Thursday, February 13, 2014

Understanding the Working Wizard

Thinking old school gaming...

So you have character classes like Fighting Man and Magic User and then you have NPCs who do real jobs, like blacksmith or apothecary or even castle guard.  Now it might be that the castle guard is actually a 2nd level Fighting Man, but the blacksmith and apothecary?  No, they are just regular working people.  They are what the adventurers would be if they had to give up their adventuring and get real jobs.  Of course these workaday NPCs do get better at their jobs through practice and training, but PCs have to earn experience by going out in the world and completing quests.  Imagine then that the blacksmith does earn experience, but it is very specific experience.  He learns his craft and that is what he "levels" as he lives his life.  The PCs, however, aren't working or training or practicing.  No, they are going out in the world and having experiences and from this they learn.  This experience might be practical, such as the first time they meet a rust monster and learn what a rust monster does and how to deal with that, or it might be hard to define.  For that there are experience points.  Either way the PCs must go out and find more and more experiences to get better because that is, more or less, their calling in life.

So what has this to do with wizards?

Well traditionally we see wizards in towers (or dank dungeons) full of magical paraphernalia such as candles, tomes, stuffed creatures, magic circles on the floor, symbols all over the place, perhaps cauldrons as well.  Does this bear any resemblance to the average adventuring wizard?

Well, no.  But we know that wizards can research spells and scribe scrolls and brew potions and enchant items, all of which requires an outlay of time and gold, and requires labs and such.  So how is the adventuring wizard different from this other type?
A working wizard...this is what he does ALL DAY.

Consider the non-adventuring wizard a "working" wizard.  His job is being a wizard.  He studies magic, focusing on the deeper mysteries of magic for his own reasons such as a thirst for forbidden knowledge or profit.  These sorts of wizards don't gain experience from killing monsters or delving dungeons, but they do learn and study and practice.  They don't bother with weapons or fighting, spending their time amassing libraries full of material, including spell books, but also histories, philosophies and other tomes.  They build labs and research spells.  They are to wizards what blacksmiths are to warriors, creators of the tools used for adventure and action.
Adventuring Wizard! (note the sword and combat beard)

Now the adventuring wizard is a different story.  For the adventuring wizard the adventuring is his actual job, not the wizarding.  Think about it; it is the truth.  The adventuring wizard spends the bulk of his time exploring dungeons, trekking through the wilderness and battling monsters.  He does employ magic (at times) to do this, but he does not have the time to simply stop the action and look through his library of magical tomes for the right spell, or to pause in the middle of a ritual (not that he has time to set up and perform a ritual with a horde of bloodthirsty orcs bearing down upon the party) to find the perfect reagent for the spell.  He has to cast a timely spell to blast the orcs or save the party from an earthquake.  He can gain magical knowledge through research but he gets the vast bulk of it from exploration of the world (and plundering of dungeons where an old spell books or some scrolls are found in the treasure horde).  He also has to fight in melee at times and while he'll never be the combatant that his fighter and cleric friends are, he learns about weapons and tactics in a sort of on-the-job training.  For this reason (dependent upon the system) he only has a few key spells ready (or spell points) and often relies on magical trinkets to round out his arsenal.

Certainly, as it was in the old school days, the adventuring wizard can settle down and retire (or semi-retire) and build a tower and spend more and more of his time doing the "working wizard" things, perhaps inventing several new spells that adventuring wizards will no doubt use in their own careers (possibly paying a pretty silver for as well) making legends of the creators.  The adventuring wizard is a more eclectic magic-user than a working wizard who spends his whole time focusing on single goal or a battle mage that studies at some academy to be a mobile siege engine on the field.  Adventuring wizards tend to learn their spells by finding them in old treasure hordes or researching them when they have some downtime and the cash.  Yet they are also more versatile and level faster.  If you are going to play old school you have to embrace this notion of the Swiss Army Wizard, or as a friend of mine puts it "the iWiz...I've got a spell for that".  Sure he won't be turning lead into gold anytime soon, but when you have to jump off the edge of a gorge to escape a rampaging orc horde Feather Fall is a far more useful thing to have than a pocket full of loose change.

Greatest Wizard of all!


