Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Ogre and the Golden Bird

This one is for Arnold, who sent me a book.)

Everybody knows where the Ogre came from, though nobody was there to see it done, and no-one knows how it attained the Golden Bird, (did he always have it?) and no-one knows how the Ogre got his twin, (did he have a twin within the pit? Were they down there together?), and no-one knows where the Ogres Palace came from.

From the Golden Bird somehow.

It seems right that the owner of the Golden Bird should have a palace. A mighty treasure should be protected,the golden bird could not be kept within a cave. Diamonds end up in palaces and crowns, either their owners get one, or the treasure changes hands, so maybe it worked out like that with the bird.

Anyway...

Someone threw a baby in a pit.

The pit was deep, with vertical steep-sided walls: close-packed soil that collapsed under the hand. They threw scraps in every couple of days, or not. Other than that they forgot. They didn't talk, they didn't look, they didn't think. No-one went there and that went on for a good long time.

Then the baby escaped. It had turned into an ogre in the pit. It was huge and strong and smart and mad. Its hair was a matted mess, its skin was brown from filth. It drooled and twitched and gnashed its teeth and peered with short sighted eyes at a world that it had never seen. It was naked and its skin was full of scars. The scars were words, (phonemes really), the baby had survived and taught itself a language, one made from the wind and rain and the glimpses of the sky, the stars telescoped by the rim of the pit as they moved across the night and by the curling of worms that fell from its sides and by the bones of birds that died and were preserved as treasures by the Ogre-Child.

It was a language no-one else would ever speak or learn. It sounded like a river of mad noise, but it served to Ogre well enough to abstract and divide the world.

The Ogre had built steps, carved the black earth of the pit into a step-well, slowly moving soil down and around over years, not that impressive intellectually, you could have thought of the same thing but the Ogre thought it through from nothing, from raw nothing, it invented the idea from solid black.

(Also it came up with language on its own, which is more impressive, though less practical in the circumstances.)

Anyway.

As to what happened to whoever threw the baby in the pit, here stories divide, for some it's a revenge drama and the Ogre tears them up, in others he just leaves. However that goes, everyone knows where the Ogre ends up: in his bifurcated castle with the Golden Bird. And everybody wants the Golden Bird, especially the Mad Thief League, who have all tried to steal it and failed. And that's where the PC's come in, an encounter with the Mad Thief League.

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


THE MAD THIEF LEAGUE

It's exactly what it sounds like.

By its own mad law, every mad thief, anywhere, is a member of the league, though they may not know it.

Some thieves who are absolutely active members of the league do not know they are. Some do not know they are thieves, some do not know they are mad.

What binds the active members together is that they have all tried to steal the Golden Bird, and failed.

The Mad Thief League wants you to steal the Golden Bird.

(Everybody talks about the Golden Bird like it's the most incredible thing they can imagine but they're a bit short on specifics. They know it's very gold, it's  beautiful, how wonderful its feathers are, how wonderful its song is, how beautiful and rare and unique and precious it is, but exactly what makes it so great is hard to put a finger on. They don't know, for instance, what species it is, or what gender.

They really want it though. When they mention it they get a dreamy look in their eye and even the maddest thieves grow quiet and calm. Eventually, you'll probably just give in and agree it's pretty great, everybody else seems to think it is, so why not go along with them?)

The Mad Thief League are not the *only* ones who want the Golden Bird, sorcerers, kings, madmen and monsters all want it too, it's just the Mad Thief League that wants it *most*.

The only people who don't want it are extremely worldly, boring, materialistic persons, who regard it as a silly fad, but anyone with half a gram of poets heart wants the Golden Bird within their hands.

Anyway.

Members of the Mad Thief League get caught a lot. They are mad. Some are severely retarded. Some are effectively immobile. Some can't stop hooting under stress. This makes no difference, the League still brings them along on capers, heists and robberies. If they get caught, the League just steals them back from jail.

The talents of the League, as a whole, are enough to accomplish any task. They have savants that can open any lock, those who can forge any object, those who can simulate any personality, those who can see perfectly in the near-dark and those who can perform any athletic maneuver even if seen only once. They have people who can draw a complete building plan after glancing at it once from the corner of their eye, they have people who can imagine a heist in such concrete, absolute and perfect detail that they can visualise a city block and know which locks will need oiling, which guards will cough, and when, which tumblers will turn and why, and be right, all in advance.

