"The creativity of the monster ideas seem cool, but the art is really, really bad. I know good artists can be expensive but when you have good ideas and spend the money to have a book physically printed why not go on deviantART and find some starving artist willing to do a deal?" WarWolf8448
"So just a follow-up for clarification: are each of
those "inner folders" - such as is shown in the DCO image with
chapter titles for each folder - just filled with notepad documents? I'm
picturing that each of said documents would be small text files that start
almost like sketch ideas (like one for Hoolloch in "The Crows," and
one for each encounter in "The Profundal Zone, etc) and eventually form
into a complete idea, but are still separated by idea (every encounter is its
own text doc) - is that the case?"
What happens is the folder contents start off as text
files. Then as soon as the subject in each file has any weight or imaginative
coherency it gets incorporated into a big word doc for that section. This is
like the skeleton or 'main machine' for that section.
Then things are either added straight onto that skeleton
(when things are going well), or, when necessary, individual parts are dragged
out into their own notepad docs, word docs, or even whole subfolders full of
individual files relating to different things.
Then as problems are solved and issues are dealt with,
they all condense back into the big main skeleton word doc, like a mad scientist
making a Frankenstein, you have your big corpse in the centre, then you pull
out organs to work on them, add bits on, shave bits off, fiddle with things and
consider alternates, then you shove the organ back in the Frankenstein.
As this is being done you build up a detritus of files of
various kinds which, as the Frankenstein near completion, generally get dumped
into a bin folder called "Development" or "Everything
To answer your question more concisely, those particular
folders each have a single word doc for that section, but during development
they might have had lots of sub folders and scrappy files like you describe,
alongside one big doc for everything to be re-incorperated into.
Scrap Princess asked "How do you fight "mission
creep" or things otherwise expanding inward and outward in all
This reminds me a lot of someone asking "How to go
to sleep?" in which the answer is intuitively obvious to anyone who can do
it, but when we can't do it, it seems impossible and, in fact, the solution
flies further and faster out of our reach the more we harass ourselves to find
I can only really describe this from my own point of
So there are a few moods or states of mind that help us
achieve the aim of Reasonable Completeness.
This is generally arranged around a single moment, it’s
the thing most similar to a single decision, a simple, strong, singular NO, in
which a situation is briefly assessed and then a prospective course of action
is cast firmly and probably permanently into a state of not being done and
never being done.
In a sense this is a kind of intelligent stupidity. When
you're making any creative project, no “NO” should ever be really final or
absolute, even if you throw something away it still stays in the brain bin and
might come up later in something else or mutate in there BUT, having it on or
in your mind when you are not going to use it soaks up energy. It's like having extra papers on your desk, you
must sweep your arm across the desk and cast them onto the floor
I always feel a little macho or 'tough' doing this, and
it’s also slightly painful as you are probably throwing away something that you
are mentally attached to and feel affection for, so it’s a bit like strangling
a pet. Anyone who makes a choice kills a world. It’s the alternative world
where you chose a different thing and all the various consequences of that
choice play out, the moment you decide against it, that world and everything in
it fall instantly into irrevocable ruin, and that pristine ruin often looks
better than the shitty flawed thing you actually ended up living with.
Creative work is really really heavy on your cognitive
architecture in a lot of invisible ways.
It’s really global, you need a lot of the different parts
of your brain talking to each other fluidly, and the more brain parts you can
get communicating the most then the better chance you have of making something
Because of this, because of the need for a lot of
cognitive energy or ability to be free, in a strange sense, being conservative
can help you be more imaginative and more successfully imaginative
But this does not answer your question.
If it's hard to make a decision because you have a lot of
stuff going on in your mind at the same time then it can be good to reduce things
to a binary choice based on a particular quality, element or feeling. People
are better at choosing between two things than between three or four things I
the simplest way of saying this to yourself is
"which of these two things provokes greater feeling in me" or some
statement similar to that.
This means looking at a big mess of stuff and trying to
boil it down to two main things. Then, if necessary, doing so again at a lower
After you make a bunch of binary choices in a row you have
done the equivalent work to choosing between three or four complex things, yet
perhaps with less energy cost and stress.
The Holistic State
I think of the Holistic state as the ability to hold the
whole thing in your mind. It is governed more by love and desire than by
dislike or rejection, more by the softer emotion of 'letting things go' rather
than the harder 'cutting out' and provoked more by affection for the whole than
by contemptuous judgement of the part.
Because this is a softer emotional state it’s harder to
analyse and give advice about. I have found it the most difficult state to
The ability ‘to cut’ is more easily and directly provoked
in the heart, regardless of your mood, allowing yourself to feel is harder.
Nevertheless the holistic state is utterly vital because
it invisibly shapes the decision architecture that tells you when and where it
is wise to ask your mind for the energy ‘to cut’, a kind of meta-emotion
guiding, not what choice you make, but when to make a choice.
The vague, gnawing troubled sense of something being
undone or somehow incorrect might be the absence or negative influence of this
My best advice to provoke this state is to seek the
initial spike of embodied joy that caused you to become interested in the
project. Imagine your first enthusiastic conception of what it might be,
imagine yourself explaining, clearly and lucidly, to someone you actually like,
what you love about the project, dwell on what is, or was, pleasing to you about
Hopefully forming this image or idea-group in your mind,
as a vague but positive idea of what should
be, rather than a negative idea of what you do
not want, will help guide you when you turn back and look at what is
currently going wrong with your thing. Where has it expanded out of its
original conception? Where must it be pruned?
The Use of System
This is an emotionally neutral-feeling capacity which is
just about your ability to organise and arrange your own information.
The better you are at 'filing' things, then the larger
and more total view you have of the whole project and the easier it is to have that total view. If a map of the whole
thing comes more easily to mind then that reduces the cognitive cost.
Also, when you are angry and blocked on a project then
it’s still relatively easy to do ‘filing’. Moving information around and
getting all your shit in the right place requires neither love nor hate, it can
be meditative, a bit like doing the dishes, and it might actually do you some
good because, who knows, you might have a breakthrough.
To count backwards from the top to bottom.
your filing and have your folders and text architecture worked out, you don’t
need to feel anything while you are doing this.
the feeling of the great idea that caused you to embark. Imagine explaining it
to a friend.
this feeling and use it to look at all the stuff you currently have. If it’s a
big sprawling bush, what parts of it may not
be like your explanation or idea?
closer at those parts and reduce each issue to a series of binary choices where
you choose between two things.
super tough and macho or whatever your equivalent of that is a boldly strike
your way through those either-or decisions one by one.
Be aware, I just make all this shit up and it may or may
Scrap Princess also asked;
"How much winds up all the cutting room floor?"
I don't really know as I don't keep a lot of records of
ideas that have been thrown out and not used. My memory may be inaccurate or
unreliable. It also depends at what stage
an idea or concept is abandoned. When it first flits through your head? When it’s
written down in a big list along with a bunch of others? When its incorporated
into a main draft? When it’s in a first final draft? When an editor cuts it out
If we go from the end and say stuff that was cut out in
the same way old film was cut, that is, written, performed, filmed and then
dumped, I would say anywhere from 30 to 5 per cent. With MotBM being more
towards the thirty percent number, or higher, and DCO or FotVH being much
If we say every idea or potential that passed through
your head from initial conception on, then it could be around 50% or higher of
those idea's don't get used. Making good things is about saying no to bad
"How to know if idea is good or not? What if idea
appears to be very insubstantial? "Gateway into Underworld" deals with
places that can be mapped, but what if the idea is, for example,
"explore/decide what means to be human" or some other
abstract-moralistic thing? Maybe such ideas are never good ideas at all?"
Ultimately I can only answer this in reference to the
kinds of thing I already know how to make but I will first try to consider the
varying possibilities for different kinds of games or formats.
"explore/decide what means to be human" on it's own is best explored first
through an essay or poem, then through a narrative, then through a storygame,
then through a kind of white-wolf or Pendragon-esque highly-specific game, then
finally through an OSR-style game. Even for a storygame that would be a very
The adventure idea you described in the comments to the
last post wasn't quite like that. It didn't just
have a single abstract concept at its core, it also had particular people, a
particular world, certain charismatic objects and relationships and places
which all had a specific tone and mood. So if we were considering that, then I would say it was best
expressed through either a storygame, OSR game or possibly a narrative.
