Monday, July 26, 2021

Four Precursor Aliens


The Pillar of Heaven

Gleaming white cylinders nearly ten thousand kilometers long, featureless save for gigayears of micrometerorite scarring. Five have been found so far - all in wide orbits around resource-poor and otherwise unnoteworthy stars. 

Four of the five pillars actively broadcast simple, clearly artificial radio signals. These align with the typical contact beacon format of a loop of increasingly complex mathematical formulae on the 1420 MHz band. Should observers attempt to respond to this broadcast, the pillar will broadcast an extensive corpus of linguistic data. The language is precise, analytic, and obviously engineered for easy comprehension by automated translation software.

After the observer has transmitted a message containing any parts of the provided language, the pillar with switch to a loop of the following transmission:

DEFEAT OF ENTROPY! [past continual tense marker]

THOSE WITHIN ENDURE! [future continual tense marker]

GIFT WITHOUT PRICE! [emphatic statement marker]

ALL MINDS ARRIVE! [emphatic request marker]

Non-android individuals coming within 300m of a pillar will die instantaneously.

The pillars' message has inspired a fervent religious revival within the Expansion Sphere. Thousands of pilgrims attempt to reach them yearly, though few are able to make it through the corporate blockades of the five home systems. Common rumor on the ground is that the blockades are not for the prevention of mass suicide, but as a means of cutting off the only means of escape from a universe dominated by the twin forces of capitalism and entropy.

The reason for the fifth pillar's silence remains unknown.

The Scholz's Star Shellworld Builders 

Scholz's Star is a red/brown binary dwarf system that passed within a lightyear of Sol (~52,000 AU) some 70,000 years ago, close enough to interact directly with the Oort Cloud. That'll be a problem in about two million years, but that's a problem for two million years from now. 

It would have passed on as an otherwise mundane unique occurrence, were it not for the fact that the drone ship later sent to map the system found that it was inhabited. A total of 24 shellworld habitats (artificial planets built around planet-mass holes), ranging from 500 to 4000 kilometers in diameter  orbit the two bodies in system, each with a resident population of baseline humans and terragen flora/fauna. Genetic and cultural drift over tens of thousands of years, plus the lack of inter-habitat transport, has radically diversified the population. All extant societies, at the time of discovery, were pre-industrial, though this analog extends only to technology and not to social beliefs, which vary widely.

No other traces of the Shellworld-Builders have been found. It can be assumed that they were not natives of Scholz's Star, due to lack of any planets that might have supported life and the requirements of their apparent technological advancement. Their motivation in building and peopling the shellworlds also remains speculative - they didn't appear to make any physical modifications to the abductees, nor any noticeably imposed cultural structures.

That the closest approach of Scholz's Star and the Youngest Toba Disaster and resultant human genetic bottleneck occurred within the same time frame has not gone unnoticed

The Bloat

An entity or group of entities encountered only by those conscious during hyperspace transit or aboard vessels with malfunctioning Caldwell Manifolds. As with all hyperspatial entities, it is impossible to observe outside of its effects on humans; no hypospace manifestations have yet been confirmed.

Humans exposed to the Bloat will form a sort of parasitic relationship with it. The early stages are marked by an increasing physical and mental lethargy and inertia, followed then by the gradual loss of food or water. Those effected will eventually become nonverbal, though interviews from subjects prior to total loss have included statements implying a group-mind shared between effected individuals and the Bloat itself, as well as advanced understanding of hyperspatial mathematics. This latter trait has made Bloat-linked subjects a valuable commodity across the Expansion Sphere, as with with right cybernetic links a fully parasitized individual is outclassed only by a dedicated Navigator in terms of astrogation abilities.

Occasionally, Bloat-linked subjects might undertake construction or artistic projects of unknown purport. These should be destroyed upon identification.


Xenothreat [BLOAT] rival / enemy to xenothreat [GAUNT]. Mutual aggression between effected parties. Further research required. Further specimens required. Construction or artistic projects undertaken by affected subjects to be destroyed upon identification. Recovered subjects to be transported to [BLACKSITE GAMMA] for processing.


A thin layer of organic compound found on the sites of ancient ocean beds on sixteen different terrestrial worlds within a 4-parsec bubble. It is a deep orange in color and stringy and fibrous in texture, and quickly dissolves in water. It is also a very powerful narcotic - a stimulant hallucinogen that very rarely plays nice with the rest of the digestive system. It it most commonly drunk (though this dilutes it), ground into a powder and inhaled, or smoked.

