Friday, 15 September 2017

Feeding Cities in the Veins of the Earth

People have been asking me about how Cities might exist in the Veins of the Earth, and the answer is that really they couldn't, but we probably want them anyway so here are a few ideas about how to feed an urban population underground..

Roll some dice or add as you prefer. I'd say throw together about three of these and you'll have something interesting. Probably one from the quasi-natural list and two from the others.



NATURAL OR QUASI-NATURAL 

1-4. A river from the surface world carries both life and resources, possibly forming a swamp or archipelago of valuable nitrate-rich mud.

5-7. Natural, managed or artificial vulcanism creates both heat - feeding black fungus, and low light, aiding the same.

8. Stone-eating bacteria or Archea common here, farmed over cycles of millennia with herds of nomadic sonic pigs and cave crickets guided through the volume of the cities agriculture.

9. Black radiation-eating fungi like the mass inside the Chernobyl reactor, feeding off a natural source of radiation.

10. A huge and regular migration of flying beasts like Lamenters, Bats, Mega-Moths or some other creature that lives largely on the surface but passes this point at regular intervals.

11. Either undersea cities with aquaculture based around oceanic vents, or floating or coastal cities that trade with the same.

12. City maintains a 'Kite' nation somewhere on the surface. A polity which exists purely in order to service the cities agricultural needs by dropping down food directly, sending it by river or by more magical or abtruse methods. A common method is a culture hidden in high valleys or inaccessible mountaintops, almost impossible to reach from the outside world and live in either terror and/or worship of their underground rulers.




FALSE SUNS

Usually based around a large, open central area with agriculture of some kind taking place on every surface, floor, walls and roof. Golems or slave spider-castes farming the upside-down area above the city. The False Sun held in suspensions of mighty chain in the centre.

1-3. A 'Ghost Sun' made from the dead souls of deceased citizens. Pale light and you can see the individual souls trapped inside. All citizens must give their soul to the Ghost Sun on death.

4-5. Imprisoned being - chained light elemental, fire elemental, angel or devil. Held in spiderworks of eternal iron.

6. Mechanical Sun - rare, often using hyper-dimensional mechanics. Gnonmen Capital has a Futurist Clockwork Uranium Sun fed by rare heavy metals.




INTERDIMENSIONAL GATEWAYS

1. Stable portal to Hell - city sub-contracts from Hell, receives a portion of dammed souls as payment, on which it feasts.

2. Portal to positive 'Wild' dimension. Cities in the Veins are usually regarded as parasitical in these realities and usually some kind of Crusade or Jihad is launched to close the portal.

3. Gateway to Xor* - same problem. Veins cities not popular there.

4. City has a stable and large portal to a dimension of fire or light and uses the permanent energy from this to farm wherever the light shines.





D&D MAGIC- INDUSTRIALISED

1. Un-dead rulers, golem workers, small living class.

2. Either by revolt, disappearance of original creators or by design, city is a golem-built and golem ruled near-automata with living people surviving in it almost by happenstance.

3. There is an offal-god or something like it that dumps food, of some kind, onto the city as a direct trade for worship. Some gods might literally dump shit onto a city - the nitrates are vast wealth underground & low-status surface gods can be of major importance.

4. Food-Malmukes. Caste of slave Clerics raised without eyes, sometimes without tongues or even fingers. Brought up in total ignorance of everything except the one thing they are meant to believe. Ignorant, lobotomised mass-produced holy fools. Cast Food and Water spells en-masse. Like parasites on the love of a merciful God.

5. Slave mages created like slave clerics, though more difficult to manage as some intellectual capacity is required - they cast 'Create Light' and Summon creatures regularly, to be eaten.

6. Magical miniaturisation means populace can raise mice and fleas then shrink selves to feast. Fleas the size of turkeys, Mice like Mastadons.

7. Elemental citizens basically create energy just by living there. Like a resort feeding off a high-status 'Tourist' class.

8. Mining a Gigacreature - giant being like an Arch-Angel, Titan, God or Kaiju. Population digs into them for food and resources. (Think of a hibernating Godzilla with people crawling into its brain to make a lobotomy-mine, keeping it alive and asleep while they eat it from within. Urban population as 'killer bacteria'.)

9. City feeding off an Elder God or equivalent - like suckling at Shub-Niggurath, eating Dagons eggs, licking Chthulu's teats.

10. City farms within pocket dimensions created by paintings. Pastoral artists abducted from surface world but cities population strips everything and leaves their paintings ravaged wastelands, plus they gradually lose their memories of the surface world and succumb to mad despair, losing the ability to paint anything fertile or real.





PREDATION

1. Ourouboros city engaged in 'Paradox' farming,  feed off their own past, sending forces back along their own loop to take resources and slaves. They must keep growing more powerful so they can defeat their own past but the cultural and physical destruction of their own history forms unstable paradoxes and cripples them in many ways. They live in fear as they never know when their own future will arrive to consume them.

2. 'Looper' city sends forces into their own distant future to do the same. They practice forced cultural decline, creating their own 'Dark Age' so their future selves are not strong enough to defeat their current-selves. Result is more stable and predictable as fewer paradoxes result, but the cities future raiding-point and its current-self are continually creeping closer and closer to each other until inevitable moment of mutual annihilation.

3. City translocates/projects/is disguised as another city above ground - but that city is an illusion or simulation, either psychic projection, literal physical construction or something else. All resources consumed by fake city are actually dropped down giant secret elevators to real city. Method favoured by Dero.

4. City 'fishes' for armies, knights, ships, pilgrimages or crusades on the surface - magic forests, 'missing' kingdoms, disappearing isles, crusades to nowhere, fake colony conspiracies.  Large numbers of people disappear and are fed to the city either by being dropped directly down or via magic. Another Dero favourite as their mind control machines allow them to create powerful giga-conspiracies on the surface.




HIPSTER D&D BULLSHIT

1. City feeds on literalised psychic emanations from above - depends on angst and trouble of surface cultures and works to ensure continuity of supply.

2. City feeds on literalised psychic emanations from below - likely eating the dreams of a mad god or chthulu-esque entity. Reliable supply but drives everyone even more insane than usual.

