Masks: The Regeneration

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old.  We grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw

Introduction

I’m getting older.  And the older I get the more I notice – roleplaying games bend towards stories about the young.  The characters taking the hero’s journey are typically growing and expanding their abilities and powers, which is very much a young person thing

Its different as you get older.  There’s less thought given to the possibilities of the future, and more thought given to hanging on to the past.  Rather than looking forward to increasing success of the future, you focus more on not losing the successes of the past.

For awhile now I have been thinking about games and settings that typically feature young people and reskinning them to feel more authentic to the process of getting older.  When I looked at Masks: a New Generation by Magpie Games I was immediately struck by the youth of the game – characters were all teens or young adults, and a major theme of the game was taking on the mantle of a hero as the torch is passed from the previous generation of heroes.  I wanted instead to come up with a setting where the torch of heroism was being picked up by an older generation – the people our society envisions as lying in the sun, enjoying retirement, having done their bit.

A big issue on the minds of everyone over 50 is Alzheimer’s disease.  It is estimated that 44 million people worldwide suffer from it.  The effects are terrifying – loss of memory, loss of capability, destruction of much of the self.  Research to finding a cure runs into billions every year.  One day a cure will be found.

But what if that cure comes with added benefits?  Superscience is a staple of superheroic stories.  What if those who initially take it are not only cured of the disease, but gain powers as well?  That was my thinking in writing up Masks:  the Regeneration.

Background

In 2012 an international pharmaceutical conglomerate announced a stunning discovery – a drug had been developed that cured Alzheimer’s Disease.  Diphrenoline-B, more commonly marketed as Memazol, proved to be highly successful at reversing severe Alzheimer’s disease, with a success rate of over 90%.  In fact, the more advanced the condition was, the more successful Memazol was in treating it.  In some cases the drug also reversed certain other effects of aging such as muscle deterioration and nerve damage, leading to it being touted as an anti-aging drug.

The drug was not, however, a panacea, and had some severe drawbacks.  Chances of a successful cure were significantly lower for moderate levels of Alzheimer’s and less than 10% for mild Alzheimer’s.  Use also appeared to inoculate the patient against future effectiveness of the drug.  Take the drug too early and not only was the chance of success low, but you would not be able to take it later when you got worse.  It also had severe health effects on people without Alzheimer’s, including organ damage, psychosis, severe allergic reactions, and in some cases death.

Finally, it was soon discovered that Memazol had an additional effect.

It made metas.

Around 10% of those cured by the drug began manifesting extraordinary powers, usually about a year after treatment.  To date attempts to determine who gets powers and what powers they get have proven unsuccessful, though labs all over the world are working.hard to research (and weaponize) the drug and control its effects.

Memazol was officially banned by the United Nations in 2016 “pending further research”, but thr resolution has been largely ignored worldwide

Rules Changes

First, as a note, I am not going to bother updating the language on all the playbooks to represent the fact that all the characters are older, not teens.  It seems to be more effort than it’s worth at this point. I will happily work with players to resolve any incongruities. The thing to remember during character creation is that you’re character is, well, old.  A few Metas may be in their 30s through fifties, but most are going to be 60 or older. And they suffered from Alzheimer’s – a terrible disease that robbed them of memories, capabilities, knowledge, and functionality for years – even decades.  In many ways they are similar to the character archetypes in Masks – their lives are in a transition.  But instead of the child-to-adult transition of Masks, they are in an Alzheimer’s-to-mental-capability transition..  They find themselves awakening from a period of time lost partially or wholly, with memories that may not be entirely reliable (and in the case of some like the Newborn may not exist at all) into a world that has changed during their absence.  And they have strange abilities that they never had before, so they are not familiar even with themselves. It is their struggle to step back into the world that is the central theme of Masks:  the Regeneration.

“Adult Moves” are more properly titled “Integration Moves” (though that’s a sucky name and I hope to come up with something more pithy) as they represent the characters becoming more comfortable with their current environment and more sure of themselves.  But we’ll leave them be for the moment as it just doesn’t seem worthwhile to change all the character sheets for just that one label.

As indicated in the brief history, there have not been three prior generations of hero in this setting (hence a couple of the playbooks have been eliminated).  Superheroes have been around for less than ten years. Nevertheless there has been time for society to become aware of, and deal with, metas.

Characters are likely in the best health, physically and mentally, that they have been in years.  But that doesn’t mean they’re 20 again. At some point life stops being about expanding horizons, and starts being about holding on to the horizons you already have.  An at some point past that it gets to be about fighting a graceful delaying action against the sunset. To represent this, whenever you roll a natural “2”, downshift the label that you used for the roll by 1 point, to a maximum of -2.  If you ever have to downshift a label that is at -2, you instead acquire the condition of that label permanently.  You may continue using experience to improve the label, but the condition remains.

AVAILABLE PLAYBOOKS

(with revised backgrounds)

THE BEACON 

You were cured of your Alzheimer’s without any of the side effects.  You gained no powers, no abilities

But you wished you had.

You could have gone back to leading a normal life.  But instead you suit up every day and go out into the world with your brothers and sisters, to help them and to make a difference.  You’re outclassed and way out of your depth, but you are doing something you love and making a real difference. At least that’s what you tell yourself while you are waiting for the contusions to heal.

Quite recently you have, in fact, begun to manifest some abilities.  Exactly how strong they are and how they will develop you don’t know, but you hope that they will reduce your hospital time.

THE BRAIN 

You were always brilliant – an intellect found only once in a generation.  Every project you touched, every apparatus you constructed, every topic you researched blossomed into progress, enlightenment, and profit.  You could do no wrong, until the terrible day that you did. That day haunted the rest of your life.

In a way, Alzheimer’s was a blessing.  The memories of your shame faded along with the rest, leaving you in a blissful state of forgetfulness.  But your mind was considered to great a resource to waste, so you were dosed with Memazol, given the best of care, and monitored.

And then the memories came back.

You represent everything that Memazol was supposed to do – not only cured of Alzheimer’s, but with greatly enhanced intellect .  You have chosen to put that intellect to use in the service of humanity with like-minded heroes in dire need of your genius.

THE BULL 

One of the most common side effects of Memazol is increased strength, toughness, and aggression.  The very first publicly known meta was a Bull, and this has led to a public impression that all metas are strong, tough, and aggressive.  

You absolutely fit this stereotype.  

You do have a soft side, but you only show it privately to the people you really care about,.

THE DELINQUENT

Before Alzheimers you were very much a play-by-the-rules sort of person – never drove over the speed limit, only crossed at crosswalks, never cheated on your income taxes, tithed 10%.

Then you got sick and discovered that all that time playing by society’s rules got you nothing.  You were tossed into a decaying care facility and left to rot both mentally and physically.

When Memazol came along, you almost didn’t get it – the facility was afraid of going out of business if the disease was cured.  But some good samaritan snuck the drug in and gave it to as many patients as possible – including you. That taught you something:  the rules are for suckers.

Now you do things your way, and aren’t afraid to tell others – even your friends – when they are wrong.

THE DOOMED

You were cured of Alzheimer’s just in time to be diagnosed with a different, fatal disease.  You should be taking it easy, resting, saving your strength. But you got powers, and you intend to use them.  It doesn’t matter that all the stress and injury are making your condition worse. It doesn’t matter that the use of your powers is quickening your end.

You are one of the fortunate few who were given the ability to really make a difference in this world, and you intend to make the most of the short time you have left.

THE JANUS

Once you had a full life.  A satisfying life. A life you loved, doing things you loved.  Your appointment calendar was always full, and you were seldom still for long.

Then Alzheimer’s happened and that life was taken from you.  Increasingly your days were spent in a confused fog of time and space.

But you were treated, you recovered, and now you want that old life back.  The only problem is that you have a new life to go with it – the life of a meta.  You struggle to keep your two lives separate, and dread the day that they finally collide.  Until then, your schedule is once again full, and you are seldom still for long.

THE JOINED

There is someone who means more to you than life itself.  All through the dark oblivion of Alzheimer’s their memory was the one constant in your life.

Now you are cured and you have powers.  And so are they. Perhaps they remember you.  Perhaps not. But they are the foundation of your life and you would be lost without them.

[NOTE:  The Joined is connected to another PC, and requires that player’s permission.]

THE NEWBORN

Nothing.  That’s what you remember from your life before you were cured.

Absolutely nothing.  No family, no friends, no childhood, no life.  You can speak, but have no idea how you learned.  Your life began when you were cured of Alzheimer’s.

Luckily for you, you met a group of people who steered you towards the light, and are willing to accept you for who you are now.  

It’s time for you to learn just who that is.

THE NOVA

Not only did you get powers you got more than most.  Your abilities are varied, flexible, useful in almost any situation…  and hard to control. Novas are well known to the public, and along witn Bulls are the epitome of the perception of Metas as dangerous and out of control.  

