Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Silent Titans - What Did and Didn't Work?

Reviews are mixed.

It doesn't work.

No, wait, it does.

IT DEFINITELY WORKS.

Ah crap, no it don't.


So, not quite a bullet in the head, but no triumph with laurels either.

So for anyone who has tried to actually run it, what parts did you find worked and what didn't?

Also if you have questions I will try (?) to answer them.

Also please be civil, I realise experiencing these intuitive differences in perception can be frustrating but the intention here is more of a neutral forum.

And I meant be civil to each other but now I think about it be civil to me as well please.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Gackling Moon



At the ends of the understood earth, trapped between contending seas, crazed with fractured realities and bathed in the glow of a mad satellite, itself reflecting light from unreal suns hidden in the shadow of the night, lie the lands of the Gackling Moon.

Guarded from the North by the Plains of Anaesthetic Fire, the fierce Whetstone Ridge and the unnerving para-reality of the Painted Plain, from the West by the Vermillion Sea, the flower-strewn surface of which borders on a murderous otherwold of mad red light, and from the East by the surging seas of the Reach, an ocean whos opposite waves tickle the beaches of the ever-mythical Dark Continent, the Lands of the Moonlands are not an easy place to reach.

Yet some do find their way there, for this realm of cracked realities is the origin of rare resources and secret wisdom. From the strange drugs of the Asbestos Bedouin to the magical apples of the Whetstone Ridge, the fictional weapons of the Picts of the Painted Plain, to the secrets of the Great Goblin Market in the Necropolis of Glass, to Narcissolis, the ever-shifting city at its centre, the Moonlands hold treasures and secrets of such rare and inexpressible strangeness that in any other place, possession of the smallest of them may draw the eye, burnish reputations and summon awe.

For all their deep differences and continual conflicts, those who populate these lands are united by two things. Firstly; absolute terror of the Apocalypse Wasps; nightmarish invaders from the Red World beneath and beyond the Vermillion Sea, who despise all life and wish to lay eggs in everyone. And secondly, their shared experience of the light of the Gackling Moon; for the orb which rolls over these lands in the night is of no ordinary kind, and such is the enchantment in its light that all beneath its grin must keep care of their calendar, for to leave shelter on a cloudless night, without noting the face of the moon, can summon doom.

Doom, or adventure.


The Gackling Moon Itself




A smashed moon for a smashed land, crazed and cratered like a pale cracked mirror in the sky, a blind, moaning moon with a broken face. Such is the shape of the Gackling Moon.

Legends, myths and imagined origins abound, but the most commonly accepted theory of its nature is that each cracked fragment of the face of the Gackling Moon reflects upon the world, the light of a differing sun.

And each mosaick’d slice does glow with a different hue, so that the Full Mad Face of the Gackling Moon is a tatterdemalion chequerboard of gash-bright light from incomprehensible stars.

Each wavelength of eldritch light carries with it a little of the power and strangeness of the reality from which it shines. The moon is mirror to a range of cosmic lamps, and in their light, the physics, logic and reality so illuminated must match and balance that of the emitting sun.

These lights have magical properties, each different, and all comprehensively intermixed and blended in the face of the Gackling Moon.

As the shadow of the real cuts slowly over the smile of the Gackling Moon, day by day and week by week, revealing and disguising more or less each night, the balance and composition of the unreal light shifts and alters, different colours matching, mixing, conflicting and combining as the month drifts by.

Though the moon is crazed, the arrangement of its fragments does not change, and so the people of the Moonlands know at least one clear moon-boon; the cycles of its witch-light are predictable and known, and the effects of each face of the Gackling Moon are understood and accounted for by all who live beneath its glow.


Moon Rules


Even in madness, there is law. The following rules always apply to the light of the Gackling Moon unless specifically stated otherwise.

·        The magical effects of the moon count only in direct moonlight.

·        Moon Effects last only as long as moonlight shines directly upon the effected being.

·        Moon Effects only work at night. They end at dawn. The moon is sometimes visible in the sky by day, this moon has no magical properties.

·        Depending on the weather, clouds may occlude the moon. This can be decided by the DM but for a random decision try this method;

First hour of moonlight – roll a D6

1-2 Full cloud cover.
3-4 Clouds scud across the face of the moon.
5-6 The moon is fully visible.

Every subsequent hour the cloud cover has a one-third chance of changing.

·        The population of the lands of the Gackling Moon are familiar with its many faces and know what it’s various powers can do.

The simplest response to potentially dangerous moonlight is to stay indoors or hide beneath shade. Other, more complex responses will be discussed either in the description for that particular face of the moon or in reference to individual cultures and populations.



Phases of the Gackling Moon




1. A Fine Gackling Moon


Perhaps not the worst moon, but certainly the most powerful and most feared

Light


The full, mad face of the Fine Gackling Moon is entirely visible, staring down at reality with its wild eyes and crooked smile, its face a mosaic of reflected sunlight from alien realms.

