Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Random Fantasy Christ Figure Generator Tables


During the days of the...

  1. Twin Emperors of the Pyremount
  2. Twelve Golden Lawgivers
  3. Fourth Age of the Ouroborous Queen
  4. Warring States of Tiamat (Interregnum Period)
  5. Blessed Age of Eclipse
  6. Plutocracy of Unified Guilds
  7. Chaos that Came from the West
  8. Dukes Without Death
  9. Intrapelagic Republic
  10. Star Empire

When...

  1. There was famine and flooding in the low country.
  2. The accords of suzerainty were completed.
  3. The bloody revolution had sputtered to its final end.
  4. The Red Death had killed near a quarter of the population.
  5. The engines of industry had made tight their death-grip.
  6. The Order of Moral Restoration had declared their new codes.
  7. The economic depression had dragged itself into a second decade.
  8. There was unrest and protest against the corruption of the government
  9. The armies of a foreign power had intervened by force.
  10. The nation was divided amongst itself by bitter and pointless war.

There emerged...

  1. Someone of background unknown even to the people of the day.
  2. The elected chief of the offshore leper colony.
  3. A runaway monastic novice.
  4. A noble heir who rejected his wealth and birthright.
  5. A minor member of the scribal caste.
  6. An ex-soldier, back from the front in the Black Glacier
  7. A foundling, raised in the smoke-spewing poorhouse.
  8. A servant of a minor noble house.
  9. A reformed highwayman.
  10. An itinerant laborer.

Seeking to reform the tenets and practices of the...

  1. Meat Chorus
  2. Reverence of the Raven-Angel, thief of the sun
  3. Chaos-meditation precepts of Whirling-Without-Aim
  4. Carcinogenic Communion of Undying Love
  5. Witnesses of the Thousand-Eyed Blind One
  6. Calculation of the Great Unseen Plan
  7. Dreams of the Leviathans
  8. Mysteries of the Sacred Beating Heart of Gorm
  9. Rites of the Vanished Ancestors, Returned to the Stars
  10. The United Association of Mystery Religions

Notable among their disciples were...

  1. Members of the untouchable caste.
  2. The abandoned Butterfly Harem of the deposed hierarch.
  3. Galley slaves of the swamp-armada.
  4. The working poor of the City of Tears
  5. Student anti-military protestors.
  6. Refugees spilling over from a neighboring nation.
  7. A band of mysterious travelers from distant lands.
  8. Members of another, often-reviled religion
  9. Delvers and dungeon-dwellers; swyvers, hobos and grave-robbers
  10. The Icthyociders' Union

And some said that they...

  1. Burst a star apart with a gesture.
  2. Healed the lead-poisoned infants of the Downriver Quarter.
  3. Raised the plague-decimated herds of the mountain shepherds.
  4. Warmed a hearth through winter with a single piece of coal.
  5. Survived an assassin's bullet through the heart.
  6. Cast out demons of brain, heart, and stomach.
  7. Could restore barren fields to life.
  8. Could speak with the beasts and trees and rocks.
  9. Fasted and prayed for 108 days.
  10. Turned gold into water.

And that...

  1. They spoke only through a trusted interpreter.
  2. Were accompanied always by their mother and siblings.
  3. Knew more of medicine than the greatest doctors.
  4. In time did not need to eat at all.
  5. Wept for three days upon the death of their beloved hound.
  6. Had suffered a disfiguring illness as a child.
  7. Their closest disciple was a disgraced carnifex.
  8. They had ridden upon a golden barge.
  9. A previous marriage had ended in tragedy.
  10. There was another.

But in time they angered those in power. They were executed...

  1. Hung by a silken cord from a sycamore tree.
  2. By beheading, just before the dawn.
  3. On the pyre, alongside dozens of their disciples.
  4. By exposure, strung up in a gibbet by the bitter winter coast.
  5. By firing squad, in front of a great crowd.
  6. Poisoned. Some claim they chose this, others say it was forced upon them.
  7. Torn apart by hyenas starved in the area.
  8. By means of a torturous mechanism.
  9. By means of live burial, deep in the Paupers' Ossuary.
  10. By vanishment, and are presumed to have died in prison.

And afterwards...

  1. Without its spiritual center and lacking solid leadership, the movement dies out within a generation.
  2. The reforms caught on with some prominent religious authorities. The movement was absorbed into its parent religious group with little fanfare
  3. The movement thrived for a little while, but was eventually out-competed by more evangelical faiths and is a historical footnote today.
  4. A second charismatic leader emerges, transforming the movement by hybridizing it with their own teachings and background.
  5. The movement is adopted as state religion by a major power. It thrives and is transformed accordingly, for good and ill.
  6. The movement inspired many others to build upon the legacy left behind.
  7. The movement remains a thriving religious minority to this day.
  8. The movement settles down into a widespread and stable religion of its own and has remained such.
  9. The movement is formalized in a series of bloody religious wars some generations after its founding.
  10. The movement has grown to be a religious majority in lands beyond its founding.
 

Monday, December 2, 2019

LET'S LOOK AT: Delta Green Handler's Guide

What's All This Then


The part of DG that actually has the DG in it. It contains a timeline of the setting, dossiers of major NPCs, rituals and tomes, monsters, and some guidance on scenario creation (which is quite good for the small amount of space it takes up)

Are We the Baddies? (Spoilers: Yes)

Delta Green is a game about how doing horrible things can and will break a person.

