Saturday, July 30, 2022

Slush Pile 11

Old Slushpiles: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 8.5, 9,10


  1. Tay al-Ard - "Folding of the earth" (miraculous teleportation in Islamic tradition)
  2. Something is rap-tap-tapping inside the septic tanks.
  3. Fleshy blob found aboard a derelict, sitting amidst mounds of cannibalized crew. 
  4. The shape of a person, perhaps, made up of the floaters in your eyes. 
  5. An orange tomcat with five fiery tails 
  6. One-eyed ogre, skin tattooed blue, wreathed in hot alcoholic mist
  7. Monolith of leathery red-brown skin, covered in eyeless, toothless faces.
  8. A nude, meditating human whose torso has split open into a flowering tree
  9. Enormous night-black octopus with a white underbelly; pinpricks of stars across its mantle.
  10. Desiccated mummy curled in a walker chair, eyes long gone, mouth crammed full of too-big-teeth, surrounded by cheap plastic figurines.
  11. A voxel swarm in the rough shape of a person, shimmering like bismuth crystals.
  12. Gore-splattered ibis with a burning crown, perched atop a pile of garbage
  13. They Will Not Allow You To Die - Mosh corpo using alien cancers to keep workers alive, zombielike, as they slowly deteriorate. 
  14. "He claims to have repeated nightmares of indistinct beings descending from the sky in a great mass. Like they had been drawn on the air in black marker."
  15. Prepare for yourself a syrup of Ithsun-Zan, and heat it in three parts water until it has turned from black to gold-orange as a flame. Add to this from your store of corpse-powder, either that of an enemy or that of a friend. Lower the heat, and recite from the litanies of Ulurhan. Then find a quiet place, clear your mind of meaningless chatter, and drink. To those who see your garment of flesh, you shall be dead. This is no matter, for life is the great illusion of the cell and its division.
  16. The String Child
  17. The Fool - Just some farmboy with his pa's old sword. Out for adventure, not knowing where he's going. 
  18. The Magician - Arcane mastery is only a fraction of his ambition; To gain worldly power, he must have students. He must have eyes and ears. He must not rely on friends in high places.
  19. The Emperor - He holds himself as if he is a king, though there's no crown on his brow.
  20. Strength - She knows pankration
  21. The Hermit - Sickened with the world, he went up the mountain alone. He returns now to prophesy. 
  22. The Hanged Man - The highwayman. They strung him up, but the rope failed three times. The end of one life, the beginning of another.
  23. Death - He rides a pale horse. His armor is smoke-black.
  24. The Devil - Killed three priests. Hung them by their cinctures. Burned down the church. Wanted dead. 
  25. The Grand Hierodules - Warrior-diplomats of the Autarch of the Austrolopithicine Throne. Beautiful to behold and terrifying in combat, as if an ape was made in the image of an angel. They are adrift now without their Autarch. Some among them have shaken off their mental shackles and taken their first steps towards autonomy - children with the powers of gods. Split among Loyalists, Revanchists, the followers of the Old Gods, and the Feral.
  26. Dwarves speak either Ithkuil or Lojban.
  27. Human names are all number designations preceeded by the last name of a famous astronaut or sci-fi author
  28. The once-mighty ANTHROPIC BASILEUM, has fallen apart into a thousand thousand splinters of itself. In its vastness, its wealth, and its skill at arms, its rulers thought that it might never fall, that it would build graveyards and call it peace for eternity, and thought that such efforts might never be turned inward. This was generations ago.
  29. Class: The Reincarnator - Every time you die, you will return with a different appearance and special ability. Leveling up (or a special item) will allow you to lock-in an ability and bring it along to your next body.
  30. Retired Adventurer, on theme: "Step 1: Think big thoughts; feel big feels Step 2: Make the setting reflect those thoughts and feels"
  31. MoSh campaign setup - PCs are emulated intelligences embodied as disposable asset-denial for Weird Shit. Eclipse Phase with the middle man removed. Need to figure a good name for them, if there's a term for someone who is stuck doing hard time in hell in Buddhism that would be solid.
  32. Seedships go back in time when they travel. Each world they terraform is, from our perspective, earlier and earlier in the timeline and the biosphere is older. Far enough out, there are worlds where intelligent life has evolved on its own from the original stock.
  33. MoSh scenario - Delving into 21086 Kosmoborgar to retrieve the black boxes of a previous survey team
  34. Anonymous Ithkuil translation of The Brothers Karamazov. "Try and find the secret!" is written in blue pen on the inside cover.
  35. North Korean Superman - 43 seconds of 8mm film footage. Actors are halted at 21 seconds by director, who enters shot. Actress of Lois Lane draws gun and shoots director twice in head. Dark shape, approximately fist-sized, is seen moving at great speed from director's skull.
  36. Nigerian Lord of the Rings - Handwritten manuscript of a sequel to Fellowship of the Ring, written in both Igbo and English. From writing style and language used, author is presumed to have been a teenager.
  37. MoSh scenario - Company adjustors arrive to investigate monoliths supposedly result of alien transplant of humans. Not actually alien in origin, the monster has a mundane explanation.
  38. A demon caused by burning down a haunted house.
  39. A post that is a fake review of a fictional roguelike game called "Jabberwock"
  40. Coitekton - fake archaism for a sex worker.


 Rejected Party Members from the upcoming 40k CRPG

1. Domesticated tyranid named "Dog"
2. Friendly, erudite plague marine we have quarantined in an escape pod
3. Jokaero mechanic who keeps hidden marijuana / tea / vegetable farm in hydroponics
4. Sr. Veronike, space marine
5. Maarvaan the Paranoid Necron
6. Dark eldar raider fallen to Tzeentch instead of Slaanesh; playing literal 5D chess all the time
7. Ork battle-poet (romancable)
8. Navigator whose vibe is "incredibly boring salaryman"
9. A skaven who just ended up here somehow
10. Universe's chillest Sister of Battle
11. Blundering, overwhelmed water-caste diplomat assigned to your ship as punishment
12. Imperial Guardsman who has been the only survivor of every major battle he's been in.
12. Pair of Admech priests who are very obviously eternal rivals / married.
12. Squat mechanic who is super into elaborate concept-album prog-rock operas
12. Chaos Firewarrior - Trying figure how this works, Tau psychology is not compatible with Khorne.
13. Whatever it is, it's trapped in the water filtration system and keeps tapping code on the pipes.
14. Knight from a medieval world; perpetually astounded by everything they see.
15. Neurotic hive-city gangster; thrash-metal musician
16. Witch-Hunter Raphaël Ambrosius Costeau, arriving on the scene
17. Hrud doctor, who is here just so that the hrud have more info on them than "none at all"
18. Skippy the Servo-Skull
19. Leftenant Scab, the no-fun-allowed second-in-command
20. The Captain - He's not actually the captain but he calls himself that and no one could bear to disappoint him.



  • Tau - armor (breakable), plasma rifle (bulky, accurate)
  • Ork - shoota (loud, powerful, inaccurate), choppa (huge, heavy)
  • Skitarii - take rifle (energy), servo-skull, cybernetics
  • Imperial Guard - lasrifle, armor, favored environment
  • Sister of Battle - heavy armor, chainsword (loud, brutal) or flamethrower (bulky, aoe) or heavy bolter (loud, brutal)
  • Psyker - take telepathy, telekinesis, mindblast, and warp-spasm
  • Heretek - unapproved cybernetics, servo-skull, pistol (plasma)
  • Eldar - ceramic armor, shuriken gun (elegant), no one likes you
  • Dark Eldar - BDSM armor (ineffective, intimidating), pain gun, useless wavy knife
  • Kroot - Long rifle, powerful beak, corpse-eater 
  • Squat - Hammer, shotgun, high gravity tolerance
  • Demiurg - Stony skin, ion hand-cannon (stunning, disabling)
  • Vespid - Wings, chitin, venomous sting,
  • Hrud - Disease carrier, cartilaginous exoskeleton, darkvision 


Preparation of the Banquet 

(I backed out of participating in the Book of Gaub early, but I did write this, so it evens out.)

