TristanJTarwater

Tristan is the author of 'The Valley of Ten Crescents' series and someone who is obsessed with elves. She once gave her 3.5 elf druid 'Skill: Basketweaving' just so she could take the spell, 'Beget Bogun.' Check out more of her work at backthatelfup.com

Epic Level Artistry: Michelle Nguyen

 Epic Level Artistry, Role Playing Games  Comments Off on Epic Level Artistry: Michelle Nguyen
May 312013
 

Here we are at the end of May with another installment of Epic Level Artistry! This time we have another Portland local, Michelle Nguyen! Again, with the hilarious stories of how Portland is a Big Small Town. My Spouse and I were hanging at the Stumptown Comic Festival when lo and behold, we ran into Michelle, who was sharing a booth with another ELA artist. Back in days of yore, we were property managers and they were among our residents. After an exchange of business cards and tumblr sites, I asked Michelle if she would be down with being interviewed for ELA, especially after I found out she likes Gloom (one of my favourite card games); much to my delight, she agreed to be interviewed. Let’s see what Michelle had to say about art, old school consoles and RPGs!

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And For All It's Worth by Michelle Nguyen

And For All It’s Worth by Michelle Nguyen

So, tell us a little bit about yourself and your history with art in games and RPGs.
Well, I’ve been drawing since I could remember, and as a kid the majority of my art was focused around what I really loved: video games, cartoons, and comics. Having four older brothers, I was being constantly bombarded with new genres in all sorts of games and comics, and that really helped shape my artistic style. They were very supportive in taking me to comic shops, video game competitions, and conventions. Honestly, without my family’s support, I would never have pursued art like I did. RPGs came into my interest more recently, so I am still learning.

What’s your favourite system to play? Is there a setting/system you love making art for in particular? What is it about this world/system that inspires you?
I am a sucker for old systems, especially systems by Sega. I am definitely a three-button heathen. Nostalgia runs strong for me, so I am more inclined to blow the dust off of my Saturn and play something I know well. Anything in the realm of Fantasy of Sci-Fi has always been my jam. I especially enjoy worlds that may seem normal on the surface, but has something fantastic and whimsical deeper within!

Do you prefer to GM or play as a PC? Do you find this affects your art?
Like I said, I’ve only begun to dabble in RPGs, but I definitely gravitate towards being a PC. I love seeing what worlds a GM can cook up, and being part of that. My art is a melting pot of all my loves and interests, and I feel playing a PC allows me to find more interests.

Do you find yourself more drawn to drawing locations or people? Do you have them fleshed out before you bring pencil to paper (to use an old idiom) or do the ideas and the image kind of grow side by side?
People and more organic things are definitely more in my comfort zone. Locations have always been a challenge for me. This is something I am working on currently. Sketching is something I am constantly doing, and I am definitely a planner. Going with the flow on a piece of work and just randomly adding to it makes me nervous. So many things could go wrong.

Centaur bu Michelle Nguyen

Centaur bu Michelle Nguyen

What’s your preferred medium to work with? Do you work digitally, on paper or some mix?
I have definitely been working more digitally over the last few years, but recently have rediscovered my love for graphite. Spending intimate time with pencil and paper is just so comforting to me, and I find myself getting lost in art for hours on end this way. I have found that starting traditionally with graphite then adding to the piece in Photoshop is definitely becoming my favorite method!

How much time would you say you spend in a week making art? How much time in a week would you say you spend gaming?
Oh jeez, this really varies. I wish I could say I work a lot more on artwork than I do. Right before a big event, like Stumptown, I will literally hunker down and spend 8-10 hours a day on art for days on end. But then I get super burnt-out and uninspired, and take a break.

The same can be said for games — I am the type of person that needs to finish a game to its fullest extent, and get everything there is to get. I have burnt myself out on so many series that way, and it’s really too bad. My intense love for a game can literally ruin it for me in the long run.

Are there any trends, either genre-wise or technique-wise that you’re seeing in RPG/game art that you’re enjoying now? Is there anything you want to see more of or things you don’t like?
I am getting real damn tired of vampires and zombies. The amazing amount of output in these genres were great at first, and zombies are definitely still one of my favorite horror and sci-fi based entities. However, they have both been so glamorized and overdone recently that I can’t help but roll my eyes when I see anything vampire or zombie. I’m hoping the trends will move on to something else soon, and leave them be.

Honestly, I love post-apocalyptic stories like The Road and The Windup Girl and would love to see more comics and RPGs based on those worlds. But, just, maybe not too much more. I could see that getting ruined as well.

Legend of Zelda by Michelle Nguyen

Legend of Zelda by Michelle Nguyen

Whose art do you like the most? Whose art would you say has influenced you or do you try to emulate?
This is a difficult thing to answer, as I feel like I am moved in so many ways by so many people. I went to school for fine arts and painting, and so have many traditional painters that influenced my work, like Gustav Klimt, Alphonse Mucha, and Lucian Freud. Contemporary artists that drive me are James Jean, Audrey Kawasaki, Josh Keyes, Nimit Malavia, and Lois Van Barle. Comic artists that inspire me are Jen Wang, Der-Shing Helmer, Mike Holmes, Shaun Tan, Craig Thompson, and Yuko Ota.

I find that I constantly surround myself with these peoples’ pieces and am constantly being shaped by them. It’s almost like thanking everyone who has ever touched your life!

What tools do you use to make art? What tools/items do you need to game?
I find that I am very picky about the types of sketchbooks and pencils I use. Definitely cannot work without a soft cover Moleskine, Sumo mechanical pencil, or my favorite Faber Castell pencils. Otherwise, just good old Photoshop and my (very) old Wacom tablet, and I am set.

Gaming, as it is a very serious activity for me, requires every single ounce of my attention. I don’t require anything special.

