Thursday, 27 February 2020

What do people expect from a Fancy PDF these days?

Question is pretty simple. For people buying a PDF, what kind of options, fiddly bits etc, are considered basic, necessary and fancy?

What kinds of thing would you like to see more of?

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Xinu of Moh




(Or MohXin)

Mighty and wise are the Xinu, guardians of the cold and wall-bound land of Moh. Grey and huge as the Hama of Hroch, horned are they, and armour-skinned.

Hideous and beneficent is Moh, the Iron Crab whose colour is rust and whose virtue is Love. For Moh loves all as he, or it, scuttles sidewise and gigantic over Yggsrathaals waste-pack; a terrible, weird discomforting love.

Honest are the Xiunu, sometimes brutally direct. Altruistic are they, but cold, mathematical and precise. In some ways outside the spirit of the great Zoiterran meta-civilisation, though still better than Qua, for though they are strange, they follow Mohs high Virtue of Love

Love, by its nature, must be given freely to all, for love that knows partiality or prejudice, is not truly Love, but mere transaction. Partiality, preference, distinction, these things guarantee that love cannot be unconditionally bestowed. They are sins against Moh. Therefore there must be equality between all, and that equality must be ABSOLUTE.

Absolute equality requires absolute authority to ensure its survival, else it would be swept away, though that authority can be wielded by no particular party or group, but only by all, for the good of all.




Science And Pacifism


The Xinu, alone of all Zoiterran cultures (except perhaps the insanely Fascist Krote of Tan-Te), make systemic and focused use of that most un-Zoiterran philosophy - Experimental Natural Science. Nowhere in Zoiterra is technology more advanced, and nowhere are science and mathematics more widely understood.

Due to their large hands and stubby fingers, the Xinu have become expert at building and wielding fine manipulation devices which allow them to work at the smallest scale. With these, they often wear magnifying lenses. Xinu close-work glasses are more like mad face telescopes than anything else, these goggly apparatus use the horn as a bracing point and extend down the length of the snout like a projection of tears frozen in time.

The Xinu "Universal Schools" produce experts in mathematics, metalwork, engineering and logistics. They have discovered steel, have produced engines driven by steam and coal and have even experimented with electrical power. The Xinu's central city; "One", is lit at night by flickering irregular amber lights produced by the transmission of an invisible energy.

But resources are lacking. Zoiterra is not rich in metal, or coal, and the Xinu are loath to systemically harvest the shell of Moh, who is sacred to them.

If metal, or an outcropping suggesting it, is sighted out in the Waste-Pack, then the Xinu are the first to respond, and in greatest force. They surge out from Moh in Waste-Engines - huge black iron castles, smoking battleship tank-arks that journey over the Waste like icebreakers or fortified sleds. There they dive upon any potential metal ores, blasting away any Orc or Monkeyman attacks with jezzails, pneumatic machineguns and rapid-fire artillery, mining and harvesting what they can with the aid of clockwork mono-purpose golems, before racing back to Moh with their spoil, hopefully before the Great Race of Beasts leaves them behind.

These are the only occasions when the Xinu will essay forth from Moh, en-masse, with aggressive intent, and they regret them deeply.

For theXinu are culturally non-aggressive. Not quite Pacifists, for the majority are willing to use force to defend the innocent. But defence only. The Xinu will assist any culture suffering an unprovoked attack, but they aim to never attack themselves.

In the past, Xinu Legions have turned around and changed sides mid-fight on receipt of new historical information about the origins of a conflict. (To them it very much does matter "who started it"). Only to change sides again once an even deeper analysis of the conflicts history is presented.

The Xinu are masters of siege craft, fortification and artillery. The injection of Xinu siege masters into a defensive force can massively increase the time and effort it takes to defeat them, and the arrival of an entire Xinu 'Peace Legion', backed up by (non-lethal) logistical golems, Waste-Engines and spotter birds, can potentially stop any attacking force dead-on.

This makes the price of an aggressive war far too steep for most Zoiterran cultures to manage, which is exactly what the Xinu intend.



The Environment Of Moh


The Iron Commonwealth is not a verdant land. A huge arching plain speckled with low, rolling hills, pine, temperate forests and the jags of tiny mountains capped with rust red where the ferrous shell of Moh bursts through. Around the rim of Moh runs the Great Waste Wall, the largest single structure in Zoiterra.

The Great Waste Wall is constructed from pieces of the Waste Pack itself. Though the Nation Beasts can crash through it like Ice, to beings of normal scale, it may as well be stone. Over generations, the Xinu have hauled up fragments of it, cut them down and worked them into place, sometimes using mortar produced with ultrafluid from the chaos sea itself.

Within the wall are great untenanted areas. But no area is unmarked. Mapping pillars of stone and iron are driven into the earth in a regular grid, the logic of an abstract map built into the land itself. Roads and keep-towns on Moh are built map co-ordinates and navigation happens by number.

A land of forms more than shapes, Moh is cold, covered by winds and freezing fast-flowing streams. Rust hills, dark moors, grey-white keep-cities, right-angled roads, the parralax of marker-stones, the distant sounds of thundering mills or synchronised chants. The iron mountains of the crab are cut with shallow valleys sliced into carefully maintained stepped sides.

Moh is one of few nations where it can be guaranteed that there are no wild hordes of Monkeymen or other Waste incursions hiding somewhere in the interior, and no bandits, monsters or rogue states. The only danger a traveller on Moh must face is cold and Xinu society itself.


https://www.deviantart.com/anderslarsson-art/art/Rhinoman-458747035


Xinu Society


Nothing more perfectly encapsulates the nature of Xinu society than the always repeated shape and layout of their fortress-towns.

Every settlement, of whatever size, is a star-fort, walled and barred, a defensive fall-back in case anything should penetrate the Great Wall. Within their star-shaped layout, Xinu settlements are based around large, single-storied terraced homes on radial gridwork streets, all equally sized. Towards the centre are factories, manufactories and allotments, and in the middle are queues, clacking, ticking, the rattle of lottery balls, bins of ticket stubs, pigeon shit, pigeon coops, bells, the tapping of flashing signal lights, the murmuring of vote-counters, huge shuffling feet waiting with discipline and the three cornerstones of Xinu civilisation, the Keep, the Universal School and the Lottery Hall.



