Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Expanded Pantheon Generator

The Manse has a really good pantheon generator. I'm adding some modifications.

One of the primary changes is the idea of Moiety. Gods can either be Hot (active, chaotic, expansive, passionate) or Cold (passive, orderly, controlled, introspective). You can only have viable godly offspring between gods of different moieties (I mean, it's possible to get double hot and double cold, but that's where you get legendary monsters) - the god's typical physical representation has nothing to do with it.

Honestly, this should probably be called the Big Old Divine Clusterfuck Generator.


Where Did They Come From? (d6)

  1. Born of primordial being, usurped it.
  2. Born of corpse of primordial being.
  3. Crawled out of chaotic nothingness.
  4. Did not form, have always been there.
  5. Nobody knows, nobody really cares.
  6. Some fanciful and clearly false story.
  7. Some fanciful and very true story.
  8. Existence unproven, only surmised.

The Godhead (d8)

Who is at the center of the pantheon?
  1. Monadic - A single being or force from which all others spawn. Both Hot and Cold.
  2. Duality - Two complimentary and/or rival beings 1 Hot, 1 Cold.
  3. Tripartite - Three equal beings (or trinitarian aspects). 1 Hot, 1 Cold, 1 Both or 3 Both.
  4. Quartet - Two pairs of Hot and Cold
  5. Five Powers - Either 2 Hot + 2 Cold + 1 Both or 5 Both
  6. The Hextet - Three pairs of Hot and Cold 
  7. Absent - The throne is empty. Begin with the 1st Generation
  8. Distributed - There is no central authority. Begin with the 1st Generation + 1d3 gods.
For the 1st generation of gods, roll 1d6+2 for each pairing. You can do this once and split them between the entire godhead, or once for each pairing among them.

For the 2nd generation, roll 1d3-1 for each pairing

For the 3rd generation, roll 1d2 -1 for each pairing.

The 4th generation, should you choose to go that far, cannot have offspring. This is because they are celestial Hapsbrugs if you are playing with high Hellenistic ick, and it's indicative of a major cultural shift if you are playing without Hellenistic ick.

If you would like to avoid Hellenistic ick in your pantheon, choose one (or more as needed) member of pairings that got  and declare them to be an Old God (that is, one of the gods from the culture that was here before the current main culture.)

If you want to get real extreme, start over with a new godhead and pantheon once you hit the stopping point. Gods have a base 40% of getting killed off, increasing if...
  • Their moiety is weak (+10%)
  • They are of third or fourth generation (+10%)
  • Their domain is culturally or politically specific.(+10%)
  • They are part of the godhead (+30%)
  • Draw 3 tarot - these aspects (upright or reversed) are considered unfavorable by the new culture (+10%)
Those that survive will be renamed and married into the new pantheon.

Typical Representation (d8)

Gods being gods, gender is more of a vague suggestion wafted in their general direction.
  1. Male
  2. Male
  3. Female
  4. Female
  5. Androgynous
  6. Both: Male and female portrayals.
  7. Both: Male and female features.
  8. Nonhumanoid

Moiety (d6)

Strong-embodiment gods will, as a rule, be more active and widely worshiped than weak-aspect gods.
  1. Hot (Strong)
  2. Hot (Weak)
  3. Cold (Strong)
  4. Cold (Weak)
  5. Both (Strong)
  6. Both (Weak)

Primary Relationship (d12)

This is where everything becomes an actual, ridiculous mess. What you want to do is...
  • Pair off all compatible gods
  • Roll for each relationship
  • Adjust if you get rolls that entail additional parties
  • For additional parties, number compatible gods and roll accordingly.
  • Single gods may have 1 offspring via divine mitosis.

I am so terribly sorry for the shitshow that is going to be unleashed.
  1. One-Time Fling: -2 offspring
  2. Good terms with ex: Normal offspring
  3. Passionate Lovers: +1 offspring
  4. Bitter Rivals: -1 offspring
  5. Slept Around: Offspring split between 2d3 compatible partners (round down if lovers > offspring)
  6. Open: +1d3 gods join, + 2 offspring split between compatible pairings.
  7. Married (Dedicated): Normal offspring roll.
  8. Married (Unhappy party): -1 offspring, 1d4 bastards by other god(s)
  9. Married (Mutual Beards): Both get normal offspring rolls with other compatible gods.
  10. Mentor / Apprentice: Secret romance. Normal offspring roll.
  11. All by design: Single designer offspring
  12. Asexual: 0 offspring, 50% of romantic partner.
  13. Same result twice in a row: Taboo - must be with god of same moiety. -1 offspring. Produces monsters.

Divine Domains (Tarot Draw + 1d4)


Alternate domains 1: Roll on the Manse table and use the tarot card for flavor

Alternate domains 2: Choose 1 from each category.



UprightReversed
0. Fool
1. Travel1. Fools
2. Messages2. Transitions
3. Youth3. The Trickster
4. Discovery4. The Stranger
I. Magician
1. Knowledge1. Hubris
2. Invention2. Dark Arts
3. Magic3. Gateways
4. Inspiration4. Science / Alchemy
II. High Priestess
1. Witchcraft1. Cats
2. The Old Gods2. Autumn
3. Mystics3. Poetry
4. Memory4. Truth
III. Empress
1. Motherhood1. Beauty
2. Fertility2. Harvest
3. Abundance3. The Hearth
4. The Earth4. Diplomacy
IV. Emperor
1. Kings1. Tyranny
2. Authority2. Warfare
3. Fatherhood3. Cities
4. Law4. The Nobility
V. Heirophant
1. Guilds1. Government Office
2. Tradition2. Tax Collectors
3. Ritual Magic3. Charity
4. Sacrifice4. Priests
VI. Lovers
1. Love1. Lust
2.Sex2. Music
3. Fertility3. The Arts
4. Marriage4. Spring
VII. Chariot
1. Horses1. Warfare (Mounted)
2. The Hunt2. Sloth
3. Transportation3. Lost Things
4. Roads4. Sailors
VIII. Strength
1. Protection1. Soldiers
2. Athletes2.War
3. Self-Improvement3.Glory
4. Forge 4. Weaponry
IX. Hermit
1. Silence1. Healing
2. Reflection2. Winter
3. The Inner Life3. Isolation
4. Books4. Hedge Magic
X. Wheel of Fortune
1. Chance1. The Seasons
2. Good Fortune 2. Bad Fortune
3. Divination3. The Marketplace
4. Debt4. The Inevitable
XI. Justice
1. Justice1. Injustice
2. Law2. Poverty
3. Peace3. Nightwatchmen
4. Hospitality4. Lawyers
XII. Hanged Man
1. Criminals1. Fear
2. Law2. Thieves
3. Repentance3. Commoners
4. Imprisonment4. Freedom
XIII. Death
1. Death (Incarnate)1. Murder
2. Death (Psychopomp)2. Grief
3. The Underworld3. Loss
4. Funeral Rites4. Disease
XIV. Temperance
1. Balance1. Wealth
2. Virtue2. Gluttony
3. Rationality3. Alcohol
4. Old Age4. Self-destruction
XV. Devil
1. Demons1. Enslavement
2. Corruption2. Dark Arts
3. Addiction3. Destruction
4. Heresy4. Sin
XVI. Tower
1. Chaos1. Destruction
2. Change2. Disaster
3. Craft3. The Ancients
4. The Sky4. Construction
XVII. Star
1. The Stars1. The Unknown
2. Time2. Distant Lands
3. Hope3. Pestilence
4. Imagination4. Omens
XVIII. Moon
1. The Moon1. Madness
2. Secrets2. Blood
3. Magic3. Monsters
4. The Night4. Dreams
XIX. Sun
1. The Sun1. Blindness
2. Light2. Drought
3. Fire3. The Day
4. The Forge4. Summer
XX. Judgment
1. Justice1. Punishment
2. Repentance2. Assumption
3. Forgiveness3. Ignorance
4. Law4. Guilt / Shame
XXI. World
1. The World (In totality)1. Animals
2. Nature2. Rebirth
3. The Ocean3. Eternity
4. The Cosmos4. Other Worlds

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The War of the Bull and the Sable Maid

Maxim Kozlov

Forward

This post involves a whole lot of references to a whole lot of other stuff from my Mother Stole Fire setting, and I forgot to add links to it the first time around, so if you aren't familiar here's all the pertinent info.

