Tuesday, 5 November 2019


Can we do something interesting with the Vampire Marketing Spam?

Or just the general torrent of Spam as the dying Byzantine Empire of google retreats from the Blogger Provinces, abandoning us to the roving bot-tribes of the digital plains?

I feel like learning to act more and more like spam or chatbots will be more and more useful in the coming word. As the shitty low-level marketting A.I.s take over more and more of reality, not only will we encounter more of them than real people, but generations as yet unborn will have their thoughts and attitudes shaped by them, simulating them through natural adaptation.

Plus when robots rule the world, Spam-Camo will be the only save way to traverse online spaces. We will have to sneak past the Panopticon in Spam-Skins and communicate to each other as if we were misfiring chatbots, signalling out humanity through subtle interpretations and apparent cognitive-misfire metaphors.

I did try leaving a comment on Arnolds blog as faux Vampire Spam, but it got deleted. I will never know if that was because he mistook it for actual spam, which makes it a kind of victory, or whether he just found it irritating. But this is the kind of fundamental uncertainty you have to learn to live with when you Become Spam.

It is time for us to put on the Clothes of the Night which will inevitably consume us.

My first challenge to you all is for you to respond to this post ONLY in the form of pseudo-spam comments. Points will be awarded for Absurdity, Beauty and Spamishness. (Of course the Most Spamish Comments may not be correctly identified as the work of human beings, but of course, that is the nature of those Secret and Uncertain Victories).

My second challenge is, the next time you see a blog post you like, and you feel like you should say something positive but have nothing detailed to say, and since the Plus-1 button has been taken from us, COMMENT AS SPAM.

PRETEND TO BE SPAM my children! Offer Vampire Cures and SEO Optimisation and Youtube Sporting Channels. And hide links to other posts in yours. Use link shorteners and other methods.

With this we will create THE INFINITE LABYRINTH OF SPAM - a secret layer of Adventure to the OSR Blogosphere. The next time you come to delete interminable Spam comments, you will have to think, to analyse; "Is this truly Spam?"

And if you click on a link you may get a surprise gift - a special Blog Post, on which you can leave another pseudo-spam comment, leading to yet another post.

Yet you may also get actual, real spam, like porn sites or Singaporean Rhino Horn. This adds the necessary thrill of danger and risk which will gamify my infinite labyrinth into a True Dungeon.

The Great Game. Us against the Robots. Us against each other. And all for the sweet sweet treasure of internet culture - THE GOLDEN CLICKS.


Thursday, 31 October 2019

Seven Strange Beheadings


Losers get a fox-fur and a vague sense of shame!

Ok, here is the last of my questionable marketing content posts. In tribute to Gawains strange Beheading-contest Quest, and for HALLOWEEN WHOOO here are, Seven Strange Beheadings.

1. The Prophet of Uuur was beheaded for blaspheming the Church of the Great God Ark. 

But the head continued to prophecy post-mortem and ultimately became the living text of that faith, passing between hands in multiple holy wars, installed in different temples and slowly falling into incomprensability as the means used to preserve it occluded its voice and the nature of its ancient language became more and more subject to interpretation..

2. The Demigod 'Hawks-Shadow' is beheaded by the Crescent Moon

Though their head re-grows with the moon each month. This god hates to be headed and grows desperate and mad the closer the moon moves towards its crescent form. In their extreme desire to escape they usually ends up committing the crimes which necessitate their execution.

3. The Four Knights of the Fox insulted the King of Mice and were sentenced to death.

Beheading by Knight of Mice was the method but they were allowed to choose the scale and manner themselves.

The first Knight of the Fox chose to remain as he was and face a Mouse Knight of mouse size. His end was terrible, the chewing and hacking and slicing and tearing went on for hours. At the end the Mouse Knight died of blood-slick exhaustion and little was left of the Knight of the Fox.

The second Knight of the Fox chose also his own size, but a mouse of that scale also. His end was a little better. The Enormous man-sized Mouse Knight had some trouble manipulating weapons at our scale but took off the head in a few hacks. The King of Mice now sleeps within the painted skull.