This has spawned a wild rush for drug mining. Guns drawn, knives out.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

SlushPile 8.5: Bookmark Special

I have, as one might expect, a considerable number of bookmarked pages. Here are some of the most useful / interesting / novel / enjoyable of those.


Game Resources

Artvee - High quality, easily-searchable public domain art.

10 Parsec Star Map - Additional maps by same creator can be found here.

2D Star Map - I like the one above better, but this one has hexes!

Azgaar's Fantasy Map Generator - A gift that keeps on giving.

Moon, Minor Planet, and Constellation Symbols - Symbols for moons of the solar system all the non-zodiac constellations. Public domain! - Algorithm-generated human mugshots.

500 Fantasy Character Portrait Icons - All made using Artbreeder, and thus free to use.

300 OSR-ified Pathfinder monsters  - Just so.

500 level-less spells - via Ten Foot Polemic

Colors of Alien Skies

Colors of Alien Plants

Old Book Illustrations - Public domain.

Jalopy Design: Making a Zine - David Schirduan swoops in with helpful advice for beginners. 

Inventing Names - Handy tips from Luka Rejec

The Phrontistery Dictionary of Unusual Words - For when you want to sound like Gene Wolfe.

Map to Globe - Takes a map, puts it on a globe

Lady of Hats' fantasy art - Public domain!

Hex-a-Day - Three huge hexmaps

Manyfold Theory of RPGs - via Levi Kornelson

Mothership Character Generator - via Tarsos' Theorem

Wikipedia's list of titles

Draw all roads in a city at once - If you are running EE, you need this. / - the most useful thing on this list, bar none.

Town and Settlement Rules - via Pilgrim's Temple





Best of kudasai

Windows XP theme but it's an rpg soundtrack 

LOST LULLABIES (Samurai Champloo unreleased tracks) 



A description of the implied politics of Hell

The comedy gold of medieval mystery plays 

How to Downsize a Transport Network: the Chinese Wheelbarrow 

On Eowyn and the Witch King

On the history of firefighting in Japan 

The Space Strike 

SBFP Intro Montage / Tribute 

AI tries to start a novel 


Reverse Dictionary - Search for words by their definitions.

Conlang Speedrun Challenge

Leia Organa: A Critical Obituary

Bayeux Tapestry Generator - What it says on the tin.

Forgotten Female Fantasy - As the tagline on the site says "reviewing vintage woman-authored SFF". it's great stuff - hidden gems and horrible pitfalls alike.

Standard Ebooks - Public domain ebooks

Inexorable (Taylor Leong) - A short comic about Narnia, and the god named Tash.

Thirty Years (Taylor Leong)

Behold! The weird fucked-up cold-blooded cave goat!

AI Generated Cat Names 

Photorealistic Roman emperors 

Economy is not science

Look just watch Dorohedoro already

Radiation-eating fungus as space habitat shielding 


Twitter Threads

The saga of Matt

Medieval theologians were very concerned about cannibal babies 

Stock photo business skeleton man 

The evolution of life in an infinite McDonalds 

Assyrian dog statues

The single most important piece of games criticism 

Bloody Thursday and the Longshoreman's Union

Xu Bing's Square Word Calligraphy 

Irish bhangra dancers (morale booster!)

The tale of Othin (illustrated 100 Year Old Vampire game) 

Goya paintings scarier than Saturn Devouring His Son

DMC5, but with Spongebob music 

The silent disco (elysium) BBQ 

The cast of Hades as RPG players

Midwest gothic

Space maps! 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The War of the Bull, In Detail


A follow-up to my first post about the War of the Bull, inspired by this summer's vacation in Gettysburg.

It will help to have a map, and so I recommend opening tabs to my two recent posts.

Prelude to the War

In general: The Solar Empirate of Tlan (assorted known as the Second Empire, the Tlanic Empire, the Heliobasileum) sits at the height of its expansion, controlling all territory south of the Dayrmonts and north of the Tiger's Spine (with the exception of Kara Koren, which resisted assimilation, and the Empty Quarter, which is claimed as imperial territory but is [almost but not actually entirely] fucking empty), as well as the Belt of Fire and colonies in the Jantoo Reach and Copper Shore. Orlei and Themiskrya are tributaries within imperial borders, and are permitted to keep their own governments. This will be important later.

