Thursday, 29 January 2015

STRANGE GRAINS - D&Difying 'The Art Of Not Being Governed'

This is everything I could easily D&Dify from 'The Art of Not Being Governed' by James C. Scott.

Yeah! Free to question your civilization-centered discourse!

My god Robert E Howard would fucking love this book. I half suspect he came back from the dead and wrote it.

“How can I wear the harness of toil
And sweat at the daily round,
While in my soul forever
The drums of Pictdom sound?”

"Some subjects were no doubt attracted to the possibilities for trade, wealth, and status available at the court centres, while others, almost certainly the majority, were captives and slaves seized in warfare or purchased from slave-raiders."

(He never actually proves that its over 50%)

1. So ALL cities are over 50% slave populations, don't really see that expressed much in D&D.

"Virtually all hill peoples have legends claiming that they once had writing and either lost it and it was stolen from them."

"The Lahu, for their part, speak of once having known how to write their language and refer to a lost book. They, in fact, have been known to carry papers with hieroglyphic marks which they cannot read."

"Seven villages came together on the same mountain and swore to jointly oppose their Tai overlord. The oath was written on a buffalo rib, which was then solemnly buried on the mountaintop. Later, however, the rib was stolen, and "that day we lost the knowledge of writing and we have ever since then suffered from the power of the _lam_ [Tai overloard]"

2. Language and writing are actual treasures that you can actually seize and if you do then that people loses that language and loses that writing. It's a high level treasure and to either take or return a language from or to a people is a high-level quest.

"Thus precious commodities such as gold, gemstones, aromatic woods, rare medicines, tea, and ceremonial bronze gongs (important prestige goods in the hills) linked peripheries to the centres on the basis of exchange rather than political domination."

"aromatic woods, tree resins, silver and gold, ceremonial drums, rare medicines."

3. Ceremonial Gongs as quasi-currency based on prestige. (This also brings up the possibility of certain tones as a kind of currency.)

"To cite the most celebrated instance, Hsinbyushin, after sacking Ayutthaya in 1767, brought back as many as thirty thousand captives, including officials, playwrights, artisans, dancers and actors, much of the royal family, and many of the courts literati. The result was not just a renaissance in Burmese art and literature but the creation of a new hybrid court culture."

4. We have come for your artists. Wars declared specifically to abduct or commandeer the artistic cultural cores of city states, adding them to your own. Biggest culture wins.

(Scott does not go much into the attractive or generative power of art, probably because its something civilisation does well and the whole book is basically about civilisation being a bit rubbish.)

"Perennial manpower concerns favoured easy assimilation and rapid mobility and, in turn made for very fluid permeable ethic boundaries..... The manpower imperative was everywhere the enemy of discrimination and exclusion"

6. Moving up quickly in the City-State. So far, so D&D.

7. Another interesting thing that comes up later is hill peoples having permeable ethnic boundaries and an 'ethnic bandwidth' rather than a set race or culture – pretty interesting compared to the D&D race and culture selection process. You could start play with a diagram or something of your potential ethnic expressions, knowing multiple languages and able to shift your expression according to the circumstances.

Story Gamers would *love* this. I can almost sense the RPG.NET thread that is offended that all games aren't already like this. “I mean for god’s sake its 2014! Hasn't Mike Mearls read Scott?! God I am so tired of educating people on this.”

"The altitudinal dimension, however, was reversed, with the Inca centres at higher altitudes and the periphery being the low, wet, equatorial forests whose inhabitants had long resisted Inca power. This reversal is an important reminder that the key to pre-modern state-building is the concentration of arable land and manpower, not altitude per se."

8. In the Scottian analysis GRAIN=STATES and that’s basically it. Anywhere you can grow grain and communicate easily ends up being a state, where you can't - its barbarians. (This is over-simplifying, but not by much).

So all you need to do is work out where the arable land and communication channels are - that’s where your kingdoms will be.

So if you invent a new strange kind of grain that, for instance, grows under sheets of ice, or propagates in clouds, then that’s where the Cities are. So you just design your world starting from the phenotype of the grain and working on up and the stranger the grains then the stranger the world.

9. Scott also regards new crops as political factors which change societies by shifting the balance of power between peoples in the way they are grown. Which they are really. Potatoes are political and you could have a D&D game where the first potato is the treasure sought or set in a tumult as a new crop sweeps across the land and re-writes the agricultural power structure.

Each Dwarf is a state, or the memory of a state.
The deep memories of the Dwarves mean that what seems like dourness is actually heroic wrestling with deep history and struggling towards life.

"..this was especially so at the core and when the kingdom faced attack or was itself ruled by a monarch with grandiose plans of aggression or *pagoda-building*." - my italics

10 Insane Pagoda Building projects that bankrupt kingdoms., an entirely real thing I knew nothing about till now

"The late eighteenth-century mobilizations of Burmese King Bo-daw-hpaya (1782-1819) in the service of his extravagant dreams of conquest and ceremonial building were ruinous to the kingdom as a whole. First, a failed invasion of Siam in 1785-86 in which half the army of perhaps three hundred thousand disappeared, then a massive labour requisition to build what would have been the largest pagoda in the world, followed by mobilizations to repel the Thai counterthrust and to extend the Meiktila irrigation system, and, finally another general mobilization for a last and disastrous invasion of Thailand from Tavoy sent the population of the kingdom reeling."

"Despite their syncretism and incorporation of animist practice, Therevada monarchs, when they could, proscribed heterodox monks and monasteries, outlawed many Hindu-animist rites (many of them dominated by females and transvestites), and propagated what they took to be "pure" uncorrupted texts.

