Wednesday 30 September 2015

The etymology of Desire

"The Romans believed that the relative position of the planets influenced earthly events. The endeavours of the astrologers and augers as they scrutinised the night sky are encapsulated in the Latin verb considerare. It meant 'to study the stars with great care', being a combination of the intensive prefix con- and sius. 'constellation star'. It soon came to be used more generally with the sense 'to observe carefully. to examine', before developing the figurative use 'to reflect upon'. In these senses it was borrowed into Old French, and from there into Middle English in the fourteenth century.

- The verb desire, which came into English in the thirteenth century via Old French desirer, is also derived from sidus. It comes from Latin desiderare which meant 'to regret, to miss' and hence 'to long for'. The original sense of desiderare and its connection with 'star' is obscure, but Skeat suggests 'to note the absence of stars' and hence the regret that the auguries were hidden."

(From 'Word Origins' by Linda and Roger Flavell.)

Monday 28 September 2015

Why did I mix up these city-states?

The DM forgot where he left a minor city and went with the nearest equivalent, only realising later that we were in Osc-something, six days travel away from where we should have been in Osc-Somethingelse. And we had met the 'right' NPC's for Osc-Somethingelse too. I mean I met my hot insect baby-mamma and had hot inset sex. Dumped the kids on her too. So that happened.

So here are a bunch of reasons that you might have mixed up two city-states. I put the same-context dependant ones in the front and numbered the others so you can use them as a table if you need to.

- Love can move mountains and also city states. It was a miracle of love, the kind that happens to Lancelot when a fucking castle appears out of nowhere so he can bone Guenevere in peace.

- Deathfrost Mountain time emanations. Its near Deathfrost Mountain, that place if full of temporal shenanigans. Maybe we went all the way to the right place in a moment?

- The journey between the two cities is so fucking boring and so free of incident that, like a five hour shift on the biscuit lines, the moment its finished its simply wiped from the memory.

- Hot astronomer girlfriend swapped cities so she could get parallax on a particular star formation and we happened to go to the right one.

- Hot insect girlfriend organised city government-swap with Osc-Something for complex dynastic and economic reasons. Like a house-swap.

1. Names of all local cities changed regularly to confuse infiltrators from very-nearby enemy state.

2. Cities 'Harrisoned' now twinned in time and space. Kind-of reflections of each other but not necessarily causally connected. Like the Mad Max films. Its all a bit vague but probably a metaphor for something.

3. Cities 'Mievilled' A bit like like a Harrisoned city but a bit more practically worked out. They are separate but somehow share space. You could walk down a street in one and come out in the other. This is regular and people know about it but no-one takes advantage of it for COMPLEX POLITICAL REASONS. This is definitely a metaphor, for capitalism.

4. City 'Gaimaned'. Deal with para-deity means single city story-locked and eternal so long as people remember it, but the collective memories shape its physical expression. Council big on intellectual property laws and punish silly songs about the city with death. Will invade to stop rumours about them spreading. You went to the same place but it was different because the memories of it had changed.

5. Its the same city. Djinn fly it back and forth at dawn and dusk. You just went at different times.

6. Djinn again, one was ordered to build city B in a single night. Sneaked a few millennia into the future and took the ruins of city A and built them of that. They are literally the same stone. Scholars from City A go to City B to analyse relics and stones and try to work out their future history.

7. The second city is actually a necropolis of the first where bodies rest in simulations of their former homes. The people you interacted with were g g g ghoooosts! (Also if you saw old friends it means they're dead.)

8. Second city built as vast copy of the first by trillionare idiot obsessed with history and tales of old culture. Like those americans who buy London Bridge. An inhabited folly an a gigantic scale.

9. Mission-Impossible style plot by well resourced enemies with small army of illusionists and actors to persuade you one place was in fact another. You got Truman-Show'd.

10. Whole population swaps back and forth every 12 years in vast processions for ritual reasons. You jut missed the swap.

Saturday 26 September 2015

Podecast Three - Beauty

The subject today was 'beauty'

(It's shorter than usual because I had to go to Manchester.)

 click the image

Zak hates nature.


"The child of love and war is sex"

A thick silky coffee with cardamon

kelvin helmholtz

Wednesday 23 September 2015

The Caliphate of Holes

The Caliphate of Holes

The shattered karst and black cyclopean frags that make up the Sifir, or 'The Plain of Sifir' or 'The Plain of Nothing', or more simply 'The Nothing', are uninterrupted and empty of life.

Only in the shadowed micro-climates of the black broken kaiju temple shards, bigger than buildings, will life appear, and then only the clenched octopoid charcoal-vermilion corn that grows in tangled bezoars. Despite its vile appearance the red-black safir corn still feeds safely and well. Enough to support the few mad banished vagabonds that haunt the safir and the wolfslugs that prey on them in turn.

Monsters haunt the safir, monsters and monstrous men and wild vortexes of time that pinwheel through the sky like storms. But, hidden till you see it is the Caliphate of Holes.

Each village, town or house in the Caliphate of Holes exists in a stepped-pyramid sinkhole. A natural occurrence, deliberately crafted by the hand of man.

The sides of these limestone pyramid-reflections have been cut into shelves and filled with soil. Crops grow in the steps and paths lead mazelike routes between the paths. At the bottom of each asifir (a-sifir meaning simply not-sifir, or 'not nothing') lies a home or several, a village, and in many cases the shell-palace of a noble line.