Interviewer: And this was when you shot him, correct?

Agent: Yeah.

Interviewer: Were his actions a direct threat to you at the time?

Agent: He was nearly done setting the table, best as I could tell. [Agent F] was the only one of us who had seen it this far along before and he said that there's no way to stop it once the fifteenth course is out.

Interviewer: What sort of danger does the banquet pose?

Agent: Don't know what the food does. Don't want to know. Could barely walk through the room there was so much shit piled up in there. Guests start showing up once everything is set and the host rings the bell, I know that.

Interviewer: You've seen that happen?

Agent: [Points to prosthetic eye, smiles without humor]

Interviewer: I apologize. How may victims did you find?

Agent: Eleven. Big for this sort of thing, I know most are only one or two and don't normally go above six or seven.

Interviewer: Is there any sort of significance, do you think?

Agent: Dunno. Everyone had an empty chair across from them.

Interviewer. Interesting. That's very similar to the incident in [EXPUNGED].


Interviewer: [EXPUNGED]


Interviewer: I thought so. Gaub. Not a good way to go. Gaub.

Agent: [Gnawing on hand, nodding solemnly.] Gaub


Introduction to an Unfinished Critical Essay About Trad Games

I love trad games.

I love them because they're terrible. They're terrible and they are huge, which means that they have huge, terrible contents. An excess of contents. I cannot run out of things to say about trad games, because the barrel is so wide and so deep and should I ever feel like I am scraping the bottom, lo and behold there is another barrel beneath it.

Tabletop games are, by necessity, an incomplete genre. What I can critique of the text is limited to the book in my hands and the pdf on my screen. The act of play creates an entirely different context for the work - a game whose text is a miserable pile of formatting errors can be a fun time with the right group and the right ref, and a slick and well-made game text might end up a terrible night for everyone if things don't click correctly. Either way, records of these game nights are difficult to pin down - they are a tradition of folk art and oral history and so they aren't going to come into play (har) much in what's to follow.

It is entirely possible and entirely commonplace to have fun in spite of a game text, or to have a bad time despite it.

Anyway, back to trad games.

The trad game publishing style, of game lines ever-producing more books to purchase naturally produces more *stuff*. The OSR sphere, with its focus on loosey-goosey hackjob cobbled-together rulesets and modules often doesn't provide enough *stuff* to get a proper foothold. The greater indie sphere probably has *stuff*, but...


All Swords are Cursed

"A knife may cut bread, a hammer may drive a nail, an axe may hew wood. The spear and the bow are less defensible, but they are a poor man's weapon and may keep him fed through the winter, so I have no quarrel with them. But the sword is a worthless piece of shit, good only for turning men into ghosts and loved only by fucking idiots who confuse monstrousness for strength. Find me a sword-user and I will show you one whose life would be improved in every way by throwing the damned thing into a pond and taking up habitual masturbation."
Basic idea for this mechanic is that you're got GLOG style technique-dice for your guns and swords et c, but you can only gain charges by killing. You can gain as many dice as you want, but when you have enough to go over some limit (undecided what it is determined by - likely WIS) you'll start gaining corruption (hey, this mechanic again) upon either failing a check or not burning a die when you use a technique. Hit corruption limit and you become a demon.


Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Quarter Hour of Writing 1 & 2

 As per Library of Attnam's challenge and list. Some minor edits have been made for readability and flow.

Magical Metals

Oricalchum - The bones of the Earth-machine, of the great underworld labyrinth whose gates are barred with the faces of gods.

Antiferrum - Possesses a hatred of common iron so great that it will spit and foam like a rabid animal when in contact.

Crimson Band - harvested only from humans in which it has been concentrated - typically through tainted drinking water. Its raw form is worthless

Alchemist's Gold - Distinguishable by its propensity to tarnish, and ability to turn all metals in contact with it into more of itself.

Fuliginite - A glossy, smooth, black metal, silimar to obsidian though less fragile. Found only among the bones of the northern barbarians and their domesticated pseudo-giants.

Arakhnate - Silver-white and shimmering. In truth, it is a spider silk woven into ingots and used as a metal would. Light, malleable, strong.

Elephantine - Named so for the habit of herds to scrape at it with their tusks. Occurs in great monoliths across the savanna. 

Taongór - Blueish metal collected from the sites of meteoric impacts. The prime conductor of electricity.

Tiger-Iron - Named for the stripes of rust that form on its dark, pitted surface when exposed to air.

Dreighaz - Exceedingly rare. Cannot be melted at all by ordinary means at all. Repels all manner of spirits,  good and ill.

Animite - Drinks souls, concentrating their light and heat. Radiates deadly, invisible waves.

Ur-Lead - Specially treated by alchemists, it may form a barrier against all magic arts or influence of exterior powers.


Animal life that survived the Anthropocene mass extinction can be split into three main categories: pets, food, and those species that are damn near impossible to kill. Those that could adapt to pollution and urbanization would live, those that couldn't were forced into smaller and smaller enclaves until they could not continue.

True, the Collapse permitted some breathing room, and concentrated conservation efforts saved a few more, but for the majority of humanity a rhinoceros is no different than a unicorn - an animal that does not exist.

Birds survived in great quantities. Amphibians hardly at all. Lizards did well. The largest mammals to survive without reconstruction were cows and water buffalo - gone the giraffe, the panda, the leopard. Rodents did extremely well for themselves. Pigs, magnificently. Dogs and cats have gone feral dominate the predatory niches of colony worlds and have gorwn in some places to replace the wolves and big cats. There is a species of racoon - hairless and blind - that has developed a semi-bipedal gait and an uncanny amount of intelligence

Friday, July 22, 2022

Earthsea Reread Post

Luke Berliner


Prior revisit posts: Avatar, Lord of the Rings, Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist


This format has proven itself inadequate for this series - as shown by the months it's taken me to write this post, despite having taken thorough notes.


Diverging from the other revisit posts near-immediately, I have no recollection at all of when I first read the Earthsea books. I will presume some time in middle school but it is a blank for me. When I went into the reread I remembered barely anything of the books themselves besides a few loose images and the general impression that I enjoyed them. I know I read the first three and then I think I read Tehanu, though if the first three are barely remembered Tehanu is blank entirely. I will get around to the back half trilogy at some point.

Since I took notes this time, this will generally go in chronological order. Though I must not have taken the right kind of notes because actually compiling them into a post has taken far too long. Whatever I did for LotR, I need to figure out how to do it again.


A Wizard of Earthsea

The map has always given me a certain feeling of claustrophobia when I look at it. Too small by far, despite the occasional reference to possible lands beyond the ocean. Regardless of that more than in most books the map is a necessity here, considering how much navigating there is - the copy of Wizard I was reading had smaller, more focused maps at different points of the story, which was welcome.


I really appreciate how swiftly the book establishes a narrative voice, and begins what will be a repeated technique of establishing Ged's character through both the present narrative and the events to happen in the future (as for the narrator, both of these are in the past).


When magic is described, especially here in the first book, it tends towards these big lists -"the crafts of finding, binding, mending, unsealing, revealing", "tricks and pleasantries, spells of Illusion" - it's got a poetic flair to it.


