Friday, 20 May 2016

Slow Lands

The people on the borders of the Slow Lands think of Heaven as a beautiful ruin slowly surrendering to time, slipping from the fierce but brief ambitions of man into the endless flow of nature, where the ghosts all sleep and the city is reincarnated into its own green dream, where everyone and everything is resting and content, preparing to become something else.

They think of Hell as a busy, acetylene-lit city with mirrored black streets where everything runs on a 24-hour schedule and everyone is late and everyone is tired and trapped and permanently awake.

The paddy farmers, cormorant-fishermen, hippo-holders (and avoiders) and miniphant-ranchers might rhapsodise about the Slow Lands in poem and song, they might set their slow shadow plays there and make them the origins of their slow myths, they might talk about the beauty of mysterious Slow Maidens who are found sleeping in giant lilies drifting down to the River of Drowned Queens, or remark on the wisdom of the Slow Monks, but its a thing about Heaven that everyone there is dead. They don't actually go there. That shit is dangerous.

You can go there, and you might, because the Slow Lands are full of cities being slowly overrun, the relics of the Silent Kingdoms, and because dragons are rumoured to sleep in caverns beneath the black hills and because the lazy Crocodiles that haunt the black bridges have dungeons in their memories with remembered treasures and remembered time.

The sun is an ellipsis in the Slow Lands, it never reaches high into the sky but rolls along the horizon in a shallow arc and takes a long, long time in going down, like a creeping snooker ball.

The dawn light comes in pink. By noon the sun is at its apogee, 35 degrees above the horizon and a nearly-bright red-gold for about an hour, then it slowly rolls along the black hills turning to scabbed-blood red before it dips down. The shadows are always long here. The moon is always bright and close.

There are slow storms in the Slow Lands, you can see them coming from a long way off. Slow rain falls slowly, you can see it hanging in the air, and sometimes slow cyclones swoosh through the weeping willows like a mop. (The Cyclones are still pretty fast, their winds move at the speed of a running man.) There is slow lightning in the slow storms, bright curtain-rails of light snap slowly through the dank sky like fluorescent light bulbs coming on. The naked eye can see the white lines scrabbling through the air over the span of three to five seconds before linking up and slowly fading out like a deactivated grill. Then the slow thunder rolls over the land like slow titanic dubstep, ultra low-frequency grumbles and churls.

The slowness of the rain means that slow, low-angle rainbows are common in the Slow Lands, though the light is so slow here and the sun so red that sometimes rainbows split the light into a weird and bloody spectrum.

The Slow Lands are wet and not-quite swamp. The soil itself is dry but a thousand becks and rivulet-rivers run through the country. All of them were bridged by silent rulers long ago and you are rarely free from the low chuckling as the slow streams run over abandoned locks, breach broken fish-mazes or speed up (very slightly) when channelled through sandstone races under bridges of black stone. If you drop a leaf into a beck in the Slow Lands and walk on, after a day, or two, it might catch you up and you'll see it again in the stream.

Down beneath the bridges are the sleeping Crocodiles, paused, waiting in the slow water. The Crocodiles are highly intelligent and very lazy. They hate to leave the water and are quite prepared to wait. Perhaps, in a year or two, a Dodo or Koala will slip and fall into the stream. The Crocodiles bite once and, without turning over, sink to the bottom and allow the prey to drown. All things come in time.

Some of the oldest Crocodiles will even let you in labyrinth of their minds, if you bring them something particular to eat.

The forests are eucalyptus, oak, bamboo and weeping willow and they are full of Gigantic Sloths, Orang-utans, Gigantic Apes, Pandas, Huge Tortoises and every kind of Snail. There are midge-clouds in the shadows of the hanging trees and though the midges themselves are fast black dots, the clouds of them never seem to move. Where it is damp there is malaria. Where it is dry there are Gila Monsters. On the plains there are Brontosaurs. The common birds are Woodcocks, whose rapid flight is slightly faster than a walking man, Dodos, and Vultures which hang motionless in the slow air and never seem to move. The streams and rivers hold Leeches, Sleeping Eels and Manatees, as well as the intelligent Crocodiles.

At night, the woods glow like stolen cutlery, the brooks and rivers shine like the tracks of tears and silver flowers uncurl and follow the moon across the starry sky. Fat Moon-Bees and Blundering Moths drift across the forest to pollinate the silver flowers. Gigantic bioluminescent aliens emerge from the black hills and float down into the valleys like Portuguese Men-O-War, draping paralysing toxic tentacles through the branches and sweeping the woods like terror cops. Anything alive they touch; they seize and pull slowly up into the sky to feed upon.

More lights come from the slow Slow-Lorismen who hoist pale lanterns above the shells of their moving tortoise-villages. Called 'Slow Monks' by the River-People, they are the only civilised (or near-civilised) creatures to survive the Slow Lands. The slow Slow-Loris-Men have seen the fall of Silent Kingdoms and may know much. Perhaps the Slow magics of the Speechless Kings lives on in them.

The slow Slow-LorisMen are sombre, serious and calm, but they cannot forgive a slight. They are increadibly cute and they HATE TO BE TICKLED. DO NOT FUCKING TICKLE THEM SERIOUSLY. Even slow Slow-LorisMen find slow Slow-LorisMen cute and they have to suppress a continual urge to tickle each other. This has leant their culture a sharp asceticism.

