Saturday, 12 March 2016

Fire Ghosts

Difficult to cross the plains without a fire, difficult to start a fire without a ghost, and ghosts are difficult to deal with wisely and well. So, if you plan to journey on the lightning-haunted plain, and don't want death by cold or wolf, or just want to cook your food, then take somebody calm who knows their ghosts.

At night the plain cools like a flicked switch, the sun sinks, sweat freezes on bare backs, robes and wide-brimmed hats are swapped for hoods and dense black furs, horses shiver and steam, oasis’ crack and plink like burning glass as each one grows a cast of ice.

Someone starts a fire, nomads gather round the crackling wood hugging each other under their furs and looking at the stars through steaming breath for stealthy constellations of Grools. They listen to the passing yams. Then the Fire Ghosts come

Like shadows in the flame, faces in the fire, passing strangers silhouettes. Shapes. Azure-emerald twists of light in the helix of the blaze, shadows in the smoke before the stars, voices in the crackling wood, silent women veiled in sparks, old kings in crowns of burning spiralling leaves, ancient sorcerers, not all evil, breathing smoke and wearing robes of fire, holding burning books (which few can read) that teach great craft, if they can be tempted to stay, and understood if they do. Old knights and warriors, heroes of the burnt cities, ladies of great beauty, children and sometimes grinning monster-hearted men

Perhaps they are drawn by the heat of the flames, cold and lonely as the travellers who make the fire, perhaps created by them, gated from their sad, dead world, or brought in memory of their burning deaths.

They are not whole, great souls born of great memories but without a deciding mind.

It is to be hoped this ghost is friendly, or at least not wrathful, and that they speak, whispering from the fire in voices like cracking wood and popping sparks, that they can be appeased with a story, or by listening to one. Stories of their tall towers, now blackened spars, their pride and triumphs, their battles and tragedies, their heroes and monsters. Sometimes simply agreeing with their troubles is enough.

The reverie of the fire can be commanding, visions can be seen there of the cities of the plains, their bright pennants, their fierce legions of cavalry stamping in the bright sun

It’s to be hoped that a ghost knows what it wants and can ask for it, but old ghosts, primal, powerful, simple ghosts, have only needs, are only need.

A child of fire might want a toy which burns to pieces in its hands, a scholar might desire a book, smiling and turning the pages with bright fingers, leaving ash, a King, a crown, a warrior, a sword cast into the fire, (sometimes brave ghosts given swords have watched over sleeping travellers in the night and fought of wolves that came too near the fire, doing in death exactly what they did in life). A Queen may want a gown which incandesces as she puts it on, the ghost of a rogue may wish to steal something, no matter how large or small.

They might beckon you towards the blackened ruins, to avenge some slight or bury some ancient wrong. Sometimes bones must be interred, or names scratched on a rock as a tomb, climb a nearby ruined tower, hang a pennant from its highest room (you might find many pennants there, the ghost asking the same thing with each fire), or even sex sometimes.

The place can sometimes give you clues. The centrepiece of an old campsite might be pile of blackened daggers, or burnt lanterns, the remains of books, or human skulls. Some campsites are surrounded by stone after stone after stone, all bearing the same name in an ancient language, as demanded by the imperious ghost that haunts that place.

The darkest ghosts, the worse, who always seem to haunt the deepest reaches of the plain where a fire is needed most, want blood, or flesh, fresh bone, a human head, a living person thrown into the fire.

Again, as they did in life, they do in death.

It’s good if a ghost can ask for what it wants, even if it’s very bad, because if a ghost doesn't get what it asks for before the dawn, it won't let go, it will follow as you cross the plain. Every time you light a fire, wherever it is, the ghost will come for its answer, its object, its action, and every time the ghost comes it grows more dangerous in its alienation and more powerful in its wrath.

At first it can perhaps flick pebbles about, briefly blind with an illusion, reach wistfully from the fire and scorch your fingers with a touch, but the more times it comes back, night after night after night, the more times it comes back the more powerful it becomes.

