Log in

No account? Create an account
Sidney Sime and Call of Kafka
Why had I never heard of Sidney Sime before? This is the sort of work that makes me think the late 19th century romantics and decadents were much more unsettling than any Shock of the New.
BTW that's Don Kenn on the header, who's also brilliant. The combination of the two kinda bridges the gap between Edward Gorey and Aubrey Beardsley in my mind's eye.

Elsewhere Zak Smith said: lovecraft in his home era, when the urge to be purist is most intense, is profoundly antisocial and timeless and devoid of cultural markers. It's about people alone in featureless rooms with the landscape... It's like his language strips away so many signifiers of everyday life that it's at its best when dealing with only "eternal" things: a house, a desert, a field, a forest, a museum, an office. Nothing that has any chance of being dated.

Which I think of as "Call of Kafka" or, where the monsters really are up to something conspiratorial and it is society-must-be-defended, then Kafka of Cthulhu.

I would add another strand: for me, the mystery's the thing, but not really in the sense that now you have a puzzle to solve. CoC adventures where you actually do learn something about the True Nature of the Universe strike me as deeply problematic, partly because the monsters turn out to have human-readable motivations after all (what with being created by humans and all). I think my favourite resolution to a CoC mystery might be that you realise at the end of it that now you know less about the Mythos than you did before.

first draft of this thoughtCollapse )

Architects of Mars

If Lord of the Rings is secretly a book about landscape, ERB’s Barsoom stories are secretly about architecture.

Full post over here, if you like that sort of thing.

Sorry I've been absent. It's busytimes. Still, I found out about Russian group Voina and their chicken-stuffing antics, saw the Hobbit trailer and the xkcd comic that's got people talking, and discovered the Name of the Week - the burgermeester of Den Helder in 1841 was called (wait for it):

In 't Velt en Crap Hellingman.

Edit: oh man, apparently that's 2 people: Jan In 't Velt (which is pretty good) and Crap Hellingman (which is also great) but I thought...
Oh well. At least they're a crime-fighting double act!

I went to Corsica and all I brought back were these wine reviews
Some recent activity at richarddrinks: Nolet's silver gin, a couple of cocktails using Amer Picon and some Corsican wine that's hard to get in the US.

It's a pain that Corsican wine is so hard to find, because on Corsica it's generally great value, exemplary but not astonishing, French wine, which would do really well on the international market.
I think the French just like to keep secrets.

some places I've been recently
First, more or less real: the caves of Dordogne (which make great grist for your roleplaying mill).

Second, more or less imaginary: Property Listings for my Tartary game (which you could use as a tour guide to interesting real-world destinations).

This last was written in response to Jason Kielbasa's Constantcon Property Guide. Constantcon is the heady world of gaming via G+ hangouts - it's slowly turning into one giant cross-campaign mashup - first PCs were migrating freely around the multi-GM multiverse, then monsters and magic items, and now people are developing real estate, some of which exists in multiple settings at once. It's wacky times.

How mainstream is Lovecraft these days?
Really damn mainstream, it seems.

Exhibit A, from 2010, when st_rev pointed it out: Scooby-doo: Mystery Incorporated. Which, by the way, has shaped up into a bona fide Laws-n-Tynes Over The Edge sorta eldritch mystery campaign, almost exactly like the ones I used to play in the 90s.

Exhibit B, 2012: some British sketch comedy show. Not very funny, but remarkable for the verve with which "cyclopean"  is mispronounced.

I wonder if this means it's actually difficult to run CoC straight these days?

Only write what you care about

What is the point of me linking Zak’s blog, since you all read it anyway (right?)?

Because hidden away in a review of weird fiction is the best advice I’ve read since “don’t bother with art that’s trying to look like art”:

I just have to put the best of what I have to offer and nothing else out there by itself and see what kind of story it is. And if the story needs more that more will have to be written with the same energy of invention as the new idea was.

ie have confidence in the ideas that excite you and don’t bother writing anything that doesn’t excite you. Don’t think you have to depend on tired old formulas for structure, just present the ideas you think are new and exciting and nothing else, because that’s what I’m looking for as a reader anyway. I don’t want your fantasy heartbreaker, just the bit that breaks your heart.