You need to be careful to remain in control at all times, lest your powers overwhelm you and cause untold destruction.  Going out into the world as a crime fighter is as much about learning to control your powers as is is about doing good.

You can do things none of your friends can do, but you fear the day when you slip up and others pay the price for your mistake.

THE OUTSIDER

As your Alzheimers worsened, you slowly slipped into a world of the mind.  Over time it became more and more familiar to you until your memory of the old world, and your old life, were all but forgotten and you lived entirely within your own head for years.  When you were cured, nothing was familiar, or even recognizable to you. Even those who called themselves your family were known to you only through their stories.

The world you have come to seems so much bleaker than the world in which you once lived, and one day you will return.  Until then you strive to make the world a better place, to help those in need, and to stand with your friends as you would have in your previous life.

THE PROTEGE

You were one of the first to be cured, and the first to gain powers.  But you were unsure of yourself, a bit too hesitant to step into the limelight as a true hero.  Metas were too new for you, the world was too new for you.  You had never been a leader in your old life, and you weren’t sure you wanted to be a hero in this new world either.

So you sidekicked for another hero, remaining in their shadow and doing the grunt work – handling the details so that they could stay in the limelight and you could stay out of it.

But now your hero is gone.  Died, moved to Florida to be with the grandkids, estranged after an argument – it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that you’re on your own now.

Except that you aren’t.  During your time of sidekicking, you and your hero become involved with other heroes  and some of them have become friends..  Going it alone has been difficult, perhaps you would be better off with others?

But will you again stay in the background, or step up to be an equal?

THE REFORMED

You were a bad person.  A career criminal, you spent your time alternating between committing crimes and paying for them.  You got Alzheimer’s while in prison, and it eventually got bad enough that you were granted a “compassionate release” (ie dumped at a bus station).  How you came to get treated with Memazol while living on the streets you do not know., but you “woke up” one day and discovered you had powers.

You tried returning to your life of crime, and even made a bit of a name for yourself and gathered a few henchmen.  But the memories of your past misdeeds haunted you, and you gave up your criminal ways to become a hero. There are many on both sides of the law that have not forgotten your past, but you have found friends who support you in your new life.

THE TRANSFORMED

You used to be normal.  You had a life, a job, a family, and a body that looked like everyone else’s.  People didn’t stare or cross the street when you were near, and no one whispered behind your back.

When you finally awoke from the long and confusing nightmare of Alzheimer’s, you discovered that your body had changed almost beyond recognition.  It was completely impossible to disguise and even the most casual glance would reveal your differences. Your new appearance isolated you from society – even your own family was uncomfortable around you

Except to your fellow Metas, who accepted you into their ranks.  

Now you have a team that are as as close to you as your family once was.  They judge you not by your appearance but by your actions. They would die to protect you.  And you would do the same for them

There is a lot that could still be done to develop this idea into a full-fledged supplement.  Certainly there is language both in the rules and on the character sheets that needs editing.  Probably there are entirely new playbooks that could be developed. As it stands there will undoubtedly be times when the GM will need to work with the players to hash out a conflict between the original Masks and the spirit of this idea.  But I hope you enjoy what is here.  Ideas and comments are welcome.

13th Dynasty

13th Dynasty

A Minor setting hack for 13th Age

Image result for Chinese Emperor

Introduction

This is a hack of 13th Age, meant to use the bulk of the source material for 13th Age but to reskin it to simulate a high fantasy version of China. In order to do this I have slightly altered some of the icons, as well as envisioning the Dragon Empire as being somewhat more unified than it is in 13th Age.

13th Dynasty has a less freewheeling feel to it than default 13th Age because it is a specific setting designed to use the 13th Age rules, rather than a generic setting designed to showcase them.  The Dragon Empire of 13th Dynasty is beset by troubles without and within. Many of its biggest problems stem from the civil wars that ended the 12th Dynasty around 75 years ago (so within living memory of elves, and certainly within the memory of all the PCs grandparents, who either lived through it or in the immediate aftermath of it).  Like China at the end of the Warring States period, the Dragon Empire is currently trying to reestablish itself after a long civil war. The setting has post-apocalyptic overtones – vast areas of what was previously the Dragon Empire are now uninhabitable wastelands, and remnants of the forces that once tore the empire apart (the forces of the Diabolist and the Lich King) still exist, brought to bay but not entirely defeated.

ICONS

(After much thought I have decided to include the original gendered titles for icons based on the original 13th Age for clarity.  I would, however, encourage GMs to change them to something gender-neutral).

Icons are very important to 13th Age, and are important to 13th Dynasty as well.  With a bit of adjustment all of the icons in 13th Age work, but they operate on a level that is initially far above that of the player characters.  They have vast resources at their disposal and entire organizations at their beck and call.  many of them also work together keep the Dragon Empire together and can call on one another for favors.  Even many of the evil icons maintain tenuous relationships with their good counterparts by virtue of the power they wield or favors owed from the past.


The Archmage
(Ambiguous) – stalwart defender of the Dragon Empire (or scheming power behind the throne), the Archmage advises the Emperor on all things arcane. The Archmage is also responsible for dealing with magical threats to the Dragon Empire, for overseeing and approving the development of magic within the Empire, and for supervising the creation of magical items. From Horizon City, he assures the magical security of the Empire and its leaders.  If he sometimes “oversteps” in his zeal, that’s part of the job.

The Crusader (Ambiguous) – [AKA: the Warlord]. Commander of the Dragon Empire’s armies, the Warlord is largely a force unto himself. At the moment there are sufficient external threats to the Dragon Empire to keep the Warlord busy doing battle with the Diabolist and the Lich King. However, there is no doubt that the Warlord wants power, and has his eye on the Invisible City and the Dragon throne.

The Diabolist (Villainous) – pure evil on a stick, the Diabolist has made pacts with creatures from beyond the earth, from hell itself, and seeks to overthrow the empire and install herself as its ultimate ruler. Only the fact that she and the 12th Dragon Emperor (now the Lich King) betrayed one another, and the sacrifice of the Great Golden Dragon, prevented her conquering the Dragon Empire during the 12th Dynasty, and only the constant efforts of the Warlord and the Archmage now keep her in check

The Dwarf King (Heroic) – [AKA the King of the North]. The Dwarf King fights a continual battle to hold the northern marches against the raids and attacks of the Ork Lord, while being continually pressed by the Diabolist from the south and west. He is unstinting and uncompromising in his duty. Though the nation of the dwarves is separate from the Dragon Empire, they are tied together by trade, treaties, and an alliance going back hundreds of years.  All attempts to drive a wedge between the dwarves and the Dragon Empire have failed – so far.

The Elf Queen (Heroic) – [AKA the Queen of the East]. The Elf Queen reigns over a semi-autonomous region in the east of the Dragon Empire. During the civil wars of the 12th Dynasty, the elves suffered tremendous casualties, and most of the male elves were slain fighting against the Three and an invasion from the Fire Islands. By necessity they are now a matriarchy, fiercely loyal to their Queen. The territory is still wracked with unrest.  

The Emperor (Ambiguous) – ruler of the Dragon Empire, ultimate authority, the Emperor oversees the Empire through a vast network of civil servants, courtiers, functionaries, legates, governors, and spies. His actual person is seldom if ever seen by most, for he dwells in the Invisible City, a virtual city within a city which is open only to a few. From within he issues the edicts and orders that keep the Dragon Empire functioning.  Gossip about the Emperor is a favorite topic throughout the Empire, but actual knowledge of his person and doings is very rare.

The Great Gold Wyrm (Heroic) – [AKA the Great Golden Dragon]. Adviser and mentor to numerous dynasties  the immortal Great Golden Dragon has been part of the Dragon Empire since the beginning, and in at least one dynasty was de facto emperor. During the great Civil Wars of the 12th Dynasty, when the Diabolist created the Abyss and the Red Wastes, the Great Golden Dragon chose to sacrifice itself to prevent the demons of the abyss from overrunning the world. It still fights every hour of every day to prevent demons from coming through the rift, and only by its efforts is the world still safe. Though the Great Golden Dragon does not itself get involved in the affairs of the Empire, it has an extensive network of followers throughout the Dragon Empire who carry on in its name.

The High Druid (Ambiguous) – [AKA the High Lama]. Controlling the vast wilderness of the Wild Wood, and with followers in all the wild areas of the kingdom, the High Lama is the leader of those who follow the old ways of animism and nature spirits. The High Lama’s domain is part of the Dragon Empire in name only, and the High Lama himself pursues his own agendas and plans. While he does not seem to have his eye on the Dragon Throne at the moment, there is considerable friction between him and the Priestess for the Emperor’s favor. At the moment that favor rests with the Priestess, pushing the High Lama to undertake sometimes questionable activities in defense of his land and his sect.

