Thursday, December 19, 2013

Marmot Soap Angst

This is my obligatory anagram post. I've been listening to Rabelais again on audiobook in the forest and it got me onto a blog called Six Degrees of Thomas Urquhart, which is nice and allows me to indulge my logofascination, the which indulgence is one of the primary reasons for the existence of this blog (no secret really). So Zak brought up this site which I've been in love with before and I allowed myself the writing of this little post in which I mess with anagrams and mediaeval monotheism.

I also now have a tumblr; onto which I dump lots of inspirational imagery for Middenmurk.

On a hunting trip in celebration of the achievement of her majority, the fourteen year-old Countess of Feigned Irony was seen to clamber through the summer air to impossible distance while waiting attendants shuddered in dumbfounded fear and watched her dwindle in the sultry heights. In the balmy evening among dancing fireflies she came down like an elegant meteor, incandescent and terrible, and devoured the entourage with celestial fury.

Thence in a crater of her newly-attained radiant selfhood did she tarry a while in contemplation of universal mysteries that had suddenly revealed themselves. And a heresy was born for many holy heads did joyously avail themselves of such an opportunity to grasp from the universe the offered semblance of righteously embracing of a truth 'twould topple the highs and mighties of others whose truths were long-enshrined in cathedrals of historicity and rivers of scribed ink.

Such is the way among the holy, holiness itself is not enough, furnished as it is with burthens of chastity and self-denial most galling to bear, to be holier than was the utmost aim and gilded with innumerable admirations. So tramped they hither and builded shrines nigh unto the abandoned pavilionade while summer faded. Imprecations were pronounced and theology woven from whole cloth, disagreed upon, torn apart and patched together on the crater's rim. The boldest heretics would venture into the burning pit to prostrate themselves before She who waited like an ember in the centre but her mystery was unfathomable, mortal minds could not conceive of it. Thus were they made into torches and became burnt offerings to that which cannot be conceived. Thus was this practice deemed unholy save for upon the feast day of the Aphasic Ladder.

The predictable ossification of the once-fluid theological debates occurred under the stifling influence of Einhardt, the Scalded Pariah. From this does his title derive: while circumambulating the crater on pilgrimage he was caught in the first of the boiling rainstorms that derive their heat from the celestial firestorm of Her ardour. He was burned but in his pain did he speak in the tongue of angels, others heard and were smote deaf by its purity unmerciful. His revelation was then agreed-upon as unnassailable Truth, a cyst builded for him of grey stone upon the crater's brink and daily would stone-deaf acolytes attend to him and bring his scrawled parchments of dogma to the hastily-constructed scriptorium.

The sacred texts out of the scriptorium are bound in leather and marked upon the cover with an Heraldic Spada, for so is named the langeschwert in Southering provinces and thus also 'mongst the delineators of blazonry. It is deemed a solar sigil and emblematic of her cutting disdain for perfidious backsliders and the likesuch unholy. Of these revealed parables are three held most high;

I. A Caliph's Adder tells of the serpent of an Orient potentate that bade him glut too eagerly of his concubinage and with intemperate zeal indulge in correction of perceived transgression and how this did see that fatuous magnate die by a virgin's razor.

II. Another text tells of how the Sesquipedalian Apocrypha of Balthasariandromachus was only partially correct about the flight of Aethelfleda, that the sentries upon that desolate hillside revealed she Hid a Paled Scar beneath her cowl, indicative of her persecution during the terrible Plaid Charades.

III. Redcap's Dahlia is a text that describes the most perfect blossom grown in the garden of a petty-noble by the boggle-bairn who was resident there and how this noble's expressions of gratitude manifest in such a manner as wounded the little gardener and turned his dedication to service into black loathing for light and life and keenest desire to defile reality with merciless abandon.

Otherwise the heresy is utterly orthodox in its heterodoxy. Nettle-scourging and ritualised starvations and kneeling penitences and bewailings of untranscendable materiality abound by the great cloud of steam that veils Her perilous beauty and fills the crater like a cauldron of curdled milk .

Chaotics will be destroyed by spontaneous immolation upon setting foot into the crater.

Neutrals are assailed by steam and boiling rain -1d6 dmg to reach the centre but numb amnesiac stupefaction prevent any meaningful perception of her glory.

Lawfuls may pass into the centre and behold her as a pillar of fire, white-hot and terrible, and a roaring in the ears like constant thunder. They may ask questions that may resolve the occurrence of this bizarre theological anomaly but the answer to the fourth question is always ultimate destruction.

Should they ask the right questions they will learn of the whereabouts of Bartholomaeus Crumpe* and that he should be brought before her that he may seek forgiveness for his sin prior to his transcendence of materiality. This done she ascends, bestowing a seraphic ikon upon the souls of those petitioners who secured the transgressor.

_The Ikon is a whole 'nother experience level, contingent upon the maintenance of purity and avoidance of shellfish and young cabbages, upon consumption of which it is irrevocably lost.
Sometimes when I feel like I am being coy and flippant with enormities I remind myself that other people eat the furry people with whom I hold inane one-sided conversations in paddocks sometimes, that aesthetics is abstract and most of my neuroses ain't got nothing to do with much in the real world. Anyways sorry if'n you is offended.

* As it happens, Crumpe has appeared before, what a fortuitous coincidence.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Miscellany and Iambic Doggerel

So it has been a year since James Maliszewski's last post at Grognardia and the OSR is still a thing. Still no Dwimmermount, though. I read a lot of forgettable nonsense at Grognardia over the years but he was nothing if not consistent. In the interim I've largely stopped reading all the blogs as they generally shit me to tears*. Zak has perceptive things to say, of course, and I love Scrap and Patrick dearly for burrowing fearlessly into the living heart of the mystery. There is also a small knot of crazies including Logan and Arnold and Jack Mack and the gloomtrain kid and Pearce Shea that will be important in years to come. There is a trigger-happy quality to some of the newer stuff (esp. Logan's body-horror stuff) that makes me think the most influential texts of the OSR might just be Carcosa and LotFP. I am guilty in this regard also, I think Weird means surreal juxtapositions with no concern for politeness.  Original Weird was somewhat inspired by the erosion of the prevailing paradigm by the discoveries of deep time and space and the deep subconscious (makes me think the genre should be called Deep).

So, yeah, flirting with taboos - there is potential artistic material to be mined from a setting in which the awful prejudices of historical people are represented and exaggerated**. I'm particularly fond of dystopian nastiness and have a peculiar distaste for Flintstones settings where contemporary values prevail and whatever handwavium the setting runs on is responsible for the production of a contemporary standard of living.

So I sicken of the way I've been writing my setting material and yearn for an easier way. I therefore attempted to exorcise the mawkish verbosity and faux gravitas that infects everything I write by writing a dungeon in blank verse. This didn't work. I've never actually written any subterranean stuff for the setting since I made peremptory stabs several years ago. In my mind, the underground is the Middenmurk proper and needs to be magnificently weird and horrible and possessed of a Northern Renaissance quality of flamboyant chimerical madness tempered with claustrophobia and disassociative feelings and it's too much and I daren't venture in. Patrick's Veins of the Earth setting captures the level of weird difference-from-the-expected I want to achieve while being, of course, different in its specifics.

Miltonian similes represent dangerous tangents to the inexperienced pentametrist. You are going off in one direction when you take the opportunity to describe something by saying what it's like then you plunge merrily into that comparison. Sometimes you forget where you are and start up another simile inside the simile, which is fucked. Aside from that I've clumsily allowed the structure to dictate the flow and struggled to not use single syllable words at the start of lines because the initial iamb demands an unstressed syllable and polysyllabic words in English tend to stress the initial syllable unless it is a prefix in which case it isn't stressed most of the time but sometimes is. I haven't actually written anything deliberately iambic before but have carried around bits of Paradise Lost in my head for decades so should have done better. Blame Patrick for the impetus. I'll do Anglo-Saxon alliterative couplets next.

