Thursday, 15 November 2018

MAN ATTACKED BY CORRIDOR - a Review of House of Leaves

I'm not doing a 'Blog of Leaves' review where I mirror the structure of the book because that would be a crazy amount of work (1). (If someone hasn't done a Youtube thing where they read House of Leaves chapter by chapter and things Go Horribly Wrong then I'm surprised. Why not? (Internet link structures a modern reality decay are pretty much the House of Leaves anyway.))

..............

Veins of the Earth is a weird parallel to this. We even reference the same event from one of the same books (report of caves getting lost in a huge cavern from 'Underground Worlds'), so that's fun. You could consider VotE and HoL to almost be part of the same 'extended universe.(1b)

..............

I have a distinct memory of going into Liverpool Library some time in the early 2000's, looking for Shakespeare, getting turned around and only being able to find the analysis of Shakespeare. The plays themselves were a hidden shelf, the analysis was a huge tumescent stack, book upon book upon book, heaving, like a cancer on the original. I thought then that there was something foul about a world in which the analysis of a thing could grow to such blathering immensity that it dwarfed the original.

There is something monstrous about writing (2) - and in writing about writing the monstrous nature becomes more clear.

It's like a vampire + you can see it clearly in the mirror of itself.

And a mirror cannot create meaning.

.............

I read this book too late (3) and put too many breaks (4) in between.

I was pretty scared of parts to begin with(4b). I read it at night alone in a small silent room surrounded only by house noises. Something behind my wardrobe moved and I froze. (It was probably cardboard I stashed back there expanding in the heat after the heat was cranked up, (I still haven't looked to check though)). The suggestions were more scary than the events. The textural dicking around I found fun + silly-scary, like ooga-booga scary. (That's more the Man Attacked By Corridor stuff).

.............

I've come to think that some horror stories are Normality Stories. 1 strong + important element of the counterpoint is that creation of normalcy before the scary happens. If you have good normal you feel it when it breaks.

Maybe a lot of stories (5) have these parts at the beginning - before the 'story' starts, so they can make the story story.

............

The Layering;

whooo its a fractal reality

_what is real_ whoooo (6)


--

Ok, that's facetious and unfair. It's a good book + notable achievement, worthy of its praise.

I don't know what you would write after writing this

"Look Dad, I deconstructed a genre!"

"Ok son, but what will you do with it now?"

>AWSHUCKS DUMBFACE<

3-Panel comic found in #postmodernistmistakes twitter feed.

...............

Some cool mysteries - who was Zampado was he the Brother or someone? Did J Truant turn superevil at the end (the real monster was you!) Do the 'good guys' win? (Win in the lovecraftian sense of binding the predatory metareality into a book?) On one hand my airing cupbaord is still a normal size, on the other see aforementioned reality decay. Which is the _true_ ending?

At a certain point in the layering you work out that there is no actual answer. Then its just like 'oh. ok.'

And thats the problem with hinting.

...............

(Traditionally, you need a woman to end the adventure. men can do stuff but they are not allowed to stop until a woman lets them.)

..............

Like the fairness of a horror movie or a post-McDowall D&D trap.

R U gonna scare me of kill me?

+ if you are really here to scare me - why should I be scared?

+ if to kill me, why haven't you done it?

Its uncertain. But if your power comes from uncertainty then it can certainly be banished the moment anything certain is known. The half-life of fear - deadly for a dreams width(9).

I prefer the happy ending (+ the certain one).

(The poetry section in the appendix, the in-character poetry, is really really bad. It's the only part I couldn't get through. I am not sure if it was meant to be like that.)




THERE IS ALSO A GIANT SNAIL.

ODD 

(p_-)






1 - But I didn't edit this before posting it, which has the same effect but is cheaper.

1b - I mean I literally have Scraps drawings of infinite darkness/finality as a monster and Daniels Navarchs of Nox on my wall watching over me. So when this turns up I'm like;

"Oh, you like infinite space son?

You like yourself some literalised metaphor monsters?

You into those themes of madness ey?

Sure son, you done good. Reeeeeeaaal good."

