Welsh King Arthur vs Mary Stewart

 If you told people you were looking for a modern retelling of the original version of King Arthur, they’d likely assume you meant a pseudo-historical one and would most likely direct you towards Mary Stewart’s Arthurian series: The Crystal Caves, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, and The Wicked Day. The first three star Merlin while the final one focuses on Mordred, and they’re the most famous Arthur stories that are grounded in the actual 5th century rather than Mallory’s pseudo-middle ages with knights and tournaments and whatnot.

So, how “Welsh” are they? Most “historical” takes on Arthur (such as Jack Whyte’s Dream of Eagles series, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, or that abysmal 2004 King Arthur movie) have utterly no interest in incorporating the original sources, instead either just placing the Mallory stories in a more historical context or going off in their own direction – basically just telling a piece of historical fiction and then slapping the “Arthur” tag on it. However, Mary Stewart’s jump-off point actually is a medieval text, though not really a Welsh one: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain.

The Crystal Caves is a pretty faithful adaptation of all the Merlin parts from the History, with various extra bits that explore Merlin’s childhood and education, presenting a compelling figure who is basically a proto-scientist. As with the History, basically Merlin’s only supernatural abilities and all his other “magic” is accompanied through knowledge of engineering and herbalism, and the occasional exploitation of superstition. Its various references to Welsh culture and folklore feel valid, and its reliance on pre-Romantic sources does mean that even if doesn’t always feel quite mythological, it doesn’t usually feel very Mallory.

The later books do move away from the History (mainly because they are about Merlin’s relationship with Arthur, even though Geoffrey never had them meet), and thus draw more on the later Arthurian Romances, though Stewart also incorporates elements from Welsh folklore, such as the idea of there being more than one Guinevere, that Mordred was not entirely villainous, and that King Arthur’s sword was previously Emperor Macsen’s (an interesting choice, especially because “The Dream of Macsen Wledig” is actually the one native tale from the Mabinogion that normally has nothing to do with King Arthur). However, some of the Welsh elements are merely window dressing, such as Stewart changing Lancelot’s name to “Bedwyr,” so that she can still have the Lancelot-Guenevere-Arthur triangle but feature a warrior with a more authentically Celtic name.

Though reading Mary Stewart’s books won’t give you a good feel for early Arthurian mythology, it does a good job exploring the culture of that time period and adding various tidbits of folklore when it suits her purpose. In fact, with the exception of direct adaptation of folklore, such as Dr. Gwyn Thomas’ marvelous Quest for Olwen, Mary Stewart’s works is probably the most authentic stuff out there, and certainly some of the most well-written.

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Welsh King Arthur vs Le Morte d’Arthur

Here is the first in a series of articles where I analyze various King Arthur stories and contrast them with the original Welsh stories. At first let’s start with the most famous one, Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur as well as the related Roger Lancelyn Green’s King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. 

Le Morte d’Arthur

Le Morte d’Arthur – a tome vast in size (almost 1,000 pages) and vast in significance. It is the first novel ever printed in English on the printing press, and continues to be phenomenally popular. It could be considered the bridge between King Arthur as folklore and King Arthur as literature, collecting a wide variety of tales into a single book and serving as the defining force for all later King Arthur stories to respond to. Every Arthur tale after Le Morte d’Arthur is either inspired by it or is defined in opposition to it, the author either saying “how can I use Mallory?” or “how is my story different from Mallory?”

That being the case: “how Welsh are the Mallory stories?” The answer is a simple one: “not Welsh at all.” Mallory defines the Romance Arthur strain, contrasting with both the Pseudo-Historical Arthur and the Welsh Arthur. Any story or interpretation of the “Welsh King Arthur” is defined mainly by how unlike Mallory it is, for the following reasons:

