Friday, 16 March 2018

Painters of the Faerie Queene

The illustrated history of the Faerie Queene actually begins in 1751 with a book illustrated by William Kent, then almost all the way through the late 18th/19th Century we get painting after painting after painting.

Then in 1895 Walter Crane is the next major person to illustrate the whole thing, producing more than any other person ever has and becoming, probably the primary visual voice for the Faerie Queene.

And then in the early to mid 20th Century we get a run of illustrations from A.G. Walker (quite bad) through to Agnes Miller Parker (my personal favourite) in 1953.

I will do a guide to the illustrators in another post as there are only a handful of individuals and they all produce multiple images and I thought it would be interesting to compare them.

(And after that I promise I will never talk about the FQ again and you will all be free.)

But for now, here is a guide to every painting I could find of the Faerie Queene, and a few windows, in very rough chronological order.

I'm not a painting expert so if anyone has any I have missed, (paintings, not illustrations, then comment and let me know.)

Sir Arthegal, the Knight of Justice, with Talus, the Iron Man.
1778 John Hamilton Mortimer
This is one of the very few paintings of events in the last three books which, as you know, suck. In particular I think this is the only painting I can think of of that utter asshole Arthegal and his murder machine Talus. According to wikipedia; In the 1770s Mortimer was associated with more masculine, and criminal, presentation of the male form after a period of more effete images. His painting Sir Arthegal, the Knight of Justice, with Talus, the Iron Man is used as an example of this style.

The Cave of Despair

Fidelia and Speranza

Una and the Lion
Everyone loves drawing that goddamn lion. Many of West's paintings are better than these. Check is patriotic stuff. There's one of an Anglo/American treaty (this was around the War of Independence)  where the Brits refused to stand so the painting remains incomplete.

Prince Arthur and the Faerie Queene
Fusilli did some excellent paintings of witches and murderers. If I've got this right, the painting above was done right around the start of his career, and the one below very close to his death.

People love painting Britomart kicking ass.

Britomart Delivering Amoretta from the Enchantment of Busirane 1824

The Flight of Florimell 1819
Remember how many guys were chasing Florimell? There were a whole bunch and she ended up knocking about for two whole books.

Britomart kicking ass again.

Britomart redeems Faire Amoret 1833
Etty really liked drawing hot people with amazing bods, often tied up. We can all respect that. Very nobly he didn't just draw hot girls tied up but also hot guys tied up and also wrestling; DIVERSITY.

Una Alarmed by FaunsWilliam Edward Frost (1843, lithograph by Thomas Herbert Maguire 1847).

For people who thought Etty was too much of a prude and shouldn't have wasted his time not painted hot girls ever, his follower Frost was ready to take over, and ONLY paint hot naked chicks.

Sir Guyon with the Palmer Attending, Tempted by Phaedria to Land upon the Enchanted Islands


Palmer was another guy who was almost forgotten after his death, only to be rediscovered later. I get the sense that a lot of these 19th Century painters were not well liked by the generations that directly followed them.

The Red Cross Knight Overcoming the Dragon
Watts was a very big deal at the time. I think this is on a wall in Parliament.  He planned a Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice to commemorate the courage of ordinary people. A highly Victorian project, made more Victorian by the fact that he died doing it.

Una and the Red Crosse Knight

I don't know if this is the same Mammon as in the Faerie Queene but he looks damn AMAZING so I snuck him in anyway.

Una and the Lion 1860
I think this is my preferred painted Una.

So Cheltenham Ladies College has an entire set of stained-glass windows with various Britomart scenes in them, called the 'Britomart Windows' and I cannot get good photos of them anywhere. 

Thompson and Shields both had their own careers and collaborated on the windows.

Una and the Lion 1880
Apparently this guy just loved painting animals.

Acrasia in the Bower of Blisse 1888
Acrasia was hotter in the poem. But then the whole bower of bliss situation is borderline-porn anyway. The illustrators generally tone down the sex stuff.

The Golden Thread
This isn't specifically from the FQ but it does reference a line right at the end where Jove is talking to MVTABILITY.

Britomart and Amoret 1898
Mary F Raphael brings us to the borders of the 20th Century with a scene that pretty much every commentator I could find thinks is deliberately gay as hell. I couldn't find a Wiki for Raphael, and this is the latest painting of the Faerie Queene I could discover.

Next; the illustrators, going back to William Kent, then hopping forwards.

And after that, we are all free of this. I promise.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018


Another element of the Faerie Queene is that rulers are often proceeded by processions of unique individuals who illustrate the nature of their power in various ways. These are often extremely vivid and interesting, some of the best parts of the book (and also get a bit rubbish towards the end). In particular, Femme-Satan in her House of Pride gets her seven wizards riding even beasts, each incarnating a major sin. Cupid also gets a great entry, first music; "full straunge notes", then Fancy "like a lovely boy", then Desire beside him, then Doubt "In a discolour'd cote, of straunge disguyse", then Danger, Fear, Hope, Dissemblance, Suspect, Grief and Fury, Displeasure and Pleasance, Despight and Cruelty, and then the winged god himself riding a lion.

Hey, and here they are, by Walter Crane, proceeding.

No doubt Edmund had seen a few of these in real life and just expanded on the structure, introducing supernatural and moral elements.

The utility of the procession in games is varied;

- It makes the main thing feel like the main thing. Instead of 'oh hey its the King', you get this loooong build up and concentration of different powers until 'oh fuck, its the king!'.

