Sunday, August 30, 2020

Excerpts from the Lighthouse Field Guide: Part 3

Dorohedoro, naturally

First installment can be found here.

The second installment, here.

As always, all of this is canon, especially the parts that contradict, but not all of it is canon in the same place.

Venus Protectrix Gentium

Street art depicting paleolithic goddess-figure carrying aloft a war banner. In the more elaborate pieces, she is often attended by smaller, simplified human figures, handprints, herds of aurochs, elk, horses, wolves, etc. Often accompanied by selected lines from the Exaltation of Inanna, or simply the cuneiform for hè-zu-ám - "It is known" or "Let it be known".

The Red Letter Day

The last best hope for the future. The day the revolution comes.

The Bullet That Will Kill the Last Elephant

Taking the item's ontological properties into account, the agreed-upon disposal method is as follows: encasement in lead followed by dumping in randomized location in north Pacific ocean. The agents responsible will be selected according to ideological alignment, covert operations experience, and proximity to natural death.

Malebolge Manifest

Manila folder containing 17 pages, typewritten on both sides with two columns of names. 12 names are redacted, 9 are of individuals who were born after the manifest was recovered, and 27 cannot be matched to existing persons. The only other text present is a header on the first page - "ACCOUNTS PAYABLE DEBT COLLECTION AUTHORIZED".

Antarctic Express

Rail line running from Palmer Land through Ellsworth and Marie Byrd Lands, crossing the Transantarctic Mountains near Mt. Kirkpatrick for the final leg across the plateau to the Pole. A full-length trip. Passengers are encouraged to socialize with anyone boarding from mid-transit wilderness stations, but should avoid prying questions or disembarking at stops marked with a red chevron. Pamphlets with common phrases in express argot are available at the main stations.

Mouse Friend and Comrade Rat

Animated television series featuring the eponymous anarcho-communist rodents aiding the humans in their apartment complex launch organized resistance against their landlords. The six known episodes end in the middle of a plot arc (police siege of the complex), and it is unknown if any further episodes exist. There are no broadcast records of Mouse Friend and Comrade Rat; the earliest copy found so far is a VHS home recording dated to the summer of 1990.

Unnamed New Religious Movement

Apocalyptic transhumanist ideology commonly found among those in the finance or tech industries. Cult-like in its secrecy, zealotry, and recruitment tactics, though it lacks established orthodoxy, texts, tenets, rites, and other markers of a new religious movement.

Central to the movement is the shared certainty that climate change will, eventually wake a diefic alien intelligence slumbering deep in the ocean. The process of this being's waking will wipe out the majority of humanity in the process of leaving the planet. Those who survive, protected by an assortment of patent paracausal technologies, will emerge from their bunkers and use the knowledge gained from the being's passing to ascend to a posthuman state and follow it out into the stars, where they will inherit the universe.


A cracked glass bottle containing about half a liter of pale golden liquid. Reports of its effectiveness as a cure-all are currently unsubstantiated. Records indicate that twenty liters of the substance existed at one point - whereabouts of the rest are unknown. Reacts violently when combined with other liquids.


A common Delver pet, typically six inches to two feet in length. Intelligent, affectionate, and easy to care for. Hundreds of cataloged species. Immense variety in shape, size, and coloration, with clades localized to specific Underworld water bodies. Some rare varieties have retained limbs.

The Theoretical Bureaucracy

A non-organization wherein one might apply for licenses and permissions for nonsensical, nonexistent, improbable, or entirely hypothetical circumstances. These documents will be regarded as legitimate by mundane authorities without question, though only for the specific circumstances outlined within.

Access to the Bureaucracy is relatively easy, requiring only knowledge of the Bureaucracy itself and a suitable go-between - someone whose typical occupation involves a great deal of other peoples' paperwork. Whether or not the targeted person is aware of the Bureaucracy is irrelevant, so long as the request is made appropriately. Acquiring a specific license is more difficult, as they tend towards great, and obtuse cost. 


Delver slang for law enforcement. "Fred the Badger" indicates police working alongside federal agents, "the old badger clan" indicates police working alongside white supremacist militias, and "badger found a mushroom" indicates police working alongside Agency operatives.

The Basilica

A gothic revival cathedral located on the Utopia Plantitia, Mars. The structure is constructed of local stone and is almost entirely buried by sediment, with only the two spires, the peak of the roof, and the rose window visible above the surface

Coitus Mentalis

Nickname given to task force that took part in a successful, if high-casualty, raid of the laboratory used as centerpiece of the Project HIMALAYA psy-ops program. Survivors can be identified by badges or tattoos of a cracked skull with lipstick marks on the exposed brain.

"The Stink"

Field tests are still ongoing to determine the reliability of identifying paracausal events or beings by smell.The current hypothesis is that the smell is not of the paracausality itself, but caused by a chemical reaction in the surrounding environment by the presence of a paracausal instance. Described as "somewhere between the smell of bleach, a live wire and wood smoke."

The Tampa Incident

A lopsided tugboat, taking on water and in clear disrepair, appears offshore in the early morning of June 14th. Unreadable symbols written across hull and cabin in mixture of blood and feces. Intestines wide enough for a man to crawl through and oversized balloons drape across the deck and bob in the water nearby. Those present at recovery report a sure knowledge that this is the aftermath of unknown, but assuredly terrible, events from the previous night.


