Sunday, 26 March 2017

Mapping the OSR


In this post I describe people and groupings in this purely in the way in which I am most familiar with them. No offence is intended. If you are one of those people or from one of those groups and you would rather be described another way then let me know in the comments and I will amend/add your opinion so long as it is not a bucket of blancmange.

So you can consider this a ‘Living Document’. I will update it for as long as updating it makes sense and it’s still readable.

Also, this isn’t about you pimping your Zine or your G+ community, it’s not a boosterism post. We are not arguing over who has the most people. I am trying to find out where are the people.)

Also, this concentrates on the English Speaking world becasue that's all I speak

I got interested in this when I heard the guys who do the gauntlet podcast were maybe looking for someone to do an OSR-focused podcast.

When I thought about it I realised that I have no real idea what the major groupings in the OSR actually are.

The ‘scene’ in general seems to me quite anarchistic, independent, vaguely flinty, indifferent to the kind of things you need to do in order to build 'a community' in both good and bad ways and that, along with the general fragmentation brought on by the internet, intensified by the culture wars, means we live in a mosaic and don’t know much about the other pieces.

I was also wondering about just how many people can be said to be in this thing. My guess is no more than 10,000 or 20,000 people worldwide. And 20,000 is probably pushing it.

So far my awareness of the OSR is that a pretty good book will eventually sell about 2,000 copies. (EDIT, 3000 copies, and thank you Zak for correcting me.) So if the total number of readers is 10 to 20 thousand then that means 5 to 10 per cent are actually buying stuff, which is about what I would expect.

So I thought I would try to find out. This is my attempt to build a kind of map of where people are in the OSR, what they are reading and where they congregate;


Personalities

So obviously, it’s a personality-driven movement. “Wizards in Towers” as I’ve called it before.

Tenkar

I know we have Eric Tenkar over on Tenkars Tavern who I think of as being a little more traditional/less hipsterish. The leftys in my feed think this guy is right-wing, I'm not sure that he does. Tenkar, if you want to define yourself let me know and I will put it in. He’s got his own community thing going on over there.

(Almost nine and half thousand G+ followers.)


Pundit

Then over with the Pundit on the RPGSite we have his Trumpers and Free Speechers and anyone who doesn't mind hanging out with Trump voters. I would personally characterise this as right-wing but there may be a really wide variety of people on there.

(Not that big on G+ but has his own forum.)


Dyson Logos

Dyson Logos the map maker is very central to a wide variety of groups and hated by almost nobody. Significant less through force of personality than through skill and relentless production but due to his uniqueness, his focus on patreon over publishing (he does publish a bit) and the way his talent and production intersect with his personality, I have put him here rather than down below with the publishers.

(Nearly 5 and half thousand G+ followers.)


Zak

Zak. Zak acts as a kind of fulcrum for this part of the community. I think the first time I ever heard of Scrap it was because Zak re-blogged some of her stuff. A lot of the people in my blogroll first found out about each other through Zak.

The wing of the OSR most likely to get mentioned in Vice Magazine (multiple times I think). The poncy hipster wing of the OSR.

Politics tends towards leftism with a high degree of individualism rather than SJ 'comity', I think is the gentlest way to describe it, with some degree of toleration for conservatism providing it is the British kind or that you are quiet about it.

And of course the key to membership is that you have to be able to tolerate, or actively like, Zak.

There are lots of people in my blogroll or who are persona friends who I think of as being pretty big bloggers but I am shoving us all in here under Zak as it seems to me that all of those circles interest much more than they are different.

(Almost 4,000 G+ followers)


Kiel

We would have to add Kiel to this, considering that he is the only vaguely OSR-related person I am familiar with on tumblr, that he has a reasonable following on there and that he is the closest anyone in the OSR gets to the 'tumblr aesthetic’. Bright, nintendoey, not physically or emotionally alienated in the same way as the 'Aesthetics of Ruin' people.

Probably sort-of centrist for tumblr which makes him like the more likeable 'Steven Universe' end of the Social Justice spectrum, rather than the Gawker end.


Gabe Soria

Runs a tumblr called Sword & Backpack about which I knew nothing until right now. If anyone wants to give me a quick factual lowdown then let me know.


Alexis

Alexis from the blog Tao of D&D is another of those guys who has pissed off half of the people they have ever met but he still has a thing going with his blog I think. Anyone who can think of an informative, non-insulting way to describe what he does, let me know in the comments. EDIT, from the comments "Tao Alex is just about the sheer love of detail. For grins in between completing 30 mile hexmaps of the entire planet Earth, and devising systems to procedurally fill each one of those hexes with even finer detail, he's working out an even crunchier extensions of segment-by-segment AD&D combat. "



The Old Guys
Guys with a significant impact in forming the social and interest groupings that lead into the modern OSR but so far as I know, not currently deeply engaged with online social stuff at the moment, with them concentrating on other things.

Courtney Campbell - still runs 'Hack and Slash' which had a big impact on the culture. Is still posting but at a reduced volume. Courtney, if you want me to move you out of the 'Old Guys' then let me know.

James Maliszewski - ran Grognardia, a fundamental OSR blog, currently doing a Tekumel fanzine.

Jeff Rients - ran a central gaming blog, recently released Broodmother Sky Fortress through LotFP.

Justin Alexander - from the Alexandrian blog has a following I know nothing about. (Checks,.. holy shit his Patreon gets $108.00 per post.)

See Stuart Whites comment below for a list of other important influences.


The Bloggers
There is a huge, huge, huuuuge list of blogs by people who have influenced the hobby in some way or another. There are so many that I am debating with myself about even including any as it will just turn into a giant impenetrable list. Almost every individual on this list is in some way a 'blogger'.


Forums
The RPG.Site - see 'Pundit' above.

Drangonsfoot - A forum of the true old Gygaxian Grognards. Had a big influence on the early OSR and still chugging along. Total membership is just over 10,000.

(Described as; "Dragonsfoot is focused on first edition AD&D. The posters seem primarily to have grown up playing that game, many look to have never stopped. There is a strong love of Gygax here, who was a regular poster on the forum until his death. (I would say the forum has an overt anti-Arneson vibe.) Other TSR luminaries post here as well. The forum has produced a lot of 1e modules and other resources.")

odd74 - I know very little about these guys, they seem similar to Dragonsfoot to me. Currently at just over 2000 members.

(Described as; "ODD74 is the forum centred around Original D&D (the "little brown books"). Many posters look to have been playing in the 70s and discovered the original game at that time. Most posters also look to have never really stopped playing old school D&D. Mike Mornard, who was one of Gygax's original players, posts their regularly. The forum is fairly active and congenial. It has official sub forums for some OD&D related projects, notably Carcosa.

Also described as 'chill, drama free, dull and specialised')

In the comments below Settembrini goes into the deep history of 0dd74 and the links between it and later bloggers like James Mal.

Knights-n-Knaves - Similar to the above, currently at just over 1000 total members.

rpg.net - almost all of the people that I personally know, don't use rpg.net or use it minimally. It's almost a defining element for my immediate social circle and even many of the Big Personalities above who hate each other can still agree that they hate rpg.net more. I know Kevin Crawford is still on there a bit.


Publishers


I’m going to classify Major Publishers as ‘can afford a print run’.

Lamentations Of The Flame Princess

We would probably have to say that Zak was the dominant and most emblematic creator of LotFP except perhaps for Raggi himself, but a fair amount of people have done work here. I think one of Zaks earliest blog posts was him running Mandy through DFD and that lead up to I Hit It With My Axe. Vornheim is a central thing that links a lot of people in the ‘Zak Circle’ with a lot of people in the ‘LotFP Circle’, though they are not the same thing.