One thing that makes a concept group a good possibility
for an OSR game is the ease and fluidity with which it suggests a geography and
It doesn't really matter exactly what the lists are of. They can be places, people,
monsters, objects or just cool sounding words and individual names of things,
so long as they are things.
If you can sit down with a piece of paper for an hour and
start writing down things, just
anything you can think of, and end up with a page full of cool or interesting
sounding-stuff. Something that, if you think of it you either smile or just
want to know or explain more, then you might have a good concept group for an
Even if you can't do that it's not necessarily a bad
idea, it just might be best for a different kind of thinking.
I think it could make a really good adventure, if that's
what you wanted to do with it. If I were you I would take the time to make sure
So in addition to all these questions I said I would talk
thee things and those were;
6.Publishing, formats and printing.
These are rather tiresome issues that I only started to
think about once I began making things but which it might reeeaaallllly benefit
anyone making an adventure to consider
First comes something that probably everyone knows about
already but that I feel I have to repeat publicly just because the consequences
for not knowing are so aggravating and this might be the first time some people
hear about it and if I can save even one…..
American Letter Size – Beware It!
Americans, unwilling to deal with the same kind, rational
and eminently reasonable paper sizes as the rest of the world, have clung
resentfully to their own special paper size which is nearly but not quite the same as A4. American
"Letter" size. Day 1 in Trumps America people. This piece of shit
size has fucked up more good ideas than (INSERT TOPICAL REFERENCE HERE).
The nightmare of this shitty, deceptive death-swamp of a
paper size is that, unless you are looking for it or are already familiar with
it, it’s entirely possible to get
most of the way through a production or adaption and not realise that the stuff
you did in A4 will have to be completely re-formatted for printing in a US
letter format and that, because the size difference is so marginal, you can't
just cut the info content of a page in half or anything, you have to shaaaave
it, and, depending on the paper quality or type of binding some printing
companies may or may not make certain paper types, colour options and bindings
available to use.
O, so other than that page size has three big effects on
a piece of work
1. Amount of stuff you can fit on a double-page spread, power of art,
tables, interrelationships of information.
More and more I have come to think that things should be
written and designed in informational groups so that everything on a
double-page spread hangs neatly together, and to do this you need to know ahead
of time what format you are going to be using
For anyone creating stuff in the future I would strongly
recommend thinking 'by spread', when you are creating, or trying to, to see if
2. Ease of practical use at a table.
Almost everyone I know who has spoken at any length about
use-at table strongly prefers a relatively small format for use and I see the
LotFP A5 size praised a lot (again, if anyone has opinions then let me know in
comments), also a big thick tome is going to be a bitch to hold up and flick
through at the table while a light Broodmother Skyfortress or Blood in the
Chocolate will be relatively easy to deal with.
I do not love A5 myself but as with PDF’s I am in a cult
3. Weight of the thing and its cost to produce and post.
the general process of development for most OSR creators
seems to be that we want to get our stuff bigger and bigger and bigger and more
and more like a 'real book', heavier, thicker and with better binding.
As the thing you make gets bigger then the ancillary
costs to printing and sending it go up and up and this is especially valid in cross-ocean postage.
The boundaries of the OSR market (and D&D generally,
for the most part) are roughly contiguous with those of the Anglosphere. The
USA takes up the majority, then there are sub-markets in Canada, the UK,
Australia, some in mainland Europe like France and Germany and a bit in New
Zealand. I have not seen very much from the rest of the world.
(Though presumably there is gigantic potential in India
and China, especially India, so far as I know most urban Indian nerds will be
multilingual in English so if there was a Lulu printing centre in India and
D&D somehow took off there then that could be a biiiiiig deal).
So a big deal for OSR publishers is if you are posting
your stuff across an ocean, if it’s done through lulu or RPG.NOW then they have
production centres in both Europe and the US so that takes care of that problem
for those areas (not for poor Australia or NZ), but if you are printing your
own shit and then posting it then you need to think about the weight of the
finished product. Intercontinental postal costs take a big leap at certain
weight boundaries and parcel thicknesses and you will need to know what these
are. If it’s going from the Old World to the US or visa versa then the value of
postage can create a larger and larger effect on the cost.
(I was going to back the Contessa Swords and Wizardry but
the postage was going to be as much as the thing itself and was going to be
taken out of my account at an unknown time so I noped out.)
In addition, there is the effect of page thickness on the
ability of that page to hold colour. I learnt this from Scrap but essentially,
perceived colour is strongly affected by the depth and intensity of blacks on a
page, if you can't get deep blacks then they will seem greyed-out and the
intensity of colours will suffer accordingly, to get deep blacks on a page you
need thick paper to absorb the ink
thicker paper costs more and increases weight, leading to
all the knock-on effects of cost listed above.
there is perhaps a potential market opening for a kind of
series of zines or pamphlets, with one being produced every two or three
months, sent out like a subscription service, and with each series making its
own large scale thing
I'm imagining something the size of Yoon-Suin broken down
to chapters based on area and then subscribed to, with each pamphlet being
playable on its own, so someone could get one part and play it with their
friends while the creators work on the next part, then after a few months, hey,
looks like a new area has opened up, we can go there now. So the whole thing
could almost be a continuous-play thing, going out and being experienced like a
comic book, and the relatively small size would make postage and transport
easier, plus making each individual part less of a massive weight on the time
and resources of the creators.
I hate PDF's because I think they don't get read. I think
they are largely dead information.
No-one else on earth agrees with this opinion. A
meaningfully large part of the audience wants a PDF alongside a hardcopy, many
people want to buy a PDF to 'try it out' before getting a hardcopy and another
chuck of the audience only wants a PDF.
Regardless of how you feel about them, PDF's are a
dominant part of the production process
This interrelates with page size as the reader that most
people are using to view a PDF is smaller than A4. In most cases it can
comfortably view a notebook sized page and an A5 sized page but it will often
have a bit of trouble with a full-page spread at those sizes (not much direct
experience of this so let me know in comments if wrong), this changes the
dynamic from a physical book, which will almost always be open in the DM's hand
or in the table with a double spread showing.
Navigating a PDF opens up a whole new range of ways to
deal with information, no more, turn to this table on page XX, instead, you can
just have a button on the page and when it says, to use this procedure, turn to
this table, it can just take you right to the table.
In the same way, navigation can provide much greater ease
of movement between sections and elements, even in a large book
I also said I would look at;
Dealing With Artists, Co-Workers And Editors.
Fucked if I know. I am no good at this so I have decided
that I should try to interview some people who are good at it and then report back to you. So get ready for part
three I guess.
Due to a discussion with Kyana in the comments to the
previous post, I have been lead to consider the following question
How do I write an adventure?
You might think this is a simple question since I should
just be able to remember doing it.
Well, firstly my memory isn’t that good.
Secondly, I tend to accomplish things in a fugue state.
Thirdly, they are really complex things and your memory
of doing them is being constantly over-written with each new version and
iteration, each of which are almost a whole thing in themselves and, like a
waiter forgetting a previous order, it can be quite useful to be able to dump a
lot of not currently-relevant information out of your head to get the
processing power back.
Fourthly, I've really only ever written one complete
adventure, arguably two.
Here’s my best guess about how you do what I did, and I’m
talking here about process and practice more than ideals, ‘design goals’
whatever the fuck they are and general rambling about minimalism and maximalism
or whatever the fuck people are banging on about this week. This is literally,
how do you do it.
The most important and central thing about making a good
adventure is to have a good idea.
I do not believe that good ideas are easy to get.
Especially ones to specific purposes.
Ideas are easy to get. I could probably write down ten
crappy ideas right now. Good ideas are rare, and the difference between the two
is not just the level of work you put in.
I suspect there's a curve showing how much potential an
idea has, even with the maximum level of work. At one end are really shitty
ideas, with these, even if you change everything about it and hire all the best
talent to work on it for a long time then it’s still not going to be very good.
