Wednesday, October 31, 2018

#Inktober2018: Days 27-31

Here are the last few days of my drawings for #Inktober2018, plus a short spooky story for Halloween.

To see all my #Inktober2018 drawings, see this folder in my DeviantArt gallery.

Day 27: Thunder

From a photo reference (here).

This drawing is a tribute to Patricia "Trick" Tillinghast, one of my characters from a long-running Buffy/Angel RPG campaign.


Day 28: Gift

Drawn from a photo reference (here).

Eva Amurri Martino was "cast" as my character, Patricia "Trick" Tillinghast, in a Buffy/Angel game many years ago. The drummer in my "Thunder" drawing was a tribute to Trick, so I decided to draw her again today.

Day 29: Double

Day 30: Jolt

Day 31: Slice

The oldest dream that I remember was also one of the scariest. It was before we moved to a new, larger house during my kindergarten year, so I must have been 4 at the time, or possibly 5. My room was tiny, with barely enough room for my twin bed, a small desk, and a dresser. In my dream, I woke up in the middle of the night, and looked around my room. It was the middle of the night, but in the moonlight coming through the window, I could see a pile of letters and papers on the floor between the bed and dresser. While I looked at them, the papers stirred, swirled around like a miniature whirlwind, then rose up to form a roughly humanoid shape. This thing grabbed me and held me up in the air with an arm made of letters and envelopes. Its other arm ended in a blade made of paper, and it began to cut slices off of me, starting at the toes and working its way upward. I could see each piece falling away, looking just like when a cartoon character gets chopped up into steaks. I couldn't move or scream--at least, not until I woke up just before it reached my neck.

Friday, October 26, 2018

#Inktober2018: Days 21-26

I played a little catch-up last night, and had a couple others I hadn't posted yet.

To see all my #Inktober2018 drawings, see this folder in my DeviantArt gallery.

Day 21: Drain

Day 22: Expensive

Day 23: Muddy

I tried to draw a scary Mudkip, but it didn't work, so I drew it the way it wanted to be seen.

Day 24: Chop

Day 25: Prickly

I started out trying to draw the cactus petrifern from a past session of my "Time of the Tarrasque" game, but it came out as its own unique monster--perhaps a desert vegepygmy?

Day 26: Stretch

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Time of the Tarrasque #15: Give Me a Clear Charge Line

Our heroes include:

  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (archivist) 3.
  • Fatou, human wizard (evoker) 2/cleric of Yaziel 1; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor of the Lost Egg 3.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 3; and Zafira, camel mount.

Last time, our heroes parted ways with the newly reincarnated Jubair, then found Fatou's brother Balban waiting for her at the Temple of the Moon with a letter from their father. After the siblings spent some time catching up, Fatou went to report to her mullah, Jenana Nasrud.

After Fatou finished telling the mullah about her adventure in Spine Hollow, Jubair's death and return, and the news from her family, Jenana was sympathetic to Fatou's strained relationship with her father. She supported Fatou choosing her own path, but also knew how important family ties were.

Since Fatou's last departure from Zahallan, Jenana had led a small group to investigate the death cult shrine that the younger woman and her companions had discovered while traveling with Lucan Midorichal's caravan. They had purified the site to the best of their ability, and the mullah had broached the subject with the imam of the Temple of the Sun to determine what else to do about the site. The mullah's research had yielded more information about the half-orc folk hero Gorza. He was murdered by a legendary assassin, Ras Radaz. This death cultist had eventually been found and slain by a group of Javanian priests, but many of Gorza's signature possessions (such as his black axe and horned armor) had never been recovered.

Fatou shared her party's plan to learn more about the region around the Stairs, so that they could locate the rest of the Ghost Fist orcs. The mullah agreed that the best source of information would be the Burburan Oasis, because that town lies on the same caravan route that goes up the Shalash Escarpment at the Stairs, so they would be the first to hear news of any threats there.