It’s so easy to fall into this: thinking you have to dress your ideas up in conventional forms.Thank you, Zak.

I need to remember it with my history work as well as any fiction or RPG stuff I write.

You know who’s really good at this? Cory Doctorow. I think he makes his short stories short enough that they don’t feel incomplete. And Borges, natch.

linkorama of old school roleplaying
because I've been hiding under a rock for the past 25 years, DnD-wise, I had no idea that Githyanki had become a thing (I did have an idea about dark elves, because you can't avoid them, but still, the name Drizzt meant nothing to me).

Anyway, shorn of the reams of lore they have no doubt accumulated, this is pretty much what I think about the astrally traveling jerks. And this beats anything else I have to say about them: They build their fortresses on the petrified bodies of dead gods. Like this here. Or here, which is also ridiculously cool. Or maybe there, for a change. See, if you keep mixing things up, eventually you can even put your dungeon underground and it looks cool all over again.

Back to the proper subject of this blog: Dystopian Pokeverses. At last I can show you some suitably dystopian versions of old favourite Pokemon, courtesy of Gavin Mackey. That's pretty much what I was thinking all along - thanks Gavin. More than these, which are also lovable but not miserable enough. And I really love the sheer commitment in the fan movie Pokemon Apocalypse, but it's not exactly where I was going either.

Do you know about Skylanders? That's... not it either, but it's kind of a place where my current aesthetic could go. I do like the mix of Cthulhiana, DnD cliches, Lego Adventures game design and Pokemon-type creature features. I call it Poke-Xena for a new generation. Which reminds me: apparently there are some Flash Gordon novels I should seek out, if my current Barsoom jones doesn't abate soon.

Geoff McKinney is publishing bare-bones old school modules with fanzine type production values. And Ian Johnson is doing the same for his wonderfully demented hell-crawl, The Bleaklands. The latter in particular is totally half-baked and fizzing with ideas.My review of Eldritch Skies: don't bother. OTOH, Monte Cooke's kickoff into Moebius-inspired Science Fantasy strikes just the right visual notes for me - even if the support text makes me crawn*: Humanity lives amid the remnants of eight great civilizations that have risen and fallen on Earth. NO! Instead: there is crazy inexplicable shit out there! Is anybody in charge at all!?! Go find out!
Which is kind of my way of saying I don't know if I want to be in on the playtest phase of this or if I'd rather stay aloof, clutching my own distressingly similar setting, which will look derivative of this starting in about 2 minutes. Damn you, Cooke!

Finally, where are the hex sheet of yore? Here - print your own. Also crazy polar projection things and stuff.

The rest is pentagon tesselation.

Sky Men, a cloudwalking race for Tartary and beyond

Sky men are a proud and high-spirited people: they will not bear ill-usage. They are fond of adventures, emigration, and capable of undertaking the most dangerous enterprises.

They are divided into two castes: the shunned and ridiculed ground-walkers and the "true" sky men - those who have "come of age" and can walk on clouds, making their homes on shifting, drifting, fluffy continents.

The primitive and frequently squalid appearance of ground-walkers gives sky men a poor reputation among the rulers of the land, who are therefore disinclined to credit rumours of a high civilization above the clouds, or of solid sky man fortresses high in the stratosphere. Sky men are known to ride on (infest, perhaps) Timor Tom, however, and have been known to settle on other prominent flyers for a time. Garuda is said to have befriended the sky men and deigned to carry them willingly. There are even legends that Garuda taught the sky men how to live in the heavens.

Humans see the skin of sky men as always being the exact colour of the sky, making them extremely hard to spot in their usual environment. Birds and some lizards, however, which have 4 colour-sensitive cones in their eyes in place of humans' 3, have no trouble seeing them. Under favourable conditions a sky man may gain up to +3 on all stealth tasks among humans from their near-invisibility.

