- specialized in early German comics
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
- specialized in early German comics
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
It's at ImageTexT, a wonderful journal published by the University of Florida. I remember when this journal started, and I have wanted to be published in it since that day, so this is kind of a six-year career milestone for me. I'm deeply indebted to Katherine Shaeffer and Richard Burt for including me.
The issue is organized around the special topic of Shakespeare and Visual Rhetoric. Shakespeare's connection to comics has been a special interest of mine for a long while now; I briefly even tried to organize an essay collection on the topic. I eventually realized that perhaps I ought to finish my dissertation before doing any essay collections, and the work I was going to put in that collection wound up as the fourth chapter of my diss.
For this issue, I focused on "Kill Shakespeare," a 12-issue series published in 2010-2011. It's a very interesting work which earned both condemnation and praise when it was published but which, in my opinion, has not gotten credit for the very interesting ways it goes about defending its own existence, the nature of meta-text, and revisionism in general. I had a lot of fun writing it and I'm indebted to the original authors and artists who cooperated with me by sending me original scripts to a few issues I wanted to examine in detail.
You can read the entire issue on Shakespeare and Visual Rhetoric here.
And my article is here: "These are not our Father's Words: Kill Shakespeare's Defense of the Meta-Text"
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
What makes the Comics Area at PCA different?
I'm delighted to admit that there are many academic conferences which focus on or include comics research. So, what makes the Comics and Comic Art area of PCA different? If conferences and communities have a specific character, what's ours? I'm obliged to note that these observations are personal and unofficial. They are offered in a spirit of welcome and cooperation with visitors to our area and those interested in submitting a paper.
#1: First Contact
PCA is often the first point of contact for an aspiring or young scholar, his or her first introduction to the larger community of comics scholars. The biggest reason for this is the fact that paper proposals are not, as a general rule, rejected by Area Chairs. You could count the number of rejected papers in our area on one hand, and I think you'd still have fingers left over. It is a perfectly fair observation to say that PCA is not selective. While that has all sorts of negative consequences in academia, it also has one strength: everyone feels welcome. We routinely have grad students, undergrads, and even the rare high school student presenting work at PCA. When those new scholars arrive at the conference, it is usually their first conference. When those scholars meet other comics critics, it is often for the first time. Many in our current community first found us when they were at PCA presenting in another area. When we are lucky, we steal these presenters for ourselves.
As a result of all this, I think you'll find an open mind at PCA, a supportive community, and a willingness to answer questions and make connections.
#2: Time Served
Tom Inge, an active member of our area, was present at the first meeting of the Popular Culture Association back in 1971. John Lent, editor of the International Journal of Comic Art and another of the founders of our area, joined a few years later. Amy Nyberg served ten years as Area Chair. Nicole Freim served another ten. Many students and professors come to the field of comics with the presumption that it is a "new" or "emerging" field with a dearth of scholarship, canon, or critical tools, but the facts suggest otherwise; you would be hard pressed to find a community of comics critics and scholars with a longer history.
Because of the area's long lifespan, you can find a lot of institutional memory. At the same time, if your approach to comics is based on the idea that "not a lot of people are doing this," or "comics haven't yet reached credibility as a field," you are going to get some resistance and push-back. For many of these men and women, comics is not a secondary or tertiary field, the equivalent of an after-dinner mint. It is a primary field and has been for decades.
The area has always had a special relationship to the International Journal of Comic Art. John Lent, editor of that journal, attends every year and uses the conference as a way to screen potential articles and submissions. There was a time when IJOCA was the only academic journal in English that was devoted to comics; we are all glad that this is no longer the case, but PCA played a role in helping to establish IJOCA, getting it subscriptions and a truly intimidating page count. In this day of Powerpoint presentations and increasingly crowded panels, it is always tempting to forgo actually writing an essay which, in all fairness, you wouldn't have time to read anyway. But consider prepping a complete version for potential submission, because even if IJOCA does not use it, there are other things you can do with it.
We give two awards every year. The first, and by far the oldest, is the Inge Award for outstanding comics scholarship. It is given to the best of the submitted papers from that year's conference. Three judges are recruited at the Area Meeting. Amy Nyberg provides a plaque and modest honorarium out of her own pocket. Our second, and more recent, award, is the John Lent Award, which is given to the best paper submitted by a student. Again, not everyone submits papers to these competitions. Indeed, most presenters do not. Consider prepping at least a draft version of an actual paper; Amy allows a couple of weeks after the conference for authors to revise and complete essays which may still be in draft form at the time of the conference.
Many of these essays have gone on to see publication in various journals over the years.
#5: University of Mississippi Press
For many years the area had a close relationship with UMP, which was an early leader in the publication of comics-related research. This relationship began with Seetha Srinivasan, who was Director of the press and served there for 29 years. After her retirement in 2008, the comics line she pioneered was picked up by editor Walter Biggins, who has also just announced a move. This leaves the comics line at UMP in some amount of doubt.
#6: Area Dinner
I'm sure every conference has regular social events; let me tell you about ours. The area dinner is usually planned for a Thursday or Friday evening, depending on the schedule. It is usually quite large, with about thirty attendees. There's no official budget for this; we all pay our own share of the check. And because the area is so large, the dinner can frustrate some attendees, who end up speaking only to the few people seated near them. But this is a great opportunity to make some new and interesting friends, and you never know what will come out of it.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Institute for Korvac Studies, our sister organization and the source for the legendary Korvie Award. The Institute is a mock-academy panel we have held almost every year for about the last decade. On that panel, we make fun of ourselves and what we do. The traditional Korvac paper picks a minor, obscure, or absurd character (such as the Man-God Korvac) and explains how this character is actually the most important topic in our field, in academia at large, or indeed in all the time-space continuum. Another common tactic is to do an absolutely batshit crazy reading of any number of batshit crazy story arcs produced by the superhero comics industry over the last 75 years. Any topic is welcome, as long as it is not serious. Be aware that the Institute for Korvac Studies appears in the PCA program and the titles of our papers are often so over-saturated with self-mocking jargon that they sometimes get taken for legitimate papers by those not in on the joke. Make of that what you will.
