Monday, 19 April 2021

The Tube That Kills!

 Yes its another 'Velvet Hooks' post. Here are the others;

Today, another sad and lonely mistake of creation...


The Whirlwind Würm!


Why can't you love meeeeeeee?


"What mystery lies beyond the würm,
many seek it out, yet few return."

As true now as it was then. 

But what of the Würm? Pitiful, desperate for friends, sore mouth, infinite teeth, a weightless balloon. Within the würm; a limbo land. It is the avatar of a hungry grey plain questing listlessly for matter and meaning. The pencil sketch world, a sky of teeth and the sound of ceramic knives. 

If it lets go of the earth it just floats away sadly!!! Clearly the Würm is the victim here. It has a lair of sorts, and can speak, in a way. Lonely, all they can do is consume things utterly. They want to sleep but are awoken by their own teeth. When they die, the teeth eject like a bomb, and are scattered around knee-deep.

The Würm is "probably" about five miles deep, (though how can we know?).

Unusually clear and straightforward for one of my monsters.



Missions for Pay



EXPEDITION TO THE WÜRM 

Don't you want to know what lies within? Well someone with too much money does, and they have a bunch of suits of armour, some super long chain and a captive würm. What could go wrong?? THE PAY IS GREAT. Side-missions include this being cover to free someone very good or very bad from within the Würm.



THE TOOTH-BOMB TERORIST. 

Some radical has got hold of a bunch of Würms and found a way to explode them on command. Insane and impractical? Yes. But DEADLY. Now you must hunt down the Würm-Bomb Bomber and apprehend them, without being either dumped down a Würm or exploded by teeth.



BRING ME ITS TEETH!

A high bounty on the manifold teeth of a Whirlwind Würm, but how do you even kill one without being caught in the tooth-blast? And isn't this murder?



THE DANGEROUSLY FRIENDLY WÜRM. 

A Würm wanders into a village or town looking for friendship, (they must do this a lot), and everyone just fucking runs for it. How to get rid of the poor thing?



TEETH GALORE!! 

After a terrible disaster an isolated settlement finds itself rich in Würm teeth, but is besieged by gold-rush bandits who want those teeth to make knives, dentures and various other speciality products. They need someone to defend them while they harvest the sharp teeth and set up their sale. Tooth bandits might bribe you to turn on the villagers, and did something unspeakable also come forth from the exploding Würm????


THE BODY-BAG GANG. 

A dangerous group are waxing the wheels of the underworld, offering foolproof body (and anything else) disposal services for a price. People disappear without trace or evidence! Not even a ghost! Someone needs to track the gang and shut this conspiracy down!







Worm Paperbacks Found Abandoned




THE DOMAIN OF DEAD GODS??? 

Conspiratal text arguing that the Würms are in effect a 'slow apocalypse'. They seem sad, slow, listless and ridiculous as a defensive tactic, in reality they are portals to a reality which wishes to consume ours. If the danger of the Würms is ignored then eventually they will hit a tipping point and will be impossible to stop. WE MUST ACT NOW!!!



STATE AND CRIME - THE WÜRM TRADE AND ITS DISCONTENTS. 

Cutting edge reportage analysing the 'hidden trade' in Whirlwing Würms. Though they are illegal in all polities, the utility of the Würms for permanent disposal of undesired "things" makes them so useful that a shadow trade exists which links hidden crime syndicates and governmental figures. Careful analysis of text can form some strong inferences about who the author is talking about. A proscribed text!



THE LANGUAGE OF WÜRMS. 

By Vetch-Net Ashkott. Pretty much what it says on the tin. Study shows how to understand and converse with the creatures. A dry text.



THE WÜRM WAS MY WITNESS. LEARNING TO LOVE IN A CIRCULAR WORLD. 

Portside trash bought by those waiting for the tide to turn. Claims to be  'based on real events'. About a murder witnessed only by a würm but it floated away, can it be found and placed on the stand before the trail ends????? (may contain vestigial details of a real crime and real worm).



DANCES WITH WÜRMS. 

Jane Goodall type wildlife/psychological analysis of the sad isolation of the Würms, "the most alone of all sentient species", writer disappeared mysteriously not long after publication. Can tell you a lot about Würm behaviour though it might be wise to use more precautions than the author thought necessary.



THE GREY ZONE!! GOING IN DEEP WITH THE WORLDS MOST LETHAL TUBE! 

Purports to be the story of a (partly) successful expedition into a Würm and the disaster that took place within. May be fictional and/or embroidered but the story of a grey world where reality can be reshaped by the strong of will and where the flotsam of a thousand years lies scattered in the murk, and its strange ghostly yet lissom inhabitants, has inflamed the minds of conspirital teenagers for a generation.




Tuesday, 13 April 2021

The Sunlands

 How long has it been since I just straight-up invented something purely for the blog? A long time.


...

The Sunlands would be ever-haunted by the ghosts of its raptorial otherlife, were it not for the cold winds that scour it.

Bright and cold, rolling beneath an eternally clear sky. No rain, but hail that thunders for a minute and quickly melts. Cold in the shadows and the wind, but warm where walls still the fast air yet still allow the sun.

Home to a peaceful and optimistic people; "The chances for adventure here are slim!”, they say. The cold winds blow away ghosts and spirits - no-one is haunted, the nights are clear, stars cut like full stops. No ghosts, no spiders, no stillness, no gloom. Bury the dead quickly and turn over the earth - they will be soil within a month, bones left clear and pale in the rich loam. 

Of course you can *see* ghosts in the wind; blasted past in flocks and scurries, grasping at the earth before being whirled away. What sort of ghosts they are is hard to say. Some are human, many toothed and scaled, feathered, barbed and of enormous size. They are only pale rags of things though, fleeting past like plastic bags. Nothing to fear in the unending gales.




THE WIND-CITIES


the wind-cities of the Sunland’s migrate -  drifting on the wind before hurling down anchors when they notice a good spot. 

