The Sage Welcomes You

So, here you find a blog about life in general, but with a focus on family, games, books and creativity. Other "stuff" will creep in from timt to time.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Inspired by 13th Age: Part Four--The House of Twilight (Deep Deities and Tricksters)

This is the fourth in a series of posts about a sketch of a cosmology and pantheon for the game 13th Age from Pelgrane Press.  The first post can be found here, the second here and the third here.
The House of Twilight

Titles: Mountain God, The Sky-Earth Bridge, Old Deep Roots, Autumn God, The Miser, Thunderer, Binder of Secrets, Jeweler
13th Age Domains: Lore, Strength
Other Keywords: Artifice, Darkness, Earth, Runes, Skill, Storm, Wealth

Remote, secretive, dangerous, wealthy and powerful: Duranatos is all that and more.  He is highly revered by the Dwarves of the Empire and the line of the Dwarf King is said to descend from him.  His roots reach deep into the underworld, and his realm extends into the Overworld.  His power is respected and feared by all, and both Dwarves and Giants seek to propitiate him.  It is said that he capture the light of Urvonobos to adorn the night sky with stars.  One of his many symbols is the high mountain wreathed in thunderheads and lightning.

Titles: Mistress of Deep Waters, Earth Shaker, Oath Keeper, Revenger, She who gives and takes, Goddess of Speech
13th Age Domains: Beauty, Strength, Vengeance
Other Keywords: Destruction, Law, Ocean, Trade, Travel, Water

Merahnon is another of the deep deities.  She is absolute ruler of the deep waters of the world.  She is radiant beauty in dark water.  A shockwave from her wrath can level cities, swamp islands, end empires.  She oversees customary law, oaths, trade and travel.  Those who violate the law are subject to her revenges.  The wealth of the seas are hers to offer, and the lives and livelihoods of all those who touch water are hers to take.

Titles: Sand Walker, Pathfinder, Gateway to the Deadlands, Messenger, Merchant, Spy, Keeper of the Secret Ways, The Wandering Moon
13th Age Domains: Community, Death, Illusion, Lore
Other Keywords: Change, Magic, Moon, Trade, Travel

The followers of Sendowa prepare the dead for burial.  For many, this service at the end of life is the main community role of Sendowa’s following.  However, Sendowa opens many more doorways that simply sending the dead to their rest and reward (or punishment).  Sendowa is a patron of travelers, traders, heralds and messengers.  Sendowa is an explorer and a trail blazer and a passer of barriers.  Sendowa knows secrets and finds secrets.  While the moon wanders mostly in the night sky, the moon, Sendowa, also creeps into the day at times in the morning and at night.  Wiley are the ways of Sendowa.

Titles: The Trickster, The Thief, The Shapeshifter, Bright Comet, Dark Raven, Slinking Jakal,The Fool, The Silvertongue
13th Age Domains: Illusion, Trickery
Other Keywords: Chaos, Creation, Darkness, Destruction, Madness

Pillizoro is the Trickster.  (S)he may be brave, or foolish, or malicious, or mad, or all of those things put together.  The tales of Pillizoro often pair her/him with Sendowa on the missions of the gods.  Pillizoro gets them into trouble as much as (s)he gets them out of it.  Still, this jester of creation brought many things to aid the peoples of the world in legendary times, from magical plants, to fire, to even finding the Sun herself and releasing her during the Chaos War’s time of Darkness.  Pillizoro takes many forms and wears many masks.  Seemings, glamours, and practical jokes gone very wrong are all hallmarks of Pillizoro.  A comet in the sky signals the ascendancy of Pillizoro and heralds a time of chaos.

That completes the four houses as worshipped in my version of the Dragon Empire, but I have at least one more post in me on this topic.  While the Four Houses view of the universe dominates the Dragon Empire, an earlier view of things hangs on.  A dualistic view that sees the Four Houses as obscuring illusions to the fundemental nature of cosmic conflict ongoing in the universe.  Also, I have some notes on some demihuman views of the deities of the Four Houses.  So, stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Inspired by 13th Age: Part Three--The House of Dawn (It's not all sunshine and gumdrops)

This is the third in a series of posts about a sketch of a cosmology and pantheon for the game 13th Age from Pelgrane Press.  The first post can be found here, and the second here.