The third Knight of the Fox chose to shrink to the scale of a mouse. He died quickly, with honour and ceremony, after giving a great speech which was applauded by weeping mouse maidens. His small head came off with a 'click' and the King of Mice now drinks from his skull, but sorrowfully.

The fourth Knight of the Fox chose to be as a mouse to mice. He shrank and shrank and shrank until he scampered about between the feet of the court of the King of Mice. He was so small and so fast that none there could catch or hold him - he slipped through their fingers and chewed through their shoes.

Mice have no mice themselves, they had no art to seek him, and no traps. And so the Fourth fox fled. And when mouse-ladies hear a scampering in the wall, or find cheese with bites taken out, they say "There is the Knight of the Fox."

4. The Foul Duke of Verloon was told by prediction that he would be decapitated by a note.

He was so fearful of his life that he burnt every music shop in his Dukedom and if anyone could sing, he cut their vocal cords with a silver knife. Music was punishable by death and Bards were stoned to the borders

One night, the Harp-Maker, stained with ash from his burnt home and weeping tears for the voice of his singing daughter, went to the forest and string up the last harp-wire he held between two trees.

Sure enough, that very night the Duke raced through, chasing a fiddler at top speed. The tight wire took off his head in a flick. Blood drops sparkled for a moment in the moon and the harp-wire vibrated out a low, clear note.

5. In Sughud, in far Yoon-Suin, a rare and ruinous method of assassination is the Death-By-Amber.

This tends to work best against women, and luxurious Slug-Men, who love their jewels.

Magnificent amber beads are carefully hollowed out and filled with a clear liquid composed via agonisingly careful alchemy. This liquid becomes a powerful explosive under very specific circumstances. Sometimes in sunlight, sometimes via heat or from a hard shock.

A necklace of this substance is then delivered to the target, the trigger for its incandescence linked to the lifestyle of the one who is to die.

They wear the jewels, and the next time they see sunlight, or become very hot from.. exertions, or go dancing, or fall. BOOM, off comes their head.

This method has fallen out of use in Sughud, for the incalculable expense of the materials and the rarity and specificity of the triggering event means many would-be rulers have effectively bankrupted themselves simply through the means of assassination they chose.

War is cheaper. And more reliable.

6. The God-Kings of the Aurulent Empire may not be hurt by mortal hands.

The only One with the right to harm them is their father, the sun.

So the terrible fate for a fallen God-King is that of Beheading by the Sun.

Strapped to an obsidian table in a temple of lenses and mirrors, with their neck in an exact position beneath the final focusing lens, they can only wait for the sun to rise and pass across the sky, smelling their own cooking flesh as the wandering ray sloooowly burns through the meat of their spine.

Since the ray cauterises as is passes, it can take a very long time for them to die. And if the Sun withholds his judgement, and is obstructed by vengeful clouds, it can take more than one day for the sentence to be carried out.

7. The Great Judge Scaedeweald sentenced himself to death.

He famously hated crime so much that, on discovering that he had executed the wrong man for murder, he sentenced himself to death. He then appealed, but then refused his own appeal.

He was pardoned by King Aescelm, on condition that he be turned, via magic, into an Axe, thereby to punish crime and treason forever in that form.

This plan itself rebounded when King Aescelm invaded his former kingdom at the head of an army of mercenaries, after being deposed for his cruel rule and fetish for turning people into magic objects. He died under the bit of Judge Scaedweald.

The Axe still refuses to cut anyone who is not legally guilty.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Where's my Zzarchov Stans at?

I speak from impulse and curiosity; whats the gestalt opinion on Zzarchov Kowalski's work?

This is the man who originally commissioned me to make Deep Carbon Observatory, created his own ruleset with Neoclassical Geek Revival, worked with LotFP, did the Gem Prison of Zardax and A Thousand Dead Babies, won a Silver Ennie with The Scenario from Ontario.

Who has played his adventures and run NGR? What did you get out of it? What makes his work interesting?