I've been attending PCA for about fifteen years. It's a wonderful community of supportive, brilliant, and energizing people who are both scholars and, I am lucky to say, my friends. I hope you find a home here, as I have.
Dr. Jason Tondro
Assistant Professor of English
College of Coastal Georgia
Monday, February 4, 2013
It is the year 1290 in the reign of Edward Longshanks, and Gifted students from throughout the British Isles and western Europe come to Oxford to learn the Art from magi of the Order of Hermes. You are one of these pupils.
Oxford is not a single school, but a collection of Colleges, each financed and run by a single Hermetic House. Students at any of these Colleges register with a master who guides their education; they attend mandatory lectures, which might be given by any of the masters present at Oxford, not just the student's College. Roger Bacon, former Chancellor of the University and member of House Bonisagus, is now a professor Emeritus, living in Oxford and only occasionally appearing in public.
Most students enter between the ages of 14 and 16; the best graduate as magi of the Order ten years later (it is very common for students to be held back for one or two years). Before arriving at Oxford, these students have spent years learning Latin and the liberal arts, often at parish schools. But parish schools are not rigorous enough for aspiring Oxfordians; cathedral schools at Canterbury (in the south) and York (in the north) train students in advanced Latin and the liberal arts as well as natural philosophy. Wealthier students avail themselves of private tutors instead. The Gift has made this early education a trying experience, as teachers uniformly consider their students lazy and shiftless cheaters.
The Order's interest in Oxford dates back to the mid-12th century, but the turning point was in 1209. In that year, a murder on campus and the legal controversy which followed sent most of the masters and students to Cambridge. By the time they tried to return five years later, magi of the Order had taken over. When the University re-organized itself under a Chancellor appointed by the bishop, it was as a place of learning devoted primarily to the responsible and ethical use of magic.
Every student at Oxford identifies with his College and House. The Colleges currently established at Oxford include, in order of founding:
- Baliol College is home to House Trianoma, aspiring politicians and diplomats. It was founded in 1261 by students of Michael Scot.
- Merton College is run by House Bonisagus, and is known for its scholars and theorists. Founded in 1264, Merton is in the process of building grand new facilities.
- St. Edmund Hall was founded in 1278 by the first master of arts at Oxford, who unexpectedly became a practitioner of the Faerie magic of House Merinita.
- University College is Merton's great rival. It was first founded informally in 1249 but was taken over by the trouble-makers of House Tytalus in 1280.
- Hart Hall, founded 1282, is for students of Druidic and nature magic, including House Diedne. Many British folk traditions (Columbae and Corrguineach) have allied to Diedne and are also housed here.
- The wild Saxons of the House of Odin live in Burnell's Inn, a student residence known for its raucous parties. Some Saxon and pagan traditions (Tempestaria and malice writers) have allied themselves to Odin and their students reside here.
- Finally, the monastic orders maintain two colleges for Holy Magicians, segregated by gender. Blackfriars, originally founded by the Dominicans in 1221, is for boys, while Godstow, which dates to the 12th century and was founded by Benedictines, is for girls.
- In the years to come, it is very likely additional Colleges will form, sponsored by additional Houses. Historically, the next College to form was Exeter in 1314.
More on the Order: The Order of Hermes is made up of many Houses, some large, some quite small, generally distinguished by a particular style or tradition of magic. Most of the lineages traditionally considered to be part of House Ex Miscellanea or minor Mystery Cults are, in Oxford Magica, distinct "minor" Houses. These may be allied with a more famous House; for example, the British folk traditions are mostly allied with Diedne, the Order of Odin, or Merinita. Learned magicians are welcomed into Bonisagus. Some major Houses, such as Flambeau, Tremere, and Jerbiton, are stronger in Europe where they sponsor other universities and have not yet organized at Oxford. House Mercere and Guernicus do not exist as Houses; "Redcap" and "Quaesitor" are offices held by mundane messengers and investigative magi, respectively. If you have additional questions about the Order and its history (Schism War, Tytalus Corruption, etc.) the answer is probably "I haven't decided. What do you think would make a good story for your character?"
Character Creation Notes:
- The base starting age for characters in this Saga is (17 - Intelligence). Characters younger than 14 will have characteristic modifiers for age; see Apprentices. Ignore these modifiers when determining the age your student is admitted to Oxford.
- To be accepted into Oxford, characters must have: Latin 4, Artes Liberales 1 and Scribe 1. Philosophiae 1 is likely, but not required.
- Characters will need a virtue to access these academic abilities, such as Educated (for parish and cathedral schools) or Privileged Upbringing (for private tutors).
- Early education might have been provided by a rural Parish School (maximum Latin or Artes Liberales of 2) or urban one (maximum of 3 in Latin, Artes Liberales, or Theology).
- Additional education probably came from a cathedral school, permitting training in Latin, Artes Liberales, Philosophiae, Theology and Canon Law to as high as 5. Canterbury is the cathedral school for most Englishmen, Welsh and Cornish; York is in the north and is more accessible to Scots and Irish.
- Everyone starts with the Free Social Status Virtue: Simple Student (Art & Academy).
- Child Virtues and Flaws (see Apprentices) are allowed. In Apprentices, the rule is that these virtues all go away by age 15, but we will keep them in play as late as age 21. You can exchange them for new, permanent Virtues and Flaws during play or over Summer vacation.