It is like walking the surface of a blasted alien world, then looking down into a green, green valley that opens up before you like a trap. The hole-sides protect the asifir from the cruel desiccating winds of the outer plain and as each stepped field sinks slowly through the water table, they grow green with life. many sifir have rivers running through their base, emerging from caves and apertures in the rock, all have wells and oases.

All the asifir, linked together in rulership, form the Caliphate of Holes, a hidden nation.

It is so difficult and dangerous to cross the sifir that most residents of the Caliphate do it only once. The asifir are connected in trade by a migratory culture of caravan guards, some of the toughest, most dangerous people on earth, who ply their beetle caravans across and through the labyrinth of the broken karst to connect the valuable markets of the asifir.

You can become rich quickly in the caravans of the Caliphate, and die quickly too.

The asifir are connected by this strange mercenary culture, but they are also connected beneath the stone as well. The whole Plain of Nothing is a gigantic water table feeding into the three mighty rivers of the south. rain does fall there but is absorbed so quickly by the rock that the place can seen parched seconds after a storm.

But underneath the surface the water trickles and runs, forming a lacework of hidden rivers and streams. All asifir have access to this underground world and, dangerous as it is, connecting to the Veins of the Earth and the terrible things that reside there, it is also a medium of communication.

A few asifir are lucky enough to be connected by navigable underground rivers, but even for the rest communication is still possible.

The watery underground world beneath the Sifir is home to a race of intelligent, albino octopus-men. The Calipahte exists in a state of alliance with this race, in a sense, the form two sides of the same coin. The Caliphate provides crops, food, space to devise and create and protection from, along with access to, the upper world. The Octopi-men first, when young, carry sealed messages between the asifir, worming through the perforated rocks, forming a postal system beneath the earth. Second, when adult, they emerge from the wells and oases and form the guards of the asifir, protecting them from the monsters and horrors of the plain. When Caravans appear from out of the plain, they are greeted fist by Octopi-men riding gigantic snails. These then lead them through the maze of the asifirs terraced fields.

Every aspect of the asifirs construction is devised towards protection. The layout of the terraces is like a puzzle hard to understand. Residents know it, but visitors can quickly be disconcerted by the narrow paths between paddies and fields. Even the crops themselves and the way they are laid out can be a form of trap.

The topmost, dryest terraces are usually planted with hypnotic poppies that require blind guides. Then come orchards protected with beehives in the branches of their trees. Anti-cavalry potato mazes can be found on lower levels. Thick grain crops are always grown in mazes. narrow paths lead between paddies of calligraphic rice, as the thin wind moves across the leaves of rice the shifting of te leaves en-masse forms single words and letters when seen from above, different each time On lower fields sheep-sized snails are herded and watched over by young shepherds and war-pigs are bred and kept secure.

(The asifir of the Caliphate of Holes are famous for their culturing of snails, but despite their success in this field, they cannot grow snails as large, intelligent or warlike as the 'Chivalric Snails' rumoured to exist in the lands of the Curlicue Throne, somewhere beyond the Snaegleborg. Though they are large enough to provide a kind of cavalry for the octopi men to guard against wolfslugs in the night, and worse things.)

A noble family rules each asifir from a home or small palace near its centre. Often these are gigantic shells of mega-snails long since extinct. What role these gigantic snails played in the formation and development of the sinkholes, and how they came to e extinct, is lost to history.

The noble youth are educated by clerics of the Caliph. The Caliph himself is a living vortex of time, though civilised, and his, or her, clerics are finely trained legal minds who act as impartial judges and lawyers for the asifir, as well as being combat-trained.

Since the culture of the Caliphate insists that the young marry only for love and for no other reason, and since it is very difficult to travel between asifirs, and because it is illegal to marry someone of your own family, and somewhat devient to marry below your family, a sizeable proportion of the messages carried through the underground maze of the water table are love letters.

Poetry is the accepted means of discovering and declaring love and it is entirely common for young couples to find each other through the written word, court, fall in love, all through the exchange of poetry, and then to meet only at the moment before being married (after at least one of them, usually the man, has survived a gruelling passage across the sifir.

Since poetry is the primary means of finding a mate and gaining and retaining status, the Caliphate produces very good poets. A good poet essentially has their choice of spouse. This has lead to the noble families of the Caliphate becoming somewhat obsessive in pursuit of this talent and poetical inbreeding, of character if not of bloodlines, has lead to a melancholic, depressive, sometimes bipolar, yet brilliant temperament amongst that class.

Since poetry is status, access to poetry is restricted to the upper class. It is illegal for anyone else to create any and the peasants of the Caliphate even sing their field songs without words, or in a deliberate nonsense fashion to ensure that no-one suspects them of illegal poetical talent.

Unpoetical, unromantic but likeable and practical-minded youngsters will often pay for 'bandit verse' so they can create the simulation of the perfect relationship and be allowed to marry. if they are known by their families to be 'un-versical' then this will be quietly allowed without comment.

And of course the folk stories and legends of the Caliphate are full of poems being delivered to the wrong people, Snail herders with an incredible unexpected talent, princesses wandering in the safir and bumping into bandit kings who happen to be incredible poets and are also exiled princes, princes being sucked into time vortexes and sending poetry through the calligraphic rice that ensures their own conception. All the creaky old classics.

Saturday 19 September 2015

Podecast 2 - Scrap Princess Omega

The second Podecast ever.

This one has a subject, it's about monsters.

