strange

Strange Sunday – Animals!

“corgi rogue” by reiley

My love for furry, little critters knows no bounds. I grew up with dogs, owned a guinea pig and even a group of adorable rats. If it’s a mammal and has big eyes, odds are high that I want to hug it and hold it close. Not really manly, I know, but that’s just the way it is. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who things animals are awesome, as their important role in fiction shows. Many authors and game designers go even so far to have four-legged mammals walk on two feet and have them act rather…well, human. Those strange people known as “furries” even go out of their way to make costumes to look like such a anthropomorphized version of a critter. Our love for animals and how we give them a place in our “art” seems strange to many, and that’s why I’m highlighting it in this week’s Strange Sunday, to discuss with you the stranger ways of using “anthros”

Heil Lassie
Alternate history is a popular sub-genre of fantasy, and it’s actually a genre where humanised animals haven’t been spotted all that often. A shame, if you ask me, because replacing humans with furry counterparts is a way of teaching people about history in an interesting way. As a kid, I rarely watched Alfred J. Kwak, a children’s cartoon that I absolutely didn’t care for back then. Years later, when I was in high school, I stumbled upon a few episodes and checked them out. And what do you know: there’s a crow in that show who turns out to be the feathered version of Adolf Hitler. It’s an interesting approach to show children such a villlain, and most adults will recognise him immediately.

Why not take this a step further? How about a Victorian era setting, in which the British Empire is run by two-legged collies, who struggle with the rebellions of the Persian cats? Or a game about a planet of highly advanced monkeys who...oh wait. Anyway, combining alternative paths of history with furry protagonists might turn out rather interesting.

My furry friend
Animals don’t have to be the main characters, of course, and their intelligent versions could just co-exist with humans. This is something that is explored in Exalted, where tribes of intelligent animals live besides or wage war with their two-legged neighbours. It’s also a core theme of the Ghibli highlight Mononoke Hime, where gigantic wolves and boars fight for the survival of their forest, while humans encroach on it.

Imagine a game where animals work together or against humans, and you’ll imagine a game with additional possibilities. Themes of racism and cross-species friendship become interesting plot hooks, and trying to place the intelligent animals in the setting becomes a writing challenge of its own. See if you can find out where a tribe of telepathic and magical mantis-people fit in…

That’s it for this weeks Strange Sunday. Now, if you excuse me, I have to look up that write-up to play a Corgi in a D&D campaign…

Strange Sunday – Anachronism and other oddities

Penny Arcade is, in my opinion, one of the greatest webcomics out there. Tycho and Gabe don’t just put a smile on my face, but they also use their creative drive to create intriguing and unique storylines. One of my favourite creations of them is Automata, a short comic taking place in what seems an America of the 1920’s, but with robots and stuff.

This kind of anachronism and alternate reality has always intrigued me. It is interesting to see how the addition of one out-of-place element can give an era a new spin. Just imagine what the Napoleonic Wars would have been like if there were dragons involved. Or what about the Wild West, but with werewolves and stuff?

Yeah, games and fiction  make ample use of these combinations, and why not? They make something old seem new, and open up new possibilities. They also pose a fascinating challenge for writers and game designers. having them find a place for this new and strange part of a setting. If these people do their job right, they help create something beautiful and impressive.

It’s not just limited to our own world’s history. The Legend of Korra advances the timeline of the Avatar setting, and reflects that advancement in Republic City. Where the world of the young Aang was one of horse carriages and campfires, citizens of Republic City drive cars and have electricity. However, the traditional elements persist, and blend in nicely with this Industrial Revolution of the modern times.

So here’s my question to you: in what kind of strange settings with anachronistic or out-of-place elements have you played? Is there a video game you recall that does something new with something old?

Strange Sunday – Every Dwarf was kung-fu fightin’

“dwarf monk” by travistye

Starting today, every sunday will be dedicated to the ways we can use to break the mold and make our games more interesting. I will talk about things that have the guts to ignore the stereotypes, and that bring new things to our games. Today, I will take a closer look at my favourite fantasy race, and tell you why they are often as bland as my fair-looking nemesis.

The reason why I love Dwarves more than Elves is simple: Dwarves are more relatable. They are cheerful, they love to drink, dance and be merry. They grow extremely cool beards, delve into the darkest dungeons to find the rarest ore and fight enemies ten times their size without even feeling a sense of fear. They teach us a lesson: no matter how tall or tiny you are, with the right mindset and a cold beer, you can tackle every challenge.

However, Dwarves also lack a bit of diversity. In most fantasy settings, they live deep in the mountains, make the best ale and have long beards. It gets old really quick, and while I would always prefer a bearded stump over a fair and pretty Elf, I hunger for some new ideas concerning our short-legged friends. What would make them really cool? Well, below you’ll find a short suggestion that you can use freely to make the Dwarves in your games a bit more interesting, giving your players more than the usual blacksmithing, beer-brewing bubs.

The Masters of Dragondance Mountains
In the far north, hidden in the depths of the Dragondance Mountains, a war rages between the Dojos of the Dwarves. Since the dawn of time, each of these martial arts schools has focused on mastering one of the mountain’s elements through physical exercise: rock, lightning, storm and snow. Each Dojo, lead by one of the Arch-Sifu, has claimed to be the most powerful, and every year, when the sun kisses the highest peak of the Dragondance Mountains, the Dwarves gather at Dao-Zhin, the Fateful Grounds of Earthen Justice. Here, the strongest students of every Dojo face each other in one-on-one battles for honour and the righteousness of their ways. However, trouble is brewing in the depths of the Dragondance, as a fifth, unknown Dojo has emerged, harnessing the darkness of the deeps. Will the four Arch-Sifus unite their schools to fight a common enemy, or will they falter before the might of the Ebon Sword That Pierces The Sun?

Masters of Dragondance Mountains combines classic Chinese martial arts movies elements with a bit of The Last Airbender to turn Dwarves in the kung-fu masters using a set of alternate elements to enhance their martial techniques. Secluded Dwarf cities become monasteries, where the young students learn their respective arts. Stories could focus on the rivalry between the Dojos, or the united fight against a common enemy in the form of a mysterious, fifth Dojo.

You coul also drop one of these martial arts Dwarves in the middle of your campaign, surprising your players with a complete new approach to the Dwarven race. Also, what about members of other races training in one of the monasteries? Do the Dwarves keep the secrets of the elements to themselves, or do they give strangers the chance to prove their mettle? A whole campaign could be based on the idea of a human trying to become a member of a Dojo, struggling for recognition by his Dwarven peers and finally showing his competence in the fight against the Ebon Sword.

Well, that’s it for this week. I hope you like yourself a helping of roundhouse-kicking Dwarves. Check back next week, when we give another cliché a strange and new twist on Strange Sunday!