Saturday, 16 March 2019

A Review of The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison



Where to even start?

I found this to be an exceptional book. A work of the imagination alone, self-sustaining and self-excusing, an Ouroboros indeed, feeding mainly on itself it need ask no permission and make no explanations.

You would need a few degrees in English to do forensics on the language I think.

I read this aloud over a few weeks, encountering each new element as I gave it voice and I would recommend that as an excellent method of encountering the book. Before and above anything it is a word of sounded prose (either sounded aloud or sounded inwardly) and if you don't like that part of it then I can see little reason for you to deal with it at all.

The story is introduced through a dream-visitor from our world who possesses a chamber which allows him to experience a saga in a single night. The dream and a magical bird summon our man to the planet Mercury and introduce him to the Lords of Demonland and their intrigues.

All of this is forgotten within a few chapters, the dreamer disappears, it doesn't really matter that its Mercury, being entirely unlike any version of that planet from either fiction or any record of reality.

We are left with a pocket-world full of feudally top-heavy pseudo-cultures. As in chivalric tales, the economy and peasants are simply a background and substructure created in order to allow the existence of Magnificent Heroic Nobles who roam about the place doing incredible things.





PARACOSM


"In his autobiography Eddison’s childhood friend, Arthur Ransome, reflected on their early games, which included characters from The Worm Ouroboros, ‘The language, the place-names and the names of the heroes were for me an echo of those ancient days when Ric and I produced plays in a toy theatre with cardboard actors carrying just such names and eloquent with just such rhetoric. Gorice, Lord Goldry Bluszco, Corinius, Brandoch Daha seemed old friends when I met them nearly forty years later’."

This seems to have been based on a paracosm created by Eddison in childhood, and simply built up upon for years and years afterwards.

It has some of the same strange structure of other Paracosm fiction, especially of those developed since childhood, like Year of Our War by Steph Swainston and Gondal by the Brontes.

There is a deep sense of the accretion of detail, with one conception being layered on another, without disavowing it, but only embellishing and complexifying. It feels like layers of flesh with a hot heart beating underneath. Much of the construction is adult but the core motivations and primal concepts are things that would make sense to a child. They are like an engine, still working at the centre of the story.

The strangeness and the layering of different qualities of idea, some from the child self, some added by the adult self, is part of this. The ideas of a child can be good or bad but when they are good they are usually original, strong and indifferent to integration in a wider more comprehensive world. They make less 'sense' but have more power.

The ridiculous, intense boyishness of the world exemplifies this. It is a place for heroic men to roam around having amazing fights. Many of the deepest emotions are around heroism, honour, bravery, respect and hatred for equally honourable, or dastardly enemies, love of movement and having amazing stuff. The home, in this, is a place to fill with amazing stuff, defend from or rescue from invaders, or to invade yourself, like boys from one side of the classroom charging across it to collapse a fort. The rest of the time it is barely lived in, though it has most of the signs of life, it is a place to leave and to return to.

As in Star Wars and Lord of the Rings (and I don't know how many other fictions) friends are people you rescue after they get captured, usually traveling across half of reality to do it, and who you *do things with*.

The feeling and concept of space is vast, and the areas described regularly referred to as 'the whole world' or 'the entire world', but if you look at it, its demographically small - about the size of Ancient Greece or the North Sea. I have found that most adventure worlds tend to even out at about this size, for no doubt complex and subtle reasons. They are a neat scope for things to happen in, for some things to be distant, others close and small enough for everything to affect everything else, while also having enough range for wilderness and places to hide.





LANGUAGE

It’s been described as pseudo-Jacobean, but I'm not sure if any Jacobean or Elizabethan ever spoke, thought or wrote like this. It seems to me the language of play itself in its purest form. Eddison has reached out to grasp the whole history of a language, run his fingers though it and grabbed gold and gems and jammed them together in ways pleasing to him.

Here is a piece of the internal monologue of one of the best characters, Lord Gro, towards the end of the book;

.........................

"Gro said in himself, "How shall not common opinion account me mad, so rash and presumptuous dangerously to put my life in hazard? Nay, against all sound judgement; and this folly I enact in that very season when by patience and courage and my politic wisdom I had won that in despite of fortune's teeth which obstinately hither to she had denied me: when after the brunts of divers tragical fortunes I had marvellously gained the favour and grace of the King, who very honourably placed me in his court and tendereth me, I will think, so dearly as he doth the balls of his two eyes.

He put off his helm, baring his white forehead and smooth black curling locks to the airs of morning, flinging back his head to drink deep through his nostrils the sweet strong air and its peaty smell. "Yet is common opinion the fool, not I," he said. "He that imagineth after his labours to attain unto lasting joy, as well may he beat water in a mortar. Is there not in the wild benefit of nature instances enow to laugh this folly out of fashion? A fable of great men that arise and conquer the nations: Day goeth up against the tyrant night. How delicate a spirit is she, how like a fawn she footeth it upon the mountains: pale pitiful light matched with the primeval dark. But every sweet hovers in her battalions, and every heavenly influence: coolth of the wayward little winds of morning, flowers awakening, birds a-carol, dews a-sparkle on the fine-drawn webs the tiny spinners hand from fern-frond to thorn, from thorn to wet dainty leaf of the silver birch; the young day laughing in her strength, wild with her own beauty; fire and life and every scent and colour born anew to triumph over chaos and slow darkness and the kinless night.

"But because day at her dawning hours hath so bewitched me, must I yet lover her when glutted with triumph she settles into garish noon? Rather turn as now I turn to Demonland, in the sad sunset of her pride. And who dares call me turncoat, who does but follow now as I have followed this rare wisdom all my days: to love the sunrise and the sundown and the morning and the evening star? since there only abideth the soul of nobility, true love, and wonder, and the easy glory of hope and fear."

................................

The recursive line - "and this folly I enact in that very season when by patience and courage and my politic wisdom I had won that in despite of fortune's teeth which obstinately hither to she had denied me"


The very high tone - "when after the brunts of divers tragical fortunes I had marvellously gained the favour and grace of the King"


Solidity, and specificity of sensual detail - "so dearly as he doth the balls of his two eyes."


It is high, it is labrynthine, it is solid and sensuous. Almost no-one in the book says anything stupid. They are wrong, often insanely utterly wrong, but they are wrong in the most interesting and exciting way available to them. Everyone says and thinks the best possible thing at the best possible time.

There are people who did speak like this; they are the heroes of memory and recollection, not of fact, they are memories of great events, polished by bards like water over stones, until they say only the most concrete but beautiful thing they could possibly say. They are the people of the minds eye and their speech is the poetry of performed recollection, here not recalling but bringing to life. (And we see again that the mind of memory and transmission and that of creation and invention are like proteins folded across different axis or ghost images in the same optical illusion).

The language and forms would fit Zelazny's Amber perfectly. Like that, this is a court drama expanded into an epic.

It also reminds me of nothing so much as the better speech of the better 'Historical' films of the 1950's, which, I assume, mimic the speech of the theatre of the early 20th and late 19th Century. Not necessarily the high poetry or the well-known plays, but the 'upper middle' of theatre, what Charlie Brooker would call the Gourmet Burger theatre. It’s an archaic (to us, about 70 years old) impression or creation of what that generation would have considered deeply historical speech.