3. City feeds on own literalised psychic emanations. Own culture tuned for maximum sensation & experience to ensure continuity of supply but they must feel or starve and jadedness-famine is an inevitable consequence of high-intensity feeling.

4. City farms in dreams - or forces others to do so - usually children as they have the most fertile dreams and are easy to terrify and control. Generations of surface children secretly made slaves in their own unconscious until they fear to sleep.

5. City has found a way to feed off orgones - depends on beauty and extroversion of the population but things inevitably get dark if jadedness sinks in.

6. City simply steals food from peoples dreams. If you dream of having a feast, suddenly someone with negative-image black skin or some hideous dwarf/gnome things are there eating your food and won't let you have any.

7. City is inwardly ontologically shattered like a schizophrenics dream. Golems and child slaves sent into its fractured core to scavenge food appearing from 'nowhere' i.e. dropped or created by people who don't exist.

8. City preys on dying hierarchies of failing faiths, hunts asuras, angels, devas, devils and demons as if they were hot girls in a horror movie. Drags back the corpses and feasts. Sky-Father ends up alone in valhalla, boarding up the doors in fear.



Wednesday, 13 September 2017

A Bunch Of Fucking Idiots - Barbara Tuchmans' 'A Distant Mirror'



Barbara Tuchman, being old and strange enough to get away with it, chose to write the biography of a half-century, and everything in it, and accomplished it.

It is like a soap-opera/documentary - we have a cast of characters, and all of their passions and personalities, and the camera is flung in a moment wherever Tuchman finds interesting, into a meeting hall, a banquet, onto a battlefield, or the planning sessions for the battle, into the Popes hat and the Cardinals Councils and then back out. Lists and details drip from it like fat from a roast hog.

It is a very big hog. It has got everywhere and Tuchman is going to feed us all of it.

So there is the high-status soap-opera with Kings and councillors and insanely rich people trying to dick each other over.

There is the hero's story, as we follow Enguerrand de Coucy through the 14th century, a man who does so much in his life that the list feels like the events of a long-lived comic-book superhero, with 70 years worth of continuity crammed into thirty years of active adult life.

An adventure every week, nearly.

A man who is mainly a hero by virtue of not being an insanely stupid flaky deluded murderous narcissist.

Although he is murderous, and a bit of a narcissist, but hes not insanely stupid or flaky and in forteenth century Europe that puts him in about the top 5% of dudes with swords.

He dies at the end and the reason he dies is because a giant army of Saracens is coming over the hill, and he's already managed to spring a trap on their scouts, which is the only useful thing that any of these nobles will do against this particular giant army of Saracens, and one particular guy grabs the Big Pole and (and this is a guy who already hates de Coucy because de Coucy is a functioning non-idiot), and the guy says (to paraphrase) "Let's go! We're knights! We have to be at the front!"

And de Coucy, or someone with him, says; "Well, the Emperor, the guy we are  technically working for, says we shouldn't go, and he's an Emperor, and we are just nobles. And he's also the only person with any real experience of fighting these particular Saracens. And he thinks this is just the skirmishers with their main guys behind it, and we should send forward our infantry to dick them around, then we, being mono-focused assault-based heavy cavalry, we should go after their main guys." (I'm paraphrasing again.) "And honestly, that seems to make sense in a lot of ways. So probably we should do that?"

And this unrelenting fucking tool who has done nothing useful, either in life, or in this particular war, says; "No! They are trying to rob us of our honour! We are the flower of French Chivalry. WE HAVE TO BE IN THE FRONT."

And Enguerrand de Coucy, a man who has fought in a lot, a LOT, of actual real wars, with a wide variety of foes and has used and seen used, and had used against him, a wide variety of highly clever, sneaky, actually-useful military and political tactics, a guy who, for almost the whole of his life has been the biggest, strongest, best-looking, richest, physically bravest and, crucially, sanest and most reasonable man in the room, and who is now in his mid fifties, looks at this stupid fucking tool and says;

"Yeah. Ok. Knights. Lets do this."

And they all die. And the ones that don't, should have. And Christendom is doomed but luckily the Sultan has a  medical problem, plus Marlowes Tamburlane just got invented so he needs to go home and it turns out that the Flower of French Chivalry, even while doing something insanely and self-destructively stupid and losing badly, can still take out enough guys to make logistics and issue, so looks like Christendom isn't doomed after all.

(And de Coucy doesn't die on the battlefield, he dies in an Ottoman prison some time later.)

And that, before I've even go through the introduction, is the book in a nutshell. The smartest man in the room gets himself skullfucked because that is what a Knight does.

Anyway.

And we have the tru-life zombie-apocalypse story of the Black Death, which murders Europe by a third and leaves ruins and overgrown roads all over the continent. And which sets the scene and, even after its main appearance is perhaps the primary villain of the book, looming over everything.

And it doesn't really have Zombies. People just die. Turns out that is bad enough.

And then we have Chivalry. If this were a marvel movie, the Black Death would be the big awful CGI cosmic villain who only turns up at the start to set up the plot and Chivalry would be the one you thought might be a hero but ends up performing a face/heel turn and is the main baddy in the third act.

Presumably Tuchman knew Chivalry was the bad guy all along and just let us work it out in our own time, but maybe she worked it out too, while writing the book, and left that working out, or its shadow, in there for us to find.

If there is any book to make you want to instantly raise the red flag and kill every noble you see, its this one, and the only thing that might give you pause is that when people in the book do actually raise the red flag and do kill every noble they see, things don't really improve.