11 Transvestites in the hills doing animist rites.

12 Apes are simply men who became apes for political reasons. If you make certain political choices and end up in exile then you just become an ape. Therefore all apes have strong political views which are very important to them and this depends on the kinds of Ape.

13 There is an empire of cooked men. To join it you are forced into a pot and boiled. You come out like boiled meat but alive. As you rise through the hierarchy then you are cooked in more and more intensive ways. The Emperor is carbonised. No one wants to be cooked so the Empire keeps grabbing people to cook them. The punishment for not grabbing enough guys is to be promoted.

"While a grain-growing population whose granaries and crops were confiscated and destroyed had no choice but to scatter or starve, a tuber-growing peasantry could move back immediately after the military danger had passed and dig up their staple a meal at a time."

14 Potatoes of rebellion. Potatoes, and all tubers are banned by law, symbols and tools of rebellion and enemies of the state.

15 Some tribes avoid state control by taking off their heads an burying them in jars to make themselves useless slaves. They feel their way around by touch and retrieve their head once the agents of the state have passed. Others are simply out of focus, you can't really see them clearly up close, you can at a distance but the closer you get the more blurry they are.

"Another response to the pressure to create a political structure through which the state can act is to dissimulate - to comply by producing a simulacrum of chiefly authority without its substance. The Lisu of northern Thailand , it seem, do just that. To please lowland authorities, they name a headman. The Potemkin nature of the headman is apparent from the fact that someone without any real power in the village is invariably named, rather than a respected older male with wealth and authority."

16 There are no goblin chiefs or kings, and actually no Goblin government, and no Goblins. ‘Goblin’ is just a name that the people trying to kill them gave them, they don’t really recognise it, but the Goblins pretend there are and set up false kings to fight and die for false nations in order to confuse those who would control them.

Goblins don’t act chaotic because they are dumb or crazy, it is a political choice.

"The more turbulent the social environment, the more frequently groups fission and recombine, the greater the likelihood that more of the portfolio of shadow ancestors will come into play."

17 The Shadow Ancestors, in a D&D world, would be an active force rather than a mere reaction or creation of the living. Different groups of ancestors of different descents pulling the actions of their descendants one way or another depending on their power. Wars fought to re-arrange ancestral power.

"The Lisu, aside from insisting that they kill assertive chiefs, have a radically abbreviated oral history. "Lisu forgetting, Jonsson claims, "is as active as Lua and Mien remembrance." he implies that the Lisu chose to have virtually no history and that the effect of this choice was to "leave no space for the active role of supra-household structures, such as villages or village clusters in ritual life, social organizations, or the mobilisation of peoples attention, labour or resources."

18 Radically forgetting tribes. How far can you push that? Ancestor free tribes, then further away, one-year tribes, then in the reaches of the deeps, the one-day, impossible even to understand as they remember only for one day.

Under Scottian analysis, dispersed egalitarian communities create religious structures based around individual charismatic figures and has a kind of 'wide-low' spiritual world with the numinosity dispersed into lots of little places and things, centered hierarchical stratified societies create religious structures based around hierarchy and institutions and a spiritual world that is as ordered and pyramid-shaped as the society.

18 These gods and spiritual worlds are actually real and rather than man creation them, it really depends what kind of god or system you end up under. The Hierarchal god wants people to build empires and actually makes people do that, the animist network wants people to disperse and not form hierarchies and so makes people do that.

"Egalitarian, acephalous peoples on the fringes of states are ungraspable. To the command "Take me to your leader" there is no straightforward answer. The conquest or co-option of such peoples is a piecemeal operation - one village at a time and perhaps, one household at a time - and one that is inherently unstable. No-one can answer for anyone else."

"They are millenarians, forever generating warrior leaders, sects, 'white monks', and prophets, all persuading themselves that the Karen kingdom is, once again, at hand. Animists talk of the coming of Y'wa, Baptists of Christ, and the Buddhists of the Arrimettaya, the future Buddha. Somebody is imminent, Toh Meh Pah is coming, something will happen."

19 We can apply this stuff to Orcs and Gnolls if we like. It makes sense that a group with a very flat hierarchal structure would 'auto-generate' prophets and millenarian figures when it needed to operate on a wider scale. An interesting thing is how commonly these prophets bring together peoples from different ethnic groups and how often they are not core members of any of those groups but kind of 'barbarian-cosmopolitans of mixed backgroupd or mixed education or just full-on outsiders. Which fits quite neatly into a D&D game.

It also creates the idea of Orcs as merely Democratic Men. Extremely Free men.

Here's some more Robert E. Howard for comparison:

" What united the rebels was the belief that the python-god, a shared highland deity, had returned to earth to inaugurate a golden age. The dieu-python would destroy the French, and hence all taxes and corvee burdens, while those who followed the ritual prescriptions would enter the golden age and share French goods amongst themselves."

No, sorry, that was Scott. Like I said, hard to tell apart.

"Stepping back from this historically deep and remarkably widespread incidence of millenarian activity, there is a realist school that would regard the entire record as an abject failure of essentially magical solutions."


There is so much more in the book than this but there are limits to the notes I will take when I am doing this for fun. I might still try doing a proper actual review of the book because it is worth it.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

BLATSITSU! - An introduction

Except from

'BLATSITSU! - A fighting style for battling impossible things.
For gentlemen, scholars and ladies travelling without chaperon.

(2nd edition with additions by P Zenithal.)

by Junglangsing Leptoblast

It has been my fate and pleasure since my very early years to be subject to adventure. I have wandered and roved the wide world, seeking always some fresh discovery or unknown thing. Danger has been my constant companion, danger in a plethora or unexpected forms, whether from the common beasts of the forest and field, from the storms and winds which wracked the sky, from the turpitude and greed of men, or from, occasionally, the vagaries and inconsistencies of my own character.