 Click for Podecast
(Click it)


Rhiannas new video.
Ghosts and why they hold candles.
Skeletons and skeletor - egyptian theories of the dead.
Nazi Aurochs.
"I've been around some pretty smelly subcultures."
Eating living things.
Forbidden Planet.
Imperialism and microbiology.
Scrap fades in and out around this point for mysterious reasons.
Possible collaborations.
Natasha Allegri.
Stephen Pyne.
The state of modern poetry.
The Art of Not Being Governed.(He wasn't a poet.)

Friday 18 September 2015

The Omnistructure in Decay

An Omnistructure because it is not just a structure filling reality, but a structure that is reality. A reality that can only exist as structure, in the same way that ours is expressed as space and form.

Here are worlds the size of Nebulae, grown, not in tight massed spheres and gravity wells, but like ferns or fractal fungi infiltrating a mass. Storm-wrapped tendril worlds with neutronium cores. Worlds as slender as mycelium, all linked, receiving their light from the transient civilisation of intelligent nomadic suns. Primary trunks of world with surfaces like gas giants and storms as large as small galaxies.

Entire world-equivalent biospheres spending their existence transiting and slowly evolving. Sometimes running into each other, resulting in titanic conflicts and strange syntheses.

Gravatically balanced structures of form. Vast tendrils of world.

Some worlds with hollow cores like old trees, some wormed within by passages and cells, some carrying lightless life inside.

Some oceanic, like branches of water. Some carrying vast globular oceans at their tips. Sometimes these oceans have frozen surfaces and pressure-ice cores. Sometimes they break free and drift, are caught and smeared through the Lagrange zones causing disaster and opportunity.

Sadly, all the world curls have fallen into decay. They are blackened and dying, though the diamond highways sing.

The highways are cylinders the thickness of stars, transparent, flexible diamond lattice environments, home to their own intelligence yet transmitting a blood supply of light.

At the nexus-points of the intersecting highways, like the cores of neural cells, are the Photo-Arcologies , gigantic hives of living suns that take on strange insectoid forms. Between the worlds the suns are harmonies of light like freight trains spiralling round the helices inside the diamond highways.

Yet without the responsive song of life from the the world fronds, the arcologies themselves grow silent, the highways are failing, slowly but inevitably being cut off. Eventually the culture of the Omnistructure will retreat, becoming only a memory. In the star-cemeteries deep in the centres of the Photo-Arcologies, black-hole tendrils and white dwarf root-stubs animate and attempt escape.

The space between the highways and the mycellium of world is divided into cells of void, like the cells of a leaf, each similar but distinct. At the border of each cause/effect lipid layer, time hesitates for a moment to confirm.

Lagrange points within the cellular voids play host to their own strange zero-g civilisations. High altitude web cities grow like gigantic highway shacks along the easy-to-transport zero-g lines between the world-roots and the suns.

Lagrange points generally lie at the borders of void cells and have slightly different realities depending on which side you are on. Multi-cell Lagrange strands are complex, with many realities involved. They say if you agree something there  you must agree it four times, once between all possible combination of yourself and the other party.

Tuesday 15 September 2015

The Pernicious Pamphlet by Mateo Diaz Torres

Mateo made this zine, the Pernicious Pamphlet.

Here are some reasons I think it is good

Firstly he taught himself design and the tech stuff you need to do that, something I have so-far failed to do. The unity of space and meaning in RPG products means anyone who can combine writing, art and design  will become a kind of OSR omnibeing.

And the design is pretty good. Set out in a broadly Greco-ish style but a little lighter, clearer and more rational.

The stated aim is to compress as much setting information into character generation as possible and it fulfills that intent with grace and ease. Its a very small masterpiece of terse, useful, original, interactive information. Essentially a kind of Players Handbook for someones home game with only the novel, active parts and no fat. He says you could extrapolate an entire game world from just in information and you could.


I like the way he has handled languages. There are seven given, none are for human cultures, all are for types of being but the additional cultural uses of each language paint a very neat picture of a certain kind of social/supernatural world. The two that really interest me are:

Elegaic - Spoken by vampires, demons and the tragically damned. Also grimoires and spellbooks.

Lament - Common undead, boringly damned and the rebellious living. Most graffiti is in this language.

The idea of a class system of Undead languages makes sense and the linking of Magical script and high-status undead works really well in a not-entirely-rations-but-feels-right way.

The ideas of languages linking states of human existence as well as simply *cultures* is really fascinating to me. PC's will probably only ever come from one culture in their lives but they might experience many different states. Poverty, wealth, madness, death. By making the language of one kind of death the language of magic, and the language of another kind of death the language of rebellion Mateo has created natural in-game linkages between certain kinds of groups. You magician can probably speak to that Vampire. Your anarchist thief can probably speak to that skeleton, and it kind of makes a strange kind of organic sense that they would. 'Alignment' languages do a similar thing but that is a top-down highly rationally arranged system which always makes a world feel more designed, not more lived in. This is quite different and works better for me.

Other languages include Enochian - angels, clerical spell scrolls, Mew - language of cats and educated animals, Ara Gorash - language of the outer dark (I would have had mad people also speaking this) and Fol - unwritable language of the fairies (I would probably have had lovers and small children speaking this.)


This is a rare kind of un-exchangeable currency, the coins of choice for Fairy Queens, Vampire Lords, Demigods etc. They allow for otherwise impossible transactions - souls, dreams etc.

I had an idea a little like this a long time ago called 'Occultum' but this is better and simpler and communicated much more gracefully and does in full what I had only half-imagined for Occultum.-magica characters. Does your fighter need to make a deal with a demon? It was always possible, but if he/she steals some Obols it now becomes quite reasonable and likely. You could use this currency to trade all kinds of intangibles, events, states etc.

