Saturday, 7 July 2018

The Black Auction

Dear ______,

It is the Committee's pleasure to inform you that the Hotel Apophis, located on Talaat Harb Street in the very heart of Cairo's scenic French Quarter, has been selected as the venue for the upcoming Black Auction of 1929. The date has been set for June 21nd, and in accordance with best astrological practices the event will commence at precisely the stroke of midnight. Our schedule runs as follows:

9am - 12pm

Arrivals. For your convenience, the third floor of the hotel has been reserved for Auction attendees, but guests are still advised to book well in advance. Due to the idiosyncratic nature of the event, the Hotel's management have kindly agreed to relax their policy regarding unaccompanied women and natives, but for decency's sake it is still recommended that individuals belonging to either of these categories permit themselves to be escorted by a civilised male guardian. If no qualified candidate presents himself before the due date, the Committee may be able to provide one.

12pm - 1pm

Luncheon. The Hotel is attached to a very fine restaurant, the Café de Luxe, which can boast that it offers a bill of fare equal to any you might encounter in London or Paris. The chef, Monsieur Gaspard, spares no expense in reproducing exactly the dining conditions of his native Montmartre, and if not for a tragic fire would likely still be working there today. The Committee is happy to assure you that his disfigurement has in no way affected his culinary skills. All meals are gratis for Auction attendees, and any special dietary requirements can easily be catered to by the Hotel's tireless staff.

1pm - 6pm

Relaxation and sight-seeing. For those wishing to view such tourist attractions as the Museum of Antiquities, the Citadel of Saladin, the Alabaster Mosque, the Hanging Church, the Islamic necropolis, the city's notorious souks and, of course, the pyramid complex at Giza, the Hotel can easily provide a knowledgeable and trustworthy local guide. The Committee kindly asks that attendees refrain from casting the Auction into disrepute by patronising any of Cairo's innumerable opium-dens, drinking-houses and brothels, and can upon request provide a map of these locations so that the discerning traveller knows precisely which areas to avoid. Those visiting the Sphinx are politely requested to bring Her a small gift or offering of some kind, as She has in the past looked unkindly on the Auction and Her influence is not to be underestimated.

6pm - 7pm

Dinner. This will, again, be provided by Monsieur Gaspard. The menu has been determined in advance and cannot at this stage be changed. Alternative arrangements can be made for those with an aversion to tartare. In keeping with the spirit of the event, however, the Committee advises against undue squeamishness and recommends that attendees remain open to unconventional experiences.

7pm - 10pm

Light entertainment. The Bar Apophis is one of Cairo's most exclusive watering-holes, and shisha is available at every table for those of a teetotal or Mohammedan persuasion. The staff's discretion is assured. The popular stage magician Ching Ling Choo, Master of the Mysterious Orient, has been retained to astonish us all with his marvelous feats of misdirection and legerdemain. He is under the impression that he will perform for a troupe of rare-book collectors, and the Committee considers that it is unnecessary for any attendee to inform him of the true nature of the event.

10pm - 11pm

Meditations. After the show, the Committee suggests that attendees devote an hour to communing with any Higher Influence that may be willing to guide, command and protect them. The utmost efforts will be made to provide any tool or facility that may be necessary for such communion, but the Committee regrets that it cannot be expected to cater for every conceivable desire, and asks that attendees make some effort ahead of time to ensure that all their needs will be provided for. The Hotel's basements are spacious enough to accommodate any number of groups or individuals seeking privacy. Those who lack the protection of a Higher Influence are strongly encouraged to burn this invitation and think no more on the matter.

11pm - 12am

Propitiations. Attendees will gather in the second-floor smoking-lounge to make the appropriate placatory offerings. We are sensitive to the impact this may have on those of delicate constitution, especially neophytes and ladies, and our Master of Ceremonies will be on hand to assist anyone whose hand may falter at the critical moment. Participation is, however, mandatory. Attendees are advised not to wear their best clothes, and time has been provided in which to return to one's room and change one's outfit.

12am - Dawn

The Auction. It will take place in the Yellow Ballroom. The dress code is formal. All weapons, and all personal grudges, are to be checked at the door. Security will be provided by select members of the Egyptian gendarmerie, as well as private forces in the Committee's employ. Anyone seeking to provoke a repeat performance of the unfortunate events that took place at last year's Auction in Lisbon will be politely but firmly escorted off the premises. The Committee reserves for itself the right to expel any guest, at any time, for any reason. It understands that the Auction can be expected to provoke the full range of human emotion, but it must nonetheless insist that attendees maintain an appropriate level of respect for the proceedings. Its decisions, as always, are final.

We are delighted this year to welcome to the Black Auction a number of distinguished guests, some old hands and some in attendance for the first time. We are especially happy to induct into our number His Majesty Fouad I, by the grace of God King of Egypt and the Sudan, Sovereign of Nubia, Kordofan and Darfur. We consider it a tremendous honour to be graced with His Majesty's presence, and it is our sincere hope that he does not leave the premises unsatisfied. We would also like to bid a cheerful hello to Princess Elizabeth, our youngest ever attendee at a mere three years old, and trust that with the assistance of the Auction and the kind aid of her guardians she will soon be able to recover from the mysterious illness that has been plaguing her. As a final note, we would like to remind attendees that the small, bald, unhappy man whom you might spy loitering around the corners of the Hotel, and who goes by the unfortunate name of Crowley, is not, in fact, an official guest of the Auction. He may protest otherwise, but we can assure you that we have not yet lowered our standards to his degree! If this man bothers you, simply inform a member of the Hotel staff and proceed about your business in the certain knowledge that he shall be rapidly removed.

We trust that you anticipate the Auction with the greatest eagerness, and look forward to welcoming you to the Hotel Apophis. As always, we can guarantee that the whole event will be conducted under a veil of absolute tact and discretion. A partial catalogue is enclosed with this invitation, and we encourage you to peruse it at your leisure.

Yours in Confidence,
The Black Auction Committee,
April 1, 1929

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The Parakeet Plains

The plains grow cold at dusk. The sullen black cones of volcanoes slouch against the western horizon, flanks scarred by mineworks, waiting to eat the sun.

