Tuesday, 21 February 2017

A Review of the Leopard (issue Zero) by Sarah Horrocks

I didn’t want to recommend anything on this blog without knowing what it is, and reading something seemed like a much more worthy use of my exile, so I bought the Issue Zero of the Leopard by Sarah Horrocks.

(If you want to read her (likely final) opinion on ZakStorm 2017, and also see someone explain to her exactly what transphobia means, here you go.

If we imagine the emblematic Sarah Horrocks tumblr image; a fifteen year old eastern European girl wearing dishevelled clothes, staring straight into camera on something that might be a film set for a very arty horror film or an extremely grim fashion shoot, except the image seem to have been ripped from a 1980’s VHS tape, there are fragmentary bloodstains on the girls clothes, there is a line of text along the bottom which might be subtitling, except its unattributed and whatever it says could be from a Cormac McCarthy book you haven't read, a downer section of the book of revelations or a particularly grim philosopher you faked reading in school, its declamatory, if it’s part of a conversation it seems like there's nothing the other person could say to respond to it.

Well this comic is a bit like that. It's dark and alienated and enthralled with the horror of it's own passions. So, pretty much like Sarah Horrocks if you've ever listened to her podcast. It's somewhat gnomic and by no means shy of pulling an Ancient Mariner and grabbing the reader by the hand and holding them with its glittering eye to unload its doom-laden tale. With, in my case, rather varied effect. But for someone more willing to enter into its particular world, or perhaps with each issue read in a grand sweep so that the volume of events carries the reader with it whether they would wish it or not, it might be preferable.

Don't read it in a library, like I tried to.

Even if you are not into Sarah's work, if you are a serious comics nerd then you might want to pick up an issue just to look at the craft. She is very good at a variety of things.


COLOUR

So, there are two sections to this with two different narrators or main figures. The first section has a really dominant and overpowering use of colour. Strong, near-primary, panel-dominant opposing or contrasting colours, not unlike Basil Wolvertons Spacehawk.

(To be clear, this is the only way in which this is like Spacehawk. In every other sense they are n.o.t.h.i.n.g alike.)

The effect of this on mood is quite interesting, it means that for an angst-laden, body-alienated, Germanically-intense Sarah Horrocks comic, the opening section is quite lively, quite exciting. Fun is the wrong word, but the boldness and energy colour brings is there.

The colours pool in and around Horrocks people who are scratched together by her anguished line. Kind of like if a genius schizophrenic crow had learnt to make portraits of people by gouging lines into pale bark and was really, really resentful about its crow-life, but still pretty good at its job.

And we do see these people from a crow-vantage, as if a bird had become trapped in the room with them and was dashing about, not quite understanding what it sees.

And in the second half, all that goes away and colour fades and mutes into a counterpoint to the pencils which expand in the visual silence left behind to take over the theme.

This part is about a girl in a room and what seem to be smudges of colouration, more part of the artists intent than straight depiction, deepen and sharpen in redness and intensity over several pages until it seems like the girl and the room are covered in blood, which they pass through either uncomprehending or indifferent.

The only light is from flickering screens which are universally old-transmission blue even though one of them is showing the Streefighter Arcade game. It's Horrocks so even Dhalsim looks sad as fuck.

Then the lights fade and give way to blue and the final pages are a really glorious image of a storm enfolding this tiny island of pain which held the main character and then as we turn the page even that gets highlighted with white into some Boreal-Rorschach of dooooooooom.



TIME AND EMOTION

In the first section memories collapse into these shattered rectangular rivers of carefully-broken glass, and the colour effects mix with this, producing odd intensifications, signalling the readers place in time, shifting the emphasis of memory to produce a horrific effect.

The comic as a whole (so far, based on this one issue) is more a field for a great conflict of passions rather than the plot business of getting people in and out of places.

I really, really like her control of panel, (I hate most mainstream lazy-ass pseudo-movie time control), and she uses a wiiiide variety of time and place shifts controlled subtly with colour, position, text and mood. This is much more formally obvious in the first section but she is still using relatively subtle time/place/emotion shifts in the more-centred second part.

Quick example, page 10;

Top third has one panel with an in-panel time/emotion shift shown with a bisected colour front and offset speech balloon.

Narrow cross-page mid range has a callback to a thematic figure with negative image crowheads intensifying mood and probably being symbolic somehow. Colour range of the negative image leads on from the second part of the upper panel.

Bottom third has a three-panel sepia psuedo-photographic portrait triptych indicating a narration over recalled memory with a speech balloon narrative continuation and emotional intensifier/ironic or dark commentary on those memories at each end...

.....so far, so almost normal for this third, but wait...

AND it has a cutout section with the colouration matching the opening half of the first panel from the top, this has some kind of hag-figure, who is utterly unexplained. She is broken up into vertical sub-panels (this is the only time white intra-panel borders are used on this page, the rest are black or absent) as if she was somehow trapped in a sequence of her own time, also she looks like she is behind prison bars, literally held in a cage at the bottom of a page of darkly ironised memories.

Most pages show a careful intermixing of time and emotion with a similar level of fluidly-displayed skill.


LINES

You would need someone with a better eye for art than me I think to talk about her pencils.  The crow-scratch metaphor doesn't really hold past an initial glance. By the time we get to the end the lines feel more like brush-strokes (It's possible they *are* brush strokes, I don't have enough familiarity with art to tell for sure.)

Just get Zak to talk about the lines.

I asked, he said; "She has two kinds of lines: one magnificently Schieleian, one more scabby and experimental but interestingly unpredictable."

The incomparable and brilliant Matthew Adams had this to say; 

"her linework, though very fluid and looking effortless, shows great design (so does her colour) and thoughtfullness, like every line is needed, not wasteful. it is very caligraphic, and you can see the influence of good manga art. it doesn't have the intense obsesiveness of some of zaks work, like you can sorta see zak comes from the fine art/painting field and sarah comes from the comics/manga field (of course this isn't obvious in all their art, it’s a generalisation and you can see the comics influence in zak's work and fine art influence in sarah's).


SO


This comic is about two years old, I have noooooo idea where she has gone with this series since, but if you want to watch something alienating and horrific unfold slowly, with a high level of narrative skill, then here you go.

Click Me



Monday, 20 February 2017

Well, that did not take long...



It was asked for in the comments so here's the link (I think, I can't be certain as I can't go there any more) https://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?798530-Vampire-the-Masquerade-Prelude-We-eat-blood-and-all-our-friends-are-dead/

EDIT: much worse than me being exiled from the Purple City is this-


Since it's unlikely that this is going to get retweeted by Will Wheaton, if you want to buy at Sarah's comics you can click on the image below or on this link https://gumroad.com/mercurialblonde#


They are wierd and dark, but you are reading this blog so probably you are into that.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Enemies of God and King

(Thanks to everyone who contributed to the 'Good Monsters' post two weeks ago.)


Despite the Eclipsed Kingdom being the safest, most eminent, most holy and well-protected land in any reality, there are still those creatures and beings which, either from perverted nature or deliberate choice, act wilfully against the laws of both God and King.

Though, as a requirement of analysis, we must break down different castes and clans of heretic, and though exact knowledge of their plans and behaviours may be useful to the agents of the Holy Inquisition, we should never forget that the defining fact of heresy, is that it is heresy. There are no boundaries to sin and all heresies are ultimately One.


Vere Agentia


The Vere Agentia are Agents of the Spring Court, the so-called ‘Seeds of Spring’ or ‘Green Royalists’. The order of the Inquisition tasked with their destruction is the Ordo Vere.

When it was discovered that the rulers of the Spring Court were forming secret factions of dreaming Souls in preparation for an Unconscious  Revolution, Saint Scaedwian judged the Royal House of spring as traitors in the Black Assizes and they were dragged to their eternal imprisonment

Thus followed the Green Winter and the Spring Crusade. Though this was swiftly won, some hardliners escaped to hide in the depths of the forests, mountains, moorlands and swamps. Some are even said to have retreated to the oasies of the Iron Sands.