The colour of its light is an indescribable nullfire which veils all beneath it with the texture of a dream

Powers


One - Anyone looking directly into the face of the Fine Gackling Moon will go quite mad and not know who they are for as long is its light shines.

Two - Anyone in direct moonlight can change shape with nothing more than a silent thought.

·        Women can change into Animals.
·        Men into Stones.
·        Murderers into weapons.
·        Goblins into animals, humans, objects or plants.
·        Animals into Humans.
·        And Children into Goblins.

If the transformed individual forgets who or what they are, or is not in daylight as the sun rises the transformation can become permanent, at least until the next Fine Gackling Moon.

Three - The Fine Gackling Moon will grant each individual a single wish, once in their life.

·        The effects of this wish are limited, usually it involves the moon moving something under its purview around. Often after changing its shape.
·        To wish you must look directly at the Fine Gackling Moon, meaning you will lose your identity and go mad.
·        These wishes go horribly wrong.

Lunaculture


Being a time of madness and transformation, almost all sane cultures, and even Goblins, obsessively avoid the light of this moon, even if the sky is overcast. The danger of being caught in its light and of seeing its face is simply too great.

Three simple rules are beaten into every sane brain in the land;

1.      Never go out in a Gackling Moon.
2.      Never look at a Gackling Moon.
3.      And never, ever, wish on a Gackling Moon.

However, nothing is ever simple, and mistakes, emergencies, desperation or malice can lead to moon-exposure and its results.

If a family or community member goes missing during a Fine Gackling Moon, then any altered, extra or eldritch items are sought out in the day and guarded so they might be restored.

Men and Murderers can be easily located, being stone and weapons, each incapable of individual movement.

Women can be hard to find in animal form, and children extremely hard to find in Goblin form.

And almost anything or anyone new to a community encountered after a Gackling Moon may be a transformed Goblin.



Situations


·        A family looking for help moving and guarding a strange stone which they say is a relative, they want to place it somewhere where it will see the sun coming up
·        A family, village or Kin-group likewise worried about a common animal they think is their wife, mother or grandmother.
·        The discovery of a ‘Moon Blade’. These transformed murderers always have magical or remarkable powers and possession and use of them always leads to discord, horror and strife.
·        The discovery of a Moon Blade indicating someone in the village is a murderer.
·        A culture group taking radical action in forcing someone to transform under a Gackling Moon to prove they are not a murderer.
·        Someone falling in love only to discover that the object of their affection is a transformed Goblin or Animal, and perhaps attempting to make sure this is undiscovered and they do not turn back.
·        A family having to control and take care of a Goblin who they say (and hope) is their transformed child.
·        Moon-Ruin, the results of someone wishing on a Gackling Moon leading to people and places being swept up into the air and re-distributed, people and things being transformed in strange ways, outbreaks of particular madness and delusion and all manner of other strangeness.
·        Someone depressed, angry or alienated actually wants to forget themselves and transform into something else, permanently. In the case of a self-assured adult it can be hard to work out if this is something you should try to stop or not.

Everyone sighs in relief when a Gackling Moon finally occludes into the by-comparison, quite safe and sane, Painted Moon.



2. A Painted Moon


Light


The Painted Moon is a mosaic of glimmering colours like the fragments of a gem catching light.

Images seem to dance through the air like a procession of bright people winding their way through the air, or like fireflies travelling up, up, up to the surface of the Painted Moon.


Powers


One - For those who sleep directly in the light of this moon, their dreams will either migrate, (5 in 6 chance) or, more rarely, become active and tangible illusions around them. (1 in 6 chance).

Migrated Dreams; those who experience this swap dreams with someone else nearby having roughly the same dream.

Embodied Dreams; those who experience this have their dreams become visible around them, like a projected image.

The only significant physical danger from such Embodied Dreams is if very powerful or very scared people have nightmares, they can effectively act as monsters.

If Magic-Users have spells memorised while they dream beneath a Painted Moon, these will become active as fully-mobile independent beings with forms and intentions shaped by their natures.

In any case, waking the individual, or any absence of moonlight, ends the effect immediately.




Lunaculture


Almost all of the dangers of a Painted Moon can be avoided by simply not sleeping under its light, and for those witnessing potentially dangerous embodied dreams, any possible threat can be escaped with nothing more than a moon-shade, or by waiting for day.

The main dangers of a Painted Moon are social and psychological. At times, the inadvertent swapping or sharing of dreams between community members can cause social ructions.