Sunday, February 2, 2014

And so the Pirate Renaissance draws to a close

Yes, there was a Pirate Renaissance.  It started with the runaway success of Pirates of the Caribbean Curse of the Black Pearl and continued on until about On Stranger Tides when things started to just, sort of, go away.  Now we have NBC's Crossbones coming in 2014 and STARZ Black Sails currently, but trust me this is not a continuation of the Pirate Renaissance.  It is the Pirate Sunset, you see, and these are the last ships we will see for some time.

Now one of the things we saw during the Pirate Renaissance was a large amount of pirate media (e.g. books, comics, films) and pirate games (board, RPG and video) hit the market, not all of them winners.  When it comes to pirate gaming the problem is obvious to me.  Pirates games are, by and large, of the board game ship variety, or treasure hunting variety.  Pirates and RPGs just don't mix well.
Why, you ask?
Well...
RPGs are best with small groups of individual characters, usually playing complementary classes, that can work together in a compartmentalized fashion to achieve a goal.  The wizard has his job, the cleric has her job, the fighter has his job and the thief has its job.  Small teams of 3-6 members allow for the players to work together without too much overlap and to function as individuals.
Pirates are, however, a bunch of sailors on a ship doing pirate shit.  That means robbing, looting, pillaging and so forth.  First and foremost they need to be sailors.  That's your class, mate.  Sailor.
But don't sailors have individual jobs?
Yes they do, but ship's wizard is not one of them and what is the awesome dungeon crawling potential for a carpenter?
Crews tend to be a bit larger than 3-6 members as well.
Then there is the adventure potential problem.  One of the most famous of all pirate stories is Treasure Island and it is a classic of adventure.  Sadly it is a book about a treasure hunt, not a book about piracy.  There are pirates in it, but it is not in and of itself a story about piracy.  POTC:CotBP is also, actually, a treasure hunting story.  Most so-called pirate films are actually treasure hunting films (most I said, not all).
Well is not the gist of any RPG adventure essentially a treasure hunt?
Maybe in the old days of nothing but dungeon crawling, but we've moved past that in gaming.

Okay, so can you not have pirate adventures?
Sure you can, but a whole game about nothing but pirates is going to get boring pretty quickly.  I say this as a dedicated pirate...I mean "pirate fan".
So let's have a pirate class in our RPG.
And again, a pirate is a sailor that takes up a life of sea borne robbery.  His class, if such a thing can be called a class, is sailor.  What special abilities do you want?  Get drunk and still show up for watch?
Actually that's quite useful, but I digress.

There is also this captain problem.  Everyone knows pirate captains.  Of course they do.  Those are the ones history wrote about, but we can't all be Blackbeard.  Hell, we can't all even be Jack Sugarbritches Sparrow.  Indeed most of us are lucky to be Gibbs.  So now that you can't have a party full of captains what do you do?

Then there is the railroad problem.  A railroad adventure is one that offers the players no options or freewill.  They are "on the tracks" so to speak going wherever the GM sends the railroad.  Players tend to dislike that.  What is the ultimate railroad?  A ship in the middle of the bloody ocean.  Not only can you not just get off the train like a hobo nearing a particularly scenic town, you can't change the ship either.  You are basically sitting around waiting for the GM to put another sea monster in your path.  So you make land and do adventure stuff, probably treasure hunting and...congratulations you are not playing pirates anymore.

Now most board games (again not all) about pirates are at the ship level.  Sure you might have the named captains and such and even might fight some boarding actions but the games are about ships, which makes sense because, as we have established, pirates are sailors.  Land pirates steal music.  Not exactly awesome RPG potential, especially since so many bastards are already doing it.
So ships, which is cool for a board game but not for an RPG.  A ship as a character?
Hmmm....
No, no, just leave that behind.