The Red Machine

"The principle act of power is to devour that which cannot defend itself from power."
-  Potbelly Hill Sermon II

It is possible to optimize the universe for human suffering. A seed of the Red Law that, fed with gold and watered with blood, will grow in the hearts of men until the answer is made clear: the precise formula that will create a cruel machine that cannot end, that will grow without ceasing until it has devoured the cosmos and in eternity, that will extinguish all opposition and gather all things to itself until each atom is devoted to the principle act of power, and there it shall sustain itself eternally and the power of the machine shall be absolute.

This is how Hell is built.

The Coming of Dis

 "What's the phrase that everyone uses? Slouching towards us to be born?"
-Raggedy Osti, witch; Oral Histories of the Maid's War vol. I

The combination of chaos and wealth is fertile soil for the emergence of Hell. Coreolana had always been wealthy, but in the decades that lead up to the plague it had grown obscenely so - its location on the western coast gave it access to every port on the Mare Interregnum, and it came to outclass the older and greater cities.

The first changes were slow. Laws were adjusted, exceptions were made, and the wealth was concentrated among a few. Then came ideas on how to gain more wealth. To optimize for wealth. The dread equations were written out, and the pasty men of account books and sharpened pens saw in them the glimmer of the Red Law.


The poor of the city were funneled into the irons shells of the dark satanic mills, and in the shadowed center of the city there was built the Bull

And thus emerged the city of Dis.

This could not have happened at a worse time for the world: The Empire was well into the senile decline of all empires - a useless emperor and an endlessly feuding aristocratic oligarchy crown fat and complacent on their riches, the cruelty of empire only sharpened by their incompetence and utterly incapable of bringing even the Heartland to heel, let alone distant Coreolana.

Doddering Acephavara, slowly collapsing from generations of structural and societal neglect, was already more ruin than nation. A toothless object of pity.

Kvaare was in the grips of the Golden Revolution that would claim a tenth of the population before the plague even reached its shores. 

Pelai's mage-kings had dissolved their ancient compact and each was at the throats of the others, and their southern neighbors feared an arcane war spilling over down into Andaland.

With the powers of the day so consumed, Dis could see no resistance.

Gambargin

The Maid


She was fourteen when the visions began. This was in the early days of the plague; before the greater outbreak, before the death of the emperor or Dis' strike into the Low Country. She was tending her family's goats in the early morning when the image of Ama Adimatha and Baba Tubalkhan appeared to her, telling her that the plague would not be contained in Olabeth and that Hell would ride out of the west unchallenged should nothing be done, and together those forces would usher in an age of Moloch that would last long past the death of the last star in the sky.

The next morning she took her father's old sword and the family's old pony, and rode off to Orlei to speak with the king. 

The early days are often mythologized and embellished, but the actual events remain rather mundane: she was shuffled between and repeatedly dismissed by Orleian authorities for several weeks (which she spent living in the upper loft of the stable where she found work mucking out the horses) before she found a sympathetic ear in a minor government minister, which led to a meeting with a less-minor minister, and so on and so on until she reached the king. The conversations she had with him were secret, but a few days later it seemed that he had been convinced - she had been made a tactical advisor of the main Orlei militia force with the king's blessing.

She was often questioned about the validity of her visions early on, as many presumed she was mad or lying. While the visions could not be proven, her account was consistent in all of her tellings, as was her defense of her mental state: if she was mad, she would have spoken of glory or honor or service or sacrifice, and had she been lying she would have done the same. No one attempting to mislead others would be honest about the cost of warfare.

The goatherd's daughter from a poor country township proved to be a skilled stateswoman and master tactician. She had the ear and favor of the king, true, but more importantly she was beloved by the people. Her vocal denouncement of imperial occupation, the imperial church, and the institution of slavery won her allies across the High Countries and the Dayr, but it was her charisma, kindness, and quiet piety that truly won them over. They made her their champion, the embodiment of all the dreams and desires that had languished under years of Imperial occupation. They called her the Sable Maid for her habit of dressing all in black, and the first women who would eventually become in the order devoted to her took up her banner in the slums and townships of Orlei.

With such infectious support, she was swiftly transitioned from militia advisor to the leader of her own autonomous army.

When the plague arrived later that year and Dis made its first attacks, Orlei and the High Countries were prepared.

The War of the Bull

"To the gates! To the gates! Tear them from their hinges!"
- Battle cry of the Army of the Avirienne
 
It would be over fifteen years of war before the Maid laid her eyes on the gates of Hell. It was a war of many wars, a time of plague and famine and violence all across the world, but the greatest part of it was fought in the Low Countries by the forces under the Maid's direct control.

Dis was, for all its power, vulnerable. While it possessed the strongest industry, the most powerful machines and beasts of war, demonic auxiliaries, and the support of the Lords of Hell and their servants, it lacked raw manpower and resources. Its original strategy - lightning capture and conversion of nearby city-states - was frustrated by the coordinated resistance spearheaded by the Maid, and so Hell's hold over the Low Countries remained unstable throughout the war

Some modern observers will gloss over the fact that it took 15 years for the combined military forces of nearly every civilization in the world just to stall out, not conquer, a single city-state. This is dangerous folly: Had Dis been able to convert a single other city there would have been no stopping it, even with the Sable Maid.

Dis' grander strategy involved a series of minor invasions and expeditionary forces around the Mare Interregnum - purposefully too small to permanently conquer any territory, these fleets were intended as suicide rushes to destabilize those civilizations and make a foothold for a later wave of troops. The resistances against these attacks, particularly in Reniriya and Andaland, are no less heroic than the Maid's own, and worthy of every praise given to them.

Mariana G

The Last March 

"Cloth banner of the Army of the Avirienne, handmade. Party per pale argent and sable. Words "Les portes de leurs charni√®res" embroidered in gold. Recovered from the battlefield at Old Seminary Bridge (Victory of 5th Infantry and 1st Artillery against unidentified detachment of Tax Lads). Carrier unidentified: remains found at site indicate child of 10-14 years. Remains cremated upon recovery with highest honors." 
- Informational Plaque, Royal War Museum, Orlei

A final approach across the devastated Low Countries was against the harshest resistance Dis had put up since the war began. With its overseas invasions thwarted, Dis put all of its remaining industry toward breaking the Maid's assault. It was this period that saw multiple Lords of Hell emerged from the city to lead its armies directly, several of whom proved major obstacles to the Maid's armies.

Despite the resistance, the armies of the Maid had the advantage of experience: Hell's forces were primarily pit-manufactured and mass-produced, and demons are unceasingly single-minded and incapable of change. The Maid's forces had fought the same enemy through fifteen years, passing accumulated mastery on to the successive waves of fresh recruits. This continuity, despite the incredible casualties, proved decisive in this stage most of all, and lead to the death of a full third of the known Lords that had taken to the field.

In the hindsight of history, this is the part that shines brightest: triumphant armies under a dozen banners liberating long-tortured territory. Former enemies made the closest of allies. The maid riding at the head of a column representing all the peoples and nations of the world, unified against the only true enemy.

The Siege of Hell

"They burnt everything behind them as they retreated. Stripped the fields bare, poisoned the wells, dumped corpses in the rivers. You could go days before without seeing a tree, and when you finally did it was a half-petrified, stunted little thing. The soil was just dead, grey gravel...and then we hit the trenches. Miles and miles of trenches and stakes. The closer we crawled to the city the worse it got. The sky grew darker, red-black - by the time we reached sight of the walls it was dark as night at noontime."
- Berenius Colm, 47th Infantry Division; Oral Histories of the Maid's War vol. XV

The assault on Dis came first from the sea, as the naval allies from Pelai, and Amda (and one lone Acephavaran vessel), fresh off their victories in the Belt, blockaded the began their bombardment of the city's southern and western walls. The land armies approaching from the north and east were forced to fight-trench-by trench on approach to the city. The Dispaterian forces had been routed, but they were cornered and desperate now. At times the fighting reached the foundations of the walls themselves.

The bombardment, despite lasting until most units had run out of ammunition, failed to open a breach into the city. As the pressure lessened, counter-attacks out of the city became more frequent, now consisting almost entirely of demons (throughout the war, demonic forces had exclusively served as auxiliaries to the Dispaterian legions). These strikes culminated in a massive demonic assault that would have easily broken through the eastern line, were it not for the last-minute arrival of desperately-needed reinforcements in the form of Themiskyran heavy cavalry, the Magelander airship Ineffable Punch Line Wonderland, and the Sable Maid herself.

The victory was short lived. Control of the battlefield had just been taken back by the Maid's forces when the cannon-scarred gates of hell opened, and the world stood still.