A generation ago: The Acephavaran capitol was rendered uninhabitable due to arcanonuclear disaster and the surviving city-states were incorporated into the Second Empire as "technically independent" tributaries. This was the end of what is known as "Old Acephavara".

A decade ago: Pelai's mage-kings break their adzat compact and open on and off hostilities that will last for decades until it is re-established.

A few years ago: Anti-imperial and anti-aristo sentiments boil over into violence in Kvaare, kicking off the Golden Revolution. Outbreaks of disease occur in the Heartlands and Olabeth.

A year ago: A teenage goatherd from Orlei arrives in the court of the king, claiming to have visions of impending war and a mission from the Gods of Man. She is, after some time, accepted, and preparations are made. More sickness in the Heartlands and Olabeth.

A few months ago: The emperor of Tlan dies during a solar eclipse, without an heir (the closest branch would be the descendants of a bastard prince exiled to Draga three generations ago and stripped of title and inheritance. Civil war is inevitable. Plague in the streets.

Now: Coreolana, wealthiest of the Hespermontane provinces and compromised by the Red Law, makes its first attacks.


Phase 1 (Years 1-2)

Coreolana, now in the opening stages of thralldom to the Red Law but not yet transformed into Dis, launches a double-headed attack up the Mora-Pono and Arivienne rivers. Securing the two major waterways of the region would allow Coreolana to easily box in and subdue its rival imperial provinces in the Low Country, which remain its primary focus at this stage.

The the east, Orleian resistance led by the Sable Maid stymies Coreolana's advance in a series of bloody battles, eventually repulsing the siege of Fiore and securing the upper Arivienne.

In the north, Corleolanan forces easily take Redgate and sweep up the Mora-Pono. They proceed nearly unopposed until they reach Tanniclen. The attempt to take the city is met with disaster when the Black and White Queens take direct action and obliterate the incoming Imperial forces. 

As the Plague spreads, the war falls into the lull of a stalemate.

Interlude (Years 2-7)

The Plague Years in the Hespermont hit full stride as it sweeps through its southern port cities and into the Low Country. The river blockades prove a boon to the Maid and her allies, slowing the spread of the plague and sparing the north the worst of the pandemic.

Imperial holdings in the Low Country dissolve into chaos; fracturing along their many inner political fault lines, engulfed in constant brushfire wars, or collapsing entirely. many that fall are Devoured up by larger neighbors.

Coreolana and its allies are not immune to the plague, and their ability to wage war at distance is crippled - it spends most of this period sparring with the provinces of Austros and Fea Rodesh, while conflict with the Maid's forces and allies is limited to small skirmishes along the Mora-Pono and the lower Arivienne.

The Maid and her allies, now provided some breathing room, are able to solidify their position in the northeast, securing the territory between Orlei and Tanniclen as well as passages into the Dayr, and building a series of fortresses along the Arivienne between Orlei and Fiore. The irregular mix of local militias, Orlei's small military, and the assorted auxiliaries is organized into the Army of the Arivienne, and a similar consolidation forms the Army of the North. These years of preparation and training prove vital in the conflicts to come.


Phase 2 (Years 7-11)

By this beginning of this stage the Plague has faded on the continent, and the situation has transformed into the bedrock that the rest of the war is built upon. 

Dis proper has at last emerged from the corpse of Coreolana and continues its predecessor's campaign in the Low Country. Fea Rodesh collapses. Austros clings to life but grows increasingly desperate and refuses to join with the Maid, citing that it would rather be totally destroyed than admit defeat to an inferior, non-Imperial culture.

Beyond the Hespermont, Hell strikes out across the sea, launching attacks on the Belt, the Imperial colonies in the Copper Shore and the Jantoo Reach, and south towards Reniriya.

On the Maid's side, allies from the Eostremont are now able to bolster the Hespermontane and Dayrine forces. Most important of these is Themiskrya, which supplies the Maid with her first proper naval support. Amazonian ships are able to secure the Bay of the Horn, preventing Dispaterian forces from landing in Acephavara and severely weakening the force dispatched to Reniriya.