Which is, refreshing. There's no benefit to being part of a conspiracy with no accountability or consequence. DG is not cool, it's not the good guys - it's an underfunded meat grinder led by a bunch of paranoid boomers and it has already been compromised and you are complicit and you are in too deep. You'll burn out your relationships, your health, and your humanity and if you are lucky you go right back to work as if nothing happened. Your reward is the status quo for a little bit longer and horrible trauma.

[Aside] Now, I am fond of the final twist of the knife being not "oh it's all pointless the mythos will kill us all", but rather "it's all pointless because Delta Green is wrong about it all". This is not a sentiment found anywhere in the Handler's Guide, just my old dead horse dropping by[/aside]

Edit et Addendum: This all said, the Handler's Guide makes a similar mistake that Vampire 5e got in trouble for a while back - not delineating that the racist bits are in-character and using omniscient third instead. The tcho-tcho are a real bad example of this, and you find it in all these little places elsewhere. Disappointing. 

The Conspiracy Paradox


"The more people who know about the supernatural, the more unbelievable it is that a conspiracy could keep it secret. The more prevalent the supernatural, the more people will know about it."

If you're running Delta Green as a one shot or flying high the flag of lore-be-damned (or both, both is good), it might as well be perfect at avoiding this issue.

But this is a Handler's Guide review, and that means lore. Delta Green has a whole lot of lore. I have complicated feelings about all this lore.

I will return to this eventually.

The book says that less than 3000 people in the continental US know about the paranormal and I am gonna call some bullshit on that. I will come back to this later.

The Good Lore


I am a total mark for modern paranormal investigation. Cold War conspiracy bullshit is my jam. 

There's a type of sidebar in the book called "Disinformation". It's a nice big bright yellow box that contains a few paragraphs about some facet of the setting - Carcosa, Yuggoth, Project RAINBOW, lots of fun things. These entries, being short, loose, and often containing contradictory information within them, are the best part of the entire book. I want an entire book of this stuff. It's inspirational, open-ended, and I want to use it.

(There's a lot of other bits that I want to use but they are not nearly as easily found. Example: one DG infosec operation is getting CIA stooges to post nonsense conspiracy stuff online to muddy the waters when real things emerge. This is really cool. it is not in a big bright yellow box so I might have missed it for ages more.)

The Bad Lore


Delta Green is a game in love with the parts of its setting that aren't good for games. It would be good material for short fiction (Which exists: I have not read any of it but I presume it is at least not the worst game-based fiction out there), but this is an interactive medium and the needs of an interactive medium are different.

This is absolutely a game book meant to be read (Time to reread that Joseph Manola post) and I won't say that I don't enjoy reading it. I actually do.

I'd just ignore 90% of it if I was trying to run it.

There are two major points where the book really gets in its own way: the timeline that takes up much of the front half of the book, and the NPCs that take up much of the back.

The timeline is good enough in theory - a bunch of seeds by era that can be mined for inspiration. But most of those seeds are from pre-existing modules and stories, or are specific to individual characters, or are actual things that actually happened. The final effect is that the past presented is not a misty realm of half-remembered potential, from which haunting things slouch forth to be shaped by the sun; it is the dry recitation of dates and events like cement poured into a mold and left to dry.

From a book perspective, good reading. From a game perspective, boring shit I don't want.

I will now recount everything that is actually important in the timeline.
  • 1928 - The Innsmouth raid. Delta Green security clearance is established
  • 1947 - A UFO crashes in Roswell. MAJESTIC-12 is founded to study it and get that sweet sweet alien tech. The Greys are actually mi-go puppets deliberately feeding information to the US government for their own experimental purposes.
  • 1969 - A catastrophic fuckup in Cambodia leads to DG being dissolved. The Cowboy years begin,. The US government puts all its backing behind MJ-12.
  • 2001 - Re-organization in the wake of 9/11 sees a crumbling MJ-12 dissolved and surviving DG remnants brought back into the fold. The Program is formed. A few Outlaws still remain in the cold.
With these four bits of info, you have all the understanding of Delta Green's history that you need. Fill in the blanks with whatever you want. All else is gravy. You could expand it to ten entries and be just fine - writing it out I suppose that might have been the intention of this timeline, though I don't feel like it was done properly

Given the nature of the game player characters won't know half of this stuff, and given the nature of players they will go ahead and read all of it anyway.

The NPC write-ups in the back are the worse offender. They're a bunch of literal old fogeys players will never interact with because of operational security (seriously, the rest of the book makes such a big deal about how nobody knows anything why is this section here?) Purest case of in-love-with-the-fiction right here and I don't like it one bit. Should have had more monsters.


A Weird Issue With Tone


Part of the horror of Delta Green is that the organization (and humans in general) don't and cannot know what they're messing with. But the book is written filled with details that no human could possibly know in this impossibly huge broad-stroke omniscient third voice.

Example: The lloigor are an energy field (but also individuals but also not) that came from the Andromeda galaxy and are locked in a temporal cold war with the yithians and are seeking to construct the empire of Tsan-Chan in the future and normally are just evil rocks but can sometimes take the form of things that are not entirely unlike dinosaurs and they need a separate sub-table for all of their powers.