The Sump of Gremory

And lo! Of how in ancient North did stand
Beneath a tinker-beaten pewter sky
The fellest manse of man's untimely fall
I here will tell to those who hearken near
On moor where malice makes her lonely home
Abandoned to the centuries and rot
A piled keep of dismal disregard
Umbrageous and repugnant borehole fane
Looms dark in dread defiance of His law
Above a shaft of seven hundred feet
That into deeply dolven dark did pierce
From which do noxious vapours issue forth
That carry the asphaltick reek of pitch
As like the odious breath of titan worm
That in its fretful slumber is disturbed
By dreams of plund'rous interlopers bold
Descending they the longest ladders down
Into those shadow-haunted Upper Hells
Where black in gilded gulches wallow foul
Th'accursed Elder Dragon's fearsome brood
That gloat and dream their phantasies of greed
And stoke in furnace-bellies the fires of hate
That when the oldest prophecies bear fruit
Shall all the waking world to cinders burn

So thither then do trudge the lowly few
Such bastard sons of those ignoble knights
Whose harness goes to rust in dusty vaults
Who quail to face the paynim's crooked sword
Such bastard daughters fled from whoredom's yoke
Who'd fain stick poniard into noble loins
And brave the heartless northern demon night
As bear the weight of drunken tyrant lust
To bear more bastards destined for the chain
Of servitude and labour until death
To fill the coffers of unworthy kings
These few and dastard folk in hardihood
In dire desperation snared and bound
Whose legacy unjust abandonment
From ruinous Empire is - Untimely flung
Unto the world's daemoniacal maw
Where hopelessness might hide the final hope
That from the Clootie-Man might gold be won
And wrastled from his avaricious grasp
Might all the hundred grails sacred be
That touched the lips of all the hundred Christs
And all the sacred pikes that speared them dead
And verdigris-encrusted crowns of kings
Who long have lain beneath the patient sod
Since giants overthrew their vaunting pride
Who rode against the titans of the dawn
And made the skies resound with heedless war

They gird their dauntless loins these feckless brave
They take up pitted hunting-knife and adze
And don their pilfered siege-caps 'gainst the stones
That faceless fiends who haunt the lonely ways
Oft hurl to dash out such unwary brains
As might not think to watch o'erhanging crags
They trudge the northward furrows gone to weed
And ravens follow them who kestrels are
Who bear a taloned will inside their breasts
And though in tattered fustian and hide
Do bear themselves like lion-mantled braves
That in archaic epochs did contend
With gorgon-whelps and fearsome anvil-kine
And vanquished with the thighbone of an ox
Entire armies clad in brazen scales
The slaughter-hungry fierce onrushing hordes
Like waves against unyielding rocks did crash
To dash themselves to ruin 'gainst such strength
As only in the dreams of man survives

To Empire's tattered brink they northward go
To hamlets made of wicker and of dung
And memories of the words of ancient law
That undefeated legions did enforce
And banners bright declaim and harpers sing
So tender were the rituals then and fierce
The shepherds of all souls to souls' reward
Did then enact that now all men forget
They caught the piercing beauty of the sun
To weave such webs of words that praised a truth
That held imperial majesty most high
And banished into darkness heathen things
But all are lost in echoes and the night
That follows after zenith - Now in dank
And furtive squalor do these pilgrims preach
Another revelation to the low
That nevermore would armies of the south
Give succor to those dwellers of the pale
Instead a slow retreat from northern climes
Would leave them lying naked in the storm
Had not a hundred omens come that told
Of doom unleashed from yonder darkest throne
Of prodigies that walk beneath the sky
That never should have woken in their tombs
Crops lost to blight and hexing-hags at play
And bargains made at crossroads with the damned
And only bitter will and sinew strong
And iron sharp and brightly burning brand
Borne into chasms 'gainst the hateful dead
Might win the precious plunder- Gleaming gold
And talismans of heathen sorcery
The keys to mighty kingdoms yet unfounded
Sequestered in the labyrinthine dark
Await the time their secrets are revealed

Then go they forth across the dismal fells
Through shattered principalities of stone
And tumbled wrack of bastion and fort
And harrowed by the desolation vast
Do stumble on through numbest grey fatigue
Arriving at the last to dreary ruin
Where yawns the portal odious and dark
That seven hundred thousand souls consumed
Who swindled to their deaths by charlatan lies
Must swell the ranks of legions of the damned
And count the gold and centuries of dark
In endless thraldom to His endless reign

*But not your blog, the other blogs.

**Why not have pseudo-historical settings with derogatory racial caricatures and slavery and noxious gender politics? The prevailing orthodoxy that equates artistic investigation of problematic issues as problematic in itself deserves to be ignored and/or ridiculed.

Two posts in a week? I've cut down on coffee so am less insanely anxious and depressed and slightly more productive.

To both of the people who read this far, thank you kindly, it means a lot to me.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

In the Fæcce-Wold

Over the hills and afar and away beyond the Tame-Woods there are many and despicable a copse and grove and spinney accursed and bewitched. Dead willows rot by sluggard brooks, all that grows is omened and poisonous, hemlock and henbane, thornapple and nightshade tangled and drear. Morning glory out of the lost lands chokes the trees in thickly shrouds and blooms its evil purple blooms. Underneath in the beetle-haunted mould grows mandrake and destroying angel and the sanctified elf-cap, even such that of old grew in cromlechs on the putrefying flesh of kings and granted them a peculiar apotheosis in druidic rites, feasted upon by scions who claimed it was godflesh took them into the radiant night beyond the black earth's pale.

The fæcce-wold is not a real place but a forest grown in mockery of another forest now cut down chopped up and burnt in the hearths of those whose kingdom lies in ashen wrack since twenty-seven generations gone. It grew out of the reflection on the waters or out of a mirage or out of alien soil where bad seeds took terrible root. It then proceeded to fall into disregard, the wholesome songbirds flew away south and the boobries came and pale efts. Its name fell away as no more were there lungs and voices to give it throat and it became brooding sullen and fey, resentful of intruders that were thus subject to the exhalations issuant therefrom.

Those who are taken seem to mumble incoherently and stare at nothing and snatch at their clothes but are lost in fog and the wildering dark. Out of this amnesiac null-space come fragments of terrible light.


Everything is phantasmagorical and can be said to be happening only to one (whoever fails the first save vs. poison) but others are along for the ride as phantasmagorical companions who are reincarnated in each chapter of the journey while in reality they watch the victim mumble and drool. The choice of form and second-person narrative is obviously gamebook-related as is the dreaded 14 (from Grail Quest). 

I never took scolopamine- or hyoscyamine-containing plants but by all accounts the experience of these deliriants is confusing and horrible. There is a long history of associations with witchcraft and divination going back at least to Ancient Greek times. Muscarine is similarly steeped in esoteric tradition and also somewhat weird and scary, or so I'm led to believe.

There is the chance of losing lots of XP here. This is cruel and unreasonable but I like it. Harrowing experiences lead directly to the dimishment of competence, shellshock is like level drain, amnesia entails the loss of the matriculation into the fabric of the world that is precisely what power is. Once upon a time you were somebody now you just sit and stare. Also, I love wights.


1. Three Paths

 The forest is alive and sinister and beautiful. You vomit and weep and fall and are yet still standing. Three paths lie before you.

The broad road, go to 2.

The narrow path, go to 5.

The ferny brae, go to 8.

2. With Harrow and Switch

 A white donkey in a ditch with a cart deeply bogged and a man beside himself with fury flaying it and it is crying and it won't move and the man's eyes are yellow. Accosted, he declares that this time round the Pale Messiah has come asinine into this world yearning to be cleansed with harrow and switch, that no other thing could account for this occurrence upon the day of Gringenschlacht and that redemption can be found in his nearby swill-bucket for a half-groat. The bucket contains the world, the moon and the wheeling heavens of night.

Beat the donkey, go to 12.

Strike the man, go to 19.

Climb into the bucket, go to 7.

3. Prickly Witchery

 Waking under the eaves of an apple orchard long abandoned where struts a cockerel coalescent of moon-wisps and wyvers webs all a-glimmer in the slanting light of eventide. All about it thrums with a prickly witchery as crawls beneath the skin. It fixes a hard and jeweled eye upon the interloper. It crows and the four horizons resound with its awful majesty.

Beyond is an urn carven from jet that is burnished to a sheen and immaculate, within is a leathery patch of skin. It comes from the heretic pseudo-saint, Drimmerthrinde the Abhorred, who was torn to pieces many years since and his mortal remains scattered far and yet he lives.

The Gossamer Cockerel has stats as a Cockatrice save that instead of petrification a kind of sublimation to vapour results from which there is no convenient return.

Should you defeat it go to 16. Otherwise go to 14

4. More Black Apertures

 Crawling through choking darness with the knowledge of low and looming ceilings of stone and the sense of crushing deadfalls and doom. The air is warm and close and there is no promise of ever getting out but of a sudden the tunnel opens into a dimly phosphorescent chamber with a vague and sinister sense of anatomy about it and three more black apertures.

The first leads to 3.

The second to 5.

The third leads to a slimy chasm of great depth and thence to 14

5. Imminent

 Everything seems as normal but the inescapable revelation that those that surround you and have posed so cunningly as your companions are right now just moments away from falling upon you, bearing you down and enacting such tortures as their vicious minds can imagine. Everything they do is encoded with subtle signals that presage the imminent attack.

Save vs. Paralysation: Should you succeed you cannot but attack them with everything you have. If you kill them it's off to 4. If they kill you it's off to 14.

Should you fail the save you run blindly through the forest to 8.

 6. Tide of Moss

 Here with Catfish Pucks in soggy jerkins you are playing at knuckly-bones in a lichyard gone long ago beneath the tide of moss. An ill and penetrating damp hangs in the air as besmirches the soul with a sick foreboding. Nigglespraint and Malcrux play hard but fair but Cunny-Whelk is almost certainly cheating. 