Darvatius Takes the Field

"History is divided from archaeology by which side of Darvatius it happened to land."
- Dr. Understanding Pre-Imperial Civilizations

Out from the gates strides Darvatius the Eternal, unseen since the ancient days. Perfector of the art of empire, conqueror of the world, the hobnailed boot upon the neck. Primarch of the Lords of Hell, the red right hand of Moloch. He is flanked by an honor guard of demons that are like the riders of white horses, whose six red eyes are inscribed with victory and who are arrayed in purple and scarlet. Before him marches a legion of long-hollow husks in rusted segmentata. The emperor of old rises above all - a cinder-skinned giant in soot-tarnished musculata, arrayed in all his arms and armor and wreathed with the sickly orange fire of his master's furnace.

The Maid gives the command to fall back to the trenches. Soldiers scramble to reform the line behind her. A mage signals to the Ineffable to pull out and aid the fight at the north wall.

She will meet him there alone, smeared in the mud and blood and shit and sludge of the battlefield. Her body aches, half for the trials of her war and half from the knowledge that the end is here.

One way or another.

She raises her sword in challenge: Her father's old blade shattered years ago: Joyeux Deum is of amazonian make, the finest damascan steel. It shimmers in the dim light of the polluted air.

We do not know what she said in that moment; only that Darvatius did not deign to answer. But with a motion to his attendants, he sends them to form silent ranks behind him. Hell's half of the audience.

The maid of Orlei is separated from the former emperor of all the earth by a few paces of burnt and lifeless soil.

It is as if the entire cosmos balances on a fulcrum in the space between them.

And in an instant

the

gap

closes

Darvatius has the upper hand from the beginning: he is larger, stronger, and untiring, while she has been ground down by march and siege and half a life spent at war. But she burns with the fervored purpose reserved for those who have found the singular point in time and space where they belong.

She has prepared herself for this moment since that morning in the pasture.

But righteousness alone does not grant victory, certainly not when fighting a living god. Her shield crumples and is tossed to the dust.  The Emperor's strikes toss and batter her, a cat playing with food. She has pushed herself beyond what any could hope to bear, and it shows in the slowing of her movements, the sluggishness creeping into her strikes. She has kept his blade from her longer than any opponent has...

All the same, his spear finds her side.

With a terrible wet sound he draws it out, and shakes the blood of the maid of Orlei on the ground.


Crown of Fire 

"The principle act of love is to resist power, and in resisting it turn it aside where it may starve."
- Potbelly Hill Sermon II

There is a silence.

The Eternal Emperor stands over the crumpled body of a goatherd. The men and women in the trenches grip their swords and rifles tight as panic spreads among them, and fear roots them to the dirty.

They will be next, and there are only moments to decide if it will be buy the Emperor's hand or their own. 

And then...

The Maid...

She has gotten back up.

She is holding on to her guts with one hand. Her other grips the hilt of a chipped and filthy sword, whose point is buried in the Emperor's chest.

She is aflame.


There is fire in her eyes. There is fire spilling forth from her lips. It fills the air around her like liquid gold, licking at the fringes of her surcoat. She is radiant as the sun, as the Painted Ones of long ago who learned at Mother's knee.

There is a crown of fire upon her brow. 

She has struck a blow on Darvatius the Eternal, whom no sword can touch nor spear injure!

She tears out Joyeux Deum in a spray of black, and taking it in two hands, hacks at the reeling Emperor. Joyeux Deum is but a sharp chunk of metal, and she the hand that crudely strikes it against rotten meat. She is screaming, and if there are words at all within her cry they are the words of a million ghosts reaching up from their graves, taking hold of the justice denied them.

The trench lines are in chaos: soldiers are shouting, singing, weeping. The cry goes up: "Death to the emperor! End the Eternal! From their hinges, from their hinges, the gates from their hinges!"

Darvatius' giant form drops to his knees, then to the ground, hardly recognizable for the mutilation delivered upon it. But he is not yet dead, and the sword has become too heavy for the Maid to lift.

She staggers back a step, another. Her sword drops to the dust from fingers that will not work and an arm that will not obey. The fire pouring out of her flickers, dims, gutters, fades. For a moment there is only, and a moment later there is not even that, as the last light goes out of her eyes.

She had sworn long ago that, so long as she still drew breath, she would not stop until she had thrown open the gates of Hell and torn Moloch from his furnace-faced throne by her bare and bloodied hands.

She died not a hundred feet from the gate.

The Aftermath


What else can be said? This was the killing blow. The retreat was sounded, barely ahead of the new wave of demons that swarmed forth to secure the gate as Darvatius was returned to the city by his attendants.

Two soldiers rushed out from the trench to recover the Maid's body before the demons could lay claim upon her. They were recorded only as Annette and Dismas, and they were lost among the chaos of the retreat.

The surviving army regrouped at Camp Koronike. Leadership of the army was passed to Ankaia of Themiskyra and Enrys Otillaine, long-time companions of the Maid and early members of the Order. A council was called of the surviving leaders, but they found themselves unable to find options: the army was exhausted, their spirit was broken, their resources were spent, and they were unlikely to survive a third crossing of the dead regions around Dis.

All of this mattered little in the end: A minor Lord of Dis rode to Koronike under a banner of parley, bearing the seal of the Bull and the title of Mouth of Hell. He made an offer: Dis would forgo further military expansion, so long as the Maid's armies were disbanded and no further war effort would be assembled against it.

Offers of peace from the mouths of demons are trusted only by fools, but there were no other options - the armies could not hold together much longer on their own. Why Hell was moved to such an offer is still questioned - common thinking is that Dis was weaker than it let on in the aftermath of the siege, with Darvatius incapacitated or potentially permanently removed  from their forces, and the surviving Lords feared what would come of a martyred Maid. But this is hindsight speaking - at the time, all that was known was that the Maid was dead, the siege had failed, and the offer could be neither trusted nor rejected.

The terms were accepted with short deliberation and no fanfare. It was not victory, at least not as the maid had planned it. But it was survival. As weeks turned into months the exhausted armies returned home and the long rebuilding began. Look closely, with guidebook in hand, and you can make out the overgrown earthworks and long-rusted war machines of the Low Countries' battlefields. You might still find a dirty sword or a scrap of armor in your tour, and there are no shortage of historical markers in navy blue.

Hell has not gone away. Its factories still belch smoke into the sky above the ruins of Coreolana and it toils forever away in the principle act, in the hopes that one day it might find a perfect optimization of the Red Law and emerge anew and unstoppable

But the scars on its iron gates and red walls remain to this day permanent reminder of what came to pass in those years of plague and war:

The Maid's body was cremated in Orlei cathedral, and according to her wishes her ashes were buried without marker or monument alongside her fellow soldiers beneath the Tower Without Name, where devotees from across the world still make pilgrimage.

Addendum

The roster of the Last March and the resultant siege was as follows.
  1. The Army of the North - Primarily infantry and light cavalry from city-states across the High Countries, Confederacy, and western Dayr, including auxiliaries from Wend, Whaling Country, and the Black Amazons. More witches-per-unit than any other army.
  2. The Army of the Avirienne - Infantry, light and heavy cavalry, artillery, and arcanist units from Orlei and the cities on and around the Avirienne. The Maid's primary force and the largest of the armies.
  3. The remnants of Imperial Legions III, IX, X, XIII, and XXI - Of these, one was a penal legion, two were deserters, one wasan official loan from Draga, and one was patched together from three other legions and had lost all contact with home. All of them were  reduced below functionality and were broken up into other armies.
  4. The Great Warband  - Only the third such union ever formed by the Buruq, 18 smaller bands were brought together by the Greyhair'd council of the Hollowhorn.
  5. The Orchestra -Multinational artillery division, infamous for is use of the
    ULTIMA RATIO CONTRA REGES, which remains the largest-caliber cannon ever forged.
  6. Magelanders, 40 of whom were Grand Masters. Additionally, the airship Ineffable Punch line Wonderland.
  7. Pelaian queens-of-war with marines, accompanied by the ironclad
  8. Assorted Amdani vessels from the cities along the Coast of Birds.
  9. Volunteers pulled from Kvaarish refugees.
  10. Bzenzileshi war triremes representing eight lilifio maritime nations.
  11. A lone Acephavaran warship, the Vashturur Ghanu
  12. Idaltu swordsages from the Tower Unto Heaven, Hidden City, and
  13. Unidentified group of Lilu militant anarchists.
  14. Assorted Dayrdan auxillaries, including mammoth riders from Akk√°
  15. Ghanishmen auxiliaries, who surprised everyone when they showed up.
  16. Assorted Folk - Primary Old Ones, Dwarves, Hobgoblins, Woodwose, and occasional allied Spookums
  17. Elephants from Kara Koren, primarily in support roles.
  18. Dolphins from the belt and inner sea. primarily in naval scoutuing and communication functions
  19. The Murder of All Crows, in a communication support role.
  20. Three angels formed during the campaign after the victory over the Priest-Eater.