- Inherited Virtues and Flaws (see Apprentices) allow players to plan for Virtues and Flaws which have not yet appeared, but which will during the course of play. Use this for Hermetic Virtues and Flaws you want your character to have, but which have not yet appeared. For example, if you want your character to have a Hermetic Flaw like Incompatible Arts, this is written down as Inherited Flaw: Incompatible Arts (-1). The Flaw is unknown to your character until it manifests.
Other House Rules:
- The Autumn and Spring seasons are taken up by instruction; each lasts about 4 months. The Winter season is represented in the game by a break between semesters lasting about six weeks, and two and a half months are granted for the Summer season; these two seasons are "free," with no requirements on students.
- We will advance one season every meeting, possibly skipping Summer or Winter break and occasionally spending a second session on Fall or Spring. Players are not expected to attend every session and new players are welcome to make a new student and join a session on short notice.
- In the first year, students have their Arts opened and learn the basics of Magic Theory. In subsequent semesters, they have more choice over which lectures they use for advancement, with usually seven options available (one teacher at each House).
- Teachers can teach Arts to multiple students at once, exactly like other Abilities.
- Aegis of the Hearth mitigates the social handicap of the Gift within the town of Oxford. The Blatant Gift still inflicts a social penalty equivalent to the normal effects of the Gift, and of course leaving the Aegis restores the Gift's effects.
- Turbulences (see Apprentices) are spontaneous uncontrolled magical effects triggered by emotional or magical stress. They can even be triggered intentionally by a young person. By the time a student comes to Oxford, he has certainly experienced at least one episode of Turbulence, and probably many more. In Apprentices, Turbulences are mostly over by age 14, but we will keep them in play as late as age 21.
- Students will receive 1 free experience point every season to put towards a cantation of their choice. See Apprentices for a list of cantations; they are minor spells of level 5 or less.
- Oxford has a lot of magi and apprentices in a small urban space; vis is in very short supply and this is a "Low Vis" Saga. Books and teachers, however, are plentiful.
- In the event we play long enough for characters to graduate, those characters retire from active play and become supporting characters in the Saga. They may become masters, teaching at Oxford.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
Characters and Covenants in Etheria have some particular problems and priorities. Notes are collected here, first for character creation (magi, companions, and in general) and then for covenants. A sample covenant -- the Seven Sisters on the Isle of Venus -- is presented.
Note to Storytellers: I am adopting the Seven Sisters covenant as the focus of my personal efforts when it comes to detailing Etheria. If you would like to claim one of the other Isles, and the Covenant which dwells there, please do! Post your work in the Ethereal Tribunal community on Google+ and we can advance the Tribunal's story together.
Magical Botches: The high aura throughout Etheria makes botching especially dangerous for Ethereal magi. Spell Mastery and Virtues which minimize botching (Flawless Caster, Mastered Spells, Cautious Sorcerer) are especially helpful here. Flaws which make botching more likely are more dangerous.
- Cyclic Magic: This Virtue and Flaw is especially appropriate to maga on the Isle of the Moon.
- Hermetic Astrology (Mysteries, Revised Edition): Some of the magi who have come to Etheria have been initiated into the Magoi of the Star. Indeed, it is said one of the Hierophants is here, but no one can agree who that is.
- Major Magical Focus (Planet): Each of the seven planets counts as a major magical focus; for the range of effects governed by each planet see Mysteries, Revised Edition.
- Mercurian Magic: This is especially appropriate for magi dwelling on the Isle of Mercury, who include members of the Neo-Mercurian mystery cult.
- Planetary Magic (Mysteries, Revised Edition) is especially appropriate for magi in Etheria. Magi who use it calculate their horoscopes using the positions of the seven islands relative to each other and the sphere of the fixed stars.
- Susceptible to (Planets) (New Minor Hermetic Flaw): Pick two planets. When within any auras aligned to these planets, the aura strength subtracts from your casting total, instead of adding.
- Susceptible to (Realm): There are no Faerie, Divine, or Infernal auras in Etheria, so these flaws are not worth points. A magus might have them, and indeed having such a flaw would be a good reason to move to Etheria, but since the flaw will not impact the character, its not worth points!
Most Companions should have a Supernatural Virtue aligned to the Magic Realm. This allows them to avoid Warping, which will otherwise affect all characters with 1 Warping Point every year.
Landed Noble and Temporal Influence: The mundane nobility has no presence in Etheria. Your character might be a noble, but his land is back in the mundane world. Consider Knight, Wealthy, or Heir instead.
These notes are for all characters in Etheria.
- Animal Ken, Inoffensive to Animals: There are no normal animals in Etheria, but there are limited numbers of Beasts of Virtue and, as characters from the mundane world continue to travel there, it is possible that small populations of ordinary animals may migrate, be brought, and thrive.
- Faerie Friend, Ghostly Warder, Guardian Angel, Plagued by Supernatural Entity: Supernatural beings of the Faerie, Infernal, and Divine Realms are not native to Etheria. You probably brought your supernatural companion with you.
- Lycanthrope (Minor): In Etheria, Lycanthropes are in animal form whenever they are on the Isle of the Moon, and in human form at all other times. Since this essentially bars you from traveling to that location and could potentially be used against you by an enemy, but otherwise is irrelevant to your life, this Flaw is only Minor.
- Mistaken Identity: The community of the Tribunal is still quite small. There's no room for two individuals who are that near but never meet. This Flaw is not allowed.
- Shapeshifter and Skinchanger: Magi and companions with these virtues are mostly found on the Isle of the Moon.
- Supernatural Nuisance: When a character takes this Flaw in Etheria, it is always aligned to Magic creatures.
- Venus's Blessing and Curse of Venus: Especially appropriate for maga on the Isle of Venus.