The only sheltered places to camp at night are the steel-blue glacial lakes that scar the stony dry earth. The russet-red grass is flecked with guano and the delicate rainbow feathers of parakeets, who gather each evening in the canopies of the prickly araucania pines to feast on nuts and night-insects. Their screeching is unbearable, a constant raucous thunder. It becomes impossible to sleep, speak or think. Only the Piquenche, the funniest people in the world, can tolerate it for the length of a journey without going even madder than they already are. They roam the plains on horseback, in war-troupes and nomadic bands, hunting half-deaf glyptodon and macrauchenia with their ludicrously tiny feathered spears. Their short lives are devoted to comedy and war.

The pox-priests of the Doleful God, who eternally mourns the wickedness of His children, have their missions in the mountains. Slaves from the fertile seaward lands quarry copper for their house-sized Inevitable Bells, hoisted high as possible to broadcast doom-laden peals for miles around. Knights, prospectors, gauchos, bandeirantes and inquisitors gather in shanty-towns at the mountains' edge, hoping to play their part in opening the plains up to cattle-grazing and general exploitation. So far they have had little success.

Friday, 18 May 2018

yoon-suin graveyard generator

For Thousand Thousand Islands, or the actual Yoon-Suin game we actually have

Aesthetic Animals Markers TreasureNotable Ghosts
1 Lantern-lit, swept and tidied
A haze of incense smoke
PagodasA lavish wardrobeMerchant
Knows a secret trade route, a deep road under the earth
Super condescending
2 Dusty, sun-bleached
Offerings, scattered and half-eaten
ShrinesAn idol that makes people hornyMidwife
Knows about allll the secret princesses in hiding as swineherds
Will gossip about you
3 Weather-worn, lichen-blotched
Dunes of leaf litter
Marble slabsA sword cast from ancient metalSwordsman
Knows the weaknesses of every beast that lives
Scared of passing on their bad luck
4 Forested, a gnarled grove
Trunks burst through graves
HeadstonesA beautiful poem, carved into a headstonePoet
Knows the words to melt anyone's heart
So fucking melodramatic though
5 Overgrown, thorny
Bright sprays of flowers
Earthen moundsSnail shell, home to a friendly spiritBomoh
Knows how to perform exorcisms, but would only teach the holy
Demands offerings before they will talk to you
6 Sunken, swamped
Pools of dark water
Stone headsSilk-wrapped foetuses, hidden in gravesPawang
Knows how to summon a toyol - a goblin-like spirit made from a foetus
Nosy, can tell when you're lying

i feel like the ghost knowledge translates into plot hooks pretty well??
who doesn't have unfinished business i mean c'mon

bonus smol spirit generator
require a pact to use their power
their influence will be recognised by any half-competent bomoh

1Snail shellCandy and sweet fruitsCan corporealise, grow huge. Remains soft, marshallowyBaby/toddlerNeedles
2Cicada skinWritten wordsCan offer fantastic legal advice. Knows every rule ever written downMacawDrums
3Spider-curled leafBloodCan make people sick, from the sniffles to a deathly feverPythonScripture
4ChrysalisMoneyCan steal things that could fit in a dog's mouth, will take a cut of the score as paymentDogBells
5Dried geckoAlcohol and bitter fruitsCan spread rumours, sow false beliefsGrandmaVirtue
6OrchidFlatteryCan make love potions which cause all who drink them to fall in love with each otherTigerFire

this picture is maybe a separate post in its own right..

found this picture *after* i wrote the line with sunken stone heads
feelin pretty good about that one 

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

more periods of ancient time

continued from here

11. Gentrozoic Era.

Nouveau-riche aliens from neighbouring solar system drawn to planet by charming bohemian atmosphere and low real-estate prices. Native lifeforms reprocessed by ruthless tourist industry into harmless mockeries of former selves, exhibited to cooing space rubes as representatives of an authentic working-class ecosystem. Anything actually dangerous or interesting is forced by environmental pressure to move out to the poles, the Moon or nearby asteroids.

12. Age of Exchange.

Ants learn to mine diamonds, use them to buy delicious grubs from treasure-hungry magpies. Pretty soon everything has evolved the ability to use money. Monkeys pay trees to grow extra fruit, trees pay bees to pollinate their flowers, bees hoard gold in hives to carefully invest in other species’ business schemes. Camels sell their hump water to thirsty birds, beavers make spawning pools for salmon, crocodiles charge wildebeest river-crossing tolls. This period’s only surviving species is the dragon, which even today retains its capitalist instincts.

13. Commucene Epoch.

Almost all species abandon conflict and learn to work together for the collective good of the entire ecosystem. The only holdouts are the dragons, who pay a huge meteor to wipe out 99% of life on the planet in order to teach everyone the value of a little hard work.

14. The Age When Plants Were Quick And Animals Were Slow.

Also self-explanatory.

15. Olympian Bombardment.

Celestial city of the gods is sacked by demons, reduced to rubble and cast down into the mortal realm. Planet’s surface pulverised by thousand-year rain of comet-sized chunks of marble, pieces of pillar and fragments of colossal bearded statue, as well as vast entrails and shredded bits of flesh from the gods themselves. Dust from the craters formed by this event still contains sparks of divine puissance.

16. The Great Cancellation.

After several hundred million years of diminishing viewership figures, planetary history is finally brought to an end by mid-level marketing executives who argue that it’s no longer in tune with current trends. Evolution is placed on hiatus and its slot filled by an unremarkable sitcom about a suburban single dad with too many kids. Time travellers to this period complain about the hackneyed storylines and the omnipresence of canned laughter.


“It’s life, kids, but not as you know it!”. This reboot of the beloved natural phenomenon, painstakingly retooled by an executive cabal for maximum appeal to an audience of hip young trillenials, failed to connect with anyone at all and was taken off the air after only a couple of epochs. Fossils from this period tend to be anatomically implausible, covered by spikes and with exaggerated sexual characteristics. The return of classical evolution, with most of the original cast and crew, was greeted with relief by almost everyone.

18. Hour of the Watchmaker.

God intervenes to intelligently design exactly one small species of trilobite, then goes back to watching and muttering.

19. Heroic Age.

A time of radioactive spider bites, murdered parents and orphans from beyond the stars who conveniently happen to look like members of whatever species first discovers them. The interests of each species are defended by its own league of superpowered guardians whose clashes somehow never cause any permanent environmental damage, no matter how many verdant woodlands their eye lasers blast apart. Punctuated by moments of ultimate crisis when every extant hero must band together to save the planet from existential threats.