First it can hurl stones, then rocks, then people. Its illusions, the reverie of the fire, become more powerful, more difficult to separate from reality, slowly brings you in to its forgotten world.

The most powerful dead, (not always evil), with deep souls and deep needs, will crawl forth from the fire in bodies of burning wood and bright flame, striding inexorably, imperishable, torching the scrub and forests in their rage, trapping you within a tightening circle of fire, banished only by the dawn.

The truly evil, awful ghosts, the monster-hearted memories, will even follow you once you leave the plain, sneaking into your life, hiding in candles or hearths, watching you and waiting to reveal their power. They do not want to be appeased. They want harm. In death, as in life. Every time you light a fire they will be there.

Form of this Ghost
A King or Queen
A Sorcerer, Scholar or Witch
A Knight, Hero or Noble Lady
A Child
A lost Soldier
A Traveller, like you
An Ancient Tribesman
An Ancient Shaman
A Rogue or Adventurer
A Mother
A Lunatic
A Slave

Do they talk?
They speak in a low clear voice.
They whisper if you listen close.
They speak, but in an ancient tongue.
They mouth words but no sound comes. They can gesture though.
They can neither mouth words or make complex gestures but only the simplest action relating to their need and nothing else.
They only sit within the fire with pleading faces and open arms, everything else is lost to them.

What are they after?
It's simple and completely obvious object based on their appearance and actions alone. A King might be missing a crown, a Knight might be missing a sword etc.
It's a simple object but unless stated it might not be clear what. It might be a flower, some hair, a blanket.
It's a simple thing and not necessarily clear, but there might be evidence in the area if other people have had fires here. Horseshoes buried in the ashes, single cold coins left half-melted, burnt pages of poetry.
It's not simple, not obvious and there's no evidence, if they can't tell you and you don't know, the only way to work it out is from their actions as they grow more powerful. They will seem to be looking for it or doing it, it, or its absence will show up in the illusions they cast.
It's some fucking nearby quest thing in a tower, dungeon or ruin. It may be dangerous. Others may have done it before you. Them doing it might have made it more or less dangerous.
It's something bad or really bad, human flesh, lots of blood, a living being, something you will miss.

The Growing Power of the Ghost
Leaves & Smoke
Shapes in the fire

Sounds & shapes in the night.

Stinging sparks
Stones, small handheld objects
Things in the distance, even in daylight when no fires are present.

Heavy objects like swords.
Things in mirrors, water, any reflective surfaces in day & night.
Can reach limbs out of fire.
Flecks d4 of fire, d4 damage
Knock people off their feet
Full, simulated audio-visual living objects. At night they can touch you.
Can crawl short distance from fire.

Throw people around like dolls
Fully tactile beings and objects in daylight. Flashes of ancient world at night.
Can leave fire and walk freely.
Equivalent of Burning Hands
Full-spectrum ancient world where you have an identity, are a character in the story and must play it through.
Inexorable Golem or Tulpa of fire.
Equivalent of Fireball spell.


  1. So, this will be a completely inane, fanboy-type question. Where do you get your inspiration? I've been trying to develop my own sense of 'wonderful weird' in my own writing, but it has fallen short of the mark. I'd appreciate any advice or sources you could point me towards. I'm a pretty big fan of the content on your blog.

    1. Its usually hard for me to remember exactly what prompted what.

      In this case I read something about ghosts, maybe that 'Against The Wicked City' post about them, and I remembered Noisms Yoon Suin Ghost generator, and I wanted to try to make a generator that could create ghosts and themysteries that sustained them, so that you always had to investigate to 'solve' a ghost, instead of fighting them.

      But I couldn't get it working.

      Then I already had the vague idea of the Phyrrous Plains and the Cities of the Plains in my head from FotVH. Places kind if like Colorado or a Cormac Mccarthy story, but with anceint civilisations.

      And I was thinking about fire for BFR.

