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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Blood Sword redux: Doomwalk (part 1)

I sometimes think the imagination is a big old cooking pot that carries the tang of every ingredient that’s ever been put in it. A frinstance: long ago at primary school I came across a storybook with big, blocky, semi-abstract illustrations. You know the sort of book, covered in plastic that made a creaky, crinkling sound as you opened the spine. One of the stories was about a cursed ship. It had people’s hands being cut off, is about all I can remember. Now, I was a kid who relished a good fright. I read Dracula at a tender age and started writing my own sequel to it before I was ten. But that story about the ship scared the bejasus out of me. I shoved it back into the book cupboard, did a good job of forgetting it, and then spent years trying to remember exactly what it was that I’d found so terrifying.

If you’re a writer, that’s where the cooking pot comes in. Because I was striving to recapture that special frisson in the haunted ship sequence in Blood Sword 5: Doomwalk.
Black clouds clot along the horizon. Only minutes ago the sky was as blue as a sapphire, now the furled sails mutter fretfully in the easterly gusts. You shiver and follow the mate below. The entire ship’s company is crowded into the forecastle, and oil lamps are lit and the hatches are battened down against the coming storm.
I won’t give away what happens next in the book, but that’s where it was dredged up from – getting spooked out by a story in childhood. And that’s appropriate for this book because, as much as it’s a descent into the lands of the dead, it’s also a journey into dream. This is not the afterlife of fiery torments that Dante described, but a chilly protean clime where you might trip over ghosts creeping about looking for bowls of blood to lap up, or bump into a half-cadaverous goddess in the myths. I mean mists.

The first part of Doomwalk involves finding a way to reach the afterlife so you can go and retrieve the Sword of Life stolen by your enemy, Icon, at the moment you killed him. If you first put in some library time like a good Scooby, here’s how a dusty book you find describes the land of the dead:
Your search through Emeritus’ books drags on into the evening, when the muezzins’ call and the sound of church bells mingle in the dusk outside. A servant comes into the library to light the lamps. You are on the verge of giving up when you find some more references to Sheol. Theodoric of Osterlin Abbey writes that Sheol is a dream landscape comprising fragments of various mythologies. He confirms the claim that you found earlier that mortals can reach Sheol – but adds that the longer one spends there, the more difficult it is to return.
I thought, as was editing this book, ‘Dream landscape? I must have been ripping off Gaiman.’ But in fact I completed the manuscript for Doomwalk a full year before Sandman #1 went on sale. I expect we both had in our blood the same cocktail of Ron Embleton’s Wrath of the Gods and the cosmically bleak stories of the BBC’s Out of the Unknown, we both devoured Norse myths and the gloriously far-out fantasy strips in Valiant, were both reared through adolescence on the same heady stew of Moorcock, Dunsany, Lovecraft, Calvino and others. Or, I dunno, maybe it was just that kickin’ early-80s Afghan Black.

More about the influences on Doomwalk next week, but drop back Friday for another announcement.


17 comments:

  1. I haven't gotten all the way into Blood Sword because I'm still on a huge Fabled Lands kick. It seems to share some DNA with Robert E Howard with maybe some Lovecraft tossed in for good measure.

    Is there any method by which you could convert Fabled Lands characters to Blood Sword or vice-versa? I like the idea of having one of those gates to the Underworld or other paths that lead to Fabled Lands books that don't yet exist instead end up at the start of Book 1 or 2 of Blood Sword.

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    1. I have read almost all of Lovecraft's work, John, which that means he must be in the cookpot somewhere. But I've never appropriated his ideas in the way that, say, Way of the Tiger does. In fact the only overtly Lovecraftian touch I can think of in one of my gamebooks is the mad city of Du-En in Heart of Ice. To make up for this long neglect, HPL will be making a personal appearance in my comic Mirabilis. (How, given that the story is set between 1901 and 1902? Wait and see.)

      The FL and Blood Sword universes are thoroughly incompatible. Legend (the setting of Blood Sword and Dragon warriors) is a monotheistic, moral universe based on the medieval worldview of Christianity and Islam. As the last Blood Sword book makes clear, it's the entirety of Creation. The characters, too, are implied to have a past/upbringing and to be devout followers of the True Faith, even to a point of intolerance that would be mild for the Middle Ages but uncomfortable to us now.

      Thus, no place in all that for the intrusion of the polytheistic, amoral universe of FL. In fact, I wouldn't even allow characters from a Dragon Warriors roleplaying campaign into Blood Sword. Although both are set in Legend, they are tonally different versions of that world. For the DW take on Blood Sword's countdown-to-Doomsday scenario, see my earlier posts on Tim Harford's Redemption campaign, which had the true DW downbeat touch.

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  2. I see where you're coming from, but I think there's a lot of story space to be mined by putting "incompatible" things together. Having 18th century Scotland co-existing with 1940s Great Britain would be absurdly incompatible. However, drop a 1940s British nurse into 18th century Scotland and you get the Outlander series.

    One of my favorite games from the 1990s was TORG. When you boiled it down to its essence, TORG was about very different story genres (and the characters within them) interacting and dealing with shared circumstances. Sure, in a normal story it wouldn't make much sense to have a cyberpunk street punk, a pulp superscience hero, an elven wizard and a New York police detective trying to kill a vampire in 1880sish London, but that's almost a "typical" TORG scenario.

