Thursday, 24 September 2020

Piranesi and Vinland Saga

 I experienced two culture things recently which I genuinely enjoyed and thought were good - A RARE EVENT, so I have decided to record and express that unexpected pleasure.

Susanna Clarkes Piranesi, which I listened to in Audiobook format, read by Chiwetel Ejiofor,

and Vinland Saga, an Anime which I found hidden away on Amazon Prime, the only media subscription service I use (it gets me stuff faster in Pandemic conditions).

A strange unity, both are about faith and the human struggle to create and sustain meaning and a sense of moral order in a cold even terrifying and chaotic world


Piranesi; first person unreliable narrator, adjacents are Gene Wolfes Soldier in the Mist books and House of Leaves. Though the labyrinth in Piranesi is partly wonderful, partly frightening, an awe-inspiring enfolding otherness rather than nihilistic horror. The narrator reads to us from his journals, or his journals simply speak. The journals have clearly been edited and changed, he mentions himself that there are big chunks torn out and he makes it clear from the start that he doesn't know why though initially, he thinks his memory is correct.

The narrators loss of faith in his own memory and records, the opening up of terrifying (to him) possibilities and fissures, and how he deals with and process that, is fascinating.

The narrator lives in a labyrinth of huge proportions interspersed with gigantic statues of human figures, each different, their meanings unknown. The place is huge enough that the lower floors are swept regularly by the sea while the upper floors have their own cloud formation and weather.

There is only the labyrinth, which he, the Narrator, Piranesi, calls The House. There is the sea, which sweeps though the lower halls in vast tides, and has already collapsed part of the house, but there is no shore, no land, no nation, no bedrock, no end to the house other than sea, sun and the sky, and the stars at night, just the house, more chambers and corridors and vast statues.

(Its actually a bit nice that Carceri)

So far as the narrator knows, and absolutely believes, both as natural intuition and an article of faith, the House is all there is and all there could be, and he lives his life in perfect harmony with the House, fishing in its lower halls, weaving things out of dried seaweed, carefully and painstakingly recording and predicting its tides.

We, the readers, know something is up. The Narrator has a watch, various plastic items, a sleeping bag, his journals, and there is an 'Other'. One other person in the House, who meets the Narrator every week at a regular time to discuss their important work, and who calls the narrator 'Piranesi'


Vinland Saga is an Anime in what I think is called the Shonen style? Its set in the early middle ages/late dark ages, a generation or so before the Battle of Hastings and takes place around the north sea world of the Vikings, going from Iceland to the Faeroes to Britain in this series.

The story initially follows Thorfinn, the very young son of Thors Snorrison in what initially looks like it’s going to be an exciting adventure, then looks like its going to be a serial revenge quest, then evolves into a study on revenge, hatred, fate, faith, history tragedy and meaning.

It goes through some changes!

Mild Spoilers;

Thorfinns father seems to be the classic surprisingly advanced human who acts as protagonist in a lot of historical fiction, he has a reputation as some kind of badass but currently lives as a farmer in Iceland and mainly just raises his family and is surprisingly near-pacifist and merciful to slaves. (Vinland Saga has about as much slavery and common references to slavery as actual history, the first sign that this is something slightly unusual).

Thors is a deserter from a badass mercenary band, the Joms Vikings, and they turn up in Iceland intending to recruit him by force and manipulation for the planned invasion of England.

Thors sets off and Thorfinn, maybe six or eight years old, stows away on his ship.

Will this be an exciting father/son adventure?

Well yes, in a sense, but mainly no, not at all.

Thors is ambushed in the Faeroe islands and, in an intense and extended battle of wits, skills and moral force, he is killed by Askeladd, the leader of the mercenary scumbag legion attacking him. Thorfinn survives this, swears revenge and trails after Askeladd. Unable or unwilling to kill him by assassination, he swears he will kill Askeladd in a duel and Askeladd promises him one if he can perform services on the battlefield.

Which, over years, turns into a really weird, fucked up father-son relationship with Thorfinn gradually getting better and better, Askeladd gradually getting older and slower, them duelling semi-regularly and both knowing it can only end one way, Thorfinn locked into his hatred but simultaneously getting closer to Askeladd and more like him all the time.

And that’s just the prologue to the prologue.


I have watched a handful of the more -popular Shonen anime and know a bit more about the period in question. It’s a fascinating mind collapse watching the Shonen archetypes and style collide with a really surprisingly well realised 11th century north sea setting. The fidelity to arms, armour, culture, society and hierarchies is impressive, probably more than that is the fidelity to a morality which is, maybe not exactly that of the historical people, but a hell of a lot closer than most other popular retellings.
Religion and faith are commonly edited out of these things but Vinland Saga is in large part ultimately about morality.

Canute starting off as a Bishonen-hot Anime-femme guy;

Would you believe that this characters relationship with Christianity is a central axis of the later series and that its really well done?

Thorfinn does the Naruto-run at one point (I think its an in-joke from the creators).

It’s just very 'Anime' but also very, very, 'Dark Ages/Medieval', so there is a constant low cuturespasm in watching.

Take a look at the opening bit from Youtube


Both Piranesi and Vinland Saga are about people who are trapped and either don't know they are trapped, of who can intuit it, but cannot see it, yet are trying to escape. 

(The question of whether someone can escape from a moral or physical trap which they *don't know they are in*, and how to do that, how to imagine a reality, or a moral possibility outside anything you can comprehend, is an invisible axis of both fictions.)

Piranesi's mind and memory alteration, his inability to conceive of anything outside the house, anything that is not-House, or that came before it or which will come after it, is, to us, a kind of defence or protection from trauma.

We learn as we go on that many people have been left in the Labyrinth, and all who stay there too long have gone insane and died. Piranesi may arguably have gone insane, and the person he was originally may have actually genuinely died, or changed so totally and irreversibly that we can reasonably consider it a death, but he survives and even thrives in an environment and situation that has destroyed everyone else.

In fact he is even happy, though lonely. His life is fulfilling. He weaves webs of meaning for himself and essentially develops his own proto religion/philosophy. He finds the bones of those who have died in the House and orders them, bringing them gifts of flowers and stories, talking to them so they need not be alone. He measures, records and comprehends the tides to the point that he need not fear them. He knows all the statues in the House individually, has particular feelings and intuitions about each. In a strike of intuitive brilliance, when forced to think of things which might be not-House, he makes combinations of the symbols and actions of those statues, extending them into a meta-space to comprehend what is otherwise comprehensible. He assists a lost albatross couple in building their nest. He communicates, perhaps insanely, but perhaps with real shamanic ability, with the birds which fly through and inhabit the House. He sees himself as the Beloved Child of the House. He loves his home, and his world. He seems in this isolated existence, empathic, dutiful, industrious, philosophical, even noble. In many ways he is a man totally at peace with his reality and his place within it.

We know that Piranesi is trapped, and we begin to suspect before he does that he is being manipulated. But while I hated the idea of Piranesi being used or made a slave, in some ways I did not want him to change beyond his evolved life path. Reality, our reality, would shock, ruin and perhaps destroy him, so the reader, or listener is poised between a desire for Piranesi to develop the means to escape the House, and a deep sorrow at the loss of his innocence.


Audiobooks can sometimes live or die by the relationship between the reading and the text. There are quite a few on my account which I have only got half way through because the reading just sat wrong. If someone enunciates in a slightly 'off' manner, over tens of hours of listening, that's going to drive you fucking nuts.

Anyway, Chitwell Ejiofors reading of Piranesi if fucking *lovely*. One of the neatest synthesis between reader, character and text that I have experienced. He captures the soul of this innocent, careful, intelligent and very pure soul.


It’s really hard, maybe impossible, to make a true, popular, anti-violence, anti-war fiction. Because violence is fucking cool and really handy for drama and on a screen or in a book, contained by limited time, all of its actually destructive aspects are muted.

Even to see how violence destroys you would need to build a world large, deep and morally complex enough to illuminate the fine mycelium strands of the trauma it creates, AND sustain the viewers interest and empathy in both the agents of violence AND its victims for long enough, both in actual reading/viewing time but also imagined time in the fiction, that the viewer could begin to get some sense of what violence actually does to people over time.

Well, mission at least partially accomplished I think.

All the main characters in Vinland Saga are monsters in someone else’s eyes, and in fact do act like monsters at times. Yet, all (or most) are sympathetic when seen through their own eyes. 

There are no "evil" people in Vinland Saga, though almost everyone both suffers evil and commits it. Everyones rationale for what they do makes sense, and in a resource-poor world, no-one is ever entirely safe, either from violence, disease, starvation or enslavement. Everyone to some extent is living on a knife-edge, fighting over the scraps of a fallen world, amidst ruins they know they cannot repair.
(Not only that but most of the Christians think the world is literally going to end in about 20 or so years.)