The outcome may be altered by playing cunningly or intuitively or bombastically should any INT, WIS or CHA bonuses offer advantage but the player must declare their intent to implement such chicanery. Roll 2d6 to determine outcome modified by ability bonus/penalty; 

less than 3: You forfeit an internal organ you never knew you had (your subordinate quellmilch) to Nigglespraint - lose 250 XP. 

4-5: You lose the possibly inauthentic Trout-Mask you've inexplicably acquired - lose 100 XP to Cunny-Whelk

6-7: You lose a wager with Malcrux that requires you to wear the invisible Crown of Disgust for the rest of your days; -1 penalty to reaction rolls, +1 bonus when dealing with icthyoid entities.

8-9: From Malcrux you win an article of scrimshaw depicting the Otter of Vehemence -gain 100 XP.

10-11: From Nigglespraint you win a phial of turbid river-water upon which fishy witcheries have been bestowed - as a Potion of Water Breathing.

12+ Somehow you've bilked Cunny-Whelk out of everything she has and in a rage she hurls a hex which, unjust as it is in the circumstances and bound as her pishogue is by the archaic Law that governs such things, rebounds to her ruin and she becomes a walnut tree in autumnal splendour that you may climb to 20.

Otherwise, excess consumption of Poppy Wine drags you off to 9.

7. Swift River

 A dark-haired woman, fierce and fair, carries the bones of her three dead husbands in a great bundle across a windswept waste. A swift river runs before her and she weeps because she knows it will sweep her away but she cannot but try to cross it. A burning sign hangs in the northern sky.

You may;

Watch her drown, go to 4

Help her cross, wisdom check to succeed in crossing to 6.

Should you fail, go to 14.

8. Brambly Fields 

You are stumbling with your companions to the festival in the village across brambly fields in the autumn drizzle. Of a sudden it becomes apparent that they all carry upon their back a wretched shape like a wizened and owlish crone that gnaws merrily upon their head while they walks on oblivious. It comes to you also that there is a lip-smacking sound close by your ear.

There is one for each of you or at least four. Strigoaicăs have the stats of stirges but carry the ague (Ague: Fever, sweating, cramps, headache. Save vs. poison or lose 1d3 points of constitution per day and suffer -2 penalty to actions for 1d8 days, after which constitution returns at one point per day) This will persist in the real world.

Should you overcome them go to 10. otherwise go to 14.

9. Bronze Knife

 In a mossy trench of masonry and sod you bear a torch and follow the footsteps of men and women mantled in black wool and wearing red paint upon their faces. Ahead in the flickering light upon a bier is the naked form of an aged chieftain with silver torc and talismanic glyphs daubed upon his scrawny frame. The bronze knife is given you and the others step back to allow the body to flounder and writhe in death throes from which can be deduced omens of the coming age.  The tongue in which the words are spoken is harsh and sibilant but the accompanying gestures leave no ambiguity that the old chief is directing precisely how he is to be eviscerated.

Should you eviscerate the Chief a roll of d6  plus wisdom modifier will determine the manner of his thrashing. Otherwise they kill you instead, go to 14.

- Less than 1: Woe betide, the tallest tree will reach the sky and the Moon will clamber down to wreak unmitigated odiums upon the folk of Earth. You are slain immediately, go to 14.

- 1: Ill news, crops will fail and milch-cows bear abominable prodigies, blaming the messenger, they carve from you a portion of your essence -lose 2 CHA permanently, go to 11

- 2-5: The throes are ambiguous, requiring the people to blunder blindly into the future, go to 2.

- 6. Good tidings, the Chieftain writhes into sacred shapes presaging the return of bountiful harvests, go to 10.

- 7+ An expert slaughter, guts are spilled and blood pours forth into glyphic puddles in which the 

Chief flounders and gasps. The performance is doubtless a sign of the return of the Prodigal Turbot and subsequent conquest of the hated enemy. You are crowned with ivy and allowed to walk skyclad upon the frozen lake by starlight. Go to 20.

10. Querulous Poesies

 You are climbing through a precipitous forest of spindle-pines clinging against a great grey void. Here mossy green brocks crouch in hollows and brutal silence reigns. They leap up and accost interlopers with accusatory cries. The Mord-Lark will come flapping out of the upper airs to perch upon a branch and warble gruesome and querulous poesies in the Fowl Tongue. It is blind and bygone and stinks for it roosts among poisonous stars.

Should anyone be able to understand the words of the Mord-Lark's poems (and the Fowl Tongue is known to most wysards and spae-wives) horrendous revelations will whelm your mind. go to 14.

Otherwise, the brocks come (3d8 of them, stats as Giant Rats) to bear you down and eat your face. Should you survive you wake up at 17.

11. Uncanny Weird

A  weir of dark water and black stone  with a sunken village within and bells tolling down in the deep. After the bells there are lanthorns in the deep and Aelfrick the Weirman emerges with lungs full of water to burble his uncanny weird.

He speaks in the language of the dead and is also well-nigh incomprehensible. Should one who comperehends hear the doom he pronounces they'll gain 1000 XP but lose 1 point of wisdom and know the answers to all the riddles of the Drazack of Grimblecocke.

Afterwards there will be an urge to follow the Weirman back into the black waters of 14 (WIS check to avoid). Otherwise wander off to 18.

12. Reeking Hollow

Awakening in a reeking hollow, you realise that bloated and bristly maggots are chewing contentedly upon your skin. A furious buzzing heralds the arrival of an Awfish Croggan like unto a loathsome horsefly as big as a bulldog, glistening iridescent and foul. It immediately sets upon you, trying to hold you still with serrated limbs that it may deftly puncture your abdomen with its ovipositor.

Stats as a Giant Robber Fly. Should it kill you go to 14 and erupt with broodlings 3 days later in the real world for 2d6 dmg.

Should you kill it. Swoon with horror and wake at 13.

13. A Handful of Silt

You are staggering through a rainy  place of deep defiles with cataracts rushing down the flanks of slick grey stone, fell runes of great antiquity are graven in the walls. Intoning the words will call three tall grey man-things of awful formlessness as old as the bones of the earth who will rise from the clay to bear witness

Archaic Witness Reaction Table:

2 They frown grimly and ceremoniously deliver fragments of chalcedony and lead and the bones of a cat and a handful of silt - gain 100 XP

3-5 They face to the east and begin to chant in a elder tongue
6-8 They listen and wait
9-11 They rise to a great height and brood hideously, brandishing their great hard hands
12 They attack eyes ablaze with fell light and hooting like infernal owls 
Stats as wights. Should you survive,pass on to 17. Otherwise, 14 it is.

14. Grey Stones

 You are on the road and a fiendish drear seeps from the grey stones as ceaseless sleet and ceaseless trudging on becomes a heartless grueling travail of bitter endlessness. All things are galling, the unrelenting indifference of the bony hills and the piercing wind and the spoilage of food and the bleak brown emptiness. Day is but a pallid night, grim and interminable.

You lose 100 XP, now roll d20 and go there.

15.  A Gimlet Eye

Through a black skeleton-forest in a valley of stone six turbaned Janissaries of the Incarnadine Umbrage come with bows drawn. They are accoutered with crimson and lemon-yellow kazaghands of outlandish design and speak baleful heresies against the northern world. Their leader is a leathery hawkish murderer with a gimlet eye. He seeks gold and elf-blood and holy vengeance.

-Leader (Vranmathoome): F3 AC: 5 (kazaghand, shield) Dmg: 1d6 (shortbow) or 1d8 (yataghan) hp 15

Booty:  Paynim Canon,  exquisitely adorned - 200 groats, 26 silver basilika (1 basilikon = 10 groats) - 460 XP, all treasure evaporates but the XP sticks.
-Janissaries (5): AC 5 HD 1 Dmg 1d6 (shortbow) or 1d8 (yataghan) hp 5 each

Should you survive, go to 16.

16. Blue Honey

In the golden gloaming at day’s break comes a grey bear like a man with the beard of a man and a glorious voice like sunlight and smoke. He speaks of the wondrous realms that lie beneath the skin. He wants a companion to follow him into the east to seek blue honey in the farthest lands.

Save vs. spells or succumb to his charms and go with him to 14.

Otherwise fall asleep and wake again at 15.
Should you wish to fight him he is a Bear. He has a small jar of blue honey, it tastes like 19.

17. Preposterously Prodigious

A trumpeting shivers the twilight air and preposterously prodigious and wonderful beyond imagining comes a yellow olifant vaster than a Donjon-Keep, adorned with majesty and splendour. It tramples the forest about and gleefully tosses great trees cartwheeling high into the air. It trumpets again closer and the sound seems to set the air afire with its power. The trees burst into blossom as they are smashed into kindling. The earth quakes beneath him.