Critical in this stage is the resistance in the Belt, organized by the newly declared demudem (lit. "man of men"), Iké-Bar-Adogo. He had been instrumental in the overthrow of the colonial government during the Plague Years and likewise served as commander and rally point for both the islanders and the sea-peoples during the War. This successful resistance prevented Dis from ever reaching south of the Belt in any meaningful capacity, sparing half of the Mare Interregnum from the violence. 

Hell seeks to spread through self-replication, but in order to do so it also needs time to spread its roots. Thankfully for all, the many fronts of resistance learned quickly the best methods of prevention. The seeds of factories are dug up and smashed. Evangelists are hunted down

The Maid's forces, bolstered by eastern reinforcement, move into the Low Country, seeking to secure critical positions while Hell is momentarily distracted by its transmarine designs. This period will eventually be called the Liberation of the Low Countries, as part of the Maid's grand strategy was the incitement and support of mass slave rebellions throughout the surviving ex-Imperial states.  

(Some additional context is necessary: The Low Countries were primarily ruled under the Imperial plantation system, with noble landowners overseeing large enslaved and indentured populations. A small Imperial land owning class with a majority Hespermontane underclass. Typical Hespermontane practices of shared land stewardship were uprooted but, thankfully, not forgotten by the time of the Liberation.)

In those places where the rebellions were suppressed, the Maid would take more direct action and send detachments of her own troops to solve the situation. For particularly large or stubborn holdouts, she would arrive in person. Either way the tactic was the same - riders on swift horses would go ahead of the army, crying out "Take heed! The Maid of Orlei approaches! Clemency for manumission! Clemency for manumission!"

Those who heeded the warning and freed their slaves before the arrival of the Maid's forces were spared. Their property and possessions were turned over to the newly-liberated, but their lives were spared.

Those who resisted were executed immediately, their bodies disposed of with minimal ceremony.

(Historians in Draga and the Dragon Republics will describe this period as an "uncharacteristic brutality" on the Maid's part, which is on their part a deliberate omission playing to popular hagiographic currents - the Maid's absolutist antislavery stance had been openly stated before the war had even begun. "A man who would treat his brothers and sisters as objects to be bought and sold has rescinded his kinship with humanity", and other such blunt statements are commonplace in her speeches)

On a practical level (never far removed from the moral, as the Maid saw it) removing the remaining Imperial landowners from power and handing their lands back to the once-enslaved would drastically reduce supply lines and open up a new pool of volunteers.

Additional to the gains of the Liberation, the Maid's forces are able to push south and retake the entire Arivienne. The Army of the North is battered by multiple major assaults. The second battle of Tanniclen eventually ends in a predictable rout of Dispaterian forces by the Queens, though this time the city (sans the wizards' enclave) is left in complete ruins.

Phase 3 (Years 11-13)

The war in the Low Country has devolved into a bloody back-and-forth slog, with neither side able to make any serious headway. Disputed territory changes hands like a clock that disgorges corpses on the hour. 

Then, a breakthrough: a severe storm season in the Mare and a immensely successful series of raids by maritime Belt clans sinks much of Dis' supply fleet and blocks passage for most of the others, leaving Hell's overseas forces critically undersupplied. 

At the same time, however, the situation on the continent takes a drastic turn for the worse as Austros falls at last to itself. The Red Law took root in its desperation, by the end it was nearly impossible to determine a difference between it and Dis.

With the fall of Austros removing the last third party resistance in the Hespermont, Dis makes a concerted push northward, hoping to cut off both Orlei from the North then sweeping south to retake the Arivienne. If successful, this would strand the Maid in the Low Country (easy prey to be killed or forced into surrender) and would render the overseas failures a very temporary setback (as Dis could then expand without resistance).

These Dispaterian forces will meet Northern forces in a gap in the hill country, near the township of Sannakoroq.

The Battle of Sannakoroq

Hoping to deliver a deathblow, the commander of Dis' northward forces makes a critical mistake during the brutal 3-day battle - he gets overconfident in his advantage, and fails to push forward decisively when he has the upper hand. The battered defenders are able to collect their forces and mount a counterassault, and after three days of brutal fighting are able to break the Dispaterian attack and force a retreat.

While it is still two years to the end of the war, this is considered the turning point. 




Phase 4 (Years 13-15)

With northern Dispaterian forces demoralized and scattered by the Battle of Sannakoroq, the Army of the North is able to regroup and retake the Mora-Pono all the way to the sea and liberate Redgate. Reinforcements flow southward to join the Maid's Army of the Arivienne. The momentum has shifted.