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


- Youth and Chivalry

"Prowess was not mere talk, for the function of physical violence required real stamina. To fight on horseback or foot wearing 55 pounds of plate armour, to crash in collision with an opponent at full gallop while holding horizontal an eight-foot lance half the length of an average telephone pole, to give and receive blows with sword or battle-axe that could cleave a skull or slice off a limb at a stroke, to spend half of life in the saddle through all weathers and for days at a time, was not a weaklings work. Hardship and fear were part of it. "Knights who are at the wars .... are forever swallowing their fear," wrote the companion and biographer of Don Pero Nino, the "Unconquered Knight" of the late 14th century. "They expose themselves to  every peril; they give up their bodies to the adventure of life in death. Mouldy bread or biscuit, meat cooked or uncooked; today enough to eat and tomorrow nothing, little or no wine, water from a pond or a butt, bad quarters, the shelter of a tent or branches, a bad bed, poor sleep with their armour still on their backs, burdened with iron, the enemy an arrow-shot off. 'Ware! Who goes there? To arms! To arms!' With the first drowsiness, an alarm; at dawn, the trumpet. 'To horse! To horse! Muster! Muster!' As lookouts, as sentinels, keeping watch by day and by night, fighting without cover, as foragers, as scouts, guard after guard, duty after duty. 'Here they come! Here! There are so many  - No, not as many as that - This way - that - Come this side - Press them there - News! News! They come back hurt, they have prisoners - no, they bring none back. Let us go! Let us go! Give no ground! On! Such is their calling."


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


Turns out you can fuck two countries with one war.

First you get all your main belligerent scumbags, hop over the channel and threaten someone to fight.

Then, no-one comes out from behind their city walls because they don't think they can win, so you decide to make them come out.

So you ride around the countryside fucking things up. And by that I mean burning, killing, stealing, probably raping, though thats rarely directly mentioned, and generally ruining stuff.

Bu they still won't come out and, in addition, its now winter and you have ruined everything, so you are starving to death.

So is everyone else, but they live here. You can just leave.

So you go home.

And you need to pay for all the murdering you did, not morally, just financially, so the King says; "Don't worry, we'll raise taxes on the peasants. To pay for all the peasant-killing you did."

And thats the 100-years war. Ordinary people either being murdered, robbed and raped by Knights, or being taxed to death to pay for Knights.

And this is that war fought intelligently, on the French side at least, by the only competent King they had, who eaked out a strategic win with clever delaying tactics.

"Why does he have to do that?" You might ask. "Doesn't he have the Flower of French Chivalry? Doesn't he have  extremely well-resourced mono-focused shock-assault heavy cavalry who do nothing but train and wank themselves off about doing exactly this sort of thing? And doesn't he have more of them than the English_"

Yes he does have that but, unfortunately, there is a crucial flaw with that.

Because the Flower of French Chivalry are functionally fucking retarded.

And I am not joking. They lose multiple major combats in almost identical ways, then they luck into a non-retarded king, who forces them to act near-sensibly for a generation, and they win. Then the king dies, his son is mad half the time. The uncles are fuckwits and the whole culture goes right back to doing exactly the same thing.


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


- The Papal Schism

"... Anti-papism now pervaded Florentine politics in a wild swing of the perpetual feud of Guelf and Ghibelline. Described in exasperation by a later French Governer of Genoa, this ancient roil kept Italians at each other's throats out of inherited, witless animosity.

'For with no other quarrel of land or seigneury, they have only to say, "You are Guelf and I am Ghibelline; we must hate each other," and for this reason only and knowing no other, they kill and wound each other every day like dogs, the sons like the fathers, and so year by year the malice continues and there is no justice to remedy it ... And from this come the despots of this country, elected by the voice of the people, without reason or right of law. For as soon as one party prevails over the other and is the stronger, then those who see themselves on top cry "Long live son-and-so!" and "Death to so-and-so" and they elect one of their number and kill their adversary if he does not flee. And when the other party regains the advantage, they do the same and in the fury of the people, from which God protect us, all is torn to pieces.'

...........

To one chronicler it seemed "as if these times are under the rule of a planet which produces strife and quarrelling." In an Augustinian monastery near Siena, he recorded, "the monks murdered their Prior with a knife," and in a neighbouring abbey, after intramural fighting, "six brethren were turned out." Because of the quarrelling among the Carthusians, the General of the order came and moved them all to other houses. "It was no better among kinsfolk by blood .... The whole world was fighting. In Siena there was no one who kept his word, the people disagreed with their leaders and agreed with no one, and truly the whole world was a valley of shadows."

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


Part-way through the century, the Catholic Church, already insanely bloated with corruption and materialism, decides, like some kind of holy bacteria, to divide.

The two churches can no longer get on with each other. Now we get two Popes. One of these Popes is certainly the AntiPope, which sounds cool as shit, but no-one can decide which Pope that is.

One Pope is certainly effectively insane, but that does not restrain his supporters. The other Pope is corrupt and French.

So now, in Europe, the people who have survived the plague, and who have survived the war, and who have been taxed for the war, also have dual competing churches to worry about. And sometimes even parallel Bishops running parallel services in the same places, and no fucking idea which one is the AntiPope and which is the real Pope.

Numerous Cardinals on both sides have ideas about fixing this, unfortunately, almost exactly as soon as someone is elected Pope, they realise that, actually, they are the real Pope, and the other one is the AntiPope, which means that all the plans they had to fix this shit when they were a Cardinal are actually going to have to wait because the most important thing right now is to DESTROY THE ANITPOPE.

And this goes on, and it does not end in the century of the book.

Various religious reformers spring up and their ideas, at least to start with, are stuff like; "Maybe the priests should be able to read?" and "Can the Bishop maybe not be a 12 year old kid?"

These reformers are actively supressed by all existing authorities as a threat to decency and public order.

Then people start to have some reaaaaalll craaaazy ideas like; "Maybe the Pope isn't like a real thing? I mean, there are two of them and they are both terrible. Maybe its just a guy in a hat?"

And as to where that lead we can now see.


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


- The Fiction Cracks

"Unhappily, Coucy figures also in a more spirited lament on the subject of baldness, in which Deschamps pleads for the return of head-coverings at court to spare the feelings of the bald, among whom he names himself and twelve great lords, including the Sire de Coucy. That baldness should be the only specific detail of his physical appearance to reach posterity is a sad trick of history, even if he was in good company. The Count de St. Pol, the Sire de Hangest, Guillaume de Bordes, bearer of the Oriflamme at Bourbourg, and other great knights and distinguished servitors of the late King were among the "skin-heads". Less fortunate were the cheveux-rebourses- that is, those with little hair who carried combs and mirrors to keep their few strands combed over the bald spot. What is puzzling is that uncovered heads, a sign of shame, could have at any time become a fad - unless they were adopted as a kind of anti-chic by the dandies of the time in their craving, complained of by the preacher John Bromyard, "to devise some new piece of foppery to make men gaze at them in wonderment anew."