 




Thursday, May 21, 2020

MiniModules 1: TV ROTS YOUR BRAIN

Houston Sharp


This is the first in a series of mini-adventures I have recovered from my notes. It's not exactly feature-complete, (and I'll make no guarantees that any of the other ones will be either), and not even playtested (might change that in the future), but they were sitting around not being used so even partial presentation will be enough for me.

TV ROTS YOUR BRAIN: OR, ANTIFRIEND

A scenario for Mothership

You arrive in the spaceport, fresh out of eight months of cryo, and there's a man with goat's eyes on the arrival/departure screen. He's sitting at an empty desk in a darkened room; A corpulent, pasty form shoved into a threadbare suit, greasy hair combed over. You can't quite make out his face in the dimness.

He is everywhere you look - on every screen of every computer in the public terminals, every phone in your pocket, every billboard on the concourse - and he will not leave you alone. No one else can see him. If a screen bearing his image is broken, it will ooze a thick brown sludge. He won't notice and will just keep talking.

He says that there is something amiss. There has been a terrible mistake. You will have to take responsibility. You must kill a man. You do not have a choice in the matter.  Certain adjustments were made to you during cryosleep. He does not want to resort to their use, but he will if you prove intractible. You must take responsibility.

There is a loaded revolver in a nearby trash can.

And the man on the screen is gone.

The Target

The Man on the Screen will point out the target as they are leaving the concourse. They possess something that makes them distinct in a crowd (a large hat, a colorful outfit, an instrument case, a cyborg arm, etc) but are otherwise mundane. They will keep to the following schedule:
  • Concourse -  Initial sighting while moving to Food Court. Target is unaware of PCs. Public.
  • Food Court - 30 mins. Moderately populated. Target gets a meal from a fabber and sits alone. Public
  • Bathroom - 5 mins. Private.
  • Short-term dorms - 4 hours. Target rents a coffin bunk for the period and rests. Public lobby, private bunk.
  • Shuttlebay - If the Target is allowed to board their flight to the surface, the Man on the Screen will judge the exercise a failure. Public.

Obstacles

  • Public areas have AI-observed security cameras. If the AI picks up an incident, it will dispatch a Security Team
    • Security teams consist of 3 androids equipped with stun batons and foam guns. There are 5 teams on the entire station.
    • The AI are not particularly smart, but they are reliable. They can be hacked without being traced, but will be more alert on subsequent attempts.
  • Private areas do not have cameras, but they still have automatic detectors for smoke and weapons fire.

The Man on the Screen will reappear at moments deemed appropriately spooky by the Warden. As time progresses....
  • His body bloats further.
  • The lights above him begin to flicker
  • Flies buzz about his head, crawl on the camera lens.
  • The camera lens becomes increasingly grime-crusted.
  • The camera pans out as he speaks, revealing an audience of mummified corpses tied to their decaying seats. 

The End State

Should the players survive and succeed, the Man on the Screen will appear a final time. He will vomit up mud the entire time, congratulate the players for taking responsibility, and declare that the situation has been handled. Players will feel a sharp, cold pain in their necks for a moment, and then nothing. He will not appear again, and they are free to go on their way.

Should the players survive and fail, they will wake up (when next they sleep), in bodies not their own, thigh-deep in sludge, at the bottom of a dark pit. Something brushes against a player's foot. A temple sinks into the muck at the center, lit by faint paper lanterns coated in the bodies of dark moths. From somewhere far above, a voice whispers "Someone must take responsibility..."

Should the players die and succeed, their next characters will arrive on the station just in time to see the tail end of the cleanup.

Should the players die and fail, they will, after a short period of death, wake up tied to to their seats in a dark recording studio that stinks of rot and humidity. A flickering neon APPLAUSE sign reveals an open door to the side. The Man on the Screen is not here. The ropes are neither sturdy nor tightly tied.


Comments

This scenario hinges a great deal on player creativity when in an open-ended environment. While it could be played purely with the locations presented, I expect that creative players and refs will fill in gaps to suit their needs - anything that can be justified can likely be attached. That lends itself to some "developing complications on the fly", or if that isn't the style a little bit of prep beforehand - make a new area, make a complication for it, keep those on hand.

I find that I really enjoy writing up potential outcomes in my adventures, this one is no exception.

In the terrible space future, why would you ever expect death to be the end?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Dan Reviews Anime

This is (likely) not going to be a repeated series like my book review posts (as I read a lot more books than I watch anime), and it's not going to be recent, either. A lot of these are just going to be recollections of shows I watched ages ago.

I will do my best to avoid spoilers unless they are absolutely necessary for context. If you happen to be reading this and are not huge into anime / into anime at all, I'll mark the ones that I would consider "good for people who are not huge into anime" with (*)

The list is not complete, but it will be sufficient. 

Cowboy Bebop (*)

If you read this blog at all, you already know my feelings about Cowboy Bebop.

Samurai Champloo (*)

Actually my least favorite of the Watanabe shows I have seen, but that's like saying something is your least favorite thing that you like.

Dorohedoro

A comedy mystery action romance cooking slice of life show about hyperviolence, grot, the wizard mafia, magical drugs, meddling devils, the inevitability of chaos, the malleability of identity, and very buff ladies. It was designed to pander directly to me.


Space Dandy

This is a special show. Just as soon as you think you've settled down into the hilarious adventures of this goof at space hooters, you are treated to some truly fantastic animation and some retrospective episodes that are way deeper than they should have any right to be. It has time for reflection and quiet and beauty among all of its (excellent) gags, less as punctuation to the wackiness and more just as aspects of that world that it's all jumbled up in. Now that's a part of basically all of Watanabe's work but I find it the most pronounced here, given how far up the absurdity dial has been turned.

Baccano! (*)

This show is just concentrated fun: an ensemble cast of supercolorful characters jumping across plot threads and timelines in Depression-era America and more manic hijinks than one can reasonably know what to do with. It's got bootleggers and alchemists and mobsters and solipsist murderers and goofballs and it maintains all the spinning plates all the way through and it just don't stop. Everyone is cool, everyone gets to shine, dub's fantastic, it's chaotic without being a mess, it's short and funny and worth your time. A show to recommend to non-anime people.

Kekkai Sensen / Blood Blockade Battlefront (*)

I had an acquantence in college who did poetry. He centered one work on fernweh, which he defined not as wanderlust but as "homesickness or nostalgia for a place you have never been". That's the feeling I get with this show. It feels like it belongs in the 9:30 PM slot on Toonami, on a Saturday evening half a lifetime ago now (not surprising considering it's an adaptaion of another work by the man behind Trigun). It's comfort food.

It's also a rollicking good time. New York City is now Sigil Hellsalem's Lot! Magic and monsters everywhere! Everyone is cool! Everything oozes style, top to bottom, and each episode is some new crazy adventure.

Impossible amounts of bonus points go to the fact that the first season has an anime-only romance subplot and it's actually good. Could have been terrible, but it's just a couple teenagers being sweet on each other and it's wonderful.

Main downside is that this show goes hard on dimming the screen when the effects are going off as an anti-seizue measure, which can be quite annoying. Definitely watch the dub.

Bokurano

This show could easily be written off as a janky, ugly NGE ripoff, and that would be correct. It is jank incarnate, lord of high house jank, ruler of all the janklands, but...my biggest issue with NGE has always been the contrivances to ensure terrible things happening - contrived tragedy isn't tragedy, it's farce. Bokurano avoids that thanks to how it treats its characters.

So there are 14 kids who, each in turn, have to take the pilot's seat of this giant alien robot. This is going to kill them. Just getting the thing to move does one of them in, but they've got to get it moving because there are other robots out there and spoilers to boot. Every episode is just a roulette wheel, and one by one you check off the characters in the OP. Dead and gone, or just waiting for their number to come up.

That's some big woof already and it's made worse by the fact that the cast are a pretty mundane and believable cross-section of middle school kids. Some of them are real shits, others are god damn heroes, a lot of them are in between, but all of them get their spotlight moment. So when things go bad (and they will go horribly bad), it hurts. Even the shit ones.

Also worth mentioning at how the adults involved in this whole giant robot thing are actually not horrible monsters. When the giant robot shows up the government immediately tries using adult pilots. When that fails they do their best to take care of them, and here's where a  huge shoutout to Capt Tanaka, who feels like a direct rebuttal of Misato in NGE.

