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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mining Myth to Make Legends

Zecharia Sitchin brought the beliefs of a 12th planet to the general public when he published the “12th Planet” in 1976. Mr. Sitchin translated ancient texts to form the basis of his work. According to ancient civilizations, the 12th planet was a large red planet that was inhabited by the Anunnaki (also called the Nefilim by the Hebrews) that periodically returns to our solar system. The Anunnaki are supposed to be very human-like except that they are much larger. These humanoids are supposed to be between 10 and 15 feet tall. The 12th planet, Nibiru, only returns to our solar system every 3,600 years because it is in a binary orbit between two stars: our Sun and a cold, unlit star farther out in the galaxy.

According to Sitchin, the 3,600 year periodic cycle of Nibiru is called a Shar by Sumerian historians. A single shar lasts a little more than 3,600 years on Earth, but it is equivalent to one year on the Nibiru. According to ancient Sumerian clay tablets and cylinder seals the total period of occupation/visitation by the Anunnaki was over 124 Shars.

The Anunnaki’s original objective in coming to Earth was to mine for gold. They atomically dispersed it into their atmosphere in order to prevent core-produced heat from dissipating excessively into space. Since 99% of Nibiru’s orbital cycle is too far from our sun to benefit from its heat, it has to retain its internally generated heat in order to survive The Anunnaki first extracted gold from the waters of the Persian Gulf area, but later switched to land mining in South Africa and other locations due to greater abundance of gold ore.

In game terms, what does this have to do with anything?

First, ancient myths are often used for fodder of stories of all types. Everyone knows this, everyone is aware of the tropes and cliches. Given that most gamers are well read (kinda goes with the territory), it is ever harder to go to myth for story ideas. I’m not saying you or I are bereft of ideas, just that having a framework to build something new, or to use as a story generator can jump-start the mind.

In the case of the 12th planet, I found in it a seed of something I can use. In the history of Erealind, the planet upon which the Cyborgs & Sorcerers game plays out, the core and surface worlds went to war. The core won by literally blasting the surface of the planet out into space. While there are remnants of the surface  still orbiting the planet, and some which are still within the atmosphere, greater portions got pushed much further out.

It is my intention to make the largest landmass which was “lost” support survivors of the war. They and their descendants have had nothing but trial and tribulation, toil and trouble since that time. However, in the utterly unforgiving environment, they not only survived, but thrived. They have built a civilization, and while their technology was massively advanced when they left, their pursuit of technological and biological perfection and ability to withstand completely inhospitable conditions have made them strong. Determined to wreak havoc upon those who did literally destroy their world, they are returning. They are not alone.
This is, in fact going to be the second expansion of Cyborgs & Sorcerers. The first one I am keeping closer to the vest. However, in this nattering on you've perused, you can see, I think, how my imagination was fired to create a basis, not only for a different culture, but also a different race (Anunnaki), and a situation which will profoundly affect EVERY corner of my world.

What myth would you use to enhance or build upon your world? What effects would it have? Where will you take the players? What waiting legends exist for them to discover, and fear?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Myth and Storytelling tool

This is just a short note on an awesome site, while I am working on other content.

Mythical creatures rule, whether you use them as an actual monster, or merely as a seed for your own creation. They also serve as a study to see how myths change over time, and can thus inform your own storytelling and the creation of myth and legend in your own game. Also, they are just good reading. I found this link in some of my notes for Chapter 16: Bestiary & Agricultural Compendium, and hoped you might find it to be interesting and useful.

Encyclopedia Mythica


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Make Sure a Setting is Memorable

Are you having problems coming up with unique and interesting descriptions of the places your characters are traveling to? Are you wanting to follow the theory that a picture is worth a thousand words? Maybe you need some inspiration for a new chapter in your campaign’s continuing saga.

In any of those situations, remember what J. B. S. Haldane once said (in “Possible Worlds and Other Papers” (1927), p. 286) “Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

I have in the past written long and detailed descriptions of places and things normally unseen in this or any other world. I have used mana cards from Magic the Gathering to tap into the player’s mind (see what I did there? I should be ashamed) and get them to see exactly what I mean. However, some of the most awesome locales are right here on earth, or even other planets humans have explored.

Below are just a few examples.

The Giant's Causeway (known as Clochán an Aifir or Clochán na bhFomhórach in Irish and tha Giant's Causey in Ulster-Scots) is located in County Antrim on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, about three miles (4.8 km) northeast of the town of Bushmills. It is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

This place (wherever it is)

Dragon’s Blood trees

And yes, they “bleed” when cut

If these sorts of visuals don’t inspire you, then your imagination needs a serious rejuvenation.

Pixar's tips for good storytelling

Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats noted on twitter a while back the 22 rules of storytelling as she sees it.

The article I am getting these from (link at the bottom of this post) is older, but the information shared is no less valid (plus it's from Gnome Stew, and they rule over there).

Storytelling is, contrary to some weirdos beliefs, the greater portion of a Game Master's job. To make an interesting, even addicting story goes part and parcel with adjudicating, and managing the round by round decisions of being a game master.