The interesting thing with a really shitty idea is that they tend not to
produce giant charismatic piles of flaming disaster. You tend to end up with
just mediocrity. Like the Duce Bigalow movies.
Then, in the middle are the standard 'good ideas', these
are the ones you have coming out of the shower, on the toilet or whatever and
you think "oh, that's a clever idea". I think of them as Writers Room
ideas. If you got a bunch of reasonably intelligent, reasonably creative nerds
in a room and they start spouting off ideas then you will probably get a few of
these. These are ideas that can be massively enhanced or destroyed by the work
done on them. They are like B+ movies, like a Robert Zemekis movie or a Max
Landis movie or a Marvel movie.
Then right at the other end you get the good ones. These
are the ones that if you just wrote them down badly they would still be kinda
good. The City Without a Name is one of those. These are also the ideas where
you know if you work on it in the right way with the right people and
everything goes perfectly and, for once, all the stars align and all the coins
land on their edge, you might just get the Real Deal, art with a capital A,
something that punches through time, invents a genre, adds to the culture in a
They do not come along that often and I have never been
able to predict when they will come along. They are a mystery to me.
2 - FORM AND FORMLESSNESS, THE IDENTITY OF THE IDEA
So what is 'an idea'?
The most important thing about your idea for the
adventure is that you like it. Making it will be hard and you will get
depressed at multiple points and want to put it away, but if the central
concept is provokes affection and desire in you then you have a much better
chance of making it and of making it well.
There is a paradox, the idea should have a very strong
identity and feel, but at the same time be a little formless. It should be
something that you could accomplish a variety of ways.
At this point it absolutely doesn't need to be something
you are able to explain to other people, or even to yourself. You can just have
it there in the back of your head like a silent impulse. Wrapping it up in a
neat conjunction of words at this point is not necessarily a good thing.
This is the opposite to movie-producer rules. You don't
need an elevator pitch because right now, you are not trying to persuade a
bureaucratic system that it's good. You don't need to explain it in terms of
other things (yet), you need to let it be itself and grow and become unlike
other things. You need to keep it to yourself a little.
The idea for DCO
With DCO I had already done a lot of research for Veins
of the Earth and had had most of the ideas for that written out in their
I wanted to make something that would be an effective
gateway to the Underworld as I conceived it. I had a head full of geology and
deep time (thanks in large part to the books of Richard Fortney). If there is
one basic concept behind DCO it’s that transmission of the feeling of deep
time, the same one you feel when you see huge layers of strata on a cliff face
and think about how deeply they reach into the past.
Whatever you are trying to make it will draw from something, even if its just everything you have ever experienced or imagined.
Deep Carbon Observatory is actually the name of a
research group and I stole it. I had noticed it during my research along with
the name of another group, Dark Biosphere Investigations, and noted it down.
DCO was nearly DBI, in that case it would have been a
journey to a kind of collapsed abyssal zoo under the ocean.
It can be really important to have a good name. The name
acts as the first hook or crinkle in the minds memory, a nodule that other impressions
can accrete about. It’s a kind of symbol or rallying flag for when you are
explaining the idea to others and yourself or for when you are depressed and
doubting it. A cool name can breathe life into a project and idea. It’s also useful
for capitalistic reasons of course, with marketing and so forth. it brands the
project as being or not being a particular kind of thing in the eyes of the world.
My advice would be to make sure you have a really cool
name that you love and write it at the top of your notepad or writing document.
Have a file shortcut named that on your desktop.
When I started out I began everything by hand on various
pads, usually either lined or square. Then once I had what I needed I took it
to the computer at the end of each day, or week, and typed it in.
The great thing about this is that you can be away from a
computer which you don't have to carry around with you. You also get longer to
think about the euphony of your sentences and they flow through your mind in a
different speed so that effects your writing style a little.
Later I started doing almost all my computer writing on
Notepad – it’s really fast to open so you don't have to wait. It doesn't check
my spelling or bad grammar and underline words to irritate me so I can type
very fast and inaccurately without it being a problem. It has no format, fonts etc.
so there are no extras to fiddle with. If they were there I would fiddle with
them and waste time.
Almost everything I've ever written on my computer has
started as a badly written notepad document. This is being written in notepad,
the it will be re-written here, then transferred to Word to check spelling and
fix stuff and make sure it makes sense, then finally the blog. I'll take a
picture of it now so you know what it looks like
Now I rarely use physical paper for major segments. It
just took too long to transfer everything over
I still carry physical notepads around with me just in case.
This is a part of the process quite difficult to keep
track of, it takes place mainly on notepad documents that are easy to delete
and transfer and on actual physical notepads.
It's also an extremely important process because it’s
here that the first inklings of the shape of the adventure take place.
A main thing here is working out problems and getting
chapter or section headings.
The thought process for DCO went something like this.
- I want PC's to go somewhere deep, gain access to
something deep but most importantly, feel as if they are going somewhere deep.
I want the space to tell them that.
- Here's this name, Deep Carbon Observatory. What would
that actually be like? An underground observatory? What would that be?
- Then gradually - it would be inverted, it would see
through stone, it would be deep underground but accessible (like our
observatories are on hill and mountaintops).
- Mine - no. Done already.
- What about Open Cast Mine - this is an important
moment, open cast mines are visually and spatially powerful and hyper-dominant
spaces. They create a very deep impression. They are also something that most
D&D creators won't use as they are explicitly modern and creators prefer to
draw from pre-existing pseudo-medieval forms. Once the idea of it being an open
cast mine was settled on, that governed a lot of the iterations from that point
ALWAYS CHOOSE THE MOST POWERFUL VISION
Choose the most powerful thing EVERY TIME and THEN use
reason and explanation and rationalism to make it all mutually coherent like it
makes sense. Never be reasonable to start with, that is not your job.
- Ok, its like this big inverse pyramid and the
observatory at the bottom. So why does no-one know where it is, why doesn't
everyone know about it, why isn't it in use?
- Can't be filled in. Hidden somehow. How?
thinking thinking thinking thinking
- Hidden under a lake. River diverted and deliberately
used to hide it, like a huge geo-engineering project. And that explains why
no-one has gone there in ages and why its findable now. The project failed.
- Then the idea of the dam (the shape of the dam is a
20th century concrete-based technology, like the open-cast-mine of the entry,
no ancient dam would ever have looked like that).
- How did no-one fuck with the dam/how did it stay up
(the dam golems)
- Then the dam having broken. Then what happens in a
- Stages and effects of a flood.
- Then that breaks down quite easily into different areas
or zones. Then we have the idea of each area or zone being like going deeper
and deeper into an alien reality, with each step closer to the observatory
being like you are going further and further out of the realm of human
understanding and into the realm of otherness.
- It's about this point that we reach our basic
subdivisions or chapter headings.
We're back to names again. Instead of adventure names we
are choosing section names but the process is similar. You want to choose a
good name, but most importantly you need to know what manner of thing that
section is and broadly how it relates to the whole
Here's a picture of what I ended up with in the DCO
folder at the end.
You can see they aren't that good. Carrowmore is ok, the
Crows is ok, the Drowned Lands is ok, The Big Dam is bad, The Profundal Zone is
good (an actual measure of a particular layer of biosphere in a lake), The
Observatory and the Giant are just practical.
With Maze of the Blue Medusa, well, in files the sections
were first called UPPER RIGHT, CENTRE RIGHT, CENTER, LOWER LEFT etc. The
project was always called MEDUSA MAZE, in caps. The sections eventually turned
into LIZARDMAN ARCHIVE, GALLERY, GARDEN, ENTRY, THE DEAD WEDDING, then that odd
bit in the lower mid right I forget if that had its own name, then the medusa's
stuff, not sure if that had a name either but I knew what was there, then
PETRIFIED CELLS. Then they got their current names through the edit.
The most important thing is that it be broken down into
workable sections. In the case of DCO, and to some extent with MotBM, the
sections are based on geography, i.e. they could be sections of a map, but they
are also based on gathering consequences of play; you can't get to the
profundal zone without going through the drowned lands, you can't reach the
Medusa without going through the Almery and you are unlikely to meet her
without meeting Chronia first.
