Monday, 22 January 2018

... thousands can think for one who can see

More Ruskin, this time from 'on genius'

(Some line breaks added by me.)

"...Then, as touching the kind of work done by these two men, the more I think of it I find this conclusion more impressed upon me - that the greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion - all in one.

Therefore, finding the world of literature more or less divided into thinkers and seer, I believe we shall find also that the seers are wholly the greater race of the two. A true thinker who has practical purpose in his thinking, and is sincere, as Plato, or Carlyle, or Helps, becomes in some sort a seer, and must be always of infinite use in his generation; but an affected thinker, who supposes his thinking of any other importance than as it tends to work, is about the vainest kind of person that can be found in the occupied classes.

Nay, I believe that metaphysicians and philosophers are, on the whole, the greatest troubles the world has got to deal with; and that while a tyrant or bad man is of some use in teaching people submission or indignation, and a thoroughly idle man is only harmful in setting an idle example, and communicating to other lazy people his own lazy misunderstandings, busy metaphysicians are always entangling good and active people, and weaving cobwebs among the finest wheels of the world's business; and are as much as possible, by all prudent persons, to be brushed out of their way, like spiders, and the meshed weed that has got into the Cambridgeshire canals, and other such impediments of barges and business. And if we thus clear the metaphysical element out of modern literature, we shall find its bulk amazingly diminished, and the claims of the remaining writers, or of those whom we have thinned by this abstraction of their straw stuffing, much more easily adjusted.

Again: the mass of sentimental literature, concerned with analysis and description of emotion, headed by the poetry of Byron, is altogether of lower rank than the literature which merely describes what it saw. The true seer always feels as intensely as any one else; but he does not much describe his feelings. He tells you whom he met, and what they said; leaves you to make out, from that, what the feel, and what he feels, but goes into little detail.

And, generally speaking, pathetic writing and careful explanation of passion are quite easy, compared with this plain recording of what people said or did, or with the right invention of  what they are likely to say and do; for this reason; that to invent a story, or admirably and thoroughly tell any part of a story, it is necessary to grasp the entire mind of every personage concerned in it, and know precisely how they would be affected by what happens; which to do requires a colossal intellect; but to describe a seperate emotion delicately, it is only needed that one should feel it oneself; and thousands of people are capable of feeling this or that noble emotion, for one who is able to enter into all the feelings of somebody sitting on the other side of the table."

John Ruskin - from _Modern Painters III_, 'Of Modern Landscape'

Friday, 19 January 2018

Carnivorous Intelligence

I asked G+ if an obligate Carnivorous species could ever develop a city-based society, and I got a loooot of answers. I've compiled the best responses below and tried to arrange them by general theme.

This means some peoples arguments and points got chopped up a little. It's worth taking a look at the thread. It's public and you can find it HERE.


Zzarchov Kowalski - "It is 100% to have a carnivorous species survive using agriculture, by growing plants to feed livestock. It would certainly need to be very efficient and it would have fewer specialists for technological improvement (perhaps requiring conquest or trade or enslaving omnivore species).  But lets do the math.

High end grains can get 10 million to 15 million calories per acre (rice, corn and potatoes for vegetables),  while low end like wheat is about 4 million.

A pig will need about 910-915 thousand calories to produce about 200 thousand calories,  or 1/5th efficiency.  Pigs are about 3.5 million calories per acre.

So an Acre of Corn/Potatoes and an Acre of Pigs (one of the more calorie efficient livestock)   would equal what another culture could do with an acre of wheat.

So Humans with Wheat living would have twice as much food as say Cat People who farm corn and pigs and thus have far more non-farmer craftspeople, artists and researchers.

If they lived next to each other, they humans would quickly steal corn and shoot way into the lead (unless instead of Corn and Pigs it was some noxious weed that can only be eaten by giant grubs which just happen to be the same as corn and pigs for calories)."

Timothy Linward - "There might be obligate carnivore ant species. I struggle to think of obligate carnivore social mammals - wolves and baboons both being omnivores with a meat preference. So the development of social structures at all seems a leap. Then again, could an ethnologist tell us if Inuit have (had) cities? (I'm assuming that the Inuit diet is all based on seals, whales, fish and birds, I could well be mistaken.)"

Aaron Parr - "A pure meat eater has to eat almost 10 times as much as an herbivore for the same amount of energy. You lose 50% - 90% of the energy each time you go up a trophic level in the "food chain". So in reality a civilization of a purely carnivorous species would be destroyed by a competing omnivorous species because they would lack the numbers.

But maybe if they were smaller and smarter and had another edge... they'd still dominate."


Dave R - "Note that nomadic pastoralism (herding) can support a people on a carnivorous diet.

Note too there's an argument that the very first settlements preceded agriculture, that sites such as Göbekli Tepe and Nevali Çori were built by hunter-gatherers as religious or ritual gathering places.  Settling them year-round came later, and agriculture came later still.

Substitute herders for hunter-gatherers building a central religious site that only gradually becomes occupied year round and you're there.  Population density is still a problem.  I think you'd have to stipulate only the priest caste and their servants would count as a settled city, with tribes of herdsbeings making periodic pilgrimages to the center.

I can make a stronger case for carnivorous sentients becoming herders in the first place.  Herding can grow out of hunting, without any detour through farming."

Jacob Hurst - "One other possibility could be a fully mobile nomadic civilization that controls huge territory in order to follow the ever mobile migrating creatures on which they feed. Perhaps this is the reason for the traveling fey seasonal courts?"


Gregor Vuga - "It would be possible if there was a great aboundance of wildlife to hunt as well. The earliest civilizations formed around agriculture but many of the earliest societies formed around river deltas where there was lots of fowl and game as well as fish, crabs etc."

John Bell - "Possibly. Fishing or foraging for insects might be sufficient, especially if they cultivated them. You would probably see a lot of smaller, fast-breeding animals with small agricultural footprints, like guinea pigs, rats, chickens, etc. form the bulk of the food source, rather than cows, deer, etc."