It's even a little like 'Merry Marvel' olde-timey language, if it was very good.





CHARACTERS

Characters in The Worm are simple one or two point individuals. They have direct, overwhelming emotions and desires which tend to proceed one at a time. A lot like small boys, action heroes and Greek heroes.

They sometimes have one or two other emotions that conflict with or contextualise their main emotion or desire at moments of high drama.

The energy, innovation, intensity, cleverness and particularity of the characters in speech, action and form comes from this deep layering and enormous concentration of imagination and thought onto how they express themselves in the world. They are like little diamonds glimmering under the enormous pressure of Eddisons concentrated mind, spilling out spectra of wild colour, simple in arrangement but vomiting rainbows.

Greek heroes really, in the bodies and amazing costumes of Renaissance courtiers. Their opposites are villains of magnificent badness, awesome power, marvellous flaws and hissable nastiness. Nobody dies in a pale way. Glory and magnificence, especially at the end are what is called for; suicide after the murder of friends due to enchantment, torn to pieces by an uncontrolled hippogriff, suicide by poison at the death of husband and hope, pierced through the guts while smashing your greatest enemy to the ground, in the middle of an exploding tower of magic, gutted after one too many betrayals. Heroes and villains both hate and mourn each other.

These traits could only really sustain us so far, which is why the comparative shortness of the book, compared to other epics like LotR, is so vital and important. The 'heroic' Greek morality and relative simplicity of inner character would become deeply wearisome if continued too long. Tolkien was probably an inferior prosidist, and he could not glitter and shine like Eddison, but he could make people you could spend time with, Eddisons characters are magnificent in scenes but they would poison a continuing world I think.


In a Manichean world (which this is not quite, but it is a world heroes and villains which is close) there is always one 'grey' character who absorb all the misty paling of humanity squeezed out of the other characters and concentrates it. A Snape essentially.

In this world that part is taken by Lord Gro. The academic, introspective, cunning, occasionally brave, lucid, perceptive terminal and continual traitor. Before the book begins he betrays his original lord for Witchland, then finally betrays Witchland for the Demons, and that is not the end of his twisting and turning.

None of his betrayals are for personal advantage, he is moved by some complex inner drive. As he says, he worships the morning and evening, but hates power in its ascendancy, and so shifts like a shadow. He holds to this deeply odd inner nature with perfect sincerity.

He seems to hate being alive. At one point, when accused of dishonesty, he asks his friend to kill him rather than doubt him, and seems utterly sincere. Gambit or truth? Probably both

The other most-interesting character, Brandoch Daha, of a below-given splendiferous description, doesn't hate life, and seems to enjoy it, but he does seem to share somewhat in Gro's alienation from the world. His almost ridiculous lightness, courage, competence and extremely airy and sardonic attitude is fascinating, frustrating and captivating. He is reminded multiple times by his closest friends that his ridiculous attitude is a massive liability, yet they would never be without him. Both the best and worst friend you could have.

He exemplifies the charisma, violence, courage, invention, bravery and nobility of the Demons, and he seems more perceptive than some of them. His lightness may come from his recognition of the closed role of the Demons; they are pure heroes and while that is a magnificent thing to be it is, in its way, a limited thing to be.





LISTS

Clothes, food, entertainment, architecture, magical accoutrements, aspects of the environment and especially feudal levies are listed in incantory rubrics, which are much better read aloud, but even then get a little bit much after a while.

As in Spencer and I think in Shakespeare, processions give geography as both a scene and a list. Every feudally loyal group comes from a particular place on the map, when summoned they gather and file past in a line, and are counted and named, so the strength of a kingdom on the land becomes a line of men, becomes a list of names and places and becomes a poem of the power of a kingdom all in one. Here is the 'bad guy' list from the King of Witchland sending his guys out to conquer Demonland;

"And on the fifteenth day of July was the fleet busked and boun in Tenemos Roads, and that great army of five thousand men-at-arms, with horses and all instruments of war, marched from their camp without Carce down to the sea.

First of them went Laxus with his guard of mariners, he wearing the crown of Pixyland and they loudly acclaiming him as king and Gorice of Witchland as his overlord. A gallant man he seemed, ready-looking and hard, well-armed, with open countenance and bright seaman's eyes, and brown, crisp, curly beard and hair. Next came the main foot army heavil armed with axe and spear and the short Witchland hanger, yeoman and farmers from the low lands about Carce or from the southern vineyards or the hill country against Pixyland: burly swashing fellows, rough as bears, hardy as wild oxen, agile as an ape; four thousand fighting men chose out by Corsus up and down the land as best for this great conquest. The sons of Corsus, Dekalajus and Gorius, rode abreast before them with twenty pipers piping a battle song. Surely the tramp of that great army on the paven way was like the tramp of Fate moving from the east. Gorice the King, sitting in state on the battlements above the water-gate, sniffed with his nostrils as a lion at the scent of blood. It was early morn, and the wind hung southerly, and the great banners, blue and green and purple and gold, each with an iron crab displayed above it, flaunted in the sun.

Now came four or five companies of horse, four hundred or more in all, with brazen armour and bucklers and glancing spears; and last of all, Corsus himself with his picked legion of five hundred veterans to bring up the rear, fierce soldiers of the coast-lands that followed him of old to the eastern main and Goblinland, and had stood beside him in the great days when he smote the Ghouls in Witchland. On Corsus's left and right, a little behind him, rode Gro and Gallandus. Ruddy of countenance was Gallandus, gay of carriage and likely-looking, long of limb, with long brown m moustachios and large kind eyes like a dog."

Eddisons glorious and sensual descriptions of clothes, rooms, castles and nature perhaps are not quite lists, but they are rhythmic, processional windings of near-verse back and forth the physicality of the described world.

This is the initial description of Brandoch Daha, the 'lancer' of Lord Juss and after Gro, perhaps the most interesting character in the book;

"His gait was delicate, as of some lithe beast of prey newly awakened out of slumber, and he greeted with lazy grace the many friends who hailed his entrance. Very tall was that lord, and slender of build, like a girl. His tunic was of silk coloured like the wild rose, and embroidered in gold with representations of flowers and thunderbolts. Jewels glittered on his left hand and on the golden bracelets of his arms, and on the fillet twined among the golden curls of his hair, set with plumes of the king-bird of Paradise. His horns were dyed with saffron, and inlaid with filigree work of gold, His buskins were laced with gold, and from his belt hung a sword, narrow of blade and keen, the hilt rough with beryls and black diamonds. Strangely light and delicate was his frame and seeming, yet with a sense of slumbering power beneath, as the delicate peak of a snow mountain seen afar in the low red rays of morning. His face was beautiful to look on and softly coloured like a girls face, and his expression one of gentle melancholy, mixed with some distain; but fiery glints awoke at intervals in his eyes, and the lines of swift determination hovered round the mouth below his curled moustachios."

It's one thing to simply say your characters are the greatest, it’s quite another to paint them in words like Rembrant or Holbein, and yet another to have them speak like, if not Shakespere, then at least Marlowe. Layering in language, embossing in action, gilding with sensible beauty and hanging lists of magnificence like necklaces of amber or diamonds around their necks.




