Monday, 22 May 2017

The Monkey Mountains

Of all mankind’s mistakes, teaching monkeys gunnery must be amongst the worst, for a Macaque with a cannon is a masterless beast and a Gibbon with a gun makes their own rules.

So it came to be, and still remains, in the butterfly-haunted Monkey Mountains, where the black-throated chuckling thrushes never rest, for they are shocked in droves from the branches of the banyan trees by the blasting of cannons the cracks of jezails and sad nocturnal grenados of the Bomb-Lorises. A saltpetre pandemonium silenced only by the roaring of the rainstorms that wet the powder and cool the tempers of the maddened monkey masters in their crumbling forts.

None know now who first induced in monkeys the capacity and desire for black-powder war, but for as long as memory recalls the primate population of the monkey mountain range has shared these things;

- That they speak, and think in at least a rudimentary way, at least to the equivalent of a private soldier.
- That they war against each other in clades and clans.
- that they respect, as a medium of Ares and a language of death only black powder and the high velocity round.

Gunpowder is a weapon, in some ways, quite poorly adapted for the Monkey Mountains. The hills themselves are steep, the valleys dark, the land bulging and cutting away like bad cursive script. The air is often humid and battered by clattering monsoons that pound the skies with yellow lightning and slash the trees with thick bright carving knives of warm and heavy rain. In these periods the masters of the monkey forts rest comatose, playing cards and smoking opium from Yoon-Suin, nodding in their hammocks and oiling their guns, picking lice from each others fur, waiting for the veil of rain to rise and for the wars to start again.

The Monkey Mountains are dominated by the Banyan tree, dense dark forests of strangling figs in which a single plant can send down hanging roots over hundreds of yards. The Banyan cannot grow alone, it surrounds another tree and slowly strangles it until it dies, leaving the winding banyan branches curled around a hollow column where the dead tree was.

Spirits, and eld-things of multiple sorts are often caught within the columns of these hollow trees for complex reasons of their own. Never listen to a voice coming from within a Banyan tree.

Once, the forests of the monkey mountains must have been dominated by another kind of plant, in the same way, it's unlikely that the monkey warlords built their own forts of red brick and terracotta demon-faced tile, but now only the parasite remains, the hollow root-trunks of the Banyan highlighting the ghosts of the annihilated species of trees and the piratical and proud monkey masters living in the ruined forts, themselves often so raddled by siege that they are only held together by the banyan roots looping through their walls like tying twine.

While the dense and knotted forest is more accessible to monkeys than to men, it still severely restricts the useful range of a black-powder weapon and makes transporting mortars, cannon and heavy siege artillery an absolute nightmare. This makes melee, guerrilla tactics, stealth and a defensive strategy the natural mode of combat for the environment, and all of this is ignored by the mad monkey masters who insist on forcing columns of gibbons and macaques through the dripping forest, desperately dragging bronze cannon up and down the valleys to batter down each others walls.

When these tactics inevitably fail and the field breaks down into a mad skirmish of pistols, bayonets and derringers concealed in hats, the winning warlord abducts the abandoned cannon and then tries to exactly the same thing that their opponent just tried; siege warfare in a jungle, with monkeys as troops.

It makes sense to the monkeys at least, for them simply having cannon is a confirmation of status.



The economy of the monkey mountains runs on the Tapa tree, or paper mulberry, an extremely useful plant whose roots make rope, whose bark makes cloth whose leaves and fruits are edible and which is often used as medicine. Most crucially, its inner bark can be used to make a fine paper.

Small communities of human beings live in almost-hidden villages in the valleys of the mountains, they subsist of hunting (with bow and arrow only), low-level agriculture, the products of the forest, like the figs of the banyan, from eating wasps attracted to the figs and from the tapa tree.

The rituals of ownership for each tree are complex and contested, each trunk is claimed by a particular family, the branches go to certain relatives and the twigs or third-stage branches are 'gifts' traded to still-poorer relatives. In this way, each tree is a tiny feudal system and the exact laws of inheritance and descent are argued over with some ferocity, (although never with guns).

The cutting and processing of the Tapa tree provides wealth for the villages and the Monkey Warlords take a chunk of this for their 'tapa tax'. It is this tax which pays for the gunpowder and guns the monkeys love and this is pretty much all it pays for since the monkeys want few other manufactured goods.

Each village comes under the feudal rule of a monkey master in a monkey fort who ‘protects’ them from any other nearby monkey master

Those beyond the Monkey Mountains think that having a monkey for a lord must be pretty terrible, in fact, the Monkeys are extremely lassiez faire, having almost no interest in human culture beyond the tapa tax and gun manufacture, they leave almost everything up to the local authorities of each village who do their best to replicate the byzantine structures of hierarchy, ritual and oppression which they would usually get from an aristocracy for free.

The lord of the local monkey fort does insist that their guns be adored, especially the almost-immovable field artillery, which the human villagers are happy to do.



The monkey mountains are made from primordial coral reefs, increasing the complexity of the often Karstic terrain providing dramatic overhangs, deep creeks, disappearing streams and occasional caves. Rumours of lost cave systems are much more common than the real thing. The caves are often inhabited by Black Bearded Tomb Bats, which is the actual, real name of that species. Sometimes ancient sea shells and the curls of old aquatic snails can be found as a natural part of the bedrock, turning up in the soil of the forest floor.

The air is full of floods of black and gold butterflies, almost half a foot wide, black-throated chuckling thrushes which sound like you just said something funny, and of the banyan wasps that eat the banyan fruit and sting everyone, but which are also delicious.

(By ancient law the pirate contracts of the Crab-Man-Clans of the Selenium Isles can only be signed on paper made from the nests of wasps and the best paper from the best wasps comes from the Banyan wasps of the Monkey Mountains, so if you see Crab-Man Pirates in the hills they are usually here for that.)

Katkins and caustic fruit come from the various trees and at night Masked Civets hunt, dodging the Bomb-Lorises and often spraying unwitting wanderers with their terrible skunk-musk.

To this of course we must add the numerous spirits, memories and ghost goblins trapped in the tubular Banyan trees. Better not to interact with those.



Most of the monkeys of the monkey mountains are either rock Macaques, who prefer derringers and pistols, and white-handed Gibbons who like Jezails, easy for them to reload due to their long arms.

Lone, nocturnal Bomb-Lorises exclusively use grenades with extremely long, silent, smokeless fuses. The Lorises are slow and cannot throw, their medium of combat is a form of 'grenade sniping' in which each Loris will try to predict the movements of the other and move them into position directly next to a pre-placed grenade. This is an extremely subtle and strategic form of warfare (more akin to submarine war than anything else) and the night is often shaken by the explosions of the duelling Bomb-Lorises.

A small number individual apes have reached the Monkey Mountains over the years, some Chimpanzees, a handful of Gorillas and a small breeding population of Orangutans, these are often taught to speak by the monkeys and given heavy deck-guns, muskets or blunderbusses or used to drag cannon and mortars through the forest, but they do not occupy a commanding position in Monkey society (it is the Monkey Mountains after all, not the Ape Mountains).

The nature of the Monkey Master ruling the local fort will tell you something about their tactics

A Master-Macaque will prize the frontal assault, pulling his mortars to within close range of the enemy fort, distracting the defenders with skirmishing attacks.

A Class 1 Gibbon (they compete endlessly at marksmanship) prefers to duel at range and tries to take a strategic position dominating the enemy before pounding them with bronze cannon.

An Autarchic Bomb-Loris plays a deadly and almost-invisible game of feint and counter-feint in which the political and strategic are inextricably linked, all simply elements of a master plan as it unfolds, designed to trick their opponent into a vulnerable position before they are decapitated.