What projects have you worked on in the past? Can you tell us what you’re currently working on or have in the queue?
I have yet to work on any big project (yet!), but I have been working on a longer, one-shot comic I wrote a few years ago and will hopefully release sometime soon. Other than that, I have completed a few short comics and quite a few stand-alone single pieces. Bartkira was a great project that I worked on for five pages, and am so glad I could partake in that. Recently, I started working with a writer to illustrate his space opera graphic novel. More details soon, I promise!

Mononoke by Michelle Nguyen

Mononoke by Michelle Nguyen

Are there any pieces you’re particularly proud of? A favourite character you managed to pin down or something really funny/touching/dramatic you captured?
I am really proud of my recent graphite pieces. Before working on them, I had forgotten how much control I had over graphite and how awesome it felt to sit and work on. My mind would get so focused and in a sense thrilled to be working.

What would be a dream job/commission?
My dream job would to be a freelancer that got to work on awesome comic pages and stories, and maybe some concept or background art for video games. Being tied to a team like Laika has been a major driving factor for me recently! Working with Laika would be my end-all, be-all.

When you’re not making art or gaming, what are you doing?
I read quite a bit, explore the depths of the internet, and enjoy sewing as well, but honestly my day-job keeps me away from home the most. That job allows me to pay my bills and enjoy my hobbies, so I can’t complain much. I just cannot wait until I have a job where I can use my artistic abilities more often.

Standby by Michelle Nguyen

Standby by Michelle Nguyen

Do you have any advice for people who are trying to find artists to hire? To artists trying to get their work out there?
Please, just find an artist that fits your project well. There is nothing more difficult and honestly degrading than getting excited about a job only to find out they don’t want you to complete a project in your artistic style, but to emulate someone else. Literally, one of the most difficult experiences of my artistic career. Find someone that is hard working, and will produce work to your standards. It will make everyone happy in the long run!

As for artists, you have to put yourself out there. Create work that you want to create! If you want to create comics, then start drawing comics. No one is going to hire you if you say you want to do comics, but only have a portfolio filled with paintings of flowers. Do the work for the job that you want, and work hard. Never give up! You can do it!

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If you dig Michelle’s art you can check out more on her website or her tumblr.

About Tristan J Tarwater

Tristan is the author of 'The Valley of Ten Crescents' series and someone who is obsessed with elves. She once gave her 3.5 elf druid 'Skill: Basketweaving' just so she could take the spell, 'Beget Bogun.' Check out more of her work at backthatelfup.com

May 152013
 

Here we are in the month of May, kicking off Epic Level Artistry again! This month we have two great artists who both happen to reside in the city I hold dear to my heart and now live in: Portland, OR. I ran into Adrian (and next week’s artist, Michelle) at Stumptown Comic Fest and fell in love with his illustration of Daenerys Stormborn with her three dragons. Also, strange story: both Adrian and Michelle recognized us, though mostly my spouse, I assume: we used to manage apartments back in the day and they were some of our tenants. After some ‘HOLY CRAP, WE KNOW EACH OTHER, WHAT IS UP?’ we got to hear a bit of their adventures in art school. We exchanged info and later Adrian agreed to participate in Epic Level Artistry. Let’s see what Adrian had to say about art, games and a very intriguing cactus man.

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Portown by Adrian Ricker

Portown by Adrian Ricker

So, tell us a little bit about yourself and your history with art in games and RPGs.

I’ll start by saying my interest in tabletop RPGs was something that came to me later in life. My earlier years were dominated by just a simple interest in Sci-fi and Fantasy. The Lord of the Rings novels were read to me by my father as bedtime stories before I could even read. I was already drawing at the time. My elementary school friends and I would spend our free time in the library drawing silly monsters and cartoons.

It was around this time that I also found videogames. Games like Final Fantasy 4, Chrono Trigger, and Earthbound showed me a whole new world of artwork and storytelling. This time, however, I could participate. It was exciting have my own agency over exploring dungeons, fighting monsters, and saving the world.

I really started taking my artwork more seriously in high school, and I ultimately ended up in college going for a fine arts degree in painting. Now, you would think that with my interest in storytelling, fantasy, sci-fi, and video games would naturally lead me to RPGs, right? Actually, it wasn’t until I was several years into finishing my degree that my friend invited me to play D&D with him.

It was through playing games like this throughout the rest of my art education that helped me focus my work into what it is now. Games that force you to use your imagination to create whole worlds, characters, and monsters helped me overcome the dreaded “fear of the blank canvas”. Ultimately, my influence from games and comics helped me understand how I wanted to use my art: as a tool to tell stories and communicate with people.

What’s your favourite system to play? Is there a setting/system you love making art for in particular? What is it about this world/system that inspires you?

I hope I don’t disappoint because I’ve only ever played D&D 3.5, with the exception of one long campaign I played in the Iron Kingdom setting. So I only really have experience with d20 systems.

Mech Pilot by Adrian Ricker

Mech Pilot by Adrian Ricker

Do you prefer to GM or play as a PC? Do you find this affects your art?

As of now, I have only ever played. The game masters I’ve played under really understood the importance of being a good storyteller, and knowing how to make the world both exciting and engaging for the players. This helps spark my imagination, and makes me want to detail out everything about my character. Of course, this includes lots of drawings.

If I ever run a game I can easily see myself going a little overboard with detailing out maps and concept art for all of the locations and landscapes.

Do you find yourself more drawn to drawing locations or people? Do you have them fleshed out before you bring pencil to paper (to use an old idiom) or do the ideas and the image kind of grow side by side?

You know, I spent the longest time being very intimidated by working on locations, landscapes, cityscapes, etc. I’ll still choose to draw a person over a cityscape most of the time. That said, I quickly learned even the most interesting character is boring without an interesting setting to place them in.

I’ll always have a general idea of what I want before I start to draw, but I found that “thinking with your pencil” is really the best way to make sure your art is communicating clearly. At least for me, drawing takes some serious trial and error to look the way I want.

What’s your preferred medium to work with? Do you work digitally, on paper or some mix?

I work purely digitally the majority of the time. It allows me to streamline each step of the process and quickly get images from concept to completed works. I’ll still draw with pencil on paper from time to time when sketching things out, but I’ll always bring it into photoshop at some point.

How much time would you say you spend in a week making art? How much time in a week would you say you spend gaming?

Oh man, it depends on the week. On an average week I probably only spend 3-5 hours on games, and at least 15-20 hours on drawing. That said, if a new game comes out it definitely cuts into my work time more than I would like to admit. I can definitely jump right into marathon mode and play games for 30+ hours a week. Conversely, when deadlines are around the corner I am very capable of delaying any gaming until the deadline has passed. It works well as a reward to motivate myself.

Lava Monster by Adrian Ricker

Lava Monster by Adrian Ricker

Are there any trends, either genre-wise or technique-wise that you’re seeing in RPG/game art that you’re enjoying now? Is there anything you want to see more of or things you don’t like?

Honestly, as much as I like fantasy novels and D&D, the Tolkien-like fantasy setting is oh-so-quickly being run into the ground. Thankfully, I’m seeing more and more fantasy settings branching off into their own sub-genres that have exciting twists to keep it interesting. Steampunk is the most popular example of this that I can think of, but I’m excited to see what people will imagine in the near future.

Whose art do you like the most? Whose art would you say has influenced you or do you try to emulate?

Goodness. This is a doozy of a question. It’s really hard to pin down my influence to a few people, but for the sake of brevity I’ll omit all of my mentors and teachers I’ve had throughout the years and only mention those that everyone can access.

In regards to well rendered concept art of characters and environments, it’s hard for me not to mention Matt Kohr. He runs the website ctrlpaint.com which provides not just amazing art tutorials for rendering, but tools and exercises to help you keep motivated and inspired.
Additionally, pretty much everyone on CGhub provides amazing inspiration as well.

As far as comics go, there are plenty of artist that I think do an amazing job telling a visual story. Some currently working comic artists that I think do amazing work are Brandon Graham, James Stokoe, Becky Cloonan, Taiyo Matsumoto, and Takehiko Inoue. Just to name a few.

Scorcerer by Adrian Ricker

Scorcerer by Adrian Ricker

What tools do you use to make art? What tools/items do you need to game?

For me, art making requires a comfy seat, some coffee or tea, and some time to spend with my tablet in photoshop. I’ll pop some music or a podcast on and get crackin’.

As far as gaming goes, my GM always kept the game loose. He would always just sit us down together and start telling his story. He would provide maps when necessary, or draw up a visual for certain things, but for the most part he wanted us to be engaged with our minds. So I suppose all I really need for a good session to game is a group of friends.

What projects have you worked on in the past? Can you tell us what you’re currently working on or have in the queue?

I’ve done a few short comic projects, the longest of which is called Gwen and the Green Thief. Please keep an eye on my website and tumblr for the next few months. I’ll be dumping concept art and character designs for my next comic project very soon!

Are there any pieces you’re particularly proud of? A favourite character you managed to pin down or something really funny/touching/dramatic you captured?

I’m going to have to say my short comic Gwen and the Green Thief. It’s hard because it’s been almost 2 years now since I drew it, so it’s easy to look back and criticize the imperfections. Beyond that, though, It was the first thing I made for myself after I graduated. Working on it helped me through the uncertainty of post-grad life. It helped me solidify in my mind what I wanted to do with my art. The comic itself it pretty silly, but It holds sentimental value to me.

Cactus Concept by Adrian Ricker

Cactus Concept by Adrian Ricker

Okay, there are two images that I have to ask about. Cactus Man. What is the story behind him? And the Sailor Senshi with guns. This is awesome and I want to know why it exists.

Haha, I wish I had an interesting story behind him. The Cactus character was going to be a protagonist for a short comic that ended up being scrapped. In short, it was about a man who fused his DNA with a cactus in order to survive in the desert. I fiddled with it for a while, but the story never really got its legs. I ended up really liking the design, though.

The Sailor Senshi image just started as an idea that I was doodling as a warm up drawing one day. I’ve had a strange relationship with that show. When that show was airing I remember trying to be a tough guy around my friends. You know, saying dumb little boy stuff like,”That show is for little girls” or the ever-so-critical “It sucks!”. Whenever I went home, though, I would pretty much watch it religiously. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I really ended up remembering that whole little experience. In a weird way, I guess it sort of symbolizes how even though it was a pretty girly and feminine show, I thought it was pretty bad-ass.

What would be a dream job/commission?

This might be the hardest question for me, so I’ll keep it simple.

I feel like that’s a bit naive saying this, but I would be happy to get to the point that I’m making as much money doing artwork as I am at my day job. Being able to truly focus on my artwork is the only thing I can say for certain about what I want.

When you’re not making art or gaming, what are you doing?

I spend a rather unfortunate amount of time at a day job. But hey, the money lets me do my art and game!
Other than that, I try to read. I think understanding how to use language to tell a story is just as important as telling one visually. It’s definitely a skill I need to work on.

Outfit Design by Adrian Ricker

Outfit Design by Adrian Ricker

Do you have any advice for people who are trying to find artists to hire? To artists trying to get their work out there?

The most important thing for both parties is to be clear with your goals, and clear with your communication. If you are hiring someone, you should know beforehand what you are looking for and seek artists to fit that need. Nobody wants the wrong person for a job, and nobody wants to be the wrong person for a job. From an artist’s perspective, the most refreshing clients are ones that will tell you exactly what they want and keep open lines of communication throughout the process. I am happy to make changes and work with a client. I’m less thrilled when clients email me the day of a deadline with changes, after I hadn’t heard from them for a week.

As for artists:
Always be creating. Every piece you make should be one of your best. Even when practicing, try out new techniques, emulate artist you like, see what you can adapt to your own work. It’s through this constant trial and error we find our abilities that will set us apart, and make our work attractive to prospective employers.