I love the image of weather-workers shunting a storm cloud between villages, absolutely love it. We get more of the same magical overflow when we arrive in Thwil, and this sort of common magic is necessary for making the magic feel like part of the world.


The Hardic language has 600 runes. Possibly a logo-syllabary? Logo-abugida? Couldn't say.


Ged in the opening of Wizard is sketched very well (like most things in Earthsea, LeGuin astounds with her succinctness - so, so many modern fantasy authors fail hard in the words to total length ratio) - he's a gifted kid from a poor town who had a bad family life (neither his father nor his aunt are particularly great people), who ends up doing some dumbass things because he's a dumbass teenager who wants validation from his older peers (Jasper and Vetch). He fucks around and finds out, and carries that with him for the rest of his life

(Of note also is how Vetch, being Ged's friend and bond-brother, returns later despite the time and events between. Jasper vanishes from the narrative and from Ged's life, as forgotten as any figure we falsely think so important during school)


Throughout the books, LeGuin is always building sacred space - this feeling that this place, these actions, these words are important, and there are ways to pass into the sacred from the mundane. (Those of you who have read ahead know it comes back in Book 3 with the subtlety of a cinder block)


I have never seen the Ghibli adaptation of Earthsea, but I feel much more kindly disposed toward it after this re-read. No one else could do it


Interesting biology note: male dragons watch over the eggs, while the females move on.


"Where is men's greed gone?" is such a good line for a dragon to drop.


Another thing LeGuin does with such skill and consistency that it falls into the background is dropping the details of the world (not only who lives where and the great diversity of cultures and peoples therein, but what they believe via stories and songs and lore) and just letting them be. So you'll get offhand references to "the lawless lords of interior Horsk" and so on and they are left alone, permitted, all that and more to exist in the open spaces off the boundaries of the page.


There's a very naturalistic bent to the powers of Earthsea - dragons take the sky, the Nameless Powers are of the deep earth, and the sea stands alone. I like that - the sea needs no gods or greater powers, good or evil - because this is a seafaring culture and the ocean is powerful enough to stand alone.


(ed: I initially thought this was Ged, turns out it was a different character) Serret straight up turns a man's bone marrow into hot lead while escaping the court of the Terranon holy shit.


I kept imagining the servants of the Stone to be pterodactyls, or something very much like them.


The hut on the islet is both heartbreaking and particularly terrifying to me.


You will notice that I have not mentioned the gebbeth at all in this segment of the review. I'm saving it for the end.

Tombs of Atuan

I think this one might be my favorite of the three. It's an adventure story - complete with dangerous ruins, dark gods, and magical treasure - but so unlike the typical fantasy adventure story. It's also a minor episode in the life of Ged despite being a major one for Tenar, and that keeps with the "the world goes on" aspect. And this sort of reversed parallelism (perpendicularism?) just keeps going throughout the book, woven back into Wizard to strengthen both themes and world.


The ritual where Tenar's name is eaten is the first time (potentially only?) we have seen anything made of steel - specifically the sword.


I feel it noteworthy that both Tenar and Ged had abusive fathers who swiftly pass from the story. And likewise they both come to have substitutes - Ged has Ogion, Tenar has Manan. But where Ged found a teacher, Manan is still a slave, and for all his kindness and care for Tenar she often treats him poorly, up to the very end.


I appreciate this book a lot for showing us what the Kargad lands are like on the inside - we have up to now only seen their raiding ships, but now we get what they think about those raids, how they view the outside, how they view themselves, and how their spirituality works.

(In short: Their empire is only about 150 years old, they have long-standing animus towards archipelagans (citing wizard-led raiding parties out to kill dragons). They worship a God-King, twinned divine figures the God Brothers, and the Nameless Ones. They believe in reincarnation and that they alone have souls. They have no magical practices of their own, distrust those of the Archipelago, have little in the way of writing and are deeply misogynistic.)

In later conversation we see Tenar's curiosity about the Archipelagans contrasted with the ignorance of her teachers' and the answers they take to be true - one more openly bigoted than the other, but both operating under what little information they have in their isolation.


The way the labyrinth is described makes me think of sites like Gobekli Tepe - structures and enclosures that have been buried, so that the paths between them are now tunnels. Given the age of the Place and the practices therein, this makes a good deal of sense to me.


The Undertomb is a reversal of the sacred space - not in that it is a place of the profane (that comes in Book 3), but because those who enter it are thrown into a radically different ordering of the universe, one that ultimately has no place for humans in it.


Penthe doesn't show up much but I enjoy the parts she's in. Good foil for Arha.


Even the keepers of the Place do not care enough to sweep the dust from the steps of the throne in the temple. I love how this theme is gradually woven into the narrative as Arha grows up - we the readers follow along her trajectory of learning that the Place is, while the center of her world, a backwater that the rest of the world has passed by.


"Very few are the precious things that remain precious" - in regards to the Ring of Erreth-Akbe in particular, but I think this is just a very good line in general.


Arha, like Ged, has her teenage rebellion. Where his was rooted in the desire for validation from others, hers is based in the desire for self-actualization. As Arha she is not allowed to have a self, and despite how important she is told she is, she knows that it's a sham. But then when she is confronted with that fact (through Ged), she clings to that shell of identity she's been forced into. For understandable reasons: Tenar is a provincial teenager who lashes out at learning about the world beyond because it makes her feel small and stupid, and false as Arha is, it is the identity she has kept herself afloat with.


I love how Ged just appears out of nowhere, right in the middle of his own adventure. He's remarkably casual about getting locked in, too, till the Powers drain his strength. And even when that has happened and Tenar has chained him down there, he remains calm and patient - though he's still a young man at this point, we get to see a fuller picture of who he became over the course of the first book (he does seem a good deal older).


Are the birdlike figures in the Painted Room kin to the servants of the Terranon in Book 1? Devoured humans?


The feeling kept returning to me that the influence of the Powers on Tenar is akin to an addiction. Her desires are split between wanting to leave and go out into the world as Tenar, or to remain with the Powers - not because she loves them, but because she fears what they will do to her in parting. There's a struggle against a hated dependency.

Parallels with the One Ring might be drawn here - inasmuch as Tolkien and LeGuin coming to the same conclusion on the human relationship with evil.


The ring is a humble thing, despite its importance. Innocuous to us and to the characters, despite its age and inscrutability. This, I think, is a good move. The story here was never really about the ring. The loss of the rune of peace between nations is a problem for the outside world, not Tenar.

The Farthest Shore

This book, breaking tradition of the prior two, opens in spring and goes into summer, and doesn't contain any great elisions of time (except for the weeks of sailing in the back third, but that is weeks instead of years.


I noticed early on, and I recall it continuing through this book, that there was more exposition from characters, rather than from the narrative voice - another diversion from the preceding two books.


"Fortune telling and love potions are not of much account, but old women are worth listening to."


On reread I immensely appreciate how the three books reflect each other without repeating. Each of the three main protagonists is faced with a different adolescent conflict. The Land of the Dead appears in 1 and 3, the Nameless Powers in 1 and 2. Things from offscreen in the past will always be relevant but it is different each time. On and on. Dragons appear directly in 1 and 3, but fill the spaces between all three.


I remember this book being my least favorite of the three from my first readthrough, finding it confusing and disconnected from itself. While I get what it's going for now (and appreciate it a great, great deal), I still feel that the sequence in Hort Town is a strange curveball, where things are happening (often only apparently) and I cannot tell what things they are or why.

But, I also suppose the disconnect is the point. Our introduction to the loss of magic is sharp and swift and brutal. The robbery and slave-ship and the man who was once a wizard croaking out "Yes, I remember being alive" in a drug-fueled haze.


