Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Pheasant interlude

Currently planning much Mikelmerckian goodness and am wondering how I can make pheasants offensive.  They're such stupid birds.  We have a couple who turn up in the garden each year.  At least, I've no idea if they're the same pair or not.  Back in the days when we had three cats, they used to sit and drool as the imbecile birds tottered about looking like badly rolled up umbrellas. 

Now we're down to one cat and she is an efficient hunter.  Very efficient, as the mouse on the bathmat this morning proved.  She's got a lot more sense than to go wasting her energy on pheasants.  They're back this year and I was watching them earlier today.  They really have no survival instincts whatever, which is quite disturbing. 

Time to restore the balance and make them a hazard to be avoided.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Lost City shenanigans

Combat-tastic and turning rapidly into a well honed fighting machine, the group have left the confines of Hallampour.  Taking flight on ethereal eagles, the sense of epic questing has been quelled by recent developments.

They had to get down a hole.  A fifteen foot drop.   In D&D terms this should be insignificant for characters of this level.  The only complication should have been lowering the bear, but they overcame that one with ease.  Not so the actual descent.  Despite the best efforts of everyone, nothing could stop Dram and Guldarin plummeting onto their faces.  It's taken two days and I'm ashamed to say that I've been laughing hysterically. 

Next stop - negotiating stairs.  Now that shouldn't cause any problems at all.

Monday, 28 November 2011

A modest proposal for Mikelmerck and festive planning

From the 1st to the 24th of December, I am intending to post daily about Mikelmerck.  After my spectacular NaNo failure, I'm feeling guilty.

Also (and this counts as more important than my lifelong guilt trip) a timeline is emerging.  With timelines comes history and all the fragmentary bits are starting to fall into place.  Even more to the point, some extremely talented and helpful people have shown some interest in helping me out with this.  It would be nice if I gave them something to help out with.

On the festive planning front, I need to shop for the advent calenders.  We all have them.  They are simple cloth ones with pockets.  Into these pockets, things may go.  Mostly, it must be admitted, this consists of chocolate, but every year I hope I'll get inspired and do something different.  Hasn't happened yet mind you, but you never know.  I could write out helpful suggestions and see how well it goes down.

"On the first day of advent, I will take my socks down to the washing machine."
"On the second day of advent, I will check how much toilet paper there is in the house," and so on, culminating with
"On Christmas Eve I will not attempt to murder the person who wrote these helpful notes."

Back in the days when Woolworths existed, it was easy, if tiresome.  I simply spent an hour or so furtling through the pick n mix.  Not any more.  Now it's down to a big tin of Roses or similar and some frantic jiggling as I realise too late that there are adjacent green caramels in one of them.  I have nobody to blame but myself.  I introduced the things.  Hrmph.

Fight on!

Spent an instructive afternoon with Fabian from Bladesharp (we're near neighbours) working through the Malfi fights.  Strictly speaking very few of them are fights, but there are plentiful moments when daggers get drawn and people die horribly and it must all be worked out in advance.  Luckily, he is trained in this kind of thing and offered to help out.

For anyone unfamiliar with Webster's epic, it features a short fist-fight (that originally came out as fish-fight - shades of Monty Python), a strangulation, several rather brutal stabbings and a magnificent four way pile up at the end of the play which leaves all the protagonists dead.

Therefore, we cleared the front room of furniture and got to work with the stupid plastic daggers I bought last week.  Fabes looked a bit sick.  "Nobody will parry with these," he announced sternly.  "I'll paint them," I whined pathetically.  At his suggestion I chopped off the side bits and they look a bit better.
If only our daggers looked like this.  Alas, they do not.  Not yet anyway, but it's amazing what you can do with acrylic when you put your mind to it.
 It was brought home to me in short order that I would be utter rubbish in a fight.  I fall over a lot and I've got no idea at all what to do with a blade.  Even a plastic one.  We started off with me being the other end of the fights and finally resorted to cushions as the bodies piled up.  "The red one is the cardinal and the blue cross-stitch is the page." 

The most difficult bit was trying to work out how long Bosola and the page need to prance around each other while some other characters in a completely different place burble on about how they're not going to take any notice of the Cardinal's calls for help.  Page and Bosola have what seems like aeons to threaten, feint and otherwise not kill each other before Bosola gets bored and deals the death blow.

Once the page is out of the way, Bosola heads for the Cardinal and stabbitys him with utter contempt a couple of times.  He is interrupted by Ferdinand.  At this stage of the play, Ferdy has lost what little balance he ever had and is convinced that

(a) he is a werewolf, and
(b) he is on some random battlefield and his brother (the Cardinal) is his deadly enemy.

Leaping wildly across the room he kills his brother and almost accidentally drives a knife into Bosola's guts on the way.

We'll see if the plan survives contact with the cast, but I think it will.  They'll all be much better than me.

What is really satisfying though is that the combats all add to the characters rather than being stylistic add-ons.  I like this.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Up and over

Interesting afternoon.  Less worried about the actual role than I was, although sorry for Andrew Aguecheek who is due to get duffed up by Maria early in Act 1.  It doesn't look as though their relationship will improve either.

What is reducing me to jelly is the set.  It's lovely.  Well, it's full of stuff that I'd do, so of course I'd like it.  We'll be using both Juliet boxes and a lot of levels.  Except - be still my floundering nervous system - am one of the people supposed to ascend into a Juliet box.  I am completely terrified of heights.  Changing lightbulbs is a big deal for me.  Climbing up a vertical ladder in a full length costume will be a mortal nightmare. 

Staying on the stage may be a mortal nightmare as well.  It's covered in back and white checks.  This is going to be a "learn early" job.  It was always going to be - I like getting rid of the script asap, but in this case it's really essential.  I swear I could feel myself tilting with the squares.  The director just looked benign and said "Oh yes, some people can take a while to adjust.  That's why it's down early." 

I think I'm going to need travel sickness pills.