Some of the Vere Agentia can temporarily restrain their verdant nature and hide amongst the common autumn or winter plants. Though continual suppression has driven them deep underground they now form a dispersed network of terror cells, striking random targets before disappearing back into the forests and moors. Their aim is nothing less than the restoration of the Spring Court.


Crypto Ents


These fiendish trees simulate an Autumnal sleep before breaking out in verdant leaves when no-one is around. The congregate in secret valleys or hide in sinkholes to plan and plot. If you are forced to arrest one, be extremely circumspect, they are extremely strong and very difficult to burn.


Deep Cover Dryads





These Dryads can remain undercover as Autumn Court or even Winter Court loyalists for years without giving away their deception. They collect information and disperse it to other members of the Vere Agentia, aiding them in avoiding capture.


Seed Dryads


These literal 'sleeper agents' have also proven difficult to unearth (THIS IS NOT A PUN). These Dryads choose to remain in their seed form. When the coast is clear, they crack open their seed pod to take a look around.

They are no larger than the smallest shoot. Still attached to their seed shell, they move around and, if detection threatens, they retreat inside the seed. In this guise they can ride around inside the pocket of a Knight and listen to what they say.

The most dangerous and expert seed Dryads are dandelion and sycamore, they are both capable of gliding on the wind and can find their way anywhere, and escape just as easily.

The Beetle Knights were formed specifically as counter-espionage units to deal with the threat of Seed Dryads and other traitors of the Small Realms.


Satyrs and Fauns


These apparently-friendly rapists lure churls or innocent maidens into the forest with their piping and dances before brutally assaulting them. Kill on sight.


Woodwose


Homeless and ignorant forest churls with green beards who clothe themselves in ragged plant matter and burlap sacks. Also rapists. Dangerous when they gather in numbers and should be regularly hunted by any local knights. The church does not classify Woodwose as either human or intelligent and there is a permanent bounty of 5gp for each Woodwose beard (so long as the face is still attached). The Chivalry may make whatever use of them they wish so long as they carry out regular culls and some knights carry their collection of flensed beards tied to their rear pommel with the flayed faces hanging down their horses flanks.


Summer Elementals


The only reports of Summer Elementals are fragmented. The colour blue is mentioned regularly, though not the blue of the Eclipsed Kingdoms but another colour much closer to white. Some stories speak of a terrifying yellow light and a godless sky and of the overwhelming noise of Avis Infernalis.

They are rumoured to have been summoned or created as a form of terror weapon against the Winter Court and even the most potent members of that court fear the power of these beings to reduce their frozen hearts to puddles in their chests.


Haereticorum Ineptias


The Haereticorum Ineptias are ‘Nonsense’ beings or Unreasoning Heretics. The order tasked with their discovery and destruction is the Ordo Ineptias, made up of perhaps the subtlest and most intellectually brilliant of the Holy INquisition, though sadly also the one with the highest rates of terminal madness.

One of the greatest dangers to the Eclipsed Kingdom is the lack of seriousness and piety with which the peasant classes go about their duties. Despite very strong prohibition by the church and repeated warnings of sinful corruption, the belief in ‘Silly Creatures’ or ‘Fool Beasts’ continues in the labouring classes and, perhaps, even deepens in intensity.

It seems that no matter how strongly the church abjures the Haereticorum Ineptias, the ignorant and simple cling ever more deeply to their childish, inane, yet dangerous myths.

The dangers of the Haereticorum Ineptias are;

·        Belief in these creatures means the peasant class my hesitate in reporting the presence of clearly heretical beings when encountered, and may in fact assist them.
·        Many are much more dangerous heretical creatures than they seem, even sometimes Avis Infernalis.
·        They are destructive to trust in decent authority.
·        They do not respect the right of property.
·        They are corrosive to the fear of God which forms the basis of faith.
·        They consistently subvert the sound judgement of the courts.
·        They are beyond any law.
·        They are ridiculous and injurious to the dignity of the churches Holy Inquisition.
·        They seek to have the World Turned Upside Down.
·        They are unforgivably silly.


Baku

 
Baku the Dream Eater by Hyakumonogatari
These intelligent, shape changing, tool using magic elephants are extremely cunning, always in disguise as another kind of being and extremely potent in combat when revealed. They are Haeretica Majoris to the first extent and no Inquisitor or Knight should ever confront them alone.

The Baku are rare but ferocious supporters of heresy and are famed for offering aid to those whose aim is the betrayal of Gods law and the overturning of all social order. It is believed that several noted Haeretica Majoris have escaped the Lords judgement only through the aid of these creatures.

Their usual mode of deception is to change shape into giant hairy monsters of ridiculous pattern and hue, or into boisterous Woodwose or Hairy Men with strangely pigmented hair and skin. They can be easily given away by their vibrant colours, their ridiculous and inconsequential attitudes and by the fact that they have no visible means of economic support or place in the feudal hierarchy.

Common peasant names include “Hurly-Burlys”, “Wildys”, “Jumblies”, “Big Bad Boys”, “Bafflers” and “Grimblesnatches”.


Hollyphants


The small size of these golden-furred flying elephants (about 2 feet long) should in no way distract the Inquisitor from their very clear danger. Despite their size they are certainly Haeretica Majoris with a wide selection of immunities and magical powers. Thank Azathoth they are unable to change shape.

Like the Baku, these creatures should be confronted only by a fully-prepared detachment of His Majesties Holy Inquisition.

Common names among the Churl class are “Bibbly Bobs”, “Little-Man-There’s”, “Brave Baron Bees”, and “Little Bad Boys”.


Foo Creatures


These beings can come in a form similar to dogs or, much more dangerously, those alike to lions. In either case they have much larger, blunter heads than usual, with wide-set googly eyes and ridiculously large smiling mouths with oversized fangs. Their hind legs are canine and the forelegs leonine. They have bush-tipped tails. They come in a wide range of colours, none natural.

Thanks be to Azathoth these creatures cannot fly or change shape, neither do they have the wide range of magical abilities of the Baku or Hollyphant. Nevertheless, they are still dangerous opponents, capable of disappearing from view and travelling by unknown means. Both versions are much stronger and more intelligent than their material counterparts.

These creatures can often be found protecting criminals, escapees, heretics or places of heresy. Thankfully they are quite rare.

Peasant names include; “Jim Dogs”, “Foolish Hounds”, “Hairy Hairy Howling Lads”, “Tommy Big-Teeth” and “Fools Pity”.


Blue Dogs and Yellow Bears


Though Lycanthropy is almost always considered a Divine Blessing, bringing the one transformed a little closer to the Lord, there are a few, lesser spoken-of, forms of that condition which can have a perverse and disordering effect on the spirit.

Most will be familiar with the Noble or Lordly forms of Lycanthropy, those of Raven*, Fox and Tiger, and with the Churlish or Common forms, those of Rat, Bat, Boar and Wolf, but there are, in fact, heretical forms of this condition.

Those transformed into Were-Bears will, during their Change, turn a golden yellow and develop an obsession with honey and sloth. Though these creatures are renowned for their Fellowship and Easy Manners, no-one should be in any doubt that their Liberal Habits and Lax Spirit form a basis for Sin and make an open door for Heresy. They are often found making friends with, or permitting the society of, Heretical creatures and characters and their Sad Addiction to the substance called Honey means they can be easily compelled to unwise, and even treasonous action by its presence.

Those transformed into Were-Dogs will, during their Change, turn a pale and ridiculous blue colour and adopt a manner both liberal and delirious. These Blue Dogs are known to have smiling faces, long limbs, fur like hairy rugs or rough clouds, lolling tongues, galumphing strides and daft pants. Although they are less physically dangerous than the Yellow Bears, they are also less slothful and more given to impudent heresy and disorganised crime. They are not wise dogs.

Were-Bears are referred to amongst the Peasant classes as “Eating Mister Mustard”, “going to see”, or “knowing of”, some “Fat Lads” or as “Going Roly”. Were-Dogs are referred to as “Wearing Sky Trousers”, “Forgetting to Shave” and “Voting for a Bowl”.

