Monday, March 6, 2023

The Adventures of Otzi the Ice Jerk

A Player Character

I'm not sure how common it is in the OSR/Post-OSR/NSR/[whatever you want to call the remnants of the blogosphere that exists] spaces, but a common refrain I have seen in more WFRP/BRP leaning rpg communities is that the idea of the "adventurer" is a purely pop cultural phenomenon without a basis in reality, with a usual corollary that as such it should not be simulated in our games. I want to deal not with the corollary, which I think the bulk of my readers will find stupid on its face, but rather the initial sentiment: that people of violent means who were largely unmoored from social structures and walked the world doing violent things for wealth and survival, largely did not exist. I want to argue that the historical record is replete with such people and provide a rather unorthodox example to help us better contextualize PC types in our games. 

In case you cannot tell from the title of my post, I have picked for my example Otzi* the Iceman.** If you did not have a father who was as interested in the archaeology of pre-literate peoples as mine was, or if you just lack similar interests to me, Otzi is the name given to a natural mummy discovered in the Otzal Alps at the Austro-Italian border in 1991. His actual name is unknown, as is any biographical details that cannot be gleaned from his corpse. In the broadest strokes he was a man in early middle age who lived sometime during the Copper Age, most likely sometime between 3200 and 3100 BCE. Some of the details of his corpse are interesting if we think of him as a PC.

First, Otzi seems to have traveled quite a bit, and done so largely by foot. The bones in his pelvis and legs show that he did a great deal more walking than is probably typical of other copper age people. While this has lead some to say he may have been a pastoralist of some kind, it is worth noting that materials in his copper axe (more on that later) probably came from Southern Italy and he had arsenic in his hair and nails consistent with being a metal worker. Perhaps he was playing AD&D and had it for a secondary skill?

Nice axe!

Otzi also seems to have had a fair amount of wealth for a copper age "pastoralist." Most notably is the copper axe mentioned earlier, which is made of over 99% pure copper and would've been incredibly rare at the time. Obviously this axe could be a simple tool, but given evidence later it also could've been involved in acts of violence. He also seems to have eaten extremely well - his digestive track contained the contents of two meals, both of which involved a significant amount of meat (chamois and red dear) as well as nuts, fruits, herbs, and einkorn wheat bread. This means he either had significant enough wealth to buy meat or, more probably but no less-PC like, he hunted in a period that was becoming more and more agrarian. Therefore we can conclude (at least for my stupid thought experiment) he subsisted at the edge of society.

The eyes of a killer

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, our man Otzi was a man of violent means. DNA analysis of his gear showed that he had the blood of at  least three other people on him when he died - one on a knife, two on a single arrow head (meaning that they were killed before the incident that caused his death) and one on his coat. The arrow head is further interesting because it implies two separate fights before his final one, as I think it unlikely he would retrieve and fire the same arrow again in rapid enough succession for it to be considered a single fight. He also, of course, has an arrow wound himself that is almost assuredly the cause of his demise. Notably here too, the arrow has been removed and Otzi's somewhat characteristic arm folding in death may have been due to someone turning him over to get their arrow back. Why they didn't take his fine axe, I don't know.

It's a kind of magic

Ok I lied. That wasn't the final one. Let's do the most preposterous one: he was a regular recipient of healing magic. Otzi possessed a number of tattoos made by rubbing charcoal into an incision in specific points. This seems to have been done on more than one occasion, as is shown by the pigmentation in and repeated nature of the incisions. Some have said these incisions match up to acupunctural points designed to help with stomach pain, and indeed it seems that Otzi had whip worm. I guess it was AD&D after all. Sorry about that disease roll.

*I know there should be an umlaut. I didn't want to have to copy and paste it or do an alt code every time the name came up.

**Am I saying Otzi explored dungeons? Of course not. Who would've built them? 

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Large Adult Sons

It's big boy season

Those who are well versed in the men* of the World of Nightwick know they come in a much wider variety of forms than those of Earth. Most famously on this blog I have discussed the strange men known as dogheads and alluded to their miniature equivalents that dwell on the isle of Cuccagna. There are also certain sinister cults of Cathay who modify their own bodies to be quite inhuman to the eyes of one used to the men of Earth. And of course there is the emperor of Noppin, whose subjects claim he is a man despite his appearance.

Another such race** of man, and our topic for today, is Giants. Giants haunt the whole world of Nightwick and, other than their largeness, vary considerably from individual to individual. Two-headed giants are well known to exist - such as Thom-n-Biter,*** Ploughman Shorn, Fee-n-Fie and the infamous Headless Jack, though he now only has the one remaining. Some legends even recount three headed giants, three armed giants, hundred handed giants, and one-eyed giants. All of these seem to spring from the same lineage, rather than be distinct races, and once they had a mighty kingdom centered on the isles of Karse. It was, it is said, destroyed by Rutha the Conqueror who then set up the kingdom of men which rules there to this day - though it is supposedly in vassalage to the Realm of Man.