  1. French Names: Lancelot du Lac, Mogan la Fey, Beaumains, La Cote Male Tayle, the very title itself “Le Morte d’Arthur.” As a book largely based on the French Romances, French names appear throughout Le Morte d’Arthur. As Lancelot himself is supposedly from France, “du Lac” may make sense, but Morgan was raised in Cornwall and then moved to Wales — so why exactly is she “la” Fey? The predominance of such names, along with all the courtly imagery, makes the whole thing feel like French folktales as opposed to Brythonic ones.
  2. Lancelot and other French heroes: Lancelot and Galahad are characters created by the French romancers, and are treated as the greatest knights of King Arthur’s court. Conversely, many of the early Brythonic champions, such as Kay (Cai) and Gawaine (Gwalchmai) instead become bad-tempered foils for the “real heroes,” while others such as Bedivere (Bedwyr) have become forgetfully minor figures. Having Gawaine as a savage vengeful figure is especially odd, as in the Welsh stories, Gwalchmai’s defining trait is his courtesy. Tristan and Percival are authentically Welsh and treated with respect, but they’re still very clearly second banana to the French figures – Tristan being the second greatest worldly knight after Lancelot and Percival the second holiest knight after Galahad. The Holy Grail itself is not present in any Welsh story, and so its defining role in Mallory (as well as Galahad and Lancelot’s relationship to it) moves the story in a very different direction.
  3. Courtly Chivalry: The Mallory stories are very much set in the Middle Ages. No mention is given of invading Saxons or Picts, no appearances of Ambrosius, Vortigern, or other semi-historical figures. Furthermore, there is an obsession with tournaments and courtly love, and especially champions jousting against knight after knight, causing each to declare loyalty to the champion and King Arthur. Very different from the much wilder giant-slaying and tribal wars of the earlier native tales.
  4. Lack of Fantasy: Perhaps the most surprising element of the Mallory stories is the general lack of fantasy elements. They are clearly not the focus. Though there is Merlin, most of his magic is confined to vague prophecies of doom and creating monuments to the knights’ failures. There are very few dragons and giants, barely any fey — most of the more fantastical King Arthur stories (“The Green Knight,” “The Loathley Lady,” etc.) are missing. Though Mallory does include various Christian miracles, including, naturally, the Holy Grail, he is clearly uninterested in most other flights of fancy. For him, much more drama is found in knights tilting against each other than in encountering sorcerers and monsters. This is, of course, very different from the Welsh stories. Most of the Welsh champions have super powers, and they rarely fight human adversaries — giants, dragons, werewolves, witches, fey warriors, talking animals — these are who Arthur and his court pit themselves against.

King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table.

Roger Lancelyn Green was a member of the Inklings, a close friend to J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, and the man who most encourage Lewis to publish his Narnia series. Green is best known for his series of mythology adaptations (Greek, Norse, King Arthur, Robin Hood, etc.) and for trying to draw upon as wide variety of sources for his books. That’s why Robin Hood gets his treacherous servant Worman and battles the Witch of Papplewick while his take on Norse myths references Saxo Grammaticus and a Faroe Island folktale.

Green freely admits that his main inspiration  for King Arthur was Mallory, but he also brings in stuff from other sources, including:

  1. Saxon References. Though Green doesn’t give any focus to any of the pseudo-historical King Arthur’s Saxon wars, he does reference them at various times, clearly placing his tales in their timeline, even though he doesn’t shy away from knights, tournaments, and other medieval trappings.
  2. Welsh Romance. Green includes “Geraint and Enid,” one of the three Welsh romances from the Mabinogian.
  3. Sense of Fantasy. Green adds “The Green Knight,” “The Loathley Lady,” and a non-Mallory version of Tristan. Though none of these are based on specific Welsh stories, they are still stories of heroes wrestling with monsters and enchantment rather than jousts and tournaments. They feel more primal, inspired by old and wild folktales from an old and wild people.
  4. Less Tournaments and French.  Just the fact that Green’s book is far shorter than Mallory’s and adds a lot that Mallory doesn’t include means that a huge amount of Mallory gets cut. A lot of the repetitive jousts after jousts are removed with their variously coloured knights and many of the French names (such as “La Cote Male Tayle” and “Le Morte d’Arthur”) are gone. Tristan, in particular, feels much more like an Celtic folk hero than a Norman knight.

So Green’s book is more “Brythonic” than Mallory’s (it could hardly be less), but still firmly on the Romance side of the Romance vs Welsh divide. Next time we’ll take a look at how some more modern books compare.

