Friday 30 April 2021

The Tournament of the Gods, First Round (1) - Tyrgs and Voadkyn

The Gods of Yem-Shut grow tired and their drunkenness abates as dawn begins to bleach the night sky into a paler blue. Sleep, that hateful seducer, must be kept at bay, for the Sucklings have only just begun to nurse at the Sow's teats and none at the feast may retire until the holy piglets slumber. Entertainments will refresh the Gods and prevent them dozing; a gamble will fulfil that purpose perfectly. The Gods spread a purple blanket across the turf and sip the dew off their fingers; this will be the arena, and their champions will fight and die upon it. 

Lots are drawn and the Gods gather their forces. Ya-Besh the Silent Swimmer first releases a representative: a single voadkyn that he takes from up a voluminous sleeve and sets strutting across the felt of the blanket with a sword and bow as tall and stretched as their wielder. Ya-Besh's challenger is The Skurtch, and that fat squat deity brings from his palm three tyrgs, half-tiger, half-dog, which he carefully, almost lovingly, sets onto the purple. They lope towards the voadkyn, slavering.

Combat begins. The voadkyn sheathes his sword and slides free a long black raven-feathered arrow. He knocks it to his bow. The tyrgs, running towards him now in column, make no attempt to evade. The arrow flies wide and the voadkyn curses. The tyrgs come on. The Gods chuckle; Ya-Besh, briefly excited when his minion let fly, shakes his head and scratches his gills. The voadkyn only has time to cast his bow aside and draw his sword before the beasts are on him. He skips aside the lunge of the first. But the others tear into him. Jaws close on his thigh and calf; fangs sink in. He swipes, panicked, with his blade and cuts the air, then finally struggles clear.

He is bleeding from deep lacerations on both legs. The tyrgs circle him and then press their attack again. But this time he holds them at bay with his sword tip and they back off. The Gods, who had thought the fight over almost as soon as it began, now sit upright and watch intently. Ya-Besh, who thought the voadkyn finished, is on his haunches, urging his champion to fight. 

The tyrgs attack again. The voadkyn foins the first in its ribs, his sword lancing it deep. It howls and bleeds. Ya-Besh, watching, clenches a fist. One of the tyrgs catches the voadkyn with its teeth across the chest - a flesh wound. But now there is no more pausing. Both sides intend to kill or die. The trygs are like hyenas on a carcass. Each ploughs into the flailing voadkyn. Jaws tear at skin slick with blood, and gouge chunks from the wood giant's flesh. His sword delivers another grievous wound to the first of them, and then he crushes his skull with the pommel as it plunges its teeth into his side. It falls to the ground limp, its head a ruin. 

Ya-Besh and The Skurtch's eyes meet and the two Gods cackle, relishing the sight of blood staining the purple of the blanket. But the voadkyn is weakened. He is bleeding from many wounds and the two remaining tyrgs pull him to his knees with the remorseless power of a predator scenting its meal. They finally take his face and throat and shake and twist until his thrashing ends. And then they begin to feed.

Ya-Besh the Silent Swimmer sits silent for a moment, and then shrugs and folds his arms. "An unfair contest."

The Skurtch smiles and lolls on his back, fat legs kicking. "Bring wine for the victor!"

The Skurtch's tyrgs advance to the next round. The Gods draw lots again to determine who joins the next bout.

[I decided to do a 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual 'Top Trumps' elimination tournament, with all the monsters randomly paired against each other for round 1 and then advancing from there until there is only one left standing. The idea kind of took on a life of its own from there...]

Wednesday 28 April 2021

Changing the World

When I was young, I wanted to change the world. Like most people, I thought that the right way to do this was through politics, or working for NGOs, or in the world of policy. Nowadays I tend to think you're doing well if you're able to make things better for your own family and local community at the most. But I also increasingly think that when we talk about 'changing the world' in common parlance - particularly when we're young - we unduly privilege politics. Of course, politics matters. But humans are spiritual beings. You can change the world by creating things that uplift people's souls and make them glad to be alive - that give them the opportunity to step outside of themselves, to reflect, to imagine that there is more to the world than just the mundanity of doing.  

I don't mean that this makes the world better in just some airy-fairy artistic sense, although uplifting people's souls and making them glad to be alive is intrinsically good in its own right. I mean it in a practical sense too: when people are uplifted from time to time, they live fuller, richer, more productive and interesting lives, and this cannot but contribute to a better society overall. We can't measure this quantitatively (like we can't measure most things that matter quantitatively) but you only have to think about the issue for a moment to realise that a society in which public morale is lifted by having access to inspiring and wonderful art and entertainment will be healthier, happier and more secure, as a consequence of being spiritually better off, than it would otherwise be. 

It sounds awfully pretentious and trite - as well as ludicrously precious about the value of one's mere hobby - to say that on these terms Gygax and Arneson changed the world considerably, just as did Dickens, Camus, Tolkien, Hemingway, Gaugin, whoever else you wish to name. No, mentioning them in the same breath as Gandhi or Martin Luther King or Lyndon Johnson or Margaret Thatcher would be silly. But the cumulative effect of their game diffused and spread among the millions of people around the world who have derived satisfaction from it and its progeny is not, in terms of the public benefit, nothing. It isn't just a game (although that in itself would still not, of course, be nothing).