Giants are, as a rule, ruder than the men of most civilized nations, but as they tend to dwell alone or in very small groups this is to be expected. While they are often venal and violent, they are only rarely diabolic - or at least only as rarely as any other of the peoples of the World of Nightwick. It is said that some of their more sinister families sometimes produce human-sized offspring who go off to become robbers, brigands, and black knights. Despite this, their position as men is well established by the Church of Law, who often send missionaries to their lonely dwellings. Such missionaries usually do not return.

Worthy of consideration in any discussion of the larger races of man are the strange creatures known as ogres. Whereas giants' morality vary across the human spectrum, ogres are universally evil or chaotic due to the path by which one becomes an ogre. For ogres are made, not born, and they are the hideous result of the prolonged eating of the flesh of intelligent creatures. While typically this means a kind of cannibalism - or at least anthropophagi, since it is debatable if ogres are the same species - it often extends into those who devour the flesh of elves and fairies or even the sumptuous and somewhat tempting flesh of demons.

Ogres are also known to "recruit" by stealing children from their beds and taking them to dwell in the lonesome and fearful places ogres most like to dwell in - dark swamps, high mountains, rough hills, dark forests - and there force feeding them human flesh under the guise of another act.

Finally we turn our attention to trolls. Trolls are different from giants and ogres because they are creatures of the Old Gods and thus their natures are defined in part by their patron deity. They are much like elves in this manner. The most notable example to readers of this blog and players in my games is the monstrous groans, terrible servants of the White Lady. Since the White Lady is now Frau Prechta for the Nightwick Regulars, it remains to be seen how these creatures will change or if they will at all. Note that this connection with the Old Gods means that Trolls are not among the number of men and are instead a class of rude fairy.

*As always I use "men" and "man" to sound old timey, not to denote any special gender characteristics to the whole of humanity.

** Similarly I use race here for old timey reasons. They fictional author is not very woke.

***Thom of course pronounced with a soft th, i.e. a thorn.

Monday, January 9, 2023

In Fair Cuccagna: Cuccagnat Catch Up

I've missed a couple of sessions in addition to having a report for this week, so before our main event we have two truncated reports in the style of the chronicles of old.

8: A party of 9 entered the Lapis Vaults. They were betrayed by one of the hirelings, Villanus by name, who turned out to be a bunch of super intelligent rats in an uncanny suit. Gax-exiled-from-his-own-council and three hirelings perished in a battle with backwards blemmyes. No notable treasure.

9: A party of 7 entered the Lapis Vaults intent on destroying the shriekers and connecting their two separate maps. This process took longer than expected and first attracted a group of "pseudo"pods, who wandered off after it appeared the goings on were not going to affect the Kingdom of the Monopods, and then a group of glass statues which forced the party to flee, leaving their two new hirelings to die. No notable treasure.

The Great Wen

A Loan Applicant - A Last Scream - An Old Trap - A new Trap - A Treasure Ported - A Mask - The Application of Tools - The Startling Statue - A Trail of Blood - The Gallery - A Deception - A Debate - Disappointment - The Studio - Sneezing Powder - A Return Full Handed

Characters Present
Jules Mozarin, Averois Seer
Maglor, Changeling Medium/Veteran
Boudin, Frogling Veteran
Oro Desiderio, Dwarfish Veteran
Lord Saurr - Crown Cat of Karse, Grimalkin Veteran

Baldassare, Medium and apprentice to the Seer Jules
The Mute Woman, a porter of strangely philosophical mien for someone who cannot speak