Situations


·        A pair of young lovers setting out to sleep under a Painted Moon in the hopes that they will swap dreams.
·        An argument or fight between people due to information they think they received while experiencing someone else’s dream (i.e. someone does/does not love their spouse, is lying about something, is subconsciously into some freaky stuff etc).
·        A monster or dangerous situation which has sprung up around an unaware sleeper, and which may not be immediately obvious as a dreamed illusion.
·        An encounter with a ‘living spell’ sprung from the mind of a sleeping Mage, the spell has its own personality and knows it will only ‘live’ for a short time, this can make them quite capricious (though not necessarily evil). They may not reveal what they are.
·        A group of edgy young men setting out to sleep under the light of a Painted Moon because it’s very-slightly somewhat dangerous and boundary breaking.


3. A Sorrowing Moon


Light


This sad moon casts all beneath it in a sombre pall. All colours fade, the silver of the moonlight turns to grey.

Black pools of shadow hang from eves and branches like fuliginous cloaks.


Powers


This moon presents no physical threats and at least one great advantage. Nevertheless its extremely melancholic glow makes it a significant danger for those suffering loss, or of a naturally gloomy temperament.

One - In the light of a Sorrowing Moon, all become deeply sad. Grief can be dangerously intense

Two - It is impossible to joke or laugh beneath its light.

Three - Once you start crying it can be impossible to stop.

Even Goblins are made sombre by this moon. Unable to have fun they just trudge in endless circles in the night or break into peoples homes to clean them, do their accounts and weed the garden. Goblins hate this moon.

Four - This moon gifts animals in its light intelligence and speech. However, only the nocturnal ones are active and all of the animals are saddened by the cruelty of nature and their own brief awareness of it so they either sit there weeping or just cry in their sleep.



Lunaculture


The chief dangers of the Sorrowing Moon are psychological. Anyone suffering grief or depression is strongly urged not to go out in a Sorrowing Moon, as they may be stricken with terminal gloom.

Likewise, sensitive carnivores are advised not to go beneath its light as witnessing the sadness of the animals may turn them into vegans.

Children are kept out of this moon as hearing farm animals cry in the night, and witnessing them form words and make statements in dreams or sad nightmares can be disturbing for them.

This can be a good time to question animals, if they are thought to possess needed information, though talking through their tiredness and sadness can be tiresome.

Conversely, a Sorrowing Moon is a great time to escape, confound, oppose or defy Goblins as any under its light will be stricken with a mental heaviness and lose utterly their maniacal genius and deranged courage.

Situations


·        Investigators tracing a crime systemically drag every animal in a village into the moonlight and interrogate it, but are gradually worn down by the consuming sorrows of the beasts.
·        Dumb kids decide to fuck with some Goblins by hurling school homework at them in the night, adults who realise the Goblins will take revenge under the coming Ruinous moon try to stop them.
·        The weeping and wailing of farm animals disturbs as you pass in the night.
·        A favourite pet or animal has quite a lot to say, and is extremely depressed.
·        Suicide watch by the home of a grieving widower are themselves crying.
·        Weeping housewife watched glum Goblins skilfully but gloomily tend to her pumpkins in the night.



4. A Ruinous Moon


Light


A classic silvery-white moonlight with a tinge of sapphire-blue. Slightly brighter and more directional than ‘average’ moonlight

Shadows are depthless pools.

Powers


One - Under this moon the ghosts of those slain by mortal hands seek out their killer.

Depending on the strength of the personality behind the Ghost, may simply follow them accusing them of the crime, or may pursue more direct vengance.

Two - Shadows cast by the light of this moon sometimes rebel against their caster if offended.

They escape and run away into a great Parliament of Shadows. If you can find this Parliament it can lift curses, deliver knowledge or amend mistakes.


Lunaculture


A moon of revenge and the accounting of old wrongs, where many lose their shadows and others are harrowed by ghosts. Still, a Ruinous Moon is not particularly dangerous for most people, providing they treat their shadows kindly, and are not killers.

Criminals, murderers, but also soldiers and executioners, will all try to avoid this moon. As will anyone who has ever killed a Wizard or Magic-User.

The possibility of exposing a murderer or discovering the Parliament of Shadows provokes certain groups and people to undertake unusual actions in the light of this moon.



Situations


·        A legal trial held out in the open, beneath moonlight. If the accused is guilty, the ghost of their victim will arrive to accuse them.
·        Knights or adventurers in combat with their own shadows after offending them.
·        A potent warrior trapped beneath shade by fear of the numerous ghosts who will seek them out should they step out under the light of the Ruinous Moon.
·        A battle between the ghost of a Wizard and their killers, who foolishly let themselves be caught under moonlight.
·        A pilgrim or group of adventurers who seek the Parliament of Shadows, either to regain their own shadows or to solve some irresolvable mystery or danger.
·        The Parliament of Shadows itself.




5. A New Moon


Joy to the world the New Moon is here!

Here are the safest and most secure handful of nights in all the lands of the Gackling Moon. With the moons face totally occluded, there are no magical effects or strange lunar dangers at all.

