Monday, February 26, 2024

Fear and Hunger 2: The First 45 Deaths (Plus Game Design Notes)

I picked up Fear and Hunger 2 back in December, and I've been keeping a running tally of all the horrible ways my characters have died since then. A couple months and thirty some hours later, I've got enough for a good post out of it.

So as to not just have a table of random information that only makes sense with the context of having played the game, there will be some notes about game design at the end.

Entries are listed as Death # - Date - Character - Cause of Death

  1. 12/16 - Levi - Infected wound from a Moonscorched
  2. 12/17 - Levi - Smashed in the head with a pesticide canister.
  3. 12/17 - Marina - Smashed in the head with a pesticide canister, again.
  4. 12/17 - Levi - Tackled into submission by armless villager after sleeping in the wrong bed, then fed to pigs.
  5. 12/18 - Levi - Shot by sniper outside of town.
  6. 12/18 - Marina - tackled to death by the Woodsman after getting freed from the well.
  7. 12/20 - Abella - Tackled to death by armless villager.
  8. 12/22 - Marina - Shot by rifleman, only had one arm left anyway.
  9. 12/22 - Levi - Gummed to death by headless wolf
  10. 12/23 - Marina - Killed by Father Oscar's //hurting// spell, which crashes the game if it kills you.
  11. 12/23 - Levi - I am not kidding, that motherfucker can crash your game with the amount of //Hurting// he can deal.
  12. 12/23 - Levi - I told the mayor that the sausage looked like a penis and he stuck a meat cleaver in me.
  13. 12/25 - Levi - Starved to death in latrine pit.
  14. 12/25 - Marina - Stabbed by manic villager.
  15. 12/25 - O'saa - Brutalized by an ogre in a flashback during character creation.
  16. 12/27 - O'saa - Choked to death on pesticide fumes.
  17. 12/27 - O'saa - Stabbed by Henryk.
  18. 12/27 - O'saa - Shot in the head by Needles.
  19. 12/28 - O'saa - Again with the pesticide.
  20. 12/28 - O'saa - Grappled into submission by Fr. Oscar, de-legged, strung up on a ritual crucifix, rescued, crawl away only to get killed by the Vile and his pesticide again.
  21. 12/31 - O'saa - Bitten by rats, which were summoned by a Rat Hag
  22. 1/1 - Marcoh - Pesticide gas, again.
  23. 1/6 - Marcoh - Needles fucked me up, again.
  24. 1/9 - Marcoh - Killed by //Hurting//, via Dysmorphia.
  25. 1/11 - Marcoh - Punched myself to death after getting mind-controlled by a Crimson Father.
  26. 1/11 - Marcoh - Shot by an Elite Trooper
  27. 1/12 - O'saa - Shot and power-sawed by a mob.
  28. 1/14 - Marcoh - Dysmorphia and //Hurting//. Should probably mention that there's a monster named Dysmorphia.
  29. 1/14 - O'saa - Machete'd by a Death Mask.
  30. 1/15 - Marina - Tackled to death by Karin.
  31. 1/15 - Marina - Clawed to death by a Moonscorched.
  32. 1/15 - Marcoh - Bludgeoned with a meat mallet.
  33. 1/15 - Marcoh - Gutted by the knife of a Crimson Father, right after I shot Marina in the head due to mind control.
  34. 1/18 - Marina - Impaled in trap pit while running away from an Owl Cultist in the woods.
  35. 1/18 - O'saa - Police brutality.
  36. 1/18 - Marina - Landmine.
  37. 1/19 - Karin - Machete'd by Death Mask, but not before he cut off both my arms.
  38. 1/21 - Karin - A great run ended by a Death Mask machete. Got too greedy.
  39. 1/22 - Karin - Decapitated by owl spirit.
  40. 1/23 - Abella - Gnawed by a Crimson Father.
  41. 1/23 - Karin - Shot by a mob.
  42. 2/2 - O'saa - Slapped to death by a sewer monster that screamed "Choke on my balls" when it attacked.
  43. 2/4 - Marina - I thought I knew how to handle the Vile. Hubris, etc. My characters, apparently, have not built up any resistance to pesticide.
  44. 2/10 - O'saa - Impaled in a spike pit while wandering the woods at night.
  45. 2/19 - O'saa - SHOT BY A FUCKING TANK

As you can see, this game will result in a lot of character death. What this list doesn't show is the stuff in between.

I was not frustrated by any of these deaths, not even that great run with Karin at #38. The key to the entire experience is that every character death means you have learned something about the game. Even if it's just "there is a horrible monster in that building, don't go inside it" - that's useful knowledge! You explore, you take notes, you die, you reload the save, you repeat until you decide to abandon the run and start with a new character.