Of course it comes down to setting and a pirate setting must be aquatic.  This can be a problem as well.  How popular is Aquaman?  I know I like Aquaman, but pop culture still likes to poke fun at the king of the seas.  If you are the average asshole who thinks Aquaman is a joke you have no business playing a nautical RPG.  Aquaman is the ideal of the nautical RPG.  Most folks I've spoken to, read the blog of, met, etc. don't want a true nautical adventure.  They want to swagger around acting like a concussed bisexual gypsy saying "savvy" every third bloody word.  Savage Worlds created the 50 Fathoms setting which is a water world (without Kevin Costner).  Sparse islands and no big continents and ships galore.  Yes there are pirates all over the place and yes it is fantasy.  Now who wants to play?
Again popular polling (and reading of internets blogging and reviews) tells me that people don't deal well with aquatic settings.  It's just too alien and people tend to think, "pshaw...water...that's boring."
Except you can't breathe it, can you, smart boy?

Sea dragon!
Yes, the oceans are full of exciting and dangerous things (like sharks and giant squid and jelly fish) and a fantasy ocean all the more so, but all your lovely plate armor and magic scrolls just aren't going to help.  So people tend to shy away from the aquatic setting.  Oh, it's okay to have the odd game on the water, but the whole setting?  Just doesn't appeal to people it seems.

So this all started as me talking about the end of the Pirate Renaissance and ended up being about why pirate RPGs don't work.  That was me flying false colors, mates.  Very pirate thing to do.



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

RPG notes: There is just no making some people happy

And by some people I mean ME.

I've discussed the wizard thing before and focused on elements such as not having swords or not being able to read a spell from a book, but something occurred to me today and I think it is the root of my annoyance.

