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Game News Fallen Gods Update #5: Witches and Dwergs

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Infinitron, May 16, 2018.

  1. Infinitron I post news Patron

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    Tags: Fallen Gods; Mark Yohalem; Wormwood Studios

    In this month's Fallen Gods development update, Mark Yohalem describes two of the game's monstrous creatures - the witches and the dwergs. The latter are a more loathsome take on the traditional fantasy dwarf archetype codified by Tolkien. Indeed, before he begins the update proper, MRY engages in a long digression about how he constructed the Fallen Gods setting by tracing a path back to the original Norse sagas that inspired Tolkien and going back down another route to create a sort of parallel interpretation. But there's no room for that here, so I'll get straight to business. Meet the witches:

    The witches of European folklore and fairytales are terrifying beings, but most of that terror has been lost over the centuries. Perhaps that’s for the best, given the awful historical consequences of that anti-witch hysteria. But it still seems to me that something has been lost when witches are relegated to buffoonery, as in the children’s books Room on the Broom or The Big Pumpkin.

    So thoroughly have witches been defanged that we are comfortable reading stories to children in which they do the most awful things. For instance, in the children’s classic Little Brother and Little Sister, a witch curses all the water in a forest so that if the runaway titular siblings (her step-children), desperately thirsty, drink from them, the brother will turn into a predatory beast and eat his sister. (Note for a moment that the title itself emphasizes that these are not merely children but little children.) The siblings last long enough to reach a stream that merely turns the brother into a stag, at which point he succumbs. Years later, after the king nearly kills the stag, he falls in love with the sister, marries her, and conceives a child with her. The witch then boils the sister alive and disguises her own hideous daughter to take the sister’s place in the royal marital bed. This is not a “children’s classic” in the sense that it’s buried away in the original Grimm Brothers’ collections; it was sold as a standalone read-aloud children’s book well into the 1980s.

    LB&LS encapsulates some (but not all) of essential “witchiness.” Witches strike at our most sacred institutions and most powerful taboos: the bonds of family (supplanting the children’s mother; attempting to cause a brother to kill his sister; interfering with the sister’s marriage and maternal relationship—the newborn must suckle from a ghost, presumably since the faux mother has no milk to give); the taboo against cannibalism (it is not enough to cause sororicide, it must be cannibal sororicide); the order of good governance (insinuating her witch-daughter onto the throne); the boundary between man and beast (dehumanizing the brother who not only loses his human shape but also his able to restrain himself by reason). Of course it’s just one story. I could cite Hansel and Gretel (caging children like animals and then eating them; enticing the children to eat sweets that, in at least some tellings such as Humperdinck’s opera, are made from other children) or Macbeth (spoiling Macbeth’s friendships, upending his marriage, and inciting civil war) or any number of other sources. Even the more quotidian crimes of witches (curdling milk in a cow’s udder or afflicting a maiden with acne) have a similar quality of attacking what is good, clean, wholesome, beloved, or holy precisely because it is good, clean, wholesome, beloved, or holy.

    As I talked about in a recent interview with Chris Picone, these same qualities in witches give them a kind of countercultural appeal. By defying social norms and by living beyond the margins of society (often in a cave, a forest, a swamp), they can occupy the role of an off-the-grid iconoclast or a gadfly. Whether the ones who first told the tales intended it or not, it’s hard not to read into them the sense that witches exploit our flaws when they strike at our virtues such that they are exposing, and punishing, our hypocrisy. For instance the same king who (1) is too stupid to notice that his beautiful bride (Little Sister) is now an ugly hag-daughter also (2) betrothed that bride at first sight in a hut in a forest knowing nothing about her. Has he not invited the possibility of being wedded to a witch? (In the Saga of the Volsungs, Byrnhild warns Sigurd against exactly such reckless behavior.) Is it not Hansel’s gluttony for sweets (and not just his hunger) that drives him and his sister into the witch’s clutches, and does this piggishness perhaps invite being roasted like a suckling for dinner?

    In Fallen Gods, we have tried to capture both halves of the witches. They are physically and magically powerful, vulgar, independent, and rich in hidden lore. They claim to be daughters of a “tenth sister”—the other Nine being the Singers who sang the world into its shape—devoted to thwarting orderly fate to create the chaos in which freedom can exist. (The association of witches with wyrd, fate, is an old one, that shows up not just in the modern usage of weird but in the Weird Sisters of Macbeth. The valkyries delivering the nightmarishly prophetic “Darraðarljóð” in Njal’s Saga (Brennu-Njáls saga) certainly seem like witches, too.) Because witches are defying an order that is very flawed, their defiance has a certain nobility to it. But they are ugly, evil creatures, and their help almost always involves the kind of fundamental wrongs discussed above.
    And the dwergs:

    Dwergs are our “dwarfs.” Their name is a rare instance in Fallen Gods in which we’ve used an obscure word where colloquial English retains an accurate Anglo-Saxon term. The reason, alluded to in asterisk-bracketed digression above, is that “dwarfs” and “dwarves” simply hold too powerful a connotation of stoic, stubborn, hard-drinking, brogued, axe-wielding, orc-bashing, underground-city-building nobility. English has held onto the old word but its modern meaning is strongly contrary to what I want to convey. “Dwerg” (from the Old English dweorg and Norse dvergr) can be recognized quickly enough and pronounced easily enough, but has just enough distance to let me dress it with different connotations.