Scrap Princess - "what about something like buffalo herds? Massive populations grazing even greater landmasses?"

"like the Inuit  lived primary of meat right so you just have to have a situation where everything they were catching was more calorific by several magnitudes? Like if we say a Innuit community was about 100 people if was doing okay and ye olde city is 10,000 , the seals and whales just need to be 100 times the size"

Justin Akkerman - "What about something like the salmon runs of the Pacific Northwest? Massive hit of calories once a year that gets smoked and preserved that allows the support of a more complex society than would otherwise be possible"


Scrap Princess - "Yeah if you include insects it's plausible right? Like something like mealworms or compost worms that can eat garbage and double their population in a month or so?

Also rotting things can make more nutrients available from otherwise undigestible material like bone or cellulose.

Humans haven't made a bone sauerkraut but it's not to say some fantasy race wouldn't.

Apparently it's one of the reasons dogs bury bones "

Jacob Hurst - "They could also be farming fish or insects like crickets/meal worms like +Scrap Princess? said. Could bee living around some sci-fi relic that's basically a self contained ecosystem that starts with something like algae and spits out pure protein bars at the other end. Like they sorta did in Snowpiercer.

That way daily consumption is accounted for and "fresh meat" is thus more of a special thing."

"Or maybe they've tapped the breasts of some sleeping mother of monsters, and their diet is basically 100% dairy"

Dan D - "Give them meat-plants and they'll be good to go."

Chris Tamm - "ants have done it - hunting more viable in warmer wet climates and can support huge populations,  stealing young and fattening them is the start of agriculture and more sophisticated and deliberate herding would happen.

Someone has taught apes to breed birds and steal their eggs deliberately. Insect harvesting could be viable - one of easiest protein sources  and breeding larvae was done by aztecs - people have done this in desperation or novelty mostly but it works. i always having bugs harvest your crops for you would be good, bugs eat crops then you eat them

aztec aquaculture bred fix, axolotls, grubs, ducks and all kinds of critters out of desperation for protein. The carnivorites would grow plants for their animals and livestock. Eventually they breed something that likes being kept in  a dark box getting all it can eat. Eskimos struggle to get more diversity than barley and seaweed for non meat. Carnivores do nibble some greens and berries and eat the vegetable matter in the guts of animals. Perhaps feeding a creature tasty herbs then killing them and eating them.

they could just worship the meat god who gives them more meat than they could ever use""

Matthew Adams - "Genetically manipulated meatbags (beeffalo, or buffedalo, roaming the plains)

Factory farms supporting factory farms. For example factory farming meal worms and crickets which become the feed for chicken or pig factory farms. Feeding the meal worms or crickets might require agriculture performed by an untouchable caste, or instead of meal worms or crickets they use maggots implanted in the dead (no cemeteries, just bone houses)."

Aaron Parr - "It is possible but tricky. For land based food production, you'd need a really impressive culture and religion and economy at the center to draw all those pastorialists in for the slaughter of their animals near the central city hub.

But with really rich seas it would be more likely as you can have a port city and lots of fishing from there. Growing herbivorous fish (like tilapia) in aquaculture tanks also produces a lot of protein from the power of the sun and adding processed sewage to the water. Sounds nasty but in a 3 part processing system this works really well, efficiently and is very productive.

So for the fantasy angle I would go with an amphibious humanoid that likes to eat giant squid and whales, and builds cities on the sea shore. They are social because their prey is so big that it requires organized hunting efforts of many individuals. Since carnivorous beings benefit less from population density they would also need a really rich and amazing culture to maintain a large population center with specialized niches in the economy. Some say this is true for humans as well... all that city culture has to be enough of a pull to offset the downside of crowded conditions, cholera etc...."

Lord Mhor - "This would be particularly efficient if one of their enslaved food species was itself intelligent enough to engage in its own agriculture, and could feed itself before in turn being harvested for meat."


Connor W - "As others have noted yes, but with these further stipulations:

-Much smaller populations, like 1/10 the size (simple application of the trophic level "rule of ten")

-Arguably more advanced social capacity. Cooperative hunting would require complex social structures like language early.

-There is a theory that when humans became omnivores and ate more meat the protien density allowed for much larger brain sizes

So super smart, very socially complex small societies.

"Perhaps initially physically more impressive, but as they have developed a society they have gotten less dependant on their bodies (like us).

Definitely lazy though, think of lions that live in zoos."

Kyle Latino - "If they were cold blooded and/or hibernated for a season or two a year, I think it would be plausible enough."

Jacob Hurst - "Perhaps may also have a structured/ritualuzed fasting regime that's deeply ingrained in their culture. Not everyone needs to eat every day, or perhaps even every week for some carnivores.

Maybe that's when the specialized work/art/research is done? During the fast."

Claytonian JP - "Vampires. The oldest ones are apes that uplifted the rest of us inadvertently at first, then purposefully later.


Matthew Adams - "+Lord Mhor's vampire aliens using religious indoctrination to control the herds. When men reach the age of thirty, and women the age of thirty five, they enter the pyramid for a month, and emerge as these super scary carnivorous beings that are beautiful to look at. They rule over the younglings who believe these beings are their loved ones transformed when in reality the younglings are consumed or butchered  in the pyramid and a member of the super intelligent carnivore race emerges from the underground nursery to replace the meat. Logan's Run on weird drugs."

Gus L - "What about a carnivorous plant people?  They'd need far fewer calories of meat, as the could still photosynthesize.  Meat just becomes a source of extra energy and minerals?

I think it'd work for lizard/snake people as well - they would lay around a lot saving energy while the crops grow to feed their food."


What would it be like?

World of Natural Abundance

It would probably need to start out with more meat than our world. I don't know exactly how much of the planetary biomass has been in the form of meat over history, I tend to imagine Dinosaur times and Pleistocene times as being more meaty as they have all those megafauna, but that could just be a smaller number of bigger animals.

