It is Opening Day

The eerie silence took over the room and the weight was heavy on my limbs. I remained still in the silent laughter of my once friend turned enemy when I began to see a set of large eyes appear behind him. Then a smooth face came into view and a short stocky being stood looking at me in the dim lit silence of pending death.
Before my brain could process the large eyed creature the creature that had brought me here fell into a blob on the floor. He was a rag doll. I watched him try to speak, but nothing happened. His eyes told his terror.
“Let’s go the paralysis won’t last long!” Big eyes spoke, touched me with a hairless arm and I fainted….

“It is opening day.” The hairless stocky eyes spoke to me as I lay on the grass of the meadow. I glanced around in shock and horror, but ultimately felt at ease to be able to stretch. Something about those eyes became captivating. “It is opening day.”
“They hunt deer here?” I asked bewildered.
“ No, the book is out.”
“The book is out!” I jumped to my feet. “The Unconventional Dwarf?” I was so happy to be able to stand all the way up and stretch my back.
“Yes, the book is out. It can be bought electronically or in print.” The hairless and stocky eyes started to walk away across the meadow.
“Where are you going?” I started to follow.
“To the party. It is opening day!”

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The Unconventional Dwarf
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Talking with the dwarf

Still stunned by his pleasant demeanor I started my questions immediately before he turned around to leave.

“Who was that woman? I’ve never seen anyone so beautiful! So radiant! I’d give anything to meet her .”

“You’ll never meet her, I’m afraid. You shouldn’t even have seen her. That was one of our queens, and we never allow humans to meet them – it only causes trouble.”

“Trouble? For the queen, or for the humans?”  The dwarf began to laugh one of those hardy laughs that trick one into laughing also.  I became uneasy.

“For the humans, and for the rest of us! A queen can look after herself! She looks as soft and tasty as butter, but inside she’s flint and fire. Especially that one. It’s because of her that we’re all rushing about closing this cavern down.”

“What is this place?” I glanced into the cave.

“This is one of our gardens. We live underground, but of course vegetables need to poke out into the sunlight to grow. So we have chambers near the surface, with vegetables growing through the roof. But come with me – we’re closing this whole section down, and soon it will be walled off.”

“But why are you closing it down?”

“Humans have found us!”  I wondered to myself if this dwarf noticed I was a human.  I became more uneasy.  “Dwarves in the town have signalled to us that a raiding party is on its way, looking for magic. Our queens make magical items, you see – swords, rings, powders and so forth. Normally we just keep them and use them ourselves – mind your head here, it’s a bit low for you – but Queen Hilde (her that you saw) comes from the silver mines far to the east, and needed to show off her talent with Argent Catalysts to the other queens. So what did she make? Invisibility rings!”

“That would be useful …”

“Underground? If you want to be invisible underground, just extinguish your light! Visibility rings might be more useful, or insmellibility rings perhaps, but invisibility is a complete waste of precious resources. So then his majesty our king had the brilliant idea of selling them to folk in town, where they might have more use for them. You can guess what happened.”

” er ..” Confusion crossed my face, but this serious dwarf continued like a school professor.

“The first human to buy one put it on his finger and followed our dwarf home to find out where it had come from! All humans are thieves and rapists, it’s well known.”  The dwarf began moving into the cave and down the tunnels.  I followed as best I could trying not to be in the way of his stumble run.  “Now the whole town is on its way looking for buried treasure and soft bodies. You’ll really need to bend over here – we make our tunnels tall enough for us, not for you.”

“It is very awkward to walk, bent over like this.”

“And even more awkward to run, or swing a weapon – for you. For me it’s fine. Dwarves don’t need to bend over in here, and we don’t use swinging weapons anyway, just poking ones. Now be careful as we go up these stairs .. see?  While you were busy looking where your feet are, you walked headfirst into that spike mounted from the roof. Don’t feel bad. Nine out of ten humans will do it – well, only the first one actually, the others just bump into him and push him further onto it. But you know what I mean.

“A cruel trap for the tall! Do you have a bandage?”

“Here, use my pants.”  The dwarf took off his pants and handed them to me without so much as a look of shame.  What is with their hatred of pants?  “Head wounds do bleed, don’t they?”  With no other recourse I placed the dusty pants to my head.  If we had not been moving so fast in the dark I might have seen this coming, but I guess that was the point.  I was becoming confused, but I liked this little guy and he certainly seemed helpful. “We have all sorts of traps like that. The simple ones are the best. Have a look in this chamber, though.”

“Ooh! That light is bright!”

“Human, this is Rendel.”  I could not see Rendel or anything for that matter.  “Don’t shoot the human, Rendel, I’m showing it around. Rendel just sits behind that wall, shooting people through the arrow slit while they stagger about rubbing their eyes. It’s quite simple, really. When their eyes have adjusted, he extinguishes the light and pours in .. what is it you’ve got in there, Rendel?”

