Monday 30 December 2019

spell books

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

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

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

    Sunday 17 November 2019


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

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

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

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

    Tuesday 5 November 2019

    Ecologies of Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Organisms are secondarily categorised as a function of their environment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Sunday 27 October 2019

    The Collector

    Couple of things here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Friday 18 October 2019

    a peeper deeper

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Tuesday 24 September 2019

    The Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Monday 23 September 2019

    the depths

    stop rolling d4s when you get to the crater

    terrain encounter
    1 lake, the water tinted wrong. steaming banks swarmed thick by bloated flies toads as big as dogs. d3+4 of them, with d3+4 legs each, twitching grumpily. their venom causes hallucinations of an earth destroyed and reborn. seizures at higher dose
    2 pines. mostly toppled. caught like pick-up-sticks in each others arms deer blasted into after-images. skittish. flickering blackwhite silhouettes leap away over the brush. if a buck runs through you your bones glow through your skin like an xray
    3 heath. wildflowers in a thousand coruscating shades, each a tiny atomic sunset brainwolves. lobes bared like teeth from the top of their head, spilled from the hollow where eyes should be. only d4+1 left in the pack, their minds meshed in howling psychic echolocation
    4 crater punched hard into the rock, cracks still sizzling with radioactive heat armoured personnel, bodies helplessly melted into their truck, souls fused in the plutonium forge. their chassis is irreparably torn, engine near liquid with heat. hunting officers, scientists and politicians
    5 crater angered earth. the bomb lodged in its chest a nuclear heart, overflown with hateful passion. titanic fists obliterate themselves against anything it can reach. it scoops a handful of dirt and screams at it until the atoms burn off
    6+ crater torn reality. something is visible on the other side. god, probably. an alien world and your childhood home. reality has been undone, memetic tumours are all that's left. it's every burning future all at once. a perfect void but no vacuum; you realise that our world is hollow now too

    best way to get back to earth is to climb the nearest mountain, wait for a snowstorm, then jump off a cliff
    roll d6s, adjust depth as instructed, minimum 0

    1 playful platypus, as long as your arm and twice as friendly. its fur is worth an inestimable fortune. its venom could kill you in seconds
    depth +1
    2 herd of brumbies. shaggy steppe ponies grown huge and wild in hyperaustralian air. stumbled in from somewhere in the himalayas, they're breeding out of control and wreaking havoc in this alien ecosystem
    depth +1
    3 lyrebird skulks just out of sight. tired of scratching in the dirt for bugs it calls to you, testing cries and words to find what sequence of sounds might encourage you towards a clumsy death
    depth +1, and the bird follows you
    4 hundred-strong mob of roo grazes, indolent but fiercely territorial. one of the larger will sway up to you to pick a fight. the legs hit like a log trap, though if you can knock it down the rest will let you pass without issue
    defeat a roo or depth -1
    5 lone echidna, bear-sized, snuffles in the dirt. its quills are said to carry great potency of an unspecified kind. follow it long enough, collecting dropped barbs, and it will lead you far, far from its nest and your path
    depth -2 if you follow it, else depth +1
    6 the wombat is nowhere to be seen, though its den is impossible to miss. earth gouged by paws fatter than your torso. soft square spoor the size of your fist. the cool breeze wafting from the tunnel suggests it may lead just where you're headed
    depth -2+d4 if you take the tunnel. encounter a pissed off diprotodon if you come back through
    otherwise, depth +1
    7 crimson rosellas, their wings a dozen shades of snowstorm blue. they squawk and giggle in the trees, the first flakes of snow falling around them. somewhere between beautiful and ear-splittingly annoying. if you try to camp near them you won't sleep a wink
    depth +1
    8 the rock here is bare, thin snow failing to congeal in the near-constant wind. this peak is not yet high enough, though the view is quite beautiful
    depth -1
    9 finally the snow thickens, trackless and serene. just under the surface pygmy possums lair. too much weight on the crust and you'll punch through into their den. their swarming bites are rarely lethal, so long as someone helps pulls you out
    depth +1
    10+ the peak is flat, almost disappointing, uneventful until night falls. the aurora australis roars overhead, colours calling to you even in your dreams. too much time spent up here, before the snows come to open a path back home, and you might never want to leave 

    start at depth 1. instead of just +1 per step add the result of your d6. if you go off the end of the table you wrap back around to the start