- It translates feudal/religious/state/family/other power structures into highly specific, *vivid*, elaborately costumed and easy-to-remember people.

- It does this sequentially, and slowly. Instead of the PC's wandering into a party or mixed group and having to navigate it, all the major players are introduced one at a time, or in linked pairs, they are given a moment to recognise and remark on them, and when the procession is over, they know who to look for and/or avoid. It makes the large amorphous mid-sized group which is hard to translate into natural language for an RPG, more navigable, essentially providing its own map.

- It highlights power structures and precedence in the kingdom or polity where the PC's are. Different factions and their position in the procession is a strong indicator of how powerful they are, or want people to think they are. It's clear who you have to speak to get what.

- If you want to get freaky and Spencerian/Vancian with it then you can include strange stuff like incarnated moral values that make the kingdom possible, extra-dimensional alliances, Wizards who have become their own reflections, dudes made of crystal etc.

A theme in the generator is going to be that each individual element or member of the procession doesn't have to be that complex. What important is that they are visually striking, direct, memorable and exemplify their faction, group or idea in the procession. In Spenserian (and Comic-Book) fashion, complexity comes not from characters who are complex in a literary or post-Freudian way, but from the combination and interaction of individually simple, stark and unique elements. (Plus you can always add psychological depth if people want to interact with someone).

Firstly, this generator, (or vague idea for a generator) works if you already have a monarch and a kingdom/empire/barony or whatever. It's built with the idea that you already know what that is. And of course it works better in feudal and pseudo-feudal settings.



Even if it’s interesting, watching a procession is a somewhat passive act. Here are some ways to make it feel more active and animated

The Interlocutor;

Its good if the PC's have a guide, or at least an interesting parasite, who wants to tell them stuff they might not know. The purpose of this individual is to hang out with the PC's, gossip with them and  These are almost always going to be chatty extroverts.

1. High-status noble got caught doing something sketchy with a stableboy or groom, so massive status loss, but can't be kicked out.
2. Faithful but questionably-liberal priest of state church, happy to be meeting people!
3. Governess or Tutor of minor royal. No-one else they can really talk to.
4. 'Artists Model' or 'Poet' ridiculously attractive, likeable & shallow courtesan or rent boy, currently between patrons, happy to grab the free food. Stays talking to the PCs so they can't be ejected.
5. Very Noble but old-as-fuck individual. No longer cares about protocol but no-one can stop them rambling to the PC's because nobody nearby outranks them.
6. Teenage noble wannabe so over this hierarchal bullshit, wants to impress dangerous outsiders.


As the procession begins some kind of music will start to let people know to smarten up. Due to ancient ethnological, cultural or ritual reasons, the kind of instruments used may be utterly out of seeming character with the current culture of the kingdom. There is always a specific reason for this. You can probably make this up yourselves but here's a crappy list;

1. Carnyx
2. Saung
3. Male voice choir
4. Bone flutes
5. Full Orchestra
6. Intense drumbeats

Audience Behaviour;

The audience isn't meant to just stand around and stare, there is a specific way that everyone is meant to be behaving, and if the PC's aren't behaving that way, then they are going to get into trouble;

1. Deep and weepy.
2. Silent and stiff-backed.
3. Periodically jubilant.
4. Awed and Amazed, in a positive fashion.
5. Awed and Humbled in a near-downcast fashion.
6. Movement from one of these extremes to the other as the arrival of the monarch approaches.

Reactions to each Emergence;

The immediate group around the PC's, and their interlocutor, will react in particular ways to each emergence of the procession. Each of these elements, and their position means something specific to the people around.

These reactions always take place underneath the expected behaviour, in sotto voice or cross talk, if PC's, and players' don't act this out then they will lose status and may be ejected. (Of course the rich & powerful can talk sotto voice as much as they like, the less important you are, the more you will be policed.)

Here are some ideas

1. A processional farts mid-step. Nearby elite individual moans "this is the end for us, saddle the horses".
2. Serious intra-group power struggle or doctrinal shift indicated by micro alteration in ritual - i.e. sword of justice held sideways. Gasps and remarks abound.
3. Procession member is masked, crowd members suspect replacement by unknown, those nearby become obsessed with minutia and bearing.
4. Procession member is out too early in procession, their group or faction has lost power. Shock, interest and comments move through crowd. Faction members bristle.
5. Procession member is closer to monarch than expected. Faction members glow with pride, other groups angry or manoeuvring.
6. Procession member is highly divisive with base for intra-faction reasons, 50% of that faction hate, 50% love them, both groups have individuals near the PC's. "It's about time" vs "This is the end!" Other factions utterly indifferent.
7. Members proceeding together represent factions currently in conflict, tension grows in crowd, will they try something?
8. Procession representative is new to the job and visibly nervous, looks like they are going to fall/screw it up. Faction members hold their breath, others observe in fascination.
9. An entire faction is missing! New faction present! Massive unexpected power shift! Old factions members aghast, new members thrilled. Tension rises in crowd.
10. Muttered local argument about exact symbology of the precise thing this faction member is carrying/doing.


Without any actual playtesting, I've decided that the standard procession is made up of ten individuals, who appear in five groups of two each.

If you go much lower than ten, it’s not really worth processing, you may as well just arrive. If you go much over ten then the PC's have to do a lot of hanging round and are probably not going to remember as much as they should.

