Z – Zeveult

The Zeveult were a race of reptilian evil overlords who served as something of an arch-badguy in the Sassanid Cluster in the interstellar RPG Hyperspeed. The Zeveult are pretty bad dudes. Hyperspeed’s 3rd campaign, the Sassanid Cluster, features a very large spiralled star cluster that is ruled over by the evil Zeveult empire. Many of the ‘friendly’ races from other campaigns, such as the Fel (cute bluish green elephant people), the Trajan (intelligent lady-bugs), and several others that I cannot remember by name, are all ‘slave’ peoples, subjegated by the Zeveult. The Zeveult use as their enforcers a race of Rhino-men called the Rill, whose ships are giant can-openers, and will tear you a new one in no time at all.

The Zeveult come in two distinct varieties. Your run-of-the-mill Zeveult, who oversee the administrative tasks of ruling the galaxy with an iron fist, managing mooks, and doling out egregious punishment to the slave races, mostly resemble the Draconians from Dragonlance. Mean, toothy lizard people with something of a mouth on them. They’re polite enough so long as you express absolute subserviance to them, but the second you cross, or even mildly disappoint them, look forward to a bootheel on your neck. The other variety of Zeveult are the mystic and mysterious Arch-Zeveult, who are found on the Zeveult homeworlds. The Arch-Zeveult are more like chinese dragons and (possibly) have magic powers. They are very wise and cunning, and some of that wisdom may mask the evil of these philospher kings. They are far more affable than their lesser cousins, and their rewards for obedience are much greater. That does not make them any less dangerous or any less evil. The Sassanid Galaxy is theirs, and they know there is (nearly) nothing you can do to stop them.

Scan of back of box from www.planetmic.com.  The Arch Zeveult is that dragon guy with the crystal ball down there in the lower right.

Scan of back of box from http://www.planetmic.com. The Arch Zeveult is that dragon guy with the crystal ball down there in the lower right.

There are really only two ways that you can win in the Sassanid Cluster. Now, winning in Hyperspeed is based on gathering enough of the four core resources (metal, organics, water, and radiation*) and finding a habitable world that can be terraformed in advance of the arrival of the human colonists. You’re also, supposedly, trying to make the cluster a ‘safer’ place for humanity, but I could never determine how the cluster’s political landscape at the end of the game actually affected the ending you got. For instance, the easiest way to win the Ragnarok Cluster scenario was to befriend the Automata and the other supporters of “the Great Plan” (a plan to combat entropy by hitting the galactic reset button with another big bang; being Robots, the Automata are really taking the long view of things), and I got a good ending. Oops, sorry. Tangent Winning Sassanid:

-Being a Puppet of the Zeveult. You’re really going to be in it for the long haul, playing as a really bad guy here. Do it for too long, and you’ll be unable to choose any other route, as all of the slave races will come to hate you and refuse to deal with you. The Zeveult will ask you to act as their enforcer to punish disobedient slaves, generally in the form of intercepting and destroying ships in hyperspace belonging to the slave races. Sometimes, they will even ask you to destroy entire starbases (which in-game also means destruction of the world, sometimes the entire race). After each successful mission for the Zeveult, you’ll be given a trade permit. The Rill will ONLY trade with you if you have a permit. You can also exchange a permit for the resource of your choice. I don’t remember what the missions and rewards from the Arch-Zeveult were. Regardless, this is a long, arduous and bloody road to making a ‘safe’ slave colony for the humans to serve the Zeveult from. Also, it should be mentioned that the Rill don’t care whether you’re a bagman for the Zeveult or not, they’ll still pull you out hyperspace just for a laugh and carve you up.