Across the sea, Dis' invasions are thwarted, though at high cost to the defenders - the Copper Shore is retaken by Kvaare, the Reach repulses the invasion and miraculously remains stable (the only Imperial territory in the world to do so), and attempts to form beachheads in Reniriya and Amda are likewise repelled.

The Army of the North marches down the coast from Redgate, while the Maid marches from the east. The new Third Army, drawn from recent reinforcements from the Eostremont and Kara Koren, moves southwest across the central Low Country.

The three armies push through the last lines of Dispaterian defense and at last arrive at the city, beginning the Siege of Hell. Here the Sable Maid meets Darvatius on the field and strikes him down, but loses her life in turn. The siege is broken, and the army retreats.

The War of the Bull ends here: with both sides so exhausted that they cannot continue, but the Maid's forces carrying the victory - Hell has been contained.




The collapse of the Second Empire

Tlan and Olabeth are lost entirely to plague, the land so poisoned that it is desolate even today. The depopulated Heartlands dissolve into countless squabbling principalities. The Low Country is devastated, and where it is rebuilt Imperial cultural influence dies off. The Copper Shore is retaken by Kvaare, the Belt is independent at last,

In the Eostremont, Imperial territory breaks into Draga in the north, and the Dragon Republics in the south. Draga claims continuity of rule through its bastard line but does not claim political continuity, as a way of distancing itself from the southern Imperial culture it long reviled. The Dragon Republics claim no official continuity at all, but the influences are easy to find.

The only true surviving fragment is the city of Hespir in the Jantoo Reach, supposedly the last remaining bastion of Darvatius' empire as well. The senate is still called to order here and claims authority by right of sede vacante, though the population of the city is more Pelaian than Imperial in their looks, manners, dress, and speech.

The Destruction of the Low Country

Much the Low Country never recovered, despite aid from the north and east, and those places that did came back... strange. A mix of local Hespermontane traditions, old Imperial influence, the scars of the war and the sheer spiritual trauma of it all have formed a patchwork of unique cultures isolated in the wilderness. To the outsider, everything here seems strange, grotesque, and inexplicable. The lingering traumas in the land have yet to heal, and this leads many to treat the Low Country and its inhabitants unchartiably.

The Low Country of today is only a fraction of its old population, and it is the most heavily demon-haunted region in the world. The Folk here shun most human contact, and the folkways are less public and less welcome than they are elsewhere.

The Pact of Pandemonium and the establishment of the Demilitarized Zone

The non-aggression agreement with Hell has been upheld so far, but no reasonable person would trust that to last. And so in the years following its signing, a series of small fortresses and watchtowers was established around the border of the Dead Lands, in case Dis were to mass its forces for another war.

Dis, of course, is more than content to forgo overt warfare in favor of more subversive methods, and its agents crawl around the Low Country and even beyond to this day.

Establishment of the Order of the Sable Maid

What began as a band of Orleian peasants and militiawoman ended the war as a veteran force of demon hunters. Much of its internal structure is Eostremonti in origin, as such religious orders are common there and hardly known west of the mountains. Chapels and monasteries of the Solar Church (those that were not destroyed) were repurposed for the Order, including two magnificent basilicas.

The order soon expanded into non-militant branches - monastics, medicants, hospitaliers and common ordained, which serve as the main backbone of the group. While their reverence for the Maid is great, they have not officially declared her to be among the Gods of Man - though folk practices often differ in this regard.

Today, the Order remains the primary (though not only) anti-demon fighting force in the Hespermont, with chapter houses abroad in Acephavara, the Belt, and the Eostremont and their services are welcome even further than that.

Formation of the Necromantic Socialist Republics

One of the many new cultural movements to emerge in the Low Country in the wake of the war, and the most successful of them. The NSR now fills much of the lower Arivienne and some enclaves to the west. It is not well loved or well trusted by the other inhabitants of the Low Country - a wealthy, unusual culture whose practices are secretive and closely-guarded will always attract suspicion. But, the hordes of skeletal workers have made the place stable and quite peaceful, so long as one always pays respects to the dead.

Unanswered Questions

Was Victory Possible?

The Maid was outspoken and unwavering in her desire to see Dis and its master destroyed utterly. In both of these she failed, though she came closer than anyone else before or since.