I'm finding Farthest Shore to be the hardest one to write about (it is the cause of a multi-month delay in getting this post out) - my notes seem particularly irrelevant to the text at hand. 

I think this is in part to Arren being my least favorite of the three protagonists of the trilogy, combined with the central conceit's possession of a gravity well reserved for supermassive black holes.


"The council of the dead is not profitable to the living" is an absolute BANGER of a line.



The central conceit of Farthest Shore is like a lodestone drawing everything else to it, to the point where trying to do my typical scattershot bullet point review cannot do it justice. This is likely why it has taken me months to actually finish this post despite having all the notes written out.

The loss of magic in Earthsea is not played for melancholy, nor nostalgia. It is violent and sudden, a wound in the world, a patina that descends upon everything. Ged and Arren cannot afford wistfulness. The world is collapsing around them, because humanity's ability to know the world - of the world knowing itself - has been damaged. A support has been torn out and there's nowhere to turn to, not that anyone knows. There are islands burning on the horizon. (Haunting imagery there)

It is apocalyptic, well and truly so. The veil has been torn off (or perhaps it has been lowered upon us?)

I think, perhaps, the most meaningful thing I can say about the matter is that Arren's episodes of despair during their long boat journey in the south are familiar.


We do not get words for the meeting with Orm Embar at sea. That would be an intrusion of the profane. We've already gotten enough of that with most dragons reduced to mindlessness.



The bit about the servants of the Anti-King principle embodying "Let the world burn so long as I live!" is, ah, yeah that's on point. Certain was the case in the 70s, certainly is the case now. Despair will drag everyone else down with you.


Cobb is, appropriately, a pathetic figure. Embodiment of everything that Ged and Arren have been discussing, and of all the ruin that's beset the world. That thematic throughline makes up for him being introduced at the eleventh hour, I think. He's another symptom of the world's sickness, not it's true architect.



I was actually quite surprised that Ogion was still alive. Either wizards live very long in Earthsea, or he was younger than I thought in the first book.




It would have been very pat, perfectly perfunctory, to have Ged die at the end of this book. I am glad that he doesn't. Noble sacrifices of that sort do not fit with Earthsea.


Joshua Carson

Final Thoughts

Earthsea is a difficult thing to put into words, as most beautiful things are. It goes into the same category as Lord of the Rings, as is right and good. But it approaches that place from a different angle, mirroring the steps taken at a different pace.

It is a trilogy very much concerned with death, of what life is like living under its shadow. But it is death as great and as empty as the night, a thing of vast, terrible dignity. A work's attitude towards death is one of the primary points I might hang a critique of whether or not it is truly great, or simply good - does it understand, can it give voice to those agonies we hold close to our hearts, that bubble up when we are deep in our cups or too long away from home. Death and the fear of death - the gebbeth and all that comes with it.

And therein is the power in these books. We are, all of us, bound to our own gebbeth. We will all have to walk the blind track where the Deep Powers sleep. We will all reach the furthest shore.

I have not seen the Ghibli movie, but after reading the books and watching Beyond Ghibli talk about it, I am more kindly disposed towards it. I would not trust an adaptation to anyone else's hands - that even that did not succeed fully, I would say that it is unadaptable.


Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Eight Space Stations



 The other entries in this unofficial series may be found here:

Space habitats will outnumber inhabited planets by a ratio of thousands to one, so here are some places to visit on your next trip across the 'Sphere.

House of Precise Thought

The universe is filled with small communities that exist to prove a point. Some are good, some are bad, all of them are started because someone, somewhere, wanted a place where their vision for the human experience could have somewhere to breathe.

The particular peccadillo of the House's founders was an experiment with language - how to render human communication maximally precise, with no opportunity for error, misunderstanding, or loss of nuance between thought and word. To that end the founders instituted a constructed language (descended in a large part from the old philosophical experiment Ithkuil) that is so complex and so precise that it requires computerized assistance via cyberbrain to speak it. As nearly all of the population of the House speaks the Language as their primary and only tongue, visitors will need to either download the translation programming into their own cyberbrains or use a computerized interpreter. This is precisely as aggravating as one might expect, and visitors tend to leave feeling like their brains are melting out of their ears.

Unfortunately, odd little communities with idiosyncratic customs are common targets for conspiracy, and in this too the House has become target. Conspiracy theories abound on the system internet - kidnappings and brainwashings, venturing off into wilder accusations of "language plagues" and and body doubles of famous individuals. The current spotlight is aimed at the children's television program "Ren Atkhla's Wonderful World", which, despite being a sincere, low-budget educational program on a public broadcast channel, has attracted the ire of conservative talking heads across the system and beyond, who decry it as a subversive danger set on undermining civilization.



A heavy industrial platform harvesting gaseous lithium and other metals from the atmosphere of a brown dwarf via magnetic funnels. Thanks to a complex knot of war and economics unravelling in nearby systems, the station's owners became extraordinarily rich overnight (having found themselves suddenly the main supplier in the middle of a critical rare metals shortage), and this has manifested in blowing it all. L-Town overflows with lavish (gaudy, tacky) decoration over its rough industrial skeleton. Luxuries are imported by the shipping container. Cutting-edge consumer tech sits as scenery, unused. The boss in his whalefur suit still touts "small-corp values", but the workforce are swiftly becoming fed up with the cronyism and unfair distribution of the wealth.

Plus, the good times will not last forever - the war will cool down, the market will stabilize, and L-Town will lose its position as the only game in town. Creditors love to come calling that time of year.


21086 Kosmoborgar

An ordinary D-type asteroid that has been colonized by a particularly hardy strain of self-replicating alien fast food restaurant. Around 60% of the surface has been claimed by the restaurants, and preliminary surveys with ground-penetrating radar have indicated certain tower blocks that extend tens of kilometers down. Native bio- or mechanospheres are commonplace, descended from maintenance bots, protein cultures, runaway hydroponic gardens and so on. Roughly 1-in-4 restaurant clusters is inert and unpowered (that is, deceased), with most of these being broken down and repurposed by detritivorous franchises

The site has proven a gold mine for xenologists and adventurers, and the upper levels of several of the more-habitable complexes have been converted into living areas and base camps for delving expeditions. Many of the restaurants are operational, it is not recommended that anyone order due to the high chance of deadly biochemical incompatibilities (this stops no one - it is a sport among delvers to find the strangest looking or tasting foods in hidden holes-in-the-wall)


Hodgson Industries M-Series Depot

Wherever you may find yourself in the Expansion Sphere, odds are good that you'll be within hailing distance of a Hodgson. For centuries the M-series depots have offered a cheap place to rest, refuel, and repair, and not much more than that. A skeleton crew of androids is present, but by and large the operation is self-serve. In more populated systems they will quickly be outclassed, but on the frontier there are plenty of lonely places where the Hodgson Depot is the only sign of human civilization.

As the stations are built from template, if you've seen one of them you have likely seen all of them. Age and aftermarket modifications can add some variables into the mix, but barring major renovations everything will be in the same place and look the same way. Most veteran spacers could navigate through one with their eyes closed.

This sameness can be quite uncanny, when you're out on the Rim and have had no contact with humanity outside of the local M-Series. Everything starts blurring together, months and years like water, and sooner or later you'll start thinking that the androids at a station you've never visited before remember your name.

The Gravesphere

The remains of an ancient alien dyson swarm, long since fallen into deterioration. The habitats have been non-operational for an estimated 3-5 million years, and orbital decay over that time frame has caused many to plunge into their sun, collide with each other, or get launched out of system, but that still leaves thousands of intact (if unpowered and unpressurized) habitats. The local population of spacers and 0-G adapts tend to live in smaller habitats that cling barnacle-like to the hulls or interiors of Gravesphere units, built out of scrap or their own ships. A few bands of reclaimers have imported atmosphere and settled in sealed internal segments of the Sphere, but the majority believe this to be a good way to get yourself haunted..