>Chews cigar, rocks back on heels, wipes engine grease from hands w rag.(7)<

2 - About textural analysis, the volume and deadening nature of the lists and quotes. Little invisible scars of thought adding up and adding up - evening out to nothing.

3 - Should have read it in my 20's.

4 - I am poorly minded for this - not willing to give it what it needs to affect me. (Nothing given, nothing gained.)

4b - But then I had a long break, allowing all the micro-relations that power the book to fade, and began reading again, mainly in the morning or in the Library (10) surrounded by people - not a fearful place, usually.

5 - Genre stories.

6 - The inferences in the mothers letter were good. The suggestion of a metatextual reality-monster existing across planes of existence was more scary that it actually turning up. (If it really turned up.) The relentless parental abandonment was painful + effective to read.

7 - I should scrawl some weird shit in my copy and leave it on a train, or in airport seat (8)

8 - Strangely enough, my copy was water damaged while I carried it around in my backpack, searching Liverpool in a downpour for a DVD of the film Labyrinth to do research for a possible job. I could not find the DVD anywhere and the job itself never happened. Mazes within mazes.

9 - + that fear itself must always be in a state of decay and has a half-life, an oddly encouraging thought.

10 - Liverpool Library Reading Room is a living experiment in human self-awareness, stupidity and narcissism. Everything anyone whispers carries fully around the entire room and the extent and volume of someone’s speech on entering gives you a nice neat graph of how aware they are of their environment, themselves and their effect on others. It ranges from the genuinely stupid who never catch on, the blunt tourist who wanders in as part of a pack and says stuff like "ISN'T IT GREAT. ITS REALLY SOMETHING". The no-fucks dumb/nasty combo scally who goes there to make phone calls or creep on people. The should-know better who finds it too loud to make a fucking phone call in the library so ducks inside the FUCKING READING ROOM etc etc. The strange thing is that even though everyone in the reading room can hear everyone in the reading room, and we are all necessarily irritated by the same things, not one of us EVER speaks up. We are like members of a strange temporary cult with powerful self-generated unwritten rules. Once I ate a complex sandwich in there at length and I regret that now.


Saturday, 10 November 2018

A Review of Through Ultans Door

Someone did a proper zine. One actually *worth the money*.

This is by Ben L of Mazarins Garden. You can see the interview I did with him here;

Its based on a real persons actual game with actual real playtesting and everything. In form its an introduction to his Dunsanayan City of Zyan, which floats in Wishery. In true Borgesian literary style it actually has an un-named sub-city which takes the place of the PCs starting culture, this city described only through inference in the description, rumours and reasons.

This first section of the Zine tells you about the door itself; a local printmaker finds a doorway to a mythical kingdom in his cellar and starts charging for entry, gives you background about the base cultures knowledge of Zyan, the city to which the door leads; semi-mythical, magical, dangerous, wealthy, decadent, a handful have gone and returned with riches. Gives you some rumours about what the door and a nice Reasons table, an increasingly common thing in OSR stuff, in which those who don't just want to go git treasure have some fancy contextual reason for rolling about in magical realms.

Monetary values and stats are given for those people who just have to steal from or fight the quest giver and tank the whole fucking adventure before you even get into it. This is a thoughtful touch, but thoughtful in the way that a sympathetic apology sign on a submarines escape hatch is thoughtful. It's nice someone considered it but if you need to make use of it everything is probably boned anyway.

The rest of the Zine is essentially a single dungeon beneath Zyan with 30 keyed areas, two major factions, a variety of ways in and out, individual treasures and monsters, and a whole heap of contextual information about the cultures both above the dungeon, in Zyan, if you leave and go up, and below Zyan, in the white hanging jungle, if you go down.


FORMAT

The format is notable because it takes advantage of the nature of Zine production ins an elegant, efficacious and practical way. (Elegant is going to be an overused word here as the whole thing carries signs of care and careful thought at every level of its creation, largely to the good and in micro ways possibly to the bad).

The card cover comes away without staples, the dungeon map is on the inside. There are two separate 'menu' cards with all the random encounters and pertinent rules on them. All of these are light and slightly narrower than A5. if you imagine running this thing you would have the map open in front of you, the encounter table present and then would simply have the zine itself open to whatever number or room was required. As a whole this is exceedingly well-arranged for use and should absolutely be copied by anyone with the same aesthetic and/or resources/mental model/way of doing things.

