Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Keepers of Unkept Secrets

"Its harder to guess ahead of time how you will be recieved by those in charge of government documents than to guess what you will find in them. Ahead of time, I had guessed I would be sized up as a suspicious character up to no good: I was alone and peeking into government files and into Mann Gulch itself, which long since had been put out of sight and was better that way. Although Forest Service employees, I figured, would always be watching me with a fishy eye when I was around and even more so when I wasn't, there were not nearly as many spies as I had expected. They were mostly old-timers, and some of them had worked in the office long enough to know that some funny PR business had gone on at the time of the mann Gulch fire. Most of the Forest Service employees who had a corner of an eye on me belonged to that element in most PR offices who are never important enough to be trusted with any of the organization's real secrets - they just know genetically that big organizations have shady secrets (that's why they are big). Also genetically they like shady secrets but have none of their own. I gather that government organizations nearly always have unorganized minority of Keepers of Unkept Secrets, and one of these, I was told, went so far as to write a letter to be read at a meeting of the staff of the regional forester reporting that I was making suspicious visits to Mann Gulch and suspiciously arranging to bring back with me to Mann Gulch the two survivors of the fire. According to my source of information, after the letter was read the regional forester went right on with the business at hand as if nothing had interrupted him. And as far as I know, nothing had."

Norman Maclean

'Young Men And  Fire'

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Cthonic Codex - Cryptic Creatures Review

This is a review of Paolo Grecos Cthonic Codex part one, Cryptic Creatures.

The cover is by Clair Maclean. It looks like this:

Ok lets do the basics first.

The Basics.

There's monsters, about 30 I think.

Its A5, black and white. Staples but no spine, 64 pages.

Nevertheless, paper stock is good, looks like it would hold up ok round the table. Someone (Paolo) took their time putting it together so you could bash it about and it would probably survive.

This version came in an attractive and sturdy box.

The layout is one image of the monster and a description on the opposite page along with mechanics. Mechanics come in standard OSR stat block and another for Paolos AFG system. Many monsters have random tables and special rules. Nothing that anyone rading this would have any trouble using.

Paolo fell in love with the fonts making this I think but has managed to avoid any of the stupid stuff design people end up doing when they start thinking fonts are important.

The two urges in RPG design are, on one side, the Raggi-Esque old-school clear-out-the-shit nothing-but-vital-info and on the other, the deep desire to have magic glyphs and have the runes in the spell book look like real runes and have the doomed world transmission *look like its on a real view screen*. These are both noble intuitions and the war between them will never be done.

The fonts and arrangements are a neat synthesis of these two very different impulses. They are 'ancient-world' enough to look like they are from an ancient world but also you can fucking read them.

Layout in general is good, clear. One could perhaps argue that some of the tables are a bit fernickety.

Paolo has decided to use a whole bunch of methods to squeeze a bunch more information out a a dice roll I see. So far so OSR, a country fair staffed only by tinkers who built their own goods, in which 90% of the market is also tinkers and occasionally some normal people kind of fall in by mistake.

The Art.

Interior art is by Christopher Stanley. It ranges from ok, to good to very lovely. There is a thing with dots he does where the lines dont quite meet up and very generally, the pictures with more dots are better than the ones with less dots. He seems to be an artist where, if you give him more to do, he gets better, which is a generally good sign.

Honestly if you want someone to say something intelligent about art then you can send it to Jason Dozens, Playing Z&Z with Zornstars or Scrap Princess. You know its me so you get a paragraph on art and a page on writing.

I liked it.

The Monsters.

But what kind of monsters are there and what world to they infer?

There are things made by Wizards, which is ok in this case as the envirnment described is round a kind of magical university.

Threre are one or two that could easily be things invented by Gary back in the day, or be from legends that you've read but can't quite remember. the Horned Kateract is like this, they all have veils over their eyes, can percieve everything around them and cause effects depending on which eye they unveil each turn, but its never both at once.

There are a bunch of things shat out by raw magic, some strange cave life, and some more general monsters.