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


A thing here being, not just Knighthood, and the fact that the entirety of the ruling class subscribes to an insane Chivalric cult which, not only do most of them not really follow, but, even when they do follow it, it doesn't work, but also the relentless, stupidly destructive and maintained even in the face of destruction lunatic luxury of the ruling class.

That is; the zombie apocalypse happens, just without zombies, so now everything looks like Detroit,  World War One happens, except this time it lasts 100 years and mainly kills civilians, the Papal Schism happens, which isn't really like anything from the modern world, but is bad, and the Mexican Cartels happen, because the soldiers from the omni-war and the ruined peasants and the plague survivors end up living in the wrecked hinterlands and preying on whatever and whomever they can. And the ruling classes best idea to deal with this is; 'hey, hire those guys'. So the cartels are now the police force.

And in the suburbs of Paris you can literally be eaten by wolves in the night.

And on top of that, the ruling class are living like Kardashians.


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

- The Gilded Shroud

"At such evenings grand seigneurs liked to preserve the old custom of lighting rooms by means of torches held by servants, instead of wall sconces, because it satisfied a sense of grandeur. They built their "follies," of which the most elaborate were the mechanical practical jokes devised by Count Robert of Artois at the chateau of Hesdin. Statues in his garden squirted water on visitors when they walked past or squawked words at them like parrots; a trapdoor dropped the passerby onto a feather-bed below; a room, on the opening of the door, produced rain or snow or thunder; conduits under certain pressures "wet the ladies from below." When the chateau passed into the possession of Philip of Burgundy, the devices were kept in working order by a resident artist."

.......


"Thirty double courses of meat and fish alternated with presentation of of gifts after each course. under the direction of the brides brother, Gian Galeazzo the younger, now seventeen and father of a two-year-old daughter, the gifts were distributed among Lionel's party according to rank. They consisted of costly coats of mail. plumed and crested helmets, armour for horses, surcoats embroidered with gems, greyhounds in velvet collars, falcons wearing silver bells, enamelled bottles of the choicest wine, purple and golden cloth and cloaks trimmed with ermine and pearls, 76 horses including six beautiful little palfreys caparisoned in green velvet with crimson tassels, six great war-horses in crimson velvet with golden rosettes, and two others of extra quality named Lion and Abbott; also six fierce strong alunts or war-dogs, sometimes used with cauldrons of flaming pitch strapped to their backs, and twelve splendid fat oxen.

The meats and fish all gilded (with a paste of powdered egg yolk, saffron, and flour sometimes mixed with real gold leaf) paired suckling pigs with crabs, hares with pike, a whole calf with trout, quails and partridges with more trout, ducks and herons with carp, beef and capons with sturgeon, veal and capons with carp in lemon sauce, beef pies and cheese with eel pies, meat aspic with fish aspic, meat galantines with lamprey, and among the remaining courses, roasted kid, venison, peacocks with cabbage, French beans and pickled ox-tongue, junkets and cheese, cherries and other fruit."

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

Lists of insanity like the one above, are not rare in 'Distant Mirror', they arrive first like bells tinkling through the text, and then like sad strings, and ultimately like a brutal, unending, relentless drumbeat of ruthless luxurious insane stupidity. They are as overwhelming in the text as their original presence was intended to be in reality. It is one of the main things some people tend to dislike about the book, this relentless and consuming piling up of detail. But the detail, whether of horror, luxury, madness or violence, and its overwhelming and almost deadening nature, is part of the intended effect I think.

The luxuries are attended to in times of plenty, because they can be (almost) afforded, but in times of scarcity or of moral or military failure, they are attended to withe even more feverish intensity. They are symbols of status and power and status and power are the only things nobles have. So, when things are going well, your noble will tax you to pay for his insane diamond cortege, but, when things have gone totally to shit, your noble will tax you even more, for even more insane luxuries, because they cannot be seen not to have them.

After the battle of Nicopolis, which ends the book and is Tuchmans final knife in the face of chivalry. This is the manner in which the few surviving noble fuckwits were retrieved;


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- Hung Be the Heavens with Black

"Repayment of debts amounting to 100,000 ducats which they had incurred for living and travelling expenses since their release, together with the cost of the journey home in appropriate splendour, required nearly again as much as the ransom. The Duke and Duchess of Burgundy did not wish their son to travel through Europe and make his appearance in France looking like a fugitive. The Duke scraped every resource, to the point of reducing the pay and pensions of Burgundian  officials, to supply his son with a magnificent retinue and provide gifts for all concerned. Dino Rapondi came to Venice with an order on the Dukes treasury for 1500,000 francs and spent the winter arranging transfers of funds, of which repayment to the merchants of the Archipelago came last. Three years later the Seigneur of Mitylene was still owed the entire sum he had loaned, and a three-cornered transaction among Burgundy, Sigsmund, and the Republic of Venice was not settled for another twenty-seven years. These difficulties did not inhibit the Dukes style of living. In 1300 he bought from Dino Rapondi two illuminated books for 6,500 francs, in the next year, two more for 9,000 and 7,500 apiece."

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


So I pass through curiosity, amusement, sadness, rage, and then despair, and I am left with the same question I think Tuchman either began with, or developed while writing the book. Why do we do stupid things?

European society simply didn't work very well during the period of this book. Like always, there are some nerds on the sidelines saying stuff that will one day turn out to be prophetic, and, like always, the great mass of people, both rich and poor, are massively more intent on the driving power of their daily lives.

Is it fear? Is it the pain of the loss of the plague narrowing the mind? Is it a terrible failure of imagination? (I haven't read The Guns of August but after this I am not surprised that Tuchman covered a subject which seems in many ways similar, the massive failure of another great top-heavy society consumed by another great and deranged male warrior cult).