20. Mendacious Period.

Rocks learn how to imitate fossils, and stage an elaborate practical joke on future paleontologists by competing to see who can come up with the most implausible morphology. Some scholars suspect this period lasted much longer than anyone realises, and that the entire fossil record is actually a single huge geological prank.

Monday, 16 April 2018

periods of ancient time

Arnold wrote a G+ post about fantastic prehistories and Throne of Salt replied to it here with a list of forgotten epochs to be dug up by your deep-time spelunkers and wizard paleontologists. There's some of this in Deep Carbon Observatory as well. Most fantasy worlds don't concern themselves with stuff like evolution and geology - either they have some Tolkienesque divine creation myth or it just never comes up. The idea that your setting could have a semi-plausible prehistory is, as far as I can tell, an OSR innovation.

Anyway here's some more periods of ancient time.

1. Kleptocene Epoch. 

Also known as the Ten Million Years of Crime. Began when a previously harmless species of cyanobacteria figured out how to run a protection racket, demanding a greater slice of the ecosystem in exchange for not evolving to massively overproduce oxygen and devastate the global climate. Competition swiftly lead to the domination of the biosphere by brutal interspecies cartels that survived by shaking each other down - like, nice reproductive strategy you got there. Be a shame if some more efficient species started competing with you for nesting sites. Hey, are you using this migration route, because my wife has one just like it at home. The execution of a prominent genus of arboreal herbivore by a species of flowering plant that spent four hundred thousand years insinuating itself into an enemy cartel before suddenly and deliberately losing all its nutritional value sparked a gang war that wiped out 90% of all species on the globe, leaving behind only a few random strands of criminal DNA.

2. Carnocene Epoch.

Triggered by a sudden, unexplained mass extinction among the bacteria responsible for decomposition. Unrotting corpses piled up in mountains, fresh as the day they were killed except for a few bite marks. Scavengers and obligate carnivores grew fat and gigantic on the endless, risk-free food supply, wading knee-high through fields of jagged bone and clotted blood. Jungles became sunless fortresses of fallen trees, wastelands where nothing could reach the soil or the sky. Sea levels  rose as leviathan corpses piled up on the ocean floor, home to civilizations of crawling pale crabs. Theologians argue that God brought this age about as punishment for the first murder, so that the body of the first victim could never be hidden. It's not clear if humans had evolved yet but that doesn't stop them.

3. Turbozoic Era.

Characterised by a massive acceleration in tectonic activity, with mountain ranges throwing themselves up overnight and continents chasing each other around the equator like Benny Hill. Ease of intercontinental contact led to the development of a thriving heterogeneous global economy among the insect people of the time, though the difficulty of stable farming kept technology primitive and populations low. First sapient volcanoes.

4. The Age When Bacteria Were Big And Animals Were Small.


5. Svabhavan Glaciation.

Continents seeded with organic superconductors, rearranged into a single vast circuit and cooled to near-absolute zero by a hyperevolved race of yeti seeking to transform the planet into a huge computer and use its superior brain power to achieve absolute enlightenment. The computer either sublimated them into a higher dimension or killed them all and committed suicide, depending on who you ask. The planet was left to warm back up over a period of hundreds of millions of years. Multicellular life basically had to start from scratch, and the oldest sapient volcanoes are said to still be angry about it. Samples of life from before that time are preserved in hidden yeti cryovaults, guarded by terrible electronic sentinels, possibly.

6. Groovy Age.

Dominated by a phylum of fungi that released psychoactive chemicals into the atmosphere as part of their respiratory cycle, making everything very chill and relaxed. The pressure of evolutionary competition weakened as major species of carnivore began to wonder why everyone needed to be so aggressive all the time, leading to the development of herbivores goofy enough to fall backward into their open mouths. A mass extinction event was averted by the advent of fungus-eating "cop beetles", which is still gleefully cited as an example by conservatives everywhere.

7. Bird Age.

Everything was birds. Trees? Tall birds. Viruses? Small birds. Rocks? Heavy birds. People were pretty happy to see the end of this one.

8. Tartarocene Epoch.

Herd animals began to evolve hells as punishment for antisocial behaviour, leading to a population boom as they became increasingly co-operative and disinclined to masturbate. Pack hunters copied the practice, piggy-backing on equine and bovine hells instead of developing their own. A couple of species flirted with heavens but found them ineffective as a motivator. Over time the hells became more painful and horrible as species sought to outdo each other, and whole ecosystems sprung up around it - parasites without afterlives who could physically drain the sin from your body, inquisitor alphas who exiled sinners from the flock before they could corrupt the youth, temptresses who guided rival species into depravity in exchange for a kickback from the demons. Fossils from this epoch have a tendency to look very frightened.

9. Second Bird Age.

God damn it.

10. Oneirocene Epoch.

The "dreamtime period" when animals took on, and retroactively had always possessed, human form, and went around doing fairytale stuff like stealing each other's tails and accidentally creating the world from a grain of sand. Setting of all mythological origin stories. Brought all other epochs into existence and also was brought into existence by them. A fringe group of researchers argue that this epoch never happened, and was invented by fuzzy-minded fabulists as a way to reconcile the gulf between hard science and the foolish obsolete superstitions of a less rational age, but those guys are wrong.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

dinosaur mountain

Gonna need to reiterate that I can do these fucking things until time runs backwards and a scaled tyrant crawls from the stone to tear me to pieces