(*The existence of these houses being the reason that Ravens, along with Crows, due to the Emir of Crows, are not classified as Avis Infernalis but as Feathered Bats.)


The Roly-Poly Bird

(The reader should be aware that this creature may or may not be Avis Infernalis and those subject to the Oath of Saint Vish should read no farther.)

From Les Enfants Terribles theatre company
The Roly-Poly Bird is a ridiculous blue birdlike creature with a luxuriant and oriental multi-coloured many-feathered tail, a bold crest and a long neck. Every other aspect of its description differs from incident to incident, leading some to suspect that it may be another creature in disguise (see ‘Couatl’ below).

The Roly Poly Bird has been named and noted as an accessory in numerous criminal and heretical acts, including, but not limited to, aiding in the escape of heretics and criminals from custody, aiding the targets of the Holy Inquisition and the Ordinis Carcere and persisting in Ridiculous and Provocative Acts.

It’s powers and capacities are unknown and it has evaded capture in every instance of contact. Treat with extreme caution.

The Roly Poly Bird is referred to by the Peasantry as “The Roly Poly Bird”.


The Jub-Jub Bird


(The reader should be aware that this creature is almost certainly Avis Infernalis and those subject to the Oath of Saint Vish should read no farther.)

Due to its extreme rareness, danger and lethality, almost nothing is known of the Jub-Jub Bird. It may not even truly be Haereticorum Ineptias, being Avis Infernalis. The only details recorded are that it prefers isolated areas, that it has a shrill voice and that it lives in perpetual passion.

Any Knight, Inquisitor or servant of the True God is required and requested to report any perceived contact with a being they believe to be the Jub-Jub Bird to His Majesties Holy Inquisition, unless it definitely is a bird, in which case it should be ignored.


The Opinicus


Though possibly Haeretici Ferrea, the ridiculous and contemptable nature of the Opinicus  classify it also as Haereticorum Ineptias since no creature of similar arrangement could reasonably exist except as a deliberate and Heretical affront to, and mockery of, the True God.

The Opinicus has a camels body and neck, a monkeys head and limbs and an eagles wings. These wings are not useful in flight but despite this the Opinicus can travel both invisibly and through the air. It has a fiendish yet asinine intelligence and plots continually to subvert Holy Law and the rule of the Sleeping King.
 
From the Monster Manual
The Opinicus is said to lair in the ruins of the Empire of Suleiman and may be allied with that exiled Tyrant or may be a creature of his Sorcerous Wife. It is defended by various magics, including the ability to ejaculate a poisonous and nacreous yellow light from its eyes.

This creature is referred to by the Bedouin as “The Caliph of Paupers”, “The Poets Dog”, “Sunken Ship of the Sky” and “Lord of the Slaver, Slave of the Lord”.


Haeretici Ferrea


Named not only for the Iron Sands which they still lay claim to, but also for the strength of their heresy, the Haeretici Ferrea consist of those still loyal to the defeated ‘Emperor’ Suleiman. For this they are called ‘The Heretics of the Iron Sands’. The order of the Inquisition tasked with their destruction is the Ordo Ferrum and it has amongst it several devout Efreeti, the Dervishes of Azathoth, some Rakshasa and many Bottle Knights.

Before the coming of the True God, Suleiman ruled a wide empire, including all of the land currently occupied by the Emir of Crows. His power was such that it took seven Cold Crusades over several centuries to effectively break his might and drive him back to the doors of Akka.

Even now, the Empire of Suleiman still technically exists. At the height of the Seventh crusade the Grail Knights watered the blood of his Imperial Guard onto the very seal of his throne room and both the Sorceress Esmerillion and the Emir of Crows duelled magically with the Queen Nicaula. The Emperor himself had entered the fray when news reached Esmerillion of the beginning of the ‘Schism of Virgins’ and the entire Crusade was ordered to retreat.

Suleiman placed his unbreakable seal on the doors of his palace and no force has penetrated it since then.

The Haeretici Ferrea are unique in that they are not an insurrectionary conspiracy, a collection of disparate individuals or a terror network but are an actual military force in miniature. The shattered core of Suleiman’s Empire still remains and many creatures and people of the Iron Sands still owe him secret loyalty. Caches of his secrets and weapons still exist in the ruined cities of his Empire, guarded by his unbreakable seal. 


Suleiman, ‘Emperor’ of Akka


The Emperor has the body of a Bull, the wings of an Eagle and the bearded face of a man. He was famed for thousands of years as a just and wise ruler, a mighty warrior and a master of many magics. He spoke the language of Birds, Djinn, Devils and Ants. He commanded the Arch-Devil Asmodeus who, bound to his will, served him for many years as Vizier, before his ultimate betrayal and escape at the height of the fourth Cold Crusade.

Suleiman can read minds, scry his enemies, see the future in a limited way, turn invisible, teleport at will and no doubt perform other miraculous actions. His seal is unbreakable once set and can be used to bind creatures like Devils or Djinn if they are subdued first. At the height of his power he commanded the direct loyalty of men, centaurs, birds, djinn, devils and ants as his subjects.


Queen Nicaula of Saba


The Queen has the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle and the face of a beautiful woman with long hair. Like her husband she is known to be a master of many magics, a wise ruler and a deadly fighter.

When the Queen came before Suleiman she thought at first that the glass floor of his throne room  was water and, fearing to tread upon it, she raised her robe. Seeing her beauty, the Emperor requested her hand in marriage. She accepted, providing he could prove his knowledge by answering her questions. That night she asked him two hundred and ninety nine questions and he answered them each in turn, but as the sun was about to rise, the Queen said she was tired and must sleep and that she would ask the last question the next night. The Emperor acceded to this.

When the next night came she said that as she slept it had come to her in a dream that her final question was much more complex than she had previously realised and asked if she could make some addendums to it. The Emperor agreed to this. She then placed before him, in turn, two hundred and ninety nine more riddles and mysteries, each more complex than the last. He resolved each one but, as the sun rose she again said that she was tired and that she would ask her final question the next night.

This went on for two hundred and ninety nine nights. On the three hundredth day the Emperor requested of his Devil Vizier Asmodeus that he create a mirror and take it to the horizon to reflect the light of the rising sun before it rose. Asmodeus flew to the horizon on wings of midnight black and, with some difficulty, held up his cyclopean mirror. As the Queen saw the dawn light rising in the east she said again that she was tired and would ask her final question the next night.

“It is of little consequence,” said Suleiman “I shall turn back the dawn.” And he rang a silver bell. Hearing this, Asomdeus dropped his mighty mirror, it fell to burning pieces in the sky and where it landed it formed the Selenium Isles, and darkness and starlight again filled the sky.

“Please, continue with your question.” Said Suleiman. The queen had no choice but to do so and after it was answered the Emperor said “Now. I have answered your three hundred questions and your eighty nine thousand four hundred and one addendums. I have asked you only one, and you have answered it. But I would sooner hold back the sun forever and condemn the world to eternal night than to compel the wisest and most beautiful creature who sprang from that earth against her will, so I shall ask again, and you may answer however you wish; will you make yourself my wife?”

Queen Nicaula replied that she would and the sun rose. And that is how the nations of Akka and Saba were united.


Centaurs


The Centaur tribes made up the majority of the Empire of Suleiman and though many have been destroyed or driven off a small population still haunts the Iron Sands, moving mainly by moonlight and hunting with their compound bows. As well as this, the Emperors Imperial Guard of bearded, bronze-armoured heavy cavalry still exists, though they are rarely seen outside Akka.


Hybsil

 
Remember these weird little guys?


These small antelope-centaurs stand in a similar relation to normal Centaurs as Halflings do to Man. They were too insignificant and too numerous to bother exterminating and an itinerant population still live between the oasies of the Iron Sands. They hunt birds with their small bows and, for this convenience, are ignored by the Crow Knights. They may still owe secret fealty to Suleiman and are often suspected of being spies despite their formal declarations of piety.


