Thursday, 23 January 2020

400 thousand rubber ducks

shipping container full of:
  1. rubber ducks
  2. ceramic owls
  3. cardboard flags
  4. fancy santas
  5. faulty vacuums
  6. rechargeable batteries
  7. art deco lamps
  8. mouldy twinkies
  9. bugged telephones
  10. easter themed fondue sets
  11. musical plaques
  12. child-friendly steak knives
  13. edible houseplants
  14. animatronic action figures
  15. star war lunchboxes
  16. bootleg dvds
  17. roboticized shaving kits
  18. lockable money boxes
  19. deconstructed speakers
  20. pink vibrators
or 2d20, descriptor and detritus

  1. Rusty, with a broken O2 cycler. Captain is a drunk
  2. Fresh-painted, with a custom stardome. Captain is a nudist
  3. In neon, with a laser projector array. Captain is a gamer
  4. Leaky, with duct tape repairs. Captain is a child
  5. Stolen, with bullet holes in the hull. Captain is a paranoiac
  6. Badly-driven, with a smoking engine. Captain is an insomniac
  7. Chromed, with dekotora accessories. Captain is a hoarder
  8. Latexed, with a promiscuously-shaped chassis. Captain is a pervert
  9. Precisely maintained, with a jury-rigged cannon. Captain is drug dealer
  10. Graffitied, with a studio and darkroom. Captain is an artist
  11. Stuccoed, with a pizza oven and greenhouse. Captain is a gourmand
  12. On fire, with an over-stocked hold. Captain is a compulsive liar
  13. Factory-fresh, with too many antennae. Captain is a cop
  14. Overgrown, with a hazy atmosphere. Captain is an eco-terrorist
  15. Broadcasting nu-metal, with blacked out viewports. Captain is a goth
  16. Plastered with adverts, with a vending machine collection. Captain is a retro enthusiast
  17. Speeding, with incendiary bumper stickers. Captain is a racist
  18. Oversized, with flame decals. Captain is a gentle giant
  19. Heavily reconditioned, with a defunct asteroid drill. Captain is a prepper
  20. Art deco, with a bonsai garden. Captain is a robot
or 3d20; aesthetic, accessories, aviator

1d3 crew members per ship c'mon
  1. Adi Parva
  2. Poboy Ranchero
  3. Hardbody Wang
  4. Corona Vocal
  5. Jainie Eightstreet
  6. Doc Broccoli
  7. Seabury Chrust
  8. Litmus Bic
  9. Taco Softshell
  10. Banjo Bumperton
  11. Slazenger Fats
  12. Collegiate Lam
  13. Hijack Lojack
  14. Teacup Zephyrson
  15. Pluck Gocard
  16. Ratrick Goggins
  17. Lu Monsanto
  18. Bok Choi
  19. Benzene Infomatic
  20. Acceptable Tub
2d20 names. If your dice add to 10, 3d20 instead

Monday, 30 December 2019

spell books

Reading through a couple times gives you knowledge (book contents), obviously. None of them is enough to turn you into a sorcerer outright. If you gather a few tomes you can kitbash dark majikks from their combined wisdom. Two books together (referencing specific chapter headings please!) will net you one spell (or knowledge and skills equivalent to a spell). If you can reasonably argue using Book A through Book B to invoke Book C then you can probably do something mildly gamebreaking.