If she had breached the city, if Moloch had indeed been destroyed, what then would happen? Would the world have been freed of that great engine of suffering? Or would the Red Law have simply found another scion? Would we have lost the Bull only to have

Is Darvatius truly defeated?

This was not his first death: that happened long, long ago, after he has twice conquered the world. The Darvatius of Dis was a different creature, taking the guise of that ancient tyrant because no one living or dead would associate that name with anything but conquest.

The death of Darvatius the demon lord might perhaps be more important than the death of Darvatius the man. What happens when the god of conquest is killed? There have been wars since then, but none so terrible and none so sweeping in their ambitions. Has the potential to wage that kind of devouring war been excised entirely? Simply weakened? Biding its time, till another god fills the role? No one can say. No god of man has ever been killed before - only faded away, their rites forgotten.

Monday, July 5, 2021












The selection process is simple. I choose things and my choices are correct.

Last year's awards may be found here


The Previous Year

God what a shit year.


Admiralty Blues

Am I saying this because my good friend Mon is a cast member? Yes. But am I also saying it because this AP is an absolute delight to listen to? Also yes. It's one of two APs I have actually listened to long-term. Among other things (humor, pacing, cast & characters all great), it is a fantastic example of how to run a Blades in the Dark style game (as it uses the mech hack of BitD, Beam Saber). Also Mon does art for it, which is great.



Dungeon Bitches (Emmy Allen)

I made my thoughts known some months ago, and nothing has changed. It's fucking rad.


Proving repeatedly to all and sundry that no one is immune to bait, rpg twitter is a death-spiral carousel of the offensive and insipid, drowning out anything of value in a tepid wave of subtweets interrupted by entirely too frequent spikes of harassment. Blogger might be a terrible platform, but you can at least develop an idea on it.



Troika! (Daniel Sell)

Despite being awarded one third of the Trifecta Grande last year, Troika has been struck from the rolls. Through mechanisms unknown to me, it has accumulated a singularly unpleasant online following to the point where my desire to make things with it, run it, or even really mention it at all have evaporated.



 Monster Overhaul (Skerples)

Nothing announced since last years awards has me as excited as this, and since I got a preview copy of Dungeon Bitches that book isn't in the running for this award. It will be well worth it when it arrives.



BREAK! (Naldo Drinian & Grey Wizard)

 p a t i e n c e i s a v i r t u e



Karanduun Make God Bleed (Joaquin Kyle Saavedra)

One of the games featured in Itch's recent Palestinian Aid Bundle, and an unfortunate victim of "great idea, lots of care put into it, I respect what it's doing, I can't read it without a headache." 

The font used for headings is all caps, narrow, and has next to no kerning. It is often presented as white text on a black box on a white background, and black boxes are used in lieu of bold for emphasis. The central text is squashed by margins expanded to fit large, vertically-aligned chapter names.

It's offputting enough that I went from "this is cool and I am excited" to "this is another game I will never read and never play" more or less instantly. Wish that wasn't the case, but for want of good kerning the war is lost.


Mork Borg (Pelle Nilsson)

I don't even like Mork Borg that much but they A) have a goofy heavy metal aesthetic and B) actually release things C) didn't decide to tie themselves to a sinking ship. So they get an award and we're all better for it.


2400 (Jason Tocci)

There are plenty of lightweight sci-fi games out there, but 2400 gets an advantage here because Tocci keeps updating it with additional setting / genre splats. Each is 4 pages long (or a single printer sheet, if you are printing out a spread) and follows the same general pattern - character backgrounds, random inspiration tables, some extras keyed to the setting / genre this particular expansion is for - which by itself isn't much but with 12 of them now included with the core rules and a significant following of fan hacks, there's a whole lot of material to play around with.


Chainsaw Man (Tatsuki Fujimoto)

A grotty, hyperviolent story about broken people in a fucked up world that is significantly more emotionally deep and honest than a story called "Chainsaw Man" would be expected to be. It's a shonen that decided to wake up and choose violence, both literally and in taking the genre conventions and dismissing them utterly. Our main protagonist Denji is an illiterate teen so in debt to the yakuza thanks to his dead father that he's sold body parts and eaten out of dumpsters and he takes on a government devil-hunting job just for three meals, a bed, and the chance to maybe touch some boobs. Except instead of being gross and creepy like you'd expect it's an expression of his desperation for human connection + awkward teenager stuff. Also helps that even weird semi-feral idiot Denji knows you should only boob touch with permission.