"Revenge, tis a fucked up thing." - A Movie Protagonist.

Like ritualised gladiatorial child murder and high speed death races, revenge is one of those things people in fiction tell each other is bad while, from the evidence of that same fiction, its actually fucking BASED.

Watching Thorfinns gradual decay into someone so frozen in the instant of their trauma that it gradually degrades them into something awful and broken, is almost viscerally unpleasant, especially past the mid point of the series.

It is kind of fucking cool to begin with. The sheer willpower to survive, relentlessness and Throfinns gradual self-challenging and mastering new powers is kinda fun. But as we learn more and more about the characters, motivations and experiences of all the people linked in this great wheel of fortune, it turns more and more into a tragedy of meaningless hate.

This is made worse by the fact that literally everything Thors tried to teach his son is about not entering the cycle of death, hate and violence which he escaped from.


It’s one of the more impressive feats of popular fiction to take the guy who, in initial episodes looks like he is going to be Starscream; a scheming snakelike sidekick to the main enemy, and to slowly reveal more and more of him, in more and more complex situations, until he is something close to a terrible hero, the main character of the series.

Askeladd is the obverse side of Thors surprisingly-enlightened historical protagonist. Like Thors he is a badass, and he is highly intelligent, knowledgeable enough about the history of his world (at one point he delivers to a torture victim a brief history of the cyclic invasions which shaped Britain as justification for his own actions) and perceptive enough of its moral nature that he is one of the few people who can see the boundary of the way-things-are and realises how totally *fucked* everything is, and how trapped everyone in this world is.

He's also deeply alienated from his own culture by childhood trauma. Brilliant, manipulative, but wise enough to recognise in Thors someone who's intelligence and perception match his own, but who has found a way to live without surrendering his moral core. He tricks and manipulates Askeladds crew go from evil heavys, to cheery pirates, adventurous mercenaries, to soldiers to outright cold killers of innocents (but then they always were). Thorfinn betrays the woman who saved his life by lighting the fires to bring Askeladds raiders to the shore of her home. Two describe their own love as something like the love of god in a cheeky comedy interlude just before the Yule episodes.
The Yule episodes - which I won't spoil for you here.


The main characters of Vinland Saga are all intelligent, perceptive people facing a world shaped by chaos, violence and death. We slowly learn about each of them that, in their own way, they are trying to deal with the trauma of their experiences and reaching for some way to make meaning out of the horror around them.

Thorfinn is locked into his crushing revenge cycle with his dark father figure. Askeladd is poisoned by memories of he and his mothers lives as degraded slaves. Canute, the Price they get tangled up with, is deeply religious and crushed by the fact his Father essentially views him as a tool, and by the total lack of any justice or meaning in the world around him. Each of them is learning at different times to either hold on to, re-create, or surrender some inner totem or distant faith in *something* that might lend purpose and meaning to their lives.

Piranesi, in his unending labyrinth, has built his web of meaning and purpose, more perfectly than anyone in "Vinland", but we know it can only exist inside his fractured reality, and we know he himself is on a course to break out of that reality, and escape into a larger, but darker one where his purity will likely not survive.

Well, they are pretty good fictions. Worth a look if you get a chance and both likely to appeal to readers of this blog.

Friday, 18 September 2020

Fetch-Quest Generator

 Hey remember back in the day when we I put useful stuff on our my blogs?

This was going to be at the start of 'Vault of Setebos', the dungeon I am doing for Ben L's 'Through Ultuans Door' but will likely be cut so here you go, a means to generate a reasonable-sounding semi-legal item-retrieval quest

Absolute Legend



The Mcguffin

“Bring for me..”

“It’s actually reasonably mine because…”



The Lunar Orb. Said to be a True Moon made small.

I am fighting to save ALL OF REALITY and I need this particular thing to do it.

Quest-Giver is extremely hot & seems like they are into you.


Cup of Horn. Legend says any who drink from it will have true prophetic dreams that night.

I channel the Spirit of the creator who, since they speak through me, is not *legally* dead.

Quest-Giver has proof of deep perversion which, if used as blackmail, will get your long-standing enemy off your back.


The Prismatic Leaf. Said to hold the souls and highest dreams of a realm now lost to Entropy.

I was briefly removed from causality by a mocking God. On my return it had been inherited and sold-off!

Quest-Giver is part of a Multiversal masonic-style order & can get you in too. Room, board, contacts and assistance wherever you go.


Hourglass of Ash. It’s said that while this glass runs, any entity in its presence becomes mortal.

I’m a member of a distant religious order dedicated to preserving the *true intentions* of the creator.

Quest-Giver runs/represents a narco-empire and can get you *anything* you want, free if its for personal use, and cheap rates on bulk.


The Sabre of the Red Dawn. Made from a tear in reality to one where the physical laws are anathema.

It was stolen from me, and used as payment to imprison someone I love. A double-insult which I would see avenged.

A Tame Giant Roc! Ok its just “mostly tame”. Still it can fly you and your crew wherever you need. (You must pay for upkeep and ‘Roosting Costs’ yourself.)


Psalter of Sardinac. The Prayers if intoned continually for a year, will return the Good God Sardinac to life.

That side of the family have been replaced with animated flesh golems, (its why I don’t talk to them), I am the only real one left.

Quest-Giver offers prism-keys to the fastness of Zim of the Fifteen Prisms! A Tardis-like dimensional fortress accessible by refracting sunlight through the prisms. (Zim presumed dead.)


The Quest-Giver is willing to pay a ridiculous amount of money and/or resources, as well as whatever the ‘extra sauce’ is.

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

A Video You Should Watch

 Apologies for a post which is little more than a link to, and quotes from, a Youtube Video, but this one struck me pretty hard.

Game Makers Toolkit talks about the nature of rewards in games, particularly the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, and in doing so seems to describe almost exactly a pattern of play that I have both experienced and intuitively tried to mimic and re-create in my own stuff.

Its very, very OSR relevant. Honestly I think this video should probably be in the 'Links to Wisdom' alongside the various Primers.


"... beyond that the quests were a complete and utter disaster. Players focused exclusively on those quests and thought of everything else as a really noisy distraction. They optimised their play in really boring ways in order to finish the quest at hand, they avoided doing anything risky, because it meant they might fail and then they became completely demotivated the second the quests ran out."

"In structuring the game as a series of explicit tasks to be completed, we taught the player to depend upon those tasks to create meaning in the game"

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation;

"If a game is about experimentation, exploration or player-guided discovery - explicit goals can limit players creativity and imagination, even after the goals run out.


"A goal you set yourself is way more powerful than a goal someone else sets for you. .. So if a game is about improving yourself, a personal or social goal can be a stronger motivator than a set threshold.


We should remember that goals are a checklist that can be completed. Some players will exclusively rely on the game to give them purpose and direction.

Intrinsic motivation is shown to be far stronger - and it lasts longer too. People can enjoy a hobby for a lifetime. Extrinsic motivation will only last as long as the rewards are there."

The over-justification effect;

"There's a huge body of evidence that says when extrinsic motivation is attached to a task that we already find intrinsically motivating, we suddenly become way less interested in the task.


And other studies also show rewards can also make people less creative, worse at problem solving, more prone to cheating, and may lose motivation entirely once the rewards stop - even though previously they were happy to do it for its own sake."


"... there are certainly games that lean more towards intrinsic motivation. Like games that focus on exploration, creativity, expression and growth. There are games where you set your own goals and expect no rewards in return, and so when more extrinsically motivating systems - like explicit goals, progression meters and achievements are added too these games, our motivation can take a hit. We become blinkered to creative solutions. We're less motivated to improve ourselves. We put an arbitrary threshold on how much we can attain, and developers now need to create a constant drip feed of new goals and rewards, or risk losing us entirely."

Self Motivation;

".. because I think its clear that some people just aren't very good or interested in motivating themselves
For every minecraft super fan who generates their own fun, there's someone else who is simply lost and without direction."


"In a thread about the open-ended whodunnit Her Story, one user said; "It's up to you decide when you are satisfied with the information you have found."

To which the threads author replied, "how do I decide when I am satisfied?"

That post keeps me up at night."

What Goals and Rewards to Use;

"With goals its better to use large, overarching goals that players can complete however they want, rather than restrictive step-by-step instructions. 


Make goals optional, like Hitmans challenges, or hidden, like Outer Wilds achievements.
There is one type of reward that has been shown to not trigger the overjustification effect. 