The very poor and the very rich both seem to be consumed by ideas and in great need of them. The poor because they cannot lift their heads from the ground and need an idea to keep them upright, the rich because they are essentially pointless and disconnected from reality. They can't do work. They don't want to stop being rich. What else is there?

Status and an idea. Live for the idea, die for the idea.

It unquestionably true that almost no-one in the nobility ever acted like the idealised version of a Knight in their stories but its also unquestionably true that they were all willing to die in order to retain their belief that that is what they were.

And even if they were too dumb to realise they were going to lose, de Coucy wasn't, and he probably knew what was going to happen, and did it anyway, and I think that is Tuchmans point.


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


- Nicopolis

"Knighthoods zealot, Boucicaut at age twelve , had served as the Duc de Bourbon's page in the Normandy campaign, at sixteen was knighted at Roosebeke, at 24 held the lists at St. Ingelbert for thirty days, the most admired exploit of his generation. Two years later, in 1391, he was created Marshal. Unable to endure repose, he had gone twice to fight with the Teutonic Knights in Prussia and, afterwards, to the East to ransom D'Eu in Cairo and visit Jerusalem. In honour of an episode in Tunisia when the Saracens were supposedly stopped from attack by the descent from Heaven of two beauteous women in white bearing a banner with a scarlet cross, he created an Order of the White Lady with the stated purpose of providing defenders of the gentle sex whenever needed. He was the epitome, not the norm, of chivalry, and could well have expressed (although the words are those of Jean de Beuil, a knight of the next century) what it was that inspired his kind in an age of personal combat:

'How seductive is war! When you know your quarrel to be just and your blood ready for combat, tears come to your eyes. The heart feels a sweet loyalty and pity to see one's friend expose his body in order to do and accomplish the command of his Creator. Alongside him, one prepares to live or die. From that comes a delectable sense which no one who has not experienced it will ever know how to explain. Do you think that a man who has experienced that can fear death? Never, for he is so comforted, so enraptured that he knows now where he is and truly fears nothing.'"


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


The longer I think about it and the more I hold it in my head, the more apt the title 'A Distant Mirror' becomes. When absorbed in any particular detail or element then nothing could feel more alien or other than the time described and my own. But my time springs directly from the time described, and the engines of humanity haven't changed. All those needs and structures are still inside us, it is simply that the plague, the wars, the faith and its shattering, the hierarchy and its madness, throw that skeleton of humanity into sharp relief, like those digital maps where the hills are extra tall and the valleys extra deep.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Help Flood Victims by Watching them Die and Robbing the Corpse

If you like dark irony* then check out the Harvey Relief Bundle on RPG.NOW by clicking the image below;


Because Deep Carbon Observatory, the scrappily-produced but well-reviewed adventure module from Scrap Princess and Patrick Stuart, which starts with a terrifying flood, is part of this charity bundle, dedicated to helping victims of a terrifying flood.

There are also lots and lots and lots of other things in there, I think Hydra Co-Op has like almost all their stuff in it.

Or, ripped from Zaks reddit; "Dark of Hot Springs Island--gorgeously laid out open hexcrawl with competing factions, brilliant information design and gobs of creativity.


Slumbering Ursine Dunes, Mystery Isles of the Eld and a bunch more trippy stuff from Hydra--I've played in some of these and they're a blast

I Am Zombie Field Manual--this book is gorgeous, the art is embarassingly good. The bundle is worth it for this alone, by Vampire creator Mark Rein-Hagen.

One of the best, weirdest OSR zines (Vacant Ritual Assembly)...

....and wayyyyy more stuff."


*Also if you like, you know, charity and helping people or whatever. But that sounds less fun.

Monday, 4 September 2017

A Report on the Titan Diamonds

The Titans lying beneath Wir-Heal are quasi-living multidimensional hyper-intelligences from an unimaginably distant future.

Their 'minds' are actually curled up inside specifically-created low-entropy folded dimensions; almost impossible to destroy.

They do, however, require material hyper-technology to interface with 'real space' and operate the Titans systems and bodies, to 'wake up'. Without that technology they are simply isolated minds living at light speed in realities constructed entirely from their own thoughts (and the influence of whatever theoretical beings might be able to penetrate or effect such a space).

So the 'machinery' in a Titans 'brain' is actually a form of highly sophisticated receiver combined with complex and semi-intelligent cybernetic processes that allow control of the Titans physical forms.

Sending the Titans 'to sleep' meant disabling, or altering the function of this machinery. That could only be done by inflicting massive stress on its elaborate ego-defence systems. The nature of this stress needed to be both physical and ontological, attacking the Titans embodied structure and its 'will to resist', its capacity and desire to fulfil what it thinks its programming intends. This extended and chaotic process is referred to as the Titanomachy.

But this machinery has elements of nanotech, with their own, low-level semi-autonomous repair systems. Even in an extremely low-energy environment, these systems will try to re-build and fulfil their design.

The effects of this regeneration will mean three things;

Firstly; an increased, but chaotic and uncontrollable, interaction between the folded spaces where the Titans 'mind' is stored, and this reality, leading to partial and fragmentary 'fold-overs' of the two dimensions.

Secondly; increased activity of the Titans self-repair, self-defence or primary-function systems. Many of these functions themselves involve partial time/space folding and micro-reality collapses, either for the purpose of energy generation, importing active agents from secure dimensional mothballing, or as tactical elements pursuing the Titans functions and aims.

Thirdly; massive and irregular chronal backwash related from the Titans forcible insertion into this time and reality. Since they are hugely and irreversibly 'out of time' and, possibly, also out of space, the fracture damage of their original incursion remains and, like scar tissue being twisted and teased by the shifting of shrapnel under the skin, any increased Titan activity will produce multidimensional spiderweb distortions in the immediate environment.
  

Preventing This


The last-stage, low-tech backup elements of the Titans ego machines make a great deal of use of a pure carbon lattice and of gold. To the human eye, these would seem to be fractally complex diamonds containing elaborate helices’ of pure gold.

Because of the heavy elements involved in their creation, even the nanotech of the Titans repair systems cannot rebuild them quickly, especially in a low-energy, high-entropy environment. It takes several centuries, or even millennia, for a meaningful stage of Ego-Machine to be developed.

