Friday, March 1, 2013

Noms from the Bistro Californium

A German adaptation of In Viriconium
Flying from Albany to DC, I finally read through In Viriconium and the associated short stories by M. John Harrison. I'd read the first two Viriconium books, The Pastel City and A Storm of Wings, after my first go-around at the bar, but misplaced the omnibus during the move and hadn't had a chance to get to it again until now.

I will admit flat out that I didn't quite understand In Viriconium, at least in this first read. The individual scenes are there, I can point to how the characters move from point A to B to C, but it hasn't clicked for me as a unified story or a novel yet. I'll give it a second read in a while, I suspect - I had a similar thing happen to me with Lord of Light, when I read it several years ago.

The wonderful thing for me, though, was seeing the common threads dealt out in the various stories. The Pastel City sets out the basic components - Swordsman, Dwarf, Cellur, Viriconium Endangered - and tells a basic story. A Storm of Wings takes those same elements, shifts them around slightly, and tells a far more brainmeltier and interesting story, but one that follows on from the themes brought out in the first. Then In Viriconium takes the themes and elements and sets them at a 35 degree angle from their original point, while the short stories take the components and redeal them in small segments, like small readings from a tarot deck.

Anyway. A few D&D items came to mind from the books. This is a relatively boring thing to take from the books, with the far more interesting components being the ideas and feel of the novels. Perhaps in some ways this is even going against the spirit of the novels, given the rejection of a clearly defined and codified setting. I mean you do have Harrison quotes like this: "Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unneccessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader's ability to fulfil their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done." But screw it, here are some items anyway.

From Ian Miller's illustration of The Luck in the Head
Baan / Forceknife: These weapons range from knives to shortswords in size; glowing a thin blue when activated and making a whining hum, they ignore all armor bonuses and deal 1d8+2 damage. A baan can cut through any mundane material. When a baan is activated, roll a d8; on an 8+, the baan will run out of energy after the fight or use in question. Add 1 to the roll for each time beyond the first a baan is activated in a day.

Fulthor's Armor: This set of banded mail +1 emits a dull, pulsating blood-red glow. The strange joints make it uncomfortable for most wearers, giving them a -1 to their Dexterity and a -1 penalty to attack rolls. If the wearer encounters something technological or suitably ancient, roll a d20. On a 16+ the wearer understands the device's function and some of how to activate it; on a 2-4 the wearer goes into reverie for 1d6 hours, and on a 1 they enter reverie for 1d4 days. In the state of reverie, the wearer is locked into visions of the past and must babble unintelligibly about what they see. They can be led about, and can somehow fend for themselves in combat, but ohhh, it's going to be a long and frustrating time.

Iron Wife: This is a series of metal "bones," forming a second skeleton about the wearer. The Iron Wife rises to about 11 feet high; it is treated as the equivalent of plate mail, and its wearer's strength is raised to 18. The Iron Wife takes 30 minutes to power up from a cold start. Each hour of operation, the wearer needs to make an Int check to keep operating the Iron Wife. For every month the wearer is exposed to the radiation leaking from the Iron Wife, they must save vs petrification/paralysis or take a -1 to all saves, cumulative until there is a -5 penalty.

Sword: This is a plain, unassuming sword of dark, almost black, steel. Its leather grip is darkened from sweat and age. It has no magical properties whatsoever.