    Dwergs were one of the first beings I “defined” for Fallen Gods, and they established my methodology for others. I started by looking for what seemed the essential qualities of mythological and folkloric dwarfs: they are small (though scholars question whether they were viewed as small when the myths were first told); they live underground; they covet gold and beautiful women; they are master craftsmen and cunning cowards. Notably (and lampooned in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptation), they seem to have no women. And, indeed, per the eddas, they were conceived without a woman’s involvement, directly from the dead (male) giant Ymir: either spawning spontaneously from his rotting flesh like maggots (in the Prose Edda) or being made from a mixture of his blood and bones (in the Poetic Edda).

    Even if it has become dissociated from dwarfs themselves, our culture routinely invokes the symbol of the ugly, stunted, sexually deprived, technically gifted, darkness dwelling social pariah who is belittled by, and bitterly plots his revenge against, handsome heroes and their beautiful paramours. For instance, how many times have people who enjoy computer games been reviled by their critics as unattractive nerds who live in their parents’ basements, doomed never to have a girlfriend? This is one of the milder examples for how this symbol is used as a weapon.

    The sum of these flaws is a being that is rightly unloved. This is vacuum so awful to basic decency that when it appears, we rush to fill it: witness the need to humanize those who seem least worthy of love (tyrants; serial killers; etc.). Norse dwarfs were never nursed by a mother; never kissed by a lover; never admired by a child. They live away from green, blue, and sunlight. The softest thing in their world is gold, and inevitably it is stolen from them. And before it’s stolen, they cut the gold from the earth, burn it in fire, strike it with hammers. They have brothers; their brothers kill them. They foster sons; their foster-sons kill them. And this is their just deserts, the myths and folklore teach us. Alone; unloved; cut off.

    So that is where we started with our dwergs: the lonely, bitter yearning of stunted beings beneath the earth. Our dwergs were born when the threefold goddess Karringar was killed and broken open. Inside her was the gold of the Golden Maiden (taken by Orm to make Skyhold); the iron of the Iron Crone (left to rust beneath the sleet and snow); and the quicksilver of the Silver Lord, which spilled to earth and begat the dwergs upon the dirt and rock.

    The moment of their birth was thus the moment at which they were separated, forever, from the mother and maiden they loved. They crave what they have lost, and clutch for it in gold (which they eat) and stolen maidens: This girl will never meet the need they feel, the half-crazed craving for their golden third—sister, lover, lost when the quicksilver seed spilled from Karringar’s shattered womb and spawned them in the filth. And when they work in iron and grovel before an iron-willed witch, it the fond approval of maternal love they want and will never get. For they are unloved, rightly, and in all their craft is bent, at bottom, on wrighting (not righting) wrongs: cursed gifts; wicked schemes; cruel traps; kidnappings and killings.
    As usual, a sample from the soundtrack is also included in the update. The next update sounds like it's going to be about the game's combat system.
     
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  3. Big Wrangle Scholar

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    Gold-eating cave dwarves? Now that's certainly a different interpetation of them. Great drawings as always.
     
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  4. Blakemoreland Hybrid Boss Magister Patron

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    Grab the Codex by the pussy
    :takemyjewgold:
     
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  5. ERYFKRAD Barbarian Patron

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    Gotta have minerals in your diet man.
     
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  6. Neanderthal Arcane

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    Been waiting for somebody to do a more authentic take on the Svart Alfar, though I hope you don't forget to include their ingenuity. Everybody may despise and mistreat them, but they also come begging to their door oftentimes. Do they turn to stone in daylight like Thors guest?

    Nice to see your three fold goddess isn't the usual maiden, mother and crone.
     
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  7. MRY Prestigious Gentleman Wormwood Studios Developer

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    No. In my opinion it was important to keep fairly sharp delineations among dwergs, trolls, and cave-wights, as the three easily could bleed into each other. Only trolls turn to stone by day, as a consequence of sunlight drying Trund's life-quickening spit. Nevertheless, dwergs seldom go above ground, and wouldn't usually do so in the daylight.

