Thursday 28 February 2013

Guano made bombs in WW1


A barrier become a bridge. Will highlight as you cross and soon decay.

Converging winds knit a temporary frozen micro-climate. Water-dwellers caught half in half out. Freeze-thaw cracks ebmoss the stone. You can briefly climb across, or through. Its bright. he floor is knives and forks* of ice glimmering and glittering, casting back and fracturing your light, blinding you and winding. Thaws in d4 hours and will not freeze again for days.


A face-forward sidestepping crawl across the highest point.

Climbing with your face against the rock, moving across with darkness falling below. A roof crawl defined by its distance from the ground. A half-foot path, a foot turned lengthwise takes up half the space, a zig zag up. (At the top is someone selling something because everyone has been here before.) Press your hands against the cave roof for balance. Balance balance balance.


A piled white desert of fossilised poisonous shit.

Bats, birds or something worse. Cracks under your feet sometimes. Lots and lots of flesh eating grubs. Baby bones everywhere, bird or bat being devoured. It has their attention for now. Fungal infections, Incapacitating smell. You weep yellow tears. Anyone who lies bleeding in the dirt is fucked.. Now or later. Blinding chemical dust.


Bends and twists like an elephants trunk fiddling with a twig.

Elephant-sized, you could throw one down. Tusk-curved stalactites line the walls arranged in radial spirals like the saarlacs mouth. Tips vibrate with distant hums and clue you in to secret falls. They quiver like tuning forks and moan sadly. Remind you of things you forgot long ago. Two small holes lead out, each going to a different path.


Poylhedral cave, the exit blocked by a giant crystal.

Shape of the cave is whichever platonic solid you pull blindly out of your dice bag or pocket, tilted on its point. The crystal piston spikes through like a brass tack pinning it to the ground. Vibrating like giant quartz watch. Clues to the movement. converge with insane hums like a galactic bee. Crystal stack shivering thumb-blurs like hornet wings, growing like contractions. Humming and crackling. Goes apeshit if you try to break it. Days sometimes. Possible truce area. Tracks, fire pits, score marks on the walls. The test is waiting. It will hover out rhythmically in d6 days, obeying hidden laws.

*not spoons

Wednesday 27 February 2013

'Vognado' is a stupid name.


Pale translucent grass growing even as it dies.

A forced meander slows the river in a curl. The water drops organics. Soil, seeds, chemicals and eggs. NITRATES. Nutrient-rich mulch covered in pale, dying, sunless hypercharged plants. This soil hurts, it writhes with biting life. As valuable, dangerous and desired as a middle eastern oil field.


Upwards waterfall of boiling acid Vog. Encrusted with skeletons.

The river plunges into a sulphurous lava pit, evaporates and boils directly up. Condenses on the rotting roof, drips down and re-forms. Bones everywhere, anything caught within dies. Handy if you need bones. Surrounded with sulphurous mists. The most gothic thing ever.


Climbable doughnut of toxic shards.

A helix of crystals and toxic rocks around a smoking pit of chemical fire. Like a passable cage of dripping blades. Climbable and poisonous. Roof is full of chemo-maggot ratholes, crystals are piled like a snakeskin shucked off in a narrow gap.


Natural gasses douse your lights.

Squat globular cave hanging in its entry points like a ball in a cats cradle of tubes. No speleothems. Ways in and out lead up. The invisible gasses collecting here douse all burning flames and kill you slow. Temperature gradient gives the clue, cold air near ground may permit a spark.


Crammed with crazed giant helictites

They spiral like drinking straws left near a high heat. Flows of strange viscosity inside. Must be climbed through like mad monkey bars. Ignoring gravity, an empty space in the topographic core. Like a calcite jungle with weird fluids oozing from the tips.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

I forgot what a 'lapaiz' is


White fleshy blooms are crushing the cave, cupping hands around it's centre like a throat.

The rock is cracked and bulging like a paving slab broken from below. Touching the foamy mass makes it tremble and close another radial foot. When the fungal valve seals the cave it will bleed liquid stone. The fungal overmind has a very important reason for doing this which you should immediately invent and keep secret.


A chain of huge, linked overhangs in the distant ceiling of a cave.

A chain of broken half-tubes in a high roof. Possibly the relics of a lava tube or collapsed river bed. The tube chunks must be leapt between mario-style. The linier arrangement leads to a chimney or crack in the cave wall that yakes you down, then back across the floor below in the opposite direction. The ground floor is a new cave type, roll again.


An enclosed space filled with light.

A high ceiling and utterly clear, smooth walls that rise thirty feet or more then bow out invisibly like a muffin top. The roof, far above, is bright. Either semi-precious gems, or veins of burning tar, reflective obsidian shards or prsim'd crystals. High, unreachable and cascading light. It feels like entering an outdoor space. There is no cover here of any kind and no-where to hide.


