Sunday, 12 August 2018

On the Virtues of Terseness

Having previously praised the likes of MR James, Roger Zelazny, and Clark Ashton Smith, I must now give the most credit where it is most due: to whoever is the lost genius who wrote the monster descriptions for the Roguelike *band games (if indeed it is one person and not an OSR-sized brain trust). These one (sometimes two) sentence pencil sketches are masterpieces of communication, telling you exactly what you need to know while being powerfully, sometimes almost poetically, evocative at the same time. You sir, or sirs, or sirs and madams, have had the most influence on the way I think about monsters and the way they are described.

All the Zangband monsters descriptions are here, where you can read them for yourself, but here are some illustrations; I defy you to come up with more efficient one/two-sentence thumbnails than these:

Battle Scarred Veteran: He doesn't take to strangers kindly.

The Clear Icky Thing: It is a smallish, slimy, icky blobby creature.

Kobold: It is a small, dog-headed humanoid.

The Novice Mage: He is leaving behind a trail of dropped spell components.

The Nether Worm Mass: It is a disgusting mass of dark worms, eating each other, the floor, the air, you....

The Cloaker: It resembles a normal cloak, until some poor fool ventures too close!

The Giant Octopus: It doesn't move very fast, but when it does, watch out!

The Phase Spider: A spider that never seems quite there. Everywhere you look it is just half-seen in the corner of one eye.

The Disenchanter Beast: It looks like an anteater, and there is a static feeling crackling around its long trunk.

The Wereworm: A huge wormlike shape dripping acid, twisted by evil sorcery into a foul monster that breeds on death.

The Basilisk: An evil reptile whose eyes stare deeply at you and make your soul wilt!

The Mithril Golem: It is a massive statue of purest mithril. It looks expensive!

The Ghost: You don't believe in them, and they don't believe in you.

The Ethereal Drake: A dragon of elemental power, with control over light and dark, the ethereal drake's eyes glare with white hatred from the shadows.

The Mumak: A massive elephantine form with eyes twisted by madness.

The Chaos Drake: A dragon twisted by the forces of chaos. It seems first ugly, then fair, as its form shimmers and changes in front of your eyes.

The Anti-Paladin: An embodiment of all the cardinal vices, he beholds you scornfully.

The Time Hound: You get a terrible sense of deja vu, or is it a premonition? All at once you see a little puppy and a toothless old dog. Perhaps you should give up and go to bed.

Okay, so the last one is three sentences. What I like most about these descriptions is that they don't try to replace the image you already have in your head: whatever image of a ghost, novice mage, giant octopus, mithril golem, cloaker or or battle scarred veteran you have in your mind already is more than enough. It's only where the name itself does not make the physical appearance obvious that an actual description is required. A useful lesson for bestiary writing, I think.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Yoon-Suin Supplement: The Tree

There will at some point be a Yoon-Suin addition. This is from is the introduction.

The high, wild vastness of the Mountains of the Moon holds wondrous places far removed from the outside world, like closely guarded secrets the mountains themselves deliberately conceal from sight. In deep plunging valleys, hidden by impassible massifs on all sides, are things which would be famous throughout the world if somehow enough outsiders could visit for word to spread. As it is they sit mostly unvisited, unexplored, and unseen.  
In the heart of one such valley, one of the most remote valleys of all, stands The Tree. It has no other name, for it does not need one. All who know of it know there is no other tree in the world like it, and no tree for which it could be mistaken. It is a Tree like no other. 
The valley itself is a thickly-forested cleft gouged from the mountains by the blade of the river running through it. Rising up above the greenery around its feet - if "rising up" does the sight justice - the Tree stands, well over a mile high, as high as some of the peaks on either side of the vale, high enough for clouds to cling around its trunk and for its highest branches to be permanently coated with frost and snow. Its bark is covered with forests of moss and lichen; its roots spread beneath the surface of the world in a vast web which reaches beneath the mountains themselves; and its great bulk contains entire settlements, towns, kingdoms - bored into its trunk, nestled under its feet, or spread across its network of branches. 
The Tree is mostly unvisited, unexplored, and unseen - but not entirely. Sometimes adventurers, traders, sages or exiles make their way to that distant and isolated valley because of a whispered rumour or indiscretion heard in some opium den or tea shop in the oligarchies or Sughd, or even the Yellow City far in the south. They come in search of riches, opportunities, or even simply to say that they have seen and climbed such a tree and lived to tell the tale. Many of them never leave. This book enables you to run a campaign in which the PCs are some such visitors to the Tree, and see if they can survive - or even thrive - in its mountain-high frame.

[I will be blogging somewhat less in future months, as I'm on a productivity drive which involves cutting out almost all non-essential internet use. If posting seems light, it's not because I've gone away, but because I'm focusing energies on concrete goals.]