Friday, 22 June 2018

Natural Language and Gross Positioning

'Natural Language' is a term I yanked from programmers. Reasonably self-explanatory, it means getting a programme to the point where you can tell it what to do in normal everyday human language.

'Gross Positioning' is something I made up to describe a particular way that we imagine space in D&D.

The situation I'm describing and imagining here is one where you run a game, either via hangout or online, using absolutely minimal notes and no visual representations of anything.

It's actually easier to imagine this happening online as the cognitive and time cost of sharing something like a sketch map is relatively high. But even online its relatively common to intuitively use a range of hand forms that describe relative spaces on the screen.

So this idea of running a game with NO visual representations at all is actually unrealistic and probably hyper-rare, and unreal environment stripped of its common methods and accompaniment in order to highlight some of the ways we construct our unreal environments.


Some things are hard to describe. Most things probably. Music, complex shapes, complex colours, highly detailed and specific arrangements of things, like the bones in a body, things with a very high volume of highly specific and non-naturalistic data like phone numbers and account numbers.

Reality in our descriptions is not like real reality. So, for instance, almost no-one has brown hair. Not if you look at it directly and try to count the sub-colours and all the patterns of shade and gleam. In the same way, the sea is almost never green, or blue, but a shifting matrix of many related colours and moving light effects, all changing all the time.

And yes maybe an artist or someone trained in colour theory could pick out all, or many of the sub colours or lighting effects in somebodies hair. Just like a Doctor could probably name all the veins and arteries in a pretend surgery or a designer or tailor could name all the specifics of clothes.

And if your DM is one of those things then they can use that knowledge to be a kind of teacher/challenger, introducing terms and educating you about them piecemeal while also challenging you in the game. And possibly the ability of an hierarchical old-school DM to do this is something that separates it from group-effort storygames. It's hard for there to be a position of highly specialised knowledge without hierarchy.

So what I'm talking about with 'Natural Language' is conversational language. The kind you could use with a wide range of people from different social circumstances and with differing cognitive styles where you could reasonably expect them all to understand you.

This language massively limits and strongly highlights very particular kids of things. Its pattern is more like oral poetry, ballads and hero stories than it is like anything else.

If you go out and look at nature you see a whole shitload of colours all blended together and mixed up pretty much all of the time

In natural language, using description only, its much simpler if things are either one of the basic describable colours, blue, green, red, purple etc, or, and this is better, as it is in poetry, if they are coloured like a known natural object or process;

"The Queen has eyes the colour of the sea."

There are certain numbers that work well in natural language, just as they do in ballads and just as they do in fairytales. The linking factor is orality. Idea and concept clusters developed for an oral culture are, in a way, conservative. They are 'evolved' or developed over many iterations to be very strong memory signatures. Stuff that sticks in the memory usually makes the strongest possible use of the minds natural heuristics for working things out and then develops complexity by combining a re-combining these simple elements.

That's very different to the way a computer, a business report or a spectrograph show you detail and complexity.

So for numbers, three, five, seven and pair are good numbers. Ten and Twelve aren't bad, but once you get above those the progression gets patchy.

So the queen with the sea coloured eyes and the red dress wearing three green gems is very different from the queen with amber eyes and the flame coloured dress wearing seven leaf green gems.

But what's the difference between wearing 42 gems and 52 gems? Or between 121 gems and 1692 gems? Or 12,398 tiny gems?

One army has a thousand men. What if it has 997 men? The opposing force has 1,991 Orcs. What if it just has 'twice as many'?

A table in D&D will only have a certain number of things on it, that is, a certain number of specific things you can interact with. The rest will simply be abstract elements you search through to find the named, specific things.

And of course NPC's in D&D will almost never have long, specific, highly detailed conversations with each other without them finding a way to involve the PC's in that conversation. Though I think that is not to do with natural language as much as it is to do with the nature of the simulator (the DM being a human).

There are a limited number of spaces and shapes as well, especially and particularly shapes you can put characters and people inside of. As with the numbers, a shape can have certain canonical platonic forms and a certain number of edges and corners, but highly irregular multi-edged or organic shapes simply 'fade out' to similes or non-specific generalisations.

Its with shapes, and especially movement through shapes that we get to what I call 'Gross Positioning'.


So you are describing a room or a cave or a tower or somewhere else as an adventure site, and you are doing it only with words. No images no maps no sketching, nothing.

What usually happens (to me) is that the space gets blurry and fudgy. After a few rounds of combat or other actions its not quite clear exactly where people are in relation to each other.

The question is not simply one of describing a space as if to one other person over however much time you need, but of describing it into the minds of multiple other people, who are all interpreting it differently and all trying to manipulate and re-interpret it within the context of the game.

A few elements seem to work to stick positioning in peoples minds. Going through these might be helpful both in running imaginary spaces in and in constructing them in your game.


People know if they have gone in the room yet, and who has gone in the room. If there is a sub-room, like a box or wardrobe or the curtains of a four-poster bed, or something then they know who is and is not in that. Specifically, its easy for that player to remember and they will remind others, and you, in play, and so form part of the construction of the spatial order.

Closer to the Danger Thing/Treasure

People know if they are closer to fire or a monster or a big scary drop than someone else. That is the thing they don't want. They also know if they are closer to the Treasure or the Way Out than someone else. In a way the 'Closer Than' element is a kind of situational 'micro line' - see 'in a line' below.

Up the Tree/On the Ceiling

People know if they are up the tree, especially if they are hidden in its branches, and they know if they are climbing on the ceiling. They know if they are "strongly above" the standard assumed plane of action for that space.

Climbing Up

"There are only three positions in climing up to somewhere;

- Still in reach of someone/something below.
- Fall and will live.
- Fall and will be hurt.
- There (this is 'Up the Tree', so it's still only three positions)
- (Ok there's also 'fall and die', so its four. But that changes relative to circumstances like player level and magic access.)

Hanging from the Thing

It's usually a chandelier. It's possible this is just a sub-category of 'Up the Tree' but a major difference is the PC's ability to swing and place themselves in a variety of places within the space. We could also classify this as "Access to the Flyn Machine", I did that post about held kinetic energy in old-school battle spaces, which was about how stuff you would see in old swashbuckling movies was very useful in Old School play. So any scenario where there is a rope with a weight, a tippable object or something that can fall or rise, players will known and strongly recall whether they have access to manipulate that.

Down the Pit.

People know if they have fallen down the ten foot hole. Once down the hole there are two main distances;

- Can be reached. This is the best position for a game and probably the reason most holes are 10 feet deep. At this depth you can maybe climb out by yourself, but its slow, but if someone reaches down for you you can almost certainly be pulled out very quickly. The 10 foot hole is a team-building machine

The person in the hole is both seperate from and part of what is going on in the room in a very specific and directly intuitive way. They are vulnerable to some things, saved from other things (like arrow fire and breath weapons) and can be brought back into full play with a simple non-specific action with an easily-comprehensible action cost. They can also be spoken to and communicated with easily.

- Cannot be reached/needs something special. This is sometimes bad design. It takes a PC out of the game space but doesn't put them into their own new game space. All they can do is sit there, watch, listen and think of ways for someone to get the special thing that will get them out. But, like all 'hard', 'bad' or 'boring' things in D&D, it can be very good because it forces the players to really genuinely thing hard and if they can think of something then they get a huge boost of self actualisation and mutual solidarity.

Hidden Behind/Hidden Below.

Usually curtains, wall hangings, treasure, screens, a suit of armour. It's a quality of 'hidden behind' that there is something that could become aware of the PC if they were not hidden, that the hiddeness cannot extend through the whole space but 'locks' them in a small range of positions, that it places restrictions on their behaviour so they don't end the hidden effect.