But lets go with Megafauna as the idea of them has more poetry, a world of BIG Dinosaurs, Giant Sloths, Moa, giant seal-things, big Whales and etc.

Pastoral Origins

Our predator civilisation probably started out as predator nomads and only slowly settled down.

If humans and the predators co-existed at the same time then possibly humans would have become civilised first and the predators would have been the ultra-terrifying Barbarian hordes from a D&D game.

But, if they genuinely did exist in the same ecosystem for a long time then the effects of intelligent predation on human development are almost impossible to predict. We might be a very different species. We might even think that being eaten was natural, or even good (see below).

Amazing Hyper-Culture

Almost everyone agrees that a Predator City would have to be a fucking amazing place to be, simply in order to attract the numbers of pastoralists and other types they need to supply food.

Think here of something like a Super-Byzantium. Better and more beautiful art. More and better philosophy. Bigger libraries with more knowledge. More beautiful, poetic, coherent and transcendent religion or religions.

Going to this place or being allowed to live there would be almost sensorily overwhelming to a standard human. In the global culture it would simply be *the* place, the place of places, like a New York of New Yorks, the place that stories are set, that we expect decisions to be made, the super-creative, super-compelling hyper-city, almost a place of dreams, as well of nightmares as it runs directly on blood.

An Edge

A lot of commentators think the intelligent predator species would need some kind of an edge over an omnivorous generalise like Homo Sapien and the usual genre possibilities are brought up, but the simplest is simply that they might be more intelligent.

What if this species had an average IQ of 150?

Assume they are a little bigger and a little stronger than us as well. But the main thing is intelligence.

The average member of this society would be in the top percentile for Homo Sapiens. One of their stupider members would be standard for us. A smart one would be nearly incomprehensible.

If we evolved alongside them we would probably worship them as near-angelic beings, closer to whatever the godhead was because they prove themselves physically and intellectually our superiors in every way, relentlessly.

We might not even both asking complex questions of each other, we would just ask them and Homo Sapiens resources would be dedicated not to finding stuff out, but to getting access to the Predator Culture.

A Meat God

We would probably, generally, think it was OK, or at least not immoral that they eat us. After all, we eat pigs and whatever because we are smarter and better than they are, in contact with a species that we were certain was better than we were, we would probably think it reasonable that they eat us.

This probably wouldn't be warfare, just a quasi-slave situation. We might feed them low-status people, in some cultures high-status people might fight for the right to be eaten by them, or to sacrifice family members to them (to get closer access).

Like Matthew says, we would all probably worship a Meat God. The God of Abraham is pretty much a Pastoral Herder God. The fact that the Priests of the Meat God were genuinely more insightful, more penetrating, that their scripture was more transcendent than anything we could come up with, means we would probably just go along with it.

Strange Forms of Forced Abundance

This increadible sacred hyper-culture based largely around, maybe one single city, or maybe a handful, would have developed a huge number of strange agricultural methods to produce protien.

Stealing from the above comments;

INSECTS - Growing larvae on pretty much anything. Giant insect farms. Using insect swarms as harvesters - send out the specially bred locusts to eat the grain, when they come back, eat them.

AQUACULTURE - A huge area of complex fish and amphibian farming. Like the artificial islands around the Aztec Captial but extended with artificial deltas, dug lakes, a level of buily hydro-geology greater than the Chinese River Valley civilisations but dedicated to animals rather than rice.

MEGA-BREEDING - Gotta keep those giant mega-fauna from the pastoral era around to feed high-status individuals. Brontosaur and Mastodon herds guarded by specific Homo Sapiens clans. Moa herds, Hippo herding (losses are acceptable).

CONSTRUCTED MEAT WEBS - This is probably, in real terms, the most inefficient and unlikely method for actually providing calories, but I have become enamoured of the dark poetry of it, and it would be really good for storytelling and gaming. So, monkey trained to steal eggs. can we extend that idea? Homo Predator managing Homo Sapiens who rule over Homo Florensis who farm the Guinea Pigs in the walls of the Predators Castles. Birds trained to bring the locusts that fed on the crops. Partnerships with Killer Whales to herd oceanic megafauna.

The thing with this predator-ruled world is that, like its ruling city, it would be both a dream and a nightmare.

With a small dominant species with a very high IQ controlling everything, centralised government would be easier to arrange. Since they would depend deeply on interconnected food webs they would pay a huge amount of attention to the stability and sustainability of the environment. They would be gardeners of the planet, much more than Homo Sapiens.

And culture would be genuinely better, more advanced, more refined, more coherent, more spiritually fulfilling, perhaps more scientifically and theoretically advanced with less futile mistakes and fewer catastrophes.

And we would be high-status prey organisms. We would be food and we would probably think that was fine, and from a very distant viewpoint, we might be right.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Superman has a mission in Belgium FQ Book 5 Canto 10

And Thor needs to return to Asgard.

Once again, the super-powered Arthur needs to be separated from the normie trash he's been following around so they can do something in the last Canto. In this case he needs to go and save Belgium in an even-more-allegorical part of this highly allegorical poem in which too little happens without much interest and takes a long time doing it.

The opening verses are perhaps notable in their hypocrisy;

"Some Clarkes doe doubt in their devicefull art,
Whether this heavenly thing, whereof I treat,
To weeten Mercie, be of Justice part,
Or drawne forth from her by divine extreate.
This well I wote, that sure she is as great,
And meriteth to have as high a place,
Sith in the'Almighties everlasting seat
She first was bred, and borne of heavenly race;
From thence pour'd down on men, by influence of grace.

For if that Vertue be of so great might,
Which from just verdict will for nothing start,
But to preserve inviolated right,
Oft spilles the principall, to save the part;
So much more then is that of powre and art,
That seekes to save the subject of her skill,
Yet never doth from doome of right depart:
And it is greater prayse to save, then spill,
And better to reforme, then to cut off the ill."

