Friday, 29 April 2016

Widows of the Mad Mole

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


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

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

Original here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



1HP
2HP
3HP
4HP
5HP
6HP
9 or less
Duchess Castlereagh, 13th in Line To The Throne.
Experienced  Medical Doctoress.
Independently Wealthy & Uniquely Beautiful
with an Unquestioned Reputation.
Experienced Aristocratic Poisoner
(with Poison)
Colonels Widow
(Could re-fight Waterloo & win)
Sea Captains Widow
(Could circum-navigate the earth)
10
Widow of famed explorer. Speaks five languages.
Lady, enthusiastic horsewoman, houndswoman and huntress.
Lady  kleptomaniac. Can Pick Pockets on a whim.
Delusional sailors daughter brilliantly faking nobility.
Circus-Woman with rope. Costume & juggling sticks.
Irish Maid
and Experienced Thief.
(has lock picks)
11
Lady and Doctor of  Chemistry

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

13
Lady, and experienced boxing fan. (Can ‘read’ Hit Dice)
Lady and Renowned Artist.
Exceptional Hair.

Lady and Much-Appreciated authoress.
Severe melancholic.

Floozy.


Merchants Wife. Can calculate interest in a jiffy.
Butchers Wife
(has cleaver and pig).
14
90 Years Old. Remembers American Rebellion.
Extremely silly young girl.
Husband a wretch. Numerous debts. ide
Pregnant Housemaid.
(Married).
Sarcastic Jewess armed with long pin.
Fishwife with One Eye and Plentiful Hooks.
15
Dowager obsessed with her small and useless dog.
Divorced
‘Entertainer’ and Fake Medium.
Dressmaker with abusive husband.
Has a knife.
Plain Housemaid with Sapphic Drives.
Housemaid with Husband in gaol.
Serving Girl who weeps too much.
16
Educated Laudanum addict.
Pipe-smoking
Beggar-woman.
Half-Chinese Former Prostitute
Insurrectionist Irish Washerwoman
Serving girl with a
Hook Hand
Pursued by Violent Husband
17
Escaped Prisoner & experienced cross-dresser.
Spinster. Former Bedlamite.
Sees Things.
Current Prostitute &
Quadroon.
Old, with
Wooden Leg and a shameful dog.
One month pregnant. Unmarried.
Black. Five children to support.
18
Faints Under Stress.
In Staggering Debt.
Obsessive Abolitionist and Hysteric.
Back-street Abortionist
‘Given to the Bottle’.
Hideous Tobacco-Chewing
Crone.
Pregnant, Homeless, Black and Mad.


Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Who Will Stop The Worlds Most Evil Dog?

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


(an adventure for level 1 players)

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

steals babies and runs off with them

breaks into houses and bites the noses off old women

extremely racist

an evil genius

sets up traps

lures you into bad situations

leads you into dens of criminals

hides in the bog and lures you in to drown

sometimes spasms and attacks own tail

steals burning torches and sets churches on fire

kind of wheezes and yowls insanely instead of barking

stampedes cows

jumps on horses and rides them, guiding them by biting

sends carts running out of control

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

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

shits in the font

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

drops pigeon corpses into the well, poisoning it

eventually ends up leading a pack of wolves through town

hides in the toilet, waiting for you

steals money and throws it in the river

steals magic items and throws them in the well

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

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

keeps the doctor awake all night by yowling outside his window

can scream like a cat

pisses in your bed, poops in your shoes

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

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

gestures with its eyebrows

can smell fear

thinks you're kind of a pussy

pushes old men under water wheels

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

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

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

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

you get sucked into its all-encompassing plan

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

attacks pregnant women

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

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

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

the dog intends to blow up the brewery somehow

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

the demon is a little scared of the dog

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

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

it seems to be everywhere

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

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

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

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

Monday, 25 April 2016

This Chess Piece



Lets see how clearly I can think about this chess piece

What a dude he is.

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

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

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

The slumped strong shoulders. The roundness and irregular curve.

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

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

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

What are the lines doing?

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

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

what about the shield-face lines?

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

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

Because the face looks sad.