If I had one complaint its that it doesn't feel 'cavey' or undergroundy enough to me. Probably you know my prejudices in this area, if everything isnt blind, drained of colour, insane and used to waiting twenty years for a meal I am not satisfied. But 'Karstic Complex' can mean many things, it can mean caves, but also limetone labyrinths, broken ground and desolate dry moors and this does feel like that. Caves, deep valleys, gorges and crags.

It's sunny for a cave and that probably becasue Paolo is kind of sunny.

Its almost a social monster manual as almost everything you meet is going to involve you with either things made by other wizards or creatures generated by magic. There are a one or two possible Alpha-Monsters-That-Also-Have plans and only one organised enemy race, the Cephalapods. They are more schemers than thugs. I can't imagine them skullfucking you, they look kind of worried in the pictures. Probably they are worried about the wizards.

There are rules for the omens gathered by watching birds, depending on what they do. Which I like

The Writing.

The monsters have descriptions from in-world perspectives, a sliver of history each, and then simple direct rules.

Its clearly the voice of a very enthusiastic person speaking an a second language
not badly written, but with words and timing arranged in a way that puts it a bit outside what I imagine feels normal for most english speakers.

Which is good really as it fits in well with the foreigness and strangeness. I kind of imagine a tour guide in their mid 20's guiding you round the Hypogea, gesturing at things, maybe waving their arms.

"As they become older and wiser, more and more bent and withered, even more haughty and crotchety, often they die. And while sometimes it's not noticable, some other times it is, and it's ok. So when they do go properly dead and motionless, we usually bury them in the catcombs, so that we can protect them."

The prose virtually has an italian accent.

"So no, we don't simply bring a few different skeletons stapled together back to a life."

One thing I keep thinking of while reading this, for some reason, is 'The Courtier' by Castigleione. This is a rennaicence book where a bunch of very mannered, sympathetic and human people hang out in a castle and discuss all manner of things in a highly civilised style.

It feels like that. Its has a very warm tone of voice. Personally when I'm writing I tend to go for pounding pseudo-miltonic wierdness that goes after your spine and doesn't hang around to hear what you think about it, but this book isn't like that, if it had a face it would be smiling, and listening really. Happy to be speaking to you. "Oh did you see the Silver Swans flying towards the sun? bad omen for travellers I'm afraid. You should stay the night. Sit down and have some wine."

More than anything its a book of monsters that brings to mind the people who tell you about the monsters. many are useless without a personality to link them too, several of the rest will probably want to talk to you, several will steal or alter your magic if you have any.

If you want to meet those people you can just go through the monster descriptions and find the first story fragment with a name and bit of history. If you like, that could be the person speaking, maybe its happeneing now. If you just take the past tense out of the story fragments then its a plot generator instead.

"Grand Sorceress of the Valley of Fire Edonoplechtus III ha(s) a penchant for silent guardians ... she (has) realised that the lovechild of a male barn owl and a female 20-foot long python (is) the perfect predator for an environment consisting mostly of underground caverns (but they have escaped and she wants them back, and her name kept out of it.)."

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Form and Function

The alternate version of me from a parallel world seems to have got interested in sculpture and war games. I got this bunch of images and commentary from an email address that uses the & instead of the @ sign, that usually means its from him.

Frater Domus posted this on www.bolterandchainsword .com
 This chunk of Roman masonry, only recently rediscovered during building work in the Vatican Cellars, dates back to the rule of Augustus. The stairs have sockets for what historians estimate to have been a several-tonne statue of bronze. The statue would have occupied a commanding position in the capital. It has never been located and no recorded references to it have been found. Speculation on the 'Eagles Foot Statue' is rife, but it seems more likely that this is a historical mystery that will never be solved.

 A freestanding bismuth crystal from GeologyPage
Dimensional Gate for the 10mm game 'Echoes of Fire'. Echoes of Fire features the apocalyptic earths of five separate dimensions fighting both each other and the current earth culture to claim our unspoilt version of the earth as a new home. The dimensional gates play a pivotal part in the fluid activation section of the game.