Even though in most things I do I like a high degree of interconnectedness
both in aesthetic, in terms of worldbuilding and imagined mutual history and in
terms of mechanics and carried over effects, if I didn't break things down a
LOT first I would go mad.
The only way I know how to deal with highly complex big
projects is to break them into parts with a specific informational
Once I've got a rough arrangement of chapters it’s just a
matter of working out what is in each thing then writing that
HAHAHAHAHAHAHA SO EASY
But yeah, a similar process is followed. Breakdowns on
either paper or text docs, lots of notes, lots of sub-headings. Breaking down
each section into its own sections and then working out names and content for
each of them.
This is like 80% of making the thing but it only gets
these few lines.
Also, the whole architecture of the adventure and the
arrangement of all of its parts can and will change multiple times as new stuff
is invented and put in and old stuff discarded.
The DCO flood flowchart only happened because I had this
big clever idea for a kind of flood mega-image map thing with all the different
encounters on it and Scrap just said no so I had to come up with a way to do
the same thing with just information.
It's too big. It's unmanageable. There are too many
simultaneous problems you have to think about. Your dumb ambitions have sunk
the project. It will be incomprehensible anyway. It's pretentious unplayable
arty shite. You can't even stand to look at it any more. There's some waste
ground near your house where they won't find the body for a while. You could do
it with pills.
At some point you cross the line from having it all in
I have found the Navigation View in Microsoft Word to be
very useful for arranging the architecture of information, here's a picture of
the navigation view of a BFR doc.
As your chapters fill up they also narrow, casting off
old word docs, notepad docs, image files and prospective layouts in paint.net
like a snake with leprosy shaking off its skin. Here's a list of the files for
BFR as they currently stand
And here's the "Misc Development" folder for
the section I'm working on now. I use this as a dumping ground for stuff that
might be relevant but I don't want it staring at me.
Eventually you have all your little chapter sections as
complete as you think they are going to get. you have read through them all
multiple times and to you they are
entirely comprehensible and eminently playable, only a fool could fail to
understand them. So, you mangle them all into one huge, sequential,
staggeringly slow and constantly crashing word document.
After months (possibly years) of crushing effort,
multiple dark nights of the soul, fitful rushes of inspiration, moments of near
genius and several bedazzled and hallucinogenic dead-ends your glorious first
draft is READY.
You are now half way through the process.
That’s all for
one blog post. Next post I will talk about all the stuff that comes after like
publishing, formats, printing etc. As well as all the stuff that I missed out
like dealing withrebellious
mute beasts artists, fools who would oppose
your will co-workers and parasites who dare to questions your divine
genius editors. I will also try to answer any specific questions that
people ask in the comments.
I said somewhere that I would write about what Gawain
means to me, so here we are. This will be the last one I promise.
So I got very depressed and didn’t work on anything for a
long time and spent a lot of evenings drinking and mainlining animated series
on DVD (Clone Wars is a mixed bag with some very good elements, Avatar the Last
Airbender is excellent).
As part of some research for another thing I re-read
parts of Gawain and translated a bit of it.
Translating it was the only work I was capable of doing
that didn't feel like I was grinding broken glass into my own face. I'm curious
as to why that is. Perhaps its because my mind had something to look at that
wasn't itself. (Inventing stuff sometimes feels very much like your mind
looking at itself.) It’s poetry, which does often calm me down, I’m not sure
why that is.
So I would go to work each day, (my phone tracks my movements
like a stalker and thinks the library is 'work' because I go there during work
hours), and translate a bit of Gawain.
It's set where I'm from. Not exactly, it spends a lot of
time in Yorkshire and Lancashire, but the paths of my life and of Gawain’s
journey cross quite a bit. I have family in the Wales he wandered around, I
went to university in the Lancashire he travelled through and, most of all, I
was writing in the Wirral he found such a grim place, at almost exactly the
same period of the year that he was in it. The weather has not changed.
And the weather and the descriptions of it are some of
the best parts of the poem, the ones almost all the translators seem to think
are really good, especially considering the frequency with which they are
(Poets are just good with wind I think.)
Yet all the travelling of Gawain takes place in a few
pages and its barely relevant to the dramatic action of the story. It's mainly
a courtly story about high status people having parties in rooms, or,
essentially, about Gawain not having sex with a hot girl.
There is a lot going in in Gawain, let’s look into some
TO GAY OR NOT
Working out how gay Gawain and the Green Knight is, is a
complex endeavour. The word 'gay' and the concept probably, don't exist for the
poet. Medieval literature rarely (as far as I know) talks about, or names,
non-hetro sexual practices, but sex does show up, in stuff like Chaucer
certainly and almost everyone grew up in a hovel & probably heard/saw their
parents having sex under the sheets, which was considered relatively normal I
think. Sex and sexual desire is a key element in Gawain, which is quite a fancy
upper-class courtly story.
So this certainly isn't a modern culture story, but it’s
also not a Victorian or early-modern culture, which is what we first think of
when we contrast a sexual culture to "us". It's not repressed in the
same way. Doesn't have quite the same sharp duality. Although Certain Things
aren't mentioned, it doesn't have the same feelings of denial. And like almost
anything from before the modern era, there is a lot of sensual male contact
that is just considered part of normal male behaviour, from guys being
super-glad to see each other, even crying from happiness, to a lot of kissing,
touching, grabbing or "laching", and a lot of frank appreciation for
Guys in this era are just well up in each others business
socially in a way not common to our own time.
So any modern reader feels a familiar internal monologue
which goes something like this:
A - Wow some
of these male behaviours seem pretty gay.
B - Probably
you're just reading a sexual element into a behaviour that had no sexual
element when it was performed as you have been perved-up by modern knowledge.
A - But surely
some men did gay stuff in this period?
B - It's
likely, but without any generally accepted and widely known awareness of
homosexuality, a lot of quasi-sexual feelings are going to be absorbed by and
expressed in general, warm homosocial contact.
A - Then
surely that warm homosocial contact could itself be interpreted as being a bit
B - NO! Stop
trying to gay up history and see gay stuff everywhere!
A – Well it
sounds like you’re in denial to me. Anyway, who says there wasn't any widely
known awareness of homosexuality, or at least, guys getting busy with each
other. I mean there was that king in Shakespeare..
B - They
almost never talk about it.
A - But that
doesn't mean it wasn't happening.
B - Even if it
was happening that doesn't mean that all the stuff in Medieval texts that seems
a bit gay is actually a secret signifier for gayness the way it might be in a
modern or early modern text.
and so on and so on and so on.
So, with this in mind, reasons I interpret the behaviour
of Bertilak/The Green Knight towards Gawain as more homosexual than homosocial
One - The Green Knight/ Bertilak remarks on their
happiness at seeing Gawain and their desire to be in contact with Gawain a LOT.
In Arthurs hall as the Knight, in his own hall in numerous ways, and again at
the end as the Knight, he still just wants Gawain around him.
Two - Bertilk laughs and giggles when Gawain
agrees to stay at his house, he acts as if he doesn't know what he's doing.
This is from the guy defined in the text as being super tough and the most
masculine guy ever, the guy who always seems to be in a dominant position and
always knows what’s going on. Yes, in some translations its Gawain that giggles
and loses control of himself, but I have re-checked my facing text and I think that
it a bullshit interpretation.
“The lorde let for luf lotegh so myry,
As wygh that wolde of his wyte, ne wyst quat he might.”
Three - The sex game. "Ok Gawain, you stay
here and I'll go hunting. Whatever I win out there I will give to you and
whatever you win in here you give to me." Bertilak goes off & catches
symbolic animals while his wife stays home and try’s to fuck Gawain. Then
Gawain gives Bertilak his own wife’s kisses later in the day. Which Bertilak is
quite pleased about.
So two things. If Gawain had fucked Bertilak’s wife, what
would he have had to give Bertilak that night? And secondly, knowing this, what
was going through his head when she flirted with him the second and third
times? What does he think Bertilak thinks is going on? I mean, that’s a highly
specific bet right? Is Gawain just super-innocent, or is he quite jaded and courtly
and ‘cool’ and has a good idea of what is going in and just deals with it?
