Thursday, 5 March 2015

"Giant oysters are never surprised."

My friend Noisms has finally completed and released his long-promised setting book. 'Yoon-Suin'. There are a few things I can say about this that few others can.

Firstly, it was begun in serious form after a bet with me. A bet which I have now lost. You can see it in the comments to this post.

Secondly, two of my PC's were born there. Damodar, the likeable trident-wielding idiot who died in an abandoned Dwarven city, and Anil of MANPAC, who lived and ventured across the worlds until he reached level eight and was abandoned to his own devices because he sparked  off his creators self-loathing.

(MANPAC is not mentioned in this book, a sad omission.)

Thirdly, I saw an early copy of it. Anything in quotes here is a direct transcript of my reaction to that early version. (My print copy will not arrive for quite a while.)

"It’s very very good. It’s not quite like anything else. It’s a huge wedge of creative energy, anyone reading it is going to want to use it."

It is a little like what I would consider its most immediate inspiration, the Border Princes setting book for the Warhammer RPG. Like that, it is the cause for the generation of a world, rather than a world itself. It is fuel and an engine and a set of tools, rather than a car.

Is this the first of the OSR products to  offer a means for full ground-up cultural construction in the style of the Border Princes? (Perhaps others have?)

"It certainly stands up with (what I consider the be) the top rank of OSR products: Vornheim, Carcosa aaand, not much else up till now."

I wrote that before R&PL came out, I would still consider Yoon-Suin to be a 'top-shelf' product of the OSR, or at least of my little corner of it. It's highly original, clearly the product of a highly-distinct point of view. It creates and arranges information in a unique way. Like most OSR products its extremely 'stripped down' in terms of background with everything interesting expressed through terms of its use, or the way you interact with it.

(In a conversation with Scrap I said that Vornheim was like the Sex Pistols for our particular section of the OSR. Of all the people who bought it, a huge number ended up making their own stuff.

An interesting question is: what would you put in the top rung of published old-school settings?)

"The use of the side-on formatting is original and very apt. It gives the book as a whole a strong identity and helps you work with tables in a very specific way. There are maybe one or two limitations but there are a lot of opportunities and you take advantage of them."

Well, Noism's has determined to make a book that is awkward on the shelf. The 'use over conventionality' is perhaps becoming something of an old-school trope. Yoon-Suins odd table-friendly shape can go along with Vornheims die-drop table front cover as a kind of anti-aesthetic which might slowly become a new aesthetic.

The statement "we care so much about how you use this book that we actually made it weird to look at and hold because it make it easier to use." will probably end up being chewed on by RPG culture until, in ten years (maybe five?) mainstream books will be coming out with tables on the front covers under the dust jackets, or slightly sense-jangling informational architecture. It will be the 'distressed jeans' of RPG's, then it will be making money and we will all have to pack up and do something else.

Perhaps something else no-one has said is how much Yoon-Suin is about beauty. A lot of Zaks stuff is beautiful, but thats because he is obsessed with beauty and is a good artist, its not what Vornheim, or even R&PL is about. Those books go through beauty because anything going through Zaks mind will be processed that way, and R&PL in particular is beautiful in a very luxuriant way, but neither of them are about beauty. They are on the beauty train to dissonance and trouble.

Yoon-Suin is about beauty. All of the sights in it are picturesque. Very like an orientalist painting. Even the very horrible locations are a little more ripe than harsh. And the culture depicted in Yoon-Suin is about luxury and about beauty. Its relaxed instead of tight, slow instead of quick, warm rather than cold, lit rather than dark, sad rather than grim, opium not cocaine. Some RPG settings are created, in the manner of Apocalypse world, on a kind of energetic tilt so that whatever the PC's do when they wander into it will have deep ramifications, the world will spin around them. One gets the sense that, no matter how the DM constructs it, the world of Yoon-Suin is not going to change very much regardless of what the players do. The opium barges will still drift down the Yellow River, the slaves will still have rubbish lives, the Slug Men are not going to be deposed from the Yellow City. (Who would bother to? And who would replace the Slug Men? Calm down and have some tea.) The politics of the Hundred Kingdoms will always be chaotic and the chaos will never change. The PC's are simply moving through this world like everyone else.