Recovered agency documents detailing incident in May 2015. Acephalic, hermaphroditic humanoid falls from sky in rural Washington state, severely damaging parked car. Exaggerated male and female sexual characteristics. Skin translucent; hair sparse, pale and feathery. Eventually tracked to cabin in southeast Alaska where originating actor was found dead in presence of 48 severed human heads. Notes indicate that the procedure was regarded as a failure by its practitioner, with hopes that some subjects succeeded in their escape to the "upper air".

White Lily Society

Predominantly but not entirely female organization. Primary motivation appears to be cutting down numbers or eliminating individuals possessing enough power to upset the existing factional balance of the Underworld. Typical form of dress is umber or rust colored, with white gloves. Considerable wealth used to hire out contractors - direct engagement with members is limited to lavish and strictly controlled social functions used to exert soft power among other faction. WLS banquets are the place to make history, if you're patient enough.

"Idam lo hapt, Idam lo det"

A call-and-response signifying neutrality or non-hostility; when used in entirety by a single speaker, it indicates detached resignment to the situation at hand. Nonsense, belonging to no language. Origin unclear, though it is believed to have migrated from the Underworld to the surface.

Principle of Causal Influence

Hypothesis stating that the stability of a paracausal phenomenon outside of the Underworld is inversely influenced by its scope and the degree of causal violation, thus preventing major paracausal shifts to the state of the world as a whole. Prosaically: it won't destroy us all, but it can't save us from the forces that can.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Dan Reviews Books, Part 5

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, the previously cursed Part 4

Silver in the Wood, Emily Tesh

A pleasant little novella, breezy to read and enjoyable throughout. The prose is both economic and vivid, the characters are well-sketched for the limited amount of space provided, and there is no chaff to weigh down the flow of events one into the other. My gut feeling of "this feels like fanfiction" - in terms of subject matter and presentation - turned out to be backed up by the acknowledgements in the back, and I will praise the story for that, as the change in style and content from typical far was both enjoyable and welcome.

The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal

DNF at 2%

I feel cruel dropping it after ten pages - I had been looking forward to this one. But, the prose was dry as cardboard, and after those ten pages I had my fill of dull sentences and lifeless dialogue.

Strangest of All (ed. Julie Novakova)

A free ebook of short stories of alien life, put out in conjunction with the European Astrobiology Institute. The aliens within are exotic and excellent fuel for your own inspiration, and the stories themselves are overall of very solid quality. In particular I enjoyed The Island by Peter Watts, War Ice, Egg, Universe by G. David Nordley, and Into the Blue Abyss by Geoffrey Landis, all of which are extremely novel in concept, engaging in execution and put the dunk on a whole lot of other sci-fi.

But, Still, I Smile by D.A. Xiaolin Spires left a bad taste in my mouth (a poor turn for the penultimate story), though this was because the story focused on a character whose defining characteristic was a desire to have children, an inability to do so, and unwillingness to just adopt like a sensible person. For real. Just adopt. Fuck's sake. This makes me more frustrated than it ought but the idea that an adopted child somehow "doesn't count" just because your zygotes weren't involved is reprehensible.

Gulliver of Mars, Edwin Lester Arnold

DNF, 33%

A predecessor to A Princess of Mars, written in those halcyon days when books didn't need to contain plots or characters. Absolutely nothing has happened thus far, and I am certain that nothing is going to happen in the 66% to follow. A few moments worth remembering happen, mostly relegated to the sight of using an ancient theological text as an elaborate mousetrap and a moment (sadly undone soon after) where a character looked to have smashed most of the typical trappings of 1905 gender roles. It doesn't last. 1905 asserts itself everywhere you think it might. 1905 is a dick.

Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This is a story about a utopian all-woman civilization on top of a high plateau, and how this utopia interacts with the main characters - a trio of collegiate men gallivanting around on an expedition (They're idiots).
  • One is an aggressive chauvinist who is five seconds away from committing an assault at any given moment.
  • One is a simpering ninny who goes misty eyed at his image of idealized gentle femininity.
  • One is the narrator, who has no personality and rambles on about civilization from a position of quote-unquote neutrality.
It's been 105 years since this was published and nothing has changed. Five minutes on Reddit and you could find all three of these chuckleheads. Likely arguing with each other in the same thread.
The book is generally readable, certainly much more than a lot of the other works of a similar time frame that I have read and much closer to modern sensibilities of pace and paragraph. However, at about the 60% point (when the initial conceit has worn a good niche for itself), it ran out of steam and what remained was skimmed through. It's the issue with utopias: they don't lend themselves much to long stays, as you'll find the supports are rather thin.

Alas, 1915 rears its head eventually. To be expected. The usual suspects are all lined up: casual dismissal of peoples who aren't white, complete no-sell on same-sex relationships, the "this sounds a lot like eugenics" bits, the usage of motherhood as the ironclad, no-alternatives ideal of the all-women society. The last century has proven Gilman to be prescient in some respects, but has roughened the edges considerably.

But hey. Public domain. 

Jingo, Terry Pratchett


I was actually a little worried going back to this one. How well would it hold up, this book about a pastiche of the Euro-American world butting heads with a pastiche of the Middle East? The Ankh-Morpork city watch are cops, can't forget that either.

But then I got to the part where Vimes realizes why the symbol of the Watch is not a sword, and why it should never be a sword, and those worries lifted.

It would be written differently were it written in 2020, but what wouldn't?

Galactic Derelict, Andre Alice Norton 

A short book that just doesn't let up and won't let you down. There's always something happening, no time for filler or dilly-dallying. The characters aren't anything to write home about (in truth, they are hardly discernible) but points are given for having a non-white protagonist (an Apache rancher) in a novel from '59. Extra points for the fact that he is just some guy and the story addresses, at least in some part, that being just some Apache guy in America in the 50s is not a particularly welcoming experience.

