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As per request, quick summaries of the tools I’m using to GM D&D 4e:

First cool tool: the GameMastery Combat Pad Initiative Tracker. It’s a wet/dry erase board with a steel core and a bunch of magnets that you shuffle around to track initiative. It works very well; in the first session, I was pretty much able to run combats with the module and the tracker held in one hand. However, it’s got a lot of wasted space.

This last session I added the printableDM Encounter Manager to my toolbox. It’s nice; I tried the ones without the initiative trackers but I think I’m going to swap over. As noted, the GameMastery tracker is a bit clunky in that half the space is chewed up in ways that simply aren’t useful in combat. Holding two full page sheets in one hand is obviously a lot harder than holding one full page sheet; if I can track initiative easily on the Encounter Managers, that’s a win.

I think the right thing to do here is find a slim steel clipboard of some kind, clip the Encounter Managers to it, and use the GameMastery tracker magnets to track initiative. That gets me back to one sheet. Unfortunately, steel clipboards are hard to find.

The Wizards Dungeon Master’s Screen is very good. I just need a better place to put it, since I’ve been DMing standing up. I’ll figure that out with time.

Alea Tools is good magnets for tracking status effects on miniatures. I didn’t use them enough last session, but I will.

Jim Goings’ Condition Cards (scroll down a bit) are great easy reminders of which PCs are undergoing which conditions. Also it’s nicely intimidating to say “you’re weakened” and slap down the big indicators. There are a bunch of other nice tools on that page, btw — I particularly like Kiznit’s character sheets.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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(Not Fringeworthy, that’s different.)

Use Nemesis, which is fairly simple and free. A couple of nomenclature changes — Madness Meters are Stability Meters, and most difficulties are fairly low. Things are weird but not alien weird. The Unnatural track is the Fringe track. Trump dice are likewise Fringe dice.

There is no supernatural, but there is fringe science, obviously. Those versed in fringe science might go above 5d in a given stat. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nina turned out to have 6d in Body, and Dr. Bishop has 6d Mind. Perhaps more.

Regular combat still exists. Right now the show looks more procedural than actiony, which means firearms should be deadly, which I think they are in Nemesis. However, the interesting combat scenes are scientific. This works more or less like regular combat.

1. Declare your character’s action. The show’s set up with one main scientist, which works fine — everyone else does supporting actions, which feed back into the scientist’s work, giving him bonus dice.

2. Roll the appropriate dice pool. Narrate accordingly. Sometimes it’s going to be science skill vs. science skill (can we figure out how to undo this dimensional transposition before it explodes in downtown Boston?), and sometimes it’d be science skill vs. something else. I think the whole tank scene in the pilot was vs. tactics, for example.

3. Damage is to be contemplated. Could be physical. Could be time ebbing away. Possibly losing a fight results in Stability Meter checks. Mostly I think I like time passing; a lot of this stuff is going to be mad science on the clock, since it’s a procedural show. So it’s… when you run out of wound boxes, you’re out of time or the experiment failed.

You don’t have weapons. You have centrifuges, which get statted up the same way.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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I tried Living Forgotten Realms today. It was pretty fun, actually. Short-form explanation: you write up a D&D character, and you sign up for an event — there are two public regular nights here in the Boston area, and each night so far has had at least two modules — and you go down and play with whoever else signed up and the DM, and at the end of the night you and the DM record your progression and then you can do it again the next week, or two weeks from now, or at a con. Whatever.

Pros: no pressure at all. You play when you wanna. Tired of the wizard? Swap to the fighter. Nice casual environment. Meet new people. All the modules are Wizards-approved.

Cons: Not super-heavy on the roleplay. Meet new people. All the modules are Wizards-approved.

I wouldn’t want it as my sole gaming outlet, maybe, but I had a good time and I expect I’ll do more. We had a great GM, who did an excellent job of keeping things moving and who knew the rules well. He handled skill challenges nicely; when we needed a push on appropriate skills, we used ‘em, and he was fair about arbitrating other skills we could use.