    Yes, the heroes of old often bullied dwergs for magical items. It tended not to end well. For example:
    Note that item text hasn't been polished as far as other text has been, so this is a little rough. The Helm of Awe is both an Icelandic stave and a particular item referenced in the sagas. Like most dwerg gifts in FG, it ultimately undermines the purpose for which it was sought, while ostensibly satisfying the buyer's requirements.
     
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  8. Curratum Educated

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    I adore Primordia and was aware of the existence of Strangeland, but the Fallen Gods project blindsided me. Curious to see more as time goes on! Godspeed, Wormwood!
     
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  9. Life of the Party Scholar

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    Swollen Rods Update #69: Bitches and Twerks
     
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  10. Mr. Hiver Learned

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    That was excellent, as well as all other updates about the game.
    Always nice to find someone who properly understands Tolkien mythology and the way he wrote, using magic.
    It sounds to me from reading you have indeed followed his paths rightly.

    Ive also heard about Haida for the first time so thanks for that. Murderous slavers as they were.

    I dont want this to sound like some empty assholish criticism but the Art of illustrations doesnt seem to be following the strength of the saga and your writing.
    All the the green world maps and similarly pale (puke, really) greenish illustrations seem to take away from the strength of the words and the telling.
    Those world maps .. dont look like anything to me.
    Similarly, the description of witches and their lore is great but the provided sprite looks kind of comical. And pukish green again.

    I think thats a shame, and it will take away from the overall gestalt of the game and the sales eventually.
    Such a saga certainly deserves more quality of art, similar to that shown in the teaser trailer or a few illustrations like that small panel for Skothgate, or TheBrokenThree at the very least.
    Any plans to... improve? I know that can be expensive but so is making less sales.
    Maybe find some solution with Vince and artists he knows and collaborates with? Even crazier, why not use a more modern engine where several are free now, and you could get some good help with Unreal from Iron Towers.
    Same format of the game just looking better?

    Just my opinion, but illustration of Dwergs (which are better then the green ones) makes them look too human. The size is not apparent since there is nothing to compare it too. The hair and beards remind of the usual dwarves and humans too much. While their bodies are too proportional, instead of stunted and at least somewhat deformed, as their description hints at. They are spawning from rotten flesh like maggots, spilled onto and beget upon dirt and rock, spawned in filth. If it was me i would make them more pale, sickly white as they live underground, some atleast bald headed, where any hair and beards would be irregular patches of knotted and sickly looking protrusions making deformed worm like faces even uglier. Worm faces that almost look human ... is not something ive seen before. With legs shorter and crooked, also not human. But maybe not almost naked as they are supposed to be artisans and smiths.


    One quick question about the Fallen God. As it is explained he is not trying to save the world or defeat the great evil, but save himself. Is that all?
    From the description of the causes of his (no hers im guessing) downfall, it doesnt seem just getting back to Skyhold will help much.
     
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  11. HeatEXTEND Arbiter

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    in dutch dwergs sounds like a toddler/retard saying dwergen, meaning dwarfs :happytrollboy:
     
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  12. MRY Prestigious Gentleman Wormwood Studios Developer

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    Yeah, it's a shared word in Germanic languages. As Etymonline.com (an invaluable resource) explains: "Old English plural dweorgas became Middle English dwarrows, later leveled down to dwarfs." There is a certain sloppiness with our pluralization, with "dwergs" vs. "draugar," but the distinction was necessary to give some phonetic space between the two types of foes. The problem is that there is no permissible word that quite captures "draug" -- "undead" is too modern (~20th C), "zombie" is foreign (African), "wight" is better used for vaettar, "ghoul" is foreign (Arabic), "ghost" is simply wrong, "corpse" is insufficient and foreign (French), etc. etc.

    Now I'm sure someone will supply the word I've been missing all this time and I will be very sad.
     
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  13. commie The Last Marxist Patron

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    Dwergs are dark dwelling incels? Now there's a race that will go down well with Codex! :bro:
     
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  14. Life of the Party Scholar

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    Which is why they should've used 'dorks'.
     
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  15. Riddler Augur Patron

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    Sounds great! Looking forward to it!
     
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  16. MRY Prestigious Gentleman Wormwood Studios Developer

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    I doubt it. I think there is a non-trivial risk of a Melkor-like creation that shows only "envy and mockery" in the end.

    Not for nothing were they called "Indian Vikings of the North West Coast."

    I like the art a lot. Any shortcomings in it are mine, not the artists', as they are yielding to my bad aesthetics. But the nice thing about making your own project at your own pace is that you can "Oh hi, Mark" as long as you want.