This one has received a near award-winning paint job from 'Lupin'.

 Gold Smoke Knight - Kingdom Death
Kazmir Durecht's famous Sculpture 'Saint Djangos Passion' famously destroyed the career of this master of the Northern Renaissance when it was unveiled before the Pope. Durecht never worked again and is said to have ended his life as a pirate on the Yugoslavian coast.

 A giant by David Altmejd
28mm Krystallmann from 'War For Artcurus'. The wargame based on the visionary science fiction novel/mystical parable, has never been more popular. The Krystalmann player has limited forces and can only respond when the main player acts, but has almost infinite abilities to morph and transform the board and can confound and disrupt the active player with a variety of highly original mechanics.

Test Sculpt by Infamy Miniatures
A little-known example of the St Petersburg Realist School. All of the artists involved were utterly suppressed as the Bolsheviks tightened their control in the early years of the 20th century. Despite the name 'Realists' and their leader Fydor Kosmocot's famous defence of realism, all of their sculptures seem to have been direct representations of supernatural phenomena.

Academics are still torn over analysis of this school and discussion of it can provoke heated arguments even today.

 By Arnaldo Pomodoro, not sure what its called
28mm GlobeSoldier diorama by Markus Jobt. The GlobeSoldiers are a key element in the German game 'Shadow-Disrupt' in which innovative mechanics mean that your pieces eliminate the fog of war in a literal sense. Only one player has solid sculpts for their forces, (which come with batteries for their implanted LEDs) the enemy side figures are mixtures of two dimensional forms and lattices of gauze and wire that cast specific shadows. The 'Light' player wins when they disrupt all shadows but this German game is notoriously hard to beat, it has a small but ferocious following.

Mechanicum Myrmidon - Forge  World
Garoslav Gasparzkis 'Machine No5'. Overcome with a love of both futurism and fascism Gasparzkis famously travelled to Berlin in the late 30's to entreat Hitler to allow him to become the Fuhrers personal sculptor, claiming that only he could fully encapsulate the great mans 'will to exceed'. It is probably lucky for Gasparzkis that Hitler refused to see him. Gasparzkis had Romany ancestry and his situation might well have been untenable. As it was he died a recluse in his Rhode Island studio in 2001. Since his death his work has undergone something of a popular Renaissance.

 By Diana Al-Hadid, not sure of the name
 This 'Elven Distripolis' diorama was only seen briefly during Games Day 2006. It posits an Elven city poised somehow above itself. Fans complained as its mixture of science-fiction and fantasy elements was utterly unlike the mainstream warhammer universe and they could not locate it in the official timeline. The Diorama was removed from view and its existence has been denied by Games Workshop ever since, though it does have a kind of Samidzat being in rumours and recreations from fans who claim to have seen it. Conspiracy Theories suggest it was created as part of a possible 'alternate universe' for the game that never came to light.

 Nagash Sprue by Games Workshop
'Fragments Of A King' by Oscar Schott. The German sculptor famously caused a minor riot in Paris in 1915 when he delivered his promised monumental sculpture, not as a human whole but broken into pieces and carefully arranged across two gigantic racks of steel.

 Masaya Kushino’s “Storm Horse”
'Hrud Attack Cruiser'  by Faustina Blythe. Blythe left Games Workshop under a cloud after working there for less than a year and has since become an accountant. She is not available for comment.

Shaltari Firedrake - Hawk Wargames
'Terminal Angel' by Patricia Kirby. Kirby was a low level physicist at Los Alamos, after the end of the war she dropped out of the world of Science and disappeared. After her death, her numerous sculptures were discovered in a series of rented garages around Los Angeles, she had never attempted to sell one, or even informed anyone that she was making them.

 Seth Gould Forged Steel Object

Cosplay object for the Villain character 'Ten Shadows' from the popular Anime 'Apocalypse Horizon', this is clearly from season seven, after Ten Shadows builds new armour following their defeat in the Ash Wars. The original design was by Mitshishi Sato.

