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

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?

Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Moving

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?

Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Ethnic Neighborhoods

A street in Chinatown, NYC
A street in Chinatown, NYC

Loisaida. The Lower East Side. Chinatown. Little Italy. K-town. New York City is full of what are referred to as ‘ethnic enclaves,’ areas where a significant portion of the population shares the same ethnicity. I grew up in on the Lower East Side in the 80s and 90s which had a large Puerto Rican/Nuyorican population. Many people were bilingual and the comforts and foods of home were accessible. There’s something about eating a hot alcapurria when it’s snowing that is a bit comforting. A bit farther south of the bodegas, joyerias, cuchifritos and churches of the largely Latino population were the delis, garment stores and synogogues of the Jewish population. Fixing grocery on Saturdays meant seeing people coming back from synongogue; sometimes I’d run into my friend from school. Farther south on East Broadway the open air fish and produce grocers, storefronts and restaurants of Chinatown surrounded me. In HS my best friend took me to a Indian neighborhood in Queens where we stared at the gorgeous jewelry in the jewelry store windows, drank lassi and looked at movie theater posters for films with amazing dance numbers.

When people immigrate to a new land, they tend to find people they can relate to to help them settle in. Different reasons might drive populations from their country or land of origin in large numbers but once they arrive at their destination, a bit of familiarity makes the move a bit easier. When the location won’t fill in the hole, someone who speaks the language, has the same traditions or is even a distant relative or friend of a friend will make the move less scary. Sometimes people arriving might find while technically they are allowed to be in certain locations, they are not always welcome. In addition, well established and nicer areas might not be financially feasible. Unsettled or undesirable land might be what is available and through hard work and working together, a community can be built.

Once these communities are established, many newcomers gravitate towards these neighborhoods, hoping to gain from the experience of those already settled. The already established want to help their friends and fellow countrymen succeed, offering tips, housing or even employment if they’ve set up their own businesses. People settle down, start families, put their children through school, send home money to loved ones. They build grocery stores, religious communities and recreational centers where they can teach tradition and language. They bring their food, their martial arts, their style of dress, their music, their ceremonies. Sometimes they start organizations, both legitimate or illegal. Sometimes they dream of ‘going back’ but sometimes the conditions in their homeland make it undesirable or even impossible. Some do go back. And others stay, becoming citizens, contributing to the society and culture they have decided to stick with through thick and thin.

Most major cities will have ethnic diversity; in the same vein, if there is diversity, it will probably be concentrated in cities. Despite how New York City is depicted on television, it’s rare to go a few blocks without seeing someone whose family came from a different part of the world than your family. Cities being centers of commerce, business and major ports, they tend to have the most varied populations, the streets rippling with the sounds of different languages, the scent of different foods, the color of different kinds of clothing. Sometimes ethnic differences can stir up trouble but at the end of the day a vast majority of people want to be happy, safe and with their loved ones.

Ethnic neighborhoods in your campaign can expose your PCs to various issues, both political and social and is a good way to prime them for a trip to another country or region where the culture is different. Depending on your character’s background, a trip a few blocks down can be an eye opening experience or a respite from spending most of your time in a culture that doesn’t understand you. What comforts and adventures can ethnic neighborhoods offer in your setting?

For GMs

  • What ethnicities lie within your setting? Where did they relocate from? How long ago? Did they come all in one huge wave? What facilitated or necessitated their move?
  • What kinds of communities have they set up within the larger region? What part of the city do they live in? What are the boundaries of their neighborhood and how were the boundaries set? How have they grown over the years?
  • Why have they settled in the locations they have? Was the land similar to home? What was made available? The first safe place they could find? Empty?
  • What kinds of businesses have they set up? Do they import foods and goods from home or have they adapted to local fare and offerings?
  • How many generations are currently living residing in the country?
  • What issues did the population face in their homeland? What issues do they face in the new country? Security? Lack of food? Illness? Prejudice? Lack of resources?
  • Are there any locations where they make up a majority of the population, despite not being the indigenous one?
  • Does their country of origin have any issues with/affiliations with other countries? When their descendents meet in the cities of the land they’ve immigrated to, what happens?
  • How are they similar to the indigenous culture? How are they different?
  • How easy is it to move out of the neighborhood? What are reasons for wanting to leave? Reasons for staying?
  • When are people with different backgrounds considered citizens? What can they do to gain citizenship? Are their children born here considered citizens?