- Ways of the (Land): The terrain of Etheria is highly symbolic and variable by Isle. This virtue should be specialized to one of the seven Islands or, alternately, the Twilight Sea. For example: "Ways of Jupiter".
There are no less than four, and possibly as many as seven, covenants in the Tribunal. All are in Spring and the oldest was founded in 1207. There is never more than one representative from a single House at any given covenant.
- Isle of the Moon: Cyclic Magic (both positive and negative) is especially common in this covenant. Some of the magi and companions are Shapeshifters (with the Merit, not members of House Bjornaer). The Isle of the Moon is the only known source of Muto vis in Etheria.
- Isle of Mercury: The covenant here is dominated by magi who draw their lineage from the Cult of Mercury and who specialize in ritual magic. It is also the home for the Tribunal's redcaps.
- Isle of Venus: The Isle is home to Seven Sisters, a covenant made up entirely of maga.
- Isle of Mars: Several Hoplites, seeking to build a stronghold for the Order, have gathered on the Isle of Mars to form a covenant.
Other Covenants may exist, but details are not yet known.
Using the Covenant rules, most of the Etheria covenants are transitioning from "low" to "medium" power. Covenants have 25 build points + 25 more points for every year since they were established, so even the oldest will have only around 400 points. Lab texts and enchanted items should be level 30 or less. The default aura in Etheria is 6; no build points or virtues need to be taken for this aura. Auras can be raised as high as 9. It is presumed that one exit from the regio exists either within the Covenant or conveniently nearby, on the island. For additional exits, take the Mystical Portal Site Boon. There are a Boon and a Hook which apply to all covenants in the Tribunal; they do not need to be selected, and are received for "Free".
Fantastic Environment (Major Site Boon): Every covenant in Etheria takes this Boon. While it does not require special magic just to survive in the regio, it is isolated enough, and requires magic both to be reached and for long-term support. This Boon supersedes all other Boons and Hooks that emphasize isolation, such as Secluded or Autocephalous.
Tribunal Border (Minor External Relations Hook): Etheria is newly discovered and, when it becomes common knowledge in the Order, it will become the target for Hermetic politics. Powerful tribunals will seek to assimilate it to preserve their own power; weak Tribunals may encourage it as a way to weaken greater powers.
Prohibited Boons and Hooks: Etheria's isolated location, its lack of native inhabitants and mundane power structures (nobility, the church), and its nature as a Magic Regio prohibit several boons and hooks. Others are already covered by Fantastic Environment.
- Site: Corrupt Area, Faerie Aura, Missing Aura, Seclusion, Regio, Road, Urban, Weak Aura
- Fortifications: Writ of Crenelation
- Residents: Indigenes, Tame Nobleman
- External Relations: Center of Excellence, Centralized Kingdom, Church Territories, House Covenant, Mundane Politics, Undemocratic Tribunal, Ungoverned, War Zone
- Surroundings: City, Ford, Legendary Site, Monastery, Pilgrimage Site, Roman Ruins, Seat of Power, Ungarrisoned Castle
Miscellaneous Boon and Hook Notes:
- Island: while all the covenants are on islands, these are much larger than the Free Choice Island describes, so this is probably not appropriate for covenants.
- Fortifications: Almost all the architecture in Etheria was constructed by Hermetic magic, as there has not been time or personnel to build in the traditional manner, and magic is easy anyway, and unobserved by mundanes.
- Resources: The most common source of income for Ethereal Covenants is the patronage of a wealthy Autumn covenant, or even a House or Tribunal. However, there is a small economy and perhaps a thousand people living in the Tribunal, so other sources are possible. Covenants who sell their wares in the mundane world do so through a factor, which should probably be purchased with Build Points as a specialist.
- Mutable and Highly Mutable are most appropriate for the Isle of the Moon.
- Mercer House is reserved for the Isle of Mercury.
- Felicitous Tribunal: The politics of the tribunal are as yet too uncertain to know if this Boon applies.
The Covenant of Seven Sisters
The oldest of the Ethereal covenants is nonetheless young by any other standard, founded in 1206 by Anactoria filia Philomena of Bonisagus and a trio of other maga, including Jerbiton, Tremere, and the first Guernicus in Etheria. Over the years that followed, three more maga were welcomed into the Covenant from Flambeau, Verditius, and Miscellanea, putting it at maximum size.
The charter of Seven Sisters requires that only women can become members and all apprentices must be female. This rule does not extend, however, to Companions or covenfolk. The Covenant operates as a school for apprentices and other scholars, and welcomes male students from elsewhere in Etheria or Mythic Europe, though such boys are always outnumbered. The presence of a senior Guernicus at the covenant is considered an asset, ensuring that apprentices and other students are brought up with an appreciation of the Hermetic Code. All of the maga save for Anactoria have apprentices, and with the addition of students and visitors from other Covenants, the Isle of Venus is a busy place.
Physically, the Covenant boasts a central school building in the Corinthian style, with slender and elegant columns widely spaced, creating an airy and open environment. Stone houses surrounding the academy serve as laboratories and sanctum for the seven maga, also housing their apprentices, shield grogs and personal servants. A beautiful garden decorated with statues of Venus, Aeneas, Paris, Helen, Julius Caesar and others was constructed by the Covenant's Verditius maga as a Great Work, and is invested with Imaginem magic. Other buildings include a reception hall, guest chambers, and a temple to Venus which serves as the home for the covenant's financially lucrative prostitution services. Most of its money comes from Valnastium, however. For while Etheria is far enough from the nobility and the church that House Jerbiton is unlikely to move there in force, the Isle of Venus and its dedication to beauty parallels the House's interest, and Seven Sisters is their primary means to monitor and influence the activity of this new, strange Tribunal.