Bedouin


The Bedouin tribes have all sworn faith with Azathoth and loyalty to the Emir of Crows but they are a perpetually fractious, proud and dishonest lot who almost always define themselves against whoever is currently in power. When Suleiman ruled they were a constant thorn in his side with their raids, thefts and intercene tribal wars. Now that he is gone many wear his seal in secret and speak of him as “The Desired One”.


Ants


Both the normal sized and the larger intelligent Formian Ants were said to have sworn fealty to Suleiman in ages past. Since the Seventh Cold Crusade no agent of the Eclipsed Kingdom has been able to communicate with the Queen of the Formians in her hidden city to find out where her loyalties (if she is even capable of such a thing) lie.



Avis Infernalis – The Parliament of Birds


The Ordo Infernalis is unusual in that it is made entirely of, and lead by, women, commonly Nuns of Saint Vish or other devout ladies.

(Any reader who has taken the Oath of Saint Vish should read no further but skip straight to Haeretici Caelum below.)

Ever since the Regrettable Crusade of St Fugol, the Avis Infernalis have been the abjured enemies of the Eclipsed Kingdom.  It is extremely difficult for servants of the True God to discover any meaningful information about this trackless and placeless enemy. Of all the enemies of God and King, these are those whose motivations are most difficult to discern, whose plans are most challenging to counter and whose capacities are most unpredictable.

Even the existence of the “Parliament of Birds”, its location, forces, intentions, members and organisation, is unknown. We subsist only on rumour.


Phoenix


This deceptive, intelligent, heretical and evil bird is considered to be a Prime Agent of Aerial Heresy. It is fortunate that the creature is only very rarely sighted within the Eclipsed Kingdom. No force sent to attack or restrain the Phoenix has ever returned and the only remains recovered have been badly burned so it has been assumed that the creature is connected somehow with fire.

Prioress Groöb of the Nuns of Saint Vish has suggested that the name ‘Phoenix’ is merely a title passed on from bird to bird as each ascends to a position of Arch-Heresy. This would make sense of several incoherent rumours about the creature.


Simurgh

 
From the 'Simurgh' Persian Restaurant
This ­extremely heretical and evil creature plays some kind of vital role in the hated Parliament of Birds. Though little is known about it, evidence suggests that it is a skilled sophist and deceiver as it has been able to persuade several driven and focused servants of God to deny His truth. It has been claimed that the Simurgh is in fact ‘many birds’, which is either inane and obvious deceit or proof that this name applies to a secret sub-faction of the Parliament of Birds.


Roc or Rukh


This name may be that of a single species of Avis Infernalis or may refer to a range of species of similar gigantic size. The Rukh therefore can be considered as any bird large enough to carry a fully armoured knight and mount off in its claws. Thankfully these birds are rare. When they do occasionally make their nesting places in mountainous areas in or adjacent to, the Eclipsed Kingdom, the Nuns of Saint Vish are quickly summoned and directed to assault and destroy such creatures.


Owls, Eagles and other common Infernal Birds


These creatures, though apparently of only natural shape, sometimes exhibit disturbing and unnatural intelligence, awareness or size. These can include unusually large owls, intelligent storks, storks which vomit boiling water, giant storks, red hawks and enraged ostriches of the Iron Sands.


Legendary and Imaginary Avis Infernalis – Aarakocra, Garuda, Swanmays and others


Numerous other forms of Avis Infernalis are rumoured to exist in distant nations and climes. It has been claimed that a race of “Bird-Men”, having the wings and heads of birds, but the form and wits of men, exists and is called the “Aarakocra”. The “Garuda” bird is described in varied and conflicting ways but is always described as a being of magical power and often as a servant of heretical pseudo-gods, a race of women able to transform into swans or other Infernalis via magic has been spoken of in ballads.

It might be assumed, firstly, that these creatures are clearly imaginary, and secondly, if they are real they are so rare and unlikely to be encountered that no attention need be paid to them. However, the reader should consider what a terrible disaster could result if Avis Infernalis of significant power and intelligence should make their way to the Eclipsed Kingdom in force….


Haeretici Caelum


The Haeretici Caelum include heretical creatures of the Air which are not Infernalis. This includes the Haereticum Dracones.

If the Vere Agentia and the Haeretici Ferrea are defined by their loyalty to a particular doomed cause and the Haereticorum Ineptias by their anarchic, persistent, but unstructured disobedience, the Haeretici Caelum are like some of the more intelligent Infernalis in their planned, intelligent, direct and continued opposition to the rule of the Sleeping King and the spread of the True Faith. Though their methods are various and their numbers are few, have no doubt, they aim at the overthrow of the Kingdom and the destruction of the Church.

However, since the Caelum and Dracones are not Infernalis, though they tend to be occupants of the air, they can be freely acknowledged and hunted by the Chivalry of the Sleeping King. It remains only for the Holy Inquisition to discover and locate them so they may be destroyed. Though they are uncommon they are all extremely deceptive, intelligent and cunning.


The Criminal Ki'Rin


This creature is an irritating and inexplicable, pompous, harassing, liberal, heretical, superior and exasperating being. Its form is alike unto that of a horse though its head is horned. Its coat is of golden scales. It skips and gallops through the sky with the greatest of ease. It exhibits some control over weather, can disappear at will and possesses a wide range of other magics. It makes a speciality of tempting servants of the True God with illusions and the creation of material goods which, the greater the substance they seek to counterfeit, the more quickly they return to their ethereal form.

It is known to have assisted criminals, escapees and heretics and to have penetrated even to the heart of the Kingdom itself to obstruct the due performance of justice and avert the necessary destruction of traitors and thieves. It has, on multiple occasions, dared to lecture and condescend to agents of the Black Church and to criticise, in detail, the Faith of the Black God before escaping in a puff of smoke.


The Couatl


This creature is widely suspected to be the true form of the Haereticorum Ineptas known as the ‘Roly Poly Bird’.

In its true guise the Coatl is a kind of winged and feathered Wyrm with a preference for warm and torpid zones. It has a venomous bite and, like many heretical creatures, is capable of disappearing at will. It can seemingly change shape as and when it desires. It possesses a wide range of unpredictable magics

The creature is known to have a high opinion of its own status as an agent of culture and learning and it is possible that it could be tempted, tracked and trapped by an agent of the Church able to engage it in scholarly or cultured discourse and argument.


Zoloto Daraniya Hiranyam Gulp - the Golden Wyrm


One of only two unconverted wyrms still at large in the Eclipsed Kingdom, the creature known as Zoloto Gulp must certainly spend almost all of its time in a false shape, presumably that of a man, since it has not been seen at large for several hundred years.

Neither has it been revealed and caught, or its rumoured treasure-palace found.

Based on its previous behaviour, Zoloto Gulp must still exhibit some keen interest in trade and capital. (Sadly ignoble enthusiasms for a creature of its size and potency.) Before the arrival of God, the wyrm was the chief banker to the court of the Sleeping King and often appeared before him in the form of a plump and hearty merchant lord, bearded and fat and bestrewn with golden chains. It is from this period that most of our knowledge of its behaviour comes.

Though no Inquisitor or knight has yet revealed him, it is thought that they have come close on at least two occasions, once by tracing rumours of a banker who secretly ate gems and once, hundreds of years later, as the ‘Lord of the Yellow Hall’, a feudal lord of a marginal realm famed for his gift-giving and good luck.

Wherever Gulp is now, it is unlikely that he has been completely unable to abandon his passion for generosity, his obsession with sound finances and his love of luck and gaming.

If any agent of the Holy Inquisition does locate Gulp, they should immediately and secretly summon as much aid as possible. Beneath his deceiving guise Gulp is a gigantic, millennia-old creature capable of incinerating, poisoning and tearing apart scores of Knights in a moments notice.