I didn't find out until after reading that this was the second book in a longer series, though a rudimentary. Events and characters from the first book are mentioned and appear, but I felt it was actually better this way - establishing that the setting is bigger than I think and has pieces moving outside of my view. I like that.

You will note that I have not included much description of the plot. This is because the ride is much better when you don't know the turns it's going to make.

Also did you know that she wrote the very first D&D novel? She did. Baller.

Heretics of Dune, Frank Herbert

Reread, 50 pages

What the shit is this book. High school me what the fuck were you thinking.

On paper, it's a fantastic setup. The God-Emperor died, human civilization shattered into a zillion pieces, and now all manner of new and strange peoples and cultures from the far reaches of space are returning to the roost to upset the existing factional order. If you read the brief summaries of all the weird factions (which are mostly the old ones, alas), it's cool. This is the part that's cool.

In practice, it is complete gibberish. Herbert has managed to create a universe that operates on a purely alien logic, which seems to . There's a lot of talking about plots and plans and schemes and strategies, and it's all the sort of navel-gazing that would be soundly defeated by literally anyone taking an actual action or applying a single nanosecond of skepticism.

Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee, The Chinese Bell Murders, Robert Van Gulik

Another pull from my father's detective novels, and a curious one indeed. I read the first one some time ago and have not finished the second one, but if there is a lesson to be had with detective potboilers it is that you know what you are getting into.

There's a whole lot of room for commentary on the scenario of a Dutch diplomat translating / adapting centuries-old  Chinese detective stories and then adding his own material, and that is a space that I do not possess the experience or knowledge base to adequately address.

I appreciate the afterwards in which Van Gulik explains what sources he is adapting, what changes or additions he has made, and the reasoning behind some of the plot elements at play, and it appears that his attempt is a good faith effort to remain true to the spirit of the source material.

As for the stories themselves, I'm mixed. On the one hand, Chinese detective novels of the type he is emulating typically present the detective with three overlapping, but unconnected, cases at once, which I think is a good way of keeping things fresh. They move along at a nice clip, especially when you get all three plots rolling and new information and developments on one overlap with the conclusion of another. In this aspect, they are quite enjoyable. There's less wheel-spinning than in the Wolfe books I read, a more sensible progression of solving the case.

On the other hand there is a certain...tension, in these stories. Not of the central mysteries, but of the central character. In them, we see Judge Dee deal with all manner of investigations - murder, rape, conspiracy, embezzling, fraud and deceit - and in the tribunal chamber he has a certain way of talking down to the accused - blunt, accusatory, the angry thundering voice of a vengeful authoritarian god - but he's real a piece of shit himself.

Dee is a man whose primary issue with torture is the amount of paperwork that it causes him. One of the criminals even calls him on this, saying that no matter how much he protests his innocence, the court will find some crime to pin on him and torture him until he confesses (the tribunal can't sentence without a confession under this system). Nothing comes of it, though. Dee will purchase human beings with alarming casualness (EDIT: he did end up purchasing their freedom but to everyone concerned it looked like he was out for more concubines, which is not grand). He has no real self beyond his position as magistrate. Which is in line with a lot of other detectives, but his other traits make him go a bit beyond folks like Wolfe.

His merry band of lieutenants all carry significantly more character, if they are archetypal - the old one, the big one, the crafty one, etc. I like them. It's simple chemistry, but chemistry all the same.

Can we please get a detective who isn't a gargantuan shit to women that would be great.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Fiona's 122 Questions (Plus a Challenge)

Fiona Geist made this list on twitter. Then a second list.

I compiled them into a single list, and then promptly forgot about them because of the collapse of civilization in slow motion. I have remedied this.

Forgetting about the random table, not fixing civilization. Working on that.

The F-122 Challenge

First, you must select 7 classes to replace the seven standard classes. You can have more than 7. For extra fakepoints, they could be all for the same system, or all from different authors, or whatever extra criteria you wish to apply for personal fulfillment purposes.

Then, roll on the below table 10 times, and answer the questions provided, using the classes you chose as the foundation of the culture you are sketching out.

Combine with other random tables as you see fit and desire.

Then make a post and share with the class.