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

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

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

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

Monday, 11 April 2016

The Adventure Stanza

I’ve been thinking about our (my) design problem and about possible solutions. The idea of the ‘Adventure Stanza’ is my potential solution, though maybe too ‘froofy’/abstract  to be useful.

I’m going to talk about this in two ways to start;

One; as it relates to layout, or the interrelationship of space.

Two; as it relates to the interrelationship of information.

SPACE


If we assume a double page A5 spread,  meant to be looked at and considered as one thing then there must be;

- a roughly-optimal font size.
- a roughly-optimal number of words you can get on the spread at that size.

If we assume, like Medusa Maze, that we have a little mini-map on this spread showing all the rooms described in it and how they relate to the rest of the dungeon, then for each number of rooms on a single spread there should be an optimal page count per room.

It might go something like this;

A5, 2 page spread Attempt One

Words per page; 900

Words per room

1 - 900
2 - 450
3 - 300
4 - 225

But, the way this imaginary dungeon works might be quite different to the way Medusa Maze works.

If the map is just a map, and not art, perhaps it would be smaller.

If the map is a top-down room-picture like the ones Kelvin Green does, then that would change the interrelationship of space as well.

Perhaps it would be better to start with a basic number count, assuming no art or map present, and then go on from there;

A5, 2 page spread Attempt Two


Words per page; 1300 (roughly 2 pages of Quelong assuming no art, map or table)

Words per room

1 - 1300
2 - 650
3 - 325
4 - 162
5 - 80

We can take this as our basic 'budget' of information and then start deducting things from it. The things we deduct might include;

·         Corner Map
·         Art
·         Stats
·         Tables
·         White Space (for notes, Zak is fond of this option)

Obviously all these things interrelate and can (and perhaps should) be unique to a page.

Someone intelligent could probably work these up into something like an excel table.

A5 Double Spread
Number of rooms
WPR – blank page
WPR with ‘Medusa-syle’ corner map( – 1/8)
1
1300
1136
2
650
568
3
325
284
4
162
141
5
80
70

Or for an A4 spread, try this;

A4 Double Spread
Number of rooms
WPR – blank page
WPR with ‘Medusa-syle’ corner map( – 1/8)
1
2500
2272
2
1300
1136
3
650
568
4
325
284
5
162
141

(These numbers might be junk, I’m not that smart. The point is the idea.



INFORMATION

 The reason I called it a stanza and not just a spread isn’t just to be pretentious. The idea isn't just about the space on a page-spread. It’s also about the interrelationship of information on a spread.

Ideally, everything in a single stanza, which is also a single spread, should interrelate within itself and produce few, or no 'instant interrelations' with the rest of the book.

As I'm defining it here, an 'instant interrelation' is a piece of information, or a reference, that causes you to flip back and forth between this spread and something else held elsewhere.

Obviously the definition of an ‘instant interrelation’ might differ a bit for each person, depending on their familiarity with the system and how they play the game.

Flipping to a ‘what’s in their pockets’ table when searching a body isn’t that bad as its assumed to happen after a fight in most cases and the person waiting doesn’t mind waiting a little bit longer..

Flipping for a monsters AC or a special effect that takes place in a fight is the worst kind of flipping as a fight has the greatest amount in information going back and forth around the table and the results have the greatest consequence.

Flipping for a special drug effect or trap effect might not be that bad. It might not wound the player to wait a bit to see what’s going to happen, provided that what’s going to happen is sufficiently interesting.

I think the key here is that the tension of the choice should not conflict with other multi-origin tensions happening at the same time. All the data needed for those should be in one stanza.
  

HOW THIS COULD HELP US

Currently, when we (I) write adventures, we write a bunch of stuff and do a bunch of art and then the layout person has the nightmare job of trying to jam it all in together on a spread in a way that is both attractive and useful.

Sometimes the layout person is also the writer or creator, but this is rare, more usually they are an expert in layout, not information architecture.

This leads to imperfect and ugly results. I don’t mean ugly layout on the page, that’s usually avoided, I mean an ugly arrangement of ideas. An ugly architecture of thought.

But if we knew the budget, if we knew the basic allowance of words for the spread size we were writing for first, and if we know the general takeaways from that budget for art, maps, tables and stats, then we could work differently.