I got stepped on once or twice when I busted out a bit of clerical roleplay and someone else wanted to make the roll due to a higher bonus, but c’est la vie. From an in character perspective, I think Alesk (oooh, a character sheet) did the talking on those occasions no matter who made the roll, so nyah.

The module was solid. I was wondering how these get built for random groups. Simple setup: “you all got notes requesting your presence at a meeting,” and we all went and met each other, and there was no angst about whether or not we were going to work together. I think the rogues got to show their sinister sides and my cleric got to be all holy and we acknowledged imperfect compatibility without letting it get in the way. Probably not the greatest start for an ongoing campaign, but for six people scheduled to work together for a few days? Worked fine.

The GM framed competently. He wasn’t shy about asking for skill rolls and providing hints, both out of combat and in combat. I think the modules encourage that as well, but the little touches like allowing us to roll Arcana to intuit that Sleep wasn’t going to work on the statue trap was good; saved people from feeling silly for using their big powers poorly. And nudging us gently towards the right places as we progressed towards the crypt was nice too. I didn’t feel railroaded into a specific way of handling a certain pack of guards, but I do feel like we were offered some possible smart ideas. None of which we took! And we still got past ‘em.

I pretty much liked the table. I spent a few minutes pre-game chatting about the irksomeness of trying to get Zul’Aman bear mounts with the one couple, and one guy brought his kid along for some D&D exposure, and everyone was cool with that and super-helpful to the kid. Definitely varying degrees of game expertise, but I’m not gonna judge when I kept forgetting my bonuses to hit.

Also I got a +1 Holy Symbol of Life. And I suspect there’s a shortage of healers. So I gotta play again…

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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“And lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him.”

So that worked out pretty well. I wanted to run a grim, darkly complected game with veins of humor in the Warhammer 40K universe. Good match of setting and mood there. I got pretty much what I wanted. It took a bit of adjusting and shuffling and learning and talking to nail the mythos, but by the time we hit our stride it was awesome.

The goal was to do a tight series of self-contained missions. I knew this was going to be a short term game, but I didn’t want to run a whole story arc in three months, so I tried to treat it as a series of modules so that the end wouldn’t feel like we’d stopped in the middle. Also, I wanted to be able to pick it up again and run another one or two session bit sometime.

This sort of failed for two reasons. First, I couldn’t resist picking up some of the pieces of the first mission and turning them into an ongoing story. The spiders wanted to come back, and thus they did. The players should count themselves fortunate that I didn’t dump the Baron’s ghost on them, but frankly, he’s out there.

Layering in ongoing story elements also meant that I didn’t have to scrape to engage six players in the details of each mission. If the acolytes were heading to a feudal planet, say, I could drop in scenes growing out of the previous mission to give our tech priest some spotlight rather than carefully inserting a techie bit directly related to the matter at hand.

And the secret third reason is that I just couldn’t help it; it’s my best technique for giving a game texture. C’est la vie.

Six players is a lot, though. I should have run for five or four. On the other hand, if I ask myself who I’d leave out? Well, none of them. Er, none of you. Whichever. I enjoyed running for everyone and everyone liked playing. No good answers there.

Anyhow, the upshot is that I think I cut it to a fairly abrupt close. I thought about regearing for a story arc; I know where certain things are going. Perseus has a hopefully disturbing bit of news about the extent to which the five that is four has infested the Inquisitor’s Library and the denizens therein, for example. Also, to the best of my knowledge, the acolytes left Acreage without turning over some drugs to a certain person.

But I think it’d take another few months to play to a conclusion point. You don’t want to build the corruption too quickly. So cutting it now is the right move.