First rehearsal today

Exciting stuff.  This is when I get panicky and stupid and convinced I can't do it.  In amongst all that will be the fun of finding out who the rest of the cast are.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Mikelmerck - Boothler Samael

Boothler Samael was a most unusual man.  Well known as Mikelmerck's foremost magician, he was also a noted entertainer.  Indeed performance was his first trade.  As a young man, he was called to duty in the court masques of the Sarathame kings and had a successful career as a noted dancer and orator.  His light comic touch was much admired and he was a favourite both on and off the stage.

Advancing rapidly in favour, he passed into the inner circle of the kings and thence to some of their closest secrets.  Records of this period are sparse and Samael himself revealed nothing of note in his autobiography.  What is certain is that he left the court and with the blessing of Rickart III, proposed and built a circuit of theatres around Mikelmerck.  All were on noted leyline points.  He and his troupe of actor-mages walked the circuit time and again bringing protection and amusement in equal measure.  Now, the only surviving venue is in Strangmont and it is here that Boothler Samael's ghost resides.

Like many of the great Mikelmerckian dead, his work continues after death and is likely to do so for some time.  He had no successor.  Subsequent Sarathames moved away from theatre and its protective magic and many of his secrets are lost.  Boothler Samael talents have not been forgotten, but his legacy at present is greatly diminished.  There are still actors, to be sure, but they perform for their own amusement.  The deeper meaning of their activities eludes them.  Even so, they are, unwittingly, maintaining his tradition and Samael's ghost has not given up hope that his protective magic may find a successor.

He sits in the gallery of the Strangmont theatre, kicking the boards at the rare good performance.  To be "kicked by Samael" is therefore a great compliment.  The old door keeper, Ym Rowsel knows the ghost well.  His eyes are ever on the alert for signs of true talent.  Boothler Samael is still waiting patiently to teach his skills and Ym's task is to find a suitable protege.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

My turn

Despite my concession to NaNo failure, I got a nice surprise this morning.  Auditioned for Twelfth Night last week and have been offered Maria.  Since she's a character I've always wanted to play, I'm extremely happy about it.  I don't get on stage that often, being an awkward age (otherwise known as too old for most parts, but not yet qualified to play real dodderers), so this is a real treat.

Now I too will have to learn some lines.  Performances are in March, which is a short rehearsal period.  Wish us well.

NaNo no more

Time to accept that 50,000 words will not be forthcoming this year.

My own fault.  I was woefully under-prepared.  Procrastination is all very well, but this is simply not going to happen.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

"Where's the star?"

Another afternoon spent attempting to get this nativity play sorted out.  We are scarily short of time.  At least, I  think we are scarily short of time and so do the staff, but the children are completely serene.  They have two weeks tomorrow.

Today's big deal was putting together the final scene.  It lasts at most two minutes.  It took well over an hour to sort out who came on after who.

"Just remember who you follow."
"But I don't follow anyone."
"No, because you are Mary and you come on first."
"Then I can't follow anyone."
"That's right.  You just have to remember."
"This is HARD."

Midway through, the child playing Joseph announced to the world at large that he probably wouldn't be here for the play and did that matter? 

"Yes, it does a bit, but don't worry, Mary can say your line."
"Oh, OK then."

Topping it off was the collective mental breakdown about where the blasted star they've been talking about throughout the whole play actually is.  I did what I've done every single other time I've been asked this question and pointed to the appropriate spot. 

"Now show me where you point when you point to the star."

Fingers randomly all over the room, in their neighbour's ear, shrieks, shouts, wails of "you're wrong," and one single tiny angel pointing in exactly the right direction.  Out of a cast of 20.

I am glad today is nearly over.

Mikelmerck - the Owd Man

Lead isn't what it was.  A thousand years of battling Mikelmerck are drawing to a close as the Owd Man takes over.  Back when the Cristarubrae started to settle and push aside the indigenous tribes, they delved deep into the dale.  Ever an efficient people, they ignored the old stories and were proved right for many years.  The emerging lead was of dramatically high quality, much exported and a source of riches to the Duchy.

The Owd Man took his time to respond to the rape of his mountains.  His breath alone took many.  Whole shafts could be closed down when the Owd Man's breath swept through the defenceless.  Birds and animals are quicker to sense his presence and many a miner blessed the day he took a sparrow into the shafts with him. 

Worse followed.  The precious lead seemed to withdraw, pulled further in and further away.  Dangerous enough to follow then, but made the worse by the Owd Man's voice.  Following his deceptive sound is nearly always fatal.  Some also say that if the brave follow, they will be taken to richer seams.  Some even claim to have found such seams, but it is hard to believe.  Even if they come back they are greatly changed.  Strangely distant from their loved ones, they seek only to return to the mines and the voice that lures them ever onwards.

There is still a small industry, but it falls to the truly desperate with no other recourse.  The Owd Man is regarded as one of the Older.  Little can be done to placate him as he wishes only to be left alone.  The need for survival may not let that happen, and the few who still work the mines say his voice is getting stronger.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Incomng festivities

Long practice has made me very good at ignoring tinsel until well into December, but that isn't to suggest I dislike Christmas.  On the contrary, I adore it.

That's rather the point.  I do adore it, and I like adoring it and I'd be upset if my enjoyment was lessened by over-indulgence.  So I ration myself.  There are good historical reasons as well.  Mr Rev and I were foolish enough to indulge in childbirth on 23 December.  Son has never forgiven us.  I went through a draconian few years forbidding the putting up of the tree until the other important birthday was over, but the family were more rational than me.  Son pointed out that he'd rather have the tree up to enjoy for a little longer.  I have caved in therefore, and our tree goes up sometime around the weekend before.  That seems about right.