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

Where do I even begin on this one? There are other shows on this list that I like more as stories, there are characters that I enjoy more, but thematically TTGL has aged like fine wine and has only grown more relevant with age. It's also super difficult to talk about because everything I want to go into detail on hinges on plot developments that are better off

Yes it's a show about shouting and explosions and giant robots and hot-blooded men making  nonsensical declarations of hot-bloodedness, but it's also a show that hinges on the power of positive male relationships and role models as a means of surviving existential despair and avoiding self-destruction.

There's a sequence about coping with grief that...yeah. I appreciate that part a whole hell of a lot nowadays.

Plus Sorairo Days is a banger.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Man, I had no standards in high school. This show is terrible and the more I think about it and its undue influence on anime as a whole, the more hterrible it becomes.

Planetes

It's got mid-aughts shlock to it (mostly endearing) and the ending / how the main relationship plays out is blah (not endearing at all), but the science is solid, the goofs are fun, and it's trash collectors in space. I am a simple man with often simple needs and this show delivers on a lot of them.

Death Parade

One season in an afterlife bar that was fine enough. Left a lot to be desired in the end, especially considering the opening theme is one absolute jam...if terribly nonindicative of both tone and how much we are actually going to deal with those characters.

Kill la Kill

If you stop watching at exactly 15 minutes and 0 seconds of episode 1, this is one of the most solid 8.5/10 shows out there. Then you get to the 15 minute mark and to call that particular event both heavy and cackhanded is unreasonably generous.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (*)

I never watched the original FMA, but I watched Brotherhood week to week over the course of a year as it was airing, and recently rewatched the entire series. Good news! It has held up like a rock over the last decade (sans some very not-great stuff involving a major VA)

If you know, you know. If you don't know, I encourage you to get to know. That's the review.

It's real good.

Attack on Titan

I checked out when they revealed that the implacable incomprehensible horror was spearheaded by teenagers with superpowers, and I had been thinking I was watching a different kind of show.

Ergo Proxy

I swear I watched it at some point but I'll be damned if I can remember it.

My Hero Academia

I watched up through the tournament arc and it was fun, but around that point I started getting real uncomfortable about how Bakugo is one step removed from being a murderer and the school does nothing about it, and disappointed that the plot would not aim itself squarely at tearing down Endeavor (abusive parent and eugenicist). But it's fine. Filled a niche, no desire to return.

Erased

God I am conflicted about this show. It starts off strong, it starts off SUPER strong. The premise is strong (time travel murder mystery!) It does a fantastic job of setting up characters and their relationships and the situations of their lives, and actually handles some really rough subjects with exceptional amounts of understanding and tact...but the process of actually solving the mystery is so limp that I barely remember it now despite being all-in at the time. There are some properly heartwrenching scenes that I had completely forgotten until I started looking up refreshers for this post because of how blah the ending was. And that's a damn shame.

But it's also got Sachiko in it, and she's a shoe-in for Best Anime Mom of the Century

Mob Psycho 100 (*)

Easily the best representation of an autistic protagonist I've seen in media in general, beautifully animated, legitimately hilarious, excellent dub, I recommend it without hesitation to anyone whether or not they even like anime. Wholeheartedly devoted to doing its own thing and impossibly refreshing in its themes of "power and privelege are overrated, find self-worth in making yourself better"

The Body Improvement Club are the best, and will remain the best unto the heat death of the universe.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress

Gotta give it credit this show gave you a super clear warning to jump off the bandwagon when that pink-haired sephiroth-looking guy showed up.

Vinland Saga (*)

It's probably one of the only "out for revenge" plots I have seen that I can really get behind and enjoy - Thorfinn's obsession with revenge is so single-minded and narrow that he has effectively destroyed his life in pursuit of that goal. He could have had his revenge and gone back home ages ago, but he's blinded himself to any reality that doesn't play out according to the narrative in his head. He's a one-trick pony and it's killing him inside.

If it were just Thorfinn, it would likely be unbearable. Thankfully, we get a robust cast of secondary characters that not only break up the monomania of Thorfinn's revenge, but also actually move the plot forward. Askeladd gets shit done, and Thorkell might be the funniest son of a bitch on this list. Every scene he is in gets torn up by the roots and stolen.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

All reviews of JJBA are tautological.

Carole and Tuesday (*)

I've been writing this for like six and a half hours now. Just watch the opening, that's my review. It's good. Music is good. Rotoscoping is good. It's on Mars.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes

I stalled out around episode 60 of the original due to external factors. A very slow burn, but I say it's worth it. The plot is always moving forward in some way, because the plot is not necessarily handcuffed to the characters - they move and shake things, but the big sweeping movements are founded on the greater social picture. Things happening cause other things to happen not because that is the plot on its own, but because those are the natural consequences of that thing happening.

It's like Star Wars (it is not subtle when it wants to rip it off), but if Star Wars is actually about an actual war in the stars. There are plotlines that hinge on supply trains and it is engaging as hell.

The remake is very, very solid on its own and a good place to start: you can easily jump back to the original if you want more.

Keep Your Hands of Eizouken! (*)

I was sold on this show in less than five minutes, before the theme song of the first episode even ran. Here, I'll link the clip.

You see it, right? It's The Moment. This show gets it. There are a whole lot of anime about highschool girls in a club doing a thing and I find no appeal in them as a rule, but Eizouken is the exception. Eizouken gets it.

And it delivers. The visuals are excellent throughout, from the fantastic mindscapes to something as mundane as the laundromat. The main trio of chuckleheads (Asakusa the small ADD worldbuilder gremlin, Misusaki the medium-sized energetic animator gremlin, and Kanamori the tall pragmatist manager gremlin play off each other masterfully. And through it all there is the sense that this is a show made by people who really care about what they're doing, celebrating but not fetishizing anime as an artform.

Eizouken gets it.

I got interrupted before I could finish this show and haven't been able to get back into it, but five episodes is more than enough to recommend it

Final Thoughts

Wow I am an absolute mark for ensemble casts living in chaotic super-detailed magical cityscapes WHO COULD HAVE POSSIBLY PREDICTED THIS.



Thursday, May 14, 2020

Build a Witch Challenge: Maggie Blackthorn

Saw a challenge, did a challenge.


What's her name?

Maggie Blackthorn

What kind of witch is she?

Village midwife, wise woman, goat-keeper and provider of solutions.

What does she look like?

A little old woman, face brown and wrinkled as a walnut, a red scarf worn over the silver hair that hangs down in two braids. A heavy coat of dark blue, embroidered with the snowflake-like white sigils that the shepherd-mages have always worn. Heavy leather boots, well-worn.

A tall, strong-armed woman, sunset-red hair in a bun. Gone a bit soft around the middle. A sharp nose. A few missing teeth from an incident with a horse a while back. A black greatcoat and wide-brimmed hat from the south; a wedding gift. Heavy leather boots, well-worn.

A girl of ten with fiery hair no comb can tame nor braid maintain. More freckles than any sensible person would know what to do with. A white dress tailored for easy girding, with work trousers underneath. Heavy leather boots that still need a few years to fit right.

Where does she live?

In a log and sod cabin a little bit north of the village of Cormorant Tull, on the edge of the pine forest, just across the strip of open space from the seaside cliffs.

What kind of wand does she use? 

A cane of polished white pine. Everyone in town knows the rap-tap on the doorpost that signifies her arrival.

What's in her cauldron?

Perpetual stew.

What kind of familiar does she have?

Bear, a gigantic shaggy black dog who is always by her side. Is big enough that Sophie can still ride him around like a pony.

What is her dark secret?

Maggie Blackthorn has been the village witch for the last forty years, ever since Goodwife Constance died. Like any true witch she's the axis mundi of the community, but also like any true witch, she is very, very human.

See, the black fever swept through the county two summers ago. Maggie pulled off some miracles in those months, but eventually there is a limit to how far a witch can stretch a miracle. And always a cost. The world doesn't play by the rules of just reward, where miracle-workers get a bit of slack from the dice rolls of the old gods.

Maggie's daughter Mary caught ill, and then her granddaughter Sophie. Both bedridden with the fever, and with Tom out to sea, there was no one but Maggie, already spread too thin treating the rest of the village to care for them.

The toll is paid, and black fever works swiftly. It only a took a few days to work its course.

Mary and Sophie died within hours of each other. Maggie was there at the bedside when they went, but that was no consolation. Witches are old friends with death, they have to be to sit vigil, but witches are human and humans have breaking points that will never heal right.