Kypria Contortrix Aes – the Penny Wyrm


Kypria is the only Dragon in the Eclipsed Kingdom to live openly as a Dragon and as a Heretic. It is believed she does this specifically and only to irritate and mock the Holy Inquisition.

On at least seventeen occasions since the coming of the Black God, Aes has revealed herself and predated openly upon both the Chivalry and the Clergy, stealing vast amounts of currency and valuable property. On each of the seventeen times she has been traced to her hidden lair by servants of the One God, only for the only treasure discovered being a gigantic pile of pennies and a very artfully devised trap to spring, killing or crippling all present.

Obviously, after the first five or six incidents of this type, the agents of the Holy Inquisition realised that they were inevitably being lead into a trap and began to take elaborate counter-precautions in order to discover and evade any possible snare or device.

Regrettably, Aes had anticipated those precautions and, in every case, the actions taken by the Holy Inquisition, be they magical, practical or intellectual, were precisely the ones required to activate the trap she had prepared.

After her latest appearance a Conclave of Wyrms was called by the Black Pope herself in which the wisest minds, greatest magicians and most intelligent lords would gather to discuss and devise a means to discover and destroy her trap before it was sprung.

The conclave is now in its fifty-sixth year and, after several schisms and purges, is close to delivering its Final Plan for the destruction of the Penny Wyrm. (Although a supressed and minority faction believes that the Conclave itself is the trap this time and that there is not actual trap in the dragons mountain lair.)

In the intervening time Aes has continued to prey upon the local hierarchy and has been engaged with militarily on several occasions by the Chivalry, who were all regrettably and horribly dissolved by her acidic breath, which she then used to burn insulting and provocative messages into the grass.

Any subject of the Sleeping King is expressly forbidden from attempting to penetrate the stronghold of Kypria Contortrix Aes until the Conclave of Wyrms brings forth its judgement.


Haeretici Minoris


These heretics are, in the large, imbued with only minor powers to confound and rebuke the agents of order and law. Likewise they are generally incapable of any sustained intelligent action in the pursuit of their heresy. Unlike the Haereticorum Ineptas their flailing misadventures are not carefully disguised anarchic timebombs of conspiracy, they are simply stupid.

It is arguable as to whether some of these creatures are truly intentionally heretical or simply dangerous animals but they have all, at different times, been classified by the Holy Ordos as enemies of God and King and there they shall remain.


Moon Dogs.


Moon Dogs, due to their power and intelligence, are not truly Haeretici Minoris but have proven impossible to classify anywhere else.

These very magical, powerful, ethereal dogs hate and despise the faithful servants of the Black God. They can be distinguished by their vaguely human faces and prehensile hands. They are sometimes seen walking on two feet. Their colouration is dark grey with deep black mottles. They have amber eyes, are intelligent and can speak.

Moon Dogs have a limited capacity to change shape but are known to make only brief and conditional use of it, unlike the Baku who can remain in human form for days, or weeks. They prefer to avoid strong light and possess a number of illusory magics to aid them in evading the Holy Inquisition.

They persistently and fearlessly assault the agents and servants of the Black Church and assist those attempting to oppose its rule.


Monkey Men


Monkeys are thankfully rare in the Eclipsed Kingdom, usually inhabiting the forests on the edge of the Iron Sands and the Oasies therin. Though they are only occasionally encountered there have been reports of a race of Monkey Men with human wits whose behaviour and manners are Foolish in the Extreme.

This race has on many occasions expressed distain and contempt towards the Holy Church and has publicly denied any fealty towards the Sleeping King. They have engaged in ridiculous and sustained boasting matches with any Knight who chooses to converse with them and have claimed numerous divine and magical powers. There is no evidence for any such capacity amongst the Monkey Men and they should, and must, be ignored.


Blink Dogs


Though of near-human intelligence and capable of a limited teleport capacity, these creatures prefer to avoid inhabited areas and are not much of a threat. They have proven impossible to fully wipe out.


Pseudodragons


These extremely annoying creatures were briefly popular in the Eclipsed Kingdoms as pets for noble children. When it was discovered that some of these creatures were leading children into heretical opposition to their parents the whole species was ordered to be exterminated. Some did escape and must have provided a small breeding population since they have become endemic vermin in a few forested areas.


Grims


Small-scale shadowy shape-changers able to disguise themselves as dogs, cats or owls. Must be caught and killed before the sun rises or they will heal any damage inflicted up until that point.


Thaw Mephits.


This very low form of demonic or devilish creature occasionally escape into the Eclipsed Kingdom and harass the Winter Court by quietly melting ice behind peoples backs.


Tuesday, 14 February 2017

DCO Reformation

If there is one complaint we hear almost daily from the Hipsters of the OSR its that you have Too Much Money.

"Shut up and take my money!" You scream as you weep from the open leg sores brought about from the giant bags of gold you carry banging against your thighs as you walk.

Some of you can't even open your own wallets any more becasue they are jammed with black Amex Credit Cards and 100 dollar bills, many of you can't even publicly say where you are going on holiday as rumours of your presence in a country will create preemptive inflation booms and crash the economy and a number of you have complained that the market for platinum war suits for your genetically engineered monkey gladiators is totally glutted.

Well worry no more, Scrap and I are teaming up with Hydra Co-op to put together a new edition of Deep Carbon Observatory.

Our hope is that the new edition of DCO will be produced alongside, and come out in the same format as, Broken Fire Regime, so if you want to you can buy them alongside each other. These will make two adventures in an intended four-part series which should one day be;


  1. Deep Carbon Observatory - Earth and deep things. (I know the flood is the famous but but come on guys, look at the title.)
  2. Broken Fire Regime - Fire. 
  3. Littoral Storm Corsairs - Pirates in the envelope of a Gas Giant. Air.
  4. Unsleeping Oceanic Athenaeum - Water/The Oceans.


(These will almost certainly be A4 to give Scraps images more room to breathe, to have more of them on there and to have a greater interrelationship between informational segments.)

These would be sequels in the way that the Mad Max films are sequels. That is, they would have a similar tone and could all be set in the same world, or versions of it, but they do not necessarily lead directly on from each other. (Though they could).

If we get all the scheduling right, the new DCO and BFR should hopefully be available around the end of the year.

I'm not intending to do any massive additions to DCO, but, I know a lot of different people have run it, with very varied effects, and I would like to re-write it a bit to try to resolve some of the most common issues with the text.

What I'd like to do is put together a list of the most common issues and go through them one-by-one, producing an official Mark 2 draft and make that the basis of the new version.

SO;

If you have any comments on DCO, or suggestions, or just things you found awkward or want changed then please send them to pjamesstuart at gmail dot com with the subject heading; DCO REFORMATION.

You can also leave comments here or on G+ but sometimes people will see an issue they agree with and either not comment or simply plus one it, which means their opinion may get lost.

Anyway, thanks for your attention and thanks to everyone who helped to make DCO such a successful project for its size, I (and Scrap) really do appreciate it.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Orders of Chivalry in the Eclipsed Kingdom

It’s good to be a knight, and every knight has a coat of arms, a lord to belong to and underlings to boss about. But what’s even better is to have a cool symbol and a special club to be in. Here are some of the more well-known of the innumerable orders of knighthood in the Eclipsed Lands.

The Higher Orders of Knighthood


Eclipse Knights – The Ut Tenebrae


The Ut Tenebrae or "Eclipse Knights" are figures of myth and terror.

No-one knows how one becomes a member or who makes up the order. It is rumoured that the Ut Tenebrae are eclipsed Selenians and their full-face helms are strangely distorted, larger than any human head would require. No-one has ever seen the face of an Eclipse Knight and lived. No-one has ever encountered an Eclipse Knight in combat and lived. They leave behind them only bodies, and usually not even that.

It is known that there are only ever 13, that they work for, and report directly to, the Black Pope of Azathoth, that they recognise no other authority of any kind, that each one rides a white Peryton, that they have never failed to take an assigned target and that they are all were-moths, with each mount and rider capable of transforming into a moth on command. It is for this reason that no-one in the Eclipsed Kingdom will ever speak a secret when moths are nearby.