Ten people and five pairs means five whispered conversations and five repressed (or expressed) reactions, and then the Sovereigns arrival, and then we are back into 'real game' space where the PC's can wander around, get into trouble, be called on by, or brought to the attention of, the ruler.

So this is an abstraction of a 'real' or historical procession. Many of the ceremonial ones would have been a lot longer than this I think. It also blurs together quasi-real feudal elements, pseudo-real 'classic fantasy' elements and hipster OSR magical or strange elements.

My guesstimation for how many of each element you want is;

Standard D&D Fantasy;
4 Feudal Locations
4 Organisations
2 Powers

Pseudo-Real Fantasy (Harn-ish);
6 Feudal Locations
4 Organisations

Highly-Magical Fantasy (Spencerian);
4 Feudal Locations
6 Powers

So we will go through each element of the procession, deciding what they are, and giving each three (actually four) separate things;

1.      A Name and Title (you are going to need a name generator, or a list).
2.      A Costume.
3.      A Behaviour.
4.      An Object.

These three things, linked together, are intended to form a sharp and coherent block of identity, easily describable in natural language. They are then linked in pairs, each emerging together.

Again; these individual concepts don't need to be very 'good', that is, original and deep. The combination of simple, stark, basic identifiers means the scene as a whole is meant to be easy to read. People are types and/or want to be see as types, at least while the procession is on.

If important people are acting in, or dressed as, a ridiculous fashion or way, then they are doing it for ancient ritual reasons, respected by all, and you are the idiots for pointing it out.

Put simply, this gives the DM something interesting to describe and the players something interesting to experience, which they will hopefully remember. The reactions of the crowd and their attempt to interrelate the PCs with those reactions, hopefully turn the moments of the procession from a boring experience of watching people going past, to an interesting discovery.

Remember, processions process quite slowly relative to normal walking

So the ideal process is;

1. Announcer or interlocutor announces names and titles.
2. A Pair Emerges.
3. The DM describes their strange looks and behaviour.
4. The Crowd and/or local guide reacts and relates this reaction to the PC's.
5. A possible short, whispered conversation takes place between the guide and the PC's.

The process is repeated four more times as excitement and drama builds.

6. The Sovereign (and possible Spouse) arrive.


This isn't the location itself, but someone representing it. You've seen stuff like this in Game of Thrones and, most recently, Black Panther. It essentially represents different geographic areas as Star-Wars-Style mono-biomes with one determining element and character type, and one costume or symbol that defines them.

In real hisotry what really seems to matter are arable river valleys and catchment areas, and maybe pastoral hillsides, so in a 'real' feudal situation, all the location-controllers will be pretty damn similar guys who each control a river valley.

But this is a game, so, like in Star Wars and Black Panther, we want them to be grouped as a type and highly distinguishable within that group.

To pick your locations, look at a map of the areas controlled by the kingdom or sovereign you are looking at and go for some combination of economic or political utility, and simple identifying elements.

If you are doing a pseudo-real version of this, then the guys from the arable river valley that also contains some mountains refer to themselves as 'the mountain folk' and the guys from the arable river valley that contains the forest think of themselves as 'the forest folk'. The components of a feudal culture are as much involved in distinctive and highly physicalised expressions of identity as players in an RPG.

And in a 'realistic' setting, the representatives of these places are wearing this whacky stuff and acting in this very arch and strange way because it is the time honoured way of their people, and everyone around takes it super seriously too.

Here are some not-that-good suggestions;

Green silk ribbands, fake silk leaves, horned crown
Scattering truffles, shooting toy arrows into audience
Ceremonial hunting bow, hunting horn, charcoal censer.
Bear Pelt
Being Philosophical (maybe carrying stones or honey symbolising wisdom?) Disdainfully scattering ‘snow’.
Climbing staff. Grapple & rope.
Fish-scale cloak
Pretend-fishing? Pages blowing into a pseudo-sail or with pseudo-oars.
Trident. Ropes. Scales for trade goods. Net full of fake or real fish.
Pastoral Lands ‘The Vale of somethingother’
Sheepskin, Cloak of Goat Bells, Great Cow Head
Weaving a huge cats cradle, chopping meat, dispensing hams
Hurling meat into crowd, ‘chopping’ crowd with big fake cleaver


An organisation is something that either has a big main building, or a lot of buildings spread through the domain, or has no building and is purely distributed.

The Church should always be one of these, if there is a state religion. The judiciary also. A major school, especially if magical. The Iron Bank of Bravos is a good example of one of these. The chancellor of the Kingdom could be one, major regiments or military commanders as well

Most of these actually already have pretty good costumes and honestly I got bored writing a table for them, it wasn’t very good.


The idea of a Power originates with the habit of Spencerian monarchs to spend a lot of time hanging out with literalised metaphors. In less-Spencerian settings the Powers become a kind of dumping ground for high-weirdness, or for the strange forms of otherness and ancient ritual on which many monarchies depend. The King or Queen, after all, is not just some dude, but is an intercessor between the material kingdom and a bunch of freaky supernatural stuff that ordinary people may never see. The axis of eternal powers. And in D&D, these powers can actually turn up.

Classic D&D - Powers might represent the Splatbook Races. Crystal dudes, Gythanki, Warforged or anyone not in the players handbook. They could also be supernatural monsters whose nature links them to the realm, a Naga in human form for the major river, an ageless silver dragon in humanoid form.