The House of Dawn

Titles: Dawn Goddess, Bewitcher, The Cat, The Many-shaped, Tamer of Animals
13th Age Domains: Beauty, Love, Trickery
Other Keywords: Animals, Chaos, Light, Magic

Fickle goddess of the Dawn; she gave the peoples the way to domesticate animals.  She also makes men and women wild with desire.  She favors the cat, but may be found in any form.  Her love feels true, but is too often false.  Though she bathes the morning world in light, she is swimming in darkness to do it.  A beautiful dawn will win your heart, but it will always break when it swiftly leaves you, to charm another the very next day.

Titles: Rain Giver, Grower, Drinker, Rager, Seer and Vintner, Patron of the Spring
13th Age Domains: Life
Other Keywords: Agriculture, Creation, Destruction, Dream, Madness, Water, Weather

Osiahn blesses the world with gentle rain and punishes the world with torrential rain.  He makes crops grow, and especially patronizes the vine and those grains destined for beer and liquor.  He drinks deeply.  He may go mad or drive others so.  He may destroy what he creates, and he may bring renewal through destruction.  He sees the future, and he sometimes drinks to forget what has not yet happened. 

Titles: Patron/Patroness of the Wild, The Pathfinder, Dawn Star, Master/Mistress of the Hunt, Avenger
13th Age Domains: Lore, Protection, Strength, Vengeance
Other Keywords: Animal, Plant, Travel, Wilderness

Cipanec may be the wild child of Osiahn.  (S)he has taken to the wild to husband the plants and animals of the wild lands, be they forests, deserts, grasslands or tundra.  Cipanec may hunt with packs of wild animals, or may be found with bow and spear, silently seeking the greatest monsters in the wild.

Titles: The Wanderer, The Knight Errant, The Shooting Star
13th Age Domains: Justice, Protection, Strength,
Other Keywords: Courage, Freedom, Travel

Weller is the wandering hero, sometimes compared to Batash from the House of Light.  Weller, however, is no happy-go-lucky sunbeam.  Weller is the serious wanderer, seeking out injustice with purpose.  Weller rights wrongs, steals from the rich to reward the poor, quests to protect the weak.  The weapons of Weller streak across the darkness is bright flame: sword strokes, arrow flights, javelins, lances.  While Batash has wandering feet because he goes where the wind may blow, Weller declines to settle because there are always more injustices to be set to right.  Weller can be grim and hard on enemies and worshippers alike.

(Next, the House of Twilight, a mix of Dark and Light, Deep Deities and Tricksters)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Inspired by 13th Age: Part Two--The House of Shadow (Dark Gods for Dark Business)

This is the second in a series of posts about a sketch of a cosmology and pantheon for the game 13th Age from Pelgrane Press.  The first post can be found here.

The House of Shadow
NB: The House of Shadow contains all of life’s dark impulses.  The deities expect much of their worshippers, and blood sacrifice is often the least that is expected.  No mortal invokes the Dark Gods without paying a price.

Titles:Dark Empress/Emperor, The Night Wind, Mistress/Master of Shadows, The Dark Reflection
13th Age Domains: Leadership, Protection Strength, Trickery
Other Keywords: Darkness, Magic, Nobility

Tzendras is often said to be the sibling of Urvanobos, though (S)he is  rarely portrayed as a dragon.  Tzendras rewards the impulse to dominate and control.  (S)he is the iron fist that demands obedience.  (S)he may reward the obedient, and pestilence, pain and misfortune will be directed against the disobendient.  All that magic may touch, Tzendras may command.  Tzendras is propitiated throughout the Empire, turned to in desperate times, but never loved.

Titles: Storm of the Underworld, Smiter of Demonkind, Hammer of the Gods
13th Age Domains: Strength, Vengeance, War
Other Keywords: Destruction, Storm, Strife

Thar is the terror of the underworld.  Thar is a brutal, raging berseker of a deity, ready to fight anyone and anything, but especially demons.  He is a necessary evil to the Empire.  As long as his force is directed at the enemies of the empire, his influence can have a positive effect on the lives of the citizens.  When his protection has been unnecessary, the strife and discord that is Thar has turned inward and torn the Empire apart in Age after Age, often lead by Orcs and Half-Orcs.  For now, the demons occupy him and the Crusader is his first worshipper.