The source of all RPG is competition.  It's true.  The FIRST GAME* was created from a tabletop wargame by tabletop wargamers.  The hobby evolved into a cooperative experience but its roots began with Player Versus Player (PVP) conflict.  The thing that divides RPG from wargaming more than any other, more than the amateur dramatics, the leveling, the puffed corn based cheese snacks, carbonated beverages, geekdom and all night playing sessions is simply that RPG is, unlike its venerable ancestor, a game about cooperation.  In order to play it, enjoy it and get the most out of it the players, including the Game Master (GM) must work TOGETHER to do it.  The conflict is, thus, sublimated.  This does not mean there is not some competition, friendly and otherwise (I've thrown my fair share of dice at a group member in my time), but it is not the sole purpose of the game.  Part of working together is seen in the way the classes interact with one another and the game world.  Today it is fashionable to refer to roles, which I call metaclasses, such as tank, healer, DPSer and the like.  These are terms that evolved naturally through observation and now developers design classes to meet these roles, but it was not always the case.  A look at the original three classes from OD&D (fighting man, cleric, magic user) does not show strict adherence to a metaclass model.  The melee fighting abilities of these three classes were much closer to one another from the start, the cleric's healing ability is minor compared to a modern MMO and the wizard's magic is more subtle for the most part (no direct damage spells until level 5) and the hit points and fighting abilities cease improving earlier than one might expect today.  As gaming evolved the classes found their niches within the party.  This is important because the heart of the RPG game is the party itself.
Look at Lord of the Rings.  The Fellowship of the Ring is the party and it is their interactions with one another within the world Tolkien wrote for them that ultimately leads to success.  At times this means working together to solve a problem and at other times an individual's special talents solve the conflict at hand.
This looks like a job for an Istari!  
In the Mines of Moria as the Fellowship flees from the Balrog only Gandalf has the qualifications to stand on the bridge and face it, for the Balrog is a Maia, as is Gandalf.  We would not expect Gandalf to be able to fulfill the prophecy that recruits the dead men of Dunharrow for that required the heir of Isildur.  Similarly in the tales of King Arthur, Lancelot is a champion among men, unbeaten in war or tournament, but he cannot achieve the Holy Grail.  Authors craft their stories to give characters appropriate conflict and resolution; a GM/Developer should do the same.  No one wants to play and feel useless or not needed, for from this stems boredom and dissatisfaction and from that destructive impulses are given free rein and the whole thing falls apart.
Which brings me closer to my point.  In the classic RPG model, and indeed in board games that adapt it well (e.g. HeroQuest, Warhammer Quest, Advanced HeroQuest) each class (or model or character in a board game) is designed to fulfill a role within the adventuring party.  This is not a rigid straight-jacket of a role, for there is freedom to play around with it, but it is a vital role and when everyone is working together well success follows.  In a board game you can set absolute victory conditions such as "find the lost treasure of Kinothos" and if your team does so you win.  In an RPG victory is not so absolute and indeed in a campaign style dungeon crawl board game each victory is a milestone leading forward to greater challenges and rewards.  The measure of success is not simply whoever kills the most enemies, although depending upon the game it might be.
MMOs, however, seem to have forgotten when they were MMORPGs and lost the RPG format that created their initial success.  RPG is a social event, honestly, it is.  I know it looks like a bunch of antisocial nerds, but dammit that is a society right there.  Bunch=many, nerds=social category.  The essence of the game is the social interaction and early on that is what the MMORPG offered, only on a global scale via the magic of the internet!  While classes might seem a bit archaic, they are part of a balanced party which is part of the magic of the game itself.  Think of the cereal commercials where they told you that Fruit Loops were part of a well-balanced breakfast and then they showed this table full of food with toast, milk, juice, bacon, eggs, a black pudding, a mimosa and maybe a bloody mary.  Balanced.  Just a bowl of Fruit Loops won't cut it.  Without the full party you are just eating Hot Pockets and I think we know what happens when you just eat Hot Pockets, don't we?
Thus in the glory days you had your fighter, you had your cleric, you had your thief and you had your mage and metaclassing aside, each had his or her job to do in the party, and they did them together.  You didn't just measure victory by kills.  As much as I loathe Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition (and make no mistake, I do loathe that bastard MMO on paper) the developers designed it with the PARTY in mind.  Their spin on the tank, healer, DPSer, etc. was DEFENDER, CONTROLLER, LEADER, and STRIKER.  Leaders, which include clerics, have a host of abilities mostly centered on helping teammates.  Without teammates these are just wasted abilities.  Think of it in terms of the Avengers, since that was a popular movie and a pop culture reference seems to be the only damn way to get through to anybody these days, Captain America was the star and hero of his own movie, but in the Avengers he is the field captain, the battle leader.  Cap is the one that keeps a cool head, assesses the situation and gives orders.  It is not his job to take down Loki single-handed.  I'm pretty sure that is not even an option.  However he organizes the team to do the job, take out the boss, and bring order out of the chaos of battle.  Each class has its place, or at least it did.
The current trend seems to be individuals loosely organized to do what?  Seek individual glory?  Too many games these days seem to be nothing but combat.  No dungeons, no puzzles, no clever and deadly traps, only wave after wave of respawning enemies to kill, kill, kill in a lather, rinse, repeat fashion.  What is the purpose of having classes when each of them exists solely to kill monsters?  It becomes a race to kill and sadly the metaclassing works well enough to prevent the tank from making kills while the bloody stealthers and DPSers (into which group stealthers usually fall) get kill blow after kill blow.  By the end of the night all the accolades the game has to give go to those bastards.  What other way do lazy developers have of programming their pointless games to rack up scores, so to speak?  Kills and loot.
Thus why group at all?  And the trend seems to be to move to more and more solo play options.  This leads to an annoying dichotomy where the game is either simple stupid for solo play or deadly hard for dungeons where you MUST have a group, but then when the group is together it is not balanced for team play because everybody is built for solo play else they'd never get to the damned dungeons in the first place.
This is as annoying as getting stuck at the top of a Ferris wheel and having the four bacon chili dogs and the prune smoothie you had for lunch decide they have to come out NOW.  And you are on a date.  First date.  Oh yeah.
Now all of this would not be so bad if it wasn't for that damned balance issue.  Even if you give a wizard a sword or a stick the law of aggregate bitching** says that he won't be able to use the bloody thing anyway.  His total lack of hit points, armor, strength and melee skills means that should some blood simple monster (you thought I forgot where this started) get past the spells, now all optimized for killing (because nobody is going to put points into strength as a wizard when the strength does not benefit them even a tenth as much as it would a warrior and the intelligence is providing the magic damage buffs anyway) any melee attempts will be laughable.  I am talking about Jerry Lewis laughable.  And for all of you younguns out there (if you really are a youngun you won't even know what that means so younglings, okay) Jerry Lewis was a comedian that commanded big bucks in the black and white days partnered with Dean Martin (go ask your grandparents) and then had a stellar solo career before semi-retiring to work on a charity near and dear to his heart.  Today he is known, if he is known at all, primarily for being famous in France.  So go to Netflix and stream The Nutty Professor (1963, NOT the 1996 version with Eddie Murphy, but that's funny too, and if you want to see an Eddie Murphy film let me recommend The Adventures of Pluto Nash from 2002 but to understand that you will need to watch The Maltese Falcon from 1941 first and...you know what; fuck it, just, just never mind, go watch Family Guy reruns or something you little bastards) to get an idea of what I am talking about.
This is the problem then: if you make the wizard too survivable for solo play, that is armor, weapons, fighting skills and magic blasting things all to Hell you ruin group dynamics and thus RPG.  Wizard don't need no party and party, being made up of other solo players, don't need no wizard.  If you make him balanced for party play, inevitably he is destroyed in PVP and possibly PVE and the party don't want him around.  Just giving him a sword solves nothing because everyone thinks, nay BELIEVES, nay KNOWS IN THEIR HEART that THEIR class, regardless of what it is, should be able to solo the whole damn game and always win in PVP all the time.
I think I hear another Balrog falling to a 3rd level rogue.  What is that, 500 this week?