The forts of the Monkey Mountains have seen better days. They are built of red brick and spattered with gunshot marks, banyan trees infest the revetments and writhe through the walls. Statues of red stone stand before many of the forts and all the statues have been worn down and effaced by time
they might be of anything, men, monkeys, or monsters.

The forts were once highly rational, many were star-forts, where space allowed, but most of the outer walls are now abandoned and the forest has reclaimed what it can. Inside, the buildings are a mess, but all of the rooms dedicated to gunpowder and weaponry are well-kept with neatly repaired roofs and safety lanterns

The tiles of all the forts are red terracotta and each one has a demons face which grins silently up at the phosphorescent day stars visible from the Monkey Mountains, and the felt-tip-yellow lightening and at the storms which send water spewing from each gaping terracotta mouth.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

In 3D

Apologies for the nothing post.

I will, for the first time, be going to a 'Con', the UK Games Expo in Birmingham. I will be at the Lamentations desk for most of Saturday the 3rd of June. or at least until I have a breakdown due to the crowds, noise and social contact. Or until Raggi and I kill each other over some obscure disagreement.

So if you would like to witness my glassy smile and pained grimace in three dimensions then come along! And I will sign whatever is put in front of me. Take a 'selfie' as the kids say.

If you are not on my facebook you might not know what I look like. 

I look like this;

And here is an interesting creature I saw on a walk yesterday

Monday, 15 May 2017

A Review of 'Wrecked Lives, or, Men Who Have Failed by William Henry Davenport Adams'

(In the quotes below, the paragraphs have been added by me. Adams is a Victorian and does not really believe in them, perhaps taking them as a sign if weakness.)

I got this from the 'Scholars Select' series, which is essentially the 'print on demand from a scan' series, which means the page has all kinds of crazy copying and printing artefacts like one part where a few are missing, a few where it tilts and the first words and letters of lines are lost and one or two points where a page has been folded over and scanned.

I'm not complaining, its actually quite fun, it adds a new layer of bibliographic mystery and makes 19th Century popular writing available for cheap so that's fine with me. The cover on this is also pretty robust.

Inside are scans of the original pages so all the original typography and punctuation has been preserved.

Like any book of criticism it speaks to us as much about the critic as about anyone else and oh my god what a critic, he is the extruded essence of the Victorian Age, he lived from 1828 to 1891 and Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1876, so he only exceeded her by a decade and a half. [EDIT - SHE REIGNED TILL 1901- GOD DAMN IT]

Adams seems to have been a sort of one-man Victorian proto-wikipedia. All he did was read and write. He read everything and he nearly seems to have written everything. Even the scanned re-prints on Amazon go to over 500 books, here is a non-chronological and non-representative handful;

- Witch, warlock and magician; historical sketches of magic and witchcraft in England and Scotland.
- Lighthouses and lightships; a descriptive historical account of their mode of construction and organisation.
- Temples, tombs and monuments of ancient Greece and Rome; a description and a history of some of the most remarkable memorials of classical architecture.
- Curiosities of superstition, and sketches of some unrevealed religions.
- Celebrated women travellers of the nineteenth century.
- Womans's work in girlhood, maidenhood, and wifehood.. With hints on self culture and chapters on the higher education and employment of women.
- The buried cities of Campania; or Pompeii and Herculanium, their history, their destruction and their remains.
- Women of fashion and representative women in letters and society. A series of biographical and critical studies.
- Celebrated Englishwomen of the Victorian Era - "This book presents biographical sketches of notable women of Victorian England in an effort to display women’s intellect and thereby help the cause of women's rights."
- Child-life and girlhood of remarkable women. A series of chapters from female biography.
- Stories of the lives of noble women
- Famous beauties and historic women. A gallery of croquis biographiques.
- "In perils oft": romantic biographies illustrative of the adventurous life
- Wonders of the Vegetable World
- Egypt Past and Present
- The household treasury of English song. Specimens of the English poets
- The Sunshine of Domestic Life: or Sketches of Womanly Virtues and Stories of the Lives of Noble Women
- Good Samaritans: Or, Biographical Illustrations of the Law of Human Kindness
- The Secret of Success: Or, How to Get On in the World.
- The Catacombs of Rome: Historical and Descriptive
- Great Shipwrecks: A Record of Perils and Disasters At Sea 1544-1877
- Nelsons' Hand-Book to the Isle of Wight
- Dwellers on the Threshold. Or, magic and magicians. Vol II
- Beneath the Surface: Or, Wonders of the Underground World

And this is only a handful. I'm sure people familiar with me can see the shared interests, magic, underground spaces, tombs and heroism.

I put 'Men Who Have Failed' on my wish-list largely due to its wonderful and ridiculous title and it has not dissapointed me. Adams takes us on a tour of (to his eye) ruined lives. The effect is rather like watching Adams march sternly down a line a grieving and fragile artists and bad politicians, wielding the big, dead salty haddock of Victorian morality. As he passes by, each failed man receives a rueful, but well-deserved salty smack in the face for not being Victorian enough.

The section on Robespierre takes up nearly half the book, but we cannot blame Adams for this, the doom of the French Revolution and the Terror are just much, much stranger, more exciting and more interesting than anything else that could possibly happen. It is one of the pleasures of left-wing nutters as opposed to right-wing nutters that, because they think they are opening a new chapter in history, they tend to obsessively record everything they do, which, if they don't manage to burn it later, gives the popular historian a lot of detail to work with. So we know, for instance, that Robespierre was really into tarts, and;

"To this description of his person and character it may be added that he was temperate to an extreme, drinking water only, and passionately fond of oranges. Freron says he was insatiable in his appetite for this fruit, and thinks that their acidity acted on the bilious humours of his body, and favoured their circulation. 'It was always easy to detect the place at table which he had occupied, by the piles of orange-peel which covered the plate. It was remarked that, as he ate them, his severity of countenance relaxed'."

Which I reproduce here as an example of Adams' eye for the telling or ridiculous detail, for its inherent interest and for the intriguingly stated possibility that the problem with Robespierre was that he was too alkali.

Before the solemn judgement comes down;

"... his intense selfishness ruined him. He could govern only by silence and terror ; he could think of no other way of disarming his adversaries than by crushing them. ..... When he had swept out of his path every enemy he would announce that the Terror was no more. He was sick and weary of the Terrorists, and he wished, and had resolved, to destroy them. There can be no doubt that he was appalled at the incessant bloodshed and yet he was resolved to pour out more blood in order to arrest its flow !"

Robert Burns is next to get a kicking. It’s curious that a Victorian moralist and a modern reader would both look askance on Burns for exactly the same behaviour (he was a massive slut) but with a very different tenor.

It is lack or heroism and high-mindedness that does for Burns in the end.

We move on to Benjamin Haydon, rarely has anyone exploded in the air like Haydon. He has the perfect vector, just enough talent, ability, hard work and high-mindedness to put him high, high, high in the sky, and just enough deranged narcissism, paranoia, indebtedness and lack of self-control to make sure he goes up like a drone strike in full public view.

I offer the second part of the following quote as an example of someone utterly unlike myself or anyone else I know.

"In March 1890, the "Dentatus" was completed, and at the Royal Academy's Exhibition was submitted to the judgement of the critics and the public. This was not particularly favourable ; the general opinion being that the painter had "attempted too much;" but Lord Mulgrave liberally rewarded him with 210 guineas. Haydon, however, conceived the idea that the Academicians had not given him a good place in the Exhibition, out of jealousy ; and thus began his long warfare against the Academy, which continued during the remainder of his life, and acted on his brain like a powerful irritant.