The Keep


Every citizen of Moh is a conscript in the Great Defensive Army of Moh and must perform compulsory service, after which point they maintain a rank as either a reservist or a full-time member of the military.

The Keep is the tallest and most fortified building of any Xinu settlement. Usually built of waste-pack stone fortified with iron bolts, and topped with clacking semaphore hands and a signal tower in contact with a relay station somewhere within view, the keep is the central organising node of the settlements defence, its point of final fall-back and the nexus of its military communications with the rest of Moh.



The Universal School


To most Zoiterrans a Xinu Universal School would seem like a staggeringly vast complex with secure areas resembling a prison, higher areas like an institute of theoretical research crossed with a very refined rabbinical study group and in-between, places that seemed like a university or primary school.

At the peak of the Universal School are always the Bells which ring out continually to remind all its scholars of the passing of various periods and events.

The reason the Xinu schools seem partially like prisons is because for the Xinu, no-one is ever "in prison", they are simply being educated, or re-educated. Though unfortunately, some people have to be re-educated so much they become unresponsive and in fact die.

Every Xinu is in the process of education until they become a full citizen. After that, they often continue into further education in some specialism, or end up being re-educated, should they fail Mohs virtue in some significant way. There is no "punishment" in Xinu culture, only differing intensities of required re-education. Likewise, there is no hierarchy in Xinu culture, everyone is simply a citizen of exactly the same rank as everyone else, doing the best they can for Moh with whatever abilities they have.

But there is a darker, invisible and inverse anti-hierarchy which counts the number of times an individual has had to be re-educated to the point of citizenship. Obviously, the lower the number the better, unless the number is too low for your age, which is considered a little "too" perfect.

Those who systemically fail to be re-educated face voluntary emigration to the Claws, or even expulsion.



Educating The Other

In compliance with Mohs virtue, Xinu citizenship is open to absolutely any sophont capable of communication presenting itself at the Waste Wall Portals or the embassy in Claw City.

A very small number of other Zoiterran peoples do apply for citizenship and pass, and are accepted on Moh exactly as if they were Xinu. Moh even has educated, citizen monkeymen, something impossible and mind-boggling to the rest of Zoiterra, and one of the largest concentrations of "free krote" outside Tan-Te.

The exchange is perhaps a fair one. The silent, but crushing and unending high standard of behaviour required for everyone is paid back with full and unquestioned equality, regardless of shape or form. All that matters is how you behave.




The Lottery Hall


This is a huge chamber, like a sacred bingo hall, full of queues, voting booth, ticket stubs, calm scratching and counting. Referenda are always taking place so the queues in the Lottery Hall are truly eternal, changing only in what they are queuing for. If the purpose of a Queue changes while a Xinu is still in it, they will usually keep waiting and instead vote on whichever issue is presented to them at the end.




Xinu Government



The Civil Service performs almost all administrative functions and is elected by random lottery from among citizens for fixed terms.

There is no Xinu Senate or Parliament, that might lead to parties. Instead there are the Referenda, which are continual. Laws say there can be no more than one referenda per-day and have limited the complexity of the question matrix after centuries of inflation lead to the vote sheets being many pages long with branching path decision structures and preferred choice hierarchies.

Anything than can be dealt with by the Civil Service, is. Anything requiring a higher authority is tabled for a referendum. For those rare and difficult times when a complex decision is required, at high-speed, and the hierarchies of Military or Universal School are not sufficient, the Xinu will submit to the shameful stop-gap of a Temporary Executive Committee.

This committee is chosen by rapid hand-lottery from among the immediately available members of the civil service and makes whatever decisions are required. Later, its choices are retroactively cleared or condemned by polling the whole civil service, or by a referendum. Everyone who has ever served on a Temporary Executive Committee is deeply ashamed of doing so - as its existence presents and unjustifiable concentration of power and possible secrecy




The Outlands


While all upon the Shell of Moh, and within the Great Waste Wall, exists under Xinu rule and Xinu Law, there are some parts which are of-Moh, but not within the Law.



Left Claw


This claw is the site of the embassies from other Nation-Beasts, inter-beast traders and other relatively-civilised, or at least not maniacal, organisations.

Here is 'Claw City' a precarious largely tent-based semi-city where there is at least some 'claw law' created by agreements between the various agencies.

The place is not hugely populated and houses many escaped, expatriate, expelled or un-educatable Xinu. These can vary a great deal in nature, from relatively normal to the most dangerous, piratical, brilliant, aggressive, criminal and opportunistic creatures in Zoiterra.



Right Claw


Known as the "Lawless Claw", there are no large-scale permanent settlements known here, but many ruins. So far as anyone knows, anything goes on the Lawless Claw.

Any being at all is allowed to attempt to make a living there, and can even climb Mohs limb and appeal for entry at the (highly fortified) gate-town. The Lawless Claw is known all over Zoiterra as a hive of scum and villainy, where even the darkest criminals and conspirators can hide without fear of detection, worse even than the piratical Ptak Tail States of Boe.



The Leg-States


Not really worthy of the name "states", these largely vertical provinces are nothing more than wilderness areas given over to whatever crawls up them. Defended against by the Great Waste Wall and occasionally purged by the military and kept open as routes of strategic opportunity, the Xinu are happy to let the legs be cleansed by occasionally dipping into the Chaos Sea.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

DCO Remastered - More Maps

I got sick as hell over the weekend, it was brutal.

Anyway, that did not prevent us from adopting at least some of your feedback, and we have applied it to the maps in the new Deep Carbon Observatory. So here you go.

You can click on the maps for high-res jpegs, probably most useful for the Dam map.

And apologies to Dirk again, we dulled his colours and Scrap made extensive alterations/additions.



The Drowned Lands


The Dam



And the Observatory



You can give feedback but we are getting close to the point where we are just going to go with what we have...