  1. What skill is rolled on for rope bondage?
  2. Is this society a gift economy?
  3. Do they have any cultural taboos?
  4. Who are their social pariahs?
  5. Where are tailors?
  6. Is there a way to avoid traveling by boat?
  7. What do heavy mounted infantry ride?
  8. Are there entities that buy a human soul?
  9. Does anyone buy corpses without questions?
  10. Do people pay to see wunderkammer?
  11. Are there weapons that work better against armored foes?
  12. Is there a mechanic for fighting dishonorably?
  13. Is there a mechanic around playing a character with miserable stats?
  14. Are there holy fools or other types of weird sacred people?
  15. What cults venerate pleasure?
  16. What magic trades stability for power?
  17. What art movement is causing the most strong reaction?
  18. What narcotics are available? Which ones trade power for years?
  19. Can I buy ground glass?
  20. What religious festival is most prominent for the wealthy?
  21. the poor? 
  22. the largest foreign national community?
  23. practiced by the diaspora? 
  24. that causes mass return?
  25. What are only nobles allowed to own? 
  26. Is there an active criminal or taxless market? 
  27. What is mass imported and prone to price fluctuations? 
  28. What is the staple grain? 
  29. What is the most popular leisure activity?
  30. What is the highest complexity of metallurgy attained? 
  31. What is the most ornate form of ceremonial armor? 
  32. What metal is rare? 
  33. What is used for coinage? 
  34. Is there a temple-bank?
  35. What is the cultural perception of wizards? 
  36. Are wizards registered? 
  37. How are mad wizards disposed of? 
  38. What wizard is considered a paragon? 
  39. What wizard is anathema? 
  40. Are wizards eligible for citizenship?
  41. What are the patrician virtues (if any) in the culture?
  42. Is there a military cult, sacred band or other theocratic military order? 
  43. How is the military organized? 
  44. Is the military feared by the state? 
  45. Is military service compulsory?
  46. What is worth more than financial wealth? 
  47. Is loaning with interest legal? 
  48. Are private loans legal? 
  49. Are debts forgiven on ceremonial or religious occasions? 
  50. Are ancestors spirits ransomed from the church? 
  51. Are pardons available for crimes? 
  52. Is there licensed brigandage?
  53. How does inheritance work? 
  54. How do marriage contracts relate to property laws? 
  55. Is there a socially sanctioned form of theft? 
  56. Does wealth grant access to elite social classes or are they hereditary, ceremonial or awarded?
  57. How is the body understood? 
  58. Are there spiritual afflictions? 
  59. Does the culture believe in luck rituals? 
  60. What diseases leave marks? 
  61. Are there lepers or a similar infected group separated? 
  62. Is there a homo sacer? 
  63. Is the spirit material? How is medicine learned?
  64. Are there socially stigmatized groups of people for an inheritable trait? 
  65. What cosmetics or prosthetics are used to hide marks of aging, scarring or amputations? 
  66. What are the cultures spiritual afflictions? 
  67. How is “age” understood? 
  68. Are there Sin Eaters or Snake Oil Salesmen?
  69. How are covens, universities, apprenticeships, mystery cults and research societies structured for initiates? 
  70. How do you know someone is a magic user?
  71. Do they sell their souls? Eat devils? Bargain with gods & minor divinities? Become intoxicated?
  72. What sort of scholars are there?
  73. Are they connected to church authorities or as court functionaries? 
  74. Are they a religious order? 
  75. What are the standards of scholarship? 
  76. What technology is eroding traditional society or being acclimated to it?
  77. Is murder available for hire? 
  78. As individuals or professional organization? 
  79. Are there criminal brotherhoods or street gangs or bandit clans that hire out members? 
  80. How is labor contracted? 
  81. Who is allowed to contract?
  82. What behavior’s punishment do other cultures consider unnecessarily harsh? 
  83. How is the law executed by an individual charged with representing the state or an independent institutions? 
  84. Do you hire barristers? Are priests involved? 
  85. Is trial by combat or another alternate legal?
  86. What is the recreational drug abuse your culture has organized meetings around? 
  87. What is considered a negative habit imported from another culture? 
  88. How are addicts treated? 
  89. Is a bar tab used to hire on cannon fodder or sailors? 
  90. What is the most taboo Vice?
  91. What functionary has the most individuals financially interested in their death?
  92. What is the local menace? 
  93. What borders are unclear? 
  94. What existential threat exists that locals don’t understand?
  95. Are there ongoing conflicts and can individuals hire into an organization or pledge troops in exchange for plunder? 
  96. How are soldiers usually paid? 
  97. Are there honor duels or other ceremonial or cultural combats as an outlet for symbolic war? 
  98. What area is seditious?
  99. Is gambling legal?
  100. What competitive game is considered contemplative? 
  101. What sport do street children play? 
  102. What Bloodsports are legal? 
  103. What illegal bloodsports do elites favor? 
  104. Is the breeding of fighting animals part of husbandry or specialized? 
  105. Is it religiously sanctioned?
  106. What populist messianic tendencies, elite conspiracies, intelligence service or spy rings and noble plots are likely to get a lot of people killed?
  107. What religions are undergoing messianic Times?
  108. What mystery cult has been imported? What syncretic tradition is emerging?
  109. What street food is sold? 
  110. Are coffee, tea, alcohol or other drinks sold in ceremonial locations? 
  111. What do the starving scavenge? 
  112. What is the nicest meal most citizens can attempt? 
  113. What foods are associated with major festivals? What slaughter animals do poor families raise?
  114. What artworks were stolen by a neighboring civilization? 
  115. What crafts are practiced? What crafts are lost? 
  116. What crafts are constrained by resources? 
  117. What lost item is associated with your foundational myths? 
  118. What cursed item is in your cultures saddest songs?
  119. Who rules the area and how much of their wealth is material and how much is symbolic?
  120. Are there other species that collect valuables? 
  121. Are there resources harvested from “monsters”? 
  122. Are there monsters that have been sealed off in desolate places?

Saturday, August 22, 2020

D&D Doesn't Understand What Monsters Are

This post is thanks in large part to episode 279 of the Futility Closet podcast, which provided me with the story I used to get this damnable thing finally off the ground.


The Champawat Tiger killed, as far as anyone was able to record, 436 human beings in her lifetime. Mostly they were women and children, gone out into the forest to collect firewood or livestock fodder. She killed strategically, never hitting the same location twice and constantly staying on the move.

By any stretch of the imagination that is more than enough to call her a monster. It's a perfectly fair assessment, and the leap of faith to ascribe it supernatural power would be quite small, given the circumstances. It's as close to a true monster as you're liable to get.

When the tiger finally died at the hands of Jim Corbett, the body revealed a different story: The two canine teeth on the right side of her jaw had been broken by a hunter's bullet some 8 years before.

The Champawat Tiger was starving.