And it makes high-yield treasure piles simpler, smaller and genuinely useful. Whats better than finding a shitload of gold? Magic coins you can trade for deamon favours or the souls of lost loves.


Albion has an effective postal service to Farie, The Sunless Lands, Heaven and Hell.

This is incredibly useful and a good idea all round. All you have to do is require that your players actually write an actual letter and take it to the supernatural postman. Between sessions you have time to write a reply and can deliver this, as an actual letter, to the players either at the start of the next session or at a moment of great tension.

The slow speed of communication with letters and the fact that players would actually have to write them in-character makes them perfect for allowing meaningful but controllable and not game-breaking contact between other planes. for instance with dead relatives, the spirits of former PC's, supernatural entities etc. This is good, more people should do this.


There are some good, simple old-school vampire rules that make them hell to play at low levels and interact in interesting ways as you level up. Like the whole thing, these are a very good example of terse, no-bullshit rules that are nevertheless very neatly engineered and evocative.

Clerics and Warlocks

There are rules for clerics of Albions horrid Chthuloid Queen and three weird kind-of demigods for your characters to pimp themselves out to and hang out with. The rules for these are as simple and well thought out as the rest.

The three entities are evocative and interesting personalities, as well as that, like everything in the pamphlet, they are chunks of setting information. Everything in it, pretty much every word, does two jobs and contributes to two structures. Firstly it does what it need to help a character make interesting choices in creation. Secondly it highlights and illuminates a piece of the imagined world.

Its so fucking short and so lean that I can't really write much about it without giving stuff away. I kind of already have just by mentioning what stuff is. There is more I haven't mentioned. Read it, use it, chop it up or throw it at a player and say 'yeah you can do this stuf'. $7 for the hardcopy, including postage I think.

Saturday 12 September 2015

Scrap and Patrick Podcast

This is an experimental podcast in which Scrap and I talk for an hour.

There is a blip in the middle. There is no editing of any kind. There will be no show notes.

Click on the image to go to, or get, the mp3.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Boys and Girls: Superheroes in the Doll Corner

The book is 'Boys and Girls. Superheroes in the Doll Corner.' by Vivian Gussin Paley.

Paley is a researcher and kinder garden teacher. The book is interesting. In comparison to its very short length and cheap price, weight for weight, it might be the most interesting book I have ever read. It's relaxed, discursive and never terse. There is no fat and no blathering. There are questions.

Like a lot of simple books it ends up being about everything, or at least, everything happening right now.

Paley recorded her classes and listened back to what she and the children said or did. The children she was teaching were five. I her words. "Kindergarden is a triumph of sexual self-stereotyping."

A year or so before the class, gender nearly didn't exist for the children. Now it has arrived, and with some force. Paley, and through her, the reader, gets to experience the children constructing large parts of their gender identity and it is fascinating.

Paley investigates the children, but because she is listening back to what she says and does as well as what they do, she also investigates herself investigating them. Her views on herself and her relation to the children are almost as interesting as her views on the children alone.

Unlike (what I baselessly assume to be) a great deal of sociological texts, the book has almost no theory and very little attachment to any. It feels clear with no attempt to jam the situations covered into any kind of intellectual superstructure. Much to its benefit.

It’s about the relationship of a female authority figure to male violence. Or more accurately, to violent male fantasy. The relationship between authority and free play. It’s about the nature of fantasy and what it does. It's about superhero’s and the home.

It would be of great interest to anyone who likes superheroes or D&D, with its roving bands of homeless killers. The book is a look at the primal drives and behaviours that from the core of that activity.

If I could I would quote the whole thing (it's not long) but here are just a few samples.


Both boys and girls avoid fantasy play that makes the distinction between heroes and villains irreversible, but in the boy's case, all characters behave as villains. "Cops and robbers" is in reality "robbers". Punishment is meted out to good people more often than to bad.

"Jails are supposed to be for bad people, Andrew," I comment one day. "You put the good people in jail."

"We're  not bad people. We're bad guys," he explains. "Good people have to go to jail or they can become bad guys."

"Do you mean if they become bad guys, they won't have to go to jail?"

"Right. But if they want to be good guys, they could put someone in jail, too."

"Oh. Then bad guys and good guys both have jails?"

"It depends who's the boss."

Good guy or bad guy, the aggressive tumble-and-wrestle of little boys is criticized by teachers from the first day of school. How can ideas that seem so good be considered bad so often?

Perhaps "good" means "bad" when fantasies are involved. It is good to think about powerful creatures and exciting to rehearse their pursuits. However, most adaptations in the classroom are quickly curtailed. A teacher may not use the word "bad," but the message is clear: Girls fantasies are more acceptable. When girls run and scream, the absence of ambush and crossfire soothes the teacher's ruffled senses. The children see girls as good and find it difficult to characterise boys.

Karen: Girls are nicer than boys.

Janie: Boys are bad. Some boys are.

Paul: Not bad. Pretend bad, like bad guys.

Karen: My brother is really bad.

Teacher: Aren't girls ever bad?

Paul: I don't think so. Not very much.

Teacher: Why not?

Paul: Because they like to colour so much. That's one thing I know. Boys have to practice running.

Karen: And they practice being silly.

Karen is correct. A certain kind of uninhibited play is identified by both sexes as boy's play.