Rewards can have a motivational effect in intrinsic situations provided that they're unexpected, reasonably low value and feel tied to the actual performance of the action."

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Thoughts on this Gundam

First time putting one of these together. Apparently this one is an MSN-065 SINANJU NOE ZEON MOBILE SUIT CUSTOMISED FOR NEWTYPE (TITANIUM FINISH).

The whole thing is push-fit and largely stays together, (the arms still want to go on holiday a little) which means some really high grade plastic engineering. The whole process of assembly felt super-detailed and like something a huge number of people have put a crazy amount of time and energy into, and also had the slight secretive gnostic-text feeling of interacting with a deep and highly interwoven subculture.


Are Gundam femme?

I was looking at the high heels and skirts and wondering but then this person on twitter reminded me that looking kinda femme is actually ULTRA MASCULINE. 

My boi Louis, enemy of Churchills, baldies and heretics to the most Catholic church everywhere

High heels to illustrate firm calves and strong smooth legs, clenched waist to show others your dominant upper body combined with dangerous flexibility, armoured skirt so as not to impede movement,  tall headpiece to indicate magnificence and project extreme confidence. 

Very masculine yes.




His name is 'Full Frontal' too.

(Thanks to Alex in the comments.)


Of course the Gundam also has WINGS.

Probably is Boccioni had gone into the jet age he would have given his dynamism-angels jet wings as well, they are the most Futurist thing possible.

These can look pretty good from the front, raising up over each shoulder for a head-on rocket angel thing.

The wings are important because they create this whole new interpenetration with and interaction with space at the rear of the model, and as we all know, one of the most important ways to look at a sculpture is to turn it round and look at the back.

What do they do to the back?

Well they make it a bitch to pick up

I guess the wings are brought out to best effect if you have a stand and you can pose this guy. That way they would essentially create an entirely new and different axis of motion for the figure, making it perhaps, more truly three-dimensional, more of a pure sculpture.

And of course changing its time signature from stepping time or bearing time into fragment time, so in that case, making it more of an image? Which I suppose contradicts my original statement there.

You may need to look elsewhere for a synthesis on Gundam wings.


An aspect of this that was interesting was being introduced to an unknown (to me) form of pseudosense. 

Mainly i'm contrasting this with 40k, where I know a supremely insane amount about how the machines of the dark future are meant to work. Here I know absolutely nothing about the imaginative world making up the background of the figure, but I know that it *has one*, so these energy weapons and super rifle (comes in the box) and long white things (at the back) all have specific uses and meanings in the imaginative reality of the Gundams. 

These white thingies in particular are fascinating.

(I'm assuming they are fuel tanks or something like that, & they eject at crucial moments in battle for combat-theatre.)

So it has a particular mystery for me where rather than the pleasure of seeing how the form and pseudotech fits into a known paracosm of mechanics and culture ("ah, here is the power generator at the back with the admech skull on it"), for me at least, it is a prompt to imagining more what things *could* be. Interpretation more than recognition.

(I'm not sure anyone has written in a positive way about the artistic pleasures of recognition and ordering, though they must be significant pleasures and a meaningful part of many works).


It really is very beautiful.

Where does it come from?

So one part of this is clearly hyper-evolved samurai armour.

Another is this interlacing of the visual signifiers of rocketry. A weaving of cables and implied sources of power with implied transmission of energy we draw from, in this case, late 2th century aerospace tech.

The flow of shapes across this particular Gundam is quite remarkable, for any particular element, it might be said to be;

- Pseudo-Biology. (those forearms are swole with masculine growth, one old standard of manhood was that when the veins popped out on the top of your hands then that meant you ware an adult male, here power cables provide the simulation of those popping veins and tendons).

- Shaped armour carrying the shape of assumed musculature. (See above).

- Rocket Ejection stuff.

- Heat ejection stuff.

- Mechanical Energy Transmission; pipes, cables, suggested fuel reserves.

- Energy Projection. There are these plastic flanges of what I assume to be pure projected energy.

- Pseudo Aerodynamics. arts of this are very like the curves of a sports car, but if you look into it deeply, its not as if the curves are oriented in a particular direction, (& don't Gundam fight in space anyway?) they are more the symbolic curves of speed, high performance and expensive high status engineering, reproduced (it basically looks like a Ferrari robot).

Probably the most interesting thing is where I compare it to this reproduction of Boccionis "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space" (1913)

(which I happen to have on me)

where its, wow

they could almost be related

I'm not sure which is more interesting, the idea that the Gundam designer(s?) deliberately looked at Boccioni first, or that they are a form of parallel evolution.

Masculinity, the machine, speed, forward movement, dynamism, all trying to capture those elements in a still three-dimensional figure.

(They even both have a projecting horn thing).


The 'pace' or flow of detail and clear space across the surface of the miniature; I read somewhere (Ruskin or Rawson I think), about the use of markings on a curved surface emphasising its wholeness and flow precisely by dividing up the space (like a woman’s stockings) and that might be part of the heraldry here.

Another might be because the whole model is so shiny  so the curve and space occupied by the form is given to the eye is shown simultaneously by reflection of light wrapping the metallic limbs and by shadow in its curves (as opposed to a more matte version where the shadow would dominate more over the shine).

But the spots of black and gold heraldry break up that pattern of mass-sensing and (though they are actually a bit shiny themselves) compared to the rest of the model they are a bit like empty black spaces, with the shape of the form emphasised through direct shiny gold marking, in essence, creating the symbol of the shape and projecting that instead of just showing you what the shape is.

A little more towards the 'word' than the 'form' more signified (relatively) than shown.

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Eight Houses

You Just Moved In...

Some House types for the start of a GG&G game. My central concept was to have a 'home base' that had a reasonable range of things to explore and do inside, some benefits to exploration and some mild challenges as well. A place that would feel strange but which would gradually come to feel like 'home'.
I wanted everything to feel intelligible to children so it’s all a little more normalish, or at least not high weird.

Idea is that a rich old relative has died, maybe recently or maybe a long time ago but the details have been wrapped up in legal limbo for a while, but you (or your parent really) have just been told you can live there. This is handy a your family has fallen on hard times (down to one Goose only, and that one not a Bullion-Goose at all), and you need somewhere to live.

So the House is new, and strange. Outside the village and the surrounding lands are new.

The village and lands are meant to be semi-randomly generated, so a village will always have stuff like a baker, butcher etc, but the details of who they are and what their situation is will differ etc.

The land beyond will also be different for each game.

All of these will have bedrooms, a kitchen and a hearth.


A big central spiral staircase up the middle of the tree with slidable pole. 

A swing from one branch. Ivy to climb the trunk on the outside. Rope ladders down from some of the 'rooms' (you can raise and lower these). 

Cranky old birds in nests, these change with the seasons. Thieving Squirrels. A Howler monkey that howls randomly.

Body of a dead balloonist hanging from a distant branch, been there for years, can't get rid of him.
A branch gap you can jump over to another tree (if you take a running jump). The trees don't *look* that close together from the ground.

There are ruined old parts of the treehouse on dead branches where its always autumn, including one distant branch which you can only see from up here and which seems to go nowhere, winding off into the upper air.

A lost property box full of kites and balls


A sinkhole with a narrow walkway spiralling round the rim-wall. A basket-pulley system hanging from a tree branch projecting over the lip lets you raise and lower objects and people faster than going round the rim-path.

At the bottom of the sinkhole is a wild garden and in the side is the cavern which is the entrance to the cave.

In the garden is an utterly flat, black pool which never ripples and where you can never see the bottom. Living in the pool is One Frog.

Inside the cave is full of softly glowing fungi and sleepy glow-worms, the walls have more-mysterious mushrooms growing from them sometimes. You find your way with lanterns. The place drips and echoes always. A waterfall from deeper in the cave echoes slightly.

The inner areas are strangely arranged. In some places steps are cut into the flowstone, in others wooden stairs have been added, in others ladders or ropes. The rooms are all hacked into the rock.

Deep in the cave is the Bat Room where they rustle and whisper to each other in the day. The old woman who shows you the cave tells you to always turn out candles at dusk and dawn as the bats will all fly through the cave in and out. You can feel them flit against your face when they do. A tilting water-clock fed by a drip rings a solemn bell and tells you when to turn the lights out.

One cave room is very huge, and empty, except for an ancient black idol covered with flowstone. 

At one place a rope bridge leads over a deep, dark drop.

Deep inside the cave the way opens onto a jetty which reaches into an underground river, or lake? You can't see the edge, only black water. There is a sign in a language you don't know and a hook for a lamp.

If you stay down here you might see small men in boats going this way and that in the silent dark. If you hang a lamp by the sign, they will assume you want to trade and will arrive at the jetty. No-one outside the cave knows about this.