No intact computer data, cultural artifacts, or biological specimens have been found. The Gravesphere is as empty and silent as its name. Delvers keep on going in the hopes that they will find a habitat that still has power, or better yet some clues to the Sphere's builders, but so far there has been nothing.



A run-of-the-mill superjovian has become one of the biggest moneymakers in the Expansion Sphere thanks to an impressive storm system in its southern hemisphere, a bit of gospel grift, and Delphi station. The planet was already a major trade hub, sitting along multiple high-bandwidth hyperspace routes. Lots of people, lots of wealth, lots of wealthy people coming through. And so a down-and-out office drone in one of the corporate habitats spruced up an unpublished maniscript of his and founded a religion. Two decades later, he's one of the richest single individuals in the Sphere (Great Houses excluded)

Delphi is intended as a temple for the Storm Oracle, a great and ancient alien intelligence that lives in the endless storms above. Pilgrims come from near and far across the space-lanes come to have their auras and futures read in the electromagnetic radiation and the swirls of the orange-cream clouds. Secondary industries - relics, hospitality, meditation retreats, aura cleanses, theological symposiums - have sprung up like mushrooms. Major holostars and heads of state proudly display their membership medallions and trinkets of their visits to Delphi. Skeptics grind their molars to dust in frustration, desperately pointing at falsified proofs and doctored narratives, of the obvious scam of it all.

But somewhere in the back of your mind, you feel some certain kernel of truth, that the Oracle speaks...


Standoff Station

The resort world of Taihiji is supposed to be a secluded little paradise. It absolutely is: volcanic atolls dot warm tropical seas, coral reefs that stretch out for thousands of kilometers. The sort of place where you have to scrimp and save for a decade just to afford a weekend at one of the lower-tier resorts.

Complicating matters is the fact that the planet's single space elevator is controlled by the Taihiji Concierge and Porters' Union and is now entering its third year of blockade. There's no infrastructure planetside for shuttle launches (environmental protections), which means that the vacationers and staff of the island resorts have been forced into subsistence fishing to survive. The Union has threatened orbital bombardment (using confiscated luggage shot through a repurposed mass driver) or destruction of the elevator if outside forces intervene. They will permit docking for vessels flying the colors of allied unions for resupplies, but keeps a close watch on such events for corporate infiltrators.


Annuaki Tree of Life Ashram

The Tree of Life Ashram is one of countless tiny habitats tucked away in Kuiper Belts across the Sphere - even in the Core, it's easy enough to get a pocket of isolation all to yourself. It's not much more than a small rotating barrel buried in a nondescript icy body, just enough to keep a couple dozen people self-sufficient out in the black end of nowhere, but it is enough.

The cult that makes its home here is not particularly new or exciting: Aliens visited Earth in the ancient past to teach humans secret spiritual wisdom, Jesus of Nazareth (among other luminaries) was one of them, following the teachings of the cult will allow one to unlock their spiritual potential and move up through the stages and a lot more about energy and harmonic resonance and so on. The cult's leader, one Father Elijah Abdullah Ksitigarbha (birth name Maxwell Lee), claims to be a embodied inhabitant of the upper spiritual realms, here to aid the chosen in ascending to perfect communion with the god-head through a haphazard cobbling together of old Earth belief systems. As typical for this kind of thing, the cult preys on vulnerable populations and serves as a mechanism for widespread emotional and sexual abuse among its members. Father Elijah has a great many justifications for why he, a spiritual being beyond the material world, is owed a harem of his favorites among the believers.

He promises that his disciples will receive new, spiritually perfected, deathless bodies once they achieve the highest level of spirit-power - and this promise he can actually fulfill. There is a sapling of [XENOFORMER 01] in the habitat, and with patience and experimentation, Father Elijah is learning how to direct it. Were it not for a breakaway member of the cult sending the message out to inner system authorities, no one would have known.

Friday, July 15, 2022




The previous year has faded to nothing in my mind. 

Tears in the rain, sand through the fingers. 

The millstone of Moloch grinds down upon us all.



It is once again time for



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







Solarcrawl (Galen Pejeau)

Now this, this is a game that was created to pander directly to me.  Lightweight Black-Hacky ruleset. Hard-science aesthetic. An actual real gameplay loop. That's the ticket, give me a gameplay loop, give me procedures that I can use consistently and plug in a new planet to explore every couple sessions. Honestly it's the only sci-fi ttrpg I know of that actually feels like it's actually, meaningfully about exploration. There's a resource die for public support of the space program. God I love this thing, and I hate the fact that I haven't had the spoons to run it. I want to run it. I want to make stuff for it.



 Monster Overhaul (Skerples)

Third year running. There will be a fourth if necessary.


Hull Breach (Ian Yusem et al)

It is remarkably easy to get me invested in a project: all you really need to do is say "Mothership" and "large book" in proximity to each other. Especially when it's 20 some different authors making modular content for the large book, which means the large book is actually many smaller books, and all of this makes me terribly happy. The awful vanishment of the first half of this year is still awful and bad, but it is also halfway to Hull Breach.


Unicorn Meat

When you run the award show, there's absolutely nothing stopping you from giving yourself an award!



BREAK! (Naldo Drinian & Grey Wizard)

The years wash over me as the ocean upon a stone YET I ENDURE.



RPGs as just kinda a thing, or maybe it's me

Look I won't lie the Salties are going to be low on the awards this year because there hasn't been much to get excited about. I have already covered everything that I am looking forward to and most stuff that's come out just hasn't made any impact on my radar. There's too much to keep track of. A new crisis occurs and there's a new itch bundle and there are so many games and I am so, so tired.



The Tekumel Foundation

They absolutely knew Barker was a white supremacist and covered it up for years.


Elden Ring (FromSoftware)

Innumerable options for players to solve problems + an open world that rewards exploring it, it's a shoe-in for this category. Y'all knew this one was coming.



Dungeon Meshi (Ryoko Kui)

Look if you haven't read Dungeon Meshi yet it's nearly done and also remains one of the cleverest takes on Generic Vernacular Fantasy out there. It's better at being D&D than D&D is at being D&D. It's comfortable like a favorite pair of pants fresh out of the dryer, but there's also a twenty in the pocket. Also has the best reaction faces in manga. "Western fantasy via Japanese artists" is a good genre and this is a good example of a good genre.


Horizon Forbidden West

I have never, ever, seen a work of media that so consistently runs away screaming at the very implication of something that could be interesting. A setting filled with interesting things is squandered at every moment it is possible to be squandered.


Pretending to Be People (Zach, Thomas, Luke, Joe)

Back for Season 2, babyyyyyyy! My other favorite AP, being a grotesque-absurdist comedy-horror using Delta Green as its basis. It can be an acquired taste, but it is a taste to my liking and it scratches a horrible itch for me.


Go Die In A Hole (Nick Whelan and Arnold Kemp)

Nick Whelan runs Arnold Kemp through old D&D adventures. Possibly the most practical version of actual play out there, where the entire point is replicating at-the-table execution to demonstrate how the module is played. I wish there was more.


Abaddon releasing a creative commons art pack

I would pay through the fucking NOSE.