Friday, 14 February 2020

Deep Carbon Observatory Remastered - Labelling Maps

Alright, we are still hoping to run the Kickstarter for this in March, but working on edits, quotes from printers, labelling stuff like this etc etc as well as all the other projects both of us are doing soooo, there may be delays.

"FIX THE MAPS YOU FUCKING DING-DONGS" the Community have entreated us.

Well, no, we won't. But we WILL hire someone else to do that for us.

Specifically, underappreciated genius Dirk Leichty, of Silent Titans, Super Blood Harvest and a bunch of other stuff.

Here is a low-res version of Dirks Observatory Map



Which was way too pretty. So here is the map darkened (sorry Dirk!), and with scrap having made additions to it by drawing stuff.



Now comes our in-progress labelling issue. Neither Scrap nor I are good at dicking around with programmes, so we are feeling our way forwards on this one.

Originally I was just going to do it with room numbers and spread numbers. Here is an early, low-res attempt at a colour flip with just numbers showing where everything is;



But almost the ONLY thing every playtester agreed on was that they hated the numbers thing. 

So here is a version with Numbers, room names and the word 'spread' inserted.

(You can click this for a high-res jpeg.)



That worked ok but also looked busy and awkward as fuck, so here is the dialled-back version with a red room number, the word 'spread' and then the spread number with a hashmark, and a handful of room and area names.

Again you can click for a higher res version;


Comments welcome but may be ignored as you all always disagree with each other anyway.

Monday, 10 February 2020

The Bears Tongue


The Axe has many names, and hundreds have been forgotten over that wise hafts long half-life;

"Bears Tongue"
"Hewer of the Word-Hive"
"Feeder on the Iron Flower"
"Axe of the Final Survivor"
"The Last Axe Standing"
"The Tomb of the Bear"



Description


A heavy-headed Greataxe with a single blade.

Every part holds a story, for it is said that this was once the weapon of a God, and that every piece of it was won by force or cunning from one who did not wish to give it up.

(Though True Sophonts label this 'tap room talk' and say no evidence for any of it has come forth.)

The Haft is dense black wood, said to be the limb of an endlessly-reincarnating Karmic Dryad from the borders of a celestial realm, who still lives, and still seeks her lost limb.

The pommel claw, it is claimed, is that of a King of Bears, a lord of Skin-Shifters, first and greatest of the Bear-kind, and that this King still lives with one paw missing, and likewise, wants the axe.

(Though it’s pretty obvious that the pommel was constructed from similar materials, and at roughly the same time, as the rest of the Axe.)

The Amber gem set in the pommel is meant to be the stolen heart of an Eld-Queen of Margenalia, who, of course, also wants it back.

Even the wrapping on the haft has its own ridiculous story, that it is the skin of a mad emperor of psychic frogs from a distant island built on the back of a giant lizard, and that he resents its loss.

The Bit though, truly special, does seem to hold the imprint of a Deoth hand. Fine, shining steel formed into the head of a bear, its tongue lashing forth along the bite of the blade as if it seeks to lick upon the wounds it makes.

In the tap-room tales about the Axe, this part was stolen from a Deoth master-craftsman without fair payment. This Craft-Master then dedicated the remainder of their life to building a Worghast, or Golem, of great intelligence and power, which would repair and renew itself eternally, and who's only overriding directive was to ensure fair payment for the Axes head.

So much for the blather of the boozing-hall. All, or none of it could be true. Academic theory says that stories of the Axes stolen construction and the many potent beings who seek it out is a fairly recent popular addition to the tale, only a few hundred years old.



The Story of Bjorn


There is a simpler, older tale. Of a man, call him 'Bjorn', or simply 'Bear'.

Bjorn was of the Aboriginal people of what would one day become Blackwater. This was long before the Grey Cities, before the Fall of Esh. Who knows, it may even have been before Esh itself. Time fades like parchment in these long-related legends and one eon passes into another without too much trouble.

Of his origins, they said Bjorn was found in the ruins of a village, amidst the ash of burnt homes, a baby, unscarred by fire, the last survivor of an unknown people.

Those who found Bjorn took pity on him and adopted him, and they were fortunate to do so, for he was the strongest of his people and he killed many monsters. A long-lived man, he became first the leader of his tribe, and then the leader of a great tribe-of-tribes. The People of Bjorn.

Bjorn wanted Sons. This he came to desire more than anything for he wished to pass on all that he knew. But though he had many daughters, he never had a son, and people said that this was a curse of a Monster, or Quileth or an Eld he had killed in the construction of his famous Axe with the amber gem.

Bjorn truly loved that Axe for had had had great difficulty in constructing it and had slain many with it.

It came about that Bjorn one day found a boy, a baby wrapped in leaves floating in the waters of a river which lead down from the mountain where lived his God, whos name was Fire. The eyes of this child were fire-bright, like the eyes of that God to whom Bjorn prayed when he made his war-work.

"It may be", said Bjorn, "that this child is intended for me and is the answer to my prayers. And in any case, I shall not abandon him here."

So Bjorn took the boy and called him Reed, for he had found him among reeds, and he raised Reed as his son, and  though the child grew into a young man who was somewhat wild and dangerous, still Bjorn did what he could to temper the fires of youth with his wisdom.

Then it came about time for the end of days.

In some versions of the story a horde of Daemons or Quileth, invade the lands of the Tribes of Bjorn. In others the invasion is from the first civilised peoples and Bjorn fights against the first of the Grey Cities during the settlement of Blackwater. In others his war is against Yggsrathaal and Her Legions.

However it comes, there is war.

Bjorn was old then, and tired of killing, but Reed was mad for battle and Bjorn knew that the war could not be avoided and that there was no way he could keep Reed from it. So the old man sat on a stone and carefully sharpened his axe in the light of the sun and the sound of a stream.

"At least this and I may still serve to protect my Son", thought Bjorn, "for he is bound to his own doom."

Then a shadow passed across his sight and Bjorn looked up, for there were few in those days who would dare approach him without announcing themselves or begging his leave.