Matthew Adams' art adds strongly to the sense of luxuriant decay. Especially the ink-blotch  drawings which I particularly like. Its been very interesting to watch Matthew go from a guy who occasionally does sketches on G+ to slowly getting better and better. Like with most things to do with art its better just to show you rather than talk about it so I will try to remember to put some of Matthews art down below this statement.

Its interesting to think about what Matthew will end up doing if he can grow so much in such a short space of time.

So beauty and luxury act as a kind of axis on which the world depicted in the book turns.

"And it’s a minor work of literary art in the strange way that the best OSR products are, a whole culture distilled into the choices used to create it. A mish-mash of orientalism, imagination, D&D, eastern cultures and god knows what else. It’s not like anything anybody else could have made or will make. You should be very proud.

On reading it I really wanted to go to Sughd and find out what the hell those Nasnas are up to, or take over an abandoned fortress by a river in Lahag, or hang out with boat people and get strange tattoos. And that’s exactly how it is meant to make you feel. I think people will be very impressed, I certainly hope they will be."

Wednesday, 4 March 2015


Here is a teaser page from Fire On The Velvet Horizon, Scrap and I's stat-less monster manual/art book.

The Bugs were one of my favourites because they ended up so bonkers and because scrap arranged them tearing apart their own description, which is exactly what they would do.

(Posting has been light recently, I think probably because I feel dead inside and that might be because my job is eating me but its highly likely that I will be fired tonight sooo, thing might improve?

Anyway, FOTVH is still good because I wrote it before the job ate my soul.)

Here is the trailer again:

I should try to say something intelligent and penetrating about this work that we have done.

It is unlike other things and it was made unlike them too.

Scrap would draw things, then I would look at them, then I would write down what I thought they were, then I would try to get the writing good, then she would assemble them into an image with things that she photocopied or stole and sometimes (often) hair or blood. There were also  strange scanning and glitch artifacts that sometimes we tried to get rid of and sometime incorporated into the design.

The whole thing is kind of a glitch artifact built on strangeness and mistakes, there are characters in there who appeared and made one comment then slowly grew throughout the entries until they have an entire life lived in the background of the monsters.

There is a setting in there too (everything we make ends up being half a setting book) with its own geography and strange history, perceived also though the background of the description of monsters.

Here is the blurb I wrote for the back. I couldn't be bothered doing a normal one so did it as a riddle instead:

"I am like no other thing,
A gem not famed for brightness.
Dead, but only listen and I live.
Voiceless, I speak.
Thoughtless, I lie.
Deeper than dark water,
Sharper than a swift sword,
Stranger than a drugged dream,
I serve in ordered ranks that never change.
Till night,
When a gallery of shadows paints your thoughts,
with more colours than a careless artists hand.
Lose me or be lost in me.
I am a place you may not go,
Once there I will not let you leave.
Though made of broken things I am yet whole.
And guard one hundred murders.
Lets kill your friends for fun."

Monday, 2 March 2015

a minor hell

a kind of frantic busy emptiness
like a terrible mediocre calm in the centre of a storm
a planned sargasso
a garden of small pains
and planned shame
regular failures
a glass cage which no-one ever leaves
a caffeine gaol
three-second cells, repeating eternally like the hexagons of a hive
we are very occupied with our seconds
we are  about to do something
we are  running out of time
we are  waiting and impatient, but we wait for a few seconds more, something is about to happen and then we can act
we are  cutting ourselves and the skin is growing back leaving scars that only we can see
we are  pulling out our hair and chewing it and tying it in knots and our hair grows back in strands of gold
everyone has scabs and is picking at the scabs in the handful of seconds that we have till things repeat
there are signs to help us but the signs have strange grammar
we are  very angry and our patience has run out, we are waiting by the door, we are looking at the time
There are many times here and the times flit and circle like mosquitoes getting closer
We know our time is the right time and that time is running out
everyone knows everybodys business, or think they do
there is no news but there are whispers: third party recriminations, denials, impatient claims
the whispering fills the hive like a river of sand running somewhere out of sight
the cells will never open
outside is the circle of the surrounding storm, to walk there is to be scoured away.
A great many people must be suffering as the storm sweeps endlessly on
at its centre there is silence

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Sea of Shadows, Sea of Dreams

A shore in the night. No sun and sun will never rise there. The atmosphere is clear there and the stars are bright and stable. They do not glimmer but they wait.