Should a slow Slow-LorisMan fall victim to 'The Urge', they will never be forgiven. They are merciless and prideful creatures. The perpetrator must be banished to live upon a giant sloth (unpleasant), if groups fall victim to The Urge, savage tickle-wars can break out, leading to deep sectarian divides. Entire tortoise-villages are spit down the centre into two opposing groups who will neither address or acknowledge each other. This can go on for decades, perhaps centuries.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Projective Geometries

From "The Ice" by Stephen Pyne

(You might remember that I looked at his book "Fire on the Rim" earlier.

"The shelf not only simplifies atmospheric processes but distills even the appearance of the ice shelf to new minima. Only clouds or ice crystals in the air intervene between sunlight and snow plain. Frequently - more often closer to the ice front than distant from it - low clouds obscure the sky for days or, when storms approach, strong surface winds whip loose snow into blizzards. The icescape becomes uniformly opaque. The sun is visible as a dull glow, an iridescent cloud, or a radiant disk of light diffracted through the cloud deck into, at most, the aureole of a corona. But when the clouds part, thin, or rise, the interaction of light and ice can produce a marvellous array of optical effects. these phenomena are not unique to Antarctica, but on The Ice they are characteristic. There are few competing effects, as there are outside the polar regions, to overpower them. Even the diurnal effects of sunrise and sunset, and the ,multiple positions of the sun as it arches across the sky, are slowed and reduced to a single annular cycle. For much of the polar year there is only daylight; for much, only night; and for the rest, varying degrees of twilight. The Sun remains low in the sky, enhancing the importance of the surface layer of air. With common atmospheric processes stripped to the bare essentials, the optical effects of light on sky and surface increasingly dominate the scene. Alone, these atmospheric displays populate and inscribe a geometric order on an otherwise boundless, barren sky. Their esthetic appeal is immense.

Some of the displays are the direct result of sunlight or moonlight on ice crystals in the sky as well as on the surface. The intensity and angle of incident light interact with the shape, orientation, and abundance of these crystals to inspire a host of dazzling optical phenomena. The effects are simplest for snow cover, which merely reflects the incident sunlight. The high albedo of Antarctic snow and ice explains the development of a temperature inversion near the surface and the lack of surficial melting, but it is also responsible for the blinding brightness of the Antarctic surface. So overpowering is this brightness that moonlight and starlight are often preferable to sunlight and give the polar night an enchantment altogether lacking in the polar day. Occasionally, becasue of partial sublimation or becasue of recrystallization, the surface crystals grow into elongated plates and filigree patterns of hoarfrost. The surface is dusted with millions of infinitesimal mirrors and prisms. But the most dramatic of optical effects involve ice crystals in the air, crystals that may or may not be organized as clouds. Especially in the interior, the simply saturate the air, even under cloudless skies. These fine crystals - diamond dust - simultaneously reflect, refract, and diffract light into both single and compound forms.

The colours and patterns that result depend in part on the characteristics of the crystals and in part on the orientation of the crystal to the source of the light and to the observer. On all counts there is considerable variety. Ice crystals can assume many habits, they can fall through the air in various ways, and they can be viewed from several perspectives. The diffraction of light through this sheen of ice prisms creates coronas, aureoles, and cloud iridescence. Refraction inspires other, more geometric effects; halos - 22-degree, 46-degree, and circumscribed; arcs - Parry, Lowitz, upper-tangent, circumzenithal, circumhorizontal, superlateral, infralateral, and contact, a parahelia - colloquially known as sun dogs or false suns (or paraselenae, if the light source is the Moon). All show regular patterns of light and colour as the incident light is bent by ice prisms of different sizes, shapes, and motions. The 22-degree halo, for example, requires randomly oriented crystals; the parahelia, plate crystals falling with their base level to the horizon; upper-tangent arcs, pencil crystals. But these same ice crystals also reflect light. After first being refracted or reflected within the crystals, incident light bounces off their outer sides and ends, their interior sides and ends, and their interior sides. A spectacular, abstract art results: vertical streaks of light, sun pillars; concentrations of light into subsuns; partial arcs and circles, parhelic circles, subsun dogs (22-degree subparahelia), subparahelic circles, 120-degree parahelia and paraselenae; and, in a direction opposite the light source, anthelic arcs, anthelic pillars, and anthelions. Thus a single atmospheric display may combine several patterns of reflection and refraction into a compendium of light geometry.

During IGY a display was observed in which most of the sky was simultaneously inscribed with circles, arcs, streaks, and concentrations of light that represented the concatenation of a dozen separate optical phenomena. Among refractions there were 22- and 46-degree halos, Parry arcs, parhelia, a parhelic circle, and a circumzenithal arc; and among reflections, the sun pillar, anthelic pillar, subanthelic arcs, and heliac arcs. At the South Pole, ensembles of optical effects have been photographed that include the 22- and 46-degree halos, 22-degree parhelia, a parhelic circle, an upper-tangent arc, an upper-suncave Parry arc, and a circumzenithal arc. During a sledging journey over the Barrier, Edward Wilson observed a display that involved "no less than nine mock suns ... and arcs of fourteen or more different circles, some of brilliant white light against a deep blue sky, others of brilliant rainbow." Apsley Cherry-Garrard includes a passage from Bowers's diary hat describes "a splendid parahelia exhibition ... [with] a 22' halo, with four mock suns in rainbow colours, and outside this another halo in complete rainbow colours. Above the sun were the arcs of two other circles touching these halos, and the arcs of the great all-round circle could be seen faintly on either side. below was a dome-shaped glare of white which contained an exaggerated mock sun, which was as dazzling as the sun itself. Altogether a fine example of a pretty common phenomenon down here." Byrd recorded an ensemble of atmospherics that occurred on the Barrier when "the air suddenly became charged with ice crystals, which fell like rain."  Haloes, arcs, mock suns, sun pillars, an anthelion - all proliferated until the air thickened into an obscuring grey. In fact, sunlight and crystals are indiscriminate: every refraction and reflection that can occur does occur. What is actually seen depends on the location of the observer relative to the display.

