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 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!
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


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. 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.
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:
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.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pumpkin People: Props to the Scarecrows

There is conflation, or perhaps amalgamation, of Pumpkin People and scarecrows in American Halloween culture.  Essentially we have scarecrows with jack o' lantern heads and Pumpkin People with wooden and straw bodies and combinations in between.  Lisa Morton explains in her book Trick or Treat a History of Halloween that this amalgamation occurred.  In chapter 3 Trick or Treat In the New World that the largely agrarian culture of early America incorporated the scarecrow into their harvest festivals and that young people would use the scarecrows for pranking.   As the scarecrows, important during the growing season, were surplus after harvest they were readily available.  Thanks to folk orientation and works such as Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow the pumpkin carved into a jack o' lantern became popular and linked to the harvest along with the scarecrow and it naturally grew this way.
I have no reason to doubt her in this as I have no evidence to the contrary and it neatly supports things I have already determined myself lending credence to my thoughts.
3 Pumpkin People Props for your Perusal
Looking at our illustration we have the Stoner on the left.  The long fingers and lack of lower limbs suggest a ghost of a Pumpkin Scarecrow.  This is a hanging prop, of course.  The tatters and gauze further suggest a ghost and the pumpkin head is a greenish hue.  Clearly not a fully physical manifestation.
In the center is the one I call "Crop Duster" but I can't tell you why.  This is a full standing scarecrow with an evil jack o lantern head.  Nice and spooky.  I think that is supposed to be blood or something on the coat.
And finally on the right is another dangler but with all four limbs.  He looks upset about something.  He's neurotic.  I believe that Crop Duster did just that and Worry Wart is afraid everybody will think it was him.  He's a permanent victim, Worry Wart.
What ties all three together, aside from having pumpkin heads, and let's face it Stoner and W.W. have some awfully strange pumpkins for heads (is Worry Wart's rotting?  I mean look at the color.) , are the tatters and gauze effects used to enhance their Halloween attire.
My favorite ale TAP HANDLE.  I also enjoyed the brew but alas it is produced no more.

Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale: Presumably this is Jack.  He is a happy scarecrow with a jack o lantern head.  Observe the colorful rustic hat, slightly witchy.  Observe the loose fitting blue jeans and old coat.  Jack is dancing or running or possibly just stepped in sheep shit.  It is hard to say.  Let's assume it is the first one.  In this case Jack is clearly an animated being, Pumpkin Person, Scarecrow Type 2: Friendly Happy Jacko Scarecrow.

Scarecrows with or without pumpkin heads can be malevolent or friendly.  If you take a Pumpkin Person and put them in raggedy old clothes they start to look quite like a scarecrow anyway.  This is especially true in America.

A feature common to props, costumes and home haunts that I have seen in increasing amounts over the past few years is the use of gauze, tatters and maybe burlap.  These three elements are inexpensive ways to transmit the visual idea of spookiness, ethereal qualities and harvest feelings without too much fuss.  Gauze, by its nature, has an ethereal aspect.  Let's face it, it you want to do a ghost costume or prop you are going to have a hard time putting forth the spectral nature, the see-through aspect, and maintain legal decency.  Gauze acts as a substitute for the wispy tendrils of ectoplasm that make up a ghost.  It is the modern equivalent of the old bed sheet burial shroud.  Everything from spectral pirates to standard ghosts to faeries uses gauze to evoke the idea of ectoplasmic ethereal entity.
Observe the gauze and tatters on these guys.
Tatters serve dual purpose as we see them with ghost costumes, which is to help break up the outline of the costume thus enhancing the spectral nature and it creates a feeling of decay, which again goes with the dead, undead, and the general feel of Halloween: leaving the life and warmth of Summer and entering the dying and cold Winter.

Burlap is cheap and has a nice rough tactile quality.  It evokes images of bags used to collect the harvest, scarecrow heads and a homespun rustic aesthetic.  It is also useful as a background for leaves and such.  There is a certain menace to burlap as well.  Think of a colonial setting and put a slasher killer into it.  Now what better for the mask than the ubiquitous sacks found around the farm?  Actually does anybody know if that has been done yet?  I'd watch that.
Die witch die!

And that about wraps it up for Pumpkin People Props.
Keep your pumpkins lit.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Adventures in carving

With our party looming close, I mean, Saturday night close, we had to carve our sacred pumpkins tonight.  Hours of effort by myself and Frau Punkinstein to produce these specimen:

Kat's first: a dragon.
Free hand, kiddies!

