you're purchased can't help. Didn't you realize that you were just supposed to be happy running along in the shadows of characters determined by cannon a long time ago? That's what Star Wars fans like right? The universe? You can't stop the death star from blowing up, or Vader from sacrificing himself. It goes against that which has been set down.

No. It needs more freedom. More chaos. And people are scared of that stuff. So what do you do?

You make a map. And you fill it with interesting locations where things can happen. You build sets. Like a play. Your factions are the furniture. Then you make some history, and this part's hard. No one really gives a shit about the history, and they shouldn't. But the thing is, it's not really history, it's connections and motivations for the factions. All intelligent creatures want things, and can't get them, and they come into conflict with one another over these things. It needs to be presented like a filing cabinet, or a folder of folders. When you first look at the history it needs to be basic, basic, basic:

"There were snake people that liked plants. They vanished. Then there were elves. They all died. Their home blew up. It was probably their fault. They trapped some nereids before they died. An efreet on the run hid out in a volcano in the remnants of the elves old home. He found something useful and started fencing it. The fence gave the efreet slaves. The efreet found the nereids and did unspeakable things to them. The efreet mismanaged the slaves. The slaves revolted. The nereids and slaves tentatively banded together against their common enemy. The fence found out the efreet's true identity and began extorting him. Adventurers started showing up on the islands...."

The past defines the now. It sets up the pieces, and stacks them precariously. Each of those sentences is a folder, or a drawer in the filing cabinet. None of it really matters, but when the players show up, they're going to start knocking things over. So when the time comes the depth is there premade for the GM if they want it. Only the past should be known and it should only really be know in terms of the consequences it is going to impose on actions. The future should not be known. Only the now and the jumble of events that caused this now to be.

So then you take your sets, and your furniture and your web of problems and consequences and you find people that can write and you say "This is the now. Do you like it? Would you like to tell a story that begins at this point?" And you let them tell their story. And then you go to someone else, and you say the same thing. And again and again and again. There is no cannon. The future is undefined. You embrace the fact that every story beginning at that "now" will be different. And you make graphic novels and short 11 minute cartoons with grossly different art styles, and you remind your audience "No, you are not a passive consumer. You are a creator. For too long you have suffered under the tyranny of force fed story. There is no future. Take these plastic dinosaurs. This sandbox and this water hose and tell your own story. What's that? You have too much potential and are suffering creative paralysis because of it? Ok, let's watch Godzilla. Now let's watch the Land Before Time. Now let me read you Jurassic Park and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Yes. Go. Copy. Refine. Remix. Explore. See, you didn't need rules afterall."

Let the Gem of Immortality shatter and be enthusiastic that every shard will go its own way.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Some Vaporware - Kukeri

A vaporware funnel/level 1 adventure

All PCs begin as townsfolk in tiny village in the mountains.

There is a local tradition for all the men of the village to get dressed up as the most frightening monster they can imagine using sheepskin, bells, horns, masks and have a 24 hour festival, on the first day snow begins to melt, to keep evil at bay.

Two parades occur that day, one at noon and one at midnight. Their destination is a well worn limestone bluff riddled with caves where the evil sleeps (slept?). The route is approximately a mile and the men hop and dance, making as much noise as they can with bells and drums and obnoxious pipes.

Problem: Even though no one believes it anymore, the ritual works. While this would normally be a good thing, new evil has moved into the limestone caves. The new evil is more powerful than the village. The old evil is more powerful than the new evil. If the rituals are not performed the old evil will awake and "cleanse" their labyrinthine caves of the interlopers. No telling if they could be put back to sleep though.

The game begins with the townsfolk very excited about this year's festivities because of recent deaths, blood on the snow, missing children, etc. The new evil is some sort of "snatcher" type monster. Stealthy with lots of traps that result in apparent sudden disappearances. The old evil would be something more ancient and sinister with black magic like a coven of sleeping witches, or hags, or ghostly undead like banshees or wraiths, or some true faceless terror from beyond.

Random table determines the professions of the PCs and depending on group size determines all the trades in said village.

Starting equipment is a sweet ass monster costume, a ton of brass bells, some sort of obnoxious noise making instrument (and no musical training, just blare with it bro) and a few randomly determined incidental items like a hatchet, knife, torch, walking stick (with bells!!), handfuls of local fragrant herbs said to ward off evil, simple charms said to ward off evil (25% of being true), lockpicks ('cause you were planning on sneaking away from the parade and "shopping" for a few things, ya bastard), etc.

Inspirational material:
  • Google image search for Kukeri bulgaria
  • Youtube Vid 1 - Terrifying costumes. Maybe a little too real. Backwoods axe murderer shit right here.
  • Youtube Vid 2 - best costumes imo, great sounds, just no masks :(
  • Youtube Vid 3 - some costumes seem too modern, but the cacophony is particularly great
  • Fancy Vimeo Video -  Nice but a damn shame they cut the actual sounds
  • Binka Dobreva - Dan's Mom - Not directly related but helps set excellent tone of what the PCs are fighting for
  • БALKANSKY - Kuker - The track that sent me down this internet path tonight is a strange and wonderful amalgamation of traditional kukeri sounds and dubstep