If you're reading this then you are probably familiar with the LotFP aesthetic. Dark. Horror-themed, with a really-specific and tightly-nested range of values. Plenty of time for the Zak-influenced hipsters but can go Gonzo as well.


Frog God

I know about these guys mainly from Swords and Wizardry and Rappan Athuk.

I don't really know what their culture is, what their aesthetic is, I think of them as being kinda Groggish? A little trad, perhaps bonded closely with the old Old-School forums. I think Matt Finch played or plays some part here but I have no idea if he has a strong following somewhere or what.



Goodman

The only thing I hear about regularly from Goodman is the DCC line and specifically Harley Stroh's work. I'm assuming they have a reasonable fan base because they sell that giant fucking book but it doesn't come up that often in my feed.

I consider Goodman something of a 'Gonzo' publisher. A bit brighter and hairier than the other two. A bit more disco and chunky. They definitely have their own particular aesthetic, or at least, there is a kind of image or a kind of feel that comes into my mind when I think of ‘Goodman Games’ and it’s distinct from the others.


North Wind Adventures

Publishers of Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea. These guys do print runs and they have been nominated for a few Ennies.


Basic Fantasy Group

Chris Gonnerman created BFRPG and Iron Falcon. Got some Ennie nominations and is currently still producing stuff over on his site.



New Big Dragon

I know very little about these guys but the comments say they do their own print runs and their biggest seller on RPG.NOW is a gold pick so they must be doing something right.


Autarch

The publishers of Adventurer Conqueror King and Dwimmermount. The owners are connected to the Escapist website, which also first ran the D&D with Porn Stars web series.


Lost Pages

Either the smallest of the big publishers or one of the largest of the small publishers. I’m pretty sure Sine Nomine might sell more but Paolo does actually do print runs, which pushes him into the bigger pool. This should be in here at least for Wonder and Wickedness but Paolo has his own game and he brings out Into The Odd from Chris McDowell. 
  

Sine Nomine

In terms of sales and influence Kevin Crawford is probably a Major Publisher, but so far as I know he doesn’t do print runs. He’s the main reason to occasionally tune into RPG.Net. He’s out there ploughing his own furrow with Stars Without Number, Scarlet Heroes and a bunch of other things.



Hydra Co-Op
Hydra is made up of these guys, they are most well known for the Hill Cantons books, including Fever Dreaming Marlinko and Slumbering Ursine Dunes. I would put their aesthetic somewhere between Goodman and the Ruinophiles around Zak with a reading group, I would guess, largely made up of people from both camps.


Rafael Chandler
Rafael has produced a range of books through POD, including Narcosa, which was quite well known, and did Lusus Naturae with LotFP. I haven't heard much from him lately but he has a grown-up job so is probably doing that.


Johnstone Metzger

I remember this guy plugging along on his own from back with ‘Evil Wizards in a Cave’. I have a copy of his latest Dream thing from Lulu, which I will review at some point, even without reviewing it as a game, as an object, it looks like a professional publication. If Crawford is in then he has to be in.

Kabuki Kaiser

Creator in of Castle Gargantua and the Mad Monks of Kwantoom (I think is the spelling). A one-man publisher in the Metzger and Crawford mold.


Greg Gorgonmilk

Of the Gorgonmilk blog. I'm putting him in as he seems to have his own circle somewhat distinct from others, he is part of a POD publishing group, Necrotic Gnome and largely becasue he played a big part in getting the Petty Gods book to print. 



Geography


So it looks like the major groupings are in;

Toronto

Quite a lot of overlap here with the Storygames community? I certainly know quite a few OSR nerds from Toronto, a surprising number really. How the fuck do I know this many people in fucking Toronto?

U.S.

See comments below but current opinion seems to be that there are no major concentrations in the U.S. but a more general spread.

California

Mainly a cluster because of Zak. Also we have Kirin Robinson, Arnold K (I think) and whatever is going on with the ‘professional’ youtube stuff. Youtube culture is effectively (I think) LA culture since everyone seems to be from there or moving there.


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

From the comments; "There seems to be some sort of tiny blob in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA" . See below to see who is hanging out there.

Southern US

The south of the U.S. seems like the powerhouse of traditional OSR gaming. Often seems like there is a a bit of a cultural shift between people who seem like the more liberal members of a conservative community (Southern U.S.) and the more liberal members of a liberal community (Coastal U.S. and Toronto).

I get the vague impression that there is maybe a very large community of people in the Southern U.S. who interact very little, or not at all, with the internet and are therefore almost invisible from our point of view.

See Christopher Richardsons comment below for a deeper look into this.

U.K.

A tiny handful of creators in the north and a spread of people throughout the south. Technically geographically we are probably closer together than any other group of OSR people. If we were American we would probably think of ourselves as neighbours, only a five hour drive away.

Australia/New Zealand

Another handful of important creators and bloggers. Jez Gordon plays a huge part in shaping the modern LotFP aesthetic. Scrap is there, Matthew Adams, Logan Knight when he was still blogging and a bunch of other bloggers.

Those are the major concentrations I think, with a wide variety of people spread out over the US and a bunch of people in Europe.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Ultimate Horror Game

Surely the ultimate horror game would be one where, at least initially, the players do not know they are playing a horror game.

Horror is brought into perspective by normality, so the best way to being would be with something like an Apocalypse Word-derived storygame set in the real world. AW is good at developing pre-existing networks of connection before the game starts so do that in a reality-based situation. Tell players that they are exploring gender or something.

Or even better, tell them that they are exploring non-privileged perspectives in the mental health field.

Start off with some normal shit and throw in some everyday stressors "uh oh, looks like I might be in danger of losing this office job/relationship".

Then you veeeery slowly start introducing reality bending stuff.

The thing is, because they think they are playing a game about mental health, at first even the players think they are seeing things that aren't there, or blacking out and imagining things that didn't happen. Of course they are scared to go to the authorities and of course no-one will believe them.

Then you throw in something that, while no-one else witnesses it directly, can only be the result of supernatural forces. But even then you don't tell them directly what's going on and one or two still think they are playing in the mental illness game.

As soon as the session is finished you just stand up, refuse to answer any questions, grab your stuff and go. They wouldn't even be certain what kind of game they had played in.

Monday, 20 March 2017

21 British Kings as NPC's

I’m reading through Geoffery of Monmouth’s glorious widescreen bullshit History of the Kings of Britain. (I’m only up to Julius Ceasar).

The names, in particular, are fantastic, much more interesting than the names of real kings, and each one is either a hero, with some magnificent quality, a villain, or simply an NPC who gets listed with no comment. Joseph Manola managed to turn Pathfinder adventure paths into OSR modules by translating time into space, so why not do the same for British history? Here’s most of (interesting) the pre-roman British kings from that book, listed as if they were all alive in the same place at the same time.


Lud - famous for his town-planning activities. He is re-building the walls of the town of Kaerlundein and girding it with innumerable towers. He orders his citizens to construct their homes in such style that no other city in the most far-flung of kingdoms can boast of palaces so fair. Lud is a warrior king, lavish in arranging feasts.


Digueillus - the son of Capoir, a man modest and prudent in all his actions, and one who cares above all for the fair administration of justice amongst his people.


Beldgabred - Called the 'God of the Minstrels' this king surpasses all the musicians of ancient times, both in harmony, and in playing every kind of musical instrument.