The Lich King (Villainous). [AKA the Undying Emperor]. The great war that ended the 12th Dynasty took place because of the Imperial family’s use of necromancy to prolong their lives. Though exiled to an island, the 12th dynasty continues in the person of the Undying Emperor, a powerful lich lord. His defeat is one of the top priorities of the Dragon Emperor, but his sinister ships, crewed by the undying remnants of his soldiers and followers, remain the scourge of the Midland Sea and are one of the decisive factors in preventing the Dragon Empire from truly unifying. Within his great tower, made from the still-screaming bodies of his victims and enemies, he plots his triumphant return to the Invisible City and conquest of the Dragon Empire.

The Orc Lord (Ambiguous) [AKA The Great Khan]. Far to the north is a great empire of orcs who live a largely nomadic existence, riding the steppes on their fierce warg mounts, demanding tribute from all their neighbors, conquering those nations which show weakness, raiding where they cannot conquer. For a time, long ago, they actually conquered the Dragon Empire, and an orc sat on the Dragon Throne and ruled the land. The Great Khan longs for those days, and that power, and eyes the wealthof the Dragon Empire with avarice. It is well known that his agents are active within the Dragon Empire, and border skirmishes between the Khan and the King of the North are nearly continuous. The widely held belief is that there are only three things restraining the Khan at the moment – the great behemoths, the threat posed by the Diabolist, and internal troubles.

The Priestess (Heroic) [AKA the High Priestess]. Leader of the State religion, the High Priestess, along with the Archmage and the Emperor, are the three legs on which the Dragon Empire precariously balances, now that the Great Golden Dragon is occupied in the Abyss. An unrelenting force for good, the temples and monasteries that she oversees throughout the land often serve as a check to the excesses of the Emperor and the Archmage. She allows local religious leaders a good deal of autonomy in their actions and decisions, but acts as the ultimate spiritual, ethical, and moral arbitrator to the various sects of her religion.  She is in almost perpetual conflict with the arch-druid for theological reasons.

The Prince of Shadows (Ambiguous) [AKA The Iron Monkey or The Monkey King]. Leader of the various organized crime organizations of the Dragon Empire, and an unparalleled martial artist and thief, the Iron Monkey is said to touch every die that is rolled in the empire, taste every cask of wine, and touch every coin. Despite their criminal enterprises, the Iron Monkey is not without redeeming characteristics: they are fierce opponents of slavery and banditry, and have been known to side against the empire’s foes. The Iron Monkey’s assistance was vital in overthrowing the Undying Emperor, and their followers are often seen as heroes by those oppressed by greedy nobles.  Gossip about the Iron Monkey is a much-loved topic at inns, road houses, and markets,

The Three (Villainous) [AKA The Council of Dragons]. The Council comprises some of the oldest and most powerful dragons ever. Long ago the evil dragons conspired to destroy the eldest of the good dragons (with only the Great Golden Dragon surviving) and were the original rulers of the Dragon Empire. Over time, however, their power has waned until now they directly control only a small portion of their former empire. Currently there are only three dragons known to be active on the Council – the Red, the Blue, and the Black. There are two others known – the White, who was killed by the Undying Emperor and now serves as his undead thrall, and the Green, currently held captive by the Elf Queen.

 

RACE

(Most of the races have special rules representing their relationship to certain icons.  However, no characters are required to spend their points on any particular icon.  The special rules represent opportunities, not requirements.)

Dark Elf – [AKA “The Silver Folk” or “Silver Elves’]. The product of magical manipulation of the elves by the Council of Dragons long ago. The Silver Folk were created to conquer, and eventually corrupt and replace the elven race

Special rule: Silver Elves may treat the Elf Queen icon as  Heroic and the Dragon Council as Villainous, the Elf Queen as Villainous and the Dragon Council as Heroic, or both as Ambiguous – player choice.

Demontouched – Demontouched are a new thing in the 13th Dynasty. During the great civil war that ended the 12th Dynasty, the Diabolist (then the Warlord) opened a rift to the abyss and dramatically increased the number of Hellholes throughout the land, unleashing numerous demons into the land. The result of the great magical energy released at this time is that now some people are born demontouched. They are generally considered to be ill-omened folk, but are undeniably powerful.

Special Rule – the Demontouched may treat the Diabolist as an Ambiguous or Villainous icon – player choice.

Draconic – dragon blood flows through the veins of all the races (some say that the dragons actually created all the other races, though scholars and priests dispute this). It occasionally manifests as an individual who is born manifesting a portion of their draconic heritage. Such individuals are sometimes revered, sometimes feared.

Special Rule – Draconic characters may treat The Dragon Council as an ambiguous or Villainous icon – player choice.

Dwarf – Dwarves and Gnomes are both offshoots of the same original race that fractured during a long-ago civil war, but in the present Dynasty are allied and largely intermingled.

Special Rule – Dwarves can take the Dwarf King as an ambiguous or heroic icon – player choice.

Gnomes – Gnomes and Dwarves are offshoots of the same original race that fractured during a long-ago civil war but in the present Dynasty are allied and largely intermingled. Where Dwarf culture focuses on physical hardiness and stoicism, Gnome culture focuses on merriment, jest, and magic. Combined they make for a formidable alliance.

Special rule – Gnomes may take the Dwarf King as an ambiguous or villainous icon – player choice.

Half -Elf – Half Elves are a new thing in the world. Prior to the end of the 12th Age they did not exist, and nobody’s quite sure what to make of them at the moment. It is possible that they are the world’s response to the Demontouched, or simply a result of the mingling of the great magics that were used to end the civil war. In any event they are now sometimes born to both humans and elves, regardless of parentage.

Halfling – nobody knows where Halflings come from. Apparently not even the Halflings. Their origin stories are diverse and conflicting. There are no official records of them in the Dragon Empire until the 6th Dynasty, so it appears that they are younger than other races, though many of their tales indicate that they are much older. For now they are spread thinly but relatively evenly around the Dragon Empire, mostly in rural areas. In the north they tend to group into their own communities, whereas in the south they mix with other populations. Halflings are also famous for the communities they build on the backs of Kodo behemoths.

Special Rule – halflings may choose one icon to define as heroic, ambiguous, or villainous – player choice.

Half-Orcs [AKA “Orcs”]. Half-Orcs are not the result of interbreeding between orcs and humans (or anyone else). They are simply orcs who live within the borders of the Dragon Empire and follow its culture and ways. Long ago, the tribes of the Great Khan conquered the Dragon Empire, and many of the Great Khan’s people established themselves there. Since that time Orcs have been a distinctive minority throughout the land. The term “Half-Orc” is a reference to their “civilized” ways, as distinct from what citizens of the empire consider the barbarism of those who follow the Great Khan.

Special rule – Orc characters can take the Great Khan as a Heroic icon – player’s choice.

High Elf [AKA “Light Folk” or “Light Elves”]. More similar to the Silver Elves than they would like to admit, the Light Elves are also a product of magical manipulation – this time by the elves themselves – to combat the development of the Silver Elves. After their victory the elven people looked to them for leadership, and they have been considered a sort of noble race ever since.

Special rule: High Elves may treat the Elf Queen icon as Heroic, Ambiguous, or Villainous – player choice.

Human – humans are the most common race in the Dragon Empire. They’re everywhere. Other races sometimes consider them a veritable infestation.

Special Rule – humans may consider either the Emperor or the Archmage (but not both) as a Heroic icon – player’s choice.

Wood Elf [AKA “Grey Folk”, “Green Folk” (particularly those who follow the High Lama), “Grey Elves”, “Green Elves” “Fair Folk” or just “Elves”). The original elven stock, unchanged from the beginning of the first dynasty, still makes up the bulk of the elven race.

Special rule: Silver Elves may treat the Elf Queen icon as Heroic, Ambiguous, or Villainous – player choice.

PROVINCES

The Dragon Empire is divided into a number of provinces, each based around a major city. Most of the provinces are, at present, at least nominally tied to the authority of the Emperor and the Dragon Throne.  I have deliberately left out specific borders, as was done in 13th Age.

Caifu Province and the City of Coin

Caifu (“Wealthy”) Province lies in the western part of the Dragon Empire, and is without doubt its single wealthiest province. It is the base of the Empire’s merchant fleet, receives trade from the dwarves and gnomes to its north, and has some of the best farmland in the entire empire. The Emperor often uses governorship of this province as a reward to loyal families, so rulership here changes frequently.

The Warlord makes his home in Caifu province, in the great fortress complex of First Victory. The presence of a large part of the Imperial Army here means even more wealth for the merchants who equip and feed it.

The capital, the City of Coin, handles much of the legitimate trade of the Empire. Its nearby sister city, the Port of Shadows, handles much of the illicit trade. It is rumored that the Monkey King lives and operates out of one or both cities.

[Caifu Province corresponds to the area north of the Kneedeep river, east of the Giantwallk, and south of Calamity Lake, with the exception of Anvil.]