The damage to her teeth meant that she was unable to hunt her normal prey, and given the long-term pressure of habitat loss she would have been hard-up to find sufficient food in the first place. The killings were acts of desperation, brought upon by circumstances that made life as a normal tiger impossible. Perhaps it's still right to call her a monster, but she was not a monster because she was born with some innate malice - she was only a very large cat getting on in years, desperate for food.

Jim Corbett was called upon to hunt down another fifty maneaters over the course of the next 35 years. Together, those tigers had killed over 2000 people, for much the same reasons as the Champawat Tiger - injury, desperation, starvation, and habitat loss.

Would you look at that.

The root cause was British colonialism.

436 people dead because some dumb shit went trophy hunting, because he just had to prove how big and strong his penis was to all his dumb shit friends.

[Breathe, Dan, breathe.]

Monsters have a cause.

That is the lesson of the Champawat Tiger.

Monsters are made to be so.


Dungeons and Dragons, particularly but not exclusively fifth edition, is completely unequipped to handle a worldview where monsters have causes. At best, it lacks the tools for referees to build such a scenario, as well as the encouragement to do so. At its default, it is openly dismissive by way of its long and storied litanies of evil-by-nature creatures and experience by combat - the reduction of the entire natural world into that which might be killed for a profit, and that which is not worth one's notice.

Precisely the conditions, I note with no lack of cackling at the absurd, tragic irony of it all, that created the Champawat Tiger in the first place.

So fuck it. Tear it up by the roots. Do not attempt to fix the rotting house, pull it down and rebuild.

Take your favorite bestiary, select a creature, and ask yourself the following question:

"What would cause this to become a monster?"
A monster, mind you, not simply a threat. An animal protecting its offspring or threatened or cornered is a danger, but not a monster.

If you can answer that question, you have an entire scenario laid out. The monster is afoot, that is the immediate threat, but the monster is the symptom, not the cause. If you kill the Champawat Tiger, there will be fifty more, because the conditions that created one will create others. Violence is not a solution, it is a stopgap measure.

The root cause that has created the monster is the real challenge to overcome, and it is likely to be much more complex and rooted in past events than not. Sometimes, there's likely to be no solution, or at least no solution that the players can enact. The damage might have already been done, and you're just trying to plug the holes in the hull.

If you can't answer that question, that's okay. There are many more ways to interact with the world than by the sword and spellbook. By and large, the majority of entires in a typical RPG bestiary have little reason to engage in violence under normal circumstances, and monstrousness requires extraordinary ones.

Even for those entries where you can build a scenario that turned the creature into a monster, the majority of encounters will not be of that nature - the Champawat Tiger was one of 100,000 when she died.

All this will inform the setting at its core - what forces are disrupting the world?


There is a pesky thorn-addendum embedded in the side of my argument here: those monsters that are defined by their nature as the unknown, severed from any connections we can see or understand.

Well, it's only partially pesky - this is the part where I am going to jump on my soapbox and sing the praises of paracausality as the approrpiate term for the supernatural.

Technically, a paracausal entity can't be a monster - as monsters are made and something severed from the webs of cause and effect has no maker - though in practical terms folks are still going to call it a monster, so this section is actually useless.


Enough prattle, it is time for some examples:
  • A river spirit has been attacking and killing villagers who come to the river to bathe or do washing. The root cause is that the river is being polluted due to choices made by the district government.
  • Bands of orcs are raiding borderland settlements. The root cause is the famine that has crippled, if not outright collapsed their society, made worse by long animostiy with their neighbors and a steep cultural and language divide.
  • Fascist bootlickers are kicking down your neighbor's door. The root cause is a horrific mess of systemic racism, the bedding of church and state, economic downturn, and decades-long memetic warfare against populations vunerable to such ideals.
  • Undead stalk the roads at night, breaking into houses and devouring the people inside. The root cause is the desecration of graves by an invading nation.
  • A demon haunts this house, harming the bodies and minds of those who enter. The root cause is the traumatic event delivered upon one inhabitant of the house by another, long ago in the past
I've praised Yokai Hunter's Society in the past for forming its entire loop around this scaffold. I will repeat myself here in praise of it. Paired with this, Arnold K. made a post about ghosts some months ago, and it kinda slipped under the radar. I think it's probably one of the best bits of game design to appear on the scene in ages and I need to do more with it. Later.

For now, I end on this.

A monster is a symptom that somewhere, somehow, the world has gotten fucked up.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Semiotic Unstandard

Lesson 0 of the occult underground is that no communication is secure. Always presume that someone can hear you, leave no permanent traces of conversation, mask your words.

To this end, the underground has birthed hundreds of ad-hoc Semiotic Unstandard dialects. Many of these are variants of the secret menu pattern, disguising terms as burger toppings.

The Secret Menu

 * *
Pick me up...You come to me
Do you want...I come to you
Let's go to...Meet at location
TakeoutDrop off
Eat inStay where you are
Drive throughGo to ground now
 * *
MustardUnderworld Denizen
Fried eggOccultist
Texas toastPhenomena
 * *
Honey mustardNo Danger
Barbecue sauceLow Danger
Sriracha sauceHigh Danger
JalapenosShots fired
 * *
CheeseWhen you can
PicklesNeeds done now
The WorksWe're fucked
 * *
Ice creamOccult Stuff
 * *
Hold the...Presence unconfirmed

As you can see, this is a pretty lightweight framework and is very easy to modify or hack for purposes at your own table. (Add it to my old Dungeon Hobo Signs!) Plus you can do fun stuff like sending text messages to your players and they have to use what they know to figure out what's going on.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

