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.


  1. Your second (**) point I agree with completely. There is a lot of playing safe--or advocating playing it safe. On the other hand, attempted shock for shock's sake is boring.

    It seems to me there are sort of "clicks" in the blogosphere and largely what blogs people think are good has a lot to do with social connections as much as anything else. I don't exclude myself from that assessment. Maybe though it just has to be do with what people or looking for. I'm mostly looking for inspiration; better mousetraps, new ways to do old things, or proofs of why "the way I do things is best" interest me not all.

    I've enjoyed your blog, though. "Mawkish verbosity" and all.

  2. Ouch, blogger ate my post where I was pontificating about communal aesthetic experience creating and maintaining social bonds, my shortcomings in this regard and my lack of generic literacy precluding my enjoyment of a lot of the material floating about in the 'sphere.

    Long story short, thank you kindly, Trey. Your words are wise. RPGs are aesthetically-mediated bonding-rituals. This is cool. I agree with Kent on some minor points. This is not cool. I don't like LotFP adventures but I love Carcosa. YMMV.

  3. Looks like me and Trey are the ones who read this far and I loved it.
    It will take further sittings to properly absorb it all but still.

    Honestly I haven't gotten past a flip-through of Carcosa and I'm far more influenced by what I imagined LotFP to be when I first found it than anything they've actually produced.
    I think I'm most heavily influenced by watching The Thing and staring dreamily at Kurt Russell. My body horror is firmly 80's B-grade.

    1. Well that's what I get for assumptioneering. It's Cronenberg then

      For the general naughtiness I blame the permissive zeitgeist that the Eldritch Wizardry-loving grogs have fostered.

    2. Cronenberg and Carpenter having a naked tea party while the Cramps sweat in the corner playing covers of Carpenter's compositions.

  4. Well. Being listed with those people is humbling, but really I hope I'm not important. I try to be very, very unimportant.

    I think thumbing your nose at politeness is good, but like, really, for me, the salient moment pre-dated my exposure to LotFP or Carcosa (in either of its incarnations) and really most of the written product of the OSR and had to do with the players with whom I was playing when I first went back to running B/X after like a decade and a half (or something). Those early moments where they shifted from the shiny hero paradigm of 4e to the 'Welp, we tried to do this the nice way, but now we're killing blameless witnesses' kind of B/X/older D&D play are still, like, exciting and epiphanic. If I have any kind of objective, it's not to present gross stuff but to create spaces in which that kind of thing can flourish. Where the game makes everyone uncomfortable and exciting because it's uncomfortable and is also fun regardless of being uncomfortable. If that makes sense. And then sometimes it's just like, fuck it, I wonder if we can do things this way.

    1. Oh also, I read all this. Also, you had me at Miltonian similes.

    2. Too bad Pearce we all think you're important because you write lovely things, deal with it.

    3. Ideally I'd like to create a setting where the fact that characters die like flies becomes a feature rather than a bug. Uncomfortable is out where the interesting stuff lives.

      Also, clauses. If our blank verse has clauses then it ain't going to run along like dribbling prune juice quite so much. So my re-reading tells me. Oh well, first tries and all that.

      Also John Carpenter's The Thing isn't a Cronenberg film? Well sheeit, I'm sure there's a clue in the title somewhere.

    4. Isn't that what Uttermost South is for?
      "Well he ate the fruit, and now he's dead an' his body's blown up like a balloon full of angry worms... Write it down in the book Geoff; purple-spotted pears, not good to eat."

    5. Ha! Yes you're right. That's got me thinking about player-knowledge of campaign details as an oft-overlooked supplementary reward mechanic. Good thinking, 99.

    6. I was actually talking to Nate L from Swamp of Monsters about the idea of players getting xp to write in-character reports of creatures and environments they encountered for some kind of gazette. Three character deaths later you still know how to deal with a Dividing Bear Slug or cross the Needle-Leech Marsh because you read about it in the gazette.

      For Uttermost South just replace "gazette" with "battered journal more valuable than any of your lives".

  5. If you are worried about losing your place or going aside, check out some William Chamberlayne. That crazy fucker loved brackets so much he had parenthesis inside his parenthesis. It should make you feel better at least.

    “Whilst thus enthean fire did lie concealed
    With different curtains, (lest, [by being revealed,]
    Cross fate, [which could not quench I,] should to death
    Scorch all their hopes, burned in the angry breath
    Of her incensed father)”

    1. Dude is badass. I love brackets myself and used to merrily parenthesise a little too much as a young fella. The weirdest thing about the quoted snippet is the commas inside the brackets inside the parenthesis. What purpose do they serve?

    2. Tom I have no idea. I got it from a book on metre, rythm and verse by Philip Hobsbaum. Chamberlyne is from ages ago so maybe they used them differently? Or maybe they were added dome time during the transcription process.

      The only one there that doesnt go along with a bracket is
      "Scorch all their hopes, burned in the angry breath"
      There is a shift in meaning there within the line. It wouldn't read correctly as
      "Scorch all their hopes burned in the angry breath"

      Looking through the rest of the poem segment given, that is the only lonely comma. The rest have parenthesis bodyguards. I think in the 1600's they were just working out the stuff punctuation could do and just got really excited about it?