    1 present day. five minutes have passed every time you go through a whole loop
    2 bronze age. arching sandstone cities in the distance, lit by a sumptuous purple sky. to either side a sweating, confused gladiator, their duel interrupted
    3 ice age. sleet sheets cuts through cloth like a sickle. from the bones of your feet comes thunder - a mammoth stampede driven before pelt-draped hunters
    4 meteor impact. sky is thick with smog, white-hot trails cutting through from the ruination flying overhead 
    5 triassic jungle. towering ferns busied by mosquitoes big as birds. behind you a trex, sniffing curiously
    6 flooded. warm, shallow sea. skittering clockwork arthopods bicker below. the 10ft of water above your head teems with motes of near-microscopic life
    7 mossworld. utterly tranquil, though the air is a little thin. sky a light, fresh blue. nothing but mosses and extremely dumb bugs.
    8 endless rains. the rock hot underfoot, only recently cooled enough to let liquid water form. high above are all the world's oceans, still a broiling cloud thick with lightning
    9 molten earth. a tiny promontory of basalt thrust up from seas of magma, slowly tipping back down into the heat
    10 time engine. hazmat suited figures with bulging heads and the wrong number of fingers. they fiddle with knobs and radio in for timemarines to stop your nefarious meddling


    1 okay so you like add 'depth' to your roll to indicate that you're moving through something? 11 oh christ and variance is a whole thing?? the smaller the die you're rolling the higher chance of doubles, and the less likely to miss things
    2 wait so you've only got one chance to see the first thing on the table? it better be a special one... 12 can always double up entries, too, to smooth out the progression
    3 but like you could still roll doubles, or get something that was higher up than what you just rolled; things can't be expected to occur in order 13 double ups in one column but not another? like the landscape column doesn't change much but encounters do
    4 oh right and it doesn't have to be spatial. it could be temporal, or like stages of a disease or the passing of seasons 14 or, jeepers, different columns are different lengths?? like you have to get to a certain depth on one to get the really crazy shit, but the other column probably cuts you short?
    5 huh you could even have the table be a loop, that you just keep wrapping around 15 you could even roll different sized dice but that sounds kind of fucked
    6 and entries could totally tell you how much to change depth by 16 you definitely want to preroll everything if you're doing a spatial one. it's more like procedural generation at that point
    7 or wow even just jump you to a specific point on the table 17 but the more reactive ones.. you could maybe do social encounters through them, even build a generalised one, like peril dice or whatever 
    8 obviously you can give it multiple columns, to get some of that sweet precious permutation going 18 every table probably does need specific rules. how to handle doubles, which of all these weird permutations it employs
    9 or damn even multiple axes, so you can go deeper in different directions along, let's be real, probably just a grid 19 okay what if you simply reduced all human activity down to several thousand vectors, and all pc activities are coded into these at appropriate depth...
    10 okay yeah what if the table doesn't even end at the point you've trying to get to? you can overshoot and then realise you have to backtrack or w/e 20 ...and then u apply a depth mechanic to the process of developing depth mechanics, so u can depth mechanic while u

    Friday 6 September 2019

    The Strange Fate of Captain Strathclyde

    I'm trying a new thing where I write horror stories and put them on Medium.

    The first one is called The Strange Fate of Captain Strathclyde. It's about a guy who takes a job as personal assistant to a reclusive novelist, in a creepy old house in the Appalachians, and finds that extremely creepy things start happening.

    One of the strangest things about the 21st-century internet is the complete lack of places to publish good short fiction. I assume they exist - the old sci-fi magazines still all seem to be going on, somewhere or other - but I don't read them and neither do you. They don't have any actual cultural reach. And the existence of blogging platforms has made their publishing model obsolete in a way that nobody at all seems to have reckoned with.

    In the old days, if you wanted to get published, you needed to persuade somebody with a printing press to actually, physically put it down on a piece of paper and deliver it to bookstores and newsagents across the nation. Hence Lovecraft having to go through Weird Tales, Steven King publishing in... I think it's all these small magazines with names like Startling Mystery Stories that don't exist any more, because why would they? Now you just whack it online.

    Nobody needs to approve of what you write. The only hiccup is that you need to build a social-media following on your own, which can be tricky. The best way to do it is to have an existing community of people who do similar stuff. The OSR blogging sphere has obviously been good, although harder to use since G+ died. But we haven't done a lot of actual storytelling - it has always seemed to me like a weirdly dead art, at this point in history.

    We do a lot of incredible fiction but very little of it is narrative. And nobody else is doing it either, at least not a way I'm interested in. I remember when I made my Twine game A Thing Called Dracula I struggled to find a way to popularise it, or people who were interested in talking about it and building on it. There is a gap here that someone needs to fill.

    I'm interested in Twilight Zone-style horror stories, detective and crime stories, weird tales with some creepy little ironic twist at the end. It's kind of a deliberately old-fashioned project. I want to do a couple more of these and see where it goes. I also wrote a book last year - a crime novel called Croatoan, about conspiracy theories, the pitch being Elmore Leonard does the X-Files - and if I can't get it published traditionally I'll start trying to sell it online as an e-book. So there's that.

    Tuesday 27 August 2019

    snakebit swamp

    water from the heart of snakebit swamp will grant you immortal life and make you suicidally depressed. the people that live around it are weathered and wizened. they rarely see the sun. the fog hangs heavy; limp and living

    there are many huts on the wet banks of the swamp. a respectable living can be made picking through the snake bones that line the shore, searching for ones small enough to drag home. less choose to live where the trees give way, where curving serpent spines lay rickety lanes through the bog. the dangers are not terribly precarious (the water is cold and the eels quite vicious) but the swamp is lachrymose, given to nostalgia and stealing away children

    - roll a d4 on the below table, adding 1 for every fresh step along a snake spine
    - a decent sized splash will attract (2d4 x depth) eels
    - if you roll a branch, one side will go deeper and one shallower. no need to tell pcs which is which
    - preroll this shit. it will let you figure out a few small connections across the map. e.g., some mammoth children are on the way to visit a hermit, the skelton has seen the nearby opossum dragging a slain mammoth back to its nest
    - when you roll the same thing twice in a row, smoosh it together.  a tangle is now a nest, all ossified eggshell and an unliving foetus. a hermit is now a neolithic shrine of yellow bone, hermit's ghost haunting their carved skeleton at the centre

    1the soil is wet, thick, heavy. patches of thin grass struggle to hold the earth together. 2d4 tired-eyed villagers pick along the shore, passing a foul-smelling flask between them. they greatly appreciate attempts at warmth and humour, and anyone taking the effort to make small talk will likely be offered a guide for the swamp
    2tiny, bellicose weaver birds have built a shabby nest amongst a stand of copper trees. indignant at your trespass they divebomb, swooping and shitting at you. the bones under your feet are slick with guano. a closer inspection of their nest would reveal the trees upon which it's built to be hollow copper tubes, sluicing warm mist from somewhere below the water
    3by dint of some great wisdom or luck, a flea-ridden hermit has erected a meters-long rib bone a few dozen meters from the path. their past decades have been spent carving an intricate history of the world into it. they will call out to you, pressing for esoteric histories and happily nattering about the conspiracy of ice
    4two great skeletons lie here entwined. the ribs are rolled and tumbled, vertebra scattered like dice. the path through is perilous, bones worn silk smooth over uncertain centuries. beads of fog reflect the pinprick eyes of eels waiting for you to slip. the path onwards is tripartite: the snake you came in on or either half of the other leading out
    5a small herd of micromammoth, shrilly trumpeting. thick wool on their bellies keeps them warm and safe from the eels. their backs are picked clean and combed by their favoured pets; a tribe of children, faces old and wrinkled, adorned with feathers. will brutally murder any non-human primates they see
    6the monotonous ossuary ends abruptly in a skull, biting through death into another snake. the lee of its huge jaw offers shelter, currently home to a nest of water rat. water is pooled in the hollows of its fangs. condensed from the fog, this ghostly venom is said to grant lucid visions of past lives. this perhaps could help decide which path to take, left or right along the new serpent
    7clinging to a rib bone below is an ancient yellowed skeleton, swallowed before the snakes began to rot. it believes itself still trapped in a reptilian belly, maintaining that it cannot see anything through the snake's thick scales, but will happily natter hazy descriptions of all the curious things it's seen through centuries of silent swamp. its life is harder to recall: problems in the great machine, frost leaking from the ground, the thick jungle blighted by alien climate
    8pond scum churns steadily. bubbles form thick and slow, cloaked in cold mist and birthing through the surface of the water like whales in tar. fingernail and fist sized, then all at once a hillfull of chronochloric gas. inside is a whipping white wind, another world. silhouettes blur across the bubble's surface as it rises, tusks and fangs and furry hides. when it pops a mound of snow drops into the water, begins to slowly melt
    9hunched and glaring, a bulky growth on the bone, the opposum is bigger than a bear. skittish still though; it is an ambush predator. it hunts in bubbles of time, eye pressed soft against the surface of the water, watching a hundred years of ice to find one weak, flitting pulse of life. diving in and out before the bubble can pop, a blink of bloody battle with the ancient beast
    10groaning through the mire on pillars of bronze, its brontosaur bulk too heavy to lift from the water. always working, patching leaks and scavenging parts. slowly, sadly sealing off sections of the machine too far gone. above the water a periscope of features: black glass eyes, delicate brass arms. it can't see you, but for your bones and the metal you carry. brass or bronze or tin it takes straight to the centre of the swamp, heedless of the birds and toads and other lives that sit astride its back
    11the swamp deepens, mirror-dark surface sliding up the arc of bones to lap coldly at your boots. you can see the line of vertebrae continue below the water, and a few hundred meters something else rises up. huge copper pipes, some boiling hot, others traced in ice, all fingers stretched from the great machine in the swamp's heart
    12+an ancient city, twice rebuilt. first by its scientists, in their efforts to slow the apocalypse they had begun. the second by its somnolent servitors, the great brass golems still at work stemming, bleeding, keeping back the pressure of an invasive past. every street now is paved with copper pipe and ferns, ill-fit rooms jammed with steaming alembic jungle

    (drinking snake venom, time bubble popping in your face, falling into the water in the centre of the swamp, etc)
    (also a depth mechanic. roll d10, +1 per exposure)

    1devolve into apeman
    2can commune with beasts of ancient past
    3gain wrinkles, liver spots
    4hair goes white
    5lose concept of 'future'
    6can smell back in time
    7can only take pleasure in reminiscence
    10stop aging
    11possessed by ancestor spirits
    12time hiccups - groundhog day until you next fail a save vs fear
    13haunted by dead past selves
    14hunted by the time serpent
    15event from your future compressed into your past
    16belches rapidly age a small area in front of mouth
    17indigestion - exist both now and 65,000 years in past
    18youth restored
    19become super old

    Tuesday 20 August 2019

    encountering the dero

    Depth mechanic as sanity system. On each table roll d20+X where X is how crazy you are.

    1. Graffiti.
    2. Fortune cookie.
    3. Missing-person posters.
    4. Biro scrawlings on dollar bill.
    5. Crazy call-in to morning radio.
    6. Street preacher's religious rants.
    7. Mutterings of crazy homeless guy.
    8. Overheard public-transport dialogue.
    9. Warning message broadcast over loudspeaker.
    10. Spam that gets through your filter somehow.
    11. FW: FW: FW: email from elderly relative.
    12. Internet ads. Gone when you refresh the page.
    13. Second-hand paperback you don't remember buying.
    14. Forgotten episode of old TV show.
    15. Letters to the editor.
    16. Dating-app messages.
    17. Old science-fiction magazine.
    18. Unwanted Youtube recommendations.
    19. Comments on your blog.
    20. Comments on your favourite Pornhub video.
    21. Shouted argument from next apartment.
    22. Joke from your boss that you feel obliged to laugh at.
    23. Co-worker conversation that stops when you enter the room.
    24. Mom asks for your opinion, changes subject before you answer.
    25. Voice that takes your order at drive-through restaurant.
    26. Inscrutable Facebook message from high-school friend.
    27. Old acquaintance bumped into on street, not looking well.
    28. DMs via obscure forum you forgot you had an account on.
    29. Job offer from dodgy but persistent recruiter.
    30. Threatening letter from nonexistent law firm.
    31. Diary entries you don't remember making.
    32. Words on electronic traffic sign.
    33. Garbled phone call.
    34. Texts from unfamiliar number.
    35. Note slipped under your door.
    36. Note you find in your pocket.
    37. Note attached to the leg of a bird that falls from the sky.
    38. Nondescript man who approaches you in public.
    39. Screams of stranger being dragged into car.
    40. Message left at scene of horrible crime.
    41. Lunatic who attacks you in dark alley.
    42. Cop who claims somebody calls 911.
    43. Black-clad government agent at your door.
    44. President works you into a televised speech.
    45. Sitcom character turns to camera, address you by name.
    46. Talking animal.
    47. Talking object.
    48. Booming voice of God.
    49. Thoughts beamed directly into your brain.
    50. Orderlies who come to take you away to the hospital.
    1. The dero are a symptom of mental illness.
    2. The dero are a metaphor for the pressures of modern society.
    3. The dero are fabricated as a distraction by your political enemies.
    4. The dero are a product of collective mass hysteria and must be fought with reason and logic.
    5. The dero exist, but they're not as big a deal as people think.
    6. The dero exist, but the authorities have them under control.
    7. The dero have a secret civilisation underground.
    8. The dero use rays to project false information into our minds.
    9. The dero abduct people to perform weird medical experiments.
    10. The dero are headquartered under the Pentagon.
    11. The dero are headquartered in the catacombs of Paris, France.
    12. The dero are controlled by a single giant brain.
    13. The dero are all sexy women and they want to have sex with you.
    14. The dero force every world leader to engage in sadistic sexual rituals.
    15. The dero came from the future to save the planet from our evil ways.
    16. The dero consider human flesh a delicacy.
    17. The dero are Communists.
    18. The dero are Jews.
    19. The dero are Nazis.
    20. The dero are biblical demons.
    21. History has been falsified to conceal the existence of the dero.
    22. All existing information about the dero has been fabricated by the dero.
    23. All politicians and media figures are willing puppets of the dero.
    24. All disasters, massacres and genocides are faked by the dero to make people afraid.
    25. Some of the celebrities know about the dero and if you get to them they can help you.
    26. Tinfoil hats repel dero thought rays.
    27. Your friends and family are being replaced by dero imposters.
    28. It's totally fine to masturbate in public.
    29. Your friends and family are being held underground and tortured by dero.
    30. Drinking your own urine is the key to eternal life.
    31. You are an agent of the dero and you must fulfil your mission.
    32. Time is cubic.
    33. You are an agent of the humans and you must fight the influence of the dero.
    34. Dogs can secretly talk.
    35. You have been driven insane by dero thought rays.
    36. Milk makes you gay.
    37. Everyone else has been driven insane by dero thought rays.
    38. Children are trying to save the world but they need your help.
    39. The dero are simulating your reality and you must wake up before you die.
    40. The dero want you to hurt people and do fucked-up sex stuff.
    41. The dero want to help you but you have to trust them absolutely.
    42. The dero are coming for you right now, in the next fifteen minutes.
    43. You can save the world by killing the most important dero.
    44. You're the most important dero and this is just what being a dero is like.
    45. You're on the verge of a great scientific breakthrough and the dero are trying to stop you.
    46. You're an extradimensional super-alien imprisoned by the dero in corporeal form.
    47. You're the Messiah and the dero are your disciples.
    48. You can read minds and it makes you too dangerous to live.
    49. You're a character in a game of fantasy and the player controlling you is a callous monster.
    50. You have been diagnosed with schizophrenia by a doctor and require medication.

    Sunday 18 August 2019

    the zone

    You are elite Soviet soldiers sent to investigate a bizarre series of accidents at a remote scientific research facility. This is a depth mechanic. Roll d6 on each table for each encounter and add 2 each time you advance a step further into the zone. Be careful of ideological backsliding - one of you is secretly a political commissar with orders to maintain morale by executing anyone who deviates from approved ideology.

    The PTSD system - your stats are Physical, Social, Technical. Roll 3d6 for each. To do anything, roll under the appropriate stat. Pick a specialisation, anything from Heavy Weapons to Political Propaganda to Biochemistry - add two to the right stat whenever it becomes relevant. Work out hit points yourself.

    1. Barren steppe. Pale winter sun.
    2. Barren steppe. Scudding clouds obscure the sun.
    3. Snow-dusted steppe. Ceiling of grey cloud. Freezing wind.
    4. Snow-dusted steppe. Howling blizzard.
    5. Sparse larch forest. Shadows moving through pale fog.
    6. Sparse larch forest. Rivulets of black snowmelt.
    7. Dense larch forest. Glass-clear creek paved with pebbles.
    8. Dense larch forest. Boot-sucking bogs.
    9. Overgrown marsh. Water crusted with thin ice.
    10. Overgrown marsh. Water crusted with solid ice.
    11. No-man’s land. Slick mud and dead trees.
    12. No-man’s land. Network of flooded trenches.
    13. Town outskirts. Rubbish heaps and burnt-out cars.
    14. Town outskirts. Vacant lots and empty warehouses.
    15. Suburbs. Wide avenues, concrete apartment blocks.
    16. Suburbs. Cottages, shops, playgrounds, empty cars.
    17. Industrial core. Vast empty factories, rusting machinery.
    18. Industrial core. Cooling towers crusted with foliage.
    19. Launch site. Hangars, service trucks, fields of concrete.
    20. Launch site. Concrete pads, umbilical towers, broken rockets.
    1. Spomenik - brutalist concrete monument, haunted by freedom-fighter ghosts.
    2. Perfectly round shaft bored into the ground. Heat rising from it. Hawks and buzzards circling.
    3. Abandoned farmhouse. Barren fields. Something nasty and shapeless chained in the shed.
    4. Concrete watch bunker built into low hill. Terrified, hungry soldier inside will fire on anything that gets close, unless you convince him you’re not a mutant or threat.
    5. Ruined church. Tarnished golden crucifix over altar.
    6. Abandoned fur-trapping village. Squalid huts. Mutant vermin caught in cruel, iron-toothed traps. Crazed hermit watching from afar.
    7. Deep black ice-edged lake. Rotting wooden dinghy tied up by shore. Strange buildings on island.
    8. Untended cherry orchard sprouting strange fruit. Decaying barbed-wire fences.
    9. Series of clear pools separated by waterfalls. Fish that know too much.
    10. Wide fast-rushing river. Must be crossed to advance - or go back and find another way around.
    11. Mass grave. Deformed corpses left to rot in hastily-dug hole. Mutant rats and crows hide until disturbed.
    12. Minefield. Clearly signposted to warn off trespassers. Craters mark detonation sites.
    13. Scrapyard. Buses, cars, trucks and tanks, all tangled together in rusty communion. Mangy stray dog lurks around perimeter.
    14. Crashed military airplane. Bomb bay holds undetonated tactical nuke. Two more have been cracked open and their radioactive contents scooped out.
    15. Army barracks. Held by still-human soldiers, heavily fortified against intruders. Running out of food.
    16. Small amusement park. Merry-go-round, bumper cars, rollercoaster, fun house full of child-sized skeletons.
    17. Automated factory running on its own, assembling munitions from vast stockpile of scrap metal and weird chemicals.
    18. Huge steaming radioactive crater filled with rubble and boiling glass.
    19. Bustling hive of New Soviet Men stockpiling fodder for their Red Queen so she can lay new eggs for the colony.
    20. New Soviet Men preparing atomic super-rocket for launch.
    1. Blasted atomic ghost of gulagged 19th-century revolutionary.
    2. Tatar scavengers in spiked radiation suits, looking for anything they can sell on the black market.
    3. Gangly saiga antelope that blast acidic mucus from their nostrils, pursued by Tatar hunters.
    4. New Soviet Man, pale and hairless, equipped with homemade laser gun, in stand-off with Tatar scavengers.
    5. Tatar mother with pale, hairless children in tow, fleeing hunting party of genetic purists in rad suits and gas masks.
    6. Swarm of irritable thumb-sized mosquitoes that imitate human voices by the collective hum of their wings.
    7. Lumpen bald toothless swamp cyclops that slowly de-evolves anything it looks at. Claims to want a friend but is actually just hungry.
    8. Poisonous redcapped mushroom men who want to be eaten and won’t take no for an answer.
    9. Skoptsy priest in black robes castrating and baptising hunger-maddened soldiers.
    10. Shaggy bear-centaur-men tearing apart huge fallen two-headed reindeer and shovelling its flesh into their maws. Can see into the past and do not believe in the future.
    11. Naked frostbitten soldiers possessed by the spirits of tanks, running around with their arms stuck out to mimic guns. Imaginary shells, real explosions.
    12. Band of New Soviet Men with Geiger counters and laser guns scouring the area for radioactive material to fuel their atomic super-rocket.
    13. Giant house-sized blob of fleshlike fungus. Gill slits part to reveal near-human eyes. Oozes slowly toward any source of heat, warbling and pleading for sustenance through a hundred tiny mouths. Doesn’t stop.
    14. Shambling broken-concrete golem with tiny telekinetic fetus inside, looking for somebody to hug.
    15. Gang of shivering orphans dwelling in empty building, only venturing out to hunt for vodka and lay lethal Home Alone-style traps for New Soviet Men.
    16. New Soviet Men scalpelling apart still-living bear-centaur-man, flaying it alive in effort to extract the secret of its mathematics.
    17. Tatar scavenger with aluminium pouch of stolen uranium, on the run from band of New Soviet Men equipped with Geiger counters and hairless dogs.
    18. Radiation shadow-ghosts, flickering across flat surfaces, that drag anyone they touch into the second dimension.
    19. You from the future, horribly scarred and burnt, bent on killing you now in order to prevent your future suffering.
    20. The Red Queen of the New Soviet Men, overseeing her minions’ efforts to launch her into space via atomic super-rocket. From orbit she can psychically dominate the globe, maybe.

    Thursday 27 June 2019

    whats in draculas sewers

    1. Big fat corpsey men with smiles on their faces slowly jellifying in baths of scummy water. Lilypads and croaking toads. Touch the men - they wake up and tell you their tales of woe. The baths melt sadness out of your body and put it in the toads.
    2. Floating market - covered boats chained together in wide channels of filth. Low brick roofs, guttering candle flames. Tosher merchants in wide hats to protect from ceiling drips selling junk, rotting fish, unrecognisable piles of filth. You may be robbed.
    3. Deep circular brick-walled shafts connected by underwater passages. Rusted suits of armour at the bottom. They grab you and beg you in sepulchral voices to restore their honour so they can be free. search them - get their maybe-magic swords.
    4. Waterwheel in fast-running river of ichor. Igors tinkering with machinery. Connects via leather belt with some vast engine elsewhere in the castle. Igors paranoid about you stopping the water.
    5. Beautiful young cultists in white robes drowning a bull in waist-deep water at the edge of the river of ichor as a sacrifice to cloacina, goddess of the sewers. The bull cries for help in a near-human voice.
    6. Giant albino marabou storks picking through the mud at the bottom of a drained cistern, looking for flopping dying fish. They will eat you. Marble columns rise into the shadowy heights above.
    7. Puppet theatre. Tentacles come up through floorboards, manipulate big finger puppets, stage satirical plays about world events. They will try to draft you into the plays. they use real weapons. unclear how the squid does the voices.
    8. Blind emaciated prisoners shackled in cells, ankle-deep in flowing sewage. new arrival pleading for release. You recognise them. Fat ogre guard with rat best friend, keys jangling at belt, is immune to the horrible stench.
    9. Ratville - like a miniature Bavarian town full of respectable petit bourgeois shopkeepers and insect farmers, all good citizens and devout Christians. Want the big folk to keep them safe, maintain social order.
    10. Smuggler’s den, abandoned, full of tarnished treasure - moldy statues, rotted paintings, mushy books, greening jewelry. Fungus growing everywhere. Patient mushroom men want more treasure to destroy.
    11. Natural crevasse lined with carnivorous plants, gleaming like jewels. sundews and flytraps, fat buzzing flies drawn by sickly-sweet stench. Must be crossed on precarious rope bridge. Skeleton w/ jewelled rings held in belly of one large plant.
    12. Flooded church. Water torrenting in through bell tower, draining through crypts. Hungry monkfish hidden in confession booth. Angry toshers tearing apart Bible, trying to work out why there’s no spells in it.
    13. Fatberg - giant blobby hive of congealed fat and grease, gestating pale little clone fetuses in wall-embedded pustules. Polite. Can see and speak to anything inside. Wants to you go to sleep in it so it can replace you with clones.
    14. Maze of fogged, water-blackened mirrors with mold growing in their cracks. Knee-deep water. Evil giggling midgets in little coracles follow you around pretending to be your reflection. Medusa whose breath tarnishes mirrors, gaze midgetifies you.
    15. Dirty water swirling down giant brick funnel. Wrecked wooden ship caught in net of thick rope stretched over funnel mouth - home to Posh Harry the tosher king, who covets everything you own but is cowardly and always willing to bargain.
    16. Waterfall tumbling off edge of cliff into infinite darkness that leads to earth’s core. Huge white bat-pterodactyls nest in stalactites hanging from roof, barely visible at edge of darkness, swoop in to catch fish and dolphins from falls.
    17. Submarine docks on shore of vast cavern lake. Igor crew fending off toshers who want to scrap the last intact sub - they are trying to get it working so they can escape the castle forever.
    18. Beach of pale sand on shore of vast cavern lake. Fishermen hauling in thrashing, whiskered catch that threatens to escape. they will chop it up, flense it and use its oil in lanterns that animate shadows - you can have one if you help them.
    19. Rickety Blackpool-style pier with carnival games extending into vast cavern lake. all the games are run by ghosts. You can win an evil teddy bear but if you lose the ghost gets your body and your spirit’s stuck here.
    20. Huge pipe organ on rocky island in vast cavern lake, being played by giant albino squid. She is married to Dracula. She loves puppets, music, drama, romance. she hates fake friends. She is lonely. The treasure of Atlantis is at the bottom of the lake, and she can fetch it.

    Thursday 13 June 2019


    Just got back from Aotearoa! Nice place. Here are some of the fairies we met and some we didn't

    Tīwakawaka is very small, about the size of your thumb. Her mask is white and black and a blush of gold. Her arms are tiny, little sticks waving pinprick weapons. She shouts and dances and makes much fuss but loves to laugh as well. She will follow you far, bothering and distracting, hungry for interference but darting away from your attention

    Kiwi is barely larger, as tall as your hand, or perhaps your father's long fingers. Her mask is white and she has no arms, just thick soft fur and clawed feet much stronger than you thought. She roams the forest tending quietly to streams and lichens, keeping a meticulous messy sort of order. She is curious, but cannot comprehend you. Watches you like a soap opera in another language, incomprehensible

    Koukou is bigger, the size of a large dog or half a head shorter than you. Her mask is black, with limpid living eyes holding hard your gaze. She can open wide her eyes and swallow the light, torches and candles and stars and moon vanishing down to cold pinpricks in the centre of her pupil. Her arms are a writhing mass of short thick feathers, squirming over the ground hunting bugs, wafting past her mouth to deliver food. She does not want to eat you, unless you are truly weak and pitiful, but will leap on to you to pick lice from your hair and leeches from your skin

    Kahu is as tall as a man or twice that. Her mask is golden, severe. She sways and hops in great bounds, razor talons stretching from long strong legs. She will eat carrion or live prey, it's all the same. To her you are already dead. Her arms are delicate feathers, coming out only to dance, a slow sombre falling, performed to and with her lover. If you are a truly gifted dancer you could pause her hunt, raise your arms and circle with her. Otherwise you should run, and hide, and pray

    Horowhenua is out of breath. He stares up at the sky, his great grandfather, with a squinting, screwed-up frown that promises a tantrum. When rain torrents or snow falls in fat flakes he will kick his mighty grey legs, squirming about on his back, and cause all manner of avalanches and landslides. For now he sucks his thumb. He is sad and grumpy. He misses his father. He's hungry too. Give him food, or shelter, or a cloud to cuddle and he might offer reluctant aid. Best though to avoid him, and if you hear his rumbling cries, take cover!