THE PROSCENIUM ARCH

Eddison is not just a lister of things or a poet, or a thief of poets, his is a dramatist too, and a good one. His powerful emblematic, textured but largely monodirectional characters would be of little worth if they were not thrown together on the stage to clutch at, and rebound from, each other.

And these are *scenes* too, not mere situations, each is like a short story with a powerful single narrative through-line, a strong geographical or architectural situation and a handful of driving, distinct heraldic characters sparring with each other in Eddisons luxurious language.

An example follows, Corinius, the extremely unpleasant and rapey Lord of Witchland has invaded Demonland while its rulers are away, defeated every army brought against him and now besieges Lady Mevrian, the sister of a ruler of Demonland, in her castle.

He really wants Mevrian, and forces, or threaten/persuades his ally, the extremely civil and largely gentle Lord Gro to take a message to her, if she comes out and marries him, he will let her people go, if not, he will break his way in, kill them, and rape her.

- Gro to Mevrian

..............

""Madam," said Lord Gro, "I would not have brought your highness this message nor delivered it, but that I know full well that did I refuse it another should bear it thee full speedily, and with less compliment, and less sorrow than I."

She nodded gravely, as who should say, Proceed. So, with what countenance he might, he rehearsed his message, saying when it was ended, "Thus, madam, saith Corinius the king: and thus he charged me deliver it unto your highness."

Mevrian heard him attentively with head erect. When he had done she was silent a little, still studying him. Then she spake: "Methinks I know thee now. Thou are Lord Gro of Goblinland that bearest me this message."

Gro answered, "Madam, he thou namest went years ago from this earth. I am Lord Gro of Witchland."

"So it seemeth, from thy talk," said she; and was silent again.

The steady contemplation from that lady's eyes was like a knife scraping his tender skin, so that he was ill at ease well nigh past bearing.

After a little she said, "I remember thee, my lord. Let me stir thy memory. Eleven years ago, my brother went to war in Goblinland against the Witches, and overcame them on Lormeron field. There slew he the great King of Witchland in single combat, Gorice X., that until that day was held the mightiest man-at-arms in all the world. My brother was as then but eighteen winters old, and that was the first blazing up of his great fame and glory. So King Gaslark made great feasting and great rejoicing in Zaje Zaculo because of the ridding of his land of the oppressors. I was at those revels. I saw thee there, my lord; and being but a little maid of eleven summers, sat on thy knee in Gaslark's halls. Thou dids't show me books, with pictures in strange colours of gold and green and scarlet, of birds and beasts and distant countries and wonders of the world. And I, being a little harmless maid, thought thee good and kind of heart, and loved thee."

She ceased, and Gro, like a man hath taken some drowsy drug, stood looking on her confounded.

"Tell me," said she, "of this Corinius. Is he such a fighter as men say?"

"He is," said Gro, "one of the most famousest captains that ever was. That might not his worst enemies gainsay."

Mevrian said, "A likely consort, think'st thou, for a lady of Demonland? Remember, I have said nay to crowned kings. I would know thy mind for doubtless he is thy very familiar friend, since he made thee his go-between."

Gro saw that she mocked, and he was troubled at heart. "Madam," said he, and his voice shook somewhat, "take not in too great scorn this vile part in me, Verily this I brought thee is the most shamefullest message, and flatly against my will did I deliver it unto thee. Yet with such constraint upon me, how could I choose but strike my forehead into dauntless marble and word by word deliver my charge?"

"Thy tongue," said Mevrian, "hath struck hot irons in my face. Go back to thy master, If he look for an answer, tell him he may read it in letters of gold above the gates."

..............

Not something Tolkien would write, partly because his was a world almost without women and without sex, but it would be rare to see, in any of his interactions, such a complex fluxion and layering if different kinds of power and weakness, and such subtly flawed people.

And it does all feel like theatre. Or like 1950's cinema, when new colour cameras were too big and heavy to move easily so scenes became dense with arrangement and people entered and exited as if in theatre.

The Witchlanders capture their enemies and have them at their mercy, but during a surprise visit by an allied lord, all they need do is *not mention the capture* and keep it secret, to keep it safe. But the slow accretion of alcohol, ego, family dysfunction, supressed rage and arrogance slowly and inevitably unpicks their plans over a single night.

In the palace of the Red Foilot, near the beginning of the book, a great list/scene of magnificent entertainments takes place, during which, two Doormice do an incredible dance to wild applause.

Are mice people in this world? Are they mice dressed up as people? Is this magic or are things like this normal? No-one remarks either way and they are never mentioned again, like a dream.

There are 'scenes', in which people enter and leave a single 'stage'. There are magnificent nature walks in which people encounter nature, and battles, and that is mostly it. It's relatively rare for people to move about in the middle distance, inside a building for instance.

Nevertheless, Eddison builds natural worlds as well, in huge and splendiferous detail, especially related to place names. He has not created a pseudo-linguistics in a Tolkien fashion, but simply assembled and accreted, pulling from here and there, inventing and embroidering.

(This must have been *agonizing* for Tolkien to read. They are in each others cognitive penumbra - a painful space to encounter anyone. To see words and language heaped up like sea-wrack or nazi gold, pawed through and assembled in play, for momentary pleasure or joy of invention - with so little regard for *structure*.)

Demonland is, I think, mainly the Lake District, where you find Owlswick, Lookinghaven, Rammerick Strands, Westmark, Elmerstead and so on.

The mountains are largely the Himalayas I think, where you find Akra Garsh, Koshtra Pivrarcha, Koshtra Belorn and Zora Rach Nam Psarrion.

Witchland I am not sure, I think southern England, maybe the fens?

There are far too many to speak of.

In the centre of the book is a single chapter based entirely on the ascent of the highest mountain on 'Mercury', Koshtra Pivrarcha, the peak which must be climbed first before the semidivine shangri-la like mountain of Kosthra Belorn can be attempted (only those who have looked down on Koshtra Belorn from above may enter, all else will be destroyed).

This is one of the best single pieces of mountain-climbing fiction I have read (though I have not read many), you could pull it out of the book entire as a piece of remarkable nature writing, except that the nature it describes, though it seems entirely real, is the slightest breath of the imagination.

Eddison has a thing for battles, but we see relatively few of these first-hand, more common is the scene-of-the-battle-report, in which a character who was present meets others and describes the events from their own point of view and with their own words and prejudices. This lets him play mild Rashamon games when two messengers come and describe the same battle to the King of Witchland in different terms, and it translates the sometimes-numbing description of feudal hack-fests with events and interpretations at the human scale, making venetian blinds of strategy and conversation as we switch back and forth between the scene in which the events are described and in the described events themselves. (And becomes faintly ridiculous when, for instance, a soldier returning from a battle pivotal to the fate of his nation and family, arrives from said battle, and insists on telling the whole story in-order, over quite a while before getting to the end and revealing if the house in question is safe or not, which if it took place amongst real people, they would slap the shit out of him.)








THE NIGHT

Poets always love the wind, but Eddison loves NIGHT. And the sky generally, and air and space and changing light. Again and again and again characters stare into the dark, look at the darkening sky, wrap themselves in evening.

