Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Sad and Lonely and Naked and Sexy

The only good thing that's happened in the last two weeks has been that every lunch break at my new job I get to sit down and read a book that I wrote. The hours at the job and various other things are kind of burning away my inner life so I don't really feel stories and ideas inside myself like I used to, and I can't feel words as much or as fluidly as I could, but I can sit and read this, which has a lot of me inside it.

I like it. It makes me smile.

It's not really like anything else I've read before. I don't think its really like anything else that anyone has ever done. I'll be interested to hear if it reminds anyone of anything.

It's a little bit like R&PL and would fit in there reasonably well but there's something.. a difference in tone. It's difficult to put your finger on. It's sillier and slightly warmer than R&PL and a lot lot sadder. The feel of the thing is a kind of synergy or mixing of our two characters. I think if R&PL is really, deep down, a kind of horror story in very fine clothes, then MotBM is a tragedy in ironic guise.

Breaking it down; Zak puts hot girls in a dungeon - Patrick makes sure that none of them ever get laid.

So it's decadent and sexy and baroque and slightly cold and hates euclid like a Zak book, but also sad and tragic and slightly silly and a bit pleased with itself like a Patrick book. And pretty dark in both cases.




WHAT CHANGED

There was a bard in it, couldn't get that guy through. There was an elephant in it, an actual elephant, see if you can spot it in the painting. There is a John Donne quote that got through, see if you can find that.

There are almost no pages without alteration or addition. The general feel is of a constant small shaping and crafting at the mechanics, the nature of encounters and the informational shape of the text.

The vision that came into my mind when I thought about this was of the painting itself being like a giant red hot griddle, my words being like a huge hunk of oddly shaped meat cooking on the griddle and Zaks edits being like a series of fishooks and wire driven into the meat, webbing it back and forth, drawing it into even more of an odd shape as it cooks.

So far as I can see, Zaks primary alterations are;

Flow - alternating and patterning of incident and challenge from room to room to provide a steady and alternating flow action and decision.

Excision and compression - several large and unwieldy tables were removed, simplified or condensed. A lot of quite minor characters were removed or simplified, many encounters were simplified.

Prachetectomy - Anything that sounds like Terry Pratchett might have written it was removed. Like a surgeon madly hunting an invisible cancer, anything that might be considered twee or 'zany' has been taken out, sometimes aggressively, sometimes simply on suspicion and sometimes apparently left in for unknown reasons.

Responsiveness - it's more organic, acts more upon the players, is adjusting continually around you, rather than simply being a series of places. Less paratactic.

Sticky - a lot of the changes add stickiness in one way or another. Objects don't wait around for you to happen to them, they happen to you and they stick. There was a fair amount of this but now there's more.

Three-Dimensionality - levelled rooms, drowned rooms, more movement up and down.

Hooks & Treasure - there's more help, more potions & hidden switches, more treasure, quite a bit more.

The backstory is a little more unified, it sprawled a little more and lead off in more directions before. Empires have been formed to give purpose to a roving band.

Also he moved text around a bit inside the descriptions.




DESIGN

I don't really have 'design goals' I let the back room in my head handle that, the same way the Apollo astronouts let the guys at Nasa handle the boring stuff. People are generally as important as their image is dominant, so the two most important people in the painting are the Medusa and Chronia (the naked girl in the centre).

There were a lot of women in the maze so they needed to be interesting, and emotionally powerful, and potentially dangerous. But, if they are all that dangerous then why are they in a maze?

If they are dangerous enough to be a threat to the PC's and if they have their own ideas then why haven't they left?

Powerful agents, momentarily stilled somehow, temporarily. Half-prisoners. So they have to have the most interesting reasons for being powerful, and the most interesting reasons for being still.

Also why are you hanging around naked, maybe you are just into that?
(Of course its a glimpse of my intuitively conservative morality that someone would need a reason for hanging around naked, and it might not be a happy reason, wheras if Zak was writing it alone then it wouldn't even be a question, nakedness would just be an assumed optimal situation, like, of course people should be naked, especially attractive people. Well, only attractive people really.)