If you're a DG agent in the field, are you going to know about any of this? Are you going to care? Hell no. There's a bigass evil-looking rock that gives people cancer and can induce suicidal urges what the shit you aren't paid for this. This is the important part. The lore can get stuffed you are in the here and now and horror is of what we don't know. Big level stuff like this should either not be here or be buried. All of that extra information is referee only and if it's referee only there is no reason that it shouldn't be a blank check because the player characters will never, ever, EVER learn it. But the players will read the book and they will know and in knowing fear vanishes and the entire point of this exercise is moot.

This being a tabletop rpg changing setting fluff is trivial enough to make me feel that complaining about this topic seems petulant. But you know what? "The ref can fix this on their own" is the default. It is the bare minimum. It is the lowest common denominator in this business and I do not appreciate it.

[Aside] I honestly believe that this issue could have been fixed with some proper SCP Foundation faux-clinical detachment. Sad to see the inspiration didn't flow back around.[/Aside]

Final Thoughts


I have complex feelings about this book. One the one hand, I knew what I was getting into. On the other - if I knew what I was getting into, which I did, why did I still buy it? Third hand - Esoteric Enterprises isn't out yet. Hand four: when that book comes out will it make this book obsolete? Fifth hand: well, no, but also yes. Sixth hand: I am filled with a longing that I cannot define, driven by a spirit I cannot name, for a place forever lost to me flowing ceaselessly into the past.

Finaller Thoughts


Okay so the Nazis got totaled, the Russians have gone quiet, the British are compromised by alien parasites, and you're telling me that the Chinese haven't filled that power vacuum? If they haven't. , how come we haven't had a secrecy-destroying disaster happen yet?

I have so many questions! This is what happens when you get too specific with the lore in this sort of setting! Nerds like me will start poking holes because I have questions.

Finallest Thoughts

When in doubt, make your own. This philosophy is the reason behind all of my unfinished work.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Ten Magical Items


Crown of the Damned Mooncalf


A braided milk-silver circlet. Owned by a changeling prince who rejected his fae parentage and dove instead into the study of heresies and heterodoxies, culminating in his embrace of the Malthusian Emanations and Twined Demonic Dance, an experiment of disastrous consequences for him and his kingdom.
  • Wearer may view all invisible (purposefully or naturally) signs and beings.
  • May transform into a beam of moonlight (moon must be visible) at will.

Scepter of the Last Dwarven King


A diorite scepter engraved with scenes of dwarves at war against beasts of the deep and crowned with a ruby the size of a child’s skull and carved into the semblance of such. Held last by King Uristagar VII (“The Mad”) and thought lost with the majority of his corpse.
  • Possessor may command up to 10 maggot-men servitors.
  • Possessor is recognized, legally, as a member of the High Oricalcum Warren regardless of origin.

Cat’s Tenth Life


A tiny figurine of a kitten curled up asleep, carved out of carnelian.
  • After the possessor dies, the figurine will crumble into powder. A living kitten carrying the soul and memories of the dead player will then claw itself out of the corpse’s stomach.
  • The becatted player can talk and cast magic, but is a cat in all other ways. Their class is now Magic-User.

Tyrant’s Bell


A silver bell, engraved with excerpts from the ancient laws of Hagranna and depictions of the grotesque punishments.

When rung, it will have one of the following effects:
  • If underground, it will summon a redcap executioner - they have no obligation to be friendly, but they cannot directly harm the wielder.
  • In the presence of a violator of the Code - Target will be painfully and visibly branded with whatever violation they committed (note: the Code is thousands of years divorced from modern laws so the target might not have committed any criminal or immoral act.)
  • Over an execution - Target’s ghost is bound to the bell, summoned when it is rung in a certain pattern.
  • Over a construct - will awaken and animate it.
  • Over an altar - the god worshipped there must make a sign that it has heard the request made.

Seraph’s Feather


A long flight feather, shimmering with the glow of golden sunset, moving like a tongue of flame. It warms your hands as you hold it.
  • Source of light and heat.
  • If used as a quill, no lies may be written with it.
  • May cast a searing beam of light (d8 damage, double damage to evil spirits and demons)

Book of the Gorgon


An anonymous, first-person account of a gorgon’s life, covering a period of about fifty years. The pages are snakeskin and the cover consists of thin sheets of marble. It is written in Classical Aegean.

Within it, besides the meditations of a solitary creature cursed to predation, are the following spells and topics of note:
  • Flesh to Stone
  • Stone to Flesh
  • Kranat’s Killer Kidney Stone
  • Mold Stone
  • Sculpt Flesh

Brass Bull’s Anchor


A ship’s anchor fashioned in the shape of a bull with curving horns. Tarnished with age and spotted with barnacles. It was upon this anchor that the Maritime Savior was tied and tossed into the deeps to die.
  • Those in physical contact with the anchor can breathe underwater.
  • Sprinkling your blood over the anchor will allow you to carry it deftly. It does 2d12 damage.
  • Bovines of all sorts will be rendered agreeable in its presence and defensive of the anchor.

Balm of Blindness


A thick, pale green paste in a lacquered bamboo vessel.