*Dungeons and Dragons, published by TSR in 1974, oftentimes referred to as 0e, 0 edition and OD&D

**The Law of Aggregate Bitching: Within a free and democratic society the voice of the individual is heard, but rarely heeded, commensurate with the size of the society itself.  When multiple individuals agree upon an item or course their voices join together to create a larger, and thus more audible, sound.  When enough of these voices aggregate they will be heeded by the powers that be.  Thus those who bitch the most vociferously become, by dint of the mob rule, those in the right.  The powers that be will capitulate to the aggregate vociferous minority simply because they bothered to show up and bitch loudly while the more productive members of the society were busy doing actual work.  The correctness of the vociferous minority will not be measured against any logical or realistic benchmark and the powers that be will say they are enacting the will of the people for they have the mandate of the people.  In MMO terms this means that the DPS and Stealthers will always get the best from a new patch while ensuring that all other class types get nerfed by the developers such that tanks will do no damage, healers will not be allowed to heal any sort of stealth or burst damage and wizards will be completely unable to wield weapons to any good effect, use protective magic, or walk and chew bubble gum at the same time.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Specialist Wizards: Part 3-The End of It

After two posts on specialist wizards appropriate for Halloween I thought I might do one on Druids, because druids are Celtic and the Celts invented Halloween.
Then I remembered that in terms of spellcasters druids are just tree-hugging shapeshifting hippies with animal companions who annoy the rest of the party by not having healing spells and asking you to apologize for stepping on the grass.
Actually, if my wife played a druid THIS is what she'd look like.
So I'm not going to do that.
I mean, we can do better, right?
Ta Daaaaaa!
Yes!
What I am here to talk about today are Pumpkinmancers, or Hallowmancers, or Lantern Wizards, it's all the same thing.
Yep, you guessed it...he's a Pumpkinmancer.
Pumpkinmancy is perhaps the rarest of specialty wizard magics.  Indeed pumpkinmancers are rare, but powerful, combining the best aspects of nature and necromantic magic.
See the power that has warped improved this otherwise normal mage?  It is the power of Pumpkinmancy!
They specialize in summoning of pumpkin goblins, vine control, and control the very powers of the liminal world that is Halloween, that threshold between life giving summer and dead winter, life, death, and what comes after.
There is nothing more powerful than a pumpkinmancer all amped up on candy corn.
So great is their power that it manifests a pumpkin on their heads and some of the greatest and most powerful pumpkinmancers take on creepy vine skin.  Brrrrrr...did you just get a chill?

You mostly see them around Halloween casting their spells, which include explosive seed missile, flaming candle breath, vine armor, summon toilet paper, soap window, and the mysterious and rarely employed Punkin Delight!  When necromancers are summoning armies of ghosts and ghoulies to harass the good folk out trick or treating it is the brave pumpkinmancer whose shining eyes protect us all!