Though men, that is, normal human males, heroic or not, don't really exist in Zaks art, there are none in this painting and I don't think I've ever seen them in any other painting, beautiful women, monstrous women, crones, skeletons, liZards, moon-men, demons, mutants, freaks, but no men

(I tell a lie, there are two crowned figures with nothing noticeably wrong with them, I made them cannibals. And there are maybe a few more hanging around.)

There kind of is a big bad guy at the end, the Medusa is capable of filling that role, and probably wouldn't mind doing it, but she doesn't need to be the main villian, that's really a role you choose for her by the way you interact with her. The only real villain is a dead empire, and that empire was built on love and charity.

Some people are prisoners in the maze. Should you try to free them?

Maybe.

People can end up in prison for a lot of reasons.

I started at the top left in the archives and worked round counter clockwise area by area until I hit the Medusa. (You can kind of see my writing style shift a little bit in the time it took to write the thing.) Then I went back and made everything fit and be together. Then I did that again, and then again.

The hardest part was the Golden machine and working out what happened in the wedding, I think i stared at that for 3-5 or so hours before understanding what it was and how it all fit together. (3 hours is a long time to stare at a blank page.)

As to what the book is about,if it has a theme. I think I can say truthfully that its about whatever the players make it about. Not in a vague way like a lump of clay is about whatever you make it about, but like repairing a broken stained glass window with bits of other stained glass windows is about what you make it about, or like being caught in a snare when alone in the wilde is about what you make it about. You better make it about something. You will make it about something, just by being there.

I am glad we kept some of the more ridiculous elements in. Caphtor fucking Cloudman for one and his ridiculous book-within-a-book, and the unsortable tomes to frustrate those poor librarians.

Zak and Mandy kind of both ended up in the book. (Well Mandy was already there visually.) This was without any real planning or conscious awareness from me, they seeped in between the lines. There's a girl who looks a lot like Mandy and she's trapped in a series of rooms, in this case becasue she's super-invulnerable and bleeds time.

In one of the last edits I said something like this to Zak;

"I was going to have a bunch of sexy blind girls hanging out with the Medusa, but I thought it was a bit too much, plus I made her too much like you already."

He put them back in.


...................


EDIT - I fucking forgot to talk about layout and I fully intended to but it's late and I'm tired. briefly; its exceptional and it had nothing to do with me. Its all down to Anton Khodakovsky, Ken, Zak and Kirin.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

An Interview with Bryce Lynch

On his site tenfootpole.org Bryce Lynch has read and reviewed probably more D&D adventures than any other human being, which, I imagined would give him a unique prespective on adventure design and D&D generally so I asked him a bunch of questions.



1. WHY are you doing this?

Because I am a fool/for myself.

I've been roleplaying since 78 but in the 90's I moved from D&D to other games, eventually ending up in the narrative/story game space. A pivotal moment happened at Origins, in a Fiasco game, which slotted in to some views that came from running Lacuna. This killed my narrative/story interest, abruptly, and got me back to D&D-ish things. 

Looking about I discovered all of these forums and all of these cool things people were talking about and recommending. This was right before GenCon, so I made a huge purchase at GenCon; like $2000 in adventures. Getting home from GenCon was like Christmas! As I started to go through it the highest Highs become the lowest lows ... I was crushed with disappointment. Almost all of it sucked. 

Then I had a thought: if my expectations were crushed then other folks probably were also ... and a brief perusal showed that there was almost NO negative reviews of ANYTHING. In RPGlandia everything is TEH BESTEZT! I bought a site and started jotting down notes, mostly for me, to refine what I was looking for, and hopefully other folks would find a more realistic view also, when they went looking for opinions.