The Ice affects light indirectly, too, through the powerful surface inversion it creates. The atmosphere stratifies into layers of air, each of which has a different density. Light passes through each of these layers at a different velocity. One effect - most pronounced at sunset - is to stratify and segregate the incident light as it passes at low angles through the atmosphere. Normally, sunlight is bent and slowed as the sun sets, distorting the outline of the sun and shifting its colour to the red end of the spectrum. In Antarctica these effects are accentuated: the reddening sun appears to consist of rectangles stacked one upon the other. Where the inversion is strong, sunlight may be ducted in a series of waves along the upper boundary of the inversion, and the distortion of the sun may be dramatic - the Novaya Zemlya mirage. The refraction affects colours too. A distinct twilight wedge, a flexed prism of light arching over the submerged sun; earth shadows, an inverse crepuscular ray that likewise bends across the sky; layers of pastel blues and reds that wash in bands across the horizon; the famous green flash of the sunset - all typify the low-angle solar phenomena that are enhanced by the awesome surface inversion."

Monday, 9 May 2016

Old-School Queen Class

This is my attempt at a Queen class for LotFP and other Old School games, based on the Queens in Christine de Pizan's 'City of Ladies'. (It's mainly the crafty, sneaky version, the martial version would be a different thing I think.)

A Queen gains levels like a Thief.

In LotFP a Queen has a 5 in 6 capacity in two unique skills; King-Secreting and Cross Dressing.

King Secretion - If the Queen has her King (see below) with her, she is an expert in secreting or disguising him in almost any conceivable manner or way so long as it is at least vaguely within the bounds of reality. She might dress him as a maid, hide him in a log or carpet or almost anything else.

Cross Dressing - If she has the clothes or materials with her, the Queen can disguise herself as a man with an incredible degree of effectiveness. All the negative effects of her beauty will still be in effect and will now apply equally to both genders though some would-be paramours may be too confused or repressed to immediately act on their feelings.

Though she has no spells, during play she can learn to cast Ritual magic in settings where that is a thing.

Every Queen is Queenly, Feeble and hot.

Every Queen comes garbed in the robes of Queendom and is clearly identifiable as a Queen if she wishes to be so. If she acts and speaks in a Queenly way no one reasonable will doubt her status or nature.

Weak and Feeble*
A Queen rolls 2d6+2 for her Strength, she does this regardless of what any other character is rolling, whether male or female.

So long as she is declaring herself as a Queen she never has to roll for high-status treatment from any civilised people. She always has Charisma 18 from simply being royal though for  the precise nature of her beauty, roll a d6;

1. Afflicted.
2-3. Beautiful.
4-5. Superlative.
6. Renowned.

An Afflicted Queen has some minor but strange physical flaw like a second row of teeth or a lazy eye. This is looked on by most people with deep sympathy and the Queen is well thought of for bearing with her affliction. She is treated like a normal person of high status and rolls charisma tests as normal. She is not excessively bothered by mad knights, transformed demigods, pervy wizards or fucking bards.

A Beautiful Queen can test her CHA against large groups like armies & mobs  and against otherwise hostile people, like assassins sent to kill her.

A Superlative Queen can also test her CHA against otherwise automatically-hostile monsters.

A Renowned Queen can also test her CHA against natural forces & divine beings.

Any Queen more beautiful than afflicted cannot fail a Charisma test against a male (and 5% of females), they simply get unwanted effects. If a Queen rolls a fail on a CHA test against a man (or an army, assassin, monster or natural force) then roll on the table below using a die size depending on the Queens beauty level. (With women roll normally and roll below if a 1 is the result or of they are clearly gay.)

Beautiful - d4
Superlative - d6
Renowned -  d8

1. They proposition the Queen OR a Bard arrives whichever is worse.
2. They stalk the Queen.
3. They Declare Their Love OR a Knight appears and does the same, whichever is worse.
4. They propose marriage. If the target is already married, they promise to divorce, if the Queen is, they may try to kill her husband.
5. A Jealous Spouse or Partner arrives.
6. They try to abduct the Queen or a Creepy Wizard arrives and tries the same, whichever is worse.
7. A Fight Breaks Out OR they attempt suicide from thwarted desire, whichever is worse.
8. It's a rapey transformed demigod trying to bone the Queen. If this has happened before then it's the same one as last time.

Queens generally have both a King and a large amount of treasure..

The King!
A Queen never does anything for herself, she does it all for the King. She either has the King and is trying to get them back on the throne or she is looking for the King to then get them back to the throne. The King is (roll a d12);

1. Ancient Father - lost
2. Ancient Father - banished
3. Ancient Father - imprisoned
4. Ancient father - He's here and he's an idiot
5. Small Child - very small, he's 5.
6. Small Child - stolen by witches/a goddess/elves.
7. Small Child - she's 8 months pregnant.
8. Grown Child - He's an idiot.
9. Husband - with her, he's an idiot.
10. Husband - imprisoned somewhere.
11. Husband - ensorceled by a witch somewhere.
12. Husband - lost on quest.

If a Queen is found committing any non-lethal crime and its clear she is doing it to protect the King, in any civilised society, she will get away with it. In fact most people will applaud her for her bravery. Sometimes this can even apply to lethal crimes, if she can give a good speech about it.