This in the least-merciful of all Books of the Faerie Queene, defined largely by the murder and mutilation of women by a fucking robot.

Though I will give props for "devicefull art".

Anyway, the rest of this Canto is about an English intervention in the Low Countries.

Some princes turn up. Their mother Belge is oppressed by the Seneshall of Grantorto. Arthor goes to find her living in a bog. They go to the main city where the baddy has built a big castle and set up an idol to false gods with a Rancor under it. Arthur fights the main baddy and kills him in two verses. Three more guys come at him as one and he kills them. Problem solves, Belge restored except I think he still has to fight he Rancor next Canto.

Just enjoy this attractive Walter Crane deal

It's so predictable, tiresome, reductive and boring that, even though it is long, the notes at the back are shorter and more interesting so I will give you those instead;

7 Belgae: The Belge Episode (10.7-11.35) treats the oppression of the Low Countries by Spain. Belge's seventeen 'sonnes' are the seventeen provinces which comprised the Low Countries. In 1580 five of the provinces threw off their allegiance to Phillip II (see stanza 8.1-2) and in 1584 offered Elizabeth the sovereignty, which she refused. In 1585 she sent Leicester and an army of seven thousand to id the provinces. Although the expedition arrived too late to save the besieged city of Antwerp, the provinces were overjoyed with Leicester, to whom they offered the governorship, which he accepted. His acceptance infuriated Elizabeth, who recalled him. When he returned to the Low Countries, the effect of British intervention had been dissipated, although some victories against Spanish oppression had been achieved. Most notable was the battle of Zutphen, in which Sir Philip Sidney was mortally wounded. Spenser models some details of this episode on Orlando's rescue of Olimpia in Holland (OF 9.17 FF).

8-10 fell Tyrant: Gerioneo, with his triple body, represents Phillip II's power, which controlled Spain, Portugal and the Low Countries. The name is derived from Geryon, a monster mentioned in Aen 7.662 and Natalia Comes, 7.1. For other references see Var_., p. 250. Milton, following Spenser, makes the association of Geryon with Spain (PL II.410-11). As one of his twelve labours Hercules had to steal Geryon's cattle, guarded by his herdsman Eurytion and the two-headed dog Orthrus, whose parentage Spenser derived from Hesiod, Theogony, 306-9 or Silius Italicus, 13.845. Spenser makes Echidna the mother of the Blatant Beast (VI.6.9.9).

23 4 cities sackt: the Duke of Alva, Philip II's governor, had ordered any city that would not support a garrison of Spanish troops to be sacked and every inhabitant killed (1572). See Gough, p. 297.

25 1 Citie farre vp land: probably the besieged Antwerp that Leicester came too late to rescue. According to Gough, Antwerp was the richest city in Europe at the time.

25 6 Shut vp her hauen: the Duke of Alva built a bridge across the Scheldt river to keep supplies from Antwerp.

27 2 inquisition: suppression. The word bears some of the weight of the Roman Catholic Inquisition, the heresy-hunting court introduced into the Low Countries by Charles V and enforced by his son Phillip II. In 1568 the Inquisition condemned to death all the inhabitants except for a few, specifically named.

28 The description of Gerioneo's chapel and altar is Spenser's depiction of the Roman Catholic Mass, in which the central part of the liturgy is still called the 'sacrifice' (l.6), the memorial re-enactment of Christ's Last Supper (Matthew 26.26-8). Protestants regarded the re-enactment as a symbolic memorial, while Roman Catholics saw it as an actual renewal of Christ's sacrifice, the wine and the bread becoming the body and blood of Christ. The theological point was a primary source of dissension amongst Protestants and Catholics, who sacrificed both flesh and blood in support of one side or the other of the controversy.

28 9 agrize: horrify.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Hyqueous Vaults & a Hipster Conversion Chart

TLDR: I could have dome with a bit more Hipster Bullshit.

The Hyqueous Vaults is currently available as a free download on Lulu.

There are plans to release it as a PoD.

Unusually, it was released and reviewed by two seperate people who both do good dungeon and adventure reviews and who both liked it.

Melan reviewed it HERE.

And Bryce reviewed it HERE.

This puts us in the interesting position of being able to look, not just at the adventure but also at two pretty intelligent and in-depth responses to the adventure.

I want to be clear; whatever I say about Hyqueous Vaults should be taken IN ADDITION to these two reviews. I don't fundamentally disagree with any of the main points in either of those and those points are almost completely positive about the adventure.

So this is my minority report. My response was slightly colder than Melan and Bryce.

If you read it on its own then it will seem more negative than it is. My comments and responses are personal and not absolute.


Firstly its very toyetic, very gamey. Arranged for play and less pseudo-natural or pseudo-historical.

Melan touches on this a little; "more fantastic than strictly realistic" and "the balance of encounters, while overall good, is heavily weighted towards ‘specials".

Nothing wrong with that since D&D is, in fact, a game. No D&D environment can be truly or absolutely naturalistic, there will always be joins and inconsistencies somewhere.

But its useful to talk about one of the main benefits of naturalism and simulation which is that (near-paradoxically) allows intelligent and paradigm-shifting 'ride the iceberg' play.

If the Orcs need to poop then you can climb up the poop hole, and this is an idea anyone can have.

If the dungeon-dwellers need light, if they have general logistical needs like food or something more abtruse, then this is a process you can interrupt, attack, infiltrate or simply manipulate, and again, this is an idea that anyone can have simply by thinking about the imagined world in a coherent way.

"Oh we could pose as a lamp-oil seller."

"Oh we could poison the food supply."

"Oh we could hide in the water when they are fishing and grab a fishing line and drag them in."

And so on and so on.