Titles: Trumpeter of the Underworld, Judge of the Dead, Keeper of the Law, Herald of the End Times
13th Age Domains:  Death, Lore
Other Keywords: Darkness, Fate, Law
Mikthanos judges and keeps the dead.  The land of death is his.  The sound of his trumpet can shake the Empire and herald the end of an Age.  He keeps the law, but neither justice nor mercy are in his vocabulary.  If human souls may be judged harshly, there he but trifles compared to the punishment he meets out to the demons and demon-touched who come under his domain.

Titles: Goddess of Endings, Witch Goddess, The Poisoner, The Blight, Goddess of the Dark Moon, The Shadow Beauty/Hag
13th Age Domains: Death, Healing, Illusion, Lore
Other Keywords: Earth, Illness, Magic, Poison

Therkat is skilled at the art of death.  She wears many guises, many masks.  She may be a beauty, or a hag.  The dead of night is hers.  Beware the crossroads on the night of no moon.  Her intimacy with poison and disease also gives her the knowledge to cure and heal, for a price.  Many seek her lore, but all but the most depraved or most desperate shun her dark embrace.

Titles: Demon Killer, The Jealous, Volcano Goddess, Mistress of Pain/Pleasure, Wild Destroyer
13th Age Domains: Anti-Undead, Beauty, Destruction, Healing
Other Keywords: Earth, Fertility, Fire, Purification, Torment, Wealth

Raathay is sometimes the consort of Thar.  She is the great Demon killer.  While Thar is the terror of gods, men and demons, Raathay dances on the bodies of Demon-Lords while stringing their teeth and digits as necklaces, bracelets, armlets and ankle chains.  She vomits forth lava and her teeth are obsidian fangs, her nails are razor sharp diamonds.  Her dance carries forth destruction, but leaves behind fertile ground, purified of the taint of the Void (though often of any other living things as well . . .).  When she drops her monstrous visage, she is the greatest beauty of the underworld.  No lesser creature can resist her charms.  No mere mortal can survive her embrace.  No one loves her that does not seek pleasure, but courts torment.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Inspired by 13th Age: Part One--The House of Light

I have been inspired recently by the forthcoming 13th Age game from Pelgrane Press and produced by Rob Heinsoo, Jonathan Tweet, Lee Moyer and Aaron McConnell.  Others have done a fine job of praising the rule set and the setting, and I won’t repeat that here.  What I will say is that my take away from reading the pre-release version is that it is like playing a home-brew game of Dungeons and Dragons where the guys doing the brewing are masters of the craft.  They have been and the tables running games for decades, and they have decided to publish ideas and advice to make a D20 D&D like experience incredibly fun and exciting.

I really want to play this game.

Another great thing about the “home brew” aesthetic of 13th Age is the open encouragement to make the game your own.  They offer a fantastic setting, defining it with the most powerful and important NPCs (the Icons), but provide enough wide open spaces on the map, that a game master (GM) can fill anything he or she desires within the broad strokes of the world.  It is a terrific model and the designers really know what kinds of things serve as hooks for GMs to build fantastic adventures and stories to own this world.

One thing that they leave wide open is the religion of the Dragon Empire of the 13th Age.  Keeping with their design philosophy, they provide some guidelines, but don’t sweat the details.  Although they too are fans of one of my favorite fantasy worlds, Glorantha (which as they point out, is really tied to its gods and cosmology), they don’t want to freight the Dragon Empire with a master’s thesis worth of history and theology (let alone a doctoral dissertation), when how the religions, gods and pantheons may play in the world is really a choice they want to leave to the group playing at the table.

I think that wise.

However, appreciating the freedom that they provide me, I have conceived for myself and my (hopefully) future game a thumbnail cosmology and a set of gods to give some religious and spiritual depth to my portrayal of the Dragon Empire.  This is definitely a do it yourself pantheon, and I put this out as purely an exercise for my own flabby creative muscles.  These gods are inspired by every piece of mythology, game play and fantasy literature that I have consumed since about the age of 10.  They are a bric-a-brac of themes and ideas, but, I believe that they are in keeping with the thought suggested by the 13th Age text that the gods may have been pulled into the world of 13th Age over vast amounts of time from all parts of the cosmos and multiverse, such that anything and everything may have washed up on the proverbial shore.