The cave has a giant boulder set to roll through its halls if a prop is knocked away, secret crackways running throughout that only  child could squirm through and a chimney climb to a secret way out hidden in a tree trunk above.


This old Inn is falling apart and hasn't been open to the public for years. It has a sign with cracked paint which swings in the wind outside.

The main room has a big chandelier attached to the roof with a pulley with the handle behind the bar. It also has a pool table, a dartboard, barstools, horse tack nailed to the walls, one of the tables has been carved into a half-complete map of the local area. There is also an Auld Fellah at the back, he is asleep almost all of the time but will wake up if he has a beer in front of him and ramble about the old times. Its not clear how he gets in but he is almost always there.

There is a 'snug' a special room off the main bar with frosted glass windows nobody can see into and with its own door to the outside.

The place has a large Kitchen and there is a special roll-up window between the Kitchen and the bar. It has a huge cellar with big empty barrels you can hide inside and a trapdoor to the outside.

There are walkways in the dark of the rafters and hidden areas in the walls. There are rats playing cards in the basement. They are hard to get rid of but if you beat them at cards (they cheat) you can hire them on the cheap as bouncers and muscle (they are truculent).


There is a central Keep which still pretty much hangs together, outside that the courtyard is so overgrown it nearly looks like a lawn and the outer walls are so ancient and tumbledown that trees are growing in them and small climbing goats specifically inhabit them. Beyond this is the moat, which is more of a pond by now and has lilies, ducks and a pike. 

The drawbridge is probably permanently down and the huge oak gates are askew and damaged by dragon-fire from long ago. Its easier to get out through the wicket door in the Gate, or just climb under it (or climb around on the tumbledown walls.

There is a very old statue in the courtyard but its not clear who of. It was melted somewhat by a dragon. There are also the remains of a stable and blacksmith outside, as well as a Dovecote beyond the walls and within the walls, a very old apiary where the bees have been allowed to do as they please.

The Keep walls are old and mossy enough that they are theoretically climbable, but at least they are whole.

The door to the keep is still solid and has a huge lock with a big iron key. Inside there is a big main hall and spiral stairs leading up. There are arrow-slit windows. Right on the roof is a very old, probably non-functional, Mangonel. Down below are dungeons and hidden in the dungeons is a secret exit which leads to a tunnel under the moat which comes out somewhere unusual.


This place used to be rich once. It’s way too big for your small family. The huge hose spreads out into two wings. It is very fancy and impressive though. It's definitely haunted, but how much?

The entry has a portrait hall with suits of armour, and a huge staircase with a banister you can slide down. Its main room has massive couches you can disappear into and a giant ornate fireplace.

There is a spook room but the spider in it is friendly. There is a spooky attic with a locked chest full of scratching sounds, a terrifying basement and a cursed treasure room. (The Treasure is cursed, not the room). Every now and then people steal the treasure but then they get cursed and always end up bringing it back.

There is a sweaty, gloomy greenhouse, a dumb waiter to every floor and indoor toilets, slightly haunted. There are bells to ring for servants and several secret passages accessed by pulling out books and pressing the noses on statues.


A tall crooked wooden house with a tall crooked stone tower leaning out of its side. There is a Gargoyle up there but when it sees you staring it hides its face and crawls away.

The front door has an animated knocker with the face of an old man. Within is a hall with witch signs on the beams, the skeletons of snakes in glass boxes, stiffen field animals in dramatic tableaux, a skull under a black velvet cover and a grandfather clock with a sculpture of a sleeping owl on top who tells you if you are late for things; "Hoot Hoot, tick-tock, you lie behind the time!"

Beyond is a kitchen (normal) and pantry with a small door which leads to tomorrow, so if you plan to make food, then you can reach through and steal it from your future self, (though you still have to then actually make the food and place it there to be stolen). If you are sneaky you can put a message in there, though this leads to complications as you have broken cause-and-effect.

Above are a non-Euclidian hallway with doors at each far end so that if you go through one door you come out of the other, which saves walking the whole length of the hall, an upside down room, which you must be careful to enter, a room with a dolls house where figures in the house show where people are in the real house, though you never see them move.

In the tower is a laboratory with mordant stuffed crocodile hanging from rafters, a sleeping absent minded portrait, a horrible demonic box, a scrying pool (which only works if filled with tears), a library and an observatory right at the top. A shy but friendly Gargoyle with low self-esteem lives on the tower.


This is a giant stone head with a home built inside it. It looks like it was made that way. It's not clear if there is a body under the head or what.

There is a pretty normal living room which spins round if you pull a lever, behind it is a mighty room with a window looking out of one eye, a huge stone table and seven great chairs sitting around it. It looks pretty cool but it’s the only convenient place to eat meals and not that comfortable.

There is a solar laser room for some reason. Opening a mirrored portal with chains focuses the light of the sun (if it is out) into a laser which slowly cuts down the centre of a giant block of marble in the middle of the room. Its handy if you need something cut in half, which isn't something you need that often.

Right in the crown is a room with a big desk and a lever behind it. If you pull the lever a trap door in front of the desk opens but you just fall out of the nostril of the big head, currently into either a water bucket or flowerbed. The other nostril has a secret entry/exit with hidden climbing steps.

There are quite a few secret ways in and out. One of the ears has a hidden circular door inside it. (The other ear is where the chimney comes out so when something is cooking it looks like the head is fuming with thoughts. On the head top is a giant perch for.. something. Within is a library with empty shelves except for one book. Pulling that book reveals another secret place, a fireman’s pole down to a hidden stable beneath the head which exits through a nearby riverbank.

Each of the seven bedrooms is behind a secret door. One has a bed massively reinforced with stone legs, another bedroom has furniture made of crystal glass and its only window looks out onto an alien world so you never know what time it is.


The monster is pretty big, its dried scaly skin is like the worlds strongest tent over its bones and dried cavernous innards.

One ear has a Pigeon roost and the bones of the tail reach out to form a bridge over a nearby stream. There is an escape hatch in the bum and the chimney comes up through the carcass and is tied to the biggest spinal spike. The head is laying side-on and a butterfly garden has been planted between the toothed jaws. (Though sometimes giant teeth fall down.) Entrail tubes make a handy greenhouse when propped up with the fallen incisors and bone fragments.

The central hall is in the hollow chest, a multi-levelled room around a hollow centre, held up like a tent. In the centre is a gigantic glass jar with one of the creatures eyes preserved inside. It often seems to be looking at things. Several large strange animal skeletons are arranged around this civilised hall, poised as they would be in life, though as if dining on books, waiting to leap down from above door mantels or stalking each other.

One bedroom has a range of trophy heads, another has a fishtank full of unfed fighting fish, another has a huge labyrinthine ant colony (the glass tubes go throughout the house. On the bottom floor is a flensing pit where flesh-eating insects would clear meat from bones. There are large chains to drop in the big carcasses, though most of the flesh eating insects are dead.

A treasure room has a bezoar of antique bronze swords all mangled together for eons, a faceless granite stone head, the features eaten away, and. bits and pieces of a ceramic woman all cracked up.

The main hall has a stuffed bear with secret entry behind it so you can sneak into it and see through its eyes.


I wanted to get to ten on these. Ten houses with ten individual elements each, but threading that needle of child-friendly, interesting, tangible, not totally up itself etc etc was surprisingly difficult. Feel free to add your own below if your like.

Bridge House I couldn't come up with much good for. House Boat implies a river and I don't want them to move. Windmill I couldn't come up with anything good for.

Monday, 7 September 2020

A Song From the Dead

 I know you don't like this - but I DON'T CARE.

This is nearly the end anyway. So, if anyone is still interested in the big letter-writing Rulers of Ir fantasy paracosm I ran for a couple of months.

First Chronicle of Ir - The Beginning

Seconds Chronicle of Ir - The End

Transcript of the Gronference - Last Ditch Attempt to Save the World, or Idiots in a Room?

Primary Sources; the Letters of the Rulers

Only two things remain; to tell of the rescue f the Herald of Ir, and (if we play this out) to discover the results of the expedition proposed on the final day of The Gronference.

Meanwhile, I'm sure all of you are fascinated to discover what happened as a result of the (probably) final battle between the Armies of Highvern, lead by Tadaitzol, wielder of the sword of Motherfucking Destiny, and the undead hordes of the Mourgelands lead by Lich-Witch Vauphiria Donkor.

Well, we have this final report from the strange Underworld of Ir...