You must also be someone people want to work with. The artistic community is just that, a community. If you are friendly, polite, and make yourself open to meeting new people and having new experiences, then people will be more inclined to hire you. Don’t expect your art to sell itself. While it does happen, more often than not you are selling it yourself.

In short: As the amazing artist Chris Oatley says, “Do great work, and be great to work with”.

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So there you have it! I was really excited to have Adrian agree to show off his art and answer questions. If you’re interested in seeing more of his work you can check out his tumblr or his website which features that much coveted Dany picture. Also, wouldn’t that cactus man make a cool NPC? Or a druid? Hmmm…well, till next time, hope you enjoyed Adrian’s art and happy gaming!

About Tristan J Tarwater

Tristan is the author of 'The Valley of Ten Crescents' series and someone who is obsessed with elves. She once gave her 3.5 elf druid 'Skill: Basketweaving' just so she could take the spell, 'Beget Bogun.' Check out more of her work at backthatelfup.com

Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: This Week

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Apr 192013
 

I was going to try and get one more article in before a moving hiatus but I’m watching the Twitter feed roll through with news about the shooting at MIT. Last night was the fire in Texas and earlier this week, the terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon. I’m sitting here, astounded at what this week has brought this country. Looking to the news for respite yields more violence being experienced in other countries.

Reality is scary. Reality is full of terrible events and cruel people. It contains weapons and chaos and pain.

Reality is reassuring. It contains stories of hopes, new inventions and people trying to make things better. It contains heroes. Like the EMT workers and first responders. Firefighters. Marathon runners who donated blood.

I don’t really know what to say so I will just say, I hope you all stay safe. Keep your eyes open and please, lets look out for one another.

See you in Portland.

 

About Tristan J Tarwater

Tristan is the author of 'The Valley of Ten Crescents' series and someone who is obsessed with elves. She once gave her 3.5 elf druid 'Skill: Basketweaving' just so she could take the spell, 'Beget Bogun.' Check out more of her work at backthatelfup.com

Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: A Deity’s Gotta Eat

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Apr 122013
 
Peaches, a symbol of longevity and immortality in Chinese culture.

Peaches, a symbol of longevity and immortality in Chinese culture.

Eating. We do it every day. I just ate some ice cream while I did some research and started writing this article. I had a nice salad for lunch while I worked on some RPG stuff. I made a nice lunch of rice, spinach and leftover bulgogi for my daughter to take to school so she could have the energy to run around. Regardless of your relationship with food, food is the fuel we as humans partake of to give us the energy to get things done. Whether that’s sit in front of a computer and type out as many words as you can, as fast as you can, or work in field from sunup to sundown, tending to plants and animals, mowing, picking, planting or something in between those two, doing stuff takes energy and we get that energy from the food we eat.

What if the stuff you did was keep the sun from falling from the sky? Watched over all merchants? Sew seeds of discord among humans? Preside over every childbirth in the land? Know everything, see everything? Reign in all these people and keep them in their domains? It would probably take a hell of a lot more than a bowl of cereal and some coffee in the morning to get that done. Deities perform the kind of tasks only deities do, residing over the natural order, inspiring, protecting, making war, rewarding and punishing on epic scales man can try to approach…but will probably fail at. It’s only natural they partake of some divine sustenance.

Some deities partake of special substances, reserved only for them to maintain their divine power. Ambrosia and nectar are the first that comes to my mind, food of the Greek pantheon. Amrita is the Hindu equivalent, a substance consumed by their deities in order to maintain their immortality. Thetis rubbed ambrosia over her infant son, Achilles’ body in an effort to make him immortal. Psyche was given ambrosia to make her immortal once Aphrodite has put her through the ringer. In China, peaches are a sign of longevity, immortality, their ultimate form being the Peaches of Immortality, a tree that takes thousands of years to flower and fruit.

In addition to the foods deities take and make for themselves, there are also the foods and substances given to them by humans, in the form of dedications, sacrifices and oblations. Cultures across the globe require certain items, certain types of animals or plants to be offered at certain times. Some deities have a taste for cigars or bananas. Some prefer speckled goats and fresh barley. Some want the first fruits of your field. Others prefer the blood of humans. The bigger the request, the bigger the sacrifice. The powers that be can be persuaded or even aided in their endeavors by the offerings of humans. No energy put in and the results can be catastrophic.

If the divine is a part of your game, what do the members of your pantheon feed upon? What type of fuel does it take for them to keep things moving and how do humans participate in this great feeding of the divine? Are they the maitre ds? Or…on the menu?

For GMs

  • Who are the various deities at play in the world? What do they preside over? Does this affect the types of sacrifices they accept and prefer?
  • Is there a food or substance that is consumed only by the deities? Why do they alone eat it? What types of powers does it grant them? What is it like?
  • How often must sacrifices be made to deities? How are these sacrifices sent forth? Offered on altars? Burned? Submerged in water? Do the people offering them get to/have to partake of the items offered?
  • Who makes the sacrifices? Who deems the sacrifices good or not?
  • What types of things make the best sacrifices? What is forbidden to be sacrificed and why?
  • Are the foods of the deities naturally occurring or must they be prepared in a certain way?
  • What would befall any mortal who partakes of food for the divine?