  1. The Chemistry of Cooking
  2. A Practical Guide to Lens Making
  3. Dream Interpretation for the Modern Woman
  4. The Faerie Almanac
  5. Pig Medicine: 20 Years of Porcine Surgery
  6. Non-Earth Metallurgy (Condensed Edition)
  7. Smoke, Mirrors, Sleight-Of-Hand: Magic Without the Magic
  8. The Secret: Empower Yourself with Positive Thinking
  9. The Illusion of History
  10. Phlogiston, Aether and Leylines: Reconciling the Great Mystics
  11. Memoirs of a Murderess
  12. Handbook for Young Wiccans
  13. Abridged Dictionary of Treespeech
  14. Skincare for the Discerning Gentleman
  15. Introduction to Sacred Geometry
  16. Bigfoot Among Us
  17. 12 Kinds of Darkness
  18. Hagiography of Hell
  19. Wheeling Heavens: 2000 Years of Celestial Observation
  20. The Big Book of Trolls (for kids!)
  21. The Big Big Book of Mazes (for adults!)
  22. Conic Tensors: A New Mathematics
  23. Boxing With God: My Story
  24. Alchemy Unlocked: Lead to Gold in 10 Easy Steps!
  25. Owners Manual for Human and Near-Human Bodies
  26. Hidden Science Magazine, pg. 28-33 (Fall Issue)
  27. Composing for Jazz Piano
  28. Alternative Engines: Thermo-Agnostic Engineering
  29. Seasonal Mycology
  30. The Goblin, Gremlin & Goolie Fieldguide
  31. Materiality Thrice Revised: Aesculpe's Annotations Annotated
  32. Environmental Culture: the Ecological Crisis of Reason
  33. Advanced Sailmaking
  34. Temples of Ur: Architecture of a Lost World
  35. Channelling Desire: Sex Magic and Magical Sex
  36. Astral Projection for Insomniacs
  37. Breathing Exercises for Better Health
  38. Have Your Cake And Eat It: A New Weightloss Paradigm
  39. Crochet for Absolute Beginners
  40. Soil Mechanics and Hydrodynamics
  41. The Genealogy of Almost Everybody
  42. The Complete Plays of Gilliam Quakesphere
  43. Birds of the Western North Coast
  44. Advanced Carpentry
  45. Worm Breeder's Compendium
    1. Testing Standards for Precognition, Psychometry and ESP
    2. Biodynamic Agriculture
    3. Freakonomics
    4. Tao Te Ching
    5. Croatoan

    Goooooooooooooosh I guess if you're running actual fantasy you maybe want:
    1. Meditations on the Natures of Air
    2. The Layman's Autopsy
    3. Stolen Sunbeams: A Charlatan's Reminiscence
    4. Urdakken, Cathedral of Stone
    5. Smokeless Flame
    6. Ooze Anatomy
    7. Horologic Machines
    8. Psychopathology
    9. Building Soils for Better Crops
    10.  ,nbngcgh gtrukilk,

    Sunday, 17 November 2019


    One of the things I did last year was write a novel. It's called Croatoan. It took about six months from start to finish, not counting the time I spent planning and thinking about it beforehand, or the bits and pieces of failed older projects that went into it. Here is the marketing blurb I wrote for it -

    "Croatoan is a crime novel about petty thieves, crooked cops, alien abductions, Blackbeard's gold and the secret history of Atlantis - like Elmore Leonard meets Umberto Eco, or Dan Brown by way of the Coen brothers. Set in Washington, DC, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, it pits a retired burglar against mad preachers, Caribbean drug cartels, Deleuze-quoting hitmen, the CIA, and at least one deranged serial killer in a race to find an all-powerful sunken treasure that may or may not actually exist."

    You can now buy it here, from Lulu, for about four bucks. You can also read the first three chapters on Medium here, so you can decide whether you like it or not. If you like this blog, and if you like slowly descending into a labyrinthine hell of conspiracy and UFO madness, you'll probably like it.

    Also, since I haven't actually mentioned it yet, I'm on Twitter at @circusarmy. You can find me there if you want more of me shilling my book, working out my extremely specific opinions about radical left politics in the Australian state of Queensland and talking about which Pokemon I would like to have sex with.

    Tuesday, 5 November 2019

    Ecologies of Space

    Students of cosmobiology should be aware that there is no exhaustive textbook on the subject. Space spans a dazzling array of extremes: bitter cold of void; fuming chaos of reentry; irradiant calm of an unshielded sun. Threat and boundless opportunity form a darwinian brawl that, plighted by human genetic meddling, holds form too bountiful to count.

    Even the largest long-haul ships would struggle to maintain this diversity in vacuum;
    this sample is from the liquid core of a comet mine in the house of Taurus

    The primary categorisation for a newly discovered lifeform denotes the source of its energy supply.