The items you get from barrels and chests are random, but the rest of the game isn't. The map is stable. Enemies are always in the same locations. NPCs are in the same locations at the same times on the same days. Special items will always be in the same place and with the same means of getting them. Your accrued knowledge will always be useful, and it will only ever get more useful as you gain more of it. Challenges that used to be brick walls can be taken out with good luck and good planning, totally avoided, or even entirely trivialized. You're handed a puzzle box, a mystery to unravel, and as you gain mastery of its workings in one way you can apply that knowledge along another path.

If this sounds like idealized OSR game design, you are correct. It is. This game is a masterclass on it.

Let's look at an example.

Very early in the game, you come across a locked gate that leads into the city. You're told that there are two keys, and that's generally going to be your way to go in the beginning. One of the keys is easy to find, while the other is behind a particularly nasty enemy who is well beyond anything you've fought this far in the game.

It's possible to beat the encounter with minimal losses, if you get extremely lucky, fight extremely dirty, or already have figured out some ways of getting overpowered (I have managed, in later runs, to beat him in two turns without getting hit - it is possible!)

But you're not likely to learn those strategies without a lot of trial and error. More likely you're going to explore the rest of the available areas, maybe with different characters and in doing so you'll find that:

  • If you have the lockpicking skill or a small key, you can get into the sewers and use them to bypass the gate.
  • If you have the Skin Bible of a particular god, you can unlock a shortcut through the woods that takes you directly to the city.
  • If you have a shotgun and ammo, you can just shoot the lock off.
  • If you got miraculously lucky and picked up a pair of bolt cutters in Tunnel 7, you can do the same.

And once you know those other methods, you can plan around them according to your player character, your items, and the other choices you've made in the game so far.

Now just keep multiplying that by all the other decision points to be made in the game and you get an idea of what the experience is like. Despite being 30+ hours in and close to the end of the game, there's still lots of stuff I either haven't tried or haven't discovered. While there is inevitably an end state of system mastery where there is no more to learn, it is a very long road and if you're the kind of person who likes long hikes and fucked-up sights, it will be an enjoyable one. And the difficulty itself can be surmounted both by the allowances of Eas(ier) mode, or the multiple methods by which you can absolutely break the game with relatively little effort. 



As a survival horror game, F&H contains a whole lot of scrounging in barrels and rationing out your items. You're juggling depleting bars of health, mental state, and hunger for up to four characters at a time. Beyond healing items it's a game of using what you have: no cloth for bandages? Well, if the wound is already infected, you can use the dirty toilet paper and a green herb to patch yourself up.


It's technically possible for any given character to learn any given skill. But in order to get those skills you either have to raise your affinity with a god (requiring a ritual circle and the appropriate Skin Bible, both limited resources), or you have to kill one of the other contestants in the Termina festival and absorb their souls (which unlocks their branch of the skill tree); for both methods you need soul stones, which you get by trading in the heads of defeated enemies (so long as you have a bonesaw to cut off their heads) and you need to rest in a bed (which moves the world into the next time-state).

As with the rest of the game, once you come to grips with how all these interlocking parts work you can start plotting out a path to get what you want, and that path is specific to how the game is progressing. A F&H character build is a time-sensitive hit list where you have to juggle "can I reach and recruit/kill X before they die by other means" with "are they more useful to me in this run as an ally or as their skills."


In the manner of games that actually use lore well, it is optional in F&H. It's there if you want to dig into it, and when you start digging you will keep on digging, but if you just want to play a fucked-up battle royale and vibe, that's an option too.

(The lore does have some fantastic old god / new god shenanigans going on. once again I recommend Worm Girl's overview, especially if you are interested but unlikely to play the game itself - she weaves together all the variables into a coherent, though not "canonical" throughline.)


Game good. Said it before, saying it again.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Further Short Reviews of Delta Green Actual Plays

Following up from the previous installment.


Redacted Reports (Amended)

Apparently the end of Season 6 was one of the scripted bits, which is very disappointing: I think it was a really lame way to end a certain character's arc, and knowing it was entirely avoidable is a major let down.

I was correct in predicting a move to King in Yellow content, but Season 7 is not Impossible Landscapes, and after listening to the two prelude episodes and the first two episodes of the season I don't think this podcast can handle the way Delta Green uses Carcosa. There's been a background trend, from Season 5 onward, of getting increasingly precious about the quirky NPCs and increasingly slow to actually get to the action, directly correlated with moving further away from the prewritten Delta Green adventures, and I don't feel like that's going to mesh well with the raw helpless nihilism that Carcosa necessitates. The characters are entirely too casual and jokey-jokey about it, and that sucks all the tension out of the affair.

Also, I swear I have listened to everything, but one of the agents keeps mentioning speaking to some doctor or another about the King and I am positive that has never happened on mic.

Sorry Honey, I Have to Take This (Amended)

AI art for thumbnails, fine, it's gross and surreal and feels like it fits for Delta Green. AI NPC voices I draw the line at, get those devil computers outta here.