Treasure Train
Every Queen begins the game with a large amount of treasure made up of heavy chests of gold and silver, precious tapestries, paintings, delicate china, furniture, an extremely rare and entirely untameable animal in a cage, at least one large musical instrument like a piano and, of course, a crown. This is found, with the Queen, lying on the side of the road.

To begin with this treasure is worth 100,000 gp. Gaining this treasure does not help PC's gain XP but all PC's who assist the Queen collectively gain 1% of the treasures value in XP for very day they keep it in her hands.

She has no-one to help carry it.

Someone is usually after this treasure, (probably the usurpers, see below) if they aren't now, they will be soon.

Every Queen comes from a real and identifiable Kingdom somewhere on the edge of the map. She has been usurped by one of the following;

1.Evil Uncle.
2.Democratic Mob.
3.Hot Sorceress.
5.Dragon or equivalent.
6.Creepy Theocracy.

The usurpers have agents after her and will have to be defeated if she is going to get her Queendom back.

*It's a quote, look it up.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

The City of Ladies

This book is so interesting that I'm probably going to have to do it in two posts. This one and one to see if I can D&Dify it.


The City of Ladies is a book created as a counter-blast to chauvinism, woman-hatred and patriarchy.

(Well, not quite Patriarchy in the modern sense. Christine is someone living at the centre of her society and who believes in the stated values of that society, she isn't a revolutionary, except  in the same way that anyone who believes in people living by the most heroic standards of their own culture is a kind of revolutionary becasue most societies depend on people not doing that).

The writer, Christine de Pizan, is sitting alone in her study when she picks up a book, one of many with a poor opinion of women. She is so depressed by this and by things like this that she falls into sorrow;

"'Alas God, why did you not let me be born in the world as a man? ...' I spoke these words to God in my lament and a great deal more for a very long time in sad reflection, and in my folly I considered myself most unfortunate becasue God had made me inhabit a female body in this word."

Upon this thought, Christine is visited by three crowned women, supernatural entities (though Christine does not believe in the supernatural), and Virtues incarnated in human form, these are Reason (who carries a mirror), Rectitude (who carries a ruler) and Justice (who carries a golden vessel).

These three women tell Christine that they are here to assist her in creating The City of Ladies, which is a metaphorical city or argument, a kind-of highly imagined supernatural city in which various ladies will be invited to live, and also this book. The rest of the work is a conversation between Christine and the virtues about the various women who will live in, and make up, the City of Ladies.


Of particular and immediate interest (to me anyway) is the power and incarnation of heroism as a response to moral chaos, and how this seems to mirror the generation of the heroic tales of the Arthurian Mythos.

Mallory, sitting alone in his cell during a civil war, dreams of unity and order and chivalry.

The Welsh chroniclers, pushed back to the mountains by the Saxons, dream of their war-leader and redeemer.

Christine, oppressed by misogyny and patriarchy, brings into being heroines of superlative (and specific) power, and with them builds an argument which is a list of heroines. The City of Ladies is a list of great and remarkable things that women have done, and not in a general sense, but the particular. Tales of individual, named, women and their deeds.

And like a lot of heroic myths it's brilliant, imaginative, emotionally powerful, carefully and almost obsessively delineated and very slightly nuts.

When someone builds a list of heroes, not just general heroes but ones brought forth to meet a powerful need, they show you the inside of their head. And like someone improvising music, becasue they are concentrating so ferociously and absolutely on their creation, they show you much more of the inside of their head than they probably thought they would.

And the inside of Christine de Pizan's head is weeeeiiirrrrrd.

An Ideal

Christine has an ideal. An ideal vision of womanhood, of what women are and could be. (Probably every feminist or near-feminist writer has one in a quiet or half-regarded way, but you will rarely find them stating it with such specific passion.)

The ideal Pizanian woman is;

  • Learned.
  • Honourable.
  • Loyal.
  • Brave.
  • Compassionate.
  • Beautiful (but not vain).
  • A murderer or mass-murderer.
  • Under a terrifying level of self-control.
  • Christian, or at least has a good excuse why she isn't.
  • Utterly in love with her husband/father/child (and preferably no-one else).
  • An inventor (preferably of an entire subject or schema of knowledge).
  • Either a virgin or married.
  • Independently Wealthy.
  • Family-minded.
  • Lateral-thinking.
  • Cunning.
  • NOT supernatural.
  • Royal.
  • Tall.
  • And Blonde.

In short, the ideal Pizanian woman is a lot like Christine de Pizan.

And the ideal Pizanian woman lives in a Pizanian history. And a Pizanian history is one in which there are NO GODS BUT ONE. AND YES I MEAN TO GOD OF ABRAHAM. THE ONLY REAL ONE.

There are also no monsters, very few supernatural events except for ones allowed by god, no lesbians, no sluts and no crazy bitches.

And if written history disagrees with Christine de Pizan and keeps saying that these things did happen, then written history is just going to have to get out of the way. Christine does not want any of that clap-trap cluttering up the City of Ladies.

A woman who acts crazy or slutty is acting against her own nature. All women have Reason inside them, they are naturally, inherently reasonable and not listening to that inner voice or force means acting against your gender.

These are just the stories I recognised but I'm pretty sure there are more;

Sappho - lesbianism not mentioned.

Medea - being fucking crazy not mentioned.

Circe - apparently a completely reasonable Queen who only changed people into animals through misunderstanding but it all got sorted out.