The covenant is near the shore, and a small dock houses a magic boat enchanted to safely sail the Twilight Sea. A modest vineyard produces an excellent wine for the Tribunal and is also sold in Europe. Roses and myrtle grow on the isle, along with a single herd of magic cattle. A small cemetery is dedicated to Venus Libitina and copper is plentiful on the Isle, mined by magic and used for mirrors and other enchanted devices.
The Covenant is 16 years old with 425 build points and is limited to effects of level 30 or lower.
- Vivid Environment (+1 Minor Site Boon)
- Edifice: School Building (+1 Fortification Boon)
- Important Buildings: Great Hall (+1 Fortification Boon)
- Secondary Income: Prostitution (+1 Resources Boon)
- Wealth: Charity (+1 Resources Boon)
- Literate Covenfolk (+1 Residents Boon)
- Strong Community (+1 Residents Boon)
- Book (+1 Boon, Great Work Garden of Beauty, Imaginem Summa, Level 20, Quality 15)
- Hermetic Services (-3 Major External Relations Hook)
- Outbuildings (-1 Fortification Hook)
- Resident Nuisance (-1, Nymphs, Minor Site Hook)
- Vis Salary (-1 Minor Hook)
- Gender Imbalance (-1 Minor Residents Hook)
- Suffrage (-1 Minor Residents Hook)
Build Points: 425
Aegis: level 30
Library (196 Build Points): Most of the Covenants in Etheria have very poor libraries and Seven Sisters is no exception. Their emphasis is on teaching, so they have less need for traditional books on the Arts, and make do with a large collection of lab texts (mostly copied from the seven maga themselves) which students can use to learn spells (330 spell levels, 66 Build Points). They do have a small collection of thirteen tractati on various Arts (average quality 10, 130 Build Points). Increasing the library is the Covenant's top priority right now.
Vis (30 pawns/year, 75 stock, 165 build points): The Isle of Venus is Etheria's primary source of Imaginem vis, produced in a small copper mine on the island (15 pawns/year). It has a source of Aquam vis from foam collected off waves as the roll in from the Twilight Sea (5/year), some Auram vis from Spring breezes (5/year), and a small source of Creo vis thanks to its association with fertility (5/year), but at least one season must be spent every year extracting Vim vis to fuel the Covenant's Aegis of the Hearth. This duty is shared amongst all seven maga. The Covenant has emergency stocks of 75 pawns, divided evenly among all the Arts.
Grogs (35 Build Points): The Covenant maintains a very small body of soldiers, essentially shield grogs acting as an honor guard, commanded by one of the maga in her role as Venus Victrix. There is a skilled Bookbinder (6), Illuminator (6), and Scribe (6, also trained in Magic Theory). Their boat is maintained by an old man who also acts as pilot and navigator (Profession 6), and a vintner has been brought to supervise the winery (Profession 6). Many of the female servants act as prostitutes for visitors; they have a female overseer who is a priestess of Aphrodite (Folk Ken 5).
Facilities: In addition to living quarters and labs for seven magi, there are living quarters for seven apprentices, a few class rooms of varying size and purpose, servant quarters, guest rooms for students from other covenants, a reception hall for visitors, and a barracks for the honor guard. A small dock houses the Covenant's magical boat which sails the Twilight Sea. The Covenant is decorated with beautiful statues depicting, among others, Aeneas, Paris, Julius Caesar, and Venus herself. Constructed in a Corinthian style, the buildings are supported by slender, elegant, widely-spaced columns decorated with leaves, creating a large airy space. A small field of grapes is used to produce a humble everyday wine. Roses and myrtle grow also grow on the Isle as well. There is a small cemetery on the isle dedicated to Venus Libitina.
Enchanted Items (24 Build Points): The Covenant keeps a Twilight Boat and all seven of the shield grogs bear Copper Shields of Brilliance.
Money (5 Build Points): 50 mythic pounds at start of play
This is a boat capable of holding about a dozen people. It is enchanted with two effects. The first is a constant Rego Herbam effect which keeps the boat from tipping over. The second, also Rego Herbam, propels the boat, steered by whoever grips its tiller.
- Spell Against Capsizing (ReHe 14). Base 3, Personal, Individual, +2 Sun, +1 Size, +1 level 2 uses per day, +3 levels environmental trigger (sunrise/sunset). Constant effect.
- To Sail Without Wind (ReHe 10). Base 4, Personal, Individual, +1 Size, +1 Concentration (+5 levels, provided by the enchantment).
Copper Shield of Brilliance
Once per day, the shield emanates a blindingly bright light. All who see it are at risk for temporary blindness, exactly as if Flash of the Scarlet Flames had been cast upon them. This light is actually brighter than that spell, in order to effect targets at range.
(CrIg) Base 10, Personal, Momentary, Individual.
Monday, January 14, 2013
In 1203 (1), magi of the Order made a promising discovery: a Magic regio with very unusual properties. First, it can be reached by several different regios on Earth rather than just one. Second, it has a very strong aura and isolated pockets where the aura is even higher, without breaking into another regio. Finally, and most spectacularly, it is a miniature replica of the cosmos beyond the lunar sphere, with seven island-sized "planets" circling in a watery sea around a central and inaccessible "Earth". The place, currently kept a secret by House leaders and archmagi, has been dubbed "Etheria." Several groups of magi have, with the blessing of these leaders, established hidden covenants in Etheria with an eye towards officially establishing an "Ethereal Tribunal" in 1223, at the next Grand Tribunal.
