Sunday, December 31, 2006

No Pink Ponies!

Just putting in a little plug for a fave webcomic of mine: No Pink Ponies by Remy Mokhtar.

It's a good-natured little strip about a woman who runs a comic book shop and the unique characters who gather therein. It's awfully fun. The art is well-drawn and clean; I especially love the way Mokhtar draws faces.

(There's also a fair amount of, ah, fanservice... both for the guys and for the gals.)

So go! Check it out!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Attention to Detail

Here's an interesting link: A side-by-side comparison of photos from a small city in western Japan and screenshots from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Quite fascinating -- one of the things I loved about the show was the little details in the art, and the feeling that the characters inhabited a lived-in world. I wish more animation strove for this kind of verisimilitude.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Creative Writing: Part Deux

A little while after I wrote my Arch-devil profile for Dicefreaks, I ended up writing another such profile, this time for a Demon Prince. I kinda like this one better -- it's an original character (albeit named after a Biblical figure), so I was able to be a little more creative instead of sticking to D&D continuity.


Originally Rahab was named Dagon (and was largely inspired by the Lovecraft-derived B-movie of the same name), but I had to change it because the project already had a devil named Dagon. Oddly enough, a few years later, an official D&D sourcebook came out with a version of Dagon practically identical to the one I wrote below. (See here for Rahab w/full game stats done up by a fellow poster.)

RAHAB (Vepar, Sorath, Dagon)
The Demon Prince of the Lightless Depths, the Deep One, the Lord of the Deeps, Mariner's Bane, the Bringer of Storms
Symbol: A single round eye with no iris or pupil.

One of the most dreadful of the horrors of the Abyss, Rahab, the Demon Prince of the Lightless Depths, is a tentacled monstrosity that desires nothing less than the domination of all seas. One of the oldest demons in existance, the primordial horror that is Rahab is a creature of slime, darkness, and insanity that only the strongest of wills can stand to look upon without losing their mind.

Rahab's realm is the 873rd layer of the Abyss: the Lightless Depths. A water-filled realm, the Depths are literally without light: anyone without darkvision can see absolutely nothing in this layer. Here, Rahab swims through the black abyss, devouring the souls of those foolish or insane enough to call him their master. Unlike most other Demon Princes, Rahab shares his realm with several other powerful beings, including a number of myrmyxicuses. At one time he fought for his layer with dread King of the Deep, a demonic entity once beholden to the will of the now-dead goddess Takhisis, but the King was slain by heroes on the world of Krynn, and now Rahab's dominion over the Depths is unquestioned. It is likely that various other unique demons call the Depths home as well. These lesser horrors generally leave Rahab alone, and flee before his might when he approaches.

Like many fiends, Rahab is known by many names. Some of his followers speak of him as Vepar and others as Sorath. Some cultists know him as Dagon, but that name rightfully belongs to one of Hell's devils.

Because their "portfolios" overlap in regards to the slimy dwellers of the deep, Rahab is a sworn enemy of both the Demiurge Demogorgon and the dread Hadean god Panzuriel, but because of Rahab's relative weakness, clashes between their forces tend to be rare. Among the other powers he has made an enemy of are Sekolah of the sahuagin; Blibdoolpoolp of the kuo-toa; Eadro of the merfolk and locathah; Deep Sashelas of the elves; the Elemental Prince Ben-Hadar; and the human gods Aegir, Umberlee, and Poseidon. Of these, Poseidon is by far his deadliest rival: the Sea Father has sworn an oath to rid his oceans of Rahab's evil influence. It is common for Poseidon to recruit powerful heroes to brave the Lightless Depths and spy on his cultists' doings in the hopes that some headway might be made in his war against the demon. The Duke of Hell known as Dagon loathes Rahab as well for allowing the demon's followers to know him as Dagon.

Unsurprisingly, Rahab has virtually no friends. The only ally he has is Olhydra, the Princess of Evil Water. Because of the distance between their realms, however, and Olhydra's fickle nature, he has not found her a very reliable ally.

