“A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.”
- Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph and other Stories
What is This?
Very difficult to write a summary of, that's for sure. Art has a habit of getting away from you.
On a practical level, MSF is a personal paracosm originally intended as a homebrew rpg setting. I have never once used it to that end, and so this factor is not particularly important.
The part that actually is important is this: Some years ago, in the wake of my father's death, I read the Slate Star Codex essay "Meditations on Moloch" (I have no love of the author and disavow his works and beliefs in general, but our inspirations arrive as they will). That is a rough essay to read while in a good mental state, let alone in the state I found myself in at the time, but it provided a framework on which to hang the elements of the great sea-change my self was going through during those years.
We live in a world ruled by Moloch. Good men die and the wicked continue on to be rewarded by the systems that feed the weak into the furnace. Zeus - petty, preening, rapacious, murderous Zeus - was king of the gods while Prometheus, the only one who cared for humanity enough to do anything about it, was tortured forever for his trouble.
But the worlds of our dreams need not be so. Here the ordering of the world is reversed - it is a world that has resisted Moloch time and time again, a world where Zeus never came near the throne, a world less poisoned by cyclical abuse and generational trauma. Its long arc of history has bent towards justice. Its gods are not ineffable cosmic forces or abusive deus paters, but the kindly gods of hearth and home and human life.
Of course it is wish-fulfillment; One cannot live for long under the weight of the vision of the pit without something to cling to, after all, and dreams are wonderfully buoyant. In finding no gods satisfactory I went and made my own, and no matter where I go, I always return here, back to the comfortable gravity well of this world and its inhabitants.
All in all, and in short, Mother Stole Fire is this:
It is about the trickster-mother goddess of humanity stealing fire from the dragons.
It is about the long struggle against all the demons of our own making and the hells we build for ourselves.
It is about how, finding ourselves trapped in this world, the only response left - the only way to remain human in the midst of the universe's blind, obscene cruelty - is to plant both feet on the ground, raise a middle finger to heaven, and get fucking angry. And in getting angry to love one another, to do right by our fellow humans and ease their suffering where we may. The world is already cruel enough.
This introduction has gone on long enough. Time to actually get to the stories.
Where Do I Start?
While there's quite a bit of material, the through-line is straightforward and the narrative posts cluster together - you can start with whatever you'd like to read.
If you'd like to read about mythic prehistory and the Gods of Man, start with The Theft of Fire
If you'd like to read about the war against Hell, start with The War of the Bull
If you'd like the life story of a veteran demon-hunter, start with the Ballad of Molly Ironshanks
If you'd like something light and sweet, start with Pen & Tam.
If you'd just like to know about the setting, start with The World.
If you'd like to read through in chronological order, just add The World between Theft and War; Ballad and P & T can be any order.
The Theft of Fire
Dragons ruled the world in those days, and chief among their lords was Hō-ō the mighty Fire of Heaven, who held all the world as his own. In the shadow of his wings the ancestors of humanity cowered in fear and trembling, and offered up their sons and daughters in sacrifice to the Mesozoic King.
Enflamed by rage at Hō-ō's cruelty, Lu of the Forest - trickster-goddess of the ancestors, proud and stubborn and clever - journeyed to the west of west to steal the Crown of Fire from the dragon-king's brow.
This she did, and now both we and she must live with the consequences.
- The Theft of Fire
- Through the Snows of Winter
- The Marriage of Lu and Tubalkhan
- The Longest Night and the Bringer of Day
- Tubalkhan Visits the Three
- Clever Lu and Old Scratch
- The Daemonomachy
- The Longest Night and the Bringer of Day
- Lu and the Lands of Spring
- The Potbelly Hill Sermons
The War of the Bull
"If Hell exists, it is the moral duty of every living being to see its gates torn from their hinges and its prisoners freed."It is the twilight of the Heliobasileum. The emperor lies dying in his sickbed. A terrible disease spreads through the heartlands. At the far fringes of the empire, a teenage goatherd has a vision of Lu and Tubalkhan, warning of a great plague and a greater war to come. Hell is near, they say, and should it emerge unchallenged it will devour the world.
And so the Sable Maid of Orlei, daughter of poor farmers, accepts what will seem to all others a series of impossible tasks - to lead the resistance against Hell, to liberate the enslaved of the Low Country, to throw off the Imperial occupation, to breach the walls of Dis and raze the city to the ground.
She failed at only the last.
But for a moment, for the briefest and brightest of moments, she held back the inexorable weight of the universe.
The Ballad of Molly Ironshanks
Molly's had a rough life: She fought in the Dayr War against the sorcerer-king Anharugh Paur. She survived the brutal midwinter March to Yaran. She participated in the nightmarish raid on the wizard's tower at Kulvakh. She's served as a demon-hunter for the Order of the Sable Maid for nearly 20 years. She's fought sorcerers, swine-things, dragon cultists, undead and worse.
Through all of this she has pushed forward, scarred and demon-haunted, under near-unbearable burden and near-impossible odds. Forever climbing the mountain, in the hopes that she might one day be free.
Pen & Tam
Wherein Tam Menadore quits her job in the Wizarding Affairs Department, returns back to her hometown, and finds herself on the doorstep of her oldest and best friend.
This is the one about two women in love (and also there's a used bookstore). It's good for a pick-me-up.
The setting-building posts of MSF can generally be read at your leisure, but the one's I've listed here will help contextualize the narrative works (it helps to have a map)
- Core Themes
- The World of Mother Stole Fire
- Lands of the Mare Interregnum 1: The Hespermont
- Lands of the Mare Interregnum 2: The World at Large
- 100 Facts About The World
- Mysteries and Curiosities
- Dangers of the World
- Kara Koren and the East
Here lies everything else that is about the world, but not of any particular importance to any of the narratives.
- 40 Questions
- Darvatius the Eternal
- The Bhedu
- Cloacina and the Merde Grande
- Mushrooms of Llaphedon
- Courts of the Alfar
- Panacea Potions
- Mundo the Seal
- The Lilu
- The Old School Part 1, Part 2
- Satchel Buck's Lonely Souls Club
- Four Knightly Orders
- Dungeon Hobo Slang and Signs
- Clerical Relics
- Self-Indulgent Lore Garbage
- Amazons and Androgons
- Mother Stole the Background Kits 1, 2, 3, 4
- Moon Beasts, Necromantic Republics, and Hell
- The Dragon Republics
- The Sixth People of Man
- Setting Questions, Triple Deluxe
- Dragon Cults
- Guest Post - Agrimas the Misbegotten
- Guest Post - The Men of Erd
- The Cult of Lu (for other games)
- The Okavim and their Golems
- Growing up in the Hespermont
- Mother Stole Fire: The Playlist