Monday 27 May 2013

d12 Lamenter Madnesses

Kinds of Madness

Lamenters cause every kind of madness, but if you don’t have any other tables, roll on this one.

1 - EARTH ENGINE. There is an engine of stone that hunts when you close your eyes. You run from its endless shadow. It is the size of a tectonic plate. It flexes and tries to crush you in its curls, you evade it as you are so small.  It knows you and can find you when you wake. It is waiting outside the light to notice your movements.

2 - MODRON FRIENDS. Your friends are Order-knights from a plane of pure reason. They wear human skins and fake the behaviour. But they get it wrong! The patterns are repeating, you have written them down on invisible skin scratches on your forearms that no-one else can read. Run your fingertips up and down the braille-wounds and you can trace the false behaviours. You are the only human one left. Find out what they want and why they are here. You cannot let them know that you know. They will kill you.

3 - VICTIM OF CHARM. You don’t really know these people. Your memories with them are disconnected and don’t make sense. Someone has charmed you with magic. How much is false? Even yesterday’s memories may be fake. Find the secret wizard and kill them and then you will be free. (It won’t be the one that acts like a wizard. They are not that stupid.)

4 - MACHINE INSIDE YOU. Someone has put a device inside you. Sometimes you can feel it under the skin but it moves around. Find it and cut it out.

5 - YOUR VEINS ARE A MAP. The veins on your left inner forearm are a map of this part of the underdark. They will show you how to get where you need to go. The more veins you can see then the better the map. A tourniquet would be a good idea. (GM’s note – there is a 3% chance this is true.)

6 - GHOST LOVER. The ghost of the person you love most is just over there across the Guano field. You need to go and talk to them right now. They can’t hear you. Shout their name. Shout it really loud. You have to make them hear you. They are lost. They need you. Don’t abandon them here, not again. This is your chance to make things right…..  They are around here somewhere.

7 - DEAF PINS. The screaming won’t stop wherever you go. You need to find a pair of pins and put them in your ears. They have to be identical.

8 - CLIMB. You are all going to die here. You need to leave the Underdark right now. The Lamenters know the way out. If you follow them up far enough you can escape. You need to start right now. (If Trogloxene Lamenters there will actually be some kind of access far, far above. Though it may only be accessible via flight.)

9 - SCRY EYE. There is a secret wizard in the heart of the earth. He has implanted a secret scrying eye in the centre of your forehead. He can see everything you do and hear everything you say. It’s invisible and no-one else knows it is there. If he knows you’ve found it then it will detonate like a miniature sun. You must find a way to trick him. Or stab it out of your head in one blow.

10 - ECHO SENSES. It’s taken a while for you to adapt, but now you no-longer need eyes. With a series of high pitched whistles and clicks you can now find your way in the dark like a bat.

11 – THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH. The whole thing is a trick. Now you know why almost no-one escapes the underdark. The way out is down not up. You have to keep going down. Then you will find your way home. Any attempt to go back up just traps you further. Think about it. It turns back on itself. THINK ABOUT IT.

12 - VOICES IN WALLS. It must be some fluke of echo’s or carrying rock but you can just hear a conversation in a nearby cave. That system may be separate from yours but the vibrations carry through. If you press your ear to the stone in special places the voices are quite clear. There are people there. They know you and they hate you. They are talking about all your secrets in the most disgusting way. They really regard you as vile. If you stay still and listen long enough they will give away some important information.

Saturday 25 May 2013


(What follows is just me rambling about movement and time. There is no grand revelation at the end. If it was a joke, it would be one without a punchline. And it's long. With no pictures. you have been warned.)

There are pages in Japanese comics that do nothing but show time passing in a place. Scott McCloud has a name for them, which I have forgotten, and several examples in his book, which I have forgotten.

But I must have remembered the idea of them somehow because I realised suddenly on the bus to work how one of these pages functioned. And I can’t find a scan or picture of it so I may have actually created it in my head. I will describe it to you.