 

Zhou Province, the Imperial City, the Invisible City

The seat of the Imperial government, from which all authority and benevolence of the Dragon Throne and the Dragon Emperor flow, Zhou (“Axis”) Province is the most metropolitan and urbane in all the empire, and its citizens consider themselves to be superior to the unwashed masses elsewhere. The business of Zhou Province is governance, and the Imperial Bureaucracy is spread out across the province with various schools, universities, departments, offices, officials, and functionaries scattered throughout the area like leaves fallen from the tree of government.

The Imperial City, the largest, oldest, and most impressive city in the Empire lies here, and exists to maintain the Emperor’s rulership and support the smaller, but even more important Invisible City, where the Emperor lives and from which he governs. In the current dynasty, the Invisible City is not physically invisible (though it is said that in some past dynasties it has been) but is a walled city-within-a-city, largely inaccessible to outsiders. By tradition, those who dwell in the Imperial City avoid mention of the Invisible City within, particularly to outsiders, and tend to act to the greatest extent possible as though it is not even there. Most maps of the Imperial City simply leave it out altogether (which can sometimes make navigation precarious).

Horizon City, where the archmage lives and works, is also a part of Zhou Province. If Imperial City is the most glamorous city in the empire, Horizon City is the most amazing. In Horizon City, magic is everywhere, and magical marvels abound – from the magical lanterns which light the city at night, to floating buildings where powerful magi live, to the great tower that dominates the skyline and reaches all the way to the overworld, where the archmage oversees the magical needs of the Dragon Empire and toils ceaselessly to advance its study.

[Zhou Province corresponds to the area around Axis, south of the Kneedeep River, east of the Giantwalk, and west of the Lost River and Gorogar’s Maw.]

Bai Wan Province and the City of Saints

Bai Wan Province lies in the south of the Dragon Empire. For several of the early dynasties of the Dragon Empire, Bai Wan was an independent nation, and despite its eventual integration, the people there still show an independent streak, dress distinctively, and speak with unique accents.

Bai Wan means “One Million”, a shortening of the province’s older name of “Land of One Million Spirits.” It is sometimes referred to as “Million Temple Province”

Geographically, Bai Wan is the largest of the provinces, encompassing the whole of the South and Southeast Empire. In practice the portion of the province that is actually controlled by the Empire is small, comprising mainly the area around the City of Saints, and the eastern coastal areas. It is from here that the Priestess oversees the functioning of the Empire’s many religious sects.

In the center of the province lies the wild wood. This area, under the authority of the High Lama, maintains a good deal of independence from the Empire as a whole. Worship of the old ways of Tao and Animism still hold sway here, and the gods of the new religion are not particularly welcome and neither are imperial tax collectors. At present the Dragon Empire has bigger problems than this thinly populated forest, and largely ignores the Wild Wood, but some friction between followers of the old ways and the new is inevitable in the province, and when it becomes serious enough the Empire will intervene in favor of the Priestess.’s followers.

The largest city in Bai Wan is the Priestess’s stronghold of the City of Saints, where every day is a festival of some sort, and followers of the various gods, pantheons, sects, temples, monasteries, nunneries, cloisters, and what-have-you of the state religion all meet and intermingle under the Priestess’s watchful eye to hash out differences and avoid conflict.

[Bai Wan Province corresponds to the area east of the Red Wastes, south of the Midland Sea, and extending to the coast.]

San Long Province and Blue City

Blue City has had many names over the centuries. Long ago, it was the original seat of the Dragon Empire, when actual dragons reigned. Later it was a bastion from which the Dragon Council ruled. Later still it was a bastion city on the eastern marches of the Dragon Empire, guarding the coasts against invasion. And in between these incarnations it has been a ruin, destroyed or abandoned after one conflict or another.

During the 11th Dynasty the Emperor came to an agreement with the Dragon Council. In exchange for promises of support (and some say geasa to prevent betrayal) the Emperor returned the ruins of their former capital to the Dragon Council and granted them rulership over the city and the surrounding province.

San Long (“Three Dragon”) Province is the abode of monsters. Here the various intelligent monstrous races – creatures that would be hunted down anywhere else in the empire, are able to live in relative peace and form a unique society. San Long is also the dark underbelly of the Dragon Empire, the only province in which slavery is practiced (openly), and the only place where evil gods are worshiped (openly). The Emperor gain’s use of the Blue’s researches into dark magic without the risk of the Archmage getting corrupted, the use of the Black’s unparalleled spies and assassins while maintaining an aura of deniability, and potential support of the Red in putting down rebellions or dealing with external threats.

For all that it is a dangerous place, San Long Province and particularly Blue City are very much on the Lawful side of their Evil. Chaotic Evil monsters are as despised here as anywhere else, and even Neutral Evil creatures must tread carefully and are usually found in the rural regions of the province, and even there thinly.

[San Long Province includes the area around Drakkenhall north to the southern edge of the Spiderwood, not including the Queen’s Wood.  It also claims the various eastern islands of the Midland Sea, but actual control over them is dubious at best]

ZhiZhu Province, the Queen’s Court

Zhizhu (“Spider”) Province lies in the Northeastern part of the Dragon Empire, and is comprised mainly of the woodland realm of the elves. The Empire considers it a province, but for most of those living there it is a quasi-independent nation, albeit one which shares friendly relations and close ties to the Dragon Empire. Largely self-sufficient, the province neither imports or exports much, and by human standards is largely unsettled and unmapped. And that’s just how the elves like it. Due to a glamour placed upon it long ago, the terrain of the area is somewhat fluid, and it is difficult to find your way if you do not know what you are doing. The Queen’s Court in particular is known to move around throughout the entire province.

Elven society is largely matriarchal because of the high casualties they suffered at the end of the 12th Dynasty.

[ZhiZhu Province comprises the Queen’s Wood north to the Grey Towers and east to the Spider Wood. The area west as far as the marshes is also considered part of the province, but the Queen rules it through benign neglect].

Bei Bao and Forge City – the Dwarven Kingdom

A Kingdom in its own right f the dwarves and gnomes of Bei Bao were early allies of the Dragon Empire, have been part of it during some dynasties, and actually ruled it for awhile.  At present, though not part of the empire, they have a very close alliance.

Bei Bao is highly militarized, and much of the economy revolves around feeding, arming, and supporting the armies which it must maintain to protect itself against the forces of the Great Khan to the north.  Almost all dwarves spend some time in the military, and all are trained to fight in formation.  Dwarves consider anyone unarmed in public to be undressed and look upon them with disdain.

Bei Bao (“Northern Bastion”) Province is known for three things – the quality of its forge work, which produces the best arms, armor, and equipment in the Empire (virtually all “Masterwork” quality equipment comes from their forges), the potency of its alcohol, and the unstinting hatred its people have for orcs in general and the Great Khan in particular. They have always fought against the invasions of the Great Khan, serving as a shield for the Dragon Empire. During the dynasties in which the Great Khan’s forces overwhelmed the empire, they led the resistance which eventually drove the orcs out.

Bei Bao is also unique in that it is bigger underground than on the surface. In theory the Northern King claims the entirety of the Underground as his domain, though in practice the area that he actually controls is considerably smaller – mainly the area under the province itself.

Forge City is both insular and unappealing, devoted almost entirely to mining and manufacturing. Though citizens of the Dragon Empire are not forbidden from visiting they are not encouraged to do so, and usually find little of interest aside from smelting, forging, and brewing once they arrive. The city of Anvil, which has a majority gnomish population and which deals more in trade than manufacturing, is much preferred as a destination.

[Above ground, Bai Bao controls the lands around Forge, south to the lakes, west as far as Moonwreck, north to the Dragonwood, and east to the Fangs..  It also controls the area around Anvil. Below ground it claims the whole of the underworld, but actually controls only a corridor between Forge and the Anvil known as the Undermarch.]

The Free City of Concord

Not precisely a part of any province, and indirectly supervised by the Elf Queen, the Free City of Concord is an experiment in social engineering.

Since the schism of the Elves long ago, the Elf Queen has sought ways to reunite her fractious people. As part of the arrangement that brought the Elven Kingdoms into the sphere of the Dragon Empire, she was granted a port city. In an effort to learn more about how to settle strife between groups, the Elf Queen invited citizens of all the nonhuman races to settle there, taxed them lightly, and largely left them alone to learn to govern themselves. The result was a raucous, often chaotic city full of all the nonhuman races which is ever changing and often times confusing to outsiders. Neither the Emperor nor the Northern King are particularly comfortable with the city, and even the Elf Queen sometimes expresses misgivings about the place, but so far the experiment has produced some very interesting results.

[The Free City of Concord controls only the area around the city itself.  In theory it is actually part of ZhiZhu province, but de facto it is independent.]