-Kick the Zeveult’s ass. You are a big damn hero with a big damn spaceship. This one is hard, and it’s kind of a long-shot. You mess this up, you’re not going to get another chance. Well, you’ll get one last chance, but it won’t be a very good one. First you need to know that the Arch-Zeveult have nigh invincible shield generators, and your missiles can’t do enough damage on their own to destroy their star bases. You’re going to need a bigger gun. Enter the Collectors. The Collectors are mysterious quasi-pirate race who maintain the “Museum of Everything”. They have what you need to power-up your cannon, you have some sweet technology they’ve never seen before. First, they ask you for some missiles. This is fine, because you can always get more missiles from your home base. Second, they want your ship. They liked your missiles well enough to trade with you the first time, but if you want the gun, you’re going to have to give them your ship. Again, this is fine (kind of) since you can get more ships from your home base. You’re expected to leave your ship with them, return home in your hyperspeed escape pod, and come back to get the gun for your new ship. From here on out, things get REALLY tricky. If your gun’s upgraded component gets damaged or you lose your ship at any point here, you will need to get another ship and another gun component; the only way to get a second upgraded gun component is to give the collectors your base (no new ships, no free fuel refills, no new missiles; this is a bad deal) or beat the Collectors and hope you get some really nice stuff in the salvage (you always do) and hope that the rest of your ship is in working condition. Also, let me say that there is nothing more frustrating than collecting your gun upgrade for the first time and then immediately getting attacked by a Collector scavenger cube on your way to the real enemy.

You’ve got your new big gun, it’s time bring it. This gun is a beast. One by one, the Zeveult homeworlds fall, and their massive wealth of resources are yours for the taking. With their elder dragon emperors dead, the regular Zeveult cower at your arrival. They beg for mercy, and you can send them packing. Literally. World by world, you can banish them from galaxy. The freed slave races will hail you as a saviour and ally themselves with humanity. A winner is you!

Z – Zeta Gundam (but not actually)

Born in Shadow suggested that I make Zeta Gundam my post for Z. The problem is, there’s nothing I could say that Born in Shadow hasn’t already said better.

Except for a warning to those who want to check it out. Don’t get the US DVD release: it’s got a garbage translation, it doesn’t have Neil Sedaka’s awesome theme music, and the names, which had been fairly standard in the fan community and in video games for 20 years, get all mucked up. They couldn’t get the original US dub VAs back, either, but whether or not that’s a bad thing is debatable. Also, despite this being the best Giant Robot Anime Ever Made in the history of forever and there will never be another Giant Robot Anime to ever come close to being as awesome as Zeta Gundam (with maybe the exception of Gurren Lagann), you should be warned that it ends on a cliff-hanger, with the story picked up right where it was left off by its sequel ZZ Gundam, which was absolutely terrible. “Surely it can’t be that bad, I mean, it’s the sequel to Zeta Gundam!” You’re wrong. Whatever is the worst you can imagine, it’s worse. The characters who didn’t die in Zeta Gundam get relegated to second class comic relief characters, and the characters who did die get replaced by a team of Power Rangers. The first major villain pilots a garbage mech made of garbage. It only goes downhill from there.

If you can accept the catharsis of an open ending and are content to deduce the events occuring between Zeta Gundam and Char’s Counter Attack for yourself (it’s not hard) you will be much better off.  Don’t let ZZ being terrible discourage you!

Anyway, my real A-to-Z post for “Z” will be up later today!