It’s night and it just stopped raining. Suburban, but somewhere near the city. A road, near houses, but not to a house. One of the weird little street s that go behind and around things and that lead to nowhere places people never go. The ones you notice as a child when walking around and then stop noticing as you grow older. A hedge on one side, houses in the darkness, white light in squares and empty domesticity inside. A cat slinks under the bush. There is traffic, somewhere, just in a corner where a road passes. The cars are irregular.

So I was thinking about this image that I thought I remembered, but maybe invented it took up one page of a Japanese comic, which I believe is about A5. I was trying to work out how I understood about the passage of time from just the information on the page.

I started thinking it was the things that are observed that showed me how time worked on that page. The things held in the panels showed the pattern of attention. That pattern, along with the physical objects, put me in the scene. It’s not just the things you see, it’s the state of mind you have to be in to notice them. To take them one-by-one.

Water beading on a leaf, the leaf bending as the droplet slowly separates as it falls to the ground. It’s slow and can’t be disturbed or the phenomena ends. It’s small. Precise. It happens only after rain or dew. So you have to be there, standing or moving slowly, to see it. If you are moving through the scene quickly you don’t notice the fucking water bead. You have to be observing and to be contemplative to see it. If you have a busy mind it doesn’t pop.

The Cat. The cat would run away if you were moving. Or loud. You have to be still and quiet to notice it in the darkness. If the cat is there and you are there to see it then you are someone still and quiet.

The cars passing. (I can’t remember how this was indicated on the comic page which suggests that this may be something I invented. Sequential movement of this kind can be hard to represent in comics.) You generally only notice the slow passing of cars in the night, in the damp, if you are moving slower than they are. You see the brightness of the reflected headlamps as they emerge, changing the colours of everything, then they pass hissing on the road. The shadows flow back behind them. Each car is an event that changes the environment like a tiny electric day, and moves rapidly and inevitably out of sight.

The bright, white slice of someone’s kitchen or living room, seen through curtains or blinds. Empty, anonymous and familiar. You’re not looking through, it’s just there, in you field of vision. And nothing’s happening inside. No noises, no events

The key idea here is that a piece of media that describes or creates a pattern of attention can, by a kind of reverse experience, instil a shadow or mild re-creation of that pattern in you when you experience it. That’s what much of cinema is about. That’s what much of comics is about. You can’t sit someone down for hours and make them wait. But if you arrange your images correctly, I the right rhythm or relationship to each other, you can make them feel like time has passed. Or hasn’t.

So obviously this lead me to the issue of travel in RPG’s.

RPG’s, especially D&D, are paratactic. I like that word. It means like a string of pearls. A bunch of things in a row, but they don’t necessarily have to have a relationship to each other.  The games like parts. Things broken up into parts.  Want to travel somewhere? How far? Roll a dice. Encounter! Where does the encounter take place? Probably half way between here or there. Beat the encounter and you are where you wanted to go. A journey mad of three things. Start point, end point and interruption.

And of course no journey in the history of human experience is like this. In fiction maybe. In records. In memory, perhaps. But journeys as you live them are not made of parts they are made of flow. Especially when walking and especially when walking in nature. The more technology you use to travel, the more paratactic it becomes. Airports are a great example. But if you walk outdoors, even in a city, there is only the slow endless changing of one thing into another.

I have never seen a game that captures this. Or tries to. (lack of experience perhaps, let me know in the comments.) Well why would you? The point isn’t the journey after all, it’s the destination. The places in-between are just in-between. Until a fucking monster jumps you, or you meet a hermit in the forest or something. Then it becomes another destination. A point on the map.

Computer games can do this really well. You can run through the space. Films a bit. Comics a but. Text can fake it, but text can fake everything but music and dance.

Tabletop games have trouble with it. The DM can describe it, but that’s not quite what I’m looking for. It think I’m searching for something else. Something you can play. That has brought me back to the that page of Japanese comics. We are trying to do something with the cognitive machinery of the game that it doesn’t really like doing.

