Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Welcome to Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer
(Art by Isaura Simon)

The Risk of Literalizing Fantastical Concepts

Once Orcs are not about the ancient threat of Neanderthal dominance,

Once Vampires are not about the nightmare of rape and the violation of our sanctity,

Once the immortal Lich is not about horror of structures of law and tradition which were invented by men who were dead long before we were born,

Once Werewolves are no longer about the terror of our inner animalistic impulses overwhelming us,

Once Zombies are not about our innate and unending fear of the implacable advance of gluttonous death,

then they are just housecats that we can kill from behind the safety of our +2 blade that adds two to our to hit roll, allowing us to strike at the monster if we roll an 8 or higher.

On Cultivating the Fantastic – Hack & Slash

Author’s emphasis.

Mud and Gas

Mud is a hazard that is totally natural for RPGs. Outdoor locations are extremely liable to be mud-spattered in rainy seasons, while underground locations with an earthen floor could, under sufficient flooding, turn into a quagmire not unlike those in Passchendaele. Particularly nasty is when the characters are caught in a torrential downpour and the area around them changes from fields into a swamp. The mud in Ypres was compared to the consistency of cheesecake, and soldiers would slowly sink in like quicksand.

Armor is absolutely a disadvantage in these situations. A World War I soldier’s kit is fairly comparable in weight to a fully loaded fighter wearing plate armor; if a character in plate falls into sufficiently deep mud, they need to be pulled out or they will drown. Chain is less heavy and probably gives a better chance to get out, although the armor might be ruined by caked-on mud holding water close to spots that will then be rusted out.

It also feels appropriate for various horrors to be lurking within the mud. Even relatively shallow mud, where characters aren’t at risk of drowning, can be made hazardous this way. Permanent mud might be home to nasty dire versions of worms or crayfish or other things that creep through the muck. And I’m always a sucker for scenes like the one in Star Wars where the mynock drags Luke down in the trash compactor.

And mud is a great place to hide pretty much anything. It could be treasure that was once buried, or a door half-hidden by muck where opening it is a logistical challenge, or a floor now covered that holds a secret message….

Gas traps are a D&D commonality, but are often all-or-nothing affairs. The gas kills you, or puts you to sleep; there is none of the sheer horror that mustard gas put into British troops on the Ypres salient. Choking tear gas is often used on civilians in the modern world, but if your fantasy setting has sufficiently advanced alchemy, it could very well be a part of everyday life in the dungeon….

Mud and Gas: Taking Inspiration from World War I – Semper Initiativus Unum

Fire Is a Living Thing

Rimgale:
In a word, Brian, what is this job all about?
Brian McCaffrey:
Fire.
Rimgale:
It’s a living thing, Brian. It breathes, it eats, and it hates. The only way to beat it is to think like it. To know that this flame will spread this way across the door and up across the ceiling, not because of the physics of flammable liquids, but because it wants to. Some guys on this job, the fire owns them, makes ’em fight it on it’s level, but the only way to truly kill it is to love it a little….

— “Backdraft” (1991)

Sandmagic

Word spread through the tribes of the Abadapnur that a would-be sandmage was loose in the desert, and all were ready to kill him if he came. But he did not come.

For he knew now how to serve the desert, and how to make the desert serve him. For the desert loved death, and hated grasses and trees and water and the things of life.

So in service of the sand Cer went to the edge of the land of the Nefyrre, east of the desert. There he fouled wells with the bodies of diseased animals. He burned fields when the wind was blowing off the desert, a dry wind that pushed the flames into the cities. He cut down trees. He killed sheep and cattle. And when the Nefyrre patrols chased him he fled onto the desert where they could not follow.

His destruction was annoying, and impoverished many a farmer, but alone it would have done little to hurt the Nefyrre. Except that Cer felt his power over the desert growing. For he was feeding the desert the only thing it hungered for: death and dryness.

He began to speak to the sand again, not kindly, but of land to the east that the sand could cover. And the wind followed his words, whipping the sand, moving the dunes. Where he stood the wind did not touch him, but all around him the dunes moved like waves of the sea.

Moving eastward.

Moving onto the lands of the Nefyrre.

And now the hungry desert could do in a night a hundred times more than Cer could do alone with a torch or a knife. It ate olive groves in an hour. The sand borne on the wind filled houses in a night, buried cities in a week, and in only three months had driven the Nefyrre across the Greebeck and the Nefyr River, where they thought the terrible sandstorms could not follow.