Their towered pylons are built from impossible wood recovered from the petrifying bogs. How long it has lain there, losing its weight and mass? Who knows? But now it weighs nothing, or less than nothing; chains and anchors are used to mine it up from the swamps and batten it down for crafting.

Each tower has a heavy anchor which it drives into the earth when it lands in an auspicious spot. Weights at the bottom keep it vertical. The homes and dwellings are carved into the vast trunk and hung around it like spiralling baubles. 

The cities creak and shift in the wind like ships. They fly in formation, chained together and held separate by huge bows of ash which flex under pressure.

A town or city might 'cut loose' in an emergency, avoiding raids or danger by unhitching and letting the wind take it away. More usually they try to guide their flight, often using kites, but, when powered or guided flight is needed, they summon the Raptorial Goose-Ghosts of the plain.

To summon the spirit they must construct a giant model, or automata of a terror-goose of the ancient world. To make it pleasing h for a goose-ghost to inhabit they must embroider it with flowers fed on dreams. So it is that in the wind-cities, sleep is a kind of currency and all dream with flowering vines planted above their heads.

If this summoning goes well the city can harness one, or more, of the old spirits and fly against the wind to a new resting place, puled through they air by the gigantic image of a floriate goose, petals drifting in its path. A valuable capacity in the strange aeotic economics of the sunlands.

Once, they say, there was one great Wind-City which ruled the Sunlands, and kept the winds themselves as slaves. But it splintered into chaos in some forgotten time, casting pirate states in every direction and bringing anarchy to the atmosphere. Now the winds contend for dominance, bribed at times by the cities, though what resource would a wind desire? 

The feudal/anarchic polity of the winds is perhaps the true geography of the Sunlands.



THE PLAINS


The fastest horses are raised on the sunlands plains, life is hard, but there are no ghosts and no geese and no taxes. Cities fly past in the air and cannot stay long enough to take toll. The moveable nature of towns means that standing armies are near useless. Raiding is the way to go.

There are many raiders, and many dangers; buffalo, ostrich and emu herds and terror-bird flocks.

From the air come the Hogmasters, cloud-riding hedgehog men, windriding pirates in their bright patched-together airships, crewed by all the flotsam of the World Uncertain.




THE HILLS AND VALLEYS



In the valleys, the wind is lessened, the sun keeps things warm. down between the trunks it can be summery. In the deep, narrow valleys there are rivers full of trout and salmon, underground rivers where pale squid and fat eels throng. 

But ghosts and geese  can hide in that still gloom, there are cassowaries in the trees and goose-men in the crystal caves; underground palaces, mirrored labyrinths, ghost traps, they say, home now to the shining people. Dungeons brighter within than the land without. The colonnades of crystal trees, forests beneath the earth, buried and swept clean then filled again with the detritus that came with the shattering of sun city and its collapse into pirate kingdoms.

Home of the goose-headed men! Like men, all like old pot-bellied men. Ex-workmen who are still strong from their grafting days, bowed backs as if from lugging heavy loads, spines that curve like bows, with big flippered feet, and wide spatula hands and long goose necks! with huge goose heads! honkers!

The goose-headed men come from the labyrinths of their forgotten time, their shining otherworld where goose-men rule and seek to supplant humanity. Though this is nothing but a mad dream - for their power is long broken. In the warrens of the Sunlands they hide, leaguing with carnivorous hedgehog men, the Hogmasters! and ghosts who hide from the wind and sun, lurking in the silence down there.

The Sunlands were once a crystal land, in another iteration of the world, a forgotten construction of the divine mind which dreams all things. But they were overlaid, forgotten, re-written, remade into what stands today. 

Yet it seems that here, the divine thought only drifted across the surface of the world. In cracks and dimensional oddities, down hidden paths, the crystal caves unfold, forgotten glitch dimensions - beautiful in their way, but broken - flawed fragments of a fractured whole.

This the goose-men claim as their true and meaningful kingdom. Though whether it was always theirs, or if they wormed in somehow, taking its grandeur as their natural right, (for the goose-men are grand indeed - craving chains, crowns, robes, sceptres, rods of rule, great seals, swords, legends, stories, heralds, trumpeters, flags and purple robes, though they can afford little to none of these), none know.

Friday, 9 April 2021

Velvet Hooks; Wound Whisp

Our attempt to provide useful adventure hooks for the Velvet Horison Monter manual continues;


Previous entries here;






Background

  •  created by magical healing
  • there is a place full of timeless living wounds
  • without healing or rest they go mad
  • cant be hurt with harmful things 
  • grows with blows
  • knows where its mother and father are (dealer and sufferer)
  • so it will search for those first and only start hunting others if it can't find them
  • death and decomposition and healing the same to it
  • You bear the wound but you may also learn what wisdom that wound knows
  • can rest in rocks and trees - possibly useful
  • almost impossible to keep out - since it can inhabit any solid object
  • IT STAYS AWAKE AND ALIVE IN YOUR FLEEEEESH
  • but its friendly towards its bearer - can even become a useful scar




Hooks;


1. Someone threatens to open a gateway to the Wound Dimension and to release a blizzard of wounds into the earth. Are they super-evil or just trying to release what are essentially sentient creatures from endless captivity?

2. A wound haunts the forests, drifting through trees, inhabiting rocks and sometimes trying to nest in small animals, which it invariably kills. Getting rid of it involves either banishing it with healing magic, accepting it into your own body, or unweaving the mystery of its creation, probably involving speaking to it and finding out who made and who suffered it.

3. Someone is using deluded or manipulated wounds as assassins, sending them burrowing after their target and leaping upon them as-one,  they die quickly of a dozen different wounds, none of which were ever theirs. Finding the wound weaver will be a challenge, defeating them worse and then what to do with the wounds?