Instead of writing, then arranging, then jamming in art last our process might go something like this.

“Ah ha, so this is a LotFP adventure. That means the pages will be A5. Let’s assume a word budget of 1300 per spread. It’s a dungeon and we have the standard ‘medusa method’ map taking up roughly 1/8 of a spread. That brings us down to 1137.

So if I want to arrange four rooms together then I have about  284 words per room. Let’s say I want two unique monsters in these rooms, or the possibility of that at least, that’s two stat columns, so that brings us down to say 230 per room.

But I want the monsters to have interesting personalities, they aren’t just monsters, they are embedded in the social context of the dungeon, and I want the DM energised, interested and inventive when they play them. So let’s say I want each of them to have a d6 two-column reaction/personality table. I can embed a lot of condensed information about them in those tables as the DM will read them and even if they don’t use all the results then they will still pick up a lot of ‘mood’ from the possibilities.

Now we’re at roughly 200 per room, not that bad if I have two sets of stats and two tables to play with as well.”

Point being, we could write and create for each ‘room’ grouping’ or ‘hex grouping’ or idea grouping of any other kind and so long as we knew how information related to space and how much space we had and how much each kind of ‘extra’ thing would impact that space, then we could just write neat stanzas of thought and interaction and stop killing layout guys with stress and having imperfect janky pages.

Instead of imagining the adventure in one long unbroken sequence and then chopping it up, we could think of it in pulses of information , or ‘stanzas’.

“So ok,

·         The map of the area around the giants house, that’s one stanza.
·         They might end up in this weird forest, that’s not the main point of the adventure, but it should be interesting, we’ll make that one stanza.
·         Getting into the house, that’s one stanza.
·         No, breaking in is one stanza. They might persuade or trick the giant, and if we make the giants personality one stanza then we can have a picture, some background text and a bunch of interrelated tables just for what happens if you talk to him.
·         If we say fighting the giant is one stanza then we can have a bunch of complex effects, like how he throws you, what if he uses a horse as a weapon etc, so the Giant Fight can be one stanza.
·         Is the inside of the house one stanza? Well it’s a giant house, so like a mad palace with giant mice & giant traps etc, so let’s make upstairs & downstairs separate stanzas.
·         And of course the giant likes to swallow people in a fight, so let’s make the inside of the giant one stanza, like a liquid mini-dungeon.
·         The giants giant treasure might not be one stanza on thier own, but transporting them, and people/bandits interested in them, might be. So let’s make that one.
·         Throw in one stanza as a hook/mission generator/rumour table page.

“So that’s a ten-stanza adventure. A5 spread. That means a 20 page booklet. Thin and light, cheap to print and send. A Zine-sized adventure.”

So then you just write to that.

A POSSIBLE CHALLENGE

Could we use this method to transform a badly laid-out adventure into a well laid-out adventure?

We have already done the thing where we re-write an old TSR adventure and made it a new weird one. I’m not talking about the content here, but about the layout, informational architecture and usefulness.

In fact, Palace of the Silver Princess might be a very good start for a project of this kind. We’ve already changed it enough that fiddling with it wouldn’t present any serious copyright issues.

Point being, if we went through this thing and broke it down and applied the Adventure Stanza principal to it, and documented and wrote about what we did and how it worked, could we turn that experience into a kind of ‘guide book’ for creating adventures, not just their laying out, or usefulness, or conception or poetic quality, but the combination of them all on the page?

And if would could collectively work out the basic ‘informational budgets’ for different pag /font combinations and the various deductions and for different kinds of page furniture and a rough taxonomy of tables and their usefulness (I think various people have addressed this already) and if we could get it all together in one place then we could just make a lulu document like that ‘OSR Primer’ that guy did.

Then no-one would need to write shiftily laid-out adventures.

They would probably make mediocre adventures instead. BUT, the bar would be raised! And its better to work out how to hack a useful system that to have to invent a useful system, probably.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

SICKENING FEMINIST GAMERGATE SOCIAL JUSTICE CULTURE WAR CONTROVERSY!!!! FUCKING SARKEESIAN KOTAKU FUCK!!


HA Ha ha.

You fools.