The Black Pope herself often has multiple white moths flapping about her person or perched upon it and a papelonné of argent moths on a sable field makes up the arms of the Ut Tenebrae.

The Ut Tenebrae exist outside and beyond the normal orders of Knighthood in the Eclipsed Kingdoms, poised as a terror weapon and unspoken threat over the heads of even the most powerful lords.


Grail Knights – The Calicem Servi


The Grail Knights or Calicem Servi are the pinnacle of Holy Knighthood attainable by a mortal being. They epitomise absolute faith and unquestionable piety combined with incredible courage, skill at arms and the greatest heights of honour and chivalry. As well as this, many are deeply skilled in Philosophy, Theology, History and Poetry. To join the Grail Knights is the greatest achievement of which most Knights can conceive. Each one has proven themselves the first of heroes on multiple fields and the truest servants of Azathoth in the greatest tests of faith.

The Grail Knights serve the Fissure King and the Grail in which he holds the Black Seed of Azathoth. It is this seed which provides much of the growth and fecundity of the Eclipsed Kingdom. It is also the direct and literal body of God.

To even be accepted as a supplicant a potential Grail Knight must enter the presence of the Grail and ask its Question. What the question is, and how it is asked, must be discovered by the Knight. Many knights who were sure they knew the Question found themselves unable to ask it in the presence of the Grail as they were spiritually impure, and some who had no idea of it before they saw the Grail itself, found the Question leap into their minds in its presence due to their Faith and the will of God.

There is little shame to failing the Test of the Grail and many famous and heroic knights have failed. To be stricken dumb before divinity is simply the natural reaction of a mortal being.

The Grail Knights guard the Grail and have the ultimate duty of securing living foetuses for the annual gift to Azathoth (may he await us but a little longer).

They ride horses of enormous strength and, unlike most orders of Knighthood, wear metal armour. This metal is marked with the black Verdigris of Azathoth, a sacred decay which forms an eight-pointed star. Each holy act performed for the True God creates another spot of decay upon the armour, which gradually spreads its arms over time. Only when the armour is completely black will the supplicant be considered a full Grail Knight. Once it is full-sable, this holy decay inures the armour against all manner of harms, magical, mortal and divine.

Through their daily and continual prayer and contemplation the Grail Knights are gifted a tiny fraction of the Power of God. It is said they can, by considering the distance between two places and deciding that it does not exist, effectively teleport to any place they have not already been. (Once they have been there they are too aware that it is real and the same method will not work.) That they can, by selectively ignoring a law of nature, choose the relative direction of gravity that applies to them, effectively galloping their horses up walls or across ceilings (or up the walls of the Great Fissure). That they can summon enormous strength to bash down doors or fell giants, (by ignoring the mass and substance of the target) that they can make themselves invulnerable to harm and time, that they can choose to ignore the reality of certain objects or concepts, making them unable to effect the knight at all.

However, a Grail Knight may only do one of these things at a time.

There have never been known to be more than 100 Grail Knights and their total numbers are probably much lower. Their arms are an argent cup on a sable field.


Silent Knights – The Ordinis Carcere


The Silent Knights or Ordinis Carcere are the servants and heralds of the Sleeping King. Generally they obey his Half-Sister, the Sorceress Esmerillon, but technically they take their orders only from him and, should he contact them himself in a dream, or if they believe he has done so, a conflict may emerge between the two authorities, as it did in the tragic ‘Schism of Virgins’ which nearly brought the Eclipsed Kingdom into a state of full civil war. (Only averted by Saint Widhewo, see ‘Saints of the Black Church).

The Silent Knights are the largest of the high orders of Chivalry, numbering several hundred, perhaps a thousand individuals. While nominally equal they are broken up into several ‘circles’ or levels of hierarchy based on experience and general capacity.

The primary purpose and duty of the Silent Knights is to guard the Court of the Sleeping King and at any time at least one third of the Order is present there. In relation to this, they must keep the court continually supplied with bards who will be chained in the presence of the King to pipe tunelessly and preserve his sleeping state. The bards wear out relatively quickly and their ruined husks are cast aside meaning that the Silent Knights must quest continually for more bards to fill the hall. Since the bardic population of the Eclipsed Kingdom was exhausted some centuries ago, a large proportion of the Silent Knights are on permanent mission in other realms, either buying, or capturing bards to bring back.

The final duty of the Silent Knights is the source of their second name, the Ordinis Carcere. Since the Eclipsed Kingdom subsists on labour provided by those who dream in dungeons all over the world, it is the job of the Carcere to make sure that as many people as possible, in as many places as possible, spend as much time as possible sleeping in dungeons. This can lead to them ‘hiring out’ to outside kingdoms to hunt and bring back prisoners and bounties so long as they are imprisoned, and even assisting dungeoneers or adventurers who intend to penetrate very deep underground complexes. (They are also suspected of bricking up or caving in the entrances to those dungeons once enough people are inside).

This makes them the most familiar face of the Eclipsed Kingdom to those outside its borders and has given them a reputation as ruthless and effective bounty hunters and thief-takers, true servants of law and authority, with very reasonable rates. (The money is irrelevant to the Ordinis Carcere, all they care about is the punishment.)

Despite being great in number, the Ordinis Carcere are still individually very powerful, noble and dangerous knights, though less supernaturally empowered than the Calicem Servi or the Ut Tenebrae. To gain entry to the order is by no means simple and only the greatest and most loyal need apply.

The Silent Knights wear pale white bone china plate over a mail of white lilly-petals held together with silver thread. They have cloaks of white-mouse fur. They are usually allowed to use their own weapons and these tend to be glass or porcelain. They are allowed to keep their own arms, in part, their shields are bisected with one half being the original symbol and background and the other being half a half-closed purpura eye on a sable field.

It is by the grace of the Sleeping King that the Silent Knights are afforded their first, or common name. So long as they choose to make no sound, they will make no sound at all. That is, if they do not speak or deliberately make a noise in any way, all of their movement or actions, whether mounted or unmounted, in whatever weather or conditions, will be utterly and absolutely noiseless. Should a Carcere break their oath, they must return to the Sleeping King and be shriven before they are allowed to re-take it.

Silent Knights often keep halfling, goblin or crippled jongluers and fools to speak for them to the outside world. The knights communicate amongst themselves in sign and the higher circles are said to have their lips stitched shit and their tongues removed.



The Lesser Orders of Knighthood



Knights of the Autumn Court


The Riders of Air and Darkness


The Sons of Air and Darkness are the personally selected champions of Queen Mab when she is in her Autumn Court. They can be an extremely unusual and eclectic group, the Queen is whimsical in her selections and it is by no means unusual for interesting visitors to her court to find themselves geased into this Order of Chivalry for a specific quest, despite having nothing obvious to do with it.

The stories of the Riders of Air and Darkness are extremely varied, and often picaresque. Despite their unusual membership, they do have a reputation for solving problems and meeting challenges, though rarely in any way that might be expected. They have been defeated and driven off numerous times, only for the long term result of their failure to assist the Autumn Court. They have also won against insane odds numerous times, despite being made up of verifiable nutbars and a bunch of people who happened to be hanging around. They are very often miniaturised, either to fight important battles in the Small Realms, to fulfil important quests at the miniature scale, or for tactical usefulness when dealing with creatures of the sizeable realms.

Often these riders are enchanted with particular powers, and given highly particular conditions under which they must quest. They might give the ability to ride through the air at night, but told they must bake a pigeon pie each day (a challenge considering the Oath of Saint Vish), or given the ability to transform into shadows, but told they must complete their quest each dressed in one particular colour, and no other.

The arms of the Riders of Air and Darkness are sanguine leaves patterned on a sable field and anyone who has served in this Order may include the sanguine leaf in their arms. Those who do always have an interesting story to tell.