Archgallo - He makes it his business to do away with the noble and exalts the base. He steals wealth from the rich and in this way heaps up untold treasure. The leaders of his realm refuse to endure this any longer. Archgallo's brother, called ‘The Dutiful’ is Elidurus. All the people of the realm desire him to be king, but each time the depose Archgallo, exile him and place him in charge, Elidurus uses disguise and trickery to restore Archgallo to the throne.


Gorbonianus  - No man alive is more just or a greater lover of equity, and none rule their people more frugally. He pays due honour to the gods and insists upon common justice for his people. In all the cities of his realm he restores the temples of the gods and builds many new ones. A great abundance of wealth floods his realm, such as is enjoyed by none of his neighbours.  He encourages the country folk to till their ground and protects them from the oppression of their overlords. he rewards his young soldiers with gold and silver, making it unnecessary for any of them to molest his comrades-in-arms.


Morvidus - Would be famous for his prowess if he was not outrageously cruel. Once he loses his temper he spares no-one, committing mayhem on the spot, if only he can lay his hands on his weapons. Once he proves victorious there is not a soul alive he will not slaughter, he orders his enemies to be dragged before him and satiates his lust for blood by killing them one by one. When he becomes so exhausted that he has to give up for a time, he orders the remainder skinned alive and in this state has them burnt.

For all this he is handsome and distributes gifts most open-handedly. In the whole land there is no-one as brave as he, or who can resist him in a fight.

A monster of unheard-of savageness has appeared on the coast of his kingdom and is eating up his towns one by one. Morvidus intends to fight her single-handed.


Marcia - Wife of the deceased king Guithelin, Marcia rules until her son, the heir Sisillus reaches his majority. Skilled in the arts, she is using her natural talent to invent many extraordinary things, including a full set of laws which she intends to call the Lex Martiana.


Gurguit Barbtruc - Though called a lover of peace and justice and having adorned the City of Legions with walls and public hangings, Barbtruc is also incredibly prideful and has fought wars against all his neighbours, reducing them to subjection. He has been refused tribute by the King of Denmark and is currently building a fleet and army in order to sail there, kill the king and reduce Denmark to a state of subservience.


Belinus - Takes pleasure in the proper administration of justice, a great builder of roads, he is extending the laws of sanctuary governing temples to every road leading to a temple. he has fought many wars, both at land and sea against his brother Brennius who desires only to take the throne. Despite being victorious Belinus consistently forgives Brennius due to the passionate oratory of their mother Touuenna who bears her breasts before him, embraces him, covers him with her tears and reminds him of the terrible pains she suffered bearing them both.


Dunvallo - Excelling all the other Kings of Britain for his good looks and bravery, he has declared that during his lifetime no bandits will be allowed to draw their swords, that the outrages of robbers will come to an end and that the temples of the gods and cities should be so privileged that anyone who escapes to them as a fugitive or when accused of some crime must be pardoned by his accuser when he comes out. It is not clear how these laws will interact.

Dunvallo is currently at war with Rudaucus and Staterius. At the height of his next battle he plans to have his crack troops change into the armour of the enemy, taken from their bodies, and in this way get close enough to his opponents to kill them. Unfortunately, they have developed the same plan.


Porrex - Porrex had a brother, Ferrex. When their father became senile Porrex tried to take the throne for himself, attempting to ambush Ferrex and assassinate him. Ferrex escaped to Gaul and returned with assistance from Suhard, King of the Franks but was killed in combat. Porrex thinks himself safe but his mother, Judon, always loved Ferrex more and is consumed with grief and hatred. She plans to wait till Porrex is asleep and then, with the help of her maid-servants, hack him to pieces.


Rivallo - A peaceful and prosperous young man who leads his kingdom frugally, he is nevertheless worried as it has been raining blood for three days and two men have died from the flies which have swarmed.


Leir - King Leir rules from Leicester but has become very old and senile. He has three daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia and has a really excellent idea for dividing his kingdom between them.


Bladud - Bladud rules from the town of Kaerbadum, commonly called Bath due to the hot baths he has constructed there which are so suited to the needs of mortal men. He worships the goddess Minerva and in her temple he has lit fires which never go out or fall away into ash, for the moment they begin to die down they turn into balls of stone. An ingenious man who encourages necromancy throughout his realm, King Bladud has constructed a pair of wings for himself with which he can fly through the upper air.


Rud Hud Huidibras - This king rules from the fortress of Paladur on the walls of which an Eagle often lands and gives true prophecy.


Leil - A great lover of peace and justice, Leil rules from Kaerleil, which he built, but has become so old he is now feeble and inactive, a civil war threatens to break out.


Ebraucus - A tall man of remarkable strength who loves to sail and who is, essentially, a pirate and raider, rich in stolen silver and gold. He rules from Kaerbrauc, which he built. He has twenty wives and has also twenty sons and twenty daughters. The names of his sons are; Brutus Greenshield, Margodud, Sisillius, Regin, Morvid, Bladud, Lagon, Bodloan, Kincar, Spaden, Gaul, Dardan, Eldad, Ivor, Cangu, Hector, Kerin, Rud, Assaracus and Buel. The names of his daughters are; Gloigin, Ignogin, Oudas, Guenlian, Guardid, Angarad, Guenlodoe, Tangustel, Gorgon, Medlan, methahel, Ourar, Mailure, Kambreda, Ragan, Gael, Ecub, Nest, Chein, Stadudud, Cladus, Ebrein, Blangen, Aballac, Angoes, Galaes (the most beautiful of all women who live in Britian or Gaul), Edra, Anor, Stadiald and Egron.


Mempricus - Eaten up by burning treachery, Mempricus quarrelled with his brother Malin and called him to a conference of peace before murdering him in the presence of the other delegates. He then took over the government, exercising such great tyranny that, within a few years, he encompassed the death of almost all the more distinguished men. He hates his own family and by main force or treachery has done away with anyone who might succeed him in the kingship. he has also deserted his wife and abandoned himself to the vice of sodomy, preferring unnatural lust to normal passion. He enjoys hunting but fears wolves.


Locrinius - The eldest of three brothers, including Kamber and Albanactus. His kingdom was invaded by the King of the Huns. With the help of his brothers he defeated that king but on board his ship discovered three beautiful young women, one of whom was Estrildis, daughter of the King of Germany.

Estrildis was of such beauty that it would be difficult to find a young woman worthy to be compared with her. No precious ivory, no recently fallen snow, no lilies even could surpass the whiteness of her skin. Locrinius is utterly in love with Estrildis but is married to the daughter of his ally Corineus, who's name is Gwendolin. He has had a secret cave dug and has had Estrildis hidden there for seven years. Locrinius pretends to make sacrifices to his god and visits her then. She is now pregnant.


Corineus - Corineus rules Cornwall which he prefers as it is the cornu or horn of Britain and therefore matches his name. His greatest pleasure is wrestling giants, of which there are far more in his kingdom than any other, another reason for his preference. The greatest giant in his realm is called Gogamog and they have yet to wrestle.

Monday, 13 March 2017

A Handful of Hermits

Homeless-ass motherfuckers get EVERYWHERE.

In any Knightly tale its almost invariable that the Knight will, at some point, be either dispossessed, wounded, exiled, robbed, mistaken for a woman and/or driven mad.

At these times they will almost always come upon an 'Ermite in the woods who will usually take them in and let them rest with few, or no, questions asked.



Charcoal Burner - Dark and mystical figures treated with suspicion and awe by churls. Charcoal burners spend a long time out in the ash woods carefully and continually observing their charcoal piles and muttering apocalyptic prophesies.