It would be enormously helpful and useful if, at this point, some random humanoid barged into the titans reality-adjacent control interface space and vandalised it in the crudest possible way; literally ripping the backup ego machines out of the control cluster before carting them off and exchanging them for goods and services.

In human terms; somebody beat the shit out of these giant robots, now they are in a coma, but they are trying to wake up.

If you can get in their brain and rip out their thoughts you can stop this happening.

Their thoughts are also money.


The Gems Themselves


The Nanotech inside a Titans Ego-Machine stays active, but with nothing to connect to, its self-repair drives are meaningless. The result of this is that individuals who commonly wear Titan-Diamonds close to their skin often find that a delicate and hyper-complex web-work or tracery of gold infiltrates their epidermis like a gold tattoo.

The gold is pure and non-reactive and this web-work is simply the equivalent of an auto-repair system infiltrating an alien environment, so the effects are harmless, 99.9999999% of the time.


In very rare instances some individuals wearing Titan Diamonds for long periods, and perhaps having some pre-existing capacity, may experience marginal and drifting interface with the Titans extra-dimensional intelligence, although a single diamond, and a single individual, could never provide enough processing power enough for a Titan to incarnate more than the smallest fraction of its self-awareness, even if it wished to.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

HSI - The Guide & an Interview with Jacob Hurst

The thing you can mention to people, and thing which I in fact did mention to people at Gen Con while I was shilling it, the 'unique feature' about Hot Springs Island is that it has its own guide book.

That is; it has a guide book, written in the 'voice' of the campaign, as if it were an object that the PC's themselves found or came into contact with, and one you can hand directly to the players in the same way.



I was going to talk more about this but Jacobs answers to my questions were more interesting than anything I was going to write anyway so here you go....




THE DENSITY & FULLNESS OF THE GUIDE

Patrick - "There is a LOT more info in the Guide than the Dark - deliberate or maybe design oversight? If they are not familiar with the setting then I can imagine the DM saying "Hold on, pass me that guide...""

Jacob Hurst - "Kind of a design oversight I guess. The Dark was going to have a set page count of 192 for always because it was apparently a good page count for paper math with 8.5x11 pages. I don't know if this is actually true, but I'd seen a number of 192 page sketch books that were that size so I believed it.

Then I ran out of room.

If it's info I consider to be important it's in the dark.

Part of it too was to give the players the monster manual, and see what happens.

At gen con Zak broke open my awareness of myself when he was selling my books to people saying approximately "no one does this (the field guide)! Ever have a player who says oh that's an ochre jelly and it's weak against blah blah at the table, well this may or be true."

And I realized then, that that was me. I was that person who consumed the monster manual and knew all the weaknesses and then when playing I was "ruining" the game with my "out of game knowledge". And I would always get so mad, because who gives a fuck if everyone knows Trolls are weak against fire?

And after Zak said that stuff it made me think more, and I think that the problem is that the rpg business system is inherently broken.

Lets look at a multi-player video game. Everyone who plays buys a copy of the game. If there are 10 people playing a map, then 10 copies of the game have been sold.

With table top rpgs, if 6 people are playing, only 1 person is allowed to buy the game, because if the players buy and read the module or setting or whatever then they know all the secrets and "spoil" it (for themselves and potentially everyone else).

The field guide attempts to give everyone the fun info, but NOT the spoilers.

I still don't think that knowing Trolls are weak against fire can ruin a game, but I can now understand how that knowledge can enable players to pass through content at a rate much faster than a DM expects. So when they only prepped to the troll encounter and that was supposed to be the "final battle of the night" and you breezed through it in 5 minutes, it takes the wind out of their sails. And it's not really anyone's fault but the adventure creators who didn't give the DM tools to roll with variable "content consumption" speeds.

Now I may have

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

Now I may have totally failed at that, but that was the intended goal.

Regarding the DM asking to see the book, they might. They absolutely might. But they may also just smile and say "sure, go ahead and do that."

The parts of the field guide that aren't true aren't exactly defined, and the DM gets to decide.

For example, I didn't want any undead on the islands. In the FG under the shadows it says "These creatures are not undead and cannot be turned by pleas to the devine." for me, that's true. But when Donnie runs, he treats them as undead, and well... That's OK. Far as I'm concerned that's intended. "



PLAYERS USING THE GUIDE BOOK

Patrick - "Also, tell me more about the reactions of new players to the Guide Book, what did they do?"

Jacob Hurst - "Now, about the Field Guide. We played and tested the island a lot with people we know. We had done it a little with people we don't know, but we hadn't really had the "full field guide experience" 'till Gen Con, and it worked amazingly well. I'm even going to go so far as to say unexpectedly well.

When Donnie ran the games, the Field Guide would be found, as a treasure item, on a corpse. And then he'd slide the book onto the table. It's some beautiful theatrics really.

The player's viscerally know that it's important, because well I mean... here it is, on the fucking table in front of them right now. And it looks pretty nice. But in the game world it was on a corpse so you know... there's danger associated with it.

Because it's physically limited only one person can really be looking at it at a time, unless two or more human beings get physically close to one another. So the person with the book tends to become the "caller" at the table, or the "right hand man" of the caller at the table. Or the book gets passed around (again, physical interaction).

So when you have a table of total strangers, who are strangers to each other (like at Gen Con), it's fucking magic. Because it breaks the ice. They now have a reason to interact with each other both in game and out of game, and it's a semi-structured interaction because of the limitations of book being shared (both in and out of game).

"Wizard what IS that thing?!?!"

The main thing they all did with the information in the book itself was to identify and weaponize stuff. Which I mean... is the whole point!

One group had been sent to find the elusive Kujibird. They saw sleeping ivy in the book, and then decided to look for that plant, so they could then use it to catch the bird if they found it.

Basically we gave them a "goal" on the island, and then they'd use the information in the Field Guide to effectively plan their adventure.

One group was dropped off at the elven ruins with the mission of recovering elven artifacts, but they knew the ruined city was fucking dangerous, so they decided to not go to it, and go elsewhere. Because they knew there were other locations out there where they could accomplish their mission, even if they didn't exactly know where they were. So they fumbled around and found the Lapis Observatory instead of dying in the ruins of Hot Springs City.