Vancian D&D - These would be extra-dimensional entities like meta-wizards or quasi-aliens.

Spenserian D&D - These would be actual, literal virtues or sins, or other moral or natural elements, depending on the monarch. For example, the classic virtues are Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Patience, Gratitude and Humility. And the classic ‘seven sins’ are Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Pride, Greed, Lust and Sloth.

Hipster OSR D&D - Bound multidimensional horrors, living reflections carried in smoking mirrors, and that hoary old standby - freaks in masks.


These can add variety and can be very gameable. A kind of aesthetic and/or behavioural counterpoint to the court as a whole. By bringing in someone or something 'other' to the group it centres them as a group. Plus the players are probably going to be dum-dums and completely botch their meeting with the King so if there's a Queen who has different ideas, it gives them a second chance to not be fuckwits. Here are a few options.

1. Classic Pairing - same class, origin and temperament. Not spookily similar but talking to one is pretty much like talking to the other. Victoria and Alfred would be a good example. So would Michelle and Barak.

2. Other Does The Job - whoever is meant to be in the inferior or passive position relative to this society actually does most of the work and wields most of the power. So, Marjorie Tyrell in Got (if she had lived). This might be obvious, or hidden, tolerated, or hated.

3. Rival Power Scion - If this is the pseudo-euro Empire then the spouse is from the pseudo-arab Empire. If its pseudo-Han, they are pseudo-Mongol, etc, etc. This is meant to prevent or halt a major war so the marriage is important, but the court is freaked out.

4. One-Point Opposite - A Classic Pairing except one is extremely different in one particular, behavioural, physical, political or aesthetic way. To the extent that its either immediately obvious or comes up very quickly in each interaction.

5. Full Opposite - Physically, mentally, personality, politics, behavioural tics and costume. One wears black, the other white, etc etc. Could be an accident of the heart, of political convenience or for strange spiritual or otherworld-management reasons.

6. Mysterious 'Other' - They aren't even a thing like the things we are! What do they even do in the bedroom? What's behind the mask/veil/robe/endless dry ice?


In most cases they will be proceeding towards the throne or throne-equivalent. During the procession its members will usually take positions adjacent to the throne, with those coming out first ending up furthest away. One option is the corridor of individuals, with the Monarch and Spouse proceeding down it to the throne at the end.

Once the procession is over, Royal business can begin and this can be PC-centred or background stuff, depending on the needs of the game. The processionals should move out into the crowd, forming marked and visible elements to interact with. In less-magical settings they can 'drop character' a little, and discuss how things went.

If the PC's are trying to get access to the monarch and the game is that this is hard to do, then space closer to them is dominated by increasingly important people. The PC's will need to have conversations where they 'get through' each group or conversation, getting closer and closer to the main person with each success.

If the PC's are there for other reasons, then there should be a person, faction or element that doesn't want them there and it actively trying to get them removed. In this case they may end up having to socially manoeuvre to stay ahead of them.

In both cases, effective social interactions gains you social influence, getting them what they want, and the visible processionals can form predictable nodes in that social structure so PC's can make interesting decisions about who to go towards or away from, with the DM bringing in

Friday, 9 March 2018

Cosmic Monster Families

In the Faerie Queene, the baddies hang out and are related.

It's as if all the people trying to stop you were part of the same facebook group that you couldn't see. As if they were all part of the same family, and some of them were gods.

Bad for reality, interesting for stories, very good for games.

There are two main ways this happens, different in each half.

In the first half some of the magical villains are related to Night, who is an old woman. If they lose a battle or get frustrated they can go to her in person and as for aid. We also get scenes where more 'human' or less mythic villains meet up in a soap-opera style, as if they were all part of the same shared universe that went on behind the scenes once the heroes had left

In the second half many of the creatures are more directly monstrous, they are often said to be descended from the same mother, 'Echidna', though she doesn't turn up on screen and they don't call on her for help. We also get a look at the renaissance versions of the actual Greek gods, Jove & Co.

D&D has toyed with aspects of this before, having all Dragons be descended from Tiamat, all Orcs from the main Orc god and all Dwarves from the Dwarf god, but they have never (I think. No doubt you will inform me if I am wrong) gone all the way with it, which is interesting.



Linking monsters and monster races to a specific line of supernatural descent, in which living beings and species aren't just created by higher powers, but are children of specific higher powers, creates a cosmic-level meta-feudalism that would impact gameplay in an interesting way.

If everything is descended from everything else, then if you make allies or opponents of any particular being or species, it’s possible that they will essentially 'tell mummy', meaning that any significant action would mean offending, or pleasing, a specific meta-being.

And of course this would set off ripples of reaction in the meta-feudal structure. If you piss off one particular power by hurting its children then the same actions could please some other power opposed to the first, so you gain yourself an unexpected, conditional, and perhaps secret ally. Very much in the manner of Greek heroes or other Culture Heroes.

My imagined hierarchy for this system would go something a little like this;

LEVEL ONE - Prime Powers; Chaos, Time (these guys don't have stats)

LEVEL TWO - Literalised World Elements; Night, Sea, Sky, Sun, Fire, Death, Moon, Earth


A - Mega non-breeding monsters; Godzilla, The Kraken

B - Mega Monster Mothers; Tiamat, Behemoth, Shelob, Echidna.