Free play occurs in two distinct environments: active social play on one side, and sedentary play on the other. Though there is usually a small group of girls in the doll corner, the overall impression is girls to the right and boys to the left. As in an orthodox synagogue, where men and women are separated by partitions, an invisible curtain hangs between the art tables and the rest of the room.

The girls spend most of their free time with art materials, and the boys spend theirs in the block area. Sand and water, the only free-form materials used more by the boys, are used as an extension of block play - actively, competitively. The mixing and moulding of gooey substances, the application of colourful paints to multitextured surfaces - these quiet, comfortable pastimes are predominately female activities. Why should so many boys appear wary of "artistic" experiences?

Appearances are deceiving; the boys themselves may be fooled. Once involved. they enjoy artwork as much as do the girls. It is not a matter of aesthetics or skill. The obstacles are time and patience, theirs and mine.

The boys begin most play periods on the floor with things that go fast, make noise, or rise up high. Table activities are postponed for fear time will run out before they have played enough. If a free period lasts sufficiently long, the boys will drift over to the tables, ready to sit down and make something. The biggest problem may be that I seldom allow free play to extend to that point.

The customary notion that "real" school happens at a table is hard to dispel. The thoughtful management of materials, design, and people in the block area seldom receives the same respect as table "work."

Mary Ann: The boys don't like to work.

Teacher: they're making a huge train setup right now.

Mary Ann: That's not work. It's just playing.

Teacher: When do girls play?

Charlotte: In the doll corner.

Teacher: How about at the painting table?

Mary Ann: That's work. You could call it play sometimes but it's really called schoolwork.

Teacher: When is it work and when is it play?

Clarice: If you paint a real picture, it's work, but if you splatter or pour into an egg carton, then its play.

Charlotte: It's mostly work, because that's where the teacher tells you how to do stuff.

I put the question of work versus play to the boys, who echo the same views.

Teacher: The girls think the block area is for play and not for work. Is that what you think?

Jonathan: It is for play. But you could be a work person.

Teacher: If you're a work person, then what do you do in the blocks?

Andrew: Build very neatly and don't knock it down and don't play.

Teacher: How can you tell if you're working or playing?

Andrew: No Star Wars or superheroes. None of that stuff.

Paul: No shooting. And no robbers.

Jonathan: And no running.

Teacher: What else is work in this room?

Andrew: If you colour or put your name on a thing. On a paper.

Paul: It has to be work if you tell us to do something.

Teacher: How about stories? Your own stories. Is that work?

Andrew: No, because that could be Star Wars or Superman.


One day, as we watch the high school students on the outdoor track, it occurs to me we might have such a track in our classroom. This would not be for running games but rather for just plain running. I envision it being used freely during playtime in order to cut down on the frequent outbursts of chasing that occur during indoor play.

I tell the children my plan to tape a large oval track around the existing circle. A series of arrows will provide the first of two rules: one-way running and no pushing.

"Now," I say, finishing a roll of duct tape, "when you feel like running, no one will say 'Don't run." Run for a while on the track and then go back to your activity."

The children are pleased and I am certain I have solved the eternal problem of indoor running. On the first day, track behaviour is a model of decorum. Boys and girls run in equal numbers and without incident. By the second day two differences are apparent: There are fewer girls running and the boys act as if they are being chased. it is time for a third rule.

"People on the track do not chase each other," I warn. "They just run. If you need to pass someone, do it carefully. Hands off."

There is a lot of a agreeable nodding, and several voices blurt out, "I wasn't chasing. It was Andrew."

By the third day the four girls who still run on the track have made a game of counting laps. Charlotte tells us, "I did eight all-arounds." The others do less, but it is not a competition. As the girls grow more controlled, the boys are more excited. We add a fourth rule: no shooting fingers.

"What's going on boys? You never see the big boys shooting or grabbing on the track."

"We won't do it."

I watch their faces. They want to run in a serious manner, but the track is taking on a life of its own. By the fifth day many of the boys are on the track even before they remove their coats. They become armed superheroes the moment they see the track. Even worse, the arrows are having a hypnotic effect. Certain boys have difficulty leaving the track because they keep following the arrows.

"What's wrong Teddy? Why are you crying?"

"Jonathan is Dracula. He's chasing me."

"Just step off the track, Teddy."

"The arrows!" he sobs helplessly.


The children make changes in all the fairy tails now, though they want me to read the original version. Charlotte will be the smallest pig if all three pigs live together, without a chimney. Jonathan wants a chimney but a better armed pig. His light sabre is more dependable than a pot of boiling water. As always, the girls eliminate the violence, and the boys seek a stronger hero.


As I read Janie's story aloud, the actors run around inside the circle, pretending to hide and locking windows and doors. they scramble up the ladder to the police station, adding appropriate dialogue: "Help! I'm scared. Save me!" The audience sits in silent concentration; I too, am filled with admiration.

Could anything be more absurd? I ask myself. Am I content when the children pretend to pretend, but not when they are really pretending? Do I censure the doll-corner version and applaud its facsimile on stage?

Of course, theatre is more dependable than real life; conflict is at a minimum and all parties appear to be in control. Janie does not need to argue about who is the mother, the actors are given predictable roles in a familiar context, and I, the teacher, can, in good conscience, control physical exuberance. Script in hand, I can limit silliness by continuing the narrative, and stop the action by reading "The End."

While I ponder the convenience of theatre, I am struck by the obvious: Theatre is merely pretend play. The vital force that fuels the imagination comes from real play, not from the neatly packaged copy in my hand.