Plot Hooks

  • An ancient manuscript is found by the PCs, containing a recipe which if brewed and offered in a certain location will awaken an older pantheon of deities. While some think the recipe is just nonsense, others think there is more to it. Some believe it’s a sure ticket to a new age, with new rules and a new divine order. Some see it as blasphemy, something which should be forgotten. Others see it as allegory while still others think it’s a code hinting at a real elixir of immortality for humans. The PCs must decide what to do with this recipe. What do they think it is? What deities will it unleash upon the land? Are the ingredients hard to find? Who thinks what about the possibilities it contains? Can the recipe be destroyed? Who hid it in the first place and why?
  • When a plant whose fruit is reserved only for the deities is discovered to have medicinal properties that can save lives in another region, the locals are angered when ambassadors come demanding the fruit for the good of their people; according to the tradition of where the trees are from, if the fruit is eaten by mortals, it will bring destruction to the land. How do the ambassadors enter the land? How was the fruit discovered to have been such beneficial medicine? Who is protecting these trees? What is the nature of the illness the fruit supposedly cures? Which deity is the fruit for specifically?
  • When a group of woodcutters’ family members all fall terribly ill, no reason behind the mysterious illness can be found: until they are questioned by the PCs. Years ago they came upon a strange copse of trees that exuded a sweet, fragrant substance when felled. Finding the sap to be delicious, they ate it and continued their work, leaving the trees to return to later for the sticky sap. However, further events proved the woodcutters impervious to injury or illness, stronger than before and aging slowly. The only thing they have in common is the sap. They urge the PCs to find the copse of trees and acquire some sap for their families before it is too late for their loved ones, unable to go as they fear leaving their sides. What do the PCs find at the copse? What is the sap? Is the copse connected to the illnesses of the woodcutters’ families? Do the PCs partake of the sap themselves?
  • When a powerful individual finds out flower buds have started to form on a tree whose fruit will grant immortality, the PCs are send on the arduous task of retrieving it. The fruit only forms once every 100 generations and lasts for one day, with many supernatural obstacles in their way. The PCs however are indebted in some way where saying no is not an option. What is the fruit? What can they expect to encounter on their journey? Do other people know of the fruit’s forthcoming? Why are they compelled to perform such a task and how can their employer ensure they won’t mess it up and be sure they don’t steal it for themselves?
  • When an invading force takes hold of the region, they forbid certain types of sacrifices, deeming them barbaric. When natural disasters take hold of the land, the indigenous people insist it is because of the lack of sacrifices and the invaders must decide what to do. What are the sacrifices being withheld? How different is the religion of the native people from the invaders? Are the sacrifices being done in secret? Is there a link between the change in sacrifices and the natural disasters? What do the people think will happen if the sacrifices do not resume?

For PCs

  • Are you a religious person? Do you follow a particular deity?
  • What sacrifices do they require and what do they promise in return if they are offered?
  • What is most precious to you? Would you sacrifice it if you thought it would help yourself? Your loved ones? A friend? A stranger?
  • If someone offered you the ‘food of the divine,’ would you eat it?

What say you? Can you whet the appetites of the divine?

About Tristan J Tarwater

Tristan is the author of 'The Valley of Ten Crescents' series and someone who is obsessed with elves. She once gave her 3.5 elf druid 'Skill: Basketweaving' just so she could take the spell, 'Beget Bogun.' Check out more of her work at backthatelfup.com

Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: A Rerun and a Bit of an Annoucement

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Mar 292013
 
Here's a picture of a taco for no reason. Now I want tacos.

Here’s a picture of a taco for no reason. Now I want tacos.

So, I have the flu again. In honor of that, I am directing you to the “Reality Makes the Best Fantasy” episode about The Flu. I will also add that instead of watching John Adams, I watched The Road to El Dorado, 50/50, A Knight’s Tale and The Amazing Spider-Man. And by “watch,” I mean mostly listen to because I was passed out on the couch.

In addition to the flu bit, I am announcing that through the ingenuity of my tech guy, “Reality Makes the Best Fantasy” is going to be bundled and put into an e-book format. It will be organized, edited, and released through Creative Commons, with an index to help you find what you need.

In addition, I will be moving to Portland, Oregon in late April, which means you might get another rerun or two. Unless I get some guest posts, which would be full of win for everyone.

So that’s the news for now. Peace!

About Tristan J Tarwater

Tristan is the author of 'The Valley of Ten Crescents' series and someone who is obsessed with elves. She once gave her 3.5 elf druid 'Skill: Basketweaving' just so she could take the spell, 'Beget Bogun.' Check out more of her work at backthatelfup.com

Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Anniversaries

 Reality Makes The Best Fantasy  Comments Off on Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Anniversaries
Mar 222013
 
Hindu Calendar corresponding to Gregorian Year 1871-1872.

Hindu Calendar corresponding to Gregorian Year 1871-1872.

A few weeks ago I was sitting at my computer, wondering to myself, dang, Tristan. I wonder how many ‘Reality Makes the Best Fantasy’ articles you’ve written? How long have you been doing this? Imagine my surprise when I realized I had written 54 articles and it had been a little over a year! WHOA. Reality Makes the Best Fantasy had its one year anniversary and I didn’t even know it! That’s a lot of time flailing at the computer, trying to think of a topic for an article.

‘A year’ is generally the allotment of time we use when we speak of anniversaries. I mean, it’s right there in the freaking word. Sometimes we like to say, oh, it’s the one month anniversary but let’s face it, ‘anniversary’ comes from Latin, derived from ‘annus’ which means ‘year’ and ‘vertere’ meaning ‘to turn’ (the Online Etymology Dictionary and taking Latin for three years is your friend). We celebrate the turning of the year on New Years. We celebrate birthdays, the anniversaries of our births. Many state holidays are anniversaries of momentous occasions such as signings of declarations, treaties, peace accords, laws. Marriage garners wedding anniversaries, full of more flailing and trying to remember. The anniversary of a death could require certain rites to be performed or could be a time of solemn remembrance.

There are many important dates to remember and as the years pass on, the holidays and events can take on new meanings as new generations celebrate and as new events take place, changing the meanings or context of the original occasion. Those involved in the original happening might remember the raw emotion, the energy that it took to accomplish whatever took place that day. The next few years might warrant feelings of triumph, with subsequent years falling to reflection, symbolism or the movement even being co-opted by newer, fresher movements with more energy behind them.

Anniversaries are a time of observance, celebration, contemplation. When the wheel of the year has made a turn, what are the PCs remembering in your campaign? What is worth celebrating 365 days later?