You mention games of Lacuna and Fiasco that alienated you from Storygames. I found a reference to that here  in your Rise of Tiamat review and a little here in your Death Love Doom Review. have you spoken about it in more depth anywhere else? Would you like to do so here?

I thought it was on FortressAT, in my Origins Con Session Reports. Looks like it didn't make moderation and I eventually posted it on RPGGEEK in my Geek of the Week Q&A. I stuck it at the end. Boy, reading those old session reports brings back some fond memories. "The Queen can't just take our land, It's the Magna Carta baby!" ,"We're sorry for your loss. Please accept this complimentary British Petroleum Slurpee as a token of our regret."

(It's reproduced in full below the cut.)

"I bought a site and started jotting down notes" - you wouldn't, by chance, happen to still have those would you? What did they say?

Alas, no. Very brief though. "This sucks" and "I hate this hook" and "steal this." You can see some hints of this in the August 2011 reviews, some of my first, where I'm still figuring things out. I think I cherry-picked Thing in the Valley because I liked it. You can see me struggling in The Prison of Meneptah (which also has a Melan reply.) I recall asking someone on the Dragonsfoot forum, which was reviewing it, about it. I don't recall the response but I do recall it was less than satisfying. After I posted that one (or another one around that time period) someone said something like "Nice review. At first I thought you were one of those guys who liked everything."  A little validation seems to vastly shorten the time it takes to refine an idea. For better or ill. :)




2. How the fuck have you kept this up without going mad?

The same as everyone else: Hookers & blow.

The only really bad part is Dungeon Magazine. I find everything else interesting, either because there's something to steal/get inspired by or as an example of what not to do ... a validation of my beliefs. I like to look/imagine, especially at the amateur products, at what the vision was and how the writing fell short. This makes most reviews pretty easy

Dungeon Magazine, though ... wow. The worst part is when I buy a series or a lot of product by one author. When the first one is terrible then I know I have to slog through the rest and that can do a lot to kill enthusiasm. Dungeon Magazine was like that for a LONG stretch ... knowing that I had to slog through eighty pages of crap with nothing to look forward to. I try to avoid mass buys these days, where all of the product is from the same author or the same company. In short: variety keeps things fresh, even if it's bad variety. 
 


 
3. Has it become strangely addictive?

Hmmmm, I'd use the word 'routine.' Monday morning is a review, Tuesday morning is a review, and Wednesday morning is Dungeon Magazine. There's some applicable rule about how long it takes for something to become habit, I think? 



 
4. What do you know that no-one else knows?

There is a difference between "I had fun" and "A good product."  Having fun has more to do with your DM than anything else. The product is more about supporting the DM in helping you all have fun.
 
a.       Have you perceived any deep, long-term patterns proceeding over years or decades that other people might not have noticed?

I doubt there's anything new to learn. I think the most interesting time was the move away from house-rules, like Arduin and Arms Law and T&T, and the codification of official rules that started in 1e. That shift, 35? years ago, is just now being corrected in any serious way.


 
5. Why are most adventures so bad?

a. Why do people want the wrong things?

I'm not sure that's a good question. No one wants the wrong thing. I would say that it's easy to go with the flow. Adventurer's League, show up on Wednesday night and play. WOTC pushes an adventure to the DM every week, almost no prep. And if you try and run something NOT Adventurers League, or D&D, or the most current version of D&D, then you face additional hurdles. I'm not sure that 'Apathy' is the right word, but a lot (a majority?) of folks are happy enough. I'm guessing that just enough of their sessions have just enough fun to keep them strung along, as they chase the high. It takes effort to seek out something different. It takes effort to get out of your comfort zone. When I'm at my best I want every thing in every day to always be awesome, and everything else isn't worth my time.
 
b. Is there simply no evolutionary pressure on them to make them better?

Correct. 
 
c. WHY is there no pressure over time for tight writing, usability or clear layout? Is it to do with the audience, the way adventures are used, the hobby part of the hobby? 

I'm going to write an answer for all three.