My first: a skull.

Kat's second: a scary clown.

My second: Ezra the hitchhiking ghost from the Haunted Mansion.  Full credit for the pattern goes to Richard Terpstra whose page can be found at this link:

I intend to keep these pumpkins lit.

Pumpkin People in Costume!

So you think you'd like to be a Pumpkin Person this Halloween?  No problem; your local costume shop has you covered.
This is your IDEAL
As I have established previously the main requirement is a pumpkin for a head, preferably a jack o' lantern.  Clothing can be quaint, old style, scarecrow, western, or anything you like.  Some choices are obviously better than others.  The image above of Samhain from the Ghostbusters RPG was my template for my own Pumpkin Man costume of a few years ago:

Knee breaches, colonial shoes, puffy shirt and waistcoat along with my wolf's head cane were the elements of my interpretation of the refined Pumpkin Man.  It is not easy to achieve the elegant Pumpkin Man ideal and many of these items I had from pre-existing costumes and such.  So what are your "out of the bag" pre-made options?
Gaze on.
This is your REALITY
There are not very many choices on the market but a quick search finds these three that I am willing to show you.  I saw a few more but they were wretched.  On the left we have a strange sort of Pumpkin Man.  He wears a robe, which is always good for Halloween.  Robes bring to our minds images of the Grim Reaper, evil cultists, and are cheap and nondescript.  A robe is universal.  This particular costume bleeds.  In fact it is made from the mold (and a recolored robe) of a bleeding Grim Reaper costume.  This explains the orange bones and orange skeletal hands.  It makes for a Pumpkin Man stripped of its vegetable flesh to reveal the skeleton beneath!  I guess.
In the middle we have a bobble head Pumpkin Man.  The face is at once cute and spooky with its befanged mouth and yellow eyes.  The dirty black robe and hood looks so much like a monk and the rope belt completes the picture.  Let's face it, this is the leader of the Pumpkin Cultists in your favorite RPG.
On the right we have the Bad Seed Creature Reacher costume.  This one is expensive and it shows.  An oversize mask of a grinning demonic pumpkin, all to happy to consume your soul, oversized extended arms that combine woody fingers, viney veins and orange "flesh" make this a fine costume at the start.  Combine this with the burlapesque tattered sack shirt and you have an excellent demonic scarecrow style Pumpkin Man.  It is probably uncomfortable to wear for long periods but it looks great.
The only drawback to these outfits is footwear.  A Pumpkin Man in sneakers is not very impressive...unless you consider that he has an advantage in chasing you.

Screw it; I'll just get a mask
Okay, so you don't want a kiddie Pumpkin costume and you have plenty of clothes, like a nice pair of Liberty Overhauls.  So rather than get a full kit you think a mask will do fine.  There are several mask options out there but I am providing two samples, one good, one not so good.  I really can't say more than the pictures tell you, I'm afraid.
But I will.
See how the guy on the right has STUPID HANDS?  See how the basic black looks STUPID?  You wear that thing on the right and you will win the costume contest prize for lamest limp dick stupid head stupid at the party.  And you don't want that.
And the subtle guy on the left?  He's cool, but you will have to "tip your top" all night at the party.  Which you should do, to ladies, because that is what a man with a hat should do.  It's the rules.  Doff your cap, you bastard.  It's called respect.
Oh what the hell, it could be worse, right?
And again we have Jack, the (former) Pumpkin Mascot of Howl-O-Scream.  He's a grand old lad in the cliched Irish style.  Okay, maybe he's not so bad after all.  You could do a lot worse for your Pumpkin Man costume.

Good luck and keep your pumpkin head lit.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Halloween Specialist Wizards: Pt 2

Following the information bonanza that was Halloween Specialist Wizards, this installment looks at a pair of specialists, or rather one specialist with two forms, gender specific, the Witch and her masculine counterpart, the Warlock.

Witches, in Harry Potter's world it is the sexist term for a magically empowered female, sort of a female wizard.  In folklore they are as varied as evil hags, kindly wise women, and downright dangerous femme fatales.  Think Baba Yaga, think Circe, think any number of good and evil fairy tale characters from Snow White's stepmother to Glinda the Good (yes, I know the Wizard of Oz is not technically a fairy tale, but just roll with it), and you have the classic witch.