A Song From the Dead

"I will speak to you of a stage a little closer to the infinite dark. The catch before the fall, the brief breath taken by the failing climber in the seconds before the unending drop. Ur  -the inverse  echo of Ir, that worlds condensed afterlife.
We have a vast land here in Ur, infinite, or near-infinite, and suffer need for no resource but memory and light. Ir is our sky, a celestial void, for those of us bound within the grey and glassy world of death. The ending of mortality is our weather here, the untangling of each virus is our light and the unending deaths of microbes form the substance of our sound. So it is that, where nothing dies, we are both deaf and blind.
So it is our sky burns brightly of late, the wars of Ir accelerate, our land of glass mountains and silver seas bakes beneath the blaze of falling souls. Our population swells.
There in the shoals of mortality which roll above us like bright pillars of unreachable storm, of which Ulukaa is to us, something like a sun, the cities stars, and battlegrounds our brief Pleiades, there are black scars, winding tears in the pulsing light and ocean-sound of death. Dark nebulae, of which the Moureglands, that place of desert and undeath, is the deepest and the darkest of them all.
So it was that many watched in amazement as light burned and blistered against the borders of that black land like fire spreads across an unlit ship in dark watches of the night, first pebbling and rolling up and down its margins, then bright sparks bursting like fireworks until in a handful of moments, jagged fingers of fire leapt into the black borders, like a fire-elf gasping at a blackened log, and dug in.
We watched here, the dead, Ab, Un and Neverborn. Souls fell like rain.
Then, like fire following fuel across a wooden floor, the gleam leapt into the dark, sparked and rushed, then bloomed alike unto an opening flower or an exploding star.
All of Ur, all out slow grey arcologies, bathed in the cataclysmic light and we, the dead, fading and forgotten, knew that some great Doom had struck Ir in these, its last days.
Then, they fell, like twin suns, like demons of flame, one Ice-white the other the pulsing infra-black of a doomed necromancer swollen with souls and blistering with avoided time, howling out entropy like a gale.
The two grasped and grappled like gods cast into the void. One, male in form, crackling with the katabatic energies of that crystal queen grasped in one hand the memory of a blade, a blade of Motherfucking Destiny, all could see. His body torn, tortured and rent like a saint or a beggars clothes, bleeding the freezing blue-white fire of his own imperious wrath, his form clasped across its broken pieces by his own imperious will and hate.
Hate drove them indeed as death dragged them down, falling into grey Ur like mating birds.
The second rode a caul of banshees to her long-avoided doom, spirits spilled from her like a tornado of souls, screaming and singing, praising and wrathful, weeping and wailing, some clawed at their black mistress like crows pulling down an eagle, others, more commensurate to command, or else of other mind, hauled her upwards, or seemed to, for that entropic witch, dense with spells hurled her charm-craft and enochian knowledge upwards in chains of signs and great webs of burning symbology, such magic as I can find little memory of in my own patched and overwritten books of thought.
Yet all her rage and all her art were not enough. That other, white, cold, as clear as ice and cold as wind, hooked the witch, drove fingershards of resentful anger deep into her dark soul. For every spell she spoke, he knifed his rage a little deeper, for every squirm, a squeeze, for every wrench a returning choke.
The sorceress railed madly at her captor. Hurled spells from her gaze and imprecations of fire from her tongue, enough to scorch and unmake any soul. And so the icy warrior fell, blasted by spellcraft, his face, eroded to nothing, his memory, that absolute treasure of the dead, erased
he very name scoured from his now blank and faceless form.
Yet she could not scour his hate.
What wrath it was fell amongst these two, such rage as would roar in the face of entropy iself, sustaining its own life by its own hate, and its own hate by its own life, regardless of the world, or peace, or time, or death itself.
For as long as She fell, He would force Her fall. There was and would be no escape.
All this in a moment, like meteors or burning worlds hanging in the air like paintings of the apocalypse. A fresh memory here in Ur, a rare enough thing.
And after them, as if some fair covering wet and bowed with days of rain, bending to its centre, dripping, stretching and tense with its unrecoverable load of souls were pierced by the thrust of a sword then, like a rapier prick, a torrent of souls.
After the witch and the warrior they fell, a rain of fire and light, enough to blind the dead. Screaming and howling they flowed after the fallen pair, mortal many, bright with the pale fire of their freshly lived lives, and undead, some, those bound to bones, looped up into our sky by necromantic magic, now returned.
We thought then, all of us I think, that this was the long-suspected end of Ir, that the grey sickness and its mycelium of despair which gangrened the cradle of our lives had weakened the substance of what-is so that like ripe fruit bursting, or a pustulating boil pierced by lancet, the whole was done and now every last and final soul of Ir would fall to Ur and then the darkness unfold us all. For only by the light of your lives, and your deaths may we see and speak, and only on your memories may we feed.
This was not the end, not yet at least. Only some great war betwix the Ice Queen and her undead foe. Some vast folly, or mighty deed. (For us, there is little to choose between the two).
This was not the end.
But it was perhaps, the beginning of the end."

Friday, 4 September 2020


 In the latter days of the world 'Ir', the rulers of the Great Glorious Gronnate put forth a call for the greatest minds of each nation to attend a great GRONFERENCE in which they would combine their seperate knowledge about the forces threatening Ir as a whole.
This is a record of that GRONFERENCE

(All dialogue by the various 'players')


GRON MAXIMAL (via Gron Secondary)”


Gronference, Day One



The delegate from Ulukaa fidgets with his skullcap.
Ulukaan Deligate (Human(?),(Ulukaa)); "We actually have two papers in preparation, but somehow the Vizier responsible for announcing them has not yet given clearance to present the findings. Nonetheless, we should like to present titles: "On the Psychofauna of the Western Optimate" and "White Apes, threat or menace?"
Gron Maximal ((secondary)Gronnate); “THIS IS ACCEPTABLE IF YOU WISH TO PICK A DATE?
The Ulukan delegate seems uncertain of the format but is too embarrassed to actually ask any questions. His lizardman grabs the loudhailer.
Ulukaan Deligate (Lizardman,(Ulukaa)); "How this work? Is phone chat or text or what? Maybe if is text, terse paper is best?"
Gentleman Scholar and Low-Level Addict Uxlorian Vesh stumbles onto the stage and knocks over a stand before grabbing the podium for stability - their eyes AFLAME.
Uxlorian Vesh (Unaligned, (Herald??)); "Gentlethings and people of Ir
our simple subaqueous globe
or possibly bendy interdimensional megastructure floating in the cosmic fluid..
for only the Optimate truly knows
I stand before you today
Vesh's eyes become distant as he enters some kind of fugue state
Uxlorian Vesh (Unaligned, (Herald??)); "THE APES
I stand before you today, a being transformed by that simple benediction so long denied to the peoples of Ir by the missing TYRANT who once ruled our globe (or megastructure)
the gift of TRAVEL
for I, and I ALONE, dared, in the dying months of the two thousand and nineteenth year of the closing to penetrate the false boundaries of our imprisoned world and to step within those Holy Lands once placed in total service to our world-ruler
what I saw there, I shall now recount
The Lands of the Optimate are truly strange
more akin to a Great Parkland than any natural landscape
(but is any of Ir truly natural? Think on it...)
a place designed
shaped by one titanic will, to whims unknown to mortal minds
a parkland,
a FALSE wilderness
winding roads, manufactured hills, backwards streams
(I'm not sure it they were real)
I will be frank, I witenssed, sorry, witnessed much of what I saw in a severe stake of Akhwei withdrawl –
I am not a man of details
I am an artist, an explorer
a synthesiser of knowledge
not some petty grubber in the MINES of MENDACITY
I will say this frankly - CERAMIC WOMEN
deadly creatures, though polite enough
autmomata, I think, these were the right hand of the optimate
and in our Rulers disappearance, I believe they stand still closest to the optimates will
they gather in the island city of Portal
guarding its empty colonnades -
other servants had that Global Tyrant
Golden Folk, most beautiful, and extremely dull, and quite clingy really
and kinda boring really
monsterous, white, ssome near hairless
I'm sorry"
Vesh pauses for another drink of what is almost certainly not water
Uxlorian Vesh (Unaligned, (Herald??)); "tech-nol-ohh-jists
moving like ghosts in the night
hiding hiding hiding
moving through secret ways
managing the great MACHINE that is our world
how deep does it go?
what is real and what is not?"
Uxlorian Vesh (Unaligned, (Herald??)); "SO!
NONE of you dare guess?
I have seen the horrid factories of the Apes
and I have been within Portal
I have crept through the Empty Palace!
I tell you know you fools - cosmic order is awry!
A great Wrongness approaches!
What could cause the Optimate to leave?
Not even to die, but to disappear?
I am certain that - while the rulers of this world brawl with each other for sad flecks of territory and prescidence
SOMETHING is coming
For I have seen a Grey Waste
and the Pale Courts
and a Thing which moves like grey and broken glass
And I do believe that this world and everything on it, and all of our cultures, and our VERY LIVES
are nothing more than a lifeboat
or less
bugs clinging to a leaf as it falls
This is Ir you fools!
You fooooools!"