There could be some minor, arguable, downsides to this way of making things. More on that later.


THE DUNGEON

Most, many, possibly all of the OSR design fetishes are in place. There are Jayquayan Loops. Traps that make situational sense and which can be detected with careful thought, and disarmed within the theatre of the mind. There are two factions, either of which could be 'bad', but one of which is more badderer. The dungeon has cultural and geographic strata, rooms have former uses and current uses, understanding the culture of the former occupants makes actual sense and can get you things. There are hidden uniforms. One faction can be imitated (poorly) with makeup. There are three ways out, one of which looks like it will involve you further in Zyan above, for a city adventure, another will take you down for a strange jungle adventure and the third is left vague for whatever the DM needs. There are TOILETS and a source of fresh water, as well as a semi-realistic ecology.

The tone of creation is on the darker side of Dunsanay and the lighter side of the Aesthetics of Alienation that features a lot in parts of the Artpunk OSR. The wandering monsters are White Swine with child hands and murderous Shadow Puppets. They are all pretty good, make situational sense in the imagined world and their particulars are well taken advantage of, (the enemies of the White Swine pickle and eat their child-hands, so if you find their larder without seeing the Swine first it will look like they are eating children, an unusually Raggi-esque negamove from Ben).


SPELLS AND TREASURE

All of the treasure is individual, unique, inventive and appropriate to the setting. I've begun to think that treasure of this type is the 'Deep Roast Coffee' of Artpunk D&D, from the Malcolm Gladwell story in which an audience asked about its coffee tastes always says that it favours a Deep Roast over a Mild Smooth Blend, because the words sound better, then if you actually test them, they all want the Mild Smooth Blend because the Deep Roast is fucking strong.

It's really really great to have these lovely individual treasures, especially at a low level, and especially in the first few dungeons. I think as people level up and end up with a plethora of crazy stuff they begin to forget or ignore a lot of it.

But none of this is any real criticism of Bens work here, only a general observation. (He does have a +1 weapon in here though; SHAME - whip yourself five times a say a Hail Gygax. (It also has a specific magical effect though.))

The use of magic is elegant (again). Most magical effects are situational re-skins of common low-level Old School spells, so the DM will likely be familiar with the effects, but they are shaped to context and use and will therefore *feel* different in the game. This is a neatly-executed idea.


ART

The art is waaay above zine-level. There is one Russ Nicholson piece, which should maybe be reproduced smaller than it is, several by Huargo Illustrador which are very good, (the cover is EXCELLENT), and a few by Gus L, of which my favourite is the White Swine. Gus also did the map which is largely very good. I would probably have had more hashing in the negative space but this could be considered a matter of dungeon map aesthetics.



NITPICKING

INTEGRATION

The dense cultural and aesthetic integration of the imagined world (which is probably what most of you are paying for) means that the zine only really mixes neatly with one other thing, and that's issue two of this zine, which probably will not be out for a while.

You can make up your own Zyan above and Zyan below, but when issue two comes out the dense interweaving of detail is going to make it tricky to integrate the developing world with whatever you are playing.

This is only conditionally a flaw.


PROSE

Ben writes like an academic or an uncles letter, in full paragraphs with entirely correct sentences and continually-even grammar. All the information you need is there in the paragraph and all the information is good. I personally would have chopped the shit out of a lot of these paragraphs, hacked the grammar, broken up the text, bolded, headed and bulleted the fuck out of it.

Bear in mind this is a highly personal viewpoint.

I will give you an example;

Bens paragraph;

"a. A four-poster bed stands in this room with a gutted mattress, and a few tatters of shredded bed clothes. Attached to the wall, there is a tall mirror that has been smashed to pieces. Next to it stands a once fine armoire now scratched by claw marks and ruined. It has a hidden compartment in the base, holding a gorgeous carved wooden cask (50gp), within which there is an effigy of a golden web. If thrown it acts as a web spell (one use)."

My version;

"a. Four-poster bed. Gutted mattress. Shredded bed clothes. Tall smashed mirror. Claw-scratched and ruined armoire.