Luka Rejec's trifold pamphlet and half-page book Affinity templates

*Chef's kiss*


Chainsaw Man



The Salties have now concluded. I need a nap.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Halo for Mothership



Halo 1 is a sequel to Aliens (you can't watch the opening of 343 Guilty Spark and say it isn't), and thus it is MoSh related. Therefore, I propose the following:


Weapons are differentiated from their default Mosh equivalents by their ammo type - the damage amount remains the same (ie, a sniper rifle will always do sniper rifle damage).

Plasma Weapons

  • Deal double damage against Shields.
  • Permanently decreases Armor by the amount absorbed.
  • Can be overcharged - this will disable vehicles and strips shields, but generates incredible waste heat.
  • Cannot be reloaded: must be recharged at an appropriate station.
  • Grenades will stick to surfaces.

Needle Weapons

  • Half damage against Armor.
  • 1 damage vs Shields.
  • Three successful hits or a critical will cause an explosion (equivalent to grenade).
  • Ammo can be grown using specialized machinery.
  • Grenades have greater area-of-effect.

Spike Weapons

  • Ignore armor. Punches right through.
  • Useless against shields. Bounce right off.
  • Weapons and ammo are very heavy.
  • Extreme kickback. (Use STR to wield instead of COM)
  • Grenades have severe damage-cutoff with distance.



  • Personal Shield - Provide an extra armor bonus on top of, but separate from, normal armor. Damage will be subtracted from a shield, but they are not destroyed when depleted and will regenerate to full outside of combat. Come in Shield 5 and Shield 7 varieties.
  • Hand-held shields - Do not regenerate without a charging station, and you have to hold them. As you do.
  • Overshield - Doubles current personal shield, or provides Shield 5 if unshielded. 1-time use.
  • Active Camoflague - A time-limited stealth field.
  • Trip Mine - As grenade. Pressure-activated.
  • Bubble Shield - Generates a 15' diameter spherical bubble that will only permit passage of slow-moving objects.
  • Deployable Cover - Unfolds into a meter-high   
  • Flare - Creates Blinding bright light.
  • Gravity Lift - Pushes objects upwards. Forward momentum is maintained.
  • Power Drain - Strips shields, disables vehicles, explodes as grenade
  • Regenerator - Regenerates all shields within 15' radius.
  • Radar Jammer - Interferes with any nearby motion trackers


United Nations Space Command (UNSC)

The UNSC exists first and foremost to bring humanity's colony worlds to heel. The war with the Covenant put a halt to that, and in the following power vacuum many planets in the Outer Colonies have sprung for independency. The United Earth Governments would like to dissuade them of that notion, but the UNSC remains strained in both numbers and material from the continued fights against our alien neighbors.


4(20) / 10 Armor + 5 Shield / 80 Combat / 70 Instinct

Last of the old guard. An exercise in fascist brutality created to violently quash dissent in the colonies, repurposed to fight the Covenant.

  • Loadout - Any. S-IIs are liable to cycle through weapons by whim and availability.
  • Hits like a Truck -  Melee damage is equivalent to getting hit by a moving vehicle. Anything less is them pulling the punch.
  • Behind Enemy Lines - In the late stages of the war, S-IIs typically operate alone, well beyond resupply and reinforcements.
  • Old as Balls and Tired as Hell - None of the S-IIs left alive have any illusions of grandeur about their lives as walking war crimes. They might be willing to talk.


3(20) / 5 Armor / 65 Combat / 60 Instinct

By the end, they were throwing children on suicide missions.

  • Loadout - Active Camo (SPI Armor), SMG, Frag Grenade x2
  • Cultivated Hate - S-IIIs were recruited from the orphans of Covenant-occupied worlds specifically to keep them ideology motivated.
  • Meatgrind Mindset - S-IIIs were designed as disposable super-soldiers. The indoctrination still rattling around in their brains gives them a "by any means, at any cost" mindset towards combat. So long as the Covenant don't win, any losses are acceptable.
  • Acceptable Obsolescence - The cybernetic and genetic modifications used in the program had a high failure rate during installation, and it's only increasing with time.

The Covenant

The alien war machine is, behind the wall of purple battleships, held together with shoestrings and bubblegum. It's been fighting a civil war for longer than it's been fighting humanity, and momentum more than anything else is carrying it forward. The Great Schism delivered a crippling blow to a structure already rotting away.


  • Loyalists - Forces that have remained loyal to the remaining san'shyuum leadership, despite the death of the three High Prophets and the loss of High Charity.
  • Swords of Sangheilos - The reformed pre-Covenant civil government of the sangheili homeworld and colonies, headed by Arbiter Thel 'Vadam and his allies. The only major ex-Covenant faction to have stable diplomatic ties with the United Earth Governments.
  • Jul 'Mdama's Covenant - Sangehili-led reconstruction of the pre-Schism Covenant. Military structure is nearly identical to its predecessor, though politically it lacks the san'shyuum bureaucracy and so has turned to educating its unggoy to make up for this.
  • Servants of the Abiding Truth - Fundamentalist sangheili religious order, turned insurrectionist faction against the Swords of Sangheilos. Maintain belief in the Great Journey.
  • Keepers of the One Freedom - Covenant splinter sect that maintains belief in the Great Journey, but considers the San 'Shyuum prophets to be heretical. Noteworthy for their acceptance of human adherents, leading to multiple strongholds in the human Outer Colonies.
  • The Banished - Jiralhanae-led separatist faction, founded by exiles and escaped battle packs on the fringe of Covenant space. Have been able to form a meaningful power base in the wake of the Covenant's collapse.
  • Kig-Yar Pirate Fleets - Stolen Covenant vessels are easier to find than an affordable apartment, and offer a much better quality of life for any of the underclass species than they'll get in most of the other factions.

The San'Shyuum (Prophets)

1(10) / 0 Armor / 10 Combat / 45 Instinct

The priestly leadership caste of the Covenant, typically secreted far away from the front lines.

  • Loadout - Hover-throne, plasma pistol
  • The Old Fucks - Most san 'shyuum are aged, inbred, and ravaged by microgravity. Most of them are also dead, after the loss of High Charity. 
  • The Great Journey - The Covenant religion and its worship of the Forerunners is of san'shyuum creation, and their species' cultures have traditionally held the greatest investment in it. Accordingly, they have suffered the most damage from the revelations of Installation 04.

Unggoy (Grunt)

1(15) / 3 Armor / 25 Combat / 30 Instinct

The Covenant war machine is built on the backs of enslaved billions. 

  • Loadout: (A) Plasma pistol, x2 plasma grenades (B) Needle SMG, x2 plasma pistols (C) Fuel-rod cannon
  • Respiratory Requirements - Unggoy require an atmosphere heavy in exotic methane compounds in order to breathe, and so require special respiratory harnesses when off of their homeworld or accommodating habitats.
  • Leader dead! Run away! - In the event that the sangehili appointed to their squad dies, the surviving unggoy will book it if able (as they no longer have anyone around to shoot them in the head for deserting)
  • Smarter than they let on - Unggoy are actually quite gifted with languages and technical skills - it is the lack of education that is the issue, not a lack of ability.
  • Not again! - A few certain unggoy are aware that something is amiss with the universe. They don't particularly understand the gnawing feeling that they are performing on a stage for an unseen audience, but they seem to take it in stride.

Kig-Yar (Jackal)

1(12) / Armor 1 / 40 Combat / 45 Instinct

The most common of the Covenant's auxiliary species.

  • Loadout: (A) Plasma pistol, hand-shield (B) Needle smg, hand-shield (C) Needle sniper (D) plasma sniper
  • In it for the Dough - Kig-Yar have no attachment to the Covenant as a belief system - it's a meal ticket, and if they have a chance at better pickings elsewhere, they will gladly take the chance.
  • Advanced Senses - Kig-Yar outpace every other sapient species in terms of sight, smelling, and hearing.