  • When applied to the eyes, it will either cause or cure blindness, as appropriate.
  • Those who have been blinded gain prophetic visions - once per session they may enter a trance to see something that will occur:
    • 1-5: Within a few hours
    • 6-10: Within a few days
    • 11-15: Within months
    • 16-20: Within years
Events will not be directly related to anyone present at first, but will always be something players might interact with.

Helm of the Ironbroker


Little more than a bucket with eye slits and engraved runes. Crudely made and bordering on useless, it seems the practice work of a distracted, untalented smith.
  • This item will open the cannon-scarred doors of the Vault of the Star-Eyed God, high in the mountains. These chambers have never been opened before, and contain all the riches the Ironbroker accumulated in his extended life.

Emanations of the Demiurge


A long parchment scroll, beautifully illuminated, containing a treatise on the movement of the celestial bodies, the spiritual powers thereof, and the secret nature of all the hump-backed sky.
  • Contains directions on the (lengthy, expensive, difficult) process of building a golden barge.
  • Contains a map of nearby spheres as well as a path to Troika.
  • Contains directions on how to brew space-mead.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Son of the Podcast Post

My abnormal consumption rate of podcasts has only grown in the year and a third since the last version of this post. This shall be a review of everything I can remember.

My interest in any given podcast tends to wax and wane according to a great number of odd and obscured factors. This list is not exhaustive, it's just exhaustive of the ones I can both remember and generate an opinion about. I will attempt to organize them according to how much I would recommend them.

I am not even going to try to organize them. The only order is in my own memory.

Oh God I Listen To So Many


No Such Thing as a Fish - Four Brits share wacky facts. Great for a laugh, surprisingly educational.

Futility Closet - It's like the Dollop, but wholesome and uplifting. Husband-and-wife duo provide historical oddities and lateral-thinking puzzles.

Overdue - Talking about books! A whole lot of books. Books you haven't read but have probably heard of. Good hosts, good energy, talkin' bout books.

Literature and History - Hey would you like to explore the Western literary canon in chronological order? Would you like it in the format of an easy-going but very, very in-depth lecture series? (How in-depth? Beowulf isn't scheduled until episode 104) I've gotten a new appreciation for classical myth through the series, and familiarized myself with works I'd either never studied or never heard of. Love it.

Old Gods of Appalachia - Contains 1) old gods 2) the Appalachians 3) sassy Scotts-Irish witches. It might as well have been made to pander directly to me. Fantastic atmospheric writing.

The Legendarium - Fantasy book podcast. Had a series where one host read through LotR for the first time which was fun, but it ends up being rather tame by my going. Not in-depth or out-there enough to keep my interest.

Good Friends of Jackson Elias - Talking shop about Call of Cthulhu. Pretty low-key and relaxing. Fills time.

Expounded Universe - Would you like to know precisely how terrible some of the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels are? This has you covered. Absolute goof-fest. (Turns out you can fix 90% of the EU by just writing Leia as if she's an experienced and competent diplomat but, spoilers, no one does.)

How We Roll - Huge Call of Cthulhu campaign stringing together a bunch of noteworthy scenarios. Only got to the second scenario due to poor audio quality and a general "eh 's whatever' quality to the whole thing.

The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe -  It was 1950 so yes, Archie's attitudes towards women and his means of talking about them are not particularly forward thinking and in one case are directed towards the corpse du jour. That aside, this is a wonderful series with great character dynamics and acting. Having now read one fo the books, I can say it nails it.

Film Reroll -The best use GURPS has yet seen. Famous movies go off the rails, hilarity ensues. Alien and Adventure Time are great places to check out.

Pretending to Be People - A Delta Green actual play, featuring three bumbling cops from the middle-of-fucking-nowhere, Missouri. My favorite long-form actual play by a gigantic margin.  It's legitimately horrifying in a lot of places and goofy bullshit right where it needs to be. Double extra supreme bonus points for running a mythos game and never once using a proper name. Not once. Not even once. Infinite unbelievable extreme bonus points for running a Delta Green game where ROT13 gur cynlref ner nyy ba gur znetvaf bs gur npghny QT bcrengvba tbvat ba va gur onpxtebhaq.

Magnus Archives - My opinion on this series is well-established. Season 5 starts in April you have time to catch up what are you doing go listen to it.

The Foreign Beggars / Dirt Boy Blues - DCC (and then Cyber Sprawl Classics) AP. Two players, good chemistry, good effects and editing.

Romance of the 3 Kingdoms - An approachable abridged retelling of the Romance of the 3 Kingdoms. Rot3k is still super-complex, but the main site has a load of supplementary material to go along with it.

Ologies - Obscure (and sometimes not too obscure) fields of study, straight from the people doing the studying. Great if you want to learn a whole lot about this one very specific field you never considered anyone making a profession out of.

Revisionist History - Take something normally overlooked: golf clubs and property taxes. Jesuit problem solving. The speed of LSAT testing. Poke it and prod it until it opens up like a puzzle box. Thoughtful, thorough, and insightful.

Heaven's Gate - An empathetic documentary of the cult from beginning to end. Highly recommended.

Bad Books for Bad People - Sometimes it's so bad it's good, sometimes it's so bad it's bad, sometimes it's just grotty and weird and dark and bad in that slang way that means it's good. Your being a bad person is non-negotiable. Embrace that shit.

The FPlus - Terrible things read with enthusiasm.

