Saturday, 11 September 2021

encounters in the blue desert


1. ASH PANTHER

Footprints of glass. Glows from within. Luminous sunspots piercing dusty black hide. Smells like dried flowers. Speaks all languages. 

Won't kill anything before offering a fair fight. Wrestling match against the strongest of the party, footrace against the fastest, contest of riddles against the wisest, etc. Will leave the completely worthless alone.

Always looking for new challenges. Will get very excited if you tell it about the Hero of Heroes.

2. REVERSE MEDUSA

Sad bald woman. Dents in head where the snakes burrow into her skull. You can see them peering out her eyes and mouth.

Any graven image that sees her comes to life. Only extremely well made works of art are happy about this. Posse of misshapen modernist flesh creatures hunting her down to kill her so they can revert to stone. Classical Adonis with one arm shorn cleanly off, trying to protect her.

Seeking a culture where images are religiously prohibited to settle down and lead a happy life.

3. PARADISE GHUL

Eats the flesh of the virtuous dead after their spirits ascend to Jannah. Takes the form of its most recent meal. Slowly becomes pallid, stringy-haired and emaciated as it starves.

Covertly guides people into leading virtuous lives, waits for their souls to achieve maximum purity, then waits under the bed or ambushes them in dark alleys. Considers this a good deed, since they're guaranteed to go to heaven. Impersonates them and repeats the cycle.

If encountered starving in the desert, will only attack the best person in the party.

4. MERCHANT HAND

Puffy white caricature of a person wrapped in fine silks. Like a styrofoam snowman. Orbited by dozens of floating hands. You buy you buy you buy!

Put an object into one hand. It will vanish into the floating silks. Another hand will spin back around and provide you with a random object that's worth marginally less, plus or minus 1d6 copper pieces. If you don't like it, try again!

Slaps you silly if attacked. Explodes into huge pile of trinkets if somehow killed.

5. PURPLE OGRE

Tusked purple giant. Covered in black bristles. Loves ugliness and the scent of rotting flesh. Claps its hands over its ears and howls at the sound of poetry.

Keeps its soul in a bottle hanging from a leather thong around its neck. Can't be killed in combat unless the bottle is broken. Severed limbs move autonomously. Likes to pluck off its own still-living head and juggle it.

Can grant the ability to talk to animals, on condition that you die if any human hears you doing it. Will use this to bargain for its bottle back.

6. NEEDLE WITCH

Anything she pierces with her iron needles becomes her slave. Current slaves include a lion, a philosopher and several irrelevant peasants.

Vain. Wears eyeshadow and very tall hats. Loves gambling. Happy to wager the freedom of her slaves at dice. Definitely flirting with you. Friendly and useful to have around. Will try to stab you with a needle at the first opportunity.

You can free her slaves by simply pulling out the needles. They're under orders to not let you do that.

7. BIRDOUINS

Bedouins with vulture heads. Hooked beaks jut from the shadows of their hoods. Flanks of their camels scarred by talons.

Harsh nomads who survive by raiding caravans. Attack with blood-curdling screeches, armed with primitive rifles. Crack open travellers' bones and share out the marrow within. Keep themselves scrupulously clean.

Famously hospitable. Won't turn away anyone who comes to them asking for shelter.

8. HOLIDAY UNCLE

Jolly old man with long silvery beard. Purple felt hat. Pointy slippers. Accompanied by cavorting hunchbacks in red silk, their faces painted black with soot.

Hands out presents to each member of the party. "Because you're such good boys!" A few hours later, you will walk into an elaborate ambush laid by the hunchbacks, who want to kidnap you and put you into sacks. The presents turn out to be exactly what you need to fight them off.

Only allowed to see his wife once a year, but she stays up late and always falls asleep before he gets there.

9. MISINFERNO

Premature flame baby in floating glass womb. Scowling old man face. Paws at the glass with tiny burning hands, crying to be born.

Unwanted child of a djinn, destined to grow into a city-destroying inferno. Grants one minor wish to anyone who helps deliver it, then disappears. Next time the PCs visit their favourite town, they find it burned to the ground.

Pursued by elemental abortionist with hooks of ice.

10. THE HERO OF HEROES

Brave and noble prince. Looking for something that can finally kill him. Wants to know if you can be that thing.

Horse the colour of rose petals. Suit of white tiger skin that makes him invulnerable to fire, water and weapons. Sword named Thirty Swords that is the embodiment of all swords everywhere, so sharp its cuts inflict no pain.