In my game, clerics may act under the patronage of a particular deity, a house of deities, or may act for the whole pantheon.  Different parts of the Empire, different racial and ethnic groups, and even different communities emphasize different deities, but all are acknowledged by the majority of the Empire’s population.  A small minority maintains a much older dualistic faith which I will discuss at the end.  Monsters and other bad guys are worshippers of Demons (and perhaps Devils, depending on how they turn out in 13 True Ways).

Before I give the (very) brief cosmological chronology of my version of the world of 13th Age, let me say something about my deity write-ups.  13th Age has (at least for now) a limited number of clerical “domains” that provide game effects for being affiliated with them.  I am providing that association in my description of various gods in my pantheon, since they tie directly to game effects.  I am also giving some secondary “keywords” not with any specific game effect (at least not now) to provide flavor and story hooks.  There will also be some descriptive text that is not tied specifically to the domains.  Together, I hope the information provides enough to do something interesting with these beings and their socio-religious functions, but not so much to weigh things down.  I am very open to comments, but bear in mind this is both a draft and a work in progress.

The Houses of Heaven and Hell
A précis on the celestial and infernal powers by a journeyman sage of the imperial court

In the beginning there was the Void.  Into this vast nothingness, there came an idea and that idea became a Being.  In that instant, the Being shone forth and proved to be a Dragon of pure light and thought.  It pushed back the Void and made Creation possible.  With Creation came the first cycle, and two Houses came into existence: the House of Life and the House of Death.  Between the two Houses, crept in the Void, seeking to Consume, Taint, Torture and Annihilate the two Houses.  Great was the strife and discord.  This was the Chaos War and sometimes all fought against all.  The land, the sky, the stars, the underworld, the waters, all were riven, wracked and maimed.

In the end, the two Houses were no more.  Some believe only one House remained, but others know that four new Houses succeeded and time began.  It was the Lost Agewhich ended with the ascent of the Wizard King.  Other Ages of Wizardry passed before the glorious Dragon Emperor threw down the Wizard King, and the many prosperous Ages of the Dragon Empire came into being.  During this time it is said that gods and goddesses came and went from the four Houses.  Who can know?

Now, the four Houses all find honor in the Dragon Empire, their names are The House of Light, The House of Shadow, The House of Dawn and the House of Twilight.  Together they keep at bay the Void and those dread things that would end creation, like the Demons.  The makeup of each House is written below.

The Four Houses

The House of Light

Titles: Dragon of Light; Creatrix/Creator of the Universe; Distant Guardian
13th Age Domains: Justice, Knowledge, Life
Other Keywords: Animal, Balance, Celestial, Creation, Light

Urvonobos is almost universally acknowledged as the creatrix/creator of the universe and the first among the gods, however, (s)he is little worshiped and generally is simply “honored” in most religious places.  There is a full temple to the Dragon of Light on Santa Cora and the Emperor has a personal shrine in Axis.  The followers of the Great Gold Wyrm honor absent Urvonobos as the progenitor of their absent liege.  Urvonobos is often portrayed as a dragon with multihued scales of metallic and prismatic colors.

Maya Zo
Titles: Sun Goddess, The Wise, Mistress of the Arts, Great Healer, The Sun Spear
13th Age Domains: Healing, Knowledge, Leadership, Strength, Sun
Other Keywords: Civilization, Courage

Great goddess of civilization, she helps build and protect towns, cities and the Empire, filling them with life, light and beauty.  The spear is one of her symbols.

Titles: Bright Sky, Growing Green Field, Golden Grain Stalk, the Headman/Headwoman, Patron of Summer
13th Age Domains: Beauty, Community, Protection
Other Keywords: Agriculture, Air, Fertility

Ptahluran oversees the good things on the earth and protects them from his/her sky realms.  (S)he oversees the fields, the villages, country life, and community.  (S)he is the leader who gets his/her hands dirty to accomplish things.  Not a King or Queen, but a village Headwoman/man.  People in the prime of life are under his/her eye.  In the vast cities of the Empire Ptahluran can still be found watching over people’s kitchen gardens and binding together neighborhoods.  The cornucopia is one of her symbols.