Plot Hooks

  • All the PCs grew up in the same neighborhood and have the same cultural background but have since moved away. When someone they have in common invites them back for an important function/ceremony, they run into old acquaintances and customs and must maneuver through the ‘old ways.’ What things are asked of them? Who do they meet? Who did they have connections to? How long are they ‘in town’ for?
  • When an ethnic neighborhood starts creeping into another neighborhood, setting up businesses and moving into domiciles, the PCs are hired to sabotage the storefronts and make the place unappealing to the newcomers. What reasons are given as to why these newcomers aren’t welcome? How do the PCs go about keeping them away?
  • While traveling through the countryside, the PCs come across a town populated by people from a different culture altogether. Far removed from the country they originated from, they have set up a small community that appears to be thriving. How did they all arrive there? Do the surrounding towns and villages know they’re there? How have they acclimated to the dominant culture? How do they receive the PCs? Do the local authorities know they’re there?
  • When the country goes to war with another country, the neighborhood that corresponds to the enemy country comes under scrutiny. The PCs are sent to see who goes in and out, monitoring the populace and watching for spies. When people start disappearing, their neighbors and friends are too afraid to give any information. Why are the people disappearing? Has the mood changed in the neighborhood? How are the people treated by others? Do the PC suspect anyone in the neighborhood and how are they regarded by the would-be traitors?
  • The PCs are all parents/guardians of children who attend the local language and tradition school, where the next generation is taught the ceremonies and ways of their people. When the government decides to cut funding which would shut the school down, the PCs are sent to convince the government otherwise. Why is the government pulling its funding? Where does the funding from the school come from? Why do they as parents care and why are they the ones sent? Can they obtain the money for the school elsewhere? What would it mean if the school were to close down? How many schools would be affected?
  • When crime becomes a problem in the neighborhood, the local police force blames it on the tempers and attitudes of the citizens, blaming their background for their violent behaviour. The PCs investigate the reasons for the sudden uptick in crimes. What kinds of crimes are on the rise? Who is committing them? Who is helping to commit these crimes? What are the police threatening to do to curtail the lawlessness?
  • After a few years of trying to establish itself in a new land, the elders of the community decide to try and hold one of the larger festivals publically and invite citizens to join in the revelry. The PCs are selected to help organize the event and spread the word. What is the large festival about and when is it to take place? What must be prepared? Why is this the first year it is being held on this scale? Which elders proposed the event? How does the local government respond?

For PCs

  • Did you grow up in an ethnic neighborhood? Are you part of an immigrant group that came here from another region/country? Born to one of these groups?
  • What have you heard about the different neighborhoods? Are their neighborhoods you go into for certain reasons/items? Ones you avoid? Ones you avoid at certain times?
  • How have you seen the neighborhoods change over your lifetime? Do you think they’ve changed for the better or worse?
  • Do you like places with more diversity or less?
  • What do you do in neighborhoods where the cultural background is different from your own? Do you just eat food? Buy goods? Talk to people? Receive services (clothes washed, armor repaired)?
  • If someone invited you to their home in a neighborhood you heard questionable things about, would you go?

What say you? Where we come from can be a big deal, both geographically and culturally. One doesn’t have to leave the country to necessarily encounter someone very different from us. The differences and similarities can make for a wild ride indeed. Do you have ethnic neighborhoods in your town or city? How can you translate that to your campaign?

Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: These Boots Were Made for Adventuring

Combat boots.
Combat boots.

When I was in high school, I had a pair of boots. Not just any boots. Grinders. 10 eye. I got a friend to buy a pair for me in Poland because they were less expensive there. I loved those damn things. I wore them with skirts. I wore them with Dickies. I wore them with fishnets. I loved them. They made me feel like I could kick someone in the ass and break them. I loved how heavy they were on the concrete streets of NYC. I loved how they looked and hugged my feet. They were perfect.