All character classes have been found among sky men of one caste or another. In sky man society entertainers and memorizers of epic poems enjoy the highest status, alongside those leaders who prove their prowess by great deeds of thievery or piracy enacted against non sky men: the profession of thief is a perfectly acceptable choice for a young sky man setting out in the world. Mere warriors are seen as wasting their talents if they do not practice some other skill or rise to positions of leadership. Priests, diviners, spirit mediums and druids are viewed with suspicion but sky men tolerate them as occasionally highly useful.  Sky man children are taught to fear wizards and their ilk, and there is no tradition of scholarly magic among them. Those who learn wizardry elsewhere are considered good marriage partners, however.

3d6 for stats. Sky men share the following special features:
1. Cannot wear armour. Really - they're allergic to confinement, especially in any kind of metal harness - will lose 1hp per hour.
2. But get natural AC 5 when naked and able to take advantage of sky-camouflage. AC 8 at other times, due to tough hide.
3. being almost invisible gives up to +3 to surprise under appropriate circumstances.
4. At 3rd level, get the ability to cloudwalk - not fly but walk and/or jump up into clouds and live up there like it's another landscape. Cloudwalkers can carry their normal encumbrance load into the sky (as human). They also get hours of precognitive weather sense equal to their level (precog will wake them from sleep, trances etc). If the clouds thin/drop, they'll drop out of them: crit fails on precog or jump are bad news.
5. with a run up, they can long-jump their Dex + level in feet, or half that straight up.

(Originally inspired by Ken Hite's Ingredients for Pyramid's first Iron Ref competition - these being "a chair upholstered in an unusual or frightening material; an injury to the eye;" and some other thing I can't remember. Sky Men are of course the secret masters of the Bugis of Sulawesi, those "ancestors" who first descended from the sky and told the Bugis to take to ships, thereby causing innumerable headaches for Dutch, British and French colonial shipping firms in the 18th and 19th centuries)

Cthulhufunk The Next Generation
Apparently there's a new stage version of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds currently touring the UK. It has/shortly will have 3 recorded Liam Neesons in it, at the scales Normal, XL and WTF.

I... dunno. Turns out that is not dead which may eternally be remade.

If you like Carcosa Wacky Races...
this guy should be right up your alley. Yes, I've seen a bunch of crazy mutation tables before, too. But I love every single entry on this list, and nothing more than:

Devil Organ: You grow a new internal organ the size of a fist, which is shaped like a devil in the lotus position. All devils and demons within 10' feet can smell it in you, or 30' if you are sweaty, or have not recently bathed. This organ is considered the most delicious and rare delicacy in all of the Bleaklands, and simply being in your presence is like catnip for devils. If captured, you may be kept alive a few days to enjoy the smell of the organ, before it is harvested and eaten. Luckily, the organ is deeply magical, and allows you to cast spells as a level one Magic-User. At level six, you can cast as a level two MU, and at level nine, you cast as a level three MU. When you cast a spell, all Magic-Users or creatures with spell-like abilities within 100' per level of the spell can sense your exact location, and that you have a devil organ.

He's building quite an inventory of tasty lunacy over there. More legible than Monster Manual Sewn from Pants. Also Trey Causey should be on your reading list. And The Dungeon Dozen is the most consistently satisfying snack in my DnD lists.

Hate prestige classes? Me too. This guy, too, which is why he made them better. The anthropophagi and paladins are particularly delightful - I see Ghazi fortresses on the Zerafshan, full of mujahideen looking for a mission, and mysteriously smiling mandarin emissaries of the Yellow Dragon Throne clopping over the Dismalayas on their wooden sandals to spread tempting and dangerous contracts among the Ilkhans.

Finally, have I pointed you toward Tony Dowler's microdungeons? There. You have been pointed.

WTF second try

You know that Alcatraz TV program, where the plot is that crims are coming back from some 60s paranormal disappearance event, fifty years later, and causing trouble all over again and you need Mulder but all you have is the fat guy from Lost?

Here's what's wrong with that set-up: not only do all the crims know how to use present-day phones and they're able to buy stuff and so on, most of all they aren't just paralyzed going W. T. F. (or 60's americana equivalent, whatever that might be) all the time.

Exhibit A: "Peach Fuzz" pink plastic moustaches for girls 3+

...note those moustachiod face earrings in the bottom left.