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The Welsh Arthur

Culhwch meets King Arthur

When I started doing research for Wizards of Wales (which I have now renamed Enchanters of Britain), I started taking a look at a lot of Welsh folktales a lot more closely than I had done before. In exploring them, especially the bizarre romp “Culhwch & Olwen,” I discovered a version of King Arthur that I hadn’t previously known existed, despite being a big King Arthur fan ever since I was a child. Sadly, the original Welsh version of King Arthur has been eclipsed by the knightly romances of Chrétien de Troyes and Sir Thomas Mallory, and by the modern obsession with finding the “real” King Arthur, some British or perhaps Sarmatian warchief fighting against the Saxons back in the 5th century of history. Even the rpg supplement GURPS Camelot, when describing the different interpretations of King Arthur, talked about the historical Arthur, the Arthur of the Romances, and the Arthur of modern pop culture, but never mentioned the Arthur of Welsh myth.

But if you look back at the original surviving Welsh fragments, they are more fantastical than Mallory not less, presenting a folk hero in the style in Heracles or Sigurd, rather than a historical general. “Culhwch & Olwen” is the only early Arthurian folktale that survives in its (more-or-less) entirety, and it presents a court of Arthur filled with demigods, such as the fairy king Gwyn ap Nudd and Manawydan ap Llyr, and with superpowered heroes, with powers ranging from being able to stamp mountains flat to setting themselves on fire.

So what defines the original Welsh Arthurian stuff?

  1. Fantastical. Fantasy elements surround the characters. Arthur’s champions (even his dog!) have superpowers and they battle fairies and demigods. There are talking animals, armies of werewolves, dragons, numerous giants, and wide variety of wizards and magical artifacts. Not all the stories even take place in the regular world — the heroes travel into hidden enchanted valleys all the time and frequently enter Annwn, the Otherworld.
  2. Pre-Chivalry. Though the time period of the original stuff is not really defined, it is still clearly not the Middle Ages. There are no tournaments or courtly love, no jousting knights. It’s dark ages warriors going on strange personal quests, contending with the remnants of pre-Christian imagery and slaying monsters less for chivalric reasons and more for personal glory. The later pseudo-historical writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth and others has Arthur battling the invading Saxons and Angles; though not part of the original stories, it still fits very well with it.
  3. Welsh. The heroes are not English and they certainly do not have the French names and titles that appear in the Romances (Lancelot du Lac, Morgan la Fey, Beaumains, etc.). They are Brythons, the people who became the Welsh and the Cornish, and they have a strong cultural identity.

Perhaps the last is the most important point about the early Arthur stories. They were cultural stories presenting the heroes of the Brythonic people, heroes that defined Welsh and Cornish identity. Though the English later appropriated Arthur for their own purposes, in the original stories he was clearly Brythonic and Celtic. A hero of my ancestors rather than my ancestors’ conquerors.

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Welsh King Arthur

Culhwch & Olwen

I haven’t been posting much here recently, largely due to all the numerous projects I’ve been engaged with. I was working on a novel last year and thinking to myself that I really hoped to get it done soon because the thing I really wanted to work on was “Wizards of Wales,” an adaptation of Welsh myths looking at various wizards and enchanters. Then I realized “why I am I working on a book I’m not interested in when I could be focusing on the one I am interested in?” Thus I switched over from Guardian of the Garden City to Wizards of Wales. Then while researching for that book, I got really interested in the Welsh version of King Arthur, which has surprisingly little influence on later King Arthur retellings. Even stories that claim to be about the “real” King Arthur are more interested in simply moving the events of Le Morte d’Arthur into a more historical time period (Mists of Avalon) or adapting Geoffrey of Monmouth or other early pseudo-historical Arthurian works but ignoring the actual Welsh stuff (Mary Stewart’s Crystal Caves series).

