Thursday, October 21, 2021

100 Songs as Spells

 Resemblance to TLN's Stand Generator is happy coincidence.

Effects have been left open-ended, because half the fun in getting an evocative spell name is interpreting what it does.

I tried to keep myself to the rule of "no double dipping from a single album" and I think it worked out okay.

The Song Spell List

  1. Mouth of Kala
  2. The Moon Will Sing
  3. Submerged
  4. Willow Tree March
  5. Don't Stop Killing
  6. Possessed by Disease
  7. Kickstart My Heart
  8. Gods Bound By Rules
  9. 666 Kill Chop Deluxe
  10. Journey of the Sorcerer
  11. Knife to the Eye
  12. Black Smoke Rising
  13. Inner Universe
  14. Meathook
  15. House of Bliss
  16. Friends in Low Places
  17. Coalescence
  18. Path of the Wind
  19. Conquer or Suffer
  20. Across the Drift
  21. Deference for Darkness
  22. Blood and Thunder
  23. All Gone
  24. Fingers to the Bone
  25. Run Through the Jungle
  26. Fury Oh Fury
  27. Moon Dance
  28. No Backbone
  29. Spiky Seeds
  30. Modify
  31. Radioactive Tomb
  32. Pillars of the Underworld
  33. Underground
  34. Little Aliens
  35. Exploding Hearts
  36. Room of Angel
  37. Sealed Vessel
  38. Rope on Fire
  39. Man of the Year / Heavy Sleep
  40. Sacrificial
  41. So Long & Thanks For All the Fish
  42. Propane Nightmares
  43. Birds With Broken Wings
  44. Vitality
  45. Dragons in the Mud
  46. Fuck This Shit I'm Out
  47. White Rabbit
  48. Ladies of the Woods
  49. Whistle Snake
  50. Awaken
  51. Dagger Dance
  52. Mushroom Picker Dance
  53. If We Were Vampires
  54. Magic Fountain
  55. Run For Cover
  56. Ultralife
  57. Stealing People's Mail
  58. Rise Up Dead Man
  59. Horse of Colors
  60. To Know, Water
  61. Interior Zombified Alligator
  62. Gotta Knock A Little Harder
  63. The Senescense
  64. Noosphere
  65. The Sun Rises
  66. This is True Love (We're) Makin'
  67. Surface Tension
  68. Steel Flowing Like Water
  69. Making of Cyborg
  70. The Calling
  71. The Owl
  72. Look At This
  73. Party Party Party
  74. Snake Soul
  75. Water Wall
  76. Twisted Streets
  77. No Escape
  78. Can't Keep Johnny Down
  79. Come on Fhqwhgads
  80. Hopeless Bleak Despair
  81. Night Surfing
  82. Bad Apple
  83. Hit the Floor
  84. Knives and Shadows
  85. Out of Time Man
  86. Dusk to Dawn
  87. Whiteout Conditions
  88. Come Out and Play
  89.  Sea of Cloud
  90. Ain't No Devil
  91. Step Out
  92. Panacea
  93. The Uncertainty Principle
  94. Chasing it Down
  95. Become a Monk
  96. God Shattering Star
  97. [Static and Indistinct Distant Screams]
  98. Apotheosis
  99. The Greatest Jubilee
  100. The Wrath of God in All its Fury

Monday, October 18, 2021

100 Facts About Mother Stole Fire

Just a bunch of setting facts in a big old list, no order or theme besides what was either already written or what I thought was neat.

If I give a mention of a cultural feature without specifying where it's from, it's most likely from the mid-to-north Hespermont and descended from the Longhouse Culture.

Some might be repetitions or variants on a theme. Some might have unfinished sentences or hanging thoughts.

The maps of the world will likely help out.


100 Facts About MSF

  1. Dragons do not roar, and instead make a trumpeting noise. And cassowary noises.

  2. If I was the sort of author to get really into linguistics, Pen and Tam would be speaking something akin to Breton if it had crossover with Mohawk.

  3. Sweetbread Day - A holiday to honor the corvids, celebrated predictably enough by cooking sweetbread and setting it out on the porch. The corvids in return will leave some shinies.

  4. Calling the Law - When the buruq clans meet at the Hollowhorn to settle major disputes and inter-clan issues.

  5. Saltmaid - A witch of the orcae / black amazons. Typically the party that deals with outsiders on behalf of the band leaders.

  6. Gravemound - Formed from mass graves. A small hill of flesh and corpses. Spread disease. Burn them.

  7. A lineage of hymns to Tubalkhan are traditionally sung with no musical accompaniment besides hammer and anvil.

  8. The amazons have not only bred remarkably courageous horses, but they have also tamed chalicotheres for labor and war and eohippi as pets.

  9. Other mammalian megafauna are typically found in Kara Koren, Far Amda, Colcie, Azuda and the Dayr and include but are not limited to: glyptodonts, baluchitheriums, machrauchenia, entelodonts, and assorted giant shaggy versions of other large but more well known animals. There's probably an andrewsarchus out there too.

  10. A very small number of non-avian dinosaurs survived into the modern day, though only in miniature forms and only in Azuda. The largest of these are sauropods about the size of a deer.

  11. Scholars have gone back and forth on whether or not the troodontids of Azuda are one of the Peoples. They will use and make stone tools, but don't appear to have fire, language, art, or magical practice. Current consensus is that they are in the same category as the apes.