Can only be killed by his own son. Does not know he has a son. One of the PCs is secretly his son.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

13 Items

A world in 13 items. A very soothing exercise by way of Archon Smarchon, who further gestures to its origins.
  1. Tartan patch. Too small for a toga, but a bath towel, rucksack, picnic blanket, shawl or very fetching kilt
  2. Reel of tape. It's sticky, it's strong, it has a thousand and one uses.
  3. Flashbulb helmet. Works great on rats and roaches.
  4. Spring boots. Five minutes winding for one extremely unpredictable bound.
  5. Harpoon and winch. Clockwork gearings and polymer line ideal for climbing, hauling, whaling, skyfighting and more.
  6. Snail harness. Lots of nasty little barbs to stop it withdrawing.
  7. Pin rapier. Could be used for sewing, as well as swordfighting.
  8. Bug-in-a-box. A terrifying fire giant painted on the front, but the bug appears to be sleeping.
  9. Baked bean(s). The old beans used to take two hands to lift, but these new canned ones look like... small beans.
  10. Thimbleful of milk. It's as rich, creamy, heavy, heady, soporific as all the stories
  11. A brick of snuff, and a tiny, beautiful tin knife with which to cut and crush it.
  12. Elegant brushes of human hair, and stolen paints.
  13. Ampoule of perfume. Barely larger than you are, blessedly easy to carry but enough for a town.

Thursday, 11 February 2021

the manteion

 For Patrick's dungeon poem challenge.


1. MASK ROOM. Hundreds of different masks hanging on the walls. You hear muttering if you press your ear to the door, but it goes away once you open it. Putting on a mask slowly drains your personality and leaves you open to outside influence.

2. CHANGING ROOM. Benches and towels. Rows of wooden shelves containing moldy clothes, rusty weapons, purses with a few coins in them. A few dark smears across the polished floor. A naked corpse, missing its legs, collapsed in the corner.

3. THE GRACES. From left to right, a featureless pillar; a blocky, abstract humanoid; a naked woman; a skinless woman; a skeleton; an empty plinth. Each carved from stone. An altar in the centre, darkly smeared. Ritual oils and short knives.

4. MIRROR. Shadows lurk in the depths of a bronze mirror, taking up the whole eastern wall. They whisper riddles, telling you only the blind and faceless can pass onto the bridge. The weaker the light, the easier it is to hear them. While it's dark, the door is open.

5. BEACH. Bones scattered over the river's stony banks. A pale, wrinkled figure squats on the shore, trying to pry the smiling mask off his face. Skinless pink things like cave salamanders stir in the oily water. They attack if you try to help him.

6. ANOINTING HALL. Stepwell leads down to bubbling black water, edges worn away from years of pilgrims descending. Lengths of thick rope with a noose at one end, a heavy stone tied to the other, piled against the wall. Smells like gas.

7. LIBRARY. Papyrus scrolls piled in scroll-racks, holding thousands of cryptic prophecies. Not ordered or catalogued in any way. Skinless pink things slither among the racks, their masks the only indication of where their faces should be.

8. HALL OF PROPHECY. Naked corpses everywhere, slowly decaying. Water drips onto their upturned faces. Beetles scuttle in the dark. A pregnant woman in red rags wanders among them, holding a torch, singing to herself. She flees if she sees you.

9. SIBYL'S CHAMBER. Intensely hot. Volcanic gas bleeds from a crack in the floor, inducing nihilistic delirium and visions of the future that replace your memories. Hidden door leads to a stage. Finger-scrawls on the walls seem imbued with terrible meaning.

0. SANCTUARY. A cot with sweat-damp sheets. A few dried fish, a chamberpot and a bowl of water. A hidden window that looks out into the hall. A baby-sized golden mask under the cot, its cheeks fat and its eyes closed. The pink things won't let you leave with it.

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

timeline

 HADEAN EON (4.5 bya)

  • Solar system forms from cosmic dust.
  • Intelligent life develops on the lost planet Nibiru, beyond Neptune.
  • Annunaki civilisation flourishes, begins to colonise gas giants.
  • Presence of life attracts extrasolar predator Tiamat.
  • Oort cloud infested by Tiamat. Hadean War begins.
  • Annunaki scientists relocate Nibiru to inner ring of solar system.
  • Nibiru collides with Earth. Moon formed. Collapse of Annunaki civilisation.
  • Tiamat slain by Marduk, last king of the Annunaki. End of Hadean War.
  • Late Heavy Bombardment caused by distintegration of Tiamat's corpse.
  • Most surviving Annunaki retreat to lunar tomb-cities, enter cultural stasis.
  • Tiamatic material, seeded by meteors across inner system, evolves into first prokaryotes.