..... Vesh now breaks down laughing, and/or possibly crying...

Uxlorian Vesh (Unaligned, (Herald??)); "I am available for questions" (whispered)
The gentleman from Xingando stands.

Léon Masque (Xingaondo); "Now would you say it is indeed true that the Optimate is, as has been observed by a number of intellectuals, a simulation?"
Uxlorian Vesh (Unaligned, (Herald??)); "I am certain, and will state clearly here and now
either everything around us is a simulation
or nothing is
or possibly some things are
but its one of the first two I'm CERTAIN
we only need work out which one
I think it highly likely that the OPTIMATE
is no more or less a simulation than YOU Yourself!
Are YOU a simulation sir??
I mean really, are you?"
Léon Masque appears to do nothing for several moments.
Léon Masque (Xingaondo); "Ah sorry, I was wagging my eyebrows under my mask.
I am not entirely convinced of that fact myself! But stands to reason that we are all, in fact, Temporarily"
Uxlorian Vesh (Unaligned, (Herald??)); "Nothing could be more clear in my mind than your statement honoured member from Xingando
I must ask you though...
Is it possible for me to open a loan with your state bank?
My credit is not what it might be.."
Léon Masque (Xingaondo); "I'm sure one of my people can make a deal with you. I of course am independently wealthy and keep all my money in offshore accounts so am not up to date with these things."

The delegate from Ulukaa stands:

Ulukaan Deligate (Human(?),(Ulukaa)); “Ulukaa can supply the great Uxlorian Vesh with any amount of Akhwei they require.”
Uxlorian Vesh (Unaligned, (Herald??)); "I agree completely with that policy!"
Ulukaan Deligate (Human(?),(Ulukaa));  “Might we learn more of these tunnels? Originating where, and leading to where?”
Uxlorian Vesh (Unaligned, (Herald??));  "By all means..
I am no technical expert
but if we turn out attention to this map of Ir..
which someone has allowed to fall over, my apologies
but if we examine this Island between the northern and southern Optimate
bordered by what we would call, the Pale Pass and the Grasping Pass
I do believe that this is the centre of the Optimates technical or material power
(though not its administrative centre)
I suspect that this island dominates the tunnel network
and is the core of the REALM OF THE WHITE APES"
An aide whispers to Masque who then stands back up.

Léon Masque (Xingaondo); "This delegate would thank you to please refer to the Golden Isle by its current, correct name. And yes that is quite shocking. Can we be sure these times are quite real?"
Uxlorian Vesh (Unaligned, (Herald??)); "It is entirely possible that we are nothing more than dreams conjured within the minds of deluded and decadent aesthetes from some higher dimensional plane..
but if that were the case

would it actually change anything you choose to do?"
Ulukaan Deligate (Human(?),(Ulukaa));  “Ulukaa would like to know more of the Thing Like Broken Glass. Where it is now, when and where we might expect it to reveal itself. Thank you.”
Oh, and what it wants. Thank you I’ll sit now.”
(Vesh has been drinking consistently and now seems dangerously inebriated)

Uxlorian Vesh (Unaligned, (Herald??));  "ENTROPY - has a FACE
folding out of terrible dimensions, Blind Palaces, white wombs like inexpressible pits; voids in Nothing itself!
a screaming, white noise across the sky and
mountains crack open from within, oozing structure like pus, curdling into revetments and porticos, doors yawning open, spilling forth the sound of blindness and the pennants of the deaf!
Even as she coils to crush it, it decays, and her grip slips
God-Killer, Destroyer of Thought. First, greatest, and mother of all Entropic Wyrms....
the wyrms...."

Vesh now seems unconscious
Ulukaan Deligate (Human(?),(Ulukaa));  “Ulukaa requests permission to tend to Delegate Vesh and wishes to point out that whatever condition they appear to be suffering from, it was not caused by Akhwei or any of its derivatives.”
Gron Maximal ((secondary)Gronnate); “NO TAMPERING WITH HERALDS THANK YOU”
Masque has shuffled away a large folder prints with HYDRALOOP in multiple places.

Léon Masque (Xingaondo); "One thing can be certain, no one here in this room has built any tunnels underminig territory that has previously been called the Optimate..."

Lieutenant-Scholar Rorom (Gronnate, (Snivveling)); "Nnnnngggghhhh wellllll this is uh, great um, thank you scholar Vesh for that errr,,, well we've started a little early, all by the grace of Gron, naturally, yes, thank you...... Any qu-questions? Ah, oh, okay, those have started too, why not."
Hmmmm I have a question,,,, for the unsconscious man, hmmmm maybe someone can wake him up?? Well he's a herald, we mustn't tamper with him, but still, maybe some Gronning water, yes...... And live lamb, those refresh the spirits.... Well anyway it's more of a comment, errr,,,, my master GrON MaXImAL, may we all quaver in the sheen of his countenance, as it were, wishes it be expressed that we all, if you follow, perhaps the gentlemen could elaborate upon the nature, of this, ahem, face.... Well I suppose that was a question, hmm, after all. Is he awake?"

Uxlorian Vesh (Unaligned, (Herald??));   "ak..

Vesh appears to be drooling and semi-conscious
Lieutenant-Scholar Rorom (Gronnate, (Snivelling)); I guess, haha, the gentleman from Ulukaa, could, gosh, we'll have some guards watch, actually just do it right up there, right at the lectern, if the gentleman could Ulukaa could fetch, since it was requested, the, ah, Ackwee, was it??? Certainly we've none of that here in the Gronnate, I'm sure Wall School is making sure of that, haha!... Well dose the man and let's get on with this, we've all got beheadings and such to attend I'm sure,,,'
The Ulukan delegate approaches cautiously and administers Akhwei in smoke form, blowing it up Vesh's nose with a little squeezy rubber syringe

Ulukaan Deligate (Human(?),(Ulukaa)); "This never happens. There must be some interaction with another substance they've been taking."
Cups of curdled milk are passed around to the delegates by way of refreshment while they wait
Uxlorian Vesh (Unaligned, (Herald??)); "I live
what face?"
Ulukaan Deligate (Human(?),(Ulukaa));  "Welcome back. Keep the syringe."
Lieutenant-Scholar Rorom (Gronnate, (Snivelling)); "the, ah,, to wit , face of,, entropy?""
Léon Masque (Xingaondo); "I'm back ladies and gents!"

says Masque apropos of nothing
The Ulukan ambassador offers Masque a syringe, too.
Lieutenant-Scholar Rorom (Gronnate, (Snivelling)); "mmmmmm-maybe n,no"
maybe don't do that, here
Uxlorian Vesh (Unaligned, (Herald??)); "A wyrm
a being beyond causality
enemy of all that is
enemy of thought and identity
this world little more than a bounded fortress on the borders of a fallen land
SHE comes!"
Lieutenant-Scholar Rorom (Gronnate, (Snivelling)); "I'm not sure we can include speculations about its gender in the conference proceedings, but hmm, okay, that's uh....
well, so, do you know, is it capable of fear, or maybe love??
and, if not, what is its weak spot?"
Uxlorian Vesh (Unaligned, (Herald??)); "Fear is ash. Love is ash.
That which consumes Time itself can have no weakness
except perhaps the structure of Reality itself"
Lieutenant-Scholar Rorom (Gronnate, (Snivelling)); "I'm not sure we quite, hmmm, appreciate, the gentleman's, err, pessimism, but thank him for his comments. I suppose we shall keep the floor open for a while, in case anyone else shows up, it being a bit early, still, and all, but what if...? Hmm, maybe the gentleman from Ulukaa can present next, once the question period has ended, and we can sit silently and drink our milk until then, and enjoy the live dog fight that the University has so generously organized in this very room and which, as I'm sure you all noted, has already been going on for about half an hour,,"
Uxlorian Vesh (Unaligned, (Herald??)); "I bet on .. the quick dog..."
Lieutenant-Scholar Rorom (Gronnate, (Snivelling)); "oh, ummm, and I've been asked to inform you all that, yes, the house is taking bets and can fill you in on the fighting histories of all our dogs, over there by the pile of spears....
ah, and, just hearing now, thank you, that the GronU Department of Vice is offering tours of its facilities for the duration of the Gronference, for a nominal fee, of course"
Ulukaan Deligate (Human(?),(Ulukaa));  “Ulukaa will be able to deliver its report tomorrow, pending the release of information rights from the Embassy. In the meantime, we suggest the Ulukan delegate monitor delegate Vesh for safety. No contact is required, no tampering! But since we are not sure what else delegate Vesh may have ingested, we should feel remiss if we did not take care of them.”