Save vs. Dragon breath or be destroyed and go to 14. Otherwise faint with awe and wake at  19.

18. Ferny Cleft

 In a dewy morning ferny cleft where the cuckoos cry incessant, where umbrageously enclosing bole and limb of vastly ancient trees arch up overhead there comes a harsh and braying sound and a creaking and a crashing. Down the cleft in idiotic frenzy comes clambering and bellowing the Grune Aiten like a man-tree uprooted from sorcerous soil and sent blundering after the hapless fleshly-frail.

It has the stats of a Treant times three and ought not be recklessly engaged. If it destroys you, go to 14. If you somehow destroy it go to 19. If you are sensible and flee into the forest go to 11.

19. The Navigator

A Langshippe, worm-prowed and sleek, stripy sail all a-tatter, perches high in an ancient oak. Upon its deck stands a man with one leg, raven-bearded, lugubrious of countenance and hard-eyed. The Navigator, for so he is known, curses the indifferent cosmos for its lassitude and sells maps to the constellate heavens and the rifts of Domdaniel and a hundred other places.

Wherever you need to go, pick a number, 1 to 20, you may go there for a shekel (12 groats)


You wake in a pile of leaves and vomit is spattered down your front, your throat is sore and you can't see straight. Forever after it seems something returned with you from that terrible place, a thing of shadow and forgetfulness that wears your face but remains always just out of sight. Nothing is certain anymore but that the thing that followed you will come one day into the real and walk with you under the light of day and that it means you harm.


Any allegations that I am recycling fragments from abortive blog posts will be strenuously denied.

This is pretty.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Love is a kind of ancient lightning

Though the thing begins in a manner more turgid and noxiously empurpled than usual I think there is some kind of metaphor here which is pleasantly ineffable. Magicians are fucked-up Ahabs and there are a thousand ways to be immortal and zero ways for it to be satisfying and the pursuit of what we desire will destroy what we love and that Faulkner said you must kill your darlings and I have no heart for it even when I know he is right.

The Hesychasm of Abraxas Twain

Between the hither-gaunts and the brackish weeps of Lackly Veil there is a tract of broken ground. In that place there seems to be nothing but an ill wind and straggly woods. Upon an afternoon in autumn one may approach from just the right angle and come of a sudden upon the manse of a man with a cocodrille's heart. He awaits his lost bride in a prison of his own devising and across the Eastern Sea he sends his kestrels of pitiless desire.

Of old he had the heart of a man and human blood coursed in him. He strode upon the world and took part in the despoliation of time and matter. But time and matter cleft his earthly plans asunder and took from him his bride and with tedious inevitability wracked his body and mind with the predictable vandalisms. So he rode south into the lost lands and sought forbidden ways of rewriting the pact between death and life. Upon a muddy riverbank he cut his heart from his chest and took the scaly thing that beats in the breast of a cocodrille-fish to be his own.

Through archaic eyes he beheld the world anew. It breathed more slow than before and deeply. He passed from that place and came at length to the manse in the north in the sparse wood to remain in an afternoon that lasted two centuries.

In that place;

I. A tow-headed oaf squatting in the dust of an antechamber bears a leathern satchel within which are five vials filled with mineral salts that are the living essence of the enchantress Sibilia Vaunt, erstwhile pupil of Twain. Sibilia's corporeality sputtered out with her allotted decades and she was rendered and precipitated into these crystalline powders. The oaf is slack-jawed and bright-eyed with sorcerous thraldom and wears the lion-face of the leper. The salts yearn for another bearer whose life is keener that they may take over the laboratory of Gleck the Wan without falling victim to Quorme.

- Sibilia Vaunt is a 7th-level Magic-user but must daily invest a Charm Person, ESP and Hold Person spell to weave the snare that enmeshes the will of the gimp. He is now utterly hers and may cast her other spells as normal (2, 1, 1, 1), these are; charm (x2), ESP, clairvoyance, curse. She will tend to utilise the ability to bestow curses to induce a PC to take on Sibilia's endeavours.

II. In a sinkhole is Gleck the Wan whose physical self is being subsumed by formulae. Every crevice of his brimstone-stinking, poisonous hole is stacked with alembics and crucibles and suchlike paraphernalia alchemical and with stacks of slates and parchment scrolls. His ardent pursuit of ineffable perfection has taken from him the capacity to speak save in some inane arithmantic cant. All the words of the six human languages that were his are trapped in a slab of burning green ice in the "Traipse of Angles" - a realm far-flung and mostly theoretical. He does not miss them, his toil is here. Though he can no longer spit magery he has a Many-Ken nestled in a grimoire whose answers hasten Gleck ever closer to transcendence.

-Gleck the Wan: MU 6 AC: 9 hp: 13 dmg: 1d3 (pestle)

Other than the Many-Ken there are three other entities nestled in the sinkhole that have invested components of themselves in Gleck's endeavour;

The Gradient of Capitulation manifests as the dusty fragrance of crow and as the warping of accents closer to that of the Old Rhadamanthine slave-tongue, a thick and lispy dialect. Upon closer inspection it appears as a region of inverted shadows the size and shape of a sickly troubadour.

-as one approaches the gradient one's judgment is temporarily compromised, -1d6 WIS within 10'

-STR may be traded for WIS at 2:1 ratio with successful save vs. paralysis. Failure to save means you lose the STR anyway

In a corner is a trough of stone. Quorme the Glue-Man rises stinking from the trough if bothered by intruders and in the glutinous tongue of Viscous Prime requests the abrasive interlopers desist their speaking and breathing and angular motion lest he drag them into the porridge-coloured hell of the Underglump.

-Stats as an Adherer save that Quorme is more Fearsome

The Sardonic Charioteer is an mangled automaton of brass and hepatizon in the form
of a comely young warrior with a sinister rictus. It was made long ago to ride behind horses of scintillant attenuation that plunged between worlds at will. The horses are mathematically disassembled at present and serve as silvery pseudo-numerical glyphs on some of Gleck's more potent formulae.

-Unconcerned with all but the most appalling affronts to Gleck's endeavour. Stats as a gargoyle but flightless. If sore-pressed it will summon forth the steeds and disappear in a catastrophic twinkling - 5d6 dmg of light and sound within 20', save vs. petrification for half.

III. The Rhabdomancer's Vestibule. Here are seven hundred sticks and staves, rods and wands and beams and rungs and wattles and switches arranged neatly in rows upon the floor with manifold notations and diagrammatic marks and geometer's sigils chalked upon the stone. This is the array by which the venturesome Rhabdomancer is anchored to the earthly plane while he sojourns among prankish ghoul-maidens deep in Greenest Purgatory. Meddling with the array will set off magical alarums of puissant odium

1st meddling: Save vs. petrification or your bones literally become lead, heavy and poisonous. Permanently slow and increasingly sickly - lose 1 CON each day until dead.

2nd meddling: Make WIS check, if successful you know the world is a folding membrane and you are part of it, completely unable to extricate yourself from that structure. This is baleful to behold and with it comes the certainty that it was ever thus and others live in denial of the horror of the real. Save vs. paralysis each time someone denies that the world is a membrane or attack them for a round.

3rd and subsequent meddlings: Destined world-line of the soul. Roll one of each dice including d100, those are your scores for everything henceforth until ye eat of narwhal's spleen.

IV. The Widowing Quag is an oily pond in a grot of undulating moss wherein squats a woman who has undergone some kind of process of ossification. Her movements are imperceptibly slow but for her desperate eyes. By a slow process of signs she may answer questions and address grievances. She is consumed by the desire to intervene in the Pech's endeavour. When she was young and quick she followed Twain through his wild years and became mighty in sorcery under his tutelage but the path to immortality she sought is changing her into a elegant statue of bone. She loves him and he does not love her.

-It takes her a whole turn to cast a spell. Lady of Bone: MU 8 INT:17

V. An aged Pech carves a concubine in tainted ivory from the tusk of a colossal olifant emerging from the muck. He served Abraxas Twain long ago, before the assiduous dereliction took hold. His servitude continues out of force of habit. The carving is to be the vessel that will receive the next incarnation of the lost bride. He knows that the answer to the riddle of the Hesychasm is the horn the swordsman bears but does not know how much he yearns to tell it.


Cennaledh Bru : D2 AC: 9 (jerkin and targe) hp: 12 dmg: d6 (war-adze) AL: N ML: 8 Booty: the sculpture and all the ivory would be worth 5000 groats at least

VI. In a yellow field sits a man at table. The crimson horn of a monoceros is tucked in the belt of Jonas Grootzwaard. Grootzwaard is a man of girth and middling years lending grizzle to his spade beard and of indomitable callous charm. He wandered in a decade before and has weathered the afternoon well. He could leave at any time but is bound with some kind of inexplicable love to the Bone Lady who loves Twain.