The figure before him was cloaked in rags and their face was shadowed. But Bjorn knew men well and he saw that this was someone strong and tall. He saw their red beard and sandals with obsidian soles so that their bare feet did not touch the green earth. He saw the shimmer of heat in the air above them and the steam rising from the stream where they had crossed. And he saw the fire-bright eyes in the shadow of the cloak and he knew who this was.

The stranger offered greetings, which Bjorn returned.

Then, unprompted, the stranger said;

"I go to the great war which comes and which will be the last of this Age."

"Is it so large a thing?" asked Bjorn, "that it requires your presence also?"

"I am only a wanderer," said the stranger, "and have no blade to make the war-work."

"That is unfortunate." Said Bjorn.

"I once had a Son," said the stranger, sadly, "who might have aided me in battle."

"This also is unfortunate," said Bjorn, "I have but one son myself and he is grown precious to me."

The stranger opened their mouth to speak but, seeing where this was going, for even in those days the tales of Gods were already old, Bjorn stood up quickly and said;

"Here," he offered the haft of his axe, "take this axe, which hews well enough, as compensation for your Son. It will aid you in battle more than a boy."

And seeing that the strangers hands were very hot he said;

"First I will wrap it in this frog-skin, which has a tale behind it."

But the stranger was already grinning with a mouth like the door of a burning hut and said;

"Thank you Bjorn! Not false are those words which speak of your greatness!"

And the stranger laughed and stalked away still laughing, with Bjorns famous Axe over his shoulder.

Then came the End of Days, when all that Bjorn knew and fought for was destroyed.

Many great battles there were, and each day died heroes whos’ stories would have choked all the books of Uud, but all are forgotten now. Bjorn led his people to war and held ever by the side of his Son, using whatever weapon came to hand. And it came about that the whole of the tribes of his tribe-of-tribes were laid down in the earth, and on the last day Reed himself died, and Bjorn was wounded unto death and fell finally in a field of corpses of enemies and friends with hot blood running from his many wounds over the body of his son which was cooling in his arms.

"So it is," said Bjorn, "and if I had with me my Axe, would things have gone so?"

But a shadow passed before his eyes and, with some effort, Bjorn raised his head and saw the stranger, still with Bjorns axe over his shoulder, though both man and axe were thick with blood, and the blood hissed and steamed, and the strangers eyes were fire-bright.

"It was a good Axe Bjorn," said the stranger, who yawned, "and hews well-enough, as you said. I thank you for it. But now I am tired and must sleep."

"Give me back my Son," said Bjorn.

"That I cannot do." Said the stranger. "But rest here for a while."

And he laid the Axe across Bjorns body, and so Bjorn slept.





The Bears-Tongue


It is known in Blackwater that the artefact, or Curia called the 'Bears Tongue' is associated with some of the most famous and savage heroes of Legend. And also with a handful of the most dangerous and murderous reavers of Civilisation.

Always it is held by a walker of the wilds, one who lives by their own law.

So it is that many young, dangerous and violent individuals have at one time or another, sought out the Bears-Tongue, hoping to become part of its Legend. Usually they find it in the bone-pile in the den of a great bear.

When they pick it up, they are invariably disappointed as, due to its reputation, they were expecting something a bit more magically 'smashy' and the axe has few destructive enchantments, though it is eternally sharp and almost imperishable.

Instead the shaft is noted for its wise advice, most useful to the stupid man, for the axe carries the tongue of an old man - call him Bear, one crafty in battle whos’ words are most of aid to those who rush in. Many wielders of the Tongue have been extremely stupid. But they did not remain so for long.





Powers


Bear sleeps within the axe - the amber in the pommel is his eye, it’s how he spots things;

"I'm in here upside down!"

The voice within the Axe aims to help its bearer become a Man, and a leader of a great tribe.

This is regardless of what gender they are, and regardless of whether becoming a tribal leader is either feasible or desired in current circumstances.

Still, those lessons can be pretty useful regardless.

The Axe knows a lot. To hold it is to carry the gift of knowledge. The voice within has all the knowledge of a great chief, a warrior, a hero and a survivor.

It has solid political skills and a keen awareness of human relations. Bear knows what men (he is much better with men than women), desire, which hearts are true or false, who is more ambitious than they seem and who is secretly weak.

Bear knows the ways of the wild, stalking and being stalked, to know where to go and where another is likely to be, and the choices men make in the wild, how to hide and to find what is hidden. Orienteering, pathfinding, climbing, hunting, building shelter, making fire, finding food, appeasing nature spirits, Lifian and Shadow Aeth, all of that Bear knows.

In battle Bear can read well a warrior, spot in their stance those weaknesses they would rather keep secret.

Bear is calm and knows how to see what is there to be seen. He has, and can teach, with time, the skills of observation, preservation and self-control. Wise strategy - when to be calm and how to be so, when to be still - frozen like ice, and when to push forward like the river in thaw.

Bear knows about most natural animals, and a great deal about common monster types  - powers, tactics, behaviours, vulnerabilities, treasure and, crucially edibility.

Bear really likes cooking and eating monsters. The voice is a really excellent cook and will provide recipes, make grandiose promises and be incredibly happy if monsters are consistently cooked and consumed.

If monsters go uneaten, Bear will become silent and morose.

Bear can be thrown pretty accurately for quite a long way, but he does not like this;

"I don't fly back you know!"

And does not magically return to the hand. Instead you will have to go and get him.

A last curious quality of the Axe is that any enchantment or thaumaturgy which controls the mind or deludes the senses, if it is aimed at the wielder, instead affects the Axe itself. It is the personality in the object which resists the enchantment, and if it fails due to strong magic, it is that personality, and not that of the wielder, which is deluded.

which can still be bad as instead of freaking out you have an intelligent Axe in your hand which is freaking out.






Weaknesses


Bear is better with less 'civilised' people, groups and situations, not that much help with logistics or mathematics, and is illiterate. Bear cannot read at all, though he knows many major spoken languages.

Bear does not understand women, and his ability to read the hearts of men, to tell and to know who is truly strong, who lies with words or actions and who is false, goes completely out the window when dealing with women, or more accurately, with anyone who can convincingly pass as a woman.