4. A group or cult of people have willingly accepted minor wounds over a long period of time - either for personal advantage or due to religious/philosophical reasons - they are now heavily scarred but these scars are 'allies' which will pulse when danger threatens, given them a kind of spider-sense. 

5. Someone afflicted with a 'speaking wound' desperately wants to get rid of it but the only way to do that is to let the wound lead them to its mother or father, and then transfer the wound. Neither of those two people are going to be thrilled to see it.

6. A mighty hero pursued by a flock of wounds, some of which he caused and some he suffered, now racing forever to escape them lest they settle into his skin and kill him




The Merchant of Wounds



Hooded and ragged, perhaps able to bilocate, perhaps one of many, appearing in midnight markets or hidden alcoves for a day or two. Seekers are lead to their parlour by crooked passages. A sinister figure who has shelf-lined rooms or rickety wagons filled with jars containing living wounds.


A weapon wound. This wound too stupid or desperate to try anything other than leaping into the nearest body (so the merchant claims). Hurl it at your foe like a grenade.

A friendly wound. The merchant claims this wound is very small and only looking for a place to rest. If you accept it, it will prove a useful ally, a scar, for instance, in your back, can warn you of hidden dangers. "Or perhaps you are a penitent?"

A trained Utility Wound. the merchant claims this wound will serve like a hunting animal, of a sort, and can be used to crack open doors, walls, stones, and to break other things. "You must keep very careful control of course.... very  careful.."

A particular wound. One suffered or caused by, particular people or in particular circumstances. These go up in price relative to the particularity of the request, and can take several days to "acquire", but their uses are manifold;

- A 'seeker' which can lead you to its 'mother' or 'father'.

- A 'wise wound' which can tell you of a particular fight, or the place it was made, or the people who made it.

(Only wounds healed by magic can be found….)

Books on Healing.  The Merchant (merchants?) of Wounds are very keen on expanding the knowledge of magical healing. They collect, reproduce and disperse texts on the matter, keep a track of who knows the techniques and will receive and sell on any ‘healing artefacts’ for a very reasonable price. “After all, its good for business.”



Wound Views


There is essentially a kind of moral politics over the use of magical healing to treat wounds, though it takes place almost entirely through the letters and journals of those concerned with the strange and abstruse.

Heling those on the brink of death where no other cure will do is surely a good thing?

But the creation of living wounds in a distant dimension is surely both evil and, ultimately, very dangerous?

Are these living wounds the result only of Thaumaturgy or does divine magical also produce them? If so, which gods do or do not produce them? Lots of room for argument on this one.

Should we entirely stop healing wounds with magic, and if so, how might this be enforced? How far are would-be enforcers willing to go?

Monday, 5 April 2021

Paradoxes of Defence

 A friend sent me this link to a 1599 fencing manual, by George Silver in which the writer SHITS all over the ITALIAN rapier. Because RAPIERS SUCK!




As well as going in very deep on some quite complex time-and-motion studies through entirely verbal means, and talking a lot about the complex interplay of different weapons and methods, it also contains this interesting part about the change in culture brought about by the Rapier;




"That the reasons used by the Italian fencers in commending the use of the rapier and poniard, because it makes peace, makes against themselves.

It has been commonly held, that since the Italians have taught the rapier fight, by reason of the dangerous use thereof, it has bred great civility among our English nation, they will not now give the lie, nor with such foul speeches abuse themselves, therefore there are fewer frays in these times than were wont to be. 

It cannot be denied but this is true, that we are more circumspect of our words, and more fearful to fight than heretofore we have been. 

But whereof comes it? 

Is it from this, that the rapier makes peace in our minds; or from hence, that it is not so sufficient defence for our bodies in our fight? 

He that will fight when he is armed, will not fight when he is naked: is it therefore good to go naked to keep peace? he that would fight with his sword and buckler, or sword and dagger, being weapons of true defence, will not fight with his rapier and poniard, wherein no true defence or fight is perfect: are these insufficient weapons therefore the better, because not being sufficient to defend us in fight, they force us into peace? 

What else is it, but to say, it is good for subjects to be poor, that they not go to law: or to lack munition, that they may not fight, nor go to the wars: and to conclude, what more follows through the imperfect works of the Italian peacemakers? 

They have made many a strong in his fight weak, many a valiant man fearful, many a worthy man trusting to their imperfect fight, has been slain, and many of our desperate boys and young youths, to become in that rapier fight, as good men as England yielded, and the tallest men of this land, in that fight as very boys as they and no better. 

This good have the Italian teachers of Offense done us, they have transformed our boys into men, and our men into boys, our strong men into weakness, our valiant men doubtful, and many worthy men resolving themselves upon their false resolutions, have most willfully in the field, with their rapiers ended their lives. 

And lastly, have left to remain among us after their deaths, these inconveniences behind them, false fencing books, imperfect weapons, false fights, and evil customs, whereby for lack of use and practice in perfect weapons and true fight, we are disabled for the service of our prince, defence of our country, and safety of our lives in private fight."







What has been disrupted here? for, violence is a social relationship, a social activity as much as love and marriage.

Silver talks in the book about the 'true fight' and whatever that is, is very hard to define, especially through the veil of time and the thorns of specialist lore. Let me see if I can glean some basic points;

- Fighters should be able to take their fighting knowledge to the battlefield.

- Fighters should be able to take on unskilled, but athletic men, and unskilled but brave and/or drunk men as well as to take on other skilled and educated fighters.

- Fighters should be taught grappling and " striking with the foot or knee in the cods".

- There is a lot here about 'the Times' and 'the Governors' that I don't really understand but I think generally he is in favour of fighters dancing around less and prioritising hand movements over foot movements I think.

- People should bear weapons of the right size, to take advantage of their bodies movements (I think) and not over-sword by getting into too-long weapons


Someone better read in the social milieux of the time (1599) might be able to tell us something about what is driving these changes. To me it looks like people are taking up fencing at least in part precisely because it is more ritualised, further from the battlefield, less 'common', has less grappling and cod-kicking and ends with less bits chopped off (though still many deaths). At least you die pretty.