A cave shaped from below by deep-earth chemistry.

This cave has nothing to do with normal formations. It shape is wrong, like a tear made of tears. An entry to a stranger level of the world. One not shaped by comprehensible life. Sulphur rots the rock. Walls are tooth-torn gashes, scars of invisible claws, floor a ripple of rips like torn chicken. Rivers entering will change after this point.


Crammed with impossibly beautiful bright stone flowers.

Blooms in elemental chemical shades. Sharp arsenic yellow, cerulian blue, heart-blood-bright red. A blurring blaze of unexpected colour. Wild animals (not monsters) will be surprisingly calm here. Narrow winding paths lead through. Smashed flowers are razor sharp and sometimes poisonous. Unusual ones can be valuable to sighted buyers.

Saturday 23 February 2013

More Fucking Caves


A tram-line maze of man-sized V-shaped bottomless corridors.

The path narrows. Your hands press the corridors slanting sides. The floor falls away. A gap between your feet the width of a cat-flap or horizontal letterbox. Inside the gap: nothing*. Your path transits across the roof of a vast unseen cavern. Water far below. Its hard to fall through a space that small. Its hard not to.


Stooped cave shaped like the narrowing field of vision of a play.

A low space. Bend over. Grows lower in one direction, widens out opposite. Like giants crammed on a tiny stage. Floor covered with artful speleothems. Tiny gypsum flowers, stalagtites and mites. Wild miniature helictites. Like an impossible model landscape of a distant space grown in alien rock and mineral shades. The audience zone is a screaming abyss.


A simple convex slope at 45 degrees. No holds or marks.

A huge chunk of unlikely granite. Smooth and impermeable. No pitons. Convex like a spoons back and tilted. 40 + d20 degrees. Rough and frictive. Can be balance-walked. If you slip, the rock will have your skin or you will slide to your death. (Fall can be arrested with soft-tissue loss. Yours or anyone you can grab in time.)


A shitty bridge of flakey rock. Made by under-wizards and crypto-races.

Magic evaporates stone to cryoclastic flow, wafts it into place and lets it set. The result- a bridge of 'tuff' shitty flakey cakey yellow rock in the shape of frozen clouds. Take years to decay. Are rarely safe. Take you somewhere someone else wanted to go.


A field of truck-sized barely-balanced rocks.

Flat, high-ceilinged cave. Full of massive boulders. Gaps form a maze. Touch one, it's chance of moving is 50%. If one slams another its chance is 80%. They domino.


Building-sized boulders crammed in a cave. Climb, then hop across.

The cracks between too small to navigate. Fall down and you just have to climb back. Hop the tops. Some mega-boulders shift if you fight on them.


J-curve slope with sparse rocks. Widowmaker on the peak.

A sparse boulder field that curves like a ski jump. Teetering giga-rock knife-edged at the top. Climbing up is hard, sliding likely. Anyone next to the widowmaker has the nuke button.


A curling tube of smooth climbable rock. Non-vertical. Etrrnal hurricane at it's core.

Wierd continent-scaled convections put an endless tornado at the centre of this shaft. Boiling there like white DNA. A sargasso twister with forgotten, fleshless, armour-bound bodies and knots of ancient rope falling in and out of the stormcore over years. They go past fast. Dont jump.


The ghost of a mighty forest. It's inverse shape.

Lava swept over gigantic trees and cooled fast. The trees rotted leaving basalt in a tree-mold shape. That chunk of land fell into the earth. In real terms, tall, thin vertical caves in black rock. Linked by numerous crawl-passages right at the top in every direction. (And possibly the roots below.)


An impossible climb made passable by ancient webs rusting iron.

A cats cradle of climbs and crosses. Perhaps regular and comprehensible, perhaps not. The air tastes of rust and blood and broken batteries. Hope like fuck there's not a lighting strike somewhere.

*If anyone falls through the floor, drops their light but hangs on, take them aside and tell them this. 'You look down between your kicking legs and see your light fall fall fall for long long seconds. It sparks and bounces, strikes something. The light escapes and the burning oil highlights the side of an ebony ship. Briefly as the black sails burn the firelight sculpts a model of its shape. Tear-sized figures dash with tiny sticks waving bright tips. In the micro-fragment of the infinite sea below, a pale pearl-coloured whale breaches and swamps the ship. The lights go out. Hands pull you back. Never speak of this again.'

Friday 22 February 2013

The tactical annals of patronage

I have just finished Piers Macksey's The War for America. So, for no particular reason, here are some of my favourite parts. macksey writes a cutting and elegant assesment of character. Sometimes over pages, somethimes in one line.