I refuse to accept that my interpretation of this as
being a bonkers sex game is a modern interpolation of an 'innocent' medieval
text. I believe that at least a fraction of the audience reading or, more
likely, hearing this read out, knew exactly what was going on with this. I
think most of them did.
Four - Gawain is feminised and Bertilak
masculinised, a LOT. Gawain’s beauty is gone on about quite a bit, when he
arrives in Bertilaks hall he is dressed in skirts and described (I think) as
like a flower. Bertilak and the Green Knight are both described as
super-masculine with specifically well-shaped limbs (especially thighs), narrow
waists and muscular trunks. He's always called 'stiff' staunch' and strong. His
beard is off the hook. He physically does things 'on camera' in ways Gawain
does not. Gawain has some generalised adventures and battles on his way to the
Green Chapel but they are never described action-by-action. Bertilak does a lot of stuff, he hunts, attacks,
skins, fights and, most crucially, grabs. Gawains main heroic qualities in the
poem as shown by action are him *not*
And Five - Bertilak grabs and 'lacches' Gawain a
lot in his castle. Whenever he wants Gawain somewhere he 'lacches' the guy and basically
moves him where he wants him to be.
I state this as a cornerstone of my theses, and its
fucking ridiculous that no-one has said this directly before: The Green Knight
Wants to Fuck Gawain.
WITTY VS WITTY YET RELIGIOUS
Tolkien described the poet as (I'm paraphrasing) a man of
religious conviction and some humour. I tend to see him the other way round, as
a funny man with strong religious feelings. That may just be the natural
difference between Tolkien and I.
By the time we get to the poems end, it is very much a
religious work, the finish is anguished and serious and very Christian.
But the rest of the poem, is, not exactly light, or
humorous, but lively, witty and wry.
It's hard to describe how the Gawain poet is funny, there
are very few 'jokes' and not many hard distinguishable moments where you can
point at it and say "look, this is meant to be funny". Nevertheless,
the image we get in our minds of the poet is someone with a wry, somewhat
ironic, compassionate and rather rueful view on the world. The mild doubling of
meanings, the understatements and the kinds of situations created: Arthurs
court describing what they think Arthur should have done, Lady Bertilak duelling
with Gawain, Bertilaks comments after some of the kisses, the nameless
doomsayer telling him blankly to run, show someone who is aware of, and
enjoying, the multiple intersecting levels of awareness, and wants you to be
aware of them too.
There's a few medieval texts I think, where we see the
warmth of the human lifeworld duelling with the totalising and annihilating
power of the world of faith, with varying results. The Morte is a lot like
this, with the faithworld stuff coming in hard during the grail quest and with
Galahad. Both worlds are good at different themes and good in different ways. I
tend to favour the human lifeworld, (as, I suspect, most modern readers), but
even when the story is deeply concerned with human things, the faithworld is
still there wrapped in in everything.
I doubt the poet saw them in conflict in any meaningful
way, to the creator, I believe, it’s all one story with all of the elements
making a neat whole (except maybe for the bit with Morgana's plot).
No-one in the poem ever says 'fuck' or anything close to
it but I put the word in a few times. Even though I did a lot of specific stuff
with the translation, this is the one that is going to stick out and if anyone
notices it they are going to call it the "Fuck Gawain". So my
One - It's a natural part of my internal repertoire. I
say fuck in my head like its punctuation and my translation goes back and forth
a lot between a very archaic representation and some very modern interpretations,
depending on how I felt each part should come through.
This means my translation doesn't have a unified tone, at
least according to the way an English teacher would describe it. But it does
really because that is my tone and the pattern of my thought, it is natural to
me, no matter what anyone else thinks of it and therefore is a reasonable
pattern of translation.
In most cases I put in a fuck where I felt *that
Character* might say it according to my own internal sense and what they were
up to at that moment. There are only three parts where it comes in.
One - Arthurs Hall. I read this much like a Scorsese
scene. (This probably isn't entirely accurate to the nature of the scene in its
original context, but no translation could be). This is the moment when one
masculine guy in a masculine culture jokethreatens another masculine guy in
front of his male friends.
Many of you will remember this situation from school. The
aggressor says something that could be a a joke or a threat. If you respond as
if it’s a joke then you might be judged as if you were afraid to respond to the
threat, showing lack of courage, so you lose face. But if you respond as if it is a threat, and the aggressor plays it
off as a joke, then you look as if you ovverreacted, showing fear and internal
weakness, so you lase face anyway.
There is no good response to this. I read it pretty much as a Scorsese gangster
scene and I thought the Green Knight might way say 'motherfucker' and it fit
the sonic structure of that line so I put it in.
Two - The Nameless Doomsayer. This is the fuck I
feel most fine about. This character is a churl who exists purely to lighten
the mood of the last part of the poem before the scary bit and, as a churl, he
is meant to show what a super-knightly guy Gawain is. He is the character most
likely to say fuck and use low language and I had no problem putting one in.
Three – Gawain’s rebuke. This is the least likely.
Right at the end, as Gawain realises he is alive after the axe comes down and
leaps away drawing his sword, he rebukes the Green Knight and tells him quite
forcefully that this is it, the thing is done, he is not going back under the
axe. Gawain never uses low language of any kind, or even comes close, the worst
you get from him is a bit of cold sarcasm at the end. But I felt the emotion of
the moment and the extremity of the incident might allow it and I was a bit
fuck-happy at that point so I gave Gawain a small fuck of his own. He had earnt
WHAT IS THE GREEN
Well, this motherfucker is about twenty things. Let’s see
if we can count them.
He's Nature -
Well, he’s green. Plus he's covered in leaves and things. Plus he's literally
carrying a branch. Plus many of the things that threaten Gawain on his way to
the Green Chapel are nature incarnate, bears and bulls and wolves and woodwose.
Plus at the end his chapel is in the wildest most barren place ever. Plus it’s
called the Green Chapel. Wildness is not good in the medieval mind I think because
they haven't yet invented Wordsworth and Shelly to tell them it’s ok.
Arthurs court is the epitome of civilisation. Nature
BURSTS its way in to civilisation to say "Ha Ha! You thought you could
forget me mankind, well here I am to challenge your weak assertions that you
are something other than nature. How about that chivalric code you made up, reckon
you can stick to it?"
He's Violence -
He's carrying an axe. His contest is a murder. The axe is his prize. When we
meet him again he has another axe and is sharpening it. As Bertilak he hunts
and kills a LOT of stuff and this is described in the most detailed and gory
"Knights! You think you are pretty great hey? We
have you noticed that all of you are KILLERS? And that all of your knightlyness
is based on MURDER? You like killing so much, why don't you kill me tough guys? Hmmmm? Then I’ll
kill you. Afraid to muderdie murderers?"
Outside/Elves/Elvishness - He's clearly magic as fuck. Described as 'an
elvish man' in the text. Exhibits magical regeneration, seems to change
location near-magically, changes size and appearance magically. He's just very
magic, he's a magic man. This is probably more real to the original audience
than us. From a modern perspective we can add “He’s the Unconscious” to this one – see below.
He's Death And
Winter - Turns up in one winter, meets Gawain in another. Carries holly
which is strongest in green when the boughs are bare. Leading us to;
He's Rebirth And
Summer/ The Unity Of Opposites - The Green Knight loves being opposite
things. A super green guy in a dead white winter land. Carries a holly branch
as symbol of peace and an axe at the same time as a symbol of warishness. Fucks
with everyone but is a stickler for knightly conduct and oaths and fine
legalisms of behaviour. Is the green-bearded Green Knight and the Red(ish)
bearded Bertilak. Wants to fuck Gawain and tries to trick Gawain into sexdeath.
Works to destroy Arthurs court but ends up giving them the green girdle that
becomes a symbol of a knightly order. Schemes and lies to corrupt Gawain and
forgives and reassures Gawain. Dies but lives. Likes dogs AND cats! And yes,
sex and death. OPPOSITES. COMBINNNNEEDDDD.
He's Cycles -
You have to wait a year to meet him the second time. He dies and lives again.
Pluss see all summer/winter stuff above.