  • After two rather disastrous expeditions, the pickings for hirelings were rather light in the Great Wen. The only person seemingly willing to work with the party was the mysterious Mute Woman, one time hireling of Cristobert and Folavril. Maglor decided it was best to have as many bodies as possible and agreed to pay her fee.
  • They boarded the worm ship and made their way tot he isle of Prospero the Blue and once again entered his Lapis Vaults by way of a secret door.
  • They made their way back to the room containing the awful shrieking mushrooms, and indeed they heard their tell-tale "almost human screaming but the words are all slightly wrong" from down the hallway.
  • Luckily they made quick work of the remaining mushroom before any statuary or other horrors could pounce on them again.
  • They back tracked slightly to a room they had previously explored, as evidenced by the triggered and not reset trap just inside the entryway. Beyond was a workroom that seemed to have already been picked over and a slightly ajar door.
  • Jules, being wise in the ways of trapped dungeons, pocked at the door with his 10' pole. His instinct proved correct when a steel bucket of acid fell upon the organic matter of his pole and he lost the first 2 and 1/2 feet of it.
  • Wood was heaped upon this acid to quicken its chemical reaction and render it inert long enough to walk across. On the other side was a store of glass blowing supplies (rods and a small portable furnace). 
  • It was decided that these were valuable but fragile enough that they needed to be taken to the ship forthwith. This was done slowly but without major incident.
  • Upon returning they explored beyond a door in the rotten hall which had formerly served as the feeding ground for a number of shriekers. They found themselves with three potential ways to progress - down a short hall to a chamber seemingly dominated by a mask upon a pedestal, into a room covered with blood stains where bodies had apparently been dragged away, or through a door.
  • After some debate, they decided to see what was up with the mask. Detect magic proved it was magical and that three other doors in the same chamber each led to rooms that so radiated with magic they appeared only as solid squares to the weaver of the spell.
  • Lord Saurr, Crown Cat of Karse, decided to inspect it in cat form (so to be able to flee should "lasers fire from its eyes"). 
  • Upon seeing it was safe, Jules followed him in the room but soon found that a magic moth the cat had noticed on the ceiling issued forth a strange warning: "Leave here, old man. There is nothing here for you!" The voice matched that of the magic mouth near the entrance ("I can't come to the door right now...") but was much more forceful in aspect.
  • Lord Saurr explained that he was going to use his sledge to break the mask off so they may take it home, but asked that the rest of the party back up if they were worried this might cause some eldritch destruction. The entire party did so.
  • The sledge did work to bend the pole the mask was attached to (and that was somehow worked into the marble pedestal such that it  could not be easily removed), but did little to actually sever the bronze. Jules and Lord Saurr debated some possible tools and ultimately it was decided that sawing with a cutting implement (Lord Saurr's sword) was the best plan.
  • Mask in tow they made their way back to the aforementioned door. Maglor heaved it open to reveal a copper statue of a mermaid, made green by age. 
  • Strangely the party's entire back section melted away as Jules, the Mute Woman, and Baldassare were filled with an indefinable terror upon seeing the statue and ran at full speed away from the statue. The statue, for its part, was of rather mediocre construction and did not appear particularly sinister or even notable to those left behind.
  • The non-fleeing parts of the party felt if they were going to explore beyond this chamber - Maglor suspected a secret door - it would be best to do so now, despite the party's separation, because whatever had caused the back ranks to flee may take effect upon any who steps into the room. 
  • There was, indeed, a secret door, though it merely led to passages that, when the party later regrouped, had previously been explored. While this was somewhat anticlimactic it did mean they had linked their maps.
  • Jules and company refused to re-enter the room and so instead it was decided that they should meet in the blood-stained room.
  • Jules instantly recognized this chamber for what it was: the site of their battle with the backwards blemmyes. Now that there was no adversary in sight or hirelings to drag back out, the details of the room could be ascertained.
  • It was a gallery - holding pictures of four figures - an old man holding a sheep in a red toga, an imperious man dressed in green noble finery sat upon a silver throne, a magician in yellow and black robes commanding a thing Jules labeled a "foggoth"* to rise from the sea, and finally a man in autre orange robes in a wooded arcade next to a diabolic statue seemingly playing strange pipes. 
  • Detect magic revealed that the painting of the yellow magician concealed within it some magical item, and removing the back of the painting they found a spell scroll.
  • Now a debate occurred - should they return to the "magic rooms" they had seen near the mask's pedestal or instead head down a dog-legged passage that had been spotted in a previous expedition. Fearing some major entanglement, the party soon decided on the dog-legged passage.
  • The passage did not continue much further than what had been mapped, ending in a door. Jules expressed some disappointment that there had not been more this way, but soon the party was opening the door.
  • Beyond was a kind of art studio -  paints and art supplies were set on tables or held in crates and a glass arm - like those of the animate statues - lay in a prominent position for staining. 
  • Oro's dwarfish eyes detected the use of gold, silver, and lapis in some of the paints while Lord Saurr's sensitive nose detected some strange smell that caused him to make the Flehmen response.
  • While attempting to take some of the paints out of the crates, a dust was disturbed which caused both Lord Saurr and Maglor to sneeze for a great length of time. Maglor's ailment became so bad that he became unable to see.
  • With this new treasure, and the paintings behind them so they could retrieve them on the way out, the party decided now was time to leave and hoped that Maglor's sight would return.
  • Luckily for Maglor he began to see blurry shapes again when they were almost at the exit and by the time the worm ship had made it the Great Wen his vision was almost fully restored.
Monsters Defeated
1 Shrieker

Treasure Gained
Glass rods (500gp), Portable glass furnace (500gp), 4 paintings of wizards (500gp each), expensive paints (100gp), a scroll containing The Exquisite Repose, The Marvelous Magic Mouth, and, Chun's Halo of Unsleeping Eyes

XP Per Player