Sunday, May 31, 2020

10 Sapient Aliens For Mothership


And here we go, the last of my series of patreon-exclusive posts from back in the halcyon days of February.

10 Sapient Alien Species for Mothership (and other games)

1) A decaying satellite crying tightband radio bursts into the night, orbiting a world of desertified continents, sterile acidic oceans, and unbreathable CO2 haze.
  • The satellite will respond to attempts at communication using the 1420 MHz band. Its first messages will be used to establish baseline proficiency in math and chemistry with whomever it is talking to, growing in complexity and steadily increasing the amount of data transferred. (Example puzzles: Prime numbers. Fibbonaci sequence, hypotenuse calculation, identifying elements (hydrogen, then helium, carbon, oxygen, uranium etc, chemical compounds like water, sucrose, caffeine etc.)
  • The satellite will be able to form a basic vocabulary in a few days if provided with sufficient data. It will try for sympathy. It will lie.
  • The satellite contains 2861 digitized minds - all that could be saved of the eleven billion beings that once inhabited the planet below. All of these are close enough in complexity to a human mind that they can be loaded onto a run on an android logic core. Makeup of the population is:
    • 00-23 - Chrysocratic landowning caste
    • 24-30 - Diplomatic stratoeunuch caste
    • 31-50 - Petrofascist party leadership
    • 51-65 - Cryptotechnocratic monopolists
    • 66-89 - Retainers of the above parties (roll again, ignore 66+)
    • 90-99 - Literate scientists and scholars.

2) Colonial organisms like tube worm pipe organs, living simple lives and thinking simple thoughts around the deep-sea vents at the bottom of a subglacial ocean.
  • Observation can tell that they are thinking, but can’t tell what they are communicating to each other, or to what extent they are aware of their observers.
  • The beings can, very slowly, guide the growth of structures from dead segments of the colony (akin to coral formation) that appear akin to cathedrals to the human eye - these have no practical purpose, and so are considered art and thus valuable.
  • Pressure differences would kill these creatures long before they ever made it to the surface. This does not stop a certain secretive band of investment firms who want to transplant one of the colonies and sell it as an art installation.

3) Dolphin analogues (highly social aquatic pack predators) from the shallow oceans of a high-gravity superhabitable world. Sleek pointed cylindrical bodies with powerful tails and steering fins.
  • A rough lexicon has been established, basic communication is possible with machine intermediaries.
  • The beings have shown great curiosity in human researchers and AI probes. Several have volunteered to be taken offworld.
    • This is less good, because someone found that they are delicious.

4) A terrestrial planet orbiting an ordinary K-class star, spitting out tightband radio signals contining sequences of prime numbers at every nearby star. Every probe sent to the system, and all have been destroyed within a few hours of exiting hyperspace, providing only partial images of the planet’s surface. Light-tracery resembling major cities can be seen on the night side.
  • Nearby planetary governments have issued a general lockdown - attempts to contact the planet in any way are considered an act of terrorism and will be dealt with militarily.
  • Someone claiming to be a listening station on the ANONNET claims to have received a different message from the system - prime numbers in descending sequence, from somewhere in the oort cloud of that sun.

5) Beings whose homeworld is on a very pronounced elliptical orbit and so spends the majority of its year frozen solid. These creatures cocoon themselves in clusters around geological hotspots, favoring those rich in the radioactive materials they feed off in this stage. Clusters are connected by complex webs of neural ganglia that have burrowed through the rock - they clearly are talking to each other, but we don’t yet know what they’re saying. No direct contact has been made, only ground-penetrating scans.
  • The planet is due to move back into a temperate zone relatively soon, which means the next stage of these creatures’ lives, if such things exist, is bound to happen. There’s an actual low-key war going on between the members of different university xenology departments over who gets first exploration rights, and thus first publishing on papers.