The argument about lethality and skill though, that is truly fascinating, it highlights to me something about fundamentally different attitudes to risk, skill, danger and lethality.

The rapier seems to have introduced something like nuclear mutually assured destruction. It is very lethal, often even in unskilled hands, and Silver thinks its more likely to lead to the deaths of both parties.

The fighting he prefers is something else; more skill-based, with different weapons (he favours the short sword) which can also be used on the battlefield, more likely to lead to clear defeat for one party, but, if I am reading this right, easier to control? Easier for the more skilled party to manage and limit the sanguinary nature of the violence?

"..are these insufficient weapons therefore the better, because not being sufficient to defend us in fight, they force us into peace?"

Silver mislikes this because - perhaps safety won through mutual powerlessness before violence, safety won through mutual danger and the equalising, or neutralising of hard-won skills, is not true safety?
Or that it is a poor safety because it is the safety of weak men, bought through fear and maintained through mutual fear and therefore fragile, or corrupt in some way?

Hobbes (who I am also crawling through at the moment) would love this. He might say that men varying in strength but no man being so strong that the weakest might not kill him, it is through mutual fear that men submit to greater authority. and that the rapier has returned these men closer to the state of nature.

It truly is a "paradox of defence".

Friday, 2 April 2021

Weebery Three - He He Heee

Join me as I continue my descent into the anime hidden deep within the Amazon Prime recommendation algorithm.

Parts One and Two.



THE GREAT PASSAGE




A quiet group of people try to make a book! Will they succeed???

Presumably there is a Japanese subgenre about groups of people attempting some kind of creative pursuit. This is one of those. Except in this case its the story of a bunch of underpaid and ignored nerds fighting (against the odds) to make a dictionary for a country that already has a bunch.

The dive into the family of Japanese dictionaries is part of the interest, and the reasoning behind the central concept, the dream which inspires our heroes.

Each Japanese dictionary is meant to have a different 'character', to prioritise a slightly different selection of words and to make slightly different definitions. Because of this, each has a world-view, a personality, based on who made it, and when.

I have no idea how much, or if at all, this interacts with the differences between English and Japanese as languages. So far as I know; Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries; about the same, Websters; American and not as good. Collins; unknown. And that’s about it. I have no idea if dictionary nerds think these texts have different approaches to the world. Perhaps they do.

We have our hero, Majime, currently labouring with horrific ineptitude as a salesman, an introverted nerd, obsessed with words but when he is banishpromoted to the low-status team hidden in the old building at the back, undergoing a long term project which eats the companies money but which no-one has the nerve to cancel, we discover - HES A DICTIONARY NATURAL GUYS.

Add the slightly-dodgy hotshot salesman who may be there as a punishment, but watch and learn as these two unlikely colleagues slowly become friends, and when the dictionary gets into trouble with management - will the sketchy salesman’s cunning tactics and Machiavellian dealings be the one to save the day? Yes, yes they will.

As well as a central inspirational elder whose idea the dictionary is, the old team he established, who are now close to aging out of the project, the love interest and partners of the main group, and as the series goes on, in fifteen years time, the new generation who arrive to find Majime occupying the 'elder statesman' role.

The central idea motivating all these different people, what the dictionary is intended to be - is a form of meta-communication, a ship to cross the sea of words. It’s a drama where people can have discussions and arguments about the exact interpretations of the definition of a word in a language I don't speak. Etymology may be pretty different in japan but the strange accrual of meanings, sub-meanings, emotional tenor, and the difficulty of absolutely and precisely defining a word-concept when, in actual life, it exists most truly in a complex web of mutually interacting social and conceptual meanings, each of which are also shifting slowly over time as the nature of life itself shifts and alters, is still there. To define a word you need to look deep into its past, and widely into its current place in the web of things.

It’s a high-stakes low-stakes drama. In comparison to most genre fiction the challenge is; will (another) dictionary get made, or will the publishers finally give up on the long-term money sink and likely low profits and pull the plug?

But while the more-evidently cool and exciting genre stories I describe below have some COOL AS SHIT CONFLICTS up front; SUPER DRUGS, CRIME GANGS, APOCALYPSE WORLDS, EVIL ROBOTS, FUCKING TIME TRAVEL, but underneath those strong drivers, have sustaining webs of complex interpersonal dynamics which counterpoint and lend them meaning of a different kind.

This one is a normal-person story but the very long time over which it takes place, the generational leaping so we can see the consequences and development of individual personalities, and the close and compassionate eye with which it examines its characters, transforms workplace and life dramas into, well, the dramas they actually are. 

Will Majame finally work out how to ask out the cute girl in his building, will salesguy be secretly honourable even though it screws his career? Will they find a way to finish the FUCKING DICITONARY? Will senpai even live to see it done? What does it mean for him if he doesn't? 

There is a cool a fuck episode in the last act where they find, by chance, *one* mistake in the final text. Majame decides they have to re-check, again, the entire text, BUT THEY ONLY HAVE DAYS TO DO IT. ITS IMPOSSIBLE I TELL YOU!!

Its a good series.





BANNANA FISH




This was very gay.

Occidental as fuck. 

Man have I ever seen any main character threatened with rape as much as here? Let alone a male lead?

Japanese-eye view on a American crime/conspiracy drama with very slight sci-fi stylings, so more airport novel/earthbound Bond than actual science fiction, plus alienation, child abuse, an anime take on gang culture, love, loneliness. 

Basically, worlds toughest super-hot teenage gang leader who is also super-intelligent, (though that only comes through in the more genre-y later episodes), falls for super pretty pole vaulting Japanese reporter, in the midst of a gang-war super-conspiracy over a mysterious mind-wrecking drug called 'banana fish'.