Its pretty rare that someone does *not* soliloquise against a darkening sky. He is a poet of the night as he is of nothing else.

……………………

Prezmyria waits – “

Gro walked with the Lady Prezmyra on the western terrace in Carce. It wanted yet two hours of midnight. The air was warm, the sky a bower of moonbeam and starbeam. Now and then a faint breeze stirred as if night turned in her sleep. The walls of the palace and the Iron Tower cut off the terrace from the direct moonlight, and flamboys spreading their wobbling light made alternating regions of brightness and gloom. Galloping strains of music and the noise of revelry came from within the palace.”

……………………

Juss and Brandoch Daha on their great climb –

“Since before noon avalanches has thundered ceaselessly down those cliffs. Now, in the cool of the evening, all was without a cloud. The fires of sunset crept down the vast white precipices before them till every ledge and fold and frozen pinnacle glowed pink colour, and every shadow became an emerald. The shadow of Koshtra Pivarcha lay cold across the lower stretched of the face on the Zimiamvian side. The edge of that shadow was as the division betwixt the living and the dead.”


The Demons witness the sad doom of an enchanted warrior –

“And he said, “Depart from me, since now approacheth that which must complete this day’s undoing.”

So they fared back to the spy-fortalice, and night came down on the hills. A great wind moaning out of the hueless west tore the clouds as a ragged garment, revealing the lonely moon that fled naked betwixt them. As the Demons looked backward in the moonlight to where Zeldornius stood gazing on the dead, a noise as of thunder made the firm land tremble and drowned the howling of the wind. And they beheld how the earth gapes for Zeldornius.

After that, the dark shut down athwart the moon, and night and silence hung on the field of Salapanta.”

………………….

Queen Sophonosbia prays to the Gods –

“In a while she raised her eyes to heaven; and behold, between the two main peaks of the Scarf, a meteor crept slowly out of the darkness and across the night-sky, leaving a trail of silver fire, and silently departed into darkness. They watched, and another came, and yet another, until the western sky above the mountain was ablaze with them. From two points of heaven they came, one betwixt the foreclaws of the Lion and one in the dark sign of Cancer. And they that came from the Lion were sparkling like the white fires of Rigel of Altair, and they that came from the Crab were haughty red, like the lustre of Antares. The lords of Demonland, leaning on their swords, watched these portents for a long while in silence. Then the travelling meteors ceased, and the steadfast stars shone lonely and serene. A soft breeze stirred among the alders and willows by the lake. The lapping waters lapping in the shingly shore made a quiet tune. A nightingale in a coppice on a little hill sang so passionate sweet it seemed some spirits singing. As in a trance they stood and listened, until that singing ended, and a hush fell on water, wood and lawn. Then all the east blazed up for an instant with sheet lightnings, and thunder growled from the east beyond the sea.”


Joust of the Snails


By Simone Tammeta.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

The Ballad of Sir Chesslike Hand (Verses 1 - 11)

It's March and I'm still doing the December requests. NoRulesDM asked for 'Snail Knight Ballads'.

Well I couldn't do a full ballad quickly but I could do a few verses, so here are the first eleven of "The Ballad of Sir Chesslike Hand". If you want more, comment and I will try to keep adding to it.

1
Curl your ears for heres a tale
Fro-om the Curlicue Land,
Tells of a true Knight of the Snail,
That man, Sir Chesslike Hand!

2
Oh low did the Whippoorwill sing,
When came the heralds hail,
Hand heard the summons of the King,
And straight saddled his snail.

3
That snails shell was of purest gold,
It glowed like sun of noon,
It's beauty matched no form or mould,
In song or rhyme or tune.

4
Sir Hand set off into the dark,
And silver glowed his trail,
In sword and shield the stars cut sparks,
And on his golden snail.

5
His arms with star-fire were alight.
They came from a distant land.
Bronze-beaten days and lucent night,
Whence came Sir Chesslike Hand.

6
That knight a precept kept heart-near,
One clear thought had that knight
His hand would venture any deed,
But that the thing be Right.

7
"Oh let no ill, however slight,"
He spoke within his soul,
"Slip past my grasp, evade my sight,
For I'll not then be whole."

8
"To wreak out wrath is not my fate,
Nor seek the blades edge-light.
To bind what's cracked and seal the break,
Undo wrong and make right,"

9
"To make hearts whole and full of peace,
My hope is, and my bond,
Else break faith with mine own self, lose
My name - Sir Chesslike Hand!"

10
Sir Hand sang out his own name clear,
He pealed like a bronze bell,
A peal to blast from night the fear,
And quail the hounds of Hell.

11
"Sir Hand, Sir Hand, Sir Chesslike Hand!"
So crooned the conchiler.
"I'll sing my name in any land,
For any man to hear!"

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Who Makes Maps?

Back in 2017 I made a big post of artists in the OSR, I'd like to try to do the same thing for maps.

Unfortunately, G+ is gone, and while I knew a few artists to begin with, I barely know any map makers.

So I will be relying on you, the readers of this blog to help me out.

So, if you are a map maker, or know of one that you would want included in this, then drop a comment below and I will update the post with each new map-maker.


In the comment I need;

- A Name (or whatever online handle they use).

- Any websites where they show examples of their work. (The link itself, not the name.)

- An example I can put up on the blog. This can be a map or a fragment of the map. (Because of the way blogs are formatted, rectangular images the shapes of books show up better and can be shown at a bigger size.) NOT INSTAGRAM I CAN'T DOWNLOAD FROM THERE.

I can go through their stuff and grab an image but its a LOT easier in a lot of ways if there is a handy image somewhere I can just use directly without the dicking about with formats, downloading, deciding which is the most representative, deciding whether to cut it down to shape or not etc etc.

- Contact details (IF they want them on this post).

- A brief, VERY brief description of who they are, what they do and why people might be interested in them.

- I would prefer it if the people shown were vaguely somewhat close to the OSR in a general sense, or at least, not this random person who's maps you happened to see at some point online.

- And if they've worked on stuff that's available then links to that would be great.

.................................


I will check the comments on Reddit and Facebook when I can, and update when I can, but comments here are much more likely to be seen, will be seen more quickly and are less likely to get lost or forgotten.


......................................

Abigail (Alien Sunset)

Hi!
I'm Abigail, aka @Alien_Sunset on Twitter (and pretty near everywhere else)

I make dungeon maps and pen & ink illustrations.
You can find my maps at https://www.patreon.com/alien_sunset
people can feel free to contact me through Patreon or twitter

a map example can be found here: https://www.instagram.com/p/Btvs20zFwaH

I started playing RPGs with 2e back in '99 and have been drawing for as long as I can remember. I recently became fascinated my the old school/OSR movement and really enjoy making maps and imagining what may be lurking in them. I currently run a LotFP west marches/mega dungeon/open table game on Discord. And am working along side a ton of other super talented OSR folx on a Zini for the Beneath the Canals Kickstarter that just finished (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/michaeltlombardi/beneath-the-canals)


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Afrenasia


Hey Patrick,

My name is Grant, most of my stuff is on my instagram. I'm a graphic designer/DJ who's loved rpgs since he was a kid.

http://www.instagram.com/afrenasia



this is a hand drawn map in biro - https://www.instagram.com/p/BtuEqQYgC15/

Map created in hexographer then modified in photoshop for my current campaign - https://www.instagram.com/p/BnSHGd9AxiY/

Continent scale map of my current campaign world, made in illustrator and photoshop - https://www.instagram.com/p/BpNhAcHAd9y/

Detail of campaign world - https://www.instagram.com/p/BeMiVv3Ff9p/

Example of biro pen drawing - https://www.instagram.com/p/Bpi48jaAMwD/

Example 2 - https://www.instagram.com/p/BrWJG9FgTIr/

Plus I have a heap of maps aping the style of first edition AD&D modules...