Minerva - "a maiden of Greece and surnamed Pallas. This maiden was of such excellence of mind that the foolish people of that time, because they did not know who her parents were and saw her doing things which had never been done before, said she was a Goddess descended from Heaven"

Ceres - a wise woman who invented agriculture and WHO WAS NOT A GODDESS.

Isis - same deal but Egyptian, invented gardening.

Arachne - invented dying wool. Seriously Christine?

Ops, Queen of Crete - "This lady was the daughter of Uranus, an extremely powerful man in Greece" yeah, real fucking powerful "Either with her wits or through ruse she succeeded in saving her three sons, Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto, from death....during her lifetime the acquired such a great reputation through the knowledge and authority of her children that foolish people called her a goddess and mother of gods"

Penelope, Wife of Ulysses - Same story told from the wife’s perspective, but Pizanified, Ulysses omni-gender mass-murder left out of the picture.

Europa - "daughter of the Phoenician Agenor, became quite famous because Jupiter, who loved her, named a third of the world after her. It should be remembered that various lands, cities and towns have been named after many women, just like England, after a woman named Angela, and many others."

Medusa - "according to the ancient stories, was of such striking beauty that not only did she surpass all other women - which was an amazing and supernatural thing - but she also attracted to herself, because of her pleasing appearance - her long and curly blond hair spun like gold, along with her beautiful face and body - every mortal creature upon whom she looked so that she seemed to make people immovable."

Incredible women being blonde is a thing with Christine. No other hair colour is mentioned in the whole book.

Censorious Muse

Part of the reason this is interesting to me is how much it reminds me of modern internet gender-wars stuff. It's a kind of tone of thought that begins with wanting to return women to history where they might not have been fully recorded, goes on to a quite-liberal version of history, kind of like a John Green history where everything is rational and reasonable and mistakes are unfortunate things that happened in the past and there's not real fire or blood or madness in there, everything can be explained, then finally just goes 'fuck it' and re-writes and overwrites a dark, inexplicable or unpleasant reality with the way things should have been.

It's a strange but potent mixture of rather whiggish liberalism, censoriousness and almost insanely-obsessive reasonableness.

It sounds strange to say you can be 'insanely reasonable', but that's what Christine is. She could have just accepted that the greek tales were reporting myths and repeated them as fiction, but that wouldn't have been enough for her. They had to be history, real history, misunderstood by its first recorders but revealed and explained by Christine.

It takes a staggering amount of intellectual energy and really strangely-employed imagination to actively remove the imagination from history. To not just de-mythologise it, but to un-mythologise it, turning it inside out.

You Can Be A Killer Too

You can't be a slut or a weirdo or an ancient goddess in the City of Ladies, but one thing you can be is; INCREDIBLY VIOLENT.

Remember when you read these that the voice describing them is Reason incarnate. These are some of the first remarkable women in the City of Ladies, the foundation is, apparently, murder;

Seramis - Married and fucked her own son, but according to Reason this is OK as "she wanted no other crowned lady in her Empire beside herself", "it seemed to her that no man was worthy to have her as wife except her own son" and "at this time there was no written law, and people lived according to the law of Nature, where all people were allowed to do whatever come into their hearts without sinning"

The Amazons - "advanced on their enemies and laid waste to their lands with fire and sword"

Synoppe - "could never be sated in the attacking and conquering of different lands. She soundly revenged her mother by having all the inhabitants of the country where he mother was killed put to the sword"

Thamiris - "Out of anger over the death of one of her beloved sons whom she had sent to Cyrus, she did not wish to take pity on him. First, she had all his barons beheaded in front of him, and then she told him, 'Cyrus, because of your cruelty, you were never sated with men's blood. Now you can drink all you want.' And then she had his head severed and thrown into a bucket in which she had collected the blood of his barons. Penthesila - falls in love with Hector through reputation only. Leads her army to Troy, so upset at finding him dead that she swears immediate revenge on the Acheans. "although she defended herself boldly, they smashed through her armour and struck off a large quarter of her helmet. Pyrrhus was there, and seeing her bare head with its blonde hair, dealt her such a blow that he split open her head and brain."

Zenobia - "As soon as she was even slightly strong, no one could keep her from leaving the residence of walled cities, palaces, and royal chambers in order to live in the woods and forests, where, armed with sword and spear, she eagerly hunted wild game. After stags and hinds, she began to fight with lions and bears and all other wild beasts which she would attack fearlessly and conquer marvellously." Marries, conquers, husband dies. "she bravely and valiantly took possession of the empire on behalf of her children, who were still small. She placed herself on the royal throne as empress, took over the government, exercised great strength and care.."

Artemisa - Tricks invading army into city centre, surrounds and massacres them, steals their ships and uses them to successfully counter-invade their home city by stealth

Lilia - sees her son fleeing from battle; "the lady, overcome with great anger, lifted up the front of her dress and said to him 'Truly dear son you have nowhere to flee unless you return to the womb from which you came."

Fredegund - To inspire the army, she rides ahead of them with her son, the naked, baby, infant king held up in her arms.

Berenice - "When, during a battle in the course of this struggle, the uncle killed two of his nephews, that is, this lady's son, she was so grieved that her anger purged her of all feminine fear. She took up arms herself and with a great army advanced against her brother-in-law and fought so hard that in the end she killed him with her own hands and had her chariot driven over him, and won the battle."

That Jack Vance Shit

One other thing the women of the City of Ladies can be is; cunning beyond belief in a way not un-reminiscent of Cugel the Clever.