My mother was not as enthusiastic as I was. My mom’s taste in clothing and definition of what is feminine is a bit different from mine and I got a lot of looks and offerings of shoes with heels and flowery dresses from her. Those boots moved with me to the Pacific Northwest and got me through many rainy days till my pregnancy made my feet too big to wear them. I passed them on to a young woman who I’m sure is getting good use out of them but I miss them like whoa and am planning on getting a pair of Corcoran Jump boots when we move back to Portland.

Shoes can be useful. The right shoes can make an arduous trek easier. Wearing basketball sneakers on astroturf to play soccer is really not the best idea. Wearing hiking boots that are a size too small on a long journey is a recipe for discomfort at the very least, physical deformity or injury more likely. Footwear made of porous material can be miserable in wet weather. Too big, too small, too unsteady can make for poor adventuring. Showing up to a ranger’s lodge wearing the daintiest of sandals will raise brows as much as wearing the clunkiest, furriest boots to a formal ball. Ranging in materials from animal hides, plant fibers, wood and more, protecting one’s feet from injury, keeping them out of rough weather and whole, shoes can be an adventurers best friend. Important tools or status symbols, they can get you into or out of lots of trouble.

In some places, barefoot is the way to go. In other locations, it is a sign of being impoverished or even a slave. Some cultures frown upon shoes being worn indoors while others insist upon footwear staying on most of the time. Different religious orders have taboos or rules about feet and footwear while the secular world might call for highly embellished shoes. What your characters chose to wear and where they wear it can mean the difference between fitting in or offending a very important person.

For GMs

  • What is standard footwear for the everyday citizen? Is this for people across class? Gender? Position?
  • Do shoes or any special types of footwear symbolize anything? Are shoes used in ceremonies?
  • What are shoes made of?
  • How do shoes differ from culture to culture? What shoes are appropriate for the different climates?

Plot Hooks

  • When an important individual is murdered in the inn, the only clue left is a strange pair of shoes left by the killer. The PCs must use the shoes as a clue as to who has committed the crime. What do the shoes look like? Where are they from? Do they actually belong to the murderer?
  • The boots of a long dead historical figure go missing from their tomb and it’s up to the PCs to locate the relics. Who has taken the relics? Why did they take the footwear, of all things? Is there something about the shoes themselves that are special or is there something hidden in them? What are they planning on doing with the shoes?
  • Unhappy with the local government’s excess and hedonism, the citizens begin to wear simple but well made shoes to show they are good enough to wear such things. The PCs are sent to confiscate any of these simple shoes they find and close down any store selling them to curb the solidarity and demonstrations of the populace. How did the shoe movement start? Who started it? What do the shoes look like? Who is selling them? Who is making them? What are the people’s reactions to the shoes being taken?
  • In order to infiltrate a fancy dance gala, the PCs must wear very awkward but fancy shoes in order to blend in with the crowd, each design saying something about whoever they are pretending to be. What shoes do they manage to get and what will people assume about them because of their footwear? Why do they need to get into the gala? How long do they have to perfect walking in the shoes?
  • When an enemy invades the town, they learn the spiritual leaders go barefoot to be closer to the earth; they then inflict a strict shoe-wearing policy. All found barefoot on the streets are thrown in prison. The spiritual leaders go into hiding and the PCs must try to maneuver the bizarre rules enforced by the invaders while keeping the spiritual elders safe. What is the result of the religious clergy now being shod? How do people react to the new, strange rule? How is the rule enforced/how do they encourage the people to follow it?

For PCs

  • Do you wear shoes? Why or why not?
  • Do you have a favorite pair of shoes? What are they like? Why do you like them? What do they say about you? Do you take care of them? Are they worn? Broken in? Stylish?
  • If you could have any pair of shoes, what would you have? Why?
  • How do you feel about other kinds of footwear? People who go barefoot?
  • When is it appropriate to wear shoes? When is it appropriate to go barefoot?

What say you? What shoes does your adventurer wear and why?

Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Tisquantum aka Squanto

Tisquantum, aka Squanto

In America, we’re told the Pilgrims were aided by an English speaking “Indian” named Squanto, who taught them how to best use the land and grow crops.

How the heck did Squanto know English?

Well, some accounts have a group of Native Americans kidnapped by a Captain Weymouth for his employer, a Sir Ferdinando Gorges. A Patuxet man named Tisquantum is recorded as being among those captured, and it is suggested that Gorges taught English to those captured so he could ask about the land and people of New England to aid him in colonizing America. Later, Tisquantum was taken back to America, only to be taken prisoner by Thomas Hunt, a man who was supposed to be loading up fish and pelts to sell back in Europe. Instead, Hunt captured several local natives and brought them to Malaga, Spain to sell them as slaves. These were definitely not the orders his boss, John Smith, left him with. Franciscan monks saw Hunt trying to sell them and took custody of them to instruct them in the Christian faith.

Tisquantum made his way to England in the company of a shipbuilder, John Slaney, where he learned more English and after one unfruitful attempt finally made his way back home to New England. However, when he arrived, Tisquantum found the Patuxet were all gone, killed by a mysterious plague which had wiped out them and several other tribes in the area. The Pilgrims later settled in the now-empty land and Tisquantum got to work surveying the area, eventually settling in with the Pokanoket, the tribe which helped the Pilgrims during their harsh beginnings in New England and held the “first Thanksgiving.” He worked with the English and the Wampanoag, translating for both parties, drawing praise, awe, and suspicion from all sides. He later died of a mysterious illness, characterized by bleeding from the nose.

Reports vary as to Tisquantum’s role in the colonization of America. Was he a hero, aiding the Pilgrims in surviving their first harsh winters in New England? Was he a villain, betraying the native tribes and nations already ravaged by plague, taking advantage of their fears of European illnesses and weapons? Was he a tool, taken advantage of by colonizers who saw him as little more than a beast, sent by their god to aid them in their quest of achieving religious freedom? Was he a survivor, simply trying to make the best of a terrible situation, dealing with being sold into slavery, taken from home, the death of his people, and an imminent cultural shift looming on the horizon of New England?

Groups of people shift, overtake, collide, clash, and merge. Where they meet, individuals meet, talk, argue, love, and make decisions that can dictate how things mix, or if they don’t. When many cultures try to co-exist, the good intentions or deceptions of single individuals can make or break loyalties and change the face of a region for many generations to come. What drove Tisquantum to do the things he did? Was he simply trying to survive? Was he so distraught over the loss of his people that he would rather see it peopled by anyone, including Pilgrims? Did he simply take pity on the Pilgrims? Or did he see an opportunity, having already been to Europe and wanting to side with who he thought would come out on top?

For GMs

  • What cultures exist in the region and what are their relationships like? Symbiotic? Autonomous? Parasitic? Synergistic? Antagonistic? Opportunistic? Business only?
  • What new groups of people have shown up and how recently? How have they affected the region socially, culturally, agriculturally, etc.?
  • Who are the leaders of these groups? How do they prefer to deal with problems that arise within their population? With others? Who has the upper hand?
  • What kind of people/skills could bridge any gaps between the groups? A knowledge of language? Understanding of culture? Willingness to share information? Trade of goods? Integration of families?
  • What do the groups fear from one another? How can these fears be assuaged? Preyed upon?