Bear claims to dislike and distrust 'magic' and says he can smell a Wizard a hundred paces upwind, though he does not consider the many rituals he knows to commune with spirits to be 'magic', and the smelling ability has never been tested.

Bear has enemies. For some the Axe is evil, a force for destruction, a weapon held over burning cities, a destroyer of order and safety wielded by criminals, reavers and raiders from the wastes, the Terror from the Gloom, fire bright in its steel bears face.

Bear also loves honey, and can space out a bit when his wielder eats some, but fears and hates Bees, considering them an ancestral foe. He claims to have an enemy, the Bee Blade, a shortsword with the soul or spirit of some Lifian or Quileth within it named the Queen of Bees.

Since neither this artefact, or soul have ever been sighted by literate minds, it’s entirely possible their existence is a very long-term, very dry joke on the part of the Axe.


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

ALSO (Whoredom mode activate) did you know that you can now buy my version of Gawain and the Green Knight, AND a Night a the Golden Duck from the same store?

"The links lie upon the top of the right rail."




Wednesday, 5 February 2020

The Mahabharata - SHRUG EMOJI

Not that I'm indifferent to it, or undecided about whether I like it, but that I cannot resolve the moral riddle at its core. Thence the shrug.

For anyone not already aware, I'm reading the Doring Kindersley illustrated edition. This is almost certainly slimmed-down but does have the benefit of having lots of excellent images, historical information and a lot of social and cultural background that helps to make sense of the context of the characters decisions.

Draupadi - poorly scanned

I gave up doing chapter by chapter reviews as each chapter was so thick with incident and the moral and religious consequences and meanings were so complex and interlaced that I didn't really feel I could say anything meaningful about it quickly.


Wrote about the Adi Parva Here

The Sabha Parva Here

And the Vana Parva Here



LIKE ROME NEVER FELL

A feeling I kept getting through reading this was that it was a little like if Rome had never fallen

Apparently a huge amount of the texts inside the Library of Alexandria were commentaries on the Illiad, something that would already have been ancient history to Rome, but which people were still writing about and talking about in some depth a long time later.

The Illiad, with its opposing clans, charismatic warriors, complex personalities, curses, fates, gods turning up to do stuff etc. is probably the Western story most like the Mahabharata.

Every character and incident (almost it seems) in the Mahabharata has some temple somewhere in India or some tribe or subculture or grouping that is really into it and has a particular view of it, so if you walk around India (I would guess), its a little like walking around a vast encoding of cultural information in stone and ritual, all bound together by these stories, of which the Mahabharata is a primary one.

If Rome had never fallen I imagine Europe would be the same way. We would have shrines to Hercules and Achilles and whoever, and every local town would have a story about when Hercules visited and those stories would have expanded through the psychogeography of the culture and be a shared point of contact.




IT DID TURN OUT A BIT LIKE THE HORUS HERESY

As a whole the moral ecology is really different but it did turn out to be a little bit like the Horus Heresy, or at least, the parts centred around the Kurukshetra war did.

It’s about touchy, martial high-status men taking extreme offense at each other. And insecurity.

The war itself is very wargamy, The exact disposition of forces, the weapons, elephants, horses, squad makeup, the power levels of the heroes, all are exactly and precisely described. You could literally make a wargame out of it and I'm surprised no-one has, but maybe they have and I just don't know about it? Or maybe it would be a blasphemous wargame? What if the Kauravas win?

SUPER-WEAPONS - Plenty of these dudes. Super-armour. Nuclear arrows. Super-spears. Captain-America murder-discs. Fucking womb-poisoning mega-arrow missile demon things. If you like insane super-weapons you are in for a treat.

There are also special-super tactics like labyrinths of moving chariots and stuff. The DK version didn't go super-deep on the military stuff, I need to read one of the nerd-boy versions which focuses on important matters like exactly who's super-spear was more or less powerful that who's chakram so I can argue with other nerds about it online = PRIORITIES.

Tragic - Not only is it about family vs family and brother vs brother, but the war itself leads to the Pandavas rule, which is good, but falls apart and the Kali Yuga happens. This is One of the huge super-cycles of the cosmos and its one of the bad ones where everyone is fated to be an absolute dick to each other. That is the one we are living through now so in Hinduism it seems we live in a 'fallen world' also.

Krishna murderfucking a demon guy with his super-Chackram



THE FATES OF THE FURIOUS

There are sooooo many characters and incidents. Here are a few that stuck out in my memory;

Arjuna - The Pandava I had most sympathy for in the end.

Starts as a shallow hyper-talented super-archer who all girls want to bone, after his time hanging out in Swarga learning dance from the Apsaras he seems to become less of a tool.

Arjuna chilling in Swarga
Then he takes on the role of a dancing trans/eunuch while the Pandavas are hiding out for a year and learns to view the princess he's teaching as a friend (or relation really. At least he has expanded his inner social map to include 'girls who are not my mother that I am not currently trying to fuck).

At the start of the Kurukshetra war, Arjuna seems to be the only Pandava who wants to turn back, correctly realising that even if they win they will have slaughtered siblings and loved ones. Then Krishna comes in with the Bhagavad Ghita and changes his mind.

Towards the end of the story he tries to save the remaining people of Krishnas city after they nearly get annihilated, and finds his powers have fled.

Judged by his actions, he seems to change the most during the story.



Bhima - A big strong dude who loves food and his wife and who is loyal to his brothers and who pretty much remains that way till the end and that's about it.

The coolest Pandava in the stories opening parts where his strength saves his family a bunch of times, but the fact that he never really changes or grows makes him feel more and more childlike, simple and boorish as time goes on and moral complexity mounts up.



Yudhishratha - A guy who is meant to be born super-wise from his God heritage.

He has one of the best scenes in the story where his undiagnosed gambling addiction completely crashes the Pandavas lives. Which is both psychologically interesting in the modern sense but also theologically and philosophically interesting since for Vedic rulers gambling is meant to illustrate that they are living within Dharma.

During the Padnavas exile he takes time out to apparently become even more wise, and seems to have done rehab at least as he doesn't repeat the gambling thing.