You see how easily I control you? My thoughts are eagle talons, yours are but mice.

Now focus the sharp spike of endorphins, outrage and surprise you felt when you saw that title.

Wait for a second... let it coagulate into shame about our ruined culture and your own willing part in its downfall.

Live with your shame for a moment. Live with your sin.

Luckily for you, as Pope of reality, I am currently selling indulgences from internet hell.

Go and help this guy. Click on this picture now.



Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Every Character I've Played That I Can Remember

I've only been doing this for about 6 years so this might actually be all of them.


  1. Two aliens in a game of Traveller based on a video game. One a talky academic type, the other a vacuum suited engineer. I think these were the first.
  2. Noble german officer in Zombie-ruined WWII USSR. Cant remember name. Shot I think. Played a young girl after that.
  3. DAMODAR! - Brave trident-armed fighter who died in the dwarven ruins in the Mountains of the Moon above Silash Vo. Very stupid and very brave. Canonically I think the first Player Character to die in Yoon-Suin.
  4. Anil of Manpac - Cleric of MANPAC. Kind of misogynist or, at least, troubled. Eunach. Multiversal traveller. Last seen wandering the Gorgolith with a gigantic siege tower made of bone. Presumed still at large.
  5. Tsukba - Samurai spymaster of the Black Phoenix clan. Betrayed by WORTHLESS HONOURLESS COLLEAGUES.
  6. Basemeth Armstrong - Pseudo-mormon gunslinger. Creationist. Iron will. Coat of the Apocalypse. Presumed still alive somewhere in the old west.
  7. Porfiry Petrovitch - From dark alter-reality sci-fi liverpool. Shot to bits. Probably dead. Can't remember exactly. He killed that girl. Kind of a bad guy.
  8. His sister the cop. Shot but ended up in hospital. Still alive. red hair.
  9. Somalian pirate girl from dark alter-reality sci-fi liverpool. Survived. Last seen firing a rocket launcher into a church.
  10. Papa Quebec - A cleric of something. Possibly christ. Assumed at-large in places unknown.
  11. I think there was a Papa Sierra as well, not sure what happened to him.
  12. Chemical Jack - Drug addicted rogue. Devotee of the 52 pages. Still at large somewhere in the multiverse.
  13. Urtlan hiCharsha - Priest of Thumis. From Tekumel. Presumed still at large after escaping undead dinner party.
  14. Vasken Hoarder - Two goblins standing on each others shoulders and pretending to be the same person. Fighter. Weapon was a plank. Survived a surprisingly long time before being killed.
  15. Ursula - Would be party leader in the investigation of the Tale of the Scarecrow. Alchemist. As her very first action in the game she poisoned herself by mistake by eating evil coin. Was dragged through rest of adventure but dies before its end.
  16. Orve Heuzengork - Specialist or 'Artifex'. Last seen in the Nathanverse, trying to get back rights to her bar.
  17. Orchard Blackbright - Magic User. Creepy evil ex-carpenter bastard with an evil book, product of the Lore of Lamentations. Still at large somewhere.
  18. Amy Dreel - Extremely good looking, intelligent, but quite physically weak fighter. Was briefly mind and body swapped with elf but returned to normal eventually. Still at large. Hope she's ok, I liked her.
  19. Kulkblaser Monsterhole - Half-inuit rogue. Veteran of the frozen north and renowned cheese merchant. Managed to briefly seduce a succubus and fought her giant slime ogre to a standstill in thrilling one-on-one combat before being failed by IDIOTIC COLLEAGUES during hostage negotiation. His treasures are still there somewhere beneath an isolate island in the southern ocean.
  20. Pirate Woman with 18 STR who I perversely made a Magic-User as 'that's more interesting'. Stepped on by a giant in the Gorgolith whilst trying to steal his hat. Cant remember her name but it was based on a blog-comment Captcha
  21. Simal - Drow Barbarian fangirl. Travelled dimensions to a giant mushroom where she leapt into the mouth of a gigantic beast beneath the earth (or at least, beneath the surface of the mushroom.
  22. Subal - Wolf polymorphed into a man. Magic User. Escaped the death of his colleage Simal and last seen in a trans-planar airship of some kind. Presumed still at large.
  23. Li Bao - Ancient Chinese 'Drunken Immortal' taoist philosopher monk transported through realities to the Crime Syndicate version of America. First super her he encountered was Superman, whom he subsequently defeated (or deluded really, but he survived.)
  24. Zengar of Strongtown - Void Monk of Centarra. Shot to death but froze his body in time at the moment of death, fell to the bottom of a canyon in Centerra. Probably still there.
  25. Herman Shultz - Die Schochker. Jew Terrorist Number One in dark-nazi-future Vornheim New York. Still just about alive despite encountering sexy girls underground.
  26. 'Fiddlin' Joe Cooper - Thief. Multerversal traveller. Currently living with his baby mamma in Osc Leth (or possibly Osc Lithicum) somewhere in the Vornwelt, or Gorgolith. The highest-level survivor and the only one to successfuly start a family and retire.
  27. Jennifer Pipes - Barbarian. Multiversal traveller. Stabbed to death by Sea Elves on the Gorgolith during failed hostage negotiations.
  28. Monomi - Monk in dark-ages Hokkaido. Currently alive, just, thanks to NPC.