Sangheili (Elite)

4(15) / 7 Armor + 7 Shield / 60 Combat / 60 Instinct

Military leadership caste of the Covenant.

  • Loadout: (A) Plasma SMG, x2 plasma grenades (B) Needle SMG, x2 plasma grenades (C) Plasma Pistol, x2 plasma grenades (D) Plasma Rifle, x2 plasma grenades (E) Plasma sword
  • Militarist Death-Cult - Sangheili culture has essentially been destroyed by a cult of warrior-honor bootstrapped onto the belief in the Great Journey. True believers will make seemingly idiotic tactical decisions on the grounds of not appearing cowardly or underhanded to their fellows. True believers have a tendency to get killed, mind, but that doesn't stop the propaganda machine from replacing them.
  • The Great Schism - In the waning months of the war with humanity, the Prophet of Truth issued a decree that stripped the sangehili of the privileged position within the Covenant and replaced them with the jiralhanae. The former have never seen the latter as more than savages good for absorbing bullets.

Mgaelekgolo (Hunter)

40 Armor / 60 Combat / Irrelevant Instinct

Colonial organisms: thousands of thin orange worms, bound together like muscle fibers and poured into an armored shell fit for tank. They should be treated like an environmental hazard.

  • Loadout: Fuel-rod cannon (1 MDMG), shield smash (5d10) 
  • Bond-brothers - Always appear in pairs. If one is killed, the other will go berserk. 
  • Weak Spot - If you can manage to break through their armor, you'll be able to sever the cybernetic lattice that the worms use to structure themselves. It's the closest thing to killing it outright you can get without something that can entirely obliterate them.

Yamne'e (Drone)

Look, no one likes these guys. No lore, not fun to fight, just a big ol' bug, nothing cool.

1(10) / 1 Armor / 25 Combat / 30 Instinct

  • Loadout: Plasma Pistol
  • Swarmer: Group attacks as one, +5 combat for each additional Drone

Huragok (Engineer)

1(10) / 0 Armor / 0 Combat / 50 Instinct

An artificially-built lifeform made by the Forerunners long ago. 

  • Loadout: (A) None (B) Regenerator Harness (C) Suicide charge (as plasma grenade)
  • Mechanical Savant - Engineers were created by the Forerunners to maintain their megastructures, and so they have an innate ability to analyze, repair, and disassemble technology of all kinds.
  • Gasbag Floaters - Huragok are naturally bouyant and may adjust this as needed; however, this does mean that even minor damage can be potentially life-threatening.
  • A Friendly Face - Huragok have no interest in matters of religion, politics, or war - they just like fixing things, and are willing to be around anyone who will let them get to work.
  • The Network - Huragok are dependent upon each other for their own maintenance, and so tend to form tight-knit cadres amongst themselves

Jiralhanae (Brute)

Nuked themselves into the stone age and would have gladly done it again if the Covenant had not absorbed them.

4 (30) / 0 armor / 50 Combat / 60 Instinct

  • Loadout: (A) Spike SMG, spike grenades x2 (B) Plasma SMG, plasma grenades x2 (C) Spike rifle, Armor 5, (D) Gravity hammer, Armor 7, Shield 5
  • Berserker Rage - Combat score increases to 70 after losing 2 Wounds
  • Shock Troops - Mainline Covenant strategy is to pack these fuckers into pods and drop them on the enemy's heads.
  • The Great Schism - In the waning months of the war with humanity, the Prophet of Truth issued a decree that stripped the sangehili of the privileged position within the Covenant and replaced them with the jiralhanae. The latter party, eager for revenge after generations of subjugation, jumped at the opportunity.

The Flood

Thing about the Flood is that, the way they are portrayed in Halo lore is such that if you end up in the middle of an outbreak, you're basically already dead, and there's a limited time window to glass the entire site before you end up in an end of the world scenario. This makes it not very fun from a game perspective, unless it is used as an environmental hazard.

If there must be infection from Flood spores in a game, I would handwave it as 1d10 Infection per hour, with total transformation occurring them Infection > Body save.



You know that one Brian David Gilbert video where he reads every Halo novel and slowly goes mad from the influx of entirely useless knowledge? That's the experience of writing this post. There is so much, and so little of it actually worth the writing down. I likely should have abandoned this but it was already halfway done when that idea crept into my head so...proof of concept, to be used with something better later down the line? Who knows. When you can't write anything, write badly just to get something written.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Lighthouse: 6 Reasons Why The Tanks Have Not Yet Rolled In

Development of Lighthouse has been slow-to-none over the last couple years. Part of that is just the muses turning their backs on me, the other and larger part is trying to write a game of Lighthouse's particular political nature in Current Year(s).

To whit, the question for the last two years has been "in this game's setting, why hasn't the government just killed everyone yet?"

I don't know if it will kick me out of my creative inertia, but I do have some answers to it. 


1. They Already Have

The Ecumene was destroyed over forty years ago by concerted effort of the military, the police, and the intelligence apparatus. The leaders were gunned down by agents of the Alphabet Soup or fled to the Underworld. Members were jailed, relocated, forced to recant, or threatened back into secrecy. The months-long siege was so brutal, and the decades of crackdowns to follow similarly so, that the anomalous underground is effectively dead in both the public and governmental consciousness. The battle has already been fought, and decided so completely, that there is little expectation that another Ecumene might form. We have been rendered toothless, obsolete, scattered and disorganized. Organizations like Lighthouse are permitted to exist because they are not judged a threat.


2. The Agency Doesn't Have Unlimited Budget

Unlike our friends over at the SCP Foundation, the Agency does not have a magic box that prints money. A government black-budget might be practically equivalent to that, especially in a narrative sense, but they cannot deal with everything everywhere all at once. There are so many little paranormal instances occurring every day that it's impossible to investigate all of them. They need to prioritize. If it is not a threat, someone in an office can mark the file as "No Follow-up Needed" and get on with their coffee break. All the little things, it's just background radiation.


3. The Agency Is Not On Good Terms With Police

Self explanatory. There's no love lost between the two forces - the Agency considers the police a bunch of trigger-happy bootcamp washouts who parade their ignorance like a pride flag, the police consider the Agency to be a bunch of deep-state spooks with no knowledge of anything on the ground who come barreling into their turf only to make everything worse. Neither party is happy at being forced to cooperate, and will often do only the bare minimum in terms of an operation.


4. The Government Is Focused Elsewhere

Politicians get better results in the polls from attacking climate refugees, abortion rights, and trans folk. Those in the Know are still a useful target, but the days when they were the great enemy to rally against are long over; Paranaturalists have been bundled into the great manila folder of acceptable targets.


5. Those In The Know Have Gone To Ground

While everyone is more or less aware of the anomalous, those who are active within it have, by necessity, grown good at hiding their involvement. In the times when that's not enough, there's a greater ability-willingness-necessity for escaping to the Underworld - a solution filled with its own dangers and hardships, even if it's only a temporary stay. It's entirely possible, and common enough, that those who go into the Underworld are so changed by it that they can never return to the Surface. But that's a risk people are willing to take, as the Agency lacks a solid foothold in the Underworld (save the attempts of TOWER division), and the government has no presence at all.


6. The Unknown Unknowns

This point is hearsay and speculation, but it is thought by many In The Know that the Agency is tied up in something that's drawing resources away from The City and other hotspots of activity. There's no telling what it is, and the only evidence is the absence of Agency operations where it's believed that there should be, and folks are split on whether this is a good thing. For the time being, at least, it allows for some expanded ability to move and act on the Surface, so long as the boat isn't rocked.