Magi of the Order cannot explain Etheria's unusual properties, especially the fact that it appears to connect to multiple weaker regios. (2) For example, regios already known at Stonehenge and at the Great Pyramid in Egypt provide access to Etheria from their highest levels. A few other access points are known, scattered widely across the world, no more than one in each Tribunal of the Order. This quality makes Etheria a potential travel route for those able to safely navigate both Etheria itself and the regios it connects to. Etheria's aura is also highly unusual; most of the regio has a Magic aura of 6, but this rises as high as 9 in a few locales. Ordinarily, when the aura within a regio rises, a new regio is formed, but Etheria has no other regios inside it or "above" it.
The landscape and geography of Etheria is utterly fantastic. At the center is an enormous island which replicates the habitable region of the world (Asia, Europe and Africa) in miniature. No one has been able to get a good look at this island, because all who approach are cast out of the regio and appear at the edge of the real world. This central "Earth" is circled by seven smaller islands, each of which represents, in miniature, one of the planets, with the Moon closest to the center, followed by the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The islands are not especially large; there are few locations on them which could not be reached in a day's hard travel. A black dome of the fixed stars covers all of Etheria and, since there is no "sun" in the sky, it is always night there. The sea which surrounds the islands appears pitch black and marked by stars, but this is an illusion; in fact, the sphere of the fixed stars continues beneath the sea and is perceptible through the perfectly clear and transparent water. This sea, dubbed the "Twilight Sea," is exceptionally dangerous for magi, prompting episodes of twilight in those caught within it.
The islands, while of fabulous geography, are nevertheless habitable. For example, the surface of the "Sun" does indeed burn with perpetual fire, but there is at least one mountain peak which rises above the flames. The beaches are cooled by contact with the sea and the fire is extinguished wherever streams and lakes are found. When the aura rises on these islands, that aura is always aligned to the sorts of activities associated with the proper planetary body. For example, the stronger auras on the Isle of the Moon are aligned to magic of emotion, the tides, cyclic magic, fertility, and childbirth. (3)
Magi initially discovered Etheria in 1203 after sailing from the Great Pyramid's regio in Egypt. They made a brief survey before turning their boat for the central island and being forced out of the regio. One magi and his grogs had asked to stay behind on an island to explore and, when the boat did not return for him, he eventually led his group through another exit from the regio, emerging in the circle of Stonehenge in Britain. It was not until these two stories were brought together that the possibilities inherent in Etheria began to be recognized. The explorers approached an Archmage and asked his advice; he in turn contacted those House leaders whom he knew, and a brief conference followed, conducted through magic. Eventually, all thirteen leaders (4) of the various Houses and several archmagi were told about Etheria, though more than a few of these considered the place nothing but an interesting curiosity.
Perhaps because of this lack of interest, another faction prevailed with the argument that Etheria might prove to be a huge boon to the Order. For one, the high aura made it a lucrative place to gather vis. Second, the multiple routes of access suggested that it might be a way for magi, companions and grogs to move rapidly across the world without requiring vis or complex rituals. Finally, the regio's enormous size suggested it could host multiple covenants. Indeed, each island could comfortably house magi, resulting in an "Ethereal Tribunal" entirely within the boundaries of the regio! Such a place would be invulnerable to attack from the Order's enemies, it would not suffer from the encroaching aura of the Dominion, there are no Faeries or mundane lords to get in the way, and even the Infernal seems to be absent. In short, it is a magical paradise.
Ultimately it was decided that Etheria should be explored, but to ensure that no House came to dominate it, no covenant established there could have more than a single magus from a given House. If four covenants could be established by 1223, the Ethereal Tribunal would be formed. Regardless, the existence of Etheria would be revealed to the entire Order at that time. Besides establishing safe covenants, the other priority for the magi in Etheria is research into the nature of the regio itself. In particular, the Order must know if it is stable. If Etheria is "collapsing" down towards lower level auras, or "rising" up to the Magic Realm, this will cause catastrophic damage to magi and covenants located there. An Ethereal Tribunal is only practical if the regio is stable and, even then, it might be of limited life.
The initial explorers of Etheria include those magi who first discovered it, as well as select others chosen for the task by the leaders of the Houses and a few archmagi. Obviously, personal favoritism was a powerful factor, with many magi choosing their own former apprentices or close allies. In particular, several magi from the Greater Alps Tribunal became involved in the effort, since Etheria is perhaps the only place ever discovered which is even more remote than the Greater Alps already is. Moreover, there is no room for new magi in the Greater Alps, where the peripheral code forces all magi out to new Tribunals. Magi from the Stonehenge and Levant Tribunals are represented because they have easier access, but other entrances to the regio have been found, roughly one in each Tribunal.
Because there are no fey here, House Merinita has little interest in it; likewise, House Jerbiton is poorly represented, preferring to focus on mundane organizations like the Church and nobility, and House Ex Miscellanea has expressed little interest. While Etheria is populated by occasional Magical spirits and beasts, there are no ordinary animals here, and House Bjornaer has little involvement with the project. In contrast, there is strong representation from Houses Bonisagus, Verditius, and Criamon. House Tytalus, in particular, seems to think Etheria is far too docile and quiet, and needs a good shaking up before it will be useful. At least one Guernicus has been attached to the project as Quaesitor, and the Redcap network is setting up in the regio, using a variety of means to safely travel not only over the Twilight Sea but back and forth to the mundane world.
Companions in Etheria are generally chosen for a supernatural ability aligned to Magic; the high aura of Etheria ensures warping for all others who live there. Some magi keep their grogs in Etheria for only half the year before sending them home, thereby avoiding warping, but other magi don't find warping in grogs to be especially important. One of the first steps in the exploration was the construction of several boats which would be able to safely sail the Twilight Sea. Vis sources have been found there, usually aspected by the island where the vis is found. Thus, the Isle of the Sun is the primary source of ignem vis in Etheria, and this has prompted trading and cooperation among the various fledgling covenants.(5)
Etheria is not without its dangers, or its inhabitants. In particular, each Isle is ruled by a planetary spirit of high Magical Might, and attended by a host of other magical beings. Relations with these entities is a primary concern for the covenants forming there. The fabulous terrain has presented many challenges, and of course the scheming of Hermetic magi is ever present, pitting some covenants within the Tribunal against each other. The strong aura throughout the regio makes botches both likely and dangerous. In some senses, the magi of Etheria are their own worst enemy.