Khal Edain
Titles: The Knight of Stars, Light in the Darkness, Shield of the Faithful, Lightbearer
13th Age Domains: Anti-Undead, Justice, Leadership, Protection Strength
Other Keywords: Competition, Courage, Glory, Nobility, Skill

The Knights of Khal Edain protect all that is right and good in the land.  In darkness, look to the stars for courage.  In daylight fear no powers of Darkness neither the Void for Khal Edain is your strong shield and your bright sword.

Titles: Tender of the hearth fire, singer of songs, comforter of the weak and the sick, patron of marriage and family, The Kindler
13th Age Domains: Community, Healing, Love
Other Keywords: Family, Fire, Fertility, Hope

Khelebeth is the kindly goddess.  She is hearth mother, matriarch, faithful lover, wise woman.  From her springs every small miracle.

Titles: The Smith, Word Forger, Cauldron of Poesy, Maker of Useful Things, The Clever, The Skilled
13th Age Domains: Leadership, Lore, Strength
Other Keywords: Artifice, Earth , Fire, Luck, Runes, Skill

Urfestos is the husband of the kindly goddess, Khelebeth.  He is the gruff worker, the skilled craftsman, the smith, the poet, the speaker of plain truth.  Dwarvenkind honor him deeply, but see him differently than the human communities of the Empire.  He is the foreman, the weaponsmith, the jeweler, the finder of Earth’s treasures.

Titles: The Lucky, The Young, The wandering daughter/son, The Sunbeam, The Fortunate, Hopeful
13th Age Domains: Illusion, Protection,
Other Keywords: Change, Competition, Freedom, Hope, Light, Luck, Travel

Batash is known as the child of Khelebeth and Urfestos in most of the Empire.  (S)he is the prodigal child, leaving the village for fame, fortune, or desperate need.  (S)he is the hero of happenstance or necessity, but not a seeker of honor, glory or complicated ambition.  Batash is the girl sleeping in the cinders or the boy climbing a bean stalk:  charming, changeable, free and very lucky.

Next time: The House of Shadow (Dark Gods for Dark Business)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Reviews: Goodbye to Punisher (Issue #16) and hello to Captain Marvel (Issue #4)

I have been unconsciously and consciously putting off these reviews.  It will be my last regular review of The Punisher, as the run ends here with #16.  The silver lining is that good writing and good comics continue, even when terrific series have to come to an end.  Once more, I got my books at my great local place, Beyond Comics.  So, once more unto the breach . . .

Captain Marvel #4
Now THAT'S what I'm talking about

In my last few reviews of Kelly Sue DeConnick's I have been damning the book with faint praise.  I always liked it, but wanted it to be better.

This last issue turned a corner for me.  I found it witty, exciting, and I feel like the investment in reading was paying off.  We don't yet know all of what is going on, but we're starting to get a direction to the plot which feels right. 

This issue felt like things snapped into focus, that the story which seemed to be zigging and zagging was suddenly on course. 

I finished the pages, and I said to myself "yes, this is the Captain Marvel I knew she was going to write."

So, this issue wraps up Carol Danver's first leg of her time travel saga, but proves that it is going to be an interesting and exciting multi-stage journey.  It starts with a big action piece with is handled just perfectly, with the writing and art balancing out to really deliver.  Then we get the resoultion of the action on the mysterious island off the coast of Peru during World War II and pieces start to fall into place as to why Captain Marvel is being trasported through time and space, just in time for her to transfer to the late 50s/early 60's era of the Mercury 13 (at least the Marvel version of it) and find herself face to face with her girlhood idol, Helen Cobb, in her prime.

I still don't know all of what is going on, but I am finally fully happy to be along for the ride.  Even Dexter Soy's art is growing on me, although it is still not my favorite.  I really look forward to the next issue, and I think that we have passed the "make or break" period for the book, at least for me, and with issue #4, the series is "made."

Check it out.