I asked this on a Discord w a handful of people a while ago and got some interesting and surprising answers so maybe something interesting will happen (like if you read the comments to the Glorantha post there were several very deep and interesting responses.)


Some responses from the comments which I thought were good.

(If any of these are yours and you would like it removed from the main post let me know and I will do so.)

Dyson Logos30 October 2019 at 00:16

He builds wonderful bite-sized houses of cards that will probably stand up just fine on their own as long as no PCs get involved. Better, he doesn't generally get into whether the chaos engine effect of the PCs is a good or bad thing. The state of the roughly balanced system (usually three-sided) will collapse under the slightest pressure from the PCs, but when you go into the adventures, you rarely know (as DM) which way things will fall - what point of interest will the characters find most attractive to apply pressure to.

Turns out almost everything is a load-bearing plot device.

I think this speaks to Olav's comment about "low on feeling". Knowing Zzarchov, I know he's setting up everything to fall down in one direction or another, but he doesn't want to influence which direction it goes, and this gives the text a detached point of view which to me reads as cynical amusement (because that's exactly how Zzarchov talks, and I believe is how he views the world in general).

Dead Babies is probably my favourite level 1 D&D adventure - I am more likely to run it than one of my own fave level 1 pieces for a new group. Gnomes of Levnec was definitely one of the most fun adventures I have run for a group.

The vast majority of the rules in NGR are brilliant. There are many that I would port over to most games. The escalating dX mechanic especially


I play NGR, but haven't run it. I find the rules density a bit difficult to track. I love that the same conflict system works for physical combat, social interaction, and stealth... but our group routinely has Zzarchov interpret the rules for us in play.

The weapon and armour tags system is really clever and simple in concept (it is how I would put together a firearms system), but it means that if you switch weapons, you need to remember what a devastating, versatile, exotic weapon gets.

The dX system is BRILLIANT. It takes the "take 10" system from d20 D&D and turns it into something awesome. You start by taking 10 on all actions (most actions have a difficulty of 20, and you roll your dX and add the appropriate stat to it, so if you have average stats, taking 10 gives you average successes). But if you need to push it a bit, you can switch to 3d6 instead of taking 10, but you cannot go back to taking 10 once you start rolling 3d6. And when things get wonky, you can switch to d20 - which suddenly risks criticals on a nat 20 and fumbles on a nat 1, and is super-swingy, and you can't then back down to 3d6 or taking 10 for the rest of the session.

I love that feeling. I love feeling us losing control. And you can spot the character who is ultra-specialized... We had one game where we got into the thick of combat early, and at the end of the session the mighty warrior in the group was still taking 10 (I attack and get a 21) whereas the rest of us were on d20s.


Stu C29 October 2019 at 12:16

I love the way his stuff is written. Particularly the presentation that is in common across A Thousand Dead Babies, Gnomes of Levnec, Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess, and The Punchline. You get a quick run-down on "what's happening," a brief review of relevant NPCs, then a well laid out description of relevant locations. Each section tends to be concise, clever, and easy to refer to in play for quick reference.

A lot of his adventures have elements that are grim while maintaining a quirky whimsical vibe that you could lean into if you wanted. Overall though, aside from the efficient clever writing I really like how successful these modules are with framing all the things that are already in motion that the PCs could interact with that are happening and the players can influence - it makes things super easy to run and for PCs to jump in and get involved.


Alex Chalk31 October 2019 at 08:55

I've run Gem Prison and read through a few of his other adventures, as well as NGR. I liked Pale Lady and his Krampus adventure. In every case it feels like there's a lot of ways things can play out and like they can be really engaging once the players get involved. I do however find Z's writing a little difficult to get through for reasons I can't quite place.

Unfortunately my experience with Gem Prison was... lackluster? There were a few too many moving parts and their workings were not especially intuitive. My players spent a whole session trying to solve a broken puzzle which expressly has no answer. I felt like the whole thing was aiming for a kind of psychedelia that were apparent in its imagery and writing but hard to communicate at the table, which made the whole experience feel a bit dull and meandering.