Outlaw - A "Sprouting Jack" or "Green Thomas". Not all outlaws wear green or pay fealty to the Spring Court, most are just escaped pickpockets and small criminals that ran for it and ended up in the woods, but many, especially the outlaw leaders, will claim some kind of loyalty to a greater cause. After all, it costs nothing and makes you look good. Better the deposed son of a a noble knight still loyal to an ancient warrant to a ruined court than John Pigglesworth, debt-ridden ex-bowyer. The Inquisition can only hang you once! (This is, in fact, not true. If you annoy them enough, the Inquisition will hang you as many times as they like.)


Lunatic "Poor Tom" - One of that narrow class of person in the Eclipsed Kingdom who's visions, delusions or mental fevers are strong or un-charismatic enough to make them useless to even the most cracked and deranged half-elf court, but also not severe enough to stop them from somehow surviving in the wild.


Witch (not necessarily a croneish one) - Witchcraft is standardised in the Eclipsed Kingdom. As the Black Church does not recognise the validity of any Earthly faith, the demons, devils and dark spirits which prey upon that faith are not regarded with any systematic abjuration. They are as inane as angels. The church has no strong objection to anyone selling their soul becasue it regards the soul as an illusion. The greatest Devils and Demons are thought of as nothing more than the spiritual equivalents of ranting conspiracy theorists, raging against an imaginary order that does not truly exist, bending aeons of effort and unceasing hatred towards the destruction of a divine hierarchy which is itself merely a breath of air.

Devils, Daemons and similar spirits are objected to only when their activities interfere with the reasonable running of the Kingdom and of the Church. The most powerful can be dangerous in certain circumstances and should be avoided or controlled appropriately.

Anyone in the Eclipsed Kingdom may indulge themselves in Witchcraft and Demonology if they think they can get away with it. Even church members may do so, though above a certain level of it is considered a rather shameful and childish hobby and a true servant of the church should really direct their efforts towards God.

Consequently Devils and Daemons are (relatively) common, ranging from the sardonic and urbane Devil of the court to the hairy-arsed goatfucking type that hides under bridges and steals pigs.


Fey-Dazzled - in love with a tree or rock or bird (1 in 6 chance if a real fey and they are actually married). This person has abandoned human society to live in connubial bliss with an aspect of the local environment. Trees are common but any discreet element, such as a stream, could be the object of their affection. Other than their sincere relationship with this aspect of the natural world, they may be a completely reasonable person, though they may sneak out of their shack in the night to fuck a tree, and will become utterly enraged if anyone interferes with their 'spouse'.


Astronomer -  Astronomers in the Eclipsed Kingdom concern themselves mainly with the Observation of Azathoth, rather than with observation of the stars (which are merely his dream). An Astronomers hermitage is likely to contain an extremely simple jury-rigged camera obscura which can project the image of god onto the walls. The astronomer will keep reams of records on valuable vellum or simply scratched onto the walls themselves, recording the horrible shifting movements of the limbs of Azathoth, as much as they may be perceived. Most Astronomers think they are close to uncovering a secret code which will indicate some cosmic meaning. Ultimately, they all commit suicide.


Goatherd - Cunning, wizened and crafty from outwitting Goats, the goatherd is a creature of twisted suspicion and murmuring fear, yet, also attains an imperious and kingly aspect towards their own goats when their rule is threatened. A well-fed goat is much more intelligent than the average churl and, having mastered the society of such creatures Goatherds form a Machiavellian peasant intelligentsia.


Shepherd - Frantic, tired, harried and depressed from dealing with the stupidity of sheep the Shepherd would probably rather be doing almost anything else. Sheep cough like men, butt your knees and seemingly want to die. They are regularly eaten by any kind of predator. The owner of the sheep is never the Shepherd and the Shepherd lives in continual moronic terror of their master when they find out that yet another dumb fucking sheep has got itself killed. A Shepherd is impossible to persuade for the finer aspects of their intellect have melted away under the caustic stupidity of the sheep, leaving only an immeasurable horror, but they are relatively easy to terrify as the exercise of power over the sheep has taught them that only brutal and relentless whacking with a stick can force the idiotic masses into anything like sane and decent behaviour. As above, so below.


Swineherd - The friendly and likeable swineherd forms and easy compact with their porcine wards. The pig is a sensitive and civilised creature, crafty of nose and susceptible to reasonable policy. Most swineherds really like their pigs and will discuss their different personalities and capabilities at length. They will wander through the woods looking for mushrooms and truffles and can occasionally make serious money through recovery of a rare specimen, this is money that they always lose through some peasant misadventure.


Egg-Thief - Despite, or perhaps becasue of, the fact that birds do not legally exist in the Eclipsed Kingdoms, the theft of eggs from bird nests is extremely illegal, the eggs being, almost literally, creations of unreasonable beings. Of course as soon as an egg does hatch, the result becomes invisible to the senses of a god-fearing individual, but up until that point it is a form pregnant with unspeakable horror, a shape and object emerging from an impossible and un-nameable potentiality and, in time, re-producing exactly such a Nightmare Being. Eggs are the currency of crime in the Eclipsed Kingdom and to be paid in eggs is the true seal of a rogue, outlaw and heretic. He who caresses an egg puts himself forever beyond the forgiveness of God or King.


Mad Knight - Knights go mad more easily than common men, for the substance of their thought is finer and nobler, more sensitive the the manifold complexities of the dream of God, and also is their burden and honour so much the greater, having the bear the mighty weight of a noble name and, perhaps, even the safety and survival of the Kingdom entire. It should not come as a surprise that they commonly throw off their clothes and run into the forest to live in a ditch.

A Mad Knight can be distinguished from a "Poor Tom" chiefly by their still-significant combat capacity and by the marks of martial training and experience still visible upon their body. They commonly go naked or in rags and are usually mute, miming a childish dumb-play to communicate. They will have thrown away their armour but their sword they will have hidden somewhere secret nearby. It's likely that someone is looking for the Mad Knight for reasons either good or ill.


Peasant Protagonist - This individual usually has some kind of complex but inane problem of  the kind distinct to churls, like trying to trick a devil out of a pig before three bridges are crossed, or something of the kind. The PC's will be meeting and/or hearing of this person again due to their adventures, though not necessarily in connection with the PC's.


A Fair Unknown - i.e. seems humble kitchen hand or swineherd but has suspiciously soft hands and is in fact heir to a major barony. The PC's will encounter this person again where they will be either rewarded or condemned/mocked for how they treated them. However, even if the PC's treated this person well, in the scene where this takes place a wide variety of other NPC's will be present and it will turn out that they treated the Fair Unknown like shit. Since they will be called out for this in front of the PC's they will deeply resent them from this point on.


Crone - The woods and hills are always full of Crones, magical or otherwise. It has been claimed that in the Eclipsed Kingdom one is never more than five miles from a crone. It is a cronish nation.

Friday, 10 March 2017

A Review of Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History.

This is by William H. McNeill and was published in 1995 and is available online under an academic POD scheme.
  
McNeills idea is that unified muscular action on the part of human groups, whether through dance, drill, calisthenics, or via some other means, plays a vital role in forming group solidarity in human societies, and that the effects of this keeping together in time have been used at various times, sometimes as a source of emotional resilience in societies under stress, and at other times as a kind of battery or power source for successful or expansionist societies.

He says a bit more than that, his initial observations are very interesting and the more reality-based aspects to his argument are compelling, but he has a flaky mind and slips easily into totalising statements and generalities more typical of the 70's than the 90's.

The strongest part of his argument is that certain kinds of work in which the muscular effort of large numbers of people are focused upon a narrow area, like a series of blacksmiths combining to beat a piece of metal in rhythm, or sailors pulling on a rope, or where all the bodies are not focused on one object but are arranged closely in space and performing the same action at the same time, like planters in a field or infantry on a battlefield, is either only possible, or massively enhanced when people act together in time.

McNeil would claim that this capacity is unique to man. or at least, he would say that the ability to move together in time, as a group, to music, is unique to man. Animals do flock and move as one, but not to music, and I do not think they manipulate as one.

The idea of this kind of very precise uniform rhythm being a uniquely human quality is fascinating to me. It lead me to consider if perhaps movement, or the body and it actions, are not the original syntax to language and that just as written and printed communication colonised verbal and spoke communication, absorbing its forms and then only slowly altering them, perhaps spoken language similarly absorbed the nature of muscular syntax, first simply emphasising motion like a tennis players grunt, then developing in complexity, then learning to create verbally the context and complexity that previously could be provided only by the body, and then expanding into new potentialities of description unbound by the body, but still ultimately rooted in it.

This would mean the existence of a pre-oral human culture that provided its basis.

Anyway, McNeill talks first about the importance of muscular bonding in small communities and in unified work, then goes on to religion and then finally to war and politics, essentially moving forward in time through all of these.

It's during the religion statement that we get the real motherload of surprisingly confident assertations and totalising statements. These are never frustrating, McNeil is a large hearted outgoing totalizer rather than a reductionist cutter-off, in which case his slight flakiness would be much more offensive, but he's still probably wrong about a fair amount of the specific stuff he says.

If McNeil is right in everything he says then muscular bonding is the secret engine behind almost every major shift in human culture, the rise and fall of empires and the identity of nations.

His work on religion is fascinating though, there seems to be a deep, permanent, continual and endless struggle for power between the head and the body in world religion. Powerful new forms of religious expression and feeling are continually being developed, often linked to complex emergent forms of muscular bonding that relate the transcendent directly through the movements of the body, then they become successful, then the hierarchy tries to tame or repress all the uncontrolled movement that originally went along with the first explosion of expression, then it happens all over again.

The body, it seems, is not just immediate, animal and rooted in the present, which we probably already suspected, but also timeless, outside cause and consequence, capable of directly connecting with the higher realities through movement. Dance as prayer. It is belief rooted in the people, emerging from their practice, often ignoring or escaping known structures of power and control.

The head by comparison, is highly aware of time and extremely aware of authority and hierarchy. It prefers to reach the godhead through introversion and separation from the body and it is continually frustrated that people keep. fucking. dancing and moving around in an irregular way.

The head is rather unaware of the achievements of the body and tends to either edit them out of its histories or just ignore them. Something carried on to the present day when we compare the staggering shitload of stuff we know about words and our comparative poverty of knowledge about movement and its place in our history and development, despite it certainly being more central and vital than words.

The chapter of politics on war looks at the development, and loss of close-order-drill (the Spartans were very dancy, Athenians refused to learn drill properly as messed with their individuality), then the loss or degradation of drill as a military technique, then its recovery in the early modern period and its effects in China and Europe.

Close-Order drill being part of a feedback loop with certain aspects of civilisation makes a lot of sense. The way it interrelates with the formation of a mass military identity, and the sometimes unpredictable way that interrelates with power structures, is interesting.

He also takes time to look at the development of calisthenics in the modern period and this is a little gem. We get to see the very different ways national cultures adopt (or refuse to adopt) the principals of civilian mass movement. The Germans are into it for masculine reasons. The Brits don’t mind women and the poor doing it but the ruling class prefer team sports. Same in the U.S. The Czechs fucking love it. The French absolutely despise it, and won't do that or sport, unless a bicycle is involved.


It's a fascinating and very short book and I would recommend it for anyone with even a general interest in the subject.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Adventures in the Eclipsed Kingdom

A Note on Gender


Whenever anyone in the Eclipsed Lands tries to disguise themselves as the opposite gender and puts on all the clothes & adopts the behaviours, that this disguise will be utterly impenetrable to anyone from those lands.

BUT - it only works across one axis. That is, if a PC dresses himself up as a washerwoman, and then commits crimes as that Washerwoman, then escapes and while being hunted, dresses up as a different woman, then the hunters will see straight through that disguise, but not the fact that they are male.

"Ah ha, Widow Gargleblast, you thought to disguise yourself!"

So effectively (so long as they have the clothes and accoutrements) every PC gets a secondary opposite-gender identity, but that identity stays stable.

Plus, depending on their gender, looks and CHA, most PC's will become extremely attractive to specific groups in their new gender role.

Young women disguised as men become highly attractive to other young women and former male enemies may now find them strangely charismatic and charming to be around.

Good-looking young men in a female role become attractive to young men and other attractive women become jealous of them, but oddly drawn to them.

Older men in a female role will become attractive to older men (to hillllaaarious effect) and will be regarded as trusted, but ugly, friends to young women.

Older woman dressed as men will commonly be taken for Priests and Scribes and be treated as trusted advisors

IT MUST BE LOVE


...........................

Blackbeard’s Prisoner


It’s the Max Von Sydow scene from Conan. A princess has been abducted, or just eloped, with an Eldritch Knight from the Eclipsed Kingdom. Her dad wants her back. A plate, or bucket or gems is on offer for anyone who returns her safe and sound.

Complications;

She’s ensorcelled (or just raised) to hate a fear all men, so to spend any time around her without her screaming continuously and trying to climb the walls you are either going to need some female characters, or, much better, dress up as her new ‘handmaids’ and get her out that way.

AND

She’s magically compelled to stay in the castle, or just with her new husband, unless a highly-specific fairy-tale challenge is met. It’s a time thing like “only when a shadow cast by the new moon lies upon the castle gate”, or it’s an endless love thing “only when the ravens* leave the ruined elvish tower” or it’s just a creepy possession thing “only if I forget the colour of your hair will I ever let you go”, so the PC’s need to go off and make sure that insane condition happens.

(*Ravens & Crows excluded from the oath of St Vish, as previously mentioned

AND

He’s eventually going to kill her, probably due to some other insane cyclic condition. Like, she has to clean the mud from his boots each night but he has a rack of infinite boots and she has to guess which are the ones he means. Or, she’s allowed to go into every room in the castle Except One, but she sleepwalks and is entering a different room each night. Or he just flies into a murderous rage whenever he has to turn left so she needs to predict every thing he might want that would cause him to have to turn left to get it and place it on his right.

So the PC’s need to run about fulfilling the fairy-tale challenge, like getting the light of the new moon and casting a shadow with it ahead of time, while also dressing up as handmaids and trying to keep this girl alive in this insane situation until they can get her out. Then once they do they have to get the fuck out of the Eclipsed Kingdom while this nutter gives chase.


..................................

The Enraptured Prince


This time it’s a guy and instead of being charmed he’s possibly just horny for some Eclipsed Girl. Maybe he was due to marry some local girl to seal the treaty between two warring kingdoms and they need him back in a certain number of days or the treaties borked and everyone has to kill each other.

Maybe fell in love with a half-elf princess and her Unseelie Mother has set him a certain-death problem to solve.

“Bring me the tears of a ghoul, freely given.”
“Her wedding ring must be the eye of a Basilisk.”
“She must be given away by a Slaad.”
“The slats of her wedding bed must be the staves of magicians.”

His parents hire the PC’s to follow him around and make sure he stays alive while also looking for a way to either break them up or just get him married safely.

Obviously this good looking young bro isn’t going to want any chicks following him around so all the female party members are going to have to dress as lithe young men (If they aren’t already) and obviously the Unseelie Mother isn’t going to want any dirty guys around her sweet daughter so all the male members are going to have to cross-dress when dealing with her.

Obviously the Prince is going to have Strange Feelings for his new ‘buddies’ and the Princess is going to fall for her new ‘handmaids’.



..................................

Steal Back the Queens Heart


The Queen or Kings Daughter (Prince if you're into it) has had their heart stolen by an Eldritch Knight from the Eclipsed lands.

Now they are walking around with a visible hole in their chest, unable to feel any emotion. The PC’s are asked to bring back the heart.

Depending on the kind of PC’s you have, this could be a money thing or it could just be the heart of an innocent peasant girl.

The Broken Heart has been used as currency and bits of it sent to every part of the Eclipsed Kingdom. Tracing it is one part of the quest, to get each piece they must defeat, trick or serve whomever has it.

The quest is only finished if they return every piece. But if they do; hooray! An innocent can feel again.


............................

The Half-Elf's Court


Two Half-Elf nobles are getting divorced.

Half the PC's are employed by one half of one half-elf and the other half by one half of the other half elf. Meanwhile, the second half of the first half-elf tries to bribe the second half of the PC's to betray the first half of the second half-elf while the second half of the second half-elf is still secretly in love with the first half of the first half elf and tries to bribe the lawyers to sabotage the divorce without the first half of the second half-elf noticing.

It's happening in religious court and the Judge is a Bishop of Azathoth so the requirements for a divorce are strange and extreme.

For even more fun, one noble holds one part of a kingdom and the other hold the other part. As they break up, different parts get traded back and forth between the houses, so the pattern of the divorce case affects the shape of conflicts, troop movements and social changes in the world the PC’s are questing in.

For instance, they agree to split a town between them, so a new border goes right down the middle, splitting families and guilds apart, now they are technically in service to different lords all kinds of weird conflicts and opportunities are breaking out.






DREAM-BASED BULLSHIT



…………………………………………..

Find the Sleeping Spies


An Emperor or nation-ruler is having trouble with Eclipse Knights sneaking into his Empire and dicking his schemes around. They seem to have a surprising level of knowledge about how the Empire works and what his weaknesses are. They hire PC's to deal with the situation.

Turns out this guy put a shitload of his closest advisors and opponents in dungeons for life and, while they sleep, they have worked their way up the feudal hierarchy in the Eclipsed Lands the smartest one has become a Grima Wormtongue figure for a Feudal lord, meaning they can direct his knights to screw over the Empire their sleeping bodies are imprisoned in, to the benefit of both them and their new lord.

..................................

The King of the Prisoners Dreams


A high-status prisoner living in a kind of 'mafia don' situation in their prison, calls for the PC's. They don't want to be broken out of jail, maybe for dynastic reasons, maybe because they are happy with their books. Instead, every night they dream of their lives in the Eclipsed Lands. There is something they don't like about that life and they want to hire the PC's to go to the Eclipsed Lands and change something about the socio-political situation there so they can have more pleasant dreams. Maybe try to exchange their current king (in their dreams) for a better one.

(Maybe they don't want to leave as they were blinded due to a dynastic thing and they can see in their dreams so that life is more real to them now.)

...................................

A Bounty of the Mad


A bunch of high-status mad people have escaped from an asylum en-masse and gone off to the Eclipsed Lands, their wealthy families have placed rewards for their safe returns.

If PC's track them down several have become knights and may even lead their own small kingdom. Plus, the situation in the Eclipsed Kingdom is such that the mad often make a lot more sense than the sane, and are sacred to Azathoth to boot, so the PC’s may find themselves battling a kingdom of the crazed to return one of them to the desert of sanity.

................................

NOT SURE ABOUT THIS ONE

Dream-Inception Prison Break

The Silent Knights have taken a very powerful high-status prisoner or a very important treasure into the Eclipsed Lands. Someone wants to pay the PC's to get them back.

The Prisoner is being held inside a jail shaped from either multiple levels of other peoples dreams or with different elements made from a crosshatching of peoples dreams.

So the conical tower guarded by fearsome black and yellow armoured knights with poisoned blades might be the dream of a Beekeeper somewhere.

The Endless Stairs of Oroborous that lead down from the tower and its guard of flying snakes might be the dream of a retired theologian. Maybe the stairs and snakes are his theological problem

The Black Dragon of Carcasses might be the dream of a frightened child of abusive parents somewhere.

So you can D&D it and try to penetrate the thing and solve it in-world in the Eclipsed Lands. But each element as it is embodied in the Eclipsed lands carries clues as to who the dreamer is, and of you go back and forth across the boundaries of the Eclipsed lands, find the dreamers and either solve their problem or understand its nature, they can give you the clue to removing or resolving each threat of the dungeon so you can get the treasure (or free the prisoner).

And the Silent Knights might want to stop you doing that but, of course, they don’t want to endanger the dreamers as that would damage their protection for the treasure, and they don’t want the dreamers state of mind changed too much for the same reason, (plus they might be vulnerable outside the Eclipsed Lands, maybe having to go in disguise) so they will have to be reasonably subtle in their attempts to stop you.

Beekeeper tells you that burning a specific herb will cause the bees to fear you - this works on the Black and Yellow knights.

Helping the Theologian resolve their philosophical problem makes the snakes friendly to you, or transforms them into something else, or teaches you something that makes them afraid.

Helping the kid makes the dragon friendly to you.



CREEPY AZATHOTH RELIGIOUS STUFF


……………………………………………………………………………

No-One Expects the PC Inquisition!


That’s the Player Character Inquisition, not whatever culture war joke I can’t be bothered even completing in this sentence.

The Church of Azathoth has been creeping its belief system into neighbouring kingdoms. PC's are hired/probably something more ceremonial than just being hired, as 'Grand Inquisitors' to find the peasants who are worshipping Azathoth and restore the True Faith (whatever that is). Either by getting them to Apostasise or by whatever methods necessary.

Basically you are now the bad guys in Martin Scorsese’s 'Silence'.

This one is going to go dark and get disturbingly violent and horrible pretty quickly.

………………………   

We’re Really Serious About This Inquisition Thing


Either PC’s are simply hired by an Inquisitor of the Black Church (if they are dark enough) or if they get caught dicking around in the Eclipsed Kingdom, Nyralthotep (through the Black Pope) geas’s them into helping the Inquisition to work off their debt to society.

Congratulations, you guys are now in your own game of Dark Heresy except you have to bring back the heads of some Baku or get shrunk down to mini-size to find the Sycamore Dryads hiding in the fruit garden of the Head Inquisitor.


...............................

Dark Quest


A bunch of hardcore dangerous knights from the Eclipsed Lands are roving around the outside world grabbing people as sacrifices, killing people and taking treasures (that should really belong to the PC's). They are doing this to complete a very specific time-sensitive ritual in the Eclipsed Lands. PC's go after them to save the day

Turns out that they are extremely honourable, decent knights who are only doing this ritual to hold off the anger/notice of Azathoth/keep Azathoth asleep and that completing it will save thousands of lives and avoid disaster that would produce chaos, sending armies roving out into the surrounding lands en-masse.

They are good people doing a terrible thing for the right reasons. Will you try to stop them and if you do, are you capable of doing so?


.............................

Saints of Azathoth


PC's emerge from their current bullshit to find a Cardinal of the Black Church of Azathoth waiting for them. Extra points if the PC's are at a low point, either imprisoned or close to death and this guy/delegation saves or frees them.

The Cardinal anoints one or several PC's as 'Saints of Azathoth', whether they want it or not, saying that the Son of God has whispered to the Black Pope that this is their fate.

This completely screws the PC's in any reasonable polity as who the fuck wants the 'Saints of Azathoth' roaming around or coming to dinner? PC's become pariah's and get paladins & clerics after them.

To stop being 'Saints of Azathoth' they have to find the Black Pope and ask her to please ask Nyralthotep to ask Azathoth to remove this honour from them. There will be specific shit they have to perform to get this done.

Extra points if, by doing what the Black Pope says the PC's end up fulfilling their Dark Destiny anyway in classic Twilight Zone style.





FEUDAL PEOPLE PROBLEMS


"Who Might Rid Me Of This Troublesome Knight (if I were asking, which I am not)?"

An Eclipsed lord is being threatened by an Red Knight out in the forests around his realm. This Knight is immune to any harm if it comes due to an order or request of any king or queen. Even if such an order is given secretly, in code or via sign, and no matter how many stages of authority stand between the command and the harm done.

Nevertheless, the King, or his Vizier, or his Wizard, is just going to leave this gold right here OK? Or come up with some other cunning oblique scheme which will inevitably lead to the PC's fighting and killing the Knight without any order to that effect being given.

.......................................


Chibi Grendel


Fey lord has a terrifying monster on in the wilderness on the edge of his kingdom. All his knights afraid to go near it and run from its cry. Breaks into villages and churches terrorising people. Gets PC's to swear to defeat, in a specific way i.e. "bring me its head on a plate" it for major reward.

PC's go and find the monster, it's a naked six year old human child living alone in the woods. There is nothing special or magical about it. Nevertheless, all Fey are terrified of it.

.......................................

The Barons Peryton


The Baron loves nothing more than flying about on his giant Peryton, but it's hungry and weak. He needs hearts to feed it.

So go and get some fresh hearts. Human, not elven, half-elven or the pale hearts of dream-people, the full, real deal.

It's an open-offer rats-in-the-basement fetch quest.


……………………………………

Kill this Peasant!


The Baron is pissed off with one particular dream-person peasant and is getting tired of torturing them to death every day.

Dream people are hard to kill in the Eclipsed Lands as usually, they just wake up wherever they are at the moment of maximum terror, then come back the next time they fall asleep.

So, to get rid of them for good, the King wants the PC’s to go into the outer lands and either free that ­particular person from prison so they never turn up again. Or just kill them, eithers good.

Except this person is being held in whatever deep & terrible dungeon the DM has available.

…………………………………

Straight-Up Dream Lives


The PC’s are captured by a major enemy and kept in a genuinely-unbreakable dungeon from which they cannot escape.

BUT, they now have new lives as dream-person peasants in the Eclipsed Lands. Can they fight their way out of peasantry and impress the King/The Church/The Queen of Air and Darkness/anyone enough to get a strike team of Unseelie Chivalry sent out to free their mortal bodies from prison?

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

A Review of the Azathoth Cycle from Chaosium

This is a collection of non-Lovecraft stories brought together by Chaosium related to, or mentioning, Azathoth;

"That last amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubble at the centre of all infinity -- the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes."

So that guy.

One thing we learn is that, like Superman, Azothoth is quite difficult to write a story about. As the primal chaos at the heart of all existence, there is very little that he actually does. His stats in Dieties and Demigods illustrate that;




Most Azathoth stories are about how terrible it is to find out about Azathoth.


The Stories


Azathoth by Edward Pickman Derby


Derby is the doomed protagonist of Lovecrafts 'The Thing On The Doorstep' and this poem purports to be by that imaginary man. It's not that bad and has a certain energy, especially when we come into the presence of the Idiot God himself. I have no idea who the real writer of this was but perhaps it was Robert M. Price the Editor?


Azathoth in Arkham & The Revenge of Azathoth by Peter Cannon


These are essentially posh fan-fic of 'The Thing On The Doorstep'. That story had a mind-swap in it which left open the question of what happened to its potentially-immortal villain. These two stories follow the adventures of the immortal mind itself and of the people it displaces and bodyswaps on its way. They are ironic.


Pit of the Shoggoths by Stephen M. Rainey


This is another 'Thing On The Doorstep' deriviative about a man fleeing a failed marriage holing up in one of the houses from the story decades later, being cut off by a snowstorm and finding both a Shoggoth-summoning thingy in the wall but also the spirit of the original brainswapper. This is not especially terrible.


Hydra by Henry Kuttner


Written in 1939 this one has astral-travelling students sending urgent telegrams back and forth while dicking about with an uncovered ritual which is actually a trap for a headhunting cosmic horror. The story doesn't end where the head is cut off. This is bad but fun.


The Madness Out of Time by Lin Carter


A fake translation from the Necronomicon with some adventures of the mad arab Abdul Alhalzred. It is here that we attain true, unquestionable, unforced badness for the first time in this collection. This is a ripoff of the Hounds of Tindalos in bad pseudo 16th century language as imagined by a 20th century American with a blunt grasp of euphony.


The Insects from Shaggai by Ramsey Campbell


Another writer protagonist. (To what extent are stories about Azothoth and the compulsion that draws people towards him really about the writing of horror?) Our man finds some bad bugs in the forest and gets brainraped into witnessing their Azothoth-worshipping, planet-hopping dickery. If you imagine jews bad enough to actually deserve everything that happened to the Jews, that’s the Insects from Shaggai. Out hero slits his wrists on the final page. this story has life, imagination and invention, it is not scary. None of them are so far.


The Sect of the Idiot by Thomas Ligotti


THIS does it. In terms of plotting and worldbuilding this Ligotti story is probably the slightest and lightest of them all. In prosidy and craft it is the best by quite a way. This tells the primal Azathoth story of a man drawn through shadowy mundanity towards contact with actual cosmic horror. In terms of sheer event, nothing happens. A guy finds some scary chairs and gets mutated. This is the only one so far to give me anything like a sense of disquiet.


The Throne of Achamoth by Richard L. Tierney and Robert M. Price


Standard Sword and Sorcery prose but a really interesting and unique cosmology. Tierney links Azathoth to the Zorastonian Demiurge, creator of material reality. Instead of an introverted hero he has an ex gladiator-plus-sorcerer empowered by a fragment of the Divine Spark, making him better than just about all of humanity (in a slightly creepy semi-fascist way). The hero decides to penetrate the spheres of space in order to track down the soul of his (also super-special) dead girlfriend.

This stories depiction of our solar system as being comprised of spheres of energy, each sphere being rules by a monstrous Archon, with each Archon feeding off the pain and suffering felt by those being trapped in the material existence of its sphere, before sending on the excess pain to feed the greater Archon in the sphere beyond, with the Archon of this system in turn exporting its pain to the centre of the cosmos, is really specifically and brilliantly horrible. It's depiction of all of material reality as a hideous pyramid scheme of spiritual agony would probably please both Lovecraft and Ligotti.

Ultimately our hero penetrates beyond reality and re-unites with his God-Self outside time but, being infinite, forgets his physical existence until the actions of his super-girlfriend suck him back into reality and into contact with 'Achamoth' the Demiurge in charge of all material reality, who is also his shadow-self. The conflict between them making up what we recognise of the cosmos.