Not entirely my jam but I finished it when I haven't finished other series so it must have been pretty good.





KEMURIKUSA




WHAT IS GOING ON I'M SCARED

tldr; Little House on the Prairie - in BLAME! 

This looks cheap - not that that's the most important thing about it but if you go in not knowing that then you will likely judge it for that first. Reason for this is that it looks like it was made by about three people with limited resources, so its "passion-project-pure-vision-limited-means" cheap, rather than an EA/Disney-style; "marketing-manager-run-shovelware-of-known-IP" cheap. 

The good kind of cheap.

A small group of sisters live on an utterly desolate, dark and ruined place which looks like an abandoned 20th century or 21st century Japan. They are clearly not entirely or mainly human, as they can leap about like super-heroes, can survive purely by drinking water and have a bunch of weird exploits.

Unfortunately, there is no more water and they are being hunted by "red bugs"; mechanistic robot creatures which emerge from an enveloping sea of corruptive red mist which seems to enfold everything outside their home.

This all seems pretty awful, and in fact we learn several sisters have already died. 

But - this life, this existence, is all the sisters know. We don't find out immediately how they came to be but they refer to a "first person" - someone who was there before them, and as far as they are concerned, their entire reality has always been like this, (though slowly getting worse), so while for us it’s an utterly spooky and disturbing post-apocalyptic hellscape, for them, as bad as it is, its normal.

We are generally more disturbed by the environment than the characters are.

There are other islands in this enfolding mist. Previous exploration attempts have lead to deaths but, the water is running out here, and they need to go in search of more, no matter how dangerous it is, if they want to live. And at that exact moment, a strange man just 'appears' from the depths of the island, like the sisters, he has no complex contextual memories of who he is or why he is there, and he is even more of a pure innocent than them.

WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON




WAIT IS THIS THING GOING TO STIFF ME BY PULLING A 'LOST'

OR A FUCKING JORODOWSKY WHERE 'ITS ALL A FUCKIN METAPHOR LAD'

No it will not.

Or at least not much.

Things generally make sense at the end, or at least as much sense as they need to

what didn't I mention?

Oh yeah, there are goddamn MAGIC LEAVES. The only thing living in this world apart from the Sisters and the Red Bugs is one tree, which they carry around with them in a re-purposed tram car, and this tree sometimes produces leaves, which sometimes looks somewhat holographic or supra-real, (no its not all happening in the matrix), and which have various powers associated with them. You can also sometimes find these things lying around. These are the 'Kemurikusa' of the title, and working out what they are, what they do and what they mean is the key for the characters understanding the world.

Nightmare decayed futurescapes, nation-consuming gigastructures, geology transformed into artifice, but its a story about family, relationships and love y'all!

Honestly I can't go too deep into the meaning of stuff without also going into the secrets of the setting, and revealing those ahead of time would damage the story, so there you go.

(The main male character is REALLY fucking annoying but from reviews apparently that’s a thing in anime).





KOKKOKU




The magical power to stop time! Just like in Bernards Watch!





(If you are not of my generation you have NO FUCKING IDEA of the scale and level of magically powered artefacts randomly discovered by school-age children on televisions, keys to other worlds, magical wish-granting coins, a fucking SPACE SHIP. They just found this stuff lying about! yet it never happened to me....)

Our spunky main character has a defective family. Useless dad, otaku brother, distant granddad, but after the littlest kid, who everyone actually likes, gets kidnapped, the grandfather reveals that he has an artefact capable of stopping time which he has not used or revealed for reasons that become clear as the series goes on.

Unlike most time-stop dramas, this one takes place almost entirely within one singular stopped moment, there is no going back and forth exerting power in the real world and then stopping time again, instead its more like stranding a bunch of people with highly complex and hugely opposed motivations together in a world made of one moment, a city full of time-stopped people.

As things go on the cast discover more about how this world of 'stasis' works, its strange guardians, the dangers of remaining there and the creepy motherfuckers who have followed them in.

Who will manage to leave 'stasis', who will survive, who will be trapped inside that moment forever??

Top Level - a well worked-out genre setting with complex, (not pathologically detailed in show), but coherent laws.

Mid Level - a tactical and force-of-personality-based game of ruthless opposition between the family and their opponents and the motivations of the different members of both groups. They are all in the city, but they are there alone, or at least, no other human can reach them. They can access any building and grab an object, but cars don't go, phones don't work, only what is around you and grabbed by you becomes subject to motion, so it’s a state-of nature-deal which brings primal motivations to the fore and necessitates low-tech OSR style tactical thinking.




Bottom Level - families, our reasons for doing things, meaning and the loss of meaning, what it means to lose your place in the world and what people might be willing to do to get it back, or make a new one. A lot like Kemurikusa, the high personal stakes and alienating environment which simultaneously separates the characters from ordinary society but also provides limited, and strange, opportunities for power, brings people down to their core values, if they even know what those are, and into developing and contrasting those values with each other.

INTELLIGENCE - Everyone here is as intelligent as a manga author carefully thinking through options. 

Well not everyone, quite a few are dumb, but the 'main characters' are all relatively cold and careful planners. Maybe that’s just what its like in Japan? This isn't a flaw, just a feature.

- things being carefully worked through, relatively original and MAKING FUCKING SENSE both as story AND diegetic elements - oh lord how I have missed thee! 

The sense that the people making the thing have thought about it more deeply and more coherently than I did watching it, holy fuck I haven't had that from western pop culture in a while.

A bunch of reviewers on myanimelist fucking hated this declaiming all the qualities I though it had as ones it didn't. A MYSTERY? Could Histories Greatest Critic be wrong? Or are these the wittering’s of thoughtless drones? U DECIDE.

Monday, 29 March 2021

The Auction of the first Hundred Words

Text prioritisation in encounter, monster and room design. We know it when it's bad,- we are reading a dungeon and we think; "Oh fuck, time to get out the highlighter, time to underline things, or pull a pen out and essentially re-write this deal".