They have any talent necessary for a crime, somewhere, though that talent probably goes along with a bag full of serious neurological and psychological impairment.

The greatest of the League are fractured geniuses of crime. People with incredible powers of lateral problem solving and fine expression, though also always severely fucked in the head. As in, they might hoot at you and flap their arms, lunge spastically, throw things, not be aware you are a person, not be aware you are not a collection of objects, not look you in the eye, not understand basic social cues, not understand that language is real, not understand that they are not the only personality in the cosmos, not understand that they are a separate thing to the environment around them, not remember anything done after a certain date, not be able to see or not be able to hear. They may think they are someone else and try to arrest themselves. They may think *you* are a member of the Mad Thief League and attempt to find out what you want. That can be a complex conversation.

If the need of the Mad Thief League is simple and direct, their methods are  are infinite and oblique, including, but not limited to:

- Blackmail, either with real sins or fictional ones confirmed by exhaustive, but false, evidence.
- Conspiracy.
- Entrapment.
- Threat, or offer of, Assassination.
- Hearts Desire.
- Glory.
- Revenge of any kind.
- Imprisonment, or freedom from imprisonment.
- And of course the offer of staggering amounts of cash, a figuerative, or literal, Kings Ransom.
- Or just an actual King, if you want a particular one?

Once PC's have been persuaded to accept their 'mission', they will be told about the Ogre and his palace, and his bird.


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

THE PALACE OF THE OGRE KING

There are two Palaces locked onto the dark rock, mirrors of each other. The sides that face each other are nearly sheer. The sides that face away are crenellated, towered, encrusted with keeps and details, bridges and roof's, multi-levelled, staggering and slipping down to the walls and the glinting hematite on which the palaces reside.

The two sides match each other almost perfectly, the divide observable only from a narrow axis.
Stand here and you can see the gap between the palaces, like the gap between close skyscrapers, and the slender bridge of white that forms their only visible link, hanging high in the air in the near-centre of the buildings shape.

There are no gates to the Palace of the Ogre King, you have to climb in through a window, or sneak in through  hematite caves down below where the Onyx river gusheS from the rocks.


ITS LAYOUT AND OCCUPANTS

The Palace, or Palaces, is/are occupied almost exclusively by animals of varying levels of intelligence.

Their arrangement is as so:


The Dungeons of the Worm

Deep in the bowls, below the Onyx river, where the black organic walls are hung with ooze and mats of simple fungi droop into pools of soft invertebrate life, there is only a gigantic worm. The worm is huge and consuming and eats anything it finds. it never leaves the dungeon. No-one is sure what it looks like, or if it matters that it looks like anything, it is a worm, mindless and alive it seeks only to feed and live, no more detail is required. It fills corridors and runs through rooms like a freight train.

These dungeons are the only other place, other than the silver bridge, where someone can pass back and forth between the two palaces, but they must brave the darkness and the worm to do it.


The River-Corridors

Above the dungeons are almost dark corridors lit by dim blue lamps and reflected light, most of them hip-high in the water of the Onyx river. Fish live in the corridors exactly as if they were the river. The fish have few duties, they swim and feed and mate, sometimes mammals harvest their parts for the work of the Palace. Some fish may speak a little, single words.


The Reptile Halls

Hot and steaming are the Reptile halls, hung with tattered finery, full of crocodiles, chameleons and snakes (not all the Reptiles in the Reptile Halls are true reptiles, a ball-park similarity seems to be enough to get you in), tortoises and Tuatara's smoking cigarettes. It's here that the work of the Palace truly begins. The Reptiles chew wood into simple tools, gnaw things into shapes that might at one point be useful when combined with something else. The Reptile halls are full of fine trash that might not be trash, but something being re-purposed or transformed into useful stuff.

The Reptiles are still reptiles so, even though they have a modicum of intelligence regarding their mono-focused task, they still find manipulating things very difficult, it takes a long time for a Tortoise to gnaw out a simple picture frame, or for a snake to weave cloth.