The problem has many parts. The good news is that a lot of research has been done on the issue, in the general consumer sciences field. The bad news is that the solutions are not prescriptive. 

The hobby part of the hobby is one aspect. There's a very low barrier to entry, which is both a blessing and a curse, for both PDF and print. The glut of product makes choices hard for the consumer. There's a lot of research on how consumers react in these situations. We see things like mimicking the old trade dress and nice covers that try and combat these, but that's just marketing; putting a nice cover on a crappy product helps the publisher and harms the consumer. Harlan Ellison, I think, has some diatribe in which he touches on the impact of amateurs producing material. While not directly relevant, it is interesting to see how it impacts other fields of writing also. 

Some publishers need a revenue stream. They mouths to feed and bills to pay. A product needs to come out every month and the deadline is the deadline, damn the quality. 

Similarly, the pay-per-word crap sucks ass, and not in a good way. Encouraging bloat and weak editors combine to create unusable product. I'd love to see the big publishers crack down and/or cooperate in this area. Offer a set fee, set expectations, require hard deadlines with lots of time for revisions ... and offer a brand that means quality. But they don't really have to, people keep buying their schlock, so they don't. There's your lack of evolutionary pressure: they make money no matter what kind of crap they put out. 

I just saw something from Finch, and he's right: When you buy something, rate it. 5 stars. 1 Star. Whatever. Rate it everywhere you can. Education, alternatives, that's what will change habits. (I'm a hypocrite; I used to do this more.)

Do you have a link?

The wretched hive of scum & villainy: YDIS

(Bryce provided a link but I am not sending traffic to that river of shit.)

 

6. What is beauty of interest to you? (This doesn't make grammatical sense.)

Apneatic (I wouldn't google that...)

The wonder of a childlike imagination. Grottos sparkle and waterfalls have caves. Bookcases have secret doors and chandeliers drop. Fields of flowers with fairy dragons who always talk to you. Something out of folklore where animals talk and limbs fall out of chimneys and brave little tailors have belts. Is there a treasure in that knot in the tree? Fuck yes there is! 

 
 
7. If you could go back in time and change one thing (in RPG history), what would it be?

I wish for three more wishes. 

1: Tomb of Horrors would either not exist or would only exist as rumors. I understand what it was and it's purpose however it set a bad precedent. I think it encouraged both a linear design element and, more troubling, and adversarial bend to GM'ing. I suppose someone would have done it eventually, but that early publication influenced too much, I think.

2. Those FUCKING skeletons in B2 would not be wearing those FUCKING amulets! Again, I think this influenced design too much. It implies that the game world has a set of rules that the DM must play by. Skeletons turn as 1HD, forever more, unless they wear this bullshit amulet. This has led to monsters wearing rings of protection and so on, not because it's cool or enhancing things but simply for the mechanical effect. It's got an AC 1 point more/less BECAUSE FUCK YOU THAT'S WHY.

3. And this is really my core point of the above two: the 'official' supporting product would have been better. For better or worse, people have taken (and will continue to take) the official product as The Right Way to play the game. If you publish a linear "5 fights" adventure with your edition launch then a lot of people are never going to move beyond that. More care going in to the launch products, at a minimum, would have set things on a different course, I think, and we'd have better design overall. It's weird to see some great advice in the DMG's and then to see the launch product ignore it. 
 



8. On whom would you bring down the sword of judgement if you could? (You don’t have to answer this one.)

WOTC. 