    The most common 'pest' organisms on spacecraft are chemotrophs, and these complex habitats are where they are most commonly found. They may take their energy from raw chemical sources, like the rainbow varieties of plastic-eating bacteria and shipworm. Others prey on other organisms, be they herbivorous teacup crabs or the voracious glass eel. Not all are considered pests, however. Barnacles are often assumed to be a sign of smooth reentry and good luck. Cheaper than a mechanic is a box of shipwright 'mites, dumped into damage to help patch leaks (though they'll eventually hollow the whole hull into an airy nest). 

    Chemotrophs are characteristically the organisms most complex, most embedded in their ecosystem, and least likely to survive solar flares, dust storms and reentry. Some simply hunker down into ablative, carbonised shells. Others structure their life-cycles to the schedule of their hosts, like the near-indestructible micro-elvers of many eels and the hurriedly-buried eggs of roaches. The most complex webs of life blossom when undisturbed. Long-haul ships build whole ecosystems, many of which beneficially catch and recycle light and nutrients for the use of the ship.

    Phototrophs draw their life from the sun, or other radiant bodies. Some phototrophs may bask in lights on a ridden ship. Some are even grown commercially. Bamboo, potato, spacegrape; sheathed swaddles of roots projecting bizarre appendages into space. Many of those that seem to rely only on the sun in truth would not survive without the thin atmospheres of leaky, ionic spacecraft. 

    The most common phototrophs are cyanobacteria, algae and lichens, with many species that are happy riding asteroids or cosmic dust, or simply spinning alone in space until they bump into a host. A growth of more than a few centimetres height is a strong indicator that the organism requires atmosphere, whether leaked from the ship or drive, caught in gravitic or electric potential wells, or clouding lagrange points. Phototrophs are categorised as such when gathering most of their energy from the sun, even if engaging in some predation on other organisms.

    Other sources, etheric or plainly odd, feed xenotrophs. By far the most common, though rare enough still, are those that plunder magnetic turbulences. Electrochemical 'ferns', cyberglinidae worms and tiny-shelled fluxoyster have populations preserved in parks around some of the major massdrivers through the system, while more exotic breeds unfurl in the umbrella of Jupiter's magnetosphere.

    Many species of xenotroph are wrapped in mystery and mystique. The neutronic 'pearl' of the blackbox clam is claimed to detect ghosts. The 'antenna-eyes' of urban myth (in truth, deepspace cryptographs use not human brains but only optic nerves, from raptors, owls, even mantis shrimp). Caution should be used when registering new lifeforms as xenotrophs. An organism simply not making genetic sense, or being built from a different clade of atoms entirely, does not qualify it as a xenotroph if it is more properly carnivorous, etc.

    Stowaways such as this skipjack mussel are considered
    pests by shipping companies and delicacies by sailors.

    Organisms are secondarily categorised as a function of their environment.

    Cataclysmic waves of heat and pressure wash from the prow of a body entering an atmosphere. Even when the apocalyptic forces of reentry are not enough to kill an organism, exposure to the weight and erosion of a world often finish the job. Despite these ferocious hurdles - and sometimes because of them - some life thrives on the rhythm of reentry. Most species of space barnacle are utterly unperturbed by fire and brimstone, and appreciate the burst of fresh gases gleaned from new air. Many species have adapted to suit very tight niches; the regular schedule of certain inter-moon couriers, the atmosphere-skimming flights of Jovian weather balloons. 

    Most dedicated reentrant organisms require some consistency from their environment. All recorded species of glass eel require a reentry event soon after spawning, while tiny elvers can shrug off staggering decelerations and heat blooms, and before they're eaten by their parents. There are some creatures - roaches, diamond-backed crabs, screwdriver snails and "star hogs" (more properly macrotardigradum) - that are not considered true reentrants, having no particular taste for sonic booms and pesky gravity, but will nevertheless survive an event, and thrive in the space and resource left behind by one.