Never was any man more impatient of criticism or more intolerant of opposition. To disagree with him was a sure and certain mark of incompetence, envy, malice, uncharitableness. His estimate of his powers was so enormous, that it was difficult for any calm, unprejudiced observer to accept it; yet, at the same time, it indisposed him to believe in the possibility that a critic might honestly regard it as excessive. Hence he waged an incessant warfare against a constantly increasing host of adversaries, for his pretensions were so disproportionate to his performance that men naturally took offence at their transparent egotism."

Haydon has a very, very sad end, but even though it should call us to sympathy, blowing your brains out in the study, knowing either your wife or kid will find you, is a particularly representative example of his self-absorption. At least leave the house to do it man.

On Heinrich Heine

Heine has the misfortune of being, not only a flake, but also German.

[Heine is salty about the English, Adams prepares and unleashes his own not-inconsiderable reserves of salt]

"Passing over the exaggeration of this passage, we may remark that "freedom" here means, evidently, something more than political liberty, or else Heine could hardly have ignored the fact that England had attained to a successful application of its principles long before they were understood by the majority of Frenchmen ; and we may assume, I think, that it signifies a general impatience of restraint ; an independence of those conventionalities which, however ridiculed by the wits, are the safeguard and the bond of society; and an arbitrary revolt against order, custom, and common  sense. If such were Heine's idea of freedom, and if this kind of freedom were his "new religion," it is easy to believe that the most intelligent Englishmen would, to Hein's perception, talk foolishly about it !"

Albion thus preserved, we move on to the real meat and Adams digs into his bag of exclamation marks;

"Alas for those powerful, fervid, irregular spirits, which so fatally mistake license for liberty, and so sadly plunge into fruitless warfare against the wisely conservative forces of established society! How pitiable is their waste of strength and effort! How surely do they prepare for themselves the doom of failure! Wheras if, instead of aiming at revolution, the would be content with reform, they might accomplish so much good for their brethren, and reap so abundant a harvest of crowned and consummate labour !"

The chapters of the book grow smaller and smaller as we go on, as if Adams is running out of a particular kind of fuel. His engine of exasperation is chugging on fumes. Even the most Victorian Victorian can only mine so much salt.

On Poe

"It is annoying, after one's nerves have been thrilled and one's fancy stimulated, by such a crowd of sepulchral images, to find that nothing comes of it, except some rhodomontade about "a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore" - which by the way, the angels would certainly not do. It is just as if the ghost of Hamlets father had broken his prison-bonds to inform his startled son that his mother was called Gertrude in the realm of shadows!"


"Towards the close of the year he produced his fine poem of "Eureka," which Mr. Ingram rapturously pronounces "the last and grandest monument of his genius." "In all probability," he adds, "no other author ever flung such an intensity of feeling, or ever believed more steadfastly in the truth of his works, than did Edgar Poe in this attempted unriddling of the secret of the universe!"

"The Secret of the Universe" however is not unriddled in this volume of vague, mystical, and pantheistic 'fine writing.'"


"To retrace the record has been to me no agreeable task ; but in a book dealing with "Men who have Failed" - men who, by their failure, have left us a warning and an example - I could not ignore it, for it points very vividly and with even terrible force the moral I am bound to inculcate. Alas that, with all the fervour of his imagination, with all the rich promise of his intellectual energy, the name of Poe should be entered on so sad a roll, instead of among those

"Who prove that noble deeds are faith,
And living words are deeds,
And leave no dreams beyond their dreams,
And higher hopes and needs"!

It is a pitiful thing when of a mans life we can make no better use than to adopt it as a beacon which indicates a danger and commemorates a wreck!"

Adams seems drained, not only by the difficulty of his own research but by the moral nature of his quest. For all his high feeling at the beginning. I think it is becoming increasingly obvious to him, and to us, that we are driving along the road looking at crashed cars. There is only so much we can learn from this and even though I have a great deal of affection for Adams and his patriarchal Victorian bullshit, even I am running out of patience with him a little.

We wheedle to a slim finish with Thaddeus Kosciusko, the Polish patriot who did everything right, was heroic, self-sacrificing and high-minded, but still got utterly fucked by reality.

If, by chance, anyone buying this book today was expecting to find out anything genuinely useful from the doom of these great and talented men, then I am afraid there is little to discover here that you wouldn’t get from a Wikipedia page. Adams may be right 60% of the time, but its not too hard to point out that when Robespierre is acting like a nutter, that he is nuts, that Burns slutting around ruined some young women’s lives or that Haydon was a fucking tool.

They are worth considering, none the less, especially Haydon who is almost a living signpost to the systematic failings of the artistic mind.

Adams successfully points out that a bunch of flaky self-destructive narcissists couldn’t keep their shit together with verve and drive and from an exclusively pre-Freudian, Christian, and Victorian point of view. A modern blogger would do the same but would probably be less salty and a lot less fun to read.

If you are buying it as a mixture of historical miscellany and a romp through the popular Victorian mind, then you can certainly have a lot of fun with ‘Wrecked Lives’, it is the very living image of its creator and its time.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Barren Baronies

Parched and rusted Knights on starved horses, their hooves clicking on the bare sandstone and kicking black clinker through the grey volcanic ash. Cracked skin, red mail, dusty scabbards closed with broken twine binding wind-sharp swords, and each knight cradling a vibrant shield of glowing glass. For their Baronies are held within their shields; curved pocket realms where waterfalls plummets from an unseen sky, birds sing in the soft dawn and usher out the dusk. Where cattle amble home to castles of pale sea-washed-beach coloured stone over age-dark draw-bridges sleeping across the beds of fish-thick moats, through oak gates lodged open by forgotten props.

The birds disappear when they migrate, somehow they can find their way through the curved prison-space of the bound realm. For anyone else, walking too far one way brings you back the other. The rivers run somewhere but no-one who takes them ever comes back. The wells draw water from the dark but tunnels twist intangibly, avoiding a deeper dark that isn't there.

Small realms, but safe, where widows weave the funeral shrouds for absent knights who rarely return alive. With everyone preparing for an invisible end. Their world is as fragile as glass.

Here in the hidden Baronies, and there in the Barren Baronies, the time-scarred knight licks water from a thorn as dawns paperback-grey eye widens in slow shock at the horizons horrors once again, a ruined land like ragged pennants snapping in a random wind.

They seek each other, these Knights, they fear each others tread and watch each others sign. They suspect everything a threat, even the absence of a threat, silence itself the track of an intangible beast they would seek.

They must. It is the war of the Baronies. It is a civil war. A savage war of all against all, of kin against kin. They must defend their people, it is a sacred trust. They must defend their land and their honour and their subjects. They are the only ones who can.

They must defend them from the other Knights, for if the shield is shattered the Barony is lost, and if a Barony is lost then the pain-wracked desert of the Barren Baronies must writhe like a snake pinioned in the sun and the stone shatter and the ranges crack like freezing ice.

And, as the unrelenting logic of death requires, the surest form of defence requires offence.

And there are old wrongs and old hatreds, deep betrayals and dark imaginings.

Yes it is quite a deed to shatter a shield, and to avenge your ancestors, and many shields were shattered in the starting centuries of the war, and the land wracked with torment and homes and families and ancient lineages disappeared like drifting smoke. Those were the early contests, and birthed the roots of many hates between the Knights.

But the Baronies were young then, and the Knights were poorly trained, ill-prepared for the broken world their war had built. They are more fierce and competent now, some near-ageless out of hate, some passing hatred on from son to son.