The more toyetic and arranged for play an adventure is, the more "boring" and unexplained elements are left off the table to speed up "interesting" choices, the more mild inconsistencies there will be that preclude boundary-breaking thought and out of the box solutions and the more difficult and uncomfortably incoherent the adventure or setting will become in response to such activities.

Boredom is Freedom is what I'm saying.

Again, not a failure, but a polarity to manage, an axis where you can't get everything from every range so you have to choose which benefits and flaws you would rather have, and in which the 'goodness' of the adventure should be judged on how well those flaws are mitigated and what advantage is taken of the benefits and where the adventures position on that axis refers more to rightness of fit with any particular group.

Things that make this Toyetic are;

  • What is the Hydra eating and how did it get in there?
  • How are all these weirdos so close to each other for so long and not in continual & absolute war? (Common to many Dungeons)
  • The capital letters trick in the secret message (you better give them the printout).
  • Light - where the fuck are the lanterns? How are people down here seeing anything?
  • The percentages on the spectral candles (oh you need ANOTHER prime rod).

The adventure does have good opportunities for 'classic' out-of-the-box dungeoneering (i.e., you can think out of the box here the same way you thought out of the box last time), unusually good for most adventures. You can hide, turn allies, form partnerships, trade things and deeds that people want, get behind people if you are lucky and get strange & unlikely benefits & game-transforming effects if you take risks are are unusually lucky.

The opportunities for out-of-the-box out-of-the-box thinking, (so you jumped out of the box, which was in a bigger box, and you jumped out of that too) are there but lessened somewhat by the lack of naturalism and simulation.

There should probably be phrases for the kind of oblique, lateral strategy which is uncommon in a lot of mainstream D&D but a solid aim of a lot of OSR design, and for really What The Fuck strategies and tactics, so we can differentiate between them.

Although since a What The Fuck strategy is, by its nature, deeply unpredictable, I really don't know how you would design for it.


The only other thing about Hyqueous Vault is that its pretty Normie.

The Normie/Hipster axis isn't quite the same as Jeff Rients' Retro/Pretentious designations for games. Those could refer to rules systems as well as contents so Dungeon World would be a somewhat pretentious game but also a High Normie game.

There are a lot of things that go into making an adventure Hipster, I'll do a conversion chart at the end of this post. Normie is a lot easier to define, it's simply how much the adventure makes use of known quantities and elements, you could say - how likely is this to have an Orc in it?

If this is done badly then its deep Normie Trash. You will see this in a lot of Bryces reviews; In this room are d6 Orcs. In this room are 2d6 Gnolls.

If its done well the same elements become 'Classic', by which I suppose we mean familiar elements used with energy, imagination and precision. Bryce is particularly fond of this quality in adventures.

"In this room are 3 Orcs roasting a Goblin over a spit. The Goblin is alive and is trying to fake the Orcs voices to generate an argument so it can escape."

Not genius but a bit further along the axis from Normie Trash towards 'Classic'.

Firstly, Hyqueous Vault isn't full-normie, the Eel-Men are pretty good and quite creepy and interesting, the spectral candles are a novel & strange idea; a lot could be done with them, it has a big ameboid thing and in general the rooms towards the rear move more into Hipster territory with time loops, indoors cyclones and Mysterious Studies on a Cyclopean scale.

Secondly, where it does use known elements it generally injects a degree of energy and imagination.

I like the interior and back cover art by Alex Zisch, its has a strange, spiky, angular feel along with a dense scratchyness that I enjoy. The front page cover by Brian "GLAD" Thomas is of greater technical capacity but is definitely on the Normie side of the scales with Zisch on the Hipster side. The aesthetic tension between the two artists being a pretty good guideline to the aesthetic range of the adventure as a whole.

Would I Run this.... eehh maybe, probably not?

Would I have fun playing in it? Prrooobably yes.

For anyone wondering how to Hipsterise their product I have written this handy...


  1. Monsters are now humans wearing masks of those monsters OOoooO.
  2. Monsters are now really into riddles.
  3. Hot Goth Chicks - but maybe with no faces. Freaky!
  4. Drugs are now involved - these baddies get HIGH.
  5. More specific lighting.
  6. Add Swears.
  7. Add Impossible Moral Choices - do you want to rape the dog or murder the cat? Well you will have to do one or the other to escape!
  8. Any small monsters are now lobotomised children.
  9. Any normal children are now Undead Children - spooky!
  10. It turns out you could have saved the Undead Children but you only get the ability to do this at the end of the adventure when you have already hacked most of them to pieces and there was no real way for you to know this.
  11. Add Colonialism.
  12. Try having more and better art.
  13. Would Gary like and understand the art? If so, adjust till this is not the case.
  14. Could you get a tattoo of whatever it is? If not, adjust till this is the case.
  16. Is the art/map/text layout subtle and difficult enough to arrange that it could kill a friendship? If not, adjust till this is the case.
  17. Could you safely had this to a 12 year old at a Con? If yes, go back & start again.
  18. Is it non-Euclidian? If not, why not?
  19. ADD DEEP TIME. Years? Why not Eons?
  20. Does the pattern of risk to reward make rational and predictable sense? If so, alter until they are partially, but not fully, out of synch. The main treasure isn't really treasure but an ancillary hard-to-get thingy has a lot of specific but hard-to-cash-in value.

Monday, 15 January 2018

The War On Mother Goose

So, this guy;

Went to war against this woman;

And nearly won.

I've been reading through the Oxford Book of Nursery Rhymes and its magnificent (and extremely acidic about academics and writers fucking about with imaginary or deluded nursery rhyme origins), from there comes the following;

"Higglety, pigglety, pop!
The dog has eaten the mop;
The pig's in a hurry,
The cats in a flurry,
Higgletyl, pigglety, pop!

This rhyme, orally collected in England in 1945, was the invention of one who was an ardent opponent of nursery rhymes. Samuel Griswold Goodrich, and American born in 1793, and best known as the original 'Peter Parley', devoted thirty years to an endervour to reform children's literature. 