More to Come: Character Creation Guidelines and other Rule Considerations
(1) The dating for the Ethereal Tribunal was calculated with the following premise: one season advances in the setting for every week of real time and, with a few weeks left over for vacation and holiday, that means one year passes in the game for every month in real time. Google+ launched in June of 2011, roughly 18 months ago. If the formation of the Community, roughly a month ago, occurred in 1220, the generic campaign start date for AM, that means Etheria was discovered seventeen years previous, and it is currently 1221 in the setting. The Grand Tribunal establishing the Ethereal Tribunal will occur in two years, or roughly March 2013 in real time.
(2) The Order has not yet agreed on an explanation for Etheria's bizarre properties. Partly, this is because it has been kept a secret from all but a small number of magi. Once its existence is revealed at the Grand Tribunal, a better explanation may be found. For now, the prevailing theory is that Etheria is a fragment of the Magic Realm (a cosm or insula) which somehow "broke off". Some argue this would be impossible. Others argue that this definition already describes all Magic regios. See Realms of Power: Magic p. 18-19 for more on cosms and insulae.
(3) For the magical associations of the seven planets, see "Planetary Magic," p. 57 of "The Mysteries: Revised Edition".
(4) Thirteen because House Tytalus has two praecos vying for dominance.
(5) I tried to assign particular flavors of vis to the seven planets, and while some were easy, others were hard or impossible, and it felt forced and unbalanced. So instead I figure some flavors are just more common on some islands than others.
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
So it was while I was surfing for the next game that I would try that I stumbled over an interview with the creators of Guild Wars 2 and, in a conversation about the new race in the game, I read that the Sylvari's stories were explicitly informed by Arthurian legend. They threw red meat at me, and I had to respond. Challenge accepted.
I've spent a couple of weeks in the game now, and much of that time has been spent on a Sylvari warrior, exploring Arthurian themes in the game. Are there, in fact, Arthurian themes in this game? How are they used and portrayed? Are they more than token gestures? To what extent are stories the Sylvari tell in harmony with the stories Malory and others told? These are the questions I am eager to answer, and I thought I would focus on one specific story at the beginning of the game, at least today. That is the story of the Green Knight.
Now, in modern re-interpretations of the Green Knight, there has been a great effort to portray him as an environmentally-aware character, sometimes a guardian of the forest or even as a supernaturally empowered avatar of nature. (See, for example, Marvel UK's Knights of Pendragon.) That is, the Green Knight is, politically, Green. He recycles.
None of that is in the myth. The story of Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight survives in one manuscript written in the 15th century by an anonymous poet who may have also written the religiously themes poems "Pearl", "Patience", and "Cleanness". For those who have not read it, I really do recommend it. It is not terribly long and will take you only a couple of hours. It has been translated from a northern dialect of Middle English into modern English by many people over the years, but for sheer nerd value you really ought to read the one by JRR Tolkien, he of the hobbits and the wizards, who of course was also an Oxford language professor.
In the poem, Gawaine -- who is the paragon of courtly and chivalrous behavior, not the rude murderer he is in Malory -- is hanging out with his uncle Arthur and the Queen in Camelot when they are interrupted by a mysterious intruder who is dressed and painted entirely green. (Even his beard is green!) The Knight issues a challenge, the beheading game, which is an old trope in legend and myth. No one is willing to take the challenge except for Gawaine, who accepts the offer to take a swing at the Knight's head if, when he is done, the Knight gets a return stroke. Gawaine does well, cutting off the head, but the magic is revealed when the Knight walks over, picks up his head, and puts it back on. Now Gawaine must let the return stoke be swung, but the Knight gives him a year to put his things in order before -- presumably -- he will be executed. After commanding Gawaine to come to "the Green Chapel" in a year for the end of the contest, the Knight rides off.
Gawaine wastes the year partying and hanging out with the court. Finally, with only weeks left, he rides off to look for the Green Chapel, coming to grips with the fact he is probably going to die. He cannot find the Chapel, however, until he stops at a castle belonging to one Sir Bercilak and his gorgeous wife. Bercilak knows where the Chapel is, and it's just a few hours away; Gawaine can stay at Bercilak's home for a few days and, on New Year's, ride to the Chapel. Gawaine, perhaps thanks to the lady's charm, good looks, and earnest appeal, agrees to stay.
Bercilak's hobby is hunting, but Gawaine wants to stay home with the hot wife, so they make a deal. (You'd think Gawaine would have learned, but whatever.) Bercilak agrees to give Gawaine everything he gets on the hunt, but Gawaine must agree to give everything he gets during the day, too. And you get the idea that this is no idle game, since, while Bercilak is away each day, his wife engages in an all out full court press to seduce Gawaine into sex. She finds him in his bed, cuddles up and kisses him, but he tells her no each day. Each of the first two nights, Bercilak comes back with the remains of some beast and gives it all to Gawaine, while the knight gives Bercilak a nice smooch on the lips: his own trophy for the day.
The real test comes the third day when Bercilak's wife reveals that she wears a sash which, so long as it is worn, keeps you from dying. She offers it to Gawaine and he, suddenly seeing a way out of certain death, accepts it. When he meets Bercilak that night, he gives him the kiss he got earlier in the day, but not the sash. That, he keeps for himself, and in so doing breaks his word.