But it is not of these dangers that I wish to speak, but of a particular kind of threat, the danger of the tetramorphs, those remarkable and unusual beings known commonly to men as 'monsters'.

The division betwixt animal and monster, and even between monster and man, must perforce be both permeable and loosely drawn. Is the Sanguine Crane a monster? In most circumstances, not at all. But, if it should come upon you in the morning while you sleep, and hunger for your blood, then certainly it is.

Is the Bedlam Bird a monster? It is and must be considered so at all times, so cunning and malignant a beast it is.

However we are to arrange such definitions, it has been always my desire and joy to seek out those creatures noted for their unusual nature and even for their potential danger, and to make what account of them I could. Combat, of any kind, has never been my intention. I am a scholar, not a warrior. Nevertheless, chance or dark circumstance has many times, in many places, lead me to affray. A rough milling indeed between the stones of violent time!

It would be a poor scholar indeed who sought out such circumstances, but a poorer one still who failed to learn, and make what devisements they could for the sustaining of their life in the field of wild peril and unexpected mischance.

It is the fruit of just such experience which this volume seeks to condense and lay before you as one coherent physical and psychological system which, if followed correctly, will gift the learner with the sum product, not only of my long experience, but of my careful analysis. BLATSITSU! is not only a mere fighting system, (perhaps the most comprehensive ever devised) but a pattern of thought, an attitude and way of being.

The greatest weapon, and sweetest boon of man has always been: THE MIND. And BLATSITSU! seeks to train not only the body, but the mind, body and spirit as one. It is an intellectual as well as physical journey and the deeper the efforts made in its employ, the deeper shall be the rewards.

I am no genius. BLATSITSU!, though an original creation of my own, has deep roots in the fighting styles of many cultures renowned for their martial ability. Over my long years I have been lucky enough to study with the exemplars of several of these styles. I have learnt the Hand of the Yam from the Yam Man of the Phyrrous Plains, I have taken instruction from the silent Rapier-Men, I have visited also with the Swamp-Drunk tribes of the Melanic Moors and learnt something of their 'Drunken Bog-Dance' style.

Yet there are still other cultures, not so famous for their martial abilities, who may still have much to teach us. Not all who posses knowledge are inclined to advertise the fact. I have also studied the slow-time trench-fighting style of the heralds of the dark, I have spoken with the shadows and learnt the true shadow-boxing, I have had converse with the Considerate Ones and learnt from them many secrets of war in the world beneath our own and the power of the 'discretion-punch'.

From all of these source and from many more, I have condensed the core lessons and attitudes and combined them into BLATSITSU!, a fighting style devised specifically for battling impossible and unexpected things.

The primary style of BLATSITSU! assumes its practitioner will have access to a basic dueling stick. However, as a scheme for training both mind and body, BLATSITSU! is an attitude so much as a fighting style, one based on boldness, innovation, subtlety and environmental awareness. Chapters clarify the use of BLATSITSU! when armed only with hand and foot, (the true BLATSISTU! practitioner is never truly disarmed), when tied up, when imprisoned and when asleep.

It is in the field of the unconscious that the mental and physical practice of BLATSITSU! combine to the deepest effect. You will never be in so much danger as when in a dream and the battles fought there can be of deep consequence in the waking world

This second addition of BLATSITSU! has been amended and increased with comments and recommendations from a young correspondent, one P. Zenithal, who contacted me after the original publication of the first edition with questions regarding the use of BLATSITSU! by a female practitioner.

I was at first quite surprised, I had assumed that no woman travelling with a chaperon or protector would need or require such an Art. However, after the exchange of several letters I became persuaded that it is no longer an unusual circumstance for women, young or old, to travel without male accompaniment, and in some cases into the very deeps of the wilds themselves.

There is no doubt that, should they come into contact with Tetramorphs, a woman would be in as much need of BLATSITSU! as any man. These creatures (with a few exceptions) are no respecters of gender.

As BLATSITSU! encompasses a coherent learning program for both mind and body, and since it is a mental attitude a much as a physical program, I believe it should apply equally well to both men AND women. The subtitle has therefore been changed. BLATSITSU! now advertises itself for not only Scholars and Gentlemen, but also any Lady travelling alone. After reviewing Ms Zenithals comments and finding them an excellent match with both the spirit and practice of BLATSITSU!, I have incorporated them into a new chapter addressing difficulties and opportunities likely to be faced by the female practitioner such as: 'What do do with your skirts in a fight', 'Fighting with an umbrella', 'Scissors and their uses' and 'Hair'.

I have also added some comments regarding the criticisms made of BLATSITSU! by several individuals both uninformed and unwise. BLATSISTSU! does not encourage 'low level alcoholism' though unlike most conventional fighting manuals it does acknowledge the uses of alcohol both in training the awareness and in loosening the muscles and encouraging improvisation. Neither is it 'a rag-bag of techniques arranged around some made up monsters', every creature described in BLATSITSU! is quite real and the techniques described are ones I have myself tested in the field. Furthermore, BLATSISTSU! is no mere list of techniques to be matched with each opponent like some petty accountancy of harm, but a system of improvisation and creation so that, no matter what strange and unpredictable threat the practitioner is faced with, they may formulate their OWN response to their PARTICULAR circumstances.

BLATSITSU! demands a great deal from its practitioners, but, if you follow the instructions and processes within I guarantee that you will discover for yourself its enormous transformative power. And remember, even if you should be small, apparently weak, of no matter what gender or shape you may be, if you have a MIND and a BODY then BLATSITSU! is for YOU.

"That ever was thralle, now is he free;
That ever was smalle, now grete is she"

It is true. It is BLATSITSU!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

More Curseling Riddles

Man just never riddle with Curselings.