C - Literalised Human Experience Elements; Panic, Fear, Love, Revenge, Thought, Craft, Harm, Thunder? (These might be considered Gods but read on to see why they may not be.)


A - Classic singular monsters, *The* Manticore, *The* Catoblepas, maybe *The* Peryton, possibly *The* Dracula.

B - Humanoid species; Orcs, Gnolls, Lizardmen, Dwarfs, Humans etc.

C - Non-Humanoid animalistic monster species.


The idea here is that for everything that either wants to kill the PC's or that is simply in their way, that particular thing, or that species, has a specific mother and a specific father.

Now that mother and father might not necessarily be sympathetic to their children, they might be total dicks, or they could be giant monster mothers with (as is traditional) uncounted young. So if there is only one Manticore, and its literally the child of Spite itself shagging Shelob, then neither Spite nor Shelob might actually deign to notice that you killed or assaulted their child.

However, it’s a quality of complete dicks that they will often take more offence than they actually feel. So if you kill Spites child, even if Spite didn't really like them then they might come after you anyway.

And even giant monster mothers might notice if you start hewing through a large number of their young, and D&D heroes tend to do that.

And of course, Thought hates Spite, because Spite was such a dick all those times, so if you piss of Spite, then Thought might throw you the occasional low-key assist.

Add to that, the Greek-style conceptions due to cheating; if Thunder has been boning Air behind Earths back, and Air gave birth to a Super-Eagle, then Thunder may well want to protect it, but Earth will hate Thunders illegitimate children. So to rob the Super Eagle of its powers, bring it to earth.

And of course that old Greek and Renaissance standby, the child of rape. A child that might be protected by or hated by, one or more of its parents, depending on how they feel about it.

Constructing an actual monster-Power identity family tree would actually be pretty difficult, if you wanted to do it all in one go. There might be procedural ways to do it? Let me know in a comment or something if you want a method and I will give it a go.



A mythic 'original heroes' situation in which the PC's are the very first quasi-superheoric culture heroes to take on these monstrous or primal powers that threaten humanity, and win.

Myth, symbol, nature and eternity would inter-penetrate in a very material way . You could walk to the edge of the earth because it hasn't been sphered yet, reach the sky if you climbed far enough or find the palaces of Dream and Death beneath the ground. A place where, if you talk to the moon, or the sea, or the night, there is a small, conditional chance that they will turn round and talk back.

I'm imagining a Neolithic level of technology, a culture without religion as we understand it, where humanity (or just 'the people' really, the 50 or so people you know to be people) are always fleeing the ghosts and zombies of its own dead because no-one knows how to lay them to rest (you need to invent religion by talking to the Abrahamic Sky God or literally going to visit Death yourself).

A culture without fire (you have to steal it), possibly without sin, it could be that one of the PC's is the first to actually kill a family member and the sky god is so pissed he brands them and releases the harpies himself (maybe the first harpies ever). Probably you can talk to the animals, and the wind, or you can if you have a language skill, because the Sky God hasn't got pissed and 'Babel'd' things yet.

And of course, if the PC's manage to murder or overturn the higher powers then it turns out that actually those dudes were the Titans, and the PC's were the New Gods all along, and what they are up to is actually the mythology of a new world.

If you were to meet other humans then you might not realise that they *are* human.  You know what 'the people' look and sound like - they look and sound like you and your kin group - but these things look different, sound different and smell different. you might not have the physical context to be certain what it person, spirit, other or monster. The idea of 'human' is a concept you would need to invent.

The idea of not being able to conceptualise something until you find it in the world is a problem - especially as it relates to the crafty problem solving at the heart of D&D. Not being able to smelt metal until you go and talk directly to Craft sounds reasonable, but what are the borders of what you can and can't invent? Can you invent archery? Levers? Beekeeping?


I would probably run it as if years passed between sessions and the PC's gradually aged, with degradation rules for very old age. Wouldn't kill them between sessions but death would become more and more likely as their increasing status would mean there is more and more stuff they would have to do.

Possibly hack the tribe rules from Wolf Packs and Winter Snow.

Allow PC's to breed, if they make a kid then it gets a mix of their stats and becomes a possible future PC.

PC starting ages begin around 14-15, people not expected to live much past late 30's. You can start older and the advantage is that the oldest person in the tribe has a dominant status, everyone respects age, of course you will die sooner.

Classes would be very basic 5E; Fighter, barbarian, rogue, with the magic stripped out or stripped down.

Races; preferably everyone is human and part of the same immediate kin group. Could maybe allow skins of the different races as half-breeds with human sub-species; Neanderthals/Dwarves, Halflings/Homo Florensis, Half-Orcs/mum shagged a magic animal, Elves/mum shagged a magic tree.

Treasure would be knowledge and food. If you discover a sustained means of increased food production then your tribe increases, and of course you are the legendary figure that invented that (or stole it from the powers).

Monday, 5 March 2018

A Review of the Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene is as close to terrible as a verifiable work of genius can be.

Anyone giving it five stars has not read the whole thing, if it were half as long it would be twice as good.

Despite its pretensions to depth, the wealth of its pleasures come from lightness and air, and nothing is more terminal to froth than darkness and excessive length. The darkness being, not the costumed shade of Nights 'Yron Chariot' trundling across the stage of rhyme, dragging a velvet curtain, but the inner darkness of the creator. The meta-dark.

Perhaps the only way that the second half of the Faerie Queene is superior to the first is that it is a deeper, more telling and much more suggestive portrait of its maker. But the things it tells us are not things we want to know.