NGR feels like a beautiful Rube Goldberg machine of a system but my impression is order for it to sing you need players who are at least moderately interested in RPG rules and enjoy learning and thinking about them. This does not describe my usual group at all so I doubt I'll ever get to play it.


LampLiter Guild4 November 2019 at 07:58

As a player of NGR I find a couple of different elements add to the flavor of the game. I like the rule where if you miss some kind of modifier then it is just lost till you remember it. I would have to say that my favorite elements that was added would have to be in experience awards. Which the dX is also a close second, seeing as I am always going to the 3d6 and rarely having to go to the d20. What I like about the exp awards is the exploration system. It awards the party/group for pushing yourself for going one room deeper. Then there are the rewards to interacting and overcoming the environment. It has elements to award players for taking the risks or playing with the world that has been presented. This idea has been taken over to my 5e games with positive results.

Zzarchov's writing style comes through in NGR and is easily readable and followed with. He is always testing and making this system better for the players and GM which is great to see that this is a living game. When you pick up the NGR PDF you can expect updates. When it comes to the physical artifacts, the different artist books, the different artist styles color the game very differently and would inspire a different play style. Which the game handles quite well. Playing in what I would have to assume is a post apocalyptic/pulp world, with elements of Warhammer sprinkled through is just as easy as playing a bronze ago setting. The weapon and armor tags help.

I appreciate this work and definitely hope that it continues on. Also death is an option and at least once we have survived the adventure/mission just to make it back to town, just to die in the backroom of the shop that we were working out of in our sleep. Injuries are truly horrendous in NGR.


Unknown4 November 2019 at 13:18

I've been running NGR for the past several months, but I've never run or played any of his adventures. I'm playing with two players who are pretty new to RPGs at all, and we generally meet once or twice a month, so we haven't gotten into any system mastery. But playing with the basic rules and no "fiddly stuff" is working pretty well for us. So, there's a lot of system mastery available, but the game works pretty well anyway if you ignore it.

I'm a big fan of the weak niche protection and simple multi-classing provided by the pie slice class mechanics. Anybody can do anything, but if it's in your class specialty, you have a much easier and/or safer time at it.

I also like the template spell system, as it's encouraged me to come up with odd and unique spells rather than just using a list from a book. The divine miracles are supposed to work the same way, but I've been too lazy to build up the two gods we've gotten involved with. I really need to do that though, so play gets less confusing for the Moon priestess.

It's a pain that enemies are built the same way as characters, especially at first. The rulebook also doesn't have much advice for people who want to GM the game. It seems solid as a player's guide, but I was really struggling at first to understand how to run the game. Zzarchov's posted some helpful play examples to his blog/patreon, but when I started it was just after he'd taken his blog down and he hadn't posted the examples to Patreon yet.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

What does and doesn't count as "Gatekeeping" to you?

Specifically - what situations or circumstances are on either side of that line, where on one hand, you would say "this person is Gatekeeping", and on the other you would say "No, this isn't Gatekeeping"?


And an addendum if you are up for it -

In a semi-virtual environment where everyone is limited physically by their local circumstances, but simultaneously borderless in their virtual selves, where friendships, cliques, marketing and "community" all segue seamlessly into one another, where hard elements stopping someone from, for instance, starting a blog or publishing a PDF are minimal, but where attention and reputation are essentially resources, and where the whole thing is very fluid and constantly changing;

How would you personally decide who has 'institutional power' or its equivalent? What heuristic or decision making process, and what evidence would you use to decide that this person has more or less power than that person?

Remember, I'm asking for your personal views and how you do things, now how you think other people are or should be doing things.

We all know that if anyone answers at all then its going to turn into a shitshow in the comments, but the longer we stay civil then hopefully the more we can get out of it.

"Cooperative convo: Assume good intent and that problems are misunderstandings, deescalates, uses gentle/neutral language, amoral."

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Courteous Quest Generator

First, the Gawain Kickstarter for an illustrated, hardback print of my version of "Gawain and the Green Knight" is FUNDED, and has been for a few days.

