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Sort of a progress report on my celebration of Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea in the form of a developing variant using Heroquest 2 Core , with editorial comments and occasional design notes.

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Yelm's Light

I'm now into the phase that's the least work but likely to be the most time-consuming:  legal inquiries.  I have to do them in a certain order for a number of reasons, and every one of them is a potential obstacle.  So I wait impatiently for a reply before I can move on to a resolution.  There's not much point in doing the actual writing until that's all cleared.

Meanwhile, I'm working on peripheral things, like assigning and coordinating keywords and abilities...which brings me to a big issue with HQ2 Core.  Character creation is too generalized; there are all kinds of options for abilities but not a lot of guidance.  If you happen to have played HQ1 or HQG, there's a structure that is missing with Core.  I get why it's that way; abilities tend to rely on the setting, and Core is supposed to be able to cover any setting.  But it's a high bar for newbies, especially if there's no one who has experience with the game in its more specific forms.  Occupation and cultural keywords provide that kind of framework, so that you end up with a modular character that's still plenty customizable.

To provide a bit of a teaser:  magic, being the lifeblood of Earthsea,  will have its own specialized framework, primarily having to do with wizardry.  This is a consequence of the system presented in the books.  It's going to be like yet unlike the schools in HQ1; for one thing, there's only one school and one system in Earthsea, although there are other avenues of magic (chiefly the Old Powers).  There will also be a plethora of occupational keywords, so you won't have to be locked in to playing a wizard.

That's about all there is to report at this point...except that I'm revising my theory in the last post to Segoy meaning parent instead of father, given the generally indeterminate gender of dragons.  More news as it occurs.

Yelm's Light

Research is finally complete, to the tune of 183 pages of notes.  Well, mostly.  Now that I have the basis, I'm going to check out some of the wikis to see if they have anything interesting or unique to add.  The synthesis begins.

I realized in researching the last book that I was missing the two stories that were the germs of Earthsea, The Word of Unbinding and The Rule of Names, both from Le Guin's short story collection, The Wind's Twelve Quarters, which is basically a sort of retrospective of her first decade of published work.  (I happened to have that book as well, primarily because when I find an author that I really like I tend to buy up everything that I can get my hands on that they've ever written.)  Unfortunately, they have a much different tone than the Earthsea series, and some of the rules of magic are in flat contradiction to the later books.  So I read and discarded them; there's really nothing in there that I find that bears on the setting that isn't already better explained and executed later.

This brings me to a question that cropped up while I researched the last few books.  While there are things that Le Guin meant to be mysteries from the beginning, there's one issue that nags at me.  It has to do with Segoy, the Creator.  In the very useful appendix to Tales From Earthsea, where she gives a great deal of background for the world itself, there's a small section relating to Segoy which is as inconclusive as it is unsatisfying (to me).  The logic is a bit complex, but bear with me.  Let me quote the relevant statements here, interspersed with my own comments.  Note:  I've omitted page references because of the differences in various editions, using somewhat less specific but indicative ones.



"Its [The Creation of Ea's] thirty-one stanzas tell how Segoy raised the islands of Earthsea in the beginning of time and made all beings by naming them in the Language of Making - the language in which the poem was first spoken."

(from 'The Beginnings' section in 'A Description of Earthsea,' in Tales From Earthsea)

So there is no being before Segoy, whether he is a being or not.  (I'll use the general pronoun, with the understanding that gender is inconclusive or even inapplicable.)



"It may be that Segoy is or was one of the Old Powers of the Earth.  It may be that Segoy is a name for the Earth itself.  Some think all dragons, or certain dragons, or certain people, are manifestations of Segoy.  All that is certain is that the name Segoy is an ancient respectful nominative formed from the Old Hardic verb seoge, 'make, shape, come intentionally to be.'  From the same root comes the noun esege, 'creative force, breath, poetry.'"

(from 'The Beginnings' section in 'A Description of Earthsea,' in Tales From Earthsea)

Here we come to multiple ambiguities.  If Segoy  is an Old Power, he must be the first, since there are no Old Powers of the Earth that aren't connected to one of the islands, unless you count the sea itself, which isn't in the mold of the other Old Powers.  I don't find the supposition that Segoy is another name for the Earth particularly compelling either, but it's not germane to the issue I want to deal with.  As for 'what is certain,' I don't find it certain at all:



"'Tehanu,' the dragon said.

The child turned to look at it.

'Kalessin,' she said.