Many settlements have night-festivals to mark this time of the month in which all the citizens, who might otherwise have some reason to avoid the moonlight, walk about beneath the light of the stars without fear or restraint.

Night markets and late openings are common for these few eves.

Yet all make ready and prepare for perhaps the worst moon of all, which comes soon….



6. A Wasp Moon


Light


The light of the Wasp Moon is a virulent, violent red that washes over bodies like crimson ink and stains reality like a charnel house.

The Red Wasp Moon breeds, and feeds on, anger, resentment and wrath. Under its light people become their red, wounded selves, all of the harms of their life visible as vivid flesh hacks and raw damage.


Powers


One - Meat rots in the red light and births red flies which swarm in the night.

Two - Hatred breathes out like a caustic gas which cuts like a knife.

Three - Bad thoughts squirm like red eggs under the skin, then burst like buboes, releasing the poisonous red wasps of wrath.

These wasps buzz with a high-pitched keening sound like blades on glass, they are aggressive and their sting is painful to the point of being disabling. The pain only dies with dawn.

Four - Those who swear an oath of vengeance to this moon grow buzzing wasp wings which burst from wounds in their back and carry them towards the object of their hate at incredible speed.


Lunaculture


More even than the Gackling Moon, this is an orb to be avoided at all costs. All pray for clouds to cover this most poisonous selene. Since this moon is of aid only by those who wish to do harm, and since it shows all under it in the most terrible light, travel under it is abjured, regardless of circumstance.

Culturally, it’s considered reasonable to miss any appointment or meeting, to avoid any duty or to break any oath or promise, if to meet or fulfil them requires that you walk under a Wasp Moon.

Doors and windows are locked. Children are terrorised by tales to be sure they do not leave the house.

Cursed are those who choose openly to walk under the Wasp Moon. They are villains all.

Situations


·        A wrath-filled wanderer squats like a rank encrusted hive of hate, spitting out wasps.
·        Dark towns and empty villages with every door and window battened tight and all valued animals under shade. Few doors will open, regardless of the circumstance.
·        Evil men walking freely beneath the Red Moon like grinning flensed corpses, followed by swarms of their own bad thoughts.
·        The terrible buzz of wings in the night air and a hated enemy left behind long ago swoops upon you in a moment.
·        The bodies of friends caught in the Wasp Moon by mistake, who’s argument turned to horror, their thoughts bursting from them as flies and their breath slicing each other like knives.
·        Bodies in the red light, impossible to tell if corpses or sleeping men.










7. A Goblin Moon


Light


The Goblin Moon is a crazy facepunching GREEEEEEN.

Moving bodies to hop and skip. Faces look like carnival masks. The green of leaves, grasses, and goblin faces, grows pale. Those which match exactly the light of the moon look white.

Shadows are a dusky, dusty red.


Powers


One - Lies are always believed.

Two - Locks don't work.

Three - The strong cannot restrain those weaker than themselves with bonds or chains.

Four - It’s easy to hide in the shadows cast from this moon if you are hiding from someone specifically looking for you.

Five - One anyone laughs, it takes serious effort for them to stop. Weak or distracted people can die laughing, so can Goblins.


Lunaculture


While the Goblin Moon is a troublesome one, people usually view it with a degree of resignation. As bad as Goblins are, they are mainly into theft, chaos and mischief, rather than murder and death. At least it’s not the Wasp Moon.

This Moon massively encourages thieves and most settlements have curfews, nearly as serious as those for the Wasp Moon, to prevent anyone from walking abroad under it.

Unlike the Wasp Moon, this curfew is actually policed by MoonCops, out looking for Goblins and other nere-do-wells. (and usually not finding them, but at least it’s something.)

Wealthy homeowners often have secondary doors on their houses, built inside, beneath the eaves, out of the light of the Moon, so they can actually be locked. Poorer families often team up and sleep in each others houses to keep watch.

Particularly useful for this are children as, being weaker than a Goblin, and most thieves, they cannot be restrained and can therefore warn their family if they sense anything awry.

Many children are bribed to stay up all night over a Goblin Moon, and many of the caffeine addicts of this land can date their preferences to heady, adventuresome nights beneath the Goblin Moon.



Situations


·        Goblins creeping in the shadows.
·        MoonCops stalking, poking shadows with poking sticks, running after Goblins both real and unreal.
·        Goblins stealing trash to build a giant ladder in a crazed desire to reach the Goblin Moon.
·        Caffeinated children running about screaming dirty jokes at empty corners. Goblins have a terrible sense of humour so making them laugh, and keep laughing is a key way to force them to expose themselves.
·        Goblins flying about on the back of huge owls, causing trouble.
·        Goblins poking people with sticks for fun.
·        Goblins paired up on each others shoulders, wearing long coats, pretending to be MoonCops as part of some insane scam.
·        Goblins building giant lunar capacitors to store the energy of the Goblin Moon in special glass vials.