They know their ruined land and read its marks. A scuff on stone, a shard of wood, a still breeze carrying the scent of rust and sweat. The pause before an attack.

It would go quicker if they were willing to use bows the wars might finished in a century, but a Knight is a Knight after all. Perhaps especially after all. They go at each other with blades. Spears first, if their horses can still charge, then they take it into breathing distance.

The Knights are very good by now. They take no risks and move like tense pendulums twisted together, clicking back and forth, speechless across the sand, leaving scattered drops of rusty blood. Each has killed a hundred men by now, and shattered a hundred shields, and riven the land with terrible tortures over a hundred times.

They still carry their own safe shield, their protected Barony, glowing like a polished stone, fragile, desperately, terribly fragile. A shield with all their dreams inside it, their families, their homes, their future and their past. It's us or them. Someone has to go.

Ages ago they made fires to survive in the dark, where the dew freezes hieroglyphs on the obsidian shards reflecting cracked stars from a wounded sky. They learnt, quickly, to never sleep by their own fire, but to watch it from a distance through half-closed eyes, preparing for the attack. Then in time they learnt that all the fires were traps, that all the knights were sleeping cold. Now no-one makes a fire.

In stories the Knights fight because they think the last shield will return safely to the earth, and expand like an infinite tapestry, a green growing carpet of woodlands and peace, to fill the Barren Baronies and bring back the land the way it once was. And that’s a neat and tragic tale which gives reasonable reasons for death and makes the listener sigh.

In reality, they kill not to die. The only way they can ever be safe is if all the other Baronies are smashed and there is no-one left to hate. The last knight knows his home and family will survive, even hidden in a shield of glass, a bounded life is better than none.

People go around the Barren Baronies, the Knights who haunt it are amazingly, indescribably deadly. Watchful, cunning, amoral and cold. Even to step inside that land is to be made a piece in their game. From the moment of arrival, cold, hidden eyes observe and pained thoughts balance shifting probabilities. The Knights of the Barren Baronies have no particular interest in killing travellers, and none in keeping them alive. If you are useful dead, you will be killed. If you might become a threat, you die. If you can be a lure, provide a distraction or disguise, provoke an unexpected response or herald a telling mistake, then you might live. People do cross the Barren Baronies, some of them, gloriously unobservant, say they never even saw a Knight, don't know what all the fuss is about.

Those who do meet Knights rarely forget it. They are terrifying men. Honed and worn like a keen note from a taut string before it breaks. Violent and horribly sad, with the ruins of good manners and Knightly courtesy, and each with a carefully wrapped shield they will never expose.

They move in an invisible circle in which no-one will approach and kill with a twitch. Armed men back away. Some crawl to the border with slashed Achilles tendons, telling stories of the man in rusted mail who appeared from the stone and killed every standing man in a caravan in the time it takes to tell it. Left the rest crawling in the sand and followed them, invisibly, as they crawled and screamed towards the boundary of the Barren Baronies, making them a lure to catch another Knight.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Flamingo City

Its more of a town really, but don’t tell the Flamingo-People that. In a shoreside forest of black willow, white oak and cottonwood trees, they built* a settlement of woven bijou bower-salons, some hanging from the trees, others perched on teetering wicker towers linked by fragile walkways, if they are linked at all.

At mid-morning they fly out to the lake and spend all day ‘supping’ and conversing, in the evening they fly back. The Flamingo-People are all royalty and never do work. Though terrified of the Cold Crocodile King they all claim to be monarchists. They are served by servile Grebe-People who secretly plan revolt.

They deny they ever sleep and hate being caught doing it. In duels they stand stock still, hold the needle-rapiers in their beaks and their long necks wave back and forth in remarkable and frighting fashion.

What’s happening?
1. Playing Cards
2. Singing
3. Performing a Display
4. Conversing
5. Playing Darts
6. Duelling
7. Dancing a slow Pavane.
8. Grebe-People plotting.
9. Discussing Obsidian Shore Politics.
10. It’s the Cold Crocodile King in disguise.


Deniable Missions
1. Find the Pavonated Man!
2. Destroy the Tiger Philosopher!
3. Punitive expedition against the Cannibal Hamster People.
4. Seek out the Green Grass Ghost in the Forest of Infinite Fear.
5. Depose the (current) Emperor Pig.
6. Spy upon the Lake of Thörn & find weakness of the Sky-Queen.

*By ‘built’ we mean ‘ordered the Grebe-People to build.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Adams on Robespierre on Tarts

From the book “Wrecked Lives ; Or, Men Who Have Failed” by William Henry Davenport Adams.

‘Robespierre, as a singer of songs, is opposite enough to the figure we conceive of him from his appearances on the stage of history; but we find a still more striking antithesis in his letters, which are those of a quick observer and easy writer, given to homely jesting, with a touch of sentiment raising and redeeming his badinage. The following is, as Mr. Lewes says, if we consider who its author, a very curious and suggestive letter. It is dated from "Carvins, June 12, 1788," and we adopt, in the main, Mr. Lewes's translation:-*

               "There is no such thing as a pleasure unless it be shared among friends. I am about to give you a sketch therefore, of what I have enjoyed these last few days.
               "Don't expect a book of travels! For several years the public has been so prodigiously over-stocked with that kind of work, that it may well be satiated with them now. I can conceive an author who has made a journey of five leagues, celebrating it in prose and verse ;  and yet what is that adventurous enterprise compared with the one I have executed ?  I have not only travelled five league. I have travelled six ;  and such leagues, that the opinion of the inhabitants of the country would go to prove that they were equal to seven ordinary leagues. And yet I will not tell you a word respecting my journey : for your sake I regret it ;  you lose much.  It would have offered you some adventures which would have been infinitely interesting: those of Ulysses and Telemachus were nothing by their side.

               "We started at five in the morning. Our car quitted the gates of the city at precisely the same moment as the chariot of the sun rose from the bosom of the ocean. it was adorned with a cloth, of brilliant white, one portion of which floated in the zyphyr's breast.  It was thus we passed the guard-house of the custom-house officers [the Octroi] triumphantly. As you may suppose, I did not fail to cast my eyes on them. I wished to ascertain whether those Arguses would not give the lie to their ancient reputation ; and, animated with a noble emulation, I dared to aspire after the glory of, if possible, vanquishing them in politeness. I leaned over the side of our car, and taking off the new hat which covered my head, saluted them with my most charming smile. I counted on a suitable response ; but would you believe it? these clerks, motionless as the god Terminus at the door of their cabin, regarded me fixedly without returning my salute. I have always had an infinite self-love ; that mark of contempt wounded me to the quick ; and for the rest of the day my temper was intolerable.

               "Meanwhile, our coursers bore us onward with a swiftness which they imagination can scarcely conceive. It seemed as if they would fain rival the swiftness of the coursers of the sun who flew over our heads.... With one bound they cleared the Faubourg St.Catherine ; a second carried us to the gate at Sens. We stayed a short time in that town. I profited by the delay to examine the beauties it presents to the travellers curious gaze. While my companions were breakfasting, I ascended the hill upon which the Calvary is placed. From that point my eyes wandered, with a mingled sentiment of sadness and exultation, over the vast plain where Conde at twenty, gained that famous victory [Rocroi] over the Spaniards which saved France.

               "But an object interesting for other reasons next drew all my attention, the Hotel de Ville.  It is not remarkable for grandeur or magnificence ; but it has not the less claim upon my attention, does not the less inspire me with lively interest. This modest edifice, said I, meditatively, is the sanctuary where the hunchback T-----, with his blonde wig, holding the balance of Themis in his hand, formerly weighed with great impartiality the claims of his co-citizens. Minister of justice and favourite of Esculapius, he passed a sentence and then wrote a prescription. The criminal and the patient were equally terrified by his presence ; and this great man, by virtue of his twofold office, was in possession of the most extensive power that man ever exercised over his fellow men.....