Then Ged, who had remained kneeling, stood up, though shakily, catching Tenar's arm to steady himself.  He laughed.  'Now I know who called thee, Eldest!' he said.

'I did,' the child said. ' I did not know what else to do, Segoy.'

She still looked at the dragon, and she spoke in the language of the dragons, the words of the Making.

(from the chapter 'Tehanu' in Tehanu)

If Tehanu calls Kalessin 'Segoy' in the Language of the Making, at best the etymology is the reverse:  that the Old Hardic words are a derivation of the name Segoy.



"'My name was Irian, of the Domain of Old Iria on Way.  I am Orm Irian now.  Kalessin, the Eldest, calls me daughter.  I am sister to Orm Embar, whom the king knew, and grandchild of Orm, who killed the king's companion Erreth-Akbe and was killed by him.  I am here because my sister Tehanu called me.'"

(from the chapter 'The Dragon Council' in The Other Wind)

Assuming that the familial references are literal, Kalessin, being the son of Orm, cannot possibly be the Segoy, since Segoy was before all beings.  This leaves us with the assertion that Segoy is an ancient, respectful nominative, and brings me to my contention:  that Segoy is the word for Father in the Language of Making.  Segoy is the Creator, the Father of all...and Tehanu calls Kalessin Father because it is literally so.  (One wonders how that works out, since Tehanu is one of the 'winged people' and Kalessin is a dragon, but Tehanu's true origin is shrouded in mystery.)

The reason I bring this up is that it will definitely appear in the variant...so, does anyone have any counterarguments?  Is there some logic I'm missing or that is fallacious, or do you have other interpretations?

Yelm's Light

Five books down, only one left to research:  The Other Wind.  The light approaches.  After having increased the margins to make hunting for entries faster (and thus reducing the total number of pages by about 15%), the notes still grew to over 140 pages.  Tales From Earthsea has by far the most notes of any of the books.

Alright, so why am I doing this research, anyway, if there are numerous wikis out there on Earthsea?  Well, I'm glad I asked. :)  Three main reasons:  first, I didn't want somebody else's filtering getting in the way of the content.  Second, I've read entries from a few of them, and none provides much of the information that would be useful in RP'ing, that the books do:  physical description, motivations, mannerisms, etc.  Mostly the wikis are about history, "X did this, then he/she did that."  Or "X was Master of Underwater Basketweaving."  Finally, it immerses me in the world to an extent that wikis just can't, so that I have the proper mindset when I start writing.

OK, now for some ground rules.  You've all read the books, right?  Good.

About true names:  in keeping with the practice in the books, the only true names that will be used in the variant itself will be a small selection of names of objects or animals so that GM's can have some kind of baseline to extrapolate other names, and those personalities whose true names are public knowledge (Lebannen, some dragons, the old Kings/queens).  If they really want the other names, enterprising wizards (and GM's) can go through the lore-books.  Of course, sneaky bastage that I am, I have a master list of names.  (I never quite got why kings would want their true names bandied about; it seems like a security risk to me, at the very least.  They're not that well-protected, especially in a world chock full of mages.)

Next is physical combat.  I think there are a total of three such fights in all the books, excepting the last, which I haven't gotten to yet.  While occasional mass battles or dragon-on-wizard violence are mentioned in passing, none of the stories focuses on any kind of melee, or archery, for that matter.  Magical duels are much more common; even wizards' staffs aren't used to beat on people, other than the occasional recalcitrant student.  So the rules will tend to work accordingly.  Besides, a warrior isn't going to be much good when the mage he's fighting binds him.

There is one type of magic (wizardry), not three as in Glorantha.  The two examples of organized religion, both Kargish, are about temporal power and politics; there's no evidence in the stories that any magic derives from them other than calling the Old Powers in particular ways, and they're limited to the proximity of the Power.  Theism otherwise is dead except for the semi-pagan rites of the Long Dance and Sunreturn, and they don't seem to have much practical or spell-like effect.  They're more a way of retaining and passing on the oral history of the world.  Spirits don't play the same role as they do in Glorantha, either; they generally don't have much effect in the physical world other than informationally.  And witchery is just a weaker offshoot of wizardry.

So that's where I am right now; at this point I only have general impressions rules-wise, since most of my effort has been doing research...and the dull brain which it tends to engender.  Once that's finally done I'll be able to apply more brainpower to synthesis.