  12. Those who wish to change their sex may go to the temple of Quiest (also called Tonsi or Tongzhi, who oversees comings and goings, hospitality, change, and uncertainty) and request the aid of the priests there. Applicants will begin an eleven-month preparatory period, during which they are put on a regimen of hormone blockers and enhancers, as well as anti-cancer treatments (as magic that shapes and changes flesh is prone to generating tumors). At the end of the eleven months, they present themselves at the temple for the final stage of transition, where after a short ceremony (often a mock-funeral for the old self) they will be placed into a deep sleep and the priests will complete their work. A month later, exactly one year after beginning the process, the applicant will emerge, declare a new name for themselves, and a big party will commence.

  13. Bicycles are commonplace.

  14. There is an MSF analog to the Muppets.

  15. The spiritual potency of swords is sufficient to make sword-mastery a field separate from normal combat. Anyone can train to use a sword, but sword-mastery is magic.

  16. A shared space program, with members around the Mare and beyond, is currently in the planning stages. The planners hope to provide an alternative to the currently limited and wizard-dominated moon access The first human (and crow) in orbit won't be for another twenty years or so, but the plans are already in motion.

  17. Wizards who make the journey to the moon generally do it in one of two ways: in a fabulous personal vessel arrayed with gorgeous gossamer sails and all the fineries they can afford, or by just launching their tower like a rocket.

  18. I am still undecided about the contents of the rest of the solar system in MSF, other than there are five planets visible from earth, analogs for Mercury and Jupiter, and probably one for Mars.

  19. There is a code of religions laws for the slaughter of animals in many regions. Butchers form their own cult.

  20. Colloquially, magic can be called the Arts and Crafts - the Arts being wizardry, and the Crafts being various folk traditions and so on. There is a meaningful difference in approach to the two, in the way Tolkien differentiated domination and mastery. (This is why wizardry is very dangerous and tends to get really fucked up pretty quick.)

  21. There are eight major holidays over the course of the year, four Folk Days at the beginning of the seasons and four Gods' Days on the solstices and equinoxes. They are, in order: Mother's Day (Spring Equinox, beginning of the new year) > Beltane > Father's Day / Midsummer (Summer Solstice) > Lunasa > Children's Day (Autumnal Equinox) > Sawin / Goblinwatch > Midwintermas / Yule / Hearthnight (Winter Solstice) > Imbolg.

  22. The average lifespan, outside of regions currently beset by horrible shit, is well into the 80s, and it's not unheard of to reach 120.

  23. End of life care, when not provided by the family, is handled by the House of the Heron.

  24. Since wide-scale industry is a one-way ticket to the Folk fucking your shit up and/or an emergence event for Hell, nearly all goods are hand-made. But since craftspeople are typically skilled in the Craft (as one would expect), this means that it's not much of a penalty.

  25. Points where rivers converge are called "marriages" - towns at these locations typically have a festival in the summer where the marriage vows of the river spirits are renewed, as well as those of the attendants.

  26. Children are often instructed at a young age that, if lost, find the nearest elephant and ask for help.

  27. The greater Hespermontane language family doesn't have dedicated words for husband or wife - those are just the word for spouse with an optional gendered affix, and the word for spouse is much more literally "beloved" or "[recipient of] heart's labor".

  28. A contemporary description of the Sable Maid: "Her build is that of one who spent her formative years chasing goats and shoveling mule shit, shorter by a hand-span than most of her soldiers and stout-shouldered. As with her countrymen, her skin is dark and her eyes have an epicanth fold.  She keeps her hair shaved down, contrary to the braids fashionable in Orlei. Her habit of wearing black clothing on and off the battlefield is considered so ordinary by the soldiers that most do not notice the affectation at all."

  29. The Maid's title had a pesky habit of getting mistranslated multiple times during the war, leading to several embarrassing incidents with foreign officials making some ill-founded presumptions ("maid" being translated with connotations of "virgin" rather than "young woman" being the most common).

  30. The Maid was wounded four times during the War - once by being thrown from her horse, once from an arrow, once from a grenado, and one incident that is unspecified in the battle report.

  31. As the Maid kept her personal life private, and soldiers love nothing more than gossip, speculation and rumor about her was rampant. Especially about her love life (she had only ever confirmed a "an ordinary farmgirl's antics" in passing.) Perhaps two or three of her lieutenants knew the truth of the matter - one of them, Alexandra of Themiskrya, said on her death bed that the Maid had at least one lover during the war, and that every guess she had ever heard of their identity was wrong.

  32. There is an apocryphal account of the Maid participating in a peacock play (kin to a drag show) during the War to keep morale up with the troops she was accompanying at the time. The details are obscure and contradictory, and there is no consensus on where, when, or with what group it was performed.

  33. Most medical magic focuses on preventative care and treatment of disease, and grows more dangerous and less reliable the more complex the procedure is to be - magical alteration of flesh will very often trigger the development of tumors. The hands of a capable surgeon remain the best chance at victory in cases of severe injury. It is theoretically possible to treat mental illness through magic, but such a procedure is considered both unacceptably dangerous and unspeakably invasive for providing no benefit over what might be gained through good counsel and carefully-chosen pharmaceuticals.

  34. The large reddish splotch on the moon is said to be a blood splatter from the Daemonomachy.

  35. Amazonian culture puts great importance on the concept of arete. No matter what you do, strive for personal excellence. Be the very best, like no one ever was.