Jonas Grootzwaard: F4 AC: 6 (brigandine) hp:23 dmg: d10+1 (Ye two-honde swerde) ML: 10 STR: 14 CHA:15 Booty: Faded green finery - 3 groats, ballock dagger -12 groats, Swerde - 100 groats, he has a fine meal of wine and meats set before him, enough food for three

If he is slain with edged weapons a Blotwyfe emerges from the pooling red. She swims though dark oceans of gore seeking portals into the real.

-As a wight with tangled locks and an eating knife of tarnished silver worth 13 groats

VII. In a sanctum of faded splendour Abraxas Twain waits. He is again as a man just past his prime and deeply acquainted with the cynicisms of immortality. Not much interests him save the means by which he may secure the semblance of his bride. If engaged Twain will speak of the amputation of a moment from the flow of things and how this anomalous fragment of time and place allows the blessing and curse of continued existence. For a variety of reasons he will not and indeed cannot allow anyone to leave the place. The little woodland requires their continued presence, they are part of it now and no longer of the outside world. Kestrels watch from every eave.

- Stats as a 13th-level Magic-User and a vampire, save that exposure to sunlight does nothing nor can he be slain at all while he remains here (and he may not leave) save by piercing his cocodrille heart.

- He will have at least one ritual memorised in addition to other spells.

- There is no booty here


The rituals developed by Abraxas Twain require the casting of numerous spells and the assembly of various ingredients to perform. The spells that make up the rituals have no purpose other than as part of these rituals.

1. Funnel-hatted apes of the utter-vasts clamber down on silken threads from beyond the sky. They will do your bidding for 3 turns as their magic hat funnels allow them temporarily to survive earth's toxic influence but then they with scarper back up the threads - they each require at last 100 groats worth of rare earths to devour or they will run terribly amok.

To summon the apes: Frenzied Ululations of Ashmodai (1st), Prance of the Immolated (1st), Ghastly Snare of Aspic's Splendour (2nd)

Stats as Rock Baboons, 2d4 appear

2. Caacrinolaas' Succor: A thing like a new-born babe but huge and emaciated and inky black comes riding a river-horse through mists and squalling vortices of poisonous sound - eat of its proferred liver to regain a lost level but lose 1 point in a random characteristic if you do. The thing is Abominable

To call forth the Thing on the River Horse: Abject Sprawl of the Vanquished Worm (1st), Now Must We Eat of Tainted Meat (1st), Gimping the Night Glare (3nd), Sparkling Putrescence of the Marrow (4th)

3. A lost brother from a dream who never really existed arrives and is tired and thirsty and an appalling parasite that you may not slay or allow to be slain any more than you would a real brother.

To precipitate the arrival: Dredging the Hate-Canal (2nd), Gape of Querulous Frenzy (2nd), Chant of Nacreous Vehemence (3rd)

4. Vomit your wolverine soul to go ravening against your enemies.

Soul-Glutton: AC 5 MV: 150' (50') HD: as caster + 10hp # att: 1 dmg: 1d12 ML: 12 - the thing will not stop for a day and a night - if it is killed the caster dies also

To spew bestial destruction: Whisper of the Insatiate (1st),  Baalphegor's Glowering (2nd)

5. Scrying Cyst: Sink down 12' beneath the ground to a sumptuously appointed fungus palace where divinatory spells have ten times the usual duration.

To descend into the cyst: Aurifigian Carnivory (1st), Bonnacon's Madrigal (2nd), Loathly Testament of Decarabia (3rd)

6. Crossing the Abortive Gulf. The caster rides a Viridian Spleen-Drone, clanking and steaming and crusted with corrosion, across the palpable obscure to cavort among the archaic Lobster-Moles in the Primordial Principalities of the Carcass-Moon (disappearing beyond the campaign's boundaries)

To cross the gulf: Guttural Utterance of Doom (3rd), Sublimating the Gauge of Splinters (4th), Gliding Over All (5th), The Desecrated Fulcrum (6th)


"When one is a child, when one is young, when one has not yet reached the age of recognition, one thinks that the world is strong, that the strength of God is endless and unchanging. But after the thing has happened--whatever that thing might be--that brings recognition, then one knows irrevocably how very fragile is the world, how very, very fragile; it is like one of those ideas that one has in dreams: so clear and so self-explaining are they that we make no special effort to remember. Then of course they vanish as we wake and there is nothing there but the awareness that something very clear has altogether vanished."

Russell Hoban, Pilgermann

Wednesday, September 18, 2013




The earth is a great couchant whore and her children are thralls to necessity. Little vauntings are vaunted and petty glories are sought and gained and lost and scattered and on she sprawls and laughs as doomed empires rise and the invincible dark comes after. Small are the dreams of men and short their memories but the hills remember.

Out beyond the nethermost rickety pales of heathen stockades in the rotting black odious forlorn there woke two hills under the moon. Half-a-league of copse and gulch and cruel crag separated them and other slumbering hills beside such that from one it was only possible to glimpse the other in hazy distance. Yet at once upon their waking from immemorial torpor each recalled ancient and bitterest hatred of the other and each in its stony heart laboured at vengeance.

To the North in haggard splendour arose the taller hill. It was, of old, tower-crowned but now the shattered masonry spilled down its brows and it cared not. For the labours of men and elves were but mercurial evanescences to it, a flickering of gnats in the lazy noontide. Now it rose barren, gnarled and dwarfish trees adorned its flanks and the wind blew from the moorland at its back and it hated. Its hate was a murmur in the wind on the grass and a gangrel mockery in the moorhen's cry and echoes of laughter in empty places. In its dream of aeons it marched ever to war and utter conquest against the hill in the south. Now its dream was a waking dream and the insidious poison thereof seeped into the waking world.

To the South there hulked the lower hill. Lower it was but broad and squat and coiled in awful majesty and many were its ridges and gullies and springs spilled from its flanks. It was crowned not in broken towers but in elder groves of sumptuous and evil verdure. If anything the hate of this hill was even more sour and loathly and it flowed forth as a deformity and contagion. Queer glyphs appeared in lichen in the rotting forests that grew in its shadow and newts grown vastly in magnitude and awfulness came writhing down in the summer evenings to bellow its praise.

Each is vast and old and immeasurably wretched.  Those who wander unawares into this contested region are taken to be agents of the eternal enemy.

Strangenesses are disgorged;

1. A yellow horse with teeth of bronze comes at a gallop and clouds race above it. It is a phantasm that echoes some archaic grotesque of lost heraldry. None remember that the bite of the Autumn Horse was deadly poison but perchance some thread of ancestral wisdom remains coiled in the dweomer that those who are taken by the illusion and bitten faint dead away.

2. a tumbling deadfall of cobbles and jaggedy shards from precipice and scarp signals the presence of hob-grues, merciless and patient thralls of the northern hill. The boulder-strewn ravines are thick with menace.

3. In an eventide of brooding imminence a discordant whistling precedes the impossibly gaunt and gangly unfolding of a man like a leprous moonbeam. His approach is slow and his face is idiot glee.

4. In a patch of dusky moorland something vast and terrible seems to move beneath the skin of the world. A great carbuncle erupts disgorging seven horrors which take flight upon great feathered wings. They are blue and red like wounds and of sodden and filthy plumage reeking beyond the outermost limits of unbearable stench. They have the monkey-faces of starveling children and with children's voices they sing. The song is a pretty one and tells of the sweet delight it is to be swallowed by the earth.

5. In a glade of shambolic beauty turning to rank autumnal decay a dozen awful piggie-men cavort in a symphony of unspeakable violence. The last child they seek to destroy has eyes that are the black of blackest dark forever. She speaks a word and they are snuffed like candles. Even as the echoes of their horrible laughter fade they are gone.

6. Twenty-seven Hinky-Punks with faces like lunatic grimaciers chortle inanely as they turn over stones in a dry riverbed and draw forth slow-worms to hack in pieces. Each hacking asunder brings contagious explosions of hilarity.

7. On a lowly hunkered hillock lichen-crusted and scantily adorned with brush night leaps up from the earth with a sound like thunder. Out of the groping blackness comes a piteous mewling. A pallid form emerges from the gloom like a stillborn calf all tottery and pristine and dire. It is Knickerel-Knackerel, the Pale Brag and a portent of imminent calamity.

8. In the north a great and knucklesome sturm-cloud fists the immaculate sky. Black rainbows arch into the desecrated firmament. A Skeblous Crake of unwholesome aspect alights in a dead tree and sings a song of night’s encroach. Brazen lightning flickers.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Auld Crummock

78. An ochre pond in an ash-grey field by a broken mill. In it there is a fish larger than a bull with archaic malice in its heart. If offered tribute of manflesh newly murdered it will vomit forth the Thanatos Flask.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


So, alchemy was a peculiar pursuit wherein the transformation of materials through processes we now think of as chemical reactions were in some way representative of, or a means of inducing, a parallel series of transformations in the human being conducting the experiments. At least that is my understanding of it. I have this rather sumptuously comprehensive Taschen tome called Alchemy and Mysticism (by Alexander Roob) wherein there are hundreds of utterly arcane illustrations including many where the processes of sublimation and calcination and putrefaction and the stages of rubedo, albedo and nigredo and the actions of sulphur and quicksilver and Sal Ammoniac and a bewildering plethora of other things are represented, bizarrely, by green lions swallowing the sun and burning herons and drowning kings and a menagerie of symbolic strangenesses. This is terribly funky and simultaneously very different from contemporary fantasy.

