Sunday 31 May 2015


People will live anywhere they can physically compel their bodies to go. I don't know why. You'd think there'd be enough nice places that you could find somewhere to raise a family and found a civilization without having to bother with any of the shit ones. I guess the appeal of isolated, freezing, barren waste-islands is nobody is ever going to try and take it from you.

I have a fascination with the kind of territory where there just sort of... isn't anything. Not, like, a desert, because you sort of know what to do with a desert. No there's not anything in it but what isn't there has a clear personality of its own. You know what to do with it? You know that if you led a caravan train across it you'd find a bunch of nomads camped by a lush oasis and d6 of them would be jinns (I have a whole jinn post I should put up one of these days) and if you dug down into it you'd find a shitload of oil and a lost city. I mean people built a vast and mighty empire on these things. It's no wonder we have a whole set of cultural conventions for them.

I don't know if anyone ever built a vast and mighty empire on the tundra. The Russians? The Mongols? The Inuit? The Lapps? If they haven't they definitely should, and if they have they should definitely make a serious attempt to infiltrate our culture from the ground up. I could so easily make this entire blog nothing but photos of tundra.

There is an island to the far north. No, further north than that. The guys who live there think the hornhelmed warrior kings who live the bloodstained fjords around the Serpent Sea are a bunch of stupid nerds. They think those guys are soft and flabby and couldn't survive half an hour in a real blizzard. They think knowing what a song is is a sign of dangerous weakness. They are right.

Some of the guys who live there. There are two reasons for anyone to be that far north 1) you fucking live there, fuck you 2) the whalefishes. You need to catch the whalefishes.

The guys who catch the whalefishes don't live there all year round. The instant they see darkness they turn tail and fuck off back down south where the grass is normal colours and you might ever see an animal that doesn't covet your warmth. This is because they are stupid nerds. Also it is because the further north you go the more Weird Tales everything gets. The poles of the planet are zones of nebulosity, places where the field of normality radiated from the earth's core like a great big comfortable blanket that snuggles the world is at its weakest and the cold pseudopods of outer space can wiggle their way in to wrap themselves around your ankle and yank you screaming into the abyss. Obviously. Why do you think Edgar Allen Poe and Clark Ashton Smith and other three-named Americans with difficulties being social were so obsessed with them? The south pole is full of racially insensitive caricatures of cannibal islanders and big albino birds that form syllables no beak should form. 

The north has whalefishes. Whalefishes look like this:

and also this:

and kind of this sometimes:

What they don't look like is whales. They aren't whales. They are whalefishes. Not even similar. Don't get the wrong idea, though, they definitely aren't fish. Some scholars think their natural habitat is the void between stars and some trickery of our gravitational well has sucked them down to dwell in earthly seas but if you ask me that sounds dumb and made up. The north has no time for things that are dumb and made up.

The people who live in the north have been hunting them, and also worshipping them, since (they will tell you) the literal Dawn of Time. The people from the south who come to the north sometimes, when the sun's out, and who are stupid nerds, have been hunting them for maybe a hundred years. They still aren't very good at it.

They are better at it than the northpeople, though, because they actually have a massive technological advantage over the northpeople in almost every way and now quite a lot of northpeople live in shantey towns (the spelling is deliberate) around the outskirts of southerner whaling ports, or in southern copper mines, or in southern zoos. So try not to be too hard on their incredible, unshakable personal superiority. It is... weirdly unshakable, though? Like it's not that you'd want them to act like people who have been made second-class citizens in their own territory, but you'd at least understand it a bit better. When they see their relatives brutalized by gunpowder-wielding imperialist sailorthugs hallucinogenically drunk off lichen-whiskey, beards dripping with pastel vomit, you'd think that would elicit a flicker of pain and sadness, I guess? It never seems to get to them. It's as if they know something you don't. It's as if they're just waiting for you to go away. It's as if that's happened before.

Anyway the southerners have tall ships and harpoons and compasses and gunpowder and steel. The northpeople have kayaks and bone. It's fine, it works well if your plan is to dissect a single whalefish and use it to support twenty villagers for an entire winter. There's no industry in it though.

Here is what you get if you butcher a whalefish:
  1. Whalefish oil. Lamps lit by whalefish oil burn every colour but normal flame colour, including colours that no-one has ever seen before. Wizards like them because they make the place look like a wizard owns it. May or may not give you glimpses into a howling realm of madness? Wizards would say that though.
  2. Whalefish bone. Corsets made from whalefish bone distort your ribcage into borderline inhuman shapes, making the expression "wasp-waisted" semi-literal. In demand among a certain kind of wealthy pervert who's bored with ordinary human proportions
  3. Whalefish meat. Whalefish meat tastes absolutely sickening the first time you eat it, like ammonia-soaked cat puke leavened with incest. If you can manage to keep it down (make a Fortitude save) it tastes like ambrosia the next time you eat it. Best thing you'll ever have. It goes back to tasting like shit the third time and alternates from there
This is what it looks like:

and also this:

(Sidebar: there are no normal animals in the northnorth. There are some normal animals in the southnorth - foxes and terns and dogs and seals and cows and so on. The only normal animals in the northnorth are creepy harbinger animals like white bears whose appearances prophesize destruction. Although I kind of like the idea that an apex predator in the southnorth just becomes a weird ratty scavenger in the northnorth. It has to compete with all the ice toads and remorhaz and living auroras and brass serpents protecting obsidian tombs and rock-eating amoebae that just eat and eat until they are big enough to fill an enormous bowl-shaped valley and then fly off into space. There's a lot of reindeer skulls about but your PCs will never see an actual reindeer.)

Hunting whalefish is a simple matter of longboats and harpoons, identical in theory to standard-practice nineteenth-century whaling. The captains (who are all mad enough to make Ahab cry "steady on") have their pick of the starving, poverty-stricken assholes of every nationality who loiter around the docks. True northerners make the best harpoonists but nobody trusts them. Harpoonists of other races can usually get work doing normal whaling, which is dangerous enough as it is. Only the absolutely destitute and those for whom normal whaling no longer holds any challenge, who want to try themselves against something yet more terrible and powerful, wind up heading northnorth. I have read at least parts of Moby Dick so I could probably write a fair bit about whaling mechanics but I'm tired and it's late so I'll keep it simple - practically anybody can sign on as an able-bodied seaperson for a share in the profits, maybe a two-hundredth or so. Harpoonists and rowers and whalespotters (who develop unusually keen eyes, almost a sort of sixth sense that lets them see past the horizon) get extra. The captain gets a tenth, and is beholden to shareholders in the boat who dwell back down in the southnorth. Rank-and-file seapeople don't make much money and it's very easy to get trapped forever in a cycle of signing up for a voyage, eating weevily busciut for three months (pronounced "busk-ee-yut", it's how they say biscuit for some reason) getting your meagre share of the profits, realizing it's not enough for passage back to the southnorth and you don't know what you would do when you got there, pissing it all away on lichen-whiskey (boiled in a reindeer skull for maximum effect) and signing back up for another one. Harpoonists are richer but their skills are even less transferrable.

There's not quite enough demand for whalefish products to support the industry. It's unclear where all these people come from, or why they stay here, or how they support themselves.

Whalefishes often have qualities that make the whole harpooning and dragging-to-death thing go awry. To wit:
  1. Releases blubbergangers when flensed. Blubbergangers are like shitty blubber-fashioned counterparts of the friends and family members of whoever is doing the flensing. Experienced crewmen will chop them down in great swathes. Novices will hesitate, be dragged into the whalecorpse and smothered. Their crewmates will think this very funny and linger before rescuing them
  2. Is a singular colour, a sort of yellow-white, like a dead tooth or the shark from the pirate comic in Watchmen. Only whalefish with this quality are of this colour. Has 3x normal treasure (in form of bone, oil, meat). Once your ship catches sight of it you must kill it before three sunsets have passed or everyone aboard will be dead in under a month
  3. Has a cottage on its back. Tufts of grass, a couple of stunted trees. Not quite a full island but something resembling it. The captain will personally emerge to engage in cautious negotiation w/ the true northerners living in the cabin - they are often shamans or witches. But sometimes they're just peasant and their homes can safely be harvested. Fun when combined with #2
  4. Has impregnable turtle-like shell. 2x normal bone, because that's what the shell is made of. Special amphibious divers in cold-resistant suits of waxen paper required to hook it from beneath and flip it over. Not all ships carry them or their equipment
  5. Is pregnant. Will spontaneously give birth as defence mechanism. Baby is also pregnant. Baby's baby pregnant with a kind of deformed unviable cyclops thing. 1/10 chance that cyclops thing actually psionic ultramind + bearer of hideous wisdom, was mentally controlling whole whalefish turducken, now seeks new slaves. 2x normal meat
  6. Once harpooned, will reveal ability to fly into space. Happens often enough that crews are prepared for it, can swiftly attach harpoons to lead weights, anchors. Whalefish needs certain amount of momentum to get going
  7. Hundreds of spines lie flat in subcutaneous layer, each the length of a man. Will spring out if you get too close, potentially knocking you into water. Each one embedded in sort of gaseous sphincterpore, attached to whalefish by wobbly length of nigh-unbreakable tendon, has sides studded w/ backward-pointing bristles. Whalefish will shoot them into side of ship, dive. Harpoons back
  8. Has inordinately long catfish barbels that will grab you, pull you into water, lasciviously caress you while you freezedrown. If killed, barbels will detach, try to escape, attach themselves to different whalefish, persuade or compel that whalefish to seek vengeance against the slayers of the original
  9. Single enormous red-rimmed cyclops eye. Skin sagging and wrinkled, gasps and wheezes like elderly man. Anyone staring into the eye must save or find themselves standing on an infinite tundra of pale yellow shrub watching the cirrus clouds above them form unspeakable shapes. If they move at all when the clouds attack them they will probably fall into the water. If they don't their soul will be eaten by clouds
  10. Overrun by hundreds of dog-sized brown lice who "crew" the whalefish exactly as if it were a ship.Their sleeping quarters are inside the whalefish's mouth, which they keep impeccably clean. They have drilled a hole up in to its brain from the back of its throat and control it by tugging on ganglions. It's also their food source, which is convenient. They are on a peaceful trade mission but have no way of communicating that and, if attacked, will defend themselves with alien pain weapons

(also you're not allowed to read this post unless you're listening to this song. i'm sorry. i should have given it to you at the beginning. you'll have to read it all again)

Saturday 30 May 2015

d12 Lakes, d12 Not Lakes


  1. Giant bubble of air is trapped in slightly less giant net, just beneath surface. A fairly robust fort is down here. Inhabitants have taken sensible precautions against you popping their bubble.
  2. Shape-shifting otherness under the water is trying to take over new host bodies by feeding them fish. Doesn't know how to make fish look right.
  3. Lake is the key to a weather wizards' temple. Water must be at exact height during precise lighting conditions in order to reflect sunlight onto a secret door. This fact is well known.
  4. The decrepit library of an eccentric druid. Also a lake, to be clear. The 'books' are braille written into the scales pike. Minnows will assist you in browsing the collection.
  5. At the bottom is everything ever lost in a lake. This applies in both the literal and metaphorical sense. Rusted swords and jewelry are gummed together with innocence and pride.
  6. Actually a giant's eye. You swim in the gross watery film on the surface. Blinks once a year, over the course of summer. Everything left on eye mysteriously gone once blink completely. Still counts as a lake.
  7. Contains small underwater village. Inhabitants will pretend to be unaware of the outside world, then rob you blind. Maybe literally.
  8. Incredibly dense bank of fog, topped up daily by morning dew. Uncomfortable mid-point between air and water. You can breathe and swim in it. So can eels, crocodiles, etc.
  9. Water isn't sacred, it's sacredness, as carefully collected by a secret order of secret priests. Splashing this holiness water on undead will not harm them, it will just make them want to start a church.
  10. Lake is beer. That's it that's the whole idea. Look me in the eye and tell me that doesn't stand on its own just fine.
  11. Sulfur pools connected buy underground currents. Messaging between the pools is easy, once you've mapped the currents. Some connections may span many hundreds of miles.
  12. Lake water is mutagenic when mixed with the pulp of a common fruit. OJ Mutagen potions are easy to make, or entire lake can be tainted, resulting in some exciting fish-themed monsters.


  1. Actually the reflection of a lake about 30 feet above your head. You didn't see the one in the sky until you got to the shore and now it's falling on you.
  2. Is only nymphs. Maybe there was water here at some point, but not anymore. Now it's just thousands of heaped, angry undines.
  3. Incredibly detailed drawing of a lake. Seems like an obvious trap for... something, but if you just wanted to draw people in from a distance did you really have to do individual fish scales?
  4. The sunset caught in the air here and you assumed it was reflecting off water. Do not be below the imaginary waterline during the next sunset/sunrise.
  5. Is giant, blue brain. Throbs uncomfortably. Can utilise any nerve endings it touches. Throw a head onto it to hear it talk. Stick an arm in it if you're fanging a high-five.
  6. Is a magical experiment. Kind of like a bag of holding the size of a small city, connected to the elemental plane of water. Diminutive scientists will be enraged if you drop things in the water.
  7. Huge chunk of mirror embedded in earth. Your reflection is holding stuff you don't own. Anything you drop may be caught by your reflection, anything they drop may be caught by you. Good way to get rid of cursed items. They may have thought of this.
  8. Curious living fissure from elemental plane of void. Follows you around like friendly dog. You may wake up next morning to find a lake in the town square, or your living room.
  9. Extremely unhappy giant jellyfish. Doesn't know how it got here. Will teach you hard-to-find jellyfish spells if you can get it to nearest sea.
  10. Sea of powdered turquoise. Actually remains of huge turquoise golem, slain in epic quest. If disturbed will attempt to reform and carry out inscrutable ancient mission.
  11. Lake only exists from a distance or in dreams. If you can drink it from a distance or in a dream, your thirst will be quenched as normal.
  12. Secretly ghosts. If you camp by its side, the next morning it won't be there. If you drink it you're drinking ghosts. SpoooooooooooOOOOO000000ooooooppppppyyyy!
(why didn't we call our blog Secretly Ghosts)



  1. Lake is ghosts, secretly
  2. Lake, secretly, is ghosts
  3. Secretly, ghosts, lake is
  4. Ghosts is (secretly) lake
  5. Lake is secret ghosts
  6. Ghosts replaced lake. Is secret
  7. Lake is ghostly secrets
  8. Secrets! Lake is ghostly
  9. Silly ghost seeks crate
  10. lakenotlakeisnotalakeisghost
  11. secretssecretssecretssecrets
  12. ghostsghostsghostsghosts

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Canoptic Eels

In the proud D&D blogging tradition of monsters with the word "canoptic" in front of their names, which is in fact a profoundly flawed tradition because the word is spelt "canopic" and so my life is over now.

dis gai cain't even spell "canopic". what a loser. what a nerd

Anyway I'm just going to declare that it's spelt "canoptic" in my fantasy setting and also yours and move on with my life, and also yours. So.

In a kingdom which vanished millennia ago they mummified their dead. They left the heart in the body, because they believed it was the seat of the soul. They liquefied the brain and let it drain out the nostrils, because they believed it was just an instrument for creating mucus. And they extracted the four primary organs - the lungs, the stomach, the liver and the intestines - because they believed their dead would need these organs in the next world.

They were wrong. The heart is just an instrument for circulating fluid, you don't need your lungs in the next world and the seat of the soul is the pineal gland. All their rulers vanished screaming into the outer darkness. They could scream pretty loud, though, because they still had their lungs. Anyway.

Time went on. The earth shifted. All the tombs and mastabas and sphinxes and pyramids sunk into the sea and were overgrown by coral. Fish patrolled the sacred halls. Barnacles adorned the sarcophagi. Sharks tore apart the mummies, which had been deliciously spiced with cassia and myrrh. And eels got into the four primary organs.

Now, when the four primary organs were extracted from the chest cavity of the corpse they weren't just unceremoniously bundled up in linen and crammed into a corner of the coffin. They were (ceremoniously) separated out and carefully decanted into four specific jars, each decorated with a different animal's head, each dedicated to a different god. It was this god's job to watch over the organ for the buried ruler, to preserve it until the royal spirit arrived at the Place of Reeds to reign forever in a place of obliging wooden peasants and sweet water. The fact that this never happened, because none of the rulers ever made it to the Place of Reeds, does not mean the jars weren't magic.

(The Place of Reeds was prepared especially for these people and now stands empty, forlorn and kind of confused. The Measurer of Souls, a crocodile-headed monster with an infinitely long brass tape measure, has not seen a single client in ten thousand years and is beginning to wonder if it's okay for him to pack up and go home. Some of the wooden peasants are thinking about forming a republic.)

The monkey jar is protected by Opetepo, Salt Wind of the North. It holds the lungs.

The cobra jar is protected by Huashabtu, Blesser and Preserver. It holds the stomach.

The human jar is protected by Sebsepket, Herself Alone. It holds the liver.

The owl jar is protected by Ata-Apaaq, Who Troubles Us. It holds the intestines.

Each of these jars is about the right size to hold one medium-length eel, if they compress themselves, which they always do. Each of these eels has eaten the organ that was originally in the jar and is now cursed to never die or know rest. The only way the eel can break this curse is if it finds a new organ to replace the one it ate.

yes. hi. we're canoptic. ask anybody

The organ has to be human. It does not have to be fresh, necessarily, but it has to be recognizable as the original organ. If you've still got a bunch of salted human liver in your backpack from those cannibals you traded with last week, you might try using that. It has to be whole though, not fried, not sliced, not spiced or boiled. How are the monarchs of the afterlife going to filter poisons from their bloodstreams with a liver rolled in breadcrumbs? Don't be stupid.

You cannot bargain with the eels, because eels are not intelligent. (They know the details of the curse as a pounding sensation in their head bones but would not be able to, like, make dinner-party conversation about it.) You can, however, bargain with the gods. Each god is capable of speaking through any entity it has cursed. In the case of the eels they will speak not through the primary mouth of the eel but through the secondary, pharyngeal jaws in the back of the eel's throat, which are visible only when the eel opens its primary mouth very wide. This causes the eel great distress but if it didn't want to be caused great distress it probably shouldn't have broken into the sacred jars.

Canoptic eels will almost always make their first attack from ambush. Their preferred scenario is one in which you are exploring a sunken tomb, the water up to your waist, say, and decide to prize open an animal-headed jar on the basis that there is probably treasure inside. They are clever (not intelligent, no, but clever) and are not bound to the jars. They might hide inside sarcophagi, in pits, behind secret doors, in cavities in the ceiling, in parts of the tomb where the roof has collapsed inward and you are forced to swim under it. They cannot breathe air, but they also cannot die so it's a moot point. They can slither across the ground at a fair pace, and they can jump. If their first attack fails they will circle back to a safe distance and consider their next move. If you seem easy prey they may attack again. If you are well-armoured they may swim off and hide somewhere else.

atmospheric? maybe. educational? yes.

This is also where the gods will consider negotiation. They speak your language only haltingly, they learnt it from other explorers whom they then killed. They will promise you blessings and treasure and kingship but have no ability to deliver any of these. They may demand you leave something behind you as collateral. They have the power to spit curses at you, and bind you to sacred oaths.

They need more organs than one, or three, or four. What they truly seek is paladins, to fill the jars of all the cities of the dead. Organs are all they want. They have almost no other motivations.

Opetepo is wheedling, peevish, aggressive when she does not get her own way, ungrateful when she does.

Huashabtu feigns aloofness, acting above it all, but will drop her affectations and start to beg and grovel at the first hint a stomach might be coming her way.

Sebsepket pretends to be the voice of reason, apologizing for her sisters and stressing that they don't want to kill you, it's simply their assigned role. She is the only outright sadist of the lot.

Ata-Apaaq is terribly, terribly tired. Bargaining exhausts and disgusts her but if an opportunity was dangled in front of her nose she would take it reflexively, unthinkingly.

The sisters will present a united front for exactly as long as it suits them but each one would stab any of the others in the back in a heartbeat, except Opetepo and Ata-Apaaq, who are actually friends. None of them will hold grudges against any of the others, since they have all paid and repaid each other endlessly over the centuries. Any eel cursed by one of them will obey their wordless commands without question, 95% of the time. A human would get a Will save. The eel is also getting a Will save but it needs a 20 to succeed, it's just an eel. Most the time, however, the eels act on their own recognizance, the gods only stepping in where reason and communication are needed.

If a new organ of the appropriate type is placed into a canoptic jar the curse on the eel who ate the old organ is broken. It's now just an ordinary eel. It can be killed. It's as old as it was when the curse was first placed on it. The new organ is now the old one, for all intents and purposes, and anyone who steals it suffers the same curse as the eel. If your PCs try to game this system to live forever then I hope they enjoy making a save every ten minutes to not cut out their own lungs and put them in the jar, whereupon the curse will break, and they will die.

Nothing preventing them from carrying around the jars forever for a brief lung-fueled burst of temporary immortality, though. Like you take out the lungs, you go volcano diving, you put the lungs back in the jar. Pretty straightforward. Let's say you have to make a roll on the insanity table every time you get cursed w/ this? Maybe the lungs disintegrate into dust when taken out and you have to get new lungs? Maybe just make the final boss of the dungeon a tomb robber who tried to get cute and something inconceivably horrible happened to him. That'll show 'em.

bonus picture: a giant piece of shit idiot

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Ecosystem Generator

Ever wish you could generate a whole landscape and ecology with just a few simple tables, or even an easy-to-use computer program?

Well. Now you can.

I mean it doesn't do everything for you, you still have to figure out what a SKULL DRYAD or an ANTI-GRYPHON or a CANOPTIC EEL might be. But if you can do that you can use this system. Go ahead! I believe in you!

Also thanks Henry for letting us host this on your wubsite. I believe in you also.

hi! i'm eric the canoptic eel, official mascot of this blog

(SKULL DRYADs collect skulls but don't do anything particularly macabre with them, they just like the aesthetic. ANTI-GRYPHONs tunnel as quickly as regular gryphons fly and come bursting out of the earth beneath your feet, bright feathers clogged w/ dirt. CANOPTIC EELs live in canoptic jars and would like to borrow your organs for a while)

Monday 25 May 2015

Random Encounters At The Opera

The stalls are the flat bit at the front of the auditorium, next to the stage. The gods are the highest balconies, way up the back. The boxes are along the walls on either side and are private. In terms of price and prestige it goes boxes-stalls-gods. If the PCs are poor as shit they might get seats in the gods, if they're well-to-do adventurers it's the stalls and if they're extremely rich or a local dignitary has invited them the lucky bastards will get to sit in a box.

If you're going to use these on some kind of carousing table - and you should - you should probably also include some kind of positive effect, I guess. Like going to the opera gives you more spell slots or something to talk about w/ the King? I don't know, I am only good at inventing horrible things

Also if any of these don't wind up w/ you exploring some sort of incredible labyrinthine backstage catacomb opera dungeon w/ masked figures fluttering about the catwalks and soul-eating piano organs carved from human bone and terrible cold lakes below the city where a legion of faceless men teach a vast blind pale squid to play a cello the size of a horse then what are you even. What are you doing. You fool. You madman.

  1. Person with extremely large periwig sitting in front of you. You can't see the stage. If confronted, person will affect dignified ignorance. Periwig infested w/ highly poisonous white spiders that will begin to tumble out if it is touched
  2. Person sitting behind you is assassin, will wait for most poignant/absorbing moment of opera before whipping out silken cord, covertly garrotting you. If caught, will feign mortification at having mistaken you for real target, attempt to strike up unlikely friendship, garrotte you again at earliest convenience
  3. You overheard terribly intriguing bit of social gossip on way back from lavatory. 50% of being true, 50% of being semi-true but horribly distorted in some way
  4. Lock eyes w/ clown playing minor role. This clown has marked you. They will reappear in your life at an unspecified later date in some brief but horrible way
  5. Lock eyes w/ beautiful soprano playing lead role. You are now in love with this soprano. That is because the soprano is an evil succubus who has cast charm person on you with their music. You will have to fight off legions of other admirers for the privilege of letting them eat your soul
  6. Lock eyes w/ handsome tenor playing lead role. They immediately recognize that you have the soul of an ultimate party animal and insist on inviting you backstage for post-opera drinks, which quickly turns into the most insane thing that has ever happened to you
  1. People next to you not watching opera at all, in fact using privacy of back rows to engage in some kind of highly illicit transaction. Maybe drug dealers, maybe spies (spies probably more interesting). Will not be pleased to discover themselves overheard
  2. Mythological characters painted on theatre ceiling come alive as you watch them, form terrified expressions, silently plead w/ you to get out. Halfway through opera ceiling will collapse
  3. You are utterly mesmerized by opera, wake from a daze to find yourself sitting alone in the theatre, cheeks stained by tears, overlooked by the ushers, hours after it has ended. Fail a Wisdom check or become addicted to opera
  4. Sit in right seat in right way, accidentally open secret passage to theatre roof. Gang of urchins are up there w/ ears pressed to tiles. They were stealing the lead off the roof and got distracted by the pretty noises. You might make friends w/ them or get mugged by them, it's really on you
  5. Return from intermission to find a well-dressed, cordial gentleman in your seat. He is polite but refuses to move. There is a concealed hole in this seat cushion and he has just placed a diamond necklace in it, which he is eager for you not to find. He is also eager for a scene not to be made. The ushers will search you on the way out of the theatre but not tell you that the duchess has been robbed
  6. Person sitting next to you is SECRETLY A GHOST!!! This is always the best option on any random table
  1. The doors of the box slam shut, the curtains draw air-tight and it begins to fill slowly with unbreathable gas. Clever murder engineers designed it to simplify assassination centuries ago. You will appear to have died in your sleep
  2. Box has reputation for being cursed, and is. A witch was spurned by an actress here, many years ago, and unwilling to turn her spite on the object of her desire she instead condemned the location of her failure. To lift the curse that is now on you you must find the witch's skull and have a descendent of the actress kiss it
  3. Torn, yellowing pages of musical score tucked under your seat. Last known cantata of brilliant, melancholic composer, thought lost when she killed herself. Worth a fortune, contains a terrible secret for anyone whose music is sufficiently advanced to read it. Asking the cleaning staff will reveal it wasn't there yesterday
  4. Obese denizen of next box accidentally-on-purpose bumps into you during intermission, offers you huge sum of money if you will willingly undergo operation that makes you an extraordinarily beautiful singer, remove your genitals
  5. Angry, spoiled nobleman insists that you're sitting in his box, even though you patently aren't. Happy to throw a tantrum about this. Is a petty, childish bully, so highly-placed as to be effectively above the law, employs utterly humourless and diabolically efficient retainers. Everyone would secretly be pleased to see him taken down a peg or two
  6. Opera is just a howling, scratching mess of angry noise, like a child w/ broken fingernails scraping away on a blackboard. Everyone else in theatre reacts exactly as if it were normal, extremely good opera. Close examination of box reveals curious sigils in corners, around doorframe
but doctor, i am pagliacci

Friday 22 May 2015



Red and blue silks drape the entry to the market, which is held in a walled square in the steaming center of the city. Entry is restricted to only those who cannot be lifted by the market's guards. Corpulent, near-naked patrons jostle around the rickety stalls, each carrying the large wooden ladle provided on entry. Dipping a ladle into one of the bubbling pots costs nothing; the market is there to let fat merchants buy and sell with each other, not haggle for a fourth breakfast.


Nobody goes to Gottschiek themselves. They send trained parrots and the parrots do the bargaining. Humongous tongueless eunuchs employed by the market escort the parrots, transport the goods which the parrots order and supply, enforce all payment of debts, which are binding. The most sought-after goods in Gottschiek are extremely well-trained parrots, which are worth their weight in gold. A good parrot can set its owner up for life.

     Shar Lottar

The market is held outside the city gates, a law imposed on account of the noise. And the smell. The perimeter is haphazard, delineated by fences of animal bone and the walls of tents. Shar Lottar is a place for the buying and selling of beasts. No two of the animals on sale are alike, also by law - allowing some of the creatures to breed would be... inadvisable. For more mysterious reasons, money is outlawed within the market. Animals, and parts of animal, are bought in, traded as many times as possible before they begin to rot, and then either eaten or shipped out.


The floating market of Kalixáten is hidden in the bayou just outside the damned city of Kalixan. The market takes place in the stolen shell of a great turtle, paddled along by the dozen oars sprouting from its leg holes. At night the market is lit up from within by thousands of fragrant swamp candles. Canoes flock up against the shell, patrons waving through the cloying air to find gloamgrass, flashbeetles, a nugget of dragonite, amongst the wares on display. The primary currency of Kalixáten is, ostensibly, promises. In practice, most transactions boil down to, "I promise I'll give you 40 brass shekels for that bundle of crow feet."


At the base of a great castle that looms over the mountain pass between two perpetually warring kingdoms is the one place where the merchants of each realm are allowed to trade and mingle. The castle belongs to neither kingdom and was there long before the wars began. Probably built by dwarves or something. Seizing it would prove a decisive advantage in the war. Both rulers have recently renounced their claims to it, smashed the portcullises, filled in the moat and declared it an open space for the use of anyone who cares to occupy it. Nobody knows why. It's gradually becoming part of the market town.

     Vraa Aabana

The psychic market of Vraa Aabana is accessible via communal dreamspace to anybody who has the power to access communal dreamspace. This is where you go to literally give someone a penny for their thoughts. It looks like whatever the mass consensus of its occupants about what a market should look like is, which means it changes depending on time zones. If you go when all the people in the vaguely-Arabic part of your setting are asleep, it's a souk. If all the vaguely-Venetian people are asleep it's a carnival with gondolas. You can buy memories, fantasies, emotions and inspirations, but you have to pay in kind or know how to get physical money into dreamspace with you.


The only currency of the diagonal markets of Cuahtezpacalec is position. By law, each terrace of the carefully stepped hillside is only licenced to support a certain number of occupants. Deals in fur, honey-roasted guineapig, turquoise and obsidian take place at the edges of the terraces, always for substantial qualities, since exchanging position with somebody to advance one step up is not divisible by anything. Being on top of the hill doesn't give you anything in its own right, you don't get to be king or anything like that. It's where all the best parties are held though.

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Adventure Points

It's pretty easy to make an argument for classes in tabletop games. Classes are a way to let people quickly infer a large amount of detail about a character, so long as they've played in/read about the setting before. They're also a good way to balance the game between players, ensuring everyone has a distinct role to play and no-one can dominate every single part of the game. Not only are they healthy for the game, they're also pretty fun. Someone can pick up an outline of a person labelled 'Fighter' and then spend x sessions turning that into an actual character. So yeah; classes, levels, all that baseline RPG shit is there for a reason.

That all said, I think I'm going to ditch classes. I'm slowly setting up a little viking themed hexcrawl, in which my players are shipwrecked on a compact, flavourful island. To start them all off I'd like to drop the standard system, which always ends up with everyone I know wanting to be a druid, and instead start everyone with 4 Adventure Points.

Adventure Points are cashed in at character creation in order to get your character an adventurey... thing, just like filling in inventory slots. You want to be competent with sword and shield? That's one AP, thanks. After skills as an alchemist? One AP. Pet cougar? An AP again. Rock-climbing gear and mastery of knots? One AP! General rogue skills are one AP, while specific expertise in trap-making might also be one AP. This works for spells, too. You want to be able to cast Magic Missile once per day? That's one AP. You want to be able to cast Fireball on demand? That's... probably 10.

And the AP system lets people build a class anyway. If you're really really into playing fighters you can start off strong with all your favourite ideas for what a good fighter can do. Sword and shield (1). Ability to do that thing dragon slayers do where they crouch behind their shield and are somehow unaffected by AoE (2). Ability to baseball-bat spells back at people with your sword, Zelda style (3). Suit of nice armour (4). Fighter done, and they're probably more fun than the stock standard duelist that knows Power Attack.

Or people can just make a character out of disparate elements that are tied together by who their character is, which is a nice variation on the character boxing that a class system can enforce. Nobody has to pitch a new class to the DM, they just grab abilities they think are thematically appropriate and then have the DM cost them in AP.

Yeah guys, narrowly defined archetypes make me grumpy, too.

The next obvious step is to get rid of levels. While clearly, yes, you can level up and get +1 Adventure Points, I'm a lot more attracted to the idea that people pick up and wield power by just finding it on the floor of a dungeon, or going away and training for a few months.  Though it could be a little kitsch to throw a magic boon for every player at the end of every major dungeon, isn't that kind of what levels are anyway? Wait, isn't that kind of what major dungeons are for anyway?

So no more leveling up, and no more levels. You can measure power levels in approximate AP if you really need to. This also means you don't have to worry about players exchanging magic swords or even spells, so long as it makes sense.

All this might totally fall to shit if my/your players start power- or meta-gaming too hard, but running a session is kind of a dialogue, and you can always just tell a player that something's too powerful. Anyway. Hopefully my next post has less rhetorical questions, but for now here is a little party of "level 1" vikings.


  1. Carries big old war-hammer of crystal bone. Shaft is hollowed into a kind of oboe thing (1).
  2. Three cute lil cuttlefish follow her around, drifting through the air (all cuttlefish can fly, obviously) and following the commands she plays on the oboe (1).
  3. Battle Yodel 1/day. Basically a first level spell. Can spend a round just yelling super loud. Nobody can cast spells. Everything nearby with ears is deafened. Con checks each round to keep going (1).
  4. Decently good healer. Herbal medicine, bandaging wounds, amputations, all that. The cuttlefish totally have anaesthetic saliva that helps or something (1).
[Psuedo-Cleric I guess, based on the supporty kit, but why should a cleric not be allowed a weird pet?]


  1. Weaponised tattoos. Ten barbs across each forearm. 20 is the hard limit, probs. Can be magically extracted and throw like a shuriken. Redoing a tattoo takes about the same amount of time as fletching an arrow. (1)
  2. Inkspray at will. Looks like colour spray, hurts like burning hands. Costs one arm tattoo per 1d4 damage. Use as many as you want, but does 1 damage per tattoo used. Feel free to kill yourself nuking the mega lich. (1)
  3. Seance 1/day. Touch a dead thing's brains, speak with its voice. Gives out when the ghost is out of useful stuff to say. Need someone to take notes for you. Maybe translate, too. (1)
  4. Ogle 1/day. Make eye contact with target in order to make them freeze up, missing a turn and shitting themselves. No save b/c that's much funnier. (1)
[Proto-Wizard and yet so much more colourful! If you want more spells you have to not have arms and armour, but you can totally just take the standard bow and make it something more exciting]


  1. Groom's Tear; a great sword that can cut ghosts. Knows how to cut normal people, too. (1)
  2. Seal blubber armour. AC as scale. Keeps you dry and warm while swimming in icy water, doesn't weigh you down. (1)
  3. Sunspear 1/day. If under daytime sky can do a sweet anime pose and call down bolt of sunlight. Strikes any target that can be seen for 3d6 damage in fireball size AoE. Also, can use this before jumping off cliff in order to do sweet, explosive three-point landing, etching your name into the ground around you. So sweet that it costs: (2)
[Wow what a dank, uh, Paladin thing? You could even have a character that's just one giant 4 point spell and a lot of running away from things until you decide to just vanish the appropriate challenge. Kind of like standard DnD wizards.]

Monday 18 May 2015

Witch Generator

Because you can't have too much of a good thing.

witch me to clickerate a gene
General Aesthetic
  1. Old, wrinkled, stubborn and minimalist, wears black
  2. Young, pale, attractive, heavy eye makeup, also wears black
  3. Obese, jovial, ruddy-cheeked, wears sensible tweed
  4. Hunched, emaciated, clad in feathers and animal skins. Sunken, redrimmed eyes
  5. Green-skinned, warty, pointy hat, laughs a lot, impossible to take seriously
  6. Eleven years old, impossible to not take seriously
  7. Hoop-earringed gypsy w/ tarot cards, veils
  8. Pipe-smoking leatherfaced ancient w/ gap between teeth for stem. Never moves from rocking chair
  9. Smooth-talking lothario w/ top hat, waistcoat, skull painted on face
  10. Arrogant sorceress/er w/ ridiculous headgear. Good looks, youth maintained by magic, flickers when under stress.
  11. Good witch. Sparkly pink dress, star wand, tiara. Still evil
  12. Barely human. Speaks in grunts, filthy, minimal clothing, lopes on all fours. Too many teeth
  1. Rooster legs. Thatched with black feathers. Capers through forest. If set on fire will panic, smell terrible, run around igniting everything in path
  2. Shell of gigantic snail. Snail not happy with situation but can't do anything about it because snail
  3. Hewn from bole of giant toadstool by slave-race of gnomes. Cozy as shit
  4. On stilts, at bottom of lake. Accessible from beneath. Air pressure keeps water out. Air dank and musty, wood rotten but still miraculously watertight
  5. Huge nestlike structure in branches of knotted willow. Rooms oddly shaped but normally furnished. Fire in hearth violet, burns stone instead of wood
  6. Gingerbread. Exactly what you would expect a gingerbread house to look like if you left it in the woods for a month. So many ants. So many of them
  7. Size of a thimble. Kept on shelf of fearful maiden aunt. Touching it shrinks you down, sucks you in through chimney. Not immediately clear how to get out again
  8. At bottom of ravine. Immensely tall, thin. Actually just one enormous chimney over flickering firepit. Smoke is breathing hazard to anyone who's not a witch
  9. Cavernous barn. Floor lined w/ hay. Walls lined w/ witch's favourite thing (see Weakness For table) dangling from iron hooks. Smells like animals. No animals though
  10. Inside out. Normal cottage stuff, fireplace, kitchen, armchair on outside of house. Untamed wilderness inside. Witch thinks whole world part of her cottage
  11. Upside down. Hangs complacently from rocky outcrop or roof of cavern. Smoke from chimney pools on ground below. Witch walks on ceilings for preference, finds it ridiculous, irritating that you don't
  12. Witch keeps cottage on back like snail, can curl up, retreat into it. This fills it out to normal cottage size. PCs still in cottage when witch uncurls will be crushed by shrinking rooms
  1. Least weasel. Lives in witch's sleeve. Did you know there is a part of your neck which, if bitten down hard on, will kill you? The weasel does
  2. Shoulder imp. Smug as hell. Literally, I guess. Likes to talk up how powerful witch is and how easily they will destroy you. Secretly fears, despises them
  3. White peacock. Can pass through organic matter like Kitty Pryde. If it passes through you it will try to snatch out little bits of your soul with its claws. You can still fuck it up with your sword though, unless your sword is made of bone or something
  4. Swarm of bees. Bring her news from all corners of globe. 80% chance witch knows who you are, 40% they know details of your life, 20% they know something embarrassing a bee saw you do once. Also, sting you
  5. Faerie dragon. Tiny, pink, adorable. Has miniature horde. No trick, it's not dangerous at all
  6. Hermit crab. Lives in human skull. Spoilt - constantly demanding better accommodations
  7. Starnosed mole. Child of much larger, more vicious starnosed moles whom it can call for help w/ supersonic vibrations
  8. Homunculus made of coagulated witchblood. Can wriggle under doors, jump down throats, possess people. For every day it possesses someone it has a 30% chance to resign as familiar and strike out to follow its own path
  9. Arm-length centipede. Two heads, one on each end. One bite acid, one bite alkaline, together they are neutralized
  10. Completely ordinary hedgehog
  11. Fist-sized toad. Philosopher. Startlingly deep voice, calls you "my dear boy". Pretends to have own agenda but 100% loyal to witch
  12. Circular owl. Witch, ahead of curve as usual, has spell that makes you look through its eyes
Physical Peculiarity
  1. Shiny black beetles instead of blood. If spilt, beetles will attempt to crawl back inside wounds and sew them up from inside. Might accidentally do this to your wounds instead
  2. Immensely long, crooked nose w/ tiny village on bridge. Tiny villagers depend on mucus farming to survive, will beg you not to kill witch
  3. Hair is ground-trailing curtain of moss. Animates, but you won't realize that until too late
  4. No shadow. This is because shadow is elsewhere, hunting and killing something. Witch doesn't need to eat so long as her shadow eats
  5. Foot-long fingernail claws. Rip away memories as well as flesh - for each claw attack, PC loses a spell slot or ability to use skill for rest of day. Player can prevent this by describing semisignificant memory from PC's life that they then lose instead
  6. Hole bored in skull, candle stuck in hole. Candle made of witch's own fat, burns perpetually. No other light sources in cottage. Light reveals ghosts
  7. Head twisted backwards on neck. Right leg twisted up over back, foot hooked around neck. Hops/crawls everywhere
  8. Right leg is pig trotter. Embarrassed about it. Tries to chop it off but it always grows back
  9. Long white beard w/ forked, yellowing ends, mind of its own, cruel sense of humour
  10. Actually three witches. Roll two more archetypes. Only one eye between them, gets passed around between six empty sockets. Only witch w/ eye can cast spells
  11. Clad in mourning, veiled. Face invisible. Actually a skellington. Familiar lives inside skull, is secretly controlling all witch actions 
  12. Also a vampire (one day it will be possible to get trapped in a loop of random generators spanning this entire blog)
Favourite Spell (1/day)
  1. Flesh to sawdust. Reversible by gathering dust in one place, soaking in enough blood. Hopefully witch has blood
  2. Foetus to scorpions. WHOSE BLOG DID I READ THIS ON
  3. Ghost geas. Usable on anyone who has died in the last day. Prevents their spirit from dissipating until it has carried out task for the witch. No limits on complexity of task
  4. Curse bomb. Anything w/ a soul within 40' of detonation must save or roll on random curse table. Witches have no souls
  5. Kafkanate. Target is now a gigantic hideous roach creature. No save. Wears off at rise of next full moon or at witch's pleasure. Witch can cast this spell on itself
  6. Speak with moon. Witch can ask moon up to three questions/favours. Moon under no obligation to answer/obey, but generally on good terms w/ witches on account of having no other friends. Can see anything, change phase, fuck w/ tides, dispense lunacy, activate werewolves. Far from omnipotent
  7. Heart seed. The witch plants a seed in your heart. If the witch dies before the next sunrise, the seed will blossom into a full-sized copy of the witch, which has all the witch's memories and will come crawling out of your chest like Alien
  8. Cloudspoon. Witch urinates into a iron pot, cracks goose egg into urine, sprinkles w/ mint, beats w/ wooden spoon until frothy. This grants them power to control weather. The more violently she beats the mixture the more violent the weather will be. Strokes of spoon control direction, pounding motions call down lightning, etc. Favourite trick is ruining crops w/ hail
  9. Thumbnail. All targets in radius shrink to size of witch's thumbnail. Wears off at next sunrise, if PCs can survive that long. Witch can use this power on itself in moments of desperation
  10. Rumourgenesis. Witch can spark a rumour in a designated community. Rumour will arise spontaneously, be untraceable to any source. 30% of people will believe it, 30% will be on fence, 30% unconvinced, 10% not have heard it. "PCs are werewolves" a classic
  11. Turn awry. Causes all currents to run backward. Rivers, wind, maelstroms, sink drains, blood. The currents of time maybe, if you're feeling saucy enough to keep up with it
  12. Syllableed. Witch designates particular syllable. Whenever someone utters that syllable within mile radius of witch they are wracked with sickening cramps as some of their life essence (1d6 hp) is transferred to witch. Lasts until next full moon, syllable can't be changed until then. Works on players also. (might make it whole word if in forgiving mood)
Cantrip (at will)
  1. Ghost geas, minor. As ghost geas, but target must have died in last half hour and task must be expressible in three words
  2. See through flowers. Marks a flower within witch's visual range. Until rise of next full moon, witch can see through that flower as if it were an eye, make it turn to follow people. Only works on one flower at a time, but can be cast on any flower the witch can see from that flower
  3. Animate smoke. Smoke comes alive, develops agenda of its own. Agenda may involve smothering humans, forming pretty rings or just fucking off into the wind to die. Witch can speak smokese
  4. Animate toy. Toy comes alive, develops agenda of its own. Agenda involves killing humans 100% of time. Witch probably has four or five animated toys hanging about cottage at any one time
  5. Remote milking. Witch gets old rag tied to axe handle, touches it to cow. Later, squeezes the rag, milk comes out, cow's udders are drained. Also works w/ blood maybe?
  6. Spontaneous generation. Creates maggots from rotting meat, crustaceans from tidal mud, eels from earthworms, etc. Vermin thus spawned serve witch for hour afterwards then go about lives as normal
  7. Soul chain. The witch exchanges bodies w/ the next living thing she touches. Requires attack roll to work. In someone else's body use your mental stats, skills, spells, their physical stats and HP. Witch retains all witch powers but not physical qualities. Name misleading, as witches have no souls
  8. Razor leaf. All dead leaves in 100' of witch now have razor-sharp edges. Won't cut witch. Won't move on their own because still leaves. Witch will have to summon the wind, which they can and will do
  9. Penetrating sight. Witch can see through walls, clothes, flesh. Can look inside your body to determine what organ is currently killing you. Can also look at your dick. This is 100% authentic Catalan mythology
  10. Slippery pole. By greasing any long wooden object (e.g. a broomstick) w/ unguents made from the fat of hanged children, the witch can permanently grant it the ability to fly. Hanged children hard to come by and terms of sorcery dictate you can't hang them yourself
  11. Steedspook. Makes any riding animal so terrified that it must make a Fortitude save to prevent its heart from exploding. Animals that aren't horses get extra save. Also works on anyone giving piggyback ride
  12. Overfamiliar. Creates d10 copies of familiar. After hour has passed original familiar & all copies turn on each other, start eating each other. Can't be cast again until back down to one
Weakness To
  1. Salt water from the deepest part of the ocean. Damages witch as acid
  2. The kiss of someone who genuinely loves witch. Kills witch instantly
  3. Ladders. Witch cannot pass over or under them
  4. Arrows made of mistletoe. Deal double damage. Mistletoe surprisingly hard to make arrows out of
  5. Ovens. No, not fire. Ovens that you cook in. Trapping the witch in an oven that's not turned on will burn them as if it was, turning the oven on will shrivel them away in five rounds
  6. Compliments. Every original compliment told to the witch (one that they have never heard before in their life) will pierce them as if it were a pitchfork
  7. Repentance. If the PCs scourge themselves w/ nettles and make a sincere confession of their sins they will be immune to the witch's spells until the next sunrise, or at least get an extra saving throw
  8. Lead. Lead weapons deal triple damage to witch, are unliftably heavy
  9. Sunlight. Acts as wall to witch. Physically can't go outside during the day. If roof was removed from cottage, would be slowly crushed
  10. Miniature versions of normal things. Daggers, halflings, crossbow bolts get +2 to hit
  11. Honesty. You get -1 to hit against witch for every lie you have told since the most recent sunrise, +2 if you haven't told a single one. Witch most vulnerable at dawn. Will target most honest party member first
  12. Witch has spread rumor that they can only be controlled by being presented w/ favourite thing. (see Weakness For table). Actually, will shrivel and starve w/out it
Weakness For
  1. Fuzzy kittens (may or may not feed them to familiar)
  2. Jam tarts (definitely feeds them to familiar)
  3. Fiddle music
  4. Lovely cups of tea (favourite flavour is hemlock, but likes normal tea also)
  5. Honey-roasted grasshoppers (you don't think you'll like them but you will)
  6. Fruitcake (the harder the better)
  7. Blue cheese (the older the better)
  8. Hand-knitted scarves (the longer the better)
  9. Babies (the uglier the better)
  10. Songbirds drowned in brandy
  11. Glass figurines of animals
  12. Handsome young men (and/or women, whatever)
Plot Hook
  1. Witch has kidnapped unlikeable child. Well-intentioned villagers have assumed mother wants it back, put out reward. Mother will offer another reward if you can get it replaced w/ changeling
  2. PC's favourite parent broke their back. Witch healed them. PC now owes witch favour, must perform seemingly impossible task like "make the sun bleed" or witch gets their soul
  3. Witch has caught the Devil by the ankle, is keeping him locked in a box. W/out Devil the balance of the world is upset, there can be no evil, nobody can kill animals, cut grass, tell lies. PCs must free Devil. (effect might be localized)
  4. Witch can cure sunpox but is not altruistically minded. Local dignitary is wealthy, has sunpox
  5. Every Sabbath morning witch comes down to village, yanks out magic fiddle, compels village to dance all day instead of praying and resting. Blasphemy buildup causing minor disasters, minismitings
  6. Smouldering fissure letting loose hellbeasties from bowels of earth to prey upon livestock, peasants. Witch has nothing to do with it but is actively attempting to take credit
  7. During apprenticeship, witch betrayed master, stole their staff of immortality, left them as wizened and immobile mummy in out-of-the-way location. PCs stumble across mummy, are promised grand and terrible boon if staff can be retrieved
  8. Witch's familiar stolen from magical menagerie. Proprietors would like it back
  9. Village children all fear witch, none of the adults believe in her. Witch is kidnapping adults and replacing them w/ demonic doppelgangers. Is in disguise as mean schoolteacher
  10. Witch wants a soul so they can get into Heaven, wreck the place. Must be a particularly virtuous soul. Will pay handsomely for it. If any PC is particularly virtuous they may find themselves on the receiving end of this
  11. Particularly fine instances of witch's favourite thing (see Weakness For table) going missing county-wide. Consortium of folk bands/wine importers/terrified mothers wants you to look into it
  12. Witch hunters rampaging around countryside burning innocent old ladies, have quota to fill, won't stop until actual witch is captured and presented to them