The Sibyl Almathea - "She bought nine books with her to Rome, which she presented to King Tarquin for sale. But when he refused to pay the price which she was asking for them, she burnt three of them in his presence. And when on the next day she demanded this same price for the six other remaining books which she had demanded for the nine and said that if he did not pay the price she was asking, she would immediately burn three more books and on the following day the last three, King Tarquin paid the price which she had first demanded. the books were well preserved, and so it was discovered that they declared in full the future of the Romans."

Well not 'in full' because she fucking burnt three.

Several Ladies Who Together Saved Their Husbands From Death - "It happened that several Knights ... went to live in another city of Greece called Lacedaemonia ... There they married the noble daughters of the city. They became so rich and acquired so many honours that in their pride they conspired against the town rulers in order to transfer power to themselves. their plot was discovered and they were imprisoned and condemned to death. Their wives ... went to the prison and, weeping, the begged the prison guards to allow them to see their husbands. Once the ladies were inside, they dressed their husbands in their robes and took for themselves the clothes their husbands were wearing. The next morning .. the executioners lead them outside to be tortured, and when it turned out that they were the wives, everyone admired this clever ruse and they were praised for it."

The Lady Curia - "her husband had been condemned to death with some other men for a particular crime with which they had all been charged ... When men seeking him came there, she held him in her arms in her bed, hiding him so cleverly that they did not notice him at all. She knew how to conceal him so well within the bedroom that none of her servants, nor anyone else, would have known he was there. She also covered up the deed with the clever ruse: she would race like a madwoman through the streets, temples and monasteries, wearing poor clothes, dishevelled and weeping, beating her palms. And everywhere she would ask whether anyone knew what had become of her husband or where he had fled, for wherever he was, she wanted to go to him to be the companion of his exile and miseries. In this way she managed to pretend so cleverly that no-one ever knew the difference, and so she saved her husband and consoled him in his fear."

Catulla – “Saint Rusticus and Saitn Eleutherius ..  the tyrant that ordered these saints beheaded ordered that their bodies be thrown into the Seine, and the men who were supposed to do this placed them in a sack to carry them there. These men were lodged with a good lady, a widow named Catulla, who got them drunk and then removed the holy bodies and placed dead pigs in the bag, and she buried the martyrs as honourable as she could in here house..”

Queen of the Galatians - "When the Romans were making their great conquests in foreign lands they captured this king of the Galatians in battle and his wife along with him. ... One of the Roman officers ... violently raped her. When the ransom was bought to deliver her husband and herself, the lady said that the money should be turned over in her presence to the officer who was holding them. She told him to weigh the gold to have a better count, so that he would not be deceived. When she saw that he intended to weigh the ransom and that none of his men would be there, the lady, who had a knife, stabbed him in the neck and killed him. She took his head and without difficulty bought it to her husband and told him the entire story and how she had taken vengeance."

The Virgins of Lombardy – “A city in Lombardy was once captured by its enemies who killed their lord. The beautiful daughters of this lord, thinking that their enemies were going to rape them, found a strange remedy, for which they deserve much praise: they took raw chicken meat and placed it on their breasts. This meat quickly rotted  because of the heat so that when enemies approached them and smelled the odour, they immediately left saying 'God, how these Lombards stink!'”

The Wife of Bernabo the Genovan - A story too long to retell in quotes, but briefly; Bernabo bets a scumbag that the scumbag can't sleep with his wife. The scumbag tricks his way into Bernabo's house & observes the wife, steals clothes, takes description and clothes to Bernabo as 'proof' that he fucked Bernabo's wife. Bernabo orders wife killed. Wife escapes. Changes into men’s clothes and acts as a man called 'Sagurat de Finoli'. 'Sagurat' ends up working for the sultan of Babylon & becomes his servant & chief advisor. Sagurat encounters the scumbag in the city market & hears from his own mouth about his creepy bet. Sagurat uses 'his' position as the Sultans advisor to get Bernabo and the scumbag in the same room and exposes both the entire deception and herself by whipping off her breast-plate. Ends up getting back with husband.


(The best parts of any medieval book are where the writer goes off on a tangent and accidentally describes some fragment of their daily life.

Christine describes a woman in paris who can illuminate manuscripts as well as only one in the city, a local girl married to a man her parents suspect to be a leper, she refuses to leave him and the parents want him tested so they can force her out of the house, a frustrated recollection of her own mother trying to force her away from the education and the sciences, keep her embroidering.)


Christine is so interesting and so odd. She is necessarily odd becasue she is the first one, if she wasn't odd she wouldn't have done what she did. Was she a feminist? That's a bit like a pigeon asking a T-Rex for its I.D. Christine is not interested in your categories.

It's an utterly charmingly bonkers sensation engaging with the vision of a woman whose three greatest virtues are Reason, rectitude and Justice creating a vision of femininity which is violent, crafty, tricky, passionate, sometimes heroically self-destructive, brilliant and blonde.

The counter-tow between Christines almost-patrician seriousness and the bordering-on-anarchic violent heroism she upholds is utterly engaging.

Is She Joking?

(Or at least, aware of the irony?)

I have no idea, I don;t understand either her, or her intellectual world well enough to judge. It's possible that either is true.

What about a D&D Audience?

The beauty and the specificity of the metaphor call out for a literalisation. The city is laid out, the Virtues are garbed and armed with their magic tools, the Mirror of Reason which shows the truth, the Ruler of Rectitude which decides reality and the Vessel of Justice which doles out what people will and will not receive.