You make me
but cannot escape me
I have no boundary
Time and Space obey me
But I die before dawn.

A Nightmare

Once I destroyed all
I and my white brothers
Two armies ranked, we fought for life
Nothing survived us.
Then, I met a foe to hard or sharp or sweet.
Now I torture you until you cast me out.

A Broken Tooth

I will take everyhing one day.
But no day.
Till then I wait behind closed eyes.

Darkness / Night

I want one thing: for you to live.
But don't listen
Or I'll eat your life whole.


You don't like me clothing you
But you will wear me in the end
And become me after that.
We will catch sunbeams
And sleep in the stillness.


I am never really with you.
You might think you have found me,
But the closer you attend
The more distant I seem.
I flee between the stars.


Don't worry, I always pass cleanly
Though I seem dirty.
I want to be with you!
Not this still one.
(I have to keep moving)
I have already forgotten how it all went down.
(I have no memory)
Though others might not have.

Gold from dead hands

This is the greatest partnership!
I cost you nothing
I always listen
I never complain
You can make me with a knife
And fuck me all night.

A Dead Wife! (Curselings always laugh after this one.)

The wild beasts know me still.
The poor never forgot.
You made a golden wall to keep me out.
And built a golden store in case I came.
I was inside the wall.
I was beneath the store.
When feasts are done I feast on you.


It wasn't us!
One gave us our command.
Our ten servants did the deed.
Of two, now one remains.
How then can we be guilty of the crime?

A murderers hands.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Swamp-Drunks of the Melanic Moors

"Why are they drunk, and on what? This was my question. I was soon to find out.

From the conversations of the rich I had thought the Melanic Moors and the tribes of Swamp-Drunks there to be little more than an irrelevant scattering of primitives living in the marshlands all around the bay.

As I listened more and spoke less, and descended deeper into the city, I found that knowledge and news of the Drunks and the Moors bubbled beneath the surface of the cities conversation like a cyst beneath the skin. Stories of the tribes of the Moors: the Dismals, Great-Dismals, Thesingers, Morokie-Men and the feared Fluke Boys, as well as the doings of the notable characters of the Moors: 'Her-Face' Shah Lun, Nine-Hundred Wilson, Chthonic Jones and Tenberous Djang, were on the lips of all classes, though only the poorest would speak directly to me on the subject, the rest spoke only amongst themselves, as if they guarded an open secret.

It was only from an apparently-homeless woman sitting on a disused landward dock of one of the poorest towers that I was able to learn exactly why the Swamp Drunks are drunk so much." - Z

"The Melanic Moors cannot be navigated by the conscious mind. The Moors themselves are a several broken archipelagos of reeds and black water, a maze of creeks and waterways, lakes, wetlands, insects and broad floating islands, a baffling labyrinth of reed beds, sunken forests, acidic mangroves and dismal pools. No-one can be sure exactly where they start or end, whether one environment or several linked. Even without any other-natural quality, they would present an incredible challenge to navigation. But some unknown quality of the Moors, some secret force, makes their pathways impossible to rationally understand. Any sane intelligent person attempting to move through them will find themselves travelling in circles, faced with impossibly branching paths, drawing maps that make no sense, unable to describe or understand where they are or should be. If they are very lucky they will go insane before they starve to death.

Only a deranged mind can move safely through the moors. You must be mad, drunk, drugged or half-asleep. Only then, with the conscious analytical part of the mind baffled and closed off, may you move by clever instinct, as the animals do, and find your way. 

It is for this reason that the tribes of the Melanic Moors are named 'Swamp-Drunks' and it is this that makes up one of the few points of continuity between the baffling miscellany of cultures in the Moors.

There, insanity is valued over sanity, the inability to hold your drink or drugs is thought highly of, rather than the other way around. (Anyone who can get drunk easily is a cheap and reliable guide.)  It is common for childhood to be valued over adulthood, dreams over reason, instability and intuition over reason and reliability. Though by no means absolute amongst all Swamp-Drunk cultures, these factors do present a common theme.

Professional guides usually keep a bottle of strong spirits on them at all times in case of emergencies. Some tribes specialise in certain drugs, some keep insane people to guide them, small families can be seen floating past on reed beds, guided by half-asleep children." - Leptoblast

"There is an extensive economic relationship between the City and the Moors.

The population of the Moors is sparsely distributed but the Moors themselves are huge There are reaches of which even the Deep-Drunks do not speak The total population may be very large indeed.

Trade directly with the Drunks is banned and there are regular attempted punitive expeditions in response to some outrage or act of piracy. As well as a flickering state of inconstant conflict. The two cultures are bound closely together.

I estimate as much as a third of the total mainland trade of Juaki comes from this illegal source.

The Moors supply, or transmit from further on: rare and or aromatic woods (for example gaharu, sandalwood, sappan and @orn wood), puccoon-Silks, Virid Steel, Caged Fruit Hounds, the leaves of the Catastrophe Tree, the feathers of the Blathering Bird, the Sanguibe Crane, of Hornbills, Peacocks and Kingfishers, Snapkegs and Snapkeg parts, rare forms of art, war-puppets, bezoar stones, dried organs of swamp fauna, aloe wood, hostages, edible birds nests, honey, beeswax, rice, opium, rubies, riddles, sapphires, liquid shadows in the shells of snails, a variety of spices, the services of Hex Dragoons, diseased spines and many other things.

In the other direction flow all kinds of manufactured goods: machetes, axes, tools, pots and pans, lamps, fuel, candles, sheets, clothes, weapons, fast shallow draft boat, sail, drugs and a truly staggering amount of alcohol.

All of this is carried on secretly, or semi-secretly. Yet the trade is so vast and so important to both cultures that, though they both feign independence from, and contempt for, each other, if it were to ever cease they would both be ruined.