Monday, July 4, 2022

The Elden Ring Post


Elden Ring is 60-70 hours of one of the best RPGs out there, with another 20 hours of linear, tedious, content-poor and poorly-balanced chaff tacked on in the back third. 

So it's a typical Souls game. The ur-Souls game. The best-of Souls game.

Spoilers to follow, obviously.


Many games try to be like Dark Souls through the inclusion of lore - background information intended to supplement or frame the narrative and setting. Such attempts almost always crash and burn, subjecting audiences to a large amount of text that is not interesting in the slightest and adds nothing of value to the work as a whole. What makes Souls games succeed?

  • The lore is opt-in. Don't care? Don't worry.
  • The lore is short (being primarily 1-3 sentences in item descriptions)
  • The lore is fractal - connections between points just keep branching off and making new connections.
  • The lore supports the themes - each of our endings involves a different belief of how the world should be, and the building blocks of that belief are found throughout the world and its lore.

There are distinct branches to the lore, areas of uncertainty, dead ends and lingering mysteries (who the fuck is the Gloam-Eyed Queen?). It is not clean, it is not neat, and so it invites exercises like this to put it all back together. 

This is, I think, the best way of dealing with high-level, (that is, large-scale) worldbuilding: there is no singular order / schema / design that can hold everything and provide all the answers. Concepts come into conflict with each other and produce knock on effects, further conflicts, people with beliefs and motivations.

And they support the fucking themes.


I appreciate ER's sense of humor a whole lot. Wizards who wear absurd-looking stone heads, cartwheeling albinaurics, warrior-jars filled with fermenting human flesh, somersaulting sheep, land octopi you can make hats out of - it's all very playful and willing to step outside the expectations of the genre. I welcome that attitude in a game.

Souls games have always had an undercurrent of silliness to them but here I think it's the most they have ever done.


Turtle pope is best pope.


Did Ranni's ending, though nearly missed the part where you have to talk to the doll at once specific grace.


Beating Agheel for the first time is an absolute rush, well-fucking-done


Post-Morgott, the game loses most of its ability to let you go and explore a new area if you are stuck (much less to explore), which is a shame - that was critical to making the early and mid game as fun as it was.


I forgot Godwyn existed as a character and still cannot regularly remember that he's different from Godfrey and still want to call him Godrick. The naming conventions were cute for about 30 seconds before they became a huge pain.


The Halingtree feels like a DLC area they finished early and then stuck behind the worst area in the game. 


Guard counters are the best. Playing older Souls games will be a lot harder now.


Torrent is the other major highlight of the gameplay additions.


Fashion souls is alive and well in this game


Leyndell might be one of my favorite areas, visually, in all of FromSoft's body of work.


I went INT/DEX (later INT/STR) and I feel I made a mistake. The game really wants you to build faith. Sorceries felt underpowered and grew less-useful over time. Maybe my build was just bad. Gonna respect for STR/FAI for NG+


Siofra River Well mustered an audible "oh shit!", and when a simple area transition can do that, you know you have perfected exploration in your game. Ainsel River was the same, with the ants.


Goldmask discerning the mysteries of the universe by T-posing is way funnier than it has any right to be.


Early on (Weeping Peninsula, specifically), I was able to spend half an hour on my lunch break and clear out one or two mini dungeons or other things of note, and that level of "even if you invest only a little time, you will get something out of it" is both hard to come by and very appreciated.


Commander Niall is the worst boss in the entire game and the only way it could be worse would be if he had albinauric archers fighting with him.


The Haligtree is easily the part of the lore that interests me the most. Miquella tried and failed to create a second Erdtree by using his own blood, intending it as a sanctuary for Misbegotten and Albinaurics (those outside or ignored by the Golden Order). This leads to other questions: what fertilized the Erdtree? Does it need to be an Empyrean? Is it related to the jars around the minor Erdtrees? Is Mohg planning on repeating the process?


We know Placidusax was Elden Lord before the coming of the Erdtree; Faram Azula is his mausoleum and guarded by beastmen. So that is likely the pre-human ordering of the world. Maliketh is referred to both as Marika's half-brother and as "a shadowbound beast given to his Empyrean". The latter we see also in Blaidd. Blaidd goes mad when Ranni rebels against the Greater Will, so it makes sense that the Will was the one who gave Maliketh to Marika. The half-brother part is more confusing: did they share a father or a mother, or was it more esoteric? Was that union part of the Greater Will's usurpation of the prior order under Placidusax? It says that Placidusax had a patron god (outer god associated with lightning, I suppose), who fled. Greater Will chased it away and merged the two lineages?

Maliketh's boss arena has a statue of a woman with three wolves, and an image of an expanded Elden Ring,. The former might be Marika (which means she might have two other wolf-siblings), the latter I think might represent the Crucible and the structure of the Elden Ring under the Great-Tree (as opposed to the later Erdtree)


So what gods were the Godskin cult skinning? Unseen members of the Golden lineage? The whole tail attack makes me think there's some connection to the Crucible there, though from a different angle than the Omen and the Knights.


Melina's red-gold hair is worth noting. Malenia has red hair, and Miquella has blond in the opening cutscene. Honestly we don't know if M&M were born before or after the Radagon + Marika fusion dance. If they were, then Melina would make sense as coming after, but then that brings up the question of why M&M seem especially vulnerable to outer god influence.

Don't ask me about the eye, though. That would seem to imply some connection with the Gloam-Eyed Queen, which could kinda work, but if she is what I suspect (an attempt by Marika to arrange her own death)...kinda? It kinda works.

I am not a fan of how unceremoniously she gets written out of the story, it feels like we never really got started. The Doll remains the best level-up lady.


If Miquella is actually St Trina (and I believe he is), he might be in thrall to whatever outer god is associated with sleep (as all of them have a status effect), but since he was also the one who invented the gold needle, he could have made a second one for himself.


We know there was civilization prior to the arrival of the Erdtree, and damnably little beyond that, other than I suspect the beastmen and demihumans were the basis of it. The ancestral followers too.


The Onyx and Alabaster Lords are an enormous question mark. I've got nothing on them. Love the design and their fights, though.


Rennala's boss fight is actually a scathing indictment of the modern Harry Potter fandom in this essay I will...


I get what they were going for with Radahn, but I wasn't a fan of the fight. Ended up laming it out and letting the summons do all of the work. I do appreciate the detail that he doesn't have feet (because they rotted off during the war against Malenia)


Helpful tip: Godskin Apostles are super vulnerable to sleep. 


Helpful tip: Alexander wrecks the Fire Giant's day. 


Malenia is a very well-designed boss. Never was able to beat her, but I felt like I was actually able to learn (many other bosses cannot claim that honor). Maybe I can go back and manage it.


Hell yes they do the opening theme for the final boss encounter thing.


I wonder if the golden trunks we see in the Elden Beast fight are representative of other worlds that the Greater Will has settled with an Erdtree. Or just a neat visual.


The Elden Beast fight is beautiful, thematically and narratively important, and a big wet fart to end the game on. Dull as hell. Shoulda let you use Torrent. I struck a win by relying on Tiche's life drain, which wasn't all that fun, but I was well past the point of wanting the fight to be fun.


Haven't got even an inkling of where or when they might go with the DLC, or what it might expand upon. My hope is to get more information on:

  • Any of the outer gods, but most specifically the ones associated with sleep and blood.
  • The era of beasts + literally anything about demihumans
  • The Gloam-Eyed Queen
  • The Deathbirds and their cult
  • Other members of the Golden Lineage, at least enough to plot out something of a family tree without the enormous gap between Godwyn and Godrick.
  • Just more information in general, please and thanks.