    There are four illustrators. The runestone carving was done by Cleopatra Motzel, a German artist, and it's the only thing she did for the game. She's a master of that particular kind of art, but I don't think she'd fit for the rest, and she has her own successful career and probably wouldn't be interested in further work. Several of the illustrations, including of the stronghold, were by Zoltan Tobias, a Hungarian ENT doctor, who also basically ran out of time/interest for FG. I think his work tended toward more "epic" fantasy than I wanted, though he was a wonderful collaborator and a skilled artist. I think he did ~20 illustrations. Ryan Cordin did many illustrations, including the dwerg illustrations to which you object. He's now a small-scale farmer. The current illustrator, who did The Broken Three, is Kostyantyn Podgayets, a Ukrainian architectural painter. The hope is that he will do all of the remaining illustrations, and then perhaps rework the earlier illustrations so that we have a single, consistent style. So if you like The Broken Three, that is the style that should preponderate, though The Broken Three is actually a reworking of an illustration by Zoltan that Kostyantyn did as part of the application process. (Kostyantyn is also the artist who did the witch battle scene.)

    It's not primarily a cost issue, I just like the art. And it would be crazy for me to try to make a change at this stage. Maintaining forward momentum is hard enough as is without my scrapping work.

    Well, in FG, they're technically spawned by mercury (quicksilver) spilling on dirt/rock, not by rotting flesh as in Norse mythology. That's not really responsive to your point, of course, but the quicksilver was the male essence (obv. sperm) of the threefold goddess Karringar, so they need to be recognizably men (in particular, older men). Overall, I don't want to veer too far from the core thematic "dwarf," and I think what you describe would be too jarring. Further, it's important to delineate dwergs from cavewights (more monstrous land-spirits that live underground) and trolls (stone brought to life by Trund's spit).

    I do think your image is very striking; it's just not my image, and, as noted, the pleasure of FG is my ability to trust my subconscious and not need to persuade or yield to others. (Though, as a practical matter, I do yield to the artists' superior imaginations in many instances.)

    No hers. Much to your chagrin, I suspect, I think having him a him is important for the themes and deconstruction in the game.

    You're right that it won't help the world much. But the sad truth is that it is enough, for many people, to live in a spectacular gated community while the world cruises toward apocalypse. That is particularly so if you think the apocalypse can't be averted. From the god's perspective, it's enough simply to be back in the warmth and light and luxury of Skyhall, to enjoy it for a few dozen or hundred more years.

    That said, to get back will require him to achieve something extraordinary, so it's not like the game is just about walking home. Victory conditions include overthrowing Fraener (the once-wurm Firstborn who is undermining society), killing Amarok (the Great Wolf Firstborn), rekindling the Moonbridge, etc. So the player should hopefully feel a real accomplishment if he succeeds.
     
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  17. Mr. Hiver Learned

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    No special chagrin about not having a female character. You are mistaken me for someone else. Im fine with games with only male characters or only female. As i said - the quality of writing trumps all other considerations and i prefer the writer works with what he is most familiar and most skilled at.

    Its not the wellbeing of the world i was asking but the god himself.
    Because as the story tells it, him and many other were cast out of Skyhold precisely because there was less and less "warmth and light and luxury" in Skyhold. So if he returns there, he will only be in the same or worse situation.
    Also, i thought the early gods were defeated by Orm, but i guess that didnt mean killed. In that case killing those will improve situation in Skyhold i would guess.

    Its was just a suggestion, not a demand. I feel that mercury isnt showing in the art either, and it could be combined with my idea while humanoid - dwarfish features can be sufficiently established too. Just speaking technically.
    But no matter, ill just keep it for my own game some fine day.

    If modesty is the aim, comparing your work to Melkors isnt striking near it. :)

    As for the rest of what is aid about writing, ill be the judge of that.
    And just walking down the right paths does not mean the result would be on the same level. It just means what it says.
    Its more like walking through the Old forest where the roots move and paths change.

    Nice to hear the art will be more consistent.
     
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  18. Neanderthal Arcane

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    Sounds to me like the fallen god will be making/strengthening a place for himself in Skyhold due to his deeds while fallen, if we have to defeat these great primordials our saga whether Tyr or Loki like will strengthen belief in us and skyhold amongst mortals. Scheme by Orm?

    I just wonder if we can choose to diminish and remain mortal in the end, or whether we'll play a Rig like role in mortal affairs.
     
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  19. MRY Prestigious Gentleman Wormwood Studios Developer

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    If he does something dramatic enough to get back home, he will probably have won enough renown not to get promptly booted back down. It's definitely a half-measure.

    Remaining mortal is a viable ending, but it is viewed as a fail state.
     
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  20. Mr. Hiver Learned

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    Im not sure is this relating to the art in the trailer, but in any case i would try and replicate that for the UI elements.
    Not a demand either.
     
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  21. MRY Prestigious Gentleman Wormwood Studios Developer

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    The UI has bedeviled me. It's something we likely will revisit near the end, but it's another example of "if we stop now, we'll never finish." I think the current UI is very attractive but perhaps not entirely thematic or user friendly.
     
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