100 Spaceship Names

  1. Enheduanna 
  2. Murasaki Shikibu
  3. Yang Wen-Li
  4. Brackett
  5. Norton
  6. Butler
  7. Bujold
  8. Cherryh
  9. Vinge
  10. Tomyris
  11. Hiawatha
  12. Barlowe
  13. Dejah Thoris
  14. Le Guin
  15. Tanabe
  16. L'Engle
  17. GG EZ NO RE
  18. Last to Know
  19. Great A'tuin
  20. Golden Path
  21. Unexpected Neighbor
  22. I Roll to Attack
  23. The Huge Manatee
  24. Best Case Scenario
  25. What A Guy, Solo
  26. Ape Law
  27. Internal Gravitas Engine
  28. Put a Pin In It
  29. ACAB (No Exceptions)
  30. Second Star to the Right
  31. Reach Heaven Through Violence
  33. So Anyway I Started Blasting
  34. Simon the Digger
  35. Secret Herbs and Spices
  36. Hapsburg Chin
  37. This Machine Kills Fascists
  38. Not A Metaphor
  39. Diedration
  40. Perfectly Cromulent
  41. Dorothy & Co.
  42. Decolonizer
  43. Localized Entirely Within Your Kitchen
  44. Deadliest SOB In Space
  45. I Blame the Bene Gesserit
  46. Fulgurmus
  47. HONK
  48. Gravitas-Without-Borders
  49. Macrophiliac
  50. Darker and Edgier
  51. Titanothere
  52. I Know What I'm Doing
  53. Tentacular Spectacular
  54. Waiting for Space Godot
  55. Under Heavy Fire
  56. Dancing in Public
  57. Unfit For Purpose
  58. Lilith Deserved Better
  59. Prospero's Nightmare
  60. Born to Die, World is a Fuck
  61. Called Himself Sam
  62. Phoenix Throne
  63. I Fucking Love Sharks!
  64. Wives of Abaia
  65. Nest of Devils
  66. Simia Oricalchum 
  67. Mandatory Faculty Meeting
  68. Public Domain
  69. Bullshit, But I Believe It
  70. Expanded Universe
  71. Shippy McShipface
  73. Exceptin' Alice
  74. Standing There Menacingly
  75. Unshielded Exhaust Port
  76. Pale Blue Dot
  77. Keep It In Your Pants
  78. Wizard Battles
  79. TERF-Free Zone
  80. Human Resources Manager
  81. Second Breakfast
  82. Theocide
  83. Unfunny Joke Played Straight
  84. Loot Box
  85. Yo, Mahoutsukai!
  86. Mama Bear
  87. Folk Blues
  88. Drums in the Deep
  89. Land of Uz
  90. Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den
  91. Coelecanth Helios
  92. Trolley Problem 
  93. Yes This Is Good
  94. Possum King
  95. Garbage Barge
  96. Icelandic Necropants
  97. Shadow of the Anthropocene
  98. Escalate Immediately to Gun Violence
  99. Cruel Angel's Thesis Advisor
  100. Jasmine Dragon

Monday, August 10, 2020

More Aliens

Nick Storozhenko

Flabby acephalic quadruped. Orange with darker speckles, cream underbelly. Glossy cybernetic enhancements along the spinal cord. Livestock, engineered and uplifted by a cruel and long-extinct patron. Delicious and aware of it. Possessing of a terrible, unshakable nihilism.


Rubbery conical body on a large muscular foot. Mottled green-brown color. Peak splits open to reveal extendable manipulator limbs, sensory and reproductive organs. Amphibious, primarily aquatic. Slow to act, very cautious, very patient. Can release clouds of neurotoxin in water.


A latticework of chitinous limbs supporting sheets of shimmering stained-glass gossamer. These are the treelike adult forms, alive for only a few days to mate and die. Their larvae, like huge pastel caterpillars, live and grow for decades in the fearful anticipation of that blissful moment when they will be beyond all thought and pain.


Humpbacked shell like yellowing teeth, rows of swimmerets and rasping mouthparts pulsing beneath. Hail from the frozen hydrocarbon shores of a Titan-analogue. Intense R-selection reproduction has fed into a detached, near-sociopathic logic of resource allocation.


Serpentine body, ten legs. Soft striped fur in red, bronze and black. Barbed proboscis with liquefying spittle. Six eyes for maximum field of view. Apex ambush predators, valuing silence, effective action, and maintaining territorial boundaries.


Symbiotic amalgamations of three organisms: one, something like a wide, six-limbed tortoise. The second, a variety of coral polyp, growing in red-pink columns of tight-packed spirals. The third, tiny creatures between ants and starfish that live within the pillar. Means of mental function unknown, interference presumed. Do not appreciate prying eyes. Exclusively live in coastal regions.


Gigantic bell-shaped filter feeders from the upper atmosphere of a gas giant. Cloudlike patterns of blue and white. Long draperies of baleen to scoop up food. Communicate through radio. Biologically immortal, capable of reverting to their nymph stage. Haunting songs. Difficult to communicate with. Forever seem to be focusing on something else.


Octopedal scavenger-generalists. Jungle-floor dwellers. Lumpy red shell. Spade-like forelimbs to assist with digging. Hyper-social and curious, with large family units and strong empathy bonds. Carve out immense networks of underground complexes and habitation mounds.


Digital lifeforms inhabiting amorphous, parasitic nanoswarms, which in turn are currently inhabiting the brains of a species of small, incredibly cute, fruit-eating arboreal creatures. Very old, devoted mostly to whim, relaxation, and entertainment at others' expense.