He's A Gay Dude/The
Fear Of Being A Bit Gay - Wants to bone Gawain. You never know how fully
Gawain notices this and exactly what his response to it is. Until he finds out
Bertilak and the Green Knight are the same, he seems to be really fond of
Bertilak, but also kind of glad to get away? We leave the story with one
certainty: Gawain is definitely not gay, even a bit.
He's The Best Dude
Ever - It's pretty great to be strong and manly with great legs and an
amazing beard and your own castle. Wouldn’t you want to be that guy? or at least
to hang out with him. Bertilak confirms, manliness, beards and roaring fires
are the best. If the situation was reversed, Bertilak would definitely have
fucked Gawains wife, and possibly everyone else in the castle as well, but
Gawain does not do this. So, are you manly enough to not act manly? You enough
of a real man to not be ruled by your virility? Another Gawain paradox.
He's A Threat To
His Own Kingdom Somehow - This is an odd one that not many people bring up.
On the way to the Green Chapel the nameless doomsayer tells Gawain that the
Green Knight is super-dangerous and just kills the fuck out of people for no
reason and has been haunting this area for ages. But the Green Knight is
Bertilak, and this is not far from Bertilaks castle.
Possibly this is some black ops mission impossible shit
where Bertilak gets this guy to talk up the danger of the place to see if
Gawain will flinch. But if it isn't, then Bertilak is the monster haunting his
own kingdom. He is the lord in the castle but also the terrible violent thing
from the outside that kills at a whim. Which leads us to;
He's The Things
That Are Inside Us That We Would Rather Were Both Outside Us And Very Far Away
- See above, being gay, being violent, being a crazy ass murderer. Also
He's Mercy -
Gawain is set an impossible moral challenge that leads directly from his desire
to be the best possible knight and it inevitably leads to his destruction, but
he isn't destroyed because he's willing to go through with it. So this is a
Book of Job story maybe? Which is easy to crap on in a Stuart Lee or Ted Chiang
way, because Job gets his 'stuff' back, so it seems like a fake moral message -
pretend to go through with this apparently self-destructive moral code and I
will reprieve you at the last minute. If you look like you are willing to die,
you won't really have to.
It's kind of easy to make fun of from a modern
perspective but I'm not sure that that’s what the original creators of those
stories meant, or that we are fully understanding them. If you look at it from
a detached, ironic, material perspective then it looks like a trick, if you
look at it in the spirit and nature of its time, what is it then?
He's Kind Of Like
God Maybe? - See above. I will add that in the last scene with the Green
Knight, Gawain confesses his mild indiscretion when he had previously lied
about it and the Knight says he is now "clean" as if he had been
confessed by a priest, from the perspective of the story-world, it’s not clear
where the fuck he thinks he is getting the moral authority to do this from. His
words and his general air of moral assumption are not those of a trickster but
a tolerant moral superior who is congratulating a student for finally seeing
through a knotty problem and reaching a new level of awareness and
understanding. He forgives like he's god, which makes the next bit even odder;
He's A Pawn Of
Morgana La Fay - At the same time as he is forgiving Gawain the Green
Knight gives him the backstory to what is going on, which to a modern reader
(me) seems ridiculously thematically and dramatically disconnected from the
rest of the text. Ok so it was a womanfight between Morgana and Guinevere. Was
she orchestrating the sex game thing? You seemed super in charge before, and
super in charge now, but in reality you weren't/aren't? Does she turn you into
a giant green guy regularly? If she can do that, why not just send you to take
out Arthur? Ok some of these are nerdboy questions, but still.
This also meshes with the poems turn towards misogyny in
the last part. There seems to be some kind of divide between the poem and the
poet on the subject of Lady Bertilak. From the poems point of view she's hot
and funny, active, intelligent and has a lot of positive qualities. When the
poet wakes up to what his heart is writing he has to remind us that she is
sleazy and corrupt and kind of evil even though she doesn't seem it. Then he
has the Green Knight effectively say that the whole thing was the fault of
women and Gawain confirm it. To us reading, this is Gawain at his worst. I do
wonder what the original audience would have thought of the whole thing. I do
think, even from a Medieval perspective, it’s at least partly Gawain’s fault,
yes you were assailed by magic giants and sexy girls, but it all interlaced
with your own honour code and your own image of yourself, this isn't just me
being 21stC, the poem seems to take a similar view, in its opening parts at
least. And at the end the Green Knight wants to take Gawain back and reconcile
him with his wife, his ‘opponent’ as if they were players in a game that is now
Would the original audience think it was good that Gawain
didn’t back, bad? He’s refusing to go back into the sex/death house, but also
refusing to be reconciled with a women/women in general.
CHRISTIAN-SEEMING PARADOXES, THE NECESSARY IMPERFECTION
Finally we come to the end and Gawain crying and crushed
because he failed, even though to us, to his opponent and to his friends, he
scored 90% in a moral battle against a witch, a magic giant and a hot girl.
And Gawain never really cheers up, not in the narrative
at least. We end on him sad, filled with a sense of his own failure. And we
don't really know what to think of this. To Arthurs court it’s a failure that
is not a failure. To Gawain it’s a success that is not a success. To the court
the green girdle is a trophy. To Gawain a mark of shame.
We come back again to the unity of opposites, the necessity
of imperfection in the search for perfection. Gawain’s failure is more
humanising, and in a way, more noble than clear and direct success would have
been. (Also a better drama.) Gawain’s super-brave and almost self-destructive
honour code that first seemed bold, then dumb, then impossibly complex to
maintain, then simple again just before the end, is now a weight for him.
What does it mean to hold yourself to an impossibly high
standard? What does it mean to oppose death, nature, sex, the possibility of
being a bit bisexual, hyper-masculinity, violence and a pawn of Morgana La Fay,
and to fail, and yet to be forgiven? To be forgiven by all those same things?
I doubt I’ve got any close to “an answer”. I doubt there
is one and if there is its probably obscure and theological.
I’m glad I got to meet the poet through the text. Gawain
poet, I’m glad you wrote this. You can’t go straight from sad to being happy
but you can go from sad to calm and your words helped me do that. And, if you’re
also the ‘Pearl’ poet then I’m sorry about your kid.
From the outside the City of Infinite Ruin looks a little
like Constantinople. Its walls are high and strong and roughly circular and a
charming pink-white that glows deep pink-red in the summer sun. There are various
guard towers and gates, each with their own storied histories, and from the
outside you can see some of the most recent spires and minarets poking up.
It's impossible to accurately measure the walls of the
City of Infinite Ruin, either their circumference or their height, and for a
long time it was assumed that this made it immune to siege, because how can you
build a siege tower or a ladder to get up there when you don't know how tall it
It turns out that if you just take a rough guess and
built a bunch of different siege towers and ladders then roughly half of them
will be the right size (or too tall, but then you can climb down from the tower
on another rope ladder).
So the City of Infinite Ruin is not immune to sieges, it just takes a stupidly large amount of
resources to besiege. Plus, if you win, the current rulers of the city will
just retreat deeper into its infinite ruins and possibly launch guerrilla
attacks from the inside.
HOWEVER, that problem tends to solve itself as the
infinite ruins are also full of all the previous rulers of the City of Infinite
Ruin, and all the escaped ghettos and archeocultures and shadow empires etc.,
and all those people tend to be pissed off at each other for some reason, so
soon your former enemies will be busy dealing with their former enemies.
(Plus no-one really want to throw anything big at the walls
of the City of Infinite Ruin as that might damage them, but more on that
Regardless of its exact measurement, the general circumference of the City of
Infinite Ruin seems to vary between 18 to 20 miles at the maximum, (about an
eighth of this fronts the ocean) although, from the outside, it never seems to
take up any greater area of land.
The city is not growing, not growing out anyway.
Think of the city as the rings of an onion, each of the
rings are roads (none of the roads inside the city are perfect rings, they
always cross over, stop and start, meet squares, etc. but you can think of their
general layout in that way) so the outer road, the road closest to the city
walls, that runs around the city just under them, on the inside, is 18 to 20
miles around, just like the outer wall (probably a little less), the next road
in, the one just a little further inside the city, is 19 to 21 miles around, the
next road in, the third road, is 20 to 22 miles around, the next is 21 to 23
miles around and the circumference of these 'ring roads' (that aren't
rings) keeps growing and growing and growing without end.