Click here, click the Knight on the Right, click anywhere really.

So this is going to happen and people are going to get their books.

As of the 18th everyone who backs for a print copy gets a digital copy for free.

If you want extra gubbins added on and have an idea, we have nine days left so drop me a comment in the Kickstarter.

Check out any of the promotional content here;

Dans Notes on the Art Development;

Mateos Arthurian Troika Hacks;



My.. whatever I was doing here;

Pilgrims of the Green Moon

Twenty Green Knights

Now, on to the fresh content!

Courteous Quests

Words not Swords. Just delete the "S". What follows is my attempt to create a kind of mission or situation generator for problems that can only be solved by courtesy.

I was trying to take apart the complex situation between Gawain, Bertilak and Lady Bertilak in the poem, to see if I could create a generator to produce situations like that.

Essentially - no, but I came up with this instead.

First, the feudal Matrix. This has to be a place limited and bound in some way, so that neither the Quester, nor anyone else, can just avoid the problem by leaving. It also has to be a 'civil' place, with reasons for people to talk to one another, and with enough room and potential anonymity for intrigue and sneaking around.

A - You are All In:
1. The Court at Christmas. Its freezing out and no-one should leave until festivities are done.
2. A Ship becalmed at Sea.
3. An Enchanted Forest or garden. Full of Glades and Strange Airs. No-one can get out until the situation is resolved.
4. A Monastery or Nunnery. Possibly one or more of you are in disguise as the other gender.
5. A Masque Ball - Plague is ravaging the country outside.
6. A Castle under siege.

B - You Are:
1. A Knight known for courtesy.
2. A Lady, Full-Fair

(You can just apply your own character to this, but they should be something like a Knight or Lady, someone high-status, known to be courteous? Someone with enough of a social role that surrendering it will be a serious loss.

In the poem, people keep telling Gawain "You are not Gawain". His position as current Best Knight of Arthurs Court makes him a simultaneous badass, moral paragon, celebrity and fetish object. He tries really, very hard to live up to this role and ultimately fails, which is part of what leaves him so crushed at the end of the book.

Whoever the main protagonist or 'player' is, they need to, essentially not be an old-school D&D protagonist. They need to care about their social role and to fear humiliation and to want to live up to the positive qualities their role exhibits. If the Player Character is Cugel the Clever, you might get an interesting game of manipulation but I think that's all.

Of course you can "create" these situations in D&D temporarily by turning the desired personality shift into a voluntary diegetic element; "You can go to the party but you have to wear this crown which ensures you can only be courteous / accept the Witches curse or Geas / wear this Jewel which the Quest-Giver will observe through." etc.

C - One you May Not Offend
1. A powerful secretive and dangerous Witch, possibly under a Glamour.
2. Your Queen. Beautiful, adored by all and the only thing holding the nation together.
3. A Maiden, known by all for Purity and Virtue, daughter of a powerful Duke.
4. A Nature Spirit, Dryad or Forest Fey, who rules the wild lands around.
5. The Ghost of an innocent murdered girl. May not know she is a ghost. Fulfilling her desire may set her free.
6. Crowd of Washer Women & Serving Girls. The lower orders may revolt, leading to danger for you, or a massacre of them.
7. A Beautiful Courtesan. Desired by all, with many strong Knights obedient to her word.
8. The Abbess of a Nunnery. A Royal relation known for learning and religious observance.
9. An Imperious Small Princess.
10. Your Mother.

D - Another You Fear to Refuse
1. Your King! Brave, handsome, beloved and the only thing holding the country together.
2. The Bishop. Wise, respected, charitable, wealthy and observant.
3. The Wizard. A respected, if mercurial, Adviser of unknown, but potentially vast, power.
4. The Kings Champion. First Knight of the Kingdom, handsome and feared.
5. A Foreign Potentate. Wealthy, imperious, powerful. Your nations teeter on the edge of war or alliance.
6. A powerful Ogre or Giant. One who could seriously wreck the place. Possibly temporarily changed in shape or under a Glamour.
7. A Holy Hermit, famous for visions and access to God.
8. A Grieving Father who has recently lost his Daughter or Son.
9. A Powerful Moneylender (probably a Jew if you are going 'real-ish Middle Ages).
10. A Demon! In Human Form!

