June 2009


"The Sith do not bottle feed kittens!" - Chugworth Academy

June 4th, 2009


The etymology of the English word "lord" is interesting: In Middle English it was laverd or loverd, which derived from the Old English hlaford ("master of the house"). But before that it was hlafweard, which meant literally "one who guards loaves of bread" (hlaf meaning "bread or loaf" and weard meaning "guardian, protector, or ward").

On the other hand, a lady was hlafæta ("one who serves the house") -- or, more literally, "one who gives the loaf".

In other words, an English lord was one who protected the food and an English lady was one who was responsible for distributing the food (presumably in a fair and efficient fashion).

I think this tells you a great deal about the English tradition of nobility.

You can also find similar etymological roots for other familiar titles: A duke is literally "one who leads". An earl, on the other hand, was literally a "warrior" or "brave man". (But it's even more interesting to note that "earl" was an Anglo-Saxon term. It was equated with the French title of count when the Normans arrived. The term "count" derives from the Latin comitem, which means "companion". Tells you something about the clashing traditions of nobility in England post-1066, eh?) In Old English a sheriff was the "chief of the shire" (scirgerefa, from scir- meaning "shire" and -gerefa meaning "chief, official, reeve").

One of the things I enjoy doing while creating a fantasy setting is to create original titles of nobility and position. Not a lot of them (because nobody is really interested in turning a gaming session into a fictional language lesson), but just a few scattered here and there. Think of it as spicing or emphasis... or just a touch of the unnatural.

For example, a number of small nations and city-states in my campaign are ruled by syrs. For example, Dweredell is ruled by Syr Arion. This title is derived from the Draconic word for "lightning" and originally referred to the equivalent of  "duke" or "governor" in an ancient empire that once dominated wide swaths of the world. The empire used "lightning" as a title because the syrs ruled through the threat of destructive power. (Which tells you a great deal about the empire.) When the empire fell, the local syrs were in a position to consolidate power.

There are two tricks to introducing terms like this: Moderation and context.

First, don't use a lot of them. And introduce them at a very slow pace. (I average about one every 20 sessions.) These things are spicing. And like all spices, less is usually more.

Second, introduce them through the simple and expedient means of using them in context. For example, the first time a group of players entered Dweredell they went looking for the leader of the city. After a Gather Information check I told them they could find Syr Arion at the Twin Keeps, and off they went with nary a question.

Another group started a campaign in the city-state of Amsyr and when I said "you receive an invitation from the syr to attend upon him at the palace", one of the players asked, "What's a syr?" And I said, "A local title, like a duke or a prince." They said, "Oh." and off we went.

Similarly, in my current campaign, nobody even batted an eye when I started referring to female knights using the title Sera. (Thus, Sir Kabel and Sera Nara.) (Why not use "dame"? For a variety of reasons.)

In both cases the term sort of settled into the common vernacular of the group. And when some of those players later learned that the term nainsyr meant "let there be lightning" (because it was the command word for a magical sword), maybe some connection was made (either consciously or otherwise).

Or maybe not. It doesn't really matter: My mission was already accomplished. I had already leveraged them a little further away from Generic Fantasy World #961.

June 12th, 2009


The worst writing I have ever read.

(And I write that as someone who has suffered through multiple readings of the Eye of Argon.)

A sample:

Her hair had the sheen of the sea beneath an eclipsed moon. It was the color of a leopard's tongue, of oiled mahogany. It was terra cotta, bay and chestnut. Her hair was a helmet, a hood, the cowl of the monk, magician or cobra.

Her face had the fragrance of a gibbous moon. The scent of fresh snow. Her eyes were dark birds in fresh snow. They were the birds' shadows, they were mirrors; they were the legends on old charts. They were antique armor and the tears of dragons. Her brows were a raptor's sharp, anxious wings. They were a pair of scythes. Her ears were a puzzle carved in ivory. Her teeth were her only bracelet; she carried them within the red velvet purse of her lips.

You really have to read it out loud to appreciate just how mind-numbingly awful it is. I found, when reading it to myself, that my subconscious brain just started skimming over things. It was only when I started reading it out loud that the Cthulhuian mind-rending began.

This is taken, by the way, from a published novel: Silk and Steel by Ron Miller.

I'm also fairly enamored of this pictorial rendition of the subject of the passage (although you really need to click through and read the full thing to appreciate it fully).

This has been making the rounds for a couple of months now, so I'm probably not the first person to note the similarity between this misbegotten narrative excess and the Song of Solomon. I suspect this is not merely an accidental resemblance: One of the characters, you'll note, is named Spikenard. While many reading the passage dismiss this as merely some horrible fantasy name, Spikenard is actually the name of a flower which is mentioned twice in the Song of Solomon.

By pure synchronicity, a couple of days after reading this for the first time, I was reading 3:16 - Bible Text Illuminated by Donald E. Knuth, which expanded insightfully on the topic while discussing the Song of Solomon (pg. 96):

These songlets are examples of an ancient type of love poem called a waṣf, in which a beloved's body is praised part by part, often making use of extravagant and far-fetched metaphors. For example, an Egyptian papyrus from about 1250 B.C. contains a fragment of a waṣf that says, "my sister's mouth is a lotus; her breasts are mandrakes". Waṣf songs appear several times in the Thousand and One Nights, and they are still popular in modern Arab poetry. A 19th-century waṣf includes the line: "Her bosom is like polished marble tablets, as ships bring them to Sidon; like pomegranates topped with piles of glittering jewels."

So there is clearly a very specific effect that Ron Miller is going for. Does this make it better? Not really. I'd even argue it makes it worse. Miller has clearly put a lot of thought and care into rendering something that, in its actual execution, ends up being a mockery of the very thing it sought to create.

Understanding what Miller was attempting to create helps us to understand where it all went horribly, horribly wrong. But the skidmarks don't negate the car crash.

June 23th, 2009


Lo these many years ago I attended South High School in Minneapolis, MN. And there I was cast unto a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. And thus was I bitten by the bug of the theater. Forever after would I prance upon the wooden slats of the stage.

I have spoken here previously about the excellent theater program at South High School and the huge effect it had on me as both a person and as an artist. I'm not alone: Dozens of South High Theater alumni have gone on to professional careers in the theater (as documented by the South High Theater Alumni Alliance, which is hosted on this site).

Louise Bormann, who has served as the Artistic Director of South High Theater for 17 years, is retiring. Starting next year, the program will be taken over by alumni Ellen Fenster. In celebration, we are restaging The Importance of Being Earnest (which was first produced on the South High stage in 1994). Many of the leading roles are being reprised by the original actors (many of whom are now professional actors), and I'll be taking on the role of Merriman.

Most of you reading this have no immediate connection to South High, so this probably means little to you.

But what should mean something is that this is a rollickin' good show. If you live in the area and you're looking for a good dose of entertainment, then you should come and see it.

Adults - $20     Students - $10
General Admission Tickets Available at the Door
Payment by Cash or Check Only
Ticket Office Opens 1 Hour Before Performance

JUNE 2009: