Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Best Heroes

I keep meaning to write the third part of my imaginary Fantastic Four series - Ride of the Stygionauts, but for some reason instead I came up with this, an entirely new super hero team which is like something from a childs sketch book.

I don't know why I imagined it or why I keep imagining it. Its strange. It doesn't really fit anywhere.

So.. Happy New Year?

----------FROST MASK-------

Frost Mask is the worlds greatest thief, expert in deceit and stealth, master of crime and criminal genius.

Every tear she cries freezes on her face, even if she cries when she is asleep without realising it. Because of this she has declared that she will never be sad, even in her dreams, and dedicated her life to crime and adventure.

She is in the Umbra-Louvre looking at the umbral art, surrounded by trillions in wealth and the worlds most bored and attractive people. The real stolen paintings glow like gems wrapped in bridal veils.

Frost Mask once stole an entire Paris weekend and made it her lair. It was the weekend after the declaration of victory in WWI. She took it because the people seemed so happy. For this reason, Paris has no communal memory of winning World War One and the authorities of that city work feverishly to capture her and get back their weekend.

So in a sense, Frost Masks arch-enemy is the Conseil de Paris, but really she has a lot of arch enemies. Sometimes Chi-Master is her arch-foe. Her greatest enemy is Ennui, both the emotion and her evil half-sister who has that name.

(Some economists estimate that Frost Mask has stolen perhaps 1% of all human wealth throughout history and a sub-branch of economics is dedicated to making sure she is never caught because the injection of that much money into the world economy could result in disastrous inflation and global collapse.)

-----------CHI MASTER---------

Chi Master is an intelligent and wise golden gorilla. He is a master of all forms of Kung Fu and Guardian of all the Chi Force on earth.

The More life Chi Master is fighting to protect, the more powerful he becomes. If the whole world is threatened he becomes as powerful as Superman, able to lift mountains, shrug of missile attacks and kick ships out of the sea.

But if no lives are threatened then he has only the powers of a normal gorilla who is also a kung-fu master.

This makes it hard for him to catch Frost Mask when she is his arch-enemy because her thefts and crimes rarely endanger human life. Frost Mask takes from the rich and the dull and keeps it.

Chi Master lives in a really big tree which comes out of the ocean somewhere near Jakarta. The tree is so huge that an entire island is caught in its branches.

There are ancient pagodas on the island, and many mysteries hidden in the branches of the tree.

The tree occupies a Chi-Nexus on earth, that's why it is so big. It is a chi tree.

---------ARMY MAN-----------

Army Man is a man who has all the powers of anyone in any army. If anyone in an army can do something then he can do it too.

He is the best at fighting, driving, flying planes, swimming and blowing things up. he is really brave and never gives up. His gun turns into a tank. His backpack turns into a glider. His arch-foes are the brown army-men (he is green.)


Selenium Princess explores all the constellations of space from her  crystal pirate base on the moons shadow line (visible as a burning bead of light on the moons edge during an eclipse.)

she is at war with the Ziggurat Moon, which is another moon the earth had long ago and which sometimes returns.

Everyone on earth is afraid of her but they don't realise that without her they would have been enslaved by the Ziggurat Moon ages ago.

The Crystal Base of Selenium Princess is full of alien rogues. Sometimes criminals escape from earth and go there, sometimes bad guys from the moon visit earth. She runs a laissez faire regime and the governments of earth do not like it but there is not much they can do about it.

------MONSTER PRINCESS----------

Monster Princess is still a little girl. She is a small cyclops in a pink princess dress with a crown and sceptre and a box with all the monsters in it, in the form of toys, that she carries under her arm.

When she takes a monster out and says its name it becomes real.

She can pull out any monster; Vampire, Yeti, Godzilla-monster, all of them.

When she makes them real they have to obey her becasue she is the Princess but some of them can be troublesome.

The mother of Monster Princess is the Monster Queen. She is really big and lives under the sea. Sometimes she threatens the earth.

-----------DOCTOR ELEMENTAL----------

Doctor Elemental is actually four real-life doctors (they have phd's in various things, not all medical) who are each experts in different kinds of elemental sorcery. (One is bad).

When danger threatens the earth they combine into Doctor Elemental who can command pure elements at will. (He can separate them but not combine them). His (or her sometimes, depending on who is currently part of Doctor Elemental) is Blue, White, Green and Red.

The doctors get upset with each other and have medical drama's. They are kind of their own arch-enemy sometimes.

If one doctor dies then the other three have to go on a quest to see who will replace them. The replacement is always a doctor of some kind.

This way 'Doctor Elemental' goes on, even though the individual doctors die.


When danger threatens the world, the Best Heroes all team up and fight it.

Sometimes they don't all want to team up. Chi-Master can usually convince Frost Mask to join in if it looks sufficiently dangerous and interesting and if she joins in most of the rest will as well.

*it is a team with two princesses on it

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Wilrow Hood and the moral superiority of the Star Wars expanded universe.

A tiresome, overeducated and inherently worthless man wrote a stupid article about Star Wars. 

That doesn't really matter and there is little to say about it but in thinking about how wrong he was I though this and it interested me;

I have to explain about Willrow Hood.

In the cloud city sequence from the Empire Strikes Back, Lando Calrissian takes a second out of his busy day to inform the residents of Bespin that the empire is taking control of the city, everything is fucked and that if they are not into fascism they should probably leave. This is symbolised on film by a number of extras running back and forth in corridors.

One of these extras is a slightly-portly, utterly-average looking black guy with a moustache (Lando made them fashionable) and a (I think its teal?) jumpsuit.

To illustrate that he is doing something emergency-related and that he is living in a technological science-fictional future-past, this gentleman is carrying a smooth, white, circular, technological object somewhere in a hurry. Surely, we think, if we take even in instant to observe him, this low-level functionary of a vast metropolis must be engaged on some seemingly prosaic yet possibly-vital mission. A man in work gear, carrying something technical, running in an emergency, must be doing something important. We know that if an alarm goes off and we see a middle aged gentleman in overalls running past carrying a piece of unknown machinery that that particular tool or item has some quotidian yet subtle purpose vital to the full working of our highly-complex society, especially so in times of danger.

Therefore, if we see this man, and if an alarm is going off, we recognise his purpose and get the fuck out of the way.

So someone, maybe a second AD, saw an extra running and said "hey, maybe you could carry something? Do we have any technical crap left over from the Hoth set? No, not that, its too low-fi and crunchy. Bespin is kind of white and sleek, do we have anything like that?"

And some noble props person or grip comes forth and says "Hey, How about this?"

"Perfect" says the AD, "just grab this and run buddy, remember, don't look at the camera or the main cast".

And that's why Willrow Hood is running through Bespin carrying what we now know to be an ice cream maker.

But he wasn't Willrow Hood yet. That took time. Time and nerds.

A collectable card game give him his name and, his employer and the hint of rebellion contacts.

A fan site goes into more detail. The Ice Cream maker is now a computer data core that Hood is rushing to dump before the imperials arrive.

Then 'The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia' confirms Hoods secret purpose.

Then a fucking action figure is made.

Wilrow Hood is an ordinary man who ends up in a game of wits with Tian Chyler, an agent of the Galactic Empire. The ice cream maker ('memory core') is full of rebellion contacts and Hood is dumping it before the bad guys take over. After the invasion of Bespin he is interrogated, tortured, refuses to give up anything and is eventually let go. He ultimately manages to turn the disenfranchised Chyler to the rebellion and provides information vital to the re-taking of Bespin. Then he retires to 'take it easy'.
Tian Chyler is a woman who appears for a brief fragment of 'Empire' in a Bespin reaction shot. She doesn't exist in the original film, she was added when Lucas produced his strange new versions drenched in CGI.

So these two utterly unremarkable extras exist in the same film, but were photographed for it about twenty years apart.

Prompted by the utterly ridiculous nature of the ice cream maker (the grit around which the pearl of story is formed) each little fragment of the Wilrow Hood mythos came from different people working on different products, some were fans, some were employees. The fans and employees passed the basic idea back and forth between each other over 20 years and slowly the story accreted.

And it's a wonderful story becasue its about the low-key heroism of an ordinary man in a universe of dramatic heroes and becasue its fucking ridiculous and becasue no other story anywhere or anywhen could be put together like this.

And the people who made him were small, ordinary people. Hood is an average guy in a world of heroes and the people who created him were card-game writers and fans and encyclopedia writers in a world of Lucases and Kadans. He is like them. They are like him, and they made him mainly out of ridiculous joy.

Now an annual event takes place at a con where a bunch of nerds put on fake moustaches and teal jumpsuits, pick up ice cream makers they got specially, and lap the convention hall at a steady jog to the applause of the assembled dorks in re-creation of Hoods heroic act.

There are so many ways to be outside a thing. The article that prompted this response to is the worst way you can ever be outside something. Intellect without penetration. The pretence of pleasure without real joy. Superior in every thought. Snide. Inwardly dead. Experiencing something and feeling the pull of the experience yet neither pushing back or letting go, but flensing the emotion as it is felt.

People who honestly hate Star Wars are more worthy of respect. At least hate is a core emotion. At least its real and deeply felt and if you hate something you honestly acknowledge its power.

(The Puritans and the Sybarites have one thing in common. They truly recognise and respect the transcendent power of beauty, and of the imagination. The Puritans react in fear and the Sybarites in adoration but they are both morally centred in what they feel and think.) 

But Wilrow Hood is the other way to be outside something, or the other way to hold something in your mind, recognise its ridiculousness, its frailty, its fundamental silliness and yet not to forget that even silly, frail, clearly made-up, even carrying an ice-cream maker, the dream has power.

Willrow Hood is a silly idea. Willrow Hood is the heroism of the common man in dangerous circumstances. Wilrow Hood is a palimpsest character, a more radical construction than anything Burroughs could have imagined. A character imagined over twenty years! a character whose main relationship is with a mortal foe, separated in time, whom the original could never have met. A character and story made from card games and internet fans and encyclopedias of imaginary worlds.

And every fucking character in every shot of a star wars film has their own backstory and life story and name and personality and reason for being there. And this was all put there by nerds becasue they like making things. There is a part of that that is sad but it is much more good and joyous and ridiculous and life-imbuing. Its a good thing that people did that.

The Star Wars expanded Universe with all its byzantine accretions of complexity, its derangement and clarifications, its inspiration and mediocrity, its coagulations of inventiveness and low-level aspergers, its silliness and certainty, its cutaways and chronologies, and in all its deep, deep love and attention, is fundamentally superior to anything its critics can say about it. It is a popular cathedral. People made that. 

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Conchodeus & Zoophoria

There are many gods in the Uncertain World but only two creators. Conceivers and sustainers of reality, those who hold the world together with their thoughts, imbue it with existence and maintain its position in the shadowy multiverse. Without these two, nothing is.


Call the first 'Zoophoria' or 'Tetrautera', but you may as well call Her Lady Day, Lady Mania, Wait-What-Who, The Mother, Queen Genesis, Queen Wideawake, The Dancer, Mistress Murder, Light, Luck, Chaos, Chance or just 'Life'.

She rules light, life, wakefulness and day. (And those really weird dreams that wake you up.) She governs dance, violence and sex. It has been claimed by her prophets that 'she is the only reason anyone around here is getting laid' and she is praised accordingly for this.

She made the form of all living things and is the mother of all monsters. She parties with the sun all night and then kicks it out of her house at dawn, thereby returning light and life to the world.

'Let her not party too long' say her worshippers.

She governs birth, growth, the decay of bodies and the transformation of dead things into new life. So long as there is still flesh on the bones the body belongs to her.

Her home is the forests, the rivers, the sea, anywhere things are living or growing or transforming. She flows endlessly between them, never ceasing in one place for long.

She has outright told her prophets "I'm really not sure what's going on" and is notorious for forgetting things.

Her seasons are Spring and Summer.

Her angels appear as wild-riding amazons and multi-armed omni-gendered eternal-dancers.

Her demons are hairy howling barbarians, biological horrors and a fey Wild Hunt.


If you want a common name, call Him 'Conchodeus', but like Her, He has a thousand other names; The Carapaced Man, He Who Waits, Imperator Rasa, The Silent One, The Carapaced King, The Tired Man, Fate, Night, Sleep, or just 'Death'.

He rules death, sleep, darkness, words and dreams. He governs history, poetry, the Moon, the stars, silence, shadows the wastes and all distant places.

After Zoophoria created the form of living things, Conchodeus decided on their nature.

The Dead are his to watch over and the undead, or active-dead are said to be the dark dream or nightmare of the Carapaced King. All fleshless undead are somehow connected to him.

He watches all bones as they moulder and becomes upset if living scavengers disturb them.

His seasons are Autumn and Winter.

His home is the waste beyond the  waste, the desert outside time. The Dark side of the Moon.

He claims to know all things.

His angels come in the form of knights, insects and weird fetish nuns.

His devils are insects of ice, doomed decayed automata and men of business

Her Temples

Her temples and churches can be found anywhere and everywhere, from the centres of great slums, to treehouse-temples in the hearts of forests, sprawling stone cities and nomadic boat-city cathedrals. They can be eons old or days old.

The visitor can never be sure if there will actually be anyone at home. The transgendered priests of Zoophoria and their various tribes, clans, pilgrims, cliques and hangers-on can up and move in the space of a day. All that is required is for someone reasonably charismatic to claim they had a vision and a temple-culture the size of a small town can be packed up and on the road in a couple of hours. Many of the gigantic temple complexes stand empty and overrun by monkeys for hundreds, or thousands of years, only to be suddenly re-filled overnight as a nomadic congregation comes back on a whim.

Zoophoria ensures that when not in use, her temples and cities are not re-purposed by any business or conquest-minded culture. As soon as people leave, wild animals, monsters and crazed crones creep in. Poisonous flowers, thorny vines and hallucinogenic fungi erupt from the earth and cover the stones.

No profitable business, hierarchal organisation or highly-organised martial culture can meaningfully take root in these areas, they are eaten by tigers, mobbed by baboons, cursed by crones, poisoned by toxic blooms and driven mad by multicoloured spores. Neither is it generally safe for single men to go there.

However, fleeing women and homeless children will often be completely safe, the predators and monkey tribes will overlook them, the spores and poisons will not affect them.

When active her temples are a wild and colourful bricolage full of movement, drumming, flags of torn multicoloured silk, jerry-built pools, fountains and hydrological systems, goats, bees, fresh fruit, odd machines held together by hairy twine, newly-cut wood, dancing schools, martial arts schools, painting, art, 'art' and monkeys.

Monkeys are not sacred to the Lady of Day, no more than all life is, but she thinks they are cool.

As her priests welcome all into Her temples, Zoophoria welcomes all into Her realm. Galzebrub, the great prophet, reports in one of the few commonly accepted direct communications from Her;

"Sure, come over, bring anyone."

The greatest danger for visitors is that she will forget they are there, or why they are there and either leave them wandering for ever or possibly try to fight them, either out of confusion or just for fun.

Zoophoria embodies direct, physical body-oriented violence in all its forms. She is life but she is also murder, predation and consumption.

His Temples

His temples are always hard to find and far away. They are placed on barren islands in shadowy and storm-wracked seas, carved into blue-veined glaciers, on isolated mountain peaks, hung upside-down in deep, deep caves and built as lightning-blasted towers in black featureless plains. Some are lighthouses. Some are lighthouses bordering oceans that no longer exist, that have evaporated or drained away, or that will exist one day after the land is drowned.

It makes no difference to Him, His thoughts pass through deep time and the things he builds are ultra-permanent. Many are so real that they exist in the same place on multiple planes. Some are so real that they are the only still or predictable points in dreams, like pins in flowing fabric, and that it is impossible to dream of the places where they are without also dreaming of the Temple a it is, down to the exact detail.

Wherever they are, you have to go a long way to reach them, and He'd rather you didn't try. Unlike Her, He does not welcome travellers into His realm or into His presence. if you do find your way there you better have a very good excuse.

Within, His temples are always gloomy, quiet and still. If it isn't night outside then it seems like it is. Vast libraries extend into the shadowy distance lit by lamps burning with pale or azure flame. Within them, all knowledge is recorded in some form. The records of dead empires fill the crypts. Silver domes hold lenses and telescopes to read the messages in the night sky. Complex orreries and astral charts are kept.

When his temples are near river or seas, the patterns on the water are carefully observed and analysed. Flow dynamics are sacred to him, waves, ripples, whirlpools, swells and storms of every kind are considered to be his messages. The wrinkling of the sea under moonlight is said to be his script.

One of the few sounds is the clicking of the orreries as they move, or that of the smooth kinetic sculptures of unknown purpose that shift in the slow winds. The floors are all mosaics, some abstract,some metaphorical, some pure encoded information in binary form. There are great cemeteries and catacombs.

The priests of Conchodeus are robed, shapeless, apparently genderless, masked with insect features, organised into complex hierarchies maintained by secret signs and codes. They loom silently and communicate in whispers. Gardens full of pale night-flowering blooms have snails of every kind, ranging from the near-microscopic to the gigantic house-sized mega-snail. Tortoises, Trilobites and all other kinds of shelled creature are present, they are one of the few kinds of living thing sacred to Him more than Her.

His temples are guarded by calm blue-armoured knights, by gigantic insects and by tense fetish nuns. Should they be threatened then they will be further defended by the wrathful and wakened dead.

Her Hell

The hell of Zoophoria is a hive of flesh or a city made from organs and tubes like the inside of in infinite beast. There biological terrors and the Wild Hunt torture and pursue rapists, sex criminals and child abusers.

There is no formal structure, no organisation and no way out. The only hope for the damned is that Zoophoria forgets they are there for a while.

His Hell

The Hell of Conchodeus is organised and hierarchic. Circles of ice and glass in inverted counter-rotating skyscrapers like an abyssal panopticon. There he specialises in the punishment of liars, traitors and corrupt officials, politicians and police officers.

All damned souls are afforded a fair trial. Witnesses to their crimes will be called from the dead, should they still live they will be called in dreams and should you dream that you have been called as witness in a trial it is very dangerous to resist, if you do the angels of Conchodeus may come for you and snatch you away to a witness stand in hell.

Cross examinations are permitted and the damned are afforded the best possible defence.

No-one has ever been found innocent.

Sentences consist of specific formal punishments with set terms and conditions for reincarnation or release. If the damned serve out their time and are allowed to reincarnate it will be under exact terms and conditions. There are certain things they must and must not do, depending on their crimes. Although the soul will be unable to remember this, they will be reminded in dreams and whispered to by snails and insects in the world. Should they break the terms of their release they will be snatched back immediately to hell.

For this reason, almost everyone in the Uncertain World fears the advice of insects, tortoises or snails.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

The new moon rode you with her meyny

Don't worry I'm done now. Here's everything gothic and weird from Masefield. There's not much because he's a sunny motherfucker, but what there is, is good.


A wall of nothing at the world's last edge,
Where no life came except defeated life.
The Dauber felt shut in within a hedge,
Behind which form was hidden and thought was rife,
And then a blinding flash, a thrust, a knife
Would sweep the hedge away and make all plain,
Brilliant beyond words, blinding the brain.

So the night past, but then no morning broke-
Only a something showed that night was dead.
A sea-bird, cackling like a devil, spoke,
And the fog drew away and hung like lead.
Like mighty cliffs it shaped, sullen and red;
Like glowering gods at watch it did appear
And sometimes drew away , and then drew near.

Like islands, and like chasms, and like hell,
But always mighty and red, gloomy and ruddy,
Shutting the visible sea in like a well;
Slow heaving in vast ripples, blank and muddy,
Where the sun should have risen it streaked bloody.
The day was still-born; all the sea-fowl scattering
Splashed the still water, mewing, hovering, clattering.

The Polar snow came down little and light,
Till all the sky was hidden by the small,
Most multudinous drift of dirty white
Tumbling and wavering down and covering all-
Covering the sky, the sea, the clipper tall,
Furring the ropes with white, casting the mast,
Coming on no known air, but blowing past.

And all the air seemed full of gradual moan,
As though in those cloud-chasms the horns were blowing
The mort for gods cast out and overthown,
Or for the eyeless sun plucked out and going.
Slow the low gradual moan came in the snowing;
The Dauber felt the prelude had begun.
The snowstorm fluttered by; he saw the sun

Show and pass by, gleam from one towering prison
Into another, vaster and more grim,
Which in dull crags of darkness had arisen
To muffle-to a final door on him.
the gods upon the dull crags lowered dim,
The pigeons chattered, quarreling in the track.
In the south-west the dimness dulled to black.

Then came the cry of "Call all hands on deck!"
The Dauber knew its meaning; it was come:
Cape Horn, that tramples beauty into wreck,
nd crumples steel and smites the strong man dumb.
Down clattered flying kites and staysails: some
Sang out in quick, high calls; the fairleads skirled,
And from the south-west came the end of the world.

Land Workers

Under the earth those heroes are;
Those Englishmen, slow, stubborn, kind,
Farm-labourers, time out of mind,
Who, with odd gurgles, growls and clicks,
Stacked the lain Summer into ricks
Who tamed the great beasts' strength, and beat
Earth's red rebellious clay to meat.
Each full of fancies, dark and odd
From when the devil has been god,
Knowing the rite, with seed of muck,
Without which 'Twoulden have no luck':
Knowing how fatal 'twas to plough
Ere Earth and Heaven has said 'Now';
And how the blood of bird or mouse
Would bring the crop or guard the house;
And how, unless you turned the penny,
The new moon rode you with her meyny.


The young men, with their swords, would dance
Our pagan blood's inheritance,
Or, strangely dressed, with helms and swords,
And uncouth, half-forgotten words,
(And bladders upon sticks to beat
Spectators back) in market street
Would act that age-old play of Corn
Cut down by Death and then reborn.
And other touching graces stayed
From times ere pageant had decayed.


Men are burning the gorse on the don's shoulder;
A drift of smoke
Glitters with fire and hags, and the skies smoulder,
And the lungs choke.

Once the tribe did thus on the downs, on these downs, burning
Men in the frame,
Crying to the gods of the downs till their brains were turning
And the gods came.

And today on the downs, in the wind, the hawks, the grasses,
In blood and air,
Something passes me and cries as it passes,
On the chalk downland bare.


Terrible tales, that made the blood run cold,
But not the worst, for these, they said, obeyed
The righteous heart and did what they were told,
Or could, by parish priest, be truly laid.
What scared me worse were stories of a Nation
Seldseen, unholy, vexing human lives,
Stealing men's children, or new-married wives.

'They were revengeful,' people said, 'unkind...'
Dreadful to people if their wills were checked -
With spies abroad to tell what men maligned,
And all maligners had their projects wrecked:
Wakened at night with screams of execration,
Pelted from markets or their cows made dry,
Or the year's cheeses such as none would buy.

These were the Fairy people who had danced
Those browner rings upon the scanty grazing,
Where Jane, our cook, had seen them as it chanced
Dancing in reels to pipings most amazing,
All bright with jewels in some celebration
For their great Queen, whose face Jane could not see;
She said, 'I looked into eternity.'

She said, 'It was vouchsafed: a something given,
I know they are, but not in life like ours;
If human life is hell, theirs is not the Heaven;
Men may have mind, the fairies other powers.
They have no sin, no sorrow, no salvation,
We have the two and struggle for the third.
Leave them in quiet...not another word.'


Ah, then indeed, I knew that the Night teemed
With evil powers many as a Nation,
More, and more awful that we mortals dreamed,
A loveless and inhuman generation
That from a midnight kingdom somehow streamed
Out from a nowhere never seen nor mapped
To hurry human beings to damnation.


So in the empty sky the stars appear,
Are bright in heaven marching through the sky,
Spinning their planets, each one to his year,
Tossing their fiery hair until they die;
Then in the tower afar the watcher sees
The sun, that burned, less noble than it was,
Less noble still, until by dim degrees,
No spark of him is specklike in his glass.
Then blind and dark in heaven the sun proceeds,
Vast, dead and hideous, knocking on his moons,
Till crashing on his like creation breeds,
Striking such like a constellations swoons.
From dead things striking fire a new sun springs,
New fire, new life, new planets with new wings.


They called that broken hedge The Haunted Gate.
Strange fires (they said) burnt there at moonless times.
Evil was there, men never went there late,
The darkness there was quick with threatened crimes.
And then one digging in the bloodies clay
Found, but a foot below, a rotted chest.
Coins of the Romans, tray on rusted tray,
Hurriedly heaped there by a digger prest.
So that one knew how, centuries before,
Some Roman flying from the sack by night,
Digging in terror there to hide his store,
Sweating his pick, by windy lantern light,
had stamped his anguish on that place's soul,
So that it knew and could reherse the whole.


There was an evil in the nodding wood
Above the quarry long since overgrown,
Something which stamped it as a place of blood
Where tortured spirit cried from murdered bone.
Then, after years, I saw a rusty knife
Stuck in a woman's skull, just as 'twas found,
Blackt with a centuried crust of clotted life,
In the red clay of that unholy ground.
So that I knew the unhappy thing had spoken,
That tongueless thing for whom the quarry spoke,
The evil seals of murder had been broken
By the red earth, the grass, the rooted oak,
The inarticulate dead had forced the spade,
the hand, the mind, till murder was displayed.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Jane looked like a dark lantern, burning.

It's more Masefield, if you don't like it, eat a dick*.

The first half of 'Reynard' is made up of verse-pictures of the entire fox-hunting party and they are really good. It's also one of the few times you'll ever here Masefield actually talk about women. turns out he can do it pretty well, so, I suppose, well done John?

There are too many to relate but here's my preferred adventuring party assembled from that poem.

The parson and his sporting wife,
She was a stout one, full of life
With red, quick, kindly, manly face.
She held the knave, queen, king and ace,
In every hand she played with men.
She was no sister to the hen,
But fierce and minded to be queen,
She wore a coat and skirt of green,
A waistcoat cut of hunting red,
Her tie pin was a fox's head.


Jane looked like a dark lantern, burning.
Outwardly dark, unkempt, uncouth,
But minded like the living truth,
A friend that nothing shook nor wearied.
She was not 'Darling Jane'd', nor 'dearied'd',
She was all prickles to the touch,
So sharp that many feared to clutch,
So keen, that many thought her bitter.
She let the little sparrows twitter.
She had a hard ungracious way.
Her storm of hair was iron-grey.,
And she was passionate in her heart
For women's souls that burn apart,
Just as her mother's had, with Squire.
She gave a sense of smouldering fire.
She was not happy being a maid,
At home, with Squire, but she stayed
Enduring life, however bleak,
To guard her sisters who were weak,
And force a life for them from Squire.
And she had roused and stood his fire
A hundred times, and earned his hate,
To win those two a better state.


Steer Harpit came from Rowell Hill,
A small, frail man, all heart and will**,
A sailor as his voice betrayed.
He let his whip-thong droop and played
At snicking off the grass blades with it.


Then on a horse which bit and bucked
(the half-broke four-year old Marauder)
Came Minton-Price of th' Afghan border
Lean, puckered, yellowed, knotted, scarred,
Tough as hide-rope twisted hard,
Tense tiger-sinew knit to bone.
Strange-wayed from having lived alone
With Kafir, Afghan and Beloosh
In stations frozen in the Koosh
Where nothing but the bullet sings.
His mind had conquered many things
Painting, mechanics, physics, law,
White-hot, hand-beaten things to draw
Self-hammered from his own soul's stithy,
His speech was blacksmith-sparked and pithy.
Danger has been his brother bred;
The stones had often been his bed
In bickers with the border-thieves.

Monday, 7 December 2015

And the shriek of the mouse the owl made die,

This is from 'Reynard the Fox' or 'The Ghost Heath Run' by John Masefield. Its the story of a foxhunt with a large part of it told from the perspective of the fox.

On Cold Crendons windy tops
grows wintrily Blown Hilcote Copse,
Wind-bitten beech with badger barrows
Where broks eat wasp-grubs with their marrows,
And foxes lie on short-grassed turf,
Nose between paws, to hear the surf
of wind in the beeches drowsily.
There was our fox bred lustily
Three years before, and there he berthed
Under the beech-roots snugly earthed,
With a roof of flint and a floor of chalk
And ten bitten hens' heads each on its stalk,
Some rabbits' paws, some fur from scuts,
A badger's corpse and a smell of guts.
And there on the night before my tale
He trotted out for a point in the vale.
He saw, from the cover edge, the valley
Go trooping down with its droops of sally
To the brimming river's lipping bend,
And a light at the inn at Water's End.
He heard the owl go hunting by
And the shriek of the mouse the owl made die,
And the purr of the owl as he tore the red
Strings from between his claws and fed;
The smack of joy of the horny lips
Marbled green with the blobby strips.
He saw the farms where the dogs were barking,
Cold Crendon Court and Copsecote Larking;
The fault with the spring as bright as gleed,
Green-slash-laced with the water weed.
A glare in the sky still marked the town,
Though all folk slept and the blinds were down,
The street lamps watched the empty square,
The night-cat sang his evil there.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

The Perse, or Kaldr river.

Perse for its colour though the water is clear, reflecting the grey-blue sky beneath whose arch it runs.

Out beyond the Melanic the river has another name, the Kaldr. Called for the place of its birth, the Kaldr Hjarta Mountains, or Mountains of the Cold Heart. And the Mountains of the Cold Heart are called so for the cold-hearted sinners of Dryhthelm, whose walls are watched by insectile devils of ice, for the Kaldr Hjarta mountains are an outpost of Hell upon this uncertain world.

But before Hell, the river.

It runs cold all the way to the moors, with a temperature a little cooler than the air. Mist bands and bored whirlpools mark its margins where the waters meet.

The Perse is neither haunted by unlikely mists, like the Virid, or tortured by lightning and memories like the Or. Fat with life, it throngs with fish of many kinds. Mega-krill feed on the fish and small sperm whales no bigger than a big boy feed on the krill. The small sperm whales are hunted in their turn by man for their marvellous oils, by the Orca that predate in deadly packs, feared by all and by the Wreaca, the exiles, no fate more feared.

The bare, crone-haunted islands of the Perse are covered in freshwater penguins packed in shadowy ranks calling like whippoorwills in the voices of abandoned friends.

There are greater dangers still, for the Stone Men (who have sworn never to work metal, though this does not prevent some of them from using metal, including guns) drive their black bark canoes through the river and its tributaries on missions of vengeance, honour, trade, exploration or simply adventure. Tribal politics shift continually and it is impossible for the traveller to predict how encountered tribes will act.

The Fell Metal tribes from the scree sides of the deep dark lakes that feed into the Perse rarely come forth from their hearth halls on the mountain tops, but when they do they ride in shallow-draft long boats, swift and dangerous, with figureheads of galloping horses that seem to tread down the oncoming waves and trample them into flecks of white.

Only a mile beyond the melanic are the walled wooden townships of the distaff families of Jukai. Technically, legally, colonies and nascent outposts of that city state. In effect travel through the Melanic is never predictable or guaranteed and these fortress-markets effectively rule themselves.

The largest, right on the border of the river and the moors, is Vedet, built of black wood with brass minarets and docks jutting into the flow, packed with the canoes of the stone men, longboats of the fell metal tribes, rafts of the swamp drunks, official Jukai exploration craft and the numerous boats of fishermen, pirates, criminals, explorers and unaffiliated adventurers. Here in Vedet all coagulate and mix, with just enough law to keep the anarchy profitable, and just enough gunpowder and iron to beat back the Wreaca from the forest, wild stone tribe attacks or anything sinister coming out of the moors.

The redwood forest crowds close around these places, massively overreaching their walls and their survival never seems certain. Further up the river we find simple forts with palisades, logs for a dock and a handful of bearded traders and trappers, half frozen and cracked with the cold, the calling of the penguins and with fear of giants.

Beyond the palisades the trapper tales talk of Ent and Eoten, children of those who challenged the gods in their pride and were brought low, and of the terrible Thyrs, who are as to the Eoten as the Wreaca are to us. Here the Castoroides live, fierce and wise, damning the shallow lakes and tributaries with cyclopean works. Even one Castoroides skin can make a hunter rich for a year but they are cunning and watchful and perhaps more dangerous to man than man is dangerous to them. Should the Castoroides choose to damn a tributary vital to one of the fort-townships, then open warfare will be declared between giant beaver and mankind, in the deep forest the powder speaks as armed groups of desperate mercenaries and adventurers raid the huge dams of the the gigantic beasts.

By this point no-one calls it the Perse, the river is the Kaldr, or simply 'the river'.

As the redwoods fade and shrink the Kaldr passes into tundra and steppe where the megafauna roam. Pony-riding stone tribes hunt Caribou, Mammoth and wooly Rhinoceros. On the river itself the shadowy penguins are challenged for dominance by fierce gigantic ducks and the crones of the low islands grow ever more watchful and mad.

At times the Caribou and Elk migrate across the Kalder en-masse, sometimes herded and driven by the Stone Men. Orca pods observe, working as teams to pull down the young or weak. Mammoth families cross carefully, youngest held paddling at the centre of the group while their parents flail at the circling predators, dashing the water into shattered diamonds and sometimes hurling entire Orca bodily out of the water onto the land where they are eaten by gigantic hawks.

Beyond the tundra lie the lake lands. Here the Kaldr zig-zags through old glacier paths in a series of deep black steep scree-sided lakes. The small sperm whales are plentiful here and breach and fountain, descending to the unknown depths to battle the gigantic krill.

Up on the scree side, or hidden in the murky valleys between the hills, by black tarns and moorlands, are the hearth halls of the fell metal tribes, those who have chosen to work metal and put their trust in iron instead of flesh. They sit brooding in their hidden follies, grim, honourable, bound in the blue-grey silver of the fells and wearing fire-bright orange gems torn from ancient tombs.

Those who are driven out from the fell metal tribes become the Wreaca, the Exiles, strange and terrible, transformed by the night, maddened and solitary, hating light and warmth. Always wandering. Always alone.

It is not always easy to tell a Wreaca, many still have the forms of the men they once were, the only way to be sure is that the true Wreaca cannot sing for they hate joy.

Beyond the lake land the Kaldr enters realms of legend, where no explorer from Jukai has gone to and returned. All that is known is from the tales of river traders, the dances of the Stone Men or the gnomic riddles of the fell metal tribes.

They say that the foothills and slopes of the Kaldr Hjarta mountains are home to a race of women, fierce and proud, who live without order, knowing no law, and without men, knowing no love, who do not fear the cold for they have replaced their souls with those of birds, who battle against the yak men and monsters who come from above the ice line and against the fell metal tribes, the Wreaca, Thyrs, the Megafauna, each other and whatever else they can find.

The barbarian women also trade in small amounts of cigarettes, opium and other strange goods, brought, they claim, through the warrens of ancient cities deep beneath the Kaldr Hjarta range. passing under the ice line in the still darkness, brought by smugglers from a distant land.

Above  ice line nothing mortal can survive, for the cold freezes the very life in the blood. There vast glaciers of ice emerge like snakes, calving endlessly into the springs of the Cold Heart river, keeping it cool, sometimes holding devils like specks of black.

And somewhere far above the ice line is Dryhthelm, never seen by mortal eyes but reported to be a metropolis of caves carved into broken ice where the souls of the amoral dead sit like hermits, freezing, sleepless and unforgiving.

Watching over them are insectile devils made of living cold, and this is known by the devils found floating down the Kaldr, trapped in small glaciers of blue-sheened ice, whispering secrets and promising revenge.

The ice-frozen devils, or 'Orcneas' are only rarely encountered, perhaps once in several decades, and no-one can be certain how or why they come. The devils themselves claim that this is the punishment in Dryhthelm for mercy, that since devils cannot truly die, should one of them be found lax in cruelty, or doing less harm than they could, they are sentenced to the ice, frozen in a glacier and then slowly calved into the river, floating downstream, held fast by the enormous cold generated by their own unearthly flesh, until they reach the strange waters of Jukai and melt, freeing the devil inside to return to Dryhthelm in the winking of an eye.

This may be true, or partly true, but it is well known that the Orcneas lie, promising power and revenge to those slighted in return for souls, freezing the heart with their words, casting spells and teaching dark magic. For as long as the Orcneas passes down the river, all sane and intelligent peoples ban all contact with it, only the Wreaca, the desperate, the penguins the criminals and crones actively seek them out, silently attending in the night.

Table talk claims that one of the towers of Jukai has an Orcneas imprisoned, held secretly in a cool room so that the ruling families may question it.

And there is a postal service between Jukai and Hell. For kings have cold hearts and many of the mighty rulers who were once in the world are in Dryhthelm now, and their descendants wish to speak with them, to discover hidden knowledge and the names of assassins, to settle old debts and confirm the inheritance of nations.

A letter given to a factor in Jukai will be passed to a trusted Swamp Drunk, taken through the Melanic, handed to a relative in Vedet, given to a trader or a Stone Tribe man, then taken up the Kaldr, handed to a fell metal thane, taken by a hero to one of the barbarian women of the north, taken by them to the ice line and handed by strange alliance to a yak man or Thyrs and so brought to Dryhthelm. There, should the soul of the recipient still exist and be sane, and actively desire to reply, they will scratch words upon a slate in blood, this will be handed to a devil, then to a Thyrs or yak-man, and so-on, all the way back to Jukai.

The turnaround for a communication of this type is one year minimum, but five is more likely, and the replies are rarely what the sender wished to hear. A quater of Jukai is made up entirely of scholars, ambassadors, distaff aristocratic lines, the deposed lines of great empires and other interested parties, all waiting the long years for a reply to their letter to hell

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Civil River

The largest and the longest of the three rivers that find their end in Jukai Bay is the Or, or 'Civil River'

'Or' for its colour, which is gold, and 'Civil' for its Parliaments and laws.

An Empire once tamed the Or. No-one knows which one, the Or flows a long, long way, through canyon country, through the Forest of Rhodopsin with its purple leaves and prehistoric trees, through the Phyrrous Plains and great ravines thereof, through the stormlands where the trees burn every other year and the banks of the Or become sheets of red flame reflecting from its golden sheen, through the Catastrophic Woods, dense black tangles of hate-hardened wood where the grey leaves cover pin-dogs in their multitudes, still unexplored, and beyond that, somewhere it originates in the Radula Mountains, seat of the Snaegleborg, peerless, heaven-piercing ever-receding, centrepoint and only ever-stable point in this Uncertain World.

These lands held many Empires over time, the Phyrrous Plains are known for their ruins and the legends of the Cities of the Plains and how they warred against each other long ago. The Catastrophic Woods must hold the source of some terrible event, no-one knows what, the Canyon of the Sun is vast and the few who have survived its rapids claim they see ruined cave-cities carved into its rock like black eyes.

It was likely the Aurulent Empire that tamed and organised the Or, it seems like the kind of thing they would do and it's certainly the ghosts of their tax inspectors that loom out of the water after mass lightning-strikes, riding huge pale crabs, carrying silver lanterns and muttering to themselves in Ancient Aurulent.

For the river has order. It floods and recedes on time each year, every year, accurate to the day, expanding and contracting to exactly the same place each time. Its savage whirlpools are more regular than clocks, more fixed than stars, its deadly sandbanks that suck down ships are all charted, as firmly set as foundations, they never move. The Or is predictable, at least, in those ways in which a river is usually not.

The fauna of the Or are organised. The river has no non-social species. Even animals that would normally be non-social, or barely-social, like Alligators or snails, either live in groups or congregate regularly.

Each group has a hierarchy, each hierarchy has a head, each species has a parliament with local sub-councils. Somewhere there is a Senate of the Or where the leaders of each species meet to somehow agree the laws of the Or, somewhere, perhaps, there is a King.

The animals of the river are not necessarily any more intelligent than their equivalents elsewhere and they do not necessarily do anything fundamentally different than their equivalents elsewhere. The small brass crabs like coins still behave generally like crabs, the black eels with golden eyes still drift like policemen outside bars, the dark blue manatees still chew the golden kelp, the saw-mouth dolphins still hunt with ultrasonic whines. The purpose of an animal is to be an animal, but in the Or, this happens on schedule and the schedule is fair. The water snails walk in lines, the fish move in formation, predators chase their expected prey who flee in the expected way, until an hour turns or a chase enters a protected zone, in which case the chrome gharials simply turn away from the escaping fish.

When animals congregate they do not 'speak' in any comprehensible way. They are certainly doing something but exactly what or how is hard to tell. The heads of the parliaments may be intelligent, or not, the 'kings' of each species may be intelligent, storybooks certainly say they are, or they may not. No-one has ever confirmed encountering one.

Sometimes animals are found executed, forced out of the water to suffocate in air, or be eaten by land animals, or by man. The places of execution are well known and small villages of human beings sometimes make their livelihoods by acting as terrestrial leviathans who consume the criminals of the Civil River. The fishermen of the Or are few, and very very careful. They say the river always takes back what it gives. Exactly.

Golden fish are their officials. These slim, rapid bright fish are sometimes seen darting back and forth in the Or, to no particular pattern. They are never predated on by river-fauna, or even by man, local tribes and groupings refuse to touch them.

The colour of the Or, a golden sheen that makes it look like a necklace dropped on the velvet horizon when seen from the towers of Jukai at dawn, comes from some unknown impurity which seeps into the river somewhere above the stormlands and becomes more and more prevalent as it works its way towards Jukai. (It's not gold, curious alchemists have made exhaustive tests to look for that.) No-one can quite be certain what it is but several of the animals of the Or have a somewhat-metallic sheen to them of different kinds. Zenithal suggested what she called "a kind of anti-gargantuan organism, as indiscernible as the sky yet upon the opposite scale of size.

The water of the Or is slightly ferric and it summons lightning. Any storm passing over the river which might possibly discharge a bolt will do so directly into the water rather than onto the tops of nearby trees or mountains. When a large storm passes, especially in the stormlands upstream, tens, or even hundreds of lightning bolts can crash down into the Or, making it look like a wall of bright light stretching across the plains, upholding the dark pillars of the sky. Ships that trade on or explore the river carry iron lightning rods on top of masts to deflect likely strikes.

Most of the creatures of the Or seem to have found some way to survive these storms. But, after a significant storm an unusual event takes place. Should it be night and should the air still be heavy with static, huge pale crabs will idle out of the river and walk about on land. These crabs, (the size of ponies) are ridden by the ghosts of tax inspectors of the Aurulent Empire. (They wear the three-buttoned hats and signifying robes of those bureaucrats.) These ghosts then wander about on their crabs holding silver lanterns which give no visible light but which seem to define the limits of their sight, muttering ancient aurlulent, peering at things and clicking the mother-of-peal beads of their abacuses back and forth, they are followed in the darkness by a train of black electrified eels with golden eyes who move after them like a shadow, and of which they seem utterly unaware.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

FotVH Stat attempts

Here are some experimental attempts at starting up monsters from Fire on the Velvet Horizon, what do you think?



Armour leather, Move 20', 8 Hit Dice, 48hp, bite 1d6 damage, Morale 12.

No law or social custom can be broken in the Abhorrers presence. No illegal harm can be done to an Abhorrer.

Treasure - Assume an Abhorrer controls wealth equivalent to at least a third-tier noble in the local polity. If no value can be derived, assume 100,000 total wealth with 50% available as cash and 20,000 in stealable form on its person or in its home.


Abhorrer - AC 12, HP 50, Spd. 20ft, bite +1, 1d6 dm, xp = population of local metropolitan area.


An Abhorrer always has the best protection that money can legally buy. However, it is rarely required.




Armour as plate, Move 30', 6 Hit Dice, 36 hp, tentacles d4/d4 damage or as weapon, Morale 10.

Fearful Masks - On first sight save vs petrification or lose a round of action. In social situations, freeze and stammer before you can speak. If the masks are removed, the Aeskithetes real face is even more terrifying, in this case save or lose two rounds of action.

Vomit Bile - 2d8 acidic damage.

Disappear - If seriously deeply distracted, or at will, an Aeskithete may disappear. If they do, they will not return.

Dimensional Magics - Using dimensional magic is a full action for an Aeskithete and a living target may save against it. The more powerful an Aeskithete is the more of its limbs it can functionally control and the greater the range of its dimensional magics.

Limbs active,   Hit Dice, hp, mass affectable, size shift, distance teleport, time travel

2 limbs active, 6 Hit Dice, 36hp, 1 square foot, 100% + or -, 6 ft, 1 second.

4 limbs active, 8 Hit Dice, 48hp, 2 square feet, 200% + or -, 12 ft, 6 seconds.

6 limbs active, 10 Hit Dice, 60hp, 6 square feet, 300% + or -, 24 ft, 18 seconds.

10 HD Aeskithetes can cast Dermal Imprisonment in which a target is shrunk to microscopic size and imprisoned on their own skin.

Aeskithetes encountered randomly will be 6HD creatures, for every six present, one will be 8HD. 10HD Aeskithetes are only met with under special circumstances.


Aeskithete - AC 18, HP 46, Spd. 30ft, TENTACLE +2, 1d4+1 dm, 600 xp


Fearful Mask - On first sight DC 15 Wis save or lose a round of action. In social situations, freeze and stammer before you can speak. If the masks are removed, the Aeskithetes real face is even more terrifying, in this case save or lose two rounds of action.

Vomit Bile - Range 10ft 1 target, DC 11 Dex save, 2d8 dm if fail, ½ if save.

Limbs active,   hp, DC if target live, mass affectable, size shift, distance teleport, time travel

2 limbs active, 46hp, DC 10 Int save, 1 square foot, 100% + or -, 6 ft, 1 second.

4 limbs active, 60hp, DC 13 Int save, 2 square feet, 200% + or -, 12 ft, 6 seconds.

6 limbs active, 72hp, DC 17 Int save, 6 square feet, 300% + or -, 24 ft, 18 seconds.

6 limb Aeskithetes can cast Dermal Imprisonment in which a target is shrunk to microscopic size and imprisoned on their own skin. DC 17 Int save.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Without Malice

John Masefield was not a great poet.

He kind of was great, just interspersed with 'good' and 'maybe slightly flat sometimes'. If you took all his great lines and put them in one book he would rival the great romantics, but they don't all appear in one book.

In this case my affection for his character and inner nature means that his flaws make him even more likeable to me, an achievable man you can imagine meeting rather than an ariel talent.

A Kirby-esque force of positivity. A self-taught poet who rhymes like a child and doesn't care at all. Boxing fan, ex sailor, probably the most hard working and most quickly forgotten poet lauriat we have ever had and, if you combine his love of adventure, the imagination, sometimes violence and THE SEA, you get a very D&D poet.

From 'Wonderings'

I do not know the day, the month, the year:
it was a green time, when the sky was clear;
I was then five or six, in open air,
When suddenly a doorway opened there.
An ecstasy discovered that my mind
Had every wonder that I wished to find,
Limitless strength, to see and create,
A wealth of phantasy, past telling great,
Power to call at will, to see and sway
Peoples and creatures infinitely gay,
Things in perfection, landscapes, forests, seas,
And I, who summoned, king of all of these,
King of a world to enter when I chose,
(O desert spring, O rock-delighting rose).

Instantly then, I summoned, to my joy
The tiny people suited to a boy,
A fairy people, who, in daily dreams
Provisioned ships, and sailed, exploring streams,
Familiar streams, but past the points I knew,
Where undreamed fruits and unseen flowers grew,
Where, in some bay, they purchased priceless things,
LIttle Green Hairstreaks', Purple Emperors' wings,
Crest feathers plucked at night by indian men
Scarlet from woodpecker, or gold from wren,
Or blue-green flash, or golden-tawney gleam
Dropped by the 'fisher skimming down the stream.

Yesterday Malice died. Malice Aforthough the white elf assassin who has been playing in the same game with my characters for.. not sure. Maybe two, three years? I know he's seen three of them come and go so far and I remember carrying around his petrified body for a loong fucking time till we could get him un frozen.

I've spent more time with this imaginary person that I have with many real people. It's weird that he's dead.

(Of course being dead isn't that big a problem at level 11+ but, thanks partially to my errors he's converted to green slime and then de-evolved to two mutually incompatible evolutionary ancestors, so he's more dead than dead really.)

Anyway, the following from Masefield seems appropriate, in all his somewhat-creaky, sometimes inspired enormously (to me) likeable self;

From 'The Ending'

And as she advanced, towing southward, those watchers of ships,
Sang from their places a song of the outgoing spirit
A cry to all farers on ways upon water or earth.

"Adventure on companion, for this
Is God's most greatest gift, the thing that is.
Take it, although it lead to the abyss.

Ceaselessly, like the sunlight, life is spilled
Into these channels till the purpose willed
Meet with the End that is to be fulfilled.

A little hour is given to apprehend
Divine companions from the mortal friend
From mortal hearts, a life that cannot end.

Go forth to seek: the quarry never found
Is still a fever to the questing hound,
The skyline is a promise, not a bound.

Therefore, go forth, companion: when you find
No highway more, no track, all being blind
The way to go shall glimmer in the mind.

Though you have conquered Earth and charted Sea
And planned the courses of all Stars that be,
Adventure on, more wonders are in Thee.

Adventure on, for from the littlest clue
Has come whatever worth man ever knew ;
The next to lighten all men may be you.

Adventure on, and if you suffer, swear
That the next venturer shall have less to bear;
Your way will be retrodden, make it fair.

Think, though you thunder on in might and pride,
Others may follow fainting, without guide,
Burn out a trackway for them; blaze it wide.

Only one banner, Hope: only one star
To steer by, Hope, a dim one seen afar
yet naught will vanquish Hope and nothing bar.

Your Hope is what you venture for, your Hope
is but the shadowed semblance of your scope,
The chink of gleaming towards which you grope.

What though the gleam be but a feeble one,
Go on, the man behind you might have none;
Even the dimmest gleam is from the sun.

All beauty is. No paradise of flowers;
No quiet triumph of perfected powers;
It lives in the attempt to make it ours.

All power is; but with retarding thrift
The watching Strengths administer this gift;
Man's paces as a spirit are not swift.

All that has been imagined from of old
Is, but more glorious a thousandfold;
The pebble lightens, and the clay is gold.

And you, the gray thing dragging on the sea,
Go as a man goes in Eternity
Under a crown of stars to Destiny.

Therefore adventure forth with valiant heart
Knowing that in the utmost stretch of art
Life communes with its heavenly counterpart."

So singing, the Watchers beheld her go on in the dusk;
The evening star brightened the dimness; Pentire dimmed down,
The lights of Land's End were beacons to show her the way.

Monday, 23 November 2015


Fire is change and the Plane of Fire is a halo of violent exchange between the other planes, rendering earth into magma and water into air, where time fades into distance and distance into time.

Seen from inside, it is a stable maze and the other planes flicker in and out of being, shifting constantly, real only as they burn or are the products of burning. From within it is a still and constant, though labyrinthine, layer to an ever changing cosmos, the roots of which are every fuel, every burning tree, every candle flame, every star, supporting ghostlike realities that rise up out of it like dark arches, tendrils of iron and soot.

An aleph of fire, of every fire that has ever been and ever will be, citadels of star fields spread like labyrinths, burning every colour of the star from its birth to its long, slow death, radial cities, bright and white and pure at the centre and yellow and fine a layer out and then the long low fields of infra-red that represent the dying of the star.

Some bounded by blue-white neutron maquis, the long gusting plasmic seas of a supernova or a fierce city wall of cherenkov radiation mixed with interstellar black, the sign of an eventual black hole.

The cities are like mazes, founded on ultra-dense materials and are one of the few stable places in the plane of fire. Out on their borders is the darkening maze, the place with no foundations where your footing can fall away at any time, you can disappear down into the dark beneath, never seen again.

But out there are small archipelagos of fire, the fires of worlds.

Most are blue-white jagged labyrinths made from every bolt of lighting in a cycling storm, all seen as one, wrapped around the low domes of the red tectonic mazes reaching down into the plane of earth.

But some have life. Living worlds have living fires, wild forest fires of wood and air, the fires of burning plains and sometimes burning cities, strange and unearthly places to the dwellers of the Plane of Fire for their foundations are truly cites, like those of the stars, yet made of fuel. The burning products of culture and thought are places of strange fascination to the beings of fire, signs of life and intelligence of an alien and impossible kind, fey citadels appearing in the wilderness.

And within them, burning people, real only for a moment on the Plane of Fire, coughing out brief prophecies in unknown tongues, then disappearing like ghosts, spiralling invisible into the carbon archways that bar the gateways to the plane of Air.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Shrinking the 5e stat block

This is me trying to turn the overloaded-as-fuck 5e stat block into something that doesn't make me want to vom.

As usual I am requesting that other people do my thinking for me.


Casey G came up with the following stat lines;

Moktar - AC 13, HP 15, Spd. 30ft, greatclub +5, 1d8+3 dm, 100 xp
Aggressive - As a bonus action, a moktar can move its speed toward a hostile creature.
Sick rock poisoning - most moktars in the cave have 4 levels of exhaustion.

Spider - AC 13, HP 11, Spd. 40ft, stealth +7, bite +3, 1d6+1 dm+poison, 50 xp
Poison - DC 11 Con save, 2d6 dm if fail, ½ if save. If target reduced to 0 HP, the target is stable but poisoned and paralyzed for 1 hour, even if it regains HP.

Wolf - AC 13, HP 11, Spd. 40ft, bite +4, 2d4+2 dm+trip, 50 xp
Trip - DC 11 Str save or be knocked prone.

Which I like a great deal. But, (as he pointed out) "They’re missing the ability scores, any saving throw proficiencies, and skills. Thinking a single “bonus” entry might work. Bonus +5 that applies to any appropriate skill rolls or save. Or maybe Bonus +3/+5 one non-proficient and one proficient."


Jeremy Murphy came up with this for stats;

"You can do all the stat in a single line by just putting in the bonus and a * if proficient.


That gives you all the info you need for initiative, save proficiency and skills."

And he's right, that is an elegant notation and I think you could work out almost all of what you need to know from it. The resulting entry would look a bit like this;

Wolf - AC 13, HP 11, Spd. 40ft, bite +4, 2d4+2 dm+trip, 50 xp
Trip - DC 11 Str save or be knocked prone.

Which is by no means offensive, BUT I hate it anyway, not because it's bad but because I fucking hate the idea of counter-referencing monsters stats while fighting them. Also I refuse to re-read the 5e rules before addressing this problem.


So I came up with the following bullshit;

Wolf - AC 13, HP 11, Spd. 40ft, bite +4, 2d4+2 dm+trip, D 3d6, 50 xp
Trip - Str save or knocked prone and grappled.

The only really meaningful addition there is the 'D' number I just made up which are just the dice you roll whenever you need any other number.

This would come in four ranges depending on the kind of monster you were running.

Wieners                   - 3d4
Most things             - 3d6
Badass things          - 3d8
Uber-badass things - 3d12

So it would replace:

  • Stealth
  • Initiative
  • Perception
  • Saves
  • DC values for powers

If you really want to model skills then maybe add a d4 for each skill.

You just roll it as and when you need that number and only then.

The excuse for this is that combat is chaotic and things are changing all the time so maybe this Orc is just having a really bad  or good day.

You lose a LOT of fine detail and perhaps rob monsters of some of their structural identity and makes in-game knowledge less meaningful, (i.e. certain monsters are tough with high CON but dim with low WIS etc)

The benefits are the customary OSR benefits of chaos, its always worth trying some nutso tactic because its just possible you might win, the bad guy might roll a 3 for its save, so it favours improvisation, invention and courage/risk taking over planning and careful knowledge.

Any 5e-experts (5xperts?) feel free to let me know how quickly this would go horribly wrong in the comments.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The River of Drowned Queens

The Virid is a big river, slower than a sleeping snake say some.

It's always hard to cross. At its origins, spewing from the karst of the Sifir, the black cracked desert of the Caliphate of Holes, it rockets forth crook-necking its way through angular steep-sided canyons of unstable scree. The stones slip-slide under the foot at forty-five degrees and though the jagging of the canyon shifts each month, and tonnes of stone must fall into the rocketing spume, the river never fills.

Even here the faint murk of its dark green water hazes up into a sun-reflecting fog that blurs the daylight into splinters but lets through the light of stars

For a thousand miles it runs, widens, deepens, heating up and slowing down. The dank intensifies. On summer days the river casts its smog-self like a skin, or the green ghost of a snake tracking it from the sky.

At its mouth the snake is wide enough across that silty islands in its midst have grown their own ecosystems, which crash together in slow motion over years as the flow deposits and picks up wuth unpredictable lick.

Some have been the base of micro-kingdoms.

Although these kingdoms do not go on very long, because the Virid drowns all Queens that cross its banks.

You can still here them there, moaning in the silt, and see the glimmering glitter of their crowns and gems turning and tumbling in the tangling ooze.

Its bad to cross the river in the day. Even if the day is cold, it might suddenly heat up and should the Virid's virid murk rise up it will shatter the rays of the sun into kaleidoscopic fragments, sending prickles of frustrating gleam networking back and forth, the river so slow by now its impossible to tell which way it runs. You could be trapped for hours there till the night, listening to the sad cries of the drowned queens from under the water, hearing their tales of the kingdoms they once ruled, of their great castles, great beauty, of their dynasties long passed.

The Queens don't come up above the surface of the water. Probably. There is always the feeling that they could if they wished. Nobody dives for the gems in the silt or for the tarnished crowns.

Sometimes the fishing people on the Virid's banks find a single gem inside the belly of a fish or trapped in the claws of a crab. It is always always thrown back in without delay, with apologies. Refusing to obey this rule is one of the few things that can enrage these tribes, in every other respect, despite their differences in race and language, they are extremely egalitarian people. There is no possibility of a King amongst them, and definitely not a Queen. Not even a homecoming Queen or a Harvest Queen.

They tend not to use nets. The fat flatfish with the wrinkled eyes and the pearly crabs for which the river is known, all tangle and intermingle with the bones of the drowned Queens and it is rude and frightening to disturb them and to pull them up out of the silty beds in which they cannot sleep, but only wait, looking at the shadows of the fishing boats on the surface of the water and waiting and whispering their tales.

For the same reason, lobster pots and eel traps above a certain size are never used, a fisherman might return to their trap  in the night and find a Queen in it and that could be frightening and embarrassing.

Crossing at night is better, if the sky is clear. It's cold and the haze is low and, for some reason, it does not blur starlight. Even the Queens are more quiet, they whisper to the fishers of their lost loves and the great romances they had before they were dead, and again they speak of their lost beauty.

There are a lot of Queens in the Virid, almost every dynasty in this Uncertain World has lost one or more to its waters. It's not clear how this happens since its always been called "The River of Drowned Queens" and one would think they might avoid it, but circumstances tend to conspire; pursuing armies or vengeful suitors or parents, act of madness, wild and dangerous hubris, sometimes the drowned girl does not know she is a Queen. Once a Princess crossed the Virid at midnight and never reached tho other side. Later it was discovered that her entire family had been killed on that very same night thousands of miles away. As the only remaining heir she had become a Queen in the middle of the river and it took her then and dragged her down into its bright green heart.

It's always green in the centre of the Virid where the water is deep, tendrils of veridian weed dance and curl in the murk beneath the keels of the boats.

Despite the large number of Queens recorded to be lost, the river seems almost over-full. There are a lot of Queens down there. Some suggest they were washed out of the Sifir when the great temple fell. Others say the Virid runs through many worlds and that all drowned Queens, wherever they are sunk, wash inevitably into its waters.

Legend says that if one Queen ever crosses the Virid, or navigates it from source to sea, the spell and curse upon it will be broken and the bones of the drowned old Queens will be released and a mighty flood will wash them all into Jukai bay, forming a shoal of bone, broken sceptres and murky jewels.

A tempting and interesting idea to the rulers of Jukai, and the tribes of the Melanic Moors, though both decry any belief in the legend.

The Queens beneath the surface know it though and they cry out for the shadow of that one who will come to touch the rivers banks.

She has not come yet.

Monday, 16 November 2015

The year was bad but this is good

Uncle died, lost my job, injured my foot, also global jihad intensified. It's been rough on me and, from reading my G-plus feed and just the news generally, it’s been fucking rough on you as well, layoffs, illness, depression, breakups, breakdowns and in Zak's case he didn't even win every Ennie possible.

There were some he did not win, and for him that's the equivalent of a limb spontaneously falling off. Inexplicable.

And yet into this river of shadows, into this storm of wrath without boundary and despair without end, like the golden bow of Apollo kindling joyous hope within the hearts of men, I fire the fire-bright burning arrow of my genius yet again.

False Readings is LIVE
Click here to buy an e-book

Why? For the money?


Pretty much. Pretty much for the money.

BUT. For other reasons also.

I wanted to work with Paolo since I screwed him out of the False Machine book. (It may one day return but the business of proofing and laying it out would be a nightmare, especially finding illustrations for the sculpture articles, it really wouldn't work without them.)

I wanted to have a kind of grand assessment of my fiction writing, in a sense to see if it is worth continuing in that vein.

Everything else was going very slowly and I didn't want to bring out just one book this year. (Veins and Medusa Maze are both in layout with different people, BFR is being written, expect them all in 2016.)

I wanted to see if, having read them in a proper format, anyone wants me to continue. The Snail Knight stories are going to get written whatever happens but as to the rest it's up in the air. it depends on reader response. If you want to find out what happens to Fiddlin' Joe then contact me, but be aware if I do the next three sections of that story I will be charging you, they are a nightmare to write.

Click to buy from Amazon UK
And I think the stories are good, or at least interesting and no-one was ever going to really read them on the blog. You don't read fiction on the internet, you need a book, or at least a digital reader.

The dual-second-person thing I'm pretty sure no-one has ever done before. The Snail Knight stories are, I think, really good, the fragments of verse are a bit uneven but everything has something interesting in it. Something that gives it a kind of right to exist.

(If it makes you feel any better I spent fucking HOURS on the poetry bits, and a long time on the rest. I do not write fast.)

It’s the Alchemists Laboratory school of art rather than the painters. The abandoned lab of an Alchemist isn't a singular cohesive work, but its interesting, you can wander about at your own pace, pick things up, fiddle with them, wonder about their context and, since you can't be sure what anything is, you don't know if it’s broken or valuable, tarnished gold or polished iron pyrites.

Even fools gold can be fun sometimes, and you need fun don't you? So, if you like the idea of breaking into the laboratory of a mad old man and looking through his stuff then you will  probably like this.

Happy 2015 everyone.

Click to buy from Amazon US

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Six Experimental Men

Six steel sarcophagi, vertical and equidistant, two to a wall, doors heavy but unlocked.

Within each is an Experimental Man. They have no memories and no names. They understand the language of Fire and that of the PC's. Each man has a ceramic key in the centre of his chest. Turning the key activates the man.

Each man is mad and soon to die. When they awaken they roll morale. For every turn they are awake and every question they are asked, make another roll. On each failure an activated Man advances in his madness by one degree.

All stats are as follows unless otherwise stated in the description.

Armor chain, Move standard', 2 Hit Dice, 8hp, blow 1d6 damage, Morale 7.

MAN #1 (Armour - none)

Hollow glass with candles jammed to the inside like an iron maidens inward-facing spikes. Activation makes the man 'breathe' in and the candles ignite. Each candle-flame is a tiny fire-imp making furious abacus-calculations.

Mathematician - Deals easily with logic problems and quantifiable numbers. May provide PC's with knowledge the DM thinks they could have worked out already but have not.

Madness - 1-Counts visible things. 2-Counts invisible things. 3-Counts continously. 4-Demands others count. 5-Attacks any unevenly-numbered things (people, fingers, bricks).

MAN #2

Pure black anthracite with a circulatory system laid out on the surface of his skin in sulphur.
Activation makes the sulphur burn blue and the anthracite glow a deep, dull red.

Prophetic - Can deliver prophecies in a number of words equal to the level of the asking PC. These need not be absolutely predictive but can be created by the DM using their knowledge of this module in its entirety. Every prophecy requires a reaction roll.

Madness - 1-Sees own death at hands of PC's. 2-Asks them to leave. 3-Demands they leave. 4-Asks why they want to destroy him. 5-Attacks PC's madly.

MAN #3 (Regen 1hp per round)

Stacked ceramic discs like a man sculpted from standing coins. Activation makes the coins shift like leaves as a hidden current animates them.

Magic detection and dis-spellment. Immune to magic. Can detect magic once per turn. Can cast dispel magic at will, this requires a reaction roll.

Madness - 1-silence, he will not speak unless spoken to. 2-Isolation, he sits in a corner and will not move unless persuaded to. 3-Self harm, he disrupts his own field and claws out his own ceramic discs. 4-He either throws himself into an electrical field or casts dispel magic on himself, collapsing into a pile of dead disks.