The Free City of New Port

New Port is part of a project by the Emperor to form a new province in the lands north of the Wild Wood. It is a relatively new city, now booming because of settlement incentives from the Dragon Throne, but is so new that it has not had much time to develop its own character yet. Certainly there is money to be made here, and adventure to be had, but whether the scheme to form a new province succeeds or fails is unknown at this time.

[New Port controls only the area around the city at present, though the plan is for a new province to be carved out controlling all the cleared lands north of the Wild Wood.]

The Rebellious Province of Xiwang

To the Northwest lies the former province of Xiwang (“Hope”), now in full rebellion against the Dragon Empire and awash with demons and other unsavory extraplanar creatures.

During the wars that ended the 12th Age Xiwang was relatively peaceful, aside from occasional difficulties with giants and raids by the Great Khan. Near the end of the wars, when the Great Golden Dragon sacrificed itself to block the Diabolist’s attempt to open a rift to the abyss, the Diabolist was decisively defeated, and forced to flee his former stronghold in what is now the Red Waste for the edge of the Empire. Xiwang was relatively weak, and was an easy conquest. Now it is controlled by the Diabolist’s forces, which have opened numerous Hellholes in the region to spawn hosts of demons.

The Diabolist does not have things entirely in hand, however. She faces constant attacks from the Warlord to the South, the King of the North to the East, and a stubborn rebellion that she has thus far been unable to quell within her borders. She also spends considerable effort attempting revenge against the Lich King, her former ally,

[Xiwang once encompassed the Stalking Trees, the Cairnwood, Lake Hope, and Moonwreck.  These days the borders change with the march of armies.]

The Red Wastes – final battlefield of the 12th Dynasty

The Red Wastes are where the final battles of the 12th Dynasty were fought. Tremendous and unstable magics were used by both sides in a final bid to secure victory, and these magics tainted the land for hundreds of miles. Though officially still part of the Dragon Empire, in practice the Red Wastes (and the adjoining Abyss) are little more than a dangerous, corrupted wasteland filled with strange and unpredictable magical effects, monsters, and the remains of entire armies that fought and died here. Thanks to the Archmage and the followers of the Great Golden Dragon a narrow section of coast has been cleansed to the north of the Red Wastes, but travel through this area is still precarious.

The Island of the Dead, Home of the Undying Emperor

At the end of the 12th Dynasty, the Wizard King was driven from the Imperial City in defeat, his legions of undead largely destroyed.  He had built and maintained a powerful navy, however, and when he fled to an island in the Midland Sea, the forces of the Dragon Empire, weakened from the long war, were unable to dislodge him.  There he remains, with the descendants of his few surviving followers and his remaining undead minions. Powerful enchantments now guard the island, rivaling (or some say surpassing) the power of the current Archmage, and it is likely that it would take the combined might of a unified Dragon Empire to destroy him,  Thankfully his involvement in the affairs of the Empire is mostly confined to commerce raiding on the Western Midland Sea, and occasional minor forays on land for specific objectives. The animosity between the Lich King and the Diabolist over their mutual betrayal also still burns hot, and he spends much of his energy on attacks against his former ally, much to the relief of the Emperor.

[The Island of the Dead is comprised of the Island of Necropolis.  The Undying Emperor also claims Omen, the Spray, and really the whole Dragon Empire, but does not control them].

 

THE DYNASTIES

Dynasty Known For

1st Dynasty Rulership by Dragons

2nd Dynasty Rulership by the evil dragons, destruction of good dragons

3rd Dynasty Defeat of the Dragon Council, Elven Schism, de-facto leadership by Great Golden Dragon

4th Dynasty Conquest of the Dragon Empire by forces of the Great Khan.

5th Dynasty Warring States period where no one holds the Dragon Throne for more than a generation. Schism of Dwarves and Gnomes.

6th Dynasty King of the North rules the Empire from vast underworld holdings. First records of Halflings.

7th Dynasty Religious fervor as Animism/Taoism sweep across the land. The High Lama is de facto leader of the Dragon Empire, though the King of the North still sits on the throne. Elves rebel against the empire.

8th Dynasty Invasion of the ogres from Fire Island results in the conquest of most of the empire. The Warlord leads from exile.

9th Dynasty Reconquest of the Empire and defeat of the ogres. An undisputed Emperor once more sits on the throne. Elf King captures the Great Green Dragon. Rise of the Priestess and the State Religion.

10th Dynasty A time of relative peace and prosperity, marked mainly by lots of internal politicking.

11th Dynasty The Archmage becomes the power behind the throne. Great magics worked. Rise of the Diabolist.

12th Dynasty Rule by the Wizard Kings. Widespread use of necromancy eventually leads to civil war.

13th Dynasty The present

CLASSES ALLOWED

Barbarian – very common along the fringes of the Dragon Empire, but also in its wilder places such as the various woodlands, mountain ranges, and along the eastern coast.

Bard -of course there are bards.

Cleric – fervent believers in one of the sects of the State Religion, which supports a number of pantheons as representatives of a larger, more encompassing (but seldom seen) deity.

Commander – usually a military officer, but sometimes a traveling judge or other official of the Dragon throne.

Druid [AKA Taoist] – really another form of cleric, only representing a different religion, which is somewhat at odds with the state religion at present.

Fighter – ubiquitous

Monk – monks come from a variety of backgrounds, from monastic orders of the State Religion to self-taught peasants striving to fight oppression to devoted followers of the Great Golden Dragon.

Occultist – one, and only one – ever.

Paladin – like monks (and somewhat similar in outlook) Paladins are warriors devoted to a particular Icon, and given special powers due to their devotion.

Ranger – usually found in the same places as Taoists. Tales about Dwarven, Gnomish, and Half-Ork rangers doing battle against the encroaching forces of the Great Khan are also extremely popular these days.

Rogue – generally considered trouble by the authorities of the Dragon Throne, but still sometimes useful.

Sorcerer – often known as witches, these self-taught users of magic are sometimes feared, sometimes revered.

Wizard – scholarly and well-respected by the people, wizards are considered to be the authority on all things magical.

 

Numenera: Introduction

Through Humble Bundles I managed to procure a a bunch of Numenera products as PDFs at a very low cost. Sophie got me a new, larger format Kindle for Christmas, and had put a lot of RPGs on it – including Numenera 1st. Soon afterwards another bundle, this time of Numenera 2nd, went up. Lacking something to read I decided to look through the trove of Numenera stuff.

I had initially been daunted by the high price of Numenera products. While production values seemed good, I wasn’t particularly interested in investing in what appeared to be a pretty trad d20 game with a zillion splat books. But in PDF format through Humble Bundle I got so much that it rekindled my interest in the game.

For those who don’t know, Numenera is a science fantasy game by Monte Cook, influenced by such works as Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun/Book of the Long Sun series, and other works set in the very far future where civilization has risen and fallen on earth numerous times. Set a billion years in the future, humanity lives in the remains of 8 great civilizations which developed, flourished and died. Technological marvels barely recognized as distinct from magic, are a common part of the world, and both interstellar and inter dimensional creatures left over from previous eras are common. Players take on the role of fantasy heroes with future tech trappings and go out to do what heroes do in RPGs – Kill stuff and gain XP.

While the idea is a good one and the genre niche is solid,I found the included setting (“the Steadfast”) rather bland and with few exceptional ideas I could hang plots from. Nothing in the setting made me think that’s COOL! I want to run that!

However, the system itself caught my eye. It had some interesting ideas such as the players rolling all the dice, and modifiers affecting the target number, and not the die roll. Character creation also looked interesting, with players choosing packages of skills and powers.

So I decided to get together with a few friends and try it, then post my thoughts. I know, I know – it isn’t the hip new system anymore. So to add extra interest (for myself at least) I decided to make this my first “all electronic format” game – no books, no GM screen, no dice. Everything run from the Kindle and my phone. So I can talk about that in addition to the game itself.

Please feel free to comment about your experiences as well.

Thanks for reading.

ANOTHER DAY IN MIDDLE EARTH

lotr.png

Summer Festival, Part II

Milkweed:  “Greetings Campanula Chubb, Festival Coordinator.”

Chubb:  “Hey, Rube.”

Milkweed:  “Mayor Whitefoot tells me that you are the one to talk to about addressing all the festival goers.”

Chubb:  “Did he tell you that at a ‘picnic’?”

Milkweed:  “You know about that?”

Chubb:  “Every person with female plumbing in the Shire and beyond knows about him.  We’ve had complaints from all over Middle Earth, but he’s the mayor.  He just keeps pardoning himself.”

Milkweed:  “If we had only thought when we wrote our Shire Constitution to include checks and balances that would prevent those in power from taking advantage of that for their own personal gain.”

Chubb:  “Yes – 34 constitutionally mandated recipes was probably excessive.”

Milkweed:  “In any event, I wanted to address the crowd about – ULMO’S HOLY BALLS, ANOTHER FIRE MONSTER!  RUN!  I’LL HOLD IT OFF!”