And probably we have had the opposite experience, of reading something and thinking; "Ah yes this feels like it would work, feels like it would be easy and immediate to run."

But how much have we thought consciously about how it *works*? (Probably someone has yes, but *I* haven't, (much).)






STRIPPING IT DOWN


For reasons of clarity I want to remove many of the layout methods we used in real situations to help differentiate and prioritise text in books. So, for instance, no talk of titling, bolding, italics, parenthesis, visually transmitted levels of the information hierarchy, no bullet points, coloured inks etc.

There is nothing wrong with these methods, but I hope that by excluding them from discussion we can focus almost entirely on the procession of concepts as written in the text. 

For, an encounter or room, when we consider it from the point of view of people within the imagined world, is a whole thing, apprehended, if not at once, then at least, in a global sense, with later details more filled in as time goes on. But a sentence, paragraph or string of text is entirely linear, and may only proceed one after the other, with the first thing made clear first and the second after that etc.
So when we convert from perception, or even imagined perception into text, and then back again, we are simulating a more global awareness with a more linear one, and then unpacking that text, and transmitting it, into voice and performance.






THE AUCTION FOR PRIORITISATION


One way to think about this is that every part or aspect of a scene, a room, an encounter or an adventure element, is in a kind of competition, a sort of bidding war within the paragraph, or the block of text, as to which should have priority and become the dominant element, preceding the others and shaping perception before them, so that they are integrated into an idea shaped by it, rather than the other way round.

But the 'bids' or the arguments each idea puts forth are complex, not just about how important they are 'in abstract', but about the relations they have with each other and with the game as a whole.

To explain this to myself and help make sense of it, I put forth these 'bids' or arguments, as if they came themselves from the different forms and types of information, each making a request or argument that *they*, themselves, should be at the front of the first sentence describing a room or encounter in an adventure.



I AM AS CLEAR AS THE NOSE ON YOUR FACE!


"I am very extremely obvious on entering this room, I will be noticed immediately by the PC and therefore I should be at the front. It would be perceptually and logically incoherent NOT to include me. I am so big and obvious that not putting me at the front is 'burying the lede' in a way that makes the whole experience silly."

So - "This room is hung with hundreds of brightly coloured flags" or "This room has a BRASS BAND playing in it, and they are WAVING brightly coloured flags"

A counter-argument to this might be about the necessity of prioritising 'hidden' or less obvious information which might be vital to the running of the 'room' or its integration in the larger adventure
So "This room contains an illusion cast by a small goblin, that of a large brass band."

(Though this intuitively seems slightly or very wrong or stupid. I would write it more like; "This room seems to contain a large brass band parping and stamping. (Actually the illusion of a small goblin hiding in the room.)"

....


The very question of 'obviousness' vs 'hiddenness' differentiates information between that directly for the Players, and the PCs, and that which the DM must know perhaps separate to the players and PCs. 
That leads us to;




I AM HIDDEN, BUT IMPORTANT!

"The PCs won't notice me immediately, and might not even interact with me directly, but the fact that I am present has a meaningful effect on the context and procession of other actions. The DM needs to know about me immediately, even if the Players and PCs don't."

A situation in which a hidden element might claim higher priority could be if the room or encounter has a certain overarching trick or concept, not obvious to the PCs but vital to the DM in order to run the encounter. 

In which case it needs to be moved to the front, perhaps with an encompassing over-statement.

The alternate version to this, or the counter-argument is; "yes this room has a trick or deception in it BUT

- it only becomes evident if PCs prod or investigate it

- this prodding or investigation is locked some 'layers deep' in the interaction with the room (i.e. its unlikely to happen immediately as they walk in)

- it doesn't deeply affect the way the DM would run the room as a whole, there is no secret intentionality which must be considered 'up front' as even the preliminary interactions take place"




I AM ALIVE AND THINK FOR MYSELF!


Does it have a Goblin in it? How about a Goblin assassin waiting to strike? how about a Goblin jamboree?

"I am an active living thing with intentionality and my own perceptions" - this is a strong argument for being moved up in priority, or at least it seems so to me.

Why though?

- Both PCs and Players are strongly coded to think about living things first.

- Its a deeper and maybe more attractive challenge in mental modelling for the DM as well, there is a lot of complex information in thinking about the actions of living beings but it tends to be the kind of info human minds are good at processing and therefore is "pleasurable work"

- Consequentiality, interactions with a living agent will have possibly stronger, more immediate and more long term consequences?

Some Questions - 

- Is it a potential threat maybe even waiting for the PCs?

- Is it something that might notice the PCs and will respond if it does.

- Is it a big active thing (the jamboree) which will be very obviously noticed, but might not notice or react to the PCs even if they just straight-up walk in there.

Obviously the active nature of any element makes it 'more obvious' which brings in a different argument. It might benefit us to consider the following idea which, though rare in practice, does neatly separate 'livingness' from 'obviousness'.

- Is it an invisible being, which will obviously not be noticed by the PCs, but which will may notice and react to them?




I AM NOVEL!


"I am a piece of information very different to what the Players, PCs and DM have encountered and described so far, so much is this the case that I should be moved to the front, my novelty should precede all other elements"

How "different to expected" does a situation have to be to move it up the priority list?

Like if its clearings in a forest, and a storm has been raging anyway, then you don't need to know - "hey the storm is still raging here". And if its a 'standard dungeon' with stone walls, 1 foot corridors etc, sconces with flaming torches every so often, then there being another 30ft by 30ft stone room is not a big deal

But if the weather is very different in this one place, or if the rooms shape, substance etc is very different than expected, then that should be a bid.

A key concept here being the difference to the already-running set of assumptions between the players, PCs and DM.

Interesting - every adventure and series of play ends up creating its own structure of assumptions about the environment and situation being simulated or talked about, and these assumptions grow and deepen in depth as play goes on. 