There is another world in the sky and that world is vast. It is a blue-white world of could and storms and though it is always night here and the sun will never rise, the blue-white gas giant in the sky still shines in its reflected light. It is brighter than moonlight over the land, but not too bright. At all times the sky is black and the stars can be clearly seen. There are black cliffs there, and a beach of cracked black stone.

The sea is dark, but lit by trails and waves of phosperesence when the great leviathan pass.

A forest on the shore where the wind is heard. Quiet. Moving slowly amidst the boughs. A river and a bridge of dark wood over the river. A slender bridge.

White shells moving amidst the trees. Dangerous crabs.

The tower where I live is secure, the sea smashes against it. Solid stone. It is safe in the tower, there are lamps of blue-white flame, like the world in the sky, mirrors hold reflected stars and there are tame lumescent squid.

It is a phantasmal shore.

A warm phosphorescent sea of dreams. Sink holes full of strands of glowing light. Blood-warm water. Or cold and dark.

A labyrinth in the warm unfolding dark. Like veins of time.

The paths of the cephalopods make light under the waves.

White crabs clash mournfully on the silent sand. Huge slow white hermit crabs.

Warm saline water sinks down and forms currents and river under the fresh. The upper water is cold Atlantic-black.

Brave divers risk the freezing water and lee shore to dive through the cold uppers and fish the squid of the warm, light saline deeps. The Day Below, or The Deep Dawn. If they evade the storms and the many dangers, I hear them speaking as they pass back beneath my slender bridge.

So the sea is dark and the storms on that sea are higher than any storm seen on earth. The atmosphere has different layers and the cumulo-nimbus seem not like squat piles, but like slow towers advancing over the dark sea. The storms are towers reaching to the stars. If the storms here and on that blue-white world that takes up half the sky in its rising align, then lightning can reach between the worlds

And under the dark and the cold of the ocean are the strands and mazes of light made by the squid and plankton in the slow warm rivers that run undisturbed under the black storm-wracked sea.

Sometimes there are scrapes and scars where one of the sea-leviathan has dived down into the warm salt water in search of prey and the lights and warm water have scattered. But they heal quickly and return to their proper place.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

For the love of Dwarves.

Dwarves are made to make, not love.

Male Dwarves are bound up in their creations and their works, which expand in their minds like a maze so that they rarely feel desire. They must be seduced. The only way they can be distracted from their deep selves is with art. A truly amazing work of art will enthral and enrapture a male Dwarf and allow them to feel the stirrings of physical love.

Therefore every female Dwarf that wants to get laid is usually off on the road learning to become a supreme artist. The journey of the artist involves essentially understanding everything. You never know what knowledge or experience will inform your art. And so female Dwarves can be found in almost any place, doing or learning almost anything. Always with keen intentness and a with the relentless drive common to the Dwarves, yet also with an uncommon awareness and sensitivity to their environment rarely seen in Dwarven men. And always in the middle of mastering some subtle craft, whether a particular style of painting, poetry, sculpture, music or anything that could be used to produce a work of art. Truly mastering a style or form can take at least fifty years, and they have no idea ahead of time which form will be most suitable to produce their masterwork.

And killing things. Lots and lots of things. Ugly terrible things. Which is 'sculpting the world' literally, by cutting bits of it off, and 'painting the world' - usually red.

The art of the Art-Berserk is the wound they create and the scene of the wound, its a kind of performance art, like theatre, but real, whereas the art of the world-sculptor is the absence of the ugly thing they just destroyed.

So the high point of an Art-Berserk career might be a raid on, for instance, a Drow city where every member of the ruling class is chopped to bits in the space of an evening, the drow blood painting the walls.

Whereas the final work of a great sculptor might be the void left behind in hell when a major deamon lord is removed from existence. With an axe.

Its possible the performance on its own might be enough to do the job. If not, they will have to try to put it into words, or into a tune, or shape it in stone or paint.

Then, maybe, finally, they could possibly get laid.

Dwarven Women generally don't have beards. They do have a lot of facial body modifications.