Also, I emphasize that the game was in my eyes a success. The system is a cranky old antique from the 80s that nonetheless works. Tweaking everyone’s weapon to be superior quality and reminding people of the aiming rules fixes combat ineptitude; treating failed rolls as successes with consequences takes care of the rest. And the combat is simple enough so that we could memorize how it works. I may have been getting a rule about Toughness wrong for the entire run, but if I did, I just made things more deadly.

The first mission hit an appropriate level of scariness. The second mission wasn’t meant to be scary, it was meant to be grueling. I think we got that nailed as well — the final combat sequence, when I just kept throwing waves of a few thugs at the PCs one at a time, with some PCs falling over into drugged hallucinations — that was meant to be grim and long and painful and I think it worked well without keeping our combat monsters from being scary. Hopefully it worked for the players as well.

All in all? Success. I am nothing but happy with the players, cause they gave me awesome stuff to work with. Discussion, feedback, and comments are welcome.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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The moral equivalent of running World’s Largest Dungeon for 4e, at present, would be to just run the module series. WotC is gonna put out three modules for each tier; H1 and H2 are the first two for the Heroic tier, and when H3 comes out that’ll get a campaign to level 11. There’ll then be P1, P2, and P3; followed by E1, E2, and E3. These are all announced.

Each module comes with play maps. I mean, come on.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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From the WW LJ:

Another idea that’s coming up evolved in a similar way. As I’m writing this, first drafts have already started trickling in for the tentatively-titled New Wave Requiem, which is a historical book for playing Vampire in 1980s America — think of it as Requiem for Rome meets Miami Vice. It all started as a joke between myself, Joe, Russell and matt about taking cheesy 80s vampire movies and making them into SASs. I tried to put the idea aside, but it kept gnawing at me for weeks. Finally, I wrote up a very rough outline for it, and gave copies of it to everyone involved, as well as Rich for his perspective. There was a lot of side conversations about focus and logistics and how it would look and read, but I never once heard “That idea will never work.” It’s not a new idea (it’ll technically be the fourth historical Vampire book we’ve done), but it’s a different kind of “historical book,” and absolutely an idea that would never have flown as a traditional hardcover release. It’s another experiment, another step away from what’s safe and solid for us, and I’m excited as hell to see how it turns out.

You don’t have to sell me! Actually, thinking back on it, I’m betting I was at least partially inspired by Eddy’s inspiration, since I recall him mentioning his 80s vampire stuff way way back. It’s a pretty solid way to run a Vampire game.

I’m stoked to pick this up.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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If I’m going to draw maps, I want them to be old school maps. Black lines, graph paper, no shadows, no textures. You can pretend this is because I am unartistic if you like; you will be correct in large part. Still.

Just about nothing does good old style maps. Dundjinni is really oriented towards neat battlemaps. RPG Map Maker is unpolished and is a paint program rather than a draw program. Map Tools is nice but is also more of a paint program, I think.

So OmniGraffle. You can set up a nice old school graph grid and you can include that grid when printing or exporting images. Snap to grid is easy. If you do everything as lines, it’s not too hard to add a hole in a wall. I figured out how to do round rooms. Caverns and river lines may be hard, but I’ll cross that obstacle when I come to it.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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I begin to have a sneaking suspicion that my tabletop gaming inclinations are back. In full force.

The old school D&D guys (you know, the people playing first edition AD&D or blue box D&D or whatever) are way into the megadungeon concept these days. Big massive dungeons with dozens of levels and hundreds of rooms that can contain an entire campaign. Or multiple campaigns.

And when I say “way into,” what I mean is 30 page threads about dungeon mapping and design considerations. I’m talking an entire forum dedicated to megadungeons. There’s some serious thought going into this stuff — people theorizing, diagramming dungeon layout to determine the linearity or lack thereof of a dungeon, so on and so forth.

Plus maps! Hardcore.

I am reminded that when I was sketching out Tarnished Brass in my mind, I was trying to come up with a rationale for a dungeon crawl, although it promptly got all political on me. 4e makes a better system for a dungeon crawl than Reign, though.