Lord North

Neither appearance, nor character, nor interests equipped Lord North to dominate a war administration. His figure was clumsy and his movement awkward. A large tongue thickened his articulation. Two prominent myopic eyes rolled about in his face to no purpose, and with his wide mouth, thick lips and inflated cheeks 'gave him the air of a blind trumpeter'. His skills were those of peace. He was a man of culture and personal charm; of patience for dull understandings, wit which never wounded, humour which never ridiculed. He was proud of being a good manager of the House of Commons, and few surpassed him in the political art: the manoeuvre by which he jobbed his half-brother into the bishopric of Winchester ranks high in the tactical annals of patronage. Almost single-handed he defended his Ministry in Parliament year after year against the bitter invective and dialectical brilliance of a ferocious opposition. His knowledge of the House, his accessibility, his even temper and his aptitude for raising a laugh baffled and infuriated his rivals. But of war this civilised man knew nothing: 'Upon military matters I speak ignorantly, and therefore without effect.' He did not enjoy war; nor was he ever confident of victory.”

This man was Prime Minister for almost the entire length of the War of Independence. He would hide in corners to avoid discussing things. 'The tactical annals of patronage' might be my favourite sentence in the whole book.

Germain – The American secretary and as close as Britain ever got to a strategic head for the American war. Mackesy writes for several lovely pages about this odd man but the most pertinent and powerful is his final line “... for all his talents, he lacked the magic gift of Pitt: the power to frighten and inspire.”

A cabinet meeting -

North and Bathurst fell asleep at once, Hillsborough nodded and dropped his hat. Sandwich was overcome at first, but then rubbed his eyes and looked attentive. Stormont read the papers aloud and discussed them with Thurlow and Germain, while Amherst sat awake but as usual silent. The others then woke up and approved the proceedings.

This may indite the business methods of the North Ministry and the general habit of taking important decisions as an appendix to dinner...”

At the time Britain was locked in war with two world Empires, fighting a rebellious colony abroad, soon to start another fight with the Dutch (because why not?) and was being regularly threatened with mass invasion. It is a fucking miracle this country is still here.

There are multiple occasions where the empire is in immediate danger and a decision has to reached immediately but no-one can find the cabinet because it's summer and they have gone home for the holidays. The secretary of war, at one point, complains that he has only one day per week for personal business. Excuding weekends.

Don't fuck with the American secretary, he will draw on you bitch.
The occasion was seized by the Opposition to provoke Germain. Temple Luttrell compared Burgoyne's conduct favourably with that of the American Secretary, who he said had been promoted for disobedience and cowardice. Two years earlier Germain had sat quiet under a similar shower of Luttrell insults; but now he started up in a rage and denounced him as an assassin of the most wretched character and malice. 'Old as I am', he continued, 'and young as the hon. member, I will meet that fighting gentleman and be revenged.' There was an immediate uproar and two hours of confusion. Germain retracted, but Luttrell had to be ordered into custody before the two men would satisfy the House with an apology.”

The French Fleet -

Provisions were low, the sick in the French ships equalled the healthy, and so many dead were going overboard that Devon gave up eating fish.” - I hope to Christ this means that they were freaked by the bodies washing up and not that they were eating the bodies.

Rodney – our most corrupt, lucky and most competent admiral

Ones view of Sir George Rodney depended on whether one was a politician, a creditor or a friend. He was a sociable man. Women and play were his pastimes; and his elegant, slightly effeminate presence was well-known at the dinner table, voluble and indiscreet. Like Wolfe he fought his future battles over the mahogany, always returning to his favourite subject, which was Sir George Rodney.”

Some tiny grain of resolution had momentarily asserted itself in the Prime Minister.”

But in strategy tidy arguments are usually achieved by ignoring the complex of facts and guesses which form decisions.”

One of the many strange inversions of the book is that you end up respecting King George a lot more than you thought you would. The leader of a corrupt system can be the least corrupt member of it.

It's also the least whig history history book I have ever read. It manages to reasonably propose a strong alternative to events as they were but with enough rigour to avoid collapsing into the abyss of counterfactuals.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Eight more caves

Eight more caves


Drop 2d6 vertical feet onto an island in a shore-less stream.

Water laps the island rim. There is no bank or beach but only walls. Upstream the river rises in rapids or waterfalls. Downstream it dives beneath the touching stone. An arrow scratched, and the flow of air, gives direction. The sump is d4 minutes long with d4 air pockets. The island is a balancing boulder.


A wide flat cave curved like letters C or J. A floor of sand.

The river is a trickle. The dunes in sweeps and fans are damp and waist-high. The cave will flood violently in d20+5 minutes and stay flooded for d20 minutes. The cycle repeats. You leave wet crunching tracks. So does anything else. Bodies and lost items washed away might rest here for a while.


The water shows the way under the stone.

To pass, dive and blackly search. Standard sump is d4 minutes long with d4 air pockets. It will feel longer. Fear will kill you. You will exit in blackness, wrap up a candle or a lamp for passage. Scratches and signs may tell the way and time.