The goals of Rahab are the destruction of good sea life (such as aquatic elves) and the domination of neutral and evil denizens of the oceans. He has many worshippers among the creatures of slime and muck that dwell on the seabed: koprus, anguiliians, kuo-toas, ixitxachitls, rogue sahuagin, and even some renegade merfolk pay Rahab homage. All of these races have their own unique, foul rites that they perform in Rahab's name.

Rahab has a fairly widespread following of human cultists on the Prime Material Plane. Many a coastal fishing town has found itself at the mercy of a poor harvest and turned to Rahab-worship in hopes of rectifying the situation. Indeed, Rahab frequently rewards his worshippers with greater catches of fish and harvests of grain, as well as gifts of gold. Such cultists make a common practice of summoning their demonic master to their plane of existance and offering a living sacrifice - indeed, Rahab actually encourages his followers to summon him. Such conjurations give him an opportunity to spread his corruption, transforming his worshippers into maddened inhuman reflections of their old selves, creatures of slime as hideous as their master. Such summonings typically involve a blood sacrifice and the destruction of a small golden pyramid inscribed on each face with his unholy symbol.

Rahab is truly hideous. Only vaguely humanoid in shape, the Demon Prince of the Lightless Depths is a gargantuan cephalopoid monster. He looks something like a bloated, rubbery octopus, with a head like a human skull, a single cyclopean eye with no pupil set in its center. In place of a mouth, Rahab has a mass of ten-foot-long tentacles that dangle writhing from his head. Rahab has two huge tentacle-arms like those of an octopus that branch at each of their midpoints into ten squirming appendages. From his 'waist' depend twenty or more tentacles. His overall color is a dark green-brown, but Rahab can change his color to suit his whim. In addition to this hideous form, he can also change at will into a handsome merman some twenty feet from head to tail, with dark green skin and green-brown scales; he adopts this shape when summoned to the Prime by his human followers.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Creative Writing

This is an exercize in creative writing I undertook a few years ago as part of a project on a D&D community I frequent: a profile of an Arch-devil, sans game stats. It never made it into the final project, but it was still a fun experience and I enjoyed writing it.

I only wish I could harness this kind of creative power to write fiction.

Why yes, I am stroking my own ego by posting this, why do you ask?

Note that originally her name was "Zariel" and her successor was "Bel", but I had to change them to "Astarte" and "Bael" because that's what the mods wanted. I didn't like that because the actual Astarte and Bael were benign deities who had nothing to do with Hell. As a compromise, I tried to distinguish between the infernal versions of Astarte and Bael and the original deific versions by using alternate names for the latter (Ashera and Baal) and explaining the reason for the similarities in the names within the text.

The Archdevil of Destruction, Deposed Lord of the First
aka Zariel, Zavebe

Shortly after the Great Fall, the Seven Virtues of Heaven saw the need to keep a watch on the fallen angels that descended into the Hells. The Supreme Virtue of the Seven Heavens chose one of its most powerful servants, a solar named Astarte, as the chief watcher over the fallen celestials in Avernus. Astarte was originally a vassal of the Virtue of the Sixth Heaven, and the general of one of the greatest flights of celestials in the Upper Planes; unlike her fellow solar Triel - now the devil Beelzebub - Astarte had never shown any signs of corruption, and seemed a perfect choice for the job of warden. So it was that, with an army of angels, Astarte flew through the planes of Arcadia, Mechanus, and Acheron to the blasted plains of Avernus in Hell.

Fighting off the hordes of devils that inevitably resisted their arrival, the forces of Astarte built a celestial fortress of bronze on Avernus, her stronghold against the evil of Hell. Their task was to keep a watch on the doings of fallen celestials in Avernus: to make sure that they made no attempt to return back to Heaven to exact vengeance. They repulsed several such attempts on the fallen angels' part, and the Bastions were confident in the outcome of their decision.