8. A Forgotten Moon


Light


A glistering crystalline gleam highlights every edge. The air hums with a kind of static energy. Jewels and the edges of blades sparkle.

Shadows are a lambent blue, like lantern-lit velvet.

Moths fill the air like stars and land like snowfields in its light. Huge moths seems to orbit around the moon itself. Storms and high winds blow them away like hurricanes of tumbling leaves but they always return.

Powers


One - Any secret whispered under the light of a Forgotten Moon will be overheard by a moth. The moth will then carry this secret to another and whisper it into their ear.

Two - Those who sacrifice an Owl to the Forgotten moon may summon one of the huge, Moon-Circling Moths from the upper air. This Moth will carry them to any place beneath the moons light where they have already been

Three - Rumours say that, very occasionally, a large moth will arrive from the deep past and whisper into an ear, requesting a single drop of blood. If this is given, they will relate a secret from ancient history.


Lunaculture


Obviously, a Forgotten Moon is a bad time to conspire, as any secret could easily escape. Because of this, in many cultures, some rituals, contracts and agreements can only take place under a Forgotten Moon.

The ease of transport via giant moth means people are accustomed to both receiving visitors from their past, and to visiting old places known to them, during these nights.

But sometimes dark things live in the past as well and the Moths of the Forgotten Moon can both deliver, and bring people to, black forgotten fates.

Most actual conspirators are careful not to speak secrets under the Forgotten Moon and the majority of secrets lost and found are those of children. But, people being what they are, you never know…


Situations


·        A Moon Marriage taking place beneath the Forgotten Moon.
·        A village full of people; distant family members are visiting each other.
·        An empty village where almost everyone has gone of to visit somewhere else.
·        The return of a long-thought-lost son or daughter has erupted into social drama.
·        Someone claims to have received a secret from the ancient past and is looking for help in exploiting it.
·        A dark secret heard by a child leaves a village in uproar as everyone tries to work out who’s it is.


With the end of the Forgotten Moon, we return again to the Fine Gackling Moon as the cycle of the month repeats.







Tuesday, 11 June 2019

If everyone but you is wrong then you are wrong.

Here's my statement;

If everyone but you is wrong then you are wrong.


With these caveats; 

(and people who somehow don't read or process these but who still insist on leaving a comment, enjoy my utterly silent passive-aggressive rage in response).

If we are talking about an industrial art, something like cinema or mass publishing where it only really works if a very huge number of people are willing to buy it.

More simply, if we are talking about fiction and products of the imagination. (Not, primarily moral or political matters, like if everyone is into rape or slavery except for you then you still get to be right.) and it’s for a mass audience, in that case, if the vast majority of people who are into it are making a category error, that is, they are viewing it in a way you regard as incorrect, then in-effect, you are making the category error.

Because - the only thing that allows this thing to exist is the mass audience that funds and sustains it. And since its not deeply attached to real life, however they see it is a more true expression of how it is than whatever the cultural minority say about it.

So, in those conditions_, if everyone but you is wrong, then you are wrong.

Usually this is an irony thing and usually it’s the smug intellectual bourgeoisie lecturing the great mass of meatheads on how a thing they like is actually an ironic refutation of exactly that thing they like duuuuuh.

I don't think I've ever really bought that argument, for a variety of reasons

One - I'm usually less pissed off or alienated by this thing than other balloon-headed milk-weeping choleric intelligentsia.

Two - I hate irony itself more and more each day.

Three - As a distaff member of the bourgeois-hating bourgeoise, as you are driven by a desperate need to locate yourself as separate from and slightly better than the great mass of ambulant spam cans who drive and fuel our great society, so I, a superior intellectual, am driven by an equally strong need to show myself as seperate from, and slightly better than, You.

So as you are driven by genetically-deep drive to constantly explain their sadly mistaken cultural takes to the lumpen kulturpfutz, so I must equally chide and educate you.

Four - But, even so, if this thing, this movie, this set of toys, this musical thing, is driven almost entirely by people who take the message at something closer to face value than you, if them buying it allows it to exist, and if it’s an imaginary thing which by bullshit postmodern rules only really fully exists when and while being regarded and thought about, which requires a human mind to interpret it, then doesn't them having more minds, and also literally paying for its existence mean their brain-votes outvote your brain-votes?





WHY BRING THIS UP NOW?

I've completely run out of ideas for this blog so looks like we are doing culture war now baby. The years of content are over, Pundit here I come.

And this recent interview on the 40k company podcast has Tim Molloy making the very-often-repeated by anxious lefties argument that Warhammer 40k is not a desired end-state and we shouldn't identify with it like that.

Which annoys me for two reasons I think.