I am consistently disillusioned by contemporary fantasy, which I guess is not that unusual in an OSR guy. There's this thing I see when I look at contemporary fantasy art where everyone looks so effortlessly cool, it's like the baroquification of old-school fantasy, everything is blown up to magnificent proportions and idealised and gleaming, like the baroque's exuberance of superfluous drapery and putti and Rubenesque folds of adipose tissue manifested as hypertrophic musculature and buckles and goggles and bondage gear, cunningly modernised such that it does not offend the aesthetic of the consumer of contemporary fantasy, an entity whose predilections my mind cannot adequatuately encompass. I understand that this is what the people must have but I prefer an approach that veers from the kitsch of awesome and cleaves instead to the kitsch of grotesque. Veers, drunkenly, out of control.

So, alchemy in contemporary fantasy is a way of drawing upon the exciting dynamism of steampunk and the brass cogs and machinery thereof and the way the bluish glare of crackling electricity provides exciting backlighting on the face of the goggle-wearing alchemist. This is not alchemy. There is a lot of mileage gained from the good old mad scientist and experimental primitive cybernetics and vat-spawn and things which ooze forth from cauldrons and quiver and pulsate and venture forth to wreak upon the unfortunate world whatsoever it in their nature to wreak, and neither is this anything to do with what was going on in the minds of the alchemists that really existed (though peradventure 'tis encroaching upon the mark). Nay, alchemists were egotists of the highest order and were participants in a discipline rare among the arts of the Occident wherein personal paths to the ineffable were made accessible by the pursuit of a series of rigorous tasks. It was somewhat of a blasphemous thing in the shadow of the monolithic One True Church to be following a path you believe will improve your metaphysical standing without the need for a Church-appointed intermediary to guide you on the way. And this was a path that required you be rich enough to be educated and to waste years of your life fucking with alembics and burning things 'til they change colour and taking in the profound significance of that. Which I guess rendered the alchemists somewhat more capable than the common hedge wizard of evading religious persecution at the same time as further restricting themselves to a periphery.

So maybe it is no surprise that people aren't enthusiastically playing characters who spend months at a time striving to transmogrify the neutered monkish toad of tallow to achieve the transcendental hermaphroditic dragon of sublimated verdigris but there are, in the infinity of possible combinations of stuff in reality, things that can be done that will be more interesting than nothing at all and could be applied to a D&D game in the Meager-Lands or your personally preferred variant thereof.

Another thing that is interesting to me regarding intersections of alchemy and D&D is the notion of the Magnum Opus and how it parallels the improvement of the D&D character, through levels, from the base lead of the first-level shitkicker to the transcendent gold of Name Level. There is a thing I keep alluding to but have lazily neglected to upack as yet wherein the economy of the acquisition of gold from threshold guardians in the underworld equates to temporal power and spiritual and metaphysical power. There is a profoundly resonant symbolic array available here with which a number of exuberant interpretive flourishes can be made. One of these which occurs to me now is that the alchemy in D&D is all of it, all the characters are in some way alchemists or symbolic proxies at large in the world and through their actions in the crucible of the Earth's bowels are astonishing transformations made.

The thing I want to do is draw sustenance from the utter strangeness of the imagery and ideas at play. It is interesting to me how much more strange the things are from the time we are in a roundabout way pretending to play dress-ups within than are the cultural manifestations we have created in vague emulation of them. The things that urge me to reinvent them are anything involving elements and elementals and the bizarre chimerae of transformations and other things which take my fancy involving poetic relationships to substantiality.

Elementals, in the classic Paracelsian form have decidedly more character than vaguely anthropomorphic animated chunks but I am inclined to go further. I recall a trendy late '90s post-apocalytpic game that embraced the elements-as-humours correspondence and had delighfully grotesque embodiments of Phlegm and Bile which I shall leech from, these and Foucauldian similitudes and manifold obtuseries and distorted misinterpretations of the thingness of things to produce a bit of fluff and crunch that shall be the philosophical path to perfection of the mad scholars of the Occidental Empire and perhaps yet-another-reason-to-go-into-holes.

So the things are made or discovered by crusty alchemists toiling in their laboratories for thankless decades but can be utilised by whoever knows the appropriate lingo; the Spagyrist's Cant or the Green Language or whatever. The things which impart XP only do so while they remain with the user, losing, destroying, consuming the thing negates the XP gained (i.e. they are lost, plunging the character back into mundane reality).

There are twenty;

1. Tenebrous Glede: burning dark and cold, a living coal of the antithesis of fire, fusing ash and drawing in smoke and transforming such stuff into that which it has previously been. The cold saps energy from those who remain too close and the overwhelming frigidity of a large conflagration in reverse is as dangerous as an inferno.

-The thing will initiate the process of burning-in-reverse to that which has been burnt. The un-fire has all of the requirements of fire such that it must be fed ashes to remain "lit". 20 XP

2. Nereid Clyster: An elemental oceanic madness inhabiting the insides of her host, appearing as green turbulence behind the eyes and the stink of brine and kelp and as fickle indifference. Imbuing the entity is a painful and bizarre ordeal.

-Usually found in a silvered basin , may require a clysterer to introduce to the host. It imparts water breathing 1/wk and renders the character Chaotic, and costs 1 point of Charisma and Constitution permanently. 100 XP

3. Bladed Chrism: A seemingly innocuous oleaginous substance embodying sharpness, simultaneously fluid and wounding. It needs keeping in a crystal decanter and will obey the bluntening glyphs inscribed thereon but spilled forth it will cut through whatever it touches, rapidly disappearing into the depths of the earth.

-80 XP

4. Russet Glimme: An excoriating cinderflicker entropy of the passage of aeons glimmering in a fragment of moment, a thing that burns though vision like the sun, staining magenta and turquoise afterimages onto the retina. A little man of rust living in a lead box.

-Whoever carries Glimme in his box triples XP gained for the duration of the partnership but that individual and any companions age 1 year every day of the association.

5. Thanatos Flask: Gilded flask with the glyph of putrefaction inlaid in cinnabar. Waves of thick odium emanate therefrom. The foetid grey stuff inside is a contagious life-in-death. Releasing it is doom all-but-certain and implacable.

- Touching the stuff requires save vs. death or die immediated in horrific agony, only to rise again in 1 turn as a fiendish mockery, anyone killed by such will rise as one also, et cetera, ad nauseam. 500 XP

6. Void Embrasure: A hand-sized triangular hole in the world in a disk of black glass , whatever is cast in is gone forever. The vast wrongness of the thing is entrancing and the inside edge is the keenest imaginable.

-120 XP

7. Calcination Sprite: Little stark-white grimacing girl who moves rapidly backwards through reality and stinks of vinegar. Her retreat will quickly sequester her in an inaccessible part of yesterday unless she is crammed in a blazing alembic where she will serve in the Work in dutiful recalcitrance.

-in the confines of a working laboratory the sprite will glean 1d12 XP a month.

8. Quacksalver's Ghost: Like a mercurial shadow wherein is couched the essence of dubious chicanery. The ghost infuses others with a false and misleading sense of the apparent truth of the efficacy of whatever ineffective remedy is in the vicinity.

- -3 Wisdom penalty to the carrier and the effect of a Potion of Delusion applied to anything resembling a potion, unguent, elixir etc. 100 XP

9. Xanthic Pigmy: Frequently manifesting as a lizardly heresiarch bowed and pious in sulphurous devotion, its muttering is a volcanic reek. At night it seems quite intent on being present in the dreams of sleepers and praying there. Fierce disruption of bodily humours accompanies this phenomenon.

- Every morning roll 1d4 for each character/hireling ;
1. Bilious Rancour - +1 to STR, -3 to CHA.
2. Phlegmatic Torpor - unflappable morale and movement halved.
3. Melancholic Insight - +2 Wisdom and -4 morale.
4. Sanguinary Dyscrasia - +2 Reaction and forget 1 spell at random.
-200 XP

10. Chrysopoeic Effulgium: Weird grey lambency, gets stuck to fingers, when wiped off onto something a remarkable transmogrification may result.

- Will transform up to about a fist-sized lump of lead into gold, gold into ivory, ivory into shit, shit into antimony, antimony into ambergris etc. 50 XP

11. Infibulated Rebis: Purest metaphysical hybrid essence of perfect completion assailed and defiled by an abominable enormity on the far side of the real. The Rebis cannot be possessed but shimmers in the mind's eye for a frozen moment. In that moment a miraculous transformation may be achieved.