This is a real shame, as the original Welsh stuff is fascinating. Its champions possess bizarre powers and strange personalities, fighting giants and monsters in mysterious quests. In Culhwch & Olwen, the only original Welsh Arthurian story to survive in its entirety, Arthur’s court includes various demigods, such as Manawyddan ap Llyr (of the Mabinogi), Gwyn ap Nudd (king of the fairies), and Morvran (son of the goddess-witch Ceridwen), as well as figures with such a range of powers as superspeed, superstrength, flight, fire-generation, and lips so long that the top lip can be curled back and worn like a hat. It feels less like a court of medieval knights and more as a more bizarre version of the Argonauts of Greek myths or the Avengers. It is crazy and awesome, full of magic and passion — truly the folktales of the Welsh people’s most famous folkhero, rather than Norman-style knights in armour.

Trying to piece together all the old Welsh stories and fragments, combining them together into a coherent narrative, has been a really fascinating experience, and resulted in what was originally going to be one book on Welsh myths splitting into two: Wizards of Wales and Arthur, King of the Brythons. It’s something I’ll be exploring further in this blog, looking at aspects of King Arthur that sadly are rarely explored.

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Core Archetypes and Adept Schools in Unknown Armies

It was a weird experience when I first read over the file of Unknown Armies 3rd edition and discovered that their basic list of adept schools was 100% new and around half of their archetypes were new as well. Though it was cool to have a lot of new weird magic stuff, especially with a couple of the concepts clearly taking centre stage in the section describing modern events in the Occult Underground, it seemed like the new rulebook had devoted itself a a little too much to throwing out the old. After all, certain magic schools such as Mechanomancy and Pornomancy still play a big part in the world of Unknown Armies. In particular, it was strange to see the Sect of the Naked Goddess be extensively discussed in the 3rd edition core rules, but have no space for Pornomancy itself. It also reminded me how strangely eclectic the core list of UA archetypes feels in the basic rulebook. A lot of eccentric concepts tossed together while some very, well, “archetypal” archetypes getting surprisingly short shift (for example, the Trickster has appeared in none of the core books, only in the Statosphere supplement).

That being the case, and because I always like tinkering with role-playing stuff, I’ve decided to figure out what I thought were the most “core” Unknown Armies avatars and archetypes – the ones I felt were either the most pivotal for the characters in the world or for their central ideas. To give myself limits, I decided to only list the same amount of archetypes and adept schools that UA 2nd edition had: 14 archetypes and 12 adept schools. In perhaps a very UA moment, I discovered that I ended up one over in both categories and couldn’t bring myself to drop any of them. So here are the 15 archetypes and 13 schools that seem to be the most important.

Avatars

I’ve always found the avatar list in the basic Unknown Armies books to be something of an oddball assortment, especially in the 1st edition book. The two most prominent investigators of the archetype concept were the psychology Carl Jung and the mythologist Joseph Campbell, who both outlined what they felt were the main archetypes – Jung from a psychological perspective and Campbell from his concept of the “Hero’s Journey” (the different archetypes that embody the roles in a heroic story). I feel that the main archetypes in Unknown Armies should link to Jung and Campbell, as well as to the stories in the game itself.

With that in mind, here are the 15 archetypes I’d identify as the “core” ones in UA, either because they were core for Jung and Campbell or because they are used by prominent characters and cabals within the game itself. There are certainly far more archetypes running around in the world, but these are the most important.