The most interesting part of his story is the end. Leading his family up into Swarga, one by one, all of them fall down into hell for their various failings. He doesn't turn around. In Swarga he finds his enemies already there in (lesser) heaven and his family in Hell. He travels to hell and wants to stay with his family. He ultimately ends up in (better) timeless philosophers heaven, free at last from Dharma and Adharma I suppose.

Yudhishrathas story is one of many point where the exact nature of renouncing attachment is thrown into really sharp relief as, considered from the point of being alive, a lot of its consequences are extremely creepy, and hard to reconcile with a human concept of 'good'.



Duryodhana - The 'bad guy', and a really good portrait of a man with capacities, but ruled by fear.

Duryodhana could never feel safe and could never escape his feelings of inferiority, and those lead him to his most shameful actions. A man in that danger zone of being powerful enough to cause trouble and vulnerable enough to act out.

He ends up in Swarga with the rest of his clan, I guess according to Karmic rules he 'did his job' and so gets entry. But we also learn that Swarga is no escape from the wheel and the everyone in (lesser) heaven will eventually end up in hell over several reincarnations and visa versa...



Karna - Probably my favourite character and the one who comes closest to be an Actual Hero.

Secretly the oldest Pandava brother, and the son of a God, abandoned by his mother out of shame he is raised by a charioteer, which according to the caste system makes him a charioteers son for life and nothing else ever.

His own brothers (and almost everyone else) mock and degrade him. The only person who every really values him fully and treats him well is Duryodhana.

And why does Duryodhana treat him well? Out of the goodness of his heart? Or because Karna is one of few people who can actually threaten the super-powerful Pandava brothers with his own abilities? The complexity of this realationship is fascinating.

Nevertheless, Karna remains loyal to Duryodhana, loyal to the one person who was ever loyal to him, throughout. He has one of the other great scenes when his mother comes to him during the war and he's like "have you come to acknowledge me? To love me, finally? Or do you want something from me?", and she asks him to spare the lives of his secret brothers.

Societies usually know what their flaws, are, tacitly and intuitively if not stated outright. Karna is an example of the flaws in the caste system and what Vedic society considers the necessity of social cohesion. But his story isn't a reform story ("we need to change this") but a grieving and acknowledgement story I think ("yes this is terrible, but do you want _chaos_?")




Krishna - Holy fuck this guy is weird. An avatar of Vishnu, and the speaker of the Bhagavad Ghita, the religious text at the centre of the story (hiding scripture in a war story = good work Vedic sages), so a kind of combined prophet/demigod/hero/wizard/supervillain?

Krishna embodies the arguable, or at least, perceived from the human point of view, (from my point of view), moral darkness at the heart of the story.

He's divine, which a lot of characters partially are, but he seems to be much more in touch with the divine aspect of himself, which makes him somewhat frightening and inhuman. His reasons for doing things always stretch across different layers of reality and his purpose seems to be as much fulfilling fate and bringing about the Kali Yuga as much as anything else.

But as a person, as a human being, holy fuck is this guy creepy.

Both sides in the Kurukshetra war are headed up by super-powered badasses, and as we know from the Marvel universe, when two equally powered heroes fight the only way to win is with a cunning trick.

Krishna provides the cunning and trickery for the Pandavas that allows them to win and which also causes them to break every rule of Dharma and battlefield conduct they agreed to at the start (which both sides do, but the Pandavas break _more_)

So to take out the Karuvas Main Guys they, let me see if I can remember;

- Bring a fated transgender/male-presenting female warrior into the field (not meant to do that) so the enemy general pauses in confusion and is shot by super-arrows.

- The 'pure' Yudhishrata lies (for the first time) to another Hero, telling him his son is dead, causing him to lose hope and thus become vulnerable.

- Karna gets shot in the back by Arjuna while trying to fix the wheel on his chariot. (Not meant to do that).

- Duryodhana gets hit below the belt (illegal) by Bhima, having his thighs broken and genitals crushed and dying slowly afterwards.

All of this is planned, organised and engouraged by Khrishna. Which serves his complex purposes of ending the war and making sure the Pandavas win it.

Krishna being, in human terms, incredibly creepy and manipulative, and also being the most 'holy' figure and delivering the core religious text of the story is clearly meaningful in some way but I'm damned if I can understand it. My intuition would be that just as Karnas character is built on an irresolvable societal faultline of caste, Krishas story is "this is what it takes to truly serve divine ends, to be really holy, you up for it?"





LABYRINTHINE

At the start of the book, the opening story is about a King who wants to take revenge on some Naga (Snakes and/or Snake-people) for his fathers death, and who is sat down by a sage and told this story, the Mahabharata. The sage tells him to look for wisdom in the complex Labyrinth of its narrative.

So the fact that it is morally and personally, and historically complex, and thick with incident is part of the point.

I haven't read the Ramayana but my friend says its much more classically a legendary moral guide text, where a super good dude fights super-evil.

Most of the main characters in the Mahabharata are highly multifaceted. Most of them could be perceived as villains or heroes at different points in the tale, and seen from different perspectives.

The story that's being told, over all, I felt, was not the story of the Pandavas or the Kauruvas or any of the people, or even groups in the narrative, but about the complex, winding, endlessly shifting moral nature of the world. The close relationship between Dharma and Adharma.

Exactly what counts as Dharma and Adharma is perhaps the key theme of the story, and if it has an answer that I can perceive, it’s that they flow endlessly into each other, opposing and renewing each other. One being the parent of the other, and that the only way to escape from this Labyrinth of Dharma and Adharma is to renounce attachment to the world, when, hopefully they let you in to the slightly better heaven for philosophers which lies above Swarga which is Disneyland-heaven for peasants and normal people.

For as long as you remain attached to, and interested in, the world, you will be doing good and creating evil, or doing evil and creating good.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

I Read Books

In an attempt to make the blog more navigable and useful, here is every book review I have written on here (I think), in reverse order of creation. If you go back far enough, reviews turn into excerpts and fragments and I have left most of those early posts out. (If you see any I have missed, let me know in the comments).