    Puia is sleeping. His cheeks flush with warm magma and his chest rises and falls peacefully. Even when not underground he clings tight to the earth, his great grandmother, tranquil when he can hear her breathe, feel her heartbeat, and share her dreams. The earth's dreams are too big for most people, who are trapped and swallowed in the darkest like the world is begun anew. Her grandchild's dreams are smaller. Games with his brothers, the dances of the birds, all the old stories of creation carved with a child's chisel. Poke your head in to his ear and you can watch and listen. Climb into his mouth and perhaps you could steal something, ancient dreamstuff or the more mundane fire from his heart. Do not wake him up.

    Wairere laughs and giggles, in six or thirty-six piping voices. His little bodies gather at the top of the cliff and jump. Flipping, diving, bombing, splashing wet on the ground and rising, still laughing with glee, burst into mist by his game. He loves meeting new people, teasing and cajoling, and adores being asked questions, though he never agrees with himselves. Most of all he loves watching people realise things they should have known already, and also slapstick. If you're funny or intriguing enough he may even pause his game, the waterfall drying up while a gaggle of jiggly wet bodies stare enraptured and argue with themself. Many lost treasures are said to be hidden in waterfall cloaked caves. But don't let him catch you striking gold! He'll want a look too and you're sure to get soaked.

    Pounamu is the youngest of his brothers, though of course he has been around the longest. His eyes bulge from his swollen head, his body a squatting foetus of more-than-human shape. When he moves his joints don't deign to flex, but instead the world bends around his mana. He is harder than any other stone, but light and clear, his green flecked with white and black, yellow and cream and sometimes red. He is a great lover of destiny, and if you see him he has likely bought a gift. Whatever it is; a tool, a weapon, an idol, a name, it has a story to unfurl fishhook-like into the world. It is likely to some day save your life, and just as likely to threaten it.

    Tawhai stands tall, her back bent and shoulders slumped, head angled to gaze serene at the forest floor. Or perhaps she is lying down, eyes half closed and smile not quite fading, with a dozen daughters budding from her long body and reaching fingers to the sun. Around her bustle a swarm of retainers. Pudgy mushroom bodies bump busily into each other, delivering parcels and bundled messages to root and hollow throughout the forest. You will need to be accounted for as well, once they bump into you. A perfunctory meeting with Tawhai herself, then a small coterie of servitors, to follow you about and ensure you don't start trouble

    Te Harore might escape your notice at first. Their tiny homes dot the sides of trees, vertical fields of green tended by wizened, lichen-haired farmers. Moss-draped warriors stand ready to be smooshed in defence of their homes. Elders dangle their feet from shelves of fungus and natter about the state of the world - the battles with birds and recalcitrant trees, the ongoing stalemate in the war between forests and ocean. Human problems aren't really their concern, being too fast and too big to get involved with, but human gossip they adore. Everyone who passes through the forest has been discussed, dissected and and dismissed, with great self-satisfaction. If you want to find out more about someone, you'll have to offer something new first, else it's back to the old wars, this year's harvest, and the size of cousin's sons (she must be so proud!)

    Kūmara hides in the dirt, leaving only his long hair trailing along the ground. His body is portly and powerful, so it will take much tugging to yank him up. And when you do, how the wailing begins. He is a coward, and knows he is delicious, so will say and do most of anything to keep your belly full of anything but him. He knows where all the best shelter is, where to find the driest firewood, and the paths of all the nastier spirits, which he avoids at all costs. Never convinced that he's safe from your plate, he makes a most attentive valet; wining, dining and tucking you into a safe warm bed, and then off he runs. The next morning you're back to hunting for his long hair, tangled in the weeds

    Patupaiarehe look almost like men. Taller, paler, with red hair and thin mocking voices. The fronds of their clothes, the wood of their homes, the barbs of their spears are all of the silver fern. During the night their skin catches the moon and it too turns silver. Never sure you've quite caught sight of them, you could follow their gleam safely to the edge of the forest. During the day they play flutes of human bone, haunting tunes that float on the edge of recognition, luring men to their death and children into the cookpots