Plot Hooks

  • After the population decided not to help strange individuals who settled close by, the PCs see several people sneaking off in the direction of the mystery settlement, carrying baskets of what appears to be goods. What are the people carrying? Are they in fact carrying it to the mystery settlement? If they are, why have they decided to help them? How do the PCs feel about the decision of their people as a whole and the people sneaking off in the night?
  • Dropped off on the coast of a strange land with a map and provisions, the PCs set off for previously surveyed land to deal with the locals and hopefully set up trade. However, their notes lead them to a desolate village surrounded by strange markings. The ship that will return them home won’t be back for some set amount of time. Is the area completely desolate? What other clues are in the village? What were they expecting to find in the village exactly? How does the lack of people affect their mission?
  • When the ship of a people known to prey upon the population, taking them for slaves, shows up on the horizon, the PCs are sent to destroy the ship and kill those aboard. However, when one of their people is spotted on the ship, waving a symbol of truce and asking to speak with their leader, the PCs must decide if they should carry out their orders or let the people land. Do they decide to let them land? Are the PCs alone? Who exactly is asking for an audience? What would killing this person mean if they just carried out their orders? What do they risk by letting the people on this ship get on shore?
  • The PCs are commissioned to explore a new territory and are provided with a native of the territory to act as their guide. The native is fluent in the language of the PCs and the regions they will be traveling through. What is the exact mission of the PCs? How is their relationship with the native guide? How did the guide get to their country? How did their country acquire the new territory? Does the guide know anyone from the territory they will be exploring?
  • The PCs are sent to guide strangers to another region to have an audience with another ruler among their people. Along the way, some or all of the PCs have been instructed to watch the strangers and make sure their intentions are good/what they say they are. What do the PCs find as they guide and interact with the strangers? Do the PCs all agree the strangers’ intentions are true? What have they been instructed to do if they find the strangers to be malicious? Are they suspicious going into the mission?

For PCs

  • Are you suspicious of strangers or accepting? Curious?
  • Do you tend to think of your own survival or the bigger picture? How far out can you see the effects of your actions? Whose survival and well-being do you care about the most, besides yourself?
  • Are you a good judge of character? Naive? Hopeful?
  • If you were kidnapped from your home, what would you do to try and get back? Would you try and get back?
  • Which of your skills or abilities can span the gaps of cultures?
  • If you had no family or people, who would fall back upon for support?

What say you?

Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Veterans Day

Joseph Ambrose, an 86-year-old World War I veteran, attends the dedication day parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982, holding the flag that covered the casket of his son, who was killed in the Korean War. From Wikipedia

Veterans Day is approaching. Taking place in the United States on November 11th, it is a day to remember and honor all soldiers who have served in the military. While Memorial Day is meant to honor those who gave their lives in combat, Veterans Day is for all who have served.

Many countries throughout history have had standing armies. Recruiting and conscripting from the general population can boost your numbers but formal training can enable your armed forces to specialize in new technologies and abilities that can give your military an edge over your enemies. Most soldiers receive physical training and must spend time away from their families and friends for periods of time, honing the skills they will need to protect their fellow soldiers and the field and those back home. Every armed force has many roles to fill. Foot soldiers, drivers, engineers, snipers, porters, communications experts and more, not to forget those who organize the units and design maneuvers, ordering soldiers into place. All serve and all serve their purpose both in times of peace and war.

People join the military for many reasons. Some join for love of country. Some join because of family tradition. Some join because they don’t know what they want to do with their lives. Some desire job security or a way to get training in a field they would like to switch to. Others have debt they can have forgiven or lessened if they serve. Others know they’ll be drafted or conscripted and given poorer treatment in the military if they don’t join of their own volition. Some just want to shoot people. And others know if they get through their obligation, they will be rewarded in the end. One of these, all these, a combination, none of these. From the lowly foot soldier hoping to be a general one day to the technician trying to keep their head down and get through this, they all have their reasons.

Most countries offer benefits for those who have served. In Ancient Rome, soldiers could receive land or money when their service was up. Spoils of war were available for those who came across it and were allowed to partake. Citizenship and all the legal benefits that entails, renown, awards and titles for exemplary service or even assurance of a peaceful afterlife have all been rewards soldiers could look forward to.

War affects both civilian and soldier. When military conflicts loom large in the history of your PCs, what are the results and how are they honored and remembered for the work they have done?

Continue reading “Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Veterans Day”

Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Ghosts and Ghost Stories

Almost every culture has them. Ghost stories. Whether the belief in the supernatural is a mainstay of life at large or something people on the fringes base their lives upon, death affects us all and stories abound regarding those who linger on, not in body but in spirit.

Many ancient cultures believed spirits of the dead lived on like the living, just in a different plane of existence where they ate, visited with other deceased relatives, slept and performed other activities similar to the living. Many of these people believed maintaining the graves of their ancestors was important, so the spirits wouldn’t grow angry and cause havoc on the earth, plaguing the living with illness or bad luck. There are still cultures in the world who believe this, with holidays meant to honor ancestors and practices that keep the dead part of life.