So the deeper you get into the city, the bigger it is.
Arguments differ over the maximum depth yet explored. The
greatest extent of 'official' circumnavigation of the city is set at 2660 miles
in from the walls and 2681 around for a total round-trip journey of roughly
8000 miles, although probably if we include diversions and so on it amounted to
about 10,000, though in fact none of the original members completed the actual
circumnavigation. All died or were lost in the cities infinite depths, but a
slave, or servant, that they picked up on the original penetration did manage
to complete the journey to the rim, bringing back the expeditions notes (assuming
the notes are real and not forgeries created either by the original explorers
out of madness or cupidity or by one of the shadow empires for more mysterious
reasons. (Or are notes from one of the suspected parallels
somewhere in the depths (or an alienist plot to indicate the existence of such
The City of Infinite Ruin is one of the only cities in
the world where the most valuable land and important buildings are all close to
the city walls. You can get around the inside in a day, if the traffic is good
(though you may need to cut deeper into the inside, which will take longer of
course). A good parkour messenger who can leap and climb over and under the
permanent traffic jams and can catch a fast gondola across the infinite docks,
can do the whole journey in around four hours and doing it inside five is a condition
of membership in the messengers guild.
All the 'rulers' of the city (to the outside world at
least, philosophers will argue that obviously, no-one can rule the City of Infinite
Ruin), the people who’s flags are on the buildings, who are currently the
primary patrons of the Mosque of
Conchodeus and who's bureaucrats will be collecting your taxes, have their
palaces next to the wall and so do all the major elites and the primary organs
Then closer into the centre you get the professionals,
army officers, lawyers etc, then the middle classes, shop owners who often have
to commute out to the wall districts, then the working populations, then the
slums (some of the nicest slums in the world), (and of course, the slums are
very lightly populated while the most important and high-status rim areas are
very densely populated, leading to a situation in which the rich and wealthy
struggle to cram themselves into close, tight, densely-packed living situations
and where the poor starve in palatial and silent ruins), then some of the inner villages or outposts or
watchtowers, and then, and then...
There is no exact point where the culture of the city
gives over to the culture of 'the depths'. Populated areas get fewer and
further between and along the boundaries of the infinite docks there are some
towns six-months sailing away which technically still pay fealty to the rim.
The city is growing, continually, into its own interior
space. In typical magical or cognitive-bias fashion you can't actually see this
happen but it is growing at a rate of about a centimetre a year (Probably. It
might be faster or slower), so if you were to build a house adjacent to the
city walls and leave it for 100 years, when you came back, there would be a metre gap between the wall of your house
and the city wall (possibly with a duke squatting there and claiming the
Those few buildings 'attached' to the city wall are very
valuable as they are 'carried' with the wall like an anchor stopping them from
being pulled gravatically into the cities depths, but almost all of these are
run by the security services and there are strong laws prohibiting any more
from being built as no-one wants to weaken the walls.
Everyone is quietly terrified of what might happen if the
walls come down. If the walls broke, the city might escape. It might spill out
into the world. Then the whole world would be like the city.
The Aurulent Empire is alleged to have besieged the City
of Infinite Ruin purely in order to
repair its walls. Legends claim that they sent in crack troops of suicide
bricklayers and combat masons while the (at that time) corrupt and
nihilistically mad rulers of the city hurled bucket of their own boiling piss
at them and tried to loose the City of Infinite Ruin out into reality.
Eventually the Aurulent Empire took the city and drove
its evil rulers deep, deep into the interior, from whence they have never
returned (but they might), and then ruled peacefully and wisely for a millennia
until they too gradually passed away into the interior (where they might still
But they did leave the walls in very good repair and
subsequent occupiers have worked hard to keep them that way.
SO, what happens to the space between the buildings? (You
are probably asking.) As buildings are swept into the interior of the city, and
as they occupy longer and longer roads, then surely the space between them
should open up, after all, if all the buildings that occupied a 20 mile-round
road are now pulled into a 50-mile round road, what happens to the extra 30
miles, is it just left empty?
A few things happen. Near the rim, where things are
'civilised' and the population is dense, new space is filled very quickly
(space is at a premium) and new buildings and houses are squeezed into the
tightest possible spaces, and then gradually expanded as they sink deeper into
the city and space opens up (losing value all the time).
But even with that, since the space inside is infinite
then the city of infinite ruins should really be the city of some ruins and a
whole lot of nothing.
Deeper in, something slightly more disturbing happens, in
areas outside regular human notice, places people won't look at, new ruins seem
to auto-generate. And by new ruins, I mean ancient ruins, ruins that have
always been there. Ruins that might have always been there. It's hard to tell. Old buildings gain extensions, a church might gain an
extra nave, a house might get an extra wing, roofs will extend and merge, buildings and colonnades
This is deeply worrying and interesting to a variety of
people, especially a class of people who exist only in the City of Infinite Ruin,
the alternate-architectural-history-explorers, Alterologists or 'Alters', because
when a building 'grows' as it falls into the depths of the city, it only grows
in a way that extends or deepens the natural state of that building. It isn't
just a case of random bits and pieces of architecture and stone being added on.
Each incarnation of that building, or complex of buildings, or city block, or
sub-city, or mega-city, depending on how deeply in it has fallen, is a coherent
whole, making complete architectural and historical sense.
From some perspective.
The history of a building several miles in will not be
the same as the history of that same building near the rim, though it will be
related, grown from the same seed if you will. Perhaps the history of the same
family, or the same god, or the same guild, from a world where they were just a
little more powerful, able to build a slightly larger house or hall or church, and
then as the building falls deeper and deeper into the city, it grows into a
palace, a complex.
What if the same family or guild could build a quarter of
a city? What if they could build a whole city? Still in the same style, still a
coherent aesthetic whole, but now a metropolis of its own?
The Alterologists, or ‘Alters’ travel deep into the city
to investigate these ruins and bring back their strange knowledge to the rim.
(And irritate the fuck out of everyone by doing it.)
Probably the closest to real historians and in many cases are former
historians. These alters range about looking for inscriptions on buildings deep
in the interior and try to use the knowledge gained from these to
‘contextualise’ or add meaning to ‘actual’ or ‘real’ history. They are
generally despised by real historians who fight a constant war against
‘counterfactuals’ to keep what they regard as false evidence out of the
historical record. Textualists are thought of as academics too flaky to make it
as the real deal though, as they never tire of reminding people, a handful of
genuinely brilliant historians have turned textualist and have used the
evidence gathered thusly to write truly brilliant and field-defining works. All
textualists think they are one of those few.
Pretty much just a textualist but for the arts. They follow statuary, mosaics
and (much more rarely) portraiture and stained glass. The power balance between
the portraitists and the academy is close to the inverse of the textualists as
they are regarded as braver more interesting artists who actually get out of
the house occasionally, though they are utterly despised by Original Artists
who actually create their own work.
Stylists – What
many people think of when they think of an ‘Alter’, essentially archaeologists
of alternate realities whose histories they divine through full-spectrum study
of the entirety of a ruin, building or city. They belong to an academic branch
all their own and produce works following the development of entire alternate
culture or world. This branch contains both geniuses and flakes and since their
entire study is devoted to alternate realities it’s really hard to tell the
difference between the two.
The ones who think it’s completely reasonable to search through ancient ruins
several miles deep for treasures from an alternate world which are almost never
there but which to be fair, have
actually been found once or twice. Adventurists hate Adventurers since Adventurists all believe (or are meant to
believe) that “it belongs in a museum!” Everyone thinks Adventurists are
actually Adventurers and snarks over them A- never finding anything and B- secretly
being in it for the money. “Adventurist” was actually a derogatory term
invented by the Textualists but was adopted as a Badge of Honour. Adventurists
are very chippy and they tend to pronounce the name of their faction with the
quote-marks included. “Yes, I am indeed, an “Adventurist”.”
– The Garde-Arriere are artists who explore the infinite ruins in a similar way
to the Portraitists but with the deliberate idea of mixing up, altering or
re-arranging what they find, bringing back ideas and examples of ancient alternate
arts not just to make money from it, but to re-introduce them to current
society specifically to create the greatest degree of shock and derangement.