Get in the Trunk

I dropped out very early in episode 0, when the hosts were beside themselves with laughter at the fact that a character got their degree from Johns Hopkins University. Not anything about Johns Hopkins in particular, just the existence of the college itself and the fact that an FBI agent studied there. That such a mundane fact was treated as hilarious was a very strong omen that I would not vibe with this podcast.

Recommended for: Those who find the existence of Johns Hopkins University the funniest thing on earth.

Black Project Gaming

  • Very by the book
  • Perhaps too by the book, because they run Reverberations by the book 
  • Please do not run Reverberations by the book 
  • Minimal editing, very table honest; not always a good thing 
  • Episodes are long, pacing is slow, audio quality is low; semi-regular dead air. 
  • Players have set up intra-party conflict beforehand, which I don't find that interesting personally, but is not a downside on the whole. 
  • I did come back to this after a while away and might keep going.
  • Recommended for: "Bastard's Hours are here and I have run out of everything else."

Stories and Lies

  • Good, but not for me
  • Episodes very long, pacing very slow. 
  • Otherwise well put together. Good editing, good players, good Handler. 
  • Not much else to say. 
  • It's just too slow for me. 
  • At least they didn't run Reverberations
  • Recommended for: People who are fine with slow burns.

Mayday Plays "Doomed to Repeat"

  • The one that leans into that special DG type of fucked; the players kill civilian witnesses by the end of the second episode.
  • Pacing is extremely good, no dawdling. We are on the move and operating. 
  • Does a good job at venting the tension with either something horrible or a bit of black humor. 
  • Handler and players are very keyed in, work well together. 
  • Frame narrative of "Program is attempting to do a major clean-up / compilation project" which I like, because the Program's canon dedication to having no actionable intelligence ever annoys me. 
  • I hope Agent Merrit has a good chiropractor because he's going to throw out his back with how hard he is carrying this team (this isn't a knock against the other players or their characters, just that Merrit has thus far been 110% correct about everything) 
  • Another one with intra-cell conflict, which I am more okay with because the players are very good at the role-playing. 
  • Goes hard with the consequences to fuckups returning to bite the players in the blubber, which I appreciate. 
  • They ran Reverberations. God damn it. Killed all my enthusiasm stone dead. At least they were clearly modifying it, though I didn't get around to seeing where it was going.
  • Recommended for: People who aren't sick of Reverberations because they aren't maniacs like me who binge these shows simultaneously.



I think Reverberations is a bad adventure, and not just for the racism. In the three times it has come up it is a plodding, wheel-spinning drag where the ideal solution is for the players to do nothing at all.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Bookpost 15

 Previous installments found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 , 7, 8, 9, 10 , 11, 12, 13, 14


Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. LeGuin

A book that, as I was reading it, gave me a pronounced feeling of calm for not only the day I read it, but for a day or two afterwards. LeGuin had the magic touch. Very good book, made for a very enjoyable weekend. In lieu of a review, I will just leave with a quote that has stuck with me.

"Are there really people without resentment, without hate, she wondered. People who never go cross-grained to the universe? Who recognize evil, and resist evil, and yet are utterly unaffected by it? Of course there are. Countless, the living and the dead. Those who have returned in pure compassion to the wheel, those who follow the way that cannot be followed without knowing they follow it, the sharecropper's wife in Alabama and the lama in Tibet and the entomologist in Peru and the millworker in Odessa and the greengrocer in London and the goatherd in Nigeria and the old, old man sharpening a stick by a dry streambed somewhere in Australia, and all the others. There is not one of us who has not known them. There are enough of them, enough to keep us going. Perhaps.”

Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee

DNF 146/317

This is a weird fucking book. Only way to describe it. For a while it kept me hooked - it was so bizarrely unconcerned with explanations and so unrelentingly sociopathic that I had to keep going...for a bit. Then I put it down for a couple days and hoo boy that killed that trend stone dead.

This book is a content void. The plot has no discernible stakes, no tension - it's wheel spinning. There's a huge space battle that is neither exciting nor tense. The characters are so flat and lacking in internality that they are impossible to describe as people, and more are constantly being introduced. The setting is exceedingly loosely sketched: there's a space-fascist empire with a rigid caste system and an obsession with calendars for reasons I learned via spoilers which are the one neat idea (the word "calendar" is used to mean "civilization-scale social superstructures sustained by consensus reality that powers all the exotic technology") that does not justify the rest of the book. Nothing is explained, ever, at all, and this is a problem because the prose is so sparse that there are not nearly enough context clues to figure out what any of this shit means. So the spaceships are called moths. Okay, fine. Do they actually look like moths? You keep using the word calendar for something that is not a calendar and you're sure as shit not going to tell me what the damn spaceships look like. Spaceships that, mind you, are where the bulk of the story takes place, utterly severed from anything besides some jackboots in a few pressurized rooms. The prose is like a mouthful of flour straight from the bag. You really start to notice how words get repeated.

This book being an award darling is not surprising, merely more evidence that anyone who thinks awards mean a damn is not to be trusted.