Frequently too, the person holding the book would end up reading pieces of entries out loud to the group.

It really did work better than I'd hoped it would.



THE PLANTS

Patrick - "Who did the plants? They are quire botanically sophisticated, in a way rare to see in a D&D products and the en-culturation or the specificity of their processing and use is often quite complex as well..."

Jacob Hurst - Regarding the plants: Everything with Hot Springs Island began collaboratively. Having a whole section devoted to plants was my idea though, and I did the heavy lifting for them. When the 4 of us brainstormed up plants, my guidelines were "all of the plants need to do something. Even if that something is relatively mundane (e.g., 'they're fucking delicious')."

And from there we spitballed up the majority of their core attributes.

We also did some backwards, such as the peppers. And now I'm going to go on a contextual tangent.

One of my personal core ideas for Swordfish Islands was that I wanted a person to be able to play a birdwatcher. Or a "exploration oriented scientist from the Age of Discovery". Which obviously doesn't translate well into your standard fantasy faire. But I used to play Ultima Online (a lot) (Great Lakes shard), and in UO, when you opened a person's character window, there was a small scroll off to one side where you could write your character backstory. I made so many jokes with my friends that they were all the same: "My parents were killed when I was young and so I was raised an orphan on the hard streets of Britain/Trinsic/Moonglow/major city. I did what I had to do to survive and now I want revenge. Death to orcs! blah blah blah."

I've also tried to run numerous games of D&D where the players are super adamant about coming up with "elaborate" character backstories that can then be "woven into" the game. And then... they give me two pages of backstory that's basically the same shit I saw in UO (i.e., boring and nothing to work with). But if your game is totally combat oriented (4e) then can you blame them for gravitating in that direction?

So my whole thing was: Swordfish Islands needs to be a place where you can have a hell of a good time and never have any combat, but it's still an RPG, and deadly and full of treasure and problems. And the real problem needs to be, not finding treasure and interesting things, but making it off the island with them in one piece. A problem of "abundance".

And this is the place from which the plants really came from. I was super obsessed with the idea of making a random bird generator so you could, for example, be a wizard who's life dream was to catch a glimpse of this elusive bird rumored to have been seen on the islands. But doing the generator the way I wanted was going to be stupidly hard, and ultimately pretty boring. So I went with plants.

I love plants. We always had gardens growing up (flowers at my house and vegetables at my grandparents). I was an Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts and for my Eagle Project I "wildscaped" an area in a local park (planted native plants that local animals like). And Poison Ivy is my favorite Batman villain.

Also, around the time we started on all this, I was really into the idea that when the Spanish conquered the "New World" and started bringing back all this gold and silver, they basically destroyed their (and everyone elses) economy due to inflation.

So I combined these and said: Let's come up with plants that do something, and some should have the potential to totally, and utterly fuck up your game world (like Jelly Moss).

But to get back to the backwards peppers, we came up with Blindfire vine first. A plant monster that eats you and turns your body into delicious fruit, but because I'm from Texas it was like... let's do spicy peppers! Spicy peppers are so much better than fruit 'cause you can eat them, AND weaponize them (thank you capsaicin!). And my grandpa always competed in chili cookoffs... hey guys, what if on the main island there's an annual(?) chili cookoff, and so they send adventurers to the island to collect the best tasting and hottest peppers? Ok well we should have some other peppers that aren't on a monster plant, but maybe they're only found on the island with active volcanoes 'cause you know... lava/heat/peppers?

And so cachuga peppers on Hot Springs Island were born. A sandbox hook that can be weaponized by creative individuals.

Jelly Moss was a "hey guys, what about a slime mold? Those look fucking cool. Wanna draw something like this Gabe? Fuck yeah! Ok... what does it do? Well they're slimy obviously, slime is sticky... so glue? Good good, but bigger? What if the glue is so good it works as well as nails. Oh that's fantastic. Especially for a fantasy type world where nails are having to be hammered out individually by hand. Dude.. that could totally fuck up an economy 'cause it'd put all these blacksmiths out of work. And their guild would be pissed and paying people to stop that from happening, but the carpenter's guild would probably love it and be paying on the other side. Hahaha yes... ship it!"

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Regarding "Botanically sophisticated", well, I cheated. Once we knew what all the plants were, and we knew what they did, I got a bunch of sciency books, and looked for the ways in which plants were described that seemed in line with the plants we had,. I sorted all my plants by type (bush, tree, grass, etc) and then flipped and read and was like "ooooo, vaguely pyramidal, that's a cool fucking phrase". Yoink!

This brings us to another aside. Photography is a bane to doing things this way. If you pick up a field guide now a days on plants or animals, what you typically find is a beautiful glossy picture of the plant or animal and its name. There's no written description, or if there is it's either the most basic shit. All the space devoted to writing now is devoted to what the thing does or how it lives because photography "solved" the what does it look like problem.

So if you want to do this, you have to find books about plants and animals from the time before cheap photography/color printing. If you're really lucky you can find some books from the 1950s-1970s where they publishers were still providing the detailed written physical descriptions AND nice images. But these are rare.

Also, the internet is pure fucking garbage for doing this. And it's all really interesting to me. Like... it's the most amazing time to raise a kid ever right now and yet lacking. My mother got my son a subscription to a kids nature magazine. There was a "find these animals on this page, in the big picture on that page." One of the animals was an eastern meadowlark. So I immediately pulled up a video of an eastern meadowlark singing so my kid could hear it. This is amazing. The number 1 question my kid asks when I'm on my phone is "What are you finding for me?" which is wonderful. And yet, at the same time... we're poorer in a way because I can find this meadowlark song, but I'm not really equipped to process and recommunicate it. How do I describe the song? I don't know. But I can send you a link so you can experience it yourself.

This all sort of ties into that "what the fuck does an elephant look like?" thing that Scrap(?) was sharing the other day with drawings of elephants over time by people who'd never actually seen an elephant.

And all this, imo, is really important when it comes to writing fantasy stuff because no one has seen these creatures or plants or places that don't exist. And as we become more and more reliant upon pictures and recordings and whatnot, I think that it may become harder and harder for people to describe their worlds because they've never had to do it.