Ghosts are believed to be formed in different ways and depending on the setting/culture, are able to do certain things. Many people believe ghosts are a result of some kind of suffering, either at the time of death or in the afterlife itself which causes the ghosts to manifest. Violent deaths, accidents, murders bring back the spirits of the slain to sort out their final moments or exact revenge upon those who sent them to their graves. Other times a life poorly lived causes the spirit to spend out its days in torment, never having peace, disfigured with otherworldly emotion and torture.

Ghost stories are a way to show what people think about death and the dead. They showcase what people fear and run rampant with themes of revenge, loss, longing, betrayal and corruption. Every culture has ghost stories. The Epic of Genji, Arabian Knights, the Illiad, the Torah and the Gospels all have ghost stories or mentions of ghosts. Stories of the dead also remind us that we’re still alive, able to enjoy those still living and and to live life in such a way that we don’t take regrets or things that would make us feel guilty beyond our last breaths.

Even the bravest individual can still get spooked by a ghost story and a spooky story can set any adventuring party on edge. What will make your PCs neck hairs stand on end?

For GMs

  • How are ghosts believed to be made in the world? What circumstances surrounding a death propagates a ghost? Or are all who die able to become spirits that walk the earth?
  • Are ghosts neutral forces that can be swayed by the living? Malevolent creatures with their own agendas? Spirits who might have relatives running around?
  • What abilities and qualities do ghosts have? Do all ghosts look the same? Do they resemble how they looked in life? Or are they just glowing bits on the wind?
  • Can they affect the corporeal world? Can they touch things and/or move things? Can they possess things? Wither crops? Cause illness?
  • Can people communicate with the dead or are there special individuals within the community who handle such matters?
  • What is the Underworld/Afterlife like?
  • Do the dead possess knowledge of their life on earth or are their memories wiped when they die?
  • Are there any holidays which encourage the telling of ghost stories? Are these stories meant to inspire fear? Warn? Prove that ghosts are real?
  • What ghost stories are well known in the culture? How have they changed over the years? How have they adapted themselves to different regions.
  • What do people call ghosts/different kinds of ghosts?

Plot Hooks

  • The PCs become trapped in a dungeon where a spooky individual appears. It will let them out if they can regale it with a story scary enough to frighten it. Who is the individual who has trapped them? What kind of story will sufficiently scare the individual?
  • Arriving late to the city, the PCs find refuge in an inn, only to find out why the prices were so reasonable. The inn is said to be haunted by a relative of the innkeeper. When things go bump in the night, the PCs have trouble sleeping and investigate the causes of the sounds. What do they find?
  • While traveling in a foreign land, a local overhears their travel plans and suggests the PCs take plenty offerings for the dead. The land they are traveling through once was a battlefield in an epic and terrible battle and the spirits of the slaughtered soldiers are said to cause mischief to those who do not leave them offerings. Do the PCs heed the person’s words? What do they have to offer? Do they believe the plains are haunted? What kinds of things do they encounter there?
  • The PCs are sent to peddle ‘Vanishing Powder’ throughout the land, a substance said to get rid of ghosts. Upon announcing their wares in one village, an angry mob forms and chases them out of town, physically assaulting them if they do not leave peacefully. While being chased out of town they overhear people yelling, ‘You aren’t going to get rid of our ghosts!’ Do the PCs leave peacefully and never return? What do they make of the reaction from the villagers?

For PCs

  • Do you believe in ghosts?
  • Do you have a favorite ghost story? Is there a ghost story or something about ghosts that creep you out?
  • Have you ever encountered a ghost or a supernatural creature? Ever been to a place that was haunted?
  • How do you feel about ghosts? Do you fear them? Pity them? Are you curious about them?
  • If you were by yourself and encountered a ghost, what would be your first reaction?
  • What are possible, non-supernatural explanations for ghosts?
  • What would it take for you to come back as a ghost?