It doesn't have to be visual. You could be hidden from the Predator vision by ArnoldMud, hidden from the Echolocation by spiky things, hidden from the magic by other specific magical elements.

Tied to the Thing.

People know if they are attached to a thing, or if it is attached to them. If it lets them more or act and how far. They are immediately very invested in finding ways to not be Tied. In that way its a lot like 'Down the Pit'. Tied to the thing is different to Grabbed as its just an object. You can't negotiate with a lock or rope and its usually not going to do new stuff with you.


The Monster has got you. Tentacles, hands, a rope with a loop. This is often only para-spatial as it only locks people in position relative to the monster. Much has been written on grabby monsters so I will leave that.

In a Line

If there is any situation where PC's have to line up to fit somewhere or do something then they will usually remember where they are in this sequence. The way people do this is interesting. No player needs to remember the whole sequence, all they need to know is who is in front of them and who is behind them.

It's actually a really elegant piece of emergence watching a bunch of people who have forgotten where everyone's imaginary character is, remind each other of where they are in the order of march and essentially re-construct that order even though no particular person had the whole thing in their head.

Swept Away

Someone has fallen in the river and while everyone else fights the Dragon you run a simultaneous scene where they meet Gollum. This is only tangentially related to Gross Positioning since its now a different area. There is a distinct pleasure though in uniting the two areas through some active or living element (an Orc gets knocked out and washed downstream to the cave, the Dragon punches through the wall between the places, Gollum shows you a secret route to the lair where the fight is happening).

So those are some basic elements of Gross Positioning. No doubt more could be said. You can probably work out from that and from natural language something about the kinds of spaces you want your game to peak and arrive in, and especially, if you are running a high-agency, high-improv game, the kinds of spaces and situations you can easily pull out of your ass and which should hopefully work well anyway.

  • Rooms within rooms - curtains, panels.
  • A main plane of action - if there are levels, keep them to maybe three.
  • Downward Verticality - pits, dips, traps, stairs. You are below the main plane.
  • Upward verticallity - ceiling beams, roof tiles, tree branches, balconies.
  • Swingy things.
  • Held Kinetic Energy - have gone over this, the Errol Flyn shit.
  • Hidy Places - piles, pillars, inner walls, things to be under or behind.
  • Grabby Objects - traps but also anything to be tangled in or trapped by.
  • SweepAway Elements - Things that can move you unexpectedly out of the area, and into another, linked or thematic area. You fall through the floor into the Duchesses room, a portal to a nearby hidden room, thrown into a boat, knocked into the Seraligo of blind eunachs etc.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Stuff for Sale

You can grab my copy. I'll put a message in if you like. I'm also selling a bunch of random Maze merch and some original Zak artwork.

My copy of Maze of the Blue Medusa

This fabric map by All Rolled Up

Maze Dice Tray by All Rolled Up

This Zak Smith Artwork 

This, honestly, pretty odd, one of a kind Maze bathroom/wall tile 

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The Wodlands 7 - The Actual Wodlands

1. The Plain of Anaesthetic Fire.
2. The Antigoblin Empire.
3. The Whetstone Ridge.
4. The Painted Plane.
5. The Vermilion Sea.
6. The Large Goblin Collider. 

The Wodlands

A city like a turned-over log where the people scatter like pigeons and the pigeons stalk like wolves, the Wodlands are the tumorous heart of a maddened land. Originally, the nobility built castles and mansions ranged around the Old Throne at the Wodlands Heart, then after the Revolution the Masons raised vast monuments to civil law and reasonable thought. Clear sweeps of pale stone washed around windows of glorious glass and hand-carved columns. Statues to Eternal Reason dotted gardens of imported trees.

With the fall of the Master Mason, and the loss of its hinterland to total reality breakdown, Goblins and invading Chaos Wasps, the Capital has collapsed into absolute economic, cultural, spiritual and psychological ruin. Its concentric highways have become a spiralling maze leading to an empty core, the Old Throne has disappeared, some say ruined or stolen or sunk into the grass like a wrecked ship sinking into liquid earth, but still whole somewhere, passed beyond time, never to return.

Proud buildings covered with faded pentangle and hexagrams, with gilded stairways, lists of revolutionary heroes and idealised figures of justice and reason, have been broken down into warrens of tiny flats. The demi-castles of the old nobility, still spattered with musket and cannon scars, were ruined twice.

The Mansions are full of ruined descendants living in penury, cooking magpies, setting squirrel traps, sometimes eating small Goblins or trying to boil a Meta-Fox. A few still keep one of the old hereditary MegaBadgers as guards, but they have been pulled into underground Badger Brawls.

There are things on fire in the night and shadows move against the flames. There are Goblin ghosts in bottles and bins. Everyone is an addict.

These streets are serious. There is movement behind black windows stacked with rotting paperback books. Overgrown ornamental trees, full of angry birds, loom on the lanes and lean over into the street.

All the birds are angry here. And criminal. Crow Zones are inaccessible hells, Gull Gangs harass those too long in the open. All the pigeons are informers and they are everywhere.

The centre has become the margin and the margins have become the core. The city is accessed via hidden paths, routes through fences and walls. Some doors to ordinary houses are left part-open and those who know can walk in, move thought and climb a chair to a kitchen window. Trash alleys are guarded toll-roads. Hidden trails sneak through sculpture dumping grounds from various ages of monumental pride and censorship. Paint splattered ladders leaning against crumbling brick walls could be part of the thoroughfare.


Crows are active in the Crow Zones. They sometimes erect cunning signs stating 'No-Crow Zone', but this is a lie. They are murderous, intelligent and theiveing creatures whose nests are full of golden teeth and forgotten I.O.U's.

A Wodlands crow is an intelligent as a Tax Inspector and can change size at will to be as big as a man or as small as a mouse. They have no sense of right or wrong.


The Gulls are, thankfully, really fucking stupid, and cannot change size. They will compulsively harass and attack anyone and anything they like, following them until they escape or are pecked to death.


Sweatshop powered by cracked-up Goblins and anyone else they can squeeze in. The Wodlands is full of these and they churn endlessly, spewing out high volumes of terrible goods.

The Crack shops are the chief, and only really, remaining economic engine of the Wodlands. They make good things badly and at high volumes. So useful tools, cakes, books, handy items like glasses, everyday household objects, all are made at incredible speed, sold cheap and break within d4 months or hours.

Crack pipes, lockpicks, shanking daggers, voodoo dolls, lava lamps, face masks, gloves, syringes, cheese graters, strappy sandals, fedora hats, granny glasses, graphic Tees, acid, slime, certain cheeses, poisons, political pamphlets, commemorative coins, novelty aprons, pointed shoes, cravats and pleather trousers are all made surprisingly well by specific drugged-out artisans.

Any bad object can be found in the Wodlands markets for a reasonable price. It is the only main reason for coming here.


A street that isn't empty or patrolled by birds or unseen gangs or cleared for a Penny Farthing race will have a shouting match on it. These are either Window to Street arguments or Intra-Street arguments. Window to Street arguments are less likely to break into violence but will go on much longer.

They can also be Window to Window. Beyond that arguments can be either Group on Individual, in which case the Individual will probably end up running for it. Group on Group, in which case a gang fight may be about to break out. Or Individual to Individual, which has a wide range of possible results.

Most arguments are about drugs, money or varied opinions and dissenting views on a complex network of interpersonal relationships and deep emotional connections.

It has been said that if you cannot hear an argument in the next street then you are not in the Wodlands.


Goblins have learnt to attach very basic petrol engines to penny-farthing bicycles. The engines don't actually do anything other than produce noise and smoke, Goblin technology is not that good. The weight of them probably slows down the bikes. The bikes do not have breaks.

Goblins to 'supercharge' their penny-farthings with rare chemicals and have extensive competitions and arguments about the best engine and the best adaptations. Although all the supercharging does is to change the noise and the smoke and sometimes explode the engines.