  • Demagogue. Was channelled by Randy Douglas, leader of the True Order of St. Germain/Global Liberation Society. Though his group is gone by 3e, it is also the archetype of 3e’s Ulrike Frink, agent of the Milk.
  • Executioner. One of Campbell’s main archetypes is the Guardian, who challenges the Hero at various stages of his cycle and is often an agent of the Shadow. The Executioner works pretty well as the general “villain flunky” archetype.
  • Fool. A good embodiment of Jung’s idea of the Maiden & Child, as well as an archetype used by several UA NPCs and the only archetype in the main book of all three editions. A pivotal archetype in numerous ways.
  • Guide. Though it was only recently added via 3rd edition, it is clearly the same archetype as Campbell’s “Mentor” and Jung’s “Wise Old Man,” and so certainly should be counted as one of the main archetypes.
  • Merchant. A minor UA NPC from the first rulebook and a prominent one in Postmodern Magick are both avatars of the Merchant, and an entire adventure is set around them. Perhaps more importantly, it just has so much style. Thea ability to buy and sell anything opens up so many Mephistophelian opportunities.
  • Messenger. Clearly the same as Campbell’s “Herald.” Furthermore, it’s the archetype of Dermott Arkane, one of the most prominent avatars in the game and the spark of many adventures.
  • Mother. Not only is it a prominent Jung archetype, but also the UA rulebook itself describes the Mother as one of the oldest and most potent one. It clearly should be treated as such.
  • Mystic Hermaphrodite/Sexual Rebis. The archetype was turned inside out in 3rd edition, but still remains the joining of two genders and fundamental concepts. It has elements of Jung’s Anima/Animus, and incorporates elements of alchemy that were important for Jung. Furthermore, it is the archetype of the Freak, one of the game’s most prominent NPCs.
  • Naked Goddess. Like the Sexual Rebis, this has ties to the Anima. More importantly, it is the figure venerated by the Sect of the Naked Goddess, and the focus of one of its factions.
  • Pilgrim. Jeeter, a prominent NPC, is a Pilgrim. Also, like the Merchant, this avatar matches UA’s vibe of occult exploration so perfectly.
  • Trickster. Probably the most noticeably absence from all the main books. One of the most prominent archetypes in Jung and Campbell, though relegated to one of UA’s supplements. Should be featured more prominently.
  • True King. Erica Fisher, avatar of the True King, has become one of the leaders of Mak Attax, and most of the prominent avatars period.
  • Two-Faced Man. Comparable to Campbell’s concept of the “Shapeshifter,” who no one is sure is a hero or a villain.
  • Unsung Champion. Campbell’s “Ally,” the person who assists the main character.
  • Warrior. The archetype that best captures the “Hero” that is present in both Jung and Campbell.

Both Jung and Campbell also talk about the Shadow – the nemesis of the Hero who often shares attributes that the Hero seeks to deny in himself. No Unknown Armies archetype seems to fulfill that particular element, and perhaps it isn’t needed. Arguably the Warrior with an opposing ideal would capture that the best.

Adept Schools

Unlike archetypes, adept schools do not derive from any pre-existing psychological plan which should be accommodated. Thus, these “most important” schools are based on whether they were prominently used by NPCs or cabals in the game, and/or if their concepts were in someway important to the themes of Unknown Armies.

  • Cliomancy. Dugan Forsythe was one of the most powerful and influential adepts of the 20th-century and Cliomancy plays a big role in the development of the Sleepers.
  • Dipsomancy. Practised by Dirk Allen, one of the game’s most prominent NPCs
  • Entropomancy. Practised by Jeeter, another prominent NPC. Also this school connects effectively to the “Order and Chaos” theme that the game sometimes used.
  • Epideromancy. The magick of the Freak, one of the most frightfully potent figures in the game.
  • GNOMON. The strange Internet power that derives from the new cabal Flex Echo.
  • Mechanomancy. The source of various clockwork monsters in the game, the magick school of Superconductor, and a good school for showing how definitions of magick and power change in the game – the movement from “modern magick” to “postmodern magick.”
  • Motumancy. The magick of rebellion practised by one of the Naked Goddess’ powerful new splinter sects.
  • Narco-Alchemy. Though it hasn’t prominently been used in the game yet, it is an intense magick school that shows how old occult ideas get modernized in the world.
  • Personomancy. The magick of identity is a compelling one, and practised by Dame Benedicta in the 3rd edition core books.
  • Plutomancy. An effective magick school for showing the links between magick and power, acquisition and illumination.
  • Pornomancy. Probably the most prominent magick school in the game, the teachings of the Sect of the Naked Goddess.
  • Sociomancy. One of the new magick schools. Subcultures are such a defining part of human society, especially in the Internet Age, that a magick school drawing upon this makes a lot of spiritual sense.
  • Urbanomancy. The magick of cities has been used in so many works of fiction that it feels so universal.
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Researching my novel

So I haven’t been posting a lot recently because, as usual, I’ve been insanely busy. Also, I’ve been switching gears in what I’ve been doing, trying to focus on finishing my novel, Guardian of the Garden City, instead of letting myself get distracted by other things. As tempting as it is to submit to every call for submissions that comes my way, it has really been slowing down the time I’ve been spending focusing on what really matters to me artistically.