A space so vast it can't be seen.

Light disappears without return. You fingertip-trace one wall and follow it round. This takes 4d4 hours. Crossing takes 1/3 that. Whenever players understand it's size, by echo delay, or trying to cross, Save vs Paralysis. Attackers retreat in the dark. Giga-boulder maze and a wide sandy centre-space.


Like a randomised semi-organic Luxor.

Calcite columns so close only one can pass at a time. You climb through long ellipses shaped like sleepy eyes. Echo's scatter and light gets trapped fast. Use dropped coins or dice to map.


Imagine a jar of marbles with an ant climbing through.

You are the ant. Vast breakdown pile filling a shaft. House-sized irregular rocks, car-sized gaps. Drafts or trailing smoke may lead the way. You can drop down without climbing checks. Passage gaps in every downward direction. Half have no way past.


A cluster of vast defensible stalagmites in the centre of an open cave

The cave is an irregular doughnut. Around 13 giant centre-columns clustered close together can be got amongst and climbed. You can leap from top to flattened top. There is something good up there. 10% chance of a prison built in the centre column space.


A rappel shaped like thick liquid being poured from a curved glass.

That image is the shape of the empty space. A curving lip, a drop straight down. Wide first, then narrowing. In the middle a descender can pause and 'chimney', back flat on one side and feet out on the other. Then slowly widening again.. Fallers will hit the funnel and grab. Jumpers may survive.

And two re-writes in the hope of greater clarity.


A path down through stone of shallow pools linked by streams.

A narrow staircase in the rock. The 'steps' are 3d4 pools you can jump between. 4 to 6 vertical feet. Swim/wade across. Anyone fighting can grapple and throw themselves down into the next pool as a free action, SO LONG AS THEY TAKE THE OTHER GUY WITH THEM.


A smooth, saxaphone-shaped chamber. Valved, wet, regularly refills.

Flowing and shaped like the inside of a wind instrument lying flat. Many tiny exits. Puddles and pools. Living fish flap. Will refill, violently and unstoppably every d30 minutes, them empty again. forever.

Saturday 16 February 2013

Seven Experimental Caves

Its very hard to find the correct balance between too little information and too much. 

The first lines are to go in the table and provide and instant idea the DM can improvise with. The rest is to to somewhere else and be remembered or looked up very quickly when necessary.

I could add a lot more descriptive crap to each of these but it would make them weigh more in the head and harder to use so I don't know.

Names are chosen as a combination of instantly descriptive, colourful and re-memorable. You are not meant to use them talking to the players. There is only one Fountain of Fontestorbe but a hundred caves that do that thing.


Stepped stone pools and streams. Fordable. Descending.

A giant staircase. 3d4 pools. You can jump. 4 to 6 vertical feet. Swim/wade across. Anyone fighting can grapple and throw themselves down into the next pool as a free action, SO LONG AS THEY TAKE THE OTHER GUY WITH THEM.


Giant china plates with razor sides. Splayed like cards.

3d6 shallow pools rimmed by fragile, beautiful, razor sharp flowstone. Water knee high. Combat fumbles take chunks from the flowstone rims and crack them like crockery. Broken pools overflow in sequence.


Fallen stone or shattered faults. Cracked, crooked and flooded hip-width paths.

A nightmare of irregular cracked rocks, waist-high full of water. Imagine a bucket of smashed slates, piled. An ant to navigate them. You are the ant. The path-walls grow face-close. You turn side-on. Save against paralysis or freeze.


A plane of turquoise water, still and flat as glass.

Knee high, hip high, chest high, neck high, then out. (Do not tell players the depth.) The sky-coloured water makes you homesick and sad (the only blue thing you'll see.)


Roaring abyssal falls of unknowable depth.

A waterfall plunging beyond the lanterns rays. No way to know the depth before you climb. The sound drowns speech, no warning of sound. Ask who the players are looking at.


Clear, deep water. Full of house-sized marbles.

You can wade across this pool walking on the surface of the house-sized hyper-oolites that rest in it. They are perfect spheres with the tops almost breaching the surface. Draw circles and ask players where they are. Leap/swim from sphere to sphere.


Smooth valved chamber, wet and regularly refills.

Flowing and curved like the inside of a brass wind instrument. Many tiny exits. Puddles and pools. Living fish flap. Will refill, violently and unstoppably every d30 minutes, forever.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Why Monsters

I have been making monsters for so long that many of you may have forgotten why I am making them. Perhaps I have as well. I shall speak until I have reminded both of us what I am doing and why.

This is long And rambles, and is long.

I am making a book called 'Veins of the Earth' which is meant to be like Vornheim but for the Underdark.

It is taking a LOT longer than I thought. My capacity for work and amount of self-will is lower than I thought. It takes me longer that I hoped to come up with good, or at least semi-original ideas.

My principals for this blog are generally about when not to blog something.