    In more permanently spacefaring climates, diurnal environments are, narrowly, the most densely populated. With permanent exposure to the sun (or another powerful source of radiation), the challenge in these environments is not obtaining energy, but releasing it. Cold-blooded arthropods sabotage the efficiency of their own bodies, locking excess heat in chemical effluent. Fungal friar's cap grows only on the edge of light, mycelium crawling back into shadow to bleed heat. Many diurnal phototrophs express extreme tropism, contorting white belly to the sun and turning black back on the void. 

    The rich wash of energy allows for an explosion of phototrophic life, and in a small pastoral irony one of the great boons of this life is its shadow. Tiny helmeted jesterfish will only leave their host plant in bursts of a few hot seconds. Miasmic morays, ever the bane of propulsion mechanics, expose only their sensitive nose to the heat of sol. And of course that most enduring, taxonomically elusive clade, the manifold forms of life that lurk about spilled reactors, soaking in what bare minimum of high-energy radiation will let them survive, enduring the genetic rebellion caused by this disappetising diet.

    A surfeit of chemotrophs, in particular, excel in nocturnal environments with sufficient other sources of food. The seething soup of reactive chemistry that pours out of drives and waste vents, especially on larger ships, holds uncounted microbes: bacteria, algae and nematodes; sizzling stains of RNA and simple rogue enzymes. A whole host of secondary feeders filters this life, from flatworms and hydras, anemones and jellies, to jet-propelled jackboot clams. 

    While many species of crab love to sunbathe, they gorge contendely in dark, dense pits protected from solar rays. Even diurnal organisms may need some somnolent shade, and animals such as the greenback spider prey almost exclusively on light-loving creatures that slip into the darkness to rest or nest. Very few nocturnal organisms leave their environment willingly, and though several diurnal species lay their eggs in the protection of perpetual night, most nocturnal embryos would be destroyed if exposed to the light.

    The classification crepuscular is reserved specifically for environments with a light cycle, most commonly ship or substrate spinning with respect to the sun. The definition wanders, however. This 'environment' may well be another larger organism, from sky coral to massed lichens to the perennially hibernating floatoad. Habitats may be orbited by lights, periodically submersed by a reflecting moon, or lit by yet more inscrutable means. 

    The exceedingly rare xenotroph "Euclides' stone" grows only in tidally locked night, feeding from a wheeling zodiac of neutron stars. It is important to note that faster spinning substrates have a more dispersed atmosphere, increasing livable altitude of atmosphere in strongly dielectric and/or polar environments, while usually reducing it when particulates are primarily held by gravity. These properties are just one reason why lichens and ship-side corals carry so much information about the history of a vessel.

    Closeup of a styro-core hull shows colonisation by dark blue gloeophoria in sections of a lichenous growth that have been repeatedly electrocuted by reactor hitch

    There is still contention over when an organism itself may blur these definitions. Across all environments are recorded so called obligatory nomads, which must travel continuously across their little world, seeking darkness or light or the perfect balance of both. In this text we will categorise creatures according to the environments they make for themselves. New moon mantis shrimp, ever scrabbling into darkness, are considered nocturnal. Feedstock shrimp, though they must escape the sun's disapproving glare to perform the intricate bioluminescent dance of their mating, are ultimately considered diurnal.

    Many organisms require additional, sometimes extremely precise conditions to thrive. Compositions of atmosphere, water, gravity, charge and magnetism are painted in portmanteau throughout the solar system. The next chapters of this work will cover all of these environments in greater detail, with an additional chapter dedicated to some of the pioneer lifeforms that construct their own ecologies, from the complex mutualisms of a shipwright 'mite hive to the soap bubble-world cupped in the body of a solar jelly.

    Sunday, 27 October 2019

    The Collector

    Couple of things here.

    New short story called The Collector. I wanted to write about a curiosity shop, mostly because it's very easy to write about curiosity shops - you can fill whole paragraphs very easily just by sitting down and listing things. It took me a while to get beyond the setting and work out what the actual story was I wanted to tell.

    I've also been getting some vaguely political thinkpieces published, in the Australian journals Flood and Overland. They are:

    Lost Creatures, on the WWI tank in the Queensland Museum. Patrick gets a mention in this.