H wrote, on his own reckoning, some seventy volumes of truth and instruction, and in the thirties of the last century very nearly succeeded in banishing the nursery rhyme and fairy tale from the more expensive nurseries of both England and America. In 1846, incensed by the revival of the old lore as exemplified by Halliwell's researches and 'Felix Summerlay's Traditional Songs for the Nursery, he wrote a skit for Merry Museum. Nursery rhymes, he said, were nonsense. Anyone, even a child, could make one up. Listen!

Higglrty, pigglety, pop!
The dog has eaten the mop;
The pig's in a hurry,
The cats in a flurry-
Higgletyl, pigglety, pop!

And because, in spite of everything, he was a bit of a genius, Goodrich had unwittingly added to the store of nursery rhyme literature. The rhyme formed the basis for Maurice Sendak's story Higglety, Pigglety, Pop; there must be more to life (NY: Harper and Row, 1967.


And this article by the Southern Literary Messenger is incredible for its 19thC writing style and for its content;

"There are some persons, and those too among graduates of colleges, who mourn over the change of books for youth—who lament the disgrace into which Mother Goose, Tom Thumb, and Jack the Giant Killer, have fallen. But this mental obliquity only shows, that there are persons, whose minds are so perverted by a false start in education, as never to have enjoyed the exercise of that good old-fashioned guide to truth—common sense


Mr. Goodrich was originally a bookseller, and from his position, his attention was directed to the defective character of books for children and youth. The works of this sort in circulation were, for the most part, reprints of English publications; and nearly the whole of them were designed for amusement, and consisted of antiquated and monstrous fictions. It is not a little curious, that while fiction was thus dealt out in this department of juvenile literature, truth and knowledge were generally presented to children in the dry and repulsive form of technical compends and catechisms.


He has shown that truth, upon which nature and philosophy alike teach us that the young intellect should be fed and fostered, may be rendered as palatable as matters of mere fancy. While it has been discovered, that the stomach of the infant need not be soothed with toddy and paregoric, he has made it apparent that the mind and heart need not be stimulated by fiction.


In illustration of the dramatic and descriptive talent displayed in these works, we will make an extract from Parley’s Tales about America:
“At length the morning came, and the chief of the tribe arrived, with several other Indians. He was an old man, but still strong and active. The Indians told him of my capture, and attempt to escape, and asked him what should be my fate. Having heard the story, he came near to me, and in a stern voice, he spoke as follows:

“White man, listen to me! Once the red man was king over these woods and waters. The mountains and rivers were then the red man’s, and then he was rich and happy.

“At length, the white men, thy fathers, came. The red men bade them welcome. But they were ungrateful and treacherous. When they grew strong, they drove the red men over the mountains, and took their lands—and I was still the white man’s friend.

“But see here,” said he, pointing to a scar on his breast, “this is the mark of a white man’s bullet. I had harmed him not—I had lived among the white men, and served them. But they shot at me as if I were a wild- cat.

“White man,” said he, “listen! I was once the white man’s friend—I am now his enemy. Think no more of escape. This hour you shall die.”

“Chief,” said I, “do as you like. If it is God’s will that I die, I shall die contented. My father was a friend to the red man, and his son has never harmed them.

“My father saved the life of a red man, and now you will kill his son. If it will make an Indian chief happy to spill the blood of one who saved a red man’s life, then kill me—I am ready to die.

“And my soul will go to the Great Spirit, and will say to Him, ‘My father was a benefactor to the red man, and they murdered his son!’ ”

“Speak,” said the Chief, “Where did your father live?”

“In Boston,” said I.

“And who was the Indian whose life he saved?”

“His name was Wampum,” I replied.

“White man,” said he, “look at me, I am Wampum! I know you. You were the boy who came to my wigwam at Holyoke. You were the boy who went with me to the Great Falls. It was your father who saved my life! And shall I suffer his son to die?

“Brethren,” said Wampum, speaking to the Indians, “I was a stranger in a distant city of the white men—I drank their fire-water, and it made me wild—

“I struck a sailor, and he was angry. He came upon me with twelve men. They beat me down, and trampled on me. They would have killed me, but a white man with a strong arm, beat them off. The friend of the red men saved my life. Here is his son—shall he die?”

The Indians answered by untying my hands and feet— “Go,” said Wampum, “go to your friends and tell them that the red men will not forget kindness.

“Tell them that we will repay to the children the good deeds of their fathers. We war only with the wicked; we seek only the blood of our enemies.”


"I know that there is a certain music in them that delights the ear of childhood...but what I affirm is that many of these pieces are coarse, vulgar, offensive, and it is precisely these portions that are apt to stick to the minds of children."1 "Do not children love truth?" he asks. "If so, is it necessary to feed them on fiction? Can not History, Natural History, Geography, and Biography, become the elements of juvenile works, in place of fairies and giants, and mere monsters of the imagination?"2

Quoted in The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature, Carpenter, Humphrey and Mari Prichard, but googled here.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Terminator vs Plastic Man - FQ Book 5 Canto 9

A poor Canto

The first bit is fun, A&A hunt 'Guyle' who is a LOT like Cugel the Clever.

Then they are both taken to the Court of Good Queen Mercilla (another Elizabeth), who, if you've read even one Court Scene in the Faerie Queene, is pretty much exactly like every other one.

Slow approach through qualitative bodyguards, in this case Awe and Order, witnessing of a doomed baddy, in this case Malfont a *poet bad& who spread scurrilous stories and who has his tongue nailed to a plank.

Then Fairest of the fair, surrounded by virgins, rusty sword because kingdom in peace blah blah blah, the only interesting thing is that they are in the middle of a trial.

It's our own friend Duessa, who you may remember right from the beginning of the book and from the friendship Canto in which she was a massive dick.

The list of witnesses is very slightly interesting; Zeale is the prosecutor, Kingdoms Care, Authority, the Law of Nations, Religion and Justice all speak against. Ok, dull so far.