 (Or at least it is not easy. Mediums have things they find easy and things they find hard. Name a happy poem that’s really really good. Now name a sad one. Poetry has trouble with happy, happy is for dance and for music. But still, it’s hard to name a happy song with words that’s really really good. Happy is movement. Complex word structures don’t deal well with happiness. They do sad really fucking well)

If showing people something in a comic that would only be noticed in a particular cognitive state helps mimic that state inside their minds. What things could you put in a game. What gameable things, could put people in the same mental state you would be in as you slowly ride a horse through empty scrubland, or walk through a forest in the morning. What inter-actable, observable elements can embody people in that state of mind?

Logistics isn’t enough. That’s something you plan before, this has to be the sensation of during.

I was thinking of linking two things and having the travel be a gameable moment where you have to manage the transition between the things as one turns into the other. Maybe that is stupid. Perhaps this whole series of thoughts is stupid.

What do you notice as you are walking that you rarely notice when you are not?

The nature of the ground perhaps? Incline definitely. How the earth holds your tread.

Things getting in your way. Nothing gets in your way when you are still, only when you have intend. Buddha (or indeed psyduck) has no obstacles.

The sensation of an unexpected heavy wind that presses against your body enough to shift your weight and your stance. It kind of awakens your nerve endings, enlivens you. You lean slightly into it. If you were daydreaming you are suddenly plunged back into the sensual experience of your flesh. Thoughtless but awakened and alive you feel the wind flatten your clothes against you and push you off your feet. This only seems to happen to me when I am walking.

What else?

Wednesday 22 May 2013

"He proclaimed himself the King of Darkness and Flame"

'Les Indes Noir' was published in 1877.  It's a thriller in a coal-mine. I found it by accident. It's pretty good, sort-of.

When we have a fetish for something it calls up powerful stuff inside us. Like a magnet with iron filings, it tends to create it's own antipole. Verne's rapturous, border-orgasmic view of coal, of industry and mining leaves a kind of dark space in his writing on the opposite side, that is often where the poetry leaks through.

First, a useful piece of Ludography taken from 19th Century potboiler logic. If  players receive a letter asking them to go somewhere they have never been by someone they knew a long time ago for an unspecified reason or reward, they may or may not go. If, a day later, they receive a second letter, written in a strange hand, on a torn up piece of scrap paper, telling them absolutely not to come under any circumstances, then they definately will.

With Verne, the poetry seems to leak out round the edges. The main characters are ok-but-dull. The written picture of Scotland is clearly a product of love, but could have been written by anyone. But then this:-

“Over a wide expanse bordered by a few stunted trees the ground was hidden under the black dust of the fuel, but nowhere were there to be seen any cinders, or lumps or even odd fragments of coal. All had been taken away and consumed long ago.

On a hillock appeared the skeleton of an immense framework, slowly corroding under the influence of the sun and rain. At its summit appeared a huge cast-iron wheel, and lower down were great rollers, over which had passed the cables to bring the cages up to the surface of the ground.

In the lower storey was the forsaken engine-room, once glittering with the polished steel and brass of the machinery. Odd lengths of the wall had fallen to earth in the midst of joists now broken and green with damp. Remains of the beams of the engine to which were attached the rods of the exhaust-pumps, broken or grease smeared wedges, toothless gear-wheels overturned weighing machines, some ladders fixed up to the walls, each resembling the backbone of an ichthyosaurus, rails along the top of a beam still supported by two or three rickety piles, tramways which could not have borne the weight of an empty truck – such was the desolate aspect of the Dochart pit.”

Verne loves industry in a way no modern write I am familiar with does. He is also already enraptured by the decay of the thing he loves. He loves mining too, then this creeps in:-

“’Indeed’ the young man exclaimed, ‘it’s a pity that nature hasn’t built the whole earth exclusively of coal; then there’d have been enough for several million years!’