Chubb:  “Oh no, its just a symbolic representation of the heatwave we are having here in the Shire at the moment.  It’s harmless!”

Milkweed:  It’s a GIANT FIRE MONSTER!”

Chubb:  “Relax, it can’t hurt you!”

(Low Level PC runs past, on fire)

PC:  “I’M ON FIRE!  I’M ON FIRE!  DON’T LET ME BURN!  KILL ME NOW!  DON’T LET ME BUUUUURN!”

Chubb:  “See?  Harmless.  If you are still worried I can spit some water on you.”

Milkweed:  “What, no I…”

Chubb:  *Spits water*

Milkweed:  “Gaah!  Quit it!  So would it be possible for me to address everyone about the growing threat of Sauron and the darkness which is spreading over Middle Earth?”

Chubb:  “My goodness!  That doesn’t sound very festive at all!  As festival coordinator I’m going to have to ask you to do a few favors to help support the festival before you can do that!”

Milkweed:  “But this is a danger to everyone in the Shire!”

Chubb:  “First I want you to go fly a kite!”

Milkweed:  “Hey!”

Chubb:  “While you are at it, there are some crashed kites that you can pick up and bring back to be repaired.”

Milkweed:  “But this is urgent!  Everyone is in danger!”

Chubb:  “Then, there are some people who have left various objects lying around that you need to pick up and return to them.”

Milkweed:  “I don’t have time to go on scavenger hunts!”

Chubb:  “There are some overheated festival goers that need someone to come by and spit water on them…”

Milkweed:  “Ick!”

Chubb:  “And you need to destroy some heat monsters for us.”

Milkweed:  “I thought they were just symbolic.  Or hallucinations.  Or something.”

Chubb “I’ll need you to carry a heavy block of ice down to Bywater, then bring back : some ice cream.”

Milkweed:  “For crying out loud, I’m about to start crying out loud!”

Chubb:  “And then there are fishing quests, the keg races, horse races, several more scavenger hunts….”

Milkweed:  “So I do all these things and THEN you let me address the crowd?”

Chubb:  “Not exactly.  For each of these you get one or more festival tokens.  If you do enough of them I give you more festival tokens.”

Milkweed:  “Yeah, I know.  Mayor Whitefoot gave me several.”

Chubb (looking sadly at Milkweed):  “Poor, poor dear!”

Milkweed:  “What?  Oh, no – it wasn’t like that.  I threatened to cave his head in with my mace.”

Chubb:  “Oh, good for you!  In that case, when you have done at least seven of these tasks, return to me and I will give you more festival tokens for earning festival tokens!”

Milkweed:  “And I use these for?”

Chubb:  “You can redeem them for cool things that are only available during the summer festival!”

Milkweed:  “Like magical orc-killing swords?”

Chubb:  “Well, more like summer outfits, horses with baskets of flowers on them, or seasonal dyes – peach is all the rage this year!”

Milkweed:  “You’re aware that we are all about to be overrun by bloodthirsty cannibalistic orcs, evil men, and deranged Dwarves, right?”

Chubb:  “Oh pish tosh!  I’ve been hearing those rumors for years.  Eleven years to be precise.  Nothing ever comes of it.”

Milkweed (sighs):  “Question?”

Chubb:  “Yes?”

Milkweed:  “Will there be elk?  Or spiders?  Or bears?”

Chubb:  “Nope, just imaginary completely unreal, but don’t let them get too close or they will light you up heat monsters.”

PC:  “Please, I beg of you!  End my suffering!”

Milkweed:  “Are those things canon?”

Chubb:  “Not really, but since they are wholly imaginary it doesn’t matter.”

Milkweed:  “And when I get enough of these festival tokens?”

Chubb:  “Then go talk to the Events Prize Coordinator – he’s right over there – and purchase the ‘Address the crowd about something dreary and definitely not at all festive or party-like’ prize.  I think it’s 80 tokens.”

Milkweed:  “That sounds like a lot.”

Chubb:  “Well, if you wanted to address the crowd about something fun and festive it would only be 40.”

Milkweed:  “Okay.”

Chubb:  “And at the same time you can pick up some fireworks from the fireworks vendor!”  THAT should get the crowd’s attention.”

Milkweed:  “Fine!  Fine!  I’m a level 43 adventurer!  Mordor is about to show up and kill us all.  Of COURSE I have time to run around fishing and flying kites and betting on keg races.  I’ll be back!  Away!”

(Mayor Whitefoot steps from the shadows).

Whitefoot:  “So – did the plan work?  (Heh)?”

Chubb (kneeling):  “Yes, my lord High Mayor.  We have managed to convince large numbers of independent adventurers that these old New York Subway tokens are extremely valuable.  They are now rushing around on pointless and repetitive tasks like hauling ice and fishing, while the forces of darkness mass in safety.”

Whitefoot:  “Excellent!  EXCELLENT!  The Dark Lord will be pleased!  Ha!  Ha ha!  AH HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!”

Chubb:  “Can I please have my children back now?”

(Lightning flashes in the distance.  Thunder rolls)

 

[Yes, there really IS a quest where you go around spitting water on people.]

 

Another Day in Middle Earth

[Being the continuing saga of Milkweed Thistledown, Intrepid Burglar and Assassin of the Shire]

Image result for Lord of the Rings Online summer festival

Summer Festival:  Part I

Milkweed:  “Will Whitefoot, Mayor of Hobbitown – I have urgent news!”

Whitefoot:  “Greetings, Milkweed the Cuddly!”

Milkweed:  “I have been beyond the confines of the Shire, to the land of Bree and beyond to wait, what now?”

Whitefoot:  “I just said ‘Greetings Milkweed!’ (Hee)”

Milkweed:  “Okay.  I have been to the land of Bree, to the Lone Lands, to Rivendell, and as far as the Lonely Mountains.  I have found orcs, goblins, and evil dwarves massing in each place!  Their hosts grow in number by the day!  Fell spirits roam the lands!  We must prepare the Shire for their onslaught!”

Whitefoot:  “Lovely!  Would you like to have a picnic? (Heh heh)”

Milkweed:  …

Whitefoot:  “A lovely picnic would be just the thing, don’t you think, Milkweed the Lovely?”

Milkweed:  “That isn’t a real title, not even a stupid one.  Didn’t you just hear me?  There are evil creatures lurking everywhere!  The Shire is in danger!”

Whitefoot:  “Bah!  It’s the Summer Festival!  No time for worrying about trivialities now!  (Heeheehee).  Lets go have a picnic!”

Milkweed:  “But I’m…”

Whitefoot:  “Picnic first, discussion of impending doom later!  We’re hobbits after all – there’s no problem that we can’t solve with good food, good company and a roofie.”

Milkweed:  “What?!?!?”

Whitefoot:  “Nothing, nothing – don’t worry your pretty little head about it.  Now, I have important mayor stuff to do, so you just take this pack horse here up to the very top of Lonely Hill – the part that is completely unobservable from the road.  I’ll be waiting for you there.  (Bwa ha!  Bwa ha!  BWA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!)”

Milkweed:  “Where are you – hey, come back horse!  Come back!”

[20 minutes later]

Milkweed (gasping):  “Giant.  Flaming.  Turtles.”  (pant, gasp)  “Giant.  Flaming.  Drakes!”  (wheeze).  “Giant.  Flaming.  Flamey things!” (gasp, pant, choke, wheeze, gasp).  “CARROTS!”

Whitefoot:  “Hello Milkweed!  I am done with my mayor stuff – what took you so long?”

Milkweed:  “Mayor Whitefoot, for the love of the Vayar RUN!  The entire area is infested with giant flaming monsters!  They’ll kill you!”

Whitefoot:  “Nonsense!  Everythings fine and you aren’t suffering from hallucinations due to the Spanish Fly I dosed you with.  Oops!”

Milkweed:  “You.  Did.  WHAT???”

Whitefoot:  “No time for that now – we must protect the picnic!  And by ‘we’ I mean ‘you’!”

Milkweed:  “What?  Oh no – Ravenous hobbits!  Level 40+ insect swarms!  Rain monsters with gigantic rain swords!  Back!  Back!”

[Battle ensues]

Milkweed:  “Okay, that was interesting.  Now tell me about what it was you dosed me with?”

Whitefoot:  Certainly.  I – but wait, you are all wet.  I think you would be more comfortable if you took off some of those damp garments!  (Hoot!)”

Milkweed:  “I have a level 43 mace and a level 41 dagger that think otherwise.”

Whitefoot:  “Look, you can’t blame a randy old Hobbit politician looking to exploit his power to take advantage of someone younger for trying, can you?  Here – I’ll give you these summer festival tokens if you don’t tell anyone!”

Milkweed:  “What do I do with these?”

Whitefoot:  “You can redeem them at the summer festival for pretty dresses and such!”

Milkweed:  “Don’t you understand, Mayor?  The forces of Mordor are massing!  Soon they will come here and destroy everything and kill everyone and there WON’T BE ANYMORE FESTIVALS!”