The Knights of the Silver Bough


The Knights of the Silver Bough were the order that, long, long ago, educated the man who would become the Sleeping King in chivalry and knighthood. When he fought to unite the shattered realms that would become the Eclipsed Kingdom, they were the first order to support him and many of the future orders of chivalry were based on their example.

It is only this storied and ancient lineage, along with the protection of the Queen of Air and Darkness, that has kept the order of the Silver Bough safe from the Black Church.

Once they were the only force for justice and mercy in a merciless and ruined land and now, in the heart of an insane and shattered reality watched by a mad god, they still try to perform that role. Despite the fact that, as members of the Autumn Court, they owe fealty to Queen Mab, and that through her they are sworn to the true faith, they are widely suspected of heresy, (especially by the Monks of St Korbin).

The Order is made up almost exclusively of Fey and of a few aged knights from small but once-proud families with ancient histories. Among its human and half-elven members, the principals of the order are passed down only from father to son and many of the mortal members were formally adopted into fey families and educated by them.

The arms of the Knights of the Silver Bough are an argent bough on a dark-sanguine field.

The Church suspects that the Knights of the Silver Bough are in some way connected to an even-more secret and much smaller order called ‘The Order of the Fall’, either that they are the highest circle of the Knights of the Silver Bough, or some kind of radical splinter faction.


The Order of the Fall


The Order of the Fall are knights aligned with the Autumn Court who have become fractured in time. They live their entire lives with full knowledge of their whole existence and exact knowledge of their own deaths.

Because a member of the Order of the Fall is aware of everything they will do and experience, if, in the later period of their life, they meet a much younger member of the order, that young person can give them messages from their own life, telling them of things that will occur even after their death.

This process can be repeated multiple times in sequence, across multiple lifetimes, with one member passing knowledge gained from their own future ‘back up’ the chain in the form of a story or advice, with the details becoming more accurate and pertinent the closer the chain of knights comes to the described event.

There is a sense in which this has already happened, as each knight knows in full what message they will receive and which they will bestow, but that does not mean it still has to happen. Each knight must fulfil their destiny, even if it is a dark and paradoxical one, so that the chain of transmission is not broken.

The Order of the Fall is looking for a way to defeat Azathoth, and may already be enacting a plan to do so, one stretching across a millennia of autumns.

This Order has no arms as its existence is a closely guarded secret. The secret sign of membership is allowing a single leaf to fall from the hand and not breathing or moving until it touches the ground.


Knights of the Winter Court


In winter, the court of Queen Mab becomes a much darker and more savage place. The poetry and ballads of the Nuns of Fogamar gives way to the plainsong of the Nuns of Eusia. Manners become sharper, faults more lethal and humours more cold.

Legally and in feudal terms, the Queen Mab of the Winter Court is entirely different to the Queen Mab of the Autumn court. Loyalty to one is not loyalty to another, friendship with one is not friendship with another. The two courts can oppose each other, though they will never meet.

Anyone working for the Autumn or Winter court is well advised to finish their quest before the season changes.


The Knights of Hearts Desire


The Knights of Hearts Desire ride horses which seem to have been bred with Pertytons. Through they have no wings and cannot fly, they have horns, the heads of stags and the shadows of evil men. They are sharply intelligent and eat only hearts.

The knights who ride upon them serve the Queen of Air and Darkness directly, though usually in a rather brutal way. They are said to be men without mercy, through not without honour. They love to hunt through the snows, chasing the winter fox and arctic hare for mile upon mile, tireless, until they pin them down and tear them open in the snow, feeding their terrible horses on their tiny hearts.

They hunt men, or women, just as well, and those who offend the Winter Court should fear for there is usually only one sentence or judgement given in this season.

The arms of the Knights of Hearts Desire are a heart of Or on a field of Gules.



The Band of Frost


The Band of Frost are a select group of fey and insane men whose hearts are as cold as ice. They breathe ice crystals and icicles hang tinkling from the horns of their horses. When a horse of this band places its hoof upon flowing water, the water will freeze solid instantly, meaning they can gallop across flowing rivers, or even oceans.

The Band of Frost come mainly in the dark, they are agents and carriers of madness. It is said that their arrival is heralded by a face of frost in glass, a crude image that melts into a scream.

They are claimed to be illusionists, capable of casting visions and sensations into the minds of their quarry, even if far away. They may create the image of a safe village or familiar town, or a friendly castle with a brawny and cheery lord, so that those they hunt will stop fleeing, thinking they have found safety, only to slowly realise, as the places and people around them decay into deranged impressions, that they are talking and dancing with no one, chewing on twigs instead of roast beef, in a cave and not a hall, that a face of frost is forming on the cave wall.

The Band of Frost are followed by huge primordial wolves from an age of ice. Each wolf is blinded in both eyes with an iron nail and the red rust from the nails runs down their grey snouts. The wolves will speak in a low growling voice and will promise to let their quarry go if they only pull one nail from their eye. This is not true.

Unlike the Knights of Hearts Desire, the Band of Frost do not hunt for specific reasons. They hunt whoever they wish, however they wish, for whatever mad reasons come into their head, though they are still sworn to obey the Queen of Air and Darkness and, if she orders them directly to harm, or not harm, a particular person or group, they must obey.

Of course this might mean actually finding the Queen of the Winter Court and persuading her to care about whether you live or die, and she is neither as interested in the world, or as merciful as the Queen of the Autumn Court.

The arms of the Band of Frost are indecipherable. They seem obscured or somehow blurred and no-one can quite make out what they may once have meant.


Knights of the Iron Sands


The iron sands of the Eclipsed Kingdom were once the empire of the Lammasu Suleiman and his sorceress Shedu queen. They ruled a nation of centaurs and many crusades were fought to evict them from the holy lands of the Eclipsed Kingdom. Though their former country was gifted to the Emir of Crows as thanks for her aid in the wars, these Haeretici Deserto still trouble the penumbral zones today.

The following orders serve the Emir of Crows in the Iron Sands.

The Crow Knights


The Crow Knights (the name now applies exclusively to these knights and not to anything else, see ‘the oath of Saint Vish), ride fleet black horses with rams horns who race over the desert sands like shadows fleeing the sun.

The speed of their steeds is legendary and the Crow Knights are famed in the Eclipsed Kingdom for being experts with their compound bows, archery usually being a tertiary skill amongst the chivalry.

The Crow Knights serve the Emir of Crows by fulfilling her hunger for broken hearts. They range all over the world for the specific purpose of breaking them. This is a more specifically difficult thing than is commonly understood. At least one of the principals must be in a state of True Love and either be betrayed, bereaved, abandoned or ignored, or think they have been, so that their heart breaks.

This being done, a Crow Knight will offer to take away their pain. If they accept, the Crow Knight will reach into their chest and pull out pieces of their broken heart. They will never love again, or feel the pain of lost love.

The simplest way is to kill the less-loving lover, but if the other principal finds out the Crow Knight was responsible, they may refuse to deal. Another simple way is seduction, but young girls can be unreliable and, though they can be easily hurt, they may not fall fully into True Love.

For these reasons, the Crow Knights of the Iron Sands are experts in the social aspects of knighthood. They are deeply courtly, perceptive, intelligent, sensitive, multilingual and well-attuned to political and social situations.

The pieces of the broken hearts go first to the Emir of Crows, who eats them, (they are the only meal she can digest), then the remainder are traded to the rest of the Eclipsed Kingdom where they make up a large part of the magical economy. Many spells can be improved or assisted with a piece of a broken heart, a whole heart can cast a low version of ‘limited wish’ if the magician is willing to fully destroy it and fey, and goblinish savants, will always accept pieces of a broken heart as payment, even if they will take nothing else.

The Crow Knights do not have a coat of arms like northern knights, instead they have round shields with silver script running around their edges giving their family, descent and name. These are always written in code so that victims cannot trace a knight who offended them.


The Bottle Knights


When the Emir of Crows arrived in the Iron Sands she found the place overrun with Centaurs and Genies. The Centaurs were sworn to a heretical king and, unlike the fey of the central kingdom, the Genies were rarely willing to listen to the gospel of the True God.