“Scorpions, mostly. And poison gas to finish.”  Rendel spoke.  His voice was a similar tone to my new dwarf friend in no pants.

“Poison gas! But how do you avoid being poisoned yourself?”

“I don’t.”

“Rendel is walled in. He has no intention of surviving. But hopefully he can kill most of the invaders first. Crawl in here ..”

“That’s a drainpipe! I won’t fit!”

“Yes you will – the general rule is that if your head fits, the rest of you can follow. Just slide in on your belly, and push yourself along with your knees and elbows. I’ll be right behind you. See, it’s actually quite comfortable. It’s not a drainpipe, it’s our access tunnel from this part of the kingdom through to the central chambers, where the king and queens live.”

“Really? Everyone crawls along this tiny pipe?”

“Yes. Another defensive measure – simple is best. Invaders crawling in single file along a drainpipe are quite easy to defend against, you see.  Say “hello, Rondel” just here.”

“Who’s Rondel?”

“Hello!” Another voice spoke.

“Ahh! He’s in the ground right underneath me! Ahhh! Ahhhh!”

“Don’t panic, it only makes it worse. Or so I imagine – I’ve never been claustrophobic, myself. Rondel has been buried in the floor of this tunnel – his plan is to pop out behind the invaders and stab them from behind after they’ve passed. In a crawl-tunnel like this, they can’t turn around and get at him, so he can pretty much just stab away at the last one in line at his leisure. The body will make a pretty effective blockade, trapping the rest of them in here. They can’t get any purchase to push it back out again, you see. Don’t pop out now, Rondel – this is just a tourist.”

“It wasn’t so bad when the tunnel was going up hill, but now it’s going steeply downhill which is quite unpleasant, sliding headfirst like this. I feel a bit giddy.”

“Yes, not for much longer though.”

“Ow! My head!”

“Good, they’ve finished the wall. The family have walled this tunnel shut down here, as you’ve found. Sometimes we leave arrow slits in it, but in this case it’s just a solid wall, and they’ll just carry on making it thicker and thicker. So now there’s no way into the main chambers of our kingdom from here. Is it granite or basalt? Could you tell when your head hit it?”

“But we’re trapped!” I was no longer uneasy.  I was scared and angry.  I do not like my tour guide anymore.

“You are, certainly. I could wriggle out backwards if I chose, but if I stay here then you certainly won’t go anywhere.”

“I’ll kick your head! I’ll .. I’ll ..”

“Killing me here will trap you all the more surely, unfortunately. As I mentioned, a body makes a very effective blockade in a crawl-tunnel. But don’t let’s talk of death just yet. My plan is to draw the invaders down here, using the sound of your voice as bait. When they’re well in, Rondel will kill the last in line and trap them. Then we’ll just flood this whole tunnel and drown the whole lot of us. It should work, don’t you think? Here, have a little mead while we wait. We farm our own honey, you know.”

The early mind of The Unconventional Dwarf and more

Today a few words about the early thinking of The Unconventional Dwarf.  He is one of many great minds in gaming and fantasy.  He is an educator, player, and creator.  There are no words better to introduce him than his own creative style.  Without further a-due, here is Dr. Tof Eklund.

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Can you please tell us a little about yourself and about how The Unconventional dream began?

I’d say it all began with Tolkien, but that’s not true. It began with imaginary friends and people who lived on the other side of the mirror, was fed by Dr. Seuss and folk tales about trolls, grew strong on Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper, and by the time my grade school friends and I were reading Lord of the Rings, it was inevitable that we would move on to roleplaying. Even then, there was something unconventional about my imagination: in my early years of gaming, most of my characters were misfits. I created a living gargoyle whose life’s ambition was to be a shopkeeper, a heroic necromancer whose villainous brother has the power of healing, and a superhero whose power was to inflict his delusions upon others.

None of those characters ever got played: they either didn’t work in the system I had to use, or they didn’t fit into the story that the Dungeon/Game Master was trying to tell. Later on, I would get to play more of the characters I had in my head, but I started roleplaying to imagine worlds and peoples, and immediately hit barriers like “THAC0” and “weapon specialization.”

I like system, system is important, necessary, but system should serve story. The longer I spent with fantasy gaming, the more I felt that it was caught in a rut. There were some amazing fantasy worlds out there, from Ursula K. Leguin’s Earthsea to “the Land” in Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books, but in fantasy gaming it was elves with bows, and dwarves with axes over and over again. Playing in some very good games that bent the rules and messed with the archetypes drove home for me that there wasn’t much support for people who wanted heroic orcs and halfling warlords in their fantasy.