Bercilak leads Gawaine out to the Green Chapel the next day and reveals that he, himself, is the Green Knight. Ready to claim Gawaine's head, he tells the knight to bend over and he makes two fake swings at Gawaine's neck, missing each time on purpose. But the third stroke nicks Gawaine's neck, drawing blood, and Bercilak explains that he knows everything that transpired with his wife during Gawaine's visit. Because Gawaine was honest on the first two days, Bercilak misses the neck, but because Gawaine lied on the third day, he got hurt. But it's only a scratch, instead of a death blow, because Gawaine's lie was understandable: the young knight did not want to die. And because he wanted to live, he lied. Who would not do the same? So Bercilak shows mercy, and Gawaine is humiliated but alive. He returns to Camelot and tells the story, leading Arthur and the court to adopt the wearing of green sashes which, for Gawaine, is a badge of his shame and his failure, but which for the king and court are just a fashion statement. It is worth noting that the story about the sash preventing you from harm is a lie: if Bercilak wanted, he could have killed Gawaine. The spell of invulnerability which Bercilak had was provided by Morgan le Fey, who is probably to be identified with an old woman who shows up once in the poem, accompanying Bercilak's wife.
Sylvari players are confronted with the green knight in their personal story; they can choose to have Dreamed of the Green Knight, a mysterious White Hart, or of the moon. (The White Hart is also an explicit Arthurian reference, which we will unpack another day.) The Knight, whose name is also Bercilak, has just slain Eladus, beloved of Dagdar, in battle. Eladus and Dagdar are both male but there seems little doubt of their romantic relationship when Dagdar refers to "my beloved". This homoerotic relationship stands out in the game because it comes so early; it is literally the first romantic relationship many Sylvari players encounter. But it's also a nice call-out to the homoerotic elements of the original story, in which Gawaine plants three lusty kisses on his host.
The player character's fight with Bercilak here echoes the Knight's first arrival in Camelot, with the PC triumphant but denied his victory due to magic; Bercilak cannot be killed. But the beheading game specifically is absent, replaced by a more traditional duel between knights (or "valiants", to use the Sylvari term). Rather than wasting a year at court before slowly finding his way to the rematch, the Guild Wars hero actively seeks out Bercilak and the source of his powers in order to deliver justice on a guy who is much less morally ambiguous and more clearly wicked than the source material.
The quest leads to a female Sylvari named Gairwen, a nice Gawaine reference. This Bercilak is not married, and is instead courting a female Sylvari whose (male) lover he has already slain. Arthurian myth has plenty of examples of knights killing a rival only to claim the rival's wife, so Bercilak can perhaps be excused for thinking Gairwen would fall head over heels for him. His inability to understand Gairwen's dislike echoes another famous Gawaine story, the tale of Dame Ragnell, in which Gawaine is sent questing to learn the answer to the question "What do women want?" (Chaucer told this story in the Wife of Bath's Tale, but he edited out Gawaine to make it about an anonymous knight.) The answer is that women want to call the shots, they want the power to decide their own destiny, rather than be forced to let men make the decisions for them. But Gairwen, though she resents Bercilak's attempts to force her, is quite willing to let the PC make the decisions. She tells us that Bercilak's invulnerability comes from his magic armor, a play on the idea that the green sash really does make you immune to harm.
This sends the PC off on a quest to find the smith who made the armor, a reference not to an explicitly Arthurian tale, but rather to Norse and Celtic tales of a godlike smith. Our smith is named Occam, presumably after Occam's Razor, which would be a cool name for a sword but which is actually a principle of logic and deduction which states that the simplest explanation is probably the correct one. Occam can be compared to characters like Weyland, the Norse smith who, in Mary Stewart's influential Arthurian novels, forged Excalibur. In our story, Occam fills the role of Morgan le Fey, the magical source for Bercilak's spell of invulnerability.
Occam has been kidnapped, which leads us back to Gairwen and a cunning plan: if we can trick Bercilak into kissing Gairwen -- an act which you all will recognize by now -- we can deprive him of his helmet and, thus, allow his head to be chopped off. This is a Reverse Green Knight: instead of a challenge in which we chop off Bercilak's head and he is not harmed, we instead have a rematch in which we chop off the head and it works. Gairwen is still grieving for her lost love, but she agrees and persuades Bercilak to kiss her before stealing the helmet. This leads to a pretty straight forward fight with a tough boss with a knockdown attack that, I cannot help but wonder, might be referencing Bercilak's requirement that Gawaine get down on his knees to accept the sword stroke. With Bercilak defeated, Gairwen moves in with the PC, which I found interesting. Sadly, there is no Green Sash costuming item from Bercilak. It's a real shame, and would make a wonderful memento of a fun quest chain. Perhaps it was left out because only those Sylvari who choose this personal quest chain would be able to get this reward. Regardless, I would have liked to see a green belt or chest piece awarded to those who defeat the Green Knight. This, by the way, is where the British Order of the Knights of the Garter come from: the garter is specifically a reference to the sash Gawaine wears.
The story of Bercilak the Green Knight of Guild Wars 2 is loosely inspired by the original poem, but owes more to that poem than to other, popular, conceptions of the Green Knight. In that sense, and in its uses of the kissing motif, of love between two men, and in its portrayal of a man who cannot understand why a woman would not enjoy being forced to have sex, the quest honors and plays with medieval source material. It's not as morally ambiguous as the original tale, and it recasts the whole business from a test of moral character to one of combat prowess, but this seems fitting considering how early in the game this story is encountered. There are hard choices which players must make in this game -- and in this story the player must choose to save Gairwen or Occam -- but trying to portray Gawaine's refusal to have sex with Bercilak's wife, and then his willingness to hide the garter from Bercilak himself, is perhaps a bit too nuanced for an action adventure game like GW2, especially when players might be experiencing the game for the first time on their first character.