I suspect I know the plan: keep D&D on life support and make money in licensing and internal Hasbro synergy.  That's no excuse for the quality of the product they are putting out. There's an absurd amount of tribal knowledge, or at least should be, about how to do something good. Their official adventure content sucks donkey balls: hardbacks, Adventurer's League, and most of the previous 4e and 3e line. The feedback I've seen is mostly "You don't proofread! Orcs are supposed to have an AC of 12 but they have of 13 in the adventure! " That's lame, and it seems to be the feedback they pay the most attention to. The stat & rules nonsense is worthless, it's fucking D&D, it can be whatever. Their inability to produce content that is evocative and helpful is inexcusable. Laziness, because they know people will buy it anyway, especially if they slap Baur's name on it? Who knows. I can excuse the amateurs who, as a labor of love, create something and their vision doesn't match what they turn out. The product WOTC cranks out for the Worlds Most Popular Fantasy RPG should be better. Fuck their book layouts and fancy fonts. That shit should be the cream and not the core value for a $50 book. 



 
9. Are there any personalities you would single out as having a noticeable effect on adventure design? Any important names that the audience might not have heard of?

The long line of shitty editors that Dungeon Magazine had? Robert Silvers they were not.

Matt Finch, You, Melan, Benoist, Bowman & Calithena. Zak for his relentless championing of the DIY/gig thing. Jason Sholtis. Stater. But that's really just a subset of people who right stuff I like and not Personalities who had a Notable Effect. 
 
The early TSR folks established the course that we're still on today. Those small efforts early have influenced everything. The only thing that has made as large an impact is, I think, the OGL. Ryan Dancey, representative as the work of many on the OGL, has put us in the wonderfully optimistic spot we're in today. Without the OGL the landscape would be VERY different. I don't see another person who has had as large an impact since the very early days.

'Baur' is Wolfgang Baur, is that right? Do you want to add anything or contextualise that for anyone not familiar with that situation or person? (Like me)

During the launch of 5e WOTC released a boxed set. The first adventure they published after that was two linked hardback books, Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat. Both were done in some kind of work for hire with Wolfgang Baur and his Kobold Press company. Baur had a decent reputation after writing several decent Dungeon Magazine adventures, a stint as an editor for some things, and Kobold Press was decently respected. So WOTC outsourced their launch product so someone they had previously had a employer relationship with, and leveraged the fact that he was moderately popular ... and the end product, Hoard/Rise, sucked ass At least that's what I can piece together. The adventures WERE outsourced to Baur/Kobold, for sure.

Melan - Melan of Melans Dungeon Mapping  and Dragonsfoot? Any particular articles you would like to point out?

That's him. That mapping article appeals to the academic in me. He's written a decent of critical commentary, and his Formhault stuff is pretty good. He's written quite a bit for Fight On! He's one of the few non-native english speakers that publishes in english.

https://rpggeek.com/rpgdesigner/20611/gabor-lux
 

Benoist - Benoist Poire from http://odd74.proboards.com/ and this interview  & here? Anything else you would recommend people looking into?

Yup. He's got a nice series on map making on K&K, and also.

http://www.knights-n-knaves.com/phpbb3/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=9533&start=30


Bowman & Calithena - From Fight On! magazine? Any recommendations?

Issue 2: the upper caves (my favorite ever!), issue 3 (crab-men!) and issue 5 (trogs) and issue 6, a monumental work.


Jason Sholtis - From http://roll1d12.blogspot.co.uk/ http://theystalktheunderworld.blogspot.co.uk/ and the Dungeon Dozen. I think my audience will be familiar with him.

Yup! 

 
Stater - Is that this guy? I don;t know him well. Tell me more about him.

He does a lot. He turns out A LOT of content in the form of hex crawls. Each hex being an little adventure seed. I did a comparison of hex crawl styles in one of my reviews: http://tenfootpole.org/ironspike/?p=997



10. If you were putting together your prefect copy of Dragon magazine, what would you put in it?

My Dragon looks somewhat like Fight On!

*) I'd have a fluff piece each month, no more than three pages. A campaign world, concept, or something like that. High level, with almost nothing explained WHY. Mystery after mystery referenced once and never again. 

*) I'd have a campaign arc outlined each month, enough to start someones imagination running. No more than a single page, and maybe half a page. Evil Iggy just won kissed the princess and is now the king. He's looking for the Throne of the Gods. Blah blah blah. Not a plot, an outline

*) Half a page each month on how to make a new monster or magic item. Brief, breezy, maybe using one of those random thing web pages to juice the imagination.