Jenana referred Fatou to the temple's archivist to learn more about the history and religion of giants, so the young wizard gathered her friends and paid that scholar a visit. Mansur, a halfling priest, was intrigued by the stone disk they had found on the dead desert giant's body, and provided a brief lesson on giantish history and religion. An ancient giant civilization once flourished in this part of the world (the continents of Hemut and Iath), but little remained of it by the time humans or halflings ever arrived here. As giantkind grew more diverse, many of them turned away from the balanced worship of all four elemental gods, and only honored the patron of their own subrace. As some giants grew corrupt and evil, so did their religious practices. Many now worship only evil aspects of their subrace's favored god. However, the elemental gods themselves, as worshiped by the earliest giants, were neither good nor evil, but forces of nature. When humans arrived in the Bronze Sea region, found the old giant temples, and began recreating that religion, they followed those older beliefs. If any giants alive today still worship all four gods, as the stone disk suggests, it would be the first time that Mansur had heard of such a thing--and he would dearly love to learn whatever the party is able to discover on the subject!

The young heroes then parted ways briefly, as Fatou visited with the scribe Ashraf, and Edel visited the bowyer Naladella to commission a more accurate [masterwork] bow.

The party then spent the next couple of days preparing for their journey north to the Burburan Oasis, buying tents, rations, and other necessary gear for a desert trek. They agreed to take a detour to visit ZhaZha's people at Gorza's Well, because she wanted to inform people there about the shrine depicting their hero's downfall, and ask around for any additional information that might help her party's quest against the death cult. (Those needs outweighed her concerns about how her friends might be received by the secretive half-orc village. Jumari bought a disguise kit to help make herself less outlandish looking.)

Fatou and Edel decided to split the cost of a camel so that they could keep pace with ZhaZha's steed in the desert, so the cavalier took them to see Kaggath, a half-orc camel trader she knew. ZhaZha then began giving them lessons on how to properly care for the animals.

The party followed the northern caravan route for a couple days before veering away towards Gorza's Well. A day or so later, they encountered a patrol coming from roughly the direction they were heading, with a body slung over one of their camels. These were soldiers from Fort Malakir, just outside Zahallan. They had discovered and killed several hobgoblins, but lost one of their own, and warned that there were almost certainly more in the area. Fatou identified herself as a cleric and offered water and healing to the injured men. They accepted gratefully, and their captain, Nashwan, asked the adventurers' names so he could report their assistance to his commander. The two groups then parted ways.

Shortly after dawn the next day, the party noticed a large number of circling vultures somewhat west of their intended route. Wary about encountering another "Featherclaw," they went in that direction to investigate. What they found was the site of a recent battle, with the corpses of many orcs and hobgoblins--at least a dozen of each--scattered about.

ZhaZha skewers a hobgoblin.
Fatou spotted a figure crouching over one body, and alerted the others. It appeared to be a hobgoblin with no armor. She also spotted movement behind some rocks further away. The hobgoblin heard the party approach, so hurriedly donned a bulging backpack and hid behind a nearby rock. Jumari cast expeditious retreat and rushed forward to get behind the looter, who she could now see was female. In Orcish, she growled, "You could surrender now." ZhaZha rode up, struck the hobgoblin with her lance, and demanded in Common that she surrender. The goblinoid woman spat, "Filthy orcs," as she took a defensive stance, then bellowed, "MALGRIM!"

Jumari struck her down, then went closer to the second moving figure, who turned out to be a male hobgoblin wearing a breastplate and a tattered cloak decorated with flame patterns. He clutched a talisman of a flaming sword while casting a spell, and his greatsword ignited in flames. [This was a sun metal spell, from Ultimate Combat.] ZhaZha moved closer and Fatou plinked him with a force bolt. Edel heard hoofbeats approaching and warned his friends: "Rider!"

The hobgoblin priest moved to engage Jumari, keeping her between him and the mounted cavalier. She struck him as he closed with her, but he returned the favor with interest. [He rolled a crit, but thanks to her inquisitor's judgment, she ignored the extra fire damage.] Fatou channeled energy to heal Jumari from a distance, while Edel began orating about how to fight hobgoblins. [This was the naturalist ability from his recently-changed archivist archetype.] ZhaZha flanked the priest and took him out, leaving his sword sizzling in the sand.