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Caeora

-My website is blueswordgames.com

-I have a map gallery here where you can see everything I make: https://www.blueswordgames.com/map-gallery

-You can contact me on my twitter @caeora or on discord and my username is Caeora.




"-I have a background in game design but I've been working full time as a mapmaker for over a year now, I also make a bunch of useful things for all kinds of tabletop roleplaying games from tokens to assets and I even have a few articles on mapmaking on my website as well.

-My maps are being used for a few things but most recently the kickstarter Humblewood that you can see here!

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Pat Eyler

Twitter @mountain_foot
Patreon https://www.patreon.com/mountainfoot
Blog https://footofthemountainadventures.blogspot.com


"The best way to contact me is through my twitter, above.

I started playing OD&D/AD&D in 1978 and DMing shortly thereafter. I stopped playing when my kids were born, and came back to the hobby about a year ago. I rediscovered my love of RPG maps, and love to share them. Most of my maps are available for personal or commercial reuse, with attribution.

I'm the official mapper for Best Left Buried, an OSR adjacent horror-fantasy RPG, and have done maps for a number of projects that are nearing publication."

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Jez Gordon

Contact: gibletblizzard at gee male dot calm
Twitter: @GibletBlizzard


Example: Keep on the Borderlands Greyhawk Map
This has been the base of operations for my Greyhawk D&D campaign for the last three years. The Gang's been all over this place


"Sydney, Australia based creative working on a variety of award-winning RPG products over the last ten years as a graphic designer, illustrator and cartographer."

Published Works:







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Kelvin Green

Twitter @thekelvingreen


"I've been working in OSR and OSR-adjacent stuff for a number of years, drawing for the most part, but also a bit of writing. I did my own maps for my adventure Forgive Us and people took notice of the way I did them; since then I've done maps for DIY RPG Productions, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and Necrotic Gnome."





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j3w3l

I go by eri, or j3w3l

@ausj3w3l on twitter 

Website with a map gallery - https://corruptedquill.com/maps/




I've been making maps for a couple years now, mostly focusing on battle maps but also occaisionally doing city, dungeon, and world maps.

Typically draw all my maps on pen and paper first, and then colouring on the computer. 


You can also get my work over on patreon - https://www.patreon.com/Erimakesmaps

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Cze Lee

Name: Czepeku

Hey Patrick, I'm Cze. I make maps with my partner Peku. We like making painterly battlemaps but also large scale campaign maps. Soon we'll be releasing some old school dungeon-types and town/city maps too. We're also world building campaign settings for OSR games, which I cover on the blog linked below. 

(both links include map examples)

Contact: czepeku@gmail.com




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Billy Longino

I can be reached on Twitter (https://twitter.com/longino_billy) or by email: longino.billy@gmail.com


Also, a lot of my work can be found on my blog MegaDungeon (https://megadungeoncomic.wordpress.com/)



Though I'm mostly writing now, I've drawn maps for a few people, including all of the adventure site maps for The Dark of Hot Springs Island. And I still draw maps for commission and occasionally post them on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/longino.billy/) and on my blog (https://megadungeoncomic.wordpress.com/).

Here's a sample of my dungeon cartography: https://imgur.com/a/MSXMbkD 


And a sample of my overland cartography: https://imgur.com/a/GQ4CTep

and another style of overland: https://imgur.com/kGKwLqX


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Natalie of NB Maps

I have a wordpress at https://nbmaps.wordpress.com/ which is just a gallery for the stuff I've made.

You can contact me through the wordpress, or email me at komsussertodd@gmail.com.



Hey, I'm Natalie and I’ve been making map-style stuff since I was really young just messing around in paint using the fill tool on the countries on the wikipedia world map template. From there, I got into map-making properly through maps for ‘Civcraft’-genre Minecraft servers in about ~2014, and from there have done things for personal worldbuilding projects, tabletop campaigns and collaborative settings.  

A specific map example would be my Nationstates project which is one of the things I'm most proud of, here; https://i.imgur.com/HFjhnKo.png, but there's a lot of stuff with a decent variance of styles on the wordpress. 

As you can see I generally do large-scale political/regional maps, sometimes with features like topography, rather than dungeon-scale things.


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Jonathan Newell

Twitter: @Edweirdian


Description: I make maximalist pen & ink maps, mostly for weird cities. I run a campaign in my Hex campaign setting, a sprawling, whimsical metropolis. I run OSR games and 5E with OSR sensibilities.


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Pete (of Garblag Games)



"I've been roleplaying for 30 years and most of that has been DM/GMing. I've run a club in my home town for 15/16 years and 2 years ago decided to create an actual play youtube channel. I have create maps, turn them into adventures and then try to play them on the channel.

I am now on cartographic duties for Grim & Perilous Studios who produce ZweihanderRPG and Powered by Zweihander games which can be found at https://grimandperilous.com . My maps feature in the Main Gauche expansion and I'll be working on future projects for them, such as Colonial Gothic and Tetsubo.

I have just started producing a series of open source fantasy adventure locations which are aimed more at darker fantasy and OSR games. I give these to patrons and they are also available here."

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Justin Pitt


I good example to use would be https://www.instagram.com/p/ButrOPsASAi/



Best way to reach me is email, justin [at] thepitt [dot] ca

Only recently started drawing maps but I've been a player and a GM for several years and have gotten heavily invested in the OSR over the last year.

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Michael Prescott



"Toronto writer/illustrator publishes free 2pg adventures, with CC-BY-NC isometric/perspective dungeon maps."

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Skullfungus

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/skullfungus/
Twitter https://twitter.com/skullfungus


Hello! My name is Karl, but I go by skullfungus mostly.

The easiest way to reach me is to just dm/tweet me.

I think this map is pretty representative of my overland style.

I've worked on a bunch of different projects, some personal and some for other people. Here are a few projects that I am especially proud to have been a part of:

A twitter hexmap. What Ho, Frog DemonsOperation UnfathomableThe Black Hack, 2nd Edition.
Jungle Tomb of the Mummy Bride.

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Jason Thompson

www.mockman.com
Instagram https://www.instagram.com/mockmanpress/

"- a third-party list of my RPG maps with links to art is here.

"- my best contact email is myfirstname @ mockman dot com"



"Some quick info: I'm an illustrator, storyboarder, and game designer (Mangaka, Cartooner and the upcoming Dreamland) with a background in comics. I've been playing TRPGs since I was 8 years old and I've gradually had the good fortune to get to work more in this space."

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Niklas Winstedt

My Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/paths.peculiar/
My website: https://www.wistedt.net/


Hi, I'm Niklas and I draw fantasy and sci-fi maps mainly meant for old school games. I go by the handle Paths Peculiar. I enjoy doing different styles of maps, top-down, isometric, vertical and overland hex-maps.