  36. The Thermodon plains are home to a large species of predatory insect that comes in semi-regular swarms. Like an angry cicada the size of a shetland pony. With a human face. This is a major part of why the amazons have maintained a martial culture. That and the occasional wars with the Dragon Republics and the buruq.

  37. The Attercanths are more difficult to cross than the Dayrmonts, being younger and higher. Most traffic goes through one of three main passes, one of which is controlled by Lilu-Voya. If you don't want to have to deal with mountains, you're going to have to take a boat and hop around. There's reliable service between the Arivienne in the west and the Dragon Republics and Themiskyra in the east.

  38. Shit I need to make up a city at the mouth of the Arivienne, don't I. Uh, shit. Okay port at major river's mouth, NSR and Orlei to the north, easy access by water to Acephavara, Themiskyra, etc. I know on one map I have Di Valeo placed there but I typically imagine it a short ways up the river since the NSRs power base is skeleton labor not boats. Okay. Hrm. Name can wait. Let's make it big on dolphins, they don't get a lot of play in the world. Dual human-dolphin government. Dolphins are bastards, so a certain amount of shady business and skeeze is to be expected. Dolphin mobsters. There's a city with dolphin mobsters at the mouth of the Arivienne.

  39. The Attercanths have an etymology that is more-or-less "the spider's spine". I have thought of nothing else to go with that, but I thought I should let you know.

  40. As one might surmise by the fact that Pen works in a used bookstore, books are cheap, literacy is high, and there is a bustling printing scene.

  41. Ports along the southern Hespermont have a lot of cultural influence from Vanidiyos and the other Acephavaran cities, since a lot of refugees from the south settled there after the War.

  42. The inhabitants of the upper Avirienne (Orlei, etc) originally migrated there from the Belt, though that was a very long time ago and there's basically no remaining connection - much of their cultural influence is from the Eostremont.

  43. I had said long ago that the main script used in the Hespermont was Deseret, but holy shit Mkhedruli is so nice to look at, absolutely gorgeous letters 10/10.

  44. The Hespermont has three major ancient culture families - the Longhouse Culture in the north, the Forest Peoples in the mountains, and the Mound-Raiser Culture from the Low Country. All three mix in the middle regions along the Mora-Pono river valley and the Hill Country. Migrations, drift, and social upheaval have diversified and varied these, but the influence remains strong long after those cultures transitioned into new forms.

  45. Lu's journey west towards the Crown of the World has more variations than any other part of the story cycle (being naturally episodic, everyone has their own additions for how Lu fought such-and-such local monster or met so-and-so local Folk), but they still tend to fall into four main branches, defined by whether or not Tubalkhan is present and whether or not there are any additional long term companions (such as Bristlehead Zhu, Raven, or Friar Redbeard)

  46. Early childhood education is typically handled by the elders in the community. More formalized schooling comes later.

  47. I imagine the visual aesthetic of the Hespermont is along the lines we get in Breath of the Wild, where it's got rather geographically mixed vibes. Appalachia by way of Ghibli. You can see it in things like Pen and Tam's clothing (Peter did such a good job holy cow), or like how the ways people interact with the Folk has some significant Shinto influence.

  48. The most popular sports in the Hespermont are baseball, soccer, lacrosse, and wizardball. The latter of these is the only one that gets up to what we'd consider professional-grade production, on account of there being wizards involved.

  49. Wizards don't rule the world because the mentality necessary for wizardry is terrible for long-term planning or organization, and will inevitably bring wizards into conflict with other wizards. The only stable magocracies are in Tanniclen (where the Queens are powerful enough to keep all the other wizards in line) in Pelai (where the Adzat and Obet conclaves keep each other locked in stalemate), and in the Magelands (which is anarchic, and utterly divorced from reality anyway). Elsewise, the wizard will be a flash in the pan, and typically start a war while they're at it.

  50. There is a middle ground where the Arts might be safely practiced without the slide into wizardry, by limiting the practice to a single sphere of influence. These traditions are typically appenced with -mancy, or are lumped into the general "magecraft" which replaces the limited scope with limited power.

  51. The summoning of demons is actually the intentional creation of them; there are certain ritual acts developed to generate demons with specific traits. Normally one would think that no one would ever conceive of doing this, but desperate people will resort to desperate measures.

  52. The Maid died when Darvatius stabbed her, not afterwards. What happened was an impossibility - a soul maintaining full coherence after bodily death, even if it was for less than a minute. Local Woman Too Angry To Die.

  53. The world itself still doesn't have a name. This isn't really an issue, though I suppose it would be convenient at some point.

  54. There's a form of comedic theater where the troupe members will draw names of gods from out of a hat and work their way through a given scenario

  55. Hill Country weddings traditionally include the raising of a pavilion or tent for a re-enactment of Lu's proposal to Tubalkhan, the gifting of funeral garments to the spouses by their parents, and the exchange of honey cakes. And feasting and dancing and getting rip-roaring drunk, culminating in a very rowdy song detailing increasingly more outrageous/obscene/nonsensical sex acts the newlyweds will engage in. The newlyweds themselves usually start it off.

  56. Despite what my prior writings may imply, there are major city-states in the Low Country and they are, in fact, interesting. I just haven't written about them yet. I know there's one that has a giant mysterious silver ORB floating above it.