So, like the text itself, I will speak in two halves, one full of joy, the other 'both signed and sealed with blood, Wherein darke things were writ, hard to be understood.'


Uwins, Thomas, born 1782 - died 1857

It’s a great Anime series, or comic book, or Flash Gordon news-reel serial. It's fun. It has good fights.

You would not believe how many great works of literature have terrible, or no, fight scenes. Mallory is a serious offender in this. For a book largely about men fighting other men, the fighting itself is shit. In the Morte men come together 'like two wilde boars', they trace and traverse nigh ten houres' then one gets a spear in the gut, which is pulled out 'and the gore rushed oute thereby', and that's it. And that's it ten or twenty times because I have just described 80% of the fights in the Morte D' Arthur.

Spensers fights are little like the fights of life, but they are great fictional fights. They have structure, identity, vividness, they exhibit unique arms, different tactics and movement between places. Participants act intelligently, or at least, not pointlessly stupidly, and inventively, with their weapons and without.

Monsters, villains and remarkable creatures exhibit 'special moves' and particular actions, exactly like an anime series or computer game. Foes are linked together in complex patterns of relationship and response, presenting problems of comprehension and adaptation to the heroes.

Furor, the embodiment of fury, is taunted to levels of rage-imbued super-strength by the hag 'Occasion', the can only be beaten once she is bound. Arthur fights a giant with three bodies and strikes them through all at-once. Malegar flees on tiger-back and fires arrows, caught and returned by super-fast hags who much likewise be trapped, Malegar himself can't be beaten till he is lifted from contact with the earth. The Souldan in book five rides an uncatchable weapon-strewn chariot but the steeds that pull it can be blinded by light and crashing the chariot impales the Souldan on his own weapons.

These are not just problems, but elements of a sermon and specific allegory, while still managing to be more cinematic and exciting fights than anything else written around the same time, and many written now.

At least for the early books, Spenser acts as a (reasonably) decent show runner - he can move people on and off stage, set up thrilling denouements, arrange unspeakable revelations, raise heroes up and cast them down, only to be caught in a third-act reveal. He can throw in villains, damizells and fools and have us recognise and understand, intuitively, immediately, understand them at once. He gives us archetypes filled up with living breath and burnished with particularity. Eternal yet distinct, abstract but alive, far-flung polarities tied together in verse.

And the Verse is very good.

Even when the Faerie Queene is terrible, in the late books, it’s still possible and likely that you could open  the book at random and get something between good and amazing. Let me try;

"How many flyes in whottest sommers day
Doe sieze upon some beast, whose flesh is bare,
That all the place with swarms to overlay,
And with their little stings right felly fare;
So many theeves about him swarming are,
All which so him assayle on every side,
And sore oppresse, ne any him doth spare;
But he doth with his raging brand divide
Their thickest troups, & round about him scattreth wide."

In a line or a pair he clambers smoothly from the pseudo-archaic to the demotic. He talks high and he talks low, all in one go, and smooth. He enriches his line with clear, flowing half-irregular patterns of alliteration locked within regular rhyme like ripples on a Koi pond bordered by mosaic. He can end lines like drum beats, pounding through a verse like a military step, or enjamb them, looping them like snakes back and forth, all neatly, as if at play. He can flow through diverse sounds within a verse like a painter spinning their easel on fingertip, then drop us into distant thunder with near-Miltonic repetition;

"Lest she with blame her honour should attaint,
That everie word did tremble as she spake,
And everie looke was coy, and woundrous quaint,
And everie limbe that touched her did quake"

And he is doing this continually, relentlessly, while doing every other thing in the text at the same time. He does it for a thousand pages.

Spenser seems to write like an autodictat and a clever commoner rather than someone from The Culture. In his references he flies to the heights of classical allusion and intermixes thoughts and sensations of the commonest kind - seeming to be drawn from life. The child in the crowd reaching out to touch the dragons claws, the huswife raging at an animal sneaking in to lick her milk, the shepherd lying around in the sun and offering the passing knight a drink.

His verse is patched. Not just the references but the words themselves, and not just the words but the structure. His thought is not 'what does is mean, or signify, that I am using this particular reference, euphonic structure or word?' but 'what can I do with this? Can I jam it in here? Can I jam it in there?'

He is with the audience somehow, a showman deliciously pulling back the curtain, enjoying the tension. Some poets swing open the door to a private world, but we feel Spenser there with us as the story unfolds. I know what faces he would make.

His Characters, the human ones at least, at not great. Britomart and Glauce are good. Arthur is amusingly crafty.

His monsters, villains and fools are amazing. Just from memory;

Braggadochio and Trompart – marvellous, insane, boastful loons. Barggadochio, the false knight gains False Florimell, the freaky artificial sex-golem, and sadly loses her.

Archimago - the OG anti-knight, multiply disguised, always-plotting, never-gives-up all time best supervillain. Also the catholic church.

Duessa - the ultimate hot but not. Also, the Catholic church.

THE DRAGON! - Remember that guy? (Also the Catholic church and maybe Satan)

Orgoglio - successfully boned Duessa and had a stable relationship for a while in their child-sacrifice castle. Lets hear it for this guy, and for all those other Gyants that got murdered.

Radigund - number-one RadFem Amazon. Now has her own Youtube channel.

