Saturday, 24 September 2011

R is also for…Rocketships and Rayguns!

One of the things that I am doing with RCFG is ensuring that the game can be played with modern characters, as a planetary romance (or sword-and-planet saga), and even in a post-apocalyptic  framework.  Many modern players like to sharply divide fantasy from interplanetary stories containing rocketships and rayguns.  But this sharp division is not necessarily the best way to go.

Going back to many of the greats, the authors that made myself (and others) love fantasy, I see a lot of crossover between genres.  Robert E. Howard wrote Amulric, a sword-and-planet novel with a modern protagonist.  He writes of Conan encountering an alien in The Tower of the Elephant – an alien which is reminiscent of the sort that appears in so many H. P. Lovecraft stories.  Before either writer, anyone who thrilled to the adventures of John Carter on Mars or Carson on Venus knows well what a good writer (in this case Edgar Rice Burroughs) can do when he crosses genres.  Burrough’s Caspak novels, Pellucidar novels, and Moon Maid cycle offer further examples.

C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories revolve around the intersection of our world with a fantastic one, from the dawn of that world’s creation to it’s final battle.  Likewise, in Lewis’ Silent Planet cycle, humans encounter the fantastic first on Mars, then on Venus, and finally at home on Earth.  In order to tell these kind of stories in a game, it is necessary to have the means to travel to other worlds, be they other spheres orbiting the same sun, or fantasy lands like Narnia.

In terms of blending magic and fantasy in far future, post-apocalyptic worlds, who can forget to mention the works of Jack Vance?  For those of my generation, Thundarr the Barbarian is another major influence for this kind of world. 

Nor is this concept new to gaming.  The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide contains guidelines for crossovers with TSR’s Boot Hill and Gamma World games.  Gary Gygax’s module, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, had adventurers investigate a crashed starship – some of the alien creatures on board have since become standard Dungeons & Dragons monsters!  The 2nd Edition Spelljammer setting was a (mostly) clever take on mixing fantasy and interplanetary fun.  Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms once had much traffic with our own world – hence they are “forgotten” not by their inhabitants, but by ourselves.

Following the adoption of the Open Gaming License with 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, crossover material became even more prolific. 

Even if you never have a group of adventurers travel to the moon, or have an infantry squad discover themselves on a strange parallel earth, having rules on psionics, mutations, and classes that capitalize on the same, can be very useful when advancing the odd aboleth or other Lovecraftian horror.

Blending fantasy and science fiction and adventure tales continues to be popular.  It may have started with Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, but it has a wide range of later application, from the Jeds and Jeddaks of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom to the Jedi of Star Wars.  Every steampunk story containing the fantastic, every urban fantasy tale, every horror story set within the context of the modern or a future world, is part of the same long tradition. 

Even J.R.R. Tolkien suggests, in The Hobbit, that the goblins (or orcs, as they are called in The Lord of the Rings) are part of our world, and may be responsible for some of our worst modern weapons, while Gandalf’s flash-and-bang that kills several goblins in the cave in the Misty Mountains is at least suggestive of gunpowder.  Gandalf is, after all, a master of fireworks, and that is mentioned in the very first chapter!  Why?  Because the fantastic must be grounded in – and in contrast to – our everyday “world” of assumptions in order to ring true.

So, if you are wondering why a fantasy game – any fantasy game! – should bother with rules on creating mutants, aliens, or alien technology, that is my answer.  Likewise for rules on allowing interaction between the fantastic and the mundane worlds.

These things are part of the fantasy genre.  They always have been.  They always will be.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

R is for Rust Monster

The original rust monster was a rather goofy-looking creature, which legend tells us was inspired by a coin-machine toy.  Having grown up in Wisconsin, and having seen the sort of toy that might have inspired the rust monster first hand, I am in no position to play “Myth Busters” here!

However, the rust monster is sometimes seen as nothing more than a “gotcha” monster.  In fact, I have had discussions in which it was suggested that the rust monster would be better statted up as a “hazard” (ala Wizards of the Coast-style Dungeons & Dragons).  This is a position that I reject utterly.

Rust monsters are not simply mobile hazards that do nothing more than leap out of the dark, allowing the GM to cackle maniacally as the fighter’s armour dissolves into a reddish-brown pile.  No.  They are creatures that can make sense within the fantastic milieus of D&D, and that can add depth to the campaign while adding interest to the dungeon.

Early rust monsters had no effective attacks apart from turning metals into rust, and so were ideal creatures for dwarves to harness with leather and wood, using them to locate rich veins while feeding them with lead and other base metals.  Because rust monsters can turn any metal into rust, even non-ferrous metals.

This last ability may be of interest to sages, wizards, and other folk who craft magic items or spells.  Indeed, the rust monster’s ability to detect metals may be important to the creation of certain wands, potions, and the abilities of some intelligent weapons.

By the 2nd Edition, rust monsters could defend themselves with a nasty bite.  Thus, those same dwarves now had clubs and/or whips to keep the rust monsters in line.  The dwarves would sometimes make use of bits of jagged glass braided into the leather of their whips, both to impress the rust monsters more, and to use against other creatures of the endless dark.

Of course, the dwarves also kept their rust monsters on long leashes, which they held partially coiled to limit the creature’s movements.  When faced by an enemy, the leash could be extended, so that the enemy would have to deal with the rust monsters while the dwarves sent runners for archers.  And, of course, any opponent deprived of armour and weapons would be quickly met with club and whip.

In early dungeoneering, taking off one’s armour to deal with the rust monster seemed to be an obvious thing to do.  Yet, that assumes that the character will be free to don it when the rust monster is no more.  Indeed, that assumes that no creature is watching, waiting for the character to do just that.  Because other creatures have learned from their encounters with the dwarves, and they do not all mean adventures well! 

It also assumes that the rust monster, like those of early Dungeons & Dragons, has no nasty bite.  As that same early game encouraged creative refereeing, this wasn’t always a safe assumption even then.

The rust monster presented in 4th Edition is an anaemic version of its previous incarnations, whose ability to rust metals is strangely subject to reversing itself.  Strangely enough, “Essence of 4e Rust Monster” may well be a component in rituals to mend items. 

But it still isn’t just a “gotcha” monster.  Which should come as no surprise to the clever GM, as it never was before.