    I agree that a full-scale integration between Blood Sword and Fabled Lands would probably be impossible. However, a single character occasionally traveling between the two settings doesn't seem out of reach. The "fish-out-of-water"/"stranger in a strange land" concept is a pretty big trope of the sci-fi/fantasy genre, after all.

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    1. Marketing peopke love to shove franchises together without regard for the tonality or underlying logic & themes of the different universes. For example, I saw a comic that mixed Dr Who & Star Trek. Ugh, they might just as well have had Mickey Mouse appear in Breaking Bad!

      But as I say, Legend is a Christian universe. There's one God and he created everything. Fabled Lands is a polytheistic universe where the gods don't really care what happens to individuals. There's no point of contact - though any player, having bought the books, is of course free to mix them however they like. My view: more is less.

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    2. I once saw a crossover between Paranoia and Warhammer 40,000. A one-off scenario where troubleshooters, IntSec and some robots turn up on an Algae World full of bored Orcs. Hilarity ensues. But I doubt you'd want that sort of thing in the canon 40K though, at least back when it was good. Some universes can have fun little in-jokes and culture references, others will be damaged. One of the "issues" with Fallout 2 was all the pop-culture references which were fun, but took away from the brooding mood. Fallout New Vegas makes them optional (so you can turn on "Romanes Eunt Domus" and the dog in the well and so on).

      Faltyns from BloodSword might be fun in Fabled Lands of course. But then Faltyns are always a source of amusement/outrage!

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    3. Coincidentally, James, I'll be talking about faltyns in the next part of this Doomwalk "desgner's notes" series. (And of course no mention of them is complete without acknowledging their inspiration in the fantasy works of Jack Vance.)

      I was thinking that one way to mash up the series would be if the Magi win in Blood Sword 5. They would create a Godless universe which, who knows, after a few hundred years could end up being Harkuna. Hmm... nah, still doesn't work.

      For the last word in literary mash-ups, here's my wife holding forth on the subject. Scroll down for the musical mash-ups:

      http://nailyournovel.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/one-song-to-the-tune-of-another-dos-and-don%E2%80%99ts-of-mash-ups-and-juxtaposition/

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  3. I know I keep doing this (asking questions about one series in a blog post about another series) but does this thing here have anything at all to do with your Dragon Warriors RPG? Like, is this Dragon Warriors RPG: The Movie or somesuch?

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    1. It's not entirely off topic, John, as both Blood Sword and Dragon Warriors are (sort of) set in the same world, Legend... But, to answer your question, GOOD GOD NO! :-)

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    2. I didn't really think so, but you never know what might have been done with some of the rights to something. I could you selling the movie right to somebody in the 80s, who passed it to someone else and so on. Game creators have made unfortunate decisions with movie rights before. Hell, look at the Dungeons and Dragons movies (actually, no, don't look at the Dungeons and Dragons movies, they'll hurt your brain). I'm pretty sure that I heard a high-pitched whirring noise from the vicinity of Gary Gygax's grave when the first one came out - and he wasn't even dead yet.

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    3. I think in a recent comment I did run through a list of approved "DW-like" movies, including Black Death, Season of the Witch, Ironclad, The Hour of the Pig, The Seventh Seal, Black Angel... Did I remember to include Jabberwocky?

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    4. Interesting about the Blood Sword/Fabled Lands settings. As I'm re-reading both sets of books right now, each certainly has a different "feel" but that's the neat things about each it's a different experience. Speaking of "crossover" references, however, I did like that that in reading the new edition of Battlepits of Krath one of the Barbarians almost mentions "Deathtrap Dungeon" (at least that's what I always assumed it was being referenced). Having read the original Blood Sword series a long time ago I had honestly foregotten that reference!

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    5. I nearly cut that, actually, Jonathan, as it was never a line I was happy with. But I said I was going to leave the "classic edition" more or less unrevised, so it stands.

      The real nod should have been to Steve Jackson US's Death Test, in the Fantasy Trip series, which kicked off that subgenre of gamebooks at least 6 years before Deathtrap Dungeon.

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  4. I know authors are always looking for inspirations for new characters, plots, etc. So, here is a source of some "inspiration. Just click or reload the page each time you wished to be inspired. Also, don't punch your computer screen.

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  5. I got one involving "a brain washed cat" (sic). Which really is surreal.

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    1. I like the ones that almost make sense, like:

      She appears to be a normal cheerleader except she dresses like a vampire bloody nurse, her eyes glows like fiery embers and her hair is silvery and is so flexible and strong that a single hair can be used to make bowstrings, but secretly she is actually a half-demon.

      She is a goddess cast down to earth to become mortal megalomaniac and she will fight her enemies with the power to talk to wild animals or to summon the angel of war.

      Her friends and enemies call her Awesomebeast Feathertree!

      Her constant companion is a friendly sparkling vietnam veteran who is also her lover.

      Her favored weapon is a unbreakable spirit axe which is covered in rare gems.

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  6. Hey Dave, a Spanish blogger has just written a review about the whole series ! : http://manpang.blogspot.fr/2014/09/blood-sword.html

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    1. And what a review! It's tremendously comprehensive and well-researched - and thanks to Google Translate I can read it :-) Thanks for pointing that out, Olivier.

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