Imagine the flickering lamplight of a dark cabin, in the suffocating darkness of night, and the words that might be said in desperation to comfort a child on their deathbed. 

And by that bedside Maggie broke. There was nothing to be done, not with the craft she practiced, but witches keep themselves abreast of the other powers. In the stillness of that dark cabin, Maggie weaved a spell that she might not ever be able to cast again: one that could revive the bodies of her daughter and granddaughter. There's nothing to be done to bring back the dead, but a body is meat and bone and blood and water are electric charge, and that can be stirred back into life.

To those brain-dead bodies Maggie bound her mind so that she could to jump between Maggie and Mary and Sophie, leaving two in a state like deep slumber and one awake and and aware. Whether that was her end goal, or simply what she was forced to settle with, no one knows.

You'll see Mary and Sophie walking around town alive as you or I, but it's Maggie behind the eyes. Folks in the village know, but they don't talk about it much. They are still grieving, just as Maggie is.

She might very well be immortal now, though she's not sure how far the spell can be stretched.


1d8 Things the PCs are interrupting

  1. Milking the goats (Mary)
  2. Weeding the garden (Sophie)
  3. Giving advice to expectant first-time mother (Maggie)
  4. Re-sodding the roof (Mary)
  5. Being overly-precocious to door-to-door missionaries (Sophie)
  6. Teaching herbs to the village children (Maggie)
  7. Setting a farmhand's broken leg (Any)
  8. Lowtide beachcombing, looking for fossils (Any)

1d6 Potions

  1. Perpetual Stew - Warm and filling.
  2. Contraceptive - Always be responsible!
  3. Soothing Salve - Calms the nerves, centers the mind, drives away fear, makes sleep easy to come by.
  4. Last-Chance Purgative - Cleans you out at both ends. You'll be miserable, but you won't be dying of poison.
  5. Puckbrew - A mix of milk, honey, and whiskey, sure to lure out any nearby brownies, boggarts, hobs, pucks, goblins, pucas, and other
  6. Special Sheep Liniment - Shared only with the trusted few.

1d6 Rumors & Hooks

  1. Bear found a man no one knows on death's door, Maggie's been nursing him back to health.
  2. Folks are seeing less and less of Mary, wondering if she's getting ill or the spell is weakening.
  3. "Devil in the woods! Great leathery wings and a horses head, up in the pine woods past Maggie's!"
  4. Black-cloaked outriders from the Dreg Legion have set up camp north of town. Maggie's been negotiating with them. Everyone's afraid it won't be enough.
  5. Maggie says there's a freak snowstorm on the way, everyone needs to stay indoors, and shutter your windows tight.
  6. Maggie's found herself a fourth body...

1d4 Spells

  1. Goblin Door - Under the right slice of moon and the right time of night, the tumble of stones on the hillside can be turned into a door to the Goblin Market.
  2. Kulning - Calls together a herd of cattle / sheep / goats / etc.
  3. Eye on the Lintel - A glyph that will allow the maker to sense whenever someone passes through the marked doorway.
  4. Bond Beyond Death - A delicate and difficult ritual that will allow the practitioner to link their soul with other bodies, so long as the bodies are very recently dead


Sunday, May 10, 2020

3 Years, 300 Posts: The Map of the New World


Made in Azgaar's. Click for full size.

And here we are: post 300, three years to the day since I started the blog.

Thank you all: for your support, your guidance, your friendship, and above all thank you for everything you do to sustain this little pocket of creativity.

Twice before I have made this map, now it is time for a third. As before, my method is "fit as many things as I own or know well enough about into a single map." If you don't see your favorites, I apologize in advance.Room is limited. Thankfully, this map is not canon.

Enough sentimentality. It is time for The Goods.

Everything with a hyperlink is available for free.

AS IT IS WRITTEN IN THE PRINCIPIA APOCRYPHA...

Regions

  • Bastionland - All the territory that owes its allegiance to Bastion, as opposed to some other, non-Bastion-related city.
    • Electric Bastionland, Chris McDowell
  • Autumnal Wilds - The rustic old hill country. Filled with hobos, puritan halflings, cicadafolk and lowmen.
  • The Coal Dukes - Fragmentary duchies in the southern Wilds who together claim a near-monopoly on the export of coal.
    • Unicorn Meat, Dan D.
  • The Commonwealth - Diverse collection of states and cities that collectively murdered the old aristocracy but forgot the clean the skeletons out of the closet.
    • Unicorn Meat, Dan D.
  • Low Country - Backwoods, haunted houses, and pluff mud fields.
    • Low Country Crawl, John Gregory
  • The Biting Marshes - The wetlands along the Black Snake River.
  • Deep Country - The untamed northern wilds in the iron grip of the past, far beyond the reach of Bastion, filled with petty kingdoms and the ruins of older days.
    • Electric Bastionland, Chris McDowell
  • Weird Marches - Unclaimed territory where the world goes strange.
  • Tveland - Frigid, dark, diseased, miserable, dying.
    • Mork Borg, Pelle Nilsson
  • Circle Sea & the Rainbow Lands
    • Ultraviolet Grasslands, Luca Rejec
  • The Ultraviolet Grasslands - The lands between here and the most utter west.
    • Ultraviolet Grasslands, Luca Rejec
  • Swordfish Islands - Home once to a decadent elfin civilization
    • Hot Spring Island, Jacob Hurst
  • Rift of Mar-Millior - The place you go when you've neither got nor want other options.
    • Rakehell vol 1, Brian Richmond
  • The Great Road - The artery across the continent, from Bastion to the Black City.
  • Meatlandia - An island offshoot of Xor.
    • The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia, Wind Lothamer & Ahimsa Kerp
  • Xor - A land of flesh and gristle.
  • The Winter Lands - The place untouched by time.
    • Wolf Packs and Winter Snow, Emmy Allen

Cities and Kingdoms

  • Lon Barago - The free city of the central plains, overflowing with wealth and wickedness.
  • Bastion - The only city that matters, at least according to the Bastionites
    • Electric Bastionland, Chris McDowell.  
  • Infinigrad - The endless city of unnumbered guilds and their dogs, forever warring with itself.
  • Umberwell - Blackened be its name, a teeming hive of grot, crime, and corrosion
    • Umberwell, Jack Shear
  • Endon - A city on the cusp of making some terrible choices that seemed reasonable at the time.
    • Magical Industrial Revolution, Skerples
  • Emerald City - Metropolis, home of the Cogflower megacapitalists and their church.
    •  Ultraviolet Grasslands, Luca Rejec
  • Jukai City - Slumbering swampland city of dark organic towers.
    • Fire on the Velvet Horizon, Patrick Stuart & Scrap Princess
  • Corpathium - The city that's never the same way round twice.
  • Marlinko - The fever-dreaming capital of the Hill Cantons.
    • Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, Chris Kutalik
  • Carrowmore - Deep Country township at the foot of an ancient dam. Has recently gone quiet.
    • Deep Carbon Observatory, Patrick Stuart & Scrap Princess 
  • Opeth - A tiny town that sits alongside the eastern expanse of the Great Road.
    • Faux Pas, Nick Whelan
  • The Wicked City - King of the Great Road, a city of clockwork men, hydraulic despotism, and impossible wealth.
  • The Immortal Capital - The only city that mattered, a long long time ago.
    • Kidnap the Archpriest, Skerples
  • Thule - Ancient stronghold of the church and home of the archpriest of the Heliopapacy.
    • Kidnap the Archpriest, Skerples
  • Gathox - Migratory alien slum-mountain
    • Gathox Vertical Slum, Davis Lewis Johnson
  • Whispershire - De facto capital of the Weird Marches, a place where the Commonwealth sends the adventurous, foolish, and unwanted.
  • Troika - The Troika on the earth is only part of the whole: the true body of Troika sits in orbit high above, the jewel in the center of the humpbacked sky.
  • MR-GR-KR- The Death-Rolled Kingdom; the river demesne of the crocodile lords.
    • Thousand Thousan Islands 1, Zedeck Siew
  • Kraching - Kingdom of cats and the god Auw.
    • Thousand Thousand Islands 2, Zedeck Siew