Of course it is not all Count Chocula and Corn on the Cob.  Pumpkinmancers are specifically weak to cold and drought magic.  And they date druids.  I know, I know, but I just report the facts, people.  Do not taunt pumpkinmancers.  Pumpkinmancy is known for treats AND tricks.  You might think it is all fun and games and then you get a face full of pumpkin guts for your trouble.  Even the mighty Halloween witches know that none can stand against these orange masters of the spooky and arcane!



Wednesday, October 30, 2013

PUMPKIN LORD!

A few years back I was stumbling about the internet when I discovered a free to play flash game called Dragon Fable from Artix Entertainment.  It is a fun little fantasy adventure game, like an RPG, and part of a larger group of games that includes Adventure Quest and the MMO Adventure Quest Worlds.  I only started playing because I read that every October they have a Halloween event called Mogloween where you can get special armor called Pumpkin Lord armor.  They also have cool Halloween weapons.
I don't play much anymore, except around Halloween.  Here are some in-game snaps of Pumpkin Lord armor.


Here is a picture of our hero, Punkinstein, in his Pumpkin Lord armor standing in a field surrounded by evil scarecrows and suspiciously violent crows.  Spooky Orange cape optional.  Punkinstein is holding the High Hallowed Staff, which is notable for having an open headed jack o' lantern with a flame flickering out of the top.
We see here the Pumpkin armor scythe attack.  The scythe is formed from bits of vine, which is a pretty cool feature.
Flaming pumpkin chucker!  Pumpkin armor launches a flaming jack o' lantern at the evil scarecrow.  Not since the Green Goblin has a pumpkin been used in so violent a fashion.  I would love to be able to fire pumpkin projectiles that explode on contact.
MEGA PUMPKIN ATTACK!  Three small jackos form from the armor and grow in size to launch a 1-2-3 beam attack.  The attack is keyed to the weapon held.  This one is light.  Evil scarecrows hate light.
The mass of vines improves the defenses of our hero, Punkinstein.
Vine whip.  That's is just cool.  Think Indiana Jones and a pumpkin combined.  Lash out with a whip of vines annoying your enemies.  I imagine it could be used for swinging from rooftops or retrieving small items.  At least in the world in my head it could.
I know this looks odd, but follow the logic.  The Pumpkin Lord extends root like tendrils into the ground that snake out and attack the enemy, rooting their feet to the ground.  Very useful in certain situations.
The first of 3 scenes showing my various magical staves.  As Punkinstein is a WIZARD!!! he carries staves (see Wizards Get Wood for more information on staves).  This is my Harvest Staff.  I don't really have the skill or time to animate anything, but the glowing face rotates constantly around the pumpkin head.  Nature based attacks, not very powerful and totally useless against scarecrows.  Still, looks cool, if a bit understated.
Reaper's Rod, because subtle sucks.  This vine staff topped with a stack of pumpkins topped with a glowing jack o' lantern is more powerful than Harvest Staff and is keyed to fire.  Scarecrows...fire...I think you saw the movie, do I really have to say it?
This is not a staff, it is a scythe.  It is the Harvest Reaper, which should scare a scarecrow strawless.  Scythes are the one weapon that all classes can use equally well.  Harvest Reaper is fire or nature magic at the touch of a button.  It glows green for nature, so clearly this is keyed up for fire, because again...scarecrows.
BONUS PICTURE
Gratuitious Horrorbusiness!  A bonus picture of our hero's alter ego warrior form.  That's the High Hallowed Blade and an Evil Pumpkin Helm.  This is also a chance to get a better look at the Pumpkin Lord armor.  Mostly vines with disproportionate viney feet and spikey viney shoulders and abdomen, the Pumpkin Lord is not just a themed pumpkin man but what a pumpkin being should be.  As we can see from the pictures above using abilities morphs bits of the armor into viney doom for the forces of evil.  As there seems to be a dearth of Halloween and pumpkin based heroes in the various media I have to take my joy where I can get it.
Not shown is that you can eat candy to heal.  But of course you can eat candy to heal.

Until next time, keep your pumpkin helm lit.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A good Halloween read: Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities

The graphic novel (actually a trade paperback collected the 4 issue limited series) Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities by Eric Powell with art by Kyle Hotz is an excellent book for your Halloween reading pleasure.
We got a traveling sideshow of human biological curiosities, we got monsters, we got out of control patent scientist, we got Dr. Frankenstein, and of course we got Billy the Kid.
Cowboys, freaks, monsters, mayhem...what's not to love.
TPB edition, printed 2005
The story is a simple tale well told, which all great stories really are.