There are other events that mark the coming festival of course.  I'm terrifically bad at religion at nearly all times of the year, but some things go bone deep and one of them is an advent crown.  It's one of my annual challenges to find purple and pink candles to create this, along with finding a numbered advent candle with some chance of burning down its numbers in under 8 hours.  I usually fail and compromise, but I enjoy making the effort.  And as OCD behaviour goes, it's harmless.

There is also St Nicholas's Eve.  December 6 marks his visits and he leaves gifts in the shoes of pleasing children.  This one is a hangover from my childhood when my mother employed a particularly Catholic au pair from Austria.  Doris introduced my sister and I to this custom and I made the fatal error of passing it on to my own son.  Naturally he is unlikely to refuse the offer of free gifts, even if he also gets symbolic coal in the toe of his wellington on the way.

Before any of this however, is the real start.  I walked down the theatre on Saturday morning (I teach 8 hours of non-stop classes that day) and saw it!  The Christmas Parrot was leaning against a tree and waiting to be hoisted.

Some small explanation is needed for why our municipal decorations include a giant sized red parrot among the snowmen and santas.  The story goes that he was purchased as part of a job lot of leftover Blackpool lights.  Rather than hide him away, the Rotary Club decided to make a feature of him.  Hence our annual light-turning on ceremony complete with mince pies and carols is adorned with the Parrot.  He's pretty ancient now and a lot of his paint has chipped off, but he's the real symbol of Christmas starting for me.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Mikelmerck - the Wise Woman of Heret

In the centre of Mikelmerck sits the serene village of Heret.  Fallen on harder times, it was once the centre of the lead mining industry.  As the voice of the Owd Man called more and more miners to their doom and pulled  the precious lead further out of reach, so Heret's importance has faded.  The houses here are more elaborate than elsewhere in Mikelmerck, but the people are poor now.  What they have, they cherish.  Among the cherishable things is the Wise Woman.

The name is a title.  Every Wise Woman must seek and find her successor to pass on the duties she holds.  For some the search comes easily.  A daughter or cousin may be the natural follower.  For others, the search may take them all over Mikelmerck.  Only the Wise Woman knows what she seeks.  In this pursuit, a Wise Woman must be ruthless.  The duty is stronger than any human tie and she must be prepared to leave family, friends, hearth, home and love itself if needs be.  Not all go willingly to their calling, but none once called has ever refused.  Or so it is said.

It is the Wise Woman's calling to watch the boundaries of Mikelmerck.  Although most have forgotten this, Heret started as nothing more than a simple shelter housing the first Wise Woman.  How she performs her duty is uncertain, but it is closely linked to the annual Progress.  She knows many secrets and will part with them for a price. 

For the locals, the Wise Woman is a source of pride and some fear.  She is the first port of call for ailments large and small and may settle minor disputes as well.  Land issues, family problems and other personal difficulties may technically be for the church and local authorities to deal with, but the Wise Woman is a more immediate resource in times of trouble.  Neither church nor local authority are particularly happy about this state of affairs, but so far they have been prepared to live and let live.  As long as the Wise Woman doesn't openly tamper with their jurisdiction, they can accept it.

Onions and sewing machines

Today's task list is charmingly domestic.

Onions must be planted before the ground becomes (a) too cold and (b) too soggy.  The second has probably already happened, but this is North Yorkshire and soggy is a way of life.  More to the point, it is also foggy, making it quite difficult to see the potential burial site. 

The onions are but the start of a many pronged attack on - I'm not sure what.  It's not self-sufficiency, that's for sure.  La famille Rev have neither the discipline nor the inclination for goat herding and chicken keeping.  I have been trying to persuade Mr Rev to let me keep a couple of sheep as lawnmowers for years, to no avail.  Likewise my pleas for bees.  He is, of course, right about both, but I keep asking like a whiney toddler.  Note to self.  Stop doing that.

Returning to the original point, the great vegetable assault is mostly part of an attempt at healthy eating with the added sense of virtue of having grown it ourselves.  Since we have a viable vegetable patch, and already grow masses of soft fruit with little to no effort, it seems silly not to try. 

The other item on my personal to-do list is the sewing machine.  This is on loan from a wonderful lady at the theatre and I've been putting off the inevitable tantrum I'll have when I find I can't thread it.  Nonetheless, the effort must be made.  The carrot is simply that I won't have to hand-sew costumes for 50 people spread over 3 shows.  The stick is that I will have hand-sew costumes for 50 if I don't get my head around it.  My fear of technology seems particularly ridiculous at this point.  And come on - a sewing machine?  How terrible can it be?

(I'm not going to talk about the last time I tried to thread a sewing machine unaided and stitched myself to my own clothes).

Friday, 18 November 2011

"It's not a sheep, it's a tup."

I've spent most of the day working on the nativity play and many things collided - which amused me a lot.

The children playing the shepherds are a mixed bag.  One of them is a new boy who is thrilled to be a shepherd, because he is one.  He's 8 and has been working with sheep since he could toddle.  One of the other boys produced a toy sheep which Shepherd Kid looked at critically for half a second and announced it was a tup.  General nodding all around as they agreed, it was a tup.  For the uninitiated, that's a ram.  Shepherd Kid pointed to the rear end and said firmly, "Got to be a yearling tup, the balls will drop reet soon."  It's a tiny rural school - of course they know this stuff.  He wasn't being anything other than informative and will be making an appearance in Mikelmerck. 

Sheep crop up a lot teaching drama in the Dales.  I hold outdoor rehearsals during the summer if possible, but have had them interrupted by oncoming flocks of sheep. 

"They's me dad's.  They've got green bums."
"Great.  Now get back to the rehearsal."
"My dad's using blue this year."
"My dad won't use that, says it's unlucky."
"Tisn't.  Only numptys think that."
"Don't call me dad a numpty."
"ENOUGH.  Go from the start of the scene."

This never happened in London.