'Giant Oysters are Never Surprised - Yoon-Suin by David McGorgan

The Pernicious Pamphlet by Mateo Diaz Torres

Spacehawk by Basil Woolverton Part 1 - The Arc of the Hawk

Spacehawk by Basil Woolverton Part 2 - The Many-Coloured God

Spacehawk by Basil Woolverton Part 3 - The Case of the Missing Tyres

Through Ultans Door by Ben L

The Crimson King by Graham McNeill

Inquisitor by Gav Thorpe

Wolf Packs and Winter Snow by Emmy Allen

The Gardens of Ynn by Emmy Allen

The Mahabharata - SHRUG EMOJI

Creatures of Near Kingdoms by Zedeck Siew and Sharon Chin

The Natural History of Selbourne by Gilbert White

'There Is No Bus' - Peter Fehervaris Dark Coil

The Sabbat Worlds Crusade by Dan Abnett 

Unfamiliar Underground by Victoria Louise Howard

Anything May Be Attempted - Playing at the World by Jon Peterson

Thoughts on the Glorantha Sourcebook

Churchills 'Marlborough' Part 1

Churchills 'Marlborough' Part 2

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching

'Why Ask Me?' - The Book of Chuang Tzu

The Glass Harmonica by Barbara Ninde Byfield

'In the 31st Millennium - Your Feelings About Your Dad' - All the Horus Heresy books I read to that date

The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn-Green

Priceless by William Poundstone

The English Constitution by Walter Bagehot

The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison

A Podecast about the Worm Ouroboros

The Memoirs of Usama Ibn-Minqidh

The Gloomspite Gitz Battletome for Age of Sigmar 

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Lands of Darkness by Ibn Fadlan

Seeing Like a State by James C Scott

Wrecked Lives, or, Men Who Have Failed by William Henry Davenport Adams

The Nightmares Underneath by Johnstone Metzger

The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth

'MAN ATTACKED BY CORRIDOR' - House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

'Why Should I Lengthen My Tale?" the Arthurian Romances of Chretien De Troys

Amber Diceless by Erick Wujcik

Reflection in a Polished Cheese - Operation Unfathomable by Hydra Collective

The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser

The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes

Forges of Mars by Graham McNeill 

The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

The Shadow People by Margaret St. Clair

Lyonesse by Jack Vance

'A Bunch of Fucking Idiots' Barbara Tuchmans' 'A Distant Mirror'

Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History by William H. McNeill

The Azathoth Cycle from Chaosium 

Wondrous Bullshit, Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange

Blood in the Chocolate by Kiel Chenier

Broodmother Skyfortress by Jeff Rients

Orality and Literacy by Walter J. Ong

'a one-eyed sparrow with a fretful temperament' - Nick Bostroms 'Superintelligence'

And the TV-Show!

The Ice by Stephen Pyne

The City of Ladies by Christina de Pizan

'Willpower' by Roy F.Baumeister and John Tierney

Boys and Girls. Superheroes in the Doll Corner.' by Vivian Gussin Paley

Fire on the Rim by Stephen Pyne

No-oooooonne WRITES like Gaston, douses LIGHTS like Gaston - The Psychoanalysis of Fire by Gaston Bachelard

Prey by Michael Crichton 

STRANGE GRAINS - D&Difying 'The Art Of Not Being Governed' by James C. Scott

Indian Sculpture by Philip Rawson

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West 

The Cathedral at Night From ‘Cathedrals of France’ by Auguste Rodin, Chapter Ten

'Or Another Of Your Own Creation' - The Seclusium of Orphone by Vincent Baker

'Butchering the Descent' - The Descent by Jeff Long


Monday, 3 February 2020

The Vespershard


Attend, and hold your thoughts within the moment, for the second your attention drifts from what I say, the memory of these secrets will evaporate inside your mind like smoke

It is the nature of this treasure that knowledge of it will rest neither within memory nor record, but pass on, disappearing as a traveller, lately come, stopping for a moment in some lonely spot then moving off, into the mist, proceeding to some destination unknown.

Any word describing it will erase itself, or re-combine, breeding with adjacent words to describe disguising forms; some power, quest or treasure which is not the Vespershard, and which is not where the Vespershard is.

The Vespershards greatest defence is that, for those who walk the facets; (which accounts for all that are, except perhaps the Dreaming Gods, the Eldritch Founder and Ygsrathaal herself)  it cannot be consciously sought. All who come upon it must do so via a diagonal path, by happenstance, pursuing some other goal, driven by dreams and intuition or guided by madness.

It cannot be described within the worlds of Uud, and knowledge of it cannot be directly communicated.

There are legends without a core, heroes whose story did not end but only petered out and seemed to coil away into nothing. There are books with blank pages, or unreadable passages, whole chapters which wipe themselves from the mind, word-by-word and which reach into nearby descriptions, colonising, adapting and mutating story structures, covering and camouflaging themselves with a shroud of unreal semi-truth.

There are spells that cannot be taught, but only learned, and which, after use, not only erase themselves from the mind but which wipe out any knowledge that they can be used, or that they were used; filling in the minds of all who experienced their effects with substantive, but unreal memories.

There are hidden monasteries full of golems or blind monks endlessly translating and re-translating reams of core data so that, always in the act of translation, the information is never still and so can never be lost.

Neither, in that state, can it be truly read.






Where?


There are other realms or scales of Uud; para-realities linked to, or emanating from, the Waste-Lands in which Blackwater rests, accessible only through the shifting realm Marginalia, or through High Thaumaturgy.

In all these realms, and all these realities, the Vespershard exists, just as it does in the Waste-Lands, right at the hidden or secret centre.

In the Great Wheel and its Parliament of Orphan Moons, it lies within Agn - the great solar engine at the heart of that realm.

In ancient, vast and distant GreySpace, the Shard is hidden within the Angle-Adversarial, a fearful dimension of metacosmic smoke from the ruins of burning galaxies, there it lies within a nebulae, itself lost within that desolate realm, and is guarded by the Jewel-Swarms of the Carnivore Thought, yet even that terrible sentinel does not know what it truly protects.

In the Waste-Lands, the traveller must first reach Phosphorfall, the Turquoise City, which lies in the deepest Waste within unending whirling circles of annihilating storms.

