Tuesday, 27 March 2018

The Wodlands - 1. The Plains of Anaesthetic Fire.

A long time ago I wrote to K Yani about Birkenhead, and then she sent me this lovely hand-crafted map based on what I wrote.

And now, I've numbered that map.

Best guess about what this stuff is;

1. The Plains of Anaesthetic Fire.
2. The Antigoblin Empire.
3. Whetstone Ridge.
4. The Painted Plain.
5. The Vermilion Sea.
6. The Goblin Cube.
7. The Wodlands.
8. The Necropolis of Glass.
9. The Incoherent Isles.
10. The Maw.
11. The Umber Woods.
12. The Eastern Reach.

So what I'm going to do is a series of posts and with each post I'm going to describe one part of this map. When the whole thing is done (if it ever is) I'll probably dump it all in a PDF and put it in the 'free stuff' drive over on the right.

So here is part one -

The Plains of Anaesthetic Fire

The black waste of clinker and ash which grows like a living thing, year upon year, spreading tendrils and tentacles worming into every nearby land, is haunted by an invisible flame.

The great terror of the Anaesthetic Fire is first that it is almost invisible, appearing as little more than a heat-haze in the air, the second that it has no smell other than the smell of your own roasting flesh, the third that it moves and flows across the black waste like a river of wind and the last is that it cannot be felt.

The Anaesthetic Fire consumes the bodies of living things without them ever feeling its touch. It could be burning you right now, invisible and odourless, as you read this. Because of this, only fast paranoid animals can live on the Plains of Anaesthetic Fire and they must move continually or be reduced to clinker, ash and shards of blackened bone.

Intermittent rains sometimes reduce the clinker and ash to mud, in places where the fire has not been for some time, Monkeyflowers, Iceplant, Coreopsis and Sage burst forth from the black and hoary fertile earth. These are fed on  by Pronghorn Gazelle and Anaesthetic Hares, all of them naturally camouflaged in grey and black, all extremely paranoid and all incredibly quick.

A few forested islands remain in the waste, left untouched for no comprehensible reason. Perhaps simple chance. They are all perfect circles of forested land and they are all populated by drug-addicted Goblins.

Encounters - d6

1. Asbestos Bedouin
2. Goblin Island
3. Amphetamine Cats
4. Melancholic Condors
5. Ignition Pilgrim
6. The Anaesthetic Fire

1. Asbestos Bedouin

The Bedouin wear thick robes of natural Asbestos harvested from strange black clams on the Eastern Reach. These robes are extremely expensive and most Bedouin will probably only ever own one set over their entire life.

They tame and ride the nicitating Clinkerskippers, big sinuous xanthic lizards that dash over the plains with incredible speed, and which can never be still. Even when they sleep one half of their body twitches and patters, aware of the Anaesthetic Fire. And the tail never sleeps.

The Bedouin usually found armed with small hunting bows used for catching game and testing the boundaries of the Anaesthetic Fire, slender lances used for hunting or hand to hand combat, and with the feared Goblin Guns, which they acquire via trade with the Goblin Islands.

They are almost always on their way to developing a hacking cough and are sometimes wired on the glands of Amphetamine Cats. Chest wraps carry children too young to ride their own Clinkerskipper or any un-hatched Clinkerskipper eggs, both being equally valuable to the Bedouin.

As a people, they know neither safety nor rest, except for the madness of the Goblin Isles but, at least politically, they are free, since no-one wants to bother oppressing them and probably couldn't anyway, even if they wanted to.

Only the Bedouin know how to safely get across the plains, or the secrets of the Anaesthetic Fire, though some say that there is no secret and that, like most living things on the plains, they survive mainly through luck and speed

Goblin Guns

An unreliable and sometimes ineffectual weapon, but one so terrifying to most intelligent beings that terror of it plays a major part in ensuring the Asbestos Bedouin never get fucked with.

A kind of long musket with a green-tinged steel octagonal barrel, and a stock of green un-cured wood which continually leaks mild sap (giving the Bedouin their green fingertips). The gun goes off with a flash of blue fire and a green lead ball like a tiny sculpture of a goblin curled up.

The balls scream and cackle in the air as they fly. On a hit, roll a d4.

1. Goblin ricochet. Counts as a miss.
2. Goblin-ball expands too soon. d4 damage and all within 6 feet of target save or take 1hp damage from shrapnel.
3. Entry/exit - d6 damage.
4. Embedded Impact. 1st round, take d6 damage. 2nd round Goblin screams and cackles from inside body. 3rd round, Goblin bursts out (take 2d6 damage) and climbs over body trying to pull out targets teeth.