The balance of power shifts endlessly between the two. The borders of the Moors by the bay are dotted with the abandoned watch towers of failed alcoholic colonisation. Now more usually bases for smuggling operations. At times explosive tribes have threatened the towers of Jukai. They are swiftly absorbed, incorporated into the cities history, government and mythology." - Ashkott

"The Mystery of the Moors! A tantalising secret sought by many and postulated, theorised on and discussed by courtiers. No man is without a theory of his own: The 'Second God' theory, supposing the Moors a kind of Twin to the Forest of @orn, the 'Ten-Shadows' theory put forth by Stammel claiming the Moors as the seat of some ancient power, a mere emission of the reeds, a special kind of pollen, the bite of a specific moor-bound insect, a simple curse of Subtle Art, great black gates down beneath the deepest pools leaking forth the logic of some other world, space stolen from the world and worked into an alternative mirror-land. 

No-one knows. But the discoverer would become famous throughout the world!" - Leptoblast

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Redacted report of an unknown subject

SC: '''''''''' '''''''''' ''''''' '''''''''''' '''''''' '''''''''''''''''''' valuable ''''''' dangerous object and risked the wrath of Iksladzord ''''''' ''''''''''''' bug ?!

SUBJECT: Well now its true you never asked me our-right direcly just ta 'steal' anything, but you know folks usually don't. What Ah'm sayin' buddy is that the assumption of theft kinda goes along with the whole 'breakin-an-enterin' situation. If you wanted me to break into this creatures abode and not steal anything then well hell, you shoulda told me that.

SC:  ' '''''' '''''''' ''''''' ''''''''''' '''' '''''''' '''''''''''''''''''!?!

SUBJECT: Like "Get in there, take a look around AND DON'T TAKE NOTHIN ''''''' YOU DUMBASS", cause any other way you say it kinda sounds like "find this place, get in there and take a look around".

SC: ''''''''''''''' '''''''''' '''''''''''''''''' '''''''' ''' context ''''''''''''''''''''''' ''''''''' '''''''' '''''''''''''''''!

SUBJECT: The context is implied you horses ass! You hired a thief to not steal!

SC: '''''''''' ' '''''''' '''''''''''' ''''''''''''''' revoking '''''''''' fee ''''''' '''''''''''''' '''' legal action ''''' ''''''''' ''''' '''''' deniability '''' ''''''''' ''''''' ''''''''' '''''''' ''' ''''''''''' ''''' '''''' ''' wiped from the record and disavowed.

SUBJECT: Hell son you do get frantic don’t you?

SC: I am '''''' '''''''''''''' ''''''''''''''''''''' of '''''''''' You will not '''''''''' '''' '''''' '''' “son”!

SUBJECT: Alright buddy, sorry “'''''''''''''' '''''''''''''''''''”. You won’t mind if ah actually disclose that information you sent me to acquire?

SC: '''''''''''' ''''''''' '''''''' '' ''''''''''''''''''''' ''''''' '''' ''''' ''''''

SUBJECT: No. Well it’s done now so ah may as well tell you what ah saw.

It was pretty much right where you put it on the map, we went up that golden river for a long while, curvin off into the streams that fed the streams that fed the streams. Then we see the gates. Big stone river gates came up just before the river got too small for a boat to manage. They was somewhat encrusted with the discards of Time but the lock behind em worked well enough.

Once we got through the lock was a long canal. Hell of a thing. Stone banks, straight like an arrow, stagnant quiet and overgrown. We poled up that pond for a long while with those queer trees with the red leaves growin closer.

SC: '''''''' '''''''' '''' ''''''' ''''''''''''' ''''' Rhodopsin ?

SUBJECT: Yeah ,those leaves had fallen and made the canal kind of a still red road. Ah reckon it was Autumn for those trees regardless of what season it was for everythin else.

Ah kept an lookout for Owls and singin' women like you said, and we battened down and kept still and under cover in the night. Guess we got lucky. Took us a day or two and then I see it risin' up over the trees.

SC: ''''''''''''' ''''''''''''''' ''''''' '''''''''''' '''' ''''''' '''''''''''''

SUBJECT: Well it’s difficult to say exactly, looked kinda like one of those kids toys you get to teach em shapes, but fitted together. Like a puzzle you was just in the middle of solvin', but it made a pleasin' form so you just kinda left it like that. It was wood, mainly ah think but ah can't be sure. There were stone foundations ahm certain and stone within. On top of that there was kinda like a suspension-bridge getup included with wires or somethin' comin out like bones in a birds wing.

SC: '''''''''''' ''''''' '''''''''''''''' ''' '''' '''''''''''''''''''''''''''' ?

SUBJECT: Yeah the whole thing looked kinds ay-symmetrical. Like it was fallin or foldin into or outa itself. It looked like some parts we sorta hangin or balanced against other parts with these fine fine wires. Looked kinda beautiful actually. Whole thing did.

SC: '''''''''''''' ''''''' ''''''''''''''' ''''''''''' '''' ''' vulnerability '''' ''''''' '''''''''''' ?

SUBJECT: No ah had the same idea but ah don't reckon you could. When ah got up close a saw that they were cables, woven with metal like it was wool. Very strong indeed. You would need a lot of force to break one.

Well we could see it and we thought we were close so we kept goin'. Turned out we weren't that close at all. Place was just so fuckin huge you could see it from three miles off. Bigger than any castle tower I ever saw. No idea how it stayed up.

At the end of the canal was stone docks. Strange and well made, and beyond them was the Palace.

SC: ''''''''''' '''''''' ''''''' ''''''''''''''''''' '''' ''''''' '''''''''''' ?