Those speaking in defence are Pittie, Regard of womanhead, Daunger (threatning hidden dread, And high alliance unto forren powre), Nobilitie and Griefe.

Here she is by Walter Crane

SHOCK TWIST, Duessa gets off. I suppose because its Mercy's Court?*

There are probably complex philosophical reasons for this, none of which I care about.

Instead I'll go back and highlight some of the first twenty verses in which A&A hunt Guyle becasue they are great fun.


".... not fare thence lay;
To weet a wicked villaine, bold and stout,
Which wonned in a rocke not farre away,
That robbed all the countrie there about,
And brought the pillage home, whence none could get it out.

Thereto both his owne wylie wit, (she sayd)
And eke the fastnesse of his dwelling place,
Both unassaylable, gave him great ayde:
For he so crafty was to forge and face,
So light of hand, and nymble of his pace,
So smooth of tongue, and subtile in his tale,
That could deceive one looking in his face;
Therefore by name Malengin they him call,
Well knowen by his feates, and famous over all."

Cugel? It is Cugel isn't it? Somehow he got in here.

Not only that buy he lives in a D&D dungeon;

"And eke the rocke, in which he wonts to dwell,
Is wonderous strong, and hewen farre under ground
An dreadfull depth, how deepe no man can tell;
But some doe say, it goeth downe to hell.
And all within, it full of wyndings is,
And hidden wayes, that scarse an hound by smell
Can follow out those false footsteps of his,
Ne none can backe returne, that once are gone amis."

Crane Again

Not only do these two dickheads refuse to go to the Queen before they have caught the uncatchable man, they essentially force this poor Damizell to act as bait to lure out the baddy.

So she hangs out by this rocke and 'Gan weepe and wayle, as if great griefe had her affected.'

Out comes out fellow and he's magnificent.

"Full dreadfull wight he was, as ever went
Upon the earth, with hollow eyes deepe pent,
And long curld locks, that downe his shoulders shagged,
And on his backe an uncouth vestiment
Made of straunge stuffe, but all to worne and ragged,
And underneath his breech was all to torne and jagged.

Come on guys

And in his hand an huge long staffe he held,
Whose top was arm'd with many an yron hooke,
Fit to catch hold of all that he could weld,
Or in the compasse of his clouches tooke;
And ever round about he cast his looke.
Als at his backe a great wyde net he bore,
With which he seldome fished at the brooke,
But usd to fish for fooles on the dry shore,
Of which he in faire weather wont to take great store."

When she sees him of course this girl is affraid, but;

"He gan with guilefull words her to perswade,
To banish feare, and with Sardonian smyle
Laughing on her, his false intent to shade,
For he in slights and jugling feates did flow,
And of legierdemayne the mysteries did know."

He juggles too!

He grabs the girl in the net and runs to his Rocke, but is blocked by A&A. He drops her and bounds away 'Like a wyld Gote, leaping from hill to hill'. His DEX is so high that Artegall just sends Talus after him and they have a wonderful chase because this dude can also change shapes.

It's the Terminator vs Plastic Man!

"Into a Foxe himselfe he first did tourne;
But he him hunted like a Foxe full fast:
Then to a bush himselfe he did transforme,
But he the bush did beat, till that at last
Into a bird it chaung'd, and from him past,
Flying from tree to tree, from wand to wand:
But he then stones at it so long did cast,
That like a stone it fell upon the land,
But he then tooke it up, and held fast in hand.

So he it brought with him unto the knights,
And to his Lord Sir Artegall it lent,
Warning him hold it fast, for feare of slights.
Who whilest in hadn it gryping hard he hent,
Into a Hedgehogge all unwares it went,
And prickt him so, that he away it threw.
Then gan it runne away incontinent,
Being returned to his former hew:
But Talus soone him overtooke, andbackward drew."

And then the guy turns into a snake and Talus beats him to death becasue he beats everything to death.

I quite like Talus as a character because he is fucking horrible, but in being so he exposes something in the poem, and something in Spenser, that is just as horrible, but oh my god is he shit for storytelling.

The position of all of these 'helper' characters has been a bit complex when it comes to generating drama. Una knew how to do everything but was sepereated by being a super-pure lady so she couldn't lay hands on anything. The 'Blacke Palmer' also knew everything but would just be a dick about it and inform Guyon after the event. Britomarts Glauce was probably the best, she ended up trapped in drag with a guy who wouldn't listen to her. Fuck knows what was going on with the Friendship Canto.

And now Talus who is just awful awful awful. Drains any drama or danger from a scene. Makes his hero both impotent and also more disgusting. Has no fucking emotions to express. Is probably an avatar of Spenser watching those Spanish and Irish prisoners be executed by his boss. Just an epically BAD idea on Spensers part on every level, yet somehow a very apt one. The nastiness at the heart of Chivalry made manifest.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Castle In a Bag

A bag of holding is a tiresome thing, but I have in mind a plague of castle-bags.

It's like a Bag of Holding but you can only fit one thing in it, and one type of thing. Pull the drawstring of the bag open, hold it near the castle with one hand, reach out, grab the wall and with a gentle hand smoothly tip the castle into the bag.

Do it handily and it will come off the ground like a cereal box and disappear into the bag like a snooker-ball into a hole.

But hesitate, judder, pause or flail and the mass of the castle comes back and you die in an avalanche of stone, along with anyone inside.

Once the castle is inside the bag it fits quite neatly, it looks and feels as if you were carrying around a dolls-house in a sack. If you judder or smash the bag then the castle can get damaged inside.

From the perspective of those inside it feels like the castle is now in a gloomy non-dimensional space. They can't see the fabric of the bag or get out. If you open the top to look in they see an polarised pale glow, but they don't see your giant face looking down at them.