2. Goblin Island

No-one knows why the Anaesthetic Fire leaves perfectly circular islands of un-burnt greenery in parts of the plains. The Bedouin say that even the fire doesn't want Goblins. It could simply be an accident of nature. Sometimes islands are found burnt-over and sometimes new-one seem to be born. The Goblins pay no attention to any of it.

The islands range in size and become more common towards the Anti-Goblin Empire in the east. The smallest are about the size of roundabouts and the largest about half a mile in diameter. They are always thick with dirty fast-growing trees and bushes and utterly infested with Goblins.

The Goblins live in crappy lean-to's and horrid burrows of trash and old leaves. Some of the islands have fat heardable Isopods and quick green pigs, the Goblins say they catch hares and pronghorn with cunning tricks. They also trade with the Bedouin for any and everything they desire.

Nevertheless, its not clear where the Goblins are getting all this stuff or exactly what they are eating to support these numbers. Probably its other Goblins.

The Goblins are almost always hungry, crazy, drug-addicted and obsessed with particular forms of government. They need the Bedouin for trade goods, and the Bedouin, and anyone crossing the plains, needs their islands for shelter. Nevertheless, any period spent on a Goblin Island is a complex and unpredictable tradeoff between need, and exactly how insane, predatory and deranged these particular Goblins currently are.

Roll 3d12
Current form of Government
What are they on?
Hunger levels (roll secretly, Goblins will always pretend that they just ate)
Opium – dreamy and poetic
They actually really just ate
Amphetamines – manic and fast
Wouldn’t say no to an after-8
Poetics (Rhetocracy)
Cocaine – Overconfident and verbose
A Theatre State
Heroin – strung out, hopefully sleeping and fucking terrifying
The Training of Small Birds
Khat – chatty, verbose, chilled
Moon Worship
Alcohol – drunk, singing, potentially violent
Pretty Hungry
Weed – chill, but hungry
Competitive Entrail Reading
Shrooms – trippin’
Smoke Ring Parliament
Ecstasy Equivalent – happy, handsy, gurning, dancing, erotic
Chivalric Tournament (riding pigs or Isopods)
Sniffing Glue
Democracy of giant piles of battling goblins
Ritalin equivalent – didactic, obsessional and very hard working
Conspiracy (roll again for the surface appearance)
Crack – get outta there

3. Amphetamine Cats

The primary land predator of the Plains of Anaesthetic Fire. A grey-black cat like a knobbly strung-out Cheetah, the cat process unknown herbs that it secretly eats into black amphetamine glands that cluster around its lips and genitals.

The cats can choose to activate the glands and drive themselves to achieve insane levels of speed and aggressiveness. This can obviously have a number of negative side effects, including running so fast they break their own limbs, running into a rock, attacking their feet by mistake, running right into the Anaesthetic Fire, attacking their own bodies by mistake or just having a heart attack.

The glands are valuable, and can be harvested from a dead cat, so long as they are plump and un-used. If eaten unprocessed by a human (or fed to a nicitating Clinkerskipper) they can provide a massive adrenaline boost, and also possibly kill the user. They are also a valuable trade good, even dried they can be effective and they are only found on the Plains of Anaesthetic Fire.

Those who hunt the Amphetamine Cat play a dangerous game. If the glands are expanded and flaccid then the cat is relatively safe, but the glands worthless. If the glands are plump and full, they can be harvested, if the cat is killed quickly.

Males Cats have human-level intelligence, though still with animal desires, and there is not known upper limit to their growth. They live in dug-out caverns strewn with bones and the imperishable wrappings of eaten Bedouins and seek to dominate as much territory as possible

Many are as large as Lions and the glands cluster around their mouths and genitals like thick fields of berries. They hunt by listening to people talk in the night (they have exception hearing and many understand language, though they do not speak) and making their plans based on this. This is part of the reason that Asbestos Bedouin will rarely speak the truth at night.  The legends of Blind Regrettable, said to be the oldest and largest of the cats, talk of something almost the size of a shire horse, capable of wiping out an entire Goblin Island in a night (though that could just have been the Goblins themselves).

Although the males are much more feared due to their size and aggressiveness, the female packs are probably more efficient hunters and a more dangerous threat. They stay around Cheetah-size and hunt in packs, chasing down prey in teams.

4. Melancholic Condors

The Condors themselves are too sad to fly. They lair in cracks and caverns high up in the Whetstone Mountains and send their gloomy shadows skidding out over the Plain of Anaesthetic Fire.