If someone has already done it. Don't blog.
If its about RPG's and it's not adding something to what is already there. Don't blog.
If its an opinion. Probably don't blog.
If its an opinion about someone else's opinion. DON'T BLOG.
Arguments are for understanding things.
Don't get involved in an argument unless you 1. are sure you know a lot about it and can add something useful. 2. Are prepared to have your mind changed. And 3. Are prepared to muster your energies and persist in the narrow gap between almost-aggressive hyper-certainty and flaccid abandonment.
This means I rarely argue on the internet.

One of the good, and shit, things about the internet is that it is full of interesting and intelligent people who have probably had most of your good idea's before you have. The number of times I have had a powerful but half-formed idea about something and then seen someone else make a well constructed blog-post about it that makes the same point better than I would have made it, (like here) is beyond count. The number of times I have had an interesting counter-argument to something and then seen someone else make the same argument, better, and faster, is also large.

So what does this have to do with monsters?

Nothing so far, why am I writing it? I will go on.

The Encounter Table

The central table is meant to be an equivalent to the big city encounter table in Vornheim. The most necessary part of the book. The part that if you were editing the whole thing and doing sophie's choice with every page and you cut everything away until there was only one thing left, then this would be that thing.

The brief plan was this. Three columns, fifty rows.

Column one is topographic cave types. In Vornheim each of the encounters is carefully made. They are almost like mini-plot hooks. In a city you can (usually) go around anything you don't want to meet, so city encounters can't just be a dangerous thing in the road, they need hooks. The Vornheim encounters 'stick' onto the PC's like velcro. If they engage, fine. If they don't, there are usually consequences to not engaging. The plot will come looking for you. In some the history of the game reforms so you are already involved. That's 'your' friend in the cage, or 'your' stuff the thieves stole.

But in caves this is quite different. As opposed to freedom of movement they are defined by dramatic loss of that freedom. In real caving almost all of the effort is moving places the geography doesn't want you to go. The deepest cave expeditions are generational. You cannot explore them in one lifetime. If I made a cave adventure book like this it would be sort-of-interesting an a very particular way and not at all what I wanted.

So column one is to present the kind of movement-challenges that might be encountered in caves but in a toy-box way. That is, in a real cave journey it is much more likely that the route you are following will end at a blank impassible wall. Only very occasionally will you actually get somewhere. In the book, it's meant to be the other way round. Each challenge is designed to restrict or shape the movements of the group in some way. Its also assumed that they can overcome this challenge. (Though it makes no assumption as to how) It is not a true random geography generator in which sometimes you are just fucked.

So Column one is cave types. This will be the next thing I am doing on the blog. You can expect things to be a lot less interesting around here as describing topographical challenges in clear, short, game-applicable English is much less charismatic than crazy monsters.

Column two is beauty, poetry and strangeness. Reading a lot of books about cave exploration it seemed evident to me that one of the most powerful things drawing explorers was a kind of formless wonder that no-one involved ever clearly describes. But it fills them up and animated them. (There is a part in Ten Years Under The Earth where Nobert Casternet comes to the edge of a waterfall no-one has seen before. He stares into the darkness and cannot reall for how long, or in Fortnoys hisotry of the earth where, descending the grand canyon he sees that a yellow sandstone strata has billows of dunes and the footprints of ancient insects written in the rock) Like sex in Dracula (the book) it's everywhere but no-one talks about it. It was important to me that underground spaces be beautiful in unexpected and powerful ways. This imaginative energy also helps an old-school dm as it provides the unrefined fuel for improvisation.

Column three is the living things you encounter when you are in the cave with your movement restricted, hopefully being deranged by the alien beauty.

My intention was originally that you could open the book to this page and roll and encounter and just start a game straight away, filling in the rest of the information you need with the rest of the book as it came up.

I have failed in this intention.

The thing with Vornheim is that if you open to the encounter table and roll an encounter, you don't have to tit around with the rest of the book very much to work out what happens. Its all right there on the page.

But my encounter table won't be like that. Because I was obsessed with creating new monsters. Ones no-one had done before, I had to describe them, to myself mainly, so I understood them. People seemed to like that and I got a bit carried away. Also, if you are making a new thing it takes a lot of words to cart the fragile new ideas into someone else's head. Description.

So you won't be able to read my encounter table and use it straight away because each of the living things described in it is somewhat unlike any other monster you know of. That means you either need to pause to look it up, or pre-read the book. So I have kind-of fucked myself. I can live with it as the new monsters are generally interesting enough to me to justify the failure.

So how did I do? And what must I do?

By my own standards.

If I have failed the test of brevity, I think I have generally passed the test of originality.

A good monster has this-

It is an unexpected and powerful idea which can be communicated in a few words. Geltatinous Cube is the perfect example of this. Describes in two words. Impossible to forget once you have heard it. Name forms a poetic paradox in your head that locks it in place. Geltinous. Cube.

