Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Sorrows of The Thane of Coates

Roll 6d6

OR, click here for an Automatic Sorrow.

1.       I remember once,

1. My father standing watch, dawn-light cradling his burnished mail, the fingers of night slipping through his cloak.

2.  My mother sounding words of ancient tales, cutting letters in the earth before my eyes, holding back the secret ending till I learnt the shapes.

3. My brother harrying me late into a winter night with carved opponents on a board of games.

4. My kin, close, each name a common breath, each action tied as one.

5. The feuding of my people and the hunt, first strike, (it was not mine for never was I bladed, of tongue or of deed,) but first blood and last, often enough I made.

6. The faces of my people and few else, a world walled with features known, without a foreign touch for good or ill.

2.       But then

1. Our land woven in blood, hip deep, trapped as we were between opposing kings, vile and honourless each.

2. Those lords of all who made of the earth a trying-ground for pain, knew fear, as works they made against the distant weak were turned upon the makers to inflame; war against life and time, without reason or limiting clime.

3. The gripping of the harrow-man, starvation. Wasted figures turned forth from every home. The steading emptied, corpses walking, dead feasting on the dead.

4. Those opposing war (it was not ours) made of us a sacrificial claim. Breaking their opponents by marching through our lands, a swathe or burning homes cut to the sea.

5. It was in those times that man was a wolf to man and kings hawks to their preyed-upon thanes. A war of all, against all, and only those without hope to prevail.

6. Fire came then, on midnight wings that folded in the dark above a thousand homes. Then ruin, blasted ash and greyness, burnt fingers crawling forth from hidden coves.

3.       It was no chance that brought this thing to be.

1. I have found it scribed on hidden scrolls, dated, notarised and confirmed, each name attended and each deed planned out.

2. See now, the wounds within our people itch and shiver still, many current shames and secret debts date from this time and it is not forgotten.

3. Harms done from on high, with seals and heralds making formal note, often are not spoke of. Hurts done by the strong are left ignored, for fear of future wrong to come perhaps?

4. Though this was done uncounted winter suns beyond the memory of any here, its legacy lives on in thought and deed, only look upon the sorrows of my people to behold.

5. Much gold is found in fire, and harm upon those without strength to fight, and gold is as immortal as the soul, yet ascends clearly and cleanly where a murdering soul would fail, gaze upon the traces of the gold to find the crime.

6. Laws are but the speech of kings, are harms done by a legal hand without accusing stain? Are deaths from an accusing judge not worthy of revenge?

4.       Now I ask of you

1. Report this crime, publically with evidence grave. And this report must go in full, to those descended of the accused.

2. Seek out hidden relics of this truth. Turn over stones, confirm with once-hidden testament and evidence the truth of this forgotten horror, amend the record once and for all.

3. Go now to the city of these monsters, in a fane, sacred to them, they keep a dark memento of their acts. A trophy, sacred to them yet held lightly. Take it from them secretly and bring it here to me.

4. Find the current ruler of those named, or the assembly from whence they take their word. State before them the unvarnished truth of what was done. Persuade them utterly, even if it be against the memory of their kin.

5. There is one known to me, a truth-speaker, who has suffered much under the blows and wounds of those without honour and faith. Go now and defend them in that land. Whatever the cost to yourself.

6. Hold this truth outright, freely in the sight of men. Hold to it, no matter the opposition or the pain. Whatever forces are brought against you, do not quail, but state publicly and without shame the truth.

5.       I tell myself

1. If wrongs are made to serve, and hate must be constructed by decided-act, may not these same wrongs be demolished as were made, by men and time?

2. Nothing has been done to me and mine or suffered here that those who wrought it failed to feel themselves. Harms have passed like arrow-shafts in air, landing whence they may, none have dosged the barb entire.

3. Even have I seen joys and sorrows piled upon themselves and intermixed like birds escaped in flight. Is my certainty exact? Or product of my lagging in the flock?