               "We remounted out conveyance. Scarcely had I settled myself comfortably on a bundle of straw when Carvins rose into view. At the sight of this happy spot we all burst forth into a shout of joy, comparable to that which burst from the Trojans, fugitives from the disaster of Troy, when they discovered the shores of Italy. The people of the village gave us a welcome which amply compensated for the indifference of the clerks at the Meaulens gate. Citizens of every class manifested their enthusiasm for us, The cobbler arrested his awl, about to pierce a sole, that he might regard us at leisure ; the barber abandoned a half-shaved chin, and rushed out before us, razor in hand ; the huswife, to satisfy her curiosity, braved the perils of a burnt tart; I actually saw three gossips break off in the midst of a lively conversation to rush to the window. In short we tasted during our passage - which alas, was too brief! - that satisfaction, so flattering to our self-love, of seeing a numerous people occupied with us.  How pleasant, I said to myself, it is to travel!  With great truth is it said that one is never a prophet in ones own land. At the gates of your own town you are despised ; six leagues beyond it you are a personage worthy of public curiosity.

               "I was engaged in these wise reflections when we arrived at the house which represented the goal of our voyage. I will not attempt to depict the transports of tenderness which broke forth in our embraces. It was a spectacle to have drawn tears from your eyes. In history I knew of but one scene of the kind to be compared with it.  When Aeneas, after the fall of Troy, lands in Epirus with his fleet, and there meets with Helenus and Andromache, whom destiny has seated on the throne of Pyrrhus, it is said that their meeting was most affecting. I doubt not that Aeneas had a most excellent heart. Helenus, the best Trojan in the world, and Andromache, the amiable widow of Hector, shed many tears and sighed many sighs on this occasion. I am willing to believe that their transports were not inferior to ours ; but after Aeneas, Helenus, Andromache, and us, you must drop the curtain.

               "Since our arrival all our time has been occupied with pleasures. Ever since last Saturday I have been eating tarts. Destiny has willed that my bed should be placed in a room which is the depȏt of the pastry. That was exposing me to the temptation of eating tarts all night! But I reflected that it was noble to subdue ones passions, and therefore I slept though in the midst of such seductive objects. It is true that during the day I made up for this long abstinence."

[Here Robspierre indulges in some humorous verses in praise of the first maker of tarts, for which I have not room. He continues, after an allusion to the oblivion which wraps the name of ce sublime genie:-]

               "Of all the traits of ingratitude which the human race has exhibited towards its benefactors, this it is which has always most revolted me. It is for the Artesians to expiate it; seeing that, in the opinion of all Europe, they know the value of the tart better than any other people.   Their glory calls upon them to erect a temple to its inventor. I will confess, entre nous, that I have drawn up a project to that effect which I purpose to submit to the Artesian States.  I count upon the powerful support of the clergy.

               "But to eat tarts is nothing : one must eat them in good company. Yesterday I received the greatest honour to which I could aspire. I dined with three lieutenants and the son of a bailli! The whole magistracy of the neighbouring villages was assembled at our table. In the centre of the senate shone monsieur the lieutenant of Carvins, like Calypso amidst the nymphs. Ah, if you could but have seen how affably he conversed with the rest of the company, as if he were an ordinary mortal! With what indulgence he approved of the champagne which was poured out for him! With what a satisfied air he seemed to smile at the reflection of his person in the glass! I saw it all - yes, I! - and yet, observe how hard it is to content the heart of man! All my desires are not yet satisfied. I am preparing to return to Arras ; and I hope to find greater pleasure in seeing you than even in all or any of the circumstances above described. We shall meet with as much satisfaction as Ulysses and Telemachus after twenty years of absence. I shall have no difficulty in reconciling myself to the loss of my baillis and lieutenants. (However seductive a lieutenant may be, believe me, Madame, he can never enter into with you. His countenance, even when champagne has tinted it a soft carnation does not present the charm which Nature's self has given to yours ; and the company of all the baillis in the universe can never compensate for your agreeable conversation.)

               "I remain, with the sincerest expression of friendship, sir, your very humble and obedient servant,
                              "De Robespierre."

In our limited space we should not transcribe so long a letter did we not look upon it as a curious psychological study when read by the light of its writer's after career.’

Friday, 28 April 2017

Bad guys from The Legion of Regrettable Super-Villains by Jon Morris

Rather than review this book, which would take actual thought, I'm just going to rip off any ideas that might be useful in RPG's and dump them here with a bunch of images, which requires only work.


Bullseye - a criminal clown, unlike the Marvel Comics Bullsey, this individual can't be hit. Would make an interesting challenge for a low-level party and a fun spoiler for a mid level party I think.

Dr Voodoo - A servant of Lilith, goddess of all evil and her consort The Immortal Emperor.

This is Dr Voodoo trying to kill Wonder Man in space.
Note his pensive and workaday expression.
Note also also the guy with the giant yellow grin, that's the Immortal Emperor.

Comes from a dark satellite of the moon where every evil soul that has ever existed has taken refuge. Squads of "anthrozoons" using "vapor guns", "frigitrons" and a "vacuum spiral", along with a solar army of "Thermodons". Dr Voodoo actually wonders if the earth is worth conquering but his evil goddess regards it as her rightful domain so he continues.

I think I like everything about this guy? Weird weapons, solar army, comes from the Death Moon, or Death Satellite technically I think. Potential world-threat but still just doing his job so fun for the PCs to chat to.

Fang - a creature from Desolation island, a place of pure horror.

Look at his goddamn face.
He was banished for being too terrible and left on an ice floe to die. He can conjure armies of terrible monsters from his imagination.

The Horrible Hand - a giant, disembodied, flying red hand in a bird cage. Apparently the hand of a devil, it can receive and obey commands.

King Killer - A giant Frankenstein, seven feet high, with a head crammed with the brains of infamous killers, thieves, hit men and gangland chiefs.

His teeth are fangs and a scar down the centre of his skull shows where they shoved in the extra criminal brains. He brings together every criminal in the United States and build a city of crime in his own new US state called Rex.

Mr Night - The living embodiment of the absence of all colour.

Otto Binder was pretty good.

The Colour Kingdom of Rainbow City, "Arbour of the Sky Spirits" is ruled by King Colour and is the place where all colours come from. Mister Night is an evil sky spirit banished from the city who now lives in the gloomy reaches of Nightland and wants to turn everything in existence jet black so that he can rule the world.

Robbing Hood - I'm going to describe this guy as he's shown on the cover as he's amazing;

A giant, maybe twice as high as a four story building, with a somewhat prominent front row of upper teeth and strong christopher-lee esque features, wearing perfectly tailored top and tails with a bow tie and a gleaming black top hat, all giant sized, and armed with a gigantic bow and arrow.

His aim is to steal from the poor and give to the rich simply on principal. I imagine him reaching down into homes and scraping out all the items. After doing this he goes off and dumps it all in front of the idle rich, who don't want it.

Sadly-Sadly - A notorious career criminal on the run gets into local theatre to make end meet. The director finds his face incredibly sad and alters it to make it even more sad. The criminals face is now so sad that anyone who sees it breaks down crying and feels so bad for him they won't try to stop him committing crimes, even turning into a mob to protect him from agents of the law.

To defeat him, make him laugh.