Castle Superbeast - My listening has peetered out over time (these are very long podcasts with very, very long digressions, and after a while the arguments they can find themselves in get really tiresome), but I still dip in from time to time for video game fun times with a pair of very idiosyncratic fellows.

Not Another D&D Podcast - A fun 5e AP. Silly. Lasted much longer than the other 5e APs I tried listening to, which do not appear here because I have forgotten even their names.

The Green Box Podcast - Some guys from r/NightAtTheOpera talk shop about Delta Green.  Mellonbread is abrasive but the others are laid back.

The Dollop - Two comedians discuss stories from American (and sometimes Australian or Icelandic) history. Always absurd, hilarious, often terrible. I had to stop listening a while back, as new episodes were just too depressing to continue with - you could really feel the psychic toll the Trump era has had on the hosts, Dave in particular.

Sequelisers - Fixing the bad sequels to good movies. I have to admit I like the first three seasons with their 2v2 competitive format more than the no-teams fourth season - more variety in prompts, more good jokes and more creative proposals.

Role Playing Public Radio - Longrunning AP podcast. Mostly one shots and occasional campaigns. Their Delta Green and Call of Cthulhu stuff is usually top notch, Eclipse Phase is generally solid. Some are hit or miss, but you'll figure out if it's a bust early on. I super-recommend "The Dreamer Below" and "Somewhere Lane"


The White Vault - Multinational team goes to check in on a research station on Ny-Alesund experiencing technical difficulties. The various threads haven't yet pulled together, and it can sometimes really stretch the found footage aspect of things, but it's overall enjoyable.

The Hyacinth Disaster - An off-the-books asteroid mining mission goes horribly, horribly wrong. Probably my favorite of the sci-fi on this list - it's contained, it's got chutzpah, it is probably the hardest science of the sci-fi lot.

Blogs on Tape - Nick Whelan of Papers and Pencils + guest voices read good OSR blogposts.

Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur - Actual rocket scientists talks about science and futurism. Has been a massive influence in a lot of my Mothership stuff (all those O'Neill cylinders!)

Tides - Exploring biologist is stranded on a planet with incredible tides and bizarre life. Good stuff.

Mission to Zyxx - Goofy sci-fi improv. Delivers on that premise. Does not add additional premises.

Limetown - Creepy modern horror by way of NPR. The second season isn't as good as the first and I wonder if they got too big for their britches with that TV show, but the first season is sterling stuff.

S-Town - The story of a clock repairman in a shitty little town in the south.  I actually thought this was fictional for over half of the runtime - it was so idiosyncratic that it just had to be fiction, or so claimed my mind.

Knifepoint Horror - The one horror anthology that is actually an anthology, as I don't think there's an actual throughline on any of these episodes. This is probably part of why i recall enjoying them, but can't remember the contents.

Sayer - Menacing, smooth-voiced AI runs rampant in a decaying R&D arcology tower on Earth's second moon. i stopped listening because the audio mixing was really weird - this 'cast was very quiet compared to everything else, or was it the other way around? Either way, it is pretty fun.

Apocrypals - So how much do you know about Biblical apocrypha? Not enough. Get you some fire-breathing Mary and Solomon meeting the butt-stuff dragon and Thecla the lightning-mage. Contains all the dunking on Paul you want and need in your life.

Nightmare Magazine Podcast - I am a huge coward so "Dan stopped listening midway through the episode because spooky" is not partiocularly shocking, but consider the number of horror podcasts on this list that I listen to and am just fine with. This is the good shit.

LeVar Burton Reads - It's Reading Rainbow for adults. As one might expect, Burton pulls from an wonderful and diverse pool of authors and features some great sci-fi and fantasy picks.

The Signal - A good hook (alien transmission that drives people mad! It's leaking!) that goes nowhere fast and devolves into nothing at the end.

99% Invisible - Another oddity podcast. Not as funny as Fish or as charming as Closet, but good stuff all the same.

Gastropod - Food science! Food history! Food fun! Learn what a pawpaw is!

The Allusionist -  Words are weird, come on and learn how weird they are.

nosleep - It's stories from r/nosleep. It'll work if you are desperate and need to brute-force pass some time, but every single other horror podcast I list here will be better. 

Alzabo Soup - Devoted entirely to the works of Gene Wolfe. Absolutely indispensable as a reading aid if you are tackling the Book of the New Sun.

VAST Horizon - Five hours of a woman sobbing, with intermittent untranslated Chinese. Suffers from flashbacks more interesting than the survival scenario at hand, really handwavy science, and a main character who has the audacity to throw a pity-party despite being a war criminal.

--

Stay tuned for the inevitable Son of the Son of the Podcast Post, releasing 20XX.



Monday, November 18, 2019

Dan Reviews Books, Part 3

 Part 1 and Part 2

Who Fears Death and Binti, Nnedi Okorafor

I am pairing these books together because both of them commit the same sin that makes me unlikely to recommend them to folks: overwhelming protagonist-centered morality in two terrible varieties.

Binti has the "character who is responsible for murdering dozens of people in a terrorist attack is now best friends with the main character, who was present during the attack, mind you, and no permanent consequences happen despite there being over a hundred people dead".

Who Fears Death has the "in order to defeat the murderous rapist warlord villain, the main character unleashes a spell that...murders the entire male population of a city-state and impregnates all the women, but she's still totally a savior figure guys please don't think about the horrific consequences of what she just did" thing going on.