SUBJECT: Old too, but clean, like your grandma's house. It was dammm quiet there and somethin kept the trees from growin too close. You had a good bowshot an-then-some from the walls to any cover. And the ground was flagged and almost-flat. The floor was waved and smooth like the surface of a swellin’ sea. Real odd. I guess that’s how they like it though.

Well it was getting pretty late. Ah didn’t want to stay right outside the place and we reckoned last night we had heard the cry of Owls, so ah decided to just get on in there, get the job done, see what was what.

SC: '''''''''' ''''''' ''''''' surface ''''''''' '''''''' ''''''' outer '''''''?

SUBJECT: looked kinda like a loose shell of stone. Like a tortoise shell you know but with all the bits of the shell separated and hangin in some kinda frame of wood and wire. Those shell parts were about six feet wide ah think, larger the further up you got. The shell pieces moved a little, they weren't quite securely fit, not like a brick or a flagstone. Turned out later they could move around quite a bit. Ah looked behind one and all ah could see was a great complexity of suspension. Every time the wind changed the shells moved a little and ah don't think no rain or snow could have got in there, not because it was solid but because it kinda responded. It was a little like a skin and a little like feathers in the way it moved and a lot like a wall.

SC: ''''''''' '''''''''' '''''''''''''''''' ''''' '''''' ''''''''''' Art?

SUBJECT:  No ah don't think it was magic. You could kinda see that everythin got attached to everythin else at some point and it never seemed to put out more than got put in, if you get my meaning, which is the clearest sign of magic to me.

That was the basics of it. The bigger frame was made of wood and metal and light strong stone, all carved and cut very exactly and arranged with each other with great ease and fluid thought. Ah never saw any person or thing mix together materials so complexly and in such diffuse ways. it wasn't like it was impossible, ah reckon people could do it, but it wouldn’t make sense to them to do so as you'd need to plan every single tiny flourish, right down to the carvings and the tiny joints, and then snap it all together in sequence and if any single thing went wrong then maybe the whole thing would be screwed, so I don't see how we would ever make a thing that way.

There wasn't much goin' on there with colour. Almost everything was its natural shade, just polished and worked right down to the fine details. You touched it and it was smooth. No splinters, no cracks.

SC: ''''''''' '''''' '''''''' '''''''' '''''''''''?

SUBJECT: Well its always been mah principle that if you're breakin into a place you do best to start at the top and work your way down. So that’s what ah did. I myself am just about the best climber that I have ever seen and it took me a good half an hour to get to the top of that thing. Up its sides and those suspended iron ropes.

SC: '''''''' ''''''''''''''''''''?

SUBJECT: A vent that  popped open to let gusts of air come through. It’s warm in there, and dry too. Which aint that much of a surprise considering what lives there.

SC: '''''''''' ''''''' '''''''' '''''''?

SUBJECT: Whoo boy! It is crazy in there.

SC: ''''''

SUBJECT: Yeah, well…its like a nest of poles but the poles are straws.

SC: '''''''''''''''''' ''''''''''''.

SUBJECT: Like kinda how if you grab a bunch of straws and get em in a box without breaking them, till they are all mixed up in there then you take the box away and they still hang together, keeping its shape, its like climbing through a maze of those, its gots its passages and its roads, like how if you were small and climbing through a skeleton then the ribs would be a ladder and the spine a kind of passage, but its still pretty crazy. There are rooms, kind of, hard flat floors suspended or hung up amidst the pyolns and there are the tops of stone towers. The towers are real real thin but they stay up cause they were made as one with the rest, all the cables and the suspensions, and all the forces and the weights balance out just right. The stone tops of those thin towers are floors where work is done and things are made, like workshops. There are iron cauldrons there and winches and cranes. Sometimes it seems like the whole thing is just a nest of cranes and carriers. The forging inly happens on the ground floor though, or below, that’s where the big crucibles are. Its light at the top  - there are panes of glass (huge panes) in the roof and they let through light, and the forges down below are a deep red, but in the middle it can get pretty dark, and night was coming on so it was hard to see. It feels alive inside, but still, if the outside was like an old persons house, or the clean house of some fellah thatjust died then the inside is like a workshop where they guy has just stepped out and you feel he’s coming back soon cause there are things happening.

SC: '''''' ''''''' ''''''' '''''''''''''''' '''' ''''''''''' '''''''''''''''?

SUBJECT: No, it could have been a day or a year or ten since something did something, but it felt occupied, “''''''''''''' '''''''” ah says (it’s  always been a habit of mine to name myself in my own mind whenever ah address myself, its kinda for the record you know, ah got multiple gods watchin’me, “''''''''''''' ''''''' ''''''''''''''', you know sure as hell this goddamm ''''''''''''''' '''''''''''' aint gone, or if he is, it aint for long. By dammn ah know an empty house when ah feel on and when ah don't, that’s professional intutition you might say.

Shit ah aint mentioned the poles yet.

SC: '''''''''' '''''''''''' ''''''' '''''''''''?

SUBJECT: I mean, they was all carved up, everything in there is, everythin is carved and cut and decorated, right down to the size of your fingernail there. Most curious arrangements, lines and waves, vivid but unreal, unnatural but fine and beautifully expressed

SC: '''''''' '''''' '''''''' '''''''''' ''''''''''''''''' ''''''' '''''''''''''?

SUBJECT: Climbin! There aint barely no way to get anywhere except by climbin around. Some climbs are easier than others, but you know the spaces this thing slides through are pretty huge. Bigger than a man is by quite a way, so the routes it made for itself to curl and wave around and through the house it made won't work for you. You gotta kinda scamper and improvise from flat surface to flat surface. And don't fall!

SC: ''''''''''''' '''''' ''''''' '''''''''''''' ''''''' ''''''''''' '''''''''''?