4. Many makings and unweavings have passed in the years since my youth. The Norns run wild with their thread and it seem the whole earth changed. To the good? Perhaps.

5. My own seed grow, uncomprehending of the crimes that shaped their birth, is this not hope? My sons seek out no grave-site on my word and the gallows arms wave weakly, catching air.

6. Over the uncounted passage of years, can vileness and deception out-last truth? Or must the harder stone remain, skinned of unreason by water of years and the cutting ice of time?

6.       Oh, but I am a fool

1. When will the sun rise on a kingless day? When will power not serve itself? When will crowns not bend together in secretive council, excusing indignities done to those below? That day is endless night, It will not come!

2. Man is a beast, his words are exhalations from a swelling corpse, his promises are paper in a fire, his thoughts are ants upon a rotting page. His laws are lies. Ever was it thus and so shall be.

3. The young plough only a fools acre of thought, knowing nothing of the past and caring less. All that we are shall pass unseen into the dirt, a worm divided by the plough, lost even to itself!

4. Harm circles like the racing wheel of a mill, levering upon itself. It feeds like fire that needs no fuel, supplying all it needs from what it takes. There is no end to harm or hurt.

5. What judge has ever come without a sword? What justice has been taken in this world without the threat of life behind the words? It is a gift ungiven, only theft and murder see it done, and they are crimes themselves that must be judged again.

6. Will the hearth-lords burn the thatch of homes? Will the ring-giver cut fingers from his hand? Will bards fall silent at will? The maiden mask herself or scorch her hair? Those who know sweetness in this life never give it up, regardless of its provenance or painful distant birth.

So obviously Ta-Nehisi Coates is a Saxon Thane. I was going to make him an Emir or something since he would probably prefer that, but dude is mad sorrowful. He just has a lot of sorrows. The only Arabic writer I know who comes close is Ibn Khaldun, and they are not the same kind of person at all. Khaldun is writing from well inside a culture.

I always imagine Coates gazing out over some natural rampart of rock, staring into a grey stormy ocean, or looking out over peaceful fields but remembering war.

And he does keep watch at the Atlantic.

It’s quite strange and interesting to turn a political/cultural blogger with a strong voice and turn them into a D&D mission generator. If I was running a class, I would set it as a test. You need to track down all their tropes, intuitions, patterns of thought and favourite subjects. Then turn those into the kind of things they would want do, supported by the kind of worldview they actually have. Except, like always with D&D, the geography of someone’s imagination becomes actual real fantastic geography you can actually go to.

(Plus now he can play D&D and get a mission from himself. Which is fucking cool.

One thing I didn’t manage to work in was anything about France or food. You can throw in one of these made-up pseudo French interludes if you like. They would probably go best between three and four.

French Interludes

1. mieux un quart de la lune et un million d'étoiles que les deux tiers d'un soleil.
2. puis-je avoir pour effet d'expliquer quoi que ce soit, je ne suis qu'un homme?

3. les chiens peuvent laper le lait des chats, mais savent-ils le goût?

4. le menuisier peut la quadrature du cercle des boulangers, mais ne le boulanger connaître la lumière des bougies?

5. la vérité est comme une dame sexy avec vous dans sa maison, appeler la police.
6. heureusement, votre ironie est si brutal, vous n'êtes pas en danger d'elle.

Other things that didn’t get in;

Angry/Ironically Inverted Statement of Fact (but there is a bit of this in 6)

Raising a family tales, growing as a man (too hopeful for the end, not appropriate for the beginning.)


And of course, for Coates in real life there would be one part of the table in which every answer was ‘WHITE TERRORISM’.


  1. This is really cool. I am mad in love with TNC.

  2. Man, this is excellent. Both as game material and as li-ter-a-ture in its own right. I bet if you typed this up and submitted to McSweeney's Internet Tendency or The Millions or some other "hip" online literary magazine, you'd have those suckers eating right out of your hand. Seriously amazing stuff here.