The Mammal Rooms

Ballrooms and parlours and kitchens and armouries and endless painting halls. It becomes clear here that though the work of the Palace includes every kind of object and construction, its real work is the production of paintings. Most animals tend to have two jobs, whatever their main job is, and painting. Or at least, facilitating painting. The wolves, antelopes, pigs, cows, dogs  and zebras are bossed about by tribes of fast monkeys that run back and forth constantly, checking and manipulating. As soon as something is ready, maybe some blotches of colour or lines on some canvas, or some other work of rudimentary art, then it is snatched up and taken to an apes tower.


The Ape Towers

In the towers that encrust the palaces Artistic Apes do their keen work. Gorillas, Orangutans, Chimpanzees and slutty Bonobo's. The Apes make art, or re-interpret and finish art that's brought to them. Over half the art is paintings but they do sculpture, music and poetry too. The music sounds like wind and rain.

Apes tend to hyper-specialise

The fast monkey tribes run back and forth between the towers of the Apes, bringing art supplies and sometimes moving art around. (The Apes like to be inspired by and to re-interpret art made by other Apes.) When it looks like something is quite done, the monkeys, or sometimes an ape, grab the art and take it to the Skeleton Aristocracy.


The Skeleton Aristocracy

At the front of the Palaces, above the gushing waterfall of the Onyx river, are the many-windowed parlours of the Skeleton Aristocracy. While almost every animal in the palaces has the purpose of creating art, these Skeletons attired in finery have the deeper purpose of appreciating it, of understanding it, to this they devote enormous energy and drive, sometimes (rarely) entering mutual duels and often (with the Mirrored Skeletons of the Twin at least) engaging in massive arguments.


THE OGRE KING

Everything in the Palace is ruled by the Ogre King (though the Worm just barely) and must obey his direct command (to the best of the subjects ability). Yet the King is silent and rarely commands at all. He is occupied almost entirely by his marvelous bird, which he keeps tenderly in a cage held in his hands. His only wish is to protect and preserve the bird and to understand its song. So, it might be truly said, that everything in the Palace of the Ogre King serves the Golden Bird, as much as it can understand it to do so.

The King does not live like a King or look like a King. He is still near-naked, draped in faded finery, with matted hair, and his language-scarred skin still visible. The King has a throne in a room above the well-lit many-windowed parlours of the Skeleton Aristocracy, but he is rarely there. Instead, he creeps about his own Palace, investigating it, trying to understand its workings. He creeps like a thief and no-one in the palace can predict where he will be. He roams the halls, hiding and waiting. Sometimes he hides his golden bird in some safe and secret place, but then, worrying about it, goes back to it to take it up, but then, fearing for it, finds some new place to hide it.

And so it would be hard enough to find and steal the Golden Bird, even if it were not for the Twin.


THE TWIN

There are two palaces, linked only by the silver bridge and the dungeon of the worm. The Ogre King rules both and all must obey his unspoken commands, but the King only occupies one palace. The other is rule more fiercely by his twin.

The Ogres Twin is physically exactly like the Ogre King, but its behaviour is utterly different. While the King slinks through his palace silently, investigating, waiting, tying to understand, the Twin rules like a verbose tyrant.

The King himself can speak, but rarely does in the language of men, talking mainly to the Golden Bird, perhaps in the language he invented in the pit. The Twin however will not shut the fuck up. He even murmurs in his sleep. (He rarely sleeps.) The Twin talks and talks and talks, and the mirrored skeletons that serve him in his palace also talk and talk and talk. He talks enough to drive you mad, describing, dissecting, boasting, threatening, lying, persuading, whining, playing on words and making puns. He says some wise things, but they are drowned out in the torrent of words. Its as if his life was just a puppet to the words he speaks.

He rules his mirrored skeleton aristocracy like a tyrant and regularly sends them on mad missions in the palace or embroils them in strange conflicts. They have picked up from him his verbosity and argue with each other constantly, racing about the place on one mission or another. Many intrigue against him, thinking that if they depose him, they might rule in his place. He finds this hilarious.

The Twin wears a glorious wig to hide his scarred head, and has a golden crown on the wig. It's always about to slip off so he has a Rhesus monkey up there to keep it continually straight. The monkey falls off when he moves quickly and has to race back up to catch the crown. He wears glorious clothes and a glorious embroidered coat and wonderful silk shoes that wear out after half a day, and stockings around his huge thick legs.