Typical dungeon map (sci-fi): 

Typical isometric map (fantasy): 

Typical overland map (fantasy): 

And finally a typical vertical map (sci-fi): 

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

The Wodlands 12 - The Imaginary City

Hey, this is finally done.





1. The Plains of Anaesthetic Fire.
2. The Antigoblin Empire.
3. The Whetstone Ridge.
4. The Painted Plain.
5. The Vermillion Sea.
6. The Large Goblin Collidor.
7. The Wodlands.
8. The Necropolis of Glass.
9. The Incoherent Isles.
10. The Maw.

11. The Umber Woods.





NARCISSOLIS

South of the Wodlands, between the Umber Woods and the Incoherent Isles is the Imaginary City, Narcissolis, the city with the wall of glass.

Narcissolis is literally an illusion, grown from an uncontrolled spell or a reality breakdown, it was once simply a town, and before that perhaps a village, and before that it may have been one single building.

Narcissolis spreads, and survives, based on the belief placed in its existence. It spreads its own fame as a form of self-defence. Its glass wall is unbreakable, so long as the majority of its inhabitants believe it is. When conquered, its conquerors desire Narcissolis so much that they renew it in its own destruction. It can be destroyed, only if forgotten. To attack, or alter it, is as much a grand performance as it is anything else.

Pressed against the glass wall (the city needs to be seen), are the Derivative Slums, then the finer streets, then some of the finest examples of architecture in all the styles which reality can hold; the Goblin-Gothic, Alien-Modernist, Hive Style, Neo-Victorian, Generican, Pseudo-Ottoman, Sinochure, Cyclopean, Hypnagogic, Ethereal and Fae.

At the centre is the Lathe, the tallest building in the world and the throne of the Illusory Lords.

Narcissolis looks like a storybook city, or a comic book city, each part drawn by different artists at different times.

Though Narcissolis is inviolate, it requires continuity of memory and imagination, and warps physically in times of hysteria or changed belief. Its chief enemies are the Apocalypse Wasps, the Blurred Raiders from the Incoherent Isles, its own rulers, the Conspiracy Kings, and anyone not paying attention to it.



THE CITY IS A NARCISSIST

"You are here, really.
In the City
Which is really here."

It to be regarded and rewards those who do (and punishes and expels those who do not.

Information control is vital to the cities existence, every news-sheet, performance, announcement, article, book and even state-sanctioned rumour, is carefully censored by the thought controllers, who are also effectively its architects.

Since the city itself is a performance, new parts can only be constructed by a kind of mass-performance

Building sites are vast area with great black sheets over the buildings being created or demolished - the builders are performers, actors, elaborately staging the process of construction.  Materials are brought in in vast quantities (actually invisibly cycled out in the night and brought in again), the noises and sounds of construction can be heard, burly builders file out on lunch breaks and take up space in nearby cafes, making noise. Occasionally shouts and gusts of smoke and dust spout forth from under the sheet.

It is easy to believe that something large is being made.

Major buildings have staged controversies in which Nimbys object to the architecture, aesthetic, placement or some other element of the building, causing protests and arguments. Sometimes these cross over with real, actual protests.

Or financial or political scandals can be performed, sending shockwaves through the city as some act of embezzlement or corruption is exposed or denied. Every building has some kind of human interest story behind it, a lost dog, someone allegedly buried in the foundations by mistake, a strange fetish of the architect, or some other thing which a local can inform you of as you pass. All of these things act as a lock on the communal memory of the place.

There is nothing happening behind the sheet but theatre. But if people believe in the building, whether they hate it or love it, when the sheet comes down, it will be there.

So does the city expand, on the bases of shared memory and belief.




THE ILLUSORY LORDS

Of the brilliant, unkillable, genius but increasingly deranged rulers of the city, much has been written already. Existing only as thought forms, they can only be deposed by another like themselves, and their imaginary corpses are carried in great state to the Glass Necropolis, a complex built to convince the ethereal Tulpas of despotism that they are actually dead and should stay there.

The 'Conspiracy Kings' invariably occupy the top floor of The Lathe, in the centre of Narcissolis. They communicate with their people, citizens and functionaries by leaving orders, policies, memorandums and instructions written at the bottom of tankards, crayoned base of plates, stuffed into shoes, stitched into the lining of jackets, scrawled with chalk on the backs of broad-shouldered men. One a note pinned to your wig when you lift it to scratch, tied to a bird that feeds from your hand.

Though they are invariably completely mad, the Illusory Lords are almost impossible to destroy, and can achieve feats of perception, deception, action and analysis that would baffle ordinary actually-existing minds. They can respond to any event anywhere in the city (albeit indirectly) and their genius-level prognostications mean that, though tyrannical, Narcissolis often retains the edge in its military and economic relationships and conflicts.

It is no small thing to be ruled by an unbeatable genius, though they be mad, and do not actually exist.




THE PEOPLE OF NARCISSOLIS

As fancy and performative as the citizens are, and as Byzantine and hysterical as their social networks and invisible hierarchies are, they are generous, egalitarian and welcoming of newcomers.

They are especially happy to talk about the city.

Every pair of eyes and every witnessing mind, and every story of the city spread far and wide, is another small brick in the bulwark of its fragile existence.

They want you to have a memorable time here - an adventure. They are little overly insistent on it actually.

They also have a huge respect for imagination and the arts, which are also very ruthlessly controlled, since the city is itself a performance and the power to persuade en-masse is in Narcissolis, the power to create and destroy.

Those with this capacity are treated like Soviet Ambassadors, afforded very high status, treated with respect, continually watched, always followed and carefully controlled.

There are very few homeless in the city - every pair of eyes is valuable to Narcissolis.

To some extent, people in Narcissolis are valued for individuality and their ability to generate specific memories, or conversely, for simply having a very good memory, especially for spatial elements.

The popular aesthetic turns somewhat to splendiferousness. Everyone wears makeup to increase the definition and specific nature of their face (it’s very bad in Narcissolis to 'blend into the crowd'). This leads to them having an appearance similar to cell-shaded animation. Small mirrors are often worn as decoration. Everyone wants you to see their house (and have an interesting experience there). There is competition over experience and originality, this is part of what makes the city such a vortex for cultural products, 'events', stories etc, drawing them in from all over the world.




CRIME MIMES, DARK MEMORY FORMATION AND THE MIRROR MASTERS

Narcissolis has a dark side. 'Crime Mimes' perform specific acts in a convincing manner in order to subtly or strongly alter reality so they might gain access to private places, or perform stranger and more abstruse crimes.

There is a parallel subculture of Dark Memory Formation. This is formally looked down upon by bourgeoise society, certain aspects of it are allowed - grand guignol, murder stories, ghost tours, fake snuff performance provocations, but there are always rumours, currents of darkness, and murders. Nothing seals in the memory of a place like death and trauma, and in Narcissolis, attention and memory are the strongest currency there is.

There are dark suspicions that serial killers who commit the most graphic, exceptional and memorable crimes are allowed to get away with it, or at least, not chased quite as fervently as they could be, to the extent that the police force sometimes is forced to publish its accounts just to prove it is finding overtime for catch particular killers.