Whitefoot:  “Pish tosh!  I’ve been hearing that for eleven years now and things in the Shire haven’t gotten one bit worse!  Now sign this nondisclosure agreement and the festival tokens are yours!”

Milkweed:  “I must go to the festival@!  I must warn the rest of the Shire!  I must protect the innocent against the onslaught of these heat monsters that Tolkien never mentioned or even alluded to.  Away!”

(Gallops off)

Whitefoot:  “Sucker.  Oh well, back to peeping through windows at Hobbit holes!  EEEEE HA HA HA HOO HOO HA!”

[The daily instance for the summer festival involves Mayor Will Whitefoot asking your character to go to the top of a hill to have a picnic with him.  Once you agree he mentions that he has stuff to do and will meet you there – leaving you to escort the pony with your picnic to the hill.  On the way you have to fight flame creatures, which are supposedly hallucinations brought on by the heat.  There are flaming drakes and flaming turtles and a flaming ogre, etc.  Once you make it to the top of the hill, your picnic is beset by ravenous hobbits who want to eat your food, level equivalent bugs who also want to eat your food, and even these creatures that are supposed to represent rain, but look like translucent wights carrying misty gray swords.  When all this is done, you get some festival tokens, which are special tokens that allow you to purchace items only available at the festivals.

Given the supposed situation in Mordor, and the fact that Milkweed had actually MET Frodo and Sam at Rivendell, it seemed a bit incongruous to me that the Hobbits in the Shire were blithely dancing and having picnics., so I invented this story.  In the actual game Will Whitefoot does not try to roofie your character on top of a secluded hill for nefarious purposes.  Still, the plot seems a little rapey to me.  Be warned.]

Cupcake

download (4)

Asian woman – late twenties, hair dyed blonde, wearing a dark hoodie and sweatpants that say “Love Pink” over an obviously swollen belly. Her eyes are tired. So tired. As if she is carrying the world.

Black man – tall, tall; wearing a work shirt, pants, and a stocking cap. He stands straight, putting his dignity into his broad shoulders and back. He’s late twenties or early thirties. His eye holds mine on several occasions. I wish fleetingly that my beard looked as good as his.

Four children – three on foot, one in a carrier. Milk chocolate and honey. Little heads peeking over the counter. They move around but never stray far, never make much noise, only talk quietly with the man every once in awhile. Their eyes are bright and inquisitive, but I can already see a touch of the exhaustion that the woman wears.

We’re all at Safeway and I am several carts behind them. It’s the Sunday before the Fourth of July. The store is packed. The lines are long. People, including me, are irritable.

The woman is working with the checkout clerk to make sure she gets the most out of her foodstamps. Pricing items, running them down the conveyor to the man, who bags them, and then frequently asking them to be taken back so that a different configuration of groceries can be tried. I don’t see any really outrageous items. Two Safeway cupcakes in their plastic boxes are the only luxury I spot, though I’m not paying much attention and I don’t have a great view anyway.

I stand there as the tiny drama unfolds like a Chekov tragedy. We don’t get to see, but we can imagine it happening somewhere sometime soon,

There are two cupcakes.

They can only afford one cupcake.

It’s that or put back something else.

No matter how hard they try, no matter what they take out of and put into the cart, the math always seems to be coming out the same. One cupcake.

One.

People in the line are getting angry. Hell, I’M getting angry. I after all have places to go and things to do. But the Asian woman just stands there at checkout, and the black man just stands at the end, bagging and rebagging.

And during the seventeen minutes I wait behind them, listening to the grumbling and complaints, and feeling them myself, the woman never – not once – glances back at the line, looks around, or in any way acknowledges that we are there. She looks at the cashier. She looks at her foodstamps. She looks through her coupons. She looks at other Safeway employees who wander in and out of the drama wondering what the holdup is. She is fighting to wring every last penny worth of nutrition out of her foodstamps and her money. And by God she is going to do it if it takes four hours of standing in that line.

And she’s fighting for the dignity that goes with being able to afford a luxury, no matter how small. Is it for the kids? Is it for the adults? Is it a pregnancy craving?

Does it matter?

Poverty in America is clawing and fighting and holding your ground and trying everything, everything you can do to make it work – and coming up one cupcake short.

Epilogue: I wish I had been able to solve this dilemma. I don’t have much money but I could have afforded one cupcake. I didn’t learn what I know of the story until I got to the checkout counter. The cupcake was still sitting there. It was $2.99.

“Can you believe it?” asked the checkout clerk (trying hard to be friendly and chatty to the people who had to wait). “All that over a cupcake?”

Another Day in Middle Earth

Image result for lord of the rings online logo

[NOTE:  I hadn’t really planned on writing another installment so soon, but Rivendell proved to be pure comedy gold.]

The Sword that Was Broken – Part I

Milkweed:  “Hail Aragorn, son of Arathorn, known as Strider”

Aragorn:  “Greetings Milkweed Pie-Runner!”

Milkweed:  “Don’t start.”

Aragorn:  “My friend, a momentous decision is at hand!  It is time for the blade that was broken to be reforged!  For the good of the Free Peoples and Middle Earth I need you to…  to…”

Milkweed:  “Yes?  Yes?”

Aragorn:  “Take this note over to the smith of Rivendell and get an estimate.”

Milkweed:  “Oh.  Okay.  But I happened to notice your Fellowship companions Legolas and Gimli just outside this room.  Why don’t you have one of them do it?”

Legolas:  “Elk.  So tired of elk.  Every day – elk, elk, elk.”

Gimli:  “Spiders.  Spiders. Spiders.  Spiders.  Spiders.”

Aragorn:  “They’re busy.”

Milkweed:  “Very well then, it shall be as you desire.’

(Whistles for horse.  Rides to Rivendell)

Milkweed:  “Greetings, um, Hemeldir – forge master of Riven…”

Hemeldir:  “OCH!  STATE YER BUSINESS YE FOUL AND WRETCHED MURDER HOBO OR BE OFF WITH YE!”

Milkweed:  “What?  The forge master of Rivendell is a Dwarf?”

Hemeldir:  “WHAT OF IT YE GOBSHITE HOBBIT?”

Milkweed:  “Nothing!  I just thought that Dwarves and Elves didn’t get along.”

Hemeldir:  “AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, YE FLEA-INFESTED COCKSCOMB!”

Milkweed:  “Right.  Anyway, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, known as Strider needs Elandil, the sword that was broken, reforged and would like a price estimate, including labor and parts.”

Hemeldir:  “BEGORRAH!  AS I’VE BLOODY WELL TOLD THE LAST 127 MURDER HOBOS WHO HAVE ASKED I CANNAE REFORGE THE SWORD WITHOUT…  A MAGUFFIN!  TELL THAT LAZY BASTARD ARAGORN…”

Milkweed:  “Son of Arathorn, known as Strider.”

Hemeldir  “…  THA HE’LL NEED TAE FIND A MAGUFFIN BEFORE I CAN REFORGE HIS STUPID SWORD, AND I HAE NO IDEA WHERE TO FIND ONE!  NOW BEGONE!  I HAE OTHER MURDER HOBOS TO BERATE!”

Milkweed (mounts horse.  Rides back to Aragorn son or Arathorn known as Strider)

Milkweed:  “I bring news from Hemeldir forge master of Rivendell!”

Aragorn:  “Greetings Milkweed of the…”

Milkweed:  “No.”

Aragorn:  “Greetings Milkweed!  What news?”

Milkweed:  “Hemeldir says you can’t reforge the sword without a maguffin.”

Aragorn:  “There are few who have the knowledge of such elder things.  You must go at once to see L.  Ron.”

Milkweed:  “Don’t you mean…?”

Legolas:  “Elk steak.  Elk ribs.  Elk burgers with elk fries on an elk bun.  Elk sandwiches.  Fried elk.  Baked elk.  Elk tartar.”

Gimli:  “Spiderspiderspiderspiderspiderspiderspiders….”

Milkweed:  “Never mind.  AWAY!”

(Gets on horse, rides to Rivendell, goes to Last Homely House)

Bilbo:  “So there we were – goblins to the left, goblins to the right, goblins in front, goblins everywhere.  Gandalf was ready to give up, but I says to him, I sez…”

Milkweed:  “Out of my way you old coot!”

(Goes to library)

Elrond (writing):  I’m going to make you as happy as a baby psychlo on a diet of straight “Oh what is it!”

Milkweed:  “Oh mighty Elrond, I…”

Elrond:  “That’s ‘L. Ron!”

Milkweed:  “Oh what the hell…  Greetings mighty L. Ron.  I have come on behalf of Aragorn son of yadda yadda.  He needs to know where to find a maguffin to reforge his sword.”

Elrond:  “Aragorn has far too many thetans.  He needs to be cleared.  Let me share with you the good news of Scientology and how it cleared a man named Estel.”