The two combined really put me off reading more of Okorafor's stuff in the future.

Autonomous, Annalee Newitz

Also in the category of "wow the morality here is kinda fucked up because the consequences get sidelined", we have Autonomous. To whit: the main antagonist is a man who sees absolutely nothing wrong with murdering and torturing people over copyright infringement. The majority of his arc is about his sexual desire for his robot companion. Fair and fine. Then he gets a happy ending and it really doesn't seem like one of those "evil goes unpunished, the world is unfair and horrible" deals. All the heinous shit he does over the course of the book is effectively dropped and ignored. He gets to go to Mars and fuck his robot.

Otherwise: prose certainly could use more polish, the ideas are great for Mothership theft, and the character with the clearest arc and the most action in solving the conflict of the story isn't the main character, but should have been, least of all for being an autonomous android. You know, like what the book is titled after.


The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickenson 

This is a book about the brutal grinding machinery of empire and it is exactly as soul-crushing as that entails.I love it. I love how a quarter of the way through I realized that the main character was in over her head and didn't realize it. It's properly tragic. Properly terrifying, too: the Masquerade doesn't need superweapons, they make do just fine with paper money and guns, and alchemy and eugenics and the total erasure of responsibility.

It's haunting. Super high recommendation.

Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson

DNF at pg 58/572

Now, I might return to this in the future. Possibly. But a dry opening wasn't cutting it for me at the time and I would like to take the time to say that hard sci-fi should be eminently weird, on the grounds that reality is weird. This book is not weird. I hunger for the novel.

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

A short, evocative story of a girl who grows up constantly under the threat of doppelgangers showing up and trying to kill her any time she bleeds. Overall quite strong over its 60-some pages, save one little segment that sort-of-but-not-quite-it's-probably-inaccurate gives a possible explanation near the end. Most of the quite strong parts come from the "there is no explanation this is just how things are and it is spooky" aspect, so even a probably-wrong explanation is a momentary stumble.

Please Pass the Guilt, Rex Stout

My first (well, not counting the radio serial I have been listening to) foray into my father's favorite detective series. A nifty little learning experience. I think I am much more favorably-inclined towards detective potboilers over fantasy or sci-fi - they're a comfortable shape you can settle into that presents a detective with a gimmick and a clever puzzle (this one was "a bomb in an office goes off and kills a man...but not the man whose office it was. Who even was the target?") to mull over. I've not got the skills to pick out all the clues and tie them together on my own, so sometimes it felt like logic was being stretched, but overall an enjoyable romp.

Abhorsen, Garth Nix

As with the preceding two installments, I love it. Everything said there applies here. It wraps up Lirael nicely, and is a wonderful showcase of what you can do when breaking from Generic Fantasy Aesthetic. My comparison to FMA continues apace with one sequence in particular even getting the soundtrack thrown in, just for being a fullblown Fullmetal Alchemist Moment (ie: the protagonists have executed a clever plan that you the reader were not aware of, usually involving the drawing together of disparate characters)

The only weak points of note are the villains, who are dreadfully one-dimensional, and the fact that the moment of greatest emotional catharsis is not the actual end of the book and we've still got nearly fifty pages left.

The Interface Series, 9Mother9Horse9Eyes9

This is some straight up outsider art here. Top-tier horror bearing no resemblance to anything but itself (and the added bonus of having an initial dissemination that was creepy-in-itself and a solid Fredrik Knudsen video on it), and then it does that thing that most but not all internet horror series do, which is disappear right up its own asshole. It reminds me of House of Leaves to that extent - frontloaded with scary shit that' sticks with you and ending the show with some sort of wonky journey of self-discovery and addiction recovery. Don't get me wrong, this thing is brutal and powerful with the whole "alcoholism will fuck you up" thing but I was here for enigmatic fragmentary bits of MKULTRA messing around with flesh interfaces. That's where the power is. The  metafictional nonsense that leaks in is inexcusable.

Why the author decided to go with a publisher instead of just hiring an editor and self-publishing is a question that baffles me to no end. The revised version has been delayed long enough with no news of substance that I consider it dead in the water. A shame.


The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov

In progress, pg 218/335

This is a very dense book. It's a very Russian book. It is a very good book. I can't recall any book in recent memory that had this sort of mastery of language and comedic timing, but here we are. If you can settle into the groove it bursts to life and then doesn't stop. It overflows, it sings, it swings. And not just with funny wordplay and irony, but actual slapstick and physical comedy. It's got everything you'd want in a farce about Satan bringing chaos to Moscow.

The background of the book itself is also worth some special note: it wasn't published until 26 years after Bulgakov's death, and even then in a censored version that was not repaired until even later The book has outlived its creator and the state that tried to destroy it.

Go read books that authoritarians want to burn, is what I am saying.



Sunday, November 17, 2019

Pandeimos - A New New Crobuzon

So Jack and Anne brought up this old post on Discord with talk of making a blog challenge. Some other people have done it too, listed here.


When Terror Came


Pandeimos is a city that would have been a killing blow. It was the vanguard of Vastoprian's colonial invasion force, prepared to strip the savanna bare, blacken the bay with industrial filth, and tidily clear living space with alchemically-engineered plagues. Would have been. Its distant imperial parent collapsed less than a decade after its founding, when the Red Leviathan rose from the ocean and the Five-Nation Alliance swept in from the northeast with its own armies. There hasn't been any official contact since then. The few refugees are tight-lipped about what happened.