Stout, aposematic bipeds adapted to low light and high gravity. Resistant to pain and fear. Compulsive consumers - eat more than they can stomach when food is available, will fill up their living spaces with objects that are purchased and then ignored or thrown away. Enter states of nonvocal hyperfocus while carrying out tasks. Sponsors have been mentioned, but not seen.


Self-replicating communications satellite network, bootstrapped into evangelizing the media culture of a long-dead species. A pest with a habit of parasitizing other satellite networks. The records that remain are corrupted, incomplete, and mostly nonsensical.


Viral memetic cultureform transmitted through narrative and symbol. Triggers behavioral changes in susceptible host life-forms, inducing [DATA EXPUNGED] in order to proliferate transmission materials.


Vacuum-adapted life native to the icy rings of a gas giant. Feed off volatiles and sunlight. Sessile, communicate through radio waves. Vast solar collector leaf-analogs. Form large reef structures where other vacuum life resides, in parallel to similar aquatic environments.


Tall radial quadruped with silky fur coat. Each side is dominated by an androgynous humanoid face of smooth bone plates. Facial structures can pull back to to expose internal organs for repair by attendant tick-like servitors. Clearly engineered for interaction with other species.


Colorful arboreal grazer kept aloft through specialized gas bladders. Defend themselves by using sonar pings to confuse and disorient most predators, and clever tool usage for the rest. The ease by which they might be grounded and killed has imbued them with zealous group-protection and threat-reduction instincts.

Aggressive predatory tripods. Bullet-shaped body and stiltlike legs. Rubbery tawny skin with darker stripes. Will run prey into exhaustion and then deliver the killing blow through hydraulic mouthparts. Typically form packs of 6-12. Parasitic, vestigial males are traded as currency.


Heavily-armored radial pentapods. Thick scutes and defensive spikes mostly for show now, as few predators will go through the effort of flipping them over to attack the underbelly. Can live to thousands of years old, though they think so slowly they rarely have anything to say.


Parasitic worm-analogue. Networks into the host's neural system while residing in the lower digestive tract. Favors large fauna for scope of food intake and according social status. Individuals lucky enough to reside in megafauna hosts will often maintain servants


Apex predators. Shaggy white fur, dark skin beneath. Have developed bone-skids to assist transit across the near-global glaciation of their world. Strong paddle-like feet at the rear of the body push off against the ice, launching them mouth-first towards their targets. Teeth are shed and replaced constantly through life.


Spherical metal shipping containers with chipping paint and stenciled symbols. There is tapping from inside. Occasionally thin, greasy fluid leaks on occasion from the seams. The voices from within speak something you recognize, laden with malapropisms and irregular structures.

Friday, August 7, 2020

All My Other Characters

I hold on to old character sheets, like a lot of folks do. Since the great slump of 2020 continues apace, I figured that sorting through them would be a good way to get something out the door.

In roughly chronological order:

  • Greasetrap (3.5 Human Swashbuckler M) - Cook on a pirate ship and my first character, who unceremoniously died in my first session by being death-rolled by a crocodile. It was a very valuable lesson.
  • Frank (3.5 Human Ninja M) - The replacement for Greasetrap, rolled up in the same session. A nothing character whose entire gimmick was an unfunny "nothing suspicious to see here" deal.
  • Ned (3.5 Human Cleric/Inquisitor M) - A character who actually lasted a decent number of sessions, enough to prestige class into Inquisitor. Actually got married and had a kid due to a solo session with the GM (since no one else showed up that night). Notable for jumping immediately to "burn the house down" as a response to demons. Got horribly mutated by magic at one point. Wings and acid blood, I think.
  • Ampersand (3.5 Warforged Fighter F?) - I think at some point they ended up magically fused into a gigantic flesh abomination, I don't rightfully know. Couldn't have been longer than 1-2 sessions.
  • Beedle (WEG Star Wars, Alien Transient M) - A one-session character, a goofy alien in a hazmat suit who loved cheap plastic tchotchkies.
  • Ommin (WEG Star Wars, Jawa Trader M) - Another one-session character whom I can recall nothing about.
All of these were in the space of a single year of college, but then my DM graduated and game-running fell to me for a couple years.

  • Sidris Minapoujanis (3.5 Elf Rogue/Bard F) - This DM had a strict "no drow PCs", which was easily circumvented by just making a grey-skinned elf.
  • Dempsey (3.5 Human Druid M) - Alignment written as "Green/Black", carried around a bag of holding full of salt to preserve body parts in because he was a necromancer. One session character.
  • Nadiyya (3.5 Warforged Barbarian F) - Likely a second incarnation of Ampersand. Nothing of note.
  • ???? (3.5 Human Cleric M) - I know I went for an Egyptian theme, nothing else. One session character, character sheet lost.

This takes me out of college and, thankfully, out of 3.5 for good. There is a time of fallowness, and then the situation improves and I find both public groups and the online OSR community.