*) A con/public game calendar.

*) An Oglaf strip.

*) Something like the Dungeon Dozen.

*) A Dear Abby column on how to handle HARD things. My buddies wife keeps coming in during the game and asking him to take out the trash. My friend stinks. Mike always cancels, and so on. And the advice should always end with "Remember, sit down and talk to them like a real person. There's only drama if you get worked up."

*) I'd have a zonky cover, something completely different month to month. Anyone who's ever had a page at Deviant Art. No two ever by the same person and as much style diversity as possible.

*) A terse village, maybe one page, brief, with a focus on the people and how they relate to each other, that you can drop in. Or a business "rope walk" ,"salt works" or something like that. A touch of realism but LOTS of gameable content.

*) An adventure. That doesn't suck. No more than 6 pages. It will have  some twist or something new to it. Not just goblins in a cave. They better be those goblins made of twigs and leaves and the cave better be a purple worm.

*) A well written industry news piece. Trends,etc.

*) New stuff to check out, or skip, with a liberal definition of 'stuff'.'

*) A DM/Player advice column, tips to run the game, handle traps, etc.

*) Outside your comfort zone. A furry RPG, narrative game, rolemaster overview, something DIFFERENT.

*) Most importantly, a page of DIY Rules. Exploding daggers, Shields will be sundered. Carousing. 

Maybe 16-18 pages. $20. Village & adventure are located so they can removed and used.


 
11. Have you ever thought about making your own thing?

Only when my ego becomes over inflated. 

I've done some one-page/one-sheet references under other names. I did a players handbook. I wrote a "fixed" chapter of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. My wife and I have talked about working on something jointly, again. We argued, no joke, for three hours over the first sentence in my Hoard rewrite, and thus have tabled that idea for now. I have a lot of hobbies and I would have to give something up in order to do this ... or come to terms with my self-loathing perfectionism. Neither is likely to happen any time soon.

From Q 11 'fixed' "chapter to Hoard of the Dragon Queen" is that the link I have above?

The Tiamat adventure line is a 2-parter. Rise, the link you have, is part 2. Part  is at: here on the blog and here in a google drive.  



12. Have you ever thought about condensing your wisdom or things you have learnt into rules, guidelines, a manifesto? A statement? (Or just a list of rules or guidelines.)

The Grand Moff Tarkin says you're never supposed to talk about what you plan to do, only what you've done.  Jesus H Fucking Christ it's easy to procrastinate writing. 

[ask patrick if I should open source this?]

Open Sourcing creative efforts is a complex issue which can work differently depending on personality and your ability/desire to deal with large numbers of people and processing and synthesising their ideas. I generally wouldn't, but then I am essentially a Morlock so maybe don't take my advice on when to work with others. 

I would be keenly interested to see what you come up with though.


 

13. When reviewing, how do you think about potential preferences in taste, things that are unique to you vs others? Is this something you think about?

I have some strong reactions to certain things, among them: fairy tales, barrows, gonzo, tinker gnomes and magical ren-faire.  I try to disclose this during a review if I think it's applicable. More importantly, I try to write a review in which my own preferences are not relevant to someone else finding the review useful. "I like this" is not a good review. "I like this because tinker gnomes fly hot air balloons with rappelling kinder special agents" tells you more. Even if I don't like something (or do)  hopefully I explain why so the reader can make their own judgement based on their own preferences. This makes the review useful even to the scum^H^H^H^H folks who like kender, tinker gnomes, and magic technology.

"I liked it" is personal preference. "I liked it because the salmon sashimi was coated in about a pound of kosher salt, each." is actually useful. If you like that much salt, Yum! If you don't like that much salt then maybe that place is not for you. The important part is now BOTH sides can find the review useful. 