They make masks, half-masks and eye-guards from varieties of precious metal. They create a wide range of tattoos. They use piercings and subdermal implants of multiple kinds. its common for a female Dwarf to combine these in various very beautiful, very radical ways

Since Dwarves see work and artifice before they apprehend anything else, to alter yourself is to become more like yourself. Your skill is more real than what you look like, so replacing your appearance with the products of your skill is becoming 'more real'. And in a sense, more beautiful, though they are not exactly the same thing.

For a Dwarf having a low level of skill is their equivalent to being ugly. Not exactly your fault and something we should try to look past, but not good. Unfortunate.

There are quite a few Dwarven women who, for various reasons, have no more sexual interest in Male Dwarves than Male Dwarves generally have in them. Which is lucky because it makes life a lot easier. And there are various people of different kinds who, for whatever reason, might be sexually interested in Male Dwarves and for them the path is the same. Produce a great work of art or its not going to happen.

Falling in love with a Male Dwarf is a rough gig.


Some roles you might find a female dwarf in:


Earth-Skald : Learning and relating the songs of the earth. (Not the songs *about* the earth, the songs *of* the earth.) these can be very long indeed and you may have to travel to different points on or under the earths surface to learn them.

Historian : mainly correcting the dwarf-related historical inaccuracies of other races. By killing them if necessary.

Thief-Historian : to get back treasures held in the wrong hands ie most treasures, which have probably belonged to dwarves at some point. Even down to a single coin from a hoard.

Historian Of Crimes : Dwarves basically don't forgive anything ever.

Art-Berserk : These can meditate then create wild, action paintings from blood splatters.

Axe-Samurai : To others, quite similar to the Art-Berserk, but don't call them that, they both consider themselves utterly different forms.

Bookbinder : Dwarves write books 'so as not to shame the binding'. The construction of the book comes first, then the contents must be of a quality high enough to match the object, right down to the strike of the ink, and then the ideas communicated, which come last.

To write a book, first build the shelf. Work the gems, make the paper, bind the book, perfect your calligraphy, then turn your mind to a subject in order to add the proper finish to the thing (learning a subject takes about  100 years and may demand specialist knowledge ie an adventure.)

Miner : to get the right gems. To a dwarf, mining is like and adventure or an exploration, its like being in a forest for us, something new and strange each day. In a sense, all Dwarves are Miners. The same way all humans are hunter-gatherers. We might be doing something else right now but that’s our baseline. Its what we return to when things go wrong, its the skillset that informs us. We are generally hunting for something or gathering something.


Dwarves tend to make their own clothes and their own armour, the only difference with female dwarves is that its hard to tell these two apart.

You can herringbone the patterns on ultrafine mail so that it falls like cloth yet, when struck, the patterns mesh and the force is distributed. You can interlace very fine chains through padded silk, you can hinge and layer plate so precisely that it looks like water falling, you can carve and emboss bronze so that, from a distance, it really does look like cloth, you can make the solid seem light, the fluid seem hard, soft things sharp and the sharp things hard to see. Put some fucking feathers on it, why not? In fact, why not titanium feathers so perfect they look like the real thing? why not a dress of them?

Armour and fashion are both considered a kind of liquid sculpture amongst Dwarves, essentially about form, and there is no reason for them not to get calmly and relentlessly good at them the same way they do with everything else. If you are running around beaning things with an Axe for complex sexual reasons then there is no reason not to look good doing it.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Fire On The Velvet Horizon Trailer

(If you are familiar with our sound, you know you might want to keep the volume down.)

(I added a stinger)

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Interview with Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou

Firstly, this isn't by me, its from a youtube channel called DP/30; The Oral History Of Hollywood.

I would never usually just re-blog someone else's interview but this one is so interesting and so relevant to anyone interested in colour and form and all the unusual ways they can be expressed in genre movies and it comes from such an unexpected and charming source.

And one that relates everything in a laahndon accent.

Its also a pleasure to listen to someone who takes the world and reality of such an ephemeral and pop-culture form so seriously and uses it to inform their art. There is really surprisingly involved discussion of the nature of alien environments and how that would effect the way their skins and bodies develop.

"They are sort of cheeky chappies aren't they?"

"Dave Bautista started off as a 5 hour makeup, because he had all that keloid scarring. I don't know if you know but that scarring actually tells the story of his life? How he lost his daughter and all the battles he's been through."

I didn't actually.

Only about 608 people have watched this so far and it deserves a lot more views