  • Meatpie (5e Tiefling Monk F) - The gutter monk, first emerging in a short-lived roll20 campaign with randoms I was in.
  • Pema Hafhansdotir (5e Goliath Barbarian/Paladin F) - By the power of HUGE! A character for a live game in a local shop. Not the best fit, but I needed a game at the time.
  • Meatpie (5e Tiefling Monk F) - Second outing of Meatpie in another online game, this time without randos.
  • Peregrine (5e Human Paladin F) - A soldier turned towards more peaceable pursuits. The character that got me to swear off 5e with random groups due to the tonal disconnect between myself and the 5e community at large (Or at least the ones I was dealing with) when my attempts to reason with the goblins (as I spoke Orc) were ignored and we had to murder them anyway.
  • A bunch of single-shot characters: Ambrose the Warrior Monk, Hassan the Teamster, Pollux the Blue Mage, Lucian the Thief, a whole lot of DCC peasants.
  • Ayo (DCC Drunken Monk F) - Meatpie in all her glory: drunken, gluttonous, lecherous, blasphemous, and violent. My favorite character of the whole bunch, in the best campaign I've been in as a player.
  • Anbara (Esoteric Enterprises Mystic F) - The Book Club witch-cultist of librarian god Aza-Thoth and noted horrible gremlin-person pornographer, who died in a fiery explosion in the middle of a sad vampire stripclub. Second favorite character.
  • Mr. Devereaux (Esoteric Enterprises Low Man M) - While I loved the idea of the character (southern gentleman devil in a skin suit), he both didn't work well with the rest of the party and died in a party wipe anyway.


  • I think I still have lingering 3.5 trauma. 
  • Periods of being a player are spread out in chunks, separated by years.
  • Fuck playing casters. I remember I always chose cleric because you didn't have to select specific spells to memorize, because that mechanic is bullshit and I hate it.
    • This is likely lingering 3.5 trauma.
  • I have traditionally had a great deal of trouble playing in a game that lasts for any time at all. Of everyone on this list, Ned, Pema, and Ayo / Meatpie are the only ones who got more than three sessions, at least as far as I can remember.
  • I have literally never played in a long-running campaign that is not D&D or affiliated.
  • I really like barbarians, monks, and paladins. Become HUGE. Defeat HUGE problems.
    • This is likely, again, rooted in lingering 3.5 trauma. 
  • I would like to play in a longer game that is not D&D related if you are running it let me know.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Practical Space Mapping

Hex Kit!

This was made using my EE-based route-layer, planet tags, and names & types

Yellow Polity


Superterrestrial Arid Martian (Polity Capital, Trading Hub)
  • Building blocks of organic life found in surviving aquifers.
  • High axial tilt leads to extreme seasonal temperature fluctuations.
  • Citizenship software is lootpass-based.
  • Slow Road route to Carcosa
  • Swift route to an unclaimed system.

Green Polity


Watery Martian World (Polity Capital, Independent Colony) 
  • Majority population of uplifted octopi and squid.
  • Economic and social conditions steadily getting worse over last half century.
  • The revolution has come, hopefully not too late.
  • Slow Road to Kubaba.
  • Variable Speed route to unclaimed system.

Red Polity


Rocky Superterrestrial (Polity Capital, Major Colony) 
  • Extensive android rights
  • Thick atmosphere is incredibly toxic.
  • Ruling C-Level has both martyr and god complex.
  • Standard route to an unclaimed system
  • Instant Transmission to Zagreus
  • Lightspeed route to Goalposts


Molten Terrestrial (Economic Boom)
  • Original colony abandoned, reclaimed later.
  • Smartpets current fashion, even among working class.
  • Asymmetric fashion common due to omnipresent surveillance tech.
  • Instant Transmission to Dvaraka.
  • Instant Transmission to Sehkmet.
  • Collapsed route to Ambergris.


Hot Neptune (Travel Hub)
  • Primary settlement has particularly high gravity for a moon of its size.
  • Red Death epidemic sweeping through colony.
  • Citizenship software runs on an RPG basis.
  • Instant Transmission to Zagreus.
  • Standard route to Ambergris.
  • Lightspeed route to Goalposts.


Titanian Superterran (Marginal world)
  • Sun flares regularly - distance, strong magnetism, and thick atmosphere protect against.
  • Autarchic commonwealth.
  • Recent crisis of entire colony experiencing three minutes of brain death.
  • Standard route to Sehkmet.
  • Decaying route to unclaimed system.

Blue Polity


Exotic (Chlorine) Gaian (Polity Capital, Independent Colony) 
  • Often mocked for perceived backwards culture.
  • Often respected for locals' ability to weather crisis situations.
  • Trade deal with Red Polity fell through.
  • Lightspeed route to Dvaraka.
  • Lightspeed route to Sehkmet.
  • Slow Road to Nessus.


Greenhouse Gaian (Blue / Purple Disputed Territory)
  • Infamous for unwelcoming, hostile architecture.
  • Major meteor impact <10,000 years perviously.
  • Colony currently being taken down for ritual rebuilding.
  • Slow Road to Goalposts
  • Lightspeed route to Oliphaunt
  • Exit point of inaccurate route from Malina.

Purple Polity


Cold Neptunian (Major Colony, Polity Capital)
  • Open warfare with Blue Polity
  • Closed borders, even to other Purple Polity citizens.
  • Cambion births via neogenic surrogate fathers in fashion with nobility.
  • Inaccurate route to Oliphaunt and Nessus.
  • Inaccurate route to Algedonia and Caravan.


Gaian terrestrial (High Water, Purple / Blue Disputed Territory)
  • Home of famous monastic order.
  • Major xenopaleontology dig underway on southern continent.
  • Political upheaval, as normally Purple-aligned factions switch to Blue Polity.
  • Lightspeed connection to Nessus.
  • Inaccurate connection to Malina and Algedonia


Ice-rock Dwarf (Minor Colony)
  • Unexplored surface
  • Orbital habitats run dreamworld simulation for colonists.
  • Recently hit with Voynich virus, all is chaos.
  • Inaccurate route to Malina and Oliphaunt.
  • Instant transmission to Caravan.



Gaian Terrestrial (Mid Water, alien homeworld)
  • Paleolithic alien species.
  • Conflict between Red and Purple over contact rights.