Found together with these:

Those are non-prescription, non-dark glasses with plastic moustaches attached by little chains. I don't even know what the pink ribbons are supposed to be about.

WTF!?!?! I <3 ~~ products
First, WTF? I put it under a link because I can't post pictures in here, but if you haven't yet run across the "I love mustache" line of products for girls, you are in for a... headache?

Second, an adjunct to the previous post on not just ubiquitous sugar but an obsession with sweetness. Wise heads will already be wagging when I tell you that I got a sandwich at Starbucks. No doubt most of you will know my mistake when I say I went for the 4 cheese and applewood smoked bacon.

So I guess "apple-" should've clued me in. The flavour was in fact apple and cinnamon sweet mush, plus velveeta and bacon. Which was not only sweet, but also right in the uncanny valley of sweet bacon.

Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy? (sobs. Throws sandwich away.)

A dietary concern
Living in France it's easy to forget that OH MY GOD WHY IS EVERYTHING IN THE US FULL OF SUGAR?

Really. I went to buy sausages and I couldn't get any that weren't either sweet (with maple syrup) or full of cheese. WHywhywhwywywywywy?

what's been happening in the other pokeverse
st_rev has reminded me that I should mirror stuff from lurkerablog over here - because after all I did ask the question some time ago, whether folks would like me to keep the gaming stuff here, and the answer was yes.

On the Carcosa Wacky Races/(Toxic) Tartary setting: 20 setting-defining questions, hazards on the plain of glass, inspirational art and photos, two psionic stabs, what does this mysterious weapon thing do? and what happened on Turn 4 (other turns available if anyone's interested). John Gorman also got me to realise that most of the crazy Masters of the Universe type elements of that setting are invaders, castaways, refugees, and fugitives from elsewhere:
That exactly describes the incursions into the weirdlands of my Tartary: the green martians are there because they chased some Githyanki through a gate that got shut behind them, the grease monkeys wound up there hiding out either from ultratech slavers or Butlerian jihadists, and the mi-go are there because mi-go are everywhere there's a large shiftless migrant population that can't count its missing. And then there are the refugees and fugitives from the overworld, who actually cause most of the trouble, indirectly.
On the Southeast Asian Pirates setting: portraits of character classes. This one's always on the backburner, so even seemingly unrelated posts like this one on ships as megadungeons might turn out to be SAP. Turns out I've also written up the Sulawesi Highlands Sky Men for that setting, which have been floating around my head ever since Ken Hite did the first Iron Ref contest, but they're not ready for prime time yet.

Aside from that, noodlings on coverting Pokemon to 0DnD, a Noah's Ark dungeon, and links to someone's thoughtful very-condensed list of DnD spells (I am tempted to add Ars Magica and Nephilim spells in the same format).

You should also be apprised: William Broom wrote this amazing bunch of "prestige class" ideas including cannibals and doomed paladins, Chris Kutalik wrote a diary of a wandering monster, Trey Causey offered a nice take on the Ukiyo-E Floating World as an RPG setting, John Stater shoehorned William Blake and DnD alignment roughly into the same conch shell.

maybe not the intended pull-quote
niemandsrose linked to this extract/blurb article from a book about perfume and there's one paragraph that apparently caught me on the right day - it was close enough to what I already think to make me think.

I like the way perfume forces me to think about art and money, how it is so obviously and unashamedly commercial I can't pretend, the way I sometimes do with other kinds of art, that it's all for some high, pure, romantic purpose, and how, far from tainting its beauty, the sideshow of money makes the best perfume—and art—seem wilder, more real and insistent

I'm not posting much on lj these days, even though you guys seem to be the best, smartest, nicest people I talk to online. Is it weird that I don't feel I can post anything that's merely interesting on my gaming or architecture blog? Maybe those places have become too inhibited.

Don't call it a Martinez
I've been trying to mix a Martinez I liked for a while, so far without success - the combination of red ("Italian") vermouth and London Dry gin just hasn't been doing anything I like.