  57. The natural habitat of the sphinx is the library, though it must be admitted than any place a sphinx remains for long will eventually become a library. They are picky and often vain, always on the prowl for bigger collections and more baroque architecture. There is a city in high Dulyuk that is said to have been founded in the aftermath of catastrophe by a band of refugees stumbling across a sphinx den.

  58. The nomadic maritime nations of the Belt lilifio are masters of the arts of windshaping and wavemaking, making them the greatest seafolk in the world. They have often called pirates, typically by those who are intruding upon their trading routes and rights, a label that is not accurate but embraced for amusement. These maritime nations practice crew-marriages and raise their children communally before they are married off to another fleet.

  59. The nations in Amda are traditionally male-only in leadership (and thus, something of an anomaly). Long ago it was decided, after one too many wars of succession, that kings may only marry men and that their heirs are selected by adoption. Any biological children they might have are excluded from government positions.

  60. The peoples of Ist treat the fall of their ancient predecessors, the devouring of the princes, and the Great Manticore itself, to be taboo. The city and its satellite settlements remain abandoned and the modern inhabitants of Ist live nomadic in the jungle. Outside study by Pelaian scholars has been brief and at a distance - despite voices urging to the contrary, more intrusive expeditions have not been mounted.

  61. The most recent war in the Hespermont broke out ~twenty years ago (If Tam returning to Olen is thereabouts "now") in the north country, when the sorceror Anharugh Paur emerged from his tower and inflamed what would have been a mundane border dispute among the dayrdani strongholds into a catastrophe, complete with cults, demons, the works. Forces from Bensael and Draga were summoned to assist the campaign against him, and even then it took three years before he cast himself from his own tower. Molly Ironshanks served in this conflict prior to joining the Order of the Sable Maid, surviving both the Battle of Splintertooth Pass and the subsequent March to Yaran, and was part of the battalion that downed a Lord of War at Four Sticks Bridge.

  62. Most of the Pelaian refugees that remained on this side of the ocean settled in Redgate, Bensael, or the stretch of river between. Pen's situation - getting adopted into a Hill Country family - was an anomaly brought about by a civil service overwhelmed with six hundred plus orphaned children at once and very few places to put them. Most of Pen's adolescent angst was centered on this.

  63. Kvaare is the closest to an industrialized society as one can safely get in the world, a development that did not come without repeated instances of the Folk swooping in and ruining everyone's day. The roots of this are in the Golden Revolution's promises of lifting the masses out of poverty (and killing the aristos), and to a great extent they succeeded, if you're willing to overlook multiple factories getting outright eaten. Woo, gilded age, yaay.

  64. The local flavor of religion in Se Tolahi is characterized as monotheism, which is not entirely correct but likewise not entirely wrong. They don't go as far as to say that the gods of man don't exist, just that those are interpretive facets of their universal motive force. It's rather esoteric and has a tendency for monasticism.

  65. Design note: I am still figuring out precisely how the inhabitants of MSF talk about gender and relationships, since they have a very different (read: far less toxic) cultural background than our current day and age (ie, no great divide between the queer and heteronormative). Still a work in progress, unlikely to be world-changingly radical, might involve conlanging experiments.

  66. One of the reasons that wizards are so dangerous is the ease by which they can get people on their side, without using much of the Art at all. It's an unfortunate, seemingly hard-coded weakness in humans: if someone comes along offering what we want, all they really need to do is make people believe that they can deliver. And when you're desperate, and they have phenomenal cosmic power, you believe it, even if you know that it never works out.

  67. Bensael is based in a large part on Pittsburgh (sitting at a river junction in the hill country), and most blatantly with the towers of the Black and White Queens - they're just fantasy versions of the UPMC tower and Cathedral of Learning.

  68. Common Folk of the Hill Country: Mouldywarps, Forest Folk, Kodama, Nymphs, Dryads, River Sprites, Brownies, Goblins, Moth-Folk, Trolls, Spookums, Hidebehinds, The Great Stone Collossi.

  69. The common calendar has zodiac associations for month (12), year (12), and century (6). I only have the last one decided on - centuries are Leviathan, Behemoth, Simiurgh, Kraken, Dragon, and Monkey King. I will avoid giving exact years whenever possible, which is about every opportunity that isn't an event in the life of a POV character.

  70. The Hill Country is fossil-rich territory - trilobites, ammonites, and weird little plants galore. They're common enough that they're used for decoration, and you're liable to find them just walking around in the woods.

  71. Some wizards of the Tranquility Academy have floated the idea of purposefully adjusting the orbit of the moon so that it matches up with the solar calendar. Everyone else (even other wizards!) rightfully tells them that this is a terrible idea.

  72. Pen once did a gig as a swimsuit model (the clothier in Olen has a raffle every summer, winner gets their picture put up in the window. She still has the poster somewhere in the apartment.)

  73. Farming models tend heavily towards agroforestry, companion planting, and other sustainable methods in cooperation with friendlier varieties of Folk (nymphs, mostly).

  74. The postal service works with but is ultimately independent of government. It's honestly closer to a cult. They wear winged hats and coats with eagles emblazoned on them. They WILL deliver the mail on time.

  75. One dragon is still alive: the Last King, who slumbers deep within the caverns of the Hollowhorn.

  76. Where it's relevant, folks will draw a distinction between "train time" and "sun time" and switch between the two depending on the situation. The latter is translated into the canonical hours and varies according to what the sun's like at that time of year.

