Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Poisoned City

It has been a little while since I posted anything about Hrulvir or anything RPG-related.  Given the fact that I have no subscribers, I doubt that many people noticed this lapse in activity.  I was thinking today about one of the NPCs that lurks in the shadows - Balthazar, specifically.   Balthazar leads a rather brutal crime syndicate - one of many operating within Hrulvir's bleak walls.

The Long Hoods, as they are called, are not known for taking no for an answer.  These are the sort of lugs who splinter doors so that they can splinter legs.  I mentioned, too, that Balthazar is known to be a really cunning swordsman.  Why that is, I'm not sure.  I suspect that it has something to do with prior military service of some sort.  He's a veteran-type - aloof, aquiline, cold-eyed, and, psychopathic.

I also made mention of the fact that Balthazar lost a hand somewhere along the way.   Perhaps he lost it during his military or seafaring days.  Today, I thought that it might be cool if I took advantage of Elric!'s wonderfully ambiguous demon binding rules and awarded Balthazar a demon-infused hand. Now, what does the hand look like?
Is it a mandrill's paw that twitches of its own volition?   It it similar to Han's assortment of hands in Enter the Dragon?  Or, is it some sort of seven-fingered, organic appendage that rots and then heals itself.  Maybe it's just an ordinary-looking hand.  More importantly, what does it require from its owner?  See the next post.

I also thought that it would be an interesting twist if Balthazar actually enjoyed poisoning people.  This notion inspired another idea: what if Hrulvir's chief export was poison?  Perhaps that is a stretch, but what if the city is nonetheless known for brewing exotic poisons?   That might be neat.  There may in fact be a Poisoners' Guild.

If such a guild exists, is it the only organization sanctioned to concoct poisons?  If this is case, for whom and for what purpose are these poisons manufactured?  I have no idea.  I suppose that alchemists knew quite a bit about poisons, so it is not too much of  stretch to imagine that a guild of alchemists dedicated to brewing substances that are inimical to life could possibly function within a city as dysfunctional as Hrulvir. 

Returning to Balthazar, I was left with an image of him lounging in his high-backed, leather and wood chair, casually watching an unfortunate soul convulse at his feet as an exotic poison worms though the victim's bloodstream.  It is some sort of poison that slowly suffocates and induces painful convulsions, simultaneously.  The poison is cultivated from the venomous freshwater eel that lurks in the River Hrul.  Sounds terrifying.  So does Balthazar.  I can't wait to introduce him to my PCs.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Inspirational Reading

I am currently reading several books, and I intend to draw from them whenever I feel like something is useful in my campaign.  For example, I am currently reading a compendium of Norse mythology.  Not the Prose or Poetic Edda, unfortunately, but a wonderful collection nonetheless.   While I knew that Fenris Wolf was Loki's son, I had no idea that Hel and The Midgard Serpent were also his progeny.   More interesting still, I had no idea that he himself gave birth to them.  We often tend to think that weird fiction is a relatively modern phenomenon, but think the weird has been thoroughly nestled within our subconscious since the beginning of time, and is manifested in within the bizarre mythologies of around the world.

It seems as though Loki's trouble began when he at the scorched heart of an evil Jotun or Vanir.  I can't actually recall which at this moment.  Be that as it may, I find it all the more interesting that he gives birth the force that ultimately destroys the gods and the World Tree.  

I just finished a story in which Loki cut off the hair of Thor's wife.  It reminds me somewhat of Paris absconding with Helen.  I am thinking of lifting this an using it in my game.   Perhaps the daughter of an important noble has her hair cut off by a member of a rival family.  

I am also reading The Water Margin, one of the great Chinese works of literature.  This story is essentially about a group of one-hundred plus bandits who band together against corrupt government officials.  Corruption seems to be a common theme in Chinese literary masterpieces.  I haven't started this one in earnest, but I am excited about doing so, for I think that each and every page of that novel will contain some sort of picaresque derring do that begs to be incorporated into a game.

I am also reading Anna Karenina, which, in my humble estimation, is one of the most beautiful novels ever written.  If you want to understand how aristocracy works, look no further than Anna Karenina, or any other Victorian novel. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dramatic Inspiration

I recently viewed a local production of David Mamet's American Buffalo, a play which concerns the lives of two marginalized men.  Don, a somewhat avuncular figure, owns a dilapidated pawnshop in a seedy Chicago neighborhood.  Don's friend Teach is a loose cannon and a misanthrope.  A third character named Bob hangs around the shop and figures prominently at the play's conclusion.

Through vulgar, serpentine exchanges between this two men, we learn of their associations, their aspirations, and their desperation.  Additionally, we learn that a wealthy coin collector recently purchased  a rare coin from Don for far less than it is worth.  Don and Bob plan to get even with the man by stealing his coin collection.  As their plan germinates, Teach does his utmost to convince Don to nix Bob from the plan and use him and another associate named Fletch.

To me, this play is perfect fodder for a city campaign.  Without being heavy handed, it highlights the disparity between the rich and poor.  The fact that one is never introduced to the wealthy collector signifies a great deal. Teach and Don are so far removed from this other world that they may as well cease to exist.  In point of fact, the play closes with Teach tearing the pawnshop apart.  Perhaps these characters are undergoing the process of annihilation .  It reminds me, on some level, of the conclusion of the novel One-Hundred Years of Solitude.  In the case of Marquez's masterpiece, the characters literally cease to exist at novel's conclusion.  For that matter, an entire culture is destroyed.  I could carry on and on about this play.  I have only seen one live production, and I've watched the movie once or twice.  Dennis Franz and Dustin Hoffman are great in the film adaptation, but I liked the theatrical version better.

I digress, however.  In Hrulvir, the rich and the poor are precipitously juxtaposed.  Poor neighborhoods slash through rich ones, and vice versa.  Just as we see in our own society, the well-heeled will literally step over the least fortunate. The darkly-clan Ravens drive the poor into the filth of the back alleys.  Obviously, the meaner classes resent the wealthy, and this animosity often leads to violence.

With that said, David Mamet's depiction of the downtrodden in American Buffalo and my geeky homebrew setting differ in that there are no demons for Don and Teach to bind and summon to improve their lot in life.  Unlike the heroic characters that populate my setting, violence has immediate and very real repercussions for the flawed individuals inhabiting Mamet's world.  It would be facile of me to assert that Don and Teach are victims of their own circumstances.  That is obvious.  I think that they are also victims of themselves.  Tragically, they have nothing but themselves to rely on, and, as American Buffalo reveals, sometimes that is not enough.