Janie's valentine family is born out of her excitement as a supervalentine. it was a deeply emotional experience for the girls. They combined male and female symbols - super and valentine - and celebrated their invention in a burst of joyful running.

What was my purpose in stopping them? Who was bothered by the loud voices and running? Those at the art table continued to paint, the players at the checkerboard concentrated on their next moves, and Teddy, dictating his third Star Wars story in two days, looked up only when I rushed over to talk to the girls. Am I the only one who finds merit in a quiet room?

The moment I close the door the room seems less noisy, even though the girls are now running around capturing bad valentines and putting them in jail. I notice a strange thing: The louder the girls, the quieter the boys. The noise level in the room remains the same.


My normal response, when robbers charge the doll corner, is to ignore the plot and remove the characters from the stage, thereby changing the subject from fantasy to recrimination.

"You boys cannot spoil the girl's play," I say. They reply, "We're robbers," But I dismiss this notion. "You can't be robbers," I tell them, implying that pretending to be robbers is as bad as really being robbers. Yet, a professional actor is not taken to be the villain he portrays; he is judged by his acting. Perhaps I can do more to promote this idea with the girls.

Teacher: I've been thinking about cops and robbers. Remember when girls complained that the boys were not being fair in the blocks and then the girls began to share more often? Well the girls are not being fair to the boys in the doll corner.

Andrew: I don't want to play in the doll corner.

Teacher: Sometimes you want to play cops and robber there.

Andrew: Oh, you mean that.

Charlotte: They can't right?

Teacher: So far that's out rule. Then the boys forget and there's a big fuss. But, after all, aren't they acting out a story the same way the girls do?

Mary Ann: They have to do theirs outside.

Teacher: But no-one tells you where to play Cinderella. When you build a Cinderella house in the blocks, the boys don't object.

Mary Ann: If we're in the blocks, they can go in the doll corner.

Teacher: They could, but when you're in the doll corner, you won't share the space.

Charlotte: You can't give part of a house.


In trying to sort out what is real from pretend, one looks through mirrors that see into other mirrors. I choose books that seem relevant, but it is the children who operate the mirrors and make the connections. Reflections of a recurrent dream are brought to life for the boys in the pages of 'The Boxcar Children', enabling them to band together with the girls, in girls' territory, without embarrassment or camouflage.

The girls experience a similar reincarnation several weeks later when I read Frank Baum's 'The Wizard of Oz', a story that is best known through the movie version. One can always tell when the film is presented on television, because suddenly Dorothy and the good witch Glenda appear in the doll corner. Now, however, as the children listen to the original story, another character takes hold of the girls. it is one that is a stranger to their play: the Wicked Witch of the West - Darth Vader with a broom.

Strong, masterful characters are not unknown to the girls, Mother being the best example. Princess Leia and Wonderwoman often join the boys, but a delecate balance is maintained. They fly in and out of boys play with the elusiveness of butterflies, fluttering back to the other girls the moment the boys pursue them too seriously. Furthermore these superwomen, entirely virtuous, are a little different from the good mother or sister in the doll corner.

The Wicked Witch of the West rules a band of winged monkeys who perform her evil deeds. A scene erupts on the playground during which  each girl is a powerful master and every boy a subservient robotlike monkey.

"Go over there and kill everyone in the sandbox!"
"Knock down the jungle gym!"

The Witches scream in unison as the hapless monkeys run back and forth carrying out their orders. The other children on the playground stop to watch the novel performance. Molly, a first grader, sits next to me on the bench.

"What is Charlotte playing?"
"The Wizard of Oz."
"Is she the Wizard?"
"I think the girls are wicked witches."
Oh. I get it. The boys are monkeys?"
"It seems that way. Do you want to play?"
"I just want to watch."
"Do you like the way they are playing?."
"Yeah, I like it. I'm going to play that with my brother when I get home."

Unless you are playing with your little brother at home, bad characters need reinforcements. None of the girls would be a wicked witch by herself. The boys have been teaching this lesson to girls for years: There cannot be too many superheroes once you leave the doll corner.

Saturday 5 September 2015

A Theory of Filmed Violence

I started thinking about a theory of filmed violence and, in brief, its this -

The symbols of violence that tell the story well on film are almost always bad things to do in real violent situations.

Maybe its simpler to say 'accurate violence is a boring story'.

Lets go through it one by one:

Sword fights. Fighting with swords for real would be like boxing with knives. Fast, brutal, ugly and difficult to discern what’s happening from the outside.

In any real physical fight both sides will work very hard not to signal what they are doing or about to do. The movement between any two positions or actions will be as short and fast as possible. There will be no unnecessarily wide arm movements, no unnecessary body movements. Short, clipped controlled movements that return quickly to their originating position and rarely 'follow through' or carry the weight of a contestant far from their centre of mass. Blades will rarely clash.

This looks dull and crucially, *doesn't tell the story* of the fight visually on film. On film all the movements will need to be extended, emphasised, made particular. Always over-extend your arm, always follow through with your body weight. The audience *wants* to see your body move. The shifting of your body tells the story of the act, the more it moves and the more visibly it moves, generally the better the story.

Boxing. I don't know much about this but I think its pretty true that in boxing attritional damage is a bad thing and you would almost never let an opponent 'wear themselves out' on you before you come back in force before the end of the fight*.

In real life, damage is bad. In boxing films, damage is excellent. You *want* both fighters to be visibly damaged. specifically you want the hero to be the more damaged fighter because every visible example of pain makes them more heroic for resisting it.