A second hobgoblin woman, wearing red robes, appeared and attempted to use a burning gaze spell on ZhaZha, who resisted. Fatou tried to magic missile the enemy wizard, but her spell had no effect due to the woman's brooch of shielding. Her owl familiar swooped down to harass the hobgoblin, and actually managed to inflict a minor wound while avoiding taking one herself. ZhaZha moved in and finished off the wizard.

About that time, the party could see an armored hobgoblin rushing toward them on a massive horse. ZhaZha moved to ready a charge of her own, and challenged the rider. Edel shot the rider, and narrowly dodged a blow from the rider's sword. Fatou failed to affect either the rider or horse with a sleep spell, so closed and delivered a shocking grasp. Jumari engaged the rider, and hit with her falchion, but ZhaZha's lance glanced off the other rider's shield.

An enlarged Jumari pursues the fleeing horse.
The horseman [Malgrim, the leader who the first hobgoblin had hollered for] sensed that the half-orc cavalier was the most dangerous foe he faced, so focused his and his horse's attention on her. The horse struck ZhaZha's camel hard with both hooves, knocking it out, and ZhaZha went sprawling in the sand. Jumari struck him, rendering him unconscious, but he remained in his military saddle rather than falling. ZhaZha picked herself up, and soon realized that this brutish horse was too hostile for anyone but its master to control. The horse kicked at Jumari as it moved away from its foes, but the half-orc sliced it with her sword. Fatou finished casting enlarge person on Jumari, then magic missile on the hobgoblin, hoping to kill him if the horse got away. However, the inquisitor charged and killed the horse with her giant-sized weapon.

The party then beheaded the hobgoblins to make sure they were dead, and looted the bodies, while Fatou distributed some healing (including reviving ZhaZha's camel). They then moved away from the battlefield some distance, and made camp to wait out the hot part of the day before continuing on towards Gorza's Well.

Hobgoblins: ironskin monk, fire wizard, cleric of Heladon

We handled the finding of loot over email after the session. Some of the hobgoblins carried wound paste (Advanced Race Guide), which can stabilize a dying creature, and is used by that race to keep conquered foes alive for use as slaves. Other interesting items included a campfire bead, the brooch of shielding mentioned above, and a spellbook with a couple of spells above Fatou's current ability to cast. 

The priest's unholy symbol was also of interest, as it showed that these goblinoids worshiped Heladon, the evil aspect of the fire goddess Lutoran, for which Mansur's lecture gave them some helpful context. Heladon is popular with hobgoblins and fire giants, who once allied to create the evil Empire of Rizagarn in the Dragonspine Mountains. The nation known as the Shield was founded in Virtanen's Crusade, which successfully shattered Rizagarn 50 years ago.

Malgrim, hobgoblin fell rider cavalier

Appendix: Previous Sessions

Monday, October 22, 2018

#Inktober2018: Days 17-20

To see all my #Inktober2018 drawings, see this folder in my DeviantArt gallery.

Day 17: Swollen

Day 18: Bottle

If you're as confused as this gnome is, read here about Klein bottles. (You might very well still be confused after reading that page.)

Day 19: Scorched

Yet another Pathfinder goblin. They're great fun to draw!

Day 20: Breakable

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

#Inktober2018: Days 13-16

No stories to share this time, just a few more #Inktober2018 drawings. Days 13-14 definitely show that I had more free time on the weekend!

To see all my #Inktober2018 drawings, see this folder in my DeviantArt gallery.

Day 13: Guarded

Day 14: Clock

Day 15: Weak

Day 16: Angular

Friday, October 12, 2018

#Inktober2018: Days 9-12

Here's one of the many reasons that I have to be grateful about changing jobs this past February: Instead of being crushed by mandatory overtime, I actually have the time and energy to do fun things like this! 

To see all my #Inktober2018 drawings, see this folder in my DeviantArt gallery.

Day 9: Precious

A mash-up of The Lord of the Rings with a poster for the movie Precious.