But the storms followed. Cer taught the desert almost to fill the river, so that the water spread out a foot deep and miles wide, flooding some lands that had been dry, but also leaving more water surface for the sun to drink from; and before the river reached the sea it was dry, and the desert swept across into the heart of Nefyryd.

The Nefyrre had always fought with the force of arms, and cruelty was their companion in war. But against the desert they were helpless. They could not fight the sand. If Cer could have known it, he would have gloried in the fact that, untaught, he was the most powerful sandmage who had ever lived. For hate was a greater teacher than any of the books of dark lore, and Cer lived on hate.

And on hate alone, for now he ate and drank nothing, sustaining his body through the power of the wind and the heat of the sun. He was utterly dry, and the blood no longer coursed through his veins. He lived on the energy of the storms he unleashed. And the desert eagerly fed him, because he was feeding the desert.

Orson Scott Card, Sandmagic

Emphasis mine.

Weapons Are Not Everything

The Vulcans’ trading ships were still unarmed, but they did not stay so for long. The chief psi-talents of the planet, great architects and builders, and technicians who had long mastered the subleties of the undermind, went out in the ships and taught the Duthuliv pirates that weapons weren’t everything. Metal came unraveled in ships’ hulls; pilots calmly locked their ships into suicidal courses, unheeding of the screams of the crews….

Diane Duane, Spock’s World, chapter 6

Always a Toll in the Underworld

I entered the underworld, and did so with unease.

I had read books, perhaps too many, and could easily recount the many myths of travellers who ventured into underworld realms. It was said even Orphaeus himself, whose name ran through the very fabric of the world, had made a pilgrimage into darkness. Such journeys were fraught. In not one single myth did the traveller undertake a crossing without paying a toll or making some sacrifice. There was always a price for admission, and another price for exit.

Dan Abnett, Penitent, Chapter 8

A Locus of Strange Energy

For the Japanese, all things have a spiritual essence. And the power and beauty of swords make them a locus of strange energy. Folktales tell of swords that hum to warn their masters of danger, that leap of their own accord to battle. Of swords that can make a warrior great or that can drive the bearer mad.

John Donohue, Tengu, Chapter 7

Transporteer

“…I’m your Transporteer. Do you know what that means?”

“…No. Will you tell me?”

Tirian nodded gravely. “Of course, zan Vrenn. My duty is to keep you safe while you are aboard any vehicle. If you travel by particle transporter, I will set the controls, that you may be properly reassembled. It may also become my duty to inform you of desirable or undesirable actions while in transit; as my master, you must decide how to act upon this information. Is this explanation sufficient?”

…It was more than sufficient. A Captain lent his life to the one he trusted as transporter operator, each time he used the machine: the one chosen must be of special quality. It was reasonable that an Admiral should have a special officer for the purpose—and a kuve one, who could have no ambition.

John M. Ford, The Final Reflection, chapter 2

A Rough, Stark World

…The country [of tenth century Castile] is high and bare, though it may have been more thickly wooded in the early Middle Ages than it is today….

…Large tracts of land were still untamed, roamed by wild pigs and cattle, wolves and probably bears…. They were roamed also by voluntary or involuntary drop-outs from human society such as hermits or outlaws….

It was a rough, stark world where status mattered, justice was uncomplicated, and war never far away.

Richard Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid, chapter 5

This sounds like a great setting for a fantasy roleplaying game.

Guerrilla Warfare Is as Old as Mankind

Guerrilla warfare is as old as mankind. Conventional warfare is, by contrast, a relatively recent invention…. The first genuine armies—commanded by a strict hierarchy, composed of trained soldiers, disciplined with threats of punishment, divided into different specialties (spearmen, bowmen, charioteers, engineers), deployed in formations, supported by a logistics service—arose after 3100 [B.C.E.] in Egypt and Mesopotamia….

Considering that Homo sapiens has been roaming the earth for at least [150,000] years and his hominid ancestors for millions of years before that, the era of conventional conflict is the blink of an eye in historical terms….

Throughout most of our species’ long and bloody slog, both before the development of urban civilization and since, warfare has been carried out primarily by bands of loosely organized, ill-disciplined, lightly armed volunteers who disdain open battle. They prefer to employ stealth, surprise, and rapid movement to harass, ambush, massacre, and terrorize their enemies while trying to minimize their own casualties through rapid retreat when confronted by equal or stronger forces. These are the primary features both of modern guerrilla warfare and of primitive, prestate warfare whose origins are lost in the mists of prehistoric time…. Guerrillas therefore may be said to engage in the world’s second-oldest profession, behind only hunting, which draws on the same skill set.

Max Boot, Invisible Armies, pp. 9-10

How about hobgoblins and orcs fighting like this?