When I hit a wall with my novel, I starting researching a lot of stuff that I felt would be relevant to helping the story flourish, both revisiting a lot of old favourites such as Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum and China Mieville’s Kraken, and taking a look at new stuff such as Paul Stoller & Cheryl Olkes’ In Sorcery’s Shadow.

The big problem with Guardian is that there’s a very particular mood that I’m trying for with the supernatural — that feeling of obsession and madness, of the power that comes from looking at aspects of the world in a strange new way. A mood is the most ephemeral of things, especially because on top of that I’m trying to capture the right feel of Victoria, cult capital of the world. The book is supposed to explore Victoria’s strange history and urban legends, and — most importantly — capture part of its soul. What is written in my novel should be true, from a certain metaphorical perspective.

This is very challenging, ambitious stuff, which is why it’s taking such a long time. Frustrating yet fascinating. I think my next book project will be The Wizards of Wales, an exploration of magicians in Welsh folklore. Then I’ll be operating within an established tradition, not needing to build my own cosmology from scratch. That sounds so much easier.

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Shadow Lords Reinterpreted

Once again we look at how I’d reinterpret a tribe from the Werewolf the Apocalypse role-playing game. Now we turn to one of the most controversial tribes: the Shadow Lords.

 The Shadow Lords

Werewolf tribes generally fall into one of two categories: the “traditionalists” (such as the Silver Fangs and the Get of Fenris) try to cleave as much to the old traditions as possible, generally continuing their stewardship of a particular ethnic strain of humans while the “modernists” (such as the Glass Walkers and the Children of Gaia) embrace more progressive ideals and generally are no longer connected with any particular ethnicity – it has been many centuries since the Glass Walkers considered themselves a specifically Greco-Italian tribe, and even longer since the Children of Gaia felt any particular association to the legacy of Sumer and Babylon. But the Shadow Lords do not easily fall into either category. They do still associate themselves with a particular ethnicity (that of Eastern Europe and Western Asia – the lands below Russia), but not to the same extent as their rivals the Silver Fangs, and they do maintain their old traditions… while also being interested in new ones. In all things they stand at the crossroads, between the dark and the light, the old and the new, the devil and the deep blue sea. They claim to be pragmatists, realists, choosing whatever tools would best get the job done. Their enemies call them “opportunists,” people who would betray their own packmate and totem if they thought it would get them a little ahead of everyone else.

The history of the Shadow Lords is entwined with that of the Silver Fangs. While the Silver Fangs were the lords of northeastern Europe and northern Asia, the Shadow Lords ruled southeastern Europe and the Middle East. The border was always shifting as both tribes pushed back and forth. They defined themselves by being each other’s opposite – the grand Silver Fang chieftains and shamans who would announce their presence to the heavens, and the much subtler Shadow Lord strategists and seers, who would be as quiet and unexpected as a sudden shadow. Their totems were spiritual rivals: great Eagle who was confident in his rulership of the north and wanted the whole world to see him strike and subtle Stormcrow who took every opportunity he could find, and was never too proud to eat the eyes of the dead.

This rival continued down throughout the ages to the modern time, and it is the firm belief of many Shadow Lords that one of the big reasons that the Garou are losing is that they have relied on antiquated Silver Fang leadership for so long. Is the best tactic really to follow the orders of a tribe who gets most of their insights from insane shamans writhing and gibbering in their yurts? From a tribe who still venerates, as one of their greatest champions, Genghis Khan? This is not an age of barbarian hordes and howling berserkers. This is an age of skyscrapers and business meetings, of electronic communication and cutthroat deals. This is the future. Change or die.