People Paths Cities Quests Encounters
1 Llama-herd. Trades gossip, meat, cold-weather clothes Foot-wide arch over hundred meter drop, far too fragile for anything heavier than a llama and two saddlebagsTemples, markets and farms all seem to float serenely on the surface of a mountain lakeSacrifice these fifty llamas to the storm god (a mosasaur) by throwing them off that far-away cliffSwarm of tiny vampire bats. Anaesthetic saliva means you might not notice them until the weight bears you down
2 Raptor-catcher. Trained hoatzin assists in catching colourful raptors for the sale of their feathers Ancient rope bridge, knowledge of its construction lost, now maintained by weaver pterosaursSuspended in centre of ravine by living web of vines. Population accordingly obsessed with horticultureKidnap a willing husband from the swamp people. Comprehensive demands for new husband's manly attributesVenomous pterosaurs. Their bite inflicts tremors; they'll eat you once you shake yourself off a cliff
3 Soldiers. 'border patrol' a transparent excuse to raid the neighbours Ridiculously difficult free climb, last ten meters carried out inverted. Someone at the top could just throw down a rope thoughClinging to the side of a cliff, nestled beneath an overhang. Compete for space with a gigantic colony of burrowing pterasaursSteal egg from sufficiently large dinosaur, replace with this gold egg. It's a status thingPachycephalosaurs grazing grumpily, one eye on the skies
4 Stone mason. Pragmatic and full of good, if condescending, adviceDaring leap into a cenote, said to carry the faithful to safety and dash the wicked to piecesFills underground cavern. Huge, gold sun allegory on ceiling pours a stream of flaming oil, provides somewhat underwhelming amount of lightSlay epoch beast (quetzalcoatlus) to bring about new millenniumChupacabra, clambering about on backwards monkey paws, stealing llamas and children in the night
5 Astronomer desperately trying to keep up with the ever-changing minor heavensZig-zag path up the face of a cliff. Takes hours and hours to ascend, about 10 minutes to get down on shitty wooden bikeBuilt on the second-highest peak in the range. Streets and buildings form a map of the major heavens; the position of your house affects your destinyUndo recent prophecy to spite rival. You're going to have to figure out how to fake a rainstormGiant cricket, bounding about with flailing insect idiocy. Will try to eat you, may just bear you off a cliff by mistake
6 Silversmith, always looking for new designs, inspirations and muses. Very competitiveTrudge up scree slope. Canyon walls amplify and distort all sound - speech makes the rocks quiver, shouting would bring down the whole slopeSharp tip of mountain carved into a gargantuan ziggurat, stepped farms on the slopes belowRescue noble's eldest from an ill-advised hunting trip, long since overdue to returnQuetzalcoatlus. It is thought to be the god of this cycle. Its death is considered the apocalypse, ushering in a new world

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Outlaw Generator

Generates Wild West outlaws. I will probably use this in the SUBLIGHT hexcrawl I'm now running. Pairs well with this or this or maybe even this. The gang member list also has a lot of possible uses.

Monday, 5 March 2018

dinosaur thoughts

We rewatched all the Jurassic Park movies in the last couple of days and I have a lot of half-formed thoughts about dinosaurs and monster design that need to go somewhere.

The basic unit of Jurassic Park is the theropod. From smallest to largest we have:

Compsognathus. Cute little piranha boys. You only see one at first - it looks innocent until you spot the next one, and the next one. Once there's a critical mass they jump all over you biting, then back away and wait for you to tire out from loss of blood. They stay just out of your reach like a hungry seagull will. Any "swarm" monster lets you escalate tension by slowly increasing the number of component bodies - compies are good because they combine that with the intelligent birdlike playfulness of theropods. Only in the second movie.

Dilophosaurus. Kills the fat guy in the first one. Again we see the movement from "this thing seems cute and harmless" to "wait, could it actually hurt me?" to "oh shit, I didn't know it could do that" to "I am dead". Has the frill and the poison to distinguish it from raptors - a little overdesigned, and therefore less versatile, which is probably why they never brought it back. Only so many scenes you can do with this guy.

Velociraptor. Actually a utahraptor, as we know. Smart, playful, always faintly smiling - basically a dolphin that can kill you. These films deserve immense credit for inventing a genuinely new horror monster - that's hard as hell to do. The core dynamic is "clever girl" - they can actually out-think you, which is always surprising in an animal. Immensely versatile but the writer has to work a bit harder - they should be more than wolves but it's easy to make them too human.

Tyrannosaurus rex. So big you can escape its notice - you're too small to be its natural prey. Scenes with this guy don't have as much moving around as raptor scenes. Either you're lying still and hoping it doesn't notice you or you're running away from it in a straight line. Can only see quick things - forces you to move slowly, which builds tension. The puppet they use for its head is great. The distant stomping that makes water ripple doesn't make sense - is it only taking one step every five seconds? - but still works wonders, obviously. An omen of the monster's approach, like seeing only one compsognathus. Not as sadistic as the other theropods - doesn't play with its food like the rest do. Would rather be eating a stegosaur really. A doting parent, feeds people to its babies but can you really begrudge it? The friendliest of the theropods.

Spinosaurus. The T-rex replacement in the third one. Long crocodile snout that it uses to probe into narrow spaces where people are hiding - seems designed to eat smaller prey than the T-rex mouth. Gives the sense that it actively hates you. You could make these amphibious - it could lurk like a crocodile with its sail jutting from the water like a shark fin.

Indominus rex. The genetically-engineered dinosaur from the fourth movie. This thing sucks and I hate it. It's supposed to be like a smarter crueller T-rex and also a metaphor for consumerism, but the design sucks and allegory by itself is always boring. They just glued a bunch of spikes onto a T-rex and gave it a random assortment of superpowers. It's lazy and you can't give dinosaurs superpowers, the basic idea is already complex enough that you can't overload it like that. Fuck this whole movie honestly. The name is okay though.

The movies only use a couple of other carnivores:

Pteranodon. Pointy-headed beaky boy. Clumsy and ungainly. Always on the verge of falling out of the sky. Picks people up and carries them off. When it’s on the ground it kind of hops toward you in this awkward way, stabbing at you with its beak. Interesting combination of heavy and fragile - you could break its wings with something heavy if you were lucky. Can probe into small spaces with its beak the way the spinosaur can. Wants to be fought in a three-dimensional space - there’s a good scene in the third one in a ruined aviary with ravines and catwalks and the great dome overheard. Doesn’t have the faint theropod smile and therefore does not code as playful or intelligent - it’s a mindless shrieking death monster that kills automatically. In the fourth one they dive like cormorants, which is good.

Dimorphodon. Smaller pterosaur with T-rex-esque head. Pins people down and snaps at them. A pteranodon couldn’t do this - its beak is designed for eating things smaller than itself, so they have to be bigger to be scary. Only in the fourth one, which is allergic to doing anything clever with its monsters. Have potential though. Basically another swarm monster like the compies. Could accompany a larger monster as groomers, picking parasites off its scales.