How many of these ideas have this? Some. I think. Many do not.

Another problem with originality is that the intention is not to describe things directly but to put them inside the head of the DM who will then describe them to other people. You are not making a normal form of art, you are making a virus. It is not to be looked at, it is to infect people, go inside them and then they do actions round a game table with other people. These actions cannot be predicted but they are the real monster, not the description in the book.

This happens in three stages.

Firstly you fill the head of the DM with imaginative energy. This makes them want to run the monsters and to be in that world.

Secondly, you give them simple direct things the monsters can actually do when they interact with the players, this means when the DM is frantic, distracted and dealing with a lot of shit they have a simple behavioural/aesthetic 'handle' on the beast so they can have it do things in the game straight away. (You could write for careful DM's who account for everything in advance and o not franticly need stuff during the game but that's not the kind of person I am so not really who I am imagining. It suggests the DM was in too much control of events, that what they expected to happen is what actually did happen, which is a kind of silent failure)

Thirdly, these interactions are carefully modulated and planned ahead so they don't fuck each other up and send the game spinning.

Obviously the third concern is almost irrelevant for Old school DM's, it's a kind of 4th Ed worry (which they dealt with quite well). But most of my creations need work on one or both of the first and second things. Eventually the third column should have a name, a brief sensory description to tell the DM how the PC's sense and encounter the living thing it describes, and a brief behavioural note so they know what it is likely to do in the first seconds. Check the beastiary for full description.

So. Some are underwritten, but the idea is there. Will have to go back and punch them up a bit later.

Many are vaguely powerful ideas but with little to connect them to the playing experience. Or are overwritten.


Zack Smith asked if I was doing dungeons for any of these. I intend to. The idea is a kind of one-page dungeon equivalent for each of the intelligent races. They are going to be based on a kind of underground silk-road (so the players have a good economic reason to go long distances) Each dungeon would actually be a kind of trading post/dungeon/mystery/fight. Like an American TV show where every week holy shit a new mystery to solve oh crap the rocks are alive oh god a a bear crushed chad to death after it set him on fire run oh shit but they left diamonds in this obsidian crypt sweet. And DM's can string them together as they wish.

Magic items and trade goods with Archean and deep-earth silicon chemistry will be really hard. I may need to get a new stack of books just for that.


Humanoid things you can have a conversation with – Seven?
Fungal or symbiotically fungal – Five.
Small things but big – Ten.
Predators from outside space and time – Three.
Ancient culture gone horribly wrong – Eight.
Made from rock (sort of) – Seven.
Draws creative energy from the depth of geological time – eight.

Lessons learnt.

I peaked around Christmas with the AntiPhoenix and the Archeans. Maybe it was the solitude and the time off work that did it.

If you write an entry in poetry it will be massively unpopular and actually reduce hits around it like a crack house bringing down prices. I REGRET NOTHING.

Naming things after German forms of light makes them hard to invent and paradoxically unpopular.

Gerard Manley Hopkins is an excellent poet. For some reason I like the religious parts at the end less than the rest, this seems somehow unfair to Hopkins. Like I'm robbing him.

It's hard to concentrate on one thing for an hour.

I need to manage my time better.

I need more focus and self-control.

It takes a LOT of books to fuel a good idea.

(maybe I like reading too much and have let it become a form of prevarication)

If you want cave explorations that read like thrillers or military expeditions, go to the Americans, if you want poetry and wonder you need the Europeans.

Duregar should be like evil Swiss. Are they neutral evil? Lawful?

Sunday 10 February 2013

miscellaneous freelancing loners

from La Place de la Concorde Suisse

'Massey, at the centre of a cluster of soldiers, removed from his pack a bottle of wine. Massey's pack looked like a launcher of ground-to-air missiles. He began his refresher course with his tire-bouchon, raising the cork. He ran it past his nose, and unbuttoned his breast pocket, reaching for his little glass. “The purpose of the Section de Renseignments is to eliminate uncertainty,” he said, addressing no-one in particular, expecting nothing in return – erupting with mock instructions and aping the tone of an officer, as he often does, apparently to enjoy the sound as it raps the air.'

'The patrols of the Renseignements walk in the unoccupied territory between the battalion and the enemy. They circle high behind enemy lines. Since the mountains are real and the enemy is not there tends to be a certain diminution of energy during a refresher course – particularly on the part of those who go out on patrol, in contrast to those who stay in the command post and think of things for the patrols to do. Essentially, the people in the command posts are editors, trying to make sense of the information presented by the patrols, and by and large the patrols are collections of miscellaneous freelancing loners, who lack enthusiasm for the millitary enterprise, have various levels of antipathy to figures of authority, and, in a phrase employed by themselves and their officers alike, are “the black sheep of the army.”'