No-one is sure what to think of the Garde-Arriere. Original Artists suspect
them of being secret conservatives and Portraitists and the Academies suspect
them of being secret radicals (who they will then try to co-opt).
Originalists search the infinite ruins for those single elements which were the
true, original and real seeds for the endlessly-proliferating fractal histories
that surround them. This requires a staggering amount of contextual knowledge
gathered in extremely difficult conditions. They are regarded with distant
respect by Historians as chief allies in the constant war against counterfactuals
and with a degree of
I’m-glad-someone-is-doing-this-and-equally-glad-it-isn’t-me piety. Originalists
tend to be patient, serious and sad.
Alienists believe a variety of scary shit that everyone else pretends to regard
as crazy talk while at the same time secretly believing that its likely to be
true. It’s not clear if the alienists are intelligent and imaginative enough to
spot what no-one else can see, brave enough to say what no-one else will say or
just dumb enough not to realise why
no-one ever says it. Alienists suspect that the city rim they come from is not the only city in the City of Infinite
Ruin. They think the endless parallel expansions into the interior are
actually slightly off-parallel and that other city rims on other worlds may
exist immeasurable distances away, slowly vomiting out their own alien
histories into the infinite vastness of the Infinite Ruins, and that deep in
the ruins these architectural histories may mash and merge, creating impossible
hybrid cities on the borders of infinity. They also suspect that there may be
all kinds of weird shit deep out in the depths, stuff like auto-nomadic shadow
empires, reality breaches, places where the city fades into Nightmare or the Plane
of Shadow etc. and so on. They are the kid that goes to paddle at the beach and
keeps talking about kraken.
The City of Infinite Ruins sits opposite the Straights of
the Ithsmus and controls one of the worlds major trading routes. Outside the
city on the seaward side is an extensive system of docks and a canal system
actually leads these docks through special gates inside the city walls.
No-one knows which empire or culture first began this
process but it was clearly an incredibly
stupid thing to do. Once a dock was created inside the walls it became part
of the built environment and began gradually falling into the cities infinite
depths like everything else, which meant they had to add more docks to keep it linked
up, and so on.
So now a gigantic series of stagnant drydocks reaches
deep, deep into the city, gradually spreading out like the branches of a tree
into the infinite space.
No-one knows if the same force that grows new-old ruins
replicates the stagnant water in the infinite docks or if all of it runs in
from the sea, but no-one wants to take the chance. Since there is enough space
in the infinite city to suck up all the oceans of the world, all new docks and
canal systems have to be built so the water is pumped up into the city. If anything breaks down or a dock door fails the
situation must be that what’s inside flows out instead of in. (Though there is
a slight possibility of cyclic failures from deep in the city causing a flood
effect which torrents infinite gallons of stagnant water out into the sea, but
this is considered a lesser risk than maybe having the world’s oceans just
drain away by mistake.)
There is a special ‘Dock Guard’ who are actually the
oldest continual organisation in the city. They wear armour of rose and dusty
gold and their entire duty is to repeatedly and ritually patrol the boundary
between the docks inside the city and the docks outside the city, to make sure
each is safe from the other. Their squires deal with aquatic traffic violations
and police the Gondolas and the dock bureaucracy.
The relative wealth of the docks and the comparatively
easy passage they afford into the interior means they form a counterweight to
the power of the rim. There is a continual tug of war between the two powers
and revolutions against the rim have often begun in the docks.
Ship captains who fail to pay their dock fees can be
moved to the back of the queue for spaces in the canals, meaning they have to
move their ships deeper into the stagnant water of the infinite docks. The
deeper in they go the harder it is to make the money to move back up the queue
and so some ships can wallow for ages, their crews fled and the Captains mad.
Some might even decide to sail the infinite docks deep
into the interior and these ships do allow the government of the rim to keep in
contact with those of its colonies in the depths. The docks though, might also
be a method of passage for something coming from inside the city…
IN THE DEEPS
Many texts speak of the conditions deep inside the City
of Infinite Ruins. It is dry, with few sources of water outside the infinite
sewers, which are often filthy near the rim as all the waste of the polity is
pumped into infinite space, but much cleaner further out.
The air is said to be deeply still and the overwhelming
silence and emptiness is remarked on by all travellers, as well as the ease of
getting lost in the infinite streets with most navigation being done by
way-markers of particular buildings and general position being known by the
drift between the aesthetic of different architectural cultures.
The interior feels little effect from the seasons, with
winter and summer leaching away, resulting in a continual cool, temperate
It’s possible to force agriculture in the interior. First
a ruin must be demolished or a street pulled up to form a field. Soil may have
to be gathered from the gutters of local buildings. In some cases an overgrown
park forms an easy start.
Then dryland crops like winter wheat, corn and beans can
be grown using water from the infinite sewers, though yields are low, keeping
most efforts at the subsistence level, if that.
Nomadic cultures can feast off birds like pigeons, which
feed on the plants growing in the cracks in the buildings, or on goats, which
are expert at climbing the walls to reach grazing, but even so, the numbers
that can be supported are vanishingly small per area. It is a hard life to
In some places large areas of parkland can provide
concentrations of agricultural power and plants grow quite vibrantly in the
paving stone cracks near the infinite docks, making these a favoured position.
Deep voyagers into the interior report all kinds of crazy
stories, storms coming from inside the city, nomadic archeo-cultures,
dimension-bending squid living in the infinite docks (effectively the size of
an ocean a hundred miles in) and all the usual alienist claptrap, best ignored
by normal decent people.
The people of the City of Infinite Ruin live on the
borders of an incalculable and impossible interdimensional wilderness in which
anything might exist. They are really good at not thinking about it. A kind of
survival-based delirious narrow-mindedness leads them to spend lifetimes
struggling for social positions, cramming themselves closer and closer to the
rim, in ever greater crowds jammed into ever closer spaces, as if the density
of people will somehow force out the annihilating silence of the city deeps.
They are fond of cults of mediocrity and knick-knacks and
doily’s are popular. The room of an average teenager can look like that of a
crafting-obsessed pensioner from our culture and the room of an actual
pensioner can look like that pf a very brisk Miss Haversham.
People are big on hobbies and the hobbies are never very
The ‘cultural’ life of the city goes on at right-angles
to this enforced mediocrity and is resentfully tolerated, most of the time as a
major source of the cities wealth and fame. At various times different
sumptuary laws have forced the different Alterologists into ritual masks and
robes of various kinds (apart from Alienists who are not required to wear them but insist on doing so anyway) and these
laws have never been repealed.
Sometimes the psychic pressure gets too much and there
are terrifying pogroms of various intellectual groups.
Silence and space and emptiness are death, and, more
importantly, low status. Busyness, loudness, crowds and density are life, and,
more importantly, high status.
Most people in the City of Infinite Ruin lie about their
address (placing it closer to the rim) and lie about where they were born in
the same way. Everyone wants to be close to the wall and “having your eyes on
the rim” is a positive thing to say about someone, indicating ambition, drive,
will to exist and wise close-mindedness.
Being from the depths is bad, and being from the deep
depths is somehow devilish. Everyone is deeply aware that that only thing
keeping them away from some kind of interior barbarian or impossible alternate
self is simply distance.
(The possibility of doppelgangers is a major source of hysteria in the city and a general doppelgangerphobia exists. It is not good to look too much like someone else.) Though this is true for all nations, and though the distance between the
people of the city and whatever might threaten them is actually probably much
larger than for any other nation in the world, (as the interior is infinite),
it’s still somehow worse because they are inside
Nevertheless, the city does have the relics of infinite
culture and an extensive amount of immigration. With infinite space inside,
anyone from anywhere in the world who wants to escape somewhere can go there,
and anyone is welcome, so long as they go straight to the back of the queue,
out in the palatial and silent slums, miles from the rim, and then work their
As much as they have their “eyes on the rim”, the people
of the City of Infinite Ruin generally don’t have their minds anywhere beyond
the rim. People who leave and then come back are pitied. They will have to
start all over again at the back of the queue, and why would you want to leave
anyway? This is the greatest city in the world!