Those inclinations I mentioned earlier seem to be very retro at the moment. Although neo-retro. I keep wanting to take old school gaming and put fins on it so it can go faster.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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This is just another one for the hopper.

The system and setting is Over the Edge, with a minor setting tweak; the D’Aubainnes are not quite as powerful in international terms as they are in vanilla OtE, so they need to worry more about maintaining a delicate balance between the USSR, China, and the United States.

The campaign framework: there’s a United States consulate located in The Edge. The D’Aubainnes are not currently allowing the United States to have an embassy in Freedom City, although Russia does have one. All PCs work for the consulate, whether they’re American citizens or local employees. Preferably mostly the former, I think. Obvious archetypes: the consul himself, who could be a bright young kid looking to make his name at State, or a cynical veteran, or someone being punished for a screwup elsewhere. The CIA rep under cover as an agricultural attache. The press attache/PR spokesman/cultural activity organizer. (”Hey, kids, wanna learn baseball?”) The US citizen who sought and was granted asylum in the consulate but can’t return to the States for complex legal reasons. The local working as a secretary.

PCs deal with the interesting and diverse problems that US citizens bring to them; I’d have a lot of room to drive stories. Also plenty of room for the PCs to drive their own stories. I’d expect plenty of espionage stuff. Mystic shit depends on the degree of player desire. Some horror, of course.

Influences are Charlie Wilson’s War, The Quiet American, etc.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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The Dark Heresy game outlined here seems to be about to take off. In the interests of screwing around with new ways to manage information, I started a blog for this one rather than a wiki. We’ll see how it goes. I’m offering all the players posting access to the blog.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

Sequel

May. 9th, 2008 04:02 pm
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It’s 2020: Orlando. Walt Disney World is bigger. Universal Studios has become a true rival to the Mouse. The rulers of Miami are emerging from a brutal civil war; Tallahassee has been disturbingly quiet for over a decade. An old Prince is sleeping; a disbarred lawyer who started his political career in a nursing home watches over the city. With a Sheriff’s approval, of course.

One day, there’s a letter.

“Hey, kids. Long time no see. You guys ought to drop by Dubai; the moonlight is thrilling. Bring the ambulance driver.”

Dubai by Night

Orlando Trash 2020: Dubai Trash.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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Dark Heresy. You are the retinue of Inquisitor Lord Zane Castis, the oldest Inquisitor in the Calixis Sector. His purview is heretical documents, which — for centuries — he has collected from the hands of those who would misuse them. Generally not peacefully.

All such documents are stored in the vast ship Tabularium Bibluvio, which also serves as Inquisitor Lord Castis’ headquarters. It is a sphere, dwarfing lesser ships. The heretical archive is contained in the featureless top half of the sphere; below that, the sphere is hollow for half of the bottom hemisphere, with four mighty black pylons connecting the archive to the living quarters which make up the bottom quarter of the sphere. Shuttles and other such less important spacecraft dock on the top of the living quarters.

Over the centuries, the weight of such a convocation of Chaos and lies has literally warped the space around it. It is deeply unsafe to venture into the archive; at present, Inquisitor Lord Castis affords no other person that right. He himself communes with the texts therein on a regular basis, in order “to keep them under control.” From time to time, horrendous monsters rage down the pylons to assault the remainder of the ship. One of your duties is defense against these unfortunate but inevitable results of the ship’s mission.

Your second duty is to assist your Inquisitor in confiscating more documents. The flow is never ending. Vigilance is paramount. This duty takes you to the foulest slums of the Sector, and also to the most lovely nests of corruption. Chaos knows well how to wear a harmless face. Inquisitor Lord Castis is known for his lack of mercy towards nobility who hope to conceal their heretical studies from him.

Your third and final duty, as given to you a few months ago when you were sent to serve Inquisitor Lord Castis, is to watch him. Eventually, he will bend and break under the strain of the archive. You cannot, of course, hope to defeat an Imperial Inquisitor: the Calixis Conclave merely hopes that, in the event of a catastrophe, you will be able to get out word before your death.