'Jean-Bruno Wettstein, as a result of his first repetition course, was among the select who were invited to seek promotion. He went to a doctor instead. He said he had no desire to command anything and did not believe in the army. He said he could not accept the phenomenon of war, believing it to be “absurd and stupid.” The doctor told him that if he was not careful he would be coded psycho in federal files and the label would hamper him for the rest of his life. The doctor wrote a letter that emphasized both Wettstein's sanity and the extreme difficulty he seemed to have in accepting authority. Wettstein was excused from the army for two years. He went to Gascony and worked with goats. “We were going to change the world,” Wettstein said of himself and others. “But the world did not change, and we did.” Eventually, when he rejoined the battalion, he was, in his words, “almost automatically put into Renseignements.”'

Saturday 9 February 2013

Myconid Slaves

Every underground culture uses the Myconids as slaves. They are useful, alien and usually easy to control. A workforce and a prime source of rare organics. It's obvious the their minds are nothing like ours. The things they call personalities are just learnt behaviour over an intelligent alien core.*

There is a market in slaves and a fungal-underground railroad leading who-knows-where.

Slavehunting is valued and expected work. Helping them escape is dangerous, weird and poorly paid. But there rumours of strange irregular fungal gifts.

These are some you might bump into.


1. Hunched, dead-leaf-brown. Five feet high. Talks in a low towel-muffled semi-inaudible voice. Shuffles on invisible feet like a peasant woman carrying sticks. Mushroom frills reach a ragged hem down to to the ground. The frills rise up and fold away into the topknot of a fat low-level monster. An orc, goblin, something simple, stupid and common. A different one each time the frills fold. A shapechanger. A visionary. Sees the future in palsied raptures. Cunning.

2. Like a knotted oaken trunk, as high as a man. Waving white pencil thin tendrils. Piercing captivating eyes hidden in the oaky folds. Highly charismatic (18) A Propagandist, raconteur and stirrer of the mob. More CHA than CON, more CON than WIS.

3. Pale and multiply crooked like a twig stripped of bark by a child and broken and re-broken in the hand. Wet, white unclothed flesh (none of them have clothes but this one seems naked). Eyes like sputtering blue-halo coals in a failing gas fire. Ruthless. Murderous. Freedom-obsessed. No strategic vision. Will kill when necessary and when not.

4. White like paper on a rainy day. Sagging in the same way, like wet clothes. Always seems on the verge of falling over. A trim, round black crown, horizontally held and neatly rimmed like a black hat. Shakes and quivers always. Non-violent but utterly utterly morally certain. Right to the dark end of all things. Will not break.

5. Faded orange like fallen fruit. Strange prominent eyes, buggy and glass-like. Tightly drawn skin. A conical beaver-brown mushroom crown with a flattened top lends it vertical length. Heroic, intelligent and perceptive. Will die to protect it's fellows. Is days away from a nervous breakdown. Talks educated like a person, piping voice.

6. Murder-turned hard labour shroom. Wiry and waxy with oddly-fleshed muscle-analogues. Strong, capable, violent and armed. Ready to attack. A self-starter in that regard.

7. A dusty-black crooked stem. A pale white cap, fizzy and lightly frizzed. Grows fruit from its body. Not like anything you've seen but edible and non-poisonous. Weird wild rainbow coloured fruit. No psychedelic effects. Clever, inventive and a passive-aggressive bully.

8. Plump and ridiculous like a Toby Jug. Big, mad smiling trunk-face. Rolls and eases around. A wit that never wounds, endless patience for the stupid and the slow, empathic and forgiving. Lacks any real will to make a difficult decision.

9. Bright red with flecks of metallic gold. It's not blood but it may as well be. Ramrod-straight 90 degree stem. Aggressive, deceptive, charming. Totally untrustworthy. Focused like a laser on one particular goal. Will kill, lie and betray to reach it. A sociopath

10. Blue-black in waves like paint in old ink. Beautiful in a way. Up-turned crown like a parasol in the wind. Wise, myopic. Full of good advice, more full of criticism. Of you. Will offer intelligent and perceptive suggestions one third of the time. The other two thirds will be taken up with a forensic, accurate and cutting criticism of everything you say, do and are.

11. Small low and corrugated black with multiple red gasping mouths. Round like an irregular rock. Nothing like a mushroom shape. Can only whistle. Really amazing first aid skills. Mouths can heal wounds really well. Incredibly brave. Will offer healing in extreme personal danger.

12. Slender and blue-white. Always seems leaning forwards. Shroom-frill one one side only, ragged and bare on the other. Bare side has a photo-lumescent cyst. Highly intelligent, an expert healer of disease, not wounds. Seems like it has severe aspergers but how do you judge that in a mushroom?