 Thraex - studio McVey
'Master Hunt' by Lucious Puccoon. Puccoon became popular as a corporate artist after befriending California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Though looked down on by almost the entire critical community there are few major corporations what do not have a Puccoon stashed away somewhere. He is rumoured to be the richest artist in North America

Max Ernst Crouching Figure
An older game piece here. This was recovered from the ice beneath a former Russian gulag during the brief thaw (both political and literal) in the early 90's, along with several other pieces and the rules for 'Gulag Chess' carved into a strip of bark. This highly modified version of chess starts with one player massively outnumbered in the centre of the board and challenges them to escape.

Just to be clear, this is all a fantasy. If you want to see what these things really are and who really made them then there is white text just below each one. Highlight it like the white text here: IT'S A TRAP YOUR SOUL IS MINE NOW.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Painted Prince

"He was painted all down the Breast, and behind, between his Shoulders; on this Thighs (mostly in front); and in the Form of several broad Rings, or Bracelets, round his Arms and Legs. I cannot like the Drawings to and Figures of Animals, but they were very curious, full of great Variety of Lines, Flourishes, Chequered Work, &c., keeping a very graceful Proportion, and appearing very artificial, to the point of Wonder, especially on and between his Shoulder-blades.

By the account he gave me of the manner of doing it, I understood that the Painting was done in the same manner as the Jerusalem Cross is made on Men's Arms, by pricking the Skin and rubbing in a Pigment. But whereas Powder is used in making the Jerusalem Cross, those at Meangis use the Gum of a Tree, beaten to Powder, called by the English Dammar, which is used instead of Pitch in many parts of India.

He told me that most of the Men and Women on the island were thus painted, and that they also all had Ear-Rings made of Gold, and Gold Shackles about their legs and Arms. Their common Food from the Produce of the Land, was Potatoes and Yams. They had plenty of Cocks and Hens, but no other tame Fowl. he said that Fish (of which he was a great Lover, as wild Indians generally are) wss very plentiful about the Island, and that they had Canoes to go fishing in. thye often visited the other two small Islands whose Inhabitents spoke the same language as they did.

This was so unlike Malayan, which he had learnt while he was a Slave at Mindanao, that when his Mother and he were talking together in their Meangian Tongue, I could not understand one Word they said. And, Indeed all the indians who spoke Malayan, and who are the trading and politer sort, looked upon these meangians as a kind of Barbarian, and upon any occasion of dislike would call them Bobby, that is, Hogs, which is the Greatest Expression of Contempt that can be, especially from the Mouth of Malayans, who are generally Mahometans.

And yet Malayans everywhere call a Woman Babby, by a Name not much different; and Mamma signifies a Man, though these last two Words peroperly denote Male and Female. And as Ejam signifies a Fowl, so Ejam Mamma is a Cock, and Ejam Babby is a Hen. But this is by the way."

- William Dampier (1651-1715)

(Paragraphs mine)

Monday, 10 November 2014

Five Curseling Riddles

 Curselings love a riddle, they can never leave on unanswered and they love to make their own. So, if you find yourself tricked from your path or lost amidst piles of dusty and forgotten gold, and you know you are surrounded by the clicking softly stepping limbs of black-bottle-glass-flesh and hear the whispering voices, try a riddle, you might live longer.

As you can see the Curseling themselves are not bad at all, though their choice of subject is a little.. limited.

"I need not speak my warning
or meet your eyes with mine
to tell my tale.
Once I was like you
until a sudden message met my throat.
I have seen the end
but cannot feel my feet."

A Severed Head

"I will wait
for those who left me here
where the path divides
between heaven and earth.
I went up, but
I won't come down again.
the Crow knows me."

A Hanged Man

"My makers hate me
I am a neat small size
and take less work to make.
They give me what they loved,
I keep it safe.
They visit all the time,
but hate coming.
I make them cry."