And of course my favorite...
Scary Godmother appears to us all courtesy of the talents of Jill Thompson, if you have not, do yourself a favor and check out Jill's works.

Witches are more earthy versions of wizards.  They have cool magic items like cauldrons, brooms, wands, and familiars.  They brew potions in massive cauldrons and often have the power to hex you with a glare!  Ah, the evil eye, for good or for ill, witches are powerful figures in myth, folklore and popular consciousness.  Usually their powers are gained from communing with spirits of the earth and air and they often carry powerful magic on their person or IN their person.  These aren't your book wizards we are talking about.  And they are intimately tied with Halloween.  They just have a sort of creepiness to them, even the sexy ones. not take a drink from this woman!
Oh, you didn't know?  Witches come in two basic flavors: hags and vixens.  Maid, mother and crone have given way to our current pop culture idea of evil hags and sexpot seductresses.  Yes, you can have a pretty witch who is not a dangerous vixen, I mean there is always Samantha Stevens.
This would be that other flavor...but tastes vary...I mean Rule 34, right?
Witch magic is often of the curse and hex variety, which makes them fairly powerful but not really "battle" ready.  They work best when they can get a target alone.  You won't catch one blasting a unit of goblins in the thick of some fantasy battle, but you could find one COMMANDING an army of mischievous munchkins or giving orders to Winkies from her stone fastness.
You're pushing your luck with this article, sonny boy...
Warlocks are male witches, but in fantasy culture they are so much more.  For example in Charmed warlocks are evil spell casters and could even be female.  Yep, warlock just meant "evil witch".  In gaming, however, warlocks are more like wizards that gain their powers through pacts with extra-planar entities.  Where a basic wizard studies to learn his powers a warlock just cuts a deal and gets ripping cool powers.  These are the guys in wizard school who can't be bothered to go to class.  Warlocks often get better melee stats than normal wizards as well.  Having a host of infernal powers at your beck and call means you get to spend more time learning to hit people with swords and the like.  Warlocks are more likely to wear armor as well, usually something in a leather, maybe demonhide.  Expect lots of fire spells and curses.  As male witches, however, they get to be in the Halloween vibe, but in that case we are looking for hexes and curses again.  In most cases warlocks are not as powerful as witches.  Consider that a bit of fantasy feminism balancing out the otherwise patriarchal domination of masculine spell casters in fantasy.
The Warlock from Mage Wars.  The hat alone spells trouble, but let's not ignore the flame whip or armor.
Except for Julian Sands.  Julian Sands played the titular warlock in 1989's Warlock and was described by the film's heroic witch hunter as "The rudest that ever troubled daylight."  Sands's warlock had more subtle powers with neat rhyming spells and potions and the like.  So as the male component of a witch, what with witches being a definitely Halloween spell caster, I am including warlocks.
I chose this lame-oid "warlock" costume to illustrate my point, although he does channel Skeletor a bit.
Especially if they look and act scary.

Keep your pumpkins lit.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ghost Train Ride

Last night the Bride of Punkinstein and myself journeyed to Chesapeake's Northwest River Park to ride the Ghost Train.  This is something we had been intending to do for several Halloween seasons past but due to one thing or another, often inclement weather (not a little drizzle, such as we had last night, but tropical storm fallout inclement weather), we have not been able to make it.  This year we did.  As it only runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights through October you have to make an effort.
The ticket actually pays for two attractions, the Ghost Train, a hay ride style presentation where a narrator reads of an antique book and you are shown scenes acted out among the trees as you make your way through the darkened and spooky woods of Northwest River Park and a fright maze you can walk through if you return from the Ghost Train.

For shock and scare I put it below Haunted Hunt Club Farm but don't take that as a disparaging remark.  NWRP Ghost Train and Maze are staffed 100% by volunteers, some of them celebrating over 2 decades of commitment to the events, and they do a good job of it.  While it is advertised as family friendly it is, as I observed, scary enough to unnerve children under 12 and get a few screams and laughs from the parents.  In classic fashion the spooks do leave the maze and harass folks standing in the queue, which I approve of heartily.  If there was a downside I would say it was the lack of snacks.  I love snack availability at an outdoor event.  NWRP camp store was open to sell tickets and offer restroom facilities and patrons could purchase drinks, chips, candy, etc. from the store, or could purchase popcorn from a Boy Scout popcorn popping cart in front.  I would have liked to have seen a little more carnival atmosphere, maybe some candy apples and a cotton candy machine.  The nearly constant rain during the last two weeks in Hampton Roads, including last nights drizzle, gave the woods a damp, earthy smell more than usual and the canoes racked up beside the lake had Frau Punkinstein drawing comparisons to Camp Crystal Lake of F13 fame.
Outside of the store around the two queues there were inflatables (Ghosts, Cemetery Gates, etc.) and this wonderful flying witch on a timer.  She rockets into the air on her broom leaving a trail of smoke cackling wildly all the while.  Nice to watch as you wait for your boarding or turn in the maze.