      So I had the idea of combining them and from that point on it just flowed. The specitivity and beauty of the idea lead to a more stripped-down and fluid arrangement of concepts, leading to the table you see at the bottom.

      The words are a tidied-up version of what I wrote in notepad as I was considering the idea.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thank you, I appreciate the level of thought you put in your response. I do have a few more questions, but I want to ensure that I am not cluttering up your blog. Furthermore, I realise, like everyone else, you are a busy person. If you do not have the time to answer more, I would understand. So, wpuld it be alright with you if I posted a few more questions? Again, thank you for your detailed response.

    1. Its ok, go ahead. Might take a while as computer is boned.

    2. Feel free to respond to any, or none, of these questions. Again, I really appreciate the time you've taken to respond to my questions and comments.

      - How did you get involved in the game blog community? I've noticed you have numerous links to other blogs, and those blog have links to yours.

      - Is there any source (artist/music/book/movie) that you go to when you feel short on ideas?

      - Aldous Huxley wrote in 'Doors of Perception' that altered states of perception can be useful in the creative process. Would you agree? If so, what would you recommend?

      - I'm a big fan of 'Deep Carbon Observatory'. Can you tell me about any of your sources of inspiration for it?

      Thank you for your time. Please keep writing on the blog, and publishing your work. It's unfortunate that the gaming community has too few individuals with your level of imagination.

    3. - I think I read an article or post somewhere, maybe it was DnDwPS or Monsters and Manuals. I don't remember what the first think was that sucked me in but I read back through old posts, followed sidebar links and did the same thing with anything that looked interesting and just expanded from there. Then for Aug 2011 I got a computer (the same one that just broke, I'm typing this on my girlfriends) and about two days later made my first post.

      Then it just very slowly expanded from there. At some point Zak put me on his sidebar. I think that was the 'monsters of incompetence' post. Things kind if grew from there.

      The people on my sidebar are those I found either by following links or they linked to me, they are people I will usually read if I have time.

      Then a few years ago G+ started up and things kind of partly moved on there.

      - I read poetry if I can find periods of calm. I quite like the everyman pocket collections. I read pretty much everything. Haven't read any standard fiction in a while though. Reading the Poetic Edda right now.

      - In my case, absolutely and irrevocably not. Drugs have never been a good influence on me. Nothing I've ever produced on drugs has been any good. Getting off drugs has probably helped stabilise my mood and personality. To me drugs mean obesity, unemployment, poverty, lost days, increased depression, lassitude, failure and (more than usual) alienation. Writing and thinking are hard things to do and generally require focus and attention.

      You could put my before and after pictures on a social conservative advert about the dangers of drugs. Other people may be able to write or create well on them, but not me.

      I drink a bit but we are even cutting back on that and I haven't noticed any ill effects on my writing.

      If you mean any other altered states like meditation or anything like the occult, I have never tried.

      I have my own world of thoughts that I go to but that has always been the same ever since I was a kid and I suspect most kids are similar.

      - DCO roughly - 'Blind Descent' by James Tabor, the books of Norbert Carteret the cave explorer. Richard Forteys books on geology and evolution like 'Trilobite!" and a bunch of cave books I read for Veins of the Earth. If it ever comes out I will look at my shelves and try to produce an 'Appendix N'.

  4. This may be a bit forward. In exchange for a $50 USD donation to paypal, would you be interested in looking over a single page of content? I am looking for an honest opinion on the fluff of game stuff I've made. Mostly wanting your opinion if it's original enough to set itself apart from a majority of gaming content out there. Possibly some advice or comments where I could impove? Anyway, I figured you could use help getting a new computer, and I could get some much needed advice. Thank very much for the responses!

    1. If you are comfortably middle-class and the money ain't much to you then yes. If you ain't then it's probably not worth it.

      My emails pjamesstuart aaat

    2. Very good! I will polish up a few bits of writing and send it and the funds off to you by Saturday. Thank you for agreeing to help me. I realize that you're getting something out of the deal as well, but I appreciate the time you've spent so far in helping me.