 

14. Culture war bullshit. Gender, race, representation, the gender wars. These aren’t primary interests of mine but it’s possible that you have a deeply held feeling you have been holding on to, something you are anxious to say or an opinion you have been brewing for a while. Is there anything you want to say?


Bryce selected this image specially


My own intolerance is reserved for the cohort of angry old white men shaking their fists at the sky. The kids stay in their room too much. The kids don't know how to roleplay. The kids like grid combat. The kids have no attention span. The kids play with their phones at the table instead of listening to my six page monologue. Those sorts of generalizations upset me the most, maybe because I'm always on guard to ensure I don't fall in to them. I often wonder why ... again, so that I don't fall in to it. Fear of difference?  Some nonsense definition of respect? Bitterness? Their genius & wisdom is not being recognized? I was delighted when you asked me to do this ... do I fall in to the same traps? And now I'm self-centered for bringing a discussion of cultural inequity back to me? Stupid unexamined life.

We live during a time when the world has never been more just and verdant. I have great confidence that the younger and coming generations will ensure that statement becomes even more true. The kids are alright.

 Also: I like succubus boobies.



15. Likewise - edition wars. maybe you have  a mic to drop or something.

Oh, I don't know, it's all personal preference. I prefer the more rules-light stuff in B/X or something like Black Hack. If you want to run Roberts Rules of Order edition then have fun. 

My only gripe is the tendency for folks to not play anything but the most recent rules. I like playing with new people and having new experiences and it's hard to attract players in a store, con, or public game if you're not in the Most Current Edition trough. This makes me sad when I think about it so I'm not going to think about it anymore.

I loathe lawyering and the min-max/DPS mindset, which is probably why I like the rules-light stuff. The focus can then be on the game and what's going on rather than digging through the books trying to find something to give you a +.5% edge. [Shakes fist at sky!] A 90's GURPS foray, and then 3e, is where I first noticed it and then my experiences with GOD DAM I FUCKING HATE YOU  RPGA, both in running games for them at GenCon and now playing with my kids & wife at Winter Fantasy, has perhaps biased me quite a bit. Fuck me, I can't seem to quit a game called "Dungeon & Dragons."

I did have that 4e book burning. The party was more anti-materialist and about "finding" the 5e boxed set in the ashes the next morning. IE: Performance art for the big 5e meetup the next weekend. I disliked 4e quite a bit more than the others (although I did like the way it emphasized special monster abilities) but not enough to go out of my way to erase it from existence. I wanted a big party to celebrate 5e and the giant meetup/party the next week and I thought that finding the 5e boxed set in the ashes would be a fun thing to do. And it was. 
 

 
16. What do you think about 'the future of the hobby' whatever that means.

Wasn't it in one of those goofy sequels to Dune where humanity spread out in the galaxy, forever free from being annihilated?  The environment has splintered in to a thousand sub-systems and will continue to do so. (although it could be argued that everyone house-ruled in the early days and so it has always been this way.) The large companies will hunt the lucre in media deals while keeping their systems on just enough life support to sign the licensing deals their shareholders crave ... maybe with guaranteed income subscription models in the middle-tier. I have great confidence that the gig/DIY culture will flourish, in the shadows, and continue to grow and continue to produce an increasing number of wonderful products. 

I'm also looking quite forward to seeing more product from other countries, and in particular those without the Tolkein influence. We get glimpses of these things every now and again, with the work of Benoist and Melan are the immediate examples. I'm quite optimistic that the Internet will allow us to see more from the DIY fantasy crowd in other countries and I think that's quite exciting. There's this small group of people who travel & license foreign boardgames, I sometimes wonder if one could do the same for RPG's/adventures? Imagine an imprint that travelled exclusively in that content! That would indeed be wonderful!



Below the cut you can read, in almost real time, Bryces Dark Origin and the Tragic Accident that turned him against Story Games.

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.

Queenly
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.

Beautiful
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.



Usurpers!
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.
4.Barbarians.
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.



Heroism

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.