The Twin is clever, snide, reductionist and wrathful. He hates being told things he does not already know and can only accept new information through a kind of invisible osmosis in which he persuades himself he always knew it, or was about to deduce it from what he did know. He loves novels though and has the Apes write him twenty a day which he reads voraciously.

It is a curious aspect of the Twin that he does not know he is, and has, a twin. He does not know that there are two palaces, that there are two Ogres, he does not know that he is not the King.

You can explain it to him, point out the other palace over the bridge and tell him about his brother, you can prove it to him, but he will rationalise it away with one of his endless lexical-spumes. Even if you can bring him to understand, even for a moment, he will quickly forget, and so will his skeletons.


THE KINGS SIDE

In the Kings side, the Skeletons are not mirrored, or very talkative. They are calmer, more aware, more silent and perceptive. The animals are calmer too, that whole side of the Palace is very quiet.


GETTING THE BIRD

The animals won't become aggressive right away, they don't really understand that you are not an animal like them. In fact, you seem to be some kind of ape.  They will try to incorporate you into the work of the Palace, only if you resist or if a Skeleton notices you will they attack. Of course, the Twin will ferociously oppose anything that threatens him, but is insanely egocentric and easily flattered, at least until his mood changes.

The King will simply hide and run, protecting his Golden Bird. Even if caught, he has a final power. The Ogre King can, at any time, in the blink of an eye switch positions with his Twin.

This means to catch the Ogre King, you must also catch, or kill, his twin.


THE FINAL TRICK

Of course there is a trick and of course there are two reasons that the Mad Thief League has sent you here. If you succeed and retrive the golden bird, the Ogre King will die of a broken heart and the Twin will take over both palaces and rule ever-more insanely until the building collapses and a passing hero takes him out.

If you fight in the palace, if you kill animals, if you shatter skeletons, every piece of damage you do will be reflected in your own mind.

That's how Mad Thieves became mad. If you kill a skeleton you may become schizophrenic or autistic, if you kill an ape you may lose the power to perceive colour or shape, if you kill a mammal you lose memory or access to memory, or fine motor skills, if a lizard then you may lose basic motor skills. If you kill the worm your heart will stop.

The plan of the Mad Thieves is that, even if you fail, you will simply add to their number and allow them to send a better hero next time. (Assuming they have a plan.)

Monday, 4 July 2016

The Ice

(This is going to be an imperfect melange of a review but it's late and I'm tired and a little drunk, its been a while since I read this thing and I want this writing out the door.)


'The Ice' is a book about Antarctica by Stephen Pyne. He mainly writes about fire. This time, for one book, he did ice. Earth, Air and Water have been covered by others in depth.

Its a book about nothing. Or more precisely, its a book about what it means that there is nothing. It's a classical book about modernism, like the worlds best review of a blank page.

The Ice, referred to like that, with capital letters inside the text of the book itself, is the ice on Antarctica pressing it down so deep into the substance of the earth that if it melted the continent would bounce back and the planet would become a bit more of a ball.

We start at the edge and work in. Pyne has a neat eye for literary and scientific organisation. In 'Fire on the Rim' he turned decades at the Grand Canyon into one long year of fire, with the years of his life splintered throughout but the organic nature of the environment reasserted and retained. The Ice has a simpler schema, which is fitting since the core of the book and the core of the ice are both about insane, overwhelming, annihilating simplicity.

A chapter on bergs, which are like dying jewels in which the hidden history of the ice is briefly exhibited like a travelling show before decaying into nothing, then one on the shelf where bergs calve off, then the glaciers, more like vast rivers of splintered ice running out to the sea, then the fountain heads of the glaciers, and then beyond them, the core at the still centre of the pole, a plain so flat and dry that the ice accumulates through delicate crystallization, building a continent through licks of paint until the layered weight forms its own frozen geology. A place haloed by storms and aurora, that winds flow from but rarely to.