SUBJECT: Well I encountered these, I guess you'd call them 'chests' cept they was spherical and metallic and made of kinda layers of material all locked together like a puzzle. I got to thinkin "''''''" for its always been my habit and iron-shod personal law to name mysself in mah own head in case it mah memory was suddenly wiped "Old '''''''''''''' ''''''', this whole place is like one big puzzle made by that creature that lives here, and those look ery much like smaller puzzles made by the same hands. And if you was that creature and you had things to keep, well maybe you'd just keep them in a thing exactly like that, because by damn you wouldn’t have no problem opening them.

SC: '''''''''' '''''' ''''''' '''''''''' ''''''''''?

SUBJECT: Hggmm. Well ah happened to have with me.. tell me son. you ever heard of a 'Thieves Eagle?'.

SC: ''''''' ''''''' ''''' '''''' '''''''''''''''''''''! '''''''' '''''''''''''''' ''''''''' ''''''' ''''''''' ''''''' '''''''! '''''''''''''''''''! '''''''''' ''''''' '''''''''''''' '''''''''''' '''''''' ''''''''''''''''''' '''' '''''''!

SUBJECT: Ah found mine. Just warmed her up and she got one of those spheres open right away. Found your doodad there inside.

SC: '''''''' ''' '''''''' '''''''''' '''''''' ''''''' ''''''''''''''''''''''' Iksladzord?

SUBJECT: Yeah he turned up pretty much as things started to go to shit. Never seen anything like it before and never want to see anything like it again. Huge! And those goddamm hands! Ah don't reckon he saw me straight away be he sure as hell knew something was up. The way he moved through that place. Incredible. Course he made it for just that purpose. Ah knew ah wouldn’t last a second against something like that, he was arming his teeth for war right enough, with all kinds a crazy weapons, and wherever he went he would kinda reach out with his teeth and feel the strands and the pylons. Ah knew to pause dead still whenever he did but it still seemed like some kinda secret information was makin its way back to him. maybe he could feel mah heart beatin, ah don't know.

SC: '''''''''' '''''' ''''''' ''''''''''''''?

SUBJECT: Hah, weeelll. Ah kinda made a commotion.

SC: ''''''''''''''''''''?

SUBJECT: Ah found a way ta turn over the feeds for one of those forges on the ground floor, got boiling Iron spreading all over the place. Knocked the safeties out so the floor went up. Whooo he was pissed off I can tell you. Ah ran for it. When ah looked back that thing was pulling some kinda leaver. Musta had it prepared, water from the canal was gushing in from some kid of hydraulic system. That thing had a whole safety plan worked out ahead of time! Hell of a mind ah tell you, hell of a mind.

When that water hit the iron it calmed the fire down but the steam was explosive in the extreme, whole place was full of it. I coudn't see shit and ah reckon even that thing coudn't sense shit. Must have pulled some other leaver cause the shells that made up the walls just kinda rippled open to let out the steam.

It was dark out there by then. Out I go and runnin back to the boat quick as ah can. From there we just pole'd it you know? No sense on sticken around I thought.

SC: ''' ''''''''''' ''''''' '''''''' Iksladzord '''''''''' '''''''''''''''' ''''''''' '''''''''''''''' '''''''''' '''' ''''''''''?

SUBJECT: Shit it's not like ah leave a callin' card in the places ah steal from with the name of the guys that hired me on it. That Thieves Eagle might still be running around in there (she got away from me, they always do) but hell, no-one at all can catch them, and it ain’t like they learn in the egg.

SC: '''' '''''''', ''''''''' ''''', '''''''''' '''''''''''''''''''' '''''''''''''''''''''' '''''''' ''''''''' '''' ''''''' '''''''.

SUBJECT: Ohhhh. Oh shit, well that aint good.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Shadow Archipelago

(Note: I use the word 'Civilisation' a lot in this post. I use it to mean '(often relatively) densely populated society dominated by urban centres' and only that.)

In his book 'The Art Of Not Being Governed' James C Scott talks about the uplands of South East Asia.

To cut a very complex argument down (also because I haven't finished it), his theory is an attempt to turn on its head the standard narrative of civilisation in which centres of agricultural power gradually expand, drawing to themselves various people with the strength of their highly organised society, before  reaching the hills and mountains where they find dispersed ancient peoples, relics of a past age from before civilisation, people made hardy, uncivilised but independent and freedom-loving by the mountains in which they live.

In Scotts re-telling of this story Civilised centers essentially bully captive or near-captive populations into doing what they want. They fill flat valley-areas with grain-based agriculture, not because it is more efficient but because it locks people in place and makes them easier to control.

Then various peoples decide they want nothing at all to do with Civilisation and, as this is before the modern era and civilisations find it very hard to project force in highly complex mountainous terrain they bugger off to the mountains and build societies defined by the fact that they are very hard to centrally control.

So, in this version, the mountains don't make people independent, independent people go to the mountains. Mountain agriculture isn't necessarily that much less efficient than plains agriculture, its methods are chosen for political and semi-political reasons. To make the people who use it harder to find, harder to count and harder to control. And there is an economic relationship between the mountains the valley even if they are politically separate. And the mountains aren't full of ancient peoples, some of them may be ancient, but some may be quite recent indeed.

And, this is the part where it gets very interesting for me, even their forms of social-remembering may be specifically arranged to make them harder for the state to make use of. He mentions that all the societies he talks about have legends about how they could once write and had a written tongue, and in many cases that writing was stolen from them.

Oral cultures are more plastic, more personal and, crucially, are hard to reveal to strangers unless you specifically decide to.

This lead me to think of the nature of memory and of what civilisation does.