So for the start of an adventure or dungeon, everything is novel to some extent, but as play proceeds, we would expect everything new to make some kind of sense with what went before, if it comes from the same 'adventure'. Even a 'funhouse dungeon' has the built-up logic of 'ok this is a funhouse dungeon, expect everything to be unique, bounded by place, puzzely and a bit gonzo." So if it suddenly started 'making sense', i.e. being contiguous and more like a coherent story or environment, then it would make less sense...






I AM A GLOBAL PHENOMENA!


"I am a global phenomena, like light, or weather, or a sticky sweaty cloud, I reach out and I affect a lot of things, and everything I effect shows some result of this, to the extent that both the DM and the Players and the PCs should know about this soon, sooner than anything else"

The range and 'wideness' of the phenomena’s interactions, the more 'global' it is, the more things is touches upon, affects or changes, then the further up the list it goes.

Difficult to separate this from 'obviousness' and 'consequentiality'.

AND - such global phenomena are much more likely to be familiar- non-novel. Things like light, weather, smells, gasses, gravity effects, all seem likely to 'spread' and therefore to be more common in the adventure.

All of these arguments gain in strength from mutual combination but this one perhaps has one of the weakest 'bids' when considered in a singular sense.




I AM IN MY TRADITIONAL AND CUSTOMARY POSITION

"I am where I always am! The DM knows where to find me quickly and if you move me from this position I will be harder to locate, slowing down comprehension and even  disordering all other information, making the whole section harder to understand!"

This is an important argument!

It is the similitude, place and placement of information *within a block of text* that allows the reader to rapidly scan and know ahead of time, what information will be where.

So that, if the *sequence* of information is always the same, even if the information ahead of the vital text is boring, repetitive or irrelevant, as in; "a square stone room, 50ft each side", then so long as this information is *always* at the start then the eye may scan rapidly over it and therefore latch onto the part of the description which is novel, active, consequential or necessary.

It seems to me that this is a much more potent argument when applied  to titling and information hierarchies as a whole rather than *within* the short initial text blocks I'm considering here.
It may matter more where something is on a page than where it is in a paragraph.

A danger is the 'numbing' effect of regularly repeated identical or very similar low-consequence information which the DM must read through to get to the important stuff.

The two negative possibilities that spring to mind are firstly, that the DM might just miss something important because the text has trained them to 'skip over' or scan certain sections, and secondly the more subtle danger that the similitude of 'dead' or repetitive text disconnects the DM from the imagined world, quenches their inspiration and engagement, to put it simply; it bores them. 

And if text is boring the DM it must therefore have a negative effect on the game.

There should be room here, a necessity even, for *some* flexibility regarding the customary and regular arrangement of a piece of work, absolute regularity, at all times, regardless of consequence or circumstance, is stultifying, deadening, and perhaps ultimately, not useful.

In fact its necessary to hold in mind at all times; "Is this actually interesting to read?"

Not everything on an adventure page or spread can be interesting all the time, and if *everything* is interesting, then that might be too much for the DM to handle and have another, different, negative effect.

But, there must be interest, even if it comes at the price of ease of comprehension, because that interest, engagement and enlivening of the imagination is the absolute core of the experience, much more than any simply procession of techniques.

nevertheless, this argument of 'accustomed position' should perhaps form the initial strongest bid, against which the others might perhaps combine their values, overwhelming it if enough of them have a strong enough argument,

And of course, there is a meta-element here, because if there is a common structure to the ordering of text in a piece of work, then that very initial structure is subject to exactly the same bidding war as any specific paragraph



Thursday, 25 March 2021

Velvet Hooks: Xaxavraznazak

  • fast and back
  • long body like a seahorse
  • galloping legs
  • it is LATE
  • it has a schedule planned
  • worried, afraid, talking to itself about its thoughts
  • recurseively
  • does not feel inertia (hw?)
  • often goes the wrong way
  • wants to be faster
  • has multiple schemes
  • a horde of enchanted objects related to movement, flying shoes, any-door-key, teleport spell, magic horse
  • does not use them, just ponders them
  • it thinks it is a scientist
  • tends to destroy its subjects, especially those which are alive
  • hates magic, steals spellbooks
  • a materialist
  • turns the spells into equations and those into little men and eats those
  • no ecology, no reason for being, simply IS
  • eats spells baked into little men and only this NOTHING ELSE
  • breathes prismatic fire
  • breaks things into miniature versions of themselves
  • (there are multiples of this thing?????)
  • puts tiny people in huge mazes
  • sometimes the tiny people escape
  • it might know how to reverse the breath
  • it says the breath thing is simply a technique (because magic isn't real)
  • sometimes shamefully uses magic items to steal other magic items (relating to speed, travel especially)







SO


The Xaxavraznaak, a Beast Inconceivable. 

Onieric, thaumaturgic, exotic, Extra-Cosmic (perhaps), interruptive, its method of generation unknown, its method of subsistence known, but inconceivable. Is it a passenger from some other Realm, or a product of this one? does it have a soul? Does it have a name, other than 'Xaxavraznazak'? Is it a creature of natural science, unnatural science, impossible science or inconceivable knowledge?
Like an interruption in reality, madness given form.

Clearly a solid and coherent living thing, and one that can be encountered in a way regular enough that its worthwhile finding out facts about it.

It doesn't seem to be a devil, demon or angel. At least it doesn't go around persistently doing super good or super-evil things, and has no known relationship to any particular god or faith, its not the only Xaxavraznazak ever, (unlike say, the Eno@ian Wyrm, a singular and legendary entity), there are rumours, stories and records of Xaxavraznazaks in distant places and long ago times.

Neither is it entirely a natural creature, like the Zug-Zug, (a Beast Material, yet Rare,) for it can move faster than most things bound to physical laws, feels no inertia, has a strange power of breath. Its only food is magical books, though we do not know how many it needs and when.