Day 10: Flowing 

Around this time last year, at my previous job, a couple of my coworkers were comparing experiences and beliefs about hauntings. One was a recent immigrant from Mexico, and told about a stretch of river near her home that was reputed to be haunted by a woman's ghost. It was a favorite place for kids to dare each other to go, and most succeeded in scaring themselves pretty thoroughly even if they saw nothing.

I've read enough ghost lore to know she was describing a "weeping woman," or La Llorona, though she never used the name. (She only vaguely recognized the phrase when I asked about it.)

This is my personal favorite of the dozen drawings I've done so far for #Inktober.

Day 11: Cruel

My wife Erika suggested that I draw a Game Master for this prompt. Cackling, I obliged.

Day 12: Whale

Our family discussion over dinner last night turned to Moby Dick because of today's prompt. Sadly, I'm the only one of the four of us who's ever read it. (Twice! Once for sophomore English in high school, once for an American Lit survey in college.)

Monday, October 8, 2018

#Inktober2018: Days 1-8

I was originally going to try #Drawloween again this year, but I decided that the prompt list wasn't to my taste. It included far too many bizarre puns that seemed more restrictive than inspiring.  The prompts for #Inktober2018 (see below) are much simpler, so I've decided to use them instead this year.

I got a little bit of late start due to the 1st being a Monday, but I caught up over the weekend. 

To see all my #Inktober2018 drawings, see this folder in my DeviantArt gallery.

Day 1: Poisonous

Day 2: Tranquil
This one was inspired in part by the servers' Oktoberfest costumes at Marikka's, a local German restaurant, the evening that I drew this.

Day 3: Roasted

Day 4: Spell
This is my nagaji sorcerer, Mahesh Imar A'zun, a baronet of Taldor. I have nearly a dozen active characters from my 2+ years in Pathfinder Society, but I think this is the first time I've actually attempted to draw one of them. (I may do more for Inktober if other prompts suggest some of the others.)

Day 5: Chicken 
Baba Yaga's dancing hut doesn't like visitors! I actually got to sic the hut on some townsfolk during a World of Darkness parody LARP, "City of Flashlights," in which I played "Mama Bubba" herself.

Day 6: Drooling

Day 7: Exhausted
I went to several open houses this weekend, and the weather here in Kentucky still thinks it's high summer. So this day's prompt was very fitting!

Day 8: Star

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Kynthiad: Sources for reference and inspiration

Artemis, goddess of the hunt
For the past 11 years, I have been running a solo RPG campaign for my wife Erika, using the Big Eyes Small Mouth rules. "The Nine Journeys of Kynthia," AKA "The Kynthiad," is set in the world of ancient Greek mythology, with a certain amount of real-world Bronze Age history mixed in with the purely fantasy elements. Over the course of the game, I have drawn details and inspiration from a great many sources, the most important ones of which I'll briefly touch on here.

A more complete bibliography of the game's sources can be found here, but that page lacks the commentary I'm giving in this column.

The Game System

The campaign uses BESM Third Edition. The Second Edition BESM Fantasy Bestiary includes a large number of creatures based on Greek mythology, many of which I have converted to Third Edition or used as a benchmark for my own versions. Big Ears, Small Mouse has also been invaluable in designing smaller creatures, and animals in general.

Other RPG Sourcebooks

My lifelong interest in history and mythology has resulted in a good-sized collection of sourcebooks for other game systems that I've been able to use as reference for The Kynthiad. To start with, I have a large GURPS library of over 40 titles. The research put into that game's historical and genre sourcebooks is pretty solid, and most of the subject matter is system-neutral. Unsurprisingly, GURPS Greece and Egypt have seen the most use, but Bestiary, Fantasy Bestiary, Monsters, Places of MysteryTimeline, and even Celtic Myth have all been very useful, too. In GURPS Greece, author Jon Ziegler even provides a timeline that tries to make sense of the often-contradictory sequencing of the major myths, which I've adopted mostly intact as a framework for the recent history and current events of The Kynthiad.

Green Ronin Publishing's "Mythic Vistas" product line includes a couple titles that are great references for this game: Trojan War covers the most famous conflict of the period, and Testament provides information on the ancient Hebrews, Canaanites, Egyptians, and Mesopotamians.