The chapters on ice lay out its nature and synthesise its scholarship into near-poetry. I showed you some of this in Pynes section or light, I'll re-quote a little here;

"Refraction inspires other, more geometric effects; halos - 22-degree, 46-degree, and circumscribed; arcs - Parry, Lowitz, upper-tangent, circumzenithal, circumhorizontal, superlateral, infralateral, and contact, a parahelia - colloquially known as sun dogs or false suns (or paraselenae, if the light source is the Moon). ... A spectacular, abstract art results: vertical streaks of light, sun pillars; concentrations of light into subsuns; partial arcs and circles, parhelic circles, subsun dogs (22-degree subparahelia), subparahelic circles, 120-degree parahelia and paraselenae; and, in a direction opposite the light source, anthelic arcs, anthelic pillars, and anthelions. Thus a single atmospheric display may combine several patterns of reflection and refraction into a compendium of light geometry."

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

SKY ENCOUNTERS (d6)

1. Aurora people. Ether-Men, living beings made from interactions between the earths magnetic field and the wind from the sun, descend, having fallen briefly in love with a party member. 
2. Sun Dogs + Moon Dogs fighting over who best occupies the sky, they ask a PC to settle things. 
3. A caravan of the dead journeying to be translated into light, a standing army stripped to skeletons of refractive bone-pale light.
4. Radical refugee light elementals, finally released from defining the shape and colour of things, attack the PCs in a rage, crying that they refuse to be messengers of the material world.
5. Sparks flicker between the glimmering lights of low-orbit Lichjammers and skeletons begin to rain from the sky.
6. A radial palace of the Light Elementals is besieged by Aurora-men, the battle hinges on a single point and both sides appeal to the PC's for aid, offering them dutchies in the sky if they respond.

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

Writers tend to either euphony or exactness. Having both at once is rare, both combined with knowledge, and the sheer stubborn borderline-stupidity required to fuck about writing a book about Antarctica for years, is near-unique. We can put Pyne up on a narrow pedestal with Rebecca West as someone who wrote a supremely brilliant and fucking long books about a subject that almost no-one is interested in.

Like Meiville we advance by sandwich, creeping to a pale end. He was heading for a whale, interspersing his old-testament adventure story with layers of pure and almost-abstract knowledge. Pyne does a similar thing. In between these chapters purely about Ice are sandwiched others with more prosaic information. In fact pretty much *all* the prosaic information. Wildlife, exploration, Geology and Politics all show up, art and literature too (Lovecraft gets a mention), the fact that you can probably reference everything that anyone has written about Antarctica in one book tells you its own story. The renaissance has taken its time getting there, slowly closing in with ships and sleds.

It's almost impossible to get to the Antarctic coast with anything less than an industrial level of technology, and its probably impossible to get to the pole with anything less than an near-modern level of technology, or at least a near-modern understanding of the world. Because, simply, there is nothing there but light and ice. It is the end of nature and the cosmic anteroom and pre-modern societies have their own ways of dealing with those things. Only we can go there and only we need to go there. We go there becasue its the end of the earth and until we do we don't know what the earth is, or what we are. It is a boundary to us and we must test it out to know ourselves.

Its a new continent, and not in a columbian exchange plague-and-slaughter there's-people-here-already way. Antarctica is one of the few places on earth that Europeans can claim reasonably to absolutely, totally, full-on discovered on their own, and they seem to have done a lot of their best work there. (Not even the Polynesians seem to have got there, and if they did they probably died.)

It's in Antarctica that we see the last breath of imperialism freezing on its lips and becoming something almost noble in the process. With no-one to dominate or kill, with nothing to steal or own, with nothing to conquer except the environment and the self, the drive and will of the explorers of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration was cut loose from most of what poisoned it. They were pure heroes. Almost pointless heroes. Horribly horribly tragic in a clean and simple way that few other explorers could manage. The flies of humanity banging against the invisible plate glass of the cosmos. At their best they found a way to transmute nationalism and driving ambition and pride into a calm, reasonable empathy, often dying in the process.

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

THE WORST JOURNEY

"The Worst Journey is a massive book, dense with information and anglo-saxon monosyllables. The vocabulary, and the temperament it conveys, has more in common with the lyric poetry of A.E. Houseman than with the literature of naturalism, with which the story might have been instinctively allied. The incredible concentation of detail, the lengthy verbatim passages lifted from diaries, and the steady attention to chronological narrative all belong with the realist fiction of Arnold Bennet. A principal purpose of the book, after all, is documentary. "It was like this," Cherry-Garrard says again and again, then proceeds to list temperatures, food supplied, the character of snow surfaces - a litany of detail which, by its sheer bulk, evokes a mood. The author's assessment of the expedition is similarly stated in direct language, filled with tangibles like the quantity of oil, the character and quantity of rations, storm patterns, and the perils of sledge dogs.