One - I think very few people do actually identify with it like that, at least without realising what they are doing and being able to stop.

Two - If a twelve year old (probably boy) didn't look at a Space Marine and go 'pew pew! Space Marine! Gonna fight the baddies!', then Games Workshop, and all of the jobs of the people in Games Workshop, probably wouldn't exist.

More precisely, some degree of heroic identification with the setting is absolutely necessary to the company’s survival and has been a fully integrated thread in its makeup from day one.

So I got kind of ratty as what I perceive as liberal chiding and left-wing self-flagellation by groups and individuals who's jobs depend on people not really listening to that chiding and moralising, and who are doing almost exactly the same thing just at a slightly different level.

Because absolutely no-one is playing in or imagining the Imperium of Man as North Korea in space, which is what it would be like, because it would be made out of starvation, boredom, ethnic hatred and rape. And I don't remember seeing much of those in any Blanchitsu articles.


"Ahhhh, you, a child, probably bought and painted that Space Marine thinking you were playing with a hero.

Whereas I, an *intellectual*, agonisingly converted my Inquisitor model and speckled them with a heartbreakingly accurate depiction of situation ally correct industrial decay and in-world derived skin problems, in full understanding of the innate tragedy of the setting.

Yes I do indeed go 'pew pew' with my models, and yes I did glob together a bunch of plastic to represent a person who, if they were real, their main job would be torturing and murdering people.

But, when I go 'pew pew', I do it in a morally and politically sophisticated way, you fucking twelve year old casual.

Also, please buy our all-new Boxed-Set I just opened a mortgage on a house."

Friday, 7 June 2019

The Grey Cities


Here is the small version of Karls map.
See below the cut for my original images.


Like a frayed coat named for its tarnished gold buttons, or like a map so paled by time that the only name it carries is that of the weights used to pin it against the gathering wind, the land bears the Cities name. The cities, the land, and the culture of that land, all are referred to as-one:

The Grey Cities.

The final fortress of civilised humanity. The last spark of Esh, slumbering in Uud.

The continent, (or one half of the paired sub-continent of Blackwater), runs roughly two and half thousand miles from Declension to the western coast. From many-walled Yga to the cold, uncertain border with the north, it reaches two to three thousand miles. The Waste frets and ebbs, pressing in, then falling back, gnawing at the borders of the land. The Cities total area varies according to the age, and the fortunes of man.

The rivers run east-west, to an almost unnatural degree. This may be due to deliberate engineering in the distant past, or Diadem-age reality shifts.  The greatest rivers run from the Realities, through the Blackriver plain, past the Cities, and seep into the sea of ash on the western coast.  Some spill out into the Waste.  A few loop back in, watched, guarded and carefully patrolled. Their cold, black water gives the realm its name and the soot-coloured sediment carried all the way from the Realities is claimed to contain some of the stern magic of the Mountains with it. Yggsrathaals Children find it vile.

There are hundreds, perhaps a thousand Grey Cities. Though before the Great Theistic war, there were many more. The oldest and the greatest are Galdor, Vocht, Declension and Yga. Nearly as well-known are Eimyrja, Hulfr, Morewen, Cinerium, Sintel, Sceadweald, Kaal, Foign, Wraeth of the Ruins and Glaem.

Each is unique, but a few things unify them all. All are based around a sacred megastructure, almost all are built on, or by rivers or some other fresh-water source, and almost all are centred in a pool of exploitable arable land. As well as this, many cities carry, somewhere close, or even surrounding them, a near-ungoverned borderland; the Zomia.

Though their climate and geography vary hugely, the power and influence of each city can be measured by its shadow. Like a weight pressing into a blanket, each carries with it a radius of power, spreading into its hinterland, centred on its secret core and the forgotten rituals performed there by the Emperors of Reality.

So, we measure from the outside in, coming closer to the centre, and the secret of the city with each move.

But we begin at the point furthest from the cities core;


THE MARGINS


At the height of its power, in the dark times before the Tolerance and the Treaty of Birch Falls, the Waste sent tendrils into Cities. Mists rose, even in the centre, and a capillary of ash and cold grey cloud crept through the land, surrounding cities and cutting them off. This was an age of isolation and war, the borders of reality crashed inward, Yga was nearly lost and Theistic violence nearly claimed all.

Since then, reality has reclaimed much. But far from all. Many cities fell, lost to the Waste and carried away.

These are the Margins; any land which is not safe from the advancing Waste.

We could call all of Blackwater marginal, since almost all of it is in danger, but in practice, the margins are places on the northern or southern borders, facing the Sea of Ashes to the West or some of the Blackriver Plain to the east.

Here, things are liveable, for now.

Here the shadow of the cities casts the desperate, brave, or utterly mad. The losers of wars, criminals, despised cults and religious groups, deranged idealists, brave watchers of the Waste-bound paths, barbarians, wanderers, nomads, and, of course, heroes.