Unfortunately, they underestimated the corrupting nature of Hell's very fabric. The methods Astarte employed grew colder and harsher with each passing century, and the celestial fire that burned in her heart dimmed. Before a millenium had passed, Astarte and her similarly dispassioned followers began working with Hell's devils, who also sought to control the fallen celestials. Astarte stopped communicating with the Lords of Heaven and focused entirely on keeping the fallen in check. She allied with Urukbaramael, a solar who had fallen with Eblis and Triel, who employed similarly violent methods with his fellow fallen in his vain attempt to fall back into the Virtues' favor; together the two, both filled with misguided single-minded righteous fervor, struck fear into many of the fallen, and Astarte sank deeper into cold heartlesness.

In time, Astarte and Urukbaramael laid plans to sack the infernal lair of the terrible Chromatic Dragon, Tiamat, the Lord of the First at the time. Normally such a campaign would have failed, but the fallen hosts of the two caught the Lord of the First unawares. Together, Astarte and Urukbaramael stormed the Caverns of Greed; fighting her way past Tiamat's five draconic consorts and to the Great Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Astarte laid waste to Tiamat's guard, withstood her foul spells and the attacks of her vile breath, and brought her sword to bear while Urukbaramael kept a pair of Tiamat's Dukes at bay. She lifted her sword into the air and prepared to plunge the enchanted blade into the Lord of the First's blackened heart - until a terrible row split the air, fire engulfed the hoard-room, and the face of Asmodeus himself appeared before Astarte.

While Urukbaramael, the Dukes of Avernus, and even the Chromatic Dragon herself cowered at the horrible sight, Asmodeus told Astarte that if she would let Tiamat live, he would anoint her as the new Lord of the First Hell. Astarte considered the proposition for a moment - and accepted. As the diabolic power of the King of Hell transformed her, she left behind any pretense of loyalty to the Supreme Virtue and Heaven; as she took her place in the Great Machine of Hell, the last scraps of goodness left in her disappated. She was now a devil.

Asmodeus left Tiamat and her brood to guard the passage into Hell from her dragonspawn pits, and Astarte, with Urukbaramael at her side as her consort and right hand, began to establish herself as the new Warlord of Avernus, ruling from her Bronze Citadel. Part of her agreement with Asmodeus was that she continue to keep the fallen angels under check, a task she found much easier now that she had Tiamat's legions of devils as well as her own host of "loyal" fallen angels at her beck and call. Urukbaramael gladly led her armies, torturing and destroying his fellow fallen. So terrible was the dark army of Astarte that the fallen dubbed her the Lady of Destruction, a title that stuck with her among the rest of the diabolic hierarchy.

The other Archdevils - especially the former celestials Belial, Moloch, and Beelzebub, who resented her for her original purpose in Hell - were quick to label Astarte an upstart, but she cared not. She had no allies among the fiends besides Urukbaramael. The only other entity in Hell with whom she had nonagressive contact was the goblin deity Bargrivyek, whose dogma of strength and unity against the dissident she respected. It was not uncommon for Zariel to send a small detatchment of devils and fallen angels from time to time to aid Bargrivyek's goblins and hobgoblins in their raids against Draukari, the realm of his rival deity, Kurtulmak of the kobolds. In those times goblinoid ambassadors were frequently stationed in the Bronze Citadel, and fiendish emmisaries made their residence in Bargrivyek's spectacularly misnamed realm, the Peaceable Lands.

Outside of Hell, Astarte had contact, aggressive or otherwise, with even fewer entities. Only one being cared about her appearance in Hell: the fertility-goddess Ashera of the Canaanite pantheon. Using the similarities between their names as a stepping-board, the cold-hearted Astarte took the opportunity to establish a few cults by subverting Ashera's worshipers; but since Astarte was under the protection of the Overlord of Hell, Ashera could do nothing about it. (Interestingly, in a repetition of history, Astarte's successor Bael would take advantage of a similar situation by usurping worshipers of Ashera's consort, the great thunder-god Baal; both devils contributed to the tragic villainization of the Canaanite pantheon.)