- Any two ability scores may be swapped, or hit point may be traded for XP at 1:300 ratio or vice versa. Only works once.

12. Fulgurous Orm: Scorched grey vitreous serpentine thing, coiled in weird tension. It is clumsily uncouth and heavy and blind and possessed of crackling intensity lying latent within.

-Can capture lightning bolts and other electrical discharges, requires successful Charisma check to discharge captured lighning without disastrous backfiring. 400 XP

13. Many-Ken: A thing like a squinty old geezer made of parchment and angles that lives in a book and knows practically everything that can be known. This omniscience cannot be instrumentalised because the Many-Ken will only speak of that which occupies its mind at that time. Torturing him with malapropisms may assist in gleaning vaguely appropriate information.

- After  2 turns of torment there is a 3% chance he'll be able to answer something but will only do so in annoying riddle-speak. 120 XP

14. Crucible Goose: A thing of waddling ceramic with a blazing elemental furnace in its belly. It is slow and fragile and very hot. It is possible to invest essential stuff into the crucible and be empowered by the performance of procedures of purification.

- AC 8 MV 30' (10') hp 3 . XP may be recouped from treasures rendered into the goose. It can start random fires, however. XP 50

15. Nigromantic Poesy: Black letters floating in the air, spelling out incantations that unlock portals betwixt the world and a series of catastrophic unworlds as should not be breached lest doom overtake all. The characters flicker and dance and reconfigure into a variety of different yet equally inimical configurations.

- The effect is Abominable. The words are in the lost archaic Lingua Nigromantica but those who can and do read the words aloud rend a hole in the real that allows ingress of something else;

1. An Ocean of Hate

2. A flensing wind as strips the skin and blows forever and ever on

3. A Skulking Wreak of Flint Archaics

4. An Armature built in Grey Domdaniel of incinerating majesty unbound

5. Thirty million Deaths a-riding

6. Dissolution, complete

It doesn't matter what it is, reading the Poesy ends the campaign there and then and ruins the setting and any adjacent settings. 0 XP

16. Molybdochalkos Athame: A blunt knife of a dull and heavy alloy, warm to the touch and marked with a crab. It has about it the virtue of elemental neutrality and can be used to neutralise poisons and mordant humours and render caustic vapours sweet.

- Neutralises poisons, acids and alkaline substanes, after three uses it will be transformed into a blackened bone. 60 XP

17. Bird of Phlegm: The bird is a word that may be inhaled to live in the lungs and sinuses, expectorating enthusiastically and imparting unflappable stolidity.

- Permanently snotty, -1 to Con and Cha, +1 bonus to saving throws. 80 XP

18. Salamandrine Azoth: Incandescent in its elemental purity, the thing may be induced to crawl into the breast of the dead thus to reignite the stilled heart with the animate spirit of life.

- As Raise Dead. 1000 XP

19. Vortex Grail: A chalice of alabaster in which is densely concentrated whirling wind and the sound of a distant howling and the intoxicating fragrance of petrichor. Poured forth it wreaks a terrible havoc.

- A whirlwind destroys whatever isn't tied down and causes 1d8 dmg per round for 3d6 rounds in a 30' radius until it blows iself out. 300 XP

20. Carnifex Antimony: A fine black powdery stuff that can be applied as an eye cosmetic. The one to whom it is applied immediately sees the world in terms of flesh to be cloven and bones to be broken.

- +3 to attack and dmg for one day and -3 to Charisma permanently, comes is a little wooden box with three applications' worth. 200 XP


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Heigh Ho!

Given that messing around with fantasy games has been a hobby of mine for a couple of decades and I have a very particular sort of brain I have sought out all the words in English that refer to the things of significance to the kinds of games I like. I've long since worked out the rather telling etymological origins of whatever words I find most interesting - wizard comes from Middle English wysard and is much like dullard or drunkard but wiser, warlock comes from Old English waerloga - oathbreaker, and enchanter comes from the Latin incantare and so on. One of the interesting things I discovered recently is that the OED attributes the origin of dweomer (which only ever appeared as an element in compounds pre-Gygax) to Old Norse dvergmal - dwarf-talk. Little details like this are very telling in that they suggest a secret history of things long-forgotten. So dwarfs were actually deeply associated with magic and their very speech was magical.

Dwarfishness is sublimated male sexuality. They epitomise that archaic bargain between the attenuated male mind with its focus on extricating function from materiality and the spatulate female mind with its encompassing of social and environmental context. Dwarfs cannot conceive of the expansive thing that surrounds them but are digging and honing pointedness of purpose and covetice. The Rumpelstiltskin story typifies this bargain and appears in a large number of permutations. The story is that of the covenant between the sexes. One sex can do stuff that the other sex needs but claims mating rights in return. The other sex utilises social chicanery to evade the terms of the covenant. Hilarity ensues.

There is a way of looking at males as parasitic entities*. The fact that their investment in offspring is the lesser means they are compelled to go to greater lengths to demonstrate their fitness. Their gonads dictate this strategy - to infect viable females with endearing offspring that they will dedicate their lives to protecting and perpetuating the male's germline. Some males have this attenuated focus turned up too high: I once encountered a boy who couldn't speak but could focus for hours on rattling random objects around in a plastic container. I didn't know for sure but suspected he probably wasn't popular with girls. Such focus needs to be diluted with a little bit of context awareness.

When Dwarfs are thwarted they lose their shit. This is their schtick and sets their narratives in motion. This is what dwarfs are like and it matters not whether they are the kind of dwarf that is like a corpse that lives in the earth and hides from the sun or the kind that vies with the gods in superhuman romance epics the thing that binds them together is that autistic focus on the thing that consumes them and their tendency to fly of the handle when denied it.


Traditional Scots English is replete with terms describing dwarfs and dwarfish creatures. There are actually many more synonymous terms terms than exist in modern English. There is an extent to which the terminology is quite revealing of a negative attitude towards dwarfism and associations of sickness and deformity. I think it could be safely asserted that most of the terms refer to humans suffering from malnutrition or various disorders stunting growth but there are some that definitely refer to the mythological entities in question. Many refer to specifically deformed or squat or sickly or sinister dwarfs and obviously many are merely spelling/pronunciation variants;

Ablach, Ablich, Aiblach, Aploch, Awtus, Blastie, Bod, Boodie, Bottrel, Buntlin, Crile, Croil, Crok, Crowl, Croyl, Cryle, Dachan, Dreegh, Dreich, Droch, Fere, Herie, Knurl, Knurle, Knurlin, Knyaff, Nauchle, Nirb, Nurrit, Piz, Pizie, Pizzie, Setterel, Shaird, Shard, Sharg, Shargan, Shurf, Skeyf, Snauchle, Urf, Urling, Warf, Wratack, Wraul, Wroul, Wurl, Yurlin

(Incidentally this reminds me of
one of my favourite ever OSR blog posts from the long extinct  dormant Valley of Blue Snails blog and which old Dogsbody almost certainly derived from this article about mediaeval bynames. Fantastical racism is something I very much enjoy. ) 


Dwarfs covet treasure. It is what they do. There is an extent to which it can be said that they are the embodiment of that notion. As a result of this fact and of the fact that dwarfs have been around a long time and have histories tangled up with that of treasure there is a very real chance that individual hoards and individual articles belonging to individual hoards have some kind of dwarf yearning after it and swearing bitterest vengeance against those who would keep it from them. As such, for every hundred groats worth of treasure found in a hoard there is a 1% chance that there is a dwarf that feels very strongly that he has some claim over it. This chance is much greater for legendary treasures of dweomercraft (and certain other things) 20% of which have a dwarfish claimant. Depending on their natures, dwarfs might be willing to negotiate or in some cases make bargains but, dependent upon their nature, they may just start killing . It is not always clear how they know that their beloved hoard has been unearthed but they will tend to turn up in 1d20 days.

Avaricious claimant;

1. Trolde - eldritch mysteries

2. Svartling - devices of artifice most cunning

3. Trow - funerary trappings, barrow-hoards

4. Pech - beast fells, objects of horn and bone, bronze weapons

5. Blastie - fine fabrics and magical garments

6. Shargan - weird pets, strange creatures

7. Knockerman - rare ores, uncut gems

8. Bodach - figurines of domestic gods, ornate vessels and silverware

Fell Dwarfs


Grewsome Trolde: Corpse-worm white haunters of the burrowing dark. Loathsome and long-buried odium incarnate creeping through the endless night of the underworld. Dead-eyed and reeking like grave-sod they are, gnawing like rats at the world's root. Trolde seek an unspeakable mystery in the blackest chasms and shun the light that shuns them in return.