Important: This is not a sci-fi book in anything but aesthetic. It is _aggressively_ fantasy, but not in a good or enjoyable way. It's people throwing energy blasts at each other in a featureless void for reasons we don't give a shit about.

Addendum: I also now, somehow, have two nickels in the "award darling sci-fi novel about a woman in a government job and no other meaningful defining traits in her life with the mind-imprint of an old curmudgeonly political maverick stuck in her brain through whose aid she will learn that empire is bad, actually" jar, which is fucking bizarre that it has happened twice.


Some Desperate Glory, Emily Tesh

Banger. Absolute banger. Aces. A+. Let's fucking GO. White-knuckle grip on the covers. Tesh is able to take what would normally be an extremely hum-drum premise (A young woman in a dystopian authoritarian society discovers that Things Are Bad) and makes it sing through some truly excellent character building and a commitment to never letting up on the gas. it never lingers longer than it ought, and it knows when to breathe. The tension at points got so high I had to take a proper break to come down from it all. At every point where other works might soften the blow or take the easy, this book goes for the gut punch. There's moral complexity! We get to see the horrible sausage of space fascism get made, and we get to see it through the eyes of Valkyr the true believer as the system she served takes off the mask and reveals she had been an object to be exploited in the eyes of command all along.

I can't overstate the quality of the character work: Valkyr gets most of it, but even minor characters get fleshed out so that I can remember and identify them easily. Valkyr's arc is immensely satisfying to experience as she goes from propaganda-spouting stooge through the long road of deradicalization and into becoming a more complete and better person.

My one minor complaint is that the ending is weak, and the book would have been better with the last 2 pages or so chopped off. But the mild letdown of "this isn't as good as the 300+ pages of solid gold that preceded it" is barely worth mentioning. Go read it.

Knights of Sidonia, vol 1-6, Tsutomu Nihei

It's got some great sci-fi concepts that it plays around with (ex: sudden acceleration changes on a giant colony ship kill thousands of unlucky people) but the characters are extremely flat, the plot just kinda there, and the action often difficult to follow. I liked BLAME! more, even when it had less in terms of characterization and plot.


The Songs of Distant Earth, Arthur C. Clarke

A book that has been rendered more or less obsolete by the novels that followed in its footsteps (I will limit myself to one mention of Children of Time, and use it here.) Clarke's inability to write about human beings, their culture, their relationships, or anything else involving people, is on full display here, and is somehow the focus. There are some interesting concepts here (colony ship from a destroyed solar system finds surprise colony, needs to refresh its ice shield before moving on), but there's hardly a plot to speak of. Some potential conflicts are introduced and then just...resolved neatly, or dropped entirely. There's a mutiny, but it doesn't really ever get off the ground. There are sapient sea scorpions, but nothing really happens with them.

But my god did Clarke not understand people. "This colony had no religious works in the original computers and so they have a utopia but very few swear words" is truly baffling. Not the "atheist has very inadequate idea of how religion develops, changes, or works in the lives of people" sense, that's par for the course; it's the fact that somehow this colony has one swear word, which is the name of the local volcano. Somehow people no longer piss and shit and fuck, I guess. They do fuck, in weird robotic, performative ways, but it's a step up from the absolutely bottom of barrel low expectations in that regard.


Moon of Crusted Snow, Waubesheg Rice

A story about an isolated reservation community of the Ojibwe nation in northern Canada trying to survive the winter as the rest of the world falls to an unspecified apocalypse (all the power went out, and that's all the info you're getting. Works in its favor.) The prose is straightforward, and gets the job done. There may be a few too many characters for a book without a character list, and the plot is more a meander, but in terms of realizing its core concept I think it delivers. The gut-dropping realization of just how bad things have gotten hits as hard as you would hope. 


Carrie, Stephen King

I have not struggled with a book this much in a very long time. "It's only 180 pages, you can push through, give it the old college try" I said to myself. If I hadn't, I would have quit on page 10. I don't know if the struggle was worth it.

King's raw and unfiltered stream of consciousness style is a pain - it works fine enough when you're used to it, but I found myself re-reading entire pages before I hit page 10 because I had no idea where characters were standing in relation to one another. The diegetic interludes - newspaper clippings, interviews and the like - had no formatting whatsoever to separate them from the rest of the text. If it was posted to the SCP wiki I'd leave a comment saying "Downvoted until you stick those excerpt sections in a quoteblock", which is certainly an indictment of my own hubris if it is nothing else. But nope, no quote blocks and no three center-aligned asterisks, except in two specific instances where the split between the narrative and the diegetic element took place at a page break. Bizarre.

When it falls into the groove (right around the beginning of Part 2) things are okay, but in order to get there I ended up with long stretches of reading a page or a paragraph or two and then staring out the window for reasons I can't adequately explain. I can recognize why people like it and what King is doing well, but I'm not feeling it. When King is on point, he is very on point. He's got a real good grasp of characters and their internality, but that grasp is extremely unreliable. He loves introducing new characters out of nowhere as if you had any idea who they were supposed to be. On and on.