The criminal networks of Narcissolis spread all over the Wodlands and beyond. Each crime gang is ruled by an adventurer caught in a mirror while invading the Glass Necropolis. Though this is vastly illegal and dangerous in Narcissolis (no-one wants a 'deceased' Illusory Lord getting out), nevertheless, meeting a Mirror Master, or being involved with a crime or conspiracy, is a deeply memorable event. And the Masters themselves, being trapped in the mirrors, can do nothing other than observe Narcissolis. Not only that, but they must investigate and memorise and explore its darker and less-visited corners, and absorb themselves deeply in its built geography and processes, something of great use to the city.





MIND HOLES

Building belief is complex and involved, building communal belief almost as difficult as designing a real thing.

You can't just imagine whatever you like and make it exist, you have to *believe* it, and the strength of your belief has to strongly outweigh the beliefs of anyone else about the same space.

But some people have a great surfeit of belief, children, fanatics, the dumb and the insane, and if one of those people gains access to an ignored, forgotten or un-shaped part of the Imaginary City, things can go completely to shit.

Minds alone can collapse consensus reality and open recursive burrow-holes in the world


Sincere, but fervent beliefs, like those of schizophrenic conspiracy theorists, or the more pleasing but still-dangerous imaginings of children, or the musty, unreal, or hyper-bright memory-realms of the abandoned old, can open the way to halls of paranoid imaginings - the vast conspiracies contained in terrified minds boil into existence behind cupboard doors or under manholes.

This is very dangerous, and very rare.

'Popping' childish sub-realms is a common parenting skill in the Imaginary City. Invading and shutting down schizophrenic or dementia-bored mind-labyrinths and alter-realms a more serious and often more dangerous business.





ARCHITECTURE AND THE ATTENTION ECONOMY

Buildings in Narcissolis can be constructed from almost any conceivable material, in any conceivable style - so long as they are remembered. So they compete with each other for the attention and memory of the observer.

This leads to complex ecologies of attention and aesthetic.



THE CLASHING SLUMS

The slums of Narcissolis are as great and magnificent as the monumental centres of other cities. They are slums because they clash.

Buildings in the slums almost at war with each other in their need for attention and memory - competing in brightness, loudness, discordancy, strangeness or unlikely nature.

This Hobbsean architecture means everything has to be even more bright and even more ridiculous and 'novel' to outshine everything else. This results in a staggering eye-burning parade of wild forms and deranged colours and materials, and a rapid turnover of buildings as places, as distinctive as they are individually, are simply lost and forgotten, bot blending in but ignored in the discordancy.



THE DUELLING STREETS

Here, the architectural competition between buildings has become a kind of exchange of attention so that the styles and forms, while still opposing one another, also re-enforce one another in opposition, an opposed, and clashing but not a discordant miscellany.

Here it is easy to remember, for instance, the palace of bone opposite the circus of sausages, the prism tower facing the cumulo-nimbus arcology, the church of pink marble opposite the marble rose.

Here is chaos, and extreme novelty, but also a form of reciprocity of thought, and the development of a memory and attention system that only grows more complex.



A HARMONIOUS RUE

Rare, prized and dangerous to live in, these streets are extremely high-status, though their instability means that many governmental buildings are on discordant or duelling streets instead, or crammed dangerously into the Lathe.

Radically, as in music,  the individual parts of a harmony are often not memorable or surprising on their own, but instead support and sustain one another, flowing into each other to create a continuous, pleasing, unexpected but correct and fitting surprise of form and beauty, each element unique and each one part of the whole.

These streets are the high art of Narcissolis and some of the most beautiful places to exist anywhere.

Unfortunately, as with any harmony, the construction is delicate. One small un-noticed flaw, and disharmony can creep in, poisoning whole streets as-one, leading to disaster.



THE GREAT IMAGININGS AND THE LATHE

It’s hard, in Narcissolis, for buildings to be very tall and still useable. Creators can imagine shapes and known materials but its difficult to develop and precisely imagine the mechanisms for elevators. A handful of tall buildings have them, drawn on winches turned by remarkable things

The Lathe, for instance, has a giant winch turned by painted elephants and employs a team of engineers to imagine, observe and remember its mechanisms.


Bylaws say that each new elevator must be powered by a distinctly different, and memorable method, so as not to infringe on those of others. (Though this is generally considered a deliberate tool of suppression to maintain the status of the Great Imaginings.

The Lathe itself, palace of the illusory lords, is a giant art-deco spire in the centre of the city.  Supporting opal buttresses spread out over and into the city like spider limbs. The east side of the Lathe is stained and etched pale red in patterns of flame so that in dawn, it flashes as if on fire as the sun rises. The west side is similarly etched with curling waves in blue, but the red light of sunset reacts strangely with the colour to make it gleam pale white as night falls. Inside, floors and departments become more frightening, symbolic and unreal as you go up, more like dark theatre or enacted nightmares. No one ever goes to the top.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

The Unbalanced Creator Returns? - A Review of The Tricks of Treachery Isle

"Nothing is what it seems and no one can be trusted on Cormorant Isle! And yet you find that you must rely on dangerous strangers if you hope to leave the Isle alive. Who are these tricksters and what is the secret that they will kill to keep hidden?"


Available HERE, from Game of the North.

Our mystery continues. 

Based on the writing style, formatting, repeated use of a few phrases and the general tone, I am 99% certain that the creator of Game of the North, is also the creator behind Unbalanced Dice Games,

This is someone I first talked about back in 2017, and again, Bryce has sent me an adventure by someone who writes a lot like them. (EDIT - he already reviewed it here.)

I think Bryce thinks this is some kind of extended art-crime faux-naive experiment, I think they are for real, or possibly Bryce in disguise.


The creativity is high

The influences are CLASSIC.

The prose is as deranged.

And the layout is insane.



A very great deal of this adventure is utterly charming and bonkers.

A few elements are;

A Witch who flies around on a huge sword and shoots fire from her mouth and hands, but who only burns ships, not people. If you find her lair and try to fight her, she comes at you with the Zweihander, which acts as a mount if she is defeated.

Some excellent treasures, including a magic knife which once belonged to a heroic tamer of birds, and which becomes more powerful the more birds the PC tames.

Some charming mechanics, including this for a fear effect; "-anyone bringing a light into this room is likely to see their own dark reflection in the black glass provoking a save vs. Spells. On a failed save the PC becomes Frightened and looses a finger – as they chew through it trying to stifle their terror."

A really magnificent opening scene; the PCs approach a beach from the sea, a brutal battle is underway, just before they reach shore it is ended by the chief Knight of the winning side drowning his opposite number under the surf. As they arrive, the same Knight welcomes the PC's, tells them he is on an honourable mission, and asks for their help.

On almost every page is some novel, charming, lively, vivid, original or interesting element or idea, almost always drawn from the gen-pop of fantasy, but with the glow of a distinctive imagination.

Its hard, or very difficult, to actually run. That said, this feels more actually-runnable than anything I have seen from this creator before.




ADVENTURE STRUCTURE

Its a hex-crawl on an island, with ten keyed locations and a handful of factions or dominant elements, so far, so simple.