Colossal Equipment and the Castle of Otranto

There are not enough roles for colossal sized weaponry and equipment in D&D. I need to find ways to work Castle of Otranto into a game somehow. For those unfamiliar, Castle of Otranto is an early Gothic Romance in which an evil prince and his family are under the curse of a castle’s rightful owner. The first rather unsubtle foreshadowing of this family’s doom is a colossal helmet which falls from the sky, crushing the son of the evil prince who was to be married that day. The evil prince goes completely mad, and hatches a cockamamey scheme whose cockamamousity serves to illustrate his evil madness: the castle is his so long as he has a male heir to pass it to; his son was about to marry the daughter of the last living relative with a direct claim to castle; all he has to do is divorce his wife and marry the princess who would have been his daughter-in-law, had not the Helm of Alfonso the Good dealt his son 100d6 crushing damage on the day of his wedding. The evil prince Manfred’s scheme is thwarted when the princess is having none of his shennanigans and escapes with the help of a peasant lad. To exacerbate things, the princess’s family shows up the next day to reclaim her, carrying in their retinue a giant sword that takes 100 men to carry. All this is part of a weird prophecy about the castle’s rightful own returning when he is grown large enough to fill it. The short version is the peasant is the long-lost grandson of Alfonso the Good, Manfred kills his daughter that the peasant had fallen in love with (which also ironically foils his plan to save the castle from destruction by uniting his house with the rightful owners by marriage) because thinks she was the princess who was running from them, and the ghost of Alfonso knocks the castle over and acknowledges the peasant as his heir.

I have a few ideas of what I can do with this, but it will definitely be an ‘end-game’ scenario. Probably leading to the ultimate destruction of the ‘home base’ of the characters, through the fault of either its lord or the heroes’ patron. It will probably come out of left field. Ooh, yes! I just figured out how to work it in! Mwahahahaha!

X – X-Men

X-Men does not make sense in a unified Marvel Universe. X-Men is a big broken aesop about how it’s wrong to discriminate, and mutant civil rights are conflated with minority civil rights (or, even worse, gay civil rights) as part of a big meta-narrative argument for why it’s wrong to fear people who are different. There are two major ways in which this falls apart. You can’t equate mutants with blacks or hispanics or whatever, because most blacks and hispanics don’t have the inborn ability melt a city block with the snap of their fingers. People aren’t scared of mutants because they’re different, they’re scared of mutants because they go flying zapping things with energy beams. People of different colors are more or less the same, y’know, we think, we feel, we have families, we do not have super powers.

Secondly, what is with people being okay with people who mutated after they were born to get super powers? It’s this second point that makes the unified Marvel Universe kind of stupid. Mutants are born with super powers. Sometimes these powers are dangerous, sometimes they’re lame. Regardless of their powers, everyone is all “Oh, noes, the mutants! I’m scared that my suburban living will be disrupted by their existence!” Never mind the fact that it usually is. (“Well, if there weren’t mutants running around, maybe mutants wouldn’t have blown up the _______!” The strawmen have a point.) But enter the Fantastic Four or Spiderman or some other guy who got his powers in a radioactive accident (hey, don’t those cause mutations?), everyone is all “Oh, they’re so great! They’re wonderful! Scientists, philanthrophists, blah blah blah!” Never mind that they’re for all intents and purposes exactly the same as people who are born with their powers.

So, yeah, it makes no sense to have a world where everyone hates people with super powers, except if they were not born with them.

Akai Katana is a Lazy Garbage Game

I don’t get how this game got such great reviews. As bullet-hell games go, there really aren’t that many bullets going on here. Despite the promises of “beautiful bullet paterns”, I feel like I don’t need more than both hands to count the times they showed up. It looks like it was made a decade ago; like a Raiden (which is a much better game) with a more muted palette. The surprising thing is that this game is by Cave, and Deathsmiles, which came out a few years before this, was a much prettier game with more solid mechanics.

I guess I’m just spoiled by playing the Touhou games. Or maybe I just like games with WAY more bullets and more elaborate patterns. Also, I feel like Akai Katana was maybe 1/3 as long as the average Touhou game, too. Good thing my girlfriend picked up it from the library instead of actually having to pay for it.


And speaking of garbage games, the legends are true!  ET Cartridges have been discovered in the deserts near Alamogordo!

W – Windir

I didn’t have time to write anything for W, so, uh…  Here’s a Windir album on youtube that I scheduled yesterday.