  • Male - 17/18
  • Female -  10
  • Red Hair - 3, all female.
  • Killed by Zak - 3 (it felt like more)
  • Effectively Evil - Only Porfiry really.
  • You Got Some Misogyny On You There Buddy - 3
  • Would-Be Machiavellian Manipulators - 7
  • Likeable Free Spirits - 5
  • Non-Human - 3
  • Intelligent Cockroach/Scarabs - 1

Monday, 28 March 2016

Cities of the Plain

A red plain with red grass and red poppies opening after the rain like blood welling in a water-washed wound. Canyons bridged by red stone spans, slender and still haunted by the sacrifices made to hold them steady in the air. The heat of the plain and the waves of the heat. The haze of the poppy-pollen rising in the baked air. The red sun setting and the light from the red west staining the red grass white like fields of ghosts. Then the cold and the black and the great incalculable sky, and wolves. Coming down from the hills, out from the forests and the caves, the intelligent wolves of the plains.

And cities, abandoned and burnt black, ruins on the red plain with the red grass whispering against the carbon-caked stone of their unmanned walls, their towers howling in the wind like bottle tops.

No-one builds in the plain any more and no-one lives in the buildings that are there. Abandoned pueblos of green adobe hidden in the creeks, shrines and temples carved into the wind-blown rocks where the trade-routes cross, watch-towers for vanished nations and fortresses of forgotten kings. Even the tombs and barrows of the horse-lords, both recent and more ancient ones who rode the plain before the cities were ever made. Places to shelter for a night perhaps, to fortify against wolves, to decide whether to light a fire and risk a ghost or face the teeth in the dark, but not to stay.

The horse tribes will allow no-one to settle on the Phyrrous Plain, and allow no access to its ruined cities. In Jukai, or the Court of the Caliph of Holes some will say the the horse tribes are protecting the ancient treasures of those burnt cities, so long inaccessible and so far un-plundered, and they are right. But the tribes are also protecting the wanderers, adventurers, historians and thieves who would access them becasue the burnt cities of the plain are very dangerous indeed.

John Martin baby!


THE CITY OF BRASS MIRRORS

Skeletons and doors to the past. Skeletons are blackened in the fire that burnt the city down, with chunks of coal-meat clinging to their bones.

They seem fine though, best not to bother them.

The dead bones lead normal daily lives. They get up in the morning, wander around, cradle their skeleton children and go to the market to buy invisible food from other skeletons, silently performing all the actions of an average life.

They don't see people and pay no attention to them but if you jostle, push or interrupt, they will become confused, then frightened, then run to get help, and return with spear-armed and armoured skeleton guards and priests. Living priests in ancient clothes and basketwork masks that walk with the skeletons as friends and who will point you out and whisper to the dead in their silent tongue and have them blindly hunt you down.

The treasures of this city are lost or decayed, stolen or wasted away. Its chests are empty, its crown oxidised, its coffers and treasury empty, though the skeletons still fiercely guard the empty places where they would have been. Deep in the city, in its empty halls and temples, hidden in its libraries beneath the drifts of ash, are stained brass mirrors, man-high ovals.