The Last Night of Earth by Gary Myers


A short, sweet story about a Sorcerer in a tower who sees Azathoth rising slowly over the horizon instead of the sun and, as more of the Idiot God's being is revealed, wracks his books to work out what he is seeing. He finds out. The end.


The Daemon-Sultan by Donald R. Burleson


A likeable and well-made story. Another introverted, driven and sullen hero is prophesied to seek out Azathoth. He has no idea who or what Azathoth is and spends much of his life seeking knowledge of him. Eventually he finds a wizened wise man in a distant city who, like some kind of dark anti-sufi, reveals that;

"He who is all, He who sits enthroned at the centre of all chaos, is everywhere, for chaos has no centre. Every point in the universe of stars is the centre, thus there is no centre and the Daemon Sultan lurks nowhere, because He is everywhere. Look within yourself."

He eventually finds his way home, but is unable to forget the terrible knowledge he now posesses;

"For idle loungers about the village, though in time they did not remember L'wei-Kath, came to regard as familiar a ragged and enigmatic figure leaning windblown in the village square: a flute player piping idiotically, monotonously, weirdly upon a carven flute held clumsily in palsied hands, endlessly piping his cacophony of eerie notes, his ululand litany to his god, to the One whose face, inscrutable, was everywhere and everything and everyone, the final derangement lying behind all being, the gibbering madness of existence, pervasive, present in the very wind, tainting the very sunlight - the Daemon-Sultan Azathoth."

The slow but total and absolute spiritual collapse of the seeker into a fluting idiot works much better than the standard 'see elder god = go insane".


Idiot Savant by C.J, Henderson


We're back with standard American prose and the story of a petty and low-ranking academic assigned to clean up and archive the office of a brilliant 'non-lateral' philosopher after a mysterious mass-death incident, who ignores a long list of horror-movie cliches in order to get himself sucked into the alterverse and turned into pulp.



The Space of Madness by Stephen Studach


This was written in 1995 and reads like it was written in 1955 and I genuinely can't work out if it was made this way for reasons of irony.

"With a grin Gary swung back around to the console to prepare a letter for Radiographication back to Mother Terra Firma."

....

"And how are you doing this segment, buddy?" Roans asked cheerfully
....
"Not bad at all, friend Roans," answered Simon with a smile, "except maybe for a touch of the space yawns."

Space yawns?

This is an honest-to-goodness Science Fiction story with a space ship and everything. The people currently in charge of space find an area of 'absolute blackness'. They keep sending Astronauts into the area. The space men go insane. They have done this a few times and now they are doing it again. Nothing in this story mentions any particular plan or quality this group have space men have that has lead them to think that they will not go insane like every previous space man. It's possible this is a very subtle and genre-appropriate commentary on a horrifically materialistic and inhuman culture just tanking guys into Azathoth to see if any of them live. If it isn't satire its bad, if it is, it's dull.


The Nameless Tower by John Glasby


Expedition to Iram, the City of Pillars. Native guides grow restless. Giant tower discovered. Non-human mummies found inside. Star-mad leader guy gets inside and gets slurped up by Azathoth through an interdimensional gate.


The Plague Jar by Allen Mackey


A sort of sequel to the previous story. The framing story is an academic telling the tale to a young scholar in the US but, for once, the people doing the adventure aren't a bunch of white guys. One of the good and interesting apects of the story are the invented careers of middle-eastern scholars from Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The fundamental content isn't that different but it is nice to occasionally hear about mad scholars at the University of Riyadh rather than at Arkham or whatever.

The result is the same. They find the lost city. There's statues of evil gods and a closed crypt with big fuck off signs saying "Do Not Open: Jar of Plague and Doom". Star-mad leader opens it. Plague and doom happen. The revelation of what is actually in the jar is neatly handled. Back in the framing story the young scholar gets slurped up into a photo of Azathoth because he looked at it too long.


The Old Ones Promise of Eternal Life by Robert M. Price


This is a reasonably neat piece of psudo-scholarship that puports to link Azathoth to the Gnostic demiurge and mixes in real stuff, post-Lovecraft stories and the imagined history in Lovecraft in a reasonably interesting way.



By and large this collection of cosmic horror felt as comfortable and predictable as Sunday afternoon TV. It was like a warm glass of beer. There was some Ligotti swimming in the bottom but it didn't change the taste.

I'm not exactly angry that writing about Cosmic Horror Gods is essentially a kind of light dark fantasy writing rather than anything which might horrify and genuinely frighten, perhaps a lot of Lovecraft was like that. I do feel that Azathoth has genuine potential though. The basic idea is actually horrifying. He's hard to connect to a narrative structure but if you could, if you could do Azathoth properly, then this shit could actually be scary.

I almost want to stop people from writing about Lovecraftian deities for a few decades, at least until someone's had a really good idea. It shouldn't feel like sinking into a leather armchair. It's sad that it does.



What Is Azathoth (And What Could He Be?)


The linking of Azathoth to the Gnostic Demiurge is an interesting idea. The concept of an idiot emanation of god, one either sent mad by being forced to create the material universe, or already mad and creating it from that madness, seems apt. Likewise the idea of a Demiurge that is in some sense a slave or prisoner and who hates their work. You can probably imagine any time you have been forced to work on something you despise and how, even if you are closely watched, your contempt for the subject seeps into what you do, that would be a rather apt and nasty explanation for the world.

Regarding the Eclipsed Kingdom, the idea that Azathoth is, himself a prisoner, in interesting. That makes the world the mad prison dream of an idiot god. Prisons inside prisons inside prisons.

The idea of Azathoth being a negative version of a Sufi or mystical quest, one where instead of transcendence, you find only awful purposeless materialism, makes a neat opposite to Arats Conference of the Birds, and explains why birds and the Eclipsed Kingdom hate each other so much.

More interesting is that the word Demogorgon probably originates from a mis-reading or mis-understanding of the greek word for Demiurge. That brings up the tantalising idea of the D&D Demogorgon being the Demiurge for the world. Presumably he had his hands removed once the real god was done with him and didn't want him to make any more of it. Now he is trapped in his creation and can only angrily wave his child-lock tentacles.

(Zoroastrian)/Judeo/Christian/(Islamic) -mythology- scripture is the first textual shared universe. Everyone is literally reading each others books and using each others characters.

A can't express how pleased I was to find that King Solomon was known to have bound the devil Asmodeus to his service for a while, as I remembered that picture of him in the original Monster Manual 



and now it meant that this legendary king and the guy from the MM were linked. Part of the same universe.

Likewise the line from Paradise Lost

                              Thither he plies
Undaunted, to meet there whatever power
Or spirit of the nethermost Abyss
Might in that noise reside, of whom to ask
Which way the nearest coast of darkness lies
Bordering on light; when straight behold the throne
Of Chaos, and his dark pavilion spread
Wide on the wasteful deep! With him enthroned
Sat sable-vested Night, eldest of things,
The consort of his reign; and by them stood
Orcus and Ades, and the dreaded name
Of Demogorgon; Rumour next, and Chance,
And Tumult, and Confusion, all embroiled,
And Discord with a thousand various mouths.

 - which suggests that Orcus, Demogorgon and Hades were all hanging around together in primal Chaos before Lucifer burst in on his way to the material plane. 


Kaos Squad - Assemble!



Both Lucifer and Night, sadly, still lack stats in D&D.

I don't think I will make Azathoth the Demiurge. It robs him of his horror. The only true horror of Azathoth is the truth of what he means. All the tentacles and ebon blackness are just fucking about. The nightmare is that there is no fundamental meaning. You get to the top of the pyramid and there's no point.