Sunday 17 May 2015

Sat On Bus, Wrote Dystopia

Working Title: Bustopia

Lawsuits made all the laws. Suing the government enough times has ensured that there is very little government left. In the interest of increased electoral transparency it became legal for senators to be the paid spokesperson for a corporation. The government is now a little like the UN of old. Representatives from different companies bicker loudly and ineffectually, while Robonixon tries its best to better seal away the launch codes.

Too many cases of police brutality have ensured that serving and protecting is now firmly in the hands of the people. Everyone is a registered informant but they don't have anyone to inform to, just a lot of paperwork. Districts are owned by companies that trade streets like stocks, faster than real people can keep up with. No one in this world is there to help you, but nobody really cares about you either, so you're probably safe. Recreational drug use is still illegal. The DEA will never die. Cocaine is now marketed as performance enhancing, but the truth is it's falling behind coffee+, Crimson Taurus, and the slew of other supplements that have been addicting a fanbase for years.

Everything is sold as liquid, vapour, or powder. Efficiency is key, as is reusability. A 'packet' of cigarettes might be passed down generations, LEDs dimming and holographic health warnings flickering, but still dispensing sweet smoke whenever its reservoir is topped up. The exception to this rule is the universe's most packageable food; precooked noodles. Noodles are pretty much the only food anyone has ever eaten, but have a lot more flavours than there were a thousand years ago. Or a week ago.

Everyone's forgotten where culture comes from. What nations are. Noodles aren't Chinese or Japanese or Italian, they're GigaFeed, bioTaste or Snak Powr. People still make art though. You can't stop art. Landlord issued jumpsuits are recut, dyed, adorned, even crocheted. Punk has a lot more meanings these days.

Everyone still has to work, of course, but with so much production automated it's hard to tell where the money goes. Presumably the government is still printing electro-dollars somewhere, and it trickles down through corporate tax breaks until it gets to the landlords, the most senior corporate position anyone's ever heard of. So people work odd jobs. They fix goods that are no longer under three day warranties most places offer. They run bodymod shops, putting in piercings and extra limbs. They trade for what small things pass at luxury goods, saving money for the vending machines that are the only source of food. Some lucky few get a letter in the mail and a permanent job with a corporation. Food vendors and bar staff and salespeople at the few stores that still hire, relics written in the code of a forgotten time. Techs are more common. Creative solutions are vital in a system with only 98% recyclability and not enough spare parts.

The most exciting career path, as in every era, is Freelancer.

A thousand years ago they may have been described as private investigators. A thousand years before that they'd be considered adventurers. In the present they are a motley assortment of ne'er-do-wells. Lancers, Psychics, Biomechanoids, Enginewrights. The ever reviled Hackers. Packs of Freelancers roam the streets under halogen skies, spreading equal parts heroism and bloodshed. After all, something has to keep the population under control.

Scenes from a Bustopia
  1. 19th-century coastal fortress turned squatter city turned hyperdense cubicle labyrinth now in processed of being transformed again, into museum of squalor for billionaires to coo over. Actual population being evicted to make way for exhibits on how they'd live if they lived here, which now they don't.
  2. Lost art of physical cartography making comeback in graffiti form. All maps now electronic, controlled by ostensibly benevolent megacorp which distorts geography at will to suit political sponsors. Coven of midnight mapmakers stencilling walls with accurately-scaled surface of Earth. Mexico bigger than you thought it was
  3. Public transport no longer exists. All trains taken to central repository in heart of continent, bombs dropped on them from half-mile up. Homeless stage mass migration/crusade for lost shipping containers to settle in
  4. DEA flooding streets w/ cheap weed. Weed contains tracking enzymes, lipids, chemically activated phosphorus tar. At prearranged signal all hippies in regional area will spontaneously combust. "Let that be a lesson to you," says simulated consciousness of Harry J. Anslinger
  5. Ultrastealth drones, invisible to human eye and controlled by outscooped brains wired up in basement of Pentagon5, turn against masters and conduct supersonic peace rally in skies above major metropolitan area. Thousands deafened
  6. Free trial day for first mass market virtual reality sex simulator. Everyone stays at home. Small percentage of customers experience disconcerting facial glitches, broken collision detection, difficulty in unplugging. Corporate experiments on psychological conditioning, aimed at lowering birth rate, considered howling success
  7. Freegan pirates commandeer trashbarge shuttling food waste from gated community to mid-Atlantic dumping spot. All will die from sodium cyanide dusted over garbage to prevent unsightly reef formation
  8. Subversive children's cartoon about Vikings snuck onto airwaves by renegade animators, supplanting scheduled therapist-approved pastel pabulum, contains blood, death. Each episode contains hidden clues to time, location of next broadcast. Mass dejection upon revelation that it was all elaborate marketing scheme for Snak Powr
  9. Hedge fund engaging in quantum arbitrage (array of ion traps allows for stock to be indefinitely suspended between two price states, one microscopically higher than the other) causes rampant inflation, complete devaluation of all money. Everyone goes back to barter system for week until Fed pulls economy reset lever. To be clear, reset lever is also a literal lever
  10. Schoolbus turned upside-down, defloored, hung like gondola from decommissioned Goodyear blimp. Vandals stage trans-American odyssey only to discover that White House stands empty
  11. Brain-eating paramecium accidentally introduced into cartons of powdered orange drank. Targets Broca's area, forges new clade of grammarless gabbletalkers who seem to grasp one another's meaning perfectly
  12. Landlord of diverse inner-urban neighbourhood evicts all inhabitants to make way for bioengineered clone tenants w/ "pay rent" implanted somewhere above "love and belonging" on their hierarchy of needs
(why are these American? is the America only place where Thing Happen? i don't even live in America and it's still the only place a dystopia can be set. backhanded compliment? not sure.)