Mosasaur. Has only one move, which is to jump out of the water and grab something. Impressive by virtue of size but hard to see how you would use it. Effectively bigger-fishes the Indominus. Could maybe sink a ship - I could see one coming up through the floor of a glass-bottomed boat. They needed to let this thing get out into the ocean where it can actually move around.

The herbivores don’t really do anything and I’m not going to go through them one by one. Most of them are used as just big dumb herd animals that get captured and eaten. Julianne Moore almost gets spiked by a stegosaurus and there’s a good bit in the second one with a pachycephalosaurus attacking a jeep - its head moves almost mechanically, like a piston. Sauropods and hadrosaurs are mostly set dressing. You could do something with a triceratops - maybe it goes into musth like a male elephant, goes insane with rage and starts weeping ichor from its neck glands. Works with an ankylosaur as well.

Here are some dinosaurs they could use but don’t:

Allosaurus. Occupies the size category between the raptor and the T-rex, which is probably why they don’t use it. Could fit into human-sized spaces - I imagine this following you through caves and tunnels, cramped, its head scraping against the roof. It actively wants to kill you, specifically, but it’s not playful about it like the raptors - it just comes for you until you’re dead. Maybe an endurance hunter - could pursue you across miles of jungle terrain, scenting and tracking you. Packs of two or three. There’s a similar dinosaur called the carnotaurus, which has two immense advantages - it has horns, making it visibly distinct, and it is called “the carnotaurus”.

Elasmosaur. Would be at home in a mangrove swamp, grabbing people from beneath the water, or picking off the passengers on a sinking ship. The long serpentine neck was not actually that flexible - it wouldn’t bend like a swan or strike like a cobra, but you could make it work. Can climb out of the water, although it’s hard to imagine them going very fast. There’s one called a styxosaurus, which is good.

Ichthyosaur. The huge eyes make these guys. They’re mostly just sharks but they do look super creepy. Since they look like dolphins, and raptors are dolphins, they could be the raptors of the sea - smart, playful pack hunters. They don’t smile though. There’s something very goblinlike about them - they always look frightened and appalled. Maybe an escaped pack that strikes fishing boats on moonless nights, giving rise to ghost stories.

Quetzalcoatlus. King of the skies bb. Bigger than the T-rex - the pteranodons they use are pretty big but this would dwarf them. Same basic body structure as a giraffe. Could fill the T-rex role as an ultimate boss monster, though not as friendly or loveable. Would attack you like a heron attacks a frog, striking downward with its toothless beak. Demands some kind of megastructure - an aviary, a skyscraper like the Burj Khalifa.

Titanosaur. Largest genus of land animals ever to live. Big enough to be terrain in its own right - you could put a howdah on its backs and rappel off its sides. Have an entire fight scene that takes place physically on the dinosaur while it rampages through the park, stomping through rollercoasters, before stumbling into the mosasaur tank. Give it its own ecosystem - moss grows on its sides, crab-sized parasites live in folds in its skin, pterosaurs eat the parasites. Best names are aegyptosaurus and patagotitan.

Conclusions we can draw from all this:

Dinosaurs work because they’re animals with clearly-defined physical characteristics. It’s not a Lovecraft thing like Alien where the more you find out about the monster, the less scary it is. They’re not metaphors for anything - they have their own existence independent of yours, and are native to an environment that you are trespassing in. The Indominus sucks because it breaks these rules.

Theropods have a very simple basic design that can be used for a huge range of different things. What compares to this? You can only do about two or three things with cats and dogs. The only comparison I can think of is primates - you get monkeys, apes, humans, neanderthals, goblins, etc. But we are primates so that’s not really fair. Maybe some morphologies lend themselves better to size variation than others - you can’t imagine a house-sized cat but you can imagine a house-sized gorilla.

Horror franchises don’t lend themselves to plot variation. Every Jurassic Park film is about humans trying to get off an island that’s overrun by dinosaurs, and always will be - it’s hard to imagine what else you could even do. The filmmakers think in scenes - this is the pterodactyl scene, this is the scene with the T-rex in suburbia and a bunch of classic sight gags. Since each film has the same premise, you could move any scene from one film to another without losing much. As long as you can come up with more scenes - which involves either finding new dinosaurs or coming up with new things to do with existing dinosaurs - you could keep reusing the same plot basically forever.

It doesn’t have to be Isla Nublar every time though. Jurassic World was a great opportunity to move the park to, like, Patagonia. Or it’s somewhere in Mexico and there’s actual Mayan ruins on site. Or it’s an artificial island in the Persian Gulf, funded by a Saudi billionaire. The environment controls the kind of scenes you can do - raptors can’t hide in the jungle if there is no jungle. I can kind of see what they were going for with the fourth one but they dropped the ball in about a million different ways.

The only thing I'm not talking about here is the different types of character in the films - the capitalist, the mercenary, the scientist whose warnings get ignored. That's kind of its own post though.

Okay it’s Logan Lucky but with the Jurassic Park payroll office and the name of the film is Jurassic Heist.

Friday, 2 March 2018

dinosaur swamp

I can basically do swamps forever. This one is the swampy jungle from Tarzan at the Earth’s Core. Everything is impossibly huge. Roots arc meters over your head, leaves as big as your boat flitter heavily to the ground. Leg-length silverfish scatter at a splash; a bone-dry pteradon, mummified in golden web, is dropped from far above. Then the space between trees snaps into focus, a game trail bigger than castles, bigger than you thought dragons could grow. Gargantuan forms have snapped branches into rotting stakes, dredged new courses for the river, scattered spears of shattered wood as the sea vents fury on a shipwreck.

SIZES: 1: jackal, 2: person, 3: hippo, 4: stegosaur, 5: brontosaur, 6: a minor godzilla.

Creatures will largely ignore anything 4 or more categories smaller than themselves. Whenever something hits the water or roars, roll d6. If you get its size or less, something one category larger turns up to investigate in 1d6 turns. When something of size 6 enters the scene, it brings a wash of water that throws everything below the highest roots into disarray.