Best of luck.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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The Trader’s League does not exist. There is not a tight network of mutually interdependent mercantile interests in the South which keeps its existence secret in order to further gather advantages to itself. It does not set the prevailing market rates for commodities and luxuries alike. It does not sanction independent merchants who act against its best interests. It does not represent the single largest economic force in the known world. It does not arrange for bi-annual trade fairs to spring up, seemingly out of nowhere, in cities it wishes to favor. It has never affected a succession debate. It does not kill.

It is not the most significant concern of the Baneguard. And vice versa.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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The Merry Daggers are a small company of adventurers resident in Vain’s Rest. They’re based in the Drunken Magistrate, which (as noted elsewhere) is managed by Ba Juerun and his family. There are six Daggers, which conveniently allows for six pre-generated characters for a four or five person one-shot.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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There are enough theories about the Broken Maiden to busy a university of scholars for semesters on end, so we will begin with what is known.

Once, the Maiden dwelt in the heavens. At times, during the month, she looked down upon the world with one eye. Other times, all you could see was her white smile curving through the sky. She blessed magicians with her wisdom, and was known to be the patron goddess of jesters.

And then she fell, not more than forty miles from Vain’s Rest. Among the things that are not known is the cause of her fall; we will return to this. The effects of her fall are clearer. There is a crater some miles across, and in the center, her marble body lies, surrounded by earth turned to glass. Her clothing has not decayed since she fell. Nor has her flesh.

The Broken Maiden is the most powerful source of magic known to man. By the term Broken Maiden we mean both the body and the crater that surrounds it. Some theorists would have it that she fell to save us: some mad genius created a magical source so powerful that the Maiden elected to give her own life in order to stifle it to the point where humanity could remain intact. Some theorists, who believe that she fell for some other reason, simply attribute the magical energies that surround the Broken Maiden to the Maiden’s own nature.

Those energies are dangerous. Animals enter the crater from time to time, and are inevitably transmuted. Coming close to the crater is not immediately deadly, but it is a surefire method of changing one’s life. No human lives less than twenty miles from the Broken Maiden. There are edifices much closer, both above and below ground, and many find it worth the trouble to visit them, but few spend more than a week at a time in such pursuits.

Not all of those structures, by the by, were known before the Maiden fell. Some of them seem to have grown from the sands of the desert without the need for human hands.

Vain’s Rest is conveniently located just far enough from the Broken Maiden to be reasonably safe for its inhabitants.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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[Game background; not to be taken as literal history.]

It’s 69 AD. The Han Dynasty rules China in the form of the hard-working but sometimes cruel Emperor Ming. He has been emperor for over ten years, and previous to his ascension, he was intimately involved in matters of state. Perhaps this is why he was so diligent and capable.

But there are shadows over his reign. It is well known that Prince Jing plotted to rebel, some years ago, going so far as to employ sorcerers to curse Emperor Ming. The Emperor resolved the issue by forcing Jing to commit suicide, and slew literally ten thousand others who were implicated in the conspiracy. It is whispered that Emperor Ming’s eunuch advisers were responsible for counseling the Emperor to this extreme act, but perhaps it was necessary in order to maintain the Celestial order and the Mandate of Heaven.

Some time after that unfortunate incident, the Emperor’s chief general was sent to hunt down the dangerous rebel known as the Jade Dagger. Much to the surprise of all, Ban Chao never returned from the hunt, and was has in fact been seen many times since cooperating with the Dagger Bandits, as the Jade Dagger’s men are known. Where there was once an annoying but ultimately ineffectual band of rebels, there is now a skilled, well-led fighting force fomenting tumult at the edges of the Empire.