The Bikers lounge around with their sleeves rolled up and are extremely macho about their biking culture. It's not clear if they know or care that the engines don't work, or even if the engines are meant to be working to power the bike.

The interpretation that the engine should be powering the bike may be a purely human construct. It may simply be enough for the Goblins that the Engine be Engine.

The Goblin Bikers make a living dealing and delivering drugs and through various other crimes. The feud for street control and run regular midnight races in which Penny Farthings dash down narrow roads a quarter mile at a time. They are commonly killed through being hit in the face by an Great Horned Owl at high speed in the dark.


The High Status Gardening Gangs of the Wodlands began as aggressive guilds during the rule of the Theigns, who loved to splash cash on pointless bushes and display-lawns. As the Theigns became more crazed and other aspects of the economy tanked, highly aggressive gardening was one of the few routes to wealth for the working classes and the Guilds became more violent and controlling, launching raids on each others Gardens and sometimes even Composting each other.

After the Revolution the Masons tried to force the culture of Gardening competitiveness into matters of pure display, though they were never entirely successful; the association of Gardening with crime and secret violence had already been made and the Guilds were hard to break.

After the Masons fall, Goblns slowly infiltrated and replaced many of the Guilds, and the few that remained had to match them in violence, cruelty and tricksyness in order to survive.

Sculpted Topiary is a danger sign. A clean garden means you have crossed a line Any area of carefully maintained greenery is the territory of a violent herbaceous gang. The plants and their maintenance of them are a status display. Even entering the area may be considered an offence, especially if you are already associated with another gang. Damaging greenery will be considered an attack.

To not step on the grass.


Also, do not go in the grass.

Goblin Dogs are green, long-jawed snaggley-toothed creatures that could easily be deformed hairy Goblins going on all fours. They may be the final evolution of the Goblin form, a strange mutation or a freaky experiment from the Goblin Cube.

The dogs are sneaky carnivores. Though they cannot speak or use tools, their intelligence is roughly double that of a Goblin.


Falcony with Owls.

Most birds of prey will not tolerate a Goblin. Only the Great Horned Owl will stand their presence, it is because they share an unreasonable attitude to life and both have very long claws whose points are so sharp they cannot be easily seen, being mere blurs against the air.

Nevertheless most Goblin Bubonkoners are very badly scarred around the face and brain, even by Goblin standard, and will have fingers missing.

The Bubonkoners come forth in the evening and compete for space with the Drug Dealers, Bikers and Badger Addicts. The noise of these activities always bothers the Owls so the Bubonkoners are obsessive about stopping excess noise. unlike most Goblins they go quietly on rag-padded feet and slide slim knives invisibly into lungs to let out the sounds before they form.

The Bubonkoners are tolerated because the Owls kill Crows, Gulls and Pigeons and so reduce the numbers of Terrible and Harrassing Birds in the Wodlands, something desired by all.


The true lords of the Wodlands can only be communicated by whisper, never out loud. They are the Rumour Rulers and Rumour is their law. Whatever rumour they spread will be believed and come true.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

The Wodlands 6 - The Large Goblin Collider

1. The Plains of Anaesthetic Fire.
2. The Antigoblin Empire
3. The Whetstone Ridge
4. The Painted Plane
5. The Vermillion Sea

In the yellow plain between the Umber Woods and the Plain of Anaesthetic Fire, and on the path that links the Wodlands to the Vermillion Sea, within sight of palette-coloured banks the Pigment River, is the Cube of the Large Goblin Collider.

The Collider itself is a huge subterranean loop, buried beneath the waving yellow grass. At intermittent periods, the distant vibrations of the supersonic rail, the screams of the rocket pods, the cackling laughter of the High Velocity Goblins and the tuning-fork-bomb-blast air-buzzing implosion of Goblins colliding at high speed directly beneath the Cube, which then incandesces with bright white Pure Goblin Energy, can be heard and felt thrumming through the earth.

All Goblins possess Goblin Genius and to investigate, and exploit the nature of this genius, they built the Collider and the Cube where they smash up Goblins at supersonic speed.
The Cube itself is a library, a laboratory, a dada-ist religious site and a nerve centre for the League of United Goblins, the para-reality Goblin Government and overall organising force.

The answer to any Goblin Problem can be found within.

Anyone wishing to effect or alter the Grand Goblin Strategy across All Worlds, must come here, anyone wishing to attack, exploit, evade or corrupt goblins must also come here. All Goblins everywhere are expected to make a pilgrimage to the Cube at least once in their lives, to experiment, or be experimented upon.


Encounters on the plain involve wandering Goblin Philosophers on their way to the Cube, Goblin subjects, hoping to be experimented on and Goblins with strange mutations and weird powers who have been crapped out by the Cube, which acts like a fucked-up factory for ridiculously random X-Men.

"Roving Dimensional Holes At All Times" warn the faded falling signs. These holes, perhaps created by the Large Goblin Collider, by experiments inside the Cube or just by extra-dimensional Goblins trying to bend space to get here, are a continual threat. They roll or skate wildly across the plain being chased by Goblin scientists with Hole Hooks who bring them back to experiment on, either by shoving Goblins inside them, or by shoving them inside Goblins.


The Cube is a vast building, poised on its corner. It is white, tiled in cracked glass and ceramic with an off-kilter modernist style. It is lit from within by bright flashes of Goblin Energy.

The area around the Cube is patrolled byGoblin Guards, (new versions and types are spewed out by the Cube every day), and huge near-feral watchtower golems. Surrounding this is the security fence and beyond that are lines to enter and the huge crowd of Goblin pilgrims.

The only legal way for any non-Goblin to enter the Large Goblin Collider is to sneak in, goblin-style. However, if you do succeed in sneaking inside then it will be assumed  that you are meant to be there.

The crowd breaks into two lines, one for Goblin Philosophers, the other for Experimental Goblins. Goblin Philosophers must be able to present a work of  goblin science or advanced goblin thinking that proves their right to enter. Experimental Goblins need only sign a waiver. As soon as Goblins pass the main gate, the two lines merge and mix as if they forgot that they were different.


The fence is always a random height and made from random materials in each section. It is also an irregular shape if seen from above.

Some parts are like long slender fingers sticking up as if there were huge gracile goblin hands just beneath the ground. Some are made of crumbling concrete sprayed with Goblin graffiti, some parts are collapsing chain link, others are fine green-hued Victorian fretwork with fine cast iron Goblin faces, some thick deadly Goblin hedge, some electrical wire. Some parts are marked with flayed Goblin faces that wink, some are hung with bells or tied up Autistic Goblins that go REEEEEEE if disturbed.

Between the fence and the cube are the huge predatory watchtowers and the varied guards.

The Watchtowers are constructions of black splintery wood. They lumber about on wooden spider legs. At their tops are Goblin lookouts and spotlights whose bulbs are incandescent Goblins fully charged with P.I.G.G.Y - PURE INCANDESCENT GOBLIN GALVANISING YIELD.

The Watchtowers sometimes get confused and attack each other like big animals in the night. The winner will cannibalise parts and get taller. Too tall - eventually the tallest falls over and shatters into smaller watchtowers, or is consumed by the herd.

The guards are varied but may consist of;

- Goblins riding baskets using lighter-than-air hydrocephalic goblins as huge balloons, their bulging eyes turn.
- Goblin Mecha, large copper steam-bots that go AWOOGA and often explode.
- Necro-goblins meditating on huge floating skulls and firing death-energy from their occipital lobes.
- Thieving counter insurgency stealth goblins like Aye-Ayes with long fingers and large eyes.
- Goblins driving a bound Antigoblin as a suicide bomb.
- Goblins hang-gliding on big crows and dropping from above.
- Goblins in spitting biplanes powered by refined P.I.G.G.Y.
- Attack-Goblin cavalry on Penny Farthings with scythes on the wheel hubs - big hussar hats, fur capes and swinging sabres



Inside there is a maze of linked and jury-rigged monorails ridden by Goblins in primary colour jumpsuits (crashes are common), and a network of glass tubes. There are Goblins moving in the goblin tubing, the scurrying never stops.