TLDR back half was good, front half was a drag, King ain't for me.


Saturday, December 30, 2023

2023 in Review (Plus Hiatus Update)

Another year draws to a close, and thus arrives my traditional year-end post. As usual, there is no real order to these beyond whim, and they are plagued by recency bias.

Prior years: 2021, 2022

Hiatus Update

Apologies for the sudden disappearance, to those of you I am not normally in contact with. The adderal shortage + just being burnt out on rpg stuff was a potent combination and taking a few months off has been an excellent move all-around. It is likely to continue for a while, but do not fear: I have been keeping myself busy and will hopefully have something to show for it at the end. Further blogposts shall arrive when they arrive. 

It is, I must admit, extremely refreshing to not be focused on the indie rpg sphere.

Welcome Mor'du

Bubs is a hard act to follow, but Mor'du has some truly magnificent scrungly old man vibes. He's a big ol' lad and dumb as a sack of hammers. Lookit those chunky cheeks.

Godzilla Minus One

God-damn this is a good movie. Excellent effects, acting, pacing, soundtrack, sound design. It's got themes and a big monster wrecking things. I adore how, despite being fully CGI, Godzilla still walks like someone in a suit. Dedication to vibe, right there.

The Barbie Movie

Was also very good.

Steam Deck

Best luxury purchase I have made in ages.

Street Fighter 6

I mostly played World Tour, and had a good time. It was nice having a fighting game where I was able to have fun and also be bad at it. Modern controls are a blessing.

Employment is Good, Actually

What was the new job the last time I did this post has now just become the job, and it's going swell. Much less stress than the last one, much better environment, much better management. It might be unglamorous grunt work but it's better than all the other unglamorous grunt work I've had in my life.

Playing Games in Person

My hiatus from rpg blogging has been accompanied by a drastic increase in playing and running games.

Game 1) I've been lucky enough to find an irl group and have been running them through Delta Green for the last couple months (on break until new year, writeups and at least 1 scenario to follow.) and it has been an absolute blast. They've been enjoying it, I've been enjoying it, I'm going to cap off this season with Unicorn Meat and I am extremely excited.

Game 2) I've been able to play a few games with friend of the blog and all around cool person Layla / Pandatheist. She's been running the Beowulf 5e rules hack and it's been pretty fun so far. Definitely using the mechanics of 5e to the strengths of the genre.

I Was A Teenage Exocolonist

I am not usually a big VN guy but this one has me hooked, and I've been binging it since I bought it. Very well written, has a great setup that's just a couple tweaks away from MoSh fuel (You're part of an esperanto-speaking collectivist sorta-cult founded by a sci-fi author that crowdfunded a spaceship and fled the collapse of Earth for a planet covered in alien fungus that wants to kill you.) Some character moments hit pretty hard, including the crown jewel for any game with any roleplaying: I made choices specifically because it felt right for my character, rather than because it felt right for me the player. That is not an easy thing to accomplish. Game good.

Fear and Hunger

(I realize now, after writing this, that I granted the Fear and Hunger games a Salty. Most of summer was a blur, if we're being honest. The points bear repeating.)

Both of them get the slot, though I have only played the latter and not gotten far. SuperEyepatchWolf's video on the first game is an excellent summary of something that is very difficult to describe.

The Fear and Hunger games feel like they shouldn't exist. They sound like a creepypasta when you start describing them, or otherwise a game from an era long before the internet media machine dissected everything into SEO blurbs. It has a mystery to it. The unknown beckons. I don't know of any better examples of games that reward player knowledge in such actionable ways without mechanizing them. You learn something that can help you. You die horribly. There's no roguelite carry-forward mechanic in the game, but you know enough to help you the next time around. While items are randomized, the world is not. Encounters that ruined you on previous attempts can be avoided or even trivialized. Characters have meaningful differences in how they interact with the world, opening and closing entire avenues for you. it is a survival horror puzzlebox, and it just keeps throwing up new configurations. I've been keeping a notebook, and will at least be sharing the log of deaths in the future.

They are not games for everyone, not by a long shot. The content warnings alone are practically a short novel. They're exceedingly difficult and if "I am going to write off this run as a failure, let's see what I can learn" isn't a fun gameplay loop, I certainly don't recommend it. But if you are in the same mind-goblin space as I am, I highly, highly recommend it. And if you don't know, watch SuperEyepatchWolf and Wormgirl's videos, and if it sounds cool at all, go for the second game. It's what I did, and it has worked out swimmingly. Termina is a wee bit less frustrating and toned down the sexual assault from the first game.

Ranged Touch Binge-Listening

I've spent much of the back-half of this year bingeing their critical analysis podcasts and having a great time.

1) Homestuck Made This World
I now know what happens at the end and, my bile curiosity sated, I am at peace.