Imagining what the City of ladies would actually be like is compelling, a city full of amazons, greek goddesses in disguise, crafty queens, clever wives, de-facto witches and numerous fools for love, plus one ruled by the mother of god, who goes about with a bodyguard of martyred saints.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Widows of the Mad Mole

(This is vapourware for a game I will probably never run based on the 'Into the Odd' ruleset. I couldn't stop fiddling with it so I'm dumping it here. This is kind of like ripping off a scab.)

Its 1840, and its Liverpool. Joseph Williamson the ‘Mad Mole’ of Edge Hill has died.

This eccentric and wealthy merchant is famous for employing large numbers of unemployed men to excavate a series of tunnels underneath his properties in Edge Hill. Though some of these are thought to have a practical use (one is said to lead from his house to the church so he can walk there privately) most are arranged in a seemingly mad and functionless way.

Original here

Williamson always claimed that these were built to employ the large numbers of men left without work after the Napoleonic war, although that doesn’t quite explain why he had them building functionless tunnel systems instead of anything else.

Williamson was renowned for his odd character, strange disappearances and his poor relationship with his wife. On his death a range of unusual people are called to the vaulted ‘Banqueting Hall’ beneath his house.

All those called are Ladies, or at least, women. Some might be family members or household staff, some could be people Williamson had encountered on the street or in church, or simply people he had read about. Some of those present could be friends or servants of those called.

Regardless, as the will is read, all the women present is given access to Williamsons private tunnel system and ‘a share of the discoveries thereof’.

And as the players explore this tunnel system, they find portals. Each portal leads to a different reality, to Carcosa, Yoon-Suin, Vornheim, Vovoidia, Quelong, Marlinkio, Arthurian England, Mouse-Guard World, Al Quadim, action-movie 80’s Hong Kong and others. Maybe even the Imperium of Man and the Federation. Williamson had a junction to the multiverse beneath his house.

Char-Gen is a hack of ‘Into The Odd’ so who you are depends on how many Hit Points you roll and how big your highest stat is.

Its 3d6 down the line; STR, DEX and WILL, swap two if you want to and then roll a d6 for Hit Points.

There is very little equipment on this list because you are a Victorian Lady. You would’t be expected to have any. You will have to buy it or find it.

9 or less
Duchess Castlereagh, 13th in Line To The Throne.
Experienced  Medical Doctoress.
Independently Wealthy & Uniquely Beautiful
with an Unquestioned Reputation.
Experienced Aristocratic Poisoner
(with Poison)
Colonels Widow
(Could re-fight Waterloo & win)
Sea Captains Widow
(Could circum-navigate the earth)
Widow of famed explorer. Speaks five languages.
Lady, enthusiastic horsewoman, houndswoman and huntress.
Lady  kleptomaniac. Can Pick Pockets on a whim.
Delusional sailors daughter brilliantly faking nobility.
Circus-Woman with rope. Costume & juggling sticks.
Irish Maid
and Experienced Thief.
(has lock picks)
Lady and Doctor of  Chemistry

Lady with
Gigantic Hound and pistol in her skirts.
Unmarried debutante with famously ‘fine figure’.
Climbs like an ape.
Common Poisoner.
Five dead husbands.
Gypsy Girl with functional Tarot Deck.
Can Dance.
Bakers Wife, gave birth 5 times, immune to fear.
Beautiful, seems harmless. 12 years old.
Extremely Beautiful Pre-Raphaelites model. Near destitute.
Former Nun. Pyromaniac, (has matches hidden)
Enthusiastic Methodist. Immune to madness if singing.
Alcoholic Barmaid. Iron constitution.
Put-Upon Shop girl
(Rolling Pin hidden)

Lady, and experienced boxing fan. (Can ‘read’ Hit Dice)
Lady and Renowned Artist.
Exceptional Hair.

Lady and Much-Appreciated authoress.
Severe melancholic.


Merchants Wife. Can calculate interest in a jiffy.
Butchers Wife
(has cleaver and pig).
90 Years Old. Remembers American Rebellion.
Extremely silly young girl.
Husband a wretch. Numerous debts. ide
Pregnant Housemaid.
Sarcastic Jewess armed with long pin.
Fishwife with One Eye and Plentiful Hooks.
Dowager obsessed with her small and useless dog.
‘Entertainer’ and Fake Medium.
Dressmaker with abusive husband.
Has a knife.
Plain Housemaid with Sapphic Drives.
Housemaid with Husband in gaol.
Serving Girl who weeps too much.
Educated Laudanum addict.
Half-Chinese Former Prostitute
Insurrectionist Irish Washerwoman
Serving girl with a
Hook Hand
Pursued by Violent Husband
Escaped Prisoner & experienced cross-dresser.
Spinster. Former Bedlamite.
Sees Things.
Current Prostitute &
Old, with
Wooden Leg and a shameful dog.
One month pregnant. Unmarried.
Black. Five children to support.
Faints Under Stress.
In Staggering Debt.
Obsessive Abolitionist and Hysteric.
Back-street Abortionist
‘Given to the Bottle’.
Hideous Tobacco-Chewing
Pregnant, Homeless, Black and Mad.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Who Will Stop The Worlds Most Evil Dog?

This is my pitch for a prospective Level One adventure. It's also the entirety of my notes for the adventure. It's also as complete as the adventure is ever likely to be.