She used one problem to solve the other and the most intelligent of her followers became the first Bottle Knights, her primary weapon against the Centaurs of Suleiman.

Bottle Knights are, magicians, scholars or magically-knowledgeable individuals. Each one rides a tamed and captured Genie bound in the form of a steed. When the knights stop to rest, the genies go back in their bottles, only to be decanted when needed, hence the name.

Every kind of Genie may be captured by the Bottle Knights and the nature of the steed they ride can depends on the personality and nature of the djinn they have bound. Efrits tend to create fierce black-haired red-eyed horses, suitable for combat and war, Marid create bluish camels, Dao make stocky, slow but incredibly strong ponies and the most prized, Djinn, form grey or white racers of incredible grace and speed.

The genies hate their captors but they are securely held by the contracts formed by the Bottle Knights. The knights themselves are famous for their wisdom, intelligence, cunning and jurisprudence. They often act as lawyers in the Eclipsed Kingdom.

The steeds of the Bottle Knights are capable of performing certain magical and extra-natural actions on command, depending on the kind of Genie and its power, but the knights themselves must always be extremely careful and utterly precise in their instructions as, if they find a loophole, the genie will either flee, or turn upon their master.

Like the Crow Knights, the Bottle Knights have no coat of arms, they are quite distinctive though and, of course, each one always carries their bottle.


Other Orders


The Knights of Misrule


The Court of Misrule was begun by the bastard son of the Sleeping King and still serves its descendants. It occupies the fortress-town of Carnaticum and the place is consumed by an unending masque, a party from which none may flee.

In Carnaticum the low are raised high and the high are brought low. The ugly, hideous and churlish are placed in positions of honour and the noble, beautiful and well-bred are masked and pantomime obedience.

In reality of course invisible lines of power run through the never-ending masque and the descendants of the sleeping king jockey continually with each other for power. The place is violent and decadent, consumed with paranoia, derangement and glamour. No-one can ever be totally certain who anybody else is and everyone operates under multiple levels of identity and deception. Fortunes can be made in a day, love affairs made and broken in hours. The black bargemen of the Carnis river who come to the docks (but no further) every morning, never fail to receive fresh bodies for them to take away, dead either from suicide, syphilis, poison or stiletto wounds. And, more rarely, killed in duels or jousts.

Knights venture out from this court, sometimes on the typical feudal business of a knight, and sometimes to fulfil inane, poetical or ridiculous bets, challenges or riddles, things which, in the Court of Misrule, can be routes to power and wealth, or traps and the final acts of long plots which lead only to destruction.

Knights familiar with the Court of Misrule habitually go masked and affect the motley of jesters, wearing bells and multi-coloured stripes and cheques. The common people are terrified of these riders and they have a reputation as ruthless and crude assassins, hunting and killing either for coin or for obscure and riddlesome causes of their own.


The Iron Men


Despite the Eclipsed Kingdom being a very repressive patriarchy in which the gender roles are both extreme and separate, knights often behave in a way that could be considered…. fey. Often because they are fey, and more generally because a certain degree of swanning around and mooning about with poetry is considered pretty normal for a noble man. The standards of beauty also tend strongly towards the feminine, with slenderness, smoothness and grace in dress being considered noble male qualities.

For everyone that is, except the Iron Men. They are one of the few groups in the Eclipsed Kingdom who behave in a way that a modern observer would regard as typically masculine. They make quite an extreme point of it in fact, and are one of the only standard bearers for ‘real’ masculinity in the Kingdom. They like beards, brawn, boasting, wrestling and chopping wood and they will not let anyone forget it. They are extremely sensitive and utterly humourless about all of this.

Absolutely no-one in the Eclipsed Kingdom cares at all about their rather strained performance of masculinity and they would persist as nothing more than a fringe group if it were not for their very anti-fey stance. The Iron Men stand for manhood and humanity against the perversions and quasi-femininity of the Fey kind.

The fact that almost everyone in the Eclipsed Kingdom has at least a drop of Fey blood has had no effect on the small, but continual, membership of the Iron Men. Some guys are just into that, regardless of the circumstances. Some Fey are even into that, though that does tend to creep people out a bit.

The Iron Men wear iron armour, which they allow to develop a layer of rust. They carry iron weapons (and wooden sticks to beat away churl beasts when they get close) and their horses are shod in iron. They serve a lord named Iron John who lives in a castle of rusted iron beneath the surface of a lake and who has red skin and a mane of white hair and who is usually boldly naked. Absolutely everyone in the Eclipsed Kingdom thinks Iron John is just a really weird fey except the Iron Men who think he is just so masculine and powerful that he seems like a fey to those who do not understand.

The popularity of the Iron Men ticks along at the bottom of the social scale until particularly savage winters, when the Winter Court is at its most dangerous, or in other circumstances where fey are acting as a real threat, in which case they become just-about-tolerable. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.


Red Knights


A red knight is one that has taken the Red Oath and sworn anti-fealty, promising to accept no order and serve no lord. This done, they paint their armour bright red and, usually, take up a form of banditry in a forest somewhere.

The nature of the Red Oath is that, for as long as the swearer takes every challenge given, accepts no order and shows no loyalty, they cannot be harmed by any order given or by or through any feudal loyalty.

This means that if a lord hears that a Red Knight has taken up residence near their castle and is preying upon travellers and churls nearby, they cannot order any of their Knights to deal with it. Neither can they simply describe the situation to their already-loyal knights and hope that they deal with it as this means the Red Knight is likely to be invulnerable to them too.

The chivalric logic of the Red Oath is that it means feudal lords will be faced with problems which they must deal with personally. The lord can’t order anyone to go out there, but they can go and fight themselves, one-on-one, as a knight should. Therefore the nobility stays strong and does not rest on its laurels. It also ensures that even very poor knights have some redress against the most powerful of lords. As it is very difficult for Red Knights to team up or league with anyone (they cannot show mutual loyalty or agree to take any order) and since the fact that they can never be loyal means very few people will willingly follow them, this limits the damage that they can do and assures that they exist only in ones or two’s.

In practice there are a variety of ways of dealing with the problem, including quietly hiring mercenaries on the side (a good job for adventurers), tricking the Red Knight into accepting some token of obedience or showing loyalty to someone, or simply capturing them (they cannot be harmed but they can be caught) and dumping them into a prison, or in a cage under the surface of a lake.


The League Of Honour!  


(The exclamation mark is part of the name.) The League of Honour is made up exclusively of Goblins riding pigs. They quest endlessly for truth, justice and the welfare of maidens, widows, orphans and the oppressed. They are generally despised, even by the low status churls for whom they are often the only knights who are willing to help. Even the dung-man doesn’t want his daughter rescued by a fucking Goblin.


The Knights of St Gorgoth


The first knight of Saint Gorgoth (see Saints of the Black Church) was said to be one of those who came upon the dead body of that saint and formed the order in his memory. Most histories place those knights as exclusively the Calicem Servi so this is probably bullshit.

The Knights of Saint Gorgoth are a solid, conservative and well-established order with no strictures more difficult than that of generally being a knight. They do a great deal of mutual congratulation, secret handshaking, toasting each others self-control, congratulating each other on their modesty and courage and generally making quite a show of being knightly.

To get in you need to sponsorship of a current member, to preferably be from a good family and it helps to have done something publicly brave and chivalrous. On a handful of occasions the order will promote someone purely on the basis of being a good knight, on the same basis that the British honours system will occasionally reward someone for doing something worthwhile just so the whole enterprise doesn’t end up looking too much like the mutual back-slapping exercise it very evidently is. Still, entry to the order can be a useful thing for a young and upcoming knight.

The symbol of the order is not any part of a Coat of arms, but a black snakeskin worn as a baldric. They have the longest, most drawn out and most ritualised swearing-in ritual of all the orders of knighthood, even the verifiably-magical ones. They also have the most elaborate and convoluted hierarchy with fifteen circles of seniority and three ‘houses’.