The Shadow Lords also disdain the regular codes of honor. To them the ends justify the means, and to pretend otherwise is self-indulgent and foolish. If becoming the board members of a corporation can save a rain forest, if striking a deal with some local vampires can preserve the Spirit Realm — hell, if killing a mere three innocent people saves a thousand, then do it. The Silver Fangs may be willing to walk into oblivion and take the whole damn world with them rather than sully their lily-white hands, but not the Shadow Lords. They’ll save the world, from itself if necessary, and if sacrifices must be made, so be it. Do not be Eagle; be Crow. Get the goddamn job done.

The Shadow Lords do their best to work well with everyone, as everyone can be useful. In particular, they try to be supportive of all the non-Silver Fang tribes in order to get them to support the Lords over the Fangs. However, they are often despised by such traditionalist tribes as the Fangs, the Get, and the Red Talons. The Glass Walkers and the Bone Gnawers are some of their closest allies, and in fact the Shadow Lords are some of the few Garou that treat the Gnawers with respect (only a fool throws away a tool that has many uses, and besides, Crow can respect people who speak with the spirits of the streets). The Children of Gaia have a complicated relationship with the Lords, respect the Lords’ willingness to engage in alternative viewpoints, but not comfortable with their ruthlessness.

The Shadow Lords, master deal-makers, have also forged numerous allegiances with various non-Garou. Their ties to the Corax are long and respected, and they also often deal with vampires, wraiths, mages, and numerous sinister roving spirits. No potential ally is ignored. Whatever it takes, they’re going to make sure Gaia wins the war.

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Narnian Dwarfs in Dungeons & Dragons

Red Dwarf

C. S. Lewis is one of my favourite authors and I’ve always loved his Chronicles of Narnia. So, for the curious-minded, here is how the Narnian dwarfs (as Lewis spelled it), might work as a dwarven subrace in Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition.

Dwarf, Narnian (subrace)

There is much that can be said about the dwarfs of Narnia, both good and bad. It is said that there have been no creature created by Aslan who is more cunning and more skilled… and (with the possible exception of humans) more vulnerable to corruption. Dwarfs value hard work, craftsmanship, pragmatism, and loyalty above all, especially loyalty to kin and kind.

Industrious
Above all, dwarfs love to work. They are smiths, miners, stonemasons, jewellers, even brewers. A dwarf is never happier than when he is working, and their are well-known for their craftsmanship throughout the land. So much of their identity is tied-up with industry that dwarfs have a hard time understanding people who do not work like they do – there are few insults among dwarfs greater than being called “lazy.” This devotion to hard-work is further enhanced by the fact that dwarfs require far less rest than any other races do. They can work long and hard, and are constantly shocked by long other people have to be “lying around.”

Practical
Dwarfs pride themselves on their practically and “down-to-earth” nature. They have no interest in pomp and ceremony, court manners and whatnot. They prefer to be blunt, forward, and get the job done as efficiently as possible. This explains their skill in archery. Most Narnian human nobility are knights who favour melee combat with sword and lance. Though these folk recognize archery’s importance on the battlefield, they consider it less honourable and heroic than facing the enemy in direct melee combat. Dwarfs have no such qualms, and are cheerfully willing to shower their enemies with arrows before they get anywhere near them. As a result, the archery units of Narnian armies often consists mainly of dwarfs and yeoman (who don’t follow the knightly code), and the occasional woman (who also is not bound by the code).

Black Dwarf

Ethnically Loyal
Most dwarfs recognize any other dwarf as a like-minded individual, cut from the same stone (metaphorically), more alike than any human, faun, or talking animal could ever be. That isn’t to say that dwarfs feel no loyalty to non-dwarfs – many do – but everything else being equal, a dwarf is likely to take a fellow dwarf’s side in an argument, and few things will enrage a dwarf more than the notion that his “people” aren’t being treated fairly. As a result, dwarfs generally prefer to live with other dwarfs, often with three, five, or seven dwarfs all sharing the same cavern or cottage. Some rare dwarfs will share a home with non-dwarfs, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

Corruptible
It is no secret that of all the non-human races created by Aslan, dwarfs are the ones most likely to fall from grace. Some find their industriousness warped to greed and pride, others care so strong about the dwarf race that they turn against all others, and some become so coldly utilitarian that they will willingly work for any side that seems to be treating them fair enough – whether dark king, wicked witch, or demon.