It all came to a head when I had this idea for a series of books that would do just that: help gamers put together and play more diverse and original fantasy worlds. In conversations with my friend Kevin (a contributor to the book), the concept took shape, and we eventually realized that the best way to give storytellers and players a real variety of perspectives was to recruit a variety of creators with different backgrounds, interests, and experiences to write the books.

How has the fantasy/ gaming world influenced your desire to redefine dwarf clichés?

I have a certain affinity for the “little folk” of fantasy: dwarves, halflings, gnomes, even kobalds and goblins. They get typecast more completely than humans or elves, usually slotted into a single character class, or, in the case of kobalds and goblins, cannon foddor of the most pathetic sort. Dwarves in particular have been pigeonholed into being almost a single character: tough, gruff, alcoholic, bearded, materialistic, and the butt of countless jokes at the expense of his (always his, never her) pride and dignity.

The Unconventional Dwarf is the first book in the series because I don’t think any fantasy race is more in need of being rescued from their own stereotype.

What goals do you have for The Unconventional and the new dwarf species developed?

At times, it feels like fantasy gaming is spiced only with salt and black pepper. You can add more time for character development, or keep it to strict hack-and slash, and you can keep the players on a low-magic diet or pour on the epic until every item is a legendary artifact, but that’s it. At the most basic level, I want to make it easier for fantasy gamers to mix it up, to try something different.

You can use these books like a smorgasbord, mixing-and-matching to put together an original fantasy world that suits your tastes with minimal effort. Or you can “garnish” with them: need an idea for what the orcs from the lost continent are like, why elves from a different plane of existence are invading, or what dwarves from the distant past believed? The Unconventional can be your recipe book.

My greatest hope is that these books will fire people’s imaginations, serving as an inspiration, not an end point. I look forward to hearing and seeing what people do with these books.

With several contributors and several minds full of ideas what in The Unconventional Dwarf stands out for you?

Each chapter keeps some of the familiar tropes and elements of what it means to be a dwarf. I really enjoyed seeing how each author worked those elements in and made them a natural part of their redefinition of “dwarvenness.” In one chapter, Dwarves are still great miners, but they do their mining underwater, in another they take pride in their craftmanship but are focused entirely on style, not functionality, and in a third the dwarves seem stereotypical, but the underlying reasons for their behavior are bizarre and hilarious.

I think the only element common to every chapter is that the dwarves are shorter than humans, and even that comes into question in the chapter where dwarves and giants are believed to be kin, and practice variants of the same faith.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Keep a look out for The Unconventional Elf – slated for early 2014.

They Were in the Cave

A CaveAll of the dwarves were out of sight before I could reach the mountain range on the other side of the meadow. But I did watch them as I ran in an attempt to keep up.

The pant-less creature moved in fast paced stumbles with seemingly no cares in the world. This single leader stumbled across the meadow making no indication that he noticed his followers.

He stumbled with the spade resting on his right shoulder and his head facing forward. He also showed no indication he was missing his pants. Very focused on his destination he smashed into the horizon.

Swiftly behind him his followers tripped from tree to bush to large rock. They giggled and laughed pointing at the ground. They dragged spades behind them.

Continuing my adventure I slowed to a walk and finished crossing the remaining meadow. I glanced down to look at the ground below my moving feet because I wanted to know what the followers found so hilarious. I found myself in a garden badly needing to be weeded. When I looked back up the dwarves were all gone.

Before me a moss covered entry to the underground my curiosity driving me I moved still forward, but with more caution. I could see and hear activity beyond the opening.

Standing now in the doorway I observed several bearded dwarves working as a team with something above their heads. They spoke among each other. Only one dwarf worked without pants, but not one dwarf seemed to care.

I squinted to see into the poorly lit cave uncertain if I should enter. It looked like they were pulling vegetables from the ceiling. Suddenly, they all stopped and gazed to the left.

I moved back so only my curious eyes could be seen from inside the cave and waited with my heart pounding. Then I saw the most beautiful creature I have ever laid eyes on.

Smooth milky skin of a female dwarf lit up the faces of every worker she passed. Her stunning appearance brought a smile to even my face. Compelled to move toward her I abandoned my safety and moved into the cave opening.

“Hey” I stood stunned that I had actually spoken. The Goddess moved out of view to the right and I found myself looking into the eyes of a worker dwarf. He did not look jovial like the workers had appeared moment before.

Fast on my feet I stammered out a friendly voice, “Can you answer some questions for me? Can you help me out?” I forced a smile.

With a more relaxed face the dwarf started to stumble toward me. Thank goodness he was wearing pants. I heard him fart as he approached.

It Begins in the Meadow

The world of dwarves is changing. The climate of understanding is opening to reveal a new way to perceive the fantasy. The air is light and whimsical. I have noticed the first change here already.