Also made cake for lovely gaming group friend with random ingredients.  Plan A was to bake a chocolate diner cake which has gone down well in the past, but lack of time, lack of chocolate and lack of castor sugar all conspired against me.  Instead I ended up using soft brown sugar and baking a thin sheet of sponge.  This was later split into three, sandwiched with buttercream and homemade raspberry jam and pronounced a success.  The way ahead is clear for further experimentation with this recipe.  The thin-ness of the sponge meant that the sugar dissolved properly - which was the worry as it isn't as fine as castor.  It cooked fast, but was still light and spongey.  Not flexible enough to roll I suspect, but I may try it anyway. 

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Mikelmerck - the Roosh, the Washerwoman and the Duck Race

The Roosh is a dangerous river.  Never wide, it is nevertheless full of strong currents ready to trap the unwary.  Each year, visitors underestimate its power.  Running the whole length of Mikelmerck, the source lies high and tumbles relentlessly through the dale forming small waterfalls as it goes.  Notorious as one of the fastest rivers in Albion, it has been known to break its banks and flood, rendering the little arable land useless.

Jenny Greenteeth abandoned it long ago - Mikelmerckian children do not wander near its banks for her to entrap and she has been swept downstream herself too often.  Not so the Washerwoman.  She is seldom seen, but ever-present.  None bar a few of the powerful even know her name, but all fear her.  To see the Washerwoman is to see death.

When the river changes colour, the Washerwoman is at work.  She brings the floods and stirs the currents as she pummels the cloth of men's lives.  The Roosh is entirely her creature and she commands it.  For the many villages that run alongside the river, she is a being to be propitiated.

Customs and Places notes that in Strangmont they drop offerings from the Green Bridge every spring.  These are wooden waterfowl, lovingly made over the winter.  The wooden creatures are followed down the banks by the people as they race towards the finishing point.  The maker of the winning duck has the right to climb the Strangmont waterfall at midsummer and bath in the Roosh without harm.  Wainwright adds that this privilege is not often taken.  The number of surviving waterfowl is said to portend the likelyhood of flooding for the coming year, but Wainwright concludes that this is an unreliable method of prediction.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

I am the Vicar of Dibley. Or possibly a Care Bear.

Courtesy of What D&D character Am I?

I am not surprised.  Somehow I didn't think this would produce a rampaging half-orc barbarian.  Even so, could I possibly be duller?

Neutral Good Human Cleric (7th Level)

Ability Scores:
Strength- 9
Dexterity- 8
Constitution- 9
Intelligence- 17
Wisdom- 14
Charisma- 15

Neutral Good- A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment when it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Clerics- Clerics act as intermediaries between the earthly and the divine (or infernal) worlds. A good cleric helps those in need, while an evil cleric seeks to spread his patron's vision of evil across the world. All clerics can heal wounds and bring people back from the brink of death, and powerful clerics can even raise the dead. Likewise, all clerics have authority over undead creatures, and they can turn away or even destroy these creatures. Clerics are trained in the use of simple weapons, and can use all forms of armor and shields without penalty, since armor does not interfere with the casting of divine spells. In addition to his normal complement of spells, every cleric chooses to focus on two of his deity's domains. These domains grants the cleric special powers, and give him access to spells that he might otherwise never learn. A cleric's Wisdom score should be high, since this determines the maximum spell level that he can cast.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Brochure blurbs, nativity plays and sixth form evenings

All the above are occupying me a bit right now.

The brochure blurbs are for Malfi and Faustus and I've been doing my darndest to get decent images sorted using the magic of internet image searches and Flickr's random selection of picture twinking tools.

The nativity season is on with a vengeance and I spent an exhausting afternoon trying to get as much of the thing set as possible in as short a time as possible.  Inevitably it all took longer than it should have done and the thing is still not completely set.  I still need to sort out the final stable sequence which will end up with me looking and sounding like Joyce Grenfell.  "Mary and Joseph were friends."

Tomorrow is the sixth form evening at son's school and after Antigone I shall go with son and husband and listen to whatever gets said at these things.

It's all a bit tiring.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Mikelmerck - Shifty Gan

The Shifty Gan are shapechanging fey who delight in misleading humans.  For the most part these creatures are more of an irritant than a danger but some have a nastier sense of humour than others.

Shifty Gan are more closely related to goblins than elves, but are a species all their own.  They commonly disguise themselves a toads - albeit rather large ones - and lurk close to villages watching the people at work.  Their favourite victims are the greedy and foolish.  Not, it must be said on any moral grounds, but simply because the reactions of such folk amuse the Shifty Gan.

Once a victim is chosen, the Shifty Gan turns into a commonplace object and lies in the victim's path.  Often the chosen form is a container of some kind, such as a bucket.  Once picked up, the Shifty Gan turns into a bucket full of gold and hopes that the victim will take it home.  Each time the Shifty Gan is looked at, the contents become less desirable.  Gold becomes silver, silver becomes iron, iron becomes rock until the victim is thoroughly befuddled and annoyed.

This is innocent mischief for the most part, but some Shifty Gan have favoured victims.  Once marked out by them, a person can be in a lot of trouble.  The Shifty Gan may take the shape of a household pet or even a person, pulling them further and further afield before abandoning them.  Some more powerful fey seeking footholds in the world use Shifty Gan for just this purpose, helping the unfortunate abandoned soul and being invited into a home for their trouble.

Mikelmerckians say that the best way to prevent the Shifty Gan from marking them is to laugh in return and agree that each change is for the better.  They cite Goody Wend, who on finding a bucket of gold was delighted when it turned into silver as it was easier to carry, then still happier then the lump of silver became iron as that was more useful and still more enchanted when the iron became rock as she had been wanting a doorstop.  On arriving home, the Shifty Gan admitted defeat and showed itself to her.  She replied that she was truly fortunate to have seen such a creature.  From that day onwards, the Shifty Gan took to leaving her small gifts.  These did not altar in shape or form.