‘No doubt there would Harry; but you must admit, all the same, that nature has shown it’s foresight in forming our spheroid principally of sandstone, limestone and granite which fire cannot consume.’

‘Do you mean to say Mr. Starr, that mankind would have ended by burning their own globe?’

‘Yes! All of it my boy,’ he replied. ‘The earth would have passed down to the last morsel, into the furnaces and railway-engines, traction-engines, steam-ships and gas works; and so some fine day, that would have been the end of the world!’

“That was why the monk with his face masked in a great hood, and his whole body tightly wrapped in a thick felt cloak, used to crawl along the ground. He could breathe down there, where the air was pure; and with his right hand he waved above his head a blazing torch. . When enough-fire-damp had accumulated in the air to form a detonating mixture, the explosion occurred without being fatal, and, by often repeating the operation, he succeeded in preventing any disaster. Sometimes the ‘monk’, struck down by the blast, died painfully. Then someone else took his place.”

“A labyrinth of galleries, some higher than the domes of the most lofty cathedrals, others like cloisters, narrow and winding – these following a horizontal line, those rising or falling obliquely in all directions – connected the caverns and allowed free communications between them.

The pillars which supported the vaulted roofs, whose curves were of every style, the massive walls between the passages, and naves themselves in the outcrop of the sedimentary rocks, were composed of sandstone and shales. But tightly packed between these unusable strata ran valuable seams of coal, as if the black blood of this strange mine had circulated through their inextricable network.”

“lets drive our working under the waters of the sea! Let’s tunnel into the bed of the Atlantic like a colander! Let’s hack a way with our picks until we join our brethren of the United States through the ocean floor! Let’s burrow into the centre of the globe if we have to, to tear out every last scrap of coal.”

The shadowed characters are about five times more interesting than the heroes. But then they always are.

“’No, Harry,’ answered Nell; ‘I was only thinking that the twilight is beautiful too. If you but knew what eyes accustomed to its depth can see! There are flitting shadows which make you long to follow them in their flight. There are circles which seem to intertwine, and one could gaze on them forever. In the depths of the mine are dark hollows full of gleams of light. You hear noises that seem to talk to you.”

Bless you Jules Verne, you must have really liked visiting Scotland. A lot of wandering around, gets two chapters, and entire Loch draining into the earth in “a few seconds” gets two paragraphs.

I was really hoping for weird underground race and didn't get one, but what I did get was almost as good.


“He used to see this strange solitary being prowling about the mine, always accompanied by a monstrous owl, a Harfang., who helped him in his perilous task by soaring aloft with a lighted fuse to places which Silfax himself could not reach. ……  A wild, savage sort of fellow, who held aloof from everyone, and was believed to fear neither fire nor water. It was by his own wish that he followed the trade of ‘monk’, which few others cared for. The continual danger of the business had unsettled his wits. He was said to be wicked, but perhaps he was only mad. He was prodigiously strong, and he knew the mine like nobody else.”

“His chosen refuge was far – very far from you. But he disliked feeling you were there. If I asked any questions about the people up above us, his face darkened, he did not reply, and he stayed silent a long time. ……….. He proclaimed himself the King of Darkness and Flame; and when he heard your tools at work on coal-seams which he regarded as his own, he grew furious. ……… My grandfather is everywhere and nowhere. I’ve never know where he hides. I’ve never seen him asleep. When he’d found some hiding place, he’d leave me alone and disappear. ………. He’s invisible himself, but he sees everything ….…. ,even in his madness, has a most powerful mind. He used to talk to me on very lofty subjects. He taught me the existence of God, and he only deceived me on one point – that was when he made me believe that all men were perfidious, because he wanted to inspire me with his own hatred of the whole human race.”

Of course I can always turn him into an entire race myself. Hooded crawlers lair in coal warrens protected by mazes of explosive gas only they understand. Symbiotic white owls. Kings of Darkness and Flame.