Max. Charisma 3. Equipment options:

1. Gloom Lanthorn - of battered lead, burns black bile , foils infravision 30', 20 groats

2. Iron Guthook - d6 dmg, 5 groats

3. Nadder-Stane - perforated stone through which it is possible to detect invisible 1/day with 1% cumulative chance of seeing a vagrant enormity which sees right back, 300 groats

4. Brither Bulhorn: sinister grey snail exudes 1 dose of sleep poison per day, it takes 3 turns for the snail to apply the poison to the weapon, 100 groats

5. Fenris Cur: Feral, gaunt and haggard, hairless, earless, snarling hell-jackals AC: 7 MV: 180' (60') HD 1/2 dmg: 1d3 ML: 4, 100 groats for 3

6. Ethercap's Bile: grants +3 STR and -6 INT for d6 rounds before 6 turns of debilitating vomiting, 50 groats for 3 doses

 Svartling: Blue-black and bristly smithy-workers of the shadowy underworlds, forever forging chains to bind the hated uplanders to despicable thraldom in their endless mines. Beauty to them is the hammering clangour of the rhythm of artifice and the colour of bruises and iron and soot. Of old they were the craftsmen of the gods but they are fallen into shadow. 

Max. Charisma 5, Equipment options:

1. Iron Mole-mask - +1 AC, +1 to saving throws vs. fire, 100 groats

2. Orichalchum Habergeon - (mail coif) +1 AC, +1 to saving throws vs. lightning, 120 groats

3. Adamant Warhammer - 1d6 dmg. +1 vs. heavy armour, 50 groats

4. Aureal Lodestone - Drawn to gold within 5', poisonous: -1 WIS per week to user, 180 groats

5. Unbreakable Manacles of blue-black steel - 150 groats

6 .Heavy Windlass Arbalest: ROF 1/2 dmg d10, 80 groats

Dun-Trow: Solitary stunted things in stone towers long-abandoned. In the brochs and duns of the bleak emptiness long forgotten and forsaken they squat, shaggy and a-glower. They inhabit a sullen brown world of sullen brown desolation. Their only occupation is hobbling about on twilit paths to the secret places of their hoarded trinkets and dancing the quaint awkward mysteries of their birthright.

Max. Charisma 7. Equipment options

1. Noxious sphagnum brew - of sovereign virtue 'gainst the pox, allows second saving throw, 60 groats

2. Toadstone - poison antidote, +2 to saving throw, 150 groats

3. Wulver-skin - Stinking black fur, +1 to AC, +1 to saving throws vs. cold, 80 groats

4. Ancestral blackthorn cudgel - 1d6 dmg, 20 groats

5. Flint Skean - Stone sacrificial knife - d3 dmg but can strike invulnerable spirit entities, 50 groats

6. Copper Eft Amulet - Coiled newt, verdigris encrusted, acts as a mystic key into seemingly impassable brochs, 60 groats


Pech: Little grey stone-ghosts from an archaic epoch. The pech are uncouth and woady, craggy-browed and unlovely - weird shades in earthy guise. They bear inscribed upon their bodies curious designs, the sigils of ancestral beast-gods and sacred trees and things unknown spiralling and coiling on the flesh. In chambers beneath the lonely hills they forge weapons and panoply of gilded bronze but guard their secrets with bestial ferocity.

Max. Charisma 9. Equipment options;

1. Leaf-shaped ancestral bronze sword: 1d6 dmg, can harm otherwise invulnerable spirits, 100 groats

Cruths (mystical tattoos);

2. Badger's Rage: +1 dmg 1/day, 100 groats

3. Salmon Leaping: win initiative 1/day, 100 groats

4. White Bull at Bay: heal 1 dmg 1/week, 80 groats

5. Heron's Vigil: only surprised on a 1, 1 hour/day, 80 groats

6. Sagacious Birch: Read Languages 1/week, 120 groats




Petty Dwarfs


Though it may seem I'm appropriating the nomenclature of the Noegyth Nibin, in truth those are actually Petty-Dwarves. I'm using the now largely obsolete pre-Tolkien plural and am nothing if not pedantic.


Blastie: Diminutive drunken gaberlunzies, tattered and lumpen. Blasties hide in the shade of mannish edifice and wheedle and gripe after scraps. They have made an art of grimacing drolleries and tumblings to elicit guffaws and alms from the bigger folk who might otherwise fear and hate and enslave them for their ugliness. Articles of finery suggestive of unobtainable gentleness and grace awake a covetous fire in their humble hateful hearts.

Max. Strength 10, Equipment options;

1. Juniper Spirit - Makes men maudlin yet malleable, +3 to reaction for potential hirelings, 3 doses for 30 groats

2. Firewater - Spit fire, d8 dmg. 10' range, ignore armour, 3 doses for 50 groats

3. Awfish Whisky - heals d2 dmg but crippling cramps (as hold person) for 1 turn, 40 groats for 3 doses

4. Tattermantle - +1 to reaction among roguish types, -1 to others, 20 groats

5. Hurdy-gurdy - CHA check to successfully play rousing tune, +2 morale if successful, -2 if unsuccessful, morale bonus only applies while tune is being played, penalty continues for 1 turn, 70 groats

6. Itching powder - DEX check to apply, -1 to AC and hit rolls for 1 turn to whosoever should be affected, failed check backfires, 30 groats for 3 doses

Shargan: Scrawny, scabrous and greedy cellar-dwelling gimps. Perhaps merely descendants of vile and debilitated humanity, the shargans occupy the desolate periphery of the mannish world, peddling articles of tin and repairing broken crocks. They keep caged menageries of vermin who are their beloved hateful children and furtively covet the comely and the innocent and everything that glitters.

Max. Constitution 10. Equipment options;

1. Fess-cat: Unnaccountably fierce grey feline, AC6 MV: 240' (80') HD 1/4 dmg: d2 ML: 10, 100 groats

2. Gangrel-bitch: loathsome, stinking she-dog, AC: 7 MV:150'(50') HD: 1/2 dmg: d3 + horrors ML: 5, 120 groats

3. Flaycruke : Tatty raven with dead eyes that yet see, speaks , AC: 7 MV 300'(100') HD: 1/4 dmg: 1 ML: 8, 150 groats

4: Gnattery Sow: Small, black and furious, forages successfully almost anywhere and can be milked for nourishment for one dwarf, AC: 8 MV: 120' (30') HD: 1 dmg: d2 ML:6, 100 groats

5.Duleskin Crabbe: In an urn full of gravel and brine, can pick locks 10% 1/day, 30 groats

6. Yellerish Warbler: Quaint songbird of irksome purplish brown hue, gives warning of encroaching danger, surprised only on a 1, 40 groats

Knockerman: Featurelessly drear and stony grey mine-sprites. Dull of countenance and bleakly impassive save for glimmerings of trenchant prankishness and the lust for mineral wealth in their hard eyes. Stone they love and veins of ore they sense like invisible radiance surging from the earth-deeps. Their desire to assist human miners has faded to a vague resentful murderousness.

Max. Wisdom 12. Equipment options;

1. Brazen Ear Trumpet: Detect sliding stonework 1-5 on d6, 80 groats

2. Tinker Hammer: Detect stone traps 1-5 on d6, 60 groats

3. War Mattock: d10 dmg, +2 to open doors, 50 groats

4. Lantern Helm: 20' illumination, adversely affects light-sensitive entities, +1 AC, 60 groats

5. Bane-Ore:Greenish lump repels cave vermin 20' (morale check), 120 groats

6. Signal Hammer: Tapping conveys signal through 100' of stone, d4 dmg, 10 groats


Chimbley Bodach: Old men of vigorous and vehement decrepitude smothered in coal-dust and misery. Of old they may have had some role in noble servitude to the ancient heathen godlings but they are reduced to living in abandoned chimneys and seething with the peculiar resentment held by the obsolete for those who still participate in the world-in-motion. Their thieveries are exceedingly petty and indiscriminate.

Max. Intelligence 10. Equipment options;

1. Ninkip-in-the-Cauldron: Apparently dead cat, knows the way 20% of the time

2. Blinding Smut: hurled in the air requires save vs. dragon breath or blind for 1d4 rounds, 50% chance it backfires.

3. Iron Earshank; 1d4 dmg, 1d10 vs. individuals without helmets, 80 groats

4. Mordant Pizzle-reek: A clay pot full of acrid foulness, acts as stinking cloud, 20' radius, 150 groats

5. Shuck Whistle: Wandering monsters arrive in d4 rounds, 50 groats

6. Smetchy Mantle: dull black tatty rags, allow surprise on 1-3, 30 groats


There are or were also Dweorgs or Dvergar, the ancestral and undiminished craftsman of the  morningtide of the world but they come not into this tale for they were man-high and comely to look upon and did not stink.

This is an appropriately dark and corrupted take on dwarfishness
* In the case of males of certain species of angler fish they have actually evolved to become tiny appendages attached to the female.