2) Just King Things

Stephen King's entire corpus in publication order. I have only ever read a single King book (The Gunslinger), was unimpressed, and don't plan on diving in save for tracking down a few of the ones that have caught my attention (Since writing this I have started on Carrie, and it is not going well).

But it has certainly been enlightening, - I share with King both the "throw shit out there and develop it as I go" method of writing as well as the urge to recycle and revisit elements in ways not bound by linear continuity, and very little else. Which makes it a fascinating listen; The Method highlights those moments of alignment and then immediately shows how there is a vast and unbridgeable gulf between. This is no doubt brought on by the fact that I cut my writing teeth on the SCP wiki, which is nothing if not an elaborate riff on some King classics, and also something that goes off in many wild directions that King has never and won't ever take.

3) Shelved By Genre S1 - Book of the New Sun (plus Urth)

A very thorough read-through that revealed many things I missed both first and second time around, many of which were flaws I managed to overlook or completely missed. Gene himself has fallen a few steps in my personal esteem, but flawed art always gives you something to talk about, and Gene's only got two modes: absolute best and absolute worst.

Getting Back into the SCP Wiki

The great thing about leaving for years and then diving back in is that there's loads of great new stuff to pick through. The cream of the crop (always rises to the top!):

And there we have it. I presume I will get back to tearing through blogposts soon enough, but for now, my vacation is going along quite nicely.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Bookpost 14

Previous installments found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 , 7, 8, 9, 10 , 11, 12, 13


The Wizard Knight, Gene Wolfe

DNF 524/909

It feels like something impossible has happened. But I guess they can't all be winners, and while it pains me to drop a book that I would in most respects consider better than Urth, the opening act of Wizard is an absolute slog.

The book has a lot to commend it: the world is fascinating, the quality of the prose is Wolfe-standard excellent, and there is certainly a lot of stuff I am ignorant of that can be dug into. Unfortunately, Alzabo Soup has not covered this book, so my main resource is of no aid and I haven't looked into finding another.

My main issue is Able. He's basically just boring Severian, and I mean that as the greatest insult I can muster. He's the same character except less engaging at every opportunity: he's a teenager from an abusive living situation, is sexually abused by an older woman, has a way of looking at the world utterly disjointed from reality, and will do whatever anyone tells him to do with absolutely no second thoughts. But he lacks the...entertainment value? that Severian has. Able is a cipher, and while I grok that yes, he's clearly a kid from a bad home life who has been transported to a world where he is rewarded for random acts of violence, it's not really fun to read. Severian is a dunderhead and we know how his background informs his fucked up behavior and you can have loads of fun catching him in lies or laughing at how dumb he can be about basic things. Able is amnesiac and tight-lipped about what he does remember, and so when he randomly beats a ship's captain into submission for the crime of doing his job or his bizarre cruelty to Uri and Baki I just tune out because there is no coherent reason for why that I can discern.

The opening of Wizard is terribly dull and terribly slow, and when Able finally re-appears we get a scene that boils down to:

"Do you, Baki, reject Setr? Specifically you, Baki, and not me, Able, who is still going to kill Kulili because Setr told me to, I don't have to reject Setr and I not only don't have to give anyone a reason, but there is no reason. There are no thoughts whatsoever in my head."

That's what killed it for me. It's such a bizarre episode of hypocrisy and I didn't have any faith that it's be resolved, let alone even addressed.

Delta-V, Daniel Suarez

DNF 34/340

A novel about the first asteroid mining mission, or more properly the lead-up to the first asteroid mining mission. Didn't care for the prose, didn't care for the pacing. Skipped ahead and saw that most of the novel takes place on Earth.

Sacred and Terrible Air, Robert Kurvitz

The prequel of sorts to Disco Elysium and absolutely incomprehensible without having played the game. Honestly it's barely comprehensible even having played the game. But that doesn't matter, because it is incomprehensible in the way of dreams, or of certain modes of poetry. It's experiential. It is wild and vivid and beautiful and bizarre and grotesque and when it works. I can't properly recommend it to people unless they are in for the experience. But if you are in for the experience, it's a wild ride and once I came to grips with what it was offering it was incredibly engaging in the back third.

Goddess of Atvatabar, William Richard Bradshaw

DNF 35%

Public domain hollow earth novel from 1892. It's not a good novel by any standard we'd have today, not really, but it is charming in its absolute and utter sincerity at every step. Bradshaw was, to put it bluntly, extraordinarily ignorant of how the world worked (or very good at giving that impression), and yet somehow, in a book from 1892, this never manifested as virulent racism or sexism. Like still grading on a curve but getting a full third of the way through a book of this genre from this era without getting an eyeful of that is remarkable in the extreme. Sure it's more than a little orientalist but that seems to have manifested mostly in long descriptions of how pretty the buildings are.