Path Find Big Bigger Madre de dios...
1 Kneeling on a bark canoe, paddling as quietly as possible An abandoned pleasure barge, plated in gold, bloodstained 1: 10d10 swarming silverfish penalise 1str and 1dex when attached. Will try to drag in into the water; either you drown or splash about until something kills you 3: Puppeteer spider, the males jump at you and grip tight, the female drags you back with their web 5: Giant octopus, capable of dragging itself slowly across the ground and surprisingly quickly through the trees
2 Wading through chest-high water, gear held over your head A hollowed-out hometree, villagers peeping from murder holes in the spike studded walls 1: Green ape shadows you, steals food when you sleep. If threatened it hoots as a size 3 creature 3: 5d6 muttaburrasaur, stampeding over anything that looks at them funny 5: Brontosaur, so large that to step out of the water would surely kill it
3 Weaving between mangrove roots twice your height A sprawling corpse, crabs and lizards nibbling away 1: Colourful oviraptor is adorably dorky, if its frill is spotted by a creature size 5 or 6, they will fly into a murderous rage until it is destroyed 3: Mudmaw, sickly tentacles thrash about and the mud drags everything down 5: Tyrannosaur. Not sure you need my advice for this
4 Teetering on a broken path of worked stone A nesting ground, parents temporarily absent 2: 3d4 raptors, patient and risk averse, communicate with you surprisingly well in whistles and chirps 4: Stegosaur, tail whipping through the air, frills pulsing with angry energy 6: Two headed serpent, touching it is said to make you immune to venom
5 Hiking across a range of fallen branches The skeleton of a great beast, impaled on a dozen wooden shafts 2: 3d4 good-humoured natives, smiles and bone weapons stark against their muddy camouflage 4: Massive, coal black gorilla, drags its kills into the trees above 6: Dragon turtle, who grants wishes to the bravest warriors
6 Climbing through a sprawling complex of vines A squat spiderweb, man-sized bundle in the centre 2: Sabre-toothed jaguar, happy to eat you, but happier if you lead it to larger prey 4: 1d3 allosaurs, brutish tactics and not enough regard for their own lives 6: Spinosaur, whose roar haunts you. Like actually haunts you though, all blowing out fires and slamming doors and shit

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Goblin Market Generator

Like the Yoon-Suin market generator but with goblins. Could fruitfully be used with the Hexcrawl of the Marcher Lords. For each street of the market roll once on the goods table, 1d3 times on the encounter table and once on the games table. Then scatter a bunch of these and these around. Zak's goblin market post is also useful - I feel like almost everyone has had a go at this at one time or another.

Monday, 12 February 2018

The Fatal Shaft

The empire faced an epidemic of crime. The war had drained their coffers, the population was exploding and the ancient elite clung to what little capital was left, enclosing common land and replacing human workers with hideous new machines. The rural poor terrorised the highways and the urban slum-dwellers haunted the filthy streets, publicly indulging in unnameable sins, ready to do anything for their daily crumb of bread and tot of gin. Worse - Levellers, Radicals and Chartists were active among the mob, organising them to rise against their betters. Something had to be done.

When children toiling in the darkest part of the Cedarbrook Mine found a shaft sunk deep into the earth - a shaft that could have been dug by no human hand - Parliament was quick to act. The blind, emaciated survivors of the First Expedition were hastily packed off to asylums and secluded estates in the country, but the notes and maps they carried home were endlessly poured over by Her Majesty's patient administrators. The discovery - a vast, sprawling cavern system, home to clusters of edible black fungus, accessible only from above - could not have been more perfectly suited to the Empire's needs. They decided to name the settlement Fort Providence.

The army jury-rigged a rope elevator. At its first use the rope snapped, sending a basket-load of convicts clattering down into the dark. Their mangled corpses were never found. The second load of settlers survived for months in near-darkness, on starvation rations dropped down from the surface, desperately trying to work out how to farm the fungus. Parliament intended the colony to be self-sufficient - they resented having to pay for it. It took several years for the convicts, working under military supervision, to hack out houses in the cavern walls and get the hang of subterranean agriculture. Only when they struck a vein of copper did the town really begin to grow.

Decades later, the colony of Miasma thrives. The earliest convicts worked off their seven-year sentences, obtained their tickets of leave, were granted land by the government and a fresh supply of felons to work it. Their children are dark-adapted cave urchins, raised on half-believed tales of the bright lands above. They're allowed to return to the surface but rarely wish to. The First Subterranean Regiment, nicknamed the Devil's Own, are a rum-swilling, unshaven, sadistic mob who enforce the Governor's laws with bayonet and manleather whip. Fort Providence, in its bottle-shaped cavern with its huge central guard-tower, has a church, a hospital, a newspaper. Convicts who violate its myriad laws are dragged off to the secondary hells - satellite colonies in the surrounding caves, established to terrorise and punish those felons who are recalcitrant or incorrigibly criminal by nature. They are all governed by their own sinister Wardens, and all awful. Some contain their own tertiary hells. Nobody knows how far it goes. You can get sent there just for looking at a soldier in a funny way.

Anyone can walk away from Miasma into the surrounding caves at any time. The Veins are so insanely dangerous that most people who do just die, or are returned by Volumefolk or wandering Olm in exchange for rewards. The colony, being supported by a surface state, is very rich by Veins standards. The Devil's Own employ a few Olm trackers on a semi-permanent basis. On the other hand, it's not unknown for a tribe of Veins natives to take an escaped convict in and teach them how to survive in the underworld. These lucky few become Veinrangers - preying on the colony's outskirts, raiding their fungus-farms, stealing a sonic pig or two and vanishing back into the darkness. The PCs begin as convicts in a chain gang, brutalised by a heartless overseer, on the verge of being flogged to death. Escape is their first challenge. Becoming a band of Veinrangers is the second. The campaign's final goal is to find a way back to the surface. The obvious way is the rope elevator in the central shaft above Fort Providence - it can only be operated from above, and gravity is the enemy.