For GMs

  • What types of annual celebrations are observed by the people? State holidays? Personal celebrations?
  • How long is a year? Who keeps track of the passing of the year?
  • Are there certain gifts that are given for a certain number of years passing?
  • What are the rites, rituals and celebrations to properly commemorate the passing of time?
  • Is there a deity of the year, who opens and closes it? A deity of time?
  • How carefully do people record when things happen? Who generally is in charge of record keeping and keeping track of time?

Plot Hooks

  • Ten years ago, the PCs took part in a political movement which had a great impact on their society. However, a new political group has decided to use the anniversary as the leaping point for their own agenda, an agenda the PCs don’t quite fall in line with. The PCs must try and defuse the situation before all their hard work and old dreams are undone. What did the PCs originally fight for? What did they and their friends accomplish? How many of them are still alive? What does this new group advocate and why do the PCs disagree? How do they intend to stop them?
  • After some traveling, the PCs find themselves in a town or village they had been in a year ago. Whatever went down while the PCs were there evidently had an effect as the citizens are gearing up for a huge celebration. Asked to be the guests of honor and stay on, it isn’t made entirely clear what the celebration will entail. Why are the townsfolk celebrating? What did the PCs do? How is it remembered by the people of the town? What are they getting ready to do?
  • On the one year anniversary of the rulers wedding, they and their spouse must make a pilgrimage to a certain temple in order to guarantee the fertility of the couple. The PCs are asked to escort the royal couple there, avoiding things that would delay the pair and things which might bring bad fortune to the marriage bed. How long do they have to arrive at the temple? How does the couple feel about each other? What rites must they perform?
  • When their employer suddenly remembers it is their wedding anniversary, they quickly ask the PCs to obtain an appropriate gift and track down their spouse to give it to them before nightfall. What do the PCs obtain? How do they track down the intended? Did the other spouse remember and give a gift already? What will happen if the missive falls through?
  • On the anniversary of a terrible catastrophe, the city is somber as they remember those who perished and those who were injured. The PCs must organize and facilitate an event sponsored by their church, to comfort those who still mourn and commemorate the dead. When another temple wishes to perform a ritual to ensure it never happens again, the PCs are sent to negotiate and dissuade them, telling them it is too soon. What religious order do the PCs belong to and why are they volunteering? Have they lost loved ones? How do they comfort those who are grieving? What is the ritual to be performed?
  • Local customs holds that after a certain number of years of being dead, an individual’s soul finally leaves for the afterlife. On this anniversary of their gone missing, a group of travelers/a military regiment returns to their homeland. They can’t account for their disappearance and seem startled to hear so much time has passed. The PCs are sent to investigate what happened. Why did the group disappear? Have they aged since they left? What did they originally set out to do and what were the conditions of their return? How have their families adjusted and how do they react to their return?

For PCs

  • Do you celebrate any local holidays that are annual commemorations of things?
  • When is your birthday?
  • Do you tend to try and celebrate anniversaries of events more traditionally, to reflect on the past or do you use any excuse to party?
  • Are there any events that have taken place in your life that you commemorate yearly? Do you share these events with other individuals or are they personal triumphs/tragedies?

What say you? What annual triumphs have you had around the gaming table?

About Tristan J Tarwater

Tristan is the author of 'The Valley of Ten Crescents' series and someone who is obsessed with elves. She once gave her 3.5 elf druid 'Skill: Basketweaving' just so she could take the spell, 'Beget Bogun.' Check out more of her work at backthatelfup.com

Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Moving

 Reality Makes The Best Fantasy  Comments Off on Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Moving
Mar 152013
 
Moving Company from SLC, Utah. 1911.

Moving Company from SLC, Utah. 1911.

I’m moving in a few weeks, from Central California back to our family’s hometown of Portland, OR. While I’m really glad to be getting out of the work/living situation we’re in right now and back to my friends and perpetual cloudiness*, there’s a part of my brain that is dreading it. I hate moving. I lived in the same apartment for the first 19 years of my life and I love carving out a little spot for myself and then planting my butt in it. In the last ten years I’ve moved eight times, not including a few times when I crashed at places for a few weeks and two times when we moved down the hall. Every time, I’ve felt probably something akin to a hermit crab. Uprooting my butt and planting it in another shell. Steadily growing into it. Eventually feeling comfortable again. Not wanting to move. Having to. Grumpily doing so, hoping a seagull doesn’t bite me. Wait.

In the grand scheme of moving, I’m very lucky. Thank goodness for the internet, I can actually look at places before I move into them. We can have all our stuff loaded into a giant truck and have someone else drive it, loading essentials, child and kitties into our car and drive up to Portland. This day in age, there’s a bit of certainty we can expect. I know what Portland’s like and if I didn’t, I could find out. I’m not moving on a promise of gold or riches in the hills or being pushed out of my current home because of war, famine or some other hardship. We have a definite time constraint and a budget but we won’t be fleeing in the middle of the night.

Moving requires you to, well…move your stuff. It’s not just the moving of the people, it’s the objects, the things those involved decided would be needed in the new location. Sometimes families move, sometimes businesses. But always, there’s a time of going through your things. Do I need this table? Am I going to read this book again? Should I fold these clothes or just throw them in a box? What can I get in my new location? Most everything is gone over, some things trashed, some things donated while most of it winds up boxed and moved. Some people (like myself) get caught up in looking over their things, remembering where they got them. Often one finds out they have accumulated WAY too much stuff and they can get rid of a lot more than they thought (this happens to me as well, I’m looking at you, eight million papers on my desk).

Things have to be organized, boxed, labeled, loaded, transported. Whether this is a huge truck or a donkey drawn cart, things can happen along the way that can delay the trip, leaving you without your stuff for longer than you anticipated. Sometimes things speed up the trip so your items arrive ahead of you; with no one to receive the goods, the driver puts them in storage, eager to get their other deliveries out on time.

And then there is the unpacking, making sure nothing broke, arranging your things, hoping everything fits and adjusting to your new location. Even if you’re a pro at moving and love a change of scenery, it can still be a stressful time. Your tiny corner of the world is in chaos, erased from the map for the moment and en route to another locale. Even if everything goes right, the change in routine and adjusting to a new little shell is hard for any hermit crab.