Hidden in the Armoire
Compartment in the base. Gorgeous carved wooden cask (50gp).
Inside - effigy of a golden web. Acts as a web spell if thrown (one use)."

Again, this is a matter of informational taste and preferred cognitive rhythm. I did call this section 'nitpicks'. (Also, note the treasure, the cask, has a coin value while the magical doohicky doesn't, therefore meaning you don't need to have any arguments about throwing away the magic treasure or do any dicking around after the adventure about what exactly counts as XP.)


PRODUCTION

It's De Tocqueville vs Disney. This is almost the platonic ideal of the Artisinal Zine. It could only be the product of an intelligent, well-resourced, careful individual with good taste who took a long time and much research, invention and playtesting to produce it. It's particular right the way from its dungeon treasures all the way to the paper chosen and folded by hand to make it. Even the format and the way the paper is arranged is an elegant (AGAIN) arrangement of information and aesthetics that could be only be made easily by one mind who both comprehended and *physically created* the whole thing as-one.

It is not a work of industrial art. I don't think you could produce this at a large scale and keep all of the good things about it.

Not that you should necessarily want to do that. De Tocqueville has his good points, and Disney certainly has his bad.


CONCLUSION

It’s a small gem. If you like any of the things it’s about then it may be a 5 out of 5. Even if you hate the subject it would have to be a reluctant 4 out of 5 just for the very obvious quality. It has probably sold out by the time I have written this.

Click the image to go to Bens shop;



I will now watch Bens review of this, which I have been putting off, to see what he says.

(He’s right, the room numbers are a bit small.

And he mentioned Matt Hildebrand the layout guy, which I did NOT do. Whoops.

Also he points out that its available in PDF which arguably contradicts my point about Industrial Art.

And yes, there are a handful of spelling errors. I forgot where they were. Sorry Ben.)



Wednesday, 7 November 2018

A Night at the Golden Duck

Scrap came from the other side of the earth. We made a Zine together.



 We hacked this together in between watching squirrels, terrible bus journeys and episodes of the Jeremy Brett Granada Sherlock series.

It was meant to be something quick and simple we could do and get out relatively easily. The style is similar to the Fire on the Velvet Horizon aesthetic. Cut ups of courier font text mixed with Scraps drawings.

This is how it works;


 Its meant to be an encounter at an Inn. The party walks in and finds five strange NPCs' each has a unique history and personality, and secret motives. There is also a Legendary Treasure said to be hidden somewhere in the Inn, the Golden Duck itself.

Depending on what the PCs do, the NPCs might try to kill them, try to murder each other, seek or the Golden Duck, try to stop anyone else getting the Golden Duck, or maybe nothing at all will happen. Each NPC has different triggers, fears and aims so it could go a range of ways.

The Zine as you flip through it has the NPCs, the Legend of the Golden Duck and a rough chronology of the night. If you open it to an A2 poster you find a multi-layered map of the Inn, with stats, the secret of the treasure and some adventure information.

This is Miss Tricks, she is one of the NPCs;


To find out what she is about, you will need to buy the thing. it's available only in hardcopy, there will never be a PDF. It's light, we have kept it so that you don't get screwed on the postage.

You can get it at the new False Parcels BigCartel storefront. An experiment I am setting up to possibly sell small, light things that can be produced locally and posted easily.

Here is the Storefront;




Monday, 5 November 2018

Questions you can ask me at Dragonmeet on the 1st December


What happened to that Kickstarter you were doing? Did you have another meltdown?

ITS STILL GOING TO HAPPEN. BY THE TIME DRAGONMEET HAPPENS IT SHOULD BE EITHER UP, OR JUST ABOUT TO GO UP.

LOOK UPON THESE BEAUTIFUL IMAGES! MOST/SOME OF WHICH YOU WILL FIND WITHIN! SEE HOW I STUMBLE ACCIDENTALLY INTO AND THEN MINDLESSLY EXPLOIT THE ARTISTIC GENIUS OF OTHERS?

IN THE WORDS OF DR DUROC HOG; 


"NOTHING CAN STOP THE TITANS’ RISE!”