Yelm's Light


So...a few weeks ago I learned that one of the seminal fantasy authors, Ursula Kroeber Le Guin, had passed on into other realms.  Earthsea being one of my early fantasy influences, and never having done much with it other than reading it, I determined to create a campaign using the setting.  Doing some preliminary research, I soon realized that the Heroquest 2 core rules would be a fine system with which to run the game, and would eliminate a lot of time spent in reinventing the wheel just to be able to play it.  Now I'm around 800 pages into the initial research phase, with over 100 pages of notes.  Suffice it to say that there will be no shortage of material for this project.  It balloons beyond where I thought it would go.

But that's putting the cart slightly before the horse.  Let's go back into the mists of time to the '70's, the land of disco (bleh), Rocky, the Bicentennial, gas lines, and Watergate.  My father was an avid reader, and, like many readers he was a packrat.  He had stackable strawberry crates filled with paperbacks, including fantasy, mythology, fiction and nonfiction, sci fi, and a veritable library of the sci fi periodicals...Analog, IASFM, that sort of thing.  (Not particularly good for preventing aging, but then the books weren't nearly that old then.)  And, of course, he had a full set of Tolkien's books from The Hobbit to The Silmarillion.  One week I was home from school, in sixth grade or so, I think, with chickenpox.  Feeling like crap and having nothing better to do, I rummaged through his boxes and pulled out his Tolkien books and, in the space of that week I'd read them all.  Thus began my fascination with reading, and fantasy and sci fi in particular.  I was soon devouring every book in sight.

Flash forward a few years.   My grandparents had given me the princely sum of $150 for my birthday (it really went a long way then, especially for a teenager).  As far as I can remember, it's the first time I'd ever even held more than a $20 bill in my hand.  So what did I do?  I blew it.  Only I blew it on something that would last...mostly, books which would become the core of my fantasy collection.  There was a bookstore about a half mile from home, and I walked back with a large box filled with paperbacks, some new, some used.  Stephen R. Donaldson, Roger Zelazny, Fritz Leiber, Piers Anthony, Michael Moorcock, Robert Silverberg, Robert E. Howard, Anne McCaffrey, Patricia A. McKillip...  I still have most of them in somewhat less open-to-the air boxes, or replaced some of the more treasured ones with hardback collections.  And among them there was a set of three thin, grey books with interesting art and enticingly simple but evocative and thought-provoking storytelling.  You guessed it, the Earthsea trilogy.  I read and reread them over time, as I occasionally do with my favorites.  This was roughly the time that my interest in RPG's developed, as sort of a natural offshoot of my reading.  But I wouldn't do anything with this particular combination for 40 years.

Back to the present.  Having decided on a course of action, I hunted the internet to ensure that there weren't any books that I was missing.  I went rummaging through my book boxes for the trilogy, and the few continuations that Ms. Le Guin wrote later.  This was a project in itself; I have a lot of books and, though they're categorized and the boxes marked, I still had to dig through stacks of boxes to get at them.  It took me several hours to find them all, mostly because there was a book of short stories (Tales from Earthsea) that I knew existed but wasn't with the rest for some reason.  Which brings up another interesting vignette.  I finally found that book sitting with some others in a box, all of them in mint condition.  (In my collection, if a paperback is in mint condition, it means I haven't read it.)  As nearly as I can figure it, I bought those books on one of my occasional binges to replenish my reading list, and moved soon after.  The books went into a packing box and I forgot about them, and there they've sat for over 15 years.  You can imagine my delight at finding an unremembered and unread gem.  I'm just opening it now for the research, and am looking forward to exploring new territory.  As it turns out, that short-story book looks to be the most important to the project; it has a fair bit of background material that Ms. Le Guin wrote in working on the newer novels.

And now, a note about research.  There is no more drudge-like drudge work.  Book to word processor, back to book, back to word processor...  It does tend to limit my enjoyment in reading this time.   The fun stuff won't really come until later, when I integrate the notes with the system.  But work is work, a set of obstacles to be pushed through.  Part of the motivation for this blog is that if I write about it, and people read it, it puts an onus on me not to procrastinate or, worse, let things go altogether.  So, that's where I am right now.  Further entries will touch on processes, difficulties, and other related things.

Reader beware:  Here there be spoilers.  If you haven't read the books yet, and have enough interest to be reading this blog, shut down your computer, get into your car or go to Amazon or whatever your favorite online bookseller is, buy them, and read them... and wait until then to look at any future entries of mine.

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