Milkweed:  “Oh boy.”

Elrond:  “We were in Tinnudir, near the ferry…”

Milkweed:  “Uh huh.”

Elrond:  “The ferry to Tul Ruinen cost one copper piece…”

Milkweed:  “Yeah, yeah.”

Elrond:  “I had a piece of Huorn heartwood tied to my belt – it was the fashion in those days….”

Milkweed:  “We know, grandpa.”

(End of Part I)

Another Day in Middle Earth

Milkweed:  “Hail, Glorfindel of the elves!  I have been sent by a different, random elf to aid you in your battles on behalf of the free peoples!”

Glorfindel:  “Greetings Milkweed Slug Squasher!”

Milkweed:  “Beg pardon?”

Glorfindel:  “Slug Squasher!  It’s your title!  Right there – above your head.”

Milkweed:  “Whups!  Lets see, open character window, go to titles…”

Glorfindel:  “Greetings Milkweed, Apprentice Forester!”

Milkweed:  “Wait a minute…”

Glorfindel:  “Greetings Milkweed, Easily Lost!”

Milkweed:  “Hang on…”

Glorfindel:  “Greetings Milkweed, Purveyor of Odd Things…  Expert Forester…  Spider Smasher…  Firecracker…  Executioner of the Wicked….”

Milkweed:  “There we go.”

Glorfindel:  “Greetings Milkweed, Executioner of the Wicked!  The Free People have need of your blades!  We face a dire threat – elk!”

Milkweed:  “Elk?”

Glorfindel:  “Elk.”

Milkweed:  “This is like that ‘spider’ thing again, isn’t it?”

Glorfindel:  “No, brave Milkweed, for these are no ordinary elk!  These elk are…”

MIlkweed:  “Undead Barrow Elk?  Goblin Elk?  Elk who have fallen victim to the seldom mentioned 37 rings forged to bind the elk to the power of the Dark Lord Sauron?”

Glorfindel:  “No, no.  They’re just elk.”

Milkweed:  “So what’s so threatening about these elk?”

Glorfindel:  “They’re level 37.”

Milkweed:  “WHAT???  THAT’S INSANE!”

Glorfindel:  “You see the problem.  Should even one of these elk get loose in a lower level area such as Thorin’s Hall, Bree, or he Shire it would effortlessly slaughter every man, woman, and child, leaving behind only high level questgivers.  These Elk MUST BE CULLED FOR THE SAFETY OF MIDDLE EARTH!”

Milkweed:  *SIGH*  “How many?”

Glorfindel:  “Ten.”

Milkweed.  “Got it.  Ten.”

Glorfindel:  “And bear in mind the quest is repeatable!”

Milkweed:  “Repeatable.”

Glorfindel:  “AND while you are out there you should also kill some bears.  The dwarves need blankets.”

Milkweed:  “Why not just use the elk?”

Glorfindel:  “Dwarves don’t like elk blankets.  The’re not dour enough.”

Milkweed:  “I hate this job.”

Joe

[NOTE:  reposted from Facebook, with some additional photos]

Image may contain: 9 people, people smiling, people sitting and child
Top Row:  

Now here’s a handsome and happy fellow – a good father surrounded by his children, upon whom he dotes, his wife, whom he loves – a big, happy family. His children are well-behaved, he has a good job, he is an excellent host at social functions, and overall he is considered by his friends to be witty, urbane, clever, a good conversationalist, and a nice person to socialize with.He even took in one of his wife’s children to help raise. His name is Joe.

That’s short for Joseph. Joseph Goebbels.

I’m using Joe, though he is, admittedly, an extreme example, to point out something I think it is important for people to know.

Image result for goebbels family photoIf you know who Joe is (or rather, was) your opinion of him is likely something along the lines of “Joe was a bad person.” (or perhaps a more colorful variation thereof.). While you may also think of all the activities that he participated in prior to poisoning all of his lovely children and his doting wife before shooting himself, you may also think “Joe did bad things”. But if I were to ask you “Hey, what do you think of Joe?” you would probably respond with something along the lines of “He was a bad guy.:”

The point of this is that in our language and social thought patterns, there exists a line. On one side of it saying “Joe is a bad person” is a logical fallacy – Joe’s actions or beliefs may be bad, but to call Joe bad is attacking his character and should be avoided.

Related imageOn the other side of that line we have decided that the things that Joe said and did in his life were sufficiently odious that calling him “bad” is just shorthand because he did so very many bad things, and bad things of such magnitude, that it is OK to label him as a bad person and skipping the whole process of separating his activities into good and bad and measuring them against one another.. Weighing his lovely family and social life, love for his wife, etc. simply do not compensate for being Reichminister of Propaganda for the Nazis and there is no need for social gymnastics to determine that yes, Joe was a bad guy despite his love for his family..

So why all this?

IImage result for goebbels family photot’s not to compare anyone to Nazis. I am using Joe here as an example because he demonstrates the idea I am expressing well. Despite the fact that Joe had many good qualities almost nobody will jump to defend him as “basically a nice guy, even if he did have some wrong ideas.”

This brings us around to the current US policy of separating asylum seekers from their children at the border.

There are people who absolutely love this policy

There are people who support this policy.

There are people who don’t care about this policy.

There are people who dislike this policy.

And there are people who find this policy reprehensible, harmful, and terrible.

I am one of the latter.

Image result for goebbels family photoSo when I say something like the people who support this current policy are bad people (and yes, I almost certainly use more colorful language) I don’t mean it as hyperbole or character assassination or insult. I mean that in my ethical world there is little or nothing that these people can be doing – not being nice to their families, not taking in stray pets, not donating to charity, not being loyal to their friends – that can counterbalance the fact that they are okay with, and often seemingly even gleeful about, 4-year-olds being taken from their parents and put in housing units that are run like prisons.

I think such people are shit people, no matter how nice they may be in other ways. They are on the far side of my moral line.

Image result for goebbels family photoI understand that not everyone feels that way – particularly about those who they consider to be friends, or who they have to work with every day. While I might advocate for these people to change their minds elsewhere, I am not going to do it here. Instead I want to make it clear that my critiques and labels for such people are not over inflated, rabble rousing hype. No – they are NOT Joe. On the other side of my moral line is a space almost infinitely deep. And the people happily supporting our current policy don’t stand anywhere near Joe.

Image result for Goebbels Concentration campBut they are still on Joe’s side of my line. And I make no apologies for that, any more than I expect those of you who have friends who support this policy and see them on the other side of the line “basically a good person, but with some wrong opinions.” to change your minds about them.

What I want is simply for you to understand, not even agree with, but understand what exactly I mean when I make reference to them as bad people.

P.S. I was not entirely accurate regarding the fate of the Goebbels. The son at top (dressed in black), Harald Quandt, survived. His decedents are now the richest family in Germany

Image result for Concentration camp child

Another Day in Middle Earth

Image result for LOTRO logo

[Author’s note:  lately I have been playing a lot of Lord of the Rings online MMORPG.  It’s certainly fun enough, but often relates rather strangely with both the original books and the movies.  Milkweed is my Hobbit Burglar, who is really more of a Hobbit Assassin who steals things, given the frequency with which she has to kill stuff.  I haven’t met Galadriel in person yet, but I imagine that the conversation will go something like this (though probably with some other type of critter replacing spiders)]

Galadriel:  “Come [MILKWEED], look into my scrying pool.  There you will see many things that may come to be, and may learn much!”

Milkweed:  “Um, okay.”

[Milkweed gazes into the scrying pool]

Galadriel:  “What do you see, heroic hobbit?  What does the scrying pool foretell?”

Milkweed:  “I see…  I see…  spiders?”

Galadriel:  “Indeed,  brave hobbit, it is your fate and your charge to slay ten of these creatures.”

Milkweed:  “Slay ten spiders?”

Galadriel:  “Yes.  Slay ten spiders.”

Milkweed:  “Is it important?  I mean, there’s that thing with the black riders and…”

Galadriel:  “And my elven wisdom reminds me that Celeborn is seeking spider poison glands.  If you remove them from the spiders you kill and bring them to him, you will be given a reward!”

Milkweed:  “But isn’t all of middle Earth in danger from Mordor?  Shouldn’t we focus on…”

Galadriel:  “Wait!  There is more!  Cut the legs off the spiders and bring them to a mysterious stranger at the local inn, and you will gain renown with the elves of the forest!”

Milkweed:  “What?  Ick!”

Galadriel:  “I also foresee that while you are battling the spiders, you should scour the land for wood and deposits of metal, so that your crafting abilities may increase!”

|Milkweed:  I don’t recall reading about Frodo doing this stuff.”

Galadriel:  “Frodo is 105th level.  You’re barely level 30.  Maybe by the time you are done with the spiders you will ding 31.  Now get out there and bring back some spider poison sacs.  Celeborn is making a bisque!”