Pandeimos is a half-finished city. Without additional supplies from Vastoprian, and with all the imperial contract-mages dead in the riots, the brutal black metal buildings typical of the empire were not able to complete their growth. The factories are stunted, the walls incomplete, the soldier-hives too cramped to function. The other half - the characteristic stone buildings with high-peaked red-gold tiled roofs, built in tiers along the hillside - comes from the colonists, mostly Binni-Tadhi who had been forcibly relocated after their country was flooded by dam construction.

Three Humanoid Minorities



  • Illumian - The scribal caste, intended as functionaries and bureaucrats within the empire's vast offices and as assistants to its contracted mages. They are the chief controllers and practitioners of literacy (for the empire took care to render comprehension of unspelled writing impossible, and this taboo remains in effect post-independence). There aren't, unfortunately, enough of them to safely maintain the structure of the city over a long period of time. Cracks are already starting to form as the paperwork piles up.

  • Mul - The slave caste of Vastoprian. Whenever a conquered population was considered too intractable, they were thrown in with the criminals and domestic dissidents and bred with the last remnants of the dwarven mead-unions to birth those who would carry the empire upon their backs. There are no words to express the hatred within the hearts of those muted multitudes, and so it has been expressed in the form of a god. A dark and venge-full thing served by the warlocks trained in those darkened slave-pits and factories.

  • Gnoll - The first waves of plague wiped out a quarter of the population and drove the survivors deep into the savanna. Those that live in the city now are here because there is little choice - the plague is still out there, as is starvation and warfare. That the city is technically free of its parent empire is meaningless to them, as the damage has already been done. The Reform Party, still in power but only tenuously after the most recent elections, has made a platform of outreach and repatriation to the gnolls, but progress has been slow.



Other Beings


  • Giant Sea Urchin - A common pest in the city. All that's needed is moisture and refuse, and the city has plenty. They will affix themselves to walls, fill up alleyways, cling to eaves and doorframes. They're decent eating if you can get past the spines - the homeless of Pandeimos form hunting parties nearly every day, and the government sets aside a small amount of cash to repay them for pest removal.

  • Stitched Devil - Vastoprian, for all its advantages, was never particularly skilled at demonology. Their contract-mages were persistent, though. Their summonings failed catastrophically, splattering infernal viscera all over as the summoned beings burst apart due to differences in pressure and atmosphere. What parts could be recovered were bathed in alchemical reagents and stitched together into something that passed for a functioning whole, though what resulted was hardly capable of imparting knowledge or writing up contracts. After the contract-mages were all hung in Baker's Square, their experiments vanished into the winding side streets where the sun never shines, living off of stray cats and the thin miasma of sin given off by petty thieves and adulterers.

  • Gargoyle - A resurgent remnant of Binni-Tadhi religious practice that the empire was not able to snuff out. The statues are appointed with bundles of dried herbs and sacred dyes and made vessels of the spirits of the family ancestors. From their perches on the roof they keep watch out for burglars and snatchgrabber ghosts. They cannot speak, but there is a familiarity that can't be precisely named - it is as if a beloved grandparent is asleep in the next room. Those who lose their family will search out another household to carry out the rites, and the mourning cries of these lost creatures trickle through the dark hours of the night.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Original, Simple, Ready to Hack

The bloated ourobouros that is The Discourse (TM) has slouched towards Bethlehem once again, nibbling at its tail. This has inspired me to do the smart intensely stupid thing of distancing myself from it interacting with it. I have thrown my hat in the ring, to be gobbled up by the mindless many-mouthed colossus.

PART 1: Dandy's Eightfold Path


OSR games are...

  • Original -The game content setting and rules are novel and/or shares lineage with variants of the OD&D ruleset. It is not required that both of these be active simultaneously.
  • Simple - The core rules are easy to explain and learn. They can be understood easily by new players, children, drunkards, and the occasional very clever dog.
  • Ready to Hack  - The game is modular, so it is trivial to change rules, add mechanics, make substitutions, and otherwise incredibly easy to make your own material.

The act of play is...

  • Organic - The story and world are emergent, coming into being during the act of play. Random tables, player input, whim + foppery, and chains of consequences all play into this.
  • Skill-Based - A player's skill at navigating problems with novel solutions is worth more than the character's mechanical skills. Unorthodoxy is rewarded.
  • Reactive - The world of the game is not static, nor does it conform to a set of genre expectations. It exists outside of the players and reacts to their actions. Consequences are enforced.

And finally, the most important...

  • Make Cool Shit - You know that cool shit you want to exist but doesn't? Make it. Make it yours. Make it the coolest shit you can make. Life is too short to wait to let other people make  shit you think is cool.
  • Fuck the Man - The Man is not your real dad and therefore cannot tell you what to do. Your own real dad can only offer polite suggestions on what you should do, if he is a cool dude. Submit to no authority. Silence brands. Publicly humiliate Nazis. Murder the gods and topple their thrones.