Number appearing:  usually 1
Armor Class: 6 [15]
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: Claw (1d8)
Saving Throw: 14 (6 against any magic)
Special: Mimics shape, immune to sleep and charm
Move: 9
Challenge Level/XP: 3

Shifty Gan do not often attack and being intensely magical are impervious to most magic. 

Sunday, 13 November 2011


We went to the christening of Fabian's son today.  It's been years since the last one - most of our friends either had their children 10 years ago, or have only just started down that route - and I'd forgotten how moving a ceremony it is.

This was a private affair, for friends and family only.  The vicar was outstandingly good at explaining the symbolism and reasoning behind the service.  As she put it very eloquently, the promises made on behalf of the child are simply to choose good over evil.

It was a privilege to be there.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Mikelmerck - the Older

Before the fey and long before people, were the Older.  Nothing about them is truly known, but they have never left Mikelmerck.  When the weather changes between dales or the land rolls strangely, the Older are restless.  The Mikelmerckians barely think of them as beings, if they think of them at all.  The Older are regarded as the land itself.  "She's in reet bad frame," they may say of a hill producing an unexpected rockfall.

Scrivener Wainwright notes in Customs and Places that the Older are not worshipped exactly, but are propitiated by the love of the Mikelmerckians for their land.  As so often with Wainwright, this is pure speculation, but the point is well made.  Mikelmerckians as a whole are both possessive and defensive about their Duchy.  Woe betide anyone not born there who speaks slightingly of it. 

Friday, 11 November 2011

Mikelmerck - Sheep, the known enemy

In the world of Mikelmerck, sheep are everywhere.  For the most part, they stay up on the hills.  Up close they reveal a depth of cunning not found in other breeds.  As herd animals, they are more dangerous en masse.  Indeed a single sheep will not attempt to harm anyone.  As a flock, they can be menacing.

Sheep are immune to fear but do not attack unless provoked.  What constitutes provocation varies however.  Shepherds are constantly on the alert for what may upset the sheep - leaving aside the ever-present danger of having a shapechanged fey in their midst.  Even without such a passenger, sheep can be tricky.

Number - usually 5-20
AC 7 (12)
Save 18
Move 16
Immune to fear
HD 1d4hp (CL1)
Damage:  Bite 1d3, Trample 1d3

There is a 5% chance that any flock of sheep of more than 10 may contain a shapechanged fey.  In this case the sheep regard the shapechanger as the dominant ewe and will follow it until it is destroyed or separated from the flock.

Mikelmerck - more to do list

Some practicalities.

Swords and Wizardry looks like the simplest OGL system to run this under. 

Start compiling the following:

Creatures of Mikelmerck
People of Mikelmerck
Hazards of Mikelmerck
Treasures of Mikelmerck

First up - sheep.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Mikelmerck - the Child's Path

Strangmont Castle is built on limestone.  Caves honeycomb the rocks beneath it and it is said that there are secret tunnels leading from the Castle to other places.

One such tunnel has been discovered, but with tragic consequences.  Some years ago, while digging the foundations of a new treasure house, soldiers uncovered a narrow passage running under the castle.  Unable to fit into this tunnel, they found a bold child and asked him to go down in their stead.  They planned to track his passage by his singing and at first all went well.  The trail lead them beyond the walls and along the banks of the Roosh, but at the boundary of Strangmont, the singing stopped.

No more was heard.  The bold child was never seen again.  Nowadays, the Child's Path is marked by a stone at the point he was last heard.  Every year, the townsfolk follow that ill-omened path asking the bold child for forgiveness.  According to Scrivener Wainwright, the ghostly voice of the  bold child can still be heard sometimes, singing and laughing below ground.  It is said that such sounds presage danger to Strangmont.

Mikelmerck - Scrivener Wainwright

Mikelmerck's Customs and Places, Mikelmerck's Folk and An Introduction to Mikelmerck for the Young are often the first port of call for visitors to the Duchy.  Scrivener Wainwright's popular works, while somewhat superficial, offer a good outline of the Duchy and its history.

As a southerner coming to Mikelmerck as an outsider, his views are always interesting.  Much that he finds curious is, of course, regarded as completely normal by the Mikelmerckians themselves.  Scrivener himelf confesses to a slightly obsessive love of his adopted home.  Part of the charm of his books lies in the admission that not all the tales he hears may be strictly accurate.  The dour Mikelmerckian humour, may, he feels, have exaggerated some of the stories.

Now resident in Strangmont, Scrivener Wainwright continues to explore the Duchy.   Wearing his trademark straw hat and carrying voluminous notebooks, his small, plump figure can be found at most events of any importance.  Insatiably curious, permanently ink-stained and always courteous, he is at least tolerated almost everywhere. 

His next planned volume is Nightmares of Mikelmerck.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Mikelmerck - to do list

I'm liking the development here very much.  It feels like an organic setting.  Whether anyone else does is a whole other story, but the base starting point has to be something that I would like to play in.  Selfish, but there has to be a starting point, and that's mine.

I'm starting to think about what system or systems this thing should run under.  Could run under.  So far it feels "old-school" to me, but that is more a gut instinct than an informed thought.

One system I like, and have played a little is Savage Worlds.  Mikelmerck might well work for that very flexible system, which mostly comprises short chapters.  It often has a novelistic approach to storytelling and demands a lot of player interaction with considerable flexibility.  The downside is that the little I've seen of combat tends to be lethal.  It's not quite "save or die", but it comes fairly close.

This is probably a decision that can be made later.  I'm not yet at the point of writing any specific adventures.  At this stage, it's all about building the world and seeing what plot hooks and stories evolve from that.  A few things to deal with in the near future then:

The Child's Path
Boothler Samael
The Strangmont Obelisk
The Strangmont Seneschal
The Older
Scrivener Wainwright
The Roosh

I really want to start creating a map as well.

Lost City update

We're rapidly coming to the end of the shake down cruise combat.  It's been slow, but not intolerably so and quite a lot of that was me losing the use of my right hand.  With a cast of 8 (9 including the druid's bear) this is bound to be the case, and we will all speed up once everyone works out what everyone else can do.