Points of Interest


  1. Tomb of the Serpent Kings (Skerples)
  2. Gullet of the Rust Demon (Dan D.)
  3. Prison of the Hated Pretender (Gus L)
  4. Monastery of Dor Amon (Dale Horstman)
  5. Challenge of the Frog Idol (Dyson Logos)
  6. Ruinous Palace of the Metegorgos (Evey Lockhart)
  7. The Maw of the Mountain (Brian Richmond)
  8. Night School (Camilla Greer, Demon Collective Vol 1)
  9. Bad Faith (@comradepollux, Demon Collective Vol 1)
  10. She's Not Dead, She's Asleep (Mabel Harper, Demon Collective Vol 1)
  11. Meal of Oshregaal (Arnold Kemp)
  12. Hidden Tomb of Slaggoth the Necromancer (Nick Whelan)
  13. Silent Titans (Patrick Stuart)
  14. The Halls Untoward (Michael Prescott et al)
  15. Sleeping Place of the Feathered Swine (Logan Knight)
  16. A Hole in the Oak (Gavin Norman)
  17. The Tower of Nicanor (Fco. Javier Barrera)
  18. Lighthouse on the Spur (Dan D.)
  19. Call of the Light (Michael Prescott)
  20. Gelatinous Dome (Jeff Call)
  21. Aeon Caves of Treasure (Aleksander Petrovic)
  22. Hounds of Low Tide (Michael Prescott & Kiel Chenier)
  23. The Man From Before (Michael Prescott)
  24. Unicorn Meat (Dan D.)
  25. The Hyqueous Vaults (Various)
  26. Flesh for the Witch Queen (Jason Sholtis)
  27. Lorn Song of the Bachelor (Zedeck Siew)
  28. Scourge of the Tikbalang (Zzarchov Kowalski)
  29. Under the Waterless Sea (Zzarchov Kowalski)
  30. Misty Isle of the Eld (Christ Kutalik)
  31. Slumbering Ursine Dunes (Chris Kutalik)
  32. From the Vats (Various)
  33. Through the Gates of Flesh (Carl Niblaeus)
  34. Blood in the Chocolate (Kiel Chenier)
  35. The Inverse Tower (Michael Raston)
  36. Basilica of the Leper Messiah (Michael Prescott)
  37. Arsenal of the Warrior Princess (Alessandro Dullemotta)
  38. Fallen Throne (Gus L.)
  39. Hush (David Shugars, Demon Collective Vol 1)
  40. Comes the Mountain (Gus L.)

Realms Above, Below, and Beside


  • The Ghoul Market - Accessible from graveyards. 
    • Vacant Ritual Assembly 1, Clint Krause
  • Gourmet Street - Accessible from the side streets of any major city. 
    • Gourmet Street, John Gregory
  • The Gardens of Ynn - Accessible from any garden where the proper invocation has been made.
    • The Gardens of Ynn, Emmy Allen
  • The Stygian Library - Accessible from any room filled with books where a murder has occurred.
    • The Stygian Library, Emmy Allen
  • Goblintown - Accessible from any filthy hole in the ground.
  • The Crystal Spheres of the Humpbacked Sky - Accessible via a golden barge out of Troika.
    • TROIKA!, Daniel Sell
  • The Mysterious Menagerie of Dr. Orville Boros - Found in whichever metropolis one wishes
  • The Isles of the Dead (Arnold Kemp) - Accessed through total party death.
  • Zyan - Through a dreamlike door-break in reality.
    • Through Ultan's Door, Ben Laurence
  • The Veins - Accessed by delving too deep.
    • Veins of the Earth, Patrick Stuart & Scrap Princess

The Grand Tour


Players start in Lon Barago, poorfolk tossed into the Lair of the Lamb as sacrifices to that terrible creature. Those that survive will likely not want to spend any more time at the mercy of the city's hospitality, and will take off on the plains-roads Their direction is determined by their great desire.
  • Civilization - Take the east road towards Bastion, first stopping at the Gullet of the Rust Demon.
  • Riches - Follow the river southward to the arid hills and ruined cities that house the Tomb of the Serpent Kings.
  • Freedom - Take the rough and ill-kept road northward, passing the Prison of the Hated Pretender on the way to the true Deep Country.
  • The Great Unknown - Take the west road, stopping at the Monastery of Dor Amon before passing on to The Wicked City and Circle Sea.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Fourth Book Review Post, Fourth and Final Try

Note: So this post got a load of spam views from pornbots for reasons I cannot fathom (ed. TWICE! THREE TIMES! It got hit TWICE! THREE TIMES!) and it was throwing off my top posts sidebar, so I have reposted it under a new title (ed. TWICE! THREE TIMES!). All comments on the original post have been included at the end.The book list has been expanded with all the books I have read since.

I do not expect to do this again - if the porn bots want book reviews, by Jove they will have book reviews.

 Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3

 

Gentlemen of the Road, Michael Chabon


Chabon is labeled a literary author and that is a bold-faced lie. This is pure adventure pulp. It's the most D&D thing written since Fafhrd and Mouser. Its the most Fafhrd and Mouser thing written since Fafhrd and Mouser. Its prose is beautiful. It's working title was Jews with Swords. It's got illustrations. It is fantastic. Just the summary is fantastic.

Amram and Zelikman go on an adventure in the 950s Caucasus Mountains and end up as erstwhile protectors of the exiled prince of the Khazars. Both of them are Jews from opposite sides of the world (Ethiopia and France, respectively), and both of them are absolute ne'er-do-wells.

It's the freshest fantasy I have read in ages despite not being a fantasy: it's a place and point of time in our world and our history nestled in the crook where vast and storied empires met, far out of the rutted path we are too often force-fed.

Chef's kiss.

The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Michael Chabon


On a dime (since I read this immediately after Gentlemen of the Road) Chabon switches modes and styles to an alternate-history noir. There's the corpse of a chess-genius heroin addict in the flophouse, bullet through his head. Israel collapsed after three months and the US leased territory in Alaska as a Jewish homeland, and forty years later reversion is months away.

The prose is just as fantastic as the setup. Notable in comparison to Gentlemen of the Road is how deftly Chabon can switch between modes - he is capable of emulating the style of the genre he is engaging with perfectly without lessening the quality of his prose, and he goes out of his way to make Sitka burst to life. Everything oozes personality. Details get stuck in your head: the Filipino donut stand. The border maven and his shop full of thread. The PBS kids' programs dubbed in Yiddish.

It's so, so good.

Wild Cards 1, various

DNF at 79%

For a good while, I was really digging this series. it was a fun mashup of pulp iconography with the consequences of a more grounded story. There were some cool powers, some cool characters, I was invested (and superhero stuff is always a hard sell for me).

But then we got to Martin's story, which is the beginning of a quartet of stories that all hinge upon the threat or application of lethal sexual violence. Four in a row, and none of this, none, was present in the first half nor was it signposted, and it evaporated any desire I had to read it further (despite the one bit by Hunter S. Thompson being a welcome relief.)

It's an absolute hackjob.

All Systems Red (Murderbot Chronicles 1)

DNF at 39%

I don't know what people see in this one. From a writing standpoint it's repetitive, from a vocabulary standpoint it's noticeably stunted, and from a plot and character perspective it is both of those things. Murderbot talks like an obnoxious early 20-something, without the benefit of being an actual person in reality that I can have some sort of connection with: they're just annoying, and the constant "I don't really care I wish I was back watching my soap operas on space netflix" is not half as charming as the author intended.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Seanan McGuire


A wonderful little modern fairy tale novella with strong narrative voice and fun characters and a sweet little romance that is utterly destroyed in the space of the last twenty pages in one of the worst examples of "the shit you were thinking?" I have ever experienced.

I have a few lines in the sand when I'm reading. One of the consistent ones is "bullies, abusers, and other people who are casually cruel for their own amusement should, at minimum, be vigorously dunked upon, and if the situation calls for it they should get the shit beaten out of them by other characters."

This story fails this line hard. Horrifically so, in a way that undermines every good thing that comes before it.

If your twin, who is already callous and cruel, who enthusiastically wants to throw away their humanity and become a vampire, tears the throat out of your beloved, what do you do?

There's the response a human being has, and then there's what the book does.

Do You Dream of Terra Two?, Temi Oh

DNF at 297/532

From a character standpoint, this book is excellent - a big cast of teenagers and I found them all quite tolerable. The alternate history elements (the first rocket was used in the Napoleonic Wars) are fun and a light touch. I have some issues with the science (A shuttle launch from Britain is a terrible idea, a colonization run on Alpha Centauri as a new home for humanity when there's plenty of room to build O'Neill cylinders is silly, why is global warming still in issue in 2012 when you have had rockets for two centuries has no one built up space infrastructure?) but it's all minor compared to how good the rest of the writing is.

But...

You know that line I just mentioned? Happens again. Obviously and cartoonishly telegraphed badguy...