The Condors and huge and the shadows likewise so. Looking up from below its impossible to tell if the Condor is really there or not.

When they detect a likely target, usually something solitary and separated from its group. The shadow gusts down and settles over them, wreathing them in sadness and permanent twilight. These poor damned individuals then wander the plain, growing ever more morose and distraught, avoided by all, until they collapse to the cold earth weeping dry tears.

The Condor will set out from its lair, gloomily flapping its way across the Anti-Goblin Empire, zeroing in on the shadow-caul’d individual, eventually descending, cloaking them a second time with its enormous cinerous wings, and crouching down to tear open the softer elements of its now-suicidal prey, pausing to sigh in long wheezing moans and, in some cases, temporarily collapsing itself out of ennui before struggling back to its feet and continuing its horrible work.

Fear of the Condors shadow, and its terrible taste, keep most creatures from attacking it. Nothing wants to be the next victim of its umbral shroud, all except for some of the larger Male Amphetamine Cats who will simply attack it out of rage, because it has trespassed their territory, and Goblins, who will attack and eat anything and who are curiously immune to melancholy.

Escaping the Shadow

Kill the Condor – If the bird dies the shadow will eventually perish.

Bait and Switch at night – Shadows lose their shape and power in the worlds shadow. Close to pitch dark it becomes possible for a clever thief to ‘steal’ the original victim and replace them with something of roughly the same size and mass. Often this involves dressing a Pronghorn, young Clinkerskipper or a pair of Goblins in the victims clothes. When daylight comes, the shadow clings to the new target.

Amphetamine Overload – Dangerous but it can drive the shadow off.

Party Animals – The Condors loathe crowds, noise, music and jollity and any sufficiently loud and long celebration around the victim might drive the shadow off. It can be difficult to attain the resources, guests or jollity on the Plains of Anaesthetic Fire, and the whole thing will be a nightmare for the depressed victim.

Goblin Blood Transfusion – this always works but does usually result in some Goblinification. And getting the blood and/or Goblin can be an issue.

5. Ignition Pilgrim

The pilgrims are some of the strangest, and noblest of creatures encountered on the plains. These strange figures dedicate themselves entirely to tracing, and trying to understand the Anaesthetic Fire itself, to uncover its movements and find its origins.

Also called ‘Magnesium Pilgrims’ for the huge rolls of magnesium paper they commonly carry beneath their worn robes. The Pilgrims are responsible for the huge fire-recognition stave-ways that criss-cross the plains. Wherever they can they drive stakes into the earth, marked with a strip of magnesium paper at their tip. When they run out of stakes, they use bones or other fragments.  When they run out of those, they tie the papers to any outcropping or shard they can find. When they run out of magnesium paper they tie tiny fluff-balls of light kindling together.

Wherever the path of the pilgrim goes, they leave behind them a marked way, if possible, of highly flammable and highly visual signs. When the Anaesthetic Fire comes, even though it cannot be easily seen, when it touches these signs the magnesium will burn and incandesce in a bright silver spark, before the stave carrying it chars and drops it to the earth. The small kindling balls will hopefully spark, or at least puff smoke when the fire reaches them.

In this way, those travelling the plains can at least be warned visually of the presence of the fire, though this can create a strange terror of its own as a long line of magnesium brands bursts forth one by one, silently, marking the invisible advancing heat, closing in on your position. Then you must guess which way the fire will flow this time, and quickly run the other way.

The Bedouin have a mixed relationship with the pilgrims. Their knowledge of the plains and the fire is part of their protection against the world, making them absolutely necessary and almost impossible to govern, tax or control, and by making the plains less dangerous the pilgrims are abrading this protection. But the fire is insanely dangerous to all, even the Bedouin and the pilgrims flares have saved tribes before, and some pilgrims were Bedouin, either cast out from their group, or possessed by the mystery of the fire, or simply turning to noble charity in their old age, so the two groups persist in an uneasy and distant respect.

If there were many more pilgrims, and if their efforts were more effective and comprehensive, then attitudes might change, but they die a lot and there are never very many. Since they walk alone, only chance, assistance and their knowledge of the fire can keep them safe. They are continually eaten by Amphetamine Cats, Condors and Goblins, or just scorched and burnt to death.

Some move continually, some keep secret underground, or hidden, hermitages. Rumours say that the only safe and habitable underground space in the plains is controlled by a small conclave of pilgrims, each representing one of the sub-cults.