Adventurers are generally on the move, but travel is different when you’ve got all your worldly possessions in tow. What kind of mishaps can happen when all of someone’s material goods are in the adventurers’ hands?

For GMs

  • How likely are people to move? What are reasons for people to move? To find better work? Start a family? Strike out on their own? Do people move because they choose or are do they have to be forced out of their homes?
  • Do people tend to make shorter relocations within the towns or are moves usually long treks to greener lands?
  • Who moves? Do the poor stay put while those with more income have the luxury of changing the scenery when they want? Or do the poor move frequently, pushed out, trying to find work and inexpensive homes while the rich settle into large homes, secure in their stability?
  • When people move, what do they pack their stuff in? Fabric? Baskets? How do they transport their goods?
  • Who moves the goods? Do people move their own stuff or do they entrust moves to be handled by professionals?
  • Is there a deity of moving? Rituals for moving house, for cleaning out the new abode, leaving the old one?

Plot Hooks

  • A prestigious family is moving to the new capitol and having their household goods transported by professional movers. The PCs work for the moving company and must be sure to transport the belongings safely. News of the move is well known among the citizens and the PCs have word bandits are going to try and make a killing as many nobles relocate. How do the PCs plan on avoiding trouble? Are they in charge of the operation or working under other movers? Do they have any connections that can help them? What would pulling through this unscathed mean for them? Is the family traveling with the caravan of goods or are they going a different way/at a different time?
  • When they arrive to move a family from one house to another, the PCs find out the reason for the relocation: the head of the household has been demoted for some reason and the whole family must move to a smaller home for financial reasons. When the spouse of the shamed individual locks themselves in the house and refuses to come out, it’s up to the PCs to convince them to exit. What was the reason for the demotion? What is the family moving into? How long do they have to get the person out of the house? Are other members of the household watching and able to help? Or do they hinder the process? Why do they lock themselves in the house? Are they dangerous to themselves? To others?
  • When the PCs arrive at the new headquarters of the dignitary they are escorting, they find out all their goods will not be arriving for quite some time. The PCs are sent out with a budget to acquire interim goods for the official and allowed a much smaller budget for a few things so the PCs aren’t miserable. While out bargaining in the market, the PCs get the impression the locals aren’t too thrilled with them or the new person being there. What do the PCs try to buy? Why is the dignitary there? Why are the goods not there yet? Were the PCs items being transported as well? Why are the locals upset with their presence? Is there another reason why the goods are delayed?
  • Records are starting to show inhabitants of a certain town are moving out at a rate much higher than usual. When asked about it, the families all claim different reasons for packing up house but all seem on edge. The PCs are sent to investigate this strange migration. What do they find when they arrive at the village? What percentage of the population is left? How do the townsfolk react to the arrival of the PCs? Are the remaining villagers aware of the mass exodus? What is causing the people to leave?
  • While unpacking the goods of an eccentric client, the PCs have problems fitting the contents of several boxes into one room. When they suggest certain items be moved to other rooms, the client grows irate and insists it will all fit, claiming they mapped it out themselves. However, the client fails to produce a floorplan proving this. They insist the PCs arrange the furniture so it all fits in the allocated room or they won’t be compensated. The client then leaves for an important meeting. Who is the client? What do the PCs do? Does the client give them a clue as to how it can be done? Can it be done? Why does the person insist on having all the items in the same room? How do the PCs feel about the assignment?
  • The PCs are sent to look at several houses for their employer, as they will be moving their household and business in several months. They are given the specs regarding the type of house and storefront their boss would like and are asked to stay in the new location several days to ascertain what the various neighborhoods are like. The PCs will also be moving to the new location and must tour homes and buildings, bargain and gauge what their potential new locale may be like. What type of business does their boss run and what role do the PCs play in it? How many towns/homes do they check out? Do the people who own the various buildings know why the PCs are there? Does their employer have a reputation that would work for or against them in their bargaining? How do their families feel about the move and do the PCs have any personal connections in any of the locations?

For PCs

  • How many times have you moved in your life? What were the reasons for moving?
  • Do you have a permanent residence to return to? When did you move there?
  • What kind of items do you get rid of before a move? What kind of things do you keep? Which items absolutely HAVE TO move with you?
  • Do you like moving? Hate it?
  • Would you ever pay someone to move your stuff for you or would you rather do it yourself?
  • How do you scout out places to live? Do you check them out yourself? Go on hearsay? Send someone for you?
  • If you were being forced from your home, what items would you grab before you ran?
  • What kind of house would you want to settle down in?

What say you? How can an adventurer’s familiarity with moving around help them help others with their relocations?

About Tristan J Tarwater

Tristan is the author of 'The Valley of Ten Crescents' series and someone who is obsessed with elves. She once gave her 3.5 elf druid 'Skill: Basketweaving' just so she could take the spell, 'Beget Bogun.' Check out more of her work at backthatelfup.com

Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: TAXI!

 Reality Makes The Best Fantasy  Comments Off on Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: TAXI!
Mar 082013
 
Taxi Cabs in NYC during rush hour on 5th Avenue. Photo by Joseph Plotz

Taxi Cabs in NYC during rush hour on 5th Avenue. Photo by Joseph Plotz

Did you know that “Taxi cab”’ is a shortened form of “Taximeter cabriolet?” I did not. And I don’t know how I feel about that.

Taxi cabs! A few different kinds come to mind. In New York City we had the yellow cabs which you could catch on the major avenues and busier streets of the city. More common in my neighborhood was the “car service.” These were cars (generally Lincoln Town Cars) which would show up in front of our building after we called the service, letting them know where we were going. Because we could call, we could get quotes on the cost of a trip. As a kid who suffered from chronic ear infections, I took more than a few trips to the Emergency Room with my mom in a car service, my mom frequently asking them to turn down their music to help ease the pain. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, both services took cash only and you just assumed the cabbie knew where the hell they were going. Nowadays taxis take cards and most cars have GPS’s, meaning even the most unseasoned cabbie can get you to 28th and 1st Avenue from Grand and FDR lickety-split and without going in circles.