The margins lie on the borders of Blackwater itself, but a little closer, and within the body of the continent itself, are the Zomia


THE ZOMIA


The Zomia of the Grey Cities are defined not by their geography, (although that plays a role), but by their relation to state power.

A Zomia is a bubble of uncontrol within a cities sphere of power. They may rule in theory, their flag or blazon may fly, they may collect 'tribute', and other cities may consider it within their range of influence, but tax collectors don't leave their fortress at night, or at all, and soldiers patrol in groups, if they are even present. The Zomia is a kind of mirror to the city, an anti-self that holds it in equipoise.  On one side; order, hierarchy, power and control, and on the other; wildness, anarchy, danger and, sometimes, terror. It is a place in which it is very, very hard for a Grey City Government to get what it wants.

A Zomia can take many forms. In almost every case, the land is sparsely populated, unsuited for agriculture and very difficult to navigate.

In the very centre of the Cities lie great forests of gnarled black wood, spreading for hundreds of miles over cracked and fractured land.  Wreath of the Ruins is surrounded by the Kataferz, the Midnight Wood whose trees grow so densely they block out the sun and whose brambles, nettles, poisoned vines and seeping willows press endlessly at the edges of Wreaths settled lands.

Vocht has The Vochtweald, a high plain of near-bare limestone Karst, visible even from the towers of the city itself, but never entirely subjected to its rule. Here sinkholes open beneath the traveller, the rocks form bizarre labyrinths.  Caves and strange passages are everywhere, tiny villages eke out survival on small patches of rare fertile soil.  The Maroons of the Vochtweald, made up of escaped members of Vochts servile and criminal classes, rule here, if anyone does, from caves and fissures and secret adobe settlements high in the Weald.

Yga has the Swamps of the Moon; mile upon mile of reeds, waterways, buzzing flies, rotting ruins and mad tribes.  The pearly waters hum, even at night, with the spiralling flies and the croaking of the Ghoul Toads.

And swamps are common in the Grey Cities, where the Black Rivers slow and overrun low lands.

Though all are different and each unique, the Zomia all play a similar role. They are refuges, places of rebellion, criminality and escape. Whomever is unwelcome in the city can flee to a place where the laws of the city run thin and power becomes a simple matter of the strength of your arm and the brightness of your smile. A harsh law, but less harsh for many than life in the city.

Though the Zomia, the Margins and even the City itself can be thought of as a place for adventure, the same cannot be said for the next ring.

(Though it may be simply the kind of adventure that differs).


THE SAFE AND SILENT LANDS


Not truly safe, but often silent. The City must feed, and here are fertile lands which satisfy that hunger. Each city sends out a spiderweb of farms, plantations, villages and cultivators, a halo of worked fields, managed growth, herding and gathering. In the south and west many cities occupy shallow river valleys crammed with intensive rice production. These huge concentrations of food are engines of cultural, economic and military power.

During the fall of Esh, Blackwater was the final destination for refugees from all the worlds and climes of the Diadem. They brought their crops with them and Blackwater has a diversity of food and useful animals greater than any biome of modern earth, a mad bricolage of plants and cultivation which has found a rough equilibrium over the millennia. As the altitude, soil or climate shifts, every crop imaginable is brought to seed.

These are the true treasures of the Grey Cities, the cause and prize of most of their wars. Food gets you soldiers, soldiers get you land, land gets you food. The Zomia and the Margins rarely face the threat of organised war, and few armies ever penetrate a Cities defences to overthrow another’s government. It is these places which face the action and consequence of war. When armies march, they do so up and down rivers, through villages, over fields.

Even in peace, here in the weird arable lands, every village has a secret. Only a mile off the main road you might find an isolated place settled a thousand, or five thousand years ago. Some villages and market towns have griped under the cities as long as they have existed, some were even here before the cities, before the great flood of population the endless cultures of Esh swamped their lands and changed everything forever.

These places are caked in their own strange rituals, fetishes, festivals, conspiracies, cults, bribes, banditry, inbred families, local ways, micro-cultures, social dramas, hidden structures of power,
and brutal generational feuds over the placement of a garden wall.

The city sucks in talent, youth, beauty, craft, intelligence and anyone who can't fit in. What is left, in the safe and silent lands, is often the opposite, the husk of these qualities, and the more quiet, strange, changeless and conservative such places get, the more so they wish to be.

But now we approach the true heart, the city itself. And rising in the distance we see something larger, and stranger than any city seen on earth, the Megastructure.


THE MEGASTRUCTURE


Every Grey City is built on, in, under and around, a sacred Megastructure. These are cyclopean, half-buried in the earth, taller than any tower, their geometry labyrinthine, non-Euclidian. Each is unique.  No two megastructures are the same. The Grey Cities are like termite hives on top of modern art.