It is also self-aware, intelligent and has long-term goals, though its not clear if it is a Named Person. 'Xaxavraznazak' may be a title.

What makes sense of this insane being? We have only theories.

Most suppose that magic is the cause. Perhaps a certain spell that all magicians inevitably try to perform, or the result of circmventing the laws of speed too much and getting bonked by Reality. Another theory; this is what happens when a High Level magician goes totally nuts. Or; this is what crawls out of the corpse of a high-level magician, (or its a spell given form, which is why it needs to eat spells).

is the Xaxavraznazak a self-closing wound in reality? Something left behind when a great mage ascends, dies, or simply exits this world? Or a long-term plot or tool left by powerful mages specifically as a spell-collector and destroyer, something to make sure no other mage ever follows in their path, or at least, that only the subtlest ever do...



ITS MEANS OF PROPIGATION


There is the possibility of a curse. Perhaps the creatures bite. Or perhaps the killer of the creature takes on its aspect. Perhaps some artefact in the creatures collection is the true source of the curse, or some particular _form of knowledge_, there are rumours of a pattern of knowledge which is itself infections and transformative, and the inference that the Xaxavraznazak is a kind of container for this knowledge, making sure it does not spread, and that this is the source of its neuroses





ITS EFFECT ON SOCIETY


By collecting these things, it is slowing down the world, and likewise, by collecting spellbooks, it acts as a limiter on magic.

This is one reason magicians hide the fact that they are magicians, and why those with spell books will always lie about the fact that they have them. 

That might be one reason why society, cities, kings and tribes, don't really mind the fact that it is around. Simply by existing the Xaxavraznazak limits the explicit power of magicians, limits the buildup of magical knowledge, forces them underground and likewise it prevents the breaking of boundaries, the crossing of spaces at impossible speeds, the breaking into well-guarded zones, the breaching of borders, the entry into prisons, towers, etc. In some ways this is a limit on human ambition but it also strongly shifts power away from classical spellcasters and towards governments and societies which wield material power. Its strange aversion to using magic itself, or even admitting to its use, also helps. 

So, we imagine the minister or Vizier might think; let this child of chaos, itself limit chaos.






KILLING THE XAXAVRAZNAZAK


On the OTHER hand, if one WERE to ... incapacitate, perhaps kill the Xaxavraznazak, then all of its collected artefacts would fall to the posessor, and with such tools and wonders the posessor would be perhaps akin to a kind of demi-god, able to travel wherever they wished, as fast as they liked, (surely), so it is a wonder, really, that no-one has managed it so far, (that we know of).

Really, most state groups are more likely to be trying to defend the Xaxavraznazak. Or at least to limit the ablity of others to grab its treasure.

Its fine if they (the government) grab those treasures. But since that can't be absolutely guarunteed, you would have to work through intermediaries and whomever actually gets their hands on the stuff first would actually have it, and by having it, be eaily able to escape with it, then it might be better not to even try.

Honestly, the only people with something against the Xaxavraznazak would be those it steals from, and those trying to steal from it.


THINGS IN ITS HORDE


  1. the worlds fastest horse
  2. other fast animals - cages full of birds
  3. road-runners, emus, kangeroos
  4. imagined steam engines
  5. da-vinci flying machines
  6. new forms of ship, say an entire tea-clipper
  7. ten mile boots
  8. door to anywhere
  9. key to any door
  10. rideable cloud (trapped in a jar)
  11. moon cannon
  12. ancient von danekin class condor-style solar airplane
  13. flying sandals
  14. mirror of journeys
  15. actual time-sand (time-travel being the ultimate travel accelerator)




POSSIBLE HOOKS


- "I was robbed by the Xaxavraznazak - get my book back before it eats it." A simple task from a simple magician, but there is nothing wrong with the classics.


- "I was blasted by its breath and made tiny by the Xaxavraznazak, get me its guts!" - The Raging Mage Swarm. This would actually be a pretty horrific thing to encounter, a person-shaped swarm made up if identical and individually-tiny people. Worse still if they are a magician, what happens if they all try to cast the same spell? Do you get a swarm of smaller spell effects? Impossible to nullify them all.
With some gigantifying magic, this swarm of mini-wizards could become simply a colony of identical wizards..

The whole 'colony-swarm mage' thing is more a potential villain or major setting element that could possibly be resolved by killing the Xaxavraznazak.


- "I am the Grand Vizier, someone is trying to rob or kill the Xaxavraznazak, we want you to stop them, or at least, make sure they don't succeed (without leaving a trace)."

The idea of the PCs playing potentially traitorous hirelings to a super high-level party is a so-far unexplored possibility in D&D I think.


- "I am the High Chancellor, we want you to rob the Xaxavraznazak of this very specific item but you have to switch out the items so that it doesn't know it has been robbed."

(Only stealing one thing hopefully won't trigger the intervention of other states and hiding the theft hopefully won't trigger the Xaxavraznazak.)



- "We are trying to trap the Xaxavraznazak so we need to assemble a library of magical books, or, more likely, create the impression that we have assembled one. Then we need to find a way to trap and contain the creature when it comes.


- "I am a secret master of magicians and we already have a super-secret library of magical books and/or speed-imbuing magical items for study and we are afraid the Xaxavraznazak has found out about them, or is about to. We need someone to defend the collection!






FLAWS


Gotta say I wrote a pretty weird monster. I have no idea where this stands in the system of adventure. The closest thing to it in other games is maybe something like the Jabberocky? A creature of near-dragon power, but very highly conditional, and with a highly specific range of threats and flaws.


It really is more like a Lewis Carrol monster than anything else. I wonder how many of these I made?

I also feel like I didn't do a great job on the Hooks, despite all the verbiage above. Sigh, things were simpler in the Yam Lands. Perhaps you sweet souls can do better.