There are also a few older D&D sources that I've used in my research for the game. I own the Dragon Magazine CD Archive--which includes occasional mythology-themed gems such as Michael Parkinson's "The Blood of Medusa"--and the Age of Heroes Historical Reference sourcebook. (I also own the deities sourcebooks for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd edition, but I find the treatments of the Greek gods in books such as Trojan War to be far preferable to these versions, all of which devote far more space to game mechanics than to divine lore.)


I have used a combination of ancient and modern texts to research the ancient Near East. Herodotus's Histories provide a wealth of detail about the world of his time (circa 440 BC), and he isn't stingy about relating myths tied to the events, people, and places he'd writing about. Even though he's writing several centuries after the "Heroic Age," the Histories have provided me with a wealth of details to flesh out obscure parts of the world such as the Scythians, Amazons, Medes, and Hyperboreans.

Probably the most important scholarly text that I've read in preparing this game has been The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe ca. 1200 B.C., by Robert Drews (Princeton University Press, 1993). This book takes a detailed look at the widespread sacking of Mediterranean cities contemporary with historical Troy, and the technology and tactics that contributed to it. The section on chariot design and tactics alone is worth the read, just to dispel a lot of common misunderstandings about how war was conducted at that time.


My collection of translations and retellings of Greek mythology is far too large to catalog briefly, but a few items stand out as most useful to a GM trying to run a roleplaying campaign in this setting.

Robert Graves' Greek Myths is one of my primary reference works for quickly finding summaries of many stories, and following connections between them. My copy (The Folio Society, 1966) has an index of names which includes the meanings of many of them. Each section of the main text is followed by Graves' notes on sources, and his theories about the origins and meaning of the myths. Many of these notes are typical scholarly glosses, but in some passages, Graves expounds on his own bizarre pet theories about the subject at hand (however tenuously linked that subject and his theory might be). To give just a couple examples, he shares Frazer's obsession with attributing everything to sacred kings and fertility cults, and he has some very radical (many would say crazypants) ideas about the secret tree lore of the Druids. However, I have managed to distill a number of very useful ideas for use in my RPG campaign from his weirder ramblings.

My other favorite reference is Carlos Parada's Greek Mythology Link website, which is a massively hyperlinked database of people and places in Greek myths, including footnotes giving the original period sources for each page's topic. Special features of the site include genealogical charts, contextual charts (e.g., events before, during, and after the Trojan War), and detailed maps. These graphics are often limited in resolution on the website, but can be purchased as high-resolution PDFs. I acquired my copies several years ago, back when a handy and inexpensive archive of the complete database was available for purchase on CD.


Naturally, movies and television have provided a great deal of inspiration for The Kynthiad. Series like Hercules and Xena play much more "fast and loose" with historical periods than I'm ever going to in this campaign, but they're still good for mining for story ideas. Movies like Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts, Troy, and Gods of Egypt provide great over-the-top battle scenes to use as models for RPGs involving gods and monsters, despite their many deviations from the classical versions of those stories. (I used to get much more bent out of shape over the liberties the screenwriters take with the source material, until I realized that the ancients were just as guilty of it.)

As I mentioned in an earlier column, I cast most characters in The Kynthiad using real-world actors so that my wife and I have a common frame of reference for them. The movie Troy was released just a few years before we started the campaign, and I knew that many of those characters would appear in the game, so it was easy to just keep the same casting for most of them. To cast other roles, I've drawn from a wide variety of other movies and TV shows--many but far from all of them being period pieces or fantasy films--to find suitable actors. In most cases, I limited myself to living actors whose current ages fit the parts I choose for them, but I have made a few exceptions. For example, Jolene Blalock played Medea in a TV movie of Jason and the Argonauts in 2000. My game is set a generation later, but Medea is a demigoddess who doesn't age as quickly as mortals do, so my reference photos for her include that costume as well as more recent headshots. Similarly, a handful of actors have died since I started the campaign (most notably Alan Rickman and Peter O'Toole), but I continue to use them in the game.

If you have a favorite source for information on the ancient Near East and its history and mythology, please share a link in the comments!

Past posts about "The Kynthiad"