The Crimson Raider - a cursed, immortal, giant, pirate. Unwanted in either heaven or hell, the only way the Crimson Raider can finally rest is if he loads his pirate treasure onto someone who;

- Shares his surname.
- Uses the money for the betterment of mankind.

Inevitably the wealth corrupts the recipient and the raider has to re-collect all the gold, every piece, and start again. Each time this happens he grows another foot high.

Lord Lazee - A fat man in a horned helmet who never leaves his couch and is served food pills by his manservant Vigoro. He controls a Terrible Trio of Terrifying Robots called Terrorquake, Titdalruin and Tornadoom.

Our Man - a nihilistic artist in a robot suit.

Steve Ditkos impression of nihilistic and self-loathing art is actually more interesting
to look at than his 'positive' art, which I'm not sure he was aware of.

"Man is an incompetent nothing in a world of mystic terrors ... all without meaning and purpose." He puts on an armoured suit based on the statue which inspired these thoughts he makes his aim destroying heroic art.

The Crime Merchant - literally sells plans and criminal schemes for profit.

Sinestro the Boy Fiend - An ordinary boy with no special powers who arms himself with a bunch of gagets; a gyrocopter, an x-ray scope, a "Super-Gun" firing some kind of liquid, a flashing hypnotic light, a pea-shooter, a mask and a cape and helps out villains apparently purely becasue heroes piss him off.

GANGS; (or rival parties).

Generalissimo Brainstorm - Brainstorms gang is well suited to an aquatic adventure.. A short bald man in a self-designed military uniform. His brain powers create a literal storm of sparks and sound effects around his head at all times. Has superintelligence, telepathy and mind-control.

Chief Ooz - a scientist with a specially trained attack dolphin.

The Human Anchor - has the power of sinking and being very heavy.

Murderina Mermaid - a clockwork mermaid assassin.

The Death Battalion - not impossible to imagine running up against these guys in Vornheim.

Dr Death - an evil concert magician, he composes a "symphony of death" which kills any musician who plays it.

The Ghost - An embezzler who robs the charitable foundation he helps to run, aided by a gang dressing in frightening ghost and skeleton costumes.

The Horned Hood - A respected scholar with a secret life where he is a feared jewel thief, armed with a lethal _lead-filled club of thorns_.

The Black Thorn - A hooded man with a 'Mummy Ray' that can fatally dehydrate his enemies.

The Black Crown - An evil circus performer with a gang of other circus professionals, including a Gorilla named Gargantua.

The Laughing Skull - A masked disgraced banker for forces his enemies to read their own epitaphs before murdering them at their grave sites.

The Brain - a guy in a globualar mesh helmet who is secretly the warden of the prison they were all imprisoned in.

The Big Gang - These guys have a much more gloriously stupid Reintsien flavour. A gang of thieves who specifically, and only, steal BIG items. The worlds largest book, biggest drum, coin, organ, bell, painting and emerald.

Big Brain - "more brains than an entire college faculty".

Big Ben - Essentially keeps the gangs schedule, if only every PC party had someone like this.

Big Bertha - a woman who's arms are so strong she can hurl objects like a cannon firing.

Big Shot - A marksman with all kinds of hyper-specific firearms.

Big Deal - baffles and confused people with card tricks.

Big Cheese - "who concocts cheese with extraordinary powers" knockout cheese, cement cheese, projectile cheese.

Big Wig - who's weapons are his wigs, including at least one exploding wig.

The Headmen

Dr Arthur Nagan, Gorilla Man - a human head transplanted onto a Gorilla body by angry Gorillas. That is correct, he did not transplant his own head, the Gorillas did it as revenge.

Shrunken Bones - While experimenting with a shrinking gas he accidentally shrunk his skeleton, leaving the rest of his body the same size, his skin hangs grotesquely from his body.

Chondu the Mystic - Does mind transfer via mystic powers, current main body is has bat wings, lampreys for arms and the legs of an eagle.

Ruby Thursday - A brilliant scientist who replaces her own head with a malleable, spherical supercomputer which she can change into a variety of tools and weapons.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Get Rock

(apparently there's a 200 word RPG challenge so I am listlessly clawing my way onto the bandwagon.)

Get Rock.

Game is - have best rock.
How to know?

Big rule is - all word say is all one thing.
All word say true for all till Get Rock done.

Small rule is – make say like this.
No long word. No time word. No if word. No maybe word.
Only now word. Only do word.

Look into enemy eye and make scared.
Think about own rock big own rock strong!
Other rock small other rock weak!
Go one two three.
On three make shape with hand.
Choose. Make leaf? Make knife? Make rock?
Is big think on this.

Leaf wrap rock - leaf win.
Knife cut leaf - knife win.
Rock blunt knife - rock win!

Leaf win? How rock not stronger?
Make good say why other rock weak!

Knife win? You smart. Them dumb. Not use rock!
Now make clever say why am smart other dumb - why not have rock?

Rock win? Is good! Rock strong!
Now make big rock boast how own rock best!

Both same? Throw all rock away! All new rock. All new word.

Done say? Go again!

Get Rock done when one say you rock best or both can make no say.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Process as Item

"Old English fyr "fire, a fire," from Proto-Germanic *fur-i- (source also of Old Saxon fiur, Old Frisian fiur, Old Norse fürr, Middle Dutch and Dutch vuur, Old High German fiur, German Feuer "fire"), from PIE *perjos, from root *pa?wr- "fire" (source also of Armenian hur "fire, torch," Czech pyr "hot ashes," Greek pyr, Umbrian pir, Sanskrit pu, Hittite pahhur "fire"). Current spelling is attested as early as 1200, but did not fully displace Middle English fier (preserved in fiery) until c. 1600.

PIE apparently had two roots for fire: *paewr- and *egni- (source of Latin ignis). The former was "inanimate," referring to fire as a substance, and the latter was "animate," referring to it as a living force (compare water (n.1))."

- from etymology online, a really excellent site and useful resource.

The pleasing idea of a process as an item comes, perhaps, from its already half-magical or numinous state. A process bound is already a little bit more interesting than an inanimate thing. We can see this in magic items, to show their magic; they live. The sword burns like a brand the jewel glows like a lamp. The cloak moves in an unfelt wind. The picture talks.

But even without that, a process bound, carried and sustained is slightly magical, it exemplifies power over an ever-changing nature, not just tool-use but bound process control. The common bindings break down quite neatly by classical element;

Fire is the big one. The key thing here is that it's not a magic lantern or a magic torch, but a magic fire. It is the fire you carry and preserve, not the means of its propagation (though you will need that as well).

The nature of the thing puts hard limits on how you deal with it or transport it. Fire is hard to carry and keep going, all kinds of common circumstances and opponent action could put it out. You need to keep finding fuel for it. Perhaps a particular kind of fuel. Magical fires could feed on human hair, the bark of certain trees, polished coals or fossils. It's easy to imagine someone carrying one, in a lantern, a brazier or something, but hard to imagine them carrying two or more in anything other than special circumstances. The nature of fire means that you will tend to adopt a ritualistic attitude to taking care of it, which embeds a principal ritual from the human lifeworld into the game. Because its very hard to deal with you can make it situationaly very powerful, PC's have to invest resources and through into how to sustain this powerful but delicate tool.

As well as it already being useful, it does so many things, there's a whole range of extra stuff you can do with it, shine its light on someone, breath in its smoke, let it's smoke 'write' on a piece of paper, burn things in it, cook things with it, forge things with its heat, let it cast shadows, burn yourself with it, see things in it.