 “REALITY SHALL DANCE TO MY FUNGAL CLAVICHORD!”




When is Broken Fire Regime coming out?

ITS. IN. DEVELOPMENT.

ACTUALLY, IT WILL BE COMING OUT AFTER DCO2.



So, when is DCO2 coming out?

ITS... IN DEVELOPMENT? JACOB HURST IS WORKING ON IT. EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE FINE. AT LEAST TWO SPREADS ARE DONE. ARGUABLY.

LOOK YOU HAVEN'T SEE THE TEXTURES I'VE SEEN. THE TEXTURES.





Didn't your blog used to be good?

AT ONE POINT YES. MAYBE IT WILL BE AGAIN ONE DAY? PLEASE DON'T STOP READING I LITERALLY HAVE NOTHING ELSE.






Haven't you alienated everyone in this community yet?

MAYBE NOT EVERYONE? SOME PEOPLE DO NOT KNOW WHO I AM.






What's this I hear about you being a racist now Patrick? Are you going 'alt-right' did you take one of them red pills lad?

LOOK, EVERYONE KNOWS I LOVE THE WELSH PEOPLE. SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS.. OK, NONE OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE WELSH. BUT SOME OF MY FAMILY ARE? I HAVEN'T ACTUALLY SPOKEN TO THEM IN YEARS. ARGUABLY MY MUM IS.

I HAVE NOT GONE CULTURE WAR SCHITZO YET. GIVE IT TIME.





Hell of a thing about G+ eh?

YES. HELL OF A THING. I EAGERLY AWAIT THE NEW GO WHO SHALL RISE.





Why are you standing facing the corner?

I HAVE DIFFICULTY PROCESSING LARGE CROWDS. I AM SORRY. I MAY BE 'ON THE SPECTRUM'.





What's up with you dumping all these small projects on us for money? You gouging us son?

I AM RUNNING OUT OF MONEY AND TRYING TO AVOID THE BISCUIT FACTORY AND CALL CENTRE. SURELY THE WORTH OF MY REASONABLY-PRICED PRODUCTS CAN BE SEEN IN THE JOY OF THOSE WHO RECEIVE THEM? MY PROFIT SHARING ARRANGEMENTS ARE HIGHLY EQUITABLE PLEASE FUND MY KICKSTARTER.





I've seen your Instagram, aren't you just spending it all on Warhammer Toys?

I CONSIDER THAT A MENTAL-HEALTH EXPENDITURE.






Do you even play D&D anymore?

I RUN A GAME ONCE A WEEK. 

Thursday, 1 November 2018

A Review of Creatures of Near Kingdoms

Hey, Zedeck (& Sharon) made a book.

(Disclosure - I know this guy.)

Click to buy.


Pick up the book in your hands.

It's light, pages near-translucent. Strong black marks of monochrome pictures show through the text from the un-flipped page beyond.

The cover is luxuriant, a royal purple, it flexes and flops in your hand. The urge to bend it is near-irresistible!

It is written in second-person like cookbooks, choose-your-own adventure texts and a handful of literary experiments. Very fancy and unusual!

Who is the "you" in the book? You seem to change gender (by inference at least) and job and circumstances of life but it seems like almost all of these yous are Malaysian, alone at the moment of encounter, probably not beyond thirty or under twenty, generally educated, and reluctant to talk to others about what you (they) have experienced.

Many yous have a garden. There is always something strange in the garden. It is rarely a good thing.

You begin to realise that writing this review in the style of the book may have been a mistake. There are now too many yous. The protagonists of the book are many shadow you's, the you writing this is another, the you reading (and editing) this a microsecond after your cognitive tide has washed a finished fragment into being is arguably yet another you, and all the you's reading the finished review are yet another shadowy multiplicity of yous.

An even more difficult question is who is the person addressing the 'you' in the book? They are as vague and omniscient as a Gygaxian sage, and as tricky as a riddlemaster. A lot of these fragments involve the narrator slowly revealing something to the second-person protagonist. It is rarely a good thing.

(Run protago-theys! Run from the page before they get to the last paragraph. You have rights!)

This book is by two people.