(an adventure for level 1 players)

I'm imagiing a small black dog that constantly foils the PC's

steals babies and runs off with them

breaks into houses and bites the noses off old women

extremely racist

an evil genius

sets up traps

lures you into bad situations

leads you into dens of criminals

hides in the bog and lures you in to drown

sometimes spasms and attacks own tail

steals burning torches and sets churches on fire

kind of wheezes and yowls insanely instead of barking

stampedes cows

jumps on horses and rides them, guiding them by biting

sends carts running out of control

steals rare and valuable things and leaves them in the PC's packs without them knowing

ends up setting a gigantic fire and escaping on the keel of an upturned boat that goes down the river

shits in the font

digs up fresh graves (it never seems to sleep) and runs off with wedding rings

drops pigeon corpses into the well, poisoning it

eventually ends up leading a pack of wolves through town

hides in the toilet, waiting for you

steals money and throws it in the river

steals magic items and throws them in the well

runs along rooftops, has learn how to use ladders and climb trees

confuses the lock-manager by killing the crowing cock that wakes them up, then imitating the sound at the wrong time, so they end up flooding the town

keeps the doctor awake all night by yowling outside his window

can scream like a cat

pisses in your bed, poops in your shoes

it will only poop in human shoes (this is its one weakness)

takes drugs when it can (another weakness) and drinks to a shameful degree (it never becomes incapacitated)

gestures with its eyebrows

can smell fear

thinks you're kind of a pussy

pushes old men under water wheels

thows dead cats in between the windmills grinding-wheels, ruining the corn

when the mill-wheels are taken out for washing, it removes the chocks and sents one rolling through town, smashing through walls

it uses this to break into the bank (it wants the money, which it will throw in the river)

people think an old man is master of the dog but he is terrified of it

you get sucked into its all-encompassing plan

it rules crime in this town, the thieves guild are all terrified of it

attacks pregnant women

spooks the shire-horses pulling the canal-boats through town and makes them pull the boats to one side so they block the canal and capsize

the mayor hired an assasin from the captial to kill it, the dog ate him an now wears his bloodstained cloak, the assassins guild refuses to believe this has happened and has sent another assasin to kill the mayor

the local wizard tried to remove the curse upon the dog, but there was no curse and the dog stole his spell book and dropped it in the well

the dog intends to blow up the brewery somehow

the local cultists tried summoning a demon to destroy the dog but the dog licked away part of their magic circle and the demon escaped and ate them

the demon is a little scared of the dog

at a wedding the dog jumped into the wedding cake and no-one could get it out

a widow of a colonel who retired in town has called up the guard but the dog has outwitted them at every turn

it seems to be everywhere

no-one will send help to the town as no-one will belive that its just a dog doing this and the townspeople are too scared to admit the truth

a small faction on the town council is considering putting the dog in charge, since it does what it wants anyway

people think maybe the PC's will help, but some think they are doomed and others, who still can't quite accept that its just a dog, think the real villian will eventually reveal themselves and that this might be the PC's

the town is consumed by paranoia, the existence of a 'dog-faction' has leaked out and a whispering campaign has divided the people, everyone is afraid that others might somehow be on the side of the worlds most evil dog

Monday, 25 April 2016

This Chess Piece

Lets see how clearly I can think about this chess piece

What a dude he is.

Ok the staring eyes are always the first thing, are they intended to feel staring or is it just the style of the culture? We don't know but the omni-presence suggests its a cultural thing.

Second thing; the dotted circles and the eyes, these are the same thing. Is that deliberate or just a convenience of form? Is this a creature with many eyes?

The triangle-face outlined in sharp strokes to emphasise its shape and then the strikes across the triangle. What does this tell us about the face? Is it a war face? Is it an armoured mask? Is that a furrowed brow indicated by the second line on the upper side?

The slumped strong shoulders. The roundness and irregular curve.

Is this guy wearing clothes and are those triskelions of eye-shapes the memories of decorations or do they indicate some kind of armour or amulet?

The crosshatching around the bottom, is that a belt or the hem of a dress or the hem of a tunic?

How does he make you feel when you look at him? Strong. solid. Impassive or at least, immovable. Not directly-threatening. Slow. Like a living shield and perhaps his face is a shield, and hes kind of cute, and depending on how you think of it, a little scary, especially if that is a shield-face with eyes. He feels very alice-in-wonderland, that mixture of playful and spooky.

What are the lines doing?

The lines falling down across the shoulders are telling you that they are shoulders, the curve of the plane to the top is not allowed to fade into insignificance they imbue with humanity, they emphasise masculinity and strongness. They tell you this thing/person is wearing clothes.

Probably those eye triskelions are telling an anglo-saxon audience something pretty culturally specific, and maybe quite 'unimportant'.

what about the shield-face lines?

They break the triangle into the three-thirds of the human face, here the eyes somehow must be eyes and nothing else. The downward slant, like an arrow or a slice of pie cutting into the general form. What does that do? Cutting into the curve, emphasising the breadth.

Rosie says she thinks this is a sheep and hes humble and those are his arms and he probably works in a shop or something and goes and gets your order and brings it back without looking you in the eye.

Because the face looks sad.

The crosshatched band around the bottom, giving you the rim. Sealing it to the board.

I'm looking at this guy, trying to unfold the mystery of the figure, the reason for the shape, when for the person that made it everything was simple and clear

You make it round like 'this' to hold it, you're carving it in your hands so you know when it feels right. You put the triangle in there, maybe the shape just wanted to be a triangle. You put lines in where it seems like you would need some lines and then its done, and you know when its done becasue its very clearly done.

Put it down on the table, there you go. Whatever is informing you about the correctness of the piece it isn't coming in words or in any kind of abstraction its a form-lead form, it has no explanations to make, it has no particular answer to give, it just is, where it needs to be.