Fire likes to get out of control though so this is a big difference to any other kind of 'item', and a D&D PC is going to want to let EVERYTHING BURN so then you have SUPER-POWERFUL fire. So some limitation of this has to be built into the thing. Maybe as a fire gets bigger and more powerful it becomes more intelligent, starts developing it's own ideas like a runaway AI or a bound daemon, starts using its powers for itself rather than for the PC's. And of course, few fires really want to stop burning.

Perhaps the fires are ancient daemons or angels. It makes a neat sense that primal demiurgic beings would be incarnated as natural processes. The idea of God making kinetic and other kinds of energy from, essentially, minced-up angels, seems legit. If you could catch a fragment of that Pure Fire from before they got all mixed up, and keep it going and preserve it, then you might have a little piece of divine magic that did a particular thing.

Is there anything that relates to moving water the same way? I mean not just that it interacts with water but that it needs water to activate it, to make it live.

A mill-wheel might work, difficult to consider carrying it about, though the idea of an adventurer or NPC with a giant fucking wheel on their back is interesting, mendicant mill-monks.

A portable water-clock seems like an edge-case, too mechanical.

Rain, the water that drips from an umbrella having special qualities. It would have to be natural rain, not just stuff you poured on there because it is the process that brings it alive. Maybe it would tell you things about the rain, perhaps heal you of mental disorders, curses or shame or simply help you forget.

Those lantern-boats that float downstream might also work, carrying things away or summoning them back. Water ghosts, creatures from the past or those lost.

I think it was Keats (or maybe Shelly?) who's epitaph was that his name was writ in water. Perhaps writing someone’s name in water causes someone, somewhere in the world to forget that name. You can perform mass-attacks on someone’s fame and reputation by gathering hundreds of cultists by the shores of a still lake and having them all write the same name on its surface. The name attacks must inevitably affect the cultists as well as everyone else so every now and then some of them must forget the name they are writing and have to look over at the guy on the left and right to see what name they are erasing. If this carries on for long enough, everyone in the world might forget someone's name except for the people writing it on the surface of the lake, and even they don't really remember why they are writing it, only that they were really pissed off with whoever it was.

A Chinese Whispers effect could mean that even people with a similar name suffer some effects of the attack.

A brush that, if used to write on a waterfall or the surface of a river, or even on a wave in the ocean, you can summon or control the power of those things. Perhaps the symbol for 'Horse' on a waterfall creates a charging steed of white foam that can only race downhill and which ends each ride by diving and exploding into the river or the earth, writing it on a river creates a tireless horse, but one which can only ever move at the speed of the river itself, whether fast or slow and writing one on a wave creates a titanic and powerful horse that can charge along the coastline, but not beyond it, plus getting in position to write on a wave as it breaks effectively makes you a surfing wizard?

Between water and air we have the sailing ship. Perhaps a sail that when it runs directly before a headwind and pulls a ship to full speed, can breach the barriers between planes, like a sailing DeLorean. The precise direction of the wind affects which plane you go to and you have no way to control it other than to have it up or not.

This brings us into air. Kites are probably the closest equivalent to torches and lanterns. Maybe a kite that, once you get it flying, transforms you into a bird until you touch the ground. Perhaps if you land on water you can stay as a bird until you reach the shore so people passing through never know if the ducks and swans are kite-monks in disguise or what.

Pin-Wheels. Even breath could activate them but they are incredibly delicate and easily damaged and destroyed, hard to cart around for a long time without them being crushed, so that provides a nice limiting element. Perhaps they have to be activated by natural wind rather than breath, the idea of a brawny adventurer running about with a pin-wheel is a nice one. Perhaps the breath of certain creatures or type of person is needed to activate the rare ones, a virgin, a holy person, a seventh son, a blind man.

There is the lightning-charged device of course. We would have to work on ways to make it more interesting than just a lightning capacitor. Perhaps, at the moment you catch the lighting you gain the speed *of* lightning, you can race anywhere but as soon as you stop the lighting is grounded. You also have to be careful not to interact with anything touching the ground, you may be drawn towards metal objects and end up accidentally hurling yourself on a drawn sword 300 miles away at the speed of sound.

Monks who wait under trees in autumn with special brushes. They train until they are able to write upon a falling leaf before it hits the ground, touching it only with the tip of the brush. That would require huge study and skill to use. Perhaps you could use this to travel through time like a leaf falling.

Stone is a process too, but one so slow that I don’t think it could be contained into a pseudo-object by human beings.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The History of the Veins of the Earth

EDIT: So it is live, click the image to go to the LotFP site to purchase.

If you want the PDF on it's own you can get that HERE.

For anyone unfamiliar with the idea of 'Veins of the Earth' or who thinks its either that computer game that comes up when you google the phrase, or just the original quote from The Tempest, here is what it is.

This is a book that has been in production a looooog time. Longer than any other work I have done. Investigating its origins takes us way back to near the dawn of this blog. To illustrate this, here's a brief rundown of my publishing history;

August 2011 - I get my first laptop and, within a few days, create False Machine.

16th October 2012 - In a comment below this post we see the first public mention of the idea in a conversation with David.

18th October 2012 - I accept Davids Challenge, he will create what ends up being Yoon-Suin and I will write Veins and we will RACE TO THE FINISH LINE.

December 2012 - January 2013 - many of the Veins monsters were created in this period. If you check out the tag 'Veins' in the sidebar, or just click through to the period in question you can still see them there.

9th February 2013 -

21st June 2013 - Zak first contacts me to propose the thing that eventually becomes Maze of the Blue Medusa.

3rd October 2013 - Zzarchov Kowalski first contacts me to propose the thing that eventually becomes Deep Carbon Observatory. Another guy with a 'Z' name, interesting.

26th October 2013 - The first Maze of the Blue Medusa draft is finished.

6th June 2014 - The first Veins of the Earth test print is created. I have never actually seen a copy of this print since, when I created it, I couldn't afford to buy myself a copy. I think everyone else in the production got one though.

24th June 2014 - Fire of the Velvet Horizon first proposed, as I remember as a 'simple' project to do after DCO. It turned out to be about five times as large.

8th July 2014 - Deep Carbon Observatory released.

5th March 2015 - Yoon-Suin released to universal acclaim. David CRUSHES ME LIKE THE ANT I AM. VICTORY IS HIS. He loses the $10 he bet on me to win.

8th March 2015 - Fire on the Velvet Horizon released. The world cries out; "Will there be a PDF?" and "I can't read this" to which we reply NO THERE FUCKING WON'T and I'M GENUINELY SORRY ABOUT THAT respectively

23rd September 2015 - Veins final edited  and multiply proof-read text is locked.

30th June 2016 - Maze of the Blue Medusa is released.

14th April 2017
- (the future) BOOM. Finally. You can now order Veins of the Earth. It's still going to take ten days to send as James forgot to order the packing materials.

So the times from conception to completion are;

  • VotE - 4 years, 6 months.
  • MotBM - 3 years.
  • DCO - 1 year, 9 months.
  • FotVH - 9 months!
So you can see, in a way, Veins is my first book, it's just the last one to come out.



Relive it or not it actually started off as an attempt to 'Vornheim' the Underdark, to provide a way to simulate complex underground spaces during play, so that you could adventure in them, in the same way that Vornheim helped you to do that for cities.

What it ended up as was my attempt to 'Vornheim' the Underdark encrusted with loads and loads and loads of extra stuff. So if your response to reading this blog is;

"My God I wish he would shut up and get to the point", then this might not be for you. If your response was "I would like more of that, with someone having gone over the prose a few times then packed the lot of it up with some really excellent and savage illustrations with high production values, and I'd like enough of it that, if I smacked someone in the face with it, I could break their nose, and I don't mind paying for it"


"Wow I really liked DCO but I wanted to go down that big chain at the end and I also wanted a whole world waiting for me down there, and I don't mind paying for it".