    Monsters of the Unknown, on the weird horny mysticism of Jordan Peterson and D. H. Lawrence.

    Marx, Ramsay and the ghosts of the Western canon, on Australian conservatives' obsession with Western Civilisation and Marx' essay The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.

    So there those are. The stuff about Marx and vampires I think is probably gameable. Dracula shows up, you can always find something to do with Dracula. Somebody put a game together where you fight Dracula and undead Napoleon in Paris during the 1848 revolution, I'll play it. I've been reading a bit of Victor Hugo as well and it all fits together.

    Friday, 18 October 2019

    a peeper deeper

    roll a d4, +0 for summer, +3 for fall, etc, or whatever precision suits your calendar
    rolls 13+ wrap back to start of table

    spring, summer
    birdnests, plucked from the bough just when their chicks are fledged
    can be held over the mouth to filter noxious airs
    burnt, their smudged smoke is insufferable to any spirit of great age
    winter, fall
    eyecap mushrooms grow in pairs
    eat one to see out the other
    eat both to go blind for a day
    manyams are plucked before they grow too ripe and boisterous
    they can be stored anywhere they are sealed from the light, but are most productive when put to work straight away
    do not let them unionise
    dug up from between the roots of trees and sucked on
    frozen toad confers a rapturous nostalgia, claimed by addicts to give great insight
    the venom, extracted, inflicts the same effect
    malodorous skunk cabbage draws pollinating beetles and the hungry dead
    the peppery leaves announce their deadly poison with swells and burns on contact
    careful doses cause numbness, can treat burns or constipation
    when held in the mouth, black cockerel eggs corporealise a possession within their victim's flesh
    when baked they make devilish good cakes
    summer, fall
    after slow and careful drying through summer, broomsticks are best trained in fall gusts
    it's wisest to spend the first season simply sweeping with a new broom, but they can yet be ridden, given enough skill or determination
    winter, spring
    holding last grasps of frost, hoary aurgelmir grows in thick lichenous beards on bowed trees
    its tea cools fever
    its essence, drops wrung from the bale, can douse campfires
    salmon eggs can be collected by the bucket, though this is inadvisable as they attract bears
    crushed with herbs and birdsnests they're a rejuvenating tonic
    left to rot, a dispeptic binding agent for curses and troll cakes
    false fir cones crack when burnt or struck, mouselike seeds wiggling backwards from their pod
    great impersonations, make adroit messengers, spies
    remember everything heard, even when they're trees grown
    pumpkin-spice leaves dry out on the vine
    by mid fall crumble readily into a powerful desiccant powder
    the powder, heated, smells irresistibly delicious
    bathwater is most potent if not collected every spring
    reliable cleaning agent for most household stains
    functionally the same as holy water

    animals eat whatever's rolled immediately after them. definitely add branches!
    however you roll will change characteristics of the ecosystems you can generate:
     - to make more real ecosystems, decrease your die size after every roll (bunching up the lower orders of life) and add the result of your roll to depth (no bear-eating grasses here!)
     - get a lil more hectic by adding less than the die-size each roll (more role reversals), and using larger dice (blurrier categories for life)

    normal underfoot kooky space
    1 humanoid gopher bear crab
    2 canid rat boa tick
    3 felid mole sloth eel
    4 bird spider chokeoak bacterium
    5 mustelid millipede wolve clam
    6 deer ant stag ant
    7 spider worm wasp krill
    8 bird beetle orchidfungus
    9 bug ant toad epiphyte
    10 grub worm wurm  coral
    11 vine bacterium blackfly  algae
    12+ tree fungus humans  bacteria

