Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Rat, Raven & Toad

These are among the humblest familiars—urban vermin, a smart but troublesome carrion eater, and a homely amphibian.  But the aid and attributes they bestow upon their masters are worth the snickers from more image-conscious spellcasters.

Rats may not be the most glamorous creatures, but Carnwick Steelwill couldn’t do without his beady-eyed Bonehunter.  An abjurer who specializes in warding against the enervating effects of necromancy, he relies on Bonehunter for physical endurance (+2 Fortitude) and for espionage—necromancers rarely notice one more rat in their lairs.

There’s a reason the students at Aguewood Conservatory are known as “the Toads”—the students all bond with toad familiars.  Aguewood is a rigorous school known for turning out experienced mages, and students are soon glad their familiars lend them the bodily strength (+3 hit points) to endure the often excruciating but effective lessons.

The ravens of Tumbleton are popular pets, their intelligence and skill with speech making it easy to overlook their larcenous tendencies.  The jackdaws of Agate Hall are famous for helping defend that keep against intruders.  But the crows of Murder Tower are famously savage, attempting to pluck the eyes out of anyone who dares come too close.

Pathfinder Bestiary 131–133

“Rat, Raven & Toad” is the most magical children’s book title ever.  I’m claiming it—firsties!

My brother’s gone.  Sad face.  :-(  (Yes, I both write the words and use the emoticon.  Don’t you judge me.)  But now I have time to go back and look at all those rakshasa comments!

If you haven’t gone back to check them out yet, here’s a quick rundown: Will/filbypott/Monsters-a-Go-Go (the commenter so good they named him thrice (Benny Hill link—use caution)) breaks down where you can find the various 3.5 rakshasas.  A.A. keeps us posted on rakshasas in 4e, which I totally appreciate—since I’m not following 4e (I can’t even keep up with my Pathfinder subscriptions), it’s nice to have input from someone who is.  And Will, LokiSooner, and Allen Varney recommend some Indian-flavored RPGs.

Obviously, the big surprise from this weekend was Nightstorm author Allen Varney himself chiming in about Nightstorm and Shahjapur.  My response on Twitter was about as elegant as it could be.  Which was not very.

I’ve grappled with this question before, when I discovered Bruce Heard had a blog—how do you thank someone for inspiration?  For countless afternoons spent reading in the hammock?  I’ve said this before, but growing up, Roger Moore’s stewardship of Dragon, Barbara Young’s tackling of Dragon’s fiction and Dungeon in general, and Bruce Heard’s Mystara worldbuilding/storytelling were crucial for my growth as a fantasy/D&D fan.  (Especially since as a private school student, my friends lived far away—with a 45 minute trip each way, there was not a lot of “just hanging out,” only sleepovers, so that meant until I had a license I spent most nights and weekends reading.)

My exposure to the work of Aaron Allston and Allen Varney was spottier.  But both had simple clear styles (I remember the term “breezy” getting thrown around a lot in reviews) that nevertheless managed to pack a lot of info, which made them perfect for the Hollow World series.  While I never actually played through Nightstorm, Allen Varney’s take on Shahjapur was exactly what I want from an adventure: Show me a new place!  Give it a cool map!  Make me feel what it’s like to live there!  And give me some intriguing NPCs and some memorable encounters!  Nightstorm did all those things in spades, even if a lot of folks seem to have trouble with the final encounter.  Hell, who cares about the plot; just give me more street scenes with NPCs!

(Nightwail I don’t recall as well, but it featured one of the most wicked spell descriptions ever.  Nightrage I didn’t get until years after—in fact, I might still only have the PDF, not the physical copy, which for me is almost as bad as not having it, since I loathe PDFs.)

One of the things I was going to give props to Varney for is being a good iceberg writer—offering brief descriptions that suggest much more—and lo and behold he addresses it in this thread:

It may at least be helpful to talk here about the illusion of depth. In my TSR works I tried to take inspiration from the great fantasists and science fiction writers, who could evoke a whole world with a few well drawn strokes. In that time I was also strongly under the spell of the great comic book writer Alan Moore, a master at conjuring atmosphere through brief, creative hints in both text and dialogue. (Moore is to this day my favorite writer.) I imitated that technique as best I could, inserting glancing mentions and brief allusions that sounded cool even when I hadn't worked out any backstory for them. My intent here was, first, to entertain the reader; second, to give the DM interesting tidbits to drop into his narration to the players; and third, to inspire the DM's own creativity.

It’s always nice to see writers clearly talk about their process…and it’s the same technique I try to employ in this blog.  So what I hope to do here was inspired by writers like Varney who was inspired by writers like Moore who was inspired by etc., etc.  That’s a lineage I’d happily be part of.

Anyway, I’m still going through the whole nine-page thread.  But if any of this has intrigued you, dive in here.  And a special thanks to Allen for taking the time to reply, and for his hard work in the first place.

Finally, foortuate needs to relax—quarterlings are delicious.

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