What say you? In the mood to have a spooky encounter during your next session?

Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Binaries and Dichotomies

Illustration of a Dichotomy, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Good or Evil. Night or Day. Male or Female. Inside or Outside. Cold or Hot. Empty or Full. With Us or Against Us. Heaven or Hell. Order and Chaos. Black or White. Innocent or Guilty. Dead or Alive. Beginning or End. Believer or Non-believer. This or That.

Binaries are common constructs in societies. People divide and compartmentalize and set things in opposition to each other. It can make things simpler to only have to consider two possibilities, to belong or not belong.

However, nature and life rarely work in absolutes and things are never this simple. Thinking of situations as things in opposition can lead to conflict and seeing things as Either/Or can lead to the perceiver missing out on a whole spectrum of possibilities.

If we think of things in terms of Black and White, we won’t see all the colors that lie between the absence of light and the fullness of it.

Instead of making a list of tips, hooks and ideas I challenge you to think of the binaries you have in your games and within your characters that lie in opposition to each other. Maybe hold them in your brain or write them down. Draw them as two opposite spots on a circle and then think about the things that lie all around the circumference of that circle. Who or what lies all around the circle in terms of morality? Gender? Class? Empathy? Ability to follow rules? Loyalty? Conformity? And what kinds of conflicts and alliances do these propagate? How do these things overlap and rub against each other? How do they balance each other?

What things are more similar than they appear to be?

Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Harvest

Egyptian Harvest of Papyrus

Plants. I bet you ate some today. Maybe you had some coffee in the morning. Toast. Maybe an avocado or some rice (rice for breakfast is pretty awesome). A salad! If you have a garden you’re probably wishing you had never planted ALL THOSE TOMATO plants right about now.

Every plant has a growing cycle, their germination, proliferation, flowering, fruiting and seeding based on levels of light, moisture and heat. Many people tend to think there are four seasons distinguished by their average temperatures and type of precipitation but in many climates the deciding factor between one season and another is usually amount of precipitation. Seasons dictate when animals ‘share the DNA’ to result in their young being born with the best conditions possible to ensure the safety and survival of the next generation. Migratory patterns of animals mean predators lie in wait to take advantage of a seasonal abundance.

Harvest is a time of abundance that can only be taken advantage of through hard work. As crops ripen in the fields and fruit hangs heavily on the boughs, people gather together to take in the bounty as efficiently as possible before the weather can destroy it, before food over-ripens, more opportunistic individuals take what isn’t theirs or before it simply passes through. Communities come together and use the best technology they can get their hands on to reap, pick and gather, working day and night. When the harvest has been accounted for is a time for rejoicing and partying before everyone is driven indoors to live off the food carefully processed and stored for the hungrier months.

All of us eat food and many cultures have celebrations tied to the harvesting of important crops such as rice, wheat, grapes, barley or animals like fish. Thanksgiving, the Moon Festival, Makara Sankranti, Lammas, Crop Over, Sukkot and more are important harvest festivals that take place the world over. Many cultures tie religious significance to the harvest, giving thanks to their deities, creation stories corresponding to the change in the land and the air. Some traditions call for people to return to their ancestral homes and give offerings to those who have returned to the earth. Others call for simply partaking in the bounty provided by nature and nurture. Special foods and drinks are made for these times. As the plants and animals wind down, people have a huge hurrah, making sure their lives go out with a bang of goodwill, good cheer and positive energy.

As the seasons turn, people gather and assess what the next few months might look like for their bellies. Harvest festivals provide great opportunities for PCs to come together and interesting backdrops for many encounters.