Then CONGRATULATIONS! This might be the thing for you!

Half of it is monsters, the other half mechanics and lists.

All of the monsters are individually illustrated by Scrap Princess. They are designed to be as original as possible, for a lot of things I drew on the Science of cave exploration and advancements in genetics that have taken place since the 1970's. The Archeans in particular are a race based upon Archean bacteria. The Knotsmen are based on my feelings about working as a call centre operator in the debt industry for several years. The empire of the Endoliths is based on taking train journeys to work in winter mornings where the whole world is dark but a lamp or a house-light burning in the distance encompasses a fragile globe of existance that seems to drift like a bubble on a dark sea, and on actual endoltihs.

The back end has rules for the creation of large scale underground maps, large cave complexes and smaller cave systems. There is a relatively novel and simple (one you do it a few times) method for creating small networks of caves as you play, for when players go off the map or just if you want to improv something.

There are rules for cannibalising your friends and a neat mechanic that unifies currency and light, giving you a sound reason to keep running around underground. 

And of course there are extensive rules for going insane. Also for getting mutated or 'altered' by your time beneath the earth. Oh and insanity itself is an actual psychic monster that hunts you through the dark, that's on top of all the other kinds of insanity.
I'll just show the contents page again.

It's about 100,000 words over more than 350 pages of A5. Scrap has art on nearly every double-page spread so it's an art book as well, some of it in black and white, some of it in colour. A few of her 'Cave Scenes' are amongst some of my favourite works that she has ever done.

Taken as a whole it's a pretty concentrated and intense wedge of culture. If it works it should be like a Stanley knife held to your eye.



Here's some of the books I have on record and that I can remember reading. The Richard Fortey books in particluar were a big influence on both this and on DCO.

  • De Animantibus Subterraneis by Georgius Agricola (first translated by Herbert Hoover, the U.S. President).
  • The Town Below Ground by Jan-Andrew Henderson.
  • London Under by Peter Ackroyd.
  • Tales From The Underground by David W. Wolfe.
  • Climbing Fit by Martyn Hurn & Pat Ingle.
  • Sand, A Journey Through Science and the Imagination by Michael Welland.
  • Subnature, Architectures Other Environments by David Gissen.
  • Cave Passages, Roaming the Underground Wilderness by Michael Ray Taylor.
  • Rabid, A Cultural History of the Worlds Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik & Monica Murphy.
  • Bound for Canaan, The Underground Railroad by Fergus M. Bordewich.
  • The Smoky God Willis Georger Emerson.
  • Underground Warfare 1914-1918 by Simon Jones.
  • The Underground Atlas by John Middleton & Tony Walthan.
  • The Descent by Jeff Long (an Airport novel gone bonkers).
  • The Dungeoneer's Survival Guide by Douglas Niles (my copy of this was chewed by rabbits).
  • Beneath Flanders Field by Peter Barton, Peter Doyle & Johan Vanderville.
  • Subterranean Worlds Inside Earth by Timothy Green Beckley (a great book THE dErO ARE REAL!!!!).
  • The Climbers Handbook by Garth Hattingh.
  • Periodic Tales, The Curious Lives of the Elements by Hugh Aldersey-Williams.
  • La Place de La Concorde Suisse by John McPhee.
  • Underground Worlds by Donald Dale Jackson (this is a lovely book if you can get your hands on it).
  • Blind Descent by James M. Tabor (factual but in prose style, utter glorious bullshit).
  • Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution by Richard Fortey.
  • The Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey.


With luck this will be the last time I have to whore this out or include the 'Veins' tag in something. Those of you who have been following the progress of BFR will be happy to hear that it has reached the stage where even if I hang myself there is enough there for someone to produce a completed product so that will actually come out at some point.

If this does well (no idea if it will) we might one day go back underground. Right now I'm thinking either an Isles of the Imprisoned Moon book or a dErO book. But both of those will be SHORT. I am not making any more long RPG books for a good while. They drive me mad.

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Real Forgotten Realms

Thinking about Mentzers (EDIT, it's Greenwood, I was reading his interviews ond for some insane reason put Mentzers name in there? Just dumb I guess.) Forgotten Realms, its origins and what seems to be a sad descent, and imagining a version of that imbued with what I take to be the power and beauty of its first conception, lead me to think about our actual forgotten realms.

Nations on the edge of memory. The "oh really?" places. Burgundy, Novogrod, the Quara-Khitai, the Indus Valley Civilisation, the Cahokia Mounds in the United States, the Khazaria, the green Sahara, the tower of the Ghorids. There are so many. The thing about a lost nation or a lost memory is not that it is lost but that it is in the act of being lost, an object becoming a process, showing us the existence of time. What is truly lost, we know nothing of, what we call lost or forgotten is only half-lost and half-forgotten. Just enough remains to let us know that something was there. So when we talk about forgotten realms, we are talking about occluded realms, cast into shadows by time, where we can see times action, where we can see the event horizon of entropy that will ultimately consume us.

Perhaps I see only one side. Our real forgotten realms were not just forgotten, but recalled, re-discovered and found again. Resurrected with research and archaeology. Perhaps the important thing about the real forgotten realms is not that they were forgotten but that we are reaching for them. This sense of new-old or freshly ancient history has its place in our schema of creation. It's not just that this place disappeared, never to be recalled, it's that we are going into it and finding out more about it. The genre may want to be a tragedy but the story is an adventure. The D&D 'story' in particular, finds the future in the past.

(Of course there is a conversation to be had somewhere about what counts as a 'Real' Forgotten Realm and what is merely history. Opinions will differ.)

Then add to that the mood and feel of Greenwoods original, as seen through the stories he told about it in interviews. The feeling of that is elegiac. It's about warmth and friendship and adventure. It's a summery aesthetic. Its a world based on the feeling you get on your summer holidays, where time seems to wheel away without hours and, in Greendwoods case, where you were hanging out with your friends in the woods, pretending to be in another world, and I bet if you were there for a while it did feel like you were almost in another world. (In my case these months were spent indoors, alone, reading bad fantasy novels and playing Baldurs Gate, but whatever).

We do tend to see forgotten kingdoms in an elegiac way. Nobody considers the Quara-Khitai and thinks "Wow, I bet they had to skull-fuck a bunch of people to build that", although they probably did. If the kingdom itself was forgotten then the truculent minority that kingdom was dicking around is twice forgotten.

It brings to mind the idea of a kind of civilisational Elysium where all of the worlds forgotten realms go to exist in the summer of their power and in their best possible selves like Kennedy's Camelot, and Forgotten Realms, when related through Greenwoodss stories about it, does remind me of Ray Bradbury and Louise Bogan and Kennedy on Cinefilm.

The fact that you are playing you is important becasue it's not just about this other world,  it's this other world compared to your original world, the world of release compared to the world of constraint.

An aspect of the Summer Realms is that bad things are generally done by villains and are not an inextricable part of the world. It's not that horror doesn't exist, it's that it is defeatable, resolvable and impermanent like summer storms, and that when it is removed an already-existing harmony is restored, a world where it is visible that history does truly arc towards justice, where evil is a mistake, and not part of the design.

But, if there were summer realms there must be winter realms as well, where there is only work, where you spend your time with whom you're told to, where you do not decide what you do, where you are indoors, where you do not see nature or move within it
and where there is no romance, only need.

Maybe the difference between romance and need is between a desire that enjoys its own expression and hopes that it will be returned and a desire that loathes its own expression and believes it will not be returned.

Not a great post, but I got shit to do.