We live inside a kind of global Mnemarchy. Oral cultures are pretty good and you can do a lot with them but there is a hard limit to the amount of information they can carry. Civilisations are the guardians of deep-memory-in-detail. What we know, we know of densely-organised peoples, the history of distributed peoples is generally lost to us.

Again, oral cultures can carry something a long way into time but in terms of the amount of information they can carry, the level of detail they can carry and the distance into time they can carry it, writing, inscription and the products of civilisation win out.

So anyone who talks about history in the modern world is pretty much talking about the written history of civilisation. When we see any other kind of history we see it through the written history of civilisation. Like my buying 'The Art Of Not Being Governed', a book about distributed oral cultures, written on paper, by a guy employed by a university, produced en-masse, bought on the internet and distributed through a highly structured logistics network. It's a very civilised thing.

This is where it gets D&Dable.

To D&D something, or genre-fy it generally, we can take an effect, or something which is primarily an effect, turn it into a cause and then spin the dials on it.

Let’s accept Scotts argument about memory, in fact lets over-accept it and assume its the most important thing. People go to the hills and build societies where they carefully half-sabotage their own cultural memories, oralising what was written, embodying what was disembodied, turning record into behaviours and what can be read by anyone into something that can only be understood by a few, to make themselves hard to understand or control by the Civilised valley.

So the Valley Civililisation becomes the guardian of a certain kind of 'national memory' a structure for arranging and understanding knowledge of the world and making an identity of it.

What about the *opposite effect*.

Some people try to avoid the Valley Civilisation by going to the hills and making their memories shorter, more personal, more plastic. What if there was an opposite place, a place opposite to the hills where people went, maybe because, like the hill people, they wanted to, or maybe because they were forced to, or simply it was a natural progression of their nature.

These groups might not be driven by the expansion of the Valley Civilisation but perhaps separated when it goes through its periodic (but almost inevitable) contractions.

And in this place, rather than changing their own memories to make them more plastic, more personal, more embodied, less comprehensible to outsiders, they went the opposite way, they built huge icy labyrinths of total memory in which they lived. Absolute memories. Memories that could not be contradicted. Memories that could not actually be lived with comfortably in the Valley Civilisation.

And where is this place they might go? Well it has to be the opposite of the Mountains and in South East Asia, that is the Sea. The sea is wring because it’s actually very easy to travel by water instead of in the mountains, and maybe there isn’t an actual physical archipelago where you need one, but this is D&D and you might not be able to build the kinds of thing you would need in the 'real' world anyway. There is always they Plane of Shadow.

An archipelago of Shadow Islands, only part real, strung around the city at a distance, just far enough and strange enough that it is almost impossible, or very hard, to project military force there. But related, like the hill peoples, in some kind of cultural contact with the centre, defining the centre by what it is not. Changeless where the centre is alive, absolute where it is adaptable, locked into an unforgiving history and identity while the centre is strangely mutable by comparison. Like there is a certain level of forgetting you need to do to have a functional civilisation and they won't do it.

Not the remnants of an ethnic group that nearly got wiped out, but perhaps the remnants of the people who did the wiping out, and are still pretty much fine with that.

And all different, ancient histories and ethnicities and philosophies and ethnic or racial groups strung out like a ring of shadowy pearls around the City State.

An archipelago of eternal White Russians and loyalists to fallen crowns and adherents to once nation-shaping faiths now lost or changed. Each very small, yet many, an archipelago of hidden Taiwan’s holding alternative histories, almost like parallel political and cultural worlds. Expressions of what could have been if things had gone a different way, thousands of them from the long long history of the state as it grew and changed and fell and grew again, and shrank and grew and fell again and was re-built. All those other histories that were lost, distant but somehow keenly yearning.

The default idea is undead, and yes they might be there, but it’s almost more interesting to think of them as frozen or undead cultures, but full of living people.

(Some Arab cartographers called the Atlantic the 'Sea of Shadows' which I rather think we should have kept as a name.)

The islands are half shadow and you can only really reach them when there is certain light and certain shadow on the sea, which is rare, the shadows of certain storms and certain great waves against certain stars or certain faces of the moon. Or perhaps it simply takes a long long time to reach the shoreline of a shadow isle and if you go there, though the visit may be short for you, you come back years later.

But they are there and you can almost sense them as you sail past or through the oddly-stilled patches of sea.

Would the communicate with each other? It seems like they wouldn't be able to stand each other, demanding as they would the sole representation of the true history and true self. But, perhaps over time they might. They have something in common after all, they all remember the same place and I suppose each one would consider itself the 'real' nation and everything else relics or shadows of it and therefore no offence.

What would they trade in the Shadow Archipelago and what would they build? I don't know, art perhaps. Music. What would you pay to hear Roman music as the Romans heard it? Or to see a Greek play as the ancient Greeks saw it. The Spartans weren't allowed to write but they were famous for their music and their dancing, what would it be like to see that, or to own a Tang Dynasty vase made only a week ago?

Perhaps they would go mad and become fierce. And they would always be a strange threat to the Civilisation that birthed them, small as they are, with their alternate histories and alternate sense of self.

They would know a lot about certain things, scholars would try to get there.

Scott would say the closeness of the hills placed a kind of natural limit on the ability of the state to control its populations. If it comes down to it they can just go away and this puts a kind of pressure valve on what they can do. What would the Shadow Archipelago prevent or allow. Perhaps it would govern or control the amount of forgetting they could do.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Our Rainbow Problem

So our Monster-Manual project has been cursed. When Scrap is scanning in the pages, what should be super-kewl rough and raw monster pictures are turning up with these pretty rainbows.

This happens when there are grey and black dots. It didn't happen before and it seems to happen mainly on pages with some colour. It's a scanning issue.

Does anyone know what this is and how to fix it?