ARCHAEAN EON (4 bya)
  • Earth cools below the boiling point of water, allowing oceans to form.
  • Microbial mats populate the slimy shores of Vaalbara, the first continent, and begin to develop rudimentary self-awareness.
  • Great age of stromatolithic architecture. Psychic reefs and dreaming mountains play host to anaerobic shoggoth ecosystem.
  • Vaalbara fuses into one vast prokaryotic brain.
  • Quasi-human time refugees from the Anthropocene terraform and colonise Noachian Mars.
  • Martian seas run dry. 
  • Attempts to steal Earth's water lead to catastrophic war with Vaalbara.
  • Empire of Hungry Stone conquers inner system. 
  • Shoggoth legions begin the process of converting all matter into cognition slime.
  • Last of the Q-men infect Earth with blue-green bacteria bred in Tharsis plague pools. 
  • Vaalbara destroyed by Oxygen Holocaust.
PROTEROZOIC EON (2.5 bya)
  • First eukaryotes appear.
  • Chthonians evolve from subterranean protozoa.
  • Q-men descendants colonise newly-oxygenated Earth.
  • Surviving shoggoths retreat to bottom of sea, which remains anoxic.
  • Q-men cope with Huronian glaciation by evolving into photosynthetic yetis.
  • Frozen earth converted into temple. Ice mandalas etched on moons of Saturn.
  • Yetis pass a billion years in silent meditation upon the beauty of barren continents, then peacefully go extinct, except for handful of sorcerors who mummify themselves to await the dawn of a new eon.
PALAEOZOIC ERA (541 mya)
  • Emergence of complex multicellular life.
  • Elder blastoids populate Gondwana's warm, shallow seas.
  • Arrival of the Great Race, emigrants from a hostile future who project their consciousness into the bodies of hallucigenian worms.
  • Blastoid explorers make contact with the last shoggoths, lurking in sulphuric vents.
  • Foundation of Pnakotus, the basalt library-city, where worm-scholars write the history of the universe by kidnapping witnesses from across time.
  • Mi-go arrive from the Oort cloud, having evolved from cosmic parasites attracted to Tiamat's corpse. They colonise mountaintops and begin to experiment on fish.
  • Shoggoth army conquers Pnakotus, unleashing the contents of its time dungeons.
  • Early amphibians haunt the clubmoss forests, worshipping the god Pan in the form of a horned centipede.
  • P-T extinction event caused by blastoid-mi-go war.
MESOZOIC ERA (252 mya)
  • Amphibians evolve into serpent men.
  • Serpent men tame dinosaurs, build solar-powered cities in the desert.
  • Kardashev Type I civilisation developed.
  • Slave race of Q-men cloned from yeti gene banks.
  • Dyson swarm constructed around sun.
  • Kardashev Type II civilisation developed.
  • First contact made with Nordics and Zeta Reticulans.
  • Serpent men explore the galactic core and discover the singularity Azathoth.
  • Earth abandoned to breed new intelligent species for Azathoth's consumption.
  • Kardashev Type III civilisation developed.
  • Emancipated Q-men establish dinosaur kingdoms, start work on spaceflight.
  • Improperly maintained Dyson swarm component falls into erratic orbit and causes Chicxulub impact.
CENOZOIC ERA (66 mya)
  • Last dinosaurs preserved by chthonians in Hollow Earth.
  • Reanimated yeti sorceror founds Hyperborean empire.
  • Maps of past and future discovered in Pnakotic ruins, providing hard evidence of causal determinism.
  • Hyperborea declines into nihilism and sexual decadence.
  • Puritan cult of Tsathoggua sparks civil war.
  • Surviving Hyperboreans enter Hollow Earth, adapting to subterranean life.
  • Early whales develop collective dreaming capacity, begin to sculpt oneiric dimensions once occupied by Vaalbaran consciousness.
  • Continents settle into their current positions.
  • Atlantis and Lemuria grown from crystal seeds, colonised by primitive Q-men.
  • Zeta Reticulans make contact with Atlanteans, trading technology for a promise to guard their cetacean ancestors.
  • Earliest hominids evolve in Africa.
  • Multiple intelligent species attempt to guide human evolution, leading to the Ape Wars.
  • Atlantis and Lemuria destroyed. Survivors flee to the Americas.
  • Human civilisation develops in fertile river valleys, subtly guided by serpent men.
  • Rings of Saturn constructed as means of social control.
  • The present day.