Gronference: Day Two

The delegate from Ulukaa ascends a small dais next to the podium. His lizardman arranges a set of paintings and remarkably finely carved wooden figures in tableaux to either side, before reclining in a languid and slightly officious pose at the delegate’s feet.

Ulukaan Deligate (Human(?),(Ulukaa)); “We shall keep Our observations short and to the point.”

As he starts talking, the lizardman points to the paintings, which are clearly meant to illustrate the speech, and puppets the wooden figures into strange, stilted groupings, the meaning of which is less clear. Whenever, eg.  Violence is mentioned, all the figures are placed upside-down and on the same level.
Ulukaan Deligate (Human(?),(Ulukaa)); “First: we have identified four groups that are being terrorized by the White Apes: Golden Persons, various Animal-Persons"

the lizardman arches an eyebrow 

"Ceramic Persons, and for want of a better name, Ancient or Thawed Persons. Of these we have interviewed some Animal- and Thawed Persons, who uniformly remember nothing before Oct. We propose that they may all have been brought to life or out of suspended animation or similar in Oct or Sep. Some Thawed call themselves “Cryo.” They appear to include natives of all the known lands of Ir.
Second, the White Apes seem bent on eliminating all these persons but we have discerned no other motivation among them. They pilot metal boats and fight with fire weapons, so fighting them with wooden navies seems ill-advised. We would like to hear from Kanibalo about how their metal ships might perform.
Third, we have discovered some medicinal properties among the secretions of the Optimate inhabitants. These are being investigated. They suggest that the inhabitants of the Optimate may have been... cultivated or selectively bred for some specific purposes.
Proposed next steps: we should like to mount a joint and cooperative expedition to the Isle described by delegate Vesh, by assembling an international team, with each nation sending a single researcher and their retinue. the lizardman holds up a placard that reads: 1 pt. These researchers would work together, pooling their resources without precedence among them, making all important decisions by council vote. All intelligence gathered would be freely and equally shared among the participating nations. If any are interested in participating, please sign up afterward.”

The lizardman makes the sign for violence, then flips the figures right-side-up and bares a wide double-row of fangs while staring intently. At a sign from the delegate, he crinkles his eyes half-shut, and the expression suddenly looks a little like a smile.

Léon Masque (Xingaondo); "Will the delegates from Ulukaa be taking questions at this time?"
Ulukaan Deligate (Human(?),(Ulukaa)); “Throughout the day, as we recuperate on our naugahide couches. It may take some time for us to process the questions through our naugasmoke, however.”
Lieutenant-Scholar Rorom (Gronnate, (Snivelling)); "w-well,,, technically all d-delegates are r-re-e-equired to take questions. Haha, thank you, academic honesty and all that...,,,,..,., Oh! Hmm, M-Maximal, blessed he, of course, I piss myself at the thought, as is proper, he's reviewing my notes and shall address, ah, his questions through me, once he is ready.....
i-in the meantime, the doctoral cohort at the department of Aeronautics and Catapults, oho, will bless us with its presence.... ah, we only give out one doctorate per year, Yes, they're all defending their theses, right here before us, by combat, you see as is our custom.... The house is taking bets, of course,,"

Léon Masque (Xingaondo); "I, for one, will put 20 on the short guy.
To the gentleman...gentlepersons? from Ulukaa, may I ask, how do these 'thawed' people seem to you? Are they even real people? If no one there can remember anything before Oct wouldn't you say that lends credence to the idea (that everyone seems to be talking about) that Ir is in fact a simulation?"

Ulukaan Deligate (Human(?),(Ulukaa)); “It is certainly an interesting hypothesis. We have... I don’t want to go too deeply into our methods, but we have tried to help them uncover their memories and their lack of detail seems suggestive - perhaps of a simulation, but also... it seems deliberate. Others who have lost their memories, if you lead them with questions, they make things up, they’re often suggestible. Not these Thawed. They say they do not know, and there they stop.”
Lieutenant-Scholar Rorom (Gronnate, (Snivelling)); "how does... Mmmmm, the delegate from... From Ulukaa, p-propose, aha, to enlist in this, ah, joint venture, those nations who have, in the words of Maximal, sHOWN ThE UtTER WEAknEsS of GRON, to deign, as it were, not to attend this congress?"
Ulukaan Deligate (Human(?),(Ulukaa)); “I think we just make them jealous with our Ir-shattering achievements when we return.
If hardly anyone possesses the acorns to participate, then I suppose we happy few may have to double our ventures.
To whit, two researchers each (with entourage).”
The delegate from Ulukaa folds his hands and rests his chin on them. His lizardman starts to enfold him in petals of crimson gauze.


Gonference, Day THREE

Lieutenant-Scholar Rorom (Gronnate, (Snivelling)); "issss,, mmmmm, would anyone like to present today?"
A graduate student carefully carries a small, yellowed skeleton up to the podium and props it there.  A lit pipe sits wedged in the pipe facets in the skeleton’s teeth.  One of the provosts gestures frantically at a no smoking sign, but is ignored.
Slowly, cautiously, the skeleton begins to move.  It is shaking with the effort of standing upright.
Prof. Antef (Mourgelands, (Deceased)) “Good morning,”
It says, with a voice like the creaking of rafters.  Slowly it rotates its head from right to left, its empty sockets surveying the room.  It pauses for dramatic effect.
Prof. Antef (Mourgelands, (Deceased)); “The Optimate - the mysterious and powerful civilization that rules our world.  Where did they come from?  What do they want?  Why have they used their powerful magic to separate our nations?  These questions have puzzled the scholars of Ir for hundreds of years, but they have never been answered.  Until today!
In this lecture I will lay out a remarkable theory: that the Optimate is not a native faction to Ir, but rather comes from beyond.  In fact, new archaeological evidence suggests that the Optimate came to Ir thousands of years ago as a conquering force.  Let us begin with an analysis of rock layers sampled from the Tuthmaness canyon in the northern Morguelands.”
A slide projector crackles to life.  Layers of rocks are discussed, as are tree rings, stone tools, and weevil-eaten manuscripts.
Prof. Antef (Mourgelands, (Deceased)) “And in conclusion, there is much further work to be done to explore these novel results—
--I’m sorry, I am not feeling well.  I--”
The skeleton’s head slumps onto the podium.
After a few second of silence, a graduate student rushes up to the stage to check on it.  The student is knocked to the floor by invisible force.  The skull rises up into the air, dragging the limp skeleton along with it.  From inside the skull, a glow becomes apparent.  A violet flame engulfs it.  It is too bright to look at directly.  The smell of burning bone and old tobacco fills the air.  A different voice speaks, cavernous and melodic, like a pipe organ.
The violet flame goes out.  The blackened, smoking skull crashes down on the podium and cracks in two.  The room is silent except for the hum of the slide projector.
Léon Masque (Xingaondo); "Well whatever people say about these dead guys, they sure know how to put on a show!"
Léon Masque stands to applaud vigorously for a few seconds before an aide tugs his sleeve and gestures at the silent room.
Léon Masque (Xingaondo); "Oh huh. Well uh will the delegate be taking questions?"
Lieutenant-Scholar Rorom (Gronnate, (Snivelling)); "(theywillbetodootherwisewouldbeungronly)"
A break for lunch is called, during which grad students from the archaeology department frantically attempt to restore the skull.  They do... fine.  You can see the epoxy.  Some parts are now plaster, which has mostly set.  For the question session the skull, sitting in a box with cotton packing while the glue dries, is passed around to the other delegates.
Lieutenant-Scholar Rorom (Gronnate, (Snivelling)); "M-max-MAXIMaL would like to know, hmmmm, whether the, ah, Wyrm has shown a propensity for being tamed or enslaved"
Prof. Antef (Mourgelands, (Deceased, (Repaired))); "Worm?  Oh, you are interested in worms?"
It is the creaking rafter voice again. 
Prof. Antef (Mourgelands, (Deceased, (Repaired)));)); "Yes, I did not have time for those slides today, but I do think that changes in the length of earthworms over geological timescales support my theory of extraplanar invasion in the distant past."
(The delegate from Ulukaa had to be excused today after the skull’s pronouncement because he had a raised eyebrow that lasted more than 4 hours.)
Lieutenant-Scholar Rorom (Gronnate, (Snivelling)); "w-w-w-w-welllll we would like to apologize for the,, ah, Delay, in the proceedings, haha!... Hmmmm, GrON MAximal was in, ah, a bit of a temper, as it were, as such things go, yes... So, anyway, uhhhhh, p-p-perhaps the g-g-gentleman from Xingando would like to present next??"
Léon Masque's gaggle of hangers-on assemble behind the podium, each holding up what looks like a ladder covered in stained glass. As he speaks they adjust various alchemical settings and the panes change colors before your very eyes.
Léon Masque (Xingaondo); "Good members of GRONFERENCE 2020, I give you my findings!
With the knowledge, common in Xingando, of this world's true SUBSTANCE being mutable under certain conditions (commonly, "Law of Equivalent Exchange),