For GMs

  • What are the seasons like in the region? What defines them? Heat or lack thereof? Precipitation? How many seasons are there?
  • What are the food staples of the region? What is their growing season like? How has the culture adapted around the food item? How has the culture forced the food item to fit the culture (through breeding, hybridization, etc.)?
  • Which foods have religious significance? What crops and animals are tied to which deities?
  • What are animal migration patterns like? Do animals pass through? Lay eggs/give birth/spawn? How does the calendar correspond to these natural events?
  • What rituals are done to ensure a good harvest? How do local religious organizations involve themselves in the harvest?
  • How does the local government participate in the harvest? Do they enforce laws to make it easier for people to participate?
  • How do urban areas involve themselves in the harvest?
  • What does the Harvest Festival look like? What is it called? What do people do? How does it vary from region to region? What are the traditional foods and/or drinks? How long does the holiday season last? Are there competitions? Plays?
  • Do other cultural groups have their own harvest traditions? How do they compare and contrast to the traditions of the population at large?
  • Is a certain demographic (by age, gender, profession, state of living) honored during the Harvest season?
  • What technology is used to facilitate the harvest?
  • Where is the harvest stored? How is it processed to keep it from spoiling?
  • What would be contributing factors to a ‘bad’ harvest? What would a bad harvest mean for the population?

Plot Hooks

  • When several villages have had part of their harvest ransacked every year for the last few years, the PCs are sent to speed up the harvest and train the population to better defend itself against their assailants and thieves. What triggered the attacks in the first place? What is being stolen? How do the villagers feel about their food being stolen? Can the villagers survive on what is remaining or will they suffer if the food is not kept? Who sends the PCs to help them and why are they intervening?
  • When passing through another region’s harvest festival, the PCs are challenged to partake in the local traditional competitions or lose face. What do the competitions entail? Who challenges them? How important is it that they win? Who makes up the audience and what will it mean for the PCs among their own people and among this second population if they participate?
  • A regions hopes are dashed when a hybrid food item dies overnight, right before the harvest. The plant or animal had been doing well and dies suddenly, leaving plenty of dead plants or animals for the people to deal with, as well as a lack of food. However, several individuals believe the item in question was sabotaged and send the PCs to investigate and sort out what happened. Who provided the region with the seeds or stock animals in the first place? How exactly did they die? Is there someone or something that was opposed to the introduction of this new lifeform? Why did this region receive the new food item? Why was it hybridised in the first place?
  • An animal migration pattern always draws a nomadic culture with it who harvest the animal for their own purposes. Their presence is a time of celebration as the PCs’ culture and the nomadic one trade and intermingle, the harvest of crops and the animals coinciding to provide plenty for all. However this year the animals arrive but the people do not. The PCs are sent to investigate the absence of these people. What do the PCs know of the traveling patterns of the nomads? Where do they go first? What are they hoping to find? Can their own people offer any clues regarding the disappearances? How does their country feel about the nomads and how has that changed over the years?
  • When the PCs hometown harvest suffers from bad weather, they are sent to the capitol to try to seek aid. However, Harvest Festival preparations are underway in the city and the PCs are finding it hard to get the help they need. What levels of government must they go through in order to receive aid? Were all regions hit as hard? To what lengths are they willing to go to in order to help their town? How are they received in the capitol? How do they feel about being separated from their families at this time?
  • When the religious leader is kidnapped from their town before they can bless the fields before harvest, the PCs are sent to find and bring back the individual before it’s too late. How much time do the PCs have? Why was the holy person kidnapped? Who has kidnapped them? What will it mean if the fields do not receive the blessing?
  • The day of the Harvest Festival is also the day a certain deity is supposed to come down and revel among mortals. It is said if one can identify the deity and steal a particular item from them, the deity will grant the person one boon. The PCs want the wish to help someone in desperate need an all agree to work together to try and find the deity. What kind of celebrations take place at the festival that are related to the story? What is the wish the PCs all wish to come true? Do all the PCs really want the same wish? How are they going to identify the deity? Is the deity what it is said to be or is it something else entirely?

For PCs

  • How do you feel about the Harvest? About the changing of the seasons?
  • Do you go home to help with the harvest/participate in the Harvest festival?
  • What is your favourite food and when is it in season?
  • Do you have a favourite Harvest tradition?
  • How do you think the Harvest should be handled? Do you believe in the spiritual aspects of the harvest?
  • Do you feel connected to the seasons and the cycles of plants and animals?

What say you? Gleaned anything good? What are you looking forward to as the air gets a bit chilly and summer dies down? Autumn begins in the Northern Hemisphere September 22nd. Are you doing anything special?

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