Even reaching Phosphorfall is a feat of which few are capable, and of those who have gone there, none have returned.

The survivors make up the Cults of Phosphorfall; cryptic societies of cunning immortals, each following some hidden fate or secret cause, and guarding with magic and force, a city strewn with wonders collected and guarded over the long fall of Uud, the claiming of even the least of which might end a Saga in itself. But even these incredible artefacts are little but distraction and even these beings of great potency simply act as inadvertent guards for something they do not fully understand is there.

Hidden within Phosphorfall by the most subtle of illusions, is the Turning Palace. The greatest palace of creation, a place of veined marble floors and moon-bronze domes, guarded by illusions, the infinite recombinations of its corridors and by terrors drawn from the minds of those who would invade it so that to enter it is to step into living Nightmare.

At the centre of the Turning Palace is said to be the Hearts Desire of whomever reaches it.

And even this is nothing but a distraction.

For beneath the Palace is the Iron Web  - a writhing web-work labyrinth of oven-hot black iron tunnels. The heat is do great that the air vibrates and the black surface smokes. So burning hot that for ordinary flesh to touch them once would adhere it to the iron and cook it to a steaming chunk.

The Iron Web is guarded by Annihilation Golems and Terror-Fey drawn from this realities Apocalyptic End.

At the centre of the Iron Web, beneath the Turning Palace, hidden in storm-guarded Phosphorfall at the worlds axial centre, impossible to remember and impossible to find for anyone who actively seeks it out, is the Vespershard.




The Shard


A simple thing, at first sight.

A crystal with crystals within it, the facets glow glowing like noctilucent cloud or like smoke beneath glass, flickering with a pale light, shifting from bright to dark, casting strange shadows on the black iron walls made strangely cool by its slow turning.

But look too long and too thoughtlessly and the boundaries of the crystal invisibly expand, crawling and curling wall-wise, trickling round the vision-rim, the slight black exit to the web of iron closing like an eye, trapping you in an endless maze of silent images.

Within each facet, images shiver like the reflections in street-water. Look deeper into an image, send you mind questing, the grey-white pictures fluctuating according to your deepest unspoken desire

Exert will, decision and supreme focus, and the image can shift and skip, deepen into colour, emanate sound and smell, even expand until it seems like a portal to the scene beyond. Until it is a portal.

This is the realest and most unreal place in Uud.

A Cornucopia of Being. The Great Resonator, the Infinite Mirror, the Palace of Doors, the Hidden Axis of Reality and Sustained of the Cosmos.

Every single image is an individual reality. Not simply a world or 'Realm', but an entire, separate causality.

All are recognisably Uud in some sense. Many are similar - it would be hard to tell them apart. Others are truly wild, with different histories, geographies, aesthetics, languages, and populations. But more fundamentally, the texture of reality is slightly different in each. As if, in each strand of causality, some impossible meta-being had recreated the very substance of reality itself into an entirely individual form, with its own beginning and end, its own meaning and its own governing rules

In some the structure of probability swings widely back and forth between unlikely results. In some causality seems to ease events into neat comprehensible strands of cause and effect - like stories. In others it produces sprawling and chaotic histories the meanings of which are cryptic and unclear.

In some the world has ended. In some it never will.

For the shard, all that matters is that the adventures never end. Life and death, triumph and disaster, victorious peace or annihilating doom. Even an apocalypse can simply be another thread.

This is the power and movement and axis of Uud, The cosmic fulcrum upon which it turns. A Gem lit from within, itself sustained by the will, invention, empathy and courage of those who walk the facets.

Waves of reality emanate out from the Vespershard in coherent forms no sophont will ever measure, or even suspect. For these are the very substance of being, the blood of reality thrumming outwards like the beating of a great heart.




Its Creation


Who, or what, did this?

It could be the hidden weave of the Norns, of Fate herself, conspiring to re-weave and alter causality, re-knotting it strange new configurations as quickly as Yggsrathaal can unwind it. For fate is a spider with infinite limbs, each weaving in a different stream of time.

Perhaps the Shard itself is made from the vitrified ruins of heavens and hells and each path of time and strand of causality springs from the substance of a dreaming god. Is this why the gods sleep in Uud? And if a god dreams of dreaming gods, so those gods dream? A dream within a dream?

Or perhaps the Vespershard itself is made from the frozen substance of some silent and distant Meta-Creator, the birth of a hidden multiverse, an act of infinite meta-creation.

Yet, the shard itself is but a Golem Cosmos, something awaiting the breath of life and which cannot truly exist unless filled with the animating spirit of decision, action, emotion and adventure.

For each reality born from the substance of Uud exists somewhere in the Vespershard, and at the centre of each Uud is the Vespershard, or one accessible aspect of it, through which all the rest may be perceived and, perhaps, reached.

And for every facet of the shard which gleams with life, action and adventure, the power of the shard as a whole grows, secret and invisible at the heart of reality, strengthening and deepening what-is.






Its Powers


Mortal minds can only perceive what their own nature will allow them to understand so the powers of anyone standing in the direct, physical substance of the Vespershard are limited by their own nature.

But, given access to the fulcrum of reality itself, even a complete idiot can have substantial effects
(quite possibly unintended effects). And since the shard cannot be discovered by those who are looking for it, idiots, lunatics and the lost, are surprisingly likely to find it.

Before the Vespershard, an individual can scry all realities, searching for one with the qualities they desire, or focus only on a single one, looking for a single, individual aspect.

Powerful beings may even be able to shift the history of those images, turning time back and forth, witnessing the evolution of circumstance, or comparing and contrasting the fates of different worlds, or those of similar beings across multiple realities.

It may be possible to pull things, powers, or even individuals through the shard or even for an adventurer to pass through the shard themselves to a different table of existence.

(The spells and magical effects which move individuals between these fundamentally different causalities are thought to access the shard in some way, which explains why they erase knowledge of their own use, or even existance.)

Those of a deep intelligence and supremely focused will, could alter their own reality, or multiple realities. They could braid realities together so that they become linked and mutually responsive. They could possibly end realities.

Or even start their own.