There are paper maps pinned to various places. All are inaccurate, have been moved, are in faded crayon or are not actually of the Goblin Cube. There are also timetables, signposts, directional floor-lines and information desks for which the same is true.

The rooms and layout of the Cube are Borgesian but retarded. Rooms of random size, shape and contents, with random entries and exits. Here Goblins are experimenting and experimented upon. This might include;

- Glass-walled Hannibal Lecter cells full of normal reasonable rational goblins undergoing Psychotherapy.
- Captain America-style transformational radiation machines.
- Goblins putting on a Harold Pinter play but they have disintegration rays and disintegrate each other at random before freezing into an expressionist tableaux.
- Goblins wearing human papier-mache heads in an otherwise normal laboratory.
- Goblins miniaturised and injected into things, then further miniaturised and set to ride beams of green light.
- Goblins with jet stream test area strapping goblins in and testing goblin dynamics.
- Dangerous Goblin surgery taking place. Drugged ocelots being implanted into grateful patient, thumbs up at the end
- Dogs playing an octopus at cards, one Goblin furiously paints the scene, others measure the artists brainwave output with torrents of paper, but the tongues of paper infiltrate the scene, causing the artist to paint them and setting off a cascade response.
- Goblins gathered round a barely controlled pocket universe which rolls around like a big lead ball sucking goblins into it. They push it with carbon rods like curlers.
- Goblin Cybernetic Snail jousts
- Goblins fed into consuming extradimensional spiral like charity coins.



It is here that the meta-strategy for all Goblin Conflicts across all realities is decided. Anyone who can infiltrate this room could conceivably acquire information invaluable to anyone engaged in warfare against Goblins anywhere. They could also possibly alter Goblin strategy, though the effects of this are unpredictable.

A full Ham Scan is required before entry. Visitors must place their buttocks against a glass plate and a green scanning line will check their hams. If their hams are not cleared for entry then special forces Awooga Goblins will emerge in small cars.

There is always fighting in the War Room. The place is divided into different factions based on preferred meta-strategy, tie colour and food sauce preference. Goblins in suits and bejazzled military uniforms battle and besiege each other with sporks, hot coffee and office furniture. The Big Green Screen shows the Universal Goblin disposition and current danger level (at the moment, set to Gob Con Four, the worst being Gob Con One).


The primary Goblin currency, the Trick, is minted in the Cube in greenish gold. Not only do they mint the coins, they also set the value of the Trick and decide large scale Goblin economics.

1 Jab = 1 Poke (the currencies are pegged to each other).
88 Jabs = 1 Trick.
97 Tricks = 1 Crime.
56 Crimes = 1 Jab.

The mint is often the target of robbery or financial manipulation, but is defended by a giant invisible hand which sometimes just smashes stuff randomly and by bewigged Goblin Financial Philosophers who gargle coffee and argue constantly about the value of the Trick.

The value itself is set by a pig attached to a complex series of levers, its wanderings have  huge effects on the Goblin Economy across the multiverse. If the value of the Trick should fall then Goblins will have to perform many more Tricks to avoid falling into the legal classes. Should the value of the Trick rise, then a Trick Bubble may take place, with Goblins massively over-investing in highly complex and unstable tricks that never pay off.


Here, deadly arms are created to use against the next Apocalypse Peach if/when it comes, and also just for fun. These include;

- Bionic Wasps; These go horribly wrong always.
- The Supermurder Cannon; Deadly, but too large to move, also now sentient and paranoid.
- Postmodernism Bomb; Too terrible for even Goblins to contemplate.
- Autism Ray; May have no effect on chaos wasps.
- Mega-Monkey Super-Cyber-Suit; Impossible to control any Goblin that puts it on as they instantly go Mad With Power.
- Engine of Infinite Blades; Theorised to simply be an un-closable portal to the plane of Edge. Now used for dicing by cooking goblins. Blade elementals sometimes escape.
- Ultra-Maggot Cannon; Distressing to use. Should the Ultra-Maggott survive it can hatch into a Mega-Fly.
- Ultra Maggot-Cannon; Similar problem to above but smaller, and on a much wider scale.
- Self-Replicating Peachivorous High Speed Bioweapon; The Goblins have simply reverse-engineered rabbits. They seem unaware that Rabbit already exist and keep these ones under exacting control.
- Fungal Destructor; Has also attained sentience, possibly also possessed, currently barely confined. Is also party leader of Goblin Minority Cordyceps Faction.
- Primordial Annihilator Device; Will definitely destroy the next Apocalypse Peach, will also release Chaos Gods upon unwitting cosmos.


Near the centre is the office of the President of Goblins Representing All Parallels or P.O.G.R.A.P, a Goblin with a head so huge it needs a moving stand to get it around. Few have spoken directly with the POGRAP and their powers and authority are unknown outside the Cube.


Finally, at the centre, or bottom, or somewhere hard to reach, is the Large Goblin Collider itself, where PURE INCANSECENT GOBLIN GALVINISING YEILD - or P.I.G.G.Y is studied and released. Or perhaps the PIGGY itself is studying the Goblins.

The PIGGY forms balls of Gremlinish electro-stuff that arcs across the cosmos. Wherever it grounds itself Goblin anima is released and integrated into the environment creating cascades of Active Mischiefons and Cackle Waves.

Inanimate objects can be imbued with Goblinish sentience, if it arcs into a living thing (like the PC's) it can auto-generate goblinism up inside them, allowing them to ignore the rules of the game if they do bad things. Of course they must then perform more Goblinsh actions or the effects will swing back upon them, producing a spiral of Goblin chaos.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

I officially don't give a fuck.

Its real fucking late and I'm real fucking tired so read this with that in mind.

If you know what this is about, then fine, if not, its fucking bullshit culture drama, have fun googling.

I don't think I've ever blocked, censored or recommended people not work with someone, ever. Even fucking Zak.

If someone's on my blogroll that means I can be reasonably sure of clicking on that link at any time and finding something that doesn't make me depressed.

If thinking about you depresses the fuck out of me then I'm not going to put you up there.

Informational feudalism might be a thing but you have no automatic right to my respect. You really shouldn't care about it anyway.

It doesn't work like that, it's not a corporation. You can't make people like you just by 'putting the work in'. You have to actually be interesting, at least to someone. And if you are interesting to someone other than me then cool.

When I walked away from Zak I was afraid that people would stop coming to my blog, did it anyway. No regrets.

I don't hustle and I don't climb. I know a lot of you do because either you think you have to, or you are just businesslike and you put yourself forward because its responsible or whatever. And if you come at me like that, straight on, 'hey you've got a project, do you need layout' or stuff like that, then I'm not going to resent you for it.

And I'm not gonna get pissed at you for using a book I made to play games.

Or even if its like, a handful of blog posts.

Or actual plays. Or even just tearing it apart. Or just doing something original and interesting with it.

And I have no right to ask anyone to stop creating with my stuff, and I have no real desire to make any one stop.

But I can choose what I pay attention to.

I like what I like, what I desire and enjoy is mine before its anyone elses, regardless of how people  view the informational power structure around me.

Let it also be noted that I don't shit on people and humiliate them in public. Or feed drama. I will continue to not do that.