    If you're down here with the blessing of a priest you just go through each room in order. Otherwise, I'd go ahead and roll separate d4s for graves, goods and guardians on each level. Spooky!
    Potential plot hook: someone in town wailing that their beloved has been buried alive for political reasons

    grave gravegood guardian
    1 natural rock, thickly worked in charcoal and ochre. herds of careful-sketched ancient beasts come alive in the torchlight stone arrow heads, lumpy wooden figures, a misshapen pot. all given potency by uncounted aeons sabretoothed spirits prowl through charcoal arcs. touch the walls and face possession by primordial hungers
    2 stonemason's shaft, letting air and workers into the lower levels without disturbing the shallow older tombs pickaxes, buckets, chisels and carts. some nice chunks of pyrite holy mason, dustmask insulated with layer of scripture. better handle on architecture than current politics
    3 hollow walls and the occasional pit. ingenious traps rotted away to mildew and stone jars of depressurised acid, a basket full of snake bones. meticulous, illegible plans for marvellous, lethal devices angry dust. made up more of dirt than actual body. hates having the air disturbed, would be very happy if you trapped it in a bag
    4 descriptions of the underworld in faded paint. a little cartoonish, but still bittersweet beautiful stone-eyed scultpures of leering beastial gods. carefully-wrapped creatures, cats and birds and a few apex predators bone-dry mummies. arms bound in thin bronze torcs, hands clutching thin bronze spears, still sharp after a thousand years 
    5 stacked stones and piles of enemy skulls. graven runes render grim prophecy a cache of silver icons and a grinning gilded mask. great stacks of antlers and a mound of mouldy hides forgotten kings, iron armour corroded half to dust, arguing as to who has precedence in cutting off your head.
    6 grandiose histories carved into the walls, obsessive, speculative genealogies and misattributed floods a chest of ancient currency; tiny copper tools and weapons. a lacquered library of rotten scrolls a warring emperor, sealed in a silver suit. plots against the spiders and cave crickets that infiltrate their domain
    7 stacked headstones, piles of charred skulls. mass graves jumbled full of bones  melted rings and blackened jewels. beds, straw and velvet both, hastily interred while still occupied an apparition of crickets, one true bug for every dozen empty husks, the whole haunted by pestilential spirits
    8 elaborate frescoes mural the walls, of themes more recognisable to the modern eye snuff boxes and moth-bitten purses, spectacles and flimsy ceremonial weapons gentrified skeletons bemoan the turpitude of the modern age, call down stone gendarmes to deal with trespassers and teens
    9 tasteful stone enclaves hold shy the curious dead. rows of urns carved into the rock on every corpse a purse of two tin coins, some with earrings or other things of sentiment old dried souls shamble in idle confusion. when bumped will turn and press you, hungrily, for news of their lost life
    10+ corpses laid out for their year before cremation. nameplates box in the ash of those burnt a tastefully disguised closet, chemicals and tools for cleaning and preserving a lone soul wanders among these newest corpses, little gibbets of flesh in their teeth, insisting that they aren't yet dead

    Tuesday, 24 September 2019

    The Club

    Posted another short story to Medium. This one is called The Club. Inspired by the detective novels of John Dickson Carr - his detective, Gideon Fell, was also a big fat jolly English guy, inspired by the real-life figure of G. K. Chesterton, whose own detective was a small anonymous Catholic priest.

    The interwar period - the 20s and 30s - is the classic Lovecraft setting, obviously. I've posted about that here and here. There's a lot of easy cliched material you can use - in America, flappers and gangsters and bootleggers, in England, Agatha Christie and P. G. Woodhouse. There's also a lot of deep political and artistic weirdness going on - modernism and futurism, fascism and communism - which contrasts interestingly with the whole Victorian adventure-fiction tradition, still very much alive and well at the time. 

    So on the one hand you have plucky British heroes stealing rubies from the eyes of Indian temples - on the other hand you have Ulysses and Italian guys writing odes to the motor car. The cool white cubist surrealism of Picasso and le Corbusier, which would come to define the aesthetic of the 20th century, vs. sailing ships and pagan death cults. Which is basically what Lovecraft is about.

    Not that this story is about Lovecraft at all. But I've tried to capture some of the weirdness of the interwar setting and hopefully demonstrate why I think it's so productive for writers and game designers.

    My first story, The Strange Fate of Captain Strathclyde, is still here if you want to read it again.

    hi, i'm g. k. chesterton
    atheism is a nightmare, to me
    also, japanese people are elves