6) A very simple machine species - glossy metal spheres from marbles to soccer balls, running around the near-Martian desert on their little spider legs. They have a symbiotic relationship with equally-artificial solar trees that they use to recharge. There have been no signs of any sort of civilization beyond the artificial ecosystem, and it doesn’t look like the planet has ever had native life.
  • Remarkably quick to pick up human language, but they only seem to mimic it so far. Common source phrases (often cut up into pieces) include:
    • [Repeatedly babbling] “Hi!”
    • [Passable imitation of Alec Guiness] “Hello there!”
    • “God fucking damn it where did I put the tablet?”
    • “Have you seen Fareeha?”
    • “Hold this, I need to go take a shit.”
    • “Pickup’s been delayed by three months.”
    • “I swear the little bastards are listening to us.”

7) A solitary ambush predator, something similar to an amphibious octopus, native to the shorelines of hydrocarbon seas on a frigid methane world. Old, cold, and terribly, impossibly patient.
  • The single specimen kept in containment by the KeterDevelopment Corporation has attempted to escape twice. After nearly dying in the first attempt due to the atmosphere and pressure outside its containment unit, it managed to kill an inspecting caretaker, steal their pressure suit, fill it with the appropriate gas mixture, and crawl out the airlock in the space of seven minutes.
  • Video from a planetary probe has been leaked to the public: in it, one of the creatures is seen brutally murdering another using an ice hand axe before dragging the victim’s corpse back into the lake.

8) Long-range space telescopes have picked up a distant patch of space lit up like a bonfire in the infrared, without a visible star. Consensus is that the anomaly is an alien dyson sphere dumping waste heat. No coherent radio transmissions have been detected from the civilization, and no nearby stars show any signs of dimming or other drastic change.
  • The expeditionary force to the sphere has been a cavalcade of disaster and it hasn’t even left yet. It’s burned through six directors, three expedition leads, an armed revolt by the shipwrights’ union, a breakout of Red Death, a major political scandal involving coverup money paid to specialist fetish simulation designers, and the performative suicide of its bookkeeper as an act of protest. Launch is still scheduled for two years from now.

9) A space-faring civilization that, some four million years ago, had managed to colonize over twenty solar systems before suddenly vanishing. Very little is left now, mostly crumbling orbital infrastructure, the buried remnants of surface settlements, and the shared biospheres among their disparate worlds. Most of their material culture is gone, and few partial bodies have been recovered.
  • These beings had managed to create a quantum-entangled communication network that was linked directly to the brains of each individual and most of their active technology, allowing for constant real-time communication among the entire species.
  • Some corruption in the ansible, either deliberately introduced or a naturally-occurring anomaly, was able to wipe out the entire species in a matter of minutes. The exact method is still unknown.
  • Accessing the ansible is still possible through elaborate workarounds, connecting old implants to newer devices. The interior mindscape is universally described as hell.

10) Social, adaptable, omnivorous, migrating across the temperate plains and river deltas of their homeworld. They have fire, they have tools and specialized crafts, they have oral history and artwork. Six legs, humpbacks, and mottled blue skin aside, they are more like us than anything else in the universe.
  • The political battle over these beings has drawn lines between the Preservationists (no interference whatsoever), the Gradualists (minimal guided interference) and the Immediatists (Immediate absorption into interstellar civilization), with religious groups siding with all three. Shots have been fired, ships have been sunk.
  • The taboo has already been broken in secret by factions within both the Gradualists and Immediatists. Preservationists have been moving towards sabotaging these programs before they go too far.

Friday, May 29, 2020

The Marriage of Clever Lu

Tom Bjorklund

This story takes place after the Theft of Fire and the coming of the Snows...

Clever Lu went out among the gods of the ancestors and, raising her voice, declared: "My tent is empty and boredom assails me; loneliness wages war against my heart. I must find myself a husband."

Now there were several among the gods who desired Lu, but had made no word nor action out of fear of the Crown of Fire. Hearing her intent, they threw themselves into a frenzy of preparation, each bringing forth a gift by which they thought she might be wooed.

First was Dyeuz, who fancied himself king of the gods. He made great boasts of his strength and manhood, bringing forth great gifts of gold, alabaster and purple cloth, and he offered to elevate Lu above all the peoples and forever free her from want or care, should she only submit herself to him as his queen and grant him the Crown of Fire in return.