In its place there's a sequence where, in spite of there being absolutely no evidence to support this whatsoever, a scientist boldly declares that the language of the Atvatabari is a letter substitution cipher of English, and he is 100% correct. It's so ridiculous that it goes right back around to being charming. Also the author was apparently chair of an anti-vivisection society so that's a gold star.

Shards of Earth, Adrian Tchaikovsky

DNF 125 / 548

Another bust from a favored author, what a bummer.

It's competently written and the setting is a nice, if played rather straight to the tropes modern space-opera. FTL, aliens you can talk to, space gods, all that good stuff. Nothing revolutionary but it does for a time scratch the itch. The prologue features more or less an exact description of one of my Celestials appearing to ruin everyone's day, it's very neat.

Unfortunately, I have reached the end of my ability to stomach rustbucket spaceships with found family crews full of gold heart-bearing rogues. I get the desire to go back to Bebop, but Bebop still exists. You can watch it right now! It's still good! It's still better than all the shows and books trying to capture its magic because, here's a secret, those shows and books are imitating Firefly, which is to Bebop as the shadows flickering on the demiurge's cave wall are to the numinous.

Tchaikovsky is not able to escape this. the way characters are presented as actors in the world, the way they talk to each other, there is a Whedonish tinge to it, which had been absent from Children of Time. CoT is also one hell of an act to follow so I can be understanding to an extent, but Shards of Earth is just...plain and kinda boring. All the components are there to be great, and Tchaikovsky is more than capable of it, but it just didn't work. I wonder how much Orbit editorial dictated the tone?

Scud: The Disposable Assassin, Rob Schrab

In progress

Hell yeah let's fucking GO! Great comic. Masterclass of motion and action. Positively dripping with style. Never lets up with the bonkers, keeps everything rolling with some very sleek "yes, and"-ing. It's great! There's a universe where a tv adaptation of this comic filled the niche of Invader Zim. There is one scene of a (mostly elided) sexual encounter that has definitely not aged well and it was a major swerve from the rest of the comic but besides that, aces.

Update 9/18: Reading further, there is a noteworthydrop in quality in both writing and art after volume 15. Sussudio bears the brunt of being a woman in late-90s early-aughts alt comics, and hoo boy has that aged like fine milk.

Monday, September 4, 2023

7 Grimoires and Lost Texts

Libri Pontificales
Latin, ~290 BCE

A record of the names, prayers, and sacrificial rites of every god known to republican-era Rome. This copy contains 2155 entries, many of which are written in shorthand and contain nothing beyond name(s), altar type, sacrifice, and holy day. Language is obtuse and archaic, with some older passages lapsing into Etruscan.

  • Make Contact - Regardless of deity, the rituals follow the same transactional outline of sacrifice and request. The difficulty lies in deciphering the procedures, procuring the correct offering, and correctly identifying the subject.

Monster Manuela
English, 1977

A copy of the Monster Manual for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. "Happy 12th birthday, Manuella!" is written on the inside front cover in faded blue pen. Book contains copious marginal notes and annotations, most of which are the mundane but enthusiastic commentary of a teenage dungeon master.

  • Door to the Roots of Zan - It works best on cellar doors, basement doors, on doors unused or long-locked. Doors to rooms that have no windows. The passage was always there, you just lacked the means to see it.

The Dzyan Dissection
English, ~1990s

A 3-ring binder containing several hundred pages of the writings of Helena Blavatsky; the text has been annotated with terse, matter-of-fact commentary pointing out every contradiction, inconsistancy, unsubstantiated claim, logical fallacy, historical untruth, and theological misconception in the text, leading to a commentary several times longer than the source text itself.

  • Null - Fully laid bare by the anonymous redactor, the combined ontological weight of the source text's inaccuracy will dissipate any true occult workings it comes in close contact with. Rituals will fail, enchantments will fizzle out, the anomalous will be rendered mundane. Mild effects will occur within 3 meters, substantial effects at 1 meter, and total obliteration of the unnatural elements when touched.

Last Great Dangerous Visions

English, 2037 (alleged); 1985 (first documented copy)

Short story collection of trangressive science fiction. 28/47 authors are extant individuals, though none have any record or memory of writing the stories contained within. The remaining 19 authors are of unknown ontological status.

Only the copyright page, index, and titles are readable: the rest has been redacted. Still, those who have come into contact with the book or learned of its existence will vouch for the contents' status as haunting, grotesque, transgressive, taboo, and other such adjectives. When pressed about the contents, reponses will be vague; those that contain any meaningful description of the contents will bear no correlation with any other account. Reconstructions of the stories remains unlikely.

  • Anomalous properties unknown. 

Book of the Waters
Ge'ez, ~1410s

Fragmentary apocryphal text regarding a vision delivered to an unnamed hermit, wherein an angel elaborates in great detail the spirits of the abyssal oceans. The hermit, not believing these claims, demands that the angel show him; the angel does so, again in great detail. Multiple sections of the text are repeated word-for-word. The hermit comes to deeply regret his descision, a repentence that the angel has no intention of acknowledging (not while there are yet more varieties of horrific snaggletoothed fish to catalogue)

  • Abyssal Familiar - A spirit not entirely unlike a gulper eel is bound to the text. It will act as typical for a bound familiar, though its cunning and appetite are a measure more than most.