So finally, after a year away, I'm back at my drinks cupboard in upstate NY with a pint of Finger Lakes Distilling's Glen Thunder corn whisky (the most I don't even know what, maybe pretentious pseudo-ghetto thing I own - it's a white dog whisky, so basically moonshine, but made by this really good boutique distillery, and named after a NASCAR track and packaged in a hipflask bottle but still far from cheap)... and I remember that it tastes kinda like Holland gin, and I have a bottle of Dubonnet which I remember I prefer to red vermouth, and so I put them together and...
...it's really very drinkable. About on my limit for sweetness, but not cloying. I think I'll have another. Thus:

Kohler Bathtub Maxim-Martinez
2 parts white dog corn whisky
1 part Dubonnet
dash angostura bitters (yes angostura dammit)
shake over ice, twist of orange

First, here's a bewilderingly fecund Vancian spell name generator. I think I may use this to create scrolls on the fly the very next time I want to use swords n sorcery type magic (maybe in 20 years or so)... or just use it to spark ideas for technomagical devices and monsters, which I could use right away in Toxic Tartary/Carcosa Wacky Races (latest description here).
That said, I don't think I want to play the game where you might cast Iztor's wet precocity or The call of the loose substitute.

Second, here's a handy tool for conducting textual analysis on all Vance's work. Most folks seem to want to know exactly how many times he's written "punctilio" (33) but I immediately used it to compile full, authoritative descriptions of mermelants (very sketchy) and pelgranes. Here's the latter, minus redundant oblique references:

A shadow fluttered across the sun; a heavy black object swooped down to alight at the foot of Cugel's bed: a pelgrane of middle years, to judge by the silky gray hair of its globular abdomen. Its head, two feet long, was carved of black horn, like that of a stag-beetle and white fangs curled up past its snout. Perching on the bedstead it regarded Cugel with both avidity and amusement.

Keeping to concealment Cugel descended the slope, to discover that the pelgrane now pursued a portly black-haired man in a suit of black and white diaper. This person at last took nimble refuge behind a thick-boled olophar tree, and the pelgrane chased him first one way, then another, clashing its fangs and snatching with its clawed hands.

They flew close overhead: gargoyle creatures, with wings creaking like rusty hinges. T'sais caught a glimpse of hard leathern body, great hatchet beak, leering eyes in a wizened face. She shrank against Etarr. The pelgrane flapped across the forest.

Also while I've got you here, this video of walking the Moai is just adorable, especially because it turns out that of course you'd have to blindfold the godstatue to move it.

Finally, Space 1970's been doing amazing work for years uncovering B-movie joy. I don't suppose I missed much in the Flash Gordon Atari game (looks like Defender) but I am still pleased that it existed.

Phrases I never expected to read: leaving the Netherlands because of sexual discrimination
This here is a petition to uphold the human righttp://kempton.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/interview-with-maya-posch-an-intersex-person-re-netherlands-courts-decision-to-let-her-officially-change-her-gender-to-female/hts of intersex persons, put together by Maya Posch, who is currently seeking refuge outside the Netherlands* where she'll be safe.

I don't know if I should sign it, so I'm asking you, lj brain trust - I'm all for upholding everyone's human rights but I'm hesitant because (a) internet petitions - are they useful at all? and (b) phishing scam? I don't like handing out my address and email. There's a video interview with Maya here, but still, not sure about the privacy issues, legitimacy etc.

Do you sign petitions?

* The Netherlands? Where's she going to go?

deliciously stupid
home-made ekranoplan. What you need to get around in my land-of-lakelets game setting.
A Carcosa Wacky Racer:

Me appropriating more glass art to my own idiocy.
An inadvertent homage to Prometheus in the form of a dungeon diagram (I guess: I haven't seen it but from chatter online this is kinda what I'm imagining)
What I get for allowing myself to be dragged into a discussion about Spelljammer.

staring into the abyss
Here's the weaselly sentence I really hope I'm not going to write on my book proposal:
[book] suggests that the institutional superstructure of the capital was more adaptable, its small social organisations more resilient, and opportunities for social mobility far greater than many historians have acknowledged.

This isn't damning with faint praise, it's... conceding with faint claims?

On the other hand, I see Chicago U P has solved some problems:
Nature of Human Society Series.
Ernest Gellner and Julian Pitt-Rivers, Editors.
The series is complete and closed to new submissions.