The boxing hero has to be beat-up towards the end. if they were just very good and won intelligently without being visibly physically hurt then it would have no visual or emotional impact. It would be like throwing away the language of film.

What goes for boxing goes to some degree for all other forms of physical damage. Getting shot is very bad and probably effectively incapacitating for almost all normal people no matter where you get shot. On film the hero *has* to get shot. Or at least clipped. it has to be physical and it has to be *visible*, without the visible example of danger and pain the hero isn't heroic.

*EDIT - ok this is apparently actually a thing people sometimes do.

Gun fights. Any time after WW1 if you are facing machine guns or artillery then you have to be some distance from each other. You need to be far enough away from each other that if someone opens up on you with a machine gun and walks it down the line there is enough time from the person in front of you dying and falling down and you seeing this for you to get into cover.

The trusty grunts dive into the trench or foxhole. They are all there, lined up and *in the same shot*.

"We're pinned down, we gotta get out of this Kowalski!"

Sure you do, but the reason you are pinned down is not because of tactics, its because the director of the film needed their principal story-carrying characters near each other, in direct danger, *in the same shot* so they are interacting socially just by being there and the audience can *see* this happening.

The trusty grunts will *always* end up pinned down together in a foxhole, or behind a wall, or in a room. The only thing you can say for sure about the place that they are trapped in is that it will be somewhere where you can point a camera at the whole group and *see* them acting together, exchanging glances, being in each others social space. That shot tells the story of coming together under pressure to achieve something difficult. It tells it better than simply filming the real thing would.

If everyone has machine guns really you want to be behind someone, in cover, at long-medium range so you can shoot them in the back. This looks terrible on film. Film wants everyone in the shot.

Archery. In Game of Thrones they actually lampshade this.

"Never hold your bow drawn, it loosens the string for no reason." - Also it tires you the fuck out because bows are heavy to draw and you are wasting energy. Just draw and loose in one movement.

Then later in the series during a siege *they do the same fucking shot*, a row of archers, arrows pointed up for a ballistic shot, even though the enemy are below, all holding their bows drawn for a really fucking long time.

I think the arrows are also flaming too.

Why? Because it tells the story of the violence better than the real violence would. The bow held at the draw gives the human body a powerful and tense visual signature. The muscles are literally held in tension, all they can do is release and you are just waiting for that to happen.

Having a bunch of archers in a row? Fucking cool, gives the image depth and perspective. Plus the sight of a bunch of people holding themselves in a uniform tension multiplies the signal of the single archer.

Adding flaming tips? Of course. Always do it. A more powerful visual signature. As well as that, always chase escapees and light your castle with flaming torches and never with candles or lanterns. The naked active fire on the torch is almost a character in itself and the fact that the person holding it must hold it like a weapon, upright, away from themselves, body in tesnsion, makes it better dramaturgy. A lantern hangs, a bare candle must be moved with slowly (always have candles in the scholars study *and if it’s a ghost story*, candles slow physical action down, torches speed it up.)

Weapons. Always too big. Real weapons have to be light enough to wield continuously for a long period of time. Warhammers and picks are small. The head has to be small to concentrate mass and force. A big wide head is dumb, a big wide sword is dumb.

Fantasy weapons have to be oversized so they can tell the story of the weapon better. Conans sword was so big and heavy only Arnold could actually wield it. The sword of Goderick Gryffendor was designed originally to be held by children and looked big in their hands. In the final films, in the hands of adults, it looked too small.

Guns don't always need to be super-big but they should have all kinds of extra crap bolted onto them like laser sights and extra magazines and little pointless clips.

Guns and swords both need to make much more sound than they do in real life. Guns in films clatter like dice bags every time an actor even touches them.

Helmets. Helmets are the most important piece of armour that anyone will ever put on. Except maybe a mail shirt or kevlar. But in general, if you are wearing armour and not wearing an helmet then you are fucking insane because you keep your brain in there and you need that.

Yet in film people are continually losing their helmets. Often they get shot off or lost in battle some other way. Sometimes the main hero becomes such a super-soldier that "helmets just slow me down maaan". Generally if a film can find any way to get the helmet off, they will.

Why? I think because it fucks up the transmission of story energy from the face. Helmets (and hats) surround the face, change the profile of the skull. They look dorky in real life. They look even more dorky on film because a huge amount of information about the way someone’s body and personality and presence impacts the world is simply missing from a film image. What you have is the visual in a box and helmets fuck badly with the proportioning of informational space within this box. Heroes don't have wide faces. Heroes don't have small features. They have large expressive features that fill their often-narrow faces. They are full of information.

Some hats do and some hats don't. Top hats do, Sherlock Holmes rarely wears one on film. Even in old films he's usually taking it off. Cowboy hats don't. probably cowboy hats are ok because they are a *lateral line*, they go *across the screen* and make the screen feel wider, not more dense. A top hat goes up and down and on a film screen thats awkward as fuck.

Neither surround the face and make it look bigger, Sherlock will NEVER wear his deerstalker with the flaps down. Even on the moors when it’s probably cold as fuck and he is literally stalking something he will keep his flaps tied. Marge from Fargo can have her face-surrounding hat, it makes her look plumper and more heavy and that *tells the story* of Marge and is accounted for in that stories structure.

- Over Signalling.
- Taking damage.
- Grouping up when in area-danger.
- Being highly visible.
- Partial armour use.
- Holding a position of dynamic tension.
- Oversized weapons.