  1. Mandatory silence, darkness, solitary confinement. Based on the Auburn System. Prisoners weave silk from ultraviolet caterpillars.
  2. Half-flooded tunnels too low for a man to stand. Prisoners shuck black pearls from cave-oysters and slowly forget how to walk upright.
  3. Opal mine. Prisoners keep a fraction of their finds, must use it to pay for food and lodging. Meant to teach virtues of industry. Lots of gambling.
  4. Slowly flooding cells with four convicts apiece. Heavy crank pumps the water out - one person must always be turning it.
  5. Farming unusually huge black fungi. Near a natural fission reactor - convicts are rapidly and grotesquely mutated.
  6. Cramped cages dangling above lakes of lava, their iron bars agonisingly hot. The guards drop food-scraps from above and the prisoners must catch them.
(this is all based on Robert Hughes' classic of Australian history, The Fatal Shore, which I have just read. also there's a joke here about Down Under but I can't figure out what it is. I might do more on the Hells later but also maybe not)

Monday, 5 February 2018

Tools of the Goblin Pirates

Sail south from Yoon-Suin and you come to a chain of atolls and volcanic islands that I don't have a name for yet. They're home to dozens of bickering feudal clans, governed by a puppet Empress who never leaves her floating palace. Sengoku Japan + Miyazaki + Wind Waker + Lafcadio Hearn's ghost stories + Polynesia + Skull Island, with samurai privateers and an untouchable caste of animist priests whose job it is to keep the giant monsters in line. Also goblin pirates. Here are some things the goblin pirates have:

1. Bluebottle Blunderbuss. A hessian sack full of stinging blue man-of-war hydrozoa (technically not jellyfish), crammed into the barrel of a lion's-mouth cannon and set off at close range to entangle you in sticky blue strands of raw agony. Sometimes blows up the cannon and splatters everyone in range with bits of poison tentacle.

2. Divine Dragon Engine. A battery of rocket-propelled fire arrows, all lit from a single fuse, designed to rain bushels of flaming death upon the decks of enemy ships. Wildly inaccurate but good for igniting sails and terrifying sailors. Goblins love these but everyone knows how to make them - countermeasures include armoured turtle ships, fireproof leather sails, bucket chains up the mast and appealing to the kodamas of the ship's wood for protection.

3. Porcupine Mine. Poisonous blowfish inflated to bursting point with lighter-than-air volcanic gasses. Brushing against their spines causes paralyzing seizures. Touching them with fire or squeezing them too tightly makes them explode, hurling spines everywhere. Can be tied to the ends of long poles as a boarding weapon, released in clouds to cover an escape, used in bundles as makeshift scouting balloons.

4. Silken Wings of War. Rocket-propelled triangular kites painted with tigers and skeletons. Goblins can travel over a mile in these, letting them board your ship from what you thought was a safe distance away. Obviously half of them crash into the sea or explode. Slower box-kites are used without the rockets to soar overhead, riding the wind, dropping sea-snakes and burning pitch down onto enemy decks.

5. Hunger Dust. Dried, concentrated goblin guano. Sprinkled on the ocean's surface, it attracts marine predators from miles around and drives them into a psychotic, cannibalistic feeding frenzy. Even in its unprocessed form the guano is an addictive stimulant - sharks, squid and leopard seals will follow a goblin ship for miles just to get a taste of it. It's also high in saltpeter and the goblins use it to make gunpowder.

6. Creaking Mockery. An overcrowded junk built of wood from a desecrated shrine, haunted by an angry minor god who is powerless to personally avenge this violation of taboo. Nature will usually punish those who break the laws of honour, but goblins are living insults to nature and can break all the laws they want without worrying about spiritual retribution. The angry god will bring thunderstorms and misfortune down on the heads of anyone who passes by the ship without making an active attempt to reclaim the shrine's wood and cleanse it.

7. Ghost Gun. A blunderbuss loaded with gravedust and bits of shattered tombstone. Anyone it wounds will be haunted by splinters of angry ghost until a priest ritually cleanses them. Goblins are immune.

8. Sting of Silent Death. A handheld whalebone drill threaded through with a tube of fishgut attached to a bladder of compressed, odourless gas - blackdamp, which silently suffocates, or firedamp, which explodes. Goblin divers bore though the hull of a ship and pump the lower decks full of gas, either killing half the crew in their sleep or turning the whole thing into a bomb that will go off the instant night falls and the first lantern is lit.

9. Firebats. Thousands of bats with small incendiary charges tied to their bellies. Released at night, will disperse far and wide across the ocean, looking for a place to rest before dawn. Half of them will try to return to the ship they were released from and must be shooed away. When the sun rises the charges go off and fires get started in hidden places. Effective in shipyards and against cities.

10. Beseecher of Heaven. A goblin carrying a long metal wire, wrapped in more metal wire, tied to a balloon. Grapples onto the top of the mast and does their best to attract lightning. You would think they'd only use these in thunderstorms, but you'd be wrong.


plus this

equals this

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

d100 Jobs in the Desert

This is a list of jobs that you could have if you lived in a desert. Maybe The Salt or some kind of pseudo-Arabic OSR setting that hasn't been written yet.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Cities of the Veins


City built inside mouth of huge funnel-shaped cavern. All the garbage of the city rolls down the slope of the funnel and into the caverns below. Out of the mouth of the funnel sprouts the Chanterelle, a giant diaphanous fungal 'tree' the exact colour of cherry blossom. It is edible, luminous and so tall that it grazes the cavern's high roof. At semi-regular intervals it weeps psychoactive spores over different parts of the city - this is the famous 'false weather', causing sharp unpredictable mood swings and periods of collective insanity that the locals have learned to live with. A couple of days after a sporefall, sterile baby mushrooms will begin to sprout from every surface. Without a male partner of the same species the Chanterelle cannot properly reproduce and the Mushrogun, who lives in an inverted Japanese castle built into a stalactite in the roof, will pay a fortune for one. Each neighbourhood of the city is controlled by a different daimyo and they all war endlessly over territory. The symbiotic fungal armour of their samurai infects the bloodstream of anyone who wears it.


Anthill slum of dark corners, twisting passages and secret doors. Smells awful. Like every basement, sewer, dive bar and homeless encampment in the world all crammed together. No distinction made between public and private space. Everyone sleeps on the floor, wears rags and mutters. Seems abandoned until you find the gate to the Dark Market, inside a cave that bulges like a cow's stomach, where junk merchants in black silk tents claim to sell everything that's ever been stolen in the world. Founded by the thief who stole fire from the gods - she fled into the Veins to escape thunderbolts and liver-pecking eagles. Illuminated by hooded lanterns that contain embers from that eternal flame. The thieves may seem miserable but they're bound together by criminal solidarity - they steal from each other so casually that all property is essentially held in common. Anyone who can keep up with their constant pickpocketing is welcomed into the fold. It's taken for granted that anyone who walks through the city is constantly robbing and being robbed - travellers with thief levels swap all their treasure with random other treasure, travellers without leave empty-handed. The city is much richer than it looks - it thrives on robbing other Veins communities, to their endless chagrin, though it never steals enough to drive its victims to starvation.