The limited series spawned two sequels one in 2010 and one in 2012, both of which are now on my "to read" list.

I love a good weird western and this is certainly that.  The story is easy to read, grips you by the saddle horn, and should be part of a fine Halloween experience.  We don't have enough Halloween Westerns but dammit we should.  Go on and check it out, pumpkin pards.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Pumpkin People Putting a Candle In It

Pumpkin People run the gamut from silly and happy to scary and badass.
Some examples:
Badass
This would be one of those scarecrow types seen above, I suppose.  Given the human body with glowing jack o' lantern head it doesn't have to be.  Nice suit, no socks.  It's like the Sonny Crockett of the pumpkin patch.  Bloody scythe is always good, which is part of the harvest imagery we've discussed before.  I love this painting.

The Pumpkin Slice monster from Dragon Fable is seen above.  Now here is the classic scarecrow married to the viney pumpkin man style.  Note the vine body and old clothes and of course, the scythe.  I think the add-on metal jaw gives this guy a Frankenstein's monster like appearance of unnatural evil.  As suggested in the image they hang out in pumpkin patches and farms.  Warning, they will kick a small pumpkin at you like a soccer ball.

I feel like this fellow (above) is sort of the ultimate symbol of the Halloween-Christmas-conflation-syndrome.  He's built along the traditional lines of a snowman (3 globes of decreasing circumference as you ascend, stick arms, a sweeping accessory) but is clearly a rustic fellow.  Is this a poke in the eye to the Christmas season saying, "Two can play at that game, observe my ironic vegetable man mocking your snowman form!" or just a giving in to the inevitable?  After all, K-Mart has had lay-away for Christmas commercials on the air since end of August featuring a giant, living gingerbread man (like that's not horrific).  Either way he's a pumpkin man to me and I like the style and look.

Here we have two masks I did not mention during my discussion of costumes.  I think these are both fine masks.  On the left we have a stocking mask (you can see the model's eyes and mouth through it) and as such it fits tight to the head.  There is a wicked sort of Joker quality to it with the wide mouth grin.  Most evil.  The shiny option on the right is a metallic pumpkin mask that is part of a series that includes a skull (in two colors, red and silver) and a few others.  I like this for the webbed cloth that blocks out the wearer's features while allowing flow of air and vision and for the general coolness of it.  Why not a shiny metallic pumpkin head?  Could we not have a cyber-pumpkin man in the future?  Robopumpkin!  I'm down for that action.

So he's a pumpkin jester?  The face is somewhere between rotten pumpkin and scarecrow and the costume is very much in the vein of a court jester.  Not much to say other than that.  He's either drunk or dancing.

Ah, Frank Frazetta, a master of fantasy and sci-fi art.  So many excellent covers for horror comics and magazines, did Frank do in his career.  Sadly Frank is no longer with us in the earthly realm but his legendary talents and his creations of Death Dealer and hundreds of big booty naked barbarian women will always be with us.  Here is Frank's take on the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, a fine example of the genre.  Now while the old Headless Hessian is not, strictly speaking a pumpkin man (or in any way a pumpkin man, come to think of it...he's a ghost) since the publication of the original short story artists have been inspired to paint the horseman (most likely Brom Bones if we've read the tale) holding a pumpkin in place of his head.  Thus I am including him as a spiritual brother for artistic purposes only.
Also I just really like the story and that image.

And that brings to a close my exploration of pumpkin people.  I was going to discuss the Marvel Comics villain Jack O Lantern, but really that's just an ersatz Green Goblin wearing a pumpkin helmet.  Seriously even his weapons are Green Goblin weapons re-purposed (per his origin story) and while I love imagery, I just don't feel he belongs, after all, in this study.

Pumpkin People, the native inhabitants of Halloween, living embodiment of the season itself, stretching back to the late 19th century in America as logically symbolic of harvest and the Autumnal season.  Also completely hijacked by me and shoehorned into a made up Celtic legend!

Halloween is just around the corner, friends.  Keep your pumpkins lit.