[Aside] Gonna be real, when the only white person on the crew is this aryan ubermensch looking motherfucker whose entire concept of self-worth hinges on dominating others and who openly talks about starting up a new empire...everyone else on the ship might just be an idiot for letting him on board. Like it's not a stretch of the imagination that the guy exists, its that everyone else is that blind to it. [/Aside]

...dumps another crewmember into an airlock and threatens to vent him to "teach him a lesson" and the other characters do not immediately beat the shit out of him and lock him up for court-martial. The victim even says don't tell the mission commander.

Dropped the book hard, right there.

Proxima and Ultima, Stephen Baxter


A two-parter, also about a Proxima settlement mission. Baxter's characters and dialogue leave a whole lot to be desired (the first primary character can't even be called that, he is an absolute personality blank), but he is very compelling when it comes to providing a big idea space story - I devoured these books. Part 1 has Expanse DNA, Part 2 dives into Warhammer 40k.

The big idea part got away from him at the end, I feel (if given the choice, I'd rather have no explanation than the huge expodump in the last ten pages), but the journey to get there was engaging. I'm a big sucker for a well-realized alien biosphere, and it's got both that and some offhand details implying some rather horrible goings on in the background. Those are effective, though less so when characters start explaining things. He also gets kinda obnoxious with the italicizing and restating, saying again, of non-English words.

Gets major props for fantastic execution of time-scale: the two books cover the time-span of four generations, and that's something that can cause trip-ups for a lot of stories in settings where there's interplanetary travel and no way to cheat light.

Plot it Yourself, Rex Stout


Having finished my second Nero Wolf novel I find myself with more questions than answers

A dozen plus characters are introduced all at once with very little to differentiate them, then some other events happen, and it is all tied up at an arbitrary point where a single detail is revealed in the last ten pages. Evidence is found by characters but not revealed to us until the very end. It feels terribly arbitrary and not very fun, which is sad because the characters are still just as fun as they ever have been, warts and all.

City of Brass, S.A. Chakraborty

DNF at pg 50/???

This is a good book for someone else. A young woman with special bloodline powers is swept up in a fantastic adventure by a terribly handsome and mysterious magical creature, which strikes me as the genderbent version of the manic pixie dream girl and also I really don't like relationships with such obviously skewed power dynamics. Hard pass from me, but if that thing appeals to you, it will likely bring you joy.

From a Certain Point of View, Various 


A nifty gimmick with variable results. On the whole the stories are inoffensive and blessedly short when they are not, but they tend to run into the same issue: Star Wars' own obsession with masturbatory self-hagiography. Certain individuals or events are simply so unbearably special that the entire universe recognizes and adores them.

The strongest stories, by my reckoning, were those that stayed as far away from that bullshit as they could. Things like the loopholes in Imperial paperwork or interdepartmental politics on the Death Star, or Yoda's daily life on Dagobah.

Two in particular (the Alliance flight crew chief watching the Death Star run from afar, ticking off the names of pilots she was just speaking to hours before as they are shot down; Mon Mothma reviewing contingency plans for the collapse of the alliance as she flees from Yavin) get a gold star from me, because they do the best job of showing a setting that exists beyond its characters (the ostensible point of the entire exercise) and of showing a war effort (again, the ostensible point of the entire exercise) that has to deal with things like supply shortages and logistics.

Being that this is a Disney book, there are both connections to Rogue 1 / the prequels and Disneytype attempts at inclusion and of the former I feel lukewarm and of the latter I respect the chutzpah behind the story where Tarkin shacks up with a deck trooper, but wow that is an ethical nightmare of a relationship. Star Wars is so cripplingly inept at portraying relationships that I honestly think it best to just jettison the entire thing than trying to rescue it - chutzpah alone will not do it.

Palpatine gets an entire story written as a faux-Shakespearean monologue and the author went and gave him AABB rhyme scheme instead of iambic pentameter in blank verse, and furthermore contains neither "We got Death Star!" nor "Exit, Pursued By A Bear" so I can only count this as total and absolute failure.

Sisters of the Vast Black, Lina Rather


I am a gargantuan sucker for Catholic religious orders in space, so this one scratched an itch. It's a very solid novella, slipping only in the last quarter when the final act comes around and goes Hollywood. I didn't feel like it jived with what had been established before, and the direction the plot had been going (orders from the new pope, delivered by a new priest entwined with the central authority the order has long shaken off, to go visit some unconnected colonies) felt like a better way of proceeding. Catholic religious orders in space are a really good setup for Trek-style morality plays, less so for big Hollywood explosions. Maybe double the length and the other ending and it would have been a killer novel.

The Stars Are Legion, Kameron Hurley


I was sold on this book purely by someone describing it as "lesbian cronenberg 40k", and I can say without hesitation that appellation is both very accurate and fucking awesome. It is a grotesque book, a grotty book, it is gross and creative and engaging and I devoured it raw and wriggling. At times it feels like the environments of the horrific decaying meat-moon Katazyrna were pulled directly from a blog post in the best of possible ways.

A+ gold star all hail MEAT MOON

M E A T M O O N

UNSONG, Scott Alexander

I have complicated feelings about this book. Concept-wise it is absolutely in my wheelhouse: the main character got kicked out of Stanford for breaking the DRM on copywritten names of God, the sky broke open in the 60s, and the universe now runs on Kabbalistic wordplay. I'm here for it. And the book is, on the whole, clever, entertaining, often hilarious, and overall a great example of weird web outsider fiction. It was engaging (even the infodumps in the last 5%), it did justice to an obscure and obtuse central conceit in a creative way, and the web-serial pacing of copious flashbacks, asides, and intermittent stage setting chapters didn't detract much from the flow of 700+ pages.

On the other hand...

But then you leave in a quote-unqoute joke about gaining a new appreciation for Hernando Cortez after a brush with Aztec mythology and come the fuck on.

It's not the only time it happens - are regular occurrences where I think the goal was to make a joke, but it's the kind of joke that is terribly tone-deaf (example: citing Lovecraft's Nyarlathotep as prophetic of the Obama administration) and it really does nothing to counter my pre-existing conception of internet rationalists.

Like, just read the fucking room. For fuck's sake.

The other half of the other hand is that this is a book has a through-line about theodicy, and I have very large opinions about that particular subject. Opinions that would overwhelm and devour this review, so let it remain that they are very, very large, they are very, very personal, and I consider "Murder the Gods and Topple Their Thrones" to be a viable course of action.

In UNSONG the answer is, while creative, insufficient for me on these grounds (especially in light of the chapter describing Hell).

But on the overall, I enjoyed my time with the book. Such a curious thing, critique.

Comments from the first time around 

  1. Goblinist
    One really excellent story about a colonization mission is Le Guin's Paradises Lost. It's not part of the Hainish series, but it has many of the same themes.

    1. Dan
      Never heard of that one, but I am always down for Le Guin.
  2. Dan
    On the flip side, when a work actually does commit to the dunk you end up with Handmaid's Tale and hoo boy that show has some dunks.

    1. Dan
      So this post has over 2k views and they're nearly all bots. Go home, bots, you are clearly drunk.
    2. Dan
      I wake up and it's over 5k what the hell.

  3. Anne
    I read "Every Heart a Doorway," which started great, but absolutely did not need to be a murder mystery, especially not one where people keep dying.

    There's a reason "Sticks and Bones," and all the other novellas in this series are prequels, and it's because everyone interesting from "Doorway" only has a past, but no future.

    So I feel like McGuire makes a lot of decisions that are major WTFs from my standpoint.

  4. maxcan7
    I'm currently reading Wild Cards 1 and am basically right at the part you describe. Was hoping it would get better, that's a shame. The good ones are good enough that I'll probably keep going, I think I already own book 2 anyway, but I can't blame you for quiting.

    I'm not familiar with Chabon but both of those sound interesting I'll add them to my wishlist, thanks for the recommendations.

  5. Matt Halton
    i don't know why we can't have more authors like Chabon. i guess when he's trying to write Literature instead of just doing normal books he starts to suck more. you should read Kavalier and Clay tho

    also, have you read The Enchantress of Florence, by Salman Rushdie? that's kind of in the same thinking-man's pulp zone as Chabon. also some of Umberto Eco's work - Baudolino maybe

    these are my favourite authors fyi

    1. Dan
      I have not. I tried reading Midnight's Children and bounced off three times. If I see it, I'll give it a look.

  6. Annon #8107 
    Have you read/done a review on any China Mieville books? I'd be interested on seeing your opinions on Kraken or The City And the City. Kraken especially has some juicy Esoteric Enterprise vibes

    1. Dan
       I haven't read any Mieville yet.