That includes me.  It's been a useful little fight.  I suspected that getting this party to die is going to be extremely difficult.  That's good news from their perspective, but means I now need to find some different ways of testing them.

Simply upping the number of monsters isn't the answer here.  There's only so much monster a map can hold without becoming a bus queue of silliness.  I shall be looking at terrain and traps to break them up, create distractions and make it hard for them to focus fire. 

I've also got the problem that an enthusiastic player has inexplicably vanished.  That was three weeks ago and while he's been run by the rest of the group it's not an ideal solution.  He'll be left behind in Hallampour on some flimsy pretext and another player will leap into the vacant slot. 

Don was (is) a rogue and proved lethal during his brief tenure.  Andaros is a battle wizard.  A very different thing.  Where Don got up close and personal and eviscerated one of my sand giants in a single turn, Andaros is all about making life hard for multiple foes at once. 

We've also had a lot of proof that a druid with combat bear is a good thing to have on the team.  Dram and Dirt have done sterling work backing up Nayce the assassin.  The problem for Nayce is that it takes him two rounds to set up a major attack and during that time he is vulnerable.  Was vulnerable.  Not any more.  Put a combat bear at his side and he turns into a much tougher proposition.

Goliaths ... oh, my.  Cronin the cleric and Greeg the warden.  They're remarkably hard to hit.  They shrug off damage.  They move surprisingly fast.  Greeg and Kevaras the drow paladin have been playing mark swapping with everything in sight.  Combine this lot with Guldarin the chatty dwarf invoker and his lovely array of ranged demolition and Zeric the gnome who is actually two gnomes and wipes out braincells by looking at his enemies in a funny way and you can see the battles are shaping up to be interesting.

So are the social dynamics.  I hope the players are enjoying themselves as much as me.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Mikelmerck - Strangmont Castle

Strangmont is the only town of real note in Mikelmerck.  It was made so by the Sarathame kings as a gesture of defiance to the older powers.  To do this, they built a majestic castle (most likely with fey help).  Set high on a limestone outcropping, overlooking the Roosh, Strangmont Castle has never been successfully attacked.

The town perforce grew up around it, since Goffroi Sarathame removed all rights to market from the surrounding area.  Enclosed by long-gone city walls, Strangmont was a stronghold and a statement in one.

In the present time, while still important in Mikelmerck, Strangmont is no longer the seat of Sarathame power.  It remains an important symbol to the family, and the Progress both begins and ends here.  Although a fever of activity marks that event, for the remainder of the year, the Seneschal's duties are light.  Most of them are symbolic. 

Every evening, the Seneschal must walk the circuit of the Castle to ensure that the walls yet hold.  Long ago, a local drunkard stumbled on a gap and found his way into the network of caves beneath.  There he claimed to have found sleepers and a horn waiting to waken them.  Few believed him, but the Seneschal's nightly walk gives some credence to the tale.

Gone bananas

Spent a slightly surreal morning stuffing and stitching knitted bananas.

In the interests of the community of course.  Really.

The call went out from our theatre.  1000 plus knitted bananas needed for the much-appreciated pantomime.  I work there anyway and they promised cake - not a thing to turn down lightly. 

I felt somewhat of a fraud since I can't knit and dutifully held off from cake consumption until I'd done some stuffing and stitching and watching in awe at the skills of the many people who can.

For the record, they still need quite a few.  May learn to knit now.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Mikelmerck - the Fend Goat

High on crags he tore his rags

Down by thorn he blew his horn

Hid in lee, brak' his knee

Over beck he brak' his neck

Under Fend we'll mak' his end

Each year as the Progress comes to its end, the villagers of Fend enact a curious ritual.  A visitor describes it like this.

"We arrived a week before the festival and the whole village was engrossed in the construction of an effigy.  Everyone contributed, whether clothing or stuffing, but only the smith makes the mask.  They call it the Goat and set it on display at the edge of the village facing out towards the moors.  Everyone who arrives at this time is expected to pay their respects - and maybe even leave a small gift.

After the three days of feasting and honour, the Goat is carried around the village and treated most regally.  At the smithy however, the Goat is adorned with his new mask and the villagers now start to drag him around their boundaries.  At each stopping point, the village gathers and chants a verse  before carrying the Goat to a bonfire and burning him.

I asked what was the origin of this tale and was told that it was very ancient and believed to have once been part of the king-making of Mikelmerck.  If this is the case, I am glad I did not live in such times!"

(from "Mikelmerck's Customs and Places" by Scrivener Wainwright)

Mr Wainwright's description is accurate.  He may have romanticised the mythic elements and it the opinion of most that the Goat represents nothing more than an opportunistic thief who met his end at the hands of the villagers of Fend.

The plague of daft underwear

I've been hunting for images lately and feel the need to ... not exactly rant ... just to make a point. 

Bear with me a second and take a quick look at the illustrations below.

I'm not commenting on the art here.  I'm questioning how useful any of those garments actually are.  Anyone who has ever been in the possession of breasts - which would be 50% of the world - will confirm that a bra is more than decorative. 

I know, I know.  Fantasy worlds are different.  But I'll tell you something.  Gravity works the same way.  One other point.  If you have selected hand to hand fighting as your occupation, what possible reason is there to wear as little as possible?  Did these girls wake up one morning and decide their greatest warlike asset was their bared navel? 

Hang on ... do I even want to ask that question?  Shutting up now.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Mikelmerck - St Mikela, the Voice of the Head

Former home of St Mikela, the Voice of the Head.  Now a shrine.
The Legend of St Mikela has long been a popular subject for artists in Mikelmerck, but the best known example remains the Oltsow Tapestry.  Here all the major events of the saint's life are depicted in vibrant colour and provides the best introduction to this important figure.