Maybe this is another thing like dungeon traps, a signal inverted or somehow turned inside out to make is useful in a fiction about a thing, to make it a useful piece of mental architecture, a transmissible idea, rather than a piece of the real world.

Thursday 3 September 2015

Social Justice Scylla and Rapey Charybdis

Steve Wieck, I kind of feel for you. You are falling into the centre of a storm.

But I feel for myself more.

I'm Patrick Stuart, with Scrap Princess I wrote Deep Carbon Observatory which is currently an Electrum pick on RPG.NOW and recently won Indy Supplement of the Year. I hope to be releasing more stuff on One Book Shelf soon including another book we created called 'Fire on the Velvet Horizon'. I also have stuff coming out at some point from LotFP and other publishers. So the way OBS classifies its products may have a big effect on me. Nothing I am likely to produce is going to be anything like 'Tournament of Rapists', but everything I produce is likely to be very strange, Id-driven, possibly-horrific and often made without a fine-grained appreciation of social justice. I am worried about what might happen.

The Social Justice/Free Speech fight is basically a Rorschach fight in which, when you see it take place, you imagine yourself on either one side or the other and respond accordingly.

I do not see myself being attacked by the Free Speech side of that battle any time in the future. There are some conservative factions of Role Playing that might be pissed of by what I do, but they don't have a big influence over the culture in the same way as the Social Justice people.

I think its much more likely that, as a friend of Zak Smith, freelancer for James Raggi, CIS-male and creator of very-strange-things, the Social Justice crowd might come after me, either directly or as part of a whispering campaign.

The 'slippery slope' in case you were wondering

A game called Tournament of Rapists in which all the rapists are bad and you have to stop them, but which no-one seems to think is any good >


LotFP product where rape is both described in the text as a product of particular agents in the scenario and not explicitly condemned, i.e. you can possibly witness rape, be raped or even commit rape, though there are no rules for it and it is not required it is a reasonable possibility given the nature of the adventure and it is up to you what you make of this >


Patrick/Scrap product in which a solid proportion of the people being asked thought certain monsters had serious overtones of paedophilia and racism i.e. many people who read the Strangel description for Fire on the Velvet Horizon thought that something like rape or paedophilia might be taking place in the inferred background of that monster. And that was people who like us.

Is this likely to happen? No, it probably won't.

Is this possible? I would have to say its very possible. The American culture-war just keeps expanding and intensifying to infest and take down more and more fields and systems. The Hugos pretty much collapsed under the weight of the competing factions and I doubt anyone watching a few years ago could have predicted that would happen.

It’s quite possible that one or more RPG products might attract the attention of one of the culture war sides and if it does, like the US and USSR in the cold war, once one side has been brought into play, the other side will have to summon its forces to oppose them.

The most recent battle wasn't too high intensity as the product in question seemed to have no redeeming value to almost anyone, but the next one might be quite different. If you have a product of legitimate artistic validity and meaningful aesthetic quality, but that also triggers the hell out of the Social Justice crowd, then you could end up at the centre of an intensifying storm with no clear way out.

So I have some questions and though I would not request that you make your policy in public, I would urge you to ultimately answer some or all of them in public when you have some idea of what the answers are.

- Are we allowed to know who voted against us?

- Will the reasoning behind a decision be made public as well as the decision itself?

- Will there be a process of appeals?

- The term 'offensive' must, by necessity involve the consensus of the majority, will there be any element in the process of review whose job it is to offer a dissenting opinion?

- Do you have a plan for if or when Culture War breaks out and everyone votes against everyone else and nukes the site like the Hugo awards?

- As a side note to the above question, one of the major creators and top sellers in the OSR scene is outright loathed by a small but organised and well-motivated group of other creators, how will you deal with it if your site becomes a battleground of that war?

- In marginal or morally complex cases what person or agency has ultimate authority? Is it you and only you? What if you are sick, on holiday, missing, fall down some stairs, a power cut takes down your internet access while a twitter storm rages over the RPG-sphere?

- Its almost impossible to prove that a product encourages rape or other social effects, its also almost impossible to disprove them, without proof of that kind, what will you use to decide whether something is moral or immoral?

- How many votes are required before a review process is triggered?

- Is there a 'statue of limitations' in case political partisans repeatedly tag or vote on the same product even though its passed already?

If there has to be a rule and a process than it should, as much as reasonably possible be an open and specific rule and an open and specific process.

Having an open and specific rule means you lose out because people will use fine legalisms to game the system and produce things that are deliberately offensive and rapey but without being formally offensive and rapey. They will do this specifically to fuck with people whilst claiming to be supporting free speech.

But the alternative is saying to people 'there is a rule', waving your fingers mysteriously and then letting them work out what it is from your behaviour.

That essentially leads people to censor themselves out of fear and that amorphous and vague fear becomes the new rule. And since the rule is both powerful and vague it produces a powerful but invisible pull towards conservatism.

Authority without a rule to govern it is madness.

I really do feel for you because there is no way for you to resolve this sanely without turning yourself into an authority on the nature of good and evil in RPG's and that is an insane role to take on, but if you don't then you are lost in the tides of the raging factions. Whatever you do people are going to be writing wrathful blog posts about how you betrayed them and are destroying the hobby.

And I'm not happy about the inevitable influence of consensus politics on a developing market, I am a strange person and the power of the consensus is rarely good for us.

I do not demand or even request a response to this, it’s not an ultimatum or even a semi-matum, but I urge you to consider the issues raise and, if possible, to make that consideration, not a product of public consensus, but at least open and accessible to the public.