But Cherry-Garrard was not by training or temperament a scientist. It was he who urged the Tennyson inscription from "Ulysses" for Scotts memorial cross. His book has its share of lyric poems, and while it never loses its dedication to Science, Nature and Art, its purpose is a moral interrogation. Ultimately, the book becomes a disquisition on character, less a report on what Antarctica is than how one responds to it. By that standard Scott, the expedition, and Cherry-Garrard measure up. Antarctica reduces people, no less than scenery, to their essences and Cherry-Garrard conveys this sense with a vastly simplified vocabulary and syntax. In the tenor and point of view of the book, there is little of the modernist syndrome. The author of the Worst Journey refuses to disguise the horror of the multiple tragedies of the expedition: he just wants to see these tragedies turned to good effects. There is nothing heroic, in the romantic sense, about the winter journey that Cherry-Garrard made with Wilson and Bowers to collect a penguin egg from Cape Crozier. But there is nothing false or ridiculous about it either. There is no irony to the voice, nothing of the mockery of lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians. The expedition wanted to live up to the memories of its ancestors, not lampoon them."

Ending each chapter on ice is a sub-chapter on the esthetics of the ice. Simply, what it looks like, what it feels like to be there, and what it might mean that it feels like that.

It's very important that these sections be there. Pyne is writing about meaning and using the throbbing absence of the ice to pin-prick the image of what meaning is and how we make it up. Art, and feeling and perception are parts of this

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

BENEATH THE SHEET

1. An invisible archipelago of friction bubbles beneath the sheet, villages there farming pockets of green cryobacteria in the hazy twilight.
2. Access to 'the inside of the world' - actually an alternate past/future or a far distant dyson sphere. linked to this one via parallel causality, an inside-out world from the inside-out verse.
3. Buried geography, a saline riverway following buried valleys and compression crack whirlpools.
4. Caves in the crust of the sunken continent. Pale people coming out of the dark to explode the fracture zones between the sheet and the earth.
5. An ice mine where thousands of frozen skeletons toil for a dead Emperor to reach scattered particles of ancient magic, relics of parallel causality shifts that could reveal the true nature of the cosmos.
6. Iron fragments of dead gods embedded in ellipsis in the ice.

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


MODERNISM

Pynes conception of the Ice as a modernist space is deep. It's a place you almost can't look at honesty in a representative way (although the existence of Pynes book is a kind of a disapproval or strike against a large part of what's in the book, he is not a modernist, he believes in facts and beauty and real things and we do not find out about his moods or the contents of his soul except for those parts that the existence, organisation and contents of the book imply).

The light eats art. The deeper in you get, the less there is to see. No horizon, no perspective, no depth, no shadows, no living things, no objects, no highlights and eventually not even any feelings to leak out and stain the page, those too numbed by the emptiness and the cold. The Ice isn't even abstract, it isn't even anything.

"Glacial action has shaped or scratched rock surfaces into Earthly pictographs. Detrial surfaces are organized into patterened ground, regolith counterparts to the atmospheric optics that geometrize the sky. When the sea ice that fronts the mouth of the Taylor Valley breaks up, it does so in polygonal blocks. Ice and soil pattern the ground; ice and water pattern the sea; ice and light pattern the sky. Cirque glaciers drip down the valley sides like white and blue stucco, and valley glaciers spill into the valley floor like daubs of ice on a rack palette. Lakes splotch blues, whites and greens across a brown and yellow drabness. High translucent clouds screen the sky: fluffy cumuli, pumped with moisture from the open Ross Sea, pile up above peak and glacier. Angular mountains mingle with soft clouds, tangible rock with abstract snow.

It is an impressive display of near-alpine esthetics. It's colours, warmth, intricite perspectives, and endless shapes make this environment instinctively attractive. yet the scene palls and ultimatrely dissapoints.....The reductionism of The Ice is incomplete and indirect; it does not lead to a new kind of scene so much as to an impoverishment of more familiar landscapes."