MAN #4

A sheet of thin blue steel etched with a labyrinth of criss crossing straight lines. Activation makes the steel unfold into an origami-man with a face shaped of modernist gaps.

A Thief. This man has all thief skills at 5 in 6 (83% in AD&D)

Madness - 1-Searches the tomb for objects to steal (he is immune to electrocution). 2-Pickpockets PC's. 3-Hides from and tracks PC's. 4-Backstabs and robs PC's.

MAN #5

A man of terracotta with plates of toughened glass, you can see inside he's full of soil with micro-tunnels running through. Activation awakes a colony of burning ants, glowing like specks of flame they dash about inside his shell, visible through the glass their movements sketch the semblance of a face.

A Swordsman and adventurer. The man is bold and fearless, he attacks and moves as a Lvl 7 fighter.

Madness - 1-Seeks out difficult challenges, ants trickle from his mouth. 2-Refuses to ignore very difficult challenges, more ants escape. 3-Relentlessly attacks the most overwhelming challenge possible whilst compulsively vomiting burning ants.

MAN #6 (Armour plate & shield, HD10 d8/d8 damage)

A huge dull-blue ceramic ogre, eight feet high, bound with bands of riveted iron, with a featureless hole for a face and a mask of dark-black glass raised like the visor of a knight. Activation causes a roar like solar wind or radio noise, the face swims with blinding blue-white sunspots and the black visor lowers to protect onlookers from the light

A Poet. This man dreams of another world, one made of and shaped by fire itself.

Madness - 1-asks wide-ranging questions about PC's and the world. 2-becomes ever more absorbed with questions of fire and investigates environment to discover more. 3-Becomes subdued and reluctant to communicate. 4-Opens own casing releasing strand of pure blue-white plasma that burns through immediate area for 3d6 damage before disappearing, leaving empty shell behind.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Twelve Issues of Fantastic Four #2


As the Fantasticar passes 'beneath' the world-tendril they see before them what look like pearls, globes of pale white light scattered on the midnight-dark material. Behind them, the remaining sunlight sheets past in columns of red and gold.

The Fantasticar lances forwards on a pillar of ionic fire, yet the vast scale of these incalculable structures make it seem as if it only drifts, like the gleam of light travelling along the needle of a compass is it turns slowly in the dark.

The orbs of pearl are city-globes surrounded by vast radial fields of something, fields shaped in elaborate jags, "Like the star-forts of Renaissance Europe, but on a vastly greater scale", muses Reed.

Closer still and the 'fields' are revealed as gigantic crowds, but not of living beings. These are the empty ghost-like body-shells of beautiful insectoid women, each with four back-bent spiderlike legs, two sharp mantis-like arms and two smaller grasping arms held under the head like the limbs of a Tyrannosaurs Rex. The body-fields stand in innumerable rows, not only empty, but somehow half-real, like shadows or memories.

As they pass over the inner borders of the crowd the FF witness an incredible sight, one of the insect shells fills inwardly from some unseen source, glimmers a pearly white, comes to life and begins to walk towards the whit city-globe.

While Reed advises caution, Sue Storm doesn't hesitate but leaps from the Fantasticar to hail the wandering woman.

While Sue speaks to the recently vivified insect-lady, the rest of the FF investigate the city ahead of them. Between them all they discover that these are the cities of the Nuns of Destruction, a memory race created by, and feeding from, the lost cultures and dying energies of the annihilated civilisations on the sun-side of the world-structure.

These sombre women age backwards, coming to life in the darkened fields outside and born with the encoded knowledge and experience of millennia of the highly-cultured mega civilisations that formerly made up the Omnistructure.

The tragedy of their all knowing existence is that everything they say and do, every movement they make, every piece of culture they produce, from the simplest thought to the greatest work of art, will be an echo of something already done in the ancient societies long passed. Not only that but for every complex action they take, for every sophisticated idea they have, their expression of it will be the last time that idea or action takes place, they feed and exist, literally, on the final destruction of those cultures. With their movements and their words they spell out the dying memories of worlds.

As they 'age' they grow smaller, younger and more supple. When their destined mother emerges from the darkness outside the city they know their beginning/end is near. They shrink into a grub, and then finally into an egg the same colour and shape as the city in which they live. Finally their 'mother' absorbs them into her own body and they disappear.

The Nuns of Destruction know exactly how many generations of their race are left, they can see them waiting in translucent ranks outside, and they know that their numbers will eventually decrease until only a handful are left, who will then shrink in age until nothing at all remains.

The FF ask them to help then in their quest, to no avail, the Nuns of Destruction have little interest. Until Sue Storm, speaking to 'Ebed', the freshly created/uncreated Nun she met outside, realises that there is one aspect of their memory-lives the Nuns cannot play out.

Combat. The fatalistic Nuns do not fight and there is a galaxies worth of transcendent combat-knowledge that must go unacted, and therefore and expression of life that must go unplumbed.

In return for their help, Ben Grimm challenges the entire city to a fight, and the battle is on!

The FF must fight against a city of Insect Women wielding extra-cosmic close-combat knowledge gleaned from a thousand different civilisations, a battle in which each style, tactic or blow may be struck only once before being forgotten for all time.

The FF manage to survive the city-wide throwdown and in return, the Nuns of Destruction tell them of the vast creature that recently passed overhead. They are not sure what it is, it cannot have existed in the living age of the Omnistructure or they would know of it, but they suspect it has something to do with the terrible Cannibal Cultures and the Nightmare migration of their tractable cities to the world stem and the Chrysalids of Strife.

As the FF travel deeper into the darkness, guided by their new ally, Johnny flies ahead as a living beacon, his flame burning plasma white in in infinite darkness, barely illuminating the black  (changed from red after Ben starts calling him 'Rudolph'.) Ebed is fascinated by the tales of Sue Storm which contain knowledge of a cosmos utterly unknown to her, a reality where knowledge grows and feeds upon itself like a frightening but oddly beautiful cancer.

On the distant horizon gleam sparks of fire and bioluminescence, sparks that lengthen, growing into slender towers, curved and spiraled and growing from the back of a multi segmented, many-legged machine of coagulated neon and black shell larger than the island of New York. A machine ambling into the darkness, projecting from its forward segment, ravening beams of nuclear force which briefly translate the dark under-matter into energy on which it feeds.

These are the Cannibal Cultures, last mad remnants of the Byzantine Over-Cultures, locked within their survival machines, driven mad, consuming each other in their madness as the great machines in which they dwell consume the very matter of the world on which they tread. Lifeboats for entire civilisations, yet lifeboats whose occupants know there will be no rescue or return, but only endless drifting and waiting for the dark. Within the great survival machines are painted with the blood and bone of their populations, the matter-translation engines heaving to provide their insane masters, products of one hundred generations of auto-phagic slaughter, with whatever their mad whims desire.

Now, for the first time, the Cannibal Machines seem drawn towards some meaningful goal, a pilgrimage of horror towards the Chrysalids of Stife!

Johnny and Ben begin planning a daring stealth-incursion into the Cannibal Machine but Sue points out that as it seems to be moving in a straight line they can jut project its future course and race ahead of its tiny little legs.

Once there they find the caterpillar-esque survival machines of the cannibal cultures transformed into vast chrysalids, the cities, their people, technology and culture are being boiled down by end-stage nano-technology and transformed into singular gigantic beings. From horror into horror, for these creatures, should they emerge, could only be the perfected expressions of the nightmare cultures that made them up, massively enlarged and now of entirely singular will.

And one has already emerged, an escher-angled kaiju motH of fractal obsidian, crawling around the centre of the worlds stem, the FF see this titanic being feeding of the corpse of a dead sun, and around its gigantic neck like a circlet of gems are the crystallised bodies of the missing children and, at their centre, the transmission machine used to open the portals to our reality.

The first Tetra-Deus to emerge has been experimenting with the ancient signals that were used to try to communicate with other realities, the original Pollack signals, has succeeded in opening a small portal.

It recovered the children and has been leeching off their brainwaves in order to widen the gateway to earth.

(Human minds are reality-organizing machines and therefore both key and natural 'fuel' for a gateway between realities, that's why cultists always have to kill people to get the gate open.)

This problem can be solved easily, muses Reed, by just taking the recovered signal machine and throwing it through the open portal with the children, that would close it. Of course, anything left behind would be lost forever...

A battle is on!*

Johnny weaves around the titan-being, blasting it with tongues of fire the strength of solar flares, barely scratching its skin, Ben jumping onto it, punching it right in the eye like an angry mote of dust blinding an evil god, Johnny, Ben and Ebed all leaping in and out of the Fantasticar as Sue alternately invisibles and shields everyone and Reed drives and whips people in and out of danger.

They seize the necklace and race towards the failing dawn.

As they blast into the sunlight, the god-monster smashes through the surface of the world-frond, blasting it like shrapnel. It's too fast for them!

Caught before the portal, the last light of the alien sun dying around them, the FF have to make a nightmare choice, they turn to face the ravening monster but, as ben and Reed glance between them they work together to fling the crystallised children and the transmission engine through the Pollack gate.

They succeed, throwing Eben the Destruction-Nun along with them. As the transmission engine exits the omnistructure, all the gates close. The children are safe, the world saved, but the Fantastic Four are trapped in in incomprehensible alien reality with no way out, and the only person who can tell anyone where they are is an alien women in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, utterly unfamiliar with our world, who can only deliver that message once.

To whom shall she speak?


*man, what happenened to Joesky?