Even though its a hex crawl, the description of the adventure comes in 'Acts', Act One - The Haunted Castle, Act Two - The Isles Deceptions, Act Three - The Masters of the Isle'

Like most of the Unbalanced Creators stuff, things are described in-sequence, assuming that the PCs will go from place to place in a particular order.

There are two main locational arrangements, a Knight vs Knight Haunted House situation, which the PC's are expected to be drawn into first, has two main locations. Then there is an 'elemental dungeon' thing with water, earth, fire and air-based areas, each of which can be opened up by climbing a central tower and solving its mysteries.

(The locations are good, and through very strange, and in some cases quite affecting, they do have a coherent logic which can be discovered in play. In some ways they would be easier to play through than to DM since the players cannot become mixed up in the prose and design of the adventure itself but only get the end result, which is broadly coherent.)

Then there is an evil pumpkin-person, replaced-inhabitants situation, with a giant monster-summoning at the end. The final boss monster is absolutely not what you are expecting.

All of these are linked in sometimes-tangental ways, so that you could, maybe, end up being pulled from one to another laterally across the direction of the intended plot.

There is also a deep mythology involving elemental hells on the moon, which I think is maybe influenced by the Kabbalah?

However, the Creator has actually included commentary and advice for using the adventure in different ways;

"Right off the bat you might notice that this adventure has many parts & these don’t seem immediately related. This is intentional. The adventure as it is presented is intended to progress in a generalized sequence as indicated by the numbered areas. 1- Characters arrive on the island. 2- Characters meet & join with the group of knights. 3 – Characters venture to the haunted house & encounter the witch. 4 – Characters explore the island. 5 – Characters subdue the major threats of the island. This last part is best perfromed if followed in a specific sequence.

But this isn’t the only way that this adventure can be run. A simple & straightforward modification would include the knights, the haunted house & the leshens of the island. One could forgo the haunted castle & simply focus on the elemental focal points on the isle – the guide tower, the dragon’s lair & the mereid’s marsh as well as the Leshen’s henge. What’s best is to leave these decisions to the players & to give them the option to explore the island & make the choices for themselves."




LAYOUT AND INFORMATION DESIGN

The layout is utterly insane.

As is usual for the Unbalanced Creator, there is random shifting between centre-aligned and left-aligned text, but that's just for starters.

There is an ornate table design which is used for the first tables on the opening pages, and then never again.

There is a nice little piece of ornamentation which is used to fill a white space, with another large piece of white space left blank.

We have bolded elements to each entry, which are something like read-aloud text, and which are bolded in orange with a grey background.

We have moved from one column (the first thing I reviewed from this creator) to two columns, (which I think came later) and now to a three column layout.

EXCEPT - the flow of text across the page sometimes leaps between columns and in a few cases there are page divisions which are not indicated by the text at all, meaning the first time you read through it, it just seems crazed, then you realise there is an invisible division.

Here's the first act starting spread, you can see that the first page is normal with a sequential flow across three columns. (I added these tints so you can see which sections of text relate to each other. The page as-read is white.)




Then the second page has this mid-line division, which is obvious here, as I've highlighted it, but really isn't the first time you read down the first column.

Then we get a big slice of white with a standard flow continuing on the next page after;



Things seem to settle down, but after a while we get this piece of amazement;



The final descriptive element of this section, which describes what to do once every part has been thoroughly explored, has been layed across the bottom of the page in basic font with nothing to indicate what it is.

Absolute Madlad.

The organisation of information on a larger scale is actually pretty old-school. Its divided into parts;

First the opening being rules for navigating the island. Then each locations descriptive text in sequence. Then a series of stat blocks for the creators homebrew system with some important character and behavioural elements included. Then a series of images, some are public domain images of the NPC's and creatures and there are maps for the keyed areas. Then right at the end there are some custom treasures.

This is all just-about usable. Bits and pieces are spread over multiple pages, but dividing maps and keys is something from a lot of adventures, I'm assuming you are meant to print everything out first and then combine sheets as needed.

At least one triggered encounter - with some lost and feral children, has a massive meta-effect on the structure of the whole thing. The childrens leader is obsessed with investigating the islands locations and mysteries. They will lead the children to do this after you contact them. With each element they investigate, there is a 25% chance they will succeed, effectively 'emptying the dungeon' and a 75% chance they all just die doing it.

And they 'all' die on a bad roll apparently.

So depending on how you roll, you could have these NPC's handling everything for you, or they could just die and you find the bodies somewhere.

Like most of the creators ideas, its actually a good concept; a group on the island who want to investigate the same things and who will effect the meta-structure of what goes on, plus they are children so they are both potential competition, but you really don't wand to hurt them or let them get hurt.

But you only find this out in their description.




PROSE AND DESCRIPTION

The prose is as delightfully odd as usual. Everything you need is here, hidden in the looping sentences and partial re-descriptions, just not necessarily in the order or arrangement you might expect;

"When the Party arrives here – presuming they come here directly from the beach – they arrive at night and the mischief of the island’s irascible, suspicious Witch can begin. Otherwise the area is as described here – less the troubling interventions of Zasimus the Witch."

That's a beautiful way of saying that the Witch is there at night and not in the day.

Here's the Unbalanced Creator (if it is indeed them) telling you that an area is difficult to approach from the sea, due to a cliff;

"Gygis’ Temple sits at the base of a valley that leads to the ocean. Where the lands meets the sea there is a precipitous decline –effectively a cliff – though not very tall – it does descend onto broken, dangerous stones. As such – this area is extremely difficult to approach by sea – requiring a few d20 Stat checks just to sail near enough followed by 2 d8 Scale Walls checks."

Here is the eruption of an important NPC ghost;

"The ghost of Pritzak Dohh will scream & bluster liberally in ancient Sundus – which smart PCs may be able to interpret. He exclaims that the age of the flesh is over & that the Jack-o-lantern men – the Leshen are the new way."



THE CUMULATIVE EFFECT

Of all this, the loops in the prose itself, the loops of the assumed path of the adventure through the apparent hex-crawl, the looping of the text through the crazed layout, the originality of the content and vividness and gauche energy of the elements used, give the process of simply reading the Tricks of Treachery Isle the feeling of a rather cryptic adventure.

It's like a Grandma's puzzle, which she has devised over time, and expects to enthral and bemuse, and is very pleased with, but of which she has forgotten exactly how it works, and so experiencing it has both the pleasure of the puzzle as intended, but also trying to work out exactly what the hell Grandma was actually thinking.



THE META-MYSTERY

Who this is and what exactly is going on is still unknown, at least to me.

If this is the same person then they produce a LOT of stuff on a very regular schedule. If it is the same person then it looks like they dropped Unbalanced Dice Games and then started Game of the North.

The sheer volume of stuff makes it seem impossible to me that this is a joke or performance of some kind. You need to be really into it to write this amount of stuff.

Its possible this is someone affecting or allowing themselves to affect this particular style and aesthetic as a partially deliberate choice.

But if they are faking it, that's even more work. Faking the crazy prose, the layout, the adventure structuring and doing all that while also coming up with genuinely good adventure elements and original-yet-classic ideas, I don't know how you do that.

It's possible its Bryce. It's possible its one of you.