Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

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

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

Warmth and Competence

What are the two things that are most important to know about a stranger? Or a group of strangers?

Social psychologists know. But so did the early authors of D&D.

The stereotype content model, elaborated by Susan Fiske and other social psychologists, describes how we organize beliefs about other people and social groups—traits and stereotypes. Over the past 20 years, dozens of studies have supported the idea that two key traits, warmth and competence, are major players in our attitudes and behaviors toward other groups.

Warmth is how cooperative the group appears to us. Competence is how strong—how able to do meaningful things—they look. So, jolly halflings might be seen as high in warmth but low in competence. Dour dwarves are the other way around, not very warm but very good at what they do. Kobolds, maybe, are low in both.

When two groups meet in an adventure, the rules of most early forms of D&D have them sizing up each other precisely on these two dimensions….

Morale and Reactions – Roles, Rules, & Rolls

The Opposite of Impact Is Fluff

So, you’re playing D&D and you’re fighting some orcs. All the orcs are armed with feather dusters, so they [are] actually incapable of harming anyone. And your DM doesn’t give [experience points] for combat, so they’ll yield [zero XP] upon death.

This combat is a waste of time. You’re just rolling dice until the orcs die.

The encounter is shit because the encounter has no impact.

Impact: the ability to permanently change the game. The opposite of impact is fluff.

Impact – Goblin Punch

Author’s emphasis.

Religion, Socializing, and Gods

…So in real life, Ancient Greek sacrificial practice was like a cool barbecue, people got together and hung out while singing and eating the fleshy bits the Gods didn’t want (which just so happened to be the bits that taste the best to humans). People would come from all over to honor the Gods and have cook-out. It sounds like it was rad….

Religion, Socializing and Gods – Tabletop Curiosity Cabinet

Monster Difficulty Should Increase Slightly Faster Than Characters’ Abilities

8. “Race you can’t win rule.” The game’s monster difficulty should increase slightly faster than the advancement of the [character], given average stats and default equipment, so as to force him to rely upon items and tactics.

The reasoning here is that if the player doesn’t have to rely on randomly-found stuff then [that stuff becomes] unimportant to play. However, if it’s required to have specific items to be successful then many games will be outright unwinnable. The balance between these two poles is what makes random dungeon generation difficult, but it’s also part of what makes random dungeon gameplay interesting….

@Play: The Eight Rules of Roguelike Design – GameSetWatch

Good and Evil Are Moral Extremes

…[It] might just be that good and evil are moral extremes embraced by a select few. Good is prized because it’s laudable, not to mention rare. Evil is reviled because it does harm and threatens all others regardless of their philosophical bent. But neutrals predominate….

GOOD characters aren’t simply decent people. They’re philosophically committed to advancing good, fighting evil, and bringing justice to others. Indeed, their attentions are for others, and they act with deep compassion and mercy for the downtrodden. This is the questing white knight. The one beloved by good folk and resented by the wicked.

Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to do what it takes to get there, and herein lies the high regard champions are held in. Few want the job!

Shifting to Neutral (‘Cause Most of Us Are) – Pits Perilous

Druids Can Barely Live in Harmony With Each Other

Myth #3: Druids exist in harmony with all living things.

Druids can barely live in harmony with each other. These people are possessed by spirits of Nature, figuratively but also possibly literally. When one commune meets another, it is like two wolf packs catching sight of each other across the timber line. Sometimes there is murder. Sometimes there are “marriages”. Sometimes they exchange small bits of news and go on their way….

7 Myths Everyone Believes About Druids – Goblin Punch

The Sorcerer as Terrorist

…A sorcerer uses their arts and powers to live off peoples’ fear of them. In myths and folktales, from sources as widely spread apart as Russia’s koldun and the mangkukulam from my own country, the sorcerer or witch is depicted as making demands backed up by threats of curses, essentially blackmailing the community. In other words, terrorism….

The Sorcerer as Terrorist – Hari Ragat Games

Thank the gods for the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, else I could not have linked to the source blogpost.

Mud Is a Hazard that Is Totally Natural for RPGs

…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….

…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….

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