Also the art is excellent, the pace is breakneck, the ending is buck fucking wild, and the world is A+.


Sylvester (RIP)


Observe the absolute size of this big cuddly lad. He is missed very much.


The Wretched (Chris Bisette) + Others

Last year, I cited the The Wretched as one of the standout solo games of this new and terrible era, and since then there have been dozens of hacks for it covering a wide variety of interesting topics and scenarios.

And I feel like its spinning its wheels. When I try to play Wretched or one of its descendants, I end up bored by Day 3, because Wretched-based games have a critical issue that I've yet to find dealt with - there's a chronological framework (via the days framework), but prompts themselves are not arranged in any sort of chronology themselves. So you do about ten of them and start getting prompts that, logically for the game you've been playing, you should already have had. Or you get ones that are just repeats of things you've already established. The tension the game aims for evaporates, which is not helped by most common replacement for the Jenga tower - had I not given up on my first run through The Wretched, I would have likely won through raw attrition.

I still like the idea, mind you, but there's room for improvement and no one's cleared the path yet, and that saddens me enough to say something about it.



High quality public domain art, easy to navigate.


That's all for this year. Overall, despite the nigh-excessive number of games that have come out since last July, I find myself not particularly drawn to most of them. We sit atop a safe and placid plateau of game design, and I wait vulture-like for the next raw and beating heart to bloom vibrant and vital in the midst of its seas of grass.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Lands of the Mare Interregnum Part 2: The World At Large


The World at Large

Part 1 of this duology can be found here.

A few notes, which also apply to Part 1.

The typical political structure is a confederation of city-states. Large centralized nation-states are liable to angering the Folk or worse, and so do not tend to form or last particularly long after they do.

"King" and "Prince" are not necessarily male titles.

The Tiger's Spine doesn't match between the maps - this one is more correct, but the other one looks bad if it's accurate.

The overall design of the Mare started with old Roman maps of the Mediterranean, the ones with east oriented at the top. This particular map started with me editing the shorelines of the Arctic Circle

The North

The Uttermost North - Iceflows and cold. Endless days and endless nights. The Wendish claim that their ancestral homelands of Atri-Tun might be found in the Uttermost North, though no one who has gone that far and returned has ever reported such a place. It is the realm of Orca, of Mundo, of the Auroral Staircase and the hidden hotspring islands of the valkyries.

M.M.P.F - An inhospitable lump of barren stone and glaciers. The wind hates you and wants to eat your bones. No one lives here by choice. The Folk here recognize no compact with humanity.

Misery & Woe - Barely-habitable islands used by Kvaare as a prison in the wake of the Golden Revolution. A few decades of direct management gave way to simply shipping and dumping prisoners there

The East

Most of this is already in the first post! Go read that.


Ghan - A hilly, arid land east of Kara Koren. True desert. Difficult to navigate. Ancient irrigation canals lined with fields of coffee and barley make a grid of the rivers. Clay brick towers offer sky funerals to the vultures. Shrines to the Bull that Carries the Sky rise at crossroads.

Vashra - Provenance and inhabitants to be determined.

Reniriya -  Dense rainforest. Carnivorous plants abound. There are no cities, just trading towns on the coast.  Beautiful ceramics occasionally traded for necessary goods. Hot air balloons bobbing above the canopy, pulled down to safety when it rains. Icons of firefly spirits. High fluidity in family structure and gender expression. Devotional cannabis and dreamworld pantheons.

The Odzho Kings - Three city-states with thick walls and high towers, built long out of memory. "Odzho" in the local dialect is the name for the kingfisher bird (the kings are named so for the brillian colors of their traditional robes), so they are often called the Fisher Kings by outsiders. Funerary cannibalism.

The Obsidian Islands - Volcanic islands famed for pyromanciers and gigantic domesticated crabs. At their very easternmost curve are the Trailwards, with little Pa'O Pa'O at the very end: the furthest settled land in the world.

The West

The Belt of Fire - Volcanic tropical archipelago that provides the safest passage across the Mare. Home to many migratory maritime lilifio nations. Windcalling shanties, painted sails, caravan-catamarans. The capital, Bzenzilesh, is located on the large island below the F-I.

The Cinders - A desolate, sterile nothing. Dust and ashes and bare stone. Leftover arcane fallout has rendered it ontologically inimical to life of any kind, even down to bacteria. Wizards will occasionally attempt to mount expeditions into the interior, believing that their lead-lined suits and layers of glyphs will help them (they will not). Those wizards tend to melt from the inside out within a few days, after only a few minutes of exposure. Cause unknown: The region has been lifeless for as long as both written and oral histories will attest.

Kvaare - The most industrialized region in the world (sans Dis), pushing that envelope as far as it can be pushed without rousing the true rage of the Folk or falling facefirst into an emergence of Hell. New money (all the aristos were killed in the Golden Revolution)

The Copper Shore - The Second Empire's former colonies in Kvaare, now reclaimed. As all goods coming to Kvaare must pass through the Copper Shore, it is the wealthiest of its provinces.

Colcie - Western hinterlands, with little participation on the world stage. Border conflicts with Kvaare are common. Sod houses, tornado, melancholy, ritual scarification, polygamy, razor grass, traveling bards.

The Rift - The western continent is pulling itself apart, slowly, slowly. The Rift marks the border between the Kvaarish and Pelaian cultural spheres, claimed by both but truly belonging to neither. Cliffside towns, spearfishing, poverty, rope bridges, tests of manhood, "the bleeding stones", arranged marriages, giant cliff urchins.

Jantoo Reach - Site of the Second Empire's former colonies in Pelai and now its last remnant. Has a certain feeling of going through the motions, performing the functions of Imperial government almost as a cargo cult. Mostly absorbed back into Pelai.

Pelai - Long ago, the line of the god-kings of Pelai was overthrown, and replacing them were the twin councils of wizards, the azdat and the obet. Deep jungle. Red soil. Immense, unique biodiversity.

Sea of Tazir - A freshwater sea whose waters are so clear one can see the floor even at scores of feet deep.  It is also called the Mosaic Sea, for those stretches where the stones on the floor that look to have been set with painted tiles. The colors will change, displaying scenes of sea life, and occasionally the form of a woman in silk robes.

Ist - An isolated principality on the shore of the Sea of Tazir. Only ruins now, swallowed up by the jungles. Its princes were devoured by the Great Manticore in a single night centuries ago, and the beast lives there still.

Coast of Birds - Hundreds of miles of Amdalese coastline dominated by immense stone statues of birds, providence unknown. They are expertly made, ancient, unique, and face the sea with their wings raised to the sky.

Amda - An old, old patchwork of principalities and kingdoms on the plains. Oldest continuous civilization in the world, some say. It is longstanding tradition here that the kings of Amda take no women as their lovers and take heirs only by election, as a means of preventing inheritance squabbles. Ancient monoliths, haruspicy, wandering swordsmen, strict hospitality laws, well-kept roads, zorses and giraffes.

Azuda - Rugged, mountainous, beautiful. Sparsely populated. Most of the worlds remaining saurians live here.

Se Walohi - Vast and sandy desert. Most of its few inhabitants are nomads who stick to the coast between southern Amda and Se Tolahi.

Se Tolahi - A quiet red desert, far removed from the world at large. It is known mostly as home to the only prominent monotheists in the world. This means they are generally viewed with some suspicion by most, though their philosophy is a pacifist one that treats the gods with no particular disfavor. 

Ton Hon - A cold, inhospitable land. Its lower reaches are the furthest south that any humans reside permanently. 

Red Point - 'Strange as Red Point" as the saying goes, and well deserved. Avoided by most. It is a strange place, up among the desolate, rocky hills. Strange folk, strange doings. The inhabitants are nocturnal, communicating only by rock paintings left out for the morning.

The South

Llaphedon - Island of the mushroom men, where the immortal fungal folk plod silently towards the center through the still and spore-filled night to build a ziggurat of vast black stone. The villages on the coast trade mostly in funeral shrouds and psychotropics.

Panutaru - Provenance and inhabitants to be determined.

Dulyuk - Provenance and inhabitants to be determined.


There are some small landmasses in the great ocean on the other side of the world, but they have been left alone - the few circumnavigators who have stayed there for any amount of time (a small fraction of an already small group) report those lands to be desolate, filled with unfriendly spirits who have no compact with humanity, or both. It's creepy shit.


And there we go, as up to date as I can get with the world of MSF.