The Brothers of the Egg – Not all actually male, their numbers are nearly 50/50 male female. These are older Bedouin of a deep or honourable disposition who either have no place left with their tribe or who simply wish to separate from tribal issues.

As the Clinkerskipper keeps its eggs within its mouth-pouch, so do the Brothers keep the paths of the plains, tracking the fire for the protection of all. Though very poorly resourced they will almost always help travellers and a few are very high level though aged, individuals.

Adorers of the Flame – Somewhere far to the west a large religion holds one particular order who place their worship upon fire. This order itself has a small radical faction who particularly worship the invisible fire. Part of the fulfilment of this order is a pilgrimage to the Plains of Anaesthetic Fire, where they must trace and worship the fire itself until they experience spiritual ascension, either through being burnt to death or just descending that they have.

Despisers of Ash– The same religion, or an offshoot of it, has a small radical, and secret faction that believes the invisible fire to be a direct representation of the Demiurge, the creator of the physical universe and that being responsible for all evil. They also send monks and seekers to the plains to study the fire, in this case to test themselves against it, discover its nature and perhaps even destroy it.

From the perspective of the ordinary traveller, they seem to do pretty much exactly what the Adorers of the Flame do, but with different intent. There are regular sectarian conflicts between the two groups on doctrinal matters that no-one else can understand. Sometimes a Despiser of Ash will experience a Spiritual Crisis and become an Adorer of Flame, or visa versa.

Philosopher Entropics – These ‘natural philosophers’ eschew all spiritual reasons for running about on the plains. They are sometimes ex, or current magicians, scientists, poets or explorers. All are obsessed with tracking and understanding the invisible fire for what they call ‘rational reasons’. They tend to carry around a lot of notes and papers and when two meet they will exhaustively compare notes and argue with each other. All regard the religious fire-chasers with some condescension, though their behaviour around the fire is exactly as hypnotically adoring and potentially self-destructive. Most are certain they will be done within a year. Few ever leave.

Anaesthetic Thugees – Either a tribe, or a cult, or a conspiracy, or a family, or a secret gang, or something of all of those. A group of criminals who pose as members of one of the other factions and deliberately mislead and kill travellers on the plains. Why is not certain as almost every other place that exists is better suited to doing crimes in. No-one is absolutely certain these exist though everyone is secretly afraid they do. Legend says they seek a way to control, and even spread the fire. That they have been spared by it, but changed by the experience, and now serve it, or think they do.

6. The Anaesthetic Fire

It never entirely goes away and it never goes out. 

Sometimes it shrinks to a small vortex orbiting the centre of the plains, then leaps and expands outwards on unknown vectors. It can lie low like a grass fire and rage into huge invisible infernos. 

The animals usually know when it is coming, but not always. It rarely moves much at night, but sometimes it does. If the fire is high and it rains above it then it will be coated in boiling steam.

The only time a Clinkerskipper screams or a Bedouin shouts is if they are caught in, or threatened by the flame. 

It seems to have its logic. It's power and extent are not infinite. It sometimes tries the boundaries of the plain and burns its way into the surrounding lands but quickly dies back. When it grows to a gigantic storm it must invariably fall back into a dull smoulder, it cannot sustain for ever.

It does not need objects physical to us, but it will burn them. It may be burning some intangible element or be burning in a neighbouring dimension. Those who survive the fire talk of souls being burnt, or memories and characters and histories altered, but its hard to tell these stories apart from trauma. Some speak of secret powers being released by the fires touch, but this is Thugee talk.

Scars from the fire can be a strange swirling blue and silver.

Many empires have sent magicians and philosophers to try to understand and control the Anaesthetic Fire, others have sent great engineers to make sure it never leaves. The relics of their earthen ramparts still circle some parts of the plain. None of these efforts have ever come to any result. The anaesthetic fire is a favoured metaphor for poets all over the world, and much used in religious texts.

Here on the plain, all fear and most flee wherever it is found.


  1. Very cool stuff Patrick! Fire itself is enchanting, so magic fire is only more so.

  2. Patrick Stuart's purple prose really is an acquired taste. When I first started reading your blog, Mr. Stuart, I found it far too navel gazing and divorced from the practical reality of things. But now I've truly come to appreciate the psychedelic weirdness you produce. And I'm glad to say that this fits exactly what I've come to expect from you. Keep up the good work.

  3. This is great food for dreams as usual, looking forward to the next one! I do wonder if these Goblins would be vulnerable to clerics proselytizing 12 step programs?