While NWRP GT may be below HHCF Hay Ride for pure shock and terror, the GT does have charm and local flavor.  It begins with a brief intro where an actress-volunteer tells you about the antique book she and her husband found and how her husband would share selections of it with you during your ride.  Once boarded the husband-actor narrates the ride from a throne-like chair.  The scare scenes and stories are a mix of classic tales, urban legends and stories and events particular to the Chesapeake, VA area including the WITCH OF PUNGO (pretend that was an echo effect).  Check the link, I'm not making this up.  Grace Sherwood, last person convicted of witchcraft in Virginia.  Grace was, however, not executed for witchcraft, so that's nice.

For it's locally appropriate flavor and its clever epilogues (as the train must go out to a roundabout then return the way it came, you get to see the "results" of the scare scenes you saw on the way in, and that is really the more effective scare, I think) I recommend NWRP Ghost Train and maze.  Check out the link below for information.

Oh, and keep your pumpkins lit.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Pumpkin People: Classic Evolution

As stated in my previous best selling article Pumpkin People: Some Classic Examples the beginnings of the race and/or tribes of Pumpkin People can be found in the gardens of America.  The first of their kind seem to appear in the very early 20th century and are an entirely vegetable life form.  It would not always remain so.  As the Pumpkin People grew in both numbers and popularity a new form of Cucurbita sapiens spawned  having more human-like bodies but with pumpkin heads.  Many variations can be found, among them jack o' lantern heads (the most common) and naturally occurring human faces on living pumpkins (less common but by no means rare).
Drunken Pumpkin People know how to party
The anatomy of the basic humanoid Pumpkin Person is a relatively normally proportioned body with 3-5 fingers and flesh in a range of colors including greens, oranges, human flesh tones, and occasionally woody browns.  Unlike their purely vegetable ancestors these Pumpkin People show modesty by wearing clothing.  No single type of clothing is common and one can find Pumpkin People in folk costumes, simple but serviceable workaday clothes, or dressed to the nines.  Like their ancestors they engage in a variety of practices and are often seen in the company of witches and black cats.
Jack o' lantern body, stripy costume.
On the way to full humanoid bodies the Pumpkin People discarded their vegetable bodies and hazarded legs and arms sprouting directly from their huge pumpkin bodies, faces on what we would call their torsos.  You don't get from cucumber arms and legs to full human form overnight.  No indeed, it requires a painful growth process.  The Happy Pumpkin man above is from 1945, clearly a genetic throwback to the transitional Pumpkin People.  Of course the clothing suggests it is merely an artistic representation of what the Pumpkin People were years and years before.
Again a transition Pumpkin Person.  Arms and legs growing from the bottom of the pumpkin.  The body form is moving forward to a more natural aesthetic.  This particular Pumpkin Man is running forward to menace some boys that have foolishly chosen to wear Buster Brown costumes on Halloween.

And now the most disturbing Pumpkin Person image on this blog
Holy Shit!  That's a Pumpkin Man about to eat a pumpkin pie!  Do I have to explain why this is WRONG?  If you aren't seeing that scene in Hannibal where Hopkins makes Ray Liotta eat his own brain, well, you are now.  You are welcome.

Which brings us back to the evolution of completely vegetable Pumpkin People to the more human versions with clothes and sexual dimorphism.  I mean, look, those Pumpkin Women have breasts.  Mammary glands.  Ta-tas.

As an example of Halloween imagery the Pumpkin People have a striking feature that is essentially Halloween: the pumpkin.  As the American culture changed from less and less agrarian to more and more urban the Pumpkin People changed with it.  The primitive idol of harvest and fertility changed into a more human and urbane figure, but another change would come somewhat simultaneously with the urbane humanoid Pumpkin People where scarecrows would have a major influence on the species and we would begin to see a change to what we have today.
Teaser for what's to come