Over yonder with his feet firmly placed in the water stands what symbolizes a dwarf stature. He wears no bottom clothing and stands pissing into the water.

He shows no interest at all in my presence just behind him. However, the three that share his face huddle behind the bushes and talk among themselves.
The Meadow
While I stand quietly and observe wondering if safety is a concern this creature moves to the edge of the water, picks up a spade perfect size for him and moves across the meadow toward the mountain backdrop.

I am shocked by his lack of clothing. The dwarf is not wearing any pants, but there does not appear to be a pair of pants anywhere for the dwarf to retrieve.

I am intrigued by how quickly the dwarf moves across the meadow and how close the three mirror images of him stay by moving from one set of bushes to the next in their huddle.

I am completely perplexed by the way the dwarf moves. I would say it is a run, but it resembles a drunken power moonwalk. We are just on the edge of fantasy and perception has just begun to change, but still I find myself fascinated as these creatures move away.

Standing on the edge of the meadow watching the dwarf quickly disappear into the horizon I am filled with questions. Why does he move that way? Why does he wear no pants? And why do others stalk him?

I am about to embark on a wondrous journey into The Unconventional, a set of books that are redefining this world I stand in today. They are books that welcome a new perspective and challenge the old.

I pack it as my guide as I begin my adventures into this new viewpoint of fantasy. My feet begin to walk forward across the meadow and into The Unconventional Dwarf….

What is The Unconventional?

What is The Unconventional?

The Unconventional aims to bring Roleplaying into the 21st century by returning it to it’s roots. Simultaneously a project of restoration and new creation, we’re engaged in a long-term project that is half “This Old RPG” and half “Queer Eye for the Creative Roleplayer.”

Created with an eye toward world-building, The Unconventional is for Players and Game Masters alike, and also for game creators, featuring a royalty-free license. Even those who are uninterested in gaming will find these books useful when researching and creating original fictional worlds.

We’re starting with Fantasy Gaming because it has the most unquestioned assumptions. We love Fantasy. We also hate it, sometimes, when it become cliche or fails to make sense.

Fantasy Roleplaying is a bit like a great mansion that has been remodeled fifty times in as many years. JRR Tolkien laid the foundation, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson meticulously built the original structure, a simple but sturdy farmhouse, and everyone who has come along since has added to it.

Some of those additions have been obsessively faithful to the original style, others have been daring and offbeat, and some have been decadent and wasteful, adding yet another tower higher than the last one just for the sake of being “bigger and better.”

In all this time, almost no-one had been paying attention to the basement. When Tolkien laid the foundation, he was building on a great network of stories and myths, a massive subterranean network of caves and grottos filled with horrors and wonders, traps and treasures. A veritable dungeon, if you will, one that proceeds down to the heart of the Earth.

Here there be dragons.

Created by a University Professor with a Ph.D. in Game and Comic Book narrative, published by Spectacle Publishing Media Group and written by a diverse cast including lifetime roleplayers, fantasy authors, comic creators, and students of game writing, each book in the Unconventional series will take apart the conventions of a beloved but overworked gaming standard, show you where it came from and how it ticks, and offer a range of inspirations for what it could be.

From realistic economics to sexual mores, and from rule-breaking comedy in the vein of Terry Pratchett to desperate scheming in the vein of George R. Martin, The Unconventional will surprise you at every turn, but every surprise will be earned, every turnabout will make sense. You’ll never look at gaming the same way again.

The Unconventional Dwarf

The Unconventional Dwarf is the first book in the series, and it takes a hard look at one of the most pigeonholed races in Fantasy. In addition to exploring the roots of the “conventional” dwarf, this book will present you with a range of original Dwarven races and cultures that are radically different and yet all retain something basically Dwarven.

Inside you will discover:

  • The Nanogyn, a network of matriarchal tribes that broke away from male-dominated Dwarven culture and are now feared for their prowess.
  • Thalassic Dwarves, island-dwellers who have mastered the art of cave diving and possess the secret of breathing water.
  • The Mono, a deeply divided Dwarven culture built upon physical perfection, philosophical rationalism, and belief in their own superiority.
  • The Anma Namdi’me, spacefaring and shape-changing Dwarves, and their dark mirror, the Ib’zur Makim
  • The Pumili: a great empire that has conquered most of humankind with combination of trade, negotiation, and Romanesque military might.
  • Hive Dwarves: did you know that Dwarves use spades, not axes? do you know why they sometimes forget to wear pants?
  • The Gamda: a diasporic people with a rich mystical tradition that takes the influence mediaeval Hasidic and Kabbalistic Judaism had on Tolkien and makes it explicit.
  • The Novus: short-lived Dwarves with a culture of ever-shifting fashions driven by an obsession with adventure and glory.

Coming Soon!