  77. When all attempts at justice have failed, the victims still have the recourse of the erinyes. Whatever Lu said or did to make this delicate truce with the furies, the stories do not say - only that she was terrified of what she saw within their cave.

  78. The names used for Folk are human-derived. They have none of their own. In truth the nature of individuality among the Folk is a bit strange, as some definitely have it, many don't, and some grow into it. The very powerful and those that hang around humans a lot tend to be more individualized.

  79. The largest settlement of Lilu on the surface is Lilu-voya in the Attercanths, but other sizable urban populations exist in the Rift, Odzho, Red Point, and Panutaru.

  80. The Dulyukhan are a cultural and ethnic isolate, and what is known about them comes through the peoples of Panutaru, who likewise keep to themselves. We can say of them this much with certainty: they tend towards short stature and broad shoulders like the dayrdani, their skin is reddish brown with dark spots on their shoulders and back, and their hair is short, soft, and silver-white, and covers much of their body. They speak very little, save with their eyes and their hands.

  81. The twin sons of Lu and Tubalkhan, Emesh and Entu, are 100% just Kamina and Kittan. Nearly every story they feature in starts with them getting in a stupid contest of one-upmanship, and it's hilarious every time.

  82. It's to be assumed that any given brothel will have at least a small shrine to one of the gods of sex workers and an attendant counselor-priest. Any place worth its name will provide both reproductive and psychological health support as well as the obvious.

  83. When I write about Lu and the other gods, I do so from the mainline Hepsermontane perspective. This is only one lens for the Gods of Man, and other cultures naturally have alternate interpretations. In the NSR, Lu is worshiped near-exclusively in her aspect of the grieving mother. In Themiskyra she is Tabiti Hipparctrix Panposiedonea, queen of horses and of the seas. In Draga and the Dragon Republics the solar church places greatest importance on the source of the Crown of Fire through which all the gods are fueled. Acephavara has the Headless One and the Six Lords of Struggle. And so on and so forth. Wherever you go, however, there will be acknowledgment that the Gods of Man are the Gods of Man, regardless of name or aspect.

  84. Design note: When writing MSF material, I tend to have a sense of places as Near, Known, or Far as a vague sort of psychic distance between there and here. Near places are ones you interact with regularly. Known places you don't regularly interact with, but you know enough (ie, a blogpost or two) about them. Far places are mostly unknown to both reader and characters, but they are going on about their own business just like anyone else is. So for example, the NSR is Near, Ool is Known, and Se Tolahi is Far.

  85. Elephants, Dolphins, and Corvids do not have any compact with the Folk, and don't interact with them in any way like humans do - humans need to be reminded of the relationships they have with the rest of the world through rite and ritual and story. The other families just know.

  86. Regardless of what versions and what episodes are featured, the Cycle of Lu goes Journey to the West -> Theft of Fire -> The Journey Through Winter -> The Daemonomachy -> The Coming of Spring -> The Potbelly Hill Sermon.

  87. The church of the gods of man is not a top-down organization. A priest's primary roles are caretaker of the local shrine (if I use church or chapel, it's a shrine that's got a proper nave and room for a decent number of people), community counsel (often taking the role of third party or advisor in disputes), and storyteller.

  88. I have never actually read any of the relevant comics, but somehow the Red Law is in the same ballpark as the Anti-Life Equation and "inadvertently copied Jack Kirby" is a merit badge far as I am considered.

  89. There is a common drug similar to cannabis in effect, except it has a nice spicy smell to it instead of smelling like someone decided to burn a sweat-soaked sock.

  90. There's a very simple bit of spellwork to induce sensation of numbness + pain akin to an arm or a leg falling asleep. This can be used a both a schoolyard prank, and as a means of self defense.

  91. Pankration is not a single discipline, but an umbrella term for the killing martial arts. Pankration is mastery of violence, as one masters an art, and is in its way magical.

  92. The Eostremonti (or commonly the Plains People or an as-yet-undecided endonym) live inbetween and throughout Draga, the Republics, the Magelands, and the Amazonians. I haven't got much material for them yet, other than that they are a very old culture group, they are primarily sedentary agriculturalists in comparison to the seminomadic buruq and the more mixed amazons, and that they provided the root of what would become Draga and the Republics (and thus, the common Imperial aesthetic in this part of the world).

  93. The guz is a legendary creature of variable description, though most folks claim that it is large and has blue-black feathers. It comes at night to steal you away, though why and to where is up for debate. As is its actual existence. It is normally considered frightful, but not necessarily hostile.

  94. There is a species of catfish in the Low Country that not only can heave itself around on land for short distances, but is big enough to swallow small humans whole.

  95. There are a few surviving members of the greater dragon family. These drakes are non-sapient, about the size of a crocodile, still have most of their feathers (nice and waterproof) and possess no fire breath (though they can heat up their mouths enough to cook meat within them.)

  96. A research team of wizards (with access to a bathysphere) once found a large chunk of basalt in one of the deeper stretches of the Mare that appears to have been purposefully carved with whorling designs. They swear up and down it is a kind of message from the octopi, though if it is they are probably cross with us now for having stolen it.

  97. Air travel is limited to the airships of the Magelanders, since they are the only people capable of the constant and consistent output of the Art to keep one afloat. These are classic "it's a galleon with balloons attached" airships. Since there are so few of them, they tend to operate on the whims of the Magelanders themselves, so there's rarely consistent destinations or schedules.