By no means did her lack of political ties did not stop Astarte from scheming against her fellow Lords of the Nine. She placed numerous spies in the courts of Dispater and Mammon, and had designs of conquering Dis (a notion which the other Lords found laughable). She reserved special hatred for Great Belial and the Lord of the Flies for reasons she no longer cared about, and laid countless plans to undo the two fallen angels. She paid little attention to the Blood War, focusing her attention on routing the fallen on Avernus; she left the front against the demons of the Abyss to her pit fiend general, the devil known as Bael.

When the civil war later to be known as the Dies Irae swept across the Hells, Astarte allied with Beelzebub, Belial, Moloch, and Mammon mostly to keep an eye on the four; she could not have forseen the outcome of that decision. When it seemed that the infernal hosts of Beelzebub and Mephistopheles would actually defeat Asmodeus, Astarte left the Bronze Citadel and made haste to Nessus with the other five Lords to witness the spectacle - and then Geryon sounded the signal and the armies of the Lords all turned against their masters. So the Reckoning of the Dies Irae came to pass.

For reasons still poorly understood, the King of Hell reinstated all of the Lords save Geryon (his only loyal vassal among the Nine) and Moloch (who foolishly challenged Asmodeus for lordship again shortly after), who were replaced by Leviathan and Lilith respectively. Astarte returned to her Bronze Citadel humiliated, with nothing but her newly kindled hatred for Asmodeus occupying her mind. If the Reckoning taught the devil Geryon the worthlesness of blind trust in Hell, it taught Astarte not to ignore the sovreignity of the Dark Lord.

After the Reckoning, the Lady of Destruction lived up to her name more than ever, wantonly laying waste to fallen angels, invading demons and yugoloths, and rogue devils alike. Her consort Urukbaramael was disturbed by what he saw. He, at least, had hopes of returning to Heaven; it was his monstrously cruel methods that kept him in Hell. He recognized that Astarte now had no purpose whatsoever, and resentment grew in his heart for his mistress. When at last her general Bael swept into the Bronze Citadel, his aim to usurp the Lordship of Avernus, Urukbaramael willingly let him into Astarte's throne room, looked on apathetically while his one-time mistress was routed, and then left to pursue his own twisted agendas in Avernus once again.

In the battle that ensued, Bael fought his way past Astarte's defenses in much the same way Astarte had fought past Tiamat's. Bael's ferocious onslaught surprised her: although she was perhaps the dullest of the Lords of the Nine, it quickly occured to Astarte that the King of Hell was setting his will against her. She fought Bael like a titan enraged, but in the end it was futile, and the pit fiend subdued her.

In a coup well-known throughout the planes, Bael imprisoned Astarte in a chamber beneath her throne - now his throne - and began siphoning off her power. Her Lordship stripped from her and given to Bael, Astarte could not hope to escape from the Warlord's snares. Still she fights Bael's magic with hers, but to no avail: unless Asmodeus himself sees fit to release her, there is no hope left for the fallen angel Astarte.

As already noted, a few scattered cults once existed that devoted themselves to Astarte, focusing on prolonging unjust wars and destruction, but upon his ascension, Bael saw to it that they were destroyed, generally by sending his devils to quash his prisoner's supporters.

In her prime in Heaven, Astarte was a beautiful yet powerful creature fourteen feet in height, with shining golden skin and flowing black hair; golden light shone from her eyes. Her beautiful appearance did not change with her ascension to Lordship - except for the loss of her wings, which simply disappeared. Over her years in Hell, however, her countenance grew weary and haggard, her hair turned gray, and the light in her eyes died. Now, held immobile in a chamber within Bael's fortress, she presents a stark figure in tarnished silver armor with dead gray eyes that stares down upon would-be visitors. She can still speak and use most of her spell-like abilities, but otherwise she cannot move (and so cannot cast spells with somatic or material components, etc.).