13. Heavy, lead, colour and mass. Four feet high. Slumps and bumps along on a tangle of blood red mycellium limbs like tumbleweed stalks. Has total faith in the authorities. Is sure everything will be worked out very soon. Can emit terrifying chlorine gas that kills everything around. Valued highly by everyone as it can also fix nitrogen in soil using its red tentacles. Agricultural value beyond compare. Seriously.

14. Civilised, cultured, well-read and sympathetic. Wants to eat your nervous system and pilot your body around for laughs. Unlike everything else here, will usually be encountered riding the body of some low-level goon it infected. Skull is swollen, white puffs of fungus flesh poking out where they eyes should be and out of the gaping mouth. (25% chance is a very obvious slave-hunting double agent.)

15. A heaving grey pipe-organ thing with almost-golden threads rioting from its crown. The shroom-pipes make amazing sound. Can create arrangements of totally bizarre but utterly wonderful underground music. (Genius level) Like dark prog music if prog wasn't a bit shit and if attractive people danced to it. Very very very racist against everything.

16. Violent pink spore mother carrying living young. Scraps of stolen armour wired around her bulging sacs. Aggressive, apparently in defence of her young but, in reality will sacrifice all of them to save herself if necessary.

17. Wise, shrivelled teacher of fungal ways. Patient, motionless most of the time. Flesh wrinkled up like old people in the bat. Little bright black button eyes. Will teach you fungal kung-fu. Utterly useless chemical skill unless you can emit your own spores.

18. Chippy, cheeky flat-topped mushroom. Can infect you and change your gender, but only if you're into that. Can't really do anything else. Can't change you back without killing you. Massively illegal in Drow lands because YOU DO NOT FUCK WITH THE SYSTEM.

19. Friendly wood-grained alcho-shroom. Ferments its own booze inside. Like a walking chemical factory. Sloshes and staggers like a barrel being manoeuvred down an uneven slope. Always seems late. Likes making friends.

20. Pale thin shroom with a head like a q-tip. Just a vague hazing of stubbly hair-thin growths up there. Wanders around feeling diffident and isolated. Sorrowful and bent over like something sagging in the wind. Brightens up in company. Licking its head sends you into a coma and gives you the ability to write poetry. Bad poetry.

* Or ARE they?! Maybe a very special episode of Veins of the Earth about TOLERANCE* and how we are ALL THE SAME under the skin????

*But then again maybe not. They are fucking mushrooms after all. Depends how you run the game.

Friday 8 February 2013


You won't notice the stalagmites. Not at first. They don't descend from above, they just.. appear. One moment not, next moment there. Ancient weathered claws grasping the earth. Heron legs or curlicued eagle claws built on titanic scale.

You might hear the crunch as they bite into the ground. Look down where rock meets rock and see the scored and broken stone. Clawed and bunched like a crows feet on a dining table. There are two. One blocks the way ahead, one arrests your flight. You won't see either move on arrival. You will look up. The light will make it impossible not to.

The roof is gone. If it was low enough to see before it isn't now. As if it rose up. Like paperscraps dancing in a lantern flame. The light you carry runs out somewhere in the dark. But there is something else up there. A twice-reflected gleam. Only as bright as the shine of gold in cold vaults. Lead tiles in moonlight. A scratched blackboard bouncing back the streetlamp light refracted in a pane of glass. Illuminating nothing. It is an eye.

You see a figure falling in the dark. Silver-white like a dropped spoon in water-butt. Distant and untouchable as a lake-bottom corpse. A human shape. Far far above you, but deeply held like underwater lights. Falling. Rising. Approaching you like a skydiver with a failed chute. Or like a body rising up out of dark sea into the light. But fast. And direct. Impelled by something.

It looks like you. At first a sliver human-sketch. Then a skeletal cartoon. A formless body. Features. A face. Your face. All resolving as it falls out of the dark. This takes five to three seconds in total.

It breaches the barrier screaming. The dark void-stuff above you shivers and ripples. The silver-feathered-clone-you-thing plunges out of the impossible sky exactly like a spear plunging into a pool. A frothing halo of nought-bubbles slide around it as it comes and then flee upwards. Time and space forming bubbles of reality around something else that will not mix.

It comes down screaming and grabs at you. This would be a good time to fight. It doesn't move like anything attached to this world. It goes up and down in jabs and drops. Like a harpoon seeking river-fish. Like the tip of a weapon. Which is what it is. Grabbing for you. The feathers are knives.

It will become more like you with each stroke. If it succeeds. There will be a flurry of feather-like silver blades. You will be pulled upwards into the darkness to feed the watching horror. Wailing. Your naked evil silver-skinned double will remain. Abandoned. Murderous. Desperate. A Still-Tor-Man.

You can try and fight the stone-like feet that anchor the watching overpredator. They are hard to hurt, quick and massively strong. But while you occupy on or move of them the predator cannot jab its thinking beak into reality to nab you up. They will crush and tear you but at least they won't take you up there.