I don't owe you a fucking link. No-one does.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

The Wodlands 5 -The Vermillion Sea

From the Red-Sun sea, the Goblins came

The Vermillion Sea has always been a source of worry in the Wodlands. Even before the Master Masons fall and the creation of the Painted Plane, it was never exactly clear where exactly the Vermillion sea lead to, what shores it washed upon and what lay beneath its waves.

The sea is red for its flowers, which grow upside down, their translucent stems and roots forming a kind of liquid glass Sargasso on its surface.

Beneath the translucent roots, poking down into the water, are the red heads of the carmine lotus-poppies, and beyond them is the crimson of the Red-Sun World.

The sea itself is not a sea, at least not from both directions. Those who plunge beneath its translucent Sargasso surface drown, for the most part. Survivors speak garbled tales of a world lit by a Red Sun, a world in which the envelope of our reality curls around the diver like a sheath, choking and drowning them.

On the north shore of the Vermillion Sea, every month the black fjords of the Plain of Anaesthetic Fire fill with monthly transparent wrack and poppy heads in huge damp corroding piles.

To the east the beach shore of the old orange lands are stained with unpredictable fauna, lichen, vines and wild blue sugar cane growing in the red nocturnal glow of the sun beneath the sea.

To the south the sea fades slowly into a marshland of poppy heads and here the strange sugary flora from the Red-Sun world mixes with local species and the some slightly photographic or computer generated plants and animal species from the Pigment River. Mosaic-Nose Dolphins and Technicolour Hippos. By the time the marshes reach the Pigment River, they turn to near-solid ground. Then, beyond the river are the far Southerlies of the Wodlands reach, and then the Umber Woods where the PenumBeetles ruled, and still do.

On the surface of the sea, far out from shore, it is said that the Invisibeetles, glistening translucent isopod-men, built their palaces of bubblewrack on opalescent wrack islands. The isopod tribes are as translucent as their palace walls so the wrack does give them privacy of a sort - glass knights in glass castles. Beetles with a dignified sense, never seeing what they should not see.

(Quite different to the PenumBeetles of the Umber Woods, their cousins.)

Tales talk also of demonic Pteranodons diving upside from within the surface tension of the Red Sun World, bursting into our air as if t'were water and swimming in bounds while hunting for invisible knights.

So the sea lay, for many moons. At night the glow of the Red Sun shone upwards through its strange tides and the sea itself, unsailable, beating upon unknown shores and unchartable fjords and masking silent access to an unreachable world.

Then came Goblin men.

Upon the Master Mason's fall and the creation of the Painted Plane, in that time of chaos Goblins came goblinwise in copper-green ramshackle submarines full of loud noises and sharp-featured pigs, coming to build their Cube of Genius, their Large Goblin Collider and to deal in terrible herbs.

Whether the Gobins came from the Red-World itself, beneath the sea, or from some unbidden shore, they have neither spoke nor told. All we know and all they will say is that they came 'goblinwise'. Whether this refers to the building of the Copper Submarines, the employment of their anarchic Goblin genius in some way or, as some have theorised, to a direction and dimension that only Goblins can access or understand, none know.

Within a year the shores of the Vermillion Sea were crammed with decaying copper submarines and feral pigs. And within two, the first of the Apocalypse Peaches rose up from the Vermillion Sea.


The Peach was vast, a hundred feet above the water-line, and burst up out of the Red Sun world and went through the wrack like a fist through glass. As it rose up, purple sails unfurled and the peach surged towards land leaving a trail of sugary devastation in its wake.

Within the peach were the Apocalypse Wasps, terrible insect men from the Red-Sun World, violent, horrifying, utterly alien with red wasp minds and bloody thoughts. They killed half, took the rest to lay eggs inside and advanced on the Wodlands.

Absolutely every element of the Wodlands, the Goblins, the Humans, the Painted People and all others, joined forces to defeat the Apocalypse Wasps. Thousands died as the big peach rolled over all attempts to besiege it.

Eventually a small group of adventurers infiltrated the peach, crawling through its sticky tunnels, and somehow managed to sabotage it. Its structure decayed and split, the defenders gained access and tore the thing apart, massacring any wasp they found. All that survived was the Hideous Pit, later transported to Pitville for safe keeping.

Of the original adventurers, nothing was found. Since that day the Apocalypse Wasps have come forth 11 more times, sometimes they are destroyed still in the water. On one occasion they have reached the Wodlands before the peach was split with Goblin Technology, on another they besieged the Imaginary City itself. Each time the wasps were broken, but only at great cost. The terrible sugary wrecks lie ruined on the shore and the Hideous Pits, those that have been recovered, are taken to Pitville for study and control. Small bands of Apocalypse Wasps still survive and roam the poppy swamps and black fjords, a terror to all. Everyone hates them because of the invasions and egg-injections and a boundary exists on their wings.

Why the wasps come, if they were somehow summoned or triggered by the Goblins use of the Vermillion Sea, the Goblins will not tell.


Between what is now the Pigment River and the Umber woods, is Pitville, a micro-city built around the containment, investigation and, some would say - illegal worship of the seven Apocalypse Peach Pits that were recovered.

Peach Pit

Here the PenumbraBeetles of the Umber Woods join with the invisibeetles, the saner, less drug-addled goblins and humans from the Imaginary City, and other places, to study and to control the Hideous Pits.

The pits are like huge house-sized scholars stones - throbbing with wasp energy.

Scholars Stone

You just want to stare at them - they get you wasp minded. Only those with strong anti-wasp personalities can commune with them for extended periods, gaining visions of the red sun world.

Attempts have been made to burrow or burn into a pit with anaesthetic fire and painted blades. One can actually be explored but it’s gone totally House of Leaves inside and whoever comes out emerges utterly fucked. And also there might be dErO inside. Also it might be a labyrinth now so now it needs to be guarded from both sides.

Apocalypse Wasp Propoganda

Of course the Chaos Wasps want to invade Pitsville and get at the pits. But the pits are also desired by governments and rulers all over the realities and almost anyone may or may no be doing conspiracies and scams to get a pit, or at least to gain access to one.

There are rumours that in the depths of the poppy swamps one has fruited and birthed a world-destroying tree and that elements in the Imaginary City secretly protect it - hoping to grow their own apocalypse peach and re-invade the red sun world, or even just eat it.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

The Wodlands 4 - The Painted Plain

1. The Plains of Anaesthetic Fire.
2. The AntiGoblin Empire
3. The Whetstone Ridge

At some point in history, after the expulsion of the Crazed Theigns from the Wodlands, and before the fall of the Mystery Cults, the Master Mason went north to the plains.

She (or they, or possibly he) plunged their hands into the primal juice and began to re-represent reality itself into a more-perfect form.

Thankfully, (or possibly disastrously), she was stopped.  Or maybe just blew up. Or possibly they succeeded and this is what they wanted? Or maybe they just transcended somewhere else and don't give a fig about what they left behind.

Anyway, they are gone now, and the Painted Plane, and Pigment River are what remains.


Everything is painted. The style is relative and shifts according to the place, the view and the time.

Beauty is everpresent. Every scene and every sight is composed. There is nowhere to look that is not. You cannot turn away from beauty on the Painted Plane. This can cause a kind of numbness or destruction of the sense of beauty, since it has no absence to give it context, or an obsessive refinement to ever-greater perfection. There are disagreements amongst the Picts over whether this is bad or not.

Its bright all the time. This can drive you mad.

The brightness is an illusion since light itself does not exist on the Plane, only colour does. There is no focus and no depth. Telescopes and lenses have no effect. Mirrors give no reflection. You never have to narrow your eyes to squint against sunlight (it’s only a colour), your eyes never have to change focus much. Night means a shift to nocturnes, rather than actual dark - it is rarely truly black. Lanterns barely work, they have a larger effect if the 'light' they give off is dramatic and adds to the scene.