A Melding of Esthetics and Functionality

The daisho, the two swords of the old samurai, are emblematic in many ways of the art Yamashita follows. They are a melding of esthetics and functionality, highly refined products of master artisans whose ultimate purpose is savage beyond description. I’ve seen their use firsthand, and wondered how such danger can be contained—or justified. Once I had asked my teacher this question. His eyes narrowed and the answer was brief. “Discipline,” Yamashita told me. “And wisdom.”

It’s a hard path to walk.

John Donohue, Tengu, Chapter 7

Allowing to Live

D’Artagnan:
When I became a Musketeer, I was told that each time I drew my sword, I should consider not what I was killing but what I was allowing to live.

— “The Man in the Iron Mask” (1998)

May Thy Knife Chip and Shatter

Jamis:
May thy knife chip and shatter.

— “Dune” (1984)

This is a common Fremen taunt. In a magical world, this could be a proper curse—speaking it to make it happen.

Slaying Dragons Is a Western Concept

Dr. Ilene Chen:
Slaying dragons is a Western concept. In the East, they are sacred; divine creatures who brought wisdom, strength, even redemption.

— “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019)

A Khyber Knife

Rung ho!” Narayan Singh shouted again. A tremendous overhand cut knocked his opponent back on his heels; the Lancer took the instant to pull a Khyber knife from his girdle and flip it through the air toward King.

“Here, huzoor—for you!”

It flashed through the air; a genuine Pathan chora, a pointed cleaver two feet long with a back as thick as a man’s thumb and an edge fit to shave with….

S.M. Stirling, The Peshawar Lancers, Chapter 4

Such a brief but vivid description.

Blinkblades

He swung his fist at my head.

It seemed the wild thrash of a desperate man, but it was not impulsive. I had fought, and been schooled in fighting, enough to read the blow, and the fact that it was not telegraphed. There was no micro expression of warning, of prior tension or bracing. It just came, expert and fluid. Just as fast, I dipped down to avoid it. But even as I did so, I was puzzled, for it was not a blow that anyone would strike with the hand, especially not a man who was clearly proficient. The move was more a sword-stroke, aimed at the side of my neck. Why strike so, with a fist?

All this I relate now in a hundred, perhaps a thousand, times the instant it took for the blow to come. It was fast, and I barely avoided it.

And in avoiding it, I found my answer.

A sword’s blade missed my head and buried itself in the side of the old clavier. It buried itself deep. The impact shook the instrument, and knocked over the glasses of amasec standing along its top.

There had not been a sword in his hand a half-second before. There had not been a place for him to conceal a sword. It had just appeared in his grip….

…His sword, which had come from nowhere as if by magic, was a blinkblade. I had never seen one, but I had read of them…. They were blades held in scabbards of what I now know is called extimate space. Bidden by their masters, they appear in corporeal reality, conjured from pocket-space….

Dan Abnett, Penitent, Chapter 16

There Comes a Time

King Osric:
There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle. When the gold loses its luster. When the throne room becomes a prison. And all that is left…is a father’s love for his child.

— “Conan the Barbarian” (1982)

Our Swords Against Their Swords

Jack Gretsky:
Remember that night in the hills of Mae [Hong] Son, when the Hmong warlord sent his assassins? They had us cornered in a temple…like this one. And we lay there waiting in the dark…and the air was so thick and ancient, you couldn’t breathe it. And when they came, we stood in the middle of the floor; leaning with our backs to each other. It was our swords against their swords.
We shoulda died then.

— “Bushido” – Miami Vice, Season 2

The Demon Who Makes Trophies of Men

Anna:
When I was little, we found a man. He looked like…like butchered. The old women in the village crossed themselves, and whispered crazy things—strange things: “El diablo cazador de hombres”. Only in the hottest years this happens…and this year, it grows hot. We begin finding our men. We found them sometimes without their skin; and sometimes much, much worse.
El que hace trofeos de los hombres” means “the demon who makes trophies of men”.

— “Predator” (1987)

Dreamers, Shapers, Singers, and Makers

Elric:
…We are dreamers, shapers, singers, and makers. We study the mysteries of laser and circuit; crystal and scanner; holographic demons and invocation of equations. These are the tools we employ, and we know many things.
John Sheridan:
Such as?
Elric:
The true secrets. The important things. Fourteen words to make someone fall in love with you forever. Seven words to make them go without pain. How to say good-bye to a friend who is dying. How to be poor. How to be rich. How to rediscover dreams when the world has stolen them from you….

— “The Geometry of Shadows” – Babylon 5, Season 2