Friday, 22 January 2021

people you'll meet in cairo

  1. Dr. Emily Quibbell. Egyptologist. Easily flustered. Constantly misplacing her glasses. Possibly autistic. Too busy thinking about the Old Kingdom to listen to whatever you're trying to say. Bad habit of accidentally summoning ancient gods.
  2. Colonel Horatio Bump. Retired British Army officer. Walrus moustaches. Thick neck. Hangs out in gentleman's clubs all day complaining about the natives. Full of colonial stories. Weakness for gin and Arab boys in eyeliner.
  3. Milton Prescott. Rich American tourist. Owns a soap factory in Milwaukee. Says "Gosh!" and "Gee willikers!" to everything. Wears a checked suit. Hangdog expression. Not sure why penniless young women keep trying to seduce him.
  4. Lady Cynthia Traverse. Horrible old dowager. Reduces hotel staff to tears over a forgotten icecube or a stained napkin. Dangerously clever and vindictive. Widely rumoured to have murdered her husband. Secretly pursuing his real killer.
  5. J. J. Leavitt. Journalist for a top American newspaper. Pushy. Loud. Boastful. Offers everyone cigars. Tries to bribe people you can't actually bribe. Can't get in to see the tomb opening he's here to cover, and deeply pissed off about it.
  6. Countess Nina Belenova. White Russian émigré. Escaped Odessa with her grandmother's diamond necklace in a box, one step ahead of the revolutionaries. Translates for a living. Bleak sense of humour. Interested in Hyperborea. Occult friends.
  7. Bruno Colombo. Wealthy Italian playboy and daredevil. Pencil moustache. Flies biplanes. Gambles recklessly. Secretly a dangerous anarchist, responsible for the bombing of a Roman bank and the death of three policemen.
  8. Dr. Ruben Ghazarian. Self-proclaimed spiritual teacher who claims to have learned tantric secrets from the White Masters of Tibet. Followed by excitable young students who hang on his every word. On the run from the tax office.
  9. Jules Pichon. Private detective. Silly little Frenchman with a head shaped like an egg. Master of criminology and psychology. Pretending to be on holiday. Secretly on the trail of the international jewel thief known as the Sparrow.
  10. Constance Fairweather. Frivolous flapper in cloche hat. Listens to jazz and dances till dawn. Claims to have inherited a fortune from dear old Uncle Charlie. Secretly the international jewel thief known as the Sparrow.
  11. Jim Hyde. Failson from a good family. Opium addict and low-grade conman. Hangs round hotels cadging drinks off tourists, trading off his education and good breeding to sell fake artifacts at bargain prices. Lives in a filthy apartment near the souk.
  12. Lenny Logan. Aussie digger left over from the Great War. Still has the bullet wounds from Gallipoli. Flies a small plane full of smuggled cigarettes, booze and the occasional mummy. Friends among the Bedouin. Cheerful and ruthless.
  13. Musa Mwembe. Enormously fat Ugandan man who runs a crime ring from a Turkish bath. Floats in perfumed steam, up to his nipples in warm water, eating figs from a golden platter. Loads his friends with gold, drowns his enemies.
  14. Omar Hegazi. Crooked local politician. Fat. Wears a fez. Always smiling. Three wives and at least a dozen children running round his feet. Knows everyone and gets a cut of everything. Throws lavish parties at which people sometimes disappear.
  15. Captain Fareed Zulficar. Officer of the Cairo police. Completely humorless. Unbribeable. Brilliant detective. Despises Westerners and will take any opportunity to punish one, as long as it's entirely within the bounds of the law.
  16. Ismail Gamal. Idealistic young lawyer. Dreams of overthrowing the British empire and replacing it with a pan-Arabic socialist state. Defends rioters in court. Writes for small, angry journals. Secret love affair with wife of British official.
  17. Selim Shafei. Hotel concierge. Enormously dignified. Polite but not obsequious. Loves his hotel and will defend its reputation to the death. Will go to any lengths for the comfort of a guest. Proud of his very fine suits. Underpaid.
  18. Zainab Ammar. Nightclub owner. Gold rings. Heavy eyeshadow. Aging as gracefully as she can manage. Stages the most risqué shows in town. Runs back rooms where highly specific tastes are catered to. Possessive of the girls and boys in her employ.
  19. Leila Kanaan. Cabaret singer. Sultry and mysterious. Likes to hint at tragic past and romantic liaisons with European royalty. Rumoured to have sold her soul to a djinn of the deep desert in exchange for wealth and fortune. Lies a lot.
  20. Cyrus Mohebbi. Stage magician. Claims to perform Zoroastrian fire sorcery, conjuring doves out of flames. Sweaty. Balding. Won't admit he's losing his touch, no matter how badly he burns his assistants. Would like to cast one real spell before he quits.
  21. Aam Salama. Oriental dancer. Does a nightclub act with a three-metre-long African rock python named Boris, painted gold and wearing a Cleopatra headdress, acting out the battle between the sun god Ra and the serpent Apophis. Sarcastic. Smokes.
  22. Abdu Ali Hassan. Small stout merchant operating from a carpet stall in the souk. Oleaginous. Wants you to invest in his new guaranteed get-rich-quick scheme. Always in debt. Can get you anything, but will probably blackmail you about it.
  23. Reem el-Sherbini. Fortune teller and spirit medium. Patronised by rich Westerners who believe in Oriental magic. Floaty scarves. Incense. Crystal ball. Terrified that actual ghosts will find out about her fake seances and punish her.
  24. Nour Anwar. Folk healer and apothecary. Little shop in the souk full of herbs, amulets, bones, mummy powder and reptiles floating in jars. Gossipy. Earns most of her income from covertly selling rhino-horn erection pills to British officers.
  25. Thomas Abdallah Aziz. Bookseller. Absent-minded. Shop in the old city cluttered with everything from detective paperbacks to medieval manuscripts. Knows all of history but forgets the names of his grandkids.
  26. Waleed Mostafa. Pushy tour guide. Won't take no for an answer. Tells you the whole story of wherever you're standing, then asks you to pay for it. Insists he's always right, even when contradicted by history books.
  27. Yasmin Ezz. Expert forger. Sensitive eyes. Hates bright light. Works mostly by touch. Long nimble fingers. Used to be a seamstress. Rarely leaves the cramped apartment above her son's grocery store, full of cats and half-completed relics from fictional tombs.
  28. Ibrahim el-Din. Half-blind old cleric with a long white beard who wanders the streets barefooted. Beloved by the city's poor, who won't let him come to any harm. Expert in Sufi mysticism and Islamic law, which he uses to judge beggars' disputes.
  29. Malak. Cheeky little street urchin of indetermine gender. Picks your pocket and runs into dark alleyway where the rest of the gang awaits. Bare feet covered in weeping sores. Has a knife. Expects to be ruthlessly beaten if caught. Genuinely dangerous.
  30. Dawada. Queen of the beggars. No legs. Skin diseases. Goes around on little trolley, pushing herself with strong arms, asking for alms. Nobody refuses her twice. Hides a fortune in gold at her stronghold in the Cairo Necropolis.