Itadakimasu, Kyoko-chan!
Japanese, 2019

A slice-of-life story about teenagers starting a cooking club which, upon close reading, contains detailed subtextual directions on the creation of a philosopher's stone. Only known copy is an omnibus edition of the first three volumes, leaving the remaining nine steps unknown.

  • The Great Work (Partial) - The first three steps are sufficient to create a lesser homunculus. It can only follow basic commands, and will dissolve into a slurry of its component materials within hours, but it will suffice.

Meat and Honey
Akkadian, ~1600s BCE

Series of clay tablets containing an incomplete translation of the Homestuck epilogues. Creative liberties have been taken with the text, including a diatribe by Karkat about his negative experiences with the copper merchant Ea-Nasir and a lengthy aside describing an argument between scribes over Vriska's moral status, inserted in a section that did not contain the character in question.

  • Anomalous properties unknown.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Four Short Reviews of Delta Green Actual Play Podcasts

 Role-Playing Public Radio

  • It's RPPR, you've probably already listened to it.
  • Veteran handler and players; Ross knows what he's doing.
  • Probably the truest-to-table experience you'll find in actual plays.
  • Usually one-shots, so not many home scenes or campaign features.
  • The show to listen to if you want a good idea of how the game is run and played in practice.
  • Not the show to listen to if you are looking for a story.
  • Nowhere Lane and the current Impossible Landscapes AP are some of the best Delta Green content I have listened to, period. Impossible Landscapes bucks the RPPR trend by being a very character-focused campaign. Players are really into it and doing a fantastic job. Ross is spinning an absurd number of plates and none have crashed yet.
  • Also that first run of Lover in the Ice, primo gross.
  • Recommended for: I want Delta Green as it is played.

Pretending to Be People

  • Absurdist & gross.
  • Great soundtrack.
  • Rules hybridized with Pulp Cthulhu.
  • Basically no connection with the canon of Delta Green or the Mythos proper.
  • Players have great report with each other.
  • Players are good with character acting.
  • Some truly pristine horror imagery.
  • Lots of weird, memorable NPCs.
  • Great sense of the heightened surreal-real. Things are fucking weird.
  • Some occasionally aggravating obtuseness with the weird aspects.
  • Players meander & spin their wheels sometimes; tabletalk rambling & bits sometimes go a bit long.
  • I am under no illusions that the PCs are in any danger of dying in this game.
  • The PCs are many things and 'competent investigators' is not among them.
  • Recommended for: I want something very strange and very gross.

The Redacted Reports

  • Most well-produced of the four.
  • Least table-honest of the four.
  • Very character-focused.
  • Long narrative arcs with a lot of interconnected threads.
  • Daisy-chains multiple published scenarios with original material.
  • Handler can do some fantastic NPCs, scene-setting, and tension ramp-up
  • The most 'canon' of the four.
  • The 'nicest' of the four - you're not going to find that classic Delta Green panic spiral of bad people making increasingly bad choices here.
  • A good deal is definitely planned beforehand; doesn't matter. it's well told, overall.
  • Pacing can get painfully slow sometimes, especially in the most recent couple arcs which are more heavily-modified than the earlier ones.
  • Not kidding we're talking like, 5-6 hour long episodes before weird shit starts happening in the last couple seasons. I hope you like Burning Man and subplots about California political lobbying.
  • This combined with the nice factor leads to points where I, the listener, am going "get on with it" and/or "you are not panicking nearly as much as you should be in this scenario"
  • Honestly this is a feather in the cap of DG as a game, how player metaknowledge translates into the "insanity" of the characters. I the listener know the tell-tale signs of an outbreak of the Yellow Sign, and my immediate gut reaction could only be described as insanity.
  • They are definitely setting up a Carcosa season.
  • Can't come too soon the current antagonist has an exaggerated vocal fry affectation and just because it's an act she's putting on in-fiction doesn't make it any more pleasant to listen to.
  • Recommended for: I would like a Delta Green audio drama.

Sorry, Honey, I Have to Take This

  • Generally feels pretty table-honest
  • Feels like the players spin their wheels often
  • Not as weird as PTBP, not as well-produced as RR, not as well-run as RPPR.
  • Every episode has a minute-long music spot at the midway point and I don't know why it's so long.
  • PCs are not immune to game-changing injury or death.
  • Handler regularly makes choices I firmly disagree with (ex. Players did not realize that it was 3am instead of 3pm, Warden doesn't wind back the clock.) 
  • I don't like the chosen scenarios all that much.
  • I don't jive with the humor.
  • Listened to three seasons, unlikely to return.
  • Recommended for: I'm caught up on all the others and still want a DG AP.