A Childs Grave

"I have many friends,
they take me to the best places.
I love food and drink
the stronger the better.
I like clothes too sometimes,
tight is good for me,
if you want a bit of violence
I won't object to cuts,
but no bruises please
I rarely have the time."


"I have a bad reputation
yet, I have freed slaves,
helped battered wives escape,
sometimes, I admit
I'll get a killer out of jail
but, I have been known
to help the mad and sick.
Kings too
more than a few I have released from jams.
I will never discriminate
and the darker things seem
the closer I will be."


Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Dead King Eats The Gods

The sky is a dark bowl, the stars die and fall.
The celestial bows quiver,
the bones of the earthgods shake
and planets come to a halt
when they sight the king in all his power,
the god who feeds on his father eats his mother.
The king is such a tower of wisdom
even his mother can't discern his name.
His glory is in the sky, his strength lies in the horizon,
like that of his father the sungod Atum who conceived him.
Atum conceived the king,
but the dead king has a greater dominion.
His vital spirits surround him,
his qualities lie below his feet,
he is cloaked in gods and cobras coil on his forehead.
His guiding snakes decorate his brow
and peer into souls,
ready to spit fire against his enemies.
The kings head is on his torso.
He is the bull of the sky
who charges and vanquishes all.
He lives on the stuff of the gods,
he feeds on their limbs and entrails,
even when they have bloated their bodies with magic
at Nesis, the island of fire.
The king is prepared
and his spirits are assembled
and he appears as the mighty one, Lord of Holy Ministers.
He is seated with his back to the earthgod Geb
and he passes judgement
with the One whose name is concealed
on this day when the Oldest Ones are slaughtered.
He dines in sacrificial meals,
binding the victims
in preparation for the feast.
The dead king eats men and lives on gods
and to carry messages he has couriers:
Kehau the Grasper of Horns lassos them like oxen,
and Serpent with the Raised head
oversees and drives the victims,
and Master of Bloody Sacrifice binds them.
The moongod Khons, Racer with Knives,
strangles them for the king
in his evening hearth.
He is the one who feasts on their magic
and swallows their spirits.
The great ones are for breakfast,
the medium-sized ones are for supper
and the tiny ones are for midnight treats.
Old men and women are burnt for incense.
The mighty stars in the northern sky
ignite fires under the cauldrons
with the thighs of their elders.
The sky-dwellers take care of him and sweep the hearth
with their women's legs.
He has travelled through the two firmaments
and walked both banks of the Nile.
He is omnipotent
and his power over the powerful is absolute.
He is a holy icon, the holiest of all icons of omnipotence
and he eats as raw meat
whomever he finds on his path.
He stands forth on the horizon among the nobility,
a god older than the oldest.
Thousands are at his feet,
hundreds sacrifice to him.
Orion, father of the gods, assigned him his deed of power.
The dead king appears again on the heavens,
the crowned Lord of the Horizon.
He snapped their backbones, drained their marrow,
and tore out the hearts of the gods.
He ate the red crown worn by the King of Lower Egypt.
He swallowed the green crown of the goddess Wadjet,
guardian of Lower Egypt.
he feeds on the Wise Ones lungs.
He is sated with their hearts and magic.
He won't lick the foul tasting substance of the red crown.
He flourishes and enjoys himself with the magic in his belly.
His dignities are inviolate.
he has swallowed the intelligence of every god.
The dead king lives forever.
His boundary is infinite.
He does as he pleases
since he inhabits the endless horizon.
Observe how their spirits fill his stomach.
Their souls belong to him
and their shadows as well.
In his pyramid among those who live on the earth of Egypt,
the dead king ascends and appears
forever and forever.

Egyptian Pyramid Text (2464-2355 BCE) Trans. Tony and Willis Barnstone

Friday, 7 November 2014

Here is a half-made thing

I never got very far with it, if anyone is interested tell me where you got up to and which choice you would like to see eludicated and I may add to it.