Punisher #16

Fantastic and tragic end to the series

I really hate to say goodbye to this book.  It's over, and though there is a five issue mini that will be a kind of coda, there will be no going back.  Punisher is going to another author and into a team book, Thunderbolts, in the new Marvel reorganization of titles.  I wish the character well, but somehow, I can't see the next book doing what this book did.

Issue 16 ends a patient, exciting, suspense filled and character driven story arc that took up all 16 issues.  I loved every issue, and this issue is a fitting goodbye to the regular series.  The Punisher and his mission remain, but the tragic toll of violence and revenge tally up in the book.  It is great storytelling, and involves all the terrific characters drawn or drawn into Rucka's story.

The art is also outstanding.  Because of undiscolsed family issues, Marco Checchetto is unable to continue with War Zone, but he gives us an issue to remember with his moody, beautiful art in this book.

I am talking around the details, as I am trying to leave the review spoiler free.  This arc was about not only taking on "The Exchange" but also about what it would cost to do so, especially for Rachel Cole Alves, whose tragedy began in issue 1, and carries through the whole series to come to a conclusion in this final issue.

I loved every page, just as I loved every page of the series as a whole.

If you don't buy and read this, there's no talking to you.

Check it out.

Oh, and one last and final tradition to observe, here's what other's thought:

Weekly Comic Book Review (A) "Brilliant art, brilliant character work, and sophisticated storytelling by all involved.  This is an absolutely top tier comic and I’m more than a little pissed that it’s been canceled…"

IGN (9.3 "Amazing") "Fittingly, this concluding issue doesn’t go out in a hail of gunfire, but a series of well-timed thematic and emotional payoffs that bring this entire 16-issue arc full circle."

Comic Book Resources (4.5/5 stars) "Rucka makes "The Punisher" #16 a story that celebrates the history of this series. The more you know going in, the more you gain, but prior knowledge need not preclude you from reading. This issue certainly would deserve a perfect score when put in the context of the entire run, but with this issue, a little more background is needed to provide testimony to what Rucka has accomplished with the transformation of Frank Castle. That's an interesting spin for the final issue of a series. So many final issues struggle to cover all of the dangling subplots and many of those issues just cut bait and run. Not 'The Punisher.' "

Between the Panels  (postive review) "Between the stellar art team and the writing of one of my favorite authors, I’m very sorry to see The Punisher go. A great procedural, a great redemption story, and an all-around fantastic comic."

Read Comic Books (story 10/10, Art 10/10, Overall 10/10)  "And so ends a masterpiece. Writer Greg Rucka and Merco Checchetto delivered their coup de grace in The Punisher #16. Normally when I review comics, I read and then begin writing as soon as I put it down. When I finished The Punisher this week, I sat dumbfounded and speechless on my couch."

Comic Book Bin (10/10) "I hate that Rucka is about to wrap up his stint on The Punisher by pitting Frank against the rest of the Marvel U in the upcoming, and re-launched, Punisher War Zone #1. I would rather (and could have) read 100 issues of The Punisher written in this vein by Greg Rucka instead. Rucka's The Punisher will be missed, but I'm happy that we got it for at least 16 issues."

OGR (5/5 stars) "Punisher ends on a powerful note and a compelling setup for the upcoming Punisher: War Zone limited series. Rucka succeeded at creating an interesting little world for the Punisher in the Marvel Universe, complete with three-dimensional characters who meshed perfectly as a cast. Far as I'm concerned, this series should now be considered essential reading for the Punisher."

Multiversity Comics (9.5/10 – Buy. Among the best Punisher stories ever told) "Greg Rucka and a bevy of talented artists have crafted a new side to the Punisher that feels like it was somewhere in there all along, just waiting to get out. They also navigated Rachel Alves-Cole through a sneak-attack of truly great character development over just 16 issues. It’s stunning to think of the transformation that took place."

Weekly Crisis (Verdict-Must Read) "Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto's work with Punisher has been some of the best stuff to come out this past year, and Punisher #16 is no exception.  The issue, like the series as a whole, is built on its terrific character work.  Whether it's Frank himself or the people who have found themselves caught in his orbit, this book is all about who these people are and why they do what they do.  That's what's made it special, and that's what makes this issue a must read."