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

KATABATIC KINGDOMS

Kingdoms cascading like winds out of the cold core, storms of polities. Predatory kingdoms  reaving over the ice as wave fronts of hungry potentiality, building themselves frantically in the blink of an eye, feeding off whatever has meaning to you, whatever drives you, whatever gives you joy, whatever makes you afraid. Meaning-seeking kingdoms of white crystals pulling meaning out of your mind. Empires that drain the self, leaving meaningless people behind.

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


POLITICS/ETHICS

Antarctica stands in the annals of global politics as an example of how reasonably nation states can interact when there is no strong reason to kill each other and nothing much to do except investigate the cosmos.

"Ice placers are a stunningly rich source of information about The Ice and about the solar system. Antarctica has not only significantly swollen the population of collected meteorites and in some instances added uniquely to it, but it has preserved those specimens in a relatively unaltered state. Among the rare specimens are a diamond-bearing iron meteorite, in which the diamond results from impact shock waves; ureilites, achondrites in which small diamonds have formed by collisions in space; diogenities, achondrites in which minute inclusions contain liquid water and water vapour; and the enigmatic shergottites and carbonaceous chondrites. Shergottites are achondrites that are anomalous in their petrology, complex chemistry of rare-earth elements and youthful age. Two from Antarctica (which doubled the worlds population) indicate an origin about 1.8 billion years from laval parent rock, altered by impact, which preserves a distinct boundary between two petrological zones and included trapped rare gasses that intimate a martian origin. Other achondrites possibly have a lunar origin. The carbonaceous chondrites, rich in carbon and water, have a more ancient lineage. Some are filled with high-temperature inclusions of anomalous composition, suggesting an origin outside the solar system altogether. these rocky shards date from the genesis of the galaxy."

No-one has yet been willing to put forth the staggering effort that would be required to actually actively kill people in Antarctica. There, in the absence of projected lethal force, the world is ruled by calm scientific bureaucracy. There are flags and there are bases but the major empires got tired taking down each others placards of ownership and even the Nazis only managed to drop iron poles embossed with swastikas. Peace reigns, for now, and governments have been forced to grapple with and legally conceptualise the existence of an extra-national continent.

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

THE END OF THE WORLD

Pyne characterises The Ice not only as a conceptual end of the world, but as a final fragment of knowledge or jigsaw piece in the understanding of the earth environment. As if the climate was a vast and complex machine attached to a gigantic beam, and at the far end, distant from the active parts, yet maintaining them in equilibrium and ultimately governing their movements, is The Ice, the worlds cold sink, the Ice which decides sea levels and global currents and glaciation and even the shape of the world.

"Even more elementary, there is little consensus on the causes of the ice ages, their baffling apparent periodicity, or their sudden termination. A host of known and suspected contributing causes is recognized: plate movement, which transports continents to polar regions and favourably distributes land-sea patterns; mountain-building, which creates glacial traps, potential source regions for ice; atmospheric changes, especially changes in the earths albedo or carbon-dioxide content that can influence global temperature; oceanographic changes, such as the deflection of the Gulf Stream, the creation of bottom water, or the establishment of the Antarctic circumpolar current; periodic magnetic reversals, which may alter insolation and temperatures; astronomical variations such as the Milankovitch cycles, which influence the amount of solar insolation; and glaciological properties, such as the massive instability of the west sheet and the positive feedback that ice has on the creation of more ice. No single cause appears to be adequate to control glaciation. Instead many factors, eac with its own rhythm or secular variation, compound with one another to produce effects on a necessary scale. Even here, feedback mechanisms are necessary to amplify small changes into global ones. Here the properties of ice qua ice become significant. Ice is such a wonderful instrument of positive feedback that glaciation encourages further glaciation; but equally, there are often inherent instabilities in the geography and glaciology of large ice masses, so that the masses may contain the dynamics of their own collapse, a historical dialectic of ice."

In this paradox the ultimate symbol of stasis becomes a kind of climatic amplifier, making the world more dynamic, unpredictable and extreme, though even this apparent extremity may feed into a greater meta-stability overall.

The concept of meta-stability, interacting elements which are active and seemingly violent or opposed but ultimaately necessary and balancing, is an important one to the book. The impression left is one of the earth as a grand orrery of meta-stable interactions, expanding and interacting across scale, distance and time, hiding dynamism in stability and finding calm through a network of storms.