Of note, originally I was going to write something about weather, so it bears mentioning that Windir is no more because Valfar died after being caught in a snow-storm in the Sogndal Valley in the dead of winter…

V – Varg Vikernes

Fantasy has always had big impact on metal, and metal has had a big impact on fantasy. But so rarely have the two been joined so integrally as by Varg Vikernes. Sure Summoning, which is a great band, may put out album after album of (often obscurely) Tolkien themed black metal, but at the early forefront of the movement was Varg. While many of the other black metal bands had ‘cool’ ‘evil-sounding’ names in English, Burzum stood out. Meaning ‘Darkness’ in the Black Tongue of Mordor, Burzum was the brainchild of its sole member, ‘Count Grishnakh’, whose name was also an obscure lord of the rings reference. The project sprung out of an earlier effort, Uruk-hai, but beyond and apart from singing songs about elves and hobbits, as most metal bands are wont to do, Burzum explored the black and white morality presented in Tolkien’s world as it could be applied to the real world, viewing it through the lens of his own unique brand of Norse pagan nationalism.

Tolkien’s Middle Earth is a setting heavily influenced by old English and Scandinavian culture and mythology. However because he was a Christian writer essentially writing morality tales for a Christian audience, his cultures tended to be rather flat morally, which could be seen as a bowdlerization of the peoples from whom they were derived. His Orcs were uniformly evil, and his Men of the East were all barbarous, vile and amoral; a traditional view of less civilized pre-Christianized warrior societies and cultures.

For Varg, darkness represented the adventure to be had in the world, and when the light had purged that darkness, society would become decadent for that lack of adventure. Recall for a moment, how little of any import or interest happens in the 4th age; though it may be Middle Earth’s ‘happily ever after’, there is something sad about Sam all alone in his final days, looking to the west. In a more real-world sense, Varg explores the ideas of an ancient world that has been purged and homogenized by Christianity. The old ways and ancient culture is inevitably lost. It’s a recurring theme in fantasy, the departure of magic from the world. From the exodus of Dunsany’s Magician in the Charwoman’s Shadow to the last desperate attempt to stop the march of man’s progress by the Woodsy Lord in Thief, fantasy is filled with stories of a world diminished by the absence of these things. Man creates light to push back the darkness, because man fears the dark. But that is where the magic is.

Over his long career, he has recorded several albums that run quite the range of genre and style, never easy to peg down. His stuff gets lumped in with Black Metal because of the time in which Burzum was recording and individuals associated with him, though he has distanced himself from the movement and scene which he was never actively a part of.

This track from the album Hvis Lyset Tar Oss (If the Light Takes Us) is quintessential black metal, provided you like keyboards in your black metal:

This track from Filosofem is more along the lines of (oldschool) industrial metal:

This track from Daudi Baldrs (The Death of Baldr), which was recorded while in prison (for the slaying of Øystein Aarseth, who had concocted an elaborate plan to murder Vikernes, in self-defense), is something else entirely.

If I ever get around to playing Daggerfall again, I fully intend to go through with my plan to swap out the original sound files for the Daudi Baldrs album.  As a fellow fan of the Elder Scrolls, I think he might be able to appreciate that.

After being released from prison, he put out a pair of excellent metally albums, but has been on a much more experimental bent the last few years with Umskiptar (neo-folk with some heavier elements) and Sol Austan, Mani Vestan, which admittedly reminds me a lot of the stuff I was doing with Medicide before I had my mid-life crisis.

There are plenty of reasons you can find to not like Varg or to discount his body of work, but I won’t go into them here. You can do your homework and come to your own conclusions. As for me, I’ve found that despite any disagreement, qualms or whatnot, I’ve found his output incredibly enjoyable and excellent inspirational material for fantasy settings. Oh, yeah, and have I mentioned he’s working on an RPG? MYFAROG.org. You can find a lot of his thoughts on music, gaming and other things at Burzum.org.   He regularly blogs about religion and survivalism over at Thulean Perspective over on the blog-list there.