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.

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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)


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.