St Mikela's birth was marked by the blossoming of the white pear tree outside Cooshboth's major temple in Jervich.  Her wealthy parents had quite other plans for their beautiful daughter, but Cooshboth's flame burned brightly in Mikela from the outset.  Agreeing at last to wed, she grew a beard on her wedding night and she and her nonplussed groom knelt in prayer to know the meaning of such a sign.

The following morning, she parted with her husband and retired to the cave that was to be her home for the next 60 years.  Here she rapidly acquired a reputation for wisdom.  Although much of her time was spent in contemplation, she readily accepted visitors and answered all questions with unfailing courtesy.  She was widely reputed to speak with the voice of Cooshboth himself - indeed, some said that he even dwelt at times within the cave.  Certainly her advice was heeded and few events of import took place without first consulting Mikela.

Mikela's advice of this period was collected by her devoted acolyte, the Blessed Aldern the Repeater and is noticeably practical in tone.   The Booke of St Mikela remains a standard text found in most Mikelmerckian homes and ranges over topics concerning the proper times for planting and husbandry as well as behaviour and the worship of Cooshboth.

Thirty years after she entered it, the saint's cave was seen to glow with a powerful divine light and Mikela herself was not seen for many weeks.  Fearing that she was dead, the people, lead by Aldern, closed off the cave mouth and built a small shrine in honour of her memory.  It was at this shrine that Mikela reappeared clad in sheep fleece and utterly silent.  It seemed that the Voice of the Head had been given a new role.

For the remainder of her life, she remained within the cave, speaking but rarely.  When she did so, the words made little sense, concerning events yet to come.  Nonetheless, she continued to welcome and bless all comers.  Her kindness extended to everyone.  Rich, poor, child or elder - any might make the pilgrimage to visit the saint.  After her death, her  incorrupt body remained in the cave.  Miracles were soon reported and the shrine remained a popular pilgrimage site.  Even after her death, Mikela continued to prophesie.  She chose her vessels from among the visitors  and they spoke in her voice.

In the view of many, the greatest sin committed by the Sarathame kings was the removal of St Mikela's body from her cave.  Taking her to their own crypt, she was reburied with great honour, but she seemed to disapprove.  From that time the saint has remained silent and the miracles have ceased.

Mikelmerck - sheep and shapechangers

Yan, Tan, Tether, Mether, Pip, 
Azer, Sezar, Akker, Conter, Dick,
Yanadick, Tanadick, Tetherdick, Metherdick, Bumfit,
Yanabum, Tanabum, Tetherabum, Metherabum, Jigget

Exceptionally hardy, wily and stubborn, Mikelmerck sheep closely resemble the people who bred them.  In the short summer months, they roam high above in the Duchy, only returning to the lower slopes when the weather turns.  This has nothing to do with what the sheep can survive, and everything to do with the convenience of the shepherds.

Each season, the shepherds count them out and count them in.  A loss or two is to be expected, but more worrying is an increase.  It is not unknown for outsiders to hitch a ride back to inhabited Mikelmerck as a sheep.  Farmers delighted at the happy increase in their flocks learn to rue these gifts when they turn out to be shapechanged fey.

Once invited in, whether by choice or accident, the fey have a foothold.


A many headed monster has arisen overnight.  Whether it threatens to take over the gaming world or merely provides a brainstorming ground remains to be seen.

This is the brainchild of ckutalik over at Hill Cantons and is pretty exciting.  Even if it is taking me away from my attempts to NaNo.  Choices, choices.

Friday, 4 November 2011


Noisms at Monsters and Manuals raised a whole set of interesting points.  Interesting in general as a gamer, of course, but also because most of my DMing is done online and there are some differences depending on whether or not you can see the players.

Some answers below.

Book binding - not such a huge issue for me.  I'm careful with my books.  What is a complete pain is a book with no index.  Really, really, I do NOT want to have to spend half an hour looking for a table I know is there someplace and has no index entry.  Having to do so sends me into a blind rage and leads me to ignore the rules and make up any old rubbish.  This one applies to table and PbP.

Voices - I do them in table games.  I also tend to do them in PbP.  Obviously a typed message doesn't convey accent, but I try to distinguish characters with speech patterns and turns of phrase.  Partly because it amuses me, and partly because it makes it so much easier for players to remember who they're attacking.  The villain who quoted 16th century Jacobean playwrights was great fun to do, for example.

Breaks - our table games normally only run about 3 hours, so the kettle checks and bathroom breaks tend to happen when people have just taken their turn.  PbP gets enough enforced hiatuses without adding in real time breaks.

Description - depends.  A little can help.  Too much and the eyes glaze over.  I try to keep written description to a short, evocative paragraph to set the scene and add more if it's needed.  Any description needs to be sure to mention anything important about the terrain.  That's fair.  If the players ignore it, then they only have themselves to blame when killer vines attack them because they ignored that bit in favour of rolling initiative.

Balance - the home team is civilised and we're not generally attention hogs.  We've genuinely never had a problem.  There are some encounters and situations where one or two characters will really shine, but it is very much about teamwork.  PbP is harder.  Players in PbP tend not to want to thread hog, but I've known one or two that have and they've been hard to deal with.  In general what happens is that the PbP starts to fail due to one character making the others feel redundant, incompetant or generally side-lined by the awesomeness of their PC.  Confrontation is not usually the sensible option over the internet, so my solution is generally to try and move things along so that the offending character is neutralised by action.

PC conflict - Violence between PCs and evil PCs are a big "no" for me.  PCs who don't agree with each other is fine.  I'm not asking everyone to behave like an episode of Care Bears.  As long as they can work together to get the job done, they can snark and bitch about and at each other as much as they like, as long as none of the players gets upset.  I find the "it's what my character would do" line extremely tedious, but I've been very, very fortunate in my players.  They tend to police themselves and do it very well.

Explaining - I don't.  People who know me well enough know I have this weird hobby where I roll dice and tell stories.  Either they're intrigued or they just file it away as something that doesn't interest them or they think is a little sad.