However the Plains represent themselves it seems to ignore the optic nerve, or perhaps infiltrate it in reverse. The colours and shapes appear directly in the perceptual areas of the mind and flow outwards from there. Colourblind people aren't colourblind here. Blind people aren't blind here.

Physics are slightly fudged. It works of for human-relevant stuff *while directly observed* but the less based around the human life-world it is the more irregular it becomes. As if it were a simulated pseudo-physics.

Sound sounds 'wrong' especially if you close your eyes to escape the brightness. It’s as if all sounds are coming from the next room or are happening behind a curtain.

There are not enough incidental noises - wind, movement, your own breathing, animals, insects, water moving. It's there if you listen for it, but it fills in just a 10th of a second too late - sometimes you notice it gone, as if the sound of your own body disappeared, the you listen for it and it springs back.

The absence of sound is one of the reasons why sleep is scary. Most have the deep sense that while they are unconscious there is no sound. This is impossible to prove but it's like a terrifying absence around the borders of reality. Most visitors to the Plane wake screaming, multiple times a night for the first few nights of sleep. You feel dead when you wake up, as if you weren't really there while asleep.


Without any more specific dangers, simply visiting the Plane can have long term negative effects. The longer the stay the deeper the effects and the longer they take to abate once you leave.

Simply crossing the boundary makes the visitor look Rotoscoped. Over time they will become Pict-like in representation, eventually sharpening into a school and style. Most visitors become a relatively classic, representative school, putting them reasonably high up the Planes pseudo-racial hierarchy, but magic-users and some others can become Expressionist, or even surreal.

This effect fades when the visitor leaves but they can be left with;

  • Beauty-Numbness, sometimes including a sense of general crawling disgust with the world outside the plane.
  • Artefact Scars - brush-strokes in the flesh, relics of their painted selves. 
  • Paling - loss of pigment, shape or line. 

These will heal eventually but almost everyone who has visited the Plane carries some small artefact scar on them, often near-indistinguishable from their normal selves. Something like a single painted eye, a painted foot or brush-marks on one limb.


Some Picts must be descended from the original people of the Plains, others from visitors, some are more recent immigrants. There is no prejudice between recent and late arrivals, or between genders, or races, or species. Instead they discriminate based on style and school.

Those from more representational or classical schools generally regard themselves as being above those from modernist, abstract, futurist, surreal or expressionist schools. Deep surreals or those whose form cannot be understood are often regarded as little better than monsters.

Picts tend to group themselves into clans, tribes, villages and organisations made up largely of one particular school or style, so if you encounter a group, they are likely to all be of a type.

This is only the racial/tribal element of Pict culture. interposed onto and mixed up with this are Pict Politics, based largely on which 'Hand' of the Master Mason each group is loyal to. Right-Handers, or Dexters, tend to be made up more of Classical and representatives. Left-Handers, or Sinisters, are more commonly abstract, expressionist or surreal.

However, there is no absolute stability between, or within, the factions. Groups change sides often and complex political/racial/aesthetic arguments and conflicts rage continually, sending individuals and schools from one side to the other.

Though the Picts are in a continual state of low-level civil war, only about one in four is a deep loyalist to their Hand, the rest being of the party but various kinds of ambivalent, usually. The hardcore belligerents continually berate the less active Handers, pointing out that if they would only pull themselves together, they would have fucking won by now.

So it is that, on encountering any particular group or settlement of Picts, you can never be sure of exactly who or what they are loyal to, what their political situation is (it will be complex) or how they will respond to you. Things can change in an instant if the only truly belligerent member of a group hares off to the Big Hands for Important Reasons, or if an Inquisitor arrives.


Most beings born on the Painted Plane will never leave. On removal they change slowly to their non-painted selves, this happens more or less slowly depending on the complexity and coherence of the being with the simplest lasting longest and suffering least.

Simple organisms in a naturalistic style, with a high level of skill, can often survive their transformation. Some birds of the Painted Plane can travel a long way before returning.

Complex intelligent beings, even if they are painted skilfully enough to survive the translation, can undergo massive identity reorganisation as they pale to their non-painted selves. (Some part of them always remains painted, even after transformation) because of this, few willingly leave.

Surreals and Impossibles can simply 'die' away from the Plains unreality. They decay into objects, forms, horrible mutants or just gloop. Forcibly removing them is essentially murder and even those formally exiled from Pict culture are not actually driven all the way from the Plains, but only to Gate Town, outside the Plains political influence but just within its reality - a precarious existence.


Though there are few monsters on the Plane in total, the _variety_ of Monster-like beings is staggering. Absolute codification is impossible but a few general types are below.

- 'Naturals' a painting of a perfectly normal monster, like a picture of a Manticore for instance. This will generally act like something close to its outer-plane version

- Violent Surreals. Some surreals can become predatory, perhaps because it is true to their painted nature, or simply because of the alienation and prejudice of Pict society. Some of the most horrific-seeming surreals are simply bandits with strange forms.

- Stains/Chimerae. The forms of these creatures are blurred and smudged. They are often assumed to be some kind of Tear (see below), which, if intelligent, they will always deny. Stains will often claim to be a modernist or post-modern interpretation of a known form and not a stain at all. Though this may be true they are rarely believed.

- Unknowables. A category used when no-one has any goddanm idea what something or someone is. They could be really radical art, a freaky import monster or 'natural' monster. Or some strange kind of Tear.

- Tears. These are creatures unique to the Plane and the most feared of all its dangers, especially by Picts. Thankfully, it’s impossible for Tears to leave the Plane (so far, probably).

A Tear is simply an area or volume of inexpressible anti-reality. In a world heavy like ink-wet paper, reality can sometimes 'give' and reveal an awful absence which seems to act with a terrifying anti-sentience. There are various types;

Inter-Object - made from the reality between objects and things - often sessile, angular, infiltrating, growing but thankfully usually slow or environmentally related

Intensity Tears - One thing being 'over painted' often in the shape of the thing that was represented. Sometimes animal or person shaped. Ragged, 'pulled apart' rather than angular.

Alteration Tears - From a thing altered or re-drawn too much. Too many corrections. Most like a Chimerae in 'form'. May act something like a Monster.

Intelligent Tears - mythical, nightmarish, demonic, unspoken, greatly feared and often denied to exist.

Tears attack Picts, and anyone in the Plane by Savaging - blurring and permanently shifting lines, by Removal - deleting or removing from existence entire limbs, bodies, beings or objects. By Tearing - like leprosy/cancer which can sometimes create new Tears or 'infect' a Pict with a slow-burning inner Tear, and by Annihilation - complete removal from reality, and communal memory. It's always possible that someone you know has been Annihilated, it’s always possible that everyone you know has been Annihilated.


A few methods work and making use of many of them, either culturally (to cross a Pict 'race' line) or practically, requires the intervention of outsiders, 'Visitors' or ‘normies’. This is one of the reasons that Adventurers are often welcomed on the Plane despite its prejudiced culture and fractious politics.

- Magic. This can work against Tears sometimes.

- Pigment. Taken directly from the Pigment River. If enough can be transported and thrown on the Tear it can be 'coloured in'.

- Non-Pict bodies or tools. Non-pict, or Visitor flesh and materials can damage Tears more than the local Pseudo-matter. Either in battle, or simply from the Tear choking on their still-real intestines.

- Modernist, surrealist or Abstract tools & weapons. The fact that these typically Sinister and low-status cultures can create useful and lifesaving elements has in no way altered the prejudice against them

- Conceptual weapons from the Utopian Ruins. (These are very powerful, but can create new tears, are generally feared and are looped in time so they appear back in their own path after a while, appearing in the ruins from where they were retrieved, having been there undisturbed for centuries.


Made objects from the Plane can be removed and will often retain their painted characteristics - little fragments of representational unreality. Their painted qualities can often make them 'magic' objects in the world outside.