Second was Yhewen, who was a god of war and might. He brought forth many weapons and chariots and fine horses and offered to her an entire kingdom, half of all the land he was to conquer by his swords of bronze, that she may take of all its bounty and keep its riches for herself and rule over it as his equal should she become his queen. The Crown of Fire concerned him not, for he thought of it a weak woman's power (for it had no blade or sharp edge)

Third was Astare the Early-Rising, most beautiful goddess of the hunt and the ways of silence and solitude. She spoke to no one as she arrived in the camp, and she led by a short length of braided rope a snow-white eire elk, its antlers bedecked with flowers. Many among the gods were amazed that she should appear, for she was not due to return from her trips abroad for some time still and even then would return by moonlight and leave again before the sun.

Last was old Pan-Pongo, his back bent and his hair graying, bearing in shaking hands a gourd of palm wine; the last few mouthfuls of his secret stores from before the Snows came.

Lu looked over her suitors and considered their gifts without speaking. She turned from them and passed through the camp of the gods until she came to a certain tent, and the gods followed behind her.

"Tubalkhan! Tubalkhan of the forge!" she called out. "Tubalkhan, I have chosen you! I wish that I be your wife, and you my husband! What say you?"

Broad-shouldered Tubalkhan, gentle god of callused hands, stepped out from his tent and brushed the soot from his apron, but before he could speak a great commotion broke out, as the suitors grumbled with great anger and confusion. Lu rebuked them, saying "Did you not hear my words? I said that I must find a husband; the seeking and the choosing were mine alone. I am not some trinket to be bought by gifts.

Dyeuz, do you think me still some dew-eyed maiden? I know of your ways, chasing nymphs through the woods with your staff in your hand. Those whom you have offended have come to me in secret, afraid of the retribution you might deliver upon them. Know this; so long as the Crown of Fire rests upon my brow there shall be no place among the peoples for rapist-kings. Begone!

Yhewen, you promised me a kingdom carved out by bronze swords. Do you think me mad for blood? Have I not shed enough by striking down the dragons and plunging us into this demon-haunted winter? Will you see me drink battlefields dry of corpses, to bathe in blood and shit and the weeping of men? Know this: so long as the Crown of Fire rests upon my brow there shall be no place for men who would send their sons to die in such glory. Begone!

Astare, you alone of these suitors have pleased me, but I am afraid my mind remains set upon a husband. Come to me another time, and we will go out hunting together. But let it be known by all that I refuse you out of no lack of affection for you, and you and your kin shall forever be welcome by my fire.

Pan-Pongo, you were once my enemy, but the time of our hatred has passed. Your persistence is praiseworthy, but ill-placed. I shall say nothing more. Go in peace."

And to the gods she said:

"Know this! I have chosen Tubalkhan of the forge because he is precious to me, and my heart overflows. He has treated me with greatest kindness and greatest patience, he has been my friend and companion in my endeavors. When I sought to steal the Crown of Fire, he alone was by my side. He loathes violence and seeks peace. He seeks to make right what he might have set wrong when beset by anger. He does not destroy that which others have made to glorify the works of his own hands. I know his heart and in knowing it I am filled with joy."

Having said this, Lu once more turned her attention to Tubalkhan and asked once more:

"What say you, Tubalkhan?"

Tubalkhan scratched at his beard (for that was his habit when deep in thought) and answered:

"Let it be so."

They embraced there before all the gods, and the Crown of Fire shone in all its brilliance.

A great feast was prepared, and Raven was summoned to spread word among the Folk of the forests and mountains and the mammoths of the great taiga. The singing and dancing lasted deep into the night, until the last of the dying embers.

From there Lu took Tubalkhan into her tent, and for six days and six nights they practiced the marital art. On the seventh day they rested, for Tubalkhan had grown tired.

This is how the peoples of man came to be.

Viktor Vasnetsov

Translator's Note: Later versions of the Theft of Fire story include Tubalkhan as Lu's traveling companion during the early adventures of her journey, establishing the relationship that is referenced here.

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? (d8)

  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: -1 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.

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
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


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.


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 charnières" 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




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 in place.

They will be next, and there are only moments to decide if it will be by 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 a woman who long ago had a vision in the pasture, 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.


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 Akká
  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.

Bonus: Fan Art!


Hell yeah.

Thursday, May 21, 2020


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.


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.


  • 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.


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.


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.


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, 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.


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.


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