Alcohol - sometimes.  No particular preference or style.  Most of us don't drink much anyway and a lot of the home group either drive or have to get up early on game nights.  But bottles have appeared at our table and will continue to do so.  We always keep a bottle of vodka handy to clean the maps.  It works.  Not much else does.  Clearly not that relevant in a PbP.

Absent players - PbP players get run if needs be - usually by me, although I'm starting to ask other players to take turns for the missing.  In home games, we keep the character sheets and run the player as if they were there as far as possible.

No No NaNo

It's not too late, of course, but I am already drastically behind schedule with NaNoWriMo.

Put it this way.  Two false starts and 0 words is not a great beginning.

Must try harder.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Mikelmerck - the fey and the Sarathames

Fabian did a lovely piece on the Nine Men of Muriz which obviously falls into the same territory as the Drowned Seven (below).  I meant to link to it yesterday.

In the way of Mikelmerck, old stories often turn out to be the true ones.  The Sarathame kings long had links with Mikelmerck.  They had little to call their own - only vaulting ambition, a love of music and a way with words and small magic.  As their power grew, so did their need for knowledge.  Unusually among powerful families they respected learning, seeing it as a way forward rather than a threat.  In Mikelmerck they found a most uncommon source of power and took advantage of it.

They realised early that the boundaries in Mikelmerck were fragile and started to cultivate the fey.  Far from fearing them, they yearned for fey knowledge and in exchange offered a permanent border on their lands.  It is said that Goffroi, the first Sarathame king wrote a song of calling inviting the fey into this world and sharing its joys with them.  Parts of it are inscribed in their burial chapel, but the whole song is known only to the king and his heir.

It is certainly true that under the Sarathames, architecture has taken a very different turn, seeming to ignore the rules of logic and physics to build towering palaces and churches.  Music and culture are enduring preoccupations of the family.  Their dynasty has lasted for nearly 700 years, but in that time, their eccentricites have become more extreme.  They keep their secrets well, but in the end their own need to keep them may bring about their downfall.  Increasingly paranoid and mistrustful they turn inward and rot like overripe fruit.  Even so, they maintain their links with Mikelmerck.  Their wives nearly all come from the Duchy and their castles still stud the landscape.

Each year the Progress spends a month walking the boundaries.  At this time, anyone may approach the king and beg a favour.  The king is bound to listen and answer, but it is a risky thing to do.  The favour may well be granted, but it will come at a price.  Sometimes that price is a small thing - a clean fleece or a fresh baked cake placed at a certain spot, a new chant or a rock moved from one place to another.  Sometimes though the price is higher and stranger.  It depends on the mood of the king and the need of the boundary at the time.

Mikelmerck - The Drowned Seven

The lake of the Drowned Seven is a place of ill renown.  By day, it is true, some fishermen scoff at the old stories and pull in a good catch, but as night falls, they leave with relief.  Dawn and dusk are the most dangerous times, say the villagers.  The truly unlucky may hear the bells below the water and those that do are never quite the same.

The bells ring to waken the Drowned Seven.  As to whether their wakening is a good thing or a bad thing - much depends on who you speak to.  The priests of Cooshboth say that the Seven are angels, locked away until Mikelmerck is worthy to receive them.  Others are less optimistic. 

Regardless of who or what they are, the Drowned Seven have waited many, many centuries for their awakening.  Deep in their lake, they sometimes seem to stir a little, sending curious fish into the nets of the fisherfolk brave enough to cast there.  Sometimes too, pieces of stonework and even ancient gold have been cast up. 

Around the edges of the lake are rocks of strange sizes and shape.  According to the old tale, these are the remains of people who stayed to listen to the bells.  What is certain is that their number grows year on year.  One or two at a time, nothing to be overly worried about.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Words of doom

I'm a shocker at finding plots.  Dialogue I can do.  Plots, not so much.

In the spirit of "what the hell" that overcame me when I signed up for NaNoWriMo, and in the absence of any better ideas, I've gone with an old staple to give myself a plot.  And a genre.  And characters.  Dice.  What else?

Most helpfully, ckutalik over at Hill Cantons has a lovely set of random adventure title generating charts.  I used them once before to create the epic adventurette, Against the Hawk Giant so I've got a certain faith in them. 

Here are the rolls:


Promising so far.  "Search for the [place chart] of [adjective chart] [being chart]


"Search for the Undercity of the [adjective] [being]"

"Search for the Undercity of the Forgotten [being]"

1d12=8 (again)

"Search for the Undercity of the Forgotten Demon"

Hmmm.  So, by my own rules, I now need to incorporate this into my story.  Sometimes I do very dumb things in an effort to make my own life easier.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Mikelmerck and the guarding dead

One of the peculiarities of Mikelmerck is the belief that the dead earn their keep.  They are fully occupied in patrolling the thin boundaries and remain active.  Every family keeps some token of their ancestors in the house and on Cooshboth's Eve when the days grow darker, they bring them out to remind them of their duties.  The following day, All Heads, a few especially aged or honoured tokens are rewarded with retirement from their toil and are given a final send off with special cakes and good ale.

The hardheaded Mikelmerckens are slightly wary of continuing to work in their well-earned afterlife.  Because of this, it is not unknown for bargains to be struck before death for the length of time they will be expected to guard the boundaries.  Such bargains normally involve the transfer of property or sheep to compensate the living for the future loss of protection.  One of the prime duties of the traveling clergy is to adjudicate an appropriate length of service.  10 years is the norm, but in the case of particularly strong willed or powerful people, the family may ask for a longer protection.  In this case the negotiations can become protracted and messy, leading to unseemly squabbles.

Most of the truly powerful accept that they will spend a long period guarding the bounds of Mikelmerck.  Boothler Samael has not yet been granted respite after 300 years.  Nor is it likely he will be until another mage of similar strength appears.