[gets down off soap box] Thanks for listening to that.


As usual - SHOP IS HERE.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Hot Springs Island - How We Roll

OK, lets look at the information and the way its actually intended to work.

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

Exploration

Hexes are only 2 miles across (I originally thought they were larger)

Time/exploration and movement are unified.


  • 1 watch is four hours.
  • 1 watch to cross a hex
  • 1 watch to explore a hex - finding the next available point of interest.
  • Each hex has three points of interest - one obvious, the other two you have to find or be guided to.


The entrances to a number of dungeons are within one of these secondary or tertiary points of interest, which PC's will find either by exploration or by being sucked into the network of NPC interactions

There is a recommended tabletop poker-chip method for recording time which looks like it would work reasonably well.


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

Homie be rollin'

There is EXTENSIVE use of multiple tables to provide complex situational results, so this is intended to be not just an adventure zone, but a multiply-explored place. All the tables work on a 3d6-read-across principal, one table usually leads you to another, or to a re-roll on this one.

I think you're meant to encounter something pretty much every watch and pretty much every journey, the complexity and depth of the encounter tables seems to recommend this.

Lets give it a go, assuming I roll a 10 every time - we'll have a look at what comes out and how many rolls there are;

Ok, lets say the PCs are in light jungle (there are seven types, Light, Heavy and Mountainous Jungle, Volcano, Volcan*ic*, Ruins and Villiage. Most rolls are going to be some kind of jungle.

Roll 1 - They encounter a beast of some kind, go to the beast table.

Roll 2 - (Look for the 'Light Jungle' column, becasue the Beast table itself is subdivided into area types) - they encounter a Giant Centipede.

Roll 3 - What's it up to? It's in Combat.

Roll 4 - What with? Lets say we roll an 11 this time. Its in combat with a Boar.

Depending on how dangerous we judge a giant centipede to be, we may be encountering more than one. Theres a random number generation here thing as well, which takes us to;

Roll 5 - How many Centipedes? 10 means d4

Roll 6 - The d4 rolls 2.

BUT - if we look in the back there are three different kinds of Centipede with different poison effects, so I suppose we can just choose one if we like.

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

Homie Be Flippin'

Every individual hex has its own most-common encounter table embedded in it with motivation and numbers table included.

The main encounter table page also has pretty much everything you will be needing to generate an encounter, so you will be flippin' either once, or not at all.


This is meant to be small
and deliberately a bit out of focus
so you can't just yank the page info.

Its also pretty obvious that for everything in the island, it has a range of stuff that it is doing and relatively little of that includes specifically-looking-for-the-PCs-to-fight-them.

But another big element of this is that, whether you are running it from the book or from a tablet, you will still need a second, self-designed document, as a monster manual because none of these things have stats.

If you are running old-school then it should be relatively simple to string together some hit points and AC's. The book itself gives you good general information about any special effects, enough to run them descriptively.

If you want to run it in 5e then the aesthetic is normie enough that you can yank most templates easily out of the Monster Manual and add or change whatever you need to. But you are probably going to need to actually do that and create a little sub-monster-manual for yourself and run the creatures out of that.

The quasi-Normie aesthetic is probably another reason that WotC will be interested in it. It's not full-on Hipster D&D edgelord dream-vision bullshit like you would get from certain recent darkly handsome yet still somehow single award winners.

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

Roll Deep?

Once you get used to it, the main encounter table is, I would guess, if you involve the players in rolling dice and giving you results, about 60 seconds or more work each time, and you are probably combining that with a 'point of interest' (it is, effectively, a pointcrawl).

For every table a meaningful number of the more-common results mean one encounter effectively interacting with another.

(One is 'defecating', so nice to see that included for once.)

Also there's nothing to say what to do when you roll a second encounter and that tells you to roll another encounter. Realistically you would just link them up but it would be fun to go full-Aspergers and just keep adding guys.

This is from page 5;

"This is, absolutely, a lot of rolling. Because of this, digital maps are available so you can roll everything up by touching the party's current location on a computer, phone or tablet."

> Has anyone tested these? Leave a comment below or on G+ if you have.

The more I read this and think about it the more likely I think it is that WotC will probably contact Jacob, either to license it or to consult with him on a App or something. HSI is designed to be workable without any digital or phone element, but if you have the app or the digital file then it is going to squat out a complex situation quite neatly, so it works both ways. And I think, for various reasons, WotC really wants you to have an app on your phone and this would be a good way to get you there; release the new splatbook and it either comes with a free app or you get a free update to your current WotC app to run it.

Thinking about how people use apps on their phone, an app-per-product probably makes more sense, though I think the company would probably prefer one main one. Though there is no reason you couldn't have a main WotC app that governs the rest and you download and delete your others based on what you buy & what you are using.

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

Dungeons

All of this is just for 'outside' encounters. The 'Dungeon' encounters have their own sub-system, also based on nested 3d6 rolls.

You start with an opening 'Whats Happening' table, which effectively gives you a meta-story

So you always (usually) have the map on the same page as the tables and the key, that's good.

Like the outdoors encoutner tables, the dungeon tables have a range of results from different factions. Unlike the outdoor ones, you are (usually, probably) going to be rolling a whole range of results and this means most dungeons will be a network of interconnected, sometimes opposing, elements, with the range of potential motivations blurring the lines between monster/animal and NPC.

And again this is a relatively heavy rolling system, though nowhere near as heavy as the outdoor system. But becasue the results can be so complex, there might occasionally be a handful of problems with integration, probably nothing that a decent DM can't fudge.


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


The logic of the tables, the explorability of the island, the multiple points per hex, the multiple factions, animal groups and the whole thing really meshes in the central encounter tables. If you are not into these then you will only be buying the book to tear it apart and it isn't the best suited to that. Though if you do want to buy it to tear it apart then there is a LOT of stuff in it.

So at this point readers are thinking either; "Nope. This rolls too deep for me.", "This is how I roll" or "I might roll with you."

If its either of the second two; read on into the next post.


SHOP IS HERE.