Pyrochles - 'burnt doe I burne' dumb as a post, hyper-confident and ALWAYS ANGRY.

Mammon and his Amazing Cave.

The Spanish Inquisition Sphinx Monster.

Acrasia and her Porn Island.

Phoedra the deranged manically-rowing chatterbox (my favourite).

The Iron-Toothed, poisonous, multi-tongued Blatant Beast.

Sex-Bot False Florimell.

Distain! - In both his forms. Don't actively call him 'Distain', for he distains to be so called, and all who so him call.

The Souldan and his wacky-races hyper-chariot, and don't forget his rage-tiger wife (still out there).

Malegar - the tiger-riding unkillable badass with an army of shadowy chaos mutants and a pair of backup hags.

Furor and his messed-up hag relationship.

Night! and her yron-wheeled chariot.

Woodwose - both good and bad.

Cupid - Demon Prince of Slannesh, and a massive dick.

Despair and his amazing intro, also has a cave.

Turpine! - What a fucking tool.

Many, many pseudo-Irish cannibals, slavers and thieves.

And finally, cosmic-level Kirby-Esque female badass MVTABILITY!

What a list! And that's not all of them. It's the best run on Batman ever.

Amongst the most interesting elements are the interrelationship (literally) of many of the monstrous and villainous characters and the use of processions and courts. These are both RPG-applicable enough that I will probably end up doing posts on them both.

So there you have it, a beautiful, energetic, inventive classic of the English language, packed full of amusement and incident, and a vital seed text for pretty much all of Anglo-derived adventure and genre fiction. What’s not to love?


Joseph Severn

I’m not Christian, a well-read Renaissance courtier, or capable of, or interested in, gaining the level of knowledge required to effectively simulate either, and this hugely limits my ability to appreciate whatever Spenser was trying to do.

Firstly the Faerie Queene is meant to be a sermon, a moral, philosophical and theological text in which everything, (EVERYTHING), has a specific dual spiritual and moral meaning. I’m not Christian and even if I was the closest culturally to me, through my dad, and by temperament, is Catholicism, which obviously presents its own difficulties with this obsessively anti-Catholic work.

So I am only half-reading it really, even through I am playing close attention. Christianity is already a big, powerful, complex story/artefact that exists bedded down into the structure of the believer – like a harp in the head.

I also haven’t read the European Renaissance canon, but I’ve read enough to know that they are all constantly referencing and commenting on each other. It’s a big shared universe and if you haven’t read the background then you miss maybe 20% of what’s going on. You can pick some up from notes and google but its not the same as the information goes in sequentially, instead of responding in parallel.

Christianity is a harp in the head and the assumed canon is another harp in the head so when the imagined Christian, educated and protestant reader absorbs any particular idea in the Faerie Queene they sense and respond to its specific implied multiple meanings simultaneously, in parallel, not sequentially, one after the other, separated by time, and this concentration, layering and intensifying of meaning may be something that, in the right circumstances, makes allegory a good thing.

Because in every other circumstance, allegory is shit. And the fact that this is an allegory is a bad thing about it. And bad for me particularly.

I am also not a huge fan of the Elizabethan colonisation project in Ireland, especially when it comes to enforced famine, ethnic cleansing and cultural annihilation, all of which I think were recommended by Edward Spenser.

So those are my limits in reading and understanding the Faerie Queene, and we should take them into account when considering my criticisms of it.


If we are to love directly, should we not also hate directly? They are, after all, beats of the same heart. And I responded directly, emotionally, to the bits that I thought were good, and we saw the results of that above.







The repeating of things.

"To say again."

Meet Edmund Spensers biggest influence; Edmund Spenser. The man never had a good idea that he wouldn't go back to. Or a bad idea. Everything in the book is in there at least twice and is in there too much except for Archimago and Phoedra who should have their own book. Would you like to go to Disneyland? Yes? About to leave? Well would you like to go back for another week, for free? Well you don't have a choice. And another week. And another. And another. Reading Spenser is like being a prisoner in an automated chocolate factory.

There is no good thing in the Faerie Queene but that there is too much of it. It numbs, bores and degrades.

ANTI-CATHOLIC MADNESS - To be fair this did provide a huge number of really good villains and monsters, but Jesus Christ. It's there in the beginning and it’s not that bad, but as Edmund settles into his new life as despised colonial landowner, in book 5 especially, and in book six, the pure, unadulterated, racial, cultural and religious hate he held for almost all the people in the place he was living seeps into the text like a house filling with sewage. Reading this stuff makes me feel like I am wading through diarrhoreatic shit.

Would you like to go to Disneyland, but it goes on too long and all the rides are about how the Jews should be exterminated? And also you can’t leave?

MISOGYNY! Like everything bad in the book, this is there in the beginning in foetal form, but then seems to gestate through the middle of the text and be born as some kind of Xenomorph monster in the later texts. Did you really need to bring in a RadFem Amazon to literally forcibly cross-dress men just so your most likeable (female) character could kill her? Did you have to have about 30% of all the female characters raped by someone? A woman gets raped by the sun. What the fuck? Oh my Christ it’s a grind.

ARTHEGALL - Arthegall is so fucking terrible. All of the knights are relatively boring but as well as having no personality, he's a horrible butchering, mutilating, murderer. And as well as that, it’s not even him doing the murdering, he just orders his robot to do it.