If you dump anything 'normal sized' in the bag then it will crash into the castle. It retains its relative dimensions. If you are being nice you might want to pour corn down a chimney so they can make giant popcorn to feed themselves. If you want to be horrible you can dump a giant rat or some insects in there so the people are chased around the castle by the huge beasts.

When you tip the castle back out, any huge things inside will still be huge. So, huge man-sized popcorn and huge insects and huge rats. You can try to dick about pouring in gold coins and gems but people with a castle bag usually have more important things on their mind, plus when you tip the castle back out all the people in it will still be there (unless they starved and died, in which case they will be undead) and they will want to guard their giant gems and gold coins.

Time does pass in a castle bag, but slowly. Anyone who dies in one becomes a scale-shifting undead and these undead can climb out of the bag, obsessed with killing whoever put them in there and with taking the bag themselves. And this is what ultimately happens to many castle bags, they are left too long and the castles inside them poorly treated and they are stolen by some scale-shifting undead and taken off to some dark corner of the world where the creatures sit and play with their castle.

If you find a castle-bag that already has a castle in it then be careful because if you tip the castle out then it may be full of angry undead and weird spirits.

It could also be full of treasure though, or artefacts from whenever the castle is from, plus its still a castle that you can put wherever you want (so long as there is room), and that's useful.

Plus you could just dump the castle out somewhere and run for it and now you have an empty castle-bag and you can grab a new castle if you want to.


It's best not to get too clever with your definitions. If you slip over into mansion territory on one hand, or just a hill with a fence on the other, then you will only find out if the bag will not accept the castle at the worst possible moment; just as you are about to tip it in.

The bag also only accepts built elements, so if it’s a fort on a hill 90% of the hill will be left behind. In situations with attached aqueducts and other buildings it will usually cut them off after a few metres.

Not what I was thinking of when I came up with this 
but if you want to find out more about Helen Anthonys castle bags 
there is an article here.


The bag will do its best to integrate the castle with wherever it is tipped out, but there are limits to what it can do.

There has to be room. If there are other buildings on the site then, if you are lucky [if the DM has prepped something or doesn't mind winging it] then you might get a mad Escher/Tardis style integration of forms. If you are unlucky [if the DM is pissed with you or you roll badly] you get rubble.

If the shape of a castle is very highly integrated into its environment (like a mountain peak, a river crossing or a port) then its best to try to find somewhere similar to tip it out or you might get a bad reaction.

The bag can't generate water courses. If there is one there then the bag will try to plumb in wells (if they exist) and sewers (if they exist) but that can easily go horribly wrong. If there is no water course then the sewer backs up and the well has no water.


In history there were only ever thirteen Castle-Bags.

Three made by 'Brass Beard' a short and hairy Rumplestiltskin figure in a complex ongoing situation with three Princesses, three Kings, Three Castles and the exact wording of a wish

Seven made by the Greatest Thief Ever Known, who famously used them to re-orient the military border between two powerful nations as part of the  confidence scam that won him (or possibly her) a continent, the so-called 'Continent of Thieves' which does not appear on any map and which can be found only by Thieves, and which probably doesn't actually exist or if it does exist is likely a China Mieville-esque metaphor for the invisible nation of thieves that exists inside and upon our own*.

One handed over by the Devil at a crossroads.

And a pair made for two sisters 'Lady-Bird' and 'Snail-Girl' in a Steppe-Myth which turned out to be true. One bag being forgotten in the treasury of a major Kingdom for a millennia and the other found in a Steppe Tomb.


Eight are held by the two most powerful adjacent nations in the world. Both put enormous resources into attaining and retaining as many bags as possible and maintain a balance of Mutually Assured Parcelling. Each Nation has four each. If one were to gain an advantage in bags then it could precipitate a war.

Three are inside each other, (you can do that, so long as each has a castle in it) with the last being held by 'Brass Beard', this being the current situation with the Princesses. Brass Beard is searching for his True Love, but he is a manipulative riddle-obsessed sociopath with poor person hygiene whose only positive qualities are his ability to make interdimensional bags. He also likes vegetables carved from jewels (lettuces from emeralds, radishes from rubies etc) and one particular song played on the piccolo, but nobody knows which one. To summon him simply sing "Brass Beard, Brass Beard, where are your Swans? The season is setting and shadows are long." three times and he will usually turn up. (You don't want this to happen).

One has been dragged off somewhere by the undead occupants, maybe to Fairyland.

One is in Hell and is used by the Devil to grab new castles to populate that land and also handed out in more crossroads situations to invariably negative effects for everyone.


Someone has found out how to make the bags and is handing them out. A Castle-Stealing war has begun. Troops of Thieves called 'Fortification Men' are sneaking about between kingdoms. No castle is safe. It's geopolitical and architectural chaos. No-one knows what their defence posture is. Every nation seems vulnerable but castles could pop up in strategic places at any time. Peasants are briefly happy that the dicks in the castle have gone until the military chaos enfolds them too. A ridiculous number of Dukes, Duchesses, Princes, Princesses and Horses have all been stolen, along with all the ordinary people paid to follow them about. Knife-fights between gangs of thieves are leaving castles strewn all over the docklands. Someone recently bet a castle on the turn of a card. Confidence men on every corner promise to sell you a castle in a bag, some of them may even be telling the truth. Adventurers are being hired to steal castles, to get back stolen castles, to defend castles from being stolen, to find out what is going on, to stop anyone finding out what is going on. A dwarf calling himself 'Bran Nine-Castles' is heading for the Frontier with what he claims is the beginning of a fresh Empire. Bags are banned in many places and anyone carrying a bulky object in a bag has become a suspect. A small army of bounty hunters was held in a standoff for five days by a Bedlemite who said he would drop a castle on them. Is it Brass-Beard? Is it The Greatest Thief Ever Known? Is it the Devil? The Gygaxian locig of a replicable effect applied to a magical situation? U DECIDE!

See, I did it in one paragraph. Efficiency.