Citizens cling to the Megastructure. They pile palaces, fortifications, hospitals, schools, apartments and tenements upon it, they ring it with ghettos, weave highways and plazas under, over and around it.
They climb it, hang from it, string bridges like necklaces and cable cars like pendants. Ropeways runways ratways, houses facing near-vertical stairs.

The Megastructures *are* the Grey Cities in some ways. Many have an abstract of their megastructure as their emblem.

But they are forgotten things. Not because they are not obvious, but because they have always been there; stained with millennia of wear and alteration, built on, covered over, (but never broken into), marked, adapted and ignored. Sacred and inviolate yes, (reach out to touch one for luck or swear 'by the structure' to confirm an oath), but also irrelevant. They are changeless, eternal, they never directly affect anyone’s life, any more than the sky or a distant mountain might do so. They never do anything. And so they fade into the background of culture and life like the statues of the heroes of another age.

And at the centre of each structure, even more hidden in plain view, even more forgotten through remembering, is its secret heart, the Forbidden City.


THE SECRET HEART


"The Palace of the Emperor", "The Temple of Reality", "The Castle of the Hierophant", "The Labyrinth of Truth".

Always at the centre, always hidden. Near-forgotten, sensed but not seen.  Vast, sprawling, as old as memory, melted in the soup of time, caked over with ritual, a City within the City.

The Grey Cities are governed by various Councils, Tyrants, Bureaucracies, Parliaments, Senates, Stewards and Seneschals. But though they govern, they do not Rule. Theirs is not the face upon the coins. Each city has an Emperor, a High Priest, one of the Ancient Lines of Aeth, the Holy Few, the Pure, the Saviours, the Optimates of Esh.

It is their face upon the coins, their symbol worked into the flag. Sometimes their name *is* the cities name, or one much like it. The ruler of Yga is simply called "Yga", the city was named for their family line. The city is governed in their name. The council bears their seal. Their title has faded into the bubbling froth of time for so long it has become an imprecation or the emphasis to a curse.

These lines, these families, are older than memory. They reach into myth. They built the city, or designed it, or ordered it designed. They brought Humanity here.

The stories differ. Myths and legends, history and fact, merge into one another.

At one point there may have been more, but plague has ravaged the Aeth population of Blackwater in the past, and those few who remain descend from its survivors. It seemed then that the lines of some Hierophants might go extinct. And some did, sacred clerics broke their way into silent apartments to find nothing but bodies and flies. And those cities quickly died.

None have been seen for millennia. They are too pure, too sacred, too holy and too vulnerable to be allowed contact with the dangerous and sickening air and the low corrupted people of Uud.

Every few centuries a great artist is allowed to see the silhouette of the Protector cast against the finest silk, or see their face in the reflection of a reflection, (and even getting this close requires years of testing, fasting, checking, meditation and prayer). They draw the Sacred Profile and this is used to update the coinage and official seals, regalia and state propaganda.

This is as close as anyone from the outside gets.

Those in the Grey Cities rarely see the stars but they would recognise the feeling of the stars. Something distant, cold, eternal, unchangeable. So constant and immutable that it fades from active memory. Symbolic of 'the way things are'. Not the picture, but the frame.

These are the Emperors of Reality, the Saviours of Humanity.

The palaces have grown over time, like everything in the Cities. Wings, walls, complexes, sub-palaces, theatres, hidden towers and ritual mazes. Thaumaturgic observatories and memorial tombs. Frozen planar gates, kitchens, servant-caste micro-towns, lost oubliettes, armouries, empty training halls, chapels and cathedrals. Secret ways, menageries, aviaries, libraries, swimming baths, aquariums, dancing halls, orchestral pits, surgical theatres, libraries, waiting rooms, ontological generators, meta-cybernetic psycho-conductive control spaces, entropic dampers and toilets. All empty, or nearly empty now. Traversed at fixed intervals by masked paladins, cleaned and maintained or quietly mothballed, shuttered off and left to moulder.

The palaces have eaten their rulers and the lines of the Hierarchs have shrunk inside them like a desiccated nut shrinking in its shell. They are sealed off from the world they struggle to preserve - they know little of it and it knows little of them.  Caked over with ritual, bands of process, laws - layers of rentier Brahmins; whole families and sub-castes whose only purpose is to be slightly more pure than the next ring out, and to transmit a message or communique to the slightly more-pure ring closer in.

Here at the forgotten centre the High Aeth, the Sustainers of Reality, perform their sacred rituals of control, holding back entropy, energising the great machine to force back the Waste, to keep reality Real.

By their Great Working is Yggsrathaal frustrated and Humanity preserved.7



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Aaand, the Kickstarter has literally only a day left so if you want a mini at (imho) better-than-heroforge levels of rendering and design, then here you go....