With knowledge of NEW changes brought about contemporaneously with the Disappearance Of The Optimate,
The Optimate themself has been exchanged for a collection of Apes, automata, and various awakened people, else-

There is an exchange having taken place between Ir's SUBSTANCE and another,

There exists other SUBSTANCES,

There exists other worlds

beyond IR,
There are yet WORLDS to conquer

Ladies! Gentlemen! Esteemed ossified professors! Our great nations are currently squabbling over the Optimate's leavings! His scraps! His unflushed toilet!
These apes and cry-o peoples have appeared from tunnel systems beneath Ir. This is clearly because their home world, home Substance reside beneath!

Fabricate a PHOENIX to delve the insubstantial layers beyond

Test its transport capabilities. Paying tourists will of course be welcome

This is all a first step to the ultimate goal: create a extra-Irial colony

I will now be taking questions."
Ulukaan Delegate (Human(?),(Ulukaa)); “Where do you intend to insert your phoenix?”
Léon Masque (Xingaondo); "We can discuss Phoenix insertion methods privately, but suffice to say it will be satisfactory to all involved."
Ulukaan Delegate (Human(?),(Ulukaa));  “Is it your contention then that the Apes are not part of the Optimate proper, but instead.... change left over from some transaction?”
We mean, could we return them?”
Léon Masque (Xingaondo); "Let me see here... Yes there is currently a school of thought theorizing the law of exchange works not merely upon an object's nature but also position. If this is the means by which the person of the Optimate has absconded, it should be quite reasonable to exchange the apes for something roughly equivalent in whichever sub-layer we manage to explore."
Ulukaan Delegate (Human(?),(Ulukaa)); "like a menu? Flip through the existential layers until we find something we like?"
We have been given to understand that our Inquisitor has some ideas about the colony, should this become a joint venture."
Lieutenant-Scholar Rorom (Gronnate, (Snivelling)); "have, mmmm, the esteemed alchemists of Xingando..,,., managed, ah, to pierce, haha! so to speak, this,, veil? H-have they looked upon these, as you so eloquently put it, as surely must be your meaning, other worlds?"
Léon Masque (Xingaondo); "To the delegate from Ulukaa:
If there is another world, chances are there is more than one. If we can travel to one, we can reach another. Stands to reason we will eventually be able to travel to which substances exist beyond - though our reach may, at first, be limited. I suggest we establish a base of operations upon which layer we can travel to first, then progress from there."
To the representative of Gron:
Such a thing may not yet be observed directly! Just as a powerful wind might only be seen by its effects, these other places are currently only visible by their expatriates among us. Clearly the most direct transubstantial route is via the ape's tunnel nexus, though of course as a man of business and not an addicted poet I myself have not travelled that land."
(Xingando surrenders the floor as there are no further questions)
languid applause from Ulukaa’s Reclining Arbor Zone
Lieutenant-Scholar Rorom (Gronnate, (Snivelling)); "ah-ahh, s-sorry, the, er, mAXIMal has been, ahaha, preparing his presentation, which -- OH YES: the presenter on behalf of the Gronnate will be, mhm, GRON MAXIMAL, may we, you know, revel in the sight of his terrible form, mmhmm -- anyway, he will be presenting his paper in a few short hours, and then,,, hmmmmmm, the Gronnate will. Be taking questions......."
Several hours pass
Lieutenant-Scholar Rorom (Gronnate, (Snivelling)); "aaah,, a few hours still... Bear with...."
Several hours pass
Doctor-General Lolour Guridia (Gronnate, (Non-Snivelling)); "Aha! Hellooo, my dearest darlings! Ah, but who is, you may ask, cavorting his fine cerulean features behind yonder lectern, lo, who sashayes so gracefully to his spot behind the lectern, lo, haha! Is it Gron Maximal, you ask yourselves, for he is meant to speak, and by the sheen of his breastplate and the Ir-shaking terror of his morning breath it is not! You are in the presence of doctor-general Lolour Guridia, yes! Yes, I shall be delivering the Gronnate's address -- unexpected, I know, but Gron Maximal, wretched, beautiful, impenetrable he, is taken with one of his, aha, moods, and has decreed -- yes, decreed, that I shall speak in his stead! So settle your fine rumps into your seats and place your final bets on the graduates for, by the steel of my scholar's falchion, I shall now confer upon you gathered the shocking revelations gathered by our esteemed Gronnate regarding those lands called the Optimate!"
He takes a moment to inhale, having spoken all of the above in a single breath and having turned a distinctly unGronly red
He takes a moment more to thumb through his notes and inhales once more
Doctor-General Lolour Guridia (Gronnate, (Non-Snivelling)); ""Point the first, the ah, Cryos, which I believe we have heard discussed by our illustrious colleaugues at this -- yes this very Gronference!  As you already know, these are persons frozen from a past age, you know. And, lo, thanks to the incredible diplomatic skills of our department of Army and the excellent intrepreters that travel among them we have able to engage in a kind of intercourse -- the verbal kind, you know. These savages, erstwhile perplexed by our terrifying appearances, were ultimately swayed by the University's excellement military discipline and, after, I admit, some rather tense exchanges, have ultimately been prevailed upon to speak with us again, upon the occassion of future missions."
Doctor-General Lolour Guridia (Gronnate, (Non-Snivelling)); ""Point the second, the Cryos with whom we spoke made rather, ah, nonspecific references to a place they called the 'Tower of Flames', which stands upon the large island within the Optimate. This place seemed to inspire in them a certain kind of fear, and they made some mentions of 'portals upon portals', but the words of savages are of course unreliable and often false, and so we have devoted little of our precious, though bountiful, intellectual resources to this question, and instead throw it, like some form of proverbial red meat, which as we all know is the most delicious kind, to the gathered and brilliant minds of Ir to contemplate!"
Doctor-General Lolour Guridia (Gronnate, (Non-Snivelling)); ""Point the third, although we find we have been, so to speak, scooped by our colleagues from Ulukaa, is the savage white apes. We shall not repeat what you have already heard about them, but our sentries saw them from afar, fleeing, as it were, person on great metal ships, although the persons upon the ships themselves were too far to see..."
Doctor-General Lolour Guridia (Gronnate, (Non-Snivelling)); ""Point the fourth, during an expedition to the Optimate, a detachment of troops encountered what they mystifyingly refer to as a 'sky nation', which, apparently impressed by our men's prowess in ritual combat, bestowed upon this detachment the power of flight. Our best and brightest currently have these individuals under supervision and are determining whether this power can, ahh, generalized to the broader Gronnish public."
Doctor-General Lolour Guridia (Gronnate, (Non-Snivelling)); ""Point the fifth, and most shocking, is our department of pseudoastronomy has detected, ahhh, shall we say, subspatial tremors in the deep metafabrics of the universe, which they attribute to a kind of tearing, and theorize that some complete rupture, whatever that means, shall occur in approximately eight months. What shall emerge from that rupture, or perhaps fall in, remains speculative, but, to the Herald's mention of Worms, we posit that these tremors are indeed comparable to a kind of vermin burrowing."
"We would like to close these, ah, revelations by echoing the calls for international cooperation inaugurated by our friends from Ulukaa and Xingando. Indeed, we wish to reiterate these selfsame calls, and iterate upon them in the spirit of concrete action, by submitting that, in the name of all that is Gron, and indeed there is much Gron to speak in the name of, a treaty of mutual defense and cooperation, to be forged in this very lecture hall, incorporating no less than all the nations whose delegates are present -- that is the Mourgelends, Xingando, Ulukaa, and, naturally, the Gronnate."
"We will, of course, be taking questions."
Ulukaan Deligate (Human(?),(Ulukaa)); "Ulukaa has no problem with such a treaty and repeats Her suggestion of a joint expedition of discovery."
A zombie hobbit speaks on behalf of the Prof. Antef, who is indisposed. 
Mourgelands Delegate (Zombified); “The Morguelands will assent to this treaty."