Here is Emma's list:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about til you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write ‘cool'. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

The website Gnome Stew ( has a rather awesome set of articles breaking this information down into what it means for we gamers. Please go here:

Thanks to Gnome Stew for letting me link to their article.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Character Sheet Preview

I wanted to share with you the alpha version of the character sheet for Cyborgs & Sorcerers

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Helping Players Create the Best Characters and Your Best Game

Sometimes, making characters is presented along the lines of, “Here’s your character sheet. Here’s the rules. Don’t choose class X. Here’s your starting gold and the equipment list. Bring the finished sheet to the game next Friday.”

While that might be the quickest way to get everyone rolling, is it the best, most entertaining way to create characters? Of course not. Remember, these players are, at least nominally, interested in playing, so get them together. The first game day need not be the day they actually start on the adventure. I can’t recall how many games I’ve gone to where I hadn’t met anyone before. Sometimes, half the first session is spent poring over character sheets and verifying numbers and equipment lists. Often, the first session was filled with awkward silences and time spent with players trying to understand each others motivations and their PC motivations.

Of course, there should be prep on the part of the players and putting together a setting “bible” is a great first step. This is something I have admired about some great GMs that I have had the pleasure of playing with. Include information about the setting regarding history, where in the world the adventure might start, and maybe even some info on the state of affairs in the game world. If e-mailed to each prospective player, this can help them get a feel for the game before they first meet up.

I say, the first game day should be creating their characters. If everything is handled in the first session, the second session can be entirely about playing the game and the players will be chomping at the bit to start the game. So get together with your players, all at the same time, to help them create their characters. Co-creation of PCs can be an incredible time for players to get to know each other. Sure, there will be a little chaos, but the big bang wasn’t all that ordered either.

While you will have to go over some basic rules for noobs or for those new to the game system, the key is to get them talking about the characters they want to play. Find out what they envision, what kind of things they imagine their characters being able to do. Figuring out how they can get that in game is a fun and interesting way for you to get to know your players. The added benefit is the players get an idea of what your style of being a GM is and how you adjudicate.

Further, interaction between the players can be created as their characters are. More experienced players, or those who have better memories, can help newer ones find equipment, rules and other essentials. People can bounce ideas off eachother, and even help eachother create backgrounds. By having all of this done at the same time, some players may create intertwining stories. I have seen cases where, with just a little encouragement, the players come up with a great story for why they all meet at a particular place, or are in the same predicament. They may well write the prologue of the adventure for you.

Don’t forget to listen to what they say. The ideas they discuss as well as their likes and dislikes will all be fodder for later story hooks, background information on their characters so you can offer a more personalized story and world for them to inhabit. Further, your attention to what they want and desire will engender a closer bond between you and them, as well as them and their characters.

This works, I’ve seen it, and I am sure some of you have done this to great success. Keep doing it. If you haven’t tried it, see where it takes you.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Recollections of Jectin the Mage, part 3

I was so sure I was on the correct path. I brought the weapons to the people and gave freely of the design and gunpowder to all who requested it. When the Majister Council found out, Bohenstiehl, Wozniak and I were certain we would be censured. Instead we were given an award for charity. The Council was so certain these little “pop guns” would be useless for anything other than hunting wild game, they gave no forethought to the simmering resentment of the people. In truth, no one at that time could have anticipated the political, economic and literal fallout which would result. It was unthinkable that anyone would challenge us at the height of our power.

While I was busy, a shift had occurred in the Majister Council. A witch named Xaneos had become very influential. While she did not want to be head Chancellor, she did control the one in power at the time, and the ones following up till the collapse. It was her harshly unforgiving nature which set the Majister Council and all magic users on a collision course with all non-magic users.

The catalyst was a small moment when a young man named Sen Gharst, a guard in the Majister’s ranks, took the designs for our firearm, and managed to create a “rifled” firearm. He presented the weapon to us. We gave him praise, and even arranged to have him promoted to Captain of the Guard. That might have been the end of it, and oh, how I wish it was. At the dinner and promotion ceremony, the newly minted Captain Gharst brought his lovely bride Ellonwei with him. I still recall that she was a glorious vision of perfection. Her deep blue eyes and flowing red hair framed a face as lovely as a dream. She was beautiful and kind and the woman whom Captain Gharst lived for.

As they were leaving the grounds, another Majister, a stupid, selfish Majister named Greil Lang decided Sen Gharst’s wife was desirable and had her kidnapped from their home that very night. Gharst was nearly beaten to death. His wife was taken and violated as had happened so many times before to so many other innocent men, women and children. She was left at the same hospital and even given a bed beside her barely conscious husband. We visited, offered healing spells, even herbs, but they both refused.

We petitioned the council on their behalf calling for the Majister to be tried and his guards removed from duty. We found Greil was a friend of the Xaneos who now styled herself as High Majister Xaneos. So, of course, nothing was done. There wasn’t even censure or a harsh word spoken against Greil in that chamber. He left smiling and self-satisfied. What would they have done if they knew what was coming?