One is anxious, slightly silly, enmeshed in the minutiae of daily life, except more absorbed in a kind of dream of daily life where things are not quite themselves. They are anxious about their garden (the garden is a major character), and a range of progressive political matters about which they feel largely helpless. They are either familiar with the scientific jargon of biology, or like reading books with those words. This must be Sharon, you think.

The other is completely silent and communicates only through the carving of smooth black lines, like woodcuts, except probably not wood. They are fond of bold and impudent animals, concerned with dream images and complex baroque patterns. You assume this one is Zedeck.

As usual, even though the book is only half text and is also half art, its easy to talk about the text (text always wants to be transformed into more text, like a happy virus) and hard to talk about the art, which gets shunted off to paragraphs like these while the reviewer tries to grapple with it.

The patterns are one thing, and even though the method of creating them is explained at the back of the book you still cant work out exactly how many of them work. Your eyes have looped the lines and been unable to find the repeating cores. Possibly you are visually stupid.

You like the large, charismatic, singular cheeky and mildly threatening animals the most. Though you think that probably the patterns might be 'better art', whatever that is. You are aware that you have pretty basic tastes in art and the patterns are strange and complex and might well have some kind of life beyond the context of this book, you imagine them proliferating over walls and laptop backgrounds, on tiles and the pieces of games.

The artist likes black, which you approve of, and does not fuck about adding the fiddly bits of shit which mediocre (in your opinion) people confuse with 'realism' and 'quality', which you also approve of. There is no digital trash in the backgrounds or layout, praise the gods.

Some of these images are near-heraldic, some could be scenes from storybooks and legend, some could be T-Shirt designs, (there should be a 'Crowned Dugong' T-Shirt on Redbubble by now you think), they are strong, singular, thick with character and identity, requiring no reference to make sense of them.

You could read the book backwards, silently, letting the pages fall open so the rhythm went image-text-image, the eye catching the image first, only then looking to the text. It would be a different book with a different pulse.

The book is full of creatures and plants and most of them (surely) are imaginary. Its actually pretty hard to tell. Some of these could easily be real plants and creatures from Malaysia that you don't know about. Do they really have their own local syrup plant? Is Agarwood a real thing?

It occurs to you (that is the you writing this, and reading it as you are writing it, not the other you who is the main character in the book) that this is probably a very different book if you are Malaysian, or just live in SE Asia, and of you are not.

A lot of these creatures, plants and situations are part of a network of subtle inferences and references which probably make very different sense if you are familiar with the environment and politics of Malaysia. To someone there, this might be like a kind of imaginary map of a real place, with everything tilted a little, but still familiar, a shard or lemon-twist of recognition. You imagine urbane Malaysians raising their eyebrows to each other over cups of rich coffee; "Ah yes, of course, a 'lantern squirrel', an artful re-contextualisation of something something something..."

But you, (the you you, not the other you) have no idea if there actually are lantern squirrels, real ones that is, or things like them. Do they have Dugongs in Malaysia? It seems like something they would have, probably not sentient ones though. You could google it but that seems like cheating somehow.

So for you, the book is twice-reflected. There is an extra hovering layer of interpretation. And also a lot of it is just the impression of someone in a cold grey place reading about a bright warm place (you actually feel a little colder in comparison when you read). In the place of the book, things are always growing, everywhere, and more than here, and there are lots of different animals, again, you think, more than you have around you.

You wonder if that might be orientalism? Does it only seem that way because you are familiar with your ecosystem and this one is cherry-picked and strange (and largely made up)? Only statistics will be able to work that out. You are sure someone on a blog is working on it.

Plus there are definitely no pigs under your house.

The extra layer, or double gleam of unknowing, either doesn't hurt, or helps you feel like you know the place in an intimate way. There are lots of fragments of life that would never show up in any story you would read. You feel like you know what its like to be in a traffic jam because of Buffalo, to worry about parking your car beneath rare and aggressive species, to wake up prickling because of lizards, pigs under the house. Complex meanings in relatives gift-plants, an aggressive bioform on the beach, neighbours with ritual problems.

And of course, finding something complex and penumbral growing in your garden. Then worrying about it. You feel like that might happen every day.