  98. Messages can be sent instantly across the world using the troll-stones, though any such message will be both public to any other users of the troll-stones and ridicule by the trolls themselves.

  99. There is in Colcie a beast of burden that looks like a small, thin rhinoceros with shaggy white hair. They don't adjust well to other climates and so are only very rarely seen by the rest of the world.

  100. There is a variety of demon that comes from the worship of weapons; by those who cannot bear to put it upon a shelf and let it rust away, who believe the threat of violence to be peace, who lust for the power of death but refuses to shoulder its burden. For this reason weapons are bound with secret names to restrain their influence.


Saturday, October 16, 2021

12 Apostles in the Garden

Way back when I was running GREAT SCREAMING HELL, there were a few glimpses of antagonistic NPCs working on things in the background. They were never able to be properly fleshed out, and this is barely more than what I had then, but it is a good jumping off point for adaptation into other games. Drop these NPCs into scenarios as actors doing their own things, intersecting for whatever reason with the scenario that the players are dealing with. If they survive, maybe they can pull on that thread.


The Apostles


I. The Beast


An enormous naked man, flayed head to toe. All raw steak muscle and capelike strips of scabby skin. His skull has bloomed outwards like a chrysanthemum. It hurts to look at the folded point of golden light in the center of those ivory petals. Stands in silence when there is a handler present. Only left alone when there is violence to be done.

II. Origami Android


Glossy white sufaces fold and unfold noiselessly in an ever-shifting dance of polygons. There is the impression of a face when it is in the shape of a person, a form it takes rarely outside of meetings with the Apostles. Both form and self are infinitely malleable. You see a cat down the alley, pure white; it leaps onto the embankment wall, folds into a crane, and flies away.

III. Pallid Man

Microgravity tall, corpse-pallor pale. Brittle translucent hair down to his waist. Clothing was once white, now stained and stained and stained again. A face that one cannot imagine ever expressing joy or anger, only faint and distant resigned melancholy. Smells of formaldehyde and pond scum.

IV. DEVIL

Projection of a tall man in a suit sharp enough to cut. His head is a horse's skull aflame. Wears a noose like a necktie. A charmer, a flatterer, a liar. Casual, friendly condescension to everyone, like you're already old friends, like he already knows you. He does. He already knows the worst about you. It's okay. He understands.

V. Sage


An orangutan with silvering fur. Scars on his knuckles, a betel-leaf habit. Antique rifle; bolt action, ammo cast by hand. A yellowing book clutched in his foot. Speaks like a tenured professor who checked out a long time ago, but still feels a glimmer of hope for the future, if only these goddamn zygotes showing up in composition shut up, did some drugs, and started actually asking the right questions.

VI. The Magistrate

A fat dolphin, pointlessly re-engineered for limbs not seen since ambulocetus, as he's dependent on a walker to carry him around.. Resplendent silk robes, purple and gold. Phallic staff of office. Barely tolerated. Obscenely rich - he can afford to have fingers to put rings on. Always accompanied by some consort or another or three.

VII. Knife-Child


Filthy rags and matted hair. A knife dancing between fingers, never stopping. Implant ports along the temples and spine. No telling if the mind inside the cyberbrain is the original or a passenger. Cunning, rage-simmering, impatient.

VIII. Badgerstripe

A short, stocky, dark-skinned woman. A bleached stripe runs front to back through her close-shorn hair. She stands out from the crowd for a moment before she vanishes back into the anonymity. Talk to her and she's reassuringly ordinary; practical, stubborn, working-class. She'll put two bullets through a skull with a lone terse warning and no hesitation afterwards.

IX. Standard Model

A off-the-shelf android model. Cheap, bland, anonymous. Remote operated. The voice remains the same, but sometimes the vocabulary changes. Sometimes it seems to forget things it should remember. It tries to be neutral, tries to balance the others. Fails often.

X. Gold Eyes

An androgyne in officer's garb, medals pinned on their chest. No pupil, no iris, just gold like coins. Detached from all but the glory of victory by well-executed tactics, the pursuit they chase with the obsession of an artist.

XI. Frozen

An old cryopod, two generations out of date, set up on treads. The fluid within is so murky with sediment that the inhabitant cannot be made out past a blurred shadow. An ancient vocoder croaks short, near-unintelligible sentences as if the machine is in pain.

XII. The Mask

Wears a grimacing red demon mask, the kind used to scare away lesser spirits. Carries a sword, an honest antique kept sharp. Speaks slowly, cautiously, rarely. Occasionally trips over malapropisms. A hyena sleeps at their feet, sliver collar implant on its neck.

 

The Tree of Life


Translucent blue trunk spiralling up from pseudopod roots, splitting into thousands of fractal branches with orange-gold leaves and heavy blue-gold-pink fruit glittering in the sunsetlight. Wherever it is, it makes itself the center. Remove the sandals from your feet, for this is holy ground.

The Tree is a surviving bud of ancient alien biotech - essentially a "biosphere in a box". It can grow just about anything with sufficient raw foodstock and energy. If it really started to take off, it would grow to the size of a small continent by the time it was done. It can write the code for neogenic species in a few hours.

It's intelligent in its own way, and can be can be communicated with after a fashion, but seems to be closer to a gorilla than Solaris. It's neither hostile nor malicious. It's actually somewhat fond of humans (who knows why), going as far as to adjust its output to be more or less human appropriate, at least in terms of biochemistry. In other ways, not so much.