      GOT IT! Just looked it up, commas can be used to indicate a missing word, so that one is for 'which'. the line above has a 'which' and this one doesnt so I think it is to indicate one should be there. (I think that's it?)

    3. Also, I think the words they make you type to prove you are not a robot are really the names of minor daemons. "chnlyR"?

      Praise chnlyR. let this comment be seen.

    4. I used to be convinced that it was a english-like language from a universe just a few branes away - the phonemes were kinda familiar, just configured wrong. Lately the robots must be getting more clever and the words don't seem like words anymore. Not, at the very least, words in any language speakable by human mouthparts. And whose street numbers are they anyway? The dead, I reckon, the unquiet dead whose spirits they're using to run the robots.

    5. It's the ultimate OSR blog post. A world based on the security captchas you use to comment on blog posts.

    6. Noisms and I discussed the Exentomp (invented by the V word robot) "an object that is a result of the interaction of order and chaos. Practically speaking, all things are exentomps."
      Also, if I remember, the "exentompic ratio"--which tells how much of each is in a thing.

    7. Eternal or 'outside' things might be 'non-exentompic'. 'Exentompical' is 'reassuringly real'

      (Praise 'tobeenc' let this comment be seen)

  6. Tom, I also enjoy your writing style and creative nose. There's a weird, organic-but-formal character to the way you write, like shiny kidney stones, strung on a necklace while still wet.

    See? I like it so much I need to pick up a simile to describe it. Keep making up words. (I'm convinced that some of your prose only *looks* like real words.)

    It's weird that the bloggers you mention are also pretty much my favorite bloggers. Those people are stupid creative. Sometimes I worry that we're playing DnD wrong, and just using it as a vehicle for our strange, nebulous fiction (when actually we're playing it *right*).

    And I share your frustration with the linear word. I vote we develop a method of writing that involves branching chains.

    1. Thanks, Arnold. Those are all real words, or at least 90% are. I spend a lot of time trawling for more words, if I must be a monoglot I'll at least know that one language fairly well. Right now I have "liripipionated" scrawled on my arm from hearing it in an audiobook of Rabelais while working in the forest today. I am assuming it means wearing a liripipe.

  7. I just read through Patrick's archives this past week, and so I've been thinking a lot about the intersection of language, poetry, and RPGs. I'm currently mildly obsessed with the idea of poetry as sophisticated memory technology. Probably my classical education rearing its head.

    As for *your* poetry specifically, when I see you have a post, I'm like "alright, want to read that!" then I open it and I have a reaction along the lines of "Oh. Hmmm. Poetry. That will require some investment. I'll get to that later." Then I read it and it's awesome and I wonder why I put it off. Echoes of your post about the Crocodile hearted wizard are still popping up at random times. By all means work to better your craft, but there's at least some audience for "mawkish verbosity and faux gravitas".

    Oh, and on the LotFP thing, I enjoy owning and reading the LotFP stuff for precisely the discomfort you mention. My natural tendencies are shockingly "vanilla", and encountering things like Death Love Doom or F**k for Satan forces me into examining why *don't* I want the elements they present, and hopefully coming up with something more daring than what I started with, but closer to my own tastes and inspirations. That being said, all of the bloggers you mentioned, most of whom commented above, and you seem to be even better for those purposes. Is it an Australian thing? It seems like a lot of you are over there on the wrong side of the planet coming up with this great stuff.

  8. Thanks, Jeff. I am very interested in poetry as memory technology and art in general as the operating system of minds. Once I'm fiendishly wealthy and the world is saved I'd like to go and do my PhD on Darwinian cultural theory and write a game in Proto-Indo European.

    I think Raggi is quite talented but I am not very interested in genital mutilation so a fair bit on the stuff falls flat for me.

    I don't know about the Australian thing, I am almost completely isolated from other gamers so there's that. I see people write about entirely convention games unironically and I don't quite get it.

  9. That would be awesome. If you haven't seen them, William G. Davey has a series of books on Indo-European mythology and what evidence there is for Proto-Myths. Some of it seems a bit speculative to me, but I think the general thrust is right, and it's enjoyable to read through. He also has an introductory textbook called "Indo-European Origins" that nicely combines linguistic, cultural, and archaeological evidence to investigate where Proto-Indo-European came from and who its speakers were.

  10. William G. Davey, Indo-European origins & Family of the Gods. Imma get 'em for myself for Christmas. Thanks!

  11. Great! "Family of the Gods" was part 7 of 7 in a series in the Kindle format I bought, not sure if there's an "all in one" copy available somewhere. Parts 1-6 were examinations of myths from specific cultures, then "Family of the Gods" brought it all together. So, if you only get one, that's probably the one to get.

  12. I really enjoyed this. Thank you so much for doing it.

    I've added it to my Best Reads of the Week series I've been doing to help draw attention to some of the best stuff I've run across. You're welcome to check it out at the following link:

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