Inhabited mining complex beneath a mountain range of guano. Nobody has ever seen the giant bats who presumably roost in the caverns overhead. The guano is rigid enough to form solid ceilings and the smell is surprisingly mild, almost unnoticable after a few days. It makes excellent fertiliser for fungal crops and is home to a thousand species of roach, worm, centipede and beetle, each more delicious than the last. Fire is banned, since the guano is explosive, so most food is eaten raw. The citizens have learned to navigate by echolocation, constantly clicking under their breath. They have huge texturally-complex Gothic cathedrals, barely visible by glow-worm light, and a kind of Noh-like silent gesture theatre. The dark debating chamber of their parliament hums with excitable clicks and hisses.


Set in the overhang of a frozen tsumani of stone. A bright river of lava cascades over the top and drains away into a burning lake. Pilgrims to the city must duck through the the occasional gaps in the molten curtain, hoping it doesn't come down on their heads. Invading armies are fucked. The black stone is very hard to tunnel through. The proudly-isolationist city is home to all manner of exiles and political refugees, who complain endlessly about the heat and the water rationing. It's infested with tiny adorable house salamanders who chirp like geckoes and spit hot ash. It allows the practice of free religion and its Avenue of the Gods holds the shrines of thousands of jostling microcults, most of which would be banned almost anywhere else. It eats fruit from the white vines that grow up the side of the wave but must import most other food.


A bottomless, echoing ravine with a city built into each wall. The cities hate each other and are constantly at war. The best way to catch the formless pale jelly-things that haunt the air of the ravine, sifting the air for food particles that drift down from some functioning ecology thousands of miles above, is to throw a spider-net from one wall to the other. This requires anchoring-points on both sides of the ravine, which means a constant struggle for territory. Where the ravine is narrow the cities use grappling hooks, crossbows, hooked polearms and javelins. Where it's wide they use batwinged gliders and catapults, hurling boulders hefty enough to dislodge entire neighbourhoods. They regard any suggestion that they ought to work together and forge an alliance with open contempt.


A cold stream running through a warren of soft, pitted limestone. Comfortable, smooth-cornered rooms like the cells of a well-funded monastery. After he was blinded, castrated, flogged and chased naked through his burning palace by a pack of wild dogs, the emperor Basiliscus II 'Kopronymos' found his way to a place of refuge beneath the earth. He survived on sluggish blind fish, unused to predators and easily caught with bare hands, and on a slow trickle of supplies from his loyalists on the surface. When those loyalists were caught, blinded and exiled, they followed him into the Veins. The city is small, really just a town. Every poor soul who lives there is descended from some overthrown aristocrat, and has some wild plot to gather an army and reclaim their ancestral title. Light is illegal and they blind their children at birth. Their alchemists are working on truly invisible fire. About a third of them are members of the Babunic Church, gnostic iconoclasts who believe the sensory world is a sinful delusion. They still sometimes get funding from above, though Basiliscus' empire fell long ago and was forgotten.


The treasure vault of some lost and ancient sovereign. Dunes of gold dust, plains of gold tiles, hills of coins, gilded valleys presided over by the impassive faces of huge golden sphinxes with jewelled eyes. Sparkling chandeliers hanging from bridges of gold chain over gold-rimmed canyons with walls of exquisite porcelain. Colour-coded mountains of emeralds and rubies. Landslides of boulder-sized pearls. Accessible only via a maze of tight, vertical passages that compels any climber to carry the absolute minimum amount of weight - even a single excess crumb can spell doom. Hungry villagers in gold-brick houses rely for their survival on a caste of expert traders who can, with immense effort, escape with a couple of coins, and return with small dark bricks of the densest and most nutritious food-paste they can find. Light is reflected into a warm yellow omnipresent glow.


Permanent thunderstorm inside a huge sparkling geode. Erratically illuminated by lightning bolts that leap between vast columns of rust-infused crystal. Intensely humid and choked with swirling mist from which blind, newborn monsters emerge, screaming in unearthly tongues and flailing their pale tentacles. They were never meant to live and their flesh is usually poisoned with heavy metals. Designed as a terraforming engine, possibly by Archaeans. Something went wrong and now it endlessly shits out impossible foetal life. Townsfolk live in fortified shacks hewn into the sides of crystals, hunting the monsters and painstakingly boiling the toxins out of their corpses. Like fugu chefs, they know exactly what organs to shave away.


Lightless village that may or may not be inside the bowels of a gigantic worm. If you bring heat or light, make too much noise or claim that the worm does not exist, the villagers quietly kill you before you can anger it. If you spend fifteen hours a day licking bacteria off the damp, spongy walls you can get just enough nutrients to survive.

chihuahua, mexico

cappadocia, turkey

Monday, 8 January 2018


A hexcrawl that I made, loosely based on Renaissance poetry and Celtic mythology. Basically this post but a whole setting instead of a set of tables. Unlike the last hexcrawl I made, this one is designed to be played with just standard D&D rules.


The continent of Faerie was colonised once before, by a nameless race of men who sailed west across the trackless Atlantic in the time before the Romans came to Britain. Their dykes and dolmens still scar the land. Their degenerate descendants, the Hairy Men, fell to worshipping pagan gods and became little better than beasts. By the time of St. Brendan the Navigator, who first claimed the continent for Christendom, they were too deeply steeped in sin to greet him with anything but sticks and stones.

The Marcher Lords followed in Brendan’s wake. They hold their corner of Faerie in the name of England’s king, though not a man among them is certain of his name. They keep the peace, suppress the Hairy Men, mount pointless campaigns against each other and sponsor doomed military expeditions into the western wilderness. Their peasants labour as thanklessly as they would in any other feudal state. A steady stream of exiles, rogues and outcasts arrive in the eastern harbours, fleeing persecution or seeking fortune.