Clean the tarnish from its surface and look. Within you find another world, or this world; this city in its past. Press your hand to a mirror and you can pass through and walk in that city.

It's the same buildings, the same streets, but the people are alive, not skeletons. The walls are hung with banners, the market full of music and sound, armoured guardians walk the walls. It's a city, a whole, real, living city with all the adventure and opportunity and wealth and colour and seduction you could wish for. And here the wealth is real. The treasury is full, the paintings and jewels are still there, though they are guarded now by real, living people.

The population don't go outside much, they leave that to the military, and they are frightened of ghosts and invisible spirits which sometimes seem to terrorise the population and which can only be captured and dispelled by the cities secret priests.

To anyone watching this, anyone who has not passed through a mirror, it looks like a normal person wandering around, chatting silently to skeletons, miming eating food and drinking drink, no more aware than the dead of the dark future and the black walls that surround them all.

A day or so after you arrive in the city beyond the brass mirror you feel strange pangs in your stomach, then a passing weakness in your muscles. Around three days in this briefly becomes a wave of overwhelming and incapacitating agony. But don't worry, it's over in minutes, and as soon as its done you feel fine, you can go about the rest of your existence in this ancient place without impediment.

Of course, in our world and our time, your body is dead. It walks around as a mummy while the eyes dry to shriveled nubs and the the skin cracks like parchment in the wind of the plains. If you come back through the mirrors after your heart has stopped, you come back to a dead body. Not a nice reality. Nor a pleasant end.

Of course if you can grab one of the treasures of the City of Brass Mirrors and escape to a mirror, then you can bring it back with you. You just have to be sure not to stay too long. Not to get caught and contained in a cell, or to be banished from the city walls, trapped outside by the secret vampire priests, immortal, living in both the present and the past, ruling them both.




THE CITY OF THE COURT OF WOLVES

By day this is a bright, burnt, empty place drifting with the the sad ghost-like dandelion seeds of the vermilion flowers that grow between the black bricks.In the charred beds in the charred homes, under the wolfskin sheets, are things curled up like sleeping people.

They are not.

As the sun sinks the things put on their furred black sheets and wolves walk out of the homes. Wolves in the watchtowers, wolves in the streets, and in the streets the space between the wolves is filled with rats. Millions of rats, swarming like a river. At the centre of the city is a Court of Wolves and a Wolf King curled up upon a great stone throne once made for human limbs. The Crown and Sceptre of this kingdom lie in the dirt of the ground, the ruined rugs and torn carpet, but they are not forgotten and the Wolves guard them still. By the side of the King is a Vulture larger than a man, that whispers in the Wolf-Kings ear.

As the dark comes on, the wolves race from the city, out into the darkening plain, dashing in packs, looking for prey. They are faster and more tireless than a mortal wolf, as soulless and intelligent as men.

Twice more fearful still, as these wolves cannot be killed by mortal men.

Mortal women and children are a bit different, they can kill the wolves, and for this reason the Horse-Tribes teach their women and children to fire arrows and guns at a young age. You are literally never too young to kill a wolf.

And for this reason also, the Horse-Tribes take the bodies of their women, and their children, and surrender their flesh to the sky, but keep the bones and carve from them arrowheads and spear blades, to be used only by the family they are from.

And for this reason as well, the Wolves of the City of the Court of Wolves, hate and fear women and children, attack them by whenever they can, dig up their corpses and cairns, feast on their flesh and chew on their bones.


THE CITY OF WINDS

This place is haunted by a storm. Spirits of the air who were the people of the city, now they live in the air and are the air and the walls are continually cloaked and obscured by an eternal hurricane.

They can never be still, never be quiet, never be at peace. They build and destroy and transform without end. The storm of its population passes away or disperses at times and the city becomes quiet. They go to some far corner of the world to fetch a building or roof, water rushes through the streets as the river floods. Then they return carrying towers from alien lands  in a hurricane of bricks and screams, sometimes with people in it.

A river of ghosts dragged by devils in an endless cycle. Claw marks on the buildings. Tombs burst open as ancestors were dragged out. A hell in the air, chasing from the empty sky.