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

the catch + real live dinosaur

Written a couple of short horror stories recently. Putting them in one place for your convenience.

The Catch is about creepy things happening in a small English coastal village, which in my view is one of the best things a story can be about. Reused some Marcher Lords content for this. I'm still fixated on weird Celtic mythology and want to do more with it. Also Brexit is involved so it's topical.

Real Live Dinosaur is a creepypasta I posted to r/nosleep. Collective online horror fiction interests me, and was a big inspiration for the Black Auction post I just did. I know even the best creepypastas tend to be slightly shit, but that's part of the charm. Want to do a few more of these in the future.

And here is a podcast episode I did with my friend Jo on why the novel sucks so much these days and what can be done about it. I have a whole socialist podcast I do if you're interested in that kind of thing.

The common thread here is the interplay between the "official" system for publishing fiction, which controls what books you read and what movies you watch, and which has become stultifyingly conservative over recent years, and the weird online stuff that blossoms in the cracks and that nobody has yet figured out how to capture in boring solid prose. How come there's writers out there who did six blog posts and disappeared, who have been read by perhaps a thousand people ever, who are obviously more talented than anyone who's published a novel in the last decade? Increasingly creeped out by this question.

Edit: Youtuber Uncle Koko did a reading of Real Live Dinosaur on his channel, check it out.