And, finally, China is plagued by demons. While the Emperor’s men have always been successful in defeating demonic incursions, province by province — the eunuchs are rumored to be instrumental in these successes — it yet seems that no man is capable of pushing the demons back for good. For no matter how often they are defeated in any one place, a new infestation arrives in another province soon thereafter.

The Emperor continues to battle these shadows. He has the assets already mentioned; his current general, Guo Xun, is only slightly less formidable than Ban Chao. His twin bodyguards, Lin Bao and Lin Bo, are never-speaking pillars defending him from all harm. He is far from helpless, but he is also far from victory.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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According to the wiki, I put up the prospectus for Orlando Trash on June 6th, 2006.

“Mickey Rourke is in this movie. Val Kilmer is in this movie. It’s directed by Michael Mann, or maybe Tony Scott. But it’s not The Hunger. Luis Guzman has a role as a shiftless drifter who erupts into surprising bursts of violence.”

Hm. I never did get Luis Guzman into the movie, but in retrospect that was just as well. Danny Trejo made it in.

This is the first campaign I’ve ever run to completion. I planned for it to last about one long story-arc; this was really liberating in that I didn’t worry about handing out experience too quickly, and I didn’t worry about whether or not the world would be playable long term. I just went full speed ahead with whatever caught my eye, following the leads of the PCs, and it worked like a charm.

Things I concentrated on:

Cool NPCs. I do good NPCs, so I wanted to let that shine. (Also I’m modest.) I like to think I have a strong range of voices, and since every NPC was played by a well-known actor, it was even easier to make the characters memorable. I had to pull off imitations of Val Kilmer, Meryl Streep, and Nathan Lane — sometimes in the same scene — but I was pretty sure I could do that.

Big blatant plots. It turns out that it’s almost never a lose to telegraph stuff from a mile away, and it’s always easy to turn around and surprise players when you need to. Also, I have a tendency to automatically do mystery plots, and I wanted this to be an action flick rather than a detective thriller. So while I wrote in a certain amount of mystery, I never wanted it to be too mysterious — answers weren’t ever that far away. It is not my fault that the players occasionally decided to kill the source of the answers.

Balance between shooting things and talking. Given our approximately 3-4 hour session time, a good fight wound up taking up most of the session, as I discovered a few sessions in. That meant, to me, that the right thing to do was to throw in a chance for a good fight scene every two or three sessions. I think that worked well. I could have stepped up the fight scenes if the group had seemed to want more of them.

Player-driven. I let ‘em do what they wanted, and it all worked out okay. I was ready for just about any turn of events, although I would have been sad if the group had split up. But I was ready for their allegiances to go wherever, I had spurs to push them back towards the action as needed — I was a leaf in the river of their plot interests. Boo yah.

Things I want to do better next time:

Foreshadowing. Example: in the last session, I pulled out Jack Trash’s body, and that was cool, and I showed them a letter clarifying a couple of issues. Also cool. But it would have been better if I’d pulled out Trash’s corpse in the previous session.

This goes with planning; I didn’t really have an overarching plan. I had a few key NPCs with strong motivations, and I let the world react to what the PCs do. Good for me for empowering the PCs and avoiding railroading, but it meant there wasn’t as much build as I woulda liked. I think the way to fix this is to have some cool multi-session things in mind, and remembering to drop the setup scene in there.

I’d also like to take more advantage of player backgrounds. I didn’t pay enough attention to that, particularly in Teo’s case.

But all in all? Quite happy.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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I’ve been kicking around a lucha libre Scion game in my mind, along with a couple of other ideas (Southern Gothic comes to mind), but I think the winner is 17th century pirates who happen to be children of gods.

We’d wanna finish up our Catholic saint pantheon, for obvious reasons. Voodoo fits well, Aztecs fit just fine. Greek gods? Sure. Norse gods? Very well, given the Norse tradition of rampaging around on boats. Egyptian and Japanese are a little tougher, but I have ideas.

And it’s not at all difficult to make Caribbean piracy mythic and grand.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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