Any trade in such objects is heavily controlled by whoever occupied the Hands.



The source of the Pigment River, popularly supposed to be the point where the Master Mason performed the Incredible Tear, is a pulsing vortex of blinding hyperreality burning like the bleeding artery of god.

If you go in you don't come out.

Maybe you translate into the transcendent whateverdom but if so no-one has confirmed it.

Reality blurs, trickles, softens and erupts into colour near the source. Movement leaves colour-blurs - you feel yourself softening and becoming brighter. It seems like there is something wonderful in there - shapes moving, adventurous and heroic you want deeply to go in.

Beyond its Spring, the river becomes a line of beautiful un-reality running through the unreal land.

The River is the Sun. The Sun itself is just paint, always out of reach but not that far away, and there's no real light anyway, but the river is always bright with pigment - like bright dyed thread in natural grass, or an iridescent snake. It has moods, sometimes seeming animated, sometimes like glowing ink, sometimes like CGI water. A mutable representation of itself


Where the Pigment River falls into Palette Lake, the cliffs are a riot of multicolour. This also marks a wildlife break, climate shift and reality break in the Plane.

Around the Lake the last drops of alter-reality fade into Nature. This is one of the last places a highly-representational life-form can survive.

Below the falls the river looks like CGI or an optical illusion - no longer so terrifyingly, unnaturally bright. River-fauna looks glitched, digitised or like photographic collage - slowly become more 'natural' downstream.

The temperature increases, moving from temperate to near-tropical. Glitchy Crocodiles and Photographic Hippos appear. They never move above the Drops of Ink and Tears and dangerous Surreals have never been seen below it.


The Picts believe that these fucking huge stone hands reaching out of the earth are the actual hands of the Master Mason. This has not stopped them tunnelling into them like bugs, transforming them into two huge Cappodocian stone labyrinths within.

Almost all politics and political violence on the Place washes around, or emerges from, the Big Hands.

The commanders or rulers of each faction occupy a hand each. Each is lead by a council of five, with each member occupying one of the big fingers and with their title being named after their finger - Pollex, Manus, Medius, Annularis and Minimus Manus.

So the master of the Left Hand Thumb would be the 'Pollex Sinister'.

Of course there are continual intrigues between the fingers of each hand, to add to the inter-hand conflict.


The only places in the plains apparently untouched by the paintocalypse and almost certainly products of the pre-paint Mason culture, these are villages and ruined towns based around big white modernist blocks.

Colour leaks in and stains the walls but always dries to brown cake and flakes away.

Deep within and beneath the ruins are dark dungeons walled in white stone, partly ruined by the civilizational collapse and often time-linked so that they cannot be permanently repaired. Here there is actual, real dark, one of the only places on the plane where a Lantern might actually be useful.

Over time Picts visiting the ruins can flake and brown away so 'normies' are needed to explore and penetrate them in search of secrets or Conceptual Weapons, time-looped archeotech capable of killing Alpha-Tears.

They are occupied by Bandits, Blurs, Tears, Surreals and (temporary) Civil-war losers.


A good 1/4 of the painted plain is not actually plain at all, but crazy, often-Gothic, forest. In the forest, the trees are in different styles. A lot of the Northern Renaissance, engraved, ink-drawn and black and white stuff hides here. Some trees are pure Mondrian.

The forest is more 'winter seasoned' than the plains - snow can sometimes happen here. The colours are cool. Though the living can be hard, the war is not as common or as intensely pursued here. Since almost everyone is relatively low-status the Pict hierarchy doesn't sting quite as much (though it can still be unpleasant at the bottom). 'Monsters' come here for safety, and the poor-looking grotesques, cartoons (in the old sense, not the Roger Rabbit sense), as well as some abstracts, surreals and others.

Though peaceful in political terms, there may be more danger of tears, Unknowables, Violent Surreals and John Martin events. Most high-status Picts and political obsessives of both kinds dislike the Forest and blame its disorder for hiding potentially dangerous Tears and impossible events.


The Gates, again, almost certainly bizarre relics of the Masons at the height of their pre-disaster powers, are insanely high, like a literal mountain in height - taller than most built things should ever rationally be.

They are accepted by all Picts as the political boundary of the plains, though the effect of the paint goes on much further along the pigment river.

So escapees, exiles (who usually swap over at each regime change), those who want to access the qualities of the Plain but who don't want to mess with the Picts, low-status Picts, petitioners and ambassadors from the Antigoblin Empire, the Imaginary City, The Wodlands, and wherever else all come here and form 'Gate-Town', a hive of crime, radicalism and equality.

There are less explicit racial divisions here, more cross-school relationships (the classic Masterwork/Cartoon romance), along with more Visitors, outsiders, and the usual freaks who can't get along in the system but who won't go live in the woods.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

The Wodlands 3 - The Whetstone Ridge


The ridge cuts the land and leads north in an ever-steepening coagulation of hills.

Straight, slender ravines, the Arrow Valleys run as neatly as an arrow flies and are cut from the Ridge as a whole by the enormous straightness of their stone and scree-sloped sides. Very narrow, very steep rock-cut paths and vertical climbs with cut hand-holds are all that link the valleys to the Ridge itself. Where nature has provided no barrier, human craft has thrown up vast drystone walls pierced by low black passages

Conversely, each mountaintop holds, at its peak, an Ice Daemon meditating in Lotus position. The Demons have been meditating for a geological age, far beyond the record of any sentient species, each encrusted in a thick caul of Hyperblue Ice. They are difficult to see and occasionally crusaders, cultists and academics try to thaw one out or burrow in. They always get horribly frozen and the Crazed Theigns work hard to stop any organised attempts. The Demons exist on the ridge in the same manner as dormant volcanoes to other cultures. One day, presumably, they will 'go off', but since this will happen on a geological scale of time, the level of risk for any individual day is very slight.

So it is that, almost uniquely amongst mountain kingdoms, almost all of the population, agriculture and economy of the Ridge is held in a band of heather and gorse above the meta-monster-haunted, but unpopulated valleys, and below the line of Sociopathic Hyperblue Ice.


Ontomorphic Manticores

The intelligent and extremely evil Manticores of the Whetstone Ridge lair in the walls of the Arrow Valleys but are known to creep their way anywhere they can in search of food or the means to do harm.

Though they are few, each is formidable, with the body of a gigantic lion, the head of an ancient, evil and intelligent man, steel teeth, bat wings which provide (presumably magical) flight and the tail of a huge scorpion.

The Manticores are cursed so that they can only eat those who give incorrect answers to their questions, though they can simply kill those who give correct answers (they just can't swallow them) and can sting to death or drop from heights those who give no answers. But, in every case, a question must be asked.

They can also Ontomorph themselves into shadows, subtle sounds, snatches of song or strange moods, and thereby pass near-invisibly amongst mankind before emerging into their true form to feed. All of these aspects will leave a particular kind of sting in the tail of their expression and wise Ridge-dwellers have learnt well the particular tenor of experience that shows a Manticore is passing through.

The necessity of giving an incoherent answer to a Manticore, one neither true nor false, is one of the reasons that the rule of the Crazed Theigns is still permitted on the Ridge. The Theigns are expected to don armour and face any Manticores that threaten their Dukedoms, baffling them with insanity so they can be killed.

In most cases the Theigns are happy to fulfil their ancestral duty and in many cases they actually succeed.

The Meta-Fox

Simply a very large fox with the proportions of an extreme wolf, the Meta-Fox is a cunning creature that prefers to eat idiots. (Though, unlike the Manticore, it has no supernatural restrictions.)

The Fox can crawl inside the skin of anything it has eaten and impersonate its behaviour, voice and form. It will use this ability, in either animal or human shape, to test the intelligence of those it targets, hoping to find someone or something stupid (relative to its species as a whole) to eat.