Having the main character of a Book be someone who is not only dull, but a shit, and not only a shit, but doesn't even do his own shit-work, but orders an automaton to do it... It plunges new depths of badness. It's so fucking bad. It’s bad on every level. I can't believe he got with Britomart. Life = RUINED!!!!

THEY NEVER DO THE FUCKING QUEST!!! - Fucking dithering narcissistic knights and fucking swiss-cheese Cantos where the plot fucks off for most of it. Did I say he could do structure? I lied. He is ffffuuucking AWFUL. He brings on super-hero characters to kill the possibility of dramatic action from the 'main' cast, forgets about them, and then has to bin them off hurriedly in the penultimate cantos to half-heartedly finish the story. Calidore is barely in his. Arthegall is in his, but doesn't do the thing he was sent to do, spends several Canto's dressed as a woman in prison and is generally awful. Britomart is good but her story is stretched over two Canto's with a bunch of beta-ass B-List extras wandering around doing nothing that interesting. Plus the end of her story is her ending up with Arthegall. Guyon spends a Canto reading, and another looking at allegorical architecture.

Its true that the endless shadowing of archetypes, with powerful major characters having shadows or partial doubles, and those people sometimes having doubles, and all of those interacting as separate people, is pretty interesting, theoretically. Multiple layers of reality all interacting. The same is true with the poems-inside-poems where someone stares at a tapestry or a carving or something and we get a handy DVD-extra animated intermission about whatever its about.

But it ffffffffuuucckks narrative drive. I mean I actually wanted to find out what happened with a lot of these quests. You put the name of the guy on the front of each book. But Batman was not in the Batman movie. I want my money back.

THE BORING FUCKING KNIGHTS - Remember that old Redletter media video where they asked people to describe Star Wars prequel characters without saying their name, job, or what they looked like?

Describe Redcrosse like that. Try Guyon. Britomart - she's in love? Arthegall - is a shit. Caledore - narcisstic creep.

I know knights are always boring in Chivalric literature but come the fuck on, the book is about fucking Knights! None of them have a fucking hobby or something? Even Mallory did better and he was writing in fucking prison.

THE NOBILITY WORSHIPPING CLAPTRAP - I know it’s the 16th century but come the fuck on. Get up off your knees you fucking worm and stop nibbling Elizabeths clit. It makes me ashamed to fucking read you. They are not that great. And you were born poor you little class-traitor colonialist social-climbing bastard. The 'raskall many' indeed.


THE WEIRD SEX STUFF – Sex Golem made from dreams and mist with carefully described nether parts. Another sex golem made from wires and gold who goes around enticing men. Lots and lots of bold women with carefully described breasts. Duessa being the Ultimate Catfish. Lots of women sweating. Lots of women bathing. Hot maidens wrestling naked in the Bowre of Blisse. That rapist giantess. That chick that ended up boning all the satyrs. Actually, I’m pretty much fine with all of this, move it to the + section above.

ALLEGORY IS SHIT - Ok, so, the allegory underpins, sustains and necessitates many of the more creative parts of the book, All of those monsters and villains are allegories of hyper-specific moral, theological or political elements. Same with those complex problem-solving fights I like. And the same with all the spiritual architecture that I enjoyed, Mammons cave, Despairs cave, the Brigants cave, and other non-cave spaces.

BUT ALLEGORY IS STILL TERRIBLE! It does not _possess_, it has no independent life. The great cause of Art is to unify and set afire the mind and heart with an experience that ordinary nature can only rarely, and unpredictably provide. And ALLEGORY DOES NOT DO THIS. It is merely an idea. It is a Wikipedia article about itself. It is a hyperlink, a meme, a dreamworks eyebrow. Allegory is trash, it is trash trash trash. There is nothing done in that form that would not be superior of it were merely a story and allowed to live. Allegory is a Damien Hurst pickle.

LORD GREY WAS GUILTY AS FUUUUUCCCCKKK! – They found the fucking skull Edmund! Everyone knows you killed those prisoners. Is your argument going to be that Grey used some kind of douchebag monkeys-paw verbal phrasing that meant he didn’t technically offer them safety? Well its 400 years later and nobody gives a fuck.

Stop banging on and on and on about how fucking unfair it is. There is nothing terrible that happened to you, in your whole life, that you didn’t somehow deserve.

Reputational damage? The Blatant Beast? YOU DID THAT SHIT. You got that castle and that free estate the same fucking way you got kicked out of it, by the sword. Don’t go running around crying about how unfair the world has been to you when you are that unfairness incarnated in human form.

WHY CAN’T YOU FEEL? – “Yet with all this, Spenser neither makes us laugh nor cry.” True. But why? You can take us to infinite spaces and great reaches of the visual and perceptual imagination, but you can’t go deep. I felt more reading the Morte than I did reading this. Why is that? Is it because of the allegory? Is it because you are a clever, talented flake? The two most powerful emotions I got from this are that you really loved your (second) wife, and we only got that for a moment in Book Six, and that you really hated the Irish.

Well, there you have it. Maybe the worst Great Book ever written, or the best terrible book ever written. There are few occasions where I would recommend damaging a text but if you want to just rip your copy in half and just read the front you will have a much better experience.

If you want to read my read-through in all its badly-spelled, poorly formatted, badly conceived glory, then click below for a PDF of every post;

Saturday, 3 March 2018



"holly shit there is just something inevitably boring and lesser about bad guys made of crystal. It’s a boring material."














Patrick Stuart






Reynaldo Madrinian