Taxi cabs offer the convenience of cars, the ability to get from point A to point B without making stops along the way or leaving you, you know, a few blocks from where you really wanted to go, without the hassle of having to own a car in a big city. You don’t have to park it, insure it, or hope it doesn’t get stolen. Unlike a bus or train, you don’t have to worry about strange passengers or unexpected delays beyond a traffic jam. In a busy city where you just have to get someplace as quickly as possible and the bus won’t cut it, a taxi can get the job done.

Of course, like everything, not every taxi is perfect. In cities where they aren’t often used, the service can be less than perfect (I’m looking at you, Portland, OR 2006. WTF, I waited on 28th and Glisan for like an hour, jerks). Sometimes the cabbie picks their nose or has no idea where they’re going, running up the meter unnecessarily. Sometimes the drivers are sketchy as hell. Cabbies can also be targeted by criminals, especially since cabbies are known to have money on them. Cab drivers keep all kinds of strange hours to make sure people get where they need to go all times of day and night. Being on the road means they can be involved in traffic accidents and dealing with a constant stream of customers means they can come across unsavory sorts. Because driving the streets of a busy city is not the most desired or well-paying job on the block, this workforce can be made up of people newly arrived to the city, looking to make ends meet. Taxis are also pricey. When you’ve got $20 in your pocket and the meter’s at $18.50 with a block to go, a person can start sweating.

In a fast-paced urban campaign, taxis and taxi-like transportation can get the PCs where they need to go quick as…well, whatever is doing the moving. Walking is for plebes! Throw them all on a taxi and see where the cabbie and the adventure takes them.

For GMs

  • What is the taxi-like transportation in your campaign? Is it powered by people? Animals? Something else?
  • Are the taxis run by companies? Are there rival companies or does one person have a monopoly on all the transportation services? To whom do the taxi drivers answer?
  • What differentiates a taxi from a regular vehicle? How are they made to stand out on a busy street?
  • How do people summon taxis? Do they wait in certain areas? Hail them? Call them?
  • Who generally uses taxis? Do they use them to get to work or leisure?
  • Where are taxis most used? What streets do they frequent, looking for fares?
  • Who drives the taxis? What esteem is this job held in?
  • Do the cabbies keep logs of their fares? How detailed are these records and where are they stored?
  • Who regulates the taxis? Makes sure the vehicles are well maintained, that the drivers are knowledgeable regarding the city? Can communicate with passengers?
  • What are fares like and what are the alternative forms of transportation they have to compete with?

Plot Hooks

  • When someone starts a litter carrying service in the city, the PCs are hired to carry one such litter to make some cash. Well-off individuals and those who wish to have others think they’re well-off hire this service. Why do they take the job in the first place? What kind of customers do they pick up? Do they make any connections with their fares? How do the PCs get people to move out of their way and get their charges where they need to go as quickly as possible?
  • When the PCs arrive in a foreign city for official matters, the individual in charge of seeing to their stay insists they take a taxi when travelling the streets. Between engagements, they are driven from one place to another, never allowed to walk the streets themselves. Why is this? Are the PCs allowed to look out onto the streets? Do they like being taxied around or would they rather walk about? Is this being done for their safety or some other reason?
  • In an effort to encourage safety a cab company offers a monthly cash bonus to the cabbie with the least amount of accidents. When the same driver wins three months in a row, a few coworkers get suspicious and hire the PCs to investigate. How is the driver able to avoid accidents so well? Are the other drivers jealous? Where do their concerns come from? Is the owner of the cab company concerned or do they just wish their other drivers would follow suit?
  • A string of grisly murders occurs and the victims all have one thing in common: they’re all cab drivers. The PCs must investigate and get to the bottom of the untimely deaths. Is driving cabs the only thing they have in common? How are they killed? Who are the suspects? Who can help them find their last fares and are they connected to the murders?
  • Word on the street is the powerful people are moving important papers or products through the city, using cabs as a cover for the operation. The PCs must find which cabs and which individuals are involved and intercept the information or items. Why are the cab drivers in league with people much more powerful than themselves? What do they have to gain? Who are the PCs working for and why are they interfering?
  • People are forgetting large chunks of their day and by all accounts the last thing they are remembering is getting into a cab. What are they people doing while they are blacked out? What is happening to the people? Are the cabbies involved or is it the vehicles themselves that are causing the strange phenomenon?
  • Someone loses a very important item in a cab and hires the PCs to track it down. Discretion is important and time is of the essence. Do the PCs split up? What is the item? Do they know exactly what it is or just what it looks like? How do they track it down?

For PCs

  • Have you ever driven a taxi? Can you drive? Are you strong enough to carry a litter or at least help carry a litter?
  • Have you ever been in a taxi? What were the circumstances?
  • Are you ever in a hurry? Always in a hurry? Or do you take your time?
  • If you were stuck taking a cab and then found you couldn’t afford to pay the fare, what would you do? Bolt? Try to barter? Something else?
  • Do you tip your cab driver?
  • While in a cab you find something of value. Do you keep it for yourself or give it to the cabbie to turn into the lost and found?
  • Would you share a cab with a stranger, if they said you were going your way? What would make you say yes? What would encourage you to tell them to get the next one? Or would you let them have the cab and wait?

How can you use cab drivers and cabs in your campaign? Can you turn it into a hilarious sitcom with Tony Danza? What say you?

About Tristan J Tarwater

Tristan is the author of 'The Valley of Ten Crescents' series and someone who is obsessed with elves. She once gave her 3.5 elf druid 'Skill: Basketweaving' just so she could take the spell, 'Beget Bogun.' Check out more of her work at backthatelfup.com