Red Dwarfs & Black Dwarfs
Narnian dwarfs are divided into two kinds. Red dwarfs have red hair and beards as soft as fox fur, whereas black dwarfs have black hair and beards as tough as horse hair. Red dwarfs are generally friendlier than black dwarfs, more willing to associate and even befriend non-dwarfs, whereas black dwarfs are far more suspicious and bad-tempered, often believing that the only kind of person a dwarf can trust is another dwarf. Though black dwarfs are more likely to go astray than red dwarfs, there have certainly been bad red dwarfs and good black black dwarfs.

Half-Dwarfs
Either the child of a dwarf and a human or the descendent of people who were. Most half-dwarfs were born after the Telmarine Invasion, when many dwarfs disguised themselves as humans to avoid the purges. Many dwarfs (especially black dwarfs) despise half-dwarfs, both for not being “pure” dwarfs and because their very existence reminds people that their ancestors chose to deny their dwarf identity (something utterly repugnant to most dwarfs). With the rise of King Caspian X, much of the dwarfen prejudice against half-dwarfs is decreased.

Narnian Dwarf Traits
With the exception of alignment, red and black dwarfs have identical statistics.

Dwarf: Narnian dwarfs have all of the traits of regulars dwarves.

Alignment: Dwarfs value laws, tradition, and orderliness, and are almost always Lawful. Red dwarfs, relatively friendly and easy-going, are generally Lawful Neutral or Lawful Good. Black dwarfs, however, are more likely Lawful Neutral or Lawful Evil.

Ability Increase: Your Intelligence score increases by 1.

Fell Archer: You have proficiency in shortbows and composite shortbows. If your character class already gives you proficiency in those weapons, then you gain +1 to hit with them.

Unrelenting: Narnian dwarfs need less rest than others do, and if necessary can march all day and all night. You only need to rest for 15 minutes to gain the benefit of a short rest (rather than an hour) and sleep for 3 hours to gain the benefits of an extended rest (rather than 8 hours).

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Teaching at Langara

Tomorrow I teach the third installment in my “Writing for Graphic Novels & Comix” class as part of Langara College’s “Graphic Novel & Comix” program. It’s an honour to be one of the program instructors, and a really exciting experience to be teaching people how to best organize their ideas, develop their story, and convert it into a comic script. Many people say that often the instructor learns as much about the subject as the people he’s teaching, and it certainly true that preparing each class has made me think long and hard about the steps for creating a good story and a good comic, including character motivation, the arc of a plot, and the composition of a comic page.

It will be fascinating to discover how I feel about all of this at the end of the final class, and also what comic stories my students will produce. It has been an exciting adventure so far.

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Red Talons Revised

Red Talons

Continuing my changes to Werewolf the Apocalypse.

My changes to the Red Talons would be relatively slight. As they are not based on any existing human culture, they have no shallow cultural cliches to fall back on. That said, I have never liked Griffin as their totem. The interpretation of Griffin as an anti-human being wanting vengeance for the loss of extinct animals doesn’t fit with any metaphorical interpretation of Griffin in mythology. More importantly, it’s weird for the most nature-based tribe to not have a real animal as a totem. So here is my idea for the Red Talons’ totem:

Red Talons

As far as the Red Talons are concerned, only they are pure, only they are still untainted by man and civilization. They list all the sins of humanity, all of the creatures that have died because of them, and they remember. They remember them all. The Red Talons make them their totems. Their tribal totem is Smilodon, the great sabre-tooth cat that once ruled the land before it was cut down by humanity with their tricks of technology, but they have made totems of all the great ones: the Spotted Lion, the Woolly Mammoth, the Dire Wolf, the Auroch, the Cave Bear, all who have perished by the hands of man. Generally any largely Red Talon pack will follow an extinct totem, most likely a predator, making sure to honour its spirit. Any proper Red Talon refuses to serve a “tainted” totem, which is any based on a mythical creature (such as Unicorn or Pegasus) or especially an animal that has been urbanized, such as Rat, Coyote, Cockroach, or Crow. Red Talons consider such totems to be corrupted at best, traitors at worse.

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