For this reason it is common practice on the Ridge to appear as intelligent as possible before strangers, especially lone strangers in the wilderness. The Intelligent Shepherds (and Pig-heards and Goat-heards, but the name is commonly applied to all) of the Ridge, as well as lone travellers, carry with them books of Philosophy and mathematics and when two meet alone they will often begin their conversation by talking about the ideas in the book they are currently reading. It is also a common, but low practice, for fearful people travelling alone to try to find someone obviously stupider than them as a travelling companion, resulting in rather complex social situations.

Melancholic Condors.

The Condors prey on the Plains of Anaesthetic Fire to the East and rarely bother locals so their nests are usually undisturbed.

The Condors themselves are bedraggled, downhearted but vicious creatures, rarely responding to anything other than the most extreme provocation, but insanely and suicidally violent once fully enraged.

Bristle Pigs ('Bristly Pigs')

Bristle Pigs are big fat boarlike pigs with huge porcupine spines. The spines only partially lie flat, making the Pigs look almost spherical. They are a natural herd species of the Ridge and largely domesticated but some wild examples do remain and can be extremely violent if they think their young are threatened. They do not predate on man, except in childrens tales, but can cause enormous problems if they invade a village or decide to dick about with a fortified orchard.


Every year a small handful of Ridgedwellers turn Cryomaniacal from the thawing Hyperblue Ice and, after doing cold murders, run off to the valleys, or even further. Their powers rarely persist and they are usually broken up and killed by Manticores, Foxes, Goblins, Hunger or expeditions from nearby Baronies.


The human culture of the Ridge is influenced hugely by the rule of the Crazed Theigns. Known in other lands for their lunatic embassies carrying irrational gifts and making impossible demands, the Theigns are largely tolerated by the people of the Ridge since, in their insanity, they have relatively little to do with them compared to any other ruler, as well as for their usefulness in combatting the Manticores.

Once these families ruled the Wodlands with a mad hand and kept it in feudal ruin, but they were driven off and displaced by the covert cults of the Mystery Masons, who worshipped reason. After the revolution they retreated to the ridge, to gaze impotently down on the developing lands, now freed from their lunatic rule, and to plan mad plans about re-taking a nation that did not want them back.

Since then the collapse of the Masonic Cults and the arrival of the Goblin Weed, smoked in the Goblin Pipes (which are addictive, and which turn the smoker into a Goblin), means the mad lords now look down upon a rubbished land almost as disordered as their own minds. Yet none have made any move to return to their much obsessed-over former country.

Yet, at night, there are a handful of places on the ridge where a traveller can look down onto the Wodlands and where the light of the Imaginary City on the shores of the Eastern Reach seems to merge with the lamps in the Masonic Mansions, and where the Painted Plain, the Maw and Goblin Cube are invisible in the dark, and the watcher can imagine what the greatness of that past time might have been.


The moors and scrublands of the Ridge support primarily herders. Rugged sheep, Goats and Bristle Pigs are moved across the maze of ridgelines by the Intelligent Shepherds. Yet, in a few places, isolated lakes, crossroads of mountain paths, defensible sites, natural springs or simple chance mean that villages and a handful of small towns exist.

These places are always built on a slope (everything is on a slope) with densely packed houses, roofs and walls piled upon each other, surrounded by terraced and built-up fields growing the careful crops.

The Whetstone'ers prize their individuality but each Village has a library, a Keep for a Crazed Theign, a huge Pig House and one or more fortified Orchards.

The main source of village pride and group identity is its Mystery Play and the size of its largest Bristly Pig.

The Mystery Plays were originally ordered by the Crazed Theigns but have transformed into a strong independent tradition. They involve a redemptionist re-telling of the betrayal and casting-out of the the Noble Lords of the Wodland by the treacherous and evil rationalistic mystery cults of the Masons.

Though the cults are now in ruins, along with the Wodlands, the plays all end with the 'fall' of the feudal lords and their heroic and noble suffering, and not with the present day situation.

Due to the popularity of the plays (all villagers either take part or watch in a day-long performance once a year, just after the dangers of Thaw and the Cryomaniacal Dreams have ended), most Whetstoners do have the vague but strong sense that the Crazed Theigns are and should be the rightful rulers of the Wodland and that the Masonic cults are evil and insidious institutions.

The other main source of village selfhood is their Bristly Pig. The pride taken in these creatures has lead to an arms-race breeding programme and resulted in some dangerously large, nigh un-controllable Bristly Pigs which exist as a kind of porcine nuke at the centre of each settlement. Everyone is quietly terrified of what happens if the Pig gets out or gets into the fermenting apples.

While the pigs, though dangerous, are civic business, at the state level, the pride and power of each 'Barony' is shown in the quality, number and defensibility of its apples.

Most crops can only be grown in on the Ridge through terracing and building-up flat areas of ground with drystone walling and moving earth. Arable land of this kind is a rare and treasured resource, built over generations. This is probably what initially began the fortification of valuable crops. All that was required was extending the supporting wall above the level of the plough.

Though the Crazed Theigns would prefer more glorious, violent and continual warfare between the Ridge-Dweller they have been persuaded to forgo this (essentially the Intelligent Shepherds refused to engage in organised intra-human violence of any kind) for a culture of ritualised apple-theft.

Though this initially began as a harmless alternative to war, the Ridge Dwellers may have been affected by the rule of the Theigns more than they know. There has been a massive intensification of apple cultivation, apple security, apple horticulture, guard dogs, 'Apple Knights' guard bees, guard geese, silver-tusked 'stick pigs’, apple mafias and the always-feared, sometimes state-actor, deniable apple bandits. Magic apples are obsessed over and commonly grown, treasure is melted into golden apples, the currency of the Ridge is called 'the apple’ and cider and apple pie are high-status, even sacred, foods. Fears and threats over apple security are a major source of inter-Barony conflict.


Though each of the Crazed Theigns is rarely more powerful than a small Knight or Village Squire, they refer to their domains as Baronies or Dukedoms and each has a store of ancient items, relics, tales, death-masks, heraldic devices and general expatriate sorrows. They affect a high mien and a tragic aspect which lends them enormous gravitas.

Most of their clothes and heraldry involved apples, goats, Bristly Pigs, Goblins (being crushed and killed), Manticores, Foxes, Gold and Silver apples, strange furs, large conical hats, silver-bound pseudo-books, harps, rich manticore hides, Bristle-Pig coats, apple pies, cider jugs and ceremonial pig-goads. Rather than a jester most retain a dour psychotherapist as a close adviser.


1. Paranoid about specific natural phenomena.
2. Thinks surrounded by replacements.
3. Thinks you are they and they are you.
4. Hides in corners.
5. Melancholia.
6. Hysteria.
7. Fulminates.
8. Cryomania.
9. Quadromania (Everything in fours, can develop into Octomania).
10. Deceives in speech but communicates truth through hand-signs.
11. Only calm while music plays.
12. Believes self to be gigantic, acts huge, ponderous and careful.
13. Compulsively and continually swaps clothes with all near.
14. Believes is 7 to 15 seconds in the future, they respond first and you have to fill in.
15. Trusts no-one who speaks their language, only happy around those they cannot understand.
16. Obsessively plays board games with small dozing animals as pieces. i.e. chess with sleeping black and white mice, backgammon with drugged snails.
17. Disguises self as member of own staff. takes messages to 'her Ladyship'. Rapidly changes disguise if found out.
18. Can't eat unless food represented in art. Sketches snacks, paints meals.
19. Lives as a 'prisoner of self'. Plays stern tyrant who will not release self and also rots in dungeon below (accessible through secret passage), checks with staff continually about security of 'prisoner', suspects escape attempts.
20. Communicates exclusively through life-sized puppets of self.