PART 2: SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT


The Discourse (TM) tends to go something like this: A person outside the OSR noosphere has a brush with some of the unpleasant elements of the scene, makes some broad statements on twitter, everyone gets all up in a huff and spends the next few days wondering if we should even use the term anymore and how to deal with the shitheads who are tramping around and what even is this OSR stuff anyway when we get down to it and a few people distance themselves from the label and then we all forget about it and we go back to normal for the next two months.

I hate this cycle so, so much. I hate it because it's stupid and I hate it because arguments over the precise nature and definition of what is and isn't OSR are precisely as stupid as similar arguments about science fiction. All broad categories contain multitudes of variation within them, so the idea of talking about the OSR or science fiction as if either is a singular thing is a very silly bit of reductionism.

So I propose this: there are schools of the OSR as there are schools of wizardy or schools of philosophy or schools of sci-fi. There can be no "true OSR", because purity is a lie unbefitting an entropic universe.

All of these are malleable, shifting, overlapping, intermingling, and otherwise inconstant. A single person can and will be a member of multiple schools at a time and can shift between them according to both time and specific projects. There are certainly schools I have left out. They are all subjective, except for the Regressive Wanker School.

  • Retroclone School - Focused upon games that revise and repackage OD&D, B/X, etc, without major additions or modifications. Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
  • Regressive Wanker School - Those who spend far more of their time complaining about SJWs and/or storygames and being unpleasant to be around than creating cool shit. Love playing victim and proclaiming over-inflated self-importance. Pundit, Venger, Zak.
  • Goblin School -The very particular flavor of weird originating with Arnold K. Includes anyone who plays around with the GLOG and I lump most bloggers with their own bespoke weird-takes-on-vanilla-fantasy settings here.
  • DREAM School - Hybrid school experimenting with storygame elements. Lightweight, personal, Itch.io and Twitter based. More of an inclusive social contract than a specific set of dev guidelines, but many DREAM games share the similar traits listed.
  • Dog Knight School - Grotty, cynical, gross, decadent, obscene. Eat trash do crimes. Fuck the Man. If Fiona Geist likes it, it's probably Dog Knight.
  • Light and Cozy School - Light and comfy games with a lot of influences from fairytales, cartoons, and JRPGs. BREAK! is the poster child. Counterbalance to Dog Knight.
  • New School Old School - OSR attitudes towards play but sprouting off into complete new rulesets and genres. Mothership, Maze Rats & Knave, Esoteric Enterprises, TROIKA!.
  • Hardcore Artcore School - People who get really artsy and out there. Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess.
  • Orbital School - People who don't identify with OSR as a label but the games they make and their styles of play fit right in.
  • Fiver School - Folks who do mostly 5e (or close to it) stuff, but they still have the energy to them. Jack Shear and Kiel Chenier.
  • The Generally Cool School - Individuals who are off doing their own thing and killing it.
  • FLAILSNAIL School - The "who cares do whatever" school of gonzo, as spearheaded by Jeff Rients. Anything goes, everything is cross-compatible.
  • The Big Time School - Games that have broken out into the big leagues (or what we have of them). DCC and Shadow of the Demon Lord.
  • Alignments are for Suckers School - For those who neither have nor want a school. Rock on, people.
I'd say I am a Goblin-NSOS friendly to the ideas of DREAM and dipping a bit into Dog Knight when the mood strikes me.

(Have you got others? I probably missed a lot. Drop 'em in the comments)

PART 3:  What Follows

Where do we go from here? Wherever we want to. I'll be damned if I hand over the reins to the Regressive Wanker School, and I'll likewise be damned if I sit still and let good folks doing a great job out there get painted with a broad, dismissive brush.

And I'll be damned triply if I let The Discourse (TM) show it's ugly mug on this blog in the future. 

I solved the problem we can all go home.

BONUS: DISC HORSE


Oh god what the fuck. Why is it circular. What did you do to this horse. It is like a plate on its rim, with horse legs around the edge. Too many legs. Why does it have so many legs. No I will not look into its horrible horse eyes, the horse eyes that beg for death no I will not listen to the pitiful whinnies that plead for mercy. What has happened to this horse.

God has abandoned us.

Appearance: As a creature vaguely-resembling but no longer in practice a horse.
Attacks: Trampling hooves. Medium damage 1-4 strikes
Armor: Only speed grants it defense from the blades it deserves
# Appearing: 1. There is only ever 1.

All Will Shudder and Collapse With Trembling: Witnessing the DISC HORSE is an immediate will check to avoid panicking (fight/flight/freeze response)

Abomination in the Eyes of God and Science: Simply being in the presence of the DISC HORSE will give all magic a 33% chance of failure with a terrible blowback (roll for mutation!) This applies also to magical devices, electronic devices, and anything involving gunpowder or internal combustion.

Even the Angels Are Afraid: A DISC HORSE will immediately throw any angels, demons, elementals, chaos-spawn, or lawful adjudicators into a panic. Beings of singular essence cannot handle this horrific bullshit.

Love Will Not Save Us: If someone should deliver a blow that drives the DISC HORSE below 1/2 HP, it will make a beeline towards whatever that person holds dear and attempt to destroy it utterly. It is very fast. Despair means that it does not tire.

FUCKING BUER: If the DISC HORSE is captured and Buer is summoned in the same location, they shall form the damnable artifact THE BICYCLE OF WOE. If this does not kick off the apocalypse, it means that God truly is dead and the heavens are empty.