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


GATEWAY TO SPACE

The idea of Antarctica as a gateway to, or testing ground for, the cosmos, is hinted at and circled around but never stated outright. Pyne mentions that the centre of Antarctica is as close as we can get to Mars on earth, so it's environmental training, but much more than that, Antarctica is esthetic, intellectual, philosophical and spiritual training for the overwhelming emptiness of the cosmos.

As we find out more and more about the galaxy, we discover, locally, beautiful but lifeless worlds hanging in the air like toxic jewels, and beyond them, the incomprehensible vastness of space.

We have no training in this vastness and no way to really begin thinking about it. Pynes argument is that in order to divine or discover meaning in apparent nothingness, you must bring to it a deep and complex culture. The ice absorbs, annihilates and reduces everything and you have to import meaning to it, and ways of creating meaning.

I remember once reading someone say; "Americans don't solve problems, they overwhelm them*", and for all its cleverness and beauty and subtlety, Pynes argument is still the essential American argument = MORE. Bring more, do more, know more, think more and understand more. The answer to nothing is you attack the nothing with art and science and possibly bits of religion and you make it not-nothing.

Antarctica in this analysis becomes not the end of the world but the beginning of the cosmos.

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

"The de Kooning episode is even more instructive. the incident occurred at a time when de Kooning was a reigning guru of abstract expressionism, a movement that imagined itself as the apex of western art. Rauschenberg decided to erase a de kooning drawing. This was not vandalism but a creative and symbolic act. Accordingly, it required the participation of de Kooning, who eventually agreed. Rauschenberg laboriously erased the entire picture and framed the result.

The picture itself is nothing but a white paper with a frame and a title. Without the story behind its creation, it is meaningless, at most a joke, or an exercise in guerrilla theatre. The success of the picture depends on what the viewer beings to it. The "painting" is a negation, and its significance varies with the magnitude of the negation. the more associations one brings to the surface, the more intense its negation and the richer its meaning. It is much the same with Antactica. Inexorably, The Ice erases all the normal expectations of a landscape. What remains is so sparse, so stripped of sensory impressions, that it can hardly be witnessed as a landscape at all. Only someone, or some civilisation, that approaches it with a complex tradition of landscapes and art can invest enough in the scene to generate information out of it. There must be a confirmation before there can be a negation. The polar plateau becomes a great negation of landscape - actively erasing the normal lines of information and passively reflecting back the shadows of its observer."

...........

The rare cores are the true magical currency of the Ice, each one can be read for a distinct history of magic & reality alteration(The annihilation of parallel worlds) every major reality shift leaves cascades of intangible half-life microparticles which quickly decay but which are preserved in the relentlessly static ice. These particles can be read to release their specific energies. Meta magicians can read the patterning of the cores to understand the 'history of histories' that defines the Uncertain Worlds. By doing to they hope to perceive and penetrate beyond the shifting realities that imprison them and so perceive the minds of the gods themselves.

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

What we bring to the ice is what we must bring to the cosmos, improved and deepened selves and a wiser more subtle culture that can find meaning in the vastness and the poisoned gems.



[Edit - I found it here.]

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Sad and Lonely and Naked and Sexy

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

I like it. It makes me smile.

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

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

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

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




WHAT CHANGED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also he moved text around a bit inside the descriptions.




DESIGN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He put them back in.


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


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

Sunday, 29 May 2016

An Interview with Bryce Lynch

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



1. WHY are you doing this?

Because I am a fool/for myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

The same as everyone else: Hookers & blow.

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

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


 
3. Has it become strangely addictive?

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



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

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

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


 
5. Why are most adventures so bad?

a. Why do people want the wrong things?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have a link?

The wretched hive of scum & villainy: YDIS

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

 

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

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

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

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

I wish for three more wishes. 

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

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

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



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

WOTC. 

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Yup! 

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

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



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

My Dragon looks somewhat like Fight On!

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

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

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

*) A con/public game calendar.

*) An Oglaf strip.

*) Something like the Dungeon Dozen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Only when my ego becomes over inflated. 

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

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

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



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

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

[ask patrick if I should open source this?]

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

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


 

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

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

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


 

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


Bryce selected this image specially


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

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

 Also: I like succubus boobies.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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