E - The Object of their Desire

1. It’s You.
2. It’s the Other. If C, they are obsessed with D. If D, they are obsessed with C.
3. Your Bae. They are obsessed with whomever you are crushing on.

F - The Nature of their Overwhelming Desire

1. Desire-based desire. They wish to possess their object sexually*.
2. Pride. They must have their greatness recognised and admitted to, in public terms, by their object.
3. Suspicion. They are certain their Object is Up To Something and obsess over worming out their secrets.
4. Faith. They have a deep religious interest. Either conversion, corruption or something else.
5. Honour. They either feel slighted by the Object in some way, or are obsessed with testing their Honour.
6. Hate. They despise the object and secretly want to ruin them.

(*Unless you roll something which makes this too creepy to game, like your Mother or a child. (Unless you are playing a real dark game.))

So to create a Courteous Problem, roll

A - A Place and Situation.

B - Who you are.

C - One you may Not Offend.
E - The Object of their Desire.
F - The Nature of that Desire.

D - Another you Fear to Refuse.
E - The Object of their Desire.
F - The Nature of that Desire.

That should create a near-impossible problem of courtesy.

If you want something a little more focused you can simply roll once for E - The Object of their Desire, meaning both are obsessed with the same person (or each other), and possibly once for F - The Nature of the Desire, meaning they both want the same thing (although if its sexual, that may be a short adventure.

Well that doesn't quite produce Gawain-Level situations, but it may at least produce some interesting situations.

Monday, 21 October 2019



Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Review of "Unfamiliar Underground: Finding the Calm in the Chaos of London's Tube Stations"

This is a beautiful and somewhat odd collection of empty industrial nocturnes. You probably know how much I love a shadow and this book is like a stamp-collection of shadows printed on glossy photographic paper which marks with fingerprint heatstains under my passing hands.

In a thronged environment emptiness and silence become rare jewels to be sought, or more like shadowy birds, and Victoria Louise Howard must adopt the attitude of a hunter, rising in darkness and setting off deep into the city, staking out her view and stalking empty split seconds in which to catch light.

She has the particular thrill of stalking some difficult stations again and again, piercing and waiting, feeling embarrassed and awkward, until she can leap and snatch the bird if emptiness.

From her notes, some stations and some pictures are truly, largely empty when she takes the picture, but others are busy and the emptiness we see in the the image is literally one single moment of time between someone entering and leaving the frame.

They are theatres of shadow split by the curving parralax of shining rails. Infinite tubes curl and turn into invisible distances. Decay, full real wet decay, in the one or two places where it is evident, has an increadible glistining texture of its own. Enigmas from fifteen decades of built history, from victorian to brutalist to brushed chrome, sealed in specifc lattices of time by pop culture posters which glow like bright rectangular ghosts, illuminating one particular eon of advertsing, and by the occasioal digital display giving an exact time, and the time till next train, but not the day, or week. So we can know exactly what minute and second a picture was taken on, and that the Emily Blunt starring "Girl on the Train" was showing, but not the day. Some are marked by abandonend papers, cups, and in the radical third act reveal, a lost boot at Notting Hill Gate.

Howard takes a deep pleasure in these signifying ephemera. She is an astonishingly normal to be taking such intense, gloomy and alienated Nocturnes. From her tone of voice you would expect her to be putting together a book of remarkable dogs, but the tone of the image says "exiled russian anarchist and lover of praxis", [insert name here] seems more a British eccentric who happens to be a really really good photographer.

Howard was pursued by crushing anxiety and health problems. She loses years in the middle, ends relationships, at some points she feels she cannot go on. The hunting of the stations is as much an internal battle with her own fear and crawling uncertain and frightening thoughts as it is with logistics and crowds. So the story of the empty stations is also her story, and her adventure, in the old sense of the word.