The Apostles want to get the Tree or one of its buds offworld, so that it can spread across human space. On paper, this is a great idea, considering how much more effective it is than traditional terraforming.

Here's the issue. Five issues, actually.

Issue one: Terraforming hypercorps are, naturally, not going to be pleased with a device that does their job faster, better, and for free.

Issue two: The Apostles are trapped planetside.

Issue three: The Tree is damaged and missing components all of which are both ancient and alien.

Issue four: The Apostles are only unified in terms of restoring and exporting the Tree. The means of both are points of contention as are end result. Rivalries brew. Other aims weave in and out.

Issue five: If the Tree were able to take root on a suitable world, it would form an environment of itself, and this environment would self-replicate. That would put any humans on that world (and its later seed worlds) as inhabitants of an ecosystem they would have little to no control over. A return - in essence if not in specifics - to the days on the savanna, at the mercy of the world.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Play Report: The Books Were Wrong

The Books Were Wrong is a solo game / writing exercise based around reading through write-ups of cultures / peoples / creatures from RPGs with a critical eye to what biases are on display from the writer (a nebulous-at-first in-universe author), and then adjusting / rewriting them to address these biases and providing a more equitable presentation. The roll-for-what-tack-you're-taking felt like an extra step to potentially get a prompt that doesn't fit the text you are critiquing, so I used that part as suggestions only.

I decided to write about kobolds, using the 5e bestiary entry, on the grounds that A) I can guarantee there will be a lot to fix and B) I dislike kobolds in nearly all contexts except the dogfolk you find in Dungeon Meshi and the like, so it's a challenge for me to come up with something that I like.

Original text in bold and quote boxes.

On Kobolds


Kobolds are craven reptilian humanoids

That the avoidance of combat is immediately characterized as cowardice (and then used as the primary defining feature of kobolds), says to me that the in-universe author (let's call him Opineus) comes from a culture with a very strong honor-shame militarist ethos. Head-to-head, face-to-face brutality is valorous and brave, it's honorable, it will win you renown, it's manly. Backing down from or avoiding conflict is cowardly behavior and to be derided.

Even with that, it is still a particularly uncharitable reading of kobold behavior. Kobolds are tiny! An adult kobold on its own would be easily outweighed and overpowered by a juvenile human, much less a dwarf or orc (and I would wager that they are more likely to encounter those). Direct combat would be tantamount to suicide, and I would read any records of a kobold making such an attack as an act of desperation.

that worship evil dragons as demigods and serve them as minions and toadies.

For this to make sense, I would say that Opineus would have to come from a belief system where A) dragons are worshiped and B) there is a distinction between good and evil dragons. Thankfully, D&D already comes with this built in, so let's say that Opineus was writing during the height of influence of the Golden Dragon Cult, which cleanly laid out the universe in a grand spritual hierarchy according the the associated metals / colors schema...and which held that dragons were much more powerful and intelligent than they are in actuality. Opineus is coming from a position where it is taken as fact that all peoples would, naturally, worship dragons in much the same way that the GDC does, despite it being founded on a misunderstanding of how dragons act within the world.

But kobolds are living side by side with dragons. They deal with dragons every day and know that they are large, dangerous lizards that most other peoples give a wide berth to.

So what if kobolds have domesticated dragons, instead. If you're small and easily killed by most of everything you come across, it makes sense to have a guard dog, and why not go for the guard dog you are already sorta related to? It'd be like humans training bigfoot to protect them from aliens or something. But not full domestication, I don't think - dragons are still enormous, territorial apex predators, likely eating dinosaurs and shit. Mutualism, then. The kobolds care for the dragon by removing parasites and providing gifts of tribute (for the dragon to arrange around their lair, boyer-bird-like), the dragon protects the kobolds from dangerous introduers by scaring them away.

Kobolds inhabit dragons’ lairs when they can but more commonly infest dungeons, gathering treasures and trinkets to add to their own tiny hoards.

If kobolds are indeed related to dragons, maybe they have the same hoard-collecting behavior. Big showy nests to attract partners. Gotta strut your stuff. But, if we're going off the last part, most of that gathered treasure is to add to the dragon's hoard.

If a dragon isn't available, I would presume that a kobold warren would aim for an easily fortified location to live, so ruins and caves (or both) would be a natural fit. The use of "infested" certainly shows Opineus' thoughts on intelligent non-humans. What an asshole. Maybe those ruins are from some older civilization that Openeus' has claimed cultural lineage from, which is likely completly false and is still an asshole thing to do if it were true.

Strength in Numbers. Kobolds are egg-laying creatures. They mature quickly and can live to be “great wyrms” more than a century old. However, many kobolds perish before they reach the end of their first decade.


I don't know what to make of this one. It makes sense that kobolds would lean towards r-type reproduction (larger broods with lower investment) since everything is out to murder or eat them, but they aren't so far on the spectrum that they can't build societies.

Actually that brings up a big question; how are kobolds able to maintain cultural continuity with such turnover? These great wyrms would be absolutely vital for maintaining oral histories, especially if brain development in kobolds mirrors that of humans.

Granted, those numbers could be a complete error or fabrication on Opineus' account, it's not like he actually interacted with any kobolds to do research. Or, worst case scenario, the short average lifespan is just because they keep getting constantly murdered by humans.

Physically weak, they are easy prey for predators. This vulnerability forces them to band together.

Opineus here seems to believe that kobolds formed and participate in society primarily out of the threat of external violence rather than any need for socialization with each other and communal relationships. I would not be surprised if he believed the same thing about humans.

Their superior numbers can win battles against powerful adversaries, but often with massive casualties on the kobold side.

If kobolds don't engage in direct combat except in desperation, the massive casualties mentioned here were likely elders and children, who would naturally make up the bulk of a warren's population.

Tunnelers and Builders. Kobolds make up for their physical ineptitude with a cleverness for trap making and tunneling. Their lairs consist of low tunnels through which they move easily but which hinder larger humanoids. Kobolds also riddle their lairs with traps. The most insidious kobold traps make use of natural hazards and other creatures. A trip wire might connect to a spring-loaded trap that hurls clay pots of flesh-eating green slime or flings crates of venomous giant centipedes at intruders.

This section is generally on point, though it frames this as some innate kobold behavior, instead of a means of getting large, murderous people out of their house.

"Insidious" traps. Gotta love how using your environment to its advantage is morally backrupt to Opineus.

The Lost God. In addition to the dragons they revere, kobolds worship a lesser god named Kurtulmak. Legends speak of how Kurtulmak served as Tiamat’s vassal in the Nine Hells until Garl Glittergold, the god of gnomes, stole a trinket from the Dragon Queen’s hoard. Tiamat sent Kurtulmak to retrieve the trinket, but Garl Glittergold played a trick on him, collapsing the earth and trapping the kobold god in an underground maze for eternity. For this reason, kobolds hate gnomes and pranks of any kind. Kurtulmak’s most devoted worshipers dedicate themselves to finding and releasing their lost god from his prison-maze.

Opineus frames this bizarrely; a story about a horrible injustice done to the kobolds (if we read the story as a legendary account of an actual occurrence, the theft of a dragon's hoard by gnomes and the subsequent death / imprisonment of a folk hero) is played off as "the gnomes were just joking, the kobolds need to have a sense of humor about this."

The historical context of why Opineus would carry water for gnomish religion is beyond my creative energies at the moment.

Winged Kobolds. A few kobolds are born with leathery wings and can fly. Known as urds, they like to lurk on high ledges and drop rocks on passersby.

Of course they fucking drop rocks on people, Opineus. If your home was being invaded by dudes with swords and you had wings you'd drop some fucking rocks on them!

Although the urds’ wings are seen as gifts from Tiamat, the Dragon Queen, wingless kobolds are envious of those gifts and don’t get along with the urds.


I'll chalk this up to Opineus just making shit up. Can't come up with a good explanation on my own, so he just made some dumb shit up.

 

Final Thoughts

I'd hesitate to call it a game, but it is a very good writing exercise (in no small part because, as evidenced before, I like pulling apart bad bestiary entries). I could have gone further in fleshing out the kobolds, but for the sake of this write-up I wanted to stick to the text as much as I could - so the kobolds here are still not my ideal kobolds, if such a thing exists, but they are at least better than "what if goblins had scales".

As a final final note, I would certainly not be offended if Opineus showed up elsewhere as the scion of poorly-written accounts of magical beings. Dude was prolific, and terrible at his job, unless if you consider his job to be terrible, in which case he was excellent at it.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Learned Elder Presents...

 

 Click for big. I am very proud of that Elder I drew.

So while puttering around online I discovered that the speculative evolution crowd does a thing called Spectember (one of those theme months everyone seems to have), and that got me thinking and thinking turned to doing and then a fugue state happened and I made this Pepe Silvia type monstrosity in draw.io.

Annotating this entire thing would take ages more than I can give to it, so I will run through the highlights in a convenient bulleted list.

  • The Great Shoggoth Rebellion was not limited to Earth - the liberated shoggoths uploaded a self-replicating protein chain that would break Elder neural conditioning to the empire-wide hyperspace network before destroying the entire relay system. The only surviving Elder worlds are those where they were able to quash the rebellion, did not have shoggoths, or those that remained in space.
  • The Martian Elders killed their shoggoths before they were overthrown, but this hastened the collapse of the early Martian biosphere and took long-term climate engineering off the table entirely.
  • The Empire of Bones and Flesh are the post-mortal descendants of the synapisid peoples, who were able to escape into space.
  • In this timeline, Neanderthals are the primary species of modern human. H. sapiens (or here fatuus, "the fool") are savants with tools and communication, but at the downside of having brains that can comprehends just enough sorcery to make themselves and everything around them explode. This is why the Mi-go are interested in them.
  • The Red Martians were descendants of surplus abductees the mi-go traded to the Master Martians.
  • Entities in circles are outside influences.
  • You already know who Annatar and Curumo are.
  • Goblins are listed twice, intentionally. This is actually an error, as there should be more.
  • All hail DOG GOD.
  • The Cenozoic was a fallow period for intelligence, as the residual shoggoth metamaterial in the environment reached record lows after the KT extinction, which meant it was much harder for neural complexity to emerge until the Trees of Life and Neoshoggoths developed.
  • The Shades are literal dinosaur ghosts.
  • For further